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Penumbra (Series Two)

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Penumbra - Alchemy graphic

I trod on his toes again. A huff of breath escaped him. I felt it on my forehead.

“You’re resisting, John. For this one, you must follow my lead.”

He paused and I thought a fuller explanation might be forthcoming, but I was wrong. My muscles betrayed my frustration.

Where’s your laissez-faire, in his own time, attitude now, Watson?

He’s too tense. That only ever means danger. And I want to understand what kind.

His hold on me tightened and the fragrance that had suffused my morning bath rose from his skin, richer for being mixed with his sweat. It made me dizzy, although that could have been dehydration from hours of dancing.

He interrupted my introspection to whisper, “And you have to want to.”

Want. That was the word that summed it all up and he must have felt it burgeoning against his thigh. I inhaled, my chest pushing against his. In bed was where I wanted him, and I would destroy anyone or anything that thwarted me having him. Want. I closed my eyes – upstairs was too far away. The floor would do.

“Use those thoughts,” he murmured, lips brushing the tip of my ear. He stepped away.

Was it an instruction or a plea? I kept myself from snatching him back and squared my shoulders, opened my eyes and waited, watching him. In these matters, he doesn’t often choose to lead.

But when he does? When it’s the second, or the third, time in a night?

I put my hands over my face. When I’ve been wild, when he’s been away, when I have lain, sated and breathless beside him, there have been times when I’ve begged him to do whatever he wanted so long as we didn’t stop.

“Yes,” he said, the tone of his voice deeper. “It’s like that, only there will be others watching and we’ll be vertical the whole time.”

Such a cliché. I dropped my hands and laughed. We do laugh at the strangest times. “Aren’t your parents going to be there?”

“Disguise it, transform it, but use it. There’s strength in it,” he replied, drawing himself up. He held my eyes a moment and extended his hand with a flourish.

In the manner he had taught me, I set mine in his. His fingers closed around it and he brought me near again. “Think of the steps like a melody that is playing when we are together. Feel which way I move and come after me.” He clasped my hand more firmly and I felt the rings on his fingers. “It’s a spell for two. We need to survive the other dances…

What on earth does that mean?

“…but this last will be the most important one. If we do it right, anything they try will fail, anything they have cast will be broken.”

Maybe it was his affirmation of danger, or the adrenalin it summoned, but I stopped thinking of my feet as separate things, of myself as a separate being. It was the two of us against everyone else. I pictured the pattern of the dance steps as a sigil glowing on the floor. As Sherlock glided along its knotted contours, I breathed in his fragrance and followed.

I didn’t step on his feet again.

***

For two days straight, we danced. That’s how it seemed anyway. There were naps and meals in there somewhere. Every few hours, irresistible food would arrive. Clearly, I was holding my own as some inexplicable priority in the frenzied kitchen. We would sit on a couple of the stools along the wall at the firing range and eat off the trays brought to us. Well, I would eat, and Sherlock would nibble and talk about what constituted a well-executed dance of whatever type we had just been practising.

Until tonight, that is, when Sherlock waved Wiggins away and finished showing me an intricate set of steps done around two crossed swords. I’d seen dances like it before, but not ones with steps like his. Finally, I replicated what he had demonstrated for me and we headed down the corridor and through half a dozen passageways until we found our dinner waiting for us next to the forbidding oak door marked ‘Apothecary’. Once settled inside, I had set upon the food like a starving man. Sherlock had eaten a few bites and turned his attention to a distillation that was making its way, as bubbles and drips, through a Gordian knot of copper and glass tubing across the room.

I was torn between hunger and curiosity, including why this chemical process wasn’t occurring in the lab upstairs. Fortunately, I didn’t voice this query because the very question held the explanation. All signs indicated that mayhem reigned on the floors above us and Sherlock objects to mayhem unless he is the one creating it. Mind, I wasn’t complaining about our location. I had never been inside before and was eager to examine what activities were afoot on the enormous ledge carved out of the wall opposite to where I sat. Indeed, the whole room appeared to be have been hollowed out of the ground that lay deep below the London streets, shored up with roughhewn tree trunks of great girth. I forked a succulent bit of roast beef and mustard into my mouth as I contemplated its many aspects. I wasn’t willing to forego my dinner, but I was willing to multitask.

Chewing appreciatively, I turned to examine the wall which formed the back of the bench on which I sat. Here and there, the light from the candle flames reflected off something in it. I ran my hand over the dark surface. It was rough and dry. I dusted off my hand and lifted the candle from the small table holding my dinner. Not far from me, a rounded protuberance gleamed. Holding the candle closer, I felt about the nodule. It came away in my hand.

“What…”

Sherlock turned, the flacon he held by long, iron tongs leaving a faint cloud of fragrant steam in its semi-circular wake.

