"Holmes," Watson said finally, finally, after nearly a week of indecision about something, "I need to speak with you about a matter which I am loathe to bring up, but find increasingly difficult to ignore."
I had been contemplating the movement of clouds beyond our window, but was roused instantly by his tone of voice. I took my pipe out of my mouth and sat up. Watson was standing by the fireplace, his hands in his trouser pockets, fairly vibrating with suppressed anxiety. He had worried his lower lip to a brilliant shade of crimson, and his handsome face was pinched with concern. "My dear man," I said, "what is it?"
"This is a very grave matter, Holmes," he said, "and I beg you will hear me out to the end before passing judgement. Please, will you do that for me?"
I stared at him. I hadn't the slightest idea what he was on about. I said, "Of course I will."
Watson took a deep breath, steadying himself, and I saw him straighten his shoulders: a soldier, going into battle. My heart began to pound.
"It has recently come to my attention," he began, and then faltered, "well, no, that's not entirely true. It isn't recent at all. In fact, I have struggled with it for longer than I'd like to admit—"
"Watson," I said, reaching a hand out to him as if I could touch him from across the room. "Out with it, man."
"Oh, God forgive me," Watson said, covering his face for a moment with one hand. When he pulled it away, his expression was one of determination. "Holmes, your friendship means more to me than anything, and I know I am putting it at risk by even considering the possibility of your continued association. But I can't bear it any longer. I need you to know, and I hope that everything we have been to one another up until now carries enough weight with you. I hope I have not read you wrongly, to think we might go on as we always have."
I was torn. Part of me wanted to get up and shake him to dislodge the confession and get it over with. The other part hoped he would never come around to saying anything of import, for I knew what was behind his fumbling would change our relationship forever. Once he said his piece, there would be no un-saying.
"Despite everything I thought I knew about my own nature, I cannot go on denying it any longer," Watson said, and I knew he was coming to his point. "Holmes, I have feelings for you that go beyond decency or brotherhood. I fear I am inescapably in love with you."
Surprise was written on my face; my mouth hung open in my best imitation of a fish gulping air. Could it be true? The one fantasy I never thought to hold on my hands, being presented to me with almost no effort on my own part? The fellow I had lived with and worked with and never suspected, confessing his attraction— his affection— for me? My dearest friend, my heart and soul, the man I had cheated death to protect, standing before me with shaking hands, begging me to accept him?
I remember the day I met John Watson with perfect clarity. I remember the smell of the lab I was working in, the excitement of my chemical breakthrough, and the sound of the door opening to admit my colleague Stamford. I remember the gaunt, war-torn figure that followed him, and the open surprise on his face when I deduced his recent assignment. I remember the list of vices he admitted to, and the ones I offered to him. I knew that day would change my life, as this one was doing once again.
I was selfish. I had wanted him from that first moment. But I was not a fool, and it wasn't until much, much later that I even began to hint at my deviant ways. Not until I knew Watson was a friend, tried and true, did I tell him about my association with Victor Trevor. Watson didn't so much as blink, though he edited the details of the story for public consumption.
"I have shocked you," Watson said, his voice barely above a whisper. "Please, forgive me. I will spend the night at my club, and I will send someone for my things in the morning."
I caught his sleeve as he tried to pass me on the way to the door, and stood up. "No," I said, "my dear boy, I am sorry. You surprised me, that's all." I let his sleeve go and took his hand, slowly, careful not to spook him. Looking into his face, I said, "Watson, your confession brings me more joy than I can say."
He blinked. "What?"
"You said you hoped you had not read me wrongly; you have not. But did you not expect I might have… some feelings of my own on the subject?"
"Oh," said he, and looked down at our hands. "I suppose I didn't think that far."
I couldn't help but smile. My chest felt full of light and warmth, and I wondered if I did not contain it somehow, would it spill out and fill the room? Would it give us away? I squeezed his hand, and felt him, tentatively, squeeze back.
