"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."
The hushed whisper was low and silky, almost sultry, though of course Father Watson didn't notice such things. It was also unfamiliar, which was odd in their small congregation. He surreptitiously cast an eye toward the screened partition, but all he could see in the dim light was a mass of dark curls. An image flashed in his mind’s eye of a dashing young man in a well-tailored suit, though he couldn’t quite place him.
"What are your sins, my child?"
He could hear the man swallow.
"I have had impure thoughts. Of a... carnal nature."
Father Watson wanted to smile. All the men—and nearly all the women—in his congregation regularly confessed this sin, but few sounded so nervous about it. A couple Hail Mary's, and he could end this poor man's torment.
Father Watson nearly choked. That was a new one. His gaze cut to the partition again, and through the screen he saw a flash of silver, pale eyes reflecting what little light they could. Suddenly, he knew who was on the other side, and mentally kicked himself for not recognising him sooner: the youngest Holmes. Of course.
He remembered the boy well, though he had been away at boarding school these past five years. Hard to forget. His mind cast back to his first day at this church, the memory springing to life as if it were yesterday and not eight years hence. Traumatic events are often like that.
He was freshly back from the war, where he had given last rites to too many young men and women, held bloodied bodies in his arms as they gasped their last breaths and prayed for absolution from their sins, did his best to soothe and comfort and ease their passing, and desperately hoped they found relief and salvation on the other side. The bullet in his shoulder was a constant reminder of what he, by the grace of God, had survived, when others had not. The persistent limp was a reminder that he didn't deserve to.
And he was up on the dais (with the unfortunate assistance of his cane), about to give his first sermon to his new congregation—his civilian congregation—when a small hand shot up in the first row. He had never had his service interrupted for questions before (mortars and gunfire, yes; questions, no) so he was a bit thrown. He looked down at the boy: front and centre, arm raised high, eager eyes shining. He couldn't refuse such a passionate young parishioner.
Later he would berate himself for being so naïve.
"You have a question, my son?"
The boy stood, cherubic face alight with something that looked like inquisitive excitement, but Father Watson would come to know as mischief.
"Why are you using a cane?"
The church was deathly quiet. John blinked, and tried to regain his Fatherly demeanour.
"I was injured in the war, and I am still... recovering." It wasn't a lie; he wouldn't lie, certainly not in the house of The Lord, and he was still recovering. But he also knew it wasn't the whole truth.
"You weren't injured in your leg though," the boy piped up. “You were shot in your left shoulder, but you use your cane with that hand, so it's obviously better. But I don't understand why you're using a cane to begin with."
John's left hand was shaking, sending tremors through the cursed cane. How did he know these things? He opened his mouth as if to answer, but stopped when he realised he had no idea what to say. He stood there, mouth agape, trying to collect his fractured thoughts. The boy's mother was tugging at his sleeve, clearly trying to get him to sit down, but the precocious child was determined to wait for a response. The previously silent chapel was beginning to hum with the murmurings of congregants.
John had to get this under control, and quickly.
"Not all wounds are physical, my son. Some scars run much deeper, and take longer to heal." There, that sounded sufficiently mystic. Almost wise. Father Watson was a bit proud of himself for pulling that off, before swiftly banishing that sinful thought from his mind. Unfortunately, it was too late, and he was sure that God had noticed, because he was immediately punished.
"If it's all in your head, why don't you just pray for it to get better?"
John knew his face was red, and he tightened his grip on the cane, trying to regulate his breathing. Because I'm bloody broken and I don't know if God can hear me anymore but I can't hear him! he didn't say, because it wouldn't do to yell at a ten year-old boy on his very first day. But it was a close thing.
Instead he took a deep, calming breath and said, "It's not always that easy. Prayer doesn't work like that, it's not a direct exchange, although it can be an incredibly powerful force. If you'd like to discuss this more, perhaps you can stay a bit after the service, and I can explain the proper purpose of prayer in greater detail. For the time being, just know that the most important aspect of any prayer is gratitude. Find gratitude in every day, every hour, every moment, and you will never find lack. It is in giving thanks for what we have that we realise we have what we need, and therein lies the path to a blessed life. Thus through prayer we find the true glory of God, which brings me to our sermon today."
It was weak, as far as segues go, but John had learned over the course of his priesthood that most people only listened superficially to what he said on the pulpit. So long as it sounded sufficiently pious, he could get away with a lot of rubbish if he lost his train of thought, which came in handy when the ground shook from not-too-distant explosions.
Luckily by this point, the mother had successfully wrangled the boy back to the pew, and he seemed subdued for the moment, though he had an unholy look of smug satisfaction about him, the little—
Father Watson cut off that thought and continued with his sermon, determinedly not looking at the dark-haired menace for the rest of the service. Still, he could feel the weight of those sharp eyes upon him, and he tried not to think about their impending discussion.
Sure enough, as soon as the last amen was uttered, the boy ran up on the dais, paying no mind to his mother, and stood in front of the pulpit, expectantly. Father Watson sighed. He had hoped to make his way to the door and spend some time getting to know his new congregation. At least wish them farewell and bid they return next week, if he hadn’t entirely ruined their faith in him with that rocky start. But he supposed this boy was the future of his new congregation, and he had promised to answer his questions after the service. Truth be told, he had some questions of his own to ask as well.
“Ah yes, you wanted to know more about the power of prayer.” He tried to sound casual, as if the earlier altercation had slipped his mind, and was given a look that let him know he was fooling no one.
