"John. John. John."
John looked up from his laptop. "What." He blinked. Sherlock was standing very, very close, and he was holding a riding crop. His shoulders tensed despite himself.
Sherlock drew in a breath through his nose and erupted into motion. John skidded back in his chair, certain that Sherlock was about to hit him, but he'd only jerked the crop 'round so he could present John with the handle.
"Hit me," said Sherlock.
"What?" said John.
"Hit me." Sherlock cocked his head at John and gave him a thin, devilish smile. "We’ve been through this once already. Don't tell me you don't want to."
"Of course I want to," John said, and then cursed himself for not letting his brain in on the proceedings.
"Then what are you waiting for?" Sherlock left the whip, which had somehow migrated into John's hand, and strode away, his back to John. His hands went up to unbutton his collar. "We'll do this in my room."
By the time John set his foot on the threshold, Sherlock already had both hands against the wall, legs spread to shoulder width. The room was dark, but light spilled in from the hallway to illuminate the ten thousand miles of skin stretched between Sherlock's shoulders and the waistband of his trousers. He gave John a narrow-eyed look. "Took you long enough."
John licked his lips. "I, ah, I don't--"
Sherlock went back to looking at the wall. "We'll begin with the back. It's safest," he curled his lip, as if safety was for fools and cowards and people uninterested in advancing a greater cause, "and you're a very considerate person, and safety minded. So." He took one hand off the wall to gesture. "Keep your strikes located to where fat and muscle are the thickest. Avoid the kidneys and the spine. There's no risk of wrapping with a crop, and so really it should be quite straightforward."
"Let me get this straight," John said, very slowly, "you want me to hit you. With this riding crop. On the back."
Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes. He seemed very close to stamping his foot. "Yes, I said that already."
"Just making sure." John flexed the crop between his hands, just a little. It felt very whippy. And very real. "Sherlock. I. I don't think I can do this."
"Yes you can," Sherlock said, crisply. "It's just a matter of raising your arm and directing the strike, and it's very easy to aim with a crop. There's plenty of area to choose from. I recommend the area below the shoulderblade."
"No, I mean, I." John swallowed. "I'm a doctor, I don't just go around hurting people--"
"You were a soldier." Sherlock looked over his shoulder at John. The light made his eyes look feral. "You had bad days. Now, get in here and shut the door."
John shut the door, and the room was completely dark save for the light through the window. It didn't seem the safest (even if safety was for fools and cowards) for what he was about to do, so he switched on the light. Sherlock didn't complain. John took the three strides it took to set him just behind Sherlock, who had his head hanging down between his shoulders.
"Ten strokes," said Sherlock.
"Five," said John.
"Five." John firmed his voice.
A pause. "Seven."
John paused, too. "All right."
"Then hurry up about it."
The first strike was shockingly loud in the quiet room, and John's gasp was louder than Sherlock's. His heart leapt into a gallop. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them again, Sherlock was so still that he couldn't possibly be breathing. John took two more deep breaths, then raised his arm and struck him again, before he could lose his nerve. He saw Sherlock's skin jump, but otherwise he didn't move, and another red flame rose in his skin, opposite the first one.
"Harder," Sherlock grunted.
Strikes three, four, five came in quick succession.
"Put your back into it," Sherlock growled.
Six, seven. It was over. John stepped back and let the riding crop fall from his hand. His palms were sweating and he felt feverish. He wiped his forehead. Sherlock hadn't moved, although he seemed to be trembling slightly.
"Sherlock." His voice cracked. John swallowed, licked his lips, and tried again. "Are you all right?"
"You can leave now."
John wiped his hands against his jeans. Sherlock didn't raise his head. His back was mottled and flushed. John looked away, glanced back, and then finally strode out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
Sherlock came to him again a week later. John was in the kitchen, buttering his toast. He looked at the crop, blanched, then looked at Sherlock. "I thought--"
Sherlock arched his eyebrow. "Problem?"
"Yes." John put down his knife. On second thought, he put down the toast, too. "I didn't. I thought. It was a one-off."
"I never said that."
"That doesn't mean I agreed to do it again!" John cleared his throat. "I'm not doing it again."
"Why not?" Sherlock lowered his arm to let the riding crop dangle loosely between his fingers by his side. When John didn't answer right away, he smiled and let his eyelids drop to half-mast.
"That wasn't. That wasn't fun for me," John said, raggedly.
"It's not fun for me, either." Sherlock's voice sharpened.