“Ah,” he said, coming closer.

The scent reminded me of the new lotions in the bath, only sharper. More like our sheets in the morning.

“Show me,” he said.

I held up the stone. “The place isn’t going to come tumbling down on us, is it?”

“If building the Underground didn’t disturb it, I doubt you will,” he replied and leaned closer.

The hint of a smile brightened his face.

Haven’t seen many of those these past couple of days.

I had succeeded in eliciting a few, but solemn and intent had more often been Sherlock’s expression and I had applied myself all the harder because of it. The diagrams of the dances where burnt into my brain; the music he played for me, memorised; the feel of the movements he’d taught me becoming second nature to my muscles. I had slept, but it hadn’t been much and I had danced in my dreams, with him mostly, but sometimes alone around two swords as in the dance he had shown me just before dinner.

“I thought it was a bone at first,” I said, “partly because of the rounded end and partly because I’ve been to the catacombs beneath Paris. But it’s too shiny.”

“And the plague pits are to the south and east anyway,” Sherlock remarked.

“So, what is it?”

“Gypsum, selenite…it has different names. Waterstone might be the one that appeals to the poet in you,” he said.

I held the candle higher and was rewarded with more gleams.

“Because of the river?”

“Because of the sea that was here. But that was long ago.”

I turned to look at him. “We’re talking geological time now.”

“Mm.” He stretched over the bench and brushed his hand along the wall. Several bits of stone fell onto the cushions covering the ledge. Deftly, he plucked them from their tufts, waving the aromatic flask about as he did.

“If it’s crumbling, shouldn’t the wall have some sort of sealant on it?”

“No, no, she likes to breath,” he said and dropped the collected stones into my palm. “And she’s not…crumbling.”

With one more glance at the wall, I shifted my attention to the rocks that had so easily come loose. “Selenite – from Selene, so it’s moonstone?” I asked, moving my hand a little under the candle light and watching the pearly reflections. I was trying to remember some of my youthful geology, an enthusiasm that had followed my astronomy phase and preceded my medical one.

“Different minerals, but related name,” Sherlock said. “And they were both believed to wax and wane with the moon.”

He passed his hand over the wall again and a few more pieces fell and he gathered them. “A mark of favour, John,” he said, adding them to the collection in my palm and stroking my fingers as he took his hand away.

I stared up at him, waiting to hear what more he would say. His face looked less tense than it had been.

“A good sign,” he said and touched the wall again. He dropped the small stone that came lose then into the flask he was holding and whirled back to his work table. The motion wafted the scent around the room.

The memory of my first glimpse of him outlined half in moonlight, half in firelight flashed before my inward eye and I closed my hand around the milky stones.

“You should finish eating,” he added over his shoulder. “We have to practice more.”

My feet gave twinges of protest, but I set upon the dinner with renewed gusto so we could get back to it and had nearly emptied my plate when two sharp raps reverberated through the door.

“Come,” Sherlock said, without turning.

Wiggins appeared kneeling by my side.

I glanced at the massive oak door. It was firmly shut. I had neither heard it open nor close.

His hands were at the laces of my trainers. “If you would…” Wiggins said.

I frowned at him and realised he had a shoe in hand: a soft leather shoe, covered in embroidered leaves and flowers and birds. I moved my foot out from under the table.

“Stand,” Sherlock said, appearing behind Wiggins’ crouched form.

Wiggins tugged the bow of the second shoe tight and scuttled aside.

I stood.

Sherlock kept his eyes on my face.

I was definitely standing, but my feet barely registered the stone floor. I broke into a huge grin.

“Are the rest of John’s clothes ready?”

“The stitchers’ buzzing hurts my ears it is so high-pitched,” Wiggins complained, touching one ear. “What hides behind and peeks through is done. Now they are finishing the vines that conceal.”

Sherlock narrowed his eyes at Wiggins.

“By mid-day tomorrow, is my guess.”

Sherlock’s eyebrow went up and Wiggins edged towards the door. “I’ll urge them on. I will,” he promised, hunching his bony shoulders and raising the door’s latch.

“The instant they are ready, bring them to John’s room.” Sherlock said and turned away, dismissing Wiggins with a flick of his fingers.

The sound of the door closing eluded me again, yet when I looked Wiggins was indeed gone.

I took a step towards Sherlock and stood very straight. The closer I am, the taller he seems, but the difference was less pronounced at that moment. The shoes didn’t have heels; they were more of a glove or a leather sock with ties, but there was a pressure beneath my arches which brought to mind the way Sherlock massages my feet when he feels he has dragged me through London rather longer than my mortal bones can withstand.

Raising a hand, I rested it on his shoulder and rose on the tips of my toes. It seemed to bring me higher than usual; his lips were almost in reach.

