“I think I will spend the afternoon at the Baths,” Holmes said, “if you should like to come along.”
We were in the middle of the Frobisher Forgery case, but there was some delay as the police worked to uncover the whereabouts of Frobisher’s base of operations. Holmes was taking advantage of the pause to clear his mind. This was not an unusual occurrence: he often attended concerts or the opera while engaged upon a case, and I usually accompanied him.
So the invitation to the Turkish baths was neither unexpected nor unwelcome. I had been feeling rather restless myself, and wished to think of something other than profit margins, smuggling routes, and printing presses. An afternoon spent relaxing in the company of my friend was just the thing.
We did not, however, go to our usual bath on Northumberland Avenue; instead, Holmes directed the cab to an address rather closer, in Soho. I didn’t ask, for I guessed Holmes had good reason for trying a new establishment.
Having paid our way at the discreetly marked door and been admitted to the inner sanctum, we changed out of our street clothes and wrapped ourselves in the long bathing sheets that were provided. Holmes has the enviable ability of looking elegant whatever he is wearing, from coattails to a dressing gown to a trailing sheet. He wrapped himself like a Roman emperor, and I admit I had trouble keeping my eyes off of him, which has long been a struggle for me. We went together into the warm room and found a pair of couches side-by-side.
“Watson,” said he, as we reclined, “I must admit something to you.”
“Does this have to do with the case?” I asked.
He slanted a smile in my direction. “It does.”
“I thought as much.”
“Good man. Yes, this is the bathing house which Frobisher is known to frequent. Well, I say ‘known.’ It has been mentioned, in my presence, by reliable but unwitting associates, that there is a rumor he comes here.”
“That seems like rather a long shot,” said I. I had begun to perspire, and let the bath sheet loose from around my shoulders. Holmes’s gaze flickered, following the movement, but a moment later he had turned his attention back to the room at large.
“Perhaps,” said he. “Another reliable source suggests-- well, Watson, I must take advantage of your discretion, today. This is not the same crowd as frequents our usual establishment. It is a rather more selective crowd.”
I looked around. The other bathers looked similarly anonymous to the ones I usually saw, though I recognised no faces. The removal of outerwear and the application of a bath sheet erased most of the signifiers of social class, though only a certain variety of gentlemen could afford three shillings and sixpence for a bath.
“You will have to be a little less vague,” I said.
Holmes smiled at me again, and reached out to touch my arm, indicating a pair of gentlemen across the way. These two were a little younger than Holmes and myself: one was a robust, dark-haired fellow with a full moustache, while the other was fairer and slighter, but still evidently in good health. They were sitting closer than Holmes and I, and they were holding hands.
“Ah,” said I.
“Quite,” Holmes replied. “Watson, I hope you are not uncomf--”
“No, Holmes, it’s quite all right.”
“I understand Frobisher uses it as a base to conduct business,” Holmes went on, when he was certain that I was not offended by the clientele. “It is discreet, safe from prying eyes, and at the same time public enough that strangers can interact without scrutiny.” He glanced at me again. His face was flushed, though whether that was from the heat or the delicacy of the situation I couldn’t tell.
“Do you intend to approach him if you see him?”
“No,” Holmes said quickly. “But if he is here, he will be approached by someone else , and I intend to see who that is.”
“Are we not at risk of being recognised ourselves?”
Holmes shook his head. “Doubtful. This is only a reconnaissance mission, and as you say he may not appear today at all. We relax, we do as we usually do, and perhaps we will advance our case. If not, we have still had a pleasant afternoon.”
We sat in companionable silence for a while, languishing in the heat. I let my legs slip out of the sheet and left it draped across my lap, giving myself over to the act of cleansing perspiration. Holmes kept himself a little more covered up, but his skin gleamed. His sharp eyes scanned the room at regular intervals, though his eyelids were heavy and his posture loose. Men of all ages, shapes, and sizes came and went, lounging for a time and then moving on. The pattern of courtship was not at first obvious, but soon I began to notice strangers as they approached one another, came to an agreement (or declined politely), and moved on together. Once I saw a man put his hand up underneath the towel of another. My pulse doubled. I looked away, but the sight wouldn’t leave me. My experience with men was extremely limited: public school midnights and furtive army encounters were all I knew. I had never guessed such a culture existed right under the noses of the general population. I envied the men who came here their free and easy way with one another.
Holmes tensed beside me, and I realised we were being approached. A young man sidled up, his towel tied so that he showed off his muscular limbs and torso. He was glittering with sweat and his nipples were wide and flat. He leaned down to Holmes and murmured in his ear. Holmes laughed, shaking his head, and his long hand found my forearm again.
“Thank you,” he said, “but my companion is already agreeable to me.”