They stared at each other for many heavy moments.
"Why are you making me do this?" John rasped.
"I'm not making you do anything."
"No, I mean." John blinked, looked away, licked his lips, looked back at Sherlock. "Is this about her? It is, isn't it, it's--"
Sherlock's expression had been opaque before, but somehow it went even more blank and shuttered now. For the first time since the conversation began, he glanced away. His mouth twisted. "This has nothing to do with her."
John winced. He looked down, in the general area of Sherlock's knees, and brushed the back of his hand across his nose. "All right. Then what. I mean, I only just walked in on her standing over you with a riding crop, that's not--"
"I think about it." Sherlock's voice was so low that it seemed to rumble through John's bones. John raised his head. "Constantly. The next time I see her, it will be on my mind." He leaned in too close, until John's breath froze in his lungs. "You'll make it stop."
John's mouth went dry. If he looked away from Sherlock's gaze it would strip the flesh from his ribs and blast them clean. He swallowed instead. "All right," he said, like he had always known he would. "All right, yes, all right."
"Ten strokes, this time," said Sherlock.
John gave him ten strokes and left Sherlock holding himself up by the wall. He went into the kitchen and ate his toast over the sink. It was soggy, and cold.
John broke skin on the fourteenth stroke. Sherlock didn't even so much as flinch, but John gasped in a way he hadn't since that very first blow and dropped the crop. Sherlock twitched and looked over his shoulder. "I'm sorry," John gasped, "I'm sorry, you're bleeding--"
Sherlock made a dismissive noise and turned back towards the wall. "Doesn't matter. Keep going."
"No." John watched Sherlock go still. "No. No blood. We're stopping now."
"I said, we're stopping. Stay there. Don't move."
"That's redundant," Sherlock murmured. "If I'm staying here, then I'm not moving."
John didn't answer. He went to the bathroom and fetched a plaster, antiseptic, and a swab. He returned to Sherlock's room and blinked to discover that Sherlock, in fact, had not moved, though he appeared to have closed his eyes and leaned against the wall more heavily than before. John disinfected the cut--it was very small, and bleeding only sluggishly--and plastered it. Sherlock didn't make a sound, though his skin shivered when John touched him.
"There," said John. "How does that feel?"
"Fine," said Sherlock. "Are you going to continue now?"
"Not on your life." John bent over to pick up the crop.
"We were only one stroke short," said John. "You'll live."
Sherlock opened his eyes and glared over his shoulder. John glared back and turned his attention to the crop. The tip had broken off, somehow, leaving the stem naked and sharp. And then it occurred to him-- "Sherlock, the first time we met, you said you left your riding crop in--"
"Different one, of course. I bought this one specifically for this purpose. I'm not stupid."
John's mouth tightened. "No, of course not." He set the riding crop on Sherlock's bedside table. "You’ll need to buy another one, then. This one’s done for."
Sherlock didn’t answer until John’s hand was on the doorknob. "John."
John stopped, but he didn't dare look back.
"I’ll buy a new crop. And it'll be the face, next time."
John didn't answer. He shut the door behind him and made it up exactly one step before he had to sit down and put his head between his knees.
"Should we have a safeword?"
Sherlock, who was in the midst of unbuttoning his shirt, gave John a surprised look. John would have relished it, if his knees hadn't been so watery.
"I mean," John said, "I think we ought to have a safeword."
Sherlock finished undoing his shirt without taking his eyes off John. He shrugged it off and hung it on the back of the door without even looking. It was unfair, how deliberate and easy things were, for him. "You've been doing research."
John swallowed. "Yes, well. Someone had to make sure we were doing this right."
Sherlock toed off his shoes. He stripped off his socks, one after the other, without any of the ungraceful hopping that other people usually did. He curled his toes into the floorboards. "So did I, you know."
"You did?" Of course he did, John realised. Keep your strikes located to where fat and muscle are the thickest. Avoid the kidneys and the spine. There's no risk of wrapping with a riding crop. God, he'd gotten that off of the very same websites John had been perusing. That meant Sherlock had seen the same things he had, things like safe, sane, and consensual and negotiation and trust your partner. He felt his heart sink to the vicinity of his diaphragm.
"Of course. I never pursue anything without the appropriate research, first." Sherlock sank to his knees in one fluid motion and tilted his face up expectantly. "Now. I think three strokes will suffice, to begin with."