"By the roundabout way you got to your point," I said, "you have revealed perhaps more than you meant to. Am I wrong in my understanding that you have never before loved a man?"
His cheeks went suddenly pink, and he closed his eyes. "No," he said. "You are not wrong. I have never— Holmes, never in my life— Mary was—"
"A magnificent woman," I said. "I know."
His voice was small and sad when he said, "I loved her."
"No one would doubt it," I replied. "But, never— in the army? You never sought any companionship?"
Watson flushed further, shaking his head. "Never," he said. "I would have had to be very ignorant indeed to fail to see what went on around me, but I never— I never desired the company."
"But now you do."
Almost a whisper, "Yes."
My heart was fluttering like a bird in my chest, and I gripped his hand more tightly. "Watson," I said, "John, look at me." He did, reluctantly opening his eyes to meet my gaze. I could read the fear on his face, so I rubbed my thumb across his knuckles, hoping to soothe. He had been the brave one to initiate, now I had to lead. "Do you trust me?" I asked.
"With my life," he said, and then smiled, "and, I suppose, with my virtue."
A hot flush of desire overtook me, and I let out a sharp breath. "I want very much to kiss you," I said. "May I?"
"Please," he replied.
With my other hand I put two fingers beneath his chin, tipping it up towards me. His eyes darkened, his lips parted, and I steadied myself, lust and affection pulsing in my blood. Never kissed a man before, my God. What he'd been missing. I hoped against hope that what I had to offer would satisfy. I was clean-shaven, but I did not have the complexion of a woman, and I knew I would taste of my morning pipe. It would be nothing like the kisses he had shared with his late wife. I hesitated.
"Oh, for God's sake," Watson muttered, and pressed our mouths together. I moaned, despite myself, and felt him smile. I kissed him again. His lips were soft, tasting of tea and tobacco, and his moustache tickled my lip and cheek. I slid my hand up his jaw to cradle his face as we kissed, while the other held tight to his hand between us. He leaned into me, his fingers finding my waist. He opened his mouth slowly, in response to my gentle probing, and I brushed my tongue against his, eliciting a perfectly delightful little noise of surprise.
He began to respond, kissing back now, licking into my mouth and teasing at the edges of my control. I was awash in sensation, drowning in this glorious man's attentions. My blood was up, my shameful body eager, and unconsciously I pressed myself against him, my pelvis against his.
"Oh," he said, jumping back as if my touch burned him. Instantly he blushed, ashamed at what he'd done, and I put a hand over my mouth, equally dismayed at my own thoughtlessness.
"I'm so sorry," I said. "Watson—"
"No, please," he said, shaking his head and reaching for me once more. He took my hands in his. "That was— that was my fault, I didn't— I don't know what I expected, really." He smiled at me, sheepish. "You, of all people."
"What, I?" I asked. "I am a man, Watson, as I'm sure has not escaped your notice."
"Of course not," he scoffed, and flushed red again. "It's only— rather unusual, to be kissing a fellow taller than I am, and then to feel— well. I wasn't prepared."
"Shall we sit down?" I asked, unable to address the second part of the problem which was determined to get worse. Seated, we were nearly of a height.
"Yes, all right," Watson murmured, and we crossed the room together. I stopped my hands from shaking. When we were sitting on the settee, half-turned towards one another, our knees bumping, I lifted my palm once more to touch his cheek, and he turned his face into my caress. When I leaned in to kiss him again, he met me with aplomb, and soon I was on the receiving end of a rather passionate embrace. He slid his arm around my waist and held me fast, with the other hand cupping the back of my neck, his fingers in my hair. I melted into him, finding my grip on his shoulder and thigh.
Again, my eagerness got the better of me, and my hand crept up the firm length of his leg. He tolerated it for a while, but by the time I had reached the halfway point he was decidedly tense, and he pulled away again to plant his hand over mine.
"Apologies," I said, withdrawing it. Watson licked his lips unconsciously, and my jaw clenched with want. A smile flickered across his face, and he reached to take that errant hand in his.