“I’m so sorry for the interruption, Father.” The boy’s mother had made her way up to the pulpit. “Sherlock is such a curious child, but he often forgets his place.” The boy—Sherlock—frowned at the word ‘child’ and pulled away when she tried to smooth down his unruly curls. She extended her hand to Father Watson instead.
“Violet Holmes,” she said. “And this is Sherlock.”
The boy rolled his eyes as if to say obviously, and John stifled a grin.
“My husband is here somewhere…” She looked around distractedly, then gestured towards a man who appeared to be dozing in a pew a few rows back. “That’s my Harold.” She looked back at Father Watson ruefully. “Never been much for the church, but he hasn’t a sinful bone in his body, so I try to forgive his small foibles. Judge not lest ye be judged yourself, isn’t that right Father? Surely I can’t fault him for taking advantage of our Lord’s day of rest. I figure his soul’s getting something out of being here, even if he isn’t the most attentive throughout the service. Don’t you agree?”
Father Watson stared back at her, a bit stunned. Well, he saw where the boy got his loquaciousness from. He pasted on a bland smile.
“Ah, yes. And young Sherlock here has proven to be quite attentive indeed, which I’m sure helps even the scales.”
Violet Holmes nodded, looking relieved.
“So then are the sins of the father absolved by the son?”
Father Watson looked back to Sherlock, whose gaze had turned challenging. Apparently he didn’t appreciate being ignored. Not that Father Watson could blame him; he remembered how it had felt to be spoken about as a child, as if he were not in the room. He mentally chastised himself for subjecting the clever boy to the same dismissive treatment.
“Not exactly,” he hedged, not really knowing how he had found himself in thorny territory so quickly.
“I suppose that could be considered a primary lesson of Christianity,” Sherlock continued thoughtfully. “The Father God of the Old Testament was merciless and cruel, while the Son God of the New Testament offered absolution of the sins of old through acts of love and forgiveness. A rather stark role reversal, wouldn’t you say, Father?” He emphasised the last word just enough to hint at mockery without crossing over into outright impertinence.
“That’s not—” Father Watson furrowed his brow. The boy wasn’t wrong, but he also wasn’t right, and Father Watson wasn’t sure how to respond. It was annoying. “It was merely a figure of speech. You are not held accountable for anyone’s sins but your own. But it bodes well for your soul that you have taken such an interest in the teachings of the Bible.” Sherlock looked sceptical at the assertion, but his mother beamed.
“Now, my boy, you had some other questions.”
Sherlock opened his mouth, but Mrs. Holmes quickly jumped in.
“Oh, I don’t want him to be a bother to you, Father. I know this is your first day here. You probably have much more important things to do than spend your afternoon answering his silly little questions.” John could feel himself scowling despite his best efforts. True, he had just been lamenting his lack of time with the rest of his congregation, but he bristled at the dismissive way she spoke of her son. It would be a sin to stifle the curiosity of such a bright child. He took a deep breath before smoothing out his features again.
“It’s no bother at all, Mrs. Holmes. And no question is small or frivolous, if its answer is sought in earnest.” At this, he levelled a look at Sherlock, who stared back at him with wide, guileless eyes that Father Watson almost believed.
“Well, theology has never been of great interest to me,” Mrs. Holmes prattled on. “It’s all so theoretical and uncertain. I myself tend towards the concrete and practical. Give me solid facts and numbers any day. Now my husband, he’s the poet of the family, head in the clouds, but just the sweetest soul. You should really meet him…” She looked back to the pew, where Mr. Holmes was still catching up on his rest. “Oh, I’d better go wake him. I’ll let you two chat Bible stuff for a bit, be back in a jif!”
She retreated from the dais at last, and Father Watson let his shoulders drop in relief, before recalling who he was left to tend. He turned toward his charge, whose eyes had narrowed into an assessing glare, all feigned innocence banished.
Right. First things first.
“How did you know about my leg?”
The boy gave him a withering look. “I didn't know, I observed.” He drew in a deep breath, puffing out his small frame, before letting loose a stream of words. “You leant heavily on your cane to ascend the dais, but during the service you used it intermittently, at times forgetting it all together, usually during a particularly emotional prayer. Standing for long periods should be difficult for you, but your reliance on the cane decreased throughout the service, as you became more comfortable with your new congregation. Clearly your leg pain is psychosomatic.”
John gaped at him, stunned not only by the content of his little speech, but also by his highly advanced vocabulary. He had known the boy was clever, but this was unprecedented. He couldn't be out of primary school, yet he spoke like a bloody dictionary.
Father Watson struggled to lift his jaw from the floor and come up with an appropriate reply.
“And my shoulder?” was all he was able to manage.
“You kept stretching it, an unconscious tic, but you didn't show any signs of discomfort. You roll your shoulder out of habit, testing its mobility, even though you have full range of motion. An old injury then, but one which was serious enough that you feared you wouldn't recover. Paired with a psychosomatic limp, it was easy to surmise that it occurred under traumatic circumstances, most likely a gunshot wound, which you readily confirmed.” Sherlock stopped to catch his breath while John waited for the shock of this latest verbal deluge to subside. After several long seconds of silence, during which John practised his deep breathing exercises, he was able to put words together again.
“That…” He swallowed thickly. “That was amazing.”
The boy cocked his head at him. “You're not mad.”
“What? No, of course not, I'm just… surprised. You're brilliant, you know that Sherlock?”
Sherlock gave a short nod of acknowledgement, but his brow was creased with confusion. “People usually get mad.”
