“John. Drink this.”
“What?” Startled out of the case he was writing mid-sentence, John looked up at the blue-green vial Sherlock was holding inches away from his face. It bubbled slowly, in a horribly unappetizing manner. “Drink... what is that? No.”
Undeterred, the vial stayed in front of his face. Sherlock’s expression was determined. “It’s for aphelion.”
“Aphelion? That case you’re working on?” John took the vial from him, mostly so that Sherlock would stop holding it in his face. He gave it a sniff, grimaced, and held the horrible concoction at arm’s length. “No. Definitely not. No.”
John hadn’t heard the word aphelion since primary school, until Sherlock had started batting it around two weeks ago. It was some bizarre, obscure case that Sherlock was working on. He had yet to successfully sit Sherlock down and extract an explanation from him, but from what he had gathered, there was some kind of cult activity focused around the Earth’s aphelion--the point in its orbit where it would be farthest away from the sun, which coincidentally happened in the middle of summer. John surmised that Sherlock was trying to prevent some kind of crime from taking place on the night in question, but the requests he had made of John in the interests of this were exceptionally peculiar.
“It is essential,” Sherlock insisted, watching him with exacting focus as he waited for John to comply.
“Essential for what, exactly? What is this? Sherlock, it’s nauseating.” He would suspect this was a murder attempt from his flatmate, if Sherlock wasn’t so maddeningly attached to him. He felt more like Sherlock’s teddy bear than his best friend, most of the time. He was constantly being dragged across London, only to be unceremoniously abandoned the moment Sherlock forgot about him, and later scolded for not being around when Sherlock was looking for him.
“Your safety,” Sherlock insisted. “Drink.”
“My safety? This does not make me feel very safe, Sherlock, and you still haven’t told me what this is.”
Frustrated, Sherlock’s brow furrowed into a sulk. “I will put it in your food.”
“It smells horrible, Sherlock. I think I’d notice.”
“Why are you being willfully obtuse? This is for aphelion. I need you to trust me.” Sherlock reached for the vial, but John held it out of the way, peering suspiciously up at him.
“Trust me. Drink it.”
“Is this some kind of experiment? Because it looks like--”
“John. This is not an experiment. I know exactly what it does, and I am telling you that it will keep you safe. This is important, and I do not want to take any risks. Drink it.”
John sighed, regarding the horrible mixture with resignation. “Sherlock, if this makes all my teeth fall out--”
Grimacing, John knocked the vial back and drank.
It tasted worse than it smelled, wriggling its way down his throat like it was sentient, and the acidic coating it left on his tongue made him feel like his tongue was growing hair. Choking, John clapped a hand over his mouth to keep from retching, and bolted for the kitchen to chug down milk. Sherlock followed, observing him closely.
“Happy?” John demanded. His stomach was doing flips, and he felt sick. This was supposed to keep him safe in some weird way?
Sherlock kept watching him intently for several minutes, until John had brushed his teeth twice, drunk half the gallon of milk, and finally stopped gagging and convulsing.
“Not okay, Sherlock,” John snapped, displeased about being railroaded into drinking what Sherlock still wouldn’t identify for him.
Sherlock just ignored that, and when John had settled back in his chair, attention returned to the blog and the agonizing experience mostly over, Sherlock gave up watching him and wandered away.
“He’s acting really weird.”
Nursing a pint of beer and still trying to get the taste of blue-green slime out of his mouth hours later, John frowned across the table at Greg. He couldn’t talk to anyone else about this. Greg was the only one who shared John’s oft-strained tolerance for Sherlock. With everyone else, it was either the accepting “oh that’s just Sherlock, he doesn’t mean anything by it” from Mrs. Hudson and Molly, or the “why do you put up with him?” from most of the rest of the population of London. Only Greg had the same wry, long-suffering patience, and it was a relief for both of them to be able to complain at length to each other about the latest horrors Sherlock had inflicted upon them.
