Sherlock was restless, pushing himself off the couch and pacing the room, his dressing gown billowing behind him as he paced, his hands raking through his already wild hair. John sighed, closing the book he was reading and setting it on his lap.
“Sherlock.” No response, not even a pause in the manic loop Sherlock was making around the flat. “Sherlock!”
“What?” He snapped, spinning his head and locking his eyes with John’s, the look in them almost enough to make John wince.
“Sherlock, you need to relax. I’m tired just looking at you.” John knew that he was fighting a losing battle, but for some reason, he still tried every time.
Sherlock gave one of his patented long suffering sighs and kept moving, dragging the sleeve of his dressing gown up and scratching his nails over the white skin of his forearm, red welts appearing in their wake. “I don’t need to relax, John, I can’t relax.”
John pushed himself out of his chair, timing it just right so he was right in Sherlock’s way when he turned to begin his loop anew. He grabbed Sherlock’s wrist and stilled it where he was still scratching at his arm. The past few weeks had been quiet certainly, no new cases, the ones they were working on hitting roadblocks even Sherlock couldn’t leap over, but they’d had worse droughts. John had no idea what was making Sherlock act like this. “Sherlock, stop.”
Sherlock actually did stop, a look of exasperated confusion filling his face at the softness of John’s voice. Usually when he was like this John barked at him, frustrated and at his wit’s end, but that sounded different. “I can’t stop, John. I need to keep moving, if I sit still I will rot.”
A sigh escaped John’s throat, and yes, that was more like the usual reaction. “You will not, but I know there’s no point in telling you that. Why don’t you go outside, go pace in the park and scare the pigeons and leave me to read in peace.” John rubbed a hand over his face, looking so tired, tired enough that Sherlock tilted his head, considering.
John could see the wheels turning, could see Sherlock sliding pieces around in his brain until they slotted into some place that seemed to make sense, at least in the moment. “Yes, alright. Perhaps a walk is just what I need.”
Before John could shout after Sherlock that he was still in his night clothes, Sherlock had shrugged into his overcoat and was sweeping down the stair, the sudden silence in his absence as distracting as his pacing had been. John sighed again and opened his book, trying to read without worrying, and mostly failing.
Once he’d left 221B behind him, Sherlock tapped out a quick text, hesitating only briefly before hitting send. I’m bored. Let’s have dinner. SH
The taxi ride to Irene’s was long and horrible, Sherlock tapping his foot against the floor and drumming his fingers against his leg to quell the rising urge to swing the door open and leap out onto the street and walk the rest of the way. Surely it would be faster than the crawling speed the taxi was taking, actually deigning to stop at corners to let pedestrians cross. After the tenth loud sigh escaped his lips, the cabbie lifted his eyes to the rear view, his eyebrows raising when he caught Sherlock’s gaze which Sherlock could only assume was more than a bit manic.
“You alright? You seem a bit frazzled.”
“Fine. Just drive.” Sherlock shifted once more, his muscles tight even as he thought of John and rolled his eyes, gritting his teeth as he continued. “Drive, please.”
The driver seemed to hesitate, making the face Sherlock recognized as the “how crazy is this guy exactly” face, but set his eyes back on the road and drove. Faster than before, and surely above the limit, Sherlock was pleased to notice. He didn’t exactly sit back and relax for the rest of the drive, but Sherlock always found that watching London zip by through the windows of a car going just a little too fast calmed him slightly, the world outside finally going near the speed of his thoughts.
Sherlock practically threw his money at the cabbie the moment it pulled up in front of Irene’s house, charging up the front steps and foregoing the doorbell to bash his fist against the door until it swung open, the smiling face of Irene’s assistant looking up at him. “Good afternoon, Mr Holmes. Miss Adler is waiting for you upstairs. Would you like me to take your coat?”
She didn’t even reach a hand out, as the last of her words followed Sherlock up the stairs, down the long hallway lined on either side with rooms in which he could only imagine what went on. He got to the last door, the only one left slightly ajar, and pushed it the rest of the way open, stepping through. Before he could take a look around or speak, he felt a hand on his back, small but strong, and heard the door shut behind him. He let himself be pushed forward, finally looking around the small room and taking it in.