He looked down at me and that brought them close enough.

I am a good kisser…

You are an arrogant prick.

…but Sherlock lifted his beautiful lips away.

“What? Do we have to wait until after I’ve dispatched those cocks? Is that some sort of rule?”

That got a twitch of those rosy lips. “No,” he said, his eyes on my mouth. “No such rule.”

“Good.” My hand slid to the back of his neck and I rose on my toes once more. He didn’t move away this time and I suckled and nipped at those soft, fine lips until he clutched me so tightly, I didn’t need my feet for support at all.

“John,” he murmured, when I gave us a moment to breath.

I hummed in reply and touched the tip of my tongue to that delicate join where his lips come together.

He moved us back towards the bench and let me sit when my legs hit the edge of it. I’d lost his lips though. I gazed up at them. The candlelight made them glisten and they were far too far away.

He swayed and I reached out for him, grabbing his hips and scattering the stones I’d still had in my hand. I looked up. He braced his forearm against the wall and formed an arch above me.

“Steady,” I said and smoothed my hands along his hips.

They swayed towards me.

“Ah,” I said and accepted that invitation, too.

 

The air seemed to flutter with his sounds and his final cry to startle the echoes into flight.

Oh, he was sweet. I carried on suckling as though I could bring him on again. I have done it, when I’m gentle enough and slow.

He groaned and I relented, drawing softly away with light kisses. I looked up.

His head rested against his forearm; his mouth open as he panted.

“Come down here,” I begged, for I needed his lips against mine again.

It was more than a slide than anything else, his hands dragging past my shoulders and down my chest to my thighs. He settled on the floor between my legs, head lolling forward. I cradled it between my hands and kissed his flushed face. “Sweet,” I whispered and swiped my tongue over his lower lip. “You are so sweet.”

“Nectar,” he murmured, “honey.”

He sat back on his heels and his head dropped to my thigh. I stroked his curls away from his face. He sighed and closed his eyes.

“I’ve more work to do,” he murmured.

I hadn’t been sleeping much since the preparations for this ball had disrupted our life far more than Lestrade and all the wayward beasts of London ever had. I ran the back of my fingers down his cheek. He’d shaved, but his hair looked as though it hadn’t been combed in days. I hadn’t seen him sleep at all. He shuffled closer, rubbed his forehead against the side of my stomach and wriggled one arm behind my hips. It wasn’t the best position in which to take a nap, but he was drifting off and if I roused him enough to get him to stretch out on the bench, he was likely to leap up and return to his concocting. So, I buried my fingers in his snarled curls, leaned back against the cushions and let my eyes roam over the mysterious chamber of the apothecary.

Across the room, his distillation process carried on with soft burbles. It didn’t appear in danger of exploding anytime soon so I let my mind wander. Who, I wondered idly, kept the copper coils bright and the glass vessels shining? The thought that it might be Wiggins made me scowl. At least he had knocked; his usual disconcerting habit of simply appearing didn’t seem to apply to the Apothecary’s Room.

Perhaps the door was locked.

I smiled at the thought and then realised Sherlock had not let him in.

There was a cadence to the word, ‘come’.

True, and who knows how Sherlock might unlock things.

I had tunes for opening and unlocking, but I’d never tried it on a door Sherlock had made secure.

Would probably be unwise to try.

I hummed assent, my head listing towards my shoulder. I rubbed my free hand over my face; it wouldn’t do to leave Sherlock’s brewing completely unattended. And, I had been curious about this room that Mrs Hudson had passed by without a word. There didn’t seem to be many things Mrs Hudson was quiet about, but this had definitely been one of them.

How would you know, if she’s being quiet?”

Well, we walked right by on my tour last year. Every other nook and cranny had a story attached.

Maybe she didn’t think you saw it.

It was clear as day, with a sign and everything. I considered. Had she thought I hadn’t seen it?

Sherlock’s intrigued by what you can see and where you can go. I bet this is one of those places.

I looked more carefully around the room, this strange, deep room, with Sherlock’s head heavy against my thigh as he slept. There were uneven lines in the grey walls, like the rings of a tree trunk, only vertical.

I chuckled at the vertical bit. It jostled Sherlock and he snuffled. I rubbed my fingertips against his scalp and his breathing settled.

The chamber was rectangular, with the table ledge running along most of the wall opposite, matched by the lower ledge on which I sat, which was cut in half by the door to the hall. Both the table and the benches ended short of the large fireplaces that filled the narrow walls.

The closer hearth was wide and high, the kind you could walk into. It bristled with iron hooks from which pots might hang. A mound of charcoal was all that was in it now. I could feel the draft from its chimney. It had trailed a ghost of ash along the glossy floor, which looked to be paved with flint. The candle light glimmered in its dark circles.

