"You're not doing the knot right," says Holmes. Gregson closes his eyes and prays for strength.
"I know what I'm doing," he says. "Why don't you just calm yourself down and let me take care of it?"
"If you're doing a clove hitch," continues Holmes. "You should-"
"It's a bowline," says Gregson. "Look, I'm going to blindfold you if you keep trying to backseat Dom."
"You're not pulling tight enough." Holmes demonstrates with his right hand, yanking on the rope that's tying his left.
"I tied your right hand down." Gregson pushes Holmes' newly-free hand away.
"Not very well," says Holmes.
"Your hands are supposed to stay where they're put." Gregson starts the knot over for Holmes' right hand. "The ropes are a prop, okay? I don't want to cut off your circulation and hurt you."
"You could hurt me." Holmes' eyes flick to the floor and back up. "If you'd like."
"I would not like." Gregson finishes the knot and takes a step back to admire the confined curve of Holmes' body. Holmes is sitting on the floor of his bedroom, his back braced against his bed and his wrists tied to the bed frame. He's shirtless, barefoot, but still wearing jeans. One knee is pulled up to his chest, and the other leg stretches out toward where Gregson stands. He looks perfect, except-
"You should cuff me." Holmes is still staring at the knots, critically. "Less effort."
"I don't want you getting any erotic associations with my police equipment." Gregson moves back in, crouches down.
"Too late," says Holmes. His voice is getting quieter, and his pupils are blown. He might keep arguing and correcting Gregson, but it looks like Holmes is finally beginning to get into it.
"Just keep your hands where they are." Gregson leans in to kiss Holmes. This might actually work, for once.
All Gregson wants is to keep Holmes still, controlled and contained, focused on his own pleasure instead of bees or murders or being right. All Holmes wants is a voice with authority in it and some strong restraints, to have his control taken away from him. You would think that their interests would mesh perfectly.
Gregson takes Holmes' chin in his hand, tilts it up so Holmes is baring his throat as they kiss. Gregson pulls back, just enough to admire the straining tendons in Holmes' neck, the shiver and tremble of his skin.
It's perfect. Gregson can't quite think anymore, coherency lost in a haze of arousal and the knowledge that everything is just as it should be. He feels his knees hit the carpeted floor, and he leans in to run his teeth along Holmes' jugular.
And then he feels the hands in his hair.
"I told you that the knots weren't tight enough," murmurs Holmes. Gregson can feel his voice vibrating in his throat in the half-second before he shoves himself back from Holmes.
"Red," Gregson snaps. "Red light, okay, we're done for today."
"Don't be childish, Gregson." Holmes looks at him with annoyance as Gregson stands up and grabs his jacket from the chair he'd laid it over. "It was a slip on my part, yes - I'll put my hands back, if it will make you happy."
"It's not about your slip, Holmes. It's about what happened last week, and the week before that, and the week before that." Gregson shrugs his jacket back on, pulls at his tie until it almost looks respectable. "You have got to decide what we're doing here. You want to play around and see what you can get away with, that's fine. We can do that. But you want me to Dom? You listen to what I tell you."
"Perhaps if you made a serious effort at enforcing your orders," begins Holmes.
"No." Gregson rubs at bridge of his nose. "No, that's the point, Holmes, I don't want to feel like I'm forcing you. I don't want to pressure you or hurt you or push you around. I understand that there are people who like that sort of thing, but it is not for me."
"I like that sort of thing." Holmes looks down at the light marks on his wrists from where he twisted his hands free from the rope. "Would it be so difficult to indulge me, just once, just to see if you liked it? Have you heard of Good, Giving-"
Gregson walks out of the bedroom. He can hear Holmes scrambling to his feet behind him, but he just keeps going, through the hallway, down the stairs. Watson looks up at him from her seat at the living room table.
"That was fast," she says. "Everything okay?"
"Absolutely," says Gregson.
"Absolutely not," says Holmes, from the top of the stairs. "We've been trying to fit a scene into our respective busy schedules for a week, and now he decides to throw a tantrum."