Father Watson felt a sudden tightness in his chest, heart twisting at the thought of this bright child being punished and shamed for his gift. He wanted to comfort, reassure the boy, in whatever small way he could.
“People often fear what they don't understand.”
Sherlock nodded again, as if already all too familiar with this harsh reality. “But you don't, do you Father?”
“There are many things that are difficult to understand in the world, and even more which we will never be able to comprehend. It is in the things which our mind cannot fathom that we find our sense of awe, and from that place of awe and wonder, our faith. There is always something to be learned from a state of not knowing, even when there are no concrete answers to be found.”
The boy’s gaze sharpened. “But there are answers here. I just gave you a very thorough explanation of my deductions.”
“Yes, but it is not your explanations that people fail to understand, it's your mind.”
Sherlock frowned. “It's still explicable. My brain functions at a higher level than most people’s, but it's well within the realm of natural human abilities. There's plenty of historical precedent.”
“That's true to some extent, but it begs the question: why you? I don't doubt that your parents are intelligent—” Sherlock snorted derisively at that. “—but scores of people of similar intelligence have entirely average offspring. Genius can strike seemingly out of the blue, and people wonder why, what makes this one special? The strangeness and uncertainty can leave people unsettled, unsure of their own place in the world, questioning what gifts they have to offer.”
“So it's fear of inadequacy?”
“Mummy’s always saying kids are mean because they're jealous, but it doesn't seem like anyone would want to be me.” There was an aching loneliness just under the surface of those terse words, and Father Watson was overcome with an urge to protect him, provide support and let him know he wasn't alone.
“Your mother is a wise woman.”
Sherlock scowled at that, and opened his mouth to shoot back an undoubtedly scathing retort, but he was cut off by a theatrical giggle.
“Oh Father Watson, you're making me blush!” Mrs. Holmes had reappeared, smiling gaily, husband in tow. “Careful, or you’ll make Harold jealous.” She tittered, and her husband gave him a good-natured wink and stuck out his hand.
“Pleasure to meet you, Father. You’ll have to excuse my wife, a bit of a flake sometimes but a brilliant mathematician.” Violet playfully slapped his shoulder in mock indignation, then threaded her arm through his and beamed up at him. Father Watson took Harold’s proffered hand and returned the smile, slightly bemused. They seemed to be a normal, friendly couple, if a bit overenthusiastic. Certainly nothing in their manner suggested the razor-sharp wit or apparent isolation of their son. Though Mr. Holmes had said his wife was a brilliant mathematician, so perhaps there was more to Sherlock’s parents than met the eye.
“Good to meet you both. Your son has quite the talent for observation, almost a second sight.” As expected, this got another eye roll from the boy, and a sheepish look from his mother.
“Oh, has Sherlock been pestering you with his deductions? He does go on. We’ve tried to instill a sense of decorum, some things just aren’t appropriate for polite company—and if you can’t say something nice, isn’t it better to say nothing at all?—but he seems to struggle with social cues.” She frowned down at his dark mop of hair. “It’s something we’re working on. Anyway, I hope he wasn’t too much bother, Father Watson, and don’t worry, we’ll get him out of your hair, he’s already taken up enough of your valuable time.”
Father Watson was stunned again by this verbal barrage of disparagement towards her own child. Sherlock was right there, certainly absorbing every word, yet she spoke as if he were some abstract concept she was trying to puzzle out, not a living breathing being full of thoughts and feelings. If anyone needed to work on their social cues, it was Violet.
“Not at all, it has been quite an interesting discussion. I wish more children his age were so devoted to the pursuit of learning.”
“Oh yes, Father, I agree completely, an idle mind is such a waste. We’ve always encouraged his studies at home.”
Mr. Holmes nodded in agreement. “He’s just like his mum, always with his nose in a book.”
“Mycroft was like that too, dear, you’re the odd duck out.” She bumped shoulders with him and laughed, and he responded with a peck on her cheek.
“Glad you keep me around.”
“Mycroft?” Father Watson asked, more to distract the couple from their effusive displays of affection than anything else. Not that he minded; they were joined in the sacred bond of marriage, so that was all right. It was fine, of course it was, it was natural, and what a blessing for them to have so happy a marriage. It was just a bit much for the House of the Lord, that was all. Nothing to do with a sharp pang of lack in his gut at such easy, loving intimacy. It wasn’t as if one could be lonely when one was filled with the love of God.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
“Our eldest son. He’s off at Eton, but he’ll be home for the holidays, so you’ll get to meet him then.” She sighed dramatically. “Oh, how I adore Christmas mass! Or Christ’s mass, I suppose the second mass is a bit redundant, isn’t it?” She giggled again. “Well, we’d better be off, loads to do, papers to read, theses to write.”
“Never a dull moment in the Holmes household,” Harold joked, with another friendly wink.
“Thank you again for indulging him.” Mrs. Holmes had already taken Sherlock by the hand in an attempt to hasten their departure, but the boy stayed rooted to the spot.
“But he didn’t answer my questions yet!” It bordered on a whine, and Father Watson hoped the boy wasn’t prone to throwing fits. It was already evident from the service that he wasn’t averse to causing a scene.
“Sherlock, dear, we’ve already taken up too much of Father Watson’s time.” She flashed an apologetic smile up at him. “I promise he won’t be disturbing you again.” Sherlock was having none of it. He yanked his hand free of his mother’s grip and crossed his arms over his chest.
“He said he would explain how prayer works.” Definitely a whine.