The young man glanced at me. I raised an eyebrow at him. He nodded in deference and went away.
“Did you just imply to that fellow that I was your lover?”
“I’m sorry, Watson, it had to be done. I can’t be distracted.”
I chewed on a question and then, deciding to take advantage of the atmosphere of the bath, which on a normal day made Holmes more talkative than usual, asked, “Would you have gone with him if you weren’t waiting for Frobisher?”
Holmes looked at me sharply. I maintained an expression of casual curiosity, though now I burned to know the truth.
“No,” he said finally.
“I wouldn’t mind. If you did.”
Holmes’s eyes narrowed, and his hand slid off my arm. “He isn’t my type,” he said. His voice had gone a little chilly.
I shrugged, privately relieved, and we looked back at the clientele of the room.
“Bloody hell,” Holmes said, “Frobisher is here.”
So he was: the forger now sat at a distance from us, engaged in quiet conversation with a grey-haired gentleman of perhaps sixty.
“Who is that with him?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Holmes admitted. “I need to get closer. Hear what they’re saying.” He got up.
As he did, Frobisher and the man also rose. They moved away from us, through a doorway on the other side of the room.
“Come on, Watson!” Holmes hissed.
I gathered up my towel and went after him.
We followed Frobisher and the stranger at a distance through the doorway, down a hall, and past the hot room and the steam bath. Holmes slowed, peeking around a corner, and then took my arm. We turned the corner together in time to see Frobisher and the stranger disappear through another doorway.
“In there,” Holmes whispered, guiding me, and I realised it wasn’t a doorway at all. It was a little curved alcove, and we had gone into the one beside it. The alcove was about five feet deep, smooth stone, and the floor was heated from beneath. There were a dozen of them lining the hall, offset from one another. We could hear Frobisher and his companion talking.
Holmes pushed me to sit down on the seating ledge, whispered, “I am sorry,” and climbed into my lap.
He hissed to silence me, and I shut up.
“I need to relocate,” Frobisher was saying. “The blasted police are getting awfully close to the house, and I want to move the press as soon as possible. I don’t want to risk it getting confiscated or destroyed.”
“You care more about that press than any of your own people,” the stranger said, but the accusation sounded fond.
“Damn right,” Frobisher said, chuckling. “It’s worth more than any of my people.”
My hands hovered uncertainly in the air. Should I put them on the bench? If this was for the illusion of a liaison so that we would not be ousted, should I instead put them on his hips? He was heavier than he looked, and we were both over-warm, and I could smell the heady, masculine scent of his body. He was sweating on me. He was breathing on me. His arms were looped around my neck, his cheek almost touching mine. We were separated by no more than the hasty application of two bath sheets. He was listening intently, paying me no attention whatsoever. To my horror, I felt the sluggish pulse of arousal between my legs.
“Albert, I need your help,” Frobisher said, and I felt Holmes tense.
“I know, Edward,” the stranger said. “I can bring the cart on Thursday, at sunset. Will that suit?”
“I need it tomorrow.”
There was a pause. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“What’s in it for me, eh, Edward?”
“I’m sure I could find something you’d like,” Frobisher said, “but not here.”
Frobisher snorted. “You know how I feel about this place,” he said, and abruptly left the alcove.
Holmes and I were exposed, though I imagined we presented a fairly convincing portrait of a couple in flagrante . Holmes moved suddenly, his hands cupping my face, and he looked deep into my eyes for the barest moment before he kissed me.
His mouth was sweet and wet, his tongue demanding, and I could taste sweat at the corners of his lips. I kissed back, my hands finally finding a resting place on the slope of his back, and enjoyed the only chance I’d have of telling Holmes what I really thought of him. He made a shaky noise into my mouth, his hands sliding into my hair, and I felt his hips shift against mine.
He was hard beneath his towel.
He jerked back, face filled with horror. He’d shown rather more than he intended to. All at once, I was buoyant with delight.
“Frobisher is gone,” he said, for indeed our quarry had long departed. He started to get off my lap. I held onto him.
“He might come back,” I replied.
Holmes stared at me. “No, Watson, he--”
“He might ,” I said again.
He blinked slowly. “Might he?”
I shrugged and flexed my fingers on his bare skin. “How can we say for sure?”
“I don’t need to go after him,” Holmes said, his thumb tracing the shell of my ear. “I can find out who Albert with the cart is on my own time.”
“Well,” said I, “no reason to rush off, then, is there?”
“Is there not?”
“No,” I said. “Kiss me again.”
He breathed a sigh of relief and leaned in. This time his lips were soft and pliant, and I kissed him chastely a few times, just feeling the way his body relaxed and his fingers moved against my scalp. I skated my palms up his flanks and cradled his shoulder blades. He was more muscular than I gave him credit for; the cut of his suits always made him look slim and willowy, when really he was nothing of the sort.