"No, I— it is I who should apologise. I'm afraid that is becoming the refrain of the day, isn't it?"
"Not at all," I protested. I rubbed my thumb across his knuckles and surreptitiously felt the callouses on his fingers.
"It's a damn strange thing," Watson said, his fingers still in my hair at the base of my skull, "to feel this way about you."
"Whatever your countrymen may say, it's not an unnatural state," I protested hotly. "If it were so unusual, the Greeks—"
"No, I only meant— not that, Holmes; I am entirely in agreement with you on that point, although I had not expected it to be so— that is, women have always been my area of expertise—" I snorted— "and what I meant to say was that, seeing as my experience with women has not exactly been sparse—"
"You're rambling again," I said, tucking in close to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
"Yes," he said, and returned the kiss, "I rather am."
"If I understand you," I said, resting our joined hands now back upon his knee, "you find yourself in the unfamiliar position of being seduced, whereas in the past you have always been the one performing the seduction."
Watson cleared his throat. "Yes, I suppose that is it. I find myself rather out of sorts; uncertain about the path and unsure of my footing."
I was at that moment experiencing a strange mixture of dismay— that he was so out of his realm of familiar interaction that he would admit as much to me— and elation— that I would be the one to guide him to bliss and debauchery. My heart felt like a sodium reaction: too hot and fizzing madly.
"I will show you," I said, "but only at a pace at which you are comfortable. I may not have your ways with women, Watson, and I do not know to what fashion you are accustomed when it comes to courting, but I swear to you," and here I clenched his hand hard and looked into his beautiful, familiar, trusting eyes, "I will do my utmost to win your favour."
Watson laughed, then, and I was almost hurt, except that he softened the guffaw with a tender kiss pressed to my downturned lips.
"Holmes," he said, "weren't you listening? There's nothing to be done about my favour: that is and always has been yours." An unfamiliar expression stole across his face, and I realised with a hot surge of lust that it was coyness. "For the rest of me, however, you will have to apply yourself."
"Oh, you wicked man," I told him in a whispered rush, and captured his mouth once more.
It was at this moment, much to my chagrin, that the bell downstairs was yanked with shocking force. Watson and I jerked apart, stared at one another, and then made the mutual decision to vacate the settee. By the time we were halfway across the room from one another, me smoothing down my waistcoat with trembling hands and he situated by the window, our sitting room door bust open and a harried-looking young man crossed the threshold.
"Mr Holmes!" he cried, looking between us, too flustered to notice our state of disarray. "You mustn't blame me, I am nearly mad. Mr Holmes, I am the unhappy John Hector McFarlane!"
At home, in the safety of our rooms, I could. The morning after Oldacre's arrest, I came down to breakfast and found Watson already installed at the table, his napkin tucked into his shirt. I touched the back of his shoulder in greeting, and he looked up at me, smiling. For a moment we were suspended, and then I ducked down to press a chaste kiss to his lips. It was warm and sweet and nothing like the desperate, urgent kisses I had shared with other men. Those had been almost an afterthought to the furtive coupling done in bordellos or alley ways or University dormitories. This was pure, and simple, and mine.
He sighed when we parted, and I sat down across from him.
"Good morning to you, too," he said, blushing and busying himself with his steak and eggs. Under the table, I insinuated my foot between both of his, feeling positively buoyant.
This variety of casual intimacy increased over the course of several days, with gentle touches and soft, unassuming kisses, until I was quite convinced that Watson and I had entered into matrimony without either of us noticing the ceremony. I had never treated another person this way, and yet it came as naturally as breathing. It felt like an organic extension of our friendship; I cherished it. Watson took it in stride, never faltering at the planes of my body when we embraced, nor my calloused, chemical-stained hands when I cupped his face to kiss him. I did not press him for more, happy enough in the liberties I was allowed.