"I'm not in the right headspace, Holmes." Gregson's hand is already on the doorknob. "I need some air."
"This is why I usually employ professionals!" shouts Holmes. "I don't have time for amateur hour, Gregson!"
Gregson does not slam the door, out of consideration for Watson, but he does close it very loudly.
So much for his day off. Gregson spends the rest of the afternoon angrily watching knot tutorials on youtube. None of them have suggestions for how to deal with a bratty sub escape artist. Not appropriate suggestions, anyway.
Last week Gregson tied Holmes' hands behind his back and spent less than thirty seconds admiring the effect before Holmes dislocated his shoulder while trying to pass his hands under his feet and bring them to the front.
"It's all right," said Holmes, pointedly calm. "We can continue."
"You need your shoulder back in its damn socket." Gregson used his pocketknife to cut through the ties on Holmes' hands. "What should I do, should I get Watson?"
"She said she was tired of relocating my shoulder." Holmes beckoned Gregson closer with his good arm. "I'm sure I can coach you through it."
"Next time," said Gregson, one hand rubbing his own forehead and the other on Holmes' elbow, "next time I'm tying you to the bed."
The day after the latest bondage disaster, Gregson is in the office for most of his shift. The reality of being a police captain is that you spend most of your time doing paperwork, dealing with crime only in the abstract. It's a welcome distraction when Watson knocks on his door.
"Anything on the Murdock murder?" asks Gregson, when Watson steps in. "I've got Bell chasing leads over in the Flatiron District, and-"
"It's not about that." Watson smiles slightly. "I wanted to talk to you about Sherlock."
Gregson leans back in his chair, feeling stiff. "Sit down," he says, and watches as Watson settles into the guest chair.
"I don't want to seem like I'm interfering," she says, "but Sherlock's my friend, and you're my friend, and I'm worried about the two of you."
Gregson crosses his arms.
"Sherlock's been sulking all day," adds Watson.
"If he wants to discuss what happened yesterday, he can come and do it himself."
"I'm sure he will." Watson leans forward. "It takes him a while, but usually Sherlock is pretty good about talking to people he cares about."
Gregson snorts. "Yeah, after he's spent a few hours working with some professionals."
Watson shrugs. "There wasn't anyone in the house except Ms. Hudson when I left. Look," she hesitates. "Look, I'm not trying to swoop in and fix your relationship or anything. I just know you two are having trouble, and I wanted you to know that Sherlock cares about you, and if you want to drop all the kink stuff he'll probably understand."
"I, uh." Gregson slumps in his chair, feeling the righteous anger drain out of him. "I appreciate that. But ever since I met Holmes I've been trying to figure out how to keep him from running around and working too far ahead of me and getting into all kinds of trouble. And then I started having these detailed fantasies about tying him up and keeping him at the foot of my bed, where he couldn't come to any harm. And then I find out that I can actually do that and Holmes likes that sort of thing, if only I was better at tying knots. So excuse me if I can't just let that go."
Watson is looking at him with her head tilted and a little frown on her face. Gregson swallows whatever he was going to say next.
"Sorry," he says instead. "Probably too much information."
"I don't think this is just about tying knots," says Watson.
"No," says Gregson. "You're right, it's not."
There's all sorts of things that he can't give Holmes. It's not just the knots.
"Thanks for checking in," says Gregson, and shuffles paperwork until Watson takes the hint.
Two weeks ago, Gregson tied Holmes' hands in front of him. Holmes stared at the knots, the rope, and his wrists.
"Is that it?" he asked.
"I'm just getting started." Gregson meant it to sound seductive, promising, but it came out defensive.
"Yes," said Holmes. "I can see that." He turned his hands, inspecting the knots from every angle. He frowned.
"Next time," said Gregson, "I'm going to keep your hands where you can't see them."
At the end of his shift, Gregson goes to the bar with about half the precinct. It's the hot and tiring kind of day that everyone wants a break from. A break with a drink in it.
The bar is loud and cheerful, and Gregson takes his beer and nurses it in a corner where he can keep an eye on his police and make sure they're not getting too rowdy. After a few minutes, Bell takes a seat next to him.
