Though their grounds were peppered here and there with all manner of trees — maples, hawthorns, birches, beeches, poplars — it was the gentle arch of the single willow overlooking the entrance to the garden under which Watson preferred to settle himself for an afternoon with his journals. It offered shade and peace, and from his vantage he could see Holmes puttering about in his gear, tending the hives. Sometimes, he could even entice Holmes to join him at his table for lunch.
Watson was occupied thus on an unseasonably warm day in early spring when he spied two women ambling arm and arm down the lane towards the cottage he shared with Holmes. He set his notebook down and anchored the pages with some pebbles before laying his pen aside and capping his bottle of ink. He levered himself up and met them some way down the path, where he could head them off. Holmes disliked being disturbed in his beekeeping.
“Good afternoon, madam,” he said to the elder of the two, a stately silver-haired lady leaving middle age in the past with ease. She nodded and murmured the same back at him. On her arm could only be her daughter; they shared a high forehead and gently dimpled chin. The daughter offered her bare hand and Watson shook it gamely. A New Woman, then, and one who exasperated her mother, at that, if the way the elder pressed her lips together and barely contained the roll of her eyes was any indication.
“Good afternoon, Dr. Watson,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind us calling on you, only we were out for a bit of a ramble and we couldn’t help but notice you sitting there. Why not be neighbourly, I thought?”
“Not at all, not at all,” Watson said. He swept a hand out in front of himself as he ushered his guests towards the cottage. “Please, come in for some refreshment. I made some lemonade just this morning when I realised what warm weather we were in for today.”
Inside, the daughter introduced her mother as Mrs. Eleanor Allsbrook and herself as Miss Emily Allsbrook, late of Berkshire but recently moved to Sussex, just down the road.
“On a whim,” Miss Allsbrook said with a flutter of her hand and a bright smile. Mrs. Allsbrook’s expression took on a pained restraint.
“I assure you, Dr. Watson,” she said, “it was no whim. My daughter is often taken by flights of fancy. My late husband’s cousin left us a cottage here when he died. We are assessing it now for its viability as a year-round home.”
“He sounds a very generous man, madam,” Watson said. He set a serving tray with three glasses of fresh lemonades on the occasional table before the sofa, and took a seat across from them himself. Miss Allsbrook took her glass up with zeal while Mrs. Allsbrook merely held hers gingerly and watched her daughter with a resigned sort of defeat in her eyes. Watson hid his smile in the rim of his glass.
“Oh yes, Dr. Watson,” Miss Allsbrook said. “He was more like a brother to old Dad than his own brothers, I daresay.”
“Layabouts,” Mrs. Allsbrook hissed severely. She composed herself and sat up straighter, mouth thinning into a prim line. “Cousin Bertie did speak at length about his neighbours. Some real characters, to hear him tell it.”
Their cousin was Bertrand Lange, then, a former journalist whose retirement did nothing to sap the gossip from him. Watson had heard of his death over the winter months, and while he fretted a bit about not attending his memorial, he was relieved not to be called upon to muster false grief for the man. He had not been a bad sort, precisely, just a bit too interested in Holmes for Watson’s taste.
“Oh, I don’t know about all that,” Watson said. “It takes all sorts to make the world go ’round.”
“Of course it does, of course!” Miss Allsbrook cried. “We do so love characters, really. Why, just the other day, we accompanied Mrs. Kingsford around her grounds to search for one particular mallard she’s taken a shine to and was aggrieved not to be visited by for some weeks.”
“We did find him,” Mrs. Allsbrook said. “Mated and nesting, you know.”
“I see,” Watson said. He dabbed at his moustache and wondered how soon it would be until the Allsbrook women were making a nuisance of themselves near the hives, just for a glimpse of the character of a great detective.
“And you, Dr. Watson?” Mrs. Allsbrook said, brown eyes wide with false innocence. Beside her, her daughter tucked her lips behind her teeth.
“You seem a hale man whose wife was taken from you too soon,” Mrs. Allsbrook said. “A terrible business, just terrible. Surely you get lonely here, with no one but your eccentric friend for company.” Mrs. Allsbrook’s gaze trailed brazenly over the buttons of Watson’s waistcoat. By sheer force of will, Watson’s mouth did not drop, and his eyebrows did not rise clear off his forehead.
“I assure you,” he said once he got his bearings back, “I am quite occupied. I have friends in the village, and I occasionally consult for the local clinic.”
“I am pleased to hear it, Dr. Watson, very pleased indeed,” Mrs. Allsbrook said. “But should you ever—”
The door clattered and the women startled, heads swivelling towards the commotion. It was Holmes, in full gear, lumbering about like a great bear. Watson shot to his feet, buzzing and battle-ready — Holmes always took off his gear outdoors.
“What on Earth…” Miss Allsbrook gasped, hand splayed over her heart. When Watson thought about it later, he would reflect that she appeared more enthralled than afraid.
“Watson!” Holmes bellowed. “Where is my smoker?”
“You can’t imagine that I moved it, Holmes!”
Holmes came crashing through the parlour and stood directly in front of Watson with no care to the women occupying the sofa. His belly, a tiny, dear little thing cultivated over the course of their new life of leisure, strained at the fabric and bumped up against Watson’s own stomach.
“You must have! It was not where I put it!”
“Are they swarming, Holmes? This is why I always tell you—”
“Dear God, a swarm of bees?” Mrs. Allsbrook wailed.