“I think I have a solution, Mrs. Holmes,” Father Watson cut in smoothly. “I have some free time every Saturday following afternoon confessional hours. If Sherlock wants to come by at half three next week, we can speak at greater length about prayer, and any other questions he may have for me.” He looked down at Sherlock. “If you’re amenable.”
Sherlock’s expression softened, clearly pleased at being addressed as an equal. He gave a small nod, and looked up at his mother.
“Can I, Mum?”
“Of course you can, sweetie. As long as it’s really okay with Father Watson.”
“It would be my pleasure,” he replied, and found he actually meant it. Despite the mortification the little terror had caused him and the promise of discomfiting conversations in the future, he found himself charmed by the precocious child, and more than a bit intrigued. Still, best to establish boundaries now. “I just have one request.” He made sure to hold Sherlock’s cool gaze. “No more interrupting my service, okay? I’ll answer any questions you have on Saturday, but Sunday is a time for prayer as a community, not private conversations.”
Sherlock pursed his lips, considering the offer, then nodded his head again. Father Watson held out his hand, and the boy returned a surprisingly firm shake.
“Thank you, Father Watson.” Mrs. Holmes radiated gratitude and relief. “I’m so glad to have such a nice young man as our new priest. I look forward to your service next Sunday, and I know Sherlock can’t wait to talk your ear off on Saturday.” Father Watson smiled back politely and wondered what he had got himself into.
One Saturday turned into two, then four, and soon weekly meetings with Sherlock were just part of Father Watson’s routine. The discussions were lively affairs, sometimes heated (on Sherlock’s part) or uncomfortable (on John’s part), but never boring. True to his word, Sherlock held his tongue during Sunday service, but he followed along raptly, keeping tally of every word Father Watson said for later dissection. Soon Father Watson found himself incorporating points from their Saturday conversations into his Sunday sermons, a continuation of their spirited debates, which then carried to the following week’s repartee. When the boy left for Eton three years later, Father Watson felt the loss more acutely than he had expected. His Saturdays became drab, lifeless things, with nothing more to fill the hours between confession and evening mass than his own company, and the occasional housewife eager to plan the next church social. It was painfully, maddeningly dull, a sort of ennui he hadn’t felt since before Afghanistan—no, since before seminary school. But Father Watson was nothing if not resilient, and he rededicated himself to prayer and personal communion with God during those long, lonely afternoons. It didn’t exactly fill the void left by that sparkling young mind, but it was something. It passed the time.
And here he was, half a decade later, sharing a confessional booth with the boy who had once been his adversary and companion, and now was no longer a boy at all. A young man, in fact, and a rather striking one at that, who had just confessed to having impure thoughts about him.
God help him.
Sherlock took his stunned silence as invitation to continue.
“It's unbearable. I haven't been able to think of anything but you since last Sunday’s service.” There it was, that vague recollection of a tall dark stranger amongst the sea of familiar faces. Not a stranger after all. “You can't know what it's like,” Sherlock went on, “having a mind like mine, tenacious and relentless and obsessive, whirring at supersonic speeds leagues beyond your comprehension. It's constant noise, it's torture, and for the past one hundred and forty-seven hours and sixteen minutes, it's been entirely focussed on you.”
Father Watson knew he shouldn't feel the flush of warmth that accompanied that confession, and he ruthlessly tamped down the involuntary pleasure at the idea that he had so occupied this sharp mind. Pride, he reminded himself. A cardinal sin.
Sherlock’s voice dropped a full octave—a rather remarkable feat—and a few decibels, forcing Father Watson to lean closer to hear his next words. “When I knelt before you at communion and you placed the sacrament on my tongue, all I could think of was taking you into my mouth.”
John stopped breathing.
“I was overcome with the desire to suck your fingers, lick every crumb from their tips, feel their weight and length against my tongue. I have an acute sense of taste, Father, highly developed and carefully honed. I could taste the lingering salt from your skin on the wafer, and I immediately wanted more. I wanted to run my teeth along your nails and kiss every knuckle and lap at the tender skin in between. I believe that, given the chance, I could map your fingerprints with my tastebuds. I desperately want that chance.”
Well. That was not what he’d been expecting, but those sensual details told so lovingly, honestly, hungrily, in that low rumbling purr, was more shockingly erotic than whatever Father Watson had imagined. Through the screen he saw Sherlock tilt his chin up to him, deliberately, and slowly lick his lips. He realised his face was pressed up against the partition, straining forward to catch shrouded words, and he quickly sat up, spine erect with forced restraint. Best not to consider what other parts might also become erect, if he allowed this to continue.
He cleared his throat.
“While the Lord is quite clear on the damnation of sexual deviance, I do not know whether an oral fixation with, ah, fingers, falls within the realm of mortal sin. However, there is an undeniable element of lust in your desire, which as you know is a sin. If you are repentant of your sin and seek absolution, then—”
“There’s more.” The velvet timbre sliced through his hurried stammer like a hot blade, searing and deadly with its dark promise. Father Watson fell silent, at a loss for how to proceed. It was his bound duty to receive confessional, to freely allow—nay, encourage—his congregants to confide in him, reveal the worst in themselves as they seek absolution, and so unburden their souls. His solitary purpose was to serve as the conduit for their salvation, to be their conductor of light.