"You look terrible," says Bell. "Something up?"
Gregson chuckles, takes a sip of his beer. "Personal problems, don't worry about it."
"Hey." Bell raises his glass at him, gently persistent. "I'm here if you want to talk."
Maybe it's because of the long day, maybe it's because of the beer, maybe it's because Bell is actually becoming one of Gregson's friends instead of just a particularly reliable coworker, but Gregson wants to confide in him, get his advice. He can't say 'it's about the kinky shit I'm not really doing with Holmes,' though. He has to be more discrete.
"Imagine," says Gregson, "imagine that you have a friend, right?"
"I actually have friends," says Bell. "No imagination necessary."
Gregson ignores him. "And this friend wants to do something that you've never tried before, but you know you won't like."
"Is this like when your mom wants you to eat your brussels sprouts?" Bell shrugs. "Just eat the veggies, Sir."
"No, it's more like," Gregson hesitates, trying to figure out an appropriate metaphor for his thing with Holmes. "It's like your friend wants you to go swimming in the ocean with him, but you've only had three swimming lessons and you're pretty sure that there are sharks out there. But your friend loves sharks, and he swears they're not as bad as you think they are, so why not just jump in the ocean?"
Bell looks confused as hell. Gregson can't figure out a better way to explain it, so he takes a gulp of his beer instead.
"Wait," says Bell, light dawning. "Is this about the kinky shit you're doing with Holmes?"
"Not doing," he corrects, when he's recovered. "I haven't been doing it, that's the problem. Did he tell you about that?"
Bell sips his drink, looking nonchalant. "Heard it from Watson. She's worried about you two. You talked to Holmes about this?"
"He doesn't want to hear it." Gregson rubs his eyes. "I don't know, maybe I just need to work through my fears-"
"Your fear of sharks?" Bell's eyebrows draw together. "I don't want to be critical of your- your activities or anything, but if Holmes is doing weird things with sharks then maybe you're right to be scared. Just a thought."
"The sharks," says Gregson, "are a metaphor."
Three weeks ago, Gregson handed Holmes his copy of the kink worksheet. He'd marked off what kinds of things he knew he liked, things he was willing to try, things he didn't want to do. It was supposed to help them see where they were compatible. what kind of scenes they would both enjoy, what they should avoid, that sort of thing.
Holmes started reading immediately. After a minute, he looked up, eyebrows raised.
"You're rather limited, aren't you?" he asked. "How many of these have you actually tried before?"
"I've got preferences," said Gregson. "I don't need to test them out. Where's your worksheet?"
Holmes handed him a crumpled and worried piece of paper, which Gregson had to unfold. Every single kink was marked 'yes' or 'will try.' Some of the ones that Gregson had absolutely ruled out were the ones that Holmes seemed the most enthusiastic about.
"Huh," said Gregson.
"I'm sure everything will be fine," said Holmes. "We both like bondage, after all. Rope. It's a place to start."
Gregson spends most of the next day in his office, with the lights turned low and a bottle of aspirin close to his hand. He's got a hangover from last night - usually he's careful about how much he drinks, but he had to distract himself from over-sharing with Bell somehow.
About fifteen minutes before his shift is up, the office door swings open. Holmes stumbles in, propelled by Bell and Watson, who promptly shut the door again. Leaving Holmes and Gregson alone.
Gregson takes off his reading glasses. Holmes straightens up, smoothing his jacket.
"I've been informed," he says, "that we need to talk."
Gregson pops open the aspirin bottle, takes two.
"Save it," he says, when he feels suitably prepared. "I've been thinking about this, Holmes, and I think we probably should give up while we still like each other."
Holmes regards him. Everyone else in the world will just straight-up look at a person, but Holmes regards. It's something in the tilt of his nose.
"I implore you to reconsider," says Holmes. "I know my behavior has been- trying. Willfully undermining your authority."
"Annoying as hell," supplies Gregson.