Until, of course, we tumbled through the sitting room door of Baker Street at half-past three in the morning after a long stake-out and then a rapid foot chase through the alleyways of London. Our quarry had been in the habit of breaking into used furniture stores and junk shops taking things to sell in his own dingy second-hand shop. We caught him carrying an armful of candlesticks out the back alley, and he took off the moment he spotted us. Watson chased him down with admirable speed and had him pinned face-first to a brick wall three blocks away by the time I reached them.
The police arrested him and we were heartily thanked, and I brazenly took Watson's gloved hand in mine as we rounded the corner. Rather than pull away in surprise, he gripped my fingers and beamed at me, and we took the quickest way home that I knew.
Leaning against the sitting room door with him, trying to keep our mirth quiet, I was overcome with affection and desire, and I cut off his breathless laughter with a kiss.
Instantly his hands came up to my shoulders, holding me close, and I took his hat off his head to kiss him more deeply. The roots of his hair were lightly damp with sweat from the chase, and he smelled like the fog of my beloved city. I opened his mouth with my tongue, pressing myself wantonly against him. He groaned, deep in his chest, and pushed my coat off my shoulders. I hung it up without breaking from the kiss, and followed it with my jacket.
I couldn't take him to bed just yet, but this was a promising turn of events.
Watson's hands slid down my back to the top of my arse and pressed, pushing my hips into his. He was half-hard, and he manoeuvred me until our legs were tangled, my thigh pressed into his groin and his into mine. I pulled back a fraction to look into his eyes, and saw nothing but joy and wanting there. Biting my lip, I began to move slowly against him, grinding my cock into the groove of his hip, flexing the muscles of my thigh to rub against his. His breath hitched, his lips parted and his eyes going dark, and I did it again. The play of feeling across his face was fascinating. His face was flushed, the colour high on his cheekbones, and his eyelashes were soft smudges on his cheeks when he closed his eyes. He worried his lower lip with his teeth, holding in a moan, so I kissed him to free it.
Now the only sound was our harsh breathing and the slow, wet sound of our mouths. I shuddered, my hips rolling almost without my direction. I shifted my grip from Watson's hair to his hipbones, leaning back again until we were joined from knee to pelvis with space between our chests. Watson fumbled for the buttons on my waistcoat, and I shook it off to the floor behind me, following it with my collar. He wriggled out of his own coat and jacket, leaving them to pool on the carpet behind his heels, while I carried on with my slow, intentional grind.
Watson began to kiss my face, my chin, tipping my head back with gentle fingers to press his lips to the underside of my jaw. I moved where he directed me, and shuddered hard when he kissed the shell of my ear. Amorous attention— or indeed, platonic attention— had never been paid to such parts of my body, and the touch sent lightning down my spine.
I was aching, my stomach twisted with desire and my prick throbbing between my legs. I could feel the twitch of Watson's cock against my inner thigh. My mouth watered. Would that be too much? Would he shy from that? Perhaps not, I thought, but the idea of parting myself from this close embrace was abhorrent to me at the moment. Sweat was breaking out upon my brow. I needed more; I needed to show him what pleasure there was to be had in my arms. God, the ecstasy I could wring out of his body with one hand alone!
With great effort I stilled my hips, and Watson groaned in disappointment against my collarbone.
"Hush, man," I said, letting go of the waist of his trousers to slip my hand between us, seeking the fly instead. He inhaled sharply when he felt what I was after, but his efforts to leave a love bite on my neck the exact shape and size of his mouth did not falter. I had to shove past the pressure of my own thigh to get into his trousers, but backing off to make it easier on myself seemed too difficult.
Then he was undone, and I yanked open the string on his drawers and plunged my hand inside. His grip on my waist went tight, and I palmed the bare, iron-hard length of his cock.
"Holmes," he huffed, digging in his teeth.
I squirmed, readjusting him so that his erection pointed upwards, the wet head of his prick just visible in the open V of his drawers. He hid his face against my chest, perhaps embarrassed, perhaps overwhelmed. I could feel the heat of his cheek through my shirt. I pressed a kiss to his hair and felt him smile.