The other hearth was narrow and low. Above and to each side metal doors of various sizes were firmly latched. I supposed they were ovens or warming niches. The room didn’t feel like it had ever been a kitchen, although I supposed it could have been. The design of the ironwork was old and heavy, but I didn’t see any rust or even ash on it. The hinges caught the light a bit – well-oiled, I thought.

Sherlock’s breath was moist at my groin. I adjusted myself, sunk a little lower against the cushions and tried to distract myself by considering the ceiling.

Bunches of dried leaves and flowers dangled from the dark timbers that criss-crossed it high above my head. Whatever was between the beams was lighter than the walls and shards of something that reflected the light were embedded in it, too. I hoped none of it would be raining down on us.

I spread my hand over the side of Sherlock’s head.

My gaze swept to the floor and I spotted a few of the stones I had dropped. They looked like flattened pearls from where I lounged or moonlit raindrops. I’d get them later. They had felt good in my hand.

Sherlock rubbed his cheek against my thigh and let out a sigh. That felt good, too.

I smoothed back his hair, traced a circle at his temple. He must have been exhausted to fall asleep like this.

What’s so important about what he’s doing in here?

I peered into the dark corners, squinted at the shadows at the side of the stone ledge. There were several baskets there, covered with straw mats. From one a spray of white roses hung over the edge. They looked like ones from my balcony. There was one red bloom on a thick, thorny stem entangled with them. Blood red.

I looked down at Sherlock. He was very pale, the blue of the vein at his temple visible beneath his skin.

He needs blood.

There’s plenty in the fridge in the lab.

Your blood.

There’s some of that in there, too.

Fresh.

Beneath his eyes, the skin looked bruised.

Remember how quickly it healed him?

I ran my hand down over his shoulder. I did remember. The lines of pain had eased around his eyes, the grey had left his cheeks and the jagged edges of his wounds had joined together right before my eyes.

He’d ask, if he needed it fresh.

He didn’t ask then. He’s never asked since. Don’t act like you don’t know that.

His head shifted on my lap, the hand behind my back tightening and pulling me forward as though he were adjusting a pillow.

Even his lips have gone pale.

They had. The rosiness of arousal had faded. I touched a fingertip to them.

A hand closed about my wrist like a vise and his eyes opened. They were clear and very bright.

“John.”

“Were you dreaming?”

He didn’t reply at first. His grip on my arm loosened, but he didn’t let go.

“Dreaming might be the closest word for it,” he said and touched his lips to the insides of my fingers. “I’m sorry I left you…”

If there was more to the sentence it was muffled by his releasing my hand and moving his attentions to the front of my jeans.

“Whoa, Sherlock, a little warning,” I gasped, starting up.

“You don’t really mean that,” he replied, unbuckling, unzipping and otherwise laying me bare.

“Well, I…”

He was brushing his parted lips along the length of me, hardly touching, his breath cool, the tip of his tongue inquisitive.

I collapsed back against the cushions with a shiver. “Well, I…”

He’d taken me in; speech was a lost cause. I sighed instead as his fingers traced the skin beneath the loosened waist of my jeans and his tongue pressed me against the inside of his teeth.

He was intent.
My arm flew out to the side, over the top of the cushions, fingers scrabbling at the wall. I felt a need to hang on.

His fingers pressed further beneath the denim, chill and insistent. I lifted my hips and he grasped my buttocks firmly, pushing me deeper into this mouth.

The seconds stretched out; the pressure increased. My toes curled in my soft new shoes and I shouted so loudly I’m sure my voice carried up the chimney and frightened the pigeons.

“My god,” I moaned, eyes squeezed shut as he let me go with a lick. “That was…that was…”

“Overdue?” Sherlock offered and I opened an eye to look at him.

He’d sat up on his knees and was daintily dabbing at a trickle of semen near the corner of his mouth.

I panted, listing sideways on the cushions. It wasn’t physically possible, but in my head, I wanted him again, wanted it to somehow go on and on. “Extraordinary,” I breathed, my eyes on those beautiful, pale lips.

“Expedient,” he insisted and made to stand, “we have much to do.”

He stumbled.

It is not something Sherlock does.

I reached out and caught him round the thighs, guided him down. He landed in a tangle, knocking the air out of me. I grasped him more firmly; he was half on the bench, half off.

“John!” he protested and wiggled.

“Stay still for a while,” I said and held him tighter still.

He huffed in a pretense of exasperation, but I could feel his muscles relaxing and he pulled his legs up onto the bench. “Just for a minute.”

“Or two,” I said and kneaded his back.

“Or two,” he mumbled and I realised he was falling back to sleep.

That’s not normal.

No.

Blood, Watson.

Blood.

I stretched one hand above my head feeling for the throwing dagger I had brought along from the firing range. It had seemed the right weight for hiding up a sleeve and I had set it beside me on the bench.