“He always acts really weird.”
“Weird for Sherlock,” John insisted. “Today he made me drink some kind of nauseating slime. Said it was for aphelion.”
Lestrade’s head lifted, suddenly all attention. “Aphelion?”
“Some case he’s been working on for two weeks. Really unusual, and I can’t get any details out of him. Any other case he would have solved it by now, but this one it’s on and off. Nothing for three days, and then out of nowhere he’ll mention something about it. I’m on strict instructions to clear my calendar, and he has even rented a car in advance, but no word as to where we’re going. And even when it’s not about the case, he’s just been... strange.”
Greg leaned back in his chair, thinking that over. “Bad strange?”
“He gave me a bottle of aftershave.”
“It smells like a swamp. I think it must be the same brand he uses, it smells faintly like him. Not that I understand why anyone would want to smell like a swamp. And the brand, it’s not one I’ve ever heard of. I looked it up on the internet--nothing.”
Greg shrugged in a manner that John interpreted as the ways of Sherlock are inexplicable to anyone other than Sherlock. “Maybe he took offense at your regular aftershave?”
“I thought of that, but I haven’t changed it recently, and this is Sherlock. If he had a problem with it, he would have tried to replace it long before now.”
“Aphelion.” Greg scratched at his five o’clock shadow. “That doesn’t mean anything to you?”
“The point in Earth’s orbit where it’s farthest from the sun? No. No, it doesn’t, and Sherlock distracts either me or himself every time I try to dig for information. I’d be suspicious, but I don’t have the first idea what to suspect, and twice he’s told me to stop being obtuse, as if I’ve missed something terribly obvious and he thinks I’m being intentionally dense about it.” Confused and exhausted by dealing with the mystery of Sherlock’s behavior--which was almost always a mystery, but not usually so organized and at such a length of time--John slumped in his chair. He did trust Sherlock, but his recent antics had been inexplicable and jarring. His stomach still clenched irritably about the earlier indignity. “Why? Does it mean something to you?”
Greg settled his elbows on the table, hands curled around his pint glass as he stared down into it as though it contained all the answers. With great reluctance, he lifted his head to frown at John. “How much do you know about the rituals of the royal families?”
The royal families? Benevolent and terrible, their ways incomprehensible to their human subjects, the royal families were the rulers and defenders of humanity. From them had come all the good things in life, that had brought humanity out of their former pagan barbarism, and into the current era of peace and prosperity that had endured for almost a millenium. And yet they had always been very secretive about their private lives. Such is the way of royalty. “Almost nothing.”
“I have heard,” Greg ventured, “that the dates of perihelion and aphelion are very important to those of royal blood.”
“So the case has to do with royalty?” John’s eyebrows shot up. “No wonder he’s being so secretive.”
“John.” Greg frowned, like he had some additional information that he wasn’t at liberty to divulge. That made sense. This whole case might be above his clearance level, which would explain why Sherlock refused to tell him anything. After a pause, he shook his head. “Take care of yourself.”
All the same, that sent a chill through John’s heart. “Something I should be concerned about?”
“How much do you trust Sherlock?”
“Completely. Why do I keep getting asked that today?”
Greg pushed his pint away and stood up. “Because you might be called upon to prove just how much you’ll put up with, for his sake.”
“Take care of yourself,” Greg repeated, tossing money on the table and heading for the door in a way that looked like a hasty retreat.
But Greg just tossed a wave over his shoulder and left.
John looked up “aphelion + royalty” on the internet, and found nothing but articles on the mating habits of different strains of the Old Ones. All of what he found was wild speculation, and most of it was either vague blanket statements about royalty as a whole, or unhelpfully specific. Only one article actually addressed English royalty in any kind of helpful degree, and even that was confusing and unsettling.