In that small space between our bodies, I touched him slowly. My fingertips found the root of his cock and buried themselves in coarse, curly hair, while the heel of my hand cradled his crown, still covered by his foreskin. Some gentle manipulation, and it was sliding up and down; I watched, riveted, as the tender glans of his prick was revealed and swallowed up again. Watson was trembling, his hips starting to push up into my hand.
"Kiss me," I said in his ear, finding my voice reduced to a hoarse whisper, and he did, seeking me out almost blindly. He clutched at me, fingers clenched in the material of my shirt.
To get a better grip, I had to pull back, but I kept kissing him as I did so, readjusting our hips so that I could close my fist around the girth of his cock. He moaned against my mouth, and jolted when I swept my thumb over the slick head of his prick.
"Good?" I asked.
He said, "Yes, God, yes," and pressed his forehead against mine. His eyes were closed, his eyelashes fluttering. His lips were swollen and red, so I bit them again for good measure.
I jerked him slowly at first, trying to rein myself in despite the heat of his prick in my hand and the warm, strong scent of sex between us. My own cock throbbed heavily, and when Watson shifted his weight and pressed against me once more, I couldn't hold in my noise of pleasure. His eyes opened, and the hunger in them made me tremble. I began to move faster, compelled by the look on his face. His breathing was uneven, stuttering exhalations and sharp inhalations, his mouth half-open. I kissed it, and then mirrored what he had done to me, pressing my mouth to his cheek, his jaw, the spot under his ear, the tender slope of his throat.
"Oh," he said, as I bit him gently over his pulse, "oh."
He was close to his crisis. I could feel it in the tremors in his body and the way my fingers were slick with his desire. His hips were rolling eagerly now, rutting into my grip, and he pressed his forehead to the front of my shoulder. He let go of me for a moment, and then he was trying to get his hand between us as well, his handkerchief gripped tightly between his fingers.
"Give me that," I said, taking it, and he laughed and let go and and tipped his head back against the door, his face creased with mounting pleasure. I wanted to taste him so badly, wanted to get on my knees now and suck him down, let him fuck my mouth and spill himself down my throat. I was shamefully near my own peak, just from the closeness of our bodies and the fantasies racing through my mind. I worked him quickly, tightening my hand, his cock pushing smoothly through my fingers.
I felt Watson tense all over, his hips rising, and then he was coming with a full-body shudder, spurting into his handkerchief and groaning aloud at the ceiling. I kissed him to keep him quiet, swallowing his moans, and coaxed him through the orgasm, wishing I could track every muscular twitch of his face, measure the pressure of his hands on my body, catalogue the texture of his mouth at this moment.
He shuddered and sighed and relaxed, slumping against the door. I eased my hand out and wiped my fingers on a clean corner of the handkerchief, licking my lips self-consciously. My ears were hot. I was trembling myself, my cock so hard in my trousers I thought I might faint. Watson sensed it, and he kissed me deeply, readjusting his grip and his stance so that I straddled his strong thigh. My hips began to move without my volition, and I moaned helplessly.
"Come on, yes," he said in my ear, both hands firmly on my arse. He pushed and pulled me, urging me on, as I grasped the sleeves of his shirt and rutted shamelessly against his hip. I couldn't stop; nothing, not even Scotland Yard, could pry me from this man or stay my orgasm. I pressed my face to the collar of his shirt and muffled a cry as I spent myself in my trousers.
I clung to him as I recovered, embarrassed and deliriously happy and shaking all over. Watson kissed my bare neck and my shoulder through my shirt, and then my cheek and the corner of my mouth, and finally squarely, so that I could taste him again. I closed my eyes and held him close, and we stayed there for a few long minutes.
Soon, though, I felt a tremor in his body that originated in the middle of his chest, and when I pulled back in confusion I realised he was laughing. He grinned at me, his eyes sparkling, and kissed me again.
"Oh, Holmes," he murmured, thumbing my bottom lip and beaming. "That was perfect. Just perfect."
And, even though we righted our clothes and parted ways, returning to sleep in our own beds at that late hour, I had to agree.