On the other hand, this was the same rapscallion who had brought his inaugural sermon to a grinding halt and nearly decimated his credibility before he'd had a chance to earn it, who had sparred with him every week after with sly wit and cutting derision, who had been a constant source of challenge and frustration. Yes, he was no longer a child, but he was certain that the man before him possessed the same contrary nature as the boy he had once known. Father Watson wasn’t naïve; his years in Afghanistan had broken him of any idealistic illusions. While he still aspired to find the good in all, he would be a fool to ignore the clangour of warning bells ringing in his head since the moment he realised who shared this booth. There was no way Sherlock was here in good faith, earnest in his repentance. Father Watson was a man whose entire life was built on faith, but that was beyond belief. Sherlock was clearly trying to provoke some response, to goad him into anger or tempt him to sin. It was a trap, and Father Watson steeled himself for the inevitable confrontation. He had to put an end to this, now, before it got out of control.
He took a deep breath, still carefully choosing his words, when that seductive baritone resumed its murmured provocations.
“Your voice, Father, oh, your voice.”
And again Father Watson was surprised at this unexpected turn. He had never considered his voice anything special. It was pleasant enough, he supposed, for sermons and prayers, but whenever he heard it played back on a voicemail it sounded high and a bit silly to him. Nothing like the luxurious tones currently caressing his ears.
“As you gave me your blessings, I was filled with such warmth, and a sense of calm I haven't felt for years. I have an eidetic memory, Father, do you know what that means? I can recreate sense memories perfectly, and once the soothing sound of your voice was in my head, it would not leave. It haunted my every waking hour, and my dreams as well. It began speaking to me, praises and reassurances at first, and that warm feeling spread, out from my chest to heat my face and tingle in my fingers and toes.”
That sinful timbre dropped impossibly lower.
“And then it started saying other things. Praising not only my mind but my body, telling me I was your good boy, and that I would be rewarded.”
Father Watson swallowed. This was getting out of hand again. He knew he had to end this confession before it transgressed into the wholly inappropriate, but he couldn’t speak past the dry cotton choking his throat.
Sherlock’s voice fell to a whisper. “Do you know what that was like to hear? To be told, in your kind, gentle voice, that I wasn’t a freak, wasn’t wrong or awkward or strange, that I was good and whole and worthy? To be accepted…”
Father Watson ached at the vulnerability in those tremulous words, the desperate pleading for the most basic kindness, and the implication that he had never received any.
Then, almost too quiet to hear, “You were the only one who ever did.”
Father Watson’s heart shattered, sharp shards spiking through his chest in sympathy for this brilliant young man who was so alone, and deserved so much more. He felt shame at the thought that he’d nearly turned him away, had just been contemplating how to end this session as swiftly as possible, and for what? To avoid a bit of discomfort? Here was a lonely soul, desperately reaching out for a scrap of kindness, some sort of human connection, any hint of understanding and acceptance. And Father Watson had been about to reject him, dash those flimsy tendrils of hopeful humanity to pieces. His fingernails dug into his palms, and he took a deep breath in through his nose, trying in vain to practise self-forgiveness in this moment, knowing he had almost hurt this sad, fragile genius.
“My son…” he began, then paused, unsure how to encompass all the empathy he felt, all the reassurances he wanted to give, without it sounding trite or pitying. He revisited Sherlock’s words in his head, deeming it safest to address them directly. “There is nothing wrong with you. You are good, and whole, and absolutely worthy of love and respect and acceptance.” As he spoke, he could see shivers rack the thin frame of the body behind the screen, and he wished he could reach through the partition and run a comforting hand over the slight, trembling form. At the word love, he heard a small gasp, and wide silver eyes flicked up to his.
Ah, right. Better clarify.
“God’s love is all-encompassing and all-forgiving. As long as you seek it in earnest, you will always have His love and acceptance.” There. Father Watson tried to ignore the swooping sensation in his belly as that shining, hopeful gaze turned cold and shuttered in the blink of an eye. Was that the wrong thing to say? Suddenly he felt a great chasm open between them, the thin wood barrier between their bodies as impenetrable as reinforced steel. He expected that would be it, that the man would rise and leave the booth, but those sharp eyes held his and Sherlock continued, undeterred.
“You also said I was beautiful.” The Lord help him, but he was, breathtakingly so. Beautiful was almost too mild a word. Exquisite. Unparalleled. Singular. Father Watson had never seen anyone so arresting in all his life, were he to notice such things. “In my dream, I was knelt before you at communion, and you took my face in your hand, and you said I was the most beautiful thing you had ever laid eyes on.” Long pale fingers drifted up to cup that unearthly face, thumb sliding over a sharp cheekbone in a tender caress. John’s own fingers twitched in his lap, and heat rose to his face at hearing his most private thoughts given voice, echoed back to him in that low, breathy rumble. Sherlock’s wandering thumb travelled down his jawline and swiped across his full lower lip. “Everything else fell away. There was no congregation, no one else in the church, nothing else in the whole world, just your warm, steady hand on my face.” Sherlock’s lips brushed against his thumb with every whispered word, and for his part, Father Watson’s hand was decidedly unsteady, trembling on his thigh at the sight. “You said beautiful things should be loved and cherished.” Sherlock’s thumb traced over the perfect bow of his mouth. “Worshipped.”
This was unutterably, unforgivably blasphemous, but John’s heart beat a resounding yes.
“I couldn’t help it, Father, I just wanted more of you. I needed to touch you, to taste you, to have you everywhere around me and inside me too.” Oh Lord, please give him strength. He couldn’t allow these sinful thoughts to continue. He was putting a stop to this, now.
“I’m afraid our time is up.” A quick glance at the small clock in the corner of his booth confirmed that yes, confessional hours had ended. Thank God for small miracles. “You are welcome to return at the next appointed time,” by which point he’ll have reinforced his moral fortitude, God-willing, “but in the meanwhile you can—”
He was cut off by a short, harsh laugh.