All my fingers found among the tufts of the cushions were more pieces of the pearly stone, some smooth, some jagged, but no knife.

Against my chest, Sherlock breathed shallowly.

Now would be a good time, Watson. Only a day left. Lots to do.

Do you hear me arguing?

I ran my hand along the wall. I could feel the pocks from which the stones must have fallen, but none of their edges were sharp enough to cut my skin. I switched hands, steadying Sherlock atop me with one and reaching down to the floor in hopes of finding a stone that had broken as it fell or perhaps the missing knife. I found one of the stones.

I held it in front of my face. It was clearer than most of the others and had split neatly in half. I touched one of the edges to my lip. It felt sharp. My lip would be easier to cut than a finger.

You could have bitten your lip.

Harder to do deliberately than one might think and I’ve got the stone now, thanks.

I held my lower lip taut with my teeth and swiped at it with the edge of the stone. The third attempt stung and I tasted my blood.

Finally.

I wiped my forefinger on my shirt a few times, stuck it in my mouth then dabbed at the drop of blood.

It’s not very much.

Enough for a start, I suppose.

I dragged my bloody finger across the seam of Sherlock’s lips, moistened it again at my own and repeated the process.

My blood seemed usually dark on my forefinger, but the light was not strong. I aggravated the cut with my teeth and managed to bleed enough to continue. After the fourth application, his mouth began to look like the red rose in the basket. It looked so kissable.

He licked me. “Your finger’s not cut,” he said and bent his head back to get a look at me. “How did you cut your lip?”

I held up the bloodied stone.

He got up on his elbow and stared at me. “Where did you read about doing this?”

I shook my head. “Nowhere.”

He pulled himself further along my body and peered down at me. The candlelight was erratic, but I thought the skin beneath his eyes looked less bruised.

“How could you have known?” he asked and bent closer.

“What?” I asked before his tongue darted out and tasted the blood from its source.

The cut stung until he covered my mouth completely, tongue stroking the wound. As he persisted, a great lethargy rolled over me and I closed my eyes. It was not like the times with a syringe at all.

I inhaled lazily when he lifted his lips from mine, as though breathing were optional.

“That the moon likes little better than to have her stones draw blood,” he murmured between little licks at my chin. I supposed some of the blood might have dripped there.

“Blades used to be made of the stones just for that purpose.”

“I didn’t know,” I murmured, imagining such a blade, a small, sharp thing, like a lancet, that I could always keep with me. “You were tired.”

He pinched my lip. I felt it sting afresh and then he kissed the sting away. “I am not tired now,” he said between kisses.

“No,” I agreed, feeling how he was supporting most of his weight on one of his arms now. I stretched out beneath him. There had been a time in a field; the scent of flowers was the same. But that may have been in a dream, so often my dreams are of him.

His arm slipped behind me and lifted. I felt him push the cushions away. The clay was cold on my bare skin, hard beneath my back. Small stones scraped against my spine, but I thought it would be pleasant to sleep anyway. To sleep to the rhythm of the tides, rocking me back and forth on the shingle, cool water swirling about me until it had washed my fatigue completely away.

I woke up on the floor, well, on the hearthstone actually, although there were cushions beneath me again. My clothes were absent, except for my shoes, which were keeping my feet nice and warm and my shirt, which was draped over my side. On the flags of the fireplace, a mound of the pearly stones was glowing in white light bright enough to show where there had once been a bas-relief of robed figures carved into the stone walls of the firebox. I wanted to lean forward and peer up the chimney, but I didn’t have the strength. I thought I’d find the moon shining directly down it. One of those really bright full moons that come at perigee. I stretched out my hand instead and touched the nearest stone. It felt pliant, like a ripe fruit and the light felt cool and pleasant on my skin. I closed my eyes again.

There was a rustling sound, a crackling of twigs.

“Don’t go back to sleep yet, John,” Sherlock said, somewhere behind me. “You need to drink something first.”

His voice has a pull on me. I rolled onto my back as he knelt by the cushions. He was as pale as the moonlight, but the skin around his eyes wasn’t dark anymore.

“I feel like I could sleep for a week,” I said.

“I was more fatigued than I realised,” he replied, holding up a small flask. “But you won’t need a week.”

I considered sitting, but my head didn’t feel ready for it. “That’s good, since we don’t have a week to spare.” I rolled onto my side facing him and propped myself up on an elbow, although I didn’t think the elbow part was going to last. “How long have I been asleep?”

“Two hours. The moon’s risen,” he said. “Drink and you can sleep for a few more, if you like.”

Didn’t seem very likely that I wouldn’t like to.

Is he giving you a hint?

Was he?