Holmes nods, acknowledging it. "I would like to apologize. To tell the truth, I was anxious. I-"
"You've got nothing to be anxious about." Gregson forces a smile. "I'm the one who keeps messing up - can't do the knots properly, won't play into your kinks. I know you just wanted to feed your thing for authority figures, but I can't-"
"You're not just any authority figure." Holmes leans over the desk, hand almost-not-quite reaching out toward Gregson. "You're Captain Thomas Gregson, and I desperately want to impress you, and it's very difficult to let go of that-"
"Why would you impress me by dislocating your shoulder?" asks Gregson, and they finally stop talking over each other. Holmes looks up at the ceiling, biting his lip, and Gregson just waits for an answer.
"Watson would say that it was self-sabotage," says Holmes, at last. "I believe that I will always do something wrong to lose your faith in me, so I try to cut to the chase before we've wasted much time." Holmes shrugs. "I would say that I fidget when I'm nervous."
Gregson stands up, putting himself at a level with Holmes. It doesn't feel right to try and hold Holmes, not in the semi-public of his office, so he puts his hands on Holmes' shoulders as a compromise.
"I'm not going to lose faith in you because of some sex thing," says Gregson. "You try to kill a guy again, maybe that'll do it. But not because you can't keep your hands still."
"Fears aren't rational or logical," says Holmes. "As much as I would like them to be." He hesitates. "It's easier to lose myself when I'm experiencing physical pain, which is why-"
"Still not going to do that," says Gregson. "But maybe we can work something else out."
"Good." Holmes doesn't smile, but he drums his fingers along the back of Gregson's hands, where Gregson is still holding Holmes' shoulders. "How would Saturday afternoon work for you?"
Four weeks ago, Holmes tried to lift case files that he wasn't entitled to off Gregson's desk. Gregson saw him reaching and pushed them away.
"We haven't asked for a consultation on that one," he said. "We've got it under a control."
"I need a new case," said Holmes. "If I have much more downtime, Watson is going to make me take a restful vacation. In the countryside."
"I'll let you know if anything comes up."
Holmes looked imploringly at Gregson, reaching out for the files again. Gregson picked them up and put them in a drawer.
"Keep your sticky fingers off of my cases," he said. "If I have to tie your hands to keep you from meddling, I will."
Holmes tipped his chin up, looking down his nose at Gregson. "Is that an invitation?"
By this point, Gregson has some bad associations with Holmes' bedroom. But Holmes isn't comfortable in Gregson's apartment, and anyway Gregson doesn't want his neighbors gossiping. Also, Holmes has eyehooks in the ceiling and a sturdy stepladder.
Today, Gregson's going to create some good associations with Holmes' bedroom.
"Shirt off," says Gregson. Holmes complies, pulling his t-shirt over his head quick enough that he hardly takes his eyes off Gregson. Gregson ignores him as he removes his own jacket and tie, rolls up his sleeves.
"What's in the bag?" asks Holmes.
Gregson hefts the duffel bag, just to watch Holmes' eyes follow it. "Supplies," he says. "This is going to be a little complicated. I'll need you to bear with me."
Holmes nods, and presents his hands. Gregson frowns at him. "Nothing to say?" he asks.
"I'm on my best behavior," says Holmes.
"You don't need to be," says Gregson, and pulls out the rope and the little pulley it's attached to. "Just be you."
"'Me' is irritable and nervous and prone to escapology," says Holmes. He steadies the stepladder as Gregson reaches up to hang the pulley from the eyehook. "Being me is a problem."
"It's something to work with, not against," says Gregson. "I think I've figured it out. Here, hold this. Hands over your head."
Holmes takes the rope, and Gregson fishes the bondage tape out of the duffel.
"I see." Holmes' lips thin, like he's still restraining himself. "You know that isn't escape proof."
"Wait and see." Gregson winds the tape around and around Holmes' hands and wrists and forearms, then doubles the trailing end of the rope back up, so that there's rope on both the inside and outside of the tape. He ties the rope to itself, high enough that Holmes couldn't reach to untie the simple knot even if his fingers were free. Finally Gregson pulls on the other end of the rope until Holmes' arms are taut over his head.