John stared. "What--"
Sherlock's gaze hardened. "I did say last time, pay attention--"
"I didn't agree!" John's voice spiraled up towards the end and bordered on cracking.
"You didn't disagree." Sherlock jutted out his jaw. "Three strokes. It's not difficult."
John's hand tightened around the handle until it creaked. "It's not safe," he said, hoarsely.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "No. In fact, it could be dangerous."
"Don't you think I deserve it?" Sherlock tilted his head to present John with one tempting cheekbone.
"I." John didn't know how to finish that sentence. He didn't know how to finish this moment. He wanted it to be over. The fastest way for it to be over would be to hit Sherlock. But, the face--nothing on the Internet had said anything about hitting the face. He was pretty certain it was unsafe, only for practiced individuals, and--
Sherlock closed his eyes. "I trust you, John."
John squeezed his eyes shut, counted to ten, and then opened them again. Sherlock was still there, still kneeling, eyes closed. You could cut yourself on those cheekbones. John raised his arm, took careful aim, and laid one sharp crack against Sherlock's left cheek. It sounded worse than it actually was, but Sherlock gasped; his eyes flew open. John laid it on him again, this time against the other cheek. Crack. He was almost sorry to destroy the symmetry, but Sherlock had asked for three, and so he gave him the third one on the left cheek again. Pink bloomed across the skin.
Sherlock was gasping, his shoulders heaving with it. John was breathing hard, too. Sherlock looked up at him with such sweet, dazed amazement that John wanted to hit him again. He bit his lip.
Sherlock closed his eyes and raised one hand to brush the backs of his fingers against his left cheek. John had to look away. "All right," he said, too loudly. He forced his numb feet to move him, so that he could lay the riding crop down on the bedside table. "Okay. That's it, then."
No answer. John didn't look back. He just shut the door behind him and went up, up and up and up until he was in his room, behind his door, and safe.
Sherlock positioned himself as per usual: hands on the wall, legs spread to shoulder width, head bowed. John licked his lips. "No. On your knees."
Sherlock looked over his shoulder at John and arched one eyebrow.
"On your knees." John pushed the force into his voice. Sherlock just looked at him. Then he turned around and sank to his knees with the lazy air of a cat that's decided to lie down just here. John produced the handcuffs. He'd found them in the desk in the sitting room, the other day. They were probably Lestrade's. He wondered if Lestrade suspected where they'd gone, or even noticed that they were missing.
He handcuffed Sherlock's hands behind his back and walked round to his front. Sherlock had his eyes to the floor. John pushed the crop under Sherlock's chin and tilted his head up towards him. Sherlock's eyes were very blue today. He drew the crop up Sherlock's jaw and tapped him on the cheek. Sherlock closed his eyes, and John dealt him a fierce blow across the face. Smack.
The next one landed on Sherlock's shoulder. The one after that, on his back. The back again. Shoulder. John paced around Sherlock with steady, measured strides, doling out strokes without warning, watching as the blood flushed under the skin. Whenever Sherlock's eyes slid shut, John gave him a crack across the face. Sometimes he struck Sherlock across the face anyway. Sherlock remained silent throughout the proceedings, save for the ragged sound of his breathing and the occasional hissing breath through his nose. His gaze was distant. John considered giving him one more, just to see if Sherlock would even notice.
But he didn't. John dealt the thirtieth one to Sherlock's chest, just above his heart, hard enough that the blood flushed to the surface, and let the crop drop to his side. Sherlock's breath stuttered. He closed his eyes.
They stayed like that for a while: John standing with the crop in his hand, and Sherlock kneeling like a supplicant, head tilted up and hands behind his back. His face was perfectly expressionless, and John felt something inside him twist. Before it could break, he went around and took off the handcuffs. Sherlock rolled his shoulders and stretched his arms. His wrists were faintly pink, but not abraded.
"How was that, then?" John asked, quietly.
Sherlock looked up at him with feverishly bright eyes. "That was acceptable."
"You've given this a lot of thought," said Sherlock.
"Yes, I have." John tied Sherlock's left ankle. He'd found the rope in the hall closet. Lord knew why it was there; experiment, probably. Once upon a time.
"Didn't want to use a bed," Sherlock went on. "Too intimate. Didn't want to do this in the sitting room: too exposed. Am I right?"
"You're always right." John secured Sherlock's right leg, next.
"Kitchen, same. The bathroom is secure, but there aren't any suitable surfaces in there."