There was a plush couch against the wall, the fabric looking soft and expensive, which he was sure it was. Next to the couch was a large ornate chest, and Sherlock’s fingers itched to open it, to see what tools of her trade Irene kept at hand. The hand behind him stopped pushing when Sherlock neared the couch, and he let Irene slide his coat from his shoulders, followed by his dressing gown. She spun him around and he looked down at her, her brightly painted lips curving into a smirk, one hand resting on her own hip, the other reaching out to press against Sherlock’s chest.
Sherlock scanned his eyes over her quickly, finding it as impossible as always to determine anything about her he didn’t already know. Her dark hair was pinned up to keep it out of the way, which he supposed also had the benefit of exposing the pale flesh of her neck and chest. She wasn’t nude this time, wearing lingerie that was starkly black against her skin, a corset pulling her waist in impossibly small. He wondered how that could possibly be comfortable, but then he supposed comfort wasn’t one of Irene’s greatest concerns. When his eyes returned to her face, he was met with eyes that nearly sparkled, Irene’s tongue darting out to wet her hips, his fingers curving just slightly into Sherlock’s chest.
“Mr Holmes. What made you decide to finally accept my invitation? See something you like?” Irene stepped back, cocking a hip out before walking around Sherlock, her hand sweeping over the small of his back gently enough to send a shiver down his spine.
Sherlock found his mouth suddenly dry, and he clenched his hands into fists, his brain racing ahead of his tongue trying to catalogue what was happening to him. Irene came around in front of him again, her eyes catching his and she clucked her tongue, as if she knew everything about him in that one glance. Sherlock found it both infuriating and oddly comforting; that knowledge, that certainty was why he’d come here, even if he didn’t know how to say it.
“Ah, I see. Need a little escape from your own mind, do we? I think I can help with that.” Irene slid her hands over Sherlock’s chest, Sherlock’s heart beating hard against them before she moved them higher, curving her fingers around his slim shoulders and pushing. “Down, Sherlock.”
He went willingly, not even stopping to think it through before the moment his knees hit the floor, the wood hard against his bones. He watched as Irene sauntered over to the wooden chest, pulling a small key from her cleavage and slipping it into the lock. The click of the lock opening echoed through the room, and Sherlock leaned over, trying to see what was inside the chest, his curiosity nearly overwhelming him.
But Irene was quick, so quick Sherlock would swear he never saw her move until the riding crop was pressed to his chest, pushing him back. She clucked her tongue again, shaking her head just a little. “No, no Sherlock. You came to me, so we play by my rules.” She let the crop move slowly down Sherlock’s chest until it could slip under the hem of his t-shirt, lifting it just barely. “Let’s get this off to start.”
Sherlock’s hands were shaking as he pulled his shirt over his head, the kind of shakes he’d previously only associated with the moments right before plunging a needle into his veins. Somewhere between nerves, excitement and need, he shuddered when the cool leather of the crop touched his bare skin. He could see something soft and shiny in Irene’s other hand, and she grinned when she saw him looking. She let it unfurl, and he felt his mouth go dry all over again as black silk fell from her hand, a long strip that could only have so many purposes.
Irene let the end of the silk dangle over Sherlock’s skin, just barely brushing his back as she moved closer, close enough to wrap the silk around his eyes. Sherlock thought he stopped breathing as he felt her deft fingers tie the silk tight enough that the no light came in, but not so tight that he felt panic. Her breath against his ear startled him, his other senses not yet having time to pick up the slack for his missing vision. “If you say “priest”, this all stops. Nod for me, Sherlock.”
Sherlock nodded, feeling his face flush at her words, taking them as a challenge, even though he knew they weren’t meant to be. Everything between them was a challenge, a constant fight for dominance, and Sherlock couldn’t help by see the irony in fighting for dominance here when he’d come to her specifically to be taken apart.