“Come now, Father, let’s not be dishonest. In fact, I believe complete honesty is a requirement of this sacred space, in here if nowhere else. We both are well aware that you are free after your afternoon confessional.” His heart sank. Of course, of bloody course Sherlock knew he had nothing on after confession. Three years worth of Saturdays supported that claim, and he was left defenceless. “Consider this an extension of our weekly office hours chat, if that helps.”
There was a smug satisfaction lurking behind Sherlock’s clipped words, and Father Watson knew he was caught. A wave of nostalgia washed over him as memories of countless afternoons spent snared in Sherlock’s irrefutable logic swelled to the surface, the simultaneous frustration and admiration so familiar that for a moment John forgot how to breathe. How he had missed this, how poignantly empty his days had been in its absence, how wonderfully alive he felt now as it all came rushing back, even as he hated the trap he found himself in.
“And I know you, Father,” Sherlock continued, darker and smoother as he moved in for the kill. “You wouldn’t let my salvation hang in the balance, my sins unconfessed and weighing on my mortal soul. You of all people know how brief this flickering candle of life can be, how easily snuffed out. You’ve seen men as young as I taken before their time, children too, lives ended before they’d had a chance to begin. Could you live with yourself, knowing that at any moment I could find myself at Heaven’s Gate, soul tainted with sin? Sin that, as it happens, is entirely due to you. Before last Sunday, I had no such thoughts, no sordid dreams, no carnal desires filling my head and burdening my soul. In one short week, you have thoroughly ruined me, toppled my reason and dragged me into the sins of the flesh.” His patter had picked up speed and precision, the rapid-fire staccato of an assault rifle perfectly aimed and let loose. “I have always been able to keep myself detached from these things, the base pleasures of the body, never concerned with my physical form beyond the necessities of transport. And now, within the span of seven days, I have fallen to all manner of sin—in fact I think I may have achieved the royal flush of sins as it were, hitting every deadly sin in as many days. Shall I recount them for you, detail them for your perusal and judgement?
“Pride, that’s easy, comes naturally to me of course, but I had never put real stock in my own worth until I heard your gentle voice in my ear, praising me, telling me I was clever and beautiful and deserving of your attentions. When I looked in the mirror, I saw myself differently, as something desired, something good, and yes, even something beautiful. My intelligence, which has only ever won me scorn and abuse, became something to be admired, valued. My heart swelled with a confidence I have never before felt, a pride in who I am, inside and out.
“Envy, also easy for me, as I lay awake at night imagining all the people who got to be near you, every day I was away, the idiots who populate this town and attend your sermons and your socials and talk and laugh and only half-listen to every other word you say and don’t bloody appreciate the fact that they are in your presence, and look, here’s Wrath, coming all too quickly in Envy’s wake. I hate everyone who has an iota of your attention and isn’t me, and I hate the fact that I can’t spend every second of my miserable existence in your company.”
John wanted to interrupt, end this madness, but he was shell-shocked, bowled over by the barrage of words that refused to relent. Sherlock continued seamlessly, barely pausing for breath.
“Greed, oh how I am greedy, Father. Greedy for every little scrap of information I can gather about you, every bit of data that I can store away to hoard in my mind palace, to review at my leisure, to keep forever. Every mole, every wrinkle, every hair on your head, I want to catalogue them all. Every childhood memory and every idle thought and every book you’ve ever read. I want to know everything there is to know about you, I am hungry for it, ravenous, gluttonous. Ah yes, Gluttony, yes. My urge to devour you fills me, consumes me, eats away at me with its ever-present need for more. I want to gorge myself on you, and never stop, even when I am past my limit, because I will never, ever be sated.
“Only in sleep do I find respite, and here too do I find my greatest sins. I have never been much for sleep, my mind is too active, a racing engine, burning through fuel. But this week, I have sought that sweet escape, languishing in bed, hour after hour, embracing Sloth so fully that I’m surprised my muscles haven’t atrophied. Why would I want to shake off the fog of sleep, when it’s only in my dreams that I can be with you?
“And oh, what dreams I have. Lust is too mild a word for the pleasures I experience. It is fire and need and unrelenting incandescent ecstasy. It is cataclysmic, an apocalypse of sensation that destroys me again and again, leaving me gasping and wrung dry and desperate for more. It is insatiable. It is unbearable torment and sweet redemption, an endless cycle that fills every hour of my days. I am burnt to ash each night and reborn every morning only to burn again.” His voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. “I don’t know if I can survive this much longer.” A shaky, ragged breath. “I don’t know what to do.”
The silence that followed was deafening. The only sound was the thundering of John’s heart, which had somehow taken up residence in his throat. Christ, that was… intense. John could hardly breathe for the raw power of that confession. And damn it all, now he’d taken the Lord’s name in vain, albeit mentally. This was not going well, not by a long shot. He tried to gather the fragments of his scattered thoughts, but the one coherent refrain were those last frantic pleas: I don’t know if I can survive this much longer… I don’t know what to do.
The truth of those words reverberated in the depths of his soul, and for the first time in years—the first time since he’d bled out on the sands of Kandahar—he felt utterly, irretrievably lost.
As the silence stretched on, he slowly became aware of the intimacy that quiet brings to a small, enclosed space. Over a decade of confessionals, and never before had he experienced this all-encompassing, near-oppressive closeness. It was borderline claustrophobic.
All of a sudden it was overwhelming, unbearable, and Father Watson had to speak, anything to break the growing tension.