… the children of the Queen of Albion take their mates on the night of Aphelion … courting-rituals of the offspring are complicated and subtle, lasting for months at a time, but always initiated by cohabitation. The offspring never directly discuss the topic of mating during courtship, but their courting habits are so specific that they cannot be mistaken for anything else. Traditional courting gifts include severed human heads and hands...
Rattled by the research, John shut his laptop and set it aside. So Sherlock was working on a case regarding aphelion, probably having something to do with royalty. No wonder some of his requests seemed … peculiar.
There were many things in the world that John didn’t understand, and things he had seen during his tour in Afghanistan that lingered in his nightmares to this day. Great, formless shapes with too many mouths and endless tangling limbs, creatures that strained his very powers of understanding. He knew that there were things lurking in between the shadows. Some of them were benevolent, like the great and merciful royal families, and others were feral demons that saw humans as prey.
It had been an encounter with one of these that had ended John’s tour of duty. All he remembered were the slick, dark limbs reaching for him, and then nothing until he’d woken screaming in the hospital. A whole chunk of his memory, not gone, but coiled so deeply in a horror he couldn’t face that it made him sick and dizzy to try to think of it. They told him he’d been screaming for a week, until his throat was hoarse and they sedated him. For a month they’d been worried his mind would not return.
At last, when he could function outwardly like a sane, stable human, they sent him home, with a recommendation for a therapist. Still, it wasn’t until he had met Sherlock that he felt like he could face the world again.
If the blue-green slime that had been forced down his throat was some kind of a defense against the facets of this world that defied human comprehension, then John was willing to endure a little intestinal distress. Perhaps the odd aroma of the aftershave made him harder for malevolent creatures to detect, or perhaps it made his human scent more tolerable to the royalty themselves.
It was a crazy theory, but John could only suppose that Sherlock was trying to prevent a crime being plotted against a member of the royal family. That explained the secrecy.
How much do you trust Sherlock?
“John! Get your coat. We’re going.”
“Going?” Startled out of his reading, John stumbled to his feet and fetched his coat. “Going where?”
“It’s aphelion tonight, where do you think?” Sherlock replied testily. He snatched his scarf and herded John out the door, down to the waiting car. “We need to hurry.”
“Right. Okay.” Shaking his head and just accepting it, John slid in the driver’s side and started the car. Sherlock certainly had no idea how to drive. He considered it superfluous information.
The warm crimson of the moon was particularly vivid tonight, washing the countryside in a breathtaking shade of ruby black as they drove out of London. Sherlock was restless but silent, hand tapping impatiently against his thigh.
“Can you tell me anything about what’s going on?” John asked. He understood security clearance, but he also didn’t want to be going into this situation blind.
He could see Sherlock sit up out of the corner of his eye. “Of course,” he said, as though only just realizing something. “You haven’t done this before.”
“Aphelion. The ritual.”
Sherlock scoffed. “There’s only one. Don’t worry. You have nothing to fear.”
“Okay,” John agreed, still annoyed that he wasn’t getting any details about this. “Shouldn’t you tell me some part of the plan? So that I know what to … do, I mean.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Sherlock said, and his voice was gentler this time, almost soothing--if Sherlock could be soothing. “You just have to trust me.”
“I do,” John said. “Trust you, I mean. I just... never mind. I trust you. Fine. It’s all fine.”
Sherlock stayed silent, except for giving directions, so John gave up and left him to his thoughts. He was Sherlock. Who knew what went through that maddening, incredible brain?
Their path took them from the motorway onto local highways, and from there to winding country lanes, and finally an abandoned, overgrown track where they had to leave the car and walk.
“Well, this is atmospheric,” John commented, trying to lighten the situation. He had gotten over his terror of the dark, especially as long as the warm rosy light of the moon was glowing above and with Sherlock at his side, but he had no fondness for being away from the safe, familiar, brightly lit streets of London.