I took the flask and sniffed. It smelled like all the flowers I like, some of which I’m quite sure shouldn’t be ingested, but I took a sip anyway. I smelt honeysuckle and lilac, lily-of-the-valley…a favourite of my nan’s; a little violet maybe, but above all, rose. I took another sip and the smells and the tastes converged. It was every memory of spring condensed on my tongue, rising to my brain, then drifting away. I wanted them back. I tipped the flask up and let the brew flow down my throat. I handed the bottle back empty.

He took it, shook it slightly and continued gazing at me. I wondered if the drink had been to share and I had guzzled it all down. I touched my lip.

“It’s healed,” he said.

I wasn’t surprised, but I regretted that it was gone so soon. At least I could have shared that.

“I could open it again.” His gaze dropped to my mouth.

It shot throw me then, a lust so intense I fell back on the cushions.

You’re not a teenager anymore, Watson.

“I wish I was.”

“What do you wish you were, John?” His eyes were intent on mine now.

“That I was young enough to take you as often as I want you,” I said and raised my hand a few centimetres off the cushions. I couldn’t hold it aloft very long. It dropped just above his knee. Weakly, I gave his leg a squeeze. He is just muscle and bone. My hand slid away.

His gaze left my face and travelled along my body. “We do have certain other things we need to do from time to time.” He set the flask aside and stood. From my vantage on the floor, he seemed incredibly tall and then, from on high, garments began to fall.

I had the strength to raise my eyebrows.

Possibly, you are still asleep.

Let’s not wake up then.

I looked down my body. One part of me, clearly did not feel fatigued.

Definitely, no waking up.

“There are preparations to be completed,” Sherlock continued, kneeling over me, a knee to each side of my thighs. “But at this season, it would be unkind of me not to help you.”

His fingertips were cool against my heated skin. He traced them teasingly over me in spirals and undulating lines.

“Are you writing on me?” I asked.

He looked up from his designs. “Not yet,” he said, holding my gaze. He reached one cool hand between us, then lowered himself slowly onto me.

My head fell back as the sensations radiated out from where we were joined. Slowly he rose and slowly he fell again, slowly, slowly. I craned my neck to see the space between us disappear. I wanted to watch it re-appear and be obliterated over and over, but I couldn’t keep my head raised.

He stretched towards me, his hand curving around my neck and kissed me. I opened my mouth and his tongue thrust and delved in counterpoint to the slow, steady rhythm of his hips.

I managed to move one hand enough to grasp above his knee. I felt his muscles flex as he rose and fell. I wanted to join him, to thrust up, wrap my legs around his back and pull him down, but I didn’t have the strength.

Even my feeble efforts bore fruit. His kisses grew wilder. He nipped at my mouth.

I wished it still bled. I wished. I bit his lip – hard.

He made a surprised sound as his blood began to flow.

It was spring and summer and autumn and winter. I suckled and bit and gulped.

He moaned and I sucked harder. He slammed down and ground himself against me. I bent my legs and pushed up and up again and again and on his lip, I bit down. The taste flooded through me. He shuddered then and groaned. I pressed my palm against the small of his back and pushed up. He groaned again. More and more of his weight was falling on me and still I pushed up, higher, deeper, and fast, growling. His hand dropped from the back of my neck, his head drooped onto my chest. I wrapped my arms around him as I flowed into him and the distance between us disappeared and didn’t return.

***

Sherlock was still with me when I woke next. I smiled at that. It’s not often the case.

He was sitting across my thighs and drawing a fingertip through the wetness that I assumed was his semen on my chest. This I could feel rather than see as his bowed head was in the way. Judging by the wetness, I hadn’t been asleep long.

“Writing time now?” I mumbled.

“Yes. Shh. Don’t move.” He didn’t look up from his endeavour.

The patterns felt intricate and I felt wonderful. I would have liked to stretch, but I resisted.

I peered down my chest. I couldn’t see much. The candles must have burnt out because the only light in the room was a faint one emanating from the fireplace. I tried glancing to the side without moving my head. It wasn’t ideal. The moon had left its perfect alignment with the chimney and the dim glow that remained looked to be from the pile of stones. I wasn’t sure how that could be.

“You can have your blade in a moment,” Sherlock said. “Only three more, but you need to turn over for me to do them.”

“Doesn’t your design need to dry?”

He rose to his knees. “No need. The patterns are in your skin now.”

“I have tattoos?” I peered down my chest. I didn’t see anything except a bit of shine where the skin was wet.

“No. These aren’t visible except to those who need to be warned.”

Obligingly, I turned over, rubbing past Sherlock’s thighs in the process. My skin tingled from the contact and as I settled on the cushions, I couldn’t help a little rub against the tufts. “Am I awake?”

“Yes. Why…”

I squirmed against the cushions again.