“Now say it for me.”
His voice felt rough and raw in his dry throat, even deeper than usual as he formed his lips around the word, feeling strange in his mouth for what it meant, what it stood for. “Priest.”
“That’s a good boy.” Irene caressed his back with the crop, tracing gentle patterns that only made Sherlock tense up, thinking of what was surely to come next. She gradually pressed harder, until Sherlock could feel the crop beginning to dig into his skin, pressing just hard enough that it was clear Irene wanted him to move. Sherlock let himself be pushed, leaning forward until he felt his chest hit the sofa, the soft velvet cool against his skin.
The crop was replaced with Irene’s hands, teasing a tickling path across his shoulders and down his arms until she reached his wrists, wrapping her slim fingers nearly tight enough to hurt. She dragged his arms up over his head and pressed them to the couch, guiding his fingers to unfurl and grip the edge of the cushion. Her lips were back near his ear, close enough to touch, and Sherlock fought the urge to move away, just to get enough space to breathe. “Leave them there.”
Sherlock felt as Irene moved back behind him, heard the click of her heels as she planted her feet, felt the heat of her eyes as they swept over his back. She made a sound that was nearly wistful, a little sigh followed by words Sherlock nearly missed because of what followed them. “You’re beautiful like this, Sherlock.” She’d barely finished speaking when she brought her arm down, the crop whizzing through the air for what felt like an eternity before cracking across Sherlock’s shoulders, sharp pain shocking him, a deep groan ripping from him his chest.
The pain was sharp and bright, and it took all of Sherlock’s strength to stay where he was, bent over the couch hanging on for dear life. Another blow followed so quickly that Sherlock barely had time to drag in a deep breath, and another and another, until Sherlock was panting, a fine sheen of sweat covering his body, beads dripping from his hair to soak into the silk that blinded him. Irene paused then, tracing the crop over the marks she’d left on Sherlock’s pale skin, and Sherlock could feel his muscles twitching, his fingers clenching so hard into the cushion his forearms were beginning to ache.
Irene made a considering noise, and her gaze was as intense as the snap of the crop. “You’re so tense, Sherlock, you need to let go, stop thinking so much.”
Even though his voice was thick, he managed to scoff, turning his head even though he couldn’t look at her. “I can’t, I can’t stop thinking. It’s what I do.”
“Yes, Mr Holmes, and you’re very good at it. But when people need to stop thinking, they come to me.” Sherlock flinched at the sound of the crop swishing, connecting with what he assumed Irene’s leg. Her heels clicked against the floor as she walked, and Sherlock felt when she came very close, dropping down to card her fingers through his sweaty hair, to trace around the edges of the angry welts beginning to bloom on his shoulders. Her breath was warm against his ear, and Sherlock could smell something sweet on her breath when she spoke. “And I am very good at what I do. Let me do it.”
Sherlock hissed when she scraped her nails over a particularly tender section of skin, but his back arched into her touch anyways as if asking for more despite himself. He ground his teeth together hard enough he could hear it, his jaw muscles standing out harshly from him face. His head was spinning with thoughts, the logical part of his brain telling him to leave, to get up, walk away and never look back. He didn’t need this, so common of a release, he needed the work to stimulate his brain, not the crack of Irene’s crop to dull it. But there was another part of his brain, a deeper more primal part that was shouting louder and louder, telling him this was exactly what he needed, to go outside of himself and let someone else have control just for a brief moment.
Sherlock still tried to shut it up, even as Irene’s fingers pressed harder into the welts she’d created, his body reacting not with revulsion or fear, but with eagerness. As if Irene could see the war happening inside Sherlock’s head, her hand moved to tangle in the mess of Sherlock’s hair, holding him still. The touch grounded him, and he felt himself slump just a little more into the cushions, a soft noise that was nearly a whimper spilling from his lips when Irene tugged just hard enough. She made a knowing sound that would’ve driven Sherlock insane at any other moment, and then he heard the noise of her opening the chest again, his heart pounding at not being able to see.