“My ancestral home,” Sherlock explained. It was the first time he had actually offered information in this weird case. “It was destroyed two hundred years ago, when the bedrock fractured during a ritual. Not, I don’t believe, a ritual of aphelion. The other family lines have moved on to other things, greater sites of power. No one has much interest in this old place, but it will serve my purposes.”
“Those purposes being...?”
“Come along, John. Quickly.”
Frustrated as ever by the lack of further information, John trudged along after him. His ancestral home? What in the world did his ancestral home have to do with anything? The case they were investigating had some connection to Sherlock’s family? But what did that mean, that some branch of the family was of royal blood?
By marriage, surely. Sherlock was human enough. Ethereally beautiful and more than a little odd, yes, but John had seen him in plenty of states of undress. Sherlock was eternally stubborn against John’s imposed rules of wearing pants outside of his own bedroom, so John had gotten an eyeful on more than one occasion. Everything that was there was human. There were none of the extra limbs and peculiar placement of eyeballs that were indicative of royalty.
The castle itself was a gorgeous gothic fortress of a place, left to its own crumbling devices. The roof was gone in most places, and a sharp rift down the center of the structure verified Sherlock’s story about the fractured foundation.
But what kind of ritual could fracture bedrock?
Sherlock hadn’t bothered with a torch while they were out in the moonlight, but he handed one over to John once they ducked under the crumbling arch of a doorway and entered the dark depths of the castle. Sherlock himself took the lead, strangely unconcerned about the darkness, and that was the first thing that put a note of real doubt in John’s mind. Sherlock had good night vision, okay, but it shouldn’t be this good.
“Are you sure this is safe?” John asked, flashing the light up at the soaring stone walls, any one of which could topple over and crush them without warning.
“Quite safe,” Sherlock said.
“If you tell me to trust you again I am going to punch you,” John warned him. Sherlock paused and looked back, and when John shone the light on him he saw a momentary grin. He couldn’t help but return Sherlock’s grins. They were always infectious, and were eternally leading to the two of them giggling at crime scenes. That grin was why he trusted Sherlock. His Sherlock. His best friend.
Who was currently leading him down a precarious set of stairs into a subterranean vault.
I trust Sherlock, I do. This is all fine.
Deep beneath the old castle was a cavern, the ceilings of which were gorgeously vaulted with carven stone. Gods and gargoyles stood in recessed alcoves around the room, among them a stone image of the Queen of Albion herself, with some of her consorts.
“What is this place?” John breathed. It was beautiful, in a dark and terrifying way. The fracture in the stone ran the length of the hall, and straight through an altar at the center, but the hall had stood for hundreds of years without crumbling. It could stand for one night more.
“It is a place of power.” Sherlock whipped off his coat, laying it across the altar and smoothing the fabric over the stone. “Broken, with only remnants of power remaining, but that’s more than enough for our purposes.”
“And what are our purposes, exactly?”
“Saving my life,” Sherlock removed his scarf and set it aside, and then started on the buttons of his shirt. “I tried to forgo this last year, on aphelion, and it almost killed me. I don’t think I can survive another year. That’s why I was so grateful when I found you and you agreed.”
“Agreed to what?”
Sherlock looked puzzled, but he never stopped unbuttoning. “To this. We don’t have much time, John. I’m going to need you to remove your clothing.”
“What? Sherlock.” John’s nostrils flared as he clamped his mouth shut and stopped himself from arguing further. He had said that he trusted Sherlock, and if Sherlock said his life was on the line, he wasn’t joking. He wouldn’t joke about that. “Fine.”
Still annoyed about not being told anything, John shed coat and then jumper, piling them neatly on the floor and setting the torch atop them so that it lit the altar before attacking the buttons of his own shirt.
By the time he had his shirt off and looked back, Sherlock was already naked. They were very much alone, not laying a trap or making plans to save anyone, and John was beginning to have serious doubts about his assumption that aphelion referred to a case.
“I’m going to remove my glamour now,” Sherlock said, watching John closely for his consent.