John didn't answer. For Sherlock's arms, he used a knot he'd learned on YouTube: a simple slipknot that Sherlock could escape himself, if necessary.
"In the end, you opted to bring the sitting room into the bedroom," Sherlock concluded. "But for the record, you're perfectly welcome to use my bed."
Done. John stepped back and admired his handiwork. Sherlock was tied in a spreadeagled position on top of the coffee table, feet flat on the floor and secured by the ankles. His arms were similarly tied. It surely wasn't very comfortable, but that was all right. He wouldn't have to hold it forever, or even for an hour. John turned away to pick up the riding crop. He returned to find Sherlock watching him with flared nostrils, inscrutable again. "Maybe I'll gag you, next time."
Sherlock's eyes might have widened a fraction, or that might have been John's imagination. Didn't matter. He raised the crop and brought it down on Sherlock's chest.
He was limited in the amount of skin he had to work with. The abdomen was off-limits due to the viscera. He dealt a few strokes to Sherlock's arms, but his research suggested that those, too, were unsafe areas: too many nerve endings and not enough tissue. So he focused his attention mostly on Sherlock's chest--the websites said it was slightly safer to beat men there than women--and the requisite blows to the face. He could have included Sherlock's thighs, but that would have involved taking off his trousers.
After twenty-five strokes, Sherlock's breathing was ragged and his eyes were closed, and John stopped there. Sherlock's eyes flew open as soon as he felt the knot on his right wrist give. "You're not stopping."
"I am." John loosened Sherlock's other arm.
"You're not." Sherlock pushed himself up to a sitting position. His arms trembled. He pushed his hair out of his face. "You're only halfway through."
"A little more than halfway. But that's enough." John had to kneel to get Sherlock's leg loose. As soon as he did, Sherlock kicked him. Not hard, but John dealt the top of Sherlock's bare foot a smack with his bare palm. Sherlock sucked in a breath, hard. John froze. They stared at each other.
"Fine," said John. He untied Sherlock's other ankle. "Turn over."
He pitched the belt in the bin before thudding down the stairs to the kitchen, where he filled two bags with ice and fetched several flannels. He returned to Sherlock's bedroom, where Sherlock lay facedown on the bed. His back was mottled with red bands that would be impressive bruises come morning. John rested the wrapped bags of ice on Sherlock's back, over two of the worse patches. Sherlock let out a breath through his teeth and scraped his toenails against the bedclothes.
John got to his feet and rubbed his palms against his thighs. "I'll go get you a glass of water."
"Get two," Sherlock mumbled. "I could drink a lake dry."
John got him one, and a straw. Sherlock sucked it dry in six long pulls. John went to the kitchen and returned with a plate of assorted biscuits, and another glass of water. Sherlock had crawled under the covers, still on his stomach, face half-buried in the pillow. The bags of ice and the flannels sat wetly on the bedside table. John set the plate and water down next to them. "Chocolate HobNobs."
"Nnnn," Sherlock replied.
"There's Jammie Dodgers, too."
"Not hungry," Sherlock mumbled.
John sighed and rubbed his face. "Sherlock Holmes, you will sit up this instant and you will eat your bloody biscuits. Or I," he paused, "I'll feed you."
Sherlock rolled enough so that he could peer up at John with one brilliantly blue eye. "You wouldn't."
"See if I wouldn't."
Sherlock gave John one slow, measured blink and sighed, as if greatly suffering. He propped himself up on his elbows. He selected a Jammie Dodger and bit into it with a defiant glare, dropping crumbs onto the sheets. John stood there, arms crossed, and watched until Sherlock had eaten the entire thing. He exhaled when Sherlock reached for a second one.
A thready moan sounded from across the room. Sherlock dropped the chocolate HobNob back on the plate and swiveled his head round. "Get that for me." How Sherlock managed to muster that imperious tone of command whilst nestled in a duvet, bruises blooming all up and down his back and biscuit crumbs sticking to his lips, was a mystery.
"Dressing gown," said Sherlock. "Back of the door."
John uncrossed his arms. He made his way across the room to fish Sherlock's phone out of the pocket. He thought about reading the message. He thought about throwing the phone at Sherlock's head. In the end, he just put it in Sherlock's hand, waiting expectantly for him from out of the covers. Then he left.
"Sherlock." John leaned against the door. He knocked again. "You all right in there?"
The lack of response was worrisome. John could handle the sawing of the violin, the stomping of feet and the throwing of inanimate objects, even, perhaps, the drugs, but not this fearsome silence.