He felt her hands, still somehow impossibly cool, wrap around his wrists, pulling them free from where he was clutching the cushions. Soft leather followed, wrapping quickly around his wrists, buckling with what sounded like a very large buckle. He let Irene move his arms, stretching him out until she could buckle his wrists to restraints that must have been hidden inside the couch. Sherlock tested his bonds, his arms now at right angles to his body, pressing his chest flat against the couch. The bonds were tight, he couldn’t get loose if he wanted to, but the leather was soft against the skin of his wrists and he felt something inside of him loosen as he unclenched his hands.
“There now, that’s better, isn’t it?” Her voice was soft and sing-song, gentle like you might talk to a child and in direct contrast to the leather crop she was once again dragging over Sherlock’s back. And it was better, Sherlock felt his muscles unknotting, felt his heart slow and his brain get just a little muzzy, his thoughts no longer spinning like a dervish.
He gasped when the crop suddenly flicked against his side, not enough to hurt, but more than enough to bring him back to the moment. “Sherlock, isn’t that better?” There was a sharpness to Irene’s voice he hadn’t heard before, and he couldn’t decide if he never wanted to hear it again or if he wanted to hear it forever.
“Yes.” He croaked out the word, his throat feeling raw, and Irene made a pleased sound in the back of her throat.
“Good boy.” She traced over his back with the crop one more time, and Sherlock could feel a flush spreading over his face, telling himself it was the heat in the room and not the praise she’d given him. He nearly whimpered at the gentleness of her strokes, fighting the urge to shift to get the crop to brush over the welts, to tease the raw flesh. Irene ran the crop down the pale flesh of Sherlock’s arms, tracing over his shoulder muscles, standing out from the strain of being held in an awkward position.
She kept it up until Sherlock was keenly aware of every inch of his exposed skin, could feel the faint movement of air in the room like it was a slap. He made soft, pleading noises and no longer cared he was making them, he clenched and released his hands, tugging at his bond though he knew it was futile. Finally, when his hair was drenched in sweat, his throat was dry and his whole body exhausted, he let himself go, every muscle in his body releasing its tension all at once, sinking deep into the plushness of the couch. The word was small and almost pathetic when it fell from Sherlock’s lips, but he would swear it rang through the room like an explosion.
There was a heartbeat of silence and stillness, neither of them moving an inch and Sherlock felt like he wasn’t even breathing. Then he heard Irene’s voice, soft and proud, and his skin prickled. “Now, was that so hard?” The question was obviously rhetorical, because in the next moment the crop was singing through the air again, seeming to take forever to reach Sherlock’s skin, but he didn’t tense against it this time. No, when the crop kissed his shoulders he sank into it, each bite of clean, sharp pain clearing his head a little more, scattering the clouds that had been forming for weeks. Irene hit him harder, moving the crop to let it bite into the tender skin of his sides, the soft skin of his waist. Sherlock could feel something running down his back, and the thought that it might be blood sent a shiver through him.
She hit him so many times he lost count, dragging breaths in through chapped lips, his muscles limp, grateful for the couch in front of him to hold him up. The blows began to soften, getting lighter and lighter until Irene was once again simply stroking his skin, careful to avoid the worst of the damage. Sherlock moaned softly when she lifted the crop away from his back the last time, reaching down to stroke a gentle hand through his hair as she slipped the blindfold off his eyes. He blinked blearily, his vision a little blurry as he watched her carry the crop to the chest, resting it on top. He could see the end glistening, and he forced his tongue out to moisten his dry lips, the light in the room just bright enough to ensure him that the leather shone with his blood.
Irene’s fingers expertly released him from his bonds, rubbing up and down his arms to soothe the tingles of returning blood flow, and then she swept a hand through Sherlock’s wet hair, pushing the curls back so she could look him in the eye. “Just a minute, darling, I’ll be right back.” Sherlock heard her heels click across the floor, heard the door open and shut quietly behind her, but he didn’t have the energy nor the care to turn and watch her go. He felt impossibly light, his mind near enough to empty, and he was perfectly content to kneel awkwardly on Irene’s floor until she returned.