My prick had been interested from the beginning, but it had been trapped under the knot of my towel. As Holmes shifted, so did the sheet, and it pressed upward into the underside of his thigh.
He pulled away again, just as I had been beginning to flicker my tongue against the seam of his lips to ease my way inside.
“Watson,” he said.
“Is this… is this a very bad idea?”
“It is a… very public place,” I admitted.
“You deliberately misunderstand me.”
“Holmes, I have wanted you since the moment I saw you, at your lab table with your haemoglobin precipitate. Now you bring me to a homosexual bathhouse, flaunt your incredible body in front of me, drag me into an alcove built for liaisons, and climb into my lap, all in the name of a case.”
He was blushing again.
“If you do not wish for this to go on,” I said, “I will respect that, and I will never say a word about it. But I think you feel more sympathy for me than you would like to admit.”
“I do,” he whispered.
“There’s no one here now,” I said, leaning in to kiss his jaw and throat. “Let me have you like this.”
He tipped his head back, sighing. His fingers wandered, slipping down my neck and squeezing my shoulders, then up again into my hair. His skin was salty; my cock throbbed. I rocked my hips up, pressing myself more firmly against him, and his low moan echoed in the little alcove.
He clapped a hand over his mouth, embarrassed. I let go of his hip to work my hand between us and underneath his towel, intent on hearing that sound again. His prick was hot and slick in my grip, and he groaned behind his palm. I stroked him slowly, still nibbling at his neck.
“Watson,” he gasped, sitting back on my thighs. He wrenched at the knot on his towel with one hand, holding tight to my shoulder with the other. The towel fell away, exposing the rest of his strong, lean body to me.
His prick’s rosy head peeked out of my fist, rising out of a thatch of curly, dark hair. His skin was flawlessly pale, and his muscular abdomen was tense. His bollocks hung loose and heavy in the heat. I wanted to lick every inch of him, sweat and all. My mouth watered so hard it hurt. I kissed him instead, licking deep into his mouth, and my grip on him tightened.
I experimented with the pace of my frigging; speeding up made him tense and gasp, slowing down made him moan. Adding a twist at the top of each stroke made his hips jerk and his breath stutter. When I stopped to only manipulate his tender, slippery cockhead, he dug his teeth into the muscle of my shoulder.
“Stop,” he gasped finally, “stop, I-- I want to touch you.” He pushed my hand aside and performed a familiar maneuver on my towel. He was quiet for a moment, looking his fill, and then he lifted his head and flattened himself against me. I wrapped him in my arms, kissing him deeply as he wriggled us into a satisfactory arrangement. We were skin to skin, cock to cock, and even the slightest movement of our bodies made both of us tremble. Holmes rolled his hips; his prick slid against mine. I gathered a double handful of his arse, under the tenuous drape of the towel, and made him do it again.
He groaned into my mouth. His hands moved to my chest, groping and rubbing, and I was unable to contain my own gasp when his nimble fingers found both my nipples at once. He pulled back to watch my face, his gaze intent, cataloguing my reactions. We rocked together, hips moving in concert. The hot air of the bath was compounded in this little room with the heated floor below us and the warm stone all around. I was gasping for breath, sweating profusely, and Holmes was flushed all over. His movements began to grow frenetic, and he stopped teasing me to plant his hands on the wall on either side of my head.
“God, I need to--” he gasped, hips twisting against mine, and I nearly came at his words. I was desperate, and he was gorgeous; whipcord strong and impossibly sensual, writhing on my lap. I wanted to watch him come apart.
I let go of his arse to stroke him off again, and it was a matter of tense, short-breathed moments before he was shuddering and spilling over my knuckles. He took half a minute to collect himself, and then returned the favour, kissing me as he worked my prick with his long, nimble hand. I relished the rise of pleasure in my blood, the urgency between my legs, and finally gasped, “Holmes,” in warning. He replied, “Yes,” in a whisper, and I spurted hard, clear up my chest.
He kissed me as I came down, and we lingered in sweet caresses as the tremors subsided.
“I think so,” I agreed, smiling.
We wiped ourselves clean with our towels and tied them again. We had no need for the hot rooms and no desire for a massage, so we went straight through to the plunge pool, where the cool water shocked us nearly, but not entirely, back to our senses. When we were clean, mostly dry, and back into our street clothes, we still shared a secret between us which we would never forget. And which we would act upon again almost as soon as we were home.
Next morning, Holmes tracked down Albert with the cart, and we had Frobisher in custody by nightfall. He cursed us for meddlers and fiends, but he didn’t recognise us from the Baths, thank God. The printing press truly was a thing of beauty, though not quite as beautiful as Holmes coming to crisis in my lap.