"Can you get out of this?" asks Gregson.
Holmes wriggles, and the tattoo on his left shoulder flexes. "Probably," he decides. "With difficulty. It would take a great deal of concentration."
"So it's my job to keep you from concentrating," says Gregson, and hauls on the rope.
Gregson's not strong enough to pull Holmes completely off the ground, even with the slight advantage of the pulley. But he's strong enough to pull until Holmes is dancing on his toes. He gives Holmes a little more slack, enough to stand with his feet flat to the ground, and then pulls up again. Gregson tries to make the pull and release random - Holmes could probably find some kind of pattern, but maybe he'll be too focused on the burn in his arms and the desperation of keeping his feet to think.
Holmes tries to keep up, bouncing up and down on his toes, but Gregson isn't making it easy. Holmes grunts every time he misjudges and the rope jerks on his shoulders. His eyes narrow at Gregson, and for a single, heart-stopping second, Gregson thinks Holmes is going to call red. At least it's an easy scene to stop. All Gregson would have to do is let go of the rope.
Instead, Holmes just closes his eyes. The moment when he relaxes and lets the rope fully take his weight is going to feature in Gregson's fantasies for a very, very long time.
It's not that Holmes is limp. He still moves with the rope, drops when there's slack, strains up when Gregson pulls. But Holmes is moving with the rope, not trying to anticipate.
"That's beautiful," says Gregson.
Holmes smiles. He looks as relaxed as Gregson has ever seen him. "You've been at the gym," he says. "You got this idea at a weight-training machine, thought to yourself 'wouldn't it be lovely if I could combine bondage and body-building.'"
"Maybe," says Gregson. The gym was only part of it, the inspiration. The rest was the way Holmes wants to move during a scene, the need to keep Holmes distracted from his brain and focused on his body. The ability to give Holmes a little pain, if the pain comes from sore muscles instead of a slap or a too-tight rope. Gregson pulls back slowly, until Holmes is stretched up on his toes, and then stops moving. After a minute, Holmes opens one eye.
"Done with this game?" he asks.
"No," says Gregson. "Legs getting sore?"
"No, says Holmes, and closes his eye again.
They hold position for another five minutes, ten. Holmes' calves are trembling.
"You can let your shoulders take the weight," says Gregson. "If it's too much."
Holmes' face tightens, and he holds out for another two minutes. His brow is wrinkled, his eyes pinched shut.
"Don't think about me, what I want," says Gregson. "Just be you."
Holmes opens his mouth, but only a sigh comes out. He relaxes, lets the rope take his weight for a few minutes. Then his shoulders begin to shake, and he stands on his toes again.
Both positions are obviously uncomfortable, and Holmes can't hold either of them long. He swaps between them, the intervals getting shorter as fatigue sets in. But his brow isn't wrinkled, and there's an expression on his face that Gregson hasn't ever seen before. Not a smile, not a scowl. A blankness, but one that seems happy. Content.
Gregson twitches the rope, not enough to tug, just enough to remind Holmes that he's there.
"How's it feel?"
"Good," says Holmes, quiet and slow, like he has to remember how to talk. "Heavy. Calm."
"Can you get out?" asks Gregson.
"I don't want to," breathes Holmes, and Gregson would kiss him if he was in reach. Instead he twitches the rope again, and Holmes smiles like he knows what it means.
Maybe they can make this work, if they think about it hard enough, figure out how to mesh what they want instead of fighting over it. This right here? This looks an awful lot like working. Gregson is so focused on Holmes that he's hardly aware of himself, but he can still feel the low pleased heat pulsing in his stomach. Yeah. This is working.
When Holmes is trembling all over, practically vibrating with exhaustion, Gregson begins to let the rope down. Holmes sinks to the floor, not bothering to hold himself up now that the support is gone. His eyes are still closed. Gregson cuts the tape, tosses it away with the rope. Then he pulls the quilt from on top of the bed and wraps it around Holmes, sits down on the floor beside him.