“My son…” And then he couldn't think of anything to follow, still at a complete loss for words. He cleared his throat as he tried in vain to compose a single cogent thought.
Yes, son, that was it.
He is one of God’s children, and I am his shepherd, the one to lead him out of darkness and onto the path of salvation. Don't think of him as the needy young man begging for your body, remember he is a lamb of God, and he is seeking your guidance, your wisdom. He wants you to save him from his sins.
“You have been misled in your affections, my child, but it is not too late to save your soul. Attraction is a deeply ingrained impulse, but ultimately a construct formed by childhood impressions. We met at a formative time in your development, and what you are feeling is the lingering remnant of a youthful infatuation, a natural extrapolation of emotions carried over from hero worship of an authority fig—”
“No!” Sherlock roared, an explosion filling the small chamber with its violent force. John’s ears rang with its echoes. “You used to treat me as an equal, you never spoke down to me. You were the only one. And now that I'm an adult you treat me like a child? How dare you pull some half-conceived pop psychology nonsense on me! Do you really think me so thick, so dull? Do you think I don't know my own mind?” He leaned in closer, dropping his outrage to a velvet growl.
“Do you think I don't know yours?
“Don't pretend you don't feel it too: I have observed twenty-three unique indicators of arousal in the past ten minutes alone. Tell me now, in all honesty, can you truly claim in good faith that you don't desire me? That if given the chance to act without repercussion you wouldn't claim me, body and soul?” He paused to lick his lips, slow and deliberate. “That you aren't, at this very moment, imagining how it would feel to have my mouth wrapped around your cock? And remember, Father, we are in the bond of holy confession, you can not lie.”
Silence was the only answer Father Watson could give. There was a glimmer of a smirk from the man behind the screen.
“I thought so. Don’t worry, Father, I am thinking about it too. It is all I can think about. My hands on your hips. Your fingers in my hair. Parting your robes, uncovering your hidden desires, discovering all the secrets you bury beneath your priestly shroud. What clandestine mysteries might I find behind that stoic façade of cassock and collar? Who is the man behind the cross? I think you might surprise me, Father Watson.” That buttery voice turned breathy and hushed, confidential. “I love surprises.”
No, no, stop. Wrong. So very, very wrong. A few minutes of aural temptation and he was not just taking the Lord’s name in vain, but also succumbing to the urges of his flesh. The uncomfortable tightness in his pants was more than sufficient evidence, though the thoughts alone were damning enough. Flashes of Sherlock knelt before him, as he was now, lips shining and mouth full, blazed through his mind, unstoppable, uncontrollable. Unforgivable.
He clenched his hands in his lap, fingernails biting into palms, but the pain did not provide clarity of mind, nor words to halt this madness.
“I can see it in your eyes, Father. You’re hard now too, aren’t you? At the thought of my lips, my mouth, my tongue, giving you pleasure? At the noises I would make—” A small gasp, rough around the edges. “—oh! And what noises would you make?” A groan and a shudder, and Father Watson suddenly realised that Sherlock was touching himself. He blinked, unable to process, to believe his own eyes, but yes, the rhythmic pulse of Sherlock’s right shoulder was unmistakable. He had to do something, say something—
“My son, this is the House of the Lord, you can’t—you mustn’t—for pity’s sake, show some restraint!”
Sherlock’s chuckle was ragged, unhinged, but his shoulder stilled.
“Restraint? Restraint! Don’t lecture me on restraint. You have plagued my thoughts from the moment you stepped up to the pulpit last Sunday, but I have waited, respected your time and your rules, no matter how every second that ticked by felt like agony, how every moment away from you tore me to shreds. I have been hard since the moment I entered this booth and went to my knees before you. Do you know how painful it is to be hard and wanting for so long, Father? To be so close to the object of your desires, so intimate, and unable to touch? It is absolute torture. I need relief, God, please…” He bit back a sob. “I want to be good, I do.” He looked up at John with shining eyes, quickly filling with desperate tears, and John’s heart twisted in his chest.
“I have tried to resist temptation, tried not to touch myself, but I wake up every morning with sticky sheets and your name on my lips.”
Father Watson swallowed around a mouth full of dust.
It hit him like a blow to the sternum, left him gasping for breath. His name, his Christian name, whispered like a prayer from those heavenly lips. He wasn’t aware he was doubled over, hands planted on the partition, until long pale fingers met his own. Warm palms pressed against his through the screen, transferring heat and comfort.
Long moments ticked by, but slowly, gradually, his heaving breath subsided, and Father Watson returned to himself. He became conscious of movement and sensation, small circles being traced over the pads of his fingertips. Sherlock was stroking, caressing. Soothing.
“You see, Father. You are flesh and blood.” He trailed his fingers down the length of John’s, swirling and spiralling into the centre of each palm, and even through the barrier, John shivered at the sensuality of that touch. “You have feelings. You must have… impulses.” His dark head tipped forward, pale eyes looking up at John through thick lashes, and then wetness on his palm—electric—the swipe of that wicked tempting tongue through the screen.
On the heels of that uncontrollable utterance came the thought: shit bugger now you've done it gone and broken the vow of secrecy you're completely fucked now you cock! John didn't have time to process his shock over his transgression or his internal cursing, because the other man's reaction to this outburst was instantaneous and intense. His eyes flew wide and his mouth dropped open in a loud gasp, his entire body jolting with an unseen force. John belatedly noticed that Sherlock’s right hand had returned to its previous position, out of sight but undoubtedly between his legs. Probably had done so when he removed it to lick through the screen, the sly devil.