He reached between my legs and under my balls. “Ah. I thought the draught I gave you would give you some relief.”

“From what?”

“It’s your season, John. You must have noticed before now.”

Until I’d been shot, my private life had always been rather active, though in the spring a young man’s fancy and all that. “Well, yeah, but not like this.”

“You’re here now,” he said, sliding his hand away.

I didn’t like that. I wanted it right back where it had been.

“I was here last year.” And he’d been in my bed by this time then, but it hadn’t been like this. The memory still made me sigh. It was a very good one.

He smoothed his hand over my buttocks. “You’ve been here, with me, for more than a year now.”

“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned that. Is the year thing really so important?”

“It is for certain creatures.” He sat back down, lower on my legs this time. “I’ve made a couple significant mistakes, I’m afraid.”

That was an unusual statement. I turned my head to look over my shoulder at him. “You misjudged your parents’ awareness of our living arrangements and certain consequences flowing from that – what else?”

He was kneading my arse and it was bloody distracting. “Are you doing that deliberately?”

He kissed one arse cheek and then the other.

“What other mistake?”

“If I help you out again, will you lie still so I can finish my designs on this side?”

“You ran out of spunk.”

“They are complicated designs.” He slipped a finger between my buttocks, lingering here and there, pressing softly.

“Oh, my god!”

“Shall I help you with your little difficulty again?” His tongue followed the path of his finger.

“God, yes!” I pushed my bum up at him then bit the side of my hand to regain a little control. “I still want an answer. I’m not going to forget.”

“All right,” he said and then his tongue was busy with other things.

***

When consciousness returned this time, I could smell food – breakfast, to be precise.

I rubbed my face on the cushions. I hoped Wiggins hadn’t brought it in while I was naked on the floor with my arse in the air.

“He left it outside in the hall,” Sherlock said. “I brought it in after he departed.”

That was a mercy. I turned over and stretched, long and audibly.

Sherlock brought the little table with the food on it over to me. When he set it in place, his dressing gown fell open. It was a good look on him.

Everything’s a good look on him.

Pretty much.

I sat up and reached for the cup of tea that was already poured. There was a narrow parcel wrapped in a chamois situated between the cup and the teapot. I took a sip of the tea. It was perfect. “What’s this, then?” I asked, tapping the parcel.

“When I finished the designs, you were still asleep, so I made a hilt for your blade.”

I set the cup on the floor and picked up the package. It had a nice heft. I unrolled the cloth. Inside, there was a knife with a wooden handle and a stone blade, a pearly stone blade, chipped along both sides to create cutting edges. I tested it against the pad of my thumb; blood welled up from the cut. “Definitely passed the sharpness test,” I said and held my thumb up to Sherlock.

He blinked at me.

“Pity to waste it,” I said, moving it back and forth. The blood was starting to run down the finger. “Going to make a mess in a minute.”

He crouched down and took my wrist. “You’re sure?”

“Very sure,” I said.

He licked the drip with his tongue then closed his mouth over the finger.

It was such an incredible feeling and I already felt marvellous. I closed my eyes to savour it until he took his mouth away. He kissed the base of my thumb.

“Thank you,” he said. “That’s a fine way to start the day.”

I opened my eyes. “As good as tea?”

“Definitely.” He sat down cross-legged on the cushion next to me and took a slice of apple from the tray.

I glanced at my thumb. The cut was already gone. “Ta,” I said and wiggled it at him.

“Anytime.”

I took another sip of tea and picked up the knife. The smear of blood on it was disappearing into the blade. “What is it made of?”

He smiled. I forged it in the moonlight. It’s an art not many have mastered.

“I imagine.” I tried holding the dagger in each hand. It fit well in both.

“But this one nearly made itself,” he said. “The stones wanted to be your knife. No one can use it against you or for any purpose you don’t want it to be used. Anyone who tried would be very sorry.”

I turned my wrist with the dagger in my hand. “An excellent quality in a weapon,” I observed, “which means I wanted to cut myself just now.”

His smile grew wider. “Apparently so.”

“And the wood?”

“The handle is oak and the quillons rosewood,” he said and he sounded proud.

“You managed this while I slept?”

“The wood was here. I keep strong pieces until I know what to use them for.”

I wrapped up the blade and set it back on the table. I didn’t want to put it down actually, but I had nowhere else to keep it, being naked and all.

“We’ll have a proper sheath made, but for now, we may have to improvise. This one is to be worn inside your clothing. This one’s not for others to see. She’s always a surprise.”

I rubbed my fingers over the chamois. “I’m going to like having her near to hand.”

He leaned across me and took another piece of apple.

“I haven’t forgotten though,” I said, picking up my tea cup.

“Oh?”

“What was the other mistake?” I asked and took a sip.