John went very still, voice tight. Glamour, in John’s understanding, when it didn’t refer to women’s fashion magazines or vintage hollywood, was an old fairy tale word for enchantment. Sherlock did not have enchantments. Sherlock was a normal, safe human, and he always had been. John was his best friend. He would have noticed. “What do you mean your glamour?”
“I mean show to you my true form.”
“What do you mean your true form?” John echoed, feeling his voice go unusually high. “You don’t have a true form, you’re human, you’re my flatmate, you’re my best friend.”
“John,” Sherlock said, expression melting into flat horror as he realized for the first time that when he said aphelion, John honestly had no idea what he was talking about.
John shook his head, staring openly at him. “No. Sherlock.”
“You consented,” Sherlock insisted, but it sounded desperate. “I courted you and you consented.”
What did he mean, consented? Consented to what? All of Sherlock’s strange behavior, from the very start, he had just taken it in stride. Severed heads in the fridge...
… traditional courting gifts include severed human heads and hands...
No, that was just an experiment. It was for one of Sherlock’s cases. But that damned article he’d read wouldn’t stop spinning through his head. Sherlock had been courting him, and he’d just assumed the man was eccentric. He said “yes, right, okay” to Sherlock all the time. One of those times had been consent. “Sherlock...”
“It’s too late,” Sherlock decided, and dropped the glamour.
He was still Sherlock. Same sharp cheekbones, same tall, too-thin frame. But his normally blue eyes glowed with green fire, and his pale, translucent skin was shot through with threads of black that formed arcane patterns beneath the skin. Even that might have been fine, even that might still have been Sherlock, but for the six slick black tentacles that roiled around his slim form.
“No,” John said, and bolted.
He was a fast runner, but Sherlock was faster. Limbs wrapped around him before he was halfway to the stairs. Two arms around his waist, and four of the slick, dark tentacles...
Oh, no. No.
“We don’t have time to discuss this,” Sherlock said, steering him inexorably toward the altar.
“Sherlock,” John begged, fighting with the tentacles that wrapped around his arms and legs. “Whatever you think I consented to, whatever this is, I can’t. I cannot deal with this, Sherlock. No.”
“I’m sorry, John,” Sherlock said. He pushed him down onto his back on the altar, looking down at him for a moment with regret before he leaned down and kissed him.
It was soft and sweet, but brief.
“Sherlock,” John pleaded, one more time.
One of the tentacles whipped up, pushing through John’s parted lips and straight down his throat, preventing any further conversation. It went deep, filling his throat and reaching halfway to his belly. He choked, straining for air and receiving none.
Above him, Sherlock groaned, a rich, erotic sound that John had never heard from him before. But after a second, the thing retreated, pulling up to fill John’s mouth and letting him breathe. It tasted like Sherlock--milk and tobacco, a sharpness like antiseptic and that almost-sweet, swampy odor from the aftershave.
Musk. That was the word on the bottle. It was the natural musk of whatever the hell Sherlock was. And he had wanted John to wear it as one of the signals in his strange courtship. Which of course--stupidly, wanting to please and thinking it was just another bizarre quirk of Sherlock Holmes--he had.
Sherlock’s hands were fumbling with his belt, another of his tentacles snaking down inside his boxers and curling around the length of his cock. He only used four of the six to actually touch John--the last two, nearest his head, were shorter than the others, curling around his collar bones like a living mantle. But the rest of them were plenty busy, between restraining John’s wrists and violating his mouth. All of them were slick and wet at the tip, leaking dark musk that they left on John’s skin in streaks.
And that musk tingled everywhere it touched.
As soon as John had caught his breath, the tentacle slid back down his throat, staying there for two seconds and then retreating to let him breathe. John couldn’t decide whether to think of it as one of Sherlock’s limbs or as an alien thing with a mind of its own, until Sherlock looked up and met his eyes. There was a very deliberate intent there, as he established a rhythm and waited for John to figure out how to breathe around it, and the expression of ecstasy on Sherlock’s face every time it pushed inside said that whatever this thing was down John’s throat, Sherlock thought it felt incredible.