"You want me to touch you?" asks Gregson. Holmes said before that he can flip either way on this, and this time he shakes his head, but then leans against Gregson's side. Gregson moves his hands out of the way, lets Holmes decide how much contact he wants.
"That was," says Holmes, and his voice sounds hoarse even though he wasn't screaming or anything. "That was very good."
"We can do it again sometime," says Gregson. "If you want. We can do lots of things like this."
Holmes slits his eyes open and licks his lips with his tongue. Gregson should wait to hear what he has to say, but he's only human so he kisses Holmes instead, deep and dirty. Holmes bites his lip.
"Did you know," says Holmes, when they break apart, "that kneeling on rice is uncomfortable and distracting but won't cause any permanent or temporary damage? I could do that with my hands bound, tied to the floor, so that I could only rock back temporarily on my calves to relieve my kneecaps. You could attach weights to a set of nipple clamps, tie my arms to the ceiling so that I have to practically do the splits to keep the weights on the floor, not pulling at my chest. I could stand on tacks, and-"
"Not tacks." Gregson is imagining it, and the thought of little pricks of blood welling from the soles of Holmes' feet is making his stomach turn over. "The rice, yes. The clamps- the clamps, we can talk about."
Holmes regards him, but this regarding is a hell of a lot friendlier than some of the previous regarding Holmes has done. He still looks calm and blankly pleased. It's a good look.
"You can touch me now," says Holmes, and blinks at Gregson expectantly.
Gregson throws an arm around Holmes' shoulders, pulls him in further, ruffles Holmes' hair with his other hand. He expects Holmes to make a face and pull away, but Holmes leans into it instead, pushing for more contact. Gregson runs his knuckles against Holmes' cheek, feeling the stubble that says Holmes has gotten bored of shaving again.
"Scening makes you affectionate, huh," says Gregson.
"It's the endorphins," says Holmes, practically nuzzling against Gregson's shoulder. "Scening also makes me tired. And hungry. Watson has made muffins."
"You want me to get you muffins?" asks Gregson. "Was that a hint?"
"Bring me muffins," commands Holmes.
"You're going to have to let me up," says Gregson, and watches with amusement as Holmes grunts and twists in on himself, curling until he is mostly hidden in the blanket and no longer leaning on Gregson.
Gregson stands up and brushes off his slacks. His arms are sore from holding Holmes up, and his face is sore from smiling. A good sore, both of them.
"Did Watson bake 'congrats on a successful scene' muffins?" Gregson prods the bundle of Holmes with his foot. "Do they have little handcuffs done in icing?"
"They're chocolate chip," says Holmes, which doesn't answer either question. "Thank you."
"For getting muffins?" Gregson shrugs. "I haven't done it yet, I might decide to eat them all myself."
"No." Holmes' voice is muffled by blanket, but still intelligible. "Thank you. For your- your patience and adaptability."
"Oh." Gregson can feel his face heating up. "Uh. You too."
Holmes snorts. "I showed very little patience these past weeks."
"You know what I mean," says Gregson, and Holmes hums and mumbles something pointed about muffins again.
Yeah. Gregson thinks they can maybe do this after all.
A few years ago, sometime in the spring - Gregson won't admit that he remembers the exact date - an NYPD detective met a frantic, brilliant, caustic Englishman. After about an hour of interacting with Holmes, Gregson caught himself thinking that the man needed someone to hold him down. Gregson tried his best to hide the thought, keep it off his face and out of his voice, but something must have given it away. Holmes smirked, and pushed up his sleeves as he rambled about the difference between short and long cat hair and why this was actually relevant.
There were rope burns crisscrossing Holmes' arms. Gregson bit the inside of his cheek and breathed normally.
Holmes kept smirking, with a glint in his eye that said 'try me.'
And Gregson- well, Gregson shook his head and smiled and did good work on the case. But that night he went online and started reading everything he could find about BDSM, special emphasis on the bondage. And he fell asleep with tattooed, rope-burned forearms in his minds eye.
Try me. Gregson thought he might.