He ate the apple and dropped a seed on the tray.

“Sherlock.”

He turned on the cushion to face me. “You’re not who you think you are, John.”

Wasn’t expecting that.

No.

“I’m not?”

He raised a finger. “More accurately, you’re not what you think you are.”

I stopped drinking my tea. I could see he was preparing his words.

“You were fascinated with the stories of the Manor.”

“Since I was a child,” I replied.

“Attracted to this place.”

I nodded.

“But not only this place. There have been other places that intrigued you,” he continued.

I nodded. There had always been places that called to me or that I regretted having to leave. “There was a wood behind my grandparents’ house. When we visited, I would spend all day there if the weather was dry, and sometimes when it wasn’t. I never really wanted to go home. I figured it was just because home was often not such a great place to be.”

Sherlock put his hand on my knee. “No doubt that played a part, but it wasn’t the whole reason.”

“What is the whole reason, then?”

“You belong in the wood,” he said.

“But I love London,” I said.

“It was all woods once. You know that. You saw them with your own eyes. I really should have realised then,” Sherlock said.

“You were injured that night,” I replied, remembering the mighty trees I saw from the roof and Sherlock so weak he could barely stand.

“But afterwards, I should have figured it out.”

“So, why didn’t you?”

“They’re rare now, the green folk. And most that remain mingle very little. I’ve never met one…before.”

“So, I’m improbable.”

Sherlock smiled. “Very.”

“And I shouldn’t be loving cities and roaming around through throngs of people.”

“You took to being sequestered very readily,” he remarked and I saw him counting up signs that he’d missed. “And you saw things I didn’t think you’d be able to see. And you’ve learned very fast.”

I watched his face as the thoughts raced through.

“And your blood is very strong,” he said.

I thought he coloured a little at that. “What did you think I was?” It was becoming clear that he’d never thought I was entirely human.

“I didn’t know, but if you stayed, I thought I might find out.”

“You’ve been experimenting on me!” I exclaimed. “The different fragrances, the food. Mrs Hudson’s in on it!”

“Not exactly. I told her you needed a special diet. I gave her a few guidelines and instructed her to keep track of what pleased you, how you reacted to different dishes. She rather liked the idea. She’s never developed her full potential either, her real gift isn’t for dance, although she has a minor talent for it and for music as well. No, her real gift is botanical. She’s assisted me sometimes, and there’s serious potential there. You got her focussed on it again.”

“Glad I could be of help.” I finished the tea and poured myself another cup. “But if this has been going on since I walked in the door, more or less, what’s different now?”

“Tonight, it will have been a year and a day since we became lovers,” he said, thoughtfully. “Particular periods of time have an effect on magical beings. They can serve as catalysts or intensifiers or nullifiers.”

“Yeah, but things didn’t start going totally nuts until this ball lark got started.” I took a bowl of fruit and speared a piece of pineapple and held it out to Sherlock.

He looked surprised, then leaned forward and took it off the fork. He looked around the room as he chewed.

“Maybe I should have brought you here before. Being deep in the clay seems to be having an effect.” He stroked his hand along the side of the fireplace. “The London clay definitely likes you.”

“But I was feeling different before we came in here,” I pointed out.

His attention returned to me, gaze sweeping over me like a searchlight. It stopped at my lap.

I looked down, grabbed my shirt off the cushion and wadded it up over my groin.

He pinched the end of a sleeve and pulled the cloth away.

“I think…it might be the celebration,” he said. “It’s a ball for the vernal equinox. The house is full of more activity than you have ever experienced here and it’s all revolving around vines and flowers and…” He dropped the shirt and smoothed his hand along the inside of my thigh.

I let out a long sigh.

“It’s a celebration of rebirth, sexuality, fertility.”

His hand was doing soft, playful things in my lap.

“It’s your feast. That’s what you’re responding to; that’s why you’re insatiable.” His touches were so light they were nearly ticklish. “This is your season. It’s your role.” He grasped me firmly. “John, they’re all going to want you tonight.”

I set my bowl aside, grabbed a handful of his curls and guided his head down to my lap.

“They can’t have me. That role is for you.”

An image of someone else holding Sherlock’s head down as I was made me choke. It took me a moment to find my voice again. “And they cannot have you.”

Sherlock’s tongue flicked and stroked. I clutched his arm. “Shouldn’t we be practicing dancing?”

His hand reached up and pushed me over. He crawled atop me, panting. “You know all the steps now. They’re on your skin, in your blood. All you must add, all you must surpass them at, is passion.”

I pushed up and rolled him over. His eyes were gleaming, his lips were swollen. My knees tightened on either side of his hips, my forearms at his shoulders. I leaned down and breathed in the scent of blood and fruit on his breath. “They could not,” I said, hovering above his mouth, “even come close.”