The taste of it was somehow intoxicating, like a spiced liquor that sent pleasant shivers down every one of his neurons it encountered, and the longer he was exposed to it the more irresistible it became. The threads of it that had been left on his cock had him erect and aching.
Roughly stripping off John’s trousers, only just careful enough not to rip the material, Sherlock’s tentacles tangled around his thighs, pulling them open and exposing him. John moaned around the thing in his mouth, arousal and objection combined, but Sherlock disregarded that. Replacing the restraint on his wrists with hands, Sherlock freed the fourth tentacle to slither down between his legs, nudging bluntly against his ass.
John arched his back and whimpered in an attempt to object, but Sherlock was having none of that. Too late, he had said. We don’t have time. Aphelion was at four a.m., and whatever that meant for Sherlock, it was only minutes away.
“I need you,” Sherlock whispered against the muscles of John’s chest. He kissed his way down his belly, keeping his grip tight on John’s wrists. “It has to be you.”
His mouth sank down around John’s dick at the same time as the tentacle between his legs pushed inside. It was hot and wet inside him, coating him with the slippery musk. It slid deeper and deeper inside him, filling him up and growing steadily wider, until John whimpered in pain, and it retreated only to begin again, slowly forcing more and thicker parts of itself inside.
Sherlock’s penis had grown considerably as it hardened. John could only catch glimpses of it from this angle, but he understood exactly what the thing inside of him was doing: preparing him for that.
The first tentacle pulled out, taking the place of one of the ones around his thighs as that second, larger tentacle started probing into him. Oozing musk, it left him slick and wet, moaning repeatedly as the aphrodisiac properties of liquid reached more and more areas of his body.
When it abandoned him, John whimpered, intensely wanting. His hips strained upward, needing to be filled again.
Sherlock’s mouth was generous and oh-so-clever as it enveloped him, all sweet hot heat and flickering tongue. He was so damn good at giving head, which was no surprise at all. Sherlock was good at anything he put his mind to, and it seemed he was truly invested in putting his mind to this.
But his mouth pulled away mere seconds after his tentacle had pulled out, and he shifted, settling himself between John’s legs.
The tentacle in John’s throat pulled out as well, giving him use of his mouth again.
“I need you to consent,” Sherlock said, and there was absolutely a note of desperation in the statement.
Flushed and panting, John met his eyes. They glowed demonically, but he still recognized them. Sherlock’s eyes.
How much do you trust Sherlock?
Saving my life.
Sherlock didn’t hesitate. He thrust inside, hard. John’s muscles stretched and strained, hurting, but John clamped down on any objection. For Sherlock, he would do this. For Sherlock, he would do anything.
The tentacles writhed around him, holding his legs wide as Sherlock pushed in to the hilt, taking him roughly. Completely undone by the pheromones in the musk and the effect of Sherlock’s preparation, John lifted his hips to meet each thrust, eager and willing for what he’d been fervently resisting just minutes before.
“John,” Sherlock whispered against his ear, voice broken and desperate with need. “Mine. John.”
Pleasure washed over him in waves, far more intense than any orgasm in his life before, blotting out everything but Sherlock above and around him, and it went on forever. He recognized--barely--that Sherlock was coming because he felt the flood of seed inside him, far more than any human could produce.
When he came to his senses, Sherlock had pulled out, and was hovering over John with an expression of deep concern. “It’s done,” he said, when John met his eyes and managed to hold there for more than a second. “We’re mated.”
“Mated?” John echoed, physically and emotionally exhausted and very confused.
“I’ll take you home,” Sherlock promised, gathering him up into his arms. All... six of them.
“Sherlock,” John groaned, but his eyes rolled up and the world went dark.