He didn't look sly at the moment, though; he looked completely wrecked. His eyes were wild, feral, and his breath came in harsh pants. He was crackling with energy, the pent up tension filling the air with a charge strong enough to power a small star.
The vow of secrecy, broken. The sanctity of this space, destroyed. The fate of his soul…
“Say it again.” Barely a whisper.
“What?” John’s voice sounded foreign to his own ears.
“Say it again.”
“I— I don't—”
It was so quiet, so desperate, so broken. In that moment, John did not doubt the sincerity of the man begging before him, nor could he refuse his earnest plea.
It came out rough, cracked, shot through with far too much emotion. A moan ripped through the confessional like a shockwave, vibrating the thin walls and rumbling through John's very bones. Sherlock’s entire body spasmed as he threw his head back in beatific rapture, completely transformed by bliss. The muted light in the booth clung to him like a lover, highlighting every curve and plane of that angelic face. He was glowing in the dreamy half-light, sweat gleaming across his brow like a heavenly aura, framed by the dark halo of damp, tousled curls. He was a Baroque masterpiece come to life, a study in shadow and light, soft edges and plush curves and breathtaking beauty. The Ecstasy of Sherlock Holmes.
John knew with crystalline certainty that the tableau before him would be emblazoned on his mind, etched into his brain, until his dying day.
With a wracking shudder, Sherlock crumpled, collapsing back on his heels, eyes still shut. In the aftermath of his devastating climax, he'd fallen quiet, the silence a stark contrast to the preceding wreckage, and Father Watson became uncomfortably aware of the jagged rasp of his own breath.
“John,” Sherlock panted, eyelids fluttering lazily.
Father Watson cleared his throat, the full force of what had just occurred starting to creep in at the edges and weigh heavily on his chest.
“I—uh, I think our time is up.” He hated how high and thin his voice sounded in the dense atmosphere between them, but he pressed on. “Office hours are over.”
Sherlock slowly blinked his eyes open, peering at John through slitted lids. His focus sharpened, flicked from John’s eyes to mouth, and then down lower, past where the partition separated them from view. A smile crept across his face, smug and knowing.
“I could stay and help you with that, Father.” His tongue made a calculated reappearance, swiping over those plumped up lips. John looked down at his lap, shocked and horrified to find his hand wrapped around the painful bulge between his legs. His gaze snapped back to Sherlock’s, cheeks flaming.
“I think you've done enough damage for one day,” he managed to croak out.
Sherlock's expression melted into a satisfied smirk. He rose up on his knees again, and a second later the sound of a zip cut through the air like the crackle of static right after powering off an old telly.
“See you tomorrow, Father Watson.” And without another word, the man was gone.
John sagged back against the close confines of the booth, relief and disappointment warring within him. He felt simultaneously drained and restless, body tense and expectant in a way he hadn't felt since air raids and late night vigils were part of his daily life. He glanced down at his hand, which still gripped his damning erection like a lifeline. Bugger it all to hell, he was already in too deep. The sanctity of the confessional had already been tainted—decimated, really—irreparably desecrated by what had happened… what he'd allowed to happen. One might even say encouraged, if one wasn't feeling charitable, and at the moment Father Watson was so steeped in self-recrimination and shame that charity was the very last thing on his mind.
Too late now.
Without another thought, he slipped his hand under his cassock and palmed himself through his pants. Heat and friction and the smell of sex thick in the air brought him to the edge in seconds. He never did this, never—not since he was a pubescent teen at least. It was a sin as old as time. Spilling one's seed, wasting the lifeforce of God on prurient urges, destroying the potential locked within, with no intention to create. Yet he knew he couldn't stop now, not if his life depended on it.
Sherlock's moans echoed in his ears, his deep baritone breaking around the sound of John’s name. When had anyone last called him by his Christian name? He couldn't remember, but then he was too far gone to recall much beyond his own name, being chanted like a prayer by that bewitching voice. It was heavenly choir and siren’s call in one irresistible syllable, and John was lost.
In a startling flash, a vision blazed across his mind: pale skin, dark curls, red lips, silver eyes. It was somehow both fully-formed and ethereal, otherworldly yet viscerally real. Golden light limned the vision as pleasure crashed through him, the edges growing bright with sparks of bliss. Pure energy was pulsing out of his fingers and toes and cock, blinding white euphoria pouring out of him. His entire being was suffused with rushing ecstasy, and through it all, that image persisted, behind closed lids, indelibly seared onto his retinas: Sherlock, head thrown back in rapture, coming undone by the simple power of John’s voice.
Slowly, the waves of euphoria subsided, giving way to tingling toes and sticky fingers, and Father Watson came back to himself. The heady rush was fading, quickly replaced by the familiar tug of guilt low and thick in his belly. What had he done? Sin upon sin, compounding until he couldn’t tell up from down, sinner from saint, could hardly recognise the man he was now. He looked down at the damp mess of robes bunched up in his lap. How could he reconcile the Father Watson of this morning—the Vessel of God he had been, had worked his whole life to become—with this?
How was he supposed to go on? Oh Lord, how was he supposed to lead services after this, to stand up in front of his congregation and God and speak His words when he had done this?
“See you tomorrow, Father Watson.”
Tomorrow. Tomorrow was Sunday. Tomorrow was Sunday, and Sherlock would be there, sitting in the crowd, smirking through the sermon, kneeling for communion, opening his mouth wide to receive the sacrament…
He dropped his head to his hands, wincing as the residue of his transgression smeared across his cheek.
Christ, he was so fucked.