He heard the door open and shut again, and Irene’s hands were back on him, guiding him up to lay on the couch, a pillow slipped under his cheek. He started a little when he felt her hands on his back, but she shushed him, a warm cloth gently sliding over his skin, soothing the burn that was sure to turn into a beast of an ache later. She smoothed something cool and slick over the worst of the welts, lingering a little longer than Sherlock figured was medically necessary, but he was in no position to argue.By the time she was done, Sherlock’s eyes were falling shut, his lids heavy and his brain fuzzy with days of lost sleep. The last thing he saw was Irene’s face looking down on him with all the pride and serenity of a parent watching their infant sleep. “Stay as long as you like, Sherlock, get some rest.”
And rest Sherlock did. When he woke, it was dark, and for a moment he forgot where he was, remembering when he tried to sit up and his back protested. Still, he felt better than he had in days, weeks maybe, and he rolled his shoulders just to feel the deep ache again. As he was awkwardly pulling his shirt down over his ruined back, the door swung open, revealing Irene clad in a black silk robe and a rather frantic looking John Watson.
“Sherlock, thank god. Do you have any idea how long you’ve been gone? I’ve been texting you. Are you alright?” John swept into the room like a hurricane, walking circles around Sherlock as if to ensure that he really was standing there all in one piece. When he was satisfied, John let out a shaky breath and rubbed his hand over his face, a nervous laugh spilling from his lips. “Jesus, Sherlock, next time just tell me where you’re going. I’m sure Irene didn’t appreciate me nearly breaking her door down at 3am.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, and thought about asking what John meant by ‘next time’, but he didn’t, decided he didn’t really want to have this conversation right this moment. What he did say was, “I’m sorry to have worried you, John. I assure you, I was in very good hands here with Ms. Adler.”
Irene’s lips turned up in a smirk, and John’s cheeks flushed flaming red as he stammered in a rather charming way. “Yes, yes, well. let’s get you home then, shall we?”
“Actually, I’m starving. Is there anywhere open to get takeaway at this time of night? I don’t fancy eating in my nightclothes.”
John looked at Sherlock somewhat agog, a look Sherlock was becoming rather used to see on John’s face, but then he shook it off, smiling fondly. “Sure, there’s that all night Chinese you like on the way home. Come on, I’ve got a cab waiting outside.”
“I’ll meet you. I just want to thank Ms. Adler for her hospitality.”
“Of course you do,” John said, with a raised eyebrow. “Don’t be long, he already thinks I’m a madman with the way I’ve been racing him around London.”
When they were alone, Sherlock found he didn’t really know what to say to Irene, because even outside of Sherlock’s limited knowledge of social situations, he didn’t think there was a proper way to thank someone for beating you with a riding crop until you could think again.
“You don’t have to thank me Sherlock. Remember, this is what I do.” Irene tilted her as if examining this new Sherlock, cataloging the information she’d gained this afternoon. “Now I can say I know what The Great Sherlock Holmes likes. That’s thanks enough.”
She started out of the room and Sherlock followed, walking towards the stairs that led to the front door and to John and to home. He was just about to step into the night when he paused, turning back to face Irene, a small smile on his face. “Thank you for dinner, Ms Adler. It was truly lovely.”
Irene laughed with abandon, a full, rich sound, that carried even when she shut the heavy wooden door, leaving Sherlock standing alone on her porch. Sherlock stood there for a moment, gathering himself before heading to the cab, sliding in next to John and only wincing a little when his back brushed against the seat.
John raised an eyebrow, watching him move with the eyes of a doctor. “Are you going to tell me what went on in there?”
“Do you want to know what went on?”
John considered it, darting his tongue out to wet his lips. “You know what, I don’t think I do. Just glad you’re back.” He smiled at Sherlock, that open, easy smile that made Sherlock feel at home.
Sherlock returned it genuinely, turning briefly to watch Irene’s house fade into the distance as the cab pulled away. “I’m glad I’m back too.”