He pressed his forehead against the wood. "Sherlock."
"Stop badgering me. You're worse than Mycroft."
John pushed away from the door. He'd bought a flogger for Christmas, but there didn't seem to be any point now.
John woke to a tremendous thud that jolted the bed. It was Sherlock, at the foot of the bed, holding a flogger. John's flogger, to be precise, with a mahogany handle and rubber tails. It'd been only £26--and the shipping had been quite reasonable as well--and the website had promised it to be "quite a hard hitter." John's face heated.
"I thought--" he began, but then Sherlock chucked the flogger at him. It bounced off his chest to land in his lap.
"Happy New Year," said Sherlock, and he proceeded to unbutton his shirt while John watched, slack-jawed. Sherlock smirked and spun on his heel, shrugging his shirt off as he went.
"Do you remember," John murmured, "when she said she'd have you over this desk and make you beg for mercy?"
"Yes," Sherlock rasped.
"Then that's what we'll do," said John.
Rain spattered against the windows as John knelt to tie Sherlock's ankles to the desk legs, first one, and then the other. He rose to make sure the door was locked and that all the curtains were closed. Sherlock had his hands braced on the desk, his back just a little bit bent. It was already flushed from the riding crop, and John put his hand on it, just to feel the heat against his skin. Sherlock made a noise, and John took his hand away to pick up the crop.
He beat Sherlock with the crop until he was tired of it, and then he picked up the flogger and beat him with that, too. He had two floggers, now: the rubber one and a leather one with thinner falls, for when he wanted more of a sting. But today it was the rubber one, because he wanted the extra weight. It was a good thing that Mrs. Hudson was out.
Sherlock's back was bright red by the time John was done with the flogger, but he was still stubbornly closemouthed, breathing heavily through his nose. John's hands went down to his belt buckle, and the jangling it made was ridiculously loud. Sherlock drew in a long, slow breath in time with the way it hissed through the belt loops. John snapped it once, just for effect, and then let it come down on Sherlock's back. His temples were damp with sweat, and his shoulder ached.
The belt made a satisfying thwack against Sherlock's skin and wrapped around to tap his ribs. Sherlock grunted, and John repeated the motion on the other side. A red bruise flared up to the surface. John would have to ice it later. But for now he kept up steady, rhythmic strokes, until Sherlock's back was striped with bruises. His skin jumped with every blow, and his breath hissed through his teeth, but other than that he was quiet. The instruments were louder than he was.
John switched to his other hand and dealt the next blow across the buttocks, letting the belt wrap around to sting Sherlock on the hip; it had a muffled quality because his trousers were in the way. But he knew that Sherlock could still feel it, and he slapped the belt against his thighs, his arse, and once, against the backs of his calves, letting it wrap occasionally to nip Sherlock. Then back up he went, to revisit Sherlock's back, and Sherlock began to sink down, first onto his elbows and then until he was nearly flat against the desk, panting. John focused his attention on one particular area, under Sherlock's left shoulderblade, counting them off in his head. On the seventh one, the skin finally broke, and John watched as blood oozed sluggishly to the surface.
He flung the belt to the side. He turned his back on Sherlock and walked away, one hand over his mouth. His next breath hitched worryingly in his throat.
"John," Sherlock croaked.
John didn't answer. He was trying not to blink too hard, in case the hot, stiff feeling behind his eyes spilled over.
John took a deep, trembling breath and swallowed. "Please what?"
"Please don't stop."
John pressed the heel of his hand against the space between his eyes. "Sherlock, I, I can't. I'm hurting you."
"Please," Sherlock rasped.
That was twice, then. At least. John tilted his face up towards the ceiling, but there was no mercy to be found there. He squeezed his eyes shut. Then he turned, hobbled to the corner, and picked up his cane.
"All right," he said, quietly. "All right. Here it comes."
The sound itself seemed lethal. Sherlock jerked and cried out, digging his nails into the desk. John hit him with it again, careful to avoid the kidneys. Sherlock gave another howl and scrabbled futilely against the wood, knocking a pen to the floor. There was blood on the cane, now. John stepped back and dashed his hand across his eyes.
"No." Sherlock looked over his shoulder at John; his pupils were blown so wide that his irises showed only as thin, icy rings. "Keep going."
"No," John begged.
"Please," Sherlock whispered. "You're the only one who can do this to me."
No, I'm not, John thought, and he thought of the phone he'd found in the drawer. And then he hit him again.