“How exciting!” Miss Allsbrook cried.
“Exciting!” Holmes lurched around like the monster in a sensationalist novel, face obscured, limbs flailing. “Yes, it would be exciting if they were swarming, but they are not! They make such great din, and their flight patterns, madam! Exquisite! You should come for the next swarm!”
The ladies Allsbrook, flabbergasted, pressed themselves tightly into the back of the sofa. One of them, Watson could not discern whom, let out a tiny squeak of distress.
“I think we ought to leave Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson to the case of the missing smoker, Mother,” Miss Allsbrook said, voice high and strangled.
“Yes, my dear, I do believe we should. My, is that the time? We’re going to be late for…”
“Tea and sandwiches with Mrs. Harlowe!”
“Yes, of course, of course.”
“What a shame,” Watson said, ushering Holmes gently aside to relieve their guests of their glasses. “You shall have to call upon us again.” Holmes kicked him then, just a tap of his toe against Watson’s heel, but the ladies didn’t notice in their haste to take their leave. “Goodbye!” Watson called.
“Goodbye, Dr. Watson!” came Miss Allsbrook’s voice. The door clattered shut in her wake, and Watson spun around to face Holmes, who was pushing up the mesh of his mask and grinning down at him like a naughty schoolboy. “You are a terror, Holmes!”
“That was rather the point, old boy,” Holmes said. “You cannot tell me you were enjoying yourself. I saw you through the window, looking like nothing so much as a mouse in a trap.”
“Well, yes, but there are such things as social niceties, Holmes.”
“Pah.” Holmes waved a dismissive hand. “An affliction for the masses, and one to which I have never succumbed. If you imagined country life would blight me thus, I’m afraid you shall be waiting a long time, my dear.” He peeled off his gloves, removed his headgear and began working himself free of the singlet uniform he wore.
Watson found himself smiling. In this disrobing, Holmes was graceless as a newborn foal. Watson reached out and helped his friend from the trappings of gear that had gone a bit tight of late.
“Holmes, I have loved you too well these last thirty years to conjure a false picture of you,” he said. “I merely live in hope that one day, you will not frighten the wits out of people we may have to see on a regular basis. Besides, they weren’t bad as all that. The daughter, at least, had an adventuresome spirit. ”
“Her mother had designs on you,” Holmes said, and Watson was amazed to find him fiddling with a shirtsleeve, eyes downcast, mouth pursed. Watson laughed and smoothed his hands over the bony expanse of Holmes’s shoulders.
“I daresay she has fine taste.”
Holmes inhaled sharply and drew himself up to his full height.
“Fine taste and bad judgement,” he said, imperious.
“Hush,” Watson said. He leaned in close, speaking against the thin line of Holmes’s lips. “I thought they had come by poking about for information on you, you know. The famous detective. I was about to be quite put out.”
Holmes snorted, long fingers curling possessively over Watson’s hips.
“What woman alive would cast her gaze upon me when John Watson is near?” he murmured. He nudged Watson’s mouth open and swept the tip of his tongue just so along the inside of Watson’s lower lip, precisely as he always did. And, even so long into their union, it still made Watson’s knees weak. He gripped Holmes around the small of his back and deepened the kiss. He felt Holmes’s greedy hands roaming his buttocks, and he was taken with sudden envy. He gathered the fabric of the uniform, bunched now around Holmes’s waist, and tried to ease it down over his hips. It got stuck, and there was the sound of tearing. The pair of them stilled, breath heavy between them, chests and bellies colliding with each inhale. Watson opened his eyes and found Holmes’s already on him, colour high on his cheeks. He took a step back.
“This is preposterous,” he spat.
“Look at me, Watson! A Leviathan, a Behemoth, a — a Brother Mycroft!”
“Oh, pish, Holmes, it’s not as bad as all that.”
“Watson.” Holmes tipped his chin up, resembling a man about to meet his death. “I have had to let out my trousers. I may have to buy new ones.”
Watson tried not to smile at him. He ran his palms firmly up and down Holmes’s back.
“So we will buy new ones,” he said. “It is of no consequence.”
“Soon I shall be a penguin, waddling around to compensate for the pendulum of my stomach.”
“I am not the lithe young man I was when we met, either, Holmes,” Watson said. “Time and age conspire to thicken our waists and thin our hair, but I, for one, cannot regret it.”
“That is because you still look handsome and dignified, whereas I look like an overfed squirrel.”
“First you’re a seabird, now you’re a tree rodent? Do pick a metaphor, my dear, and stick to it. I’m not fussed — either is adorable, in its way.”
Watson stole a kiss, and he felt Holmes shudder delicately against him. Watson sank to his knees, which creaked a protest, and he paused to arrange a cushion beneath them.
“Watson.” Holmes whispered, hands fluttering like butterflies at his shoulders. Watson looked up to find Holmes’s colour up, his breath laboured, his lips parted and glistening.
“Hush.” Watson brought his hands up to drag Holmes’s bee suit over the new lushness of Holmes’s bottom, keeping eye contact all the while. Watson then freed the column of Holmes’s burgeoning erection from his trousers and yanked those down as well. He helped Holmes extract one foot from the tangle on the floor, and with the other, Holmes kicked off the garments entirely.
They were very nearly old men now, and ardor was slow to swell. They often spent their nights reading or discussing whatever crossed their minds, legs entwined, companionship an easy constant. Desire, once sharp and urgent, had cooled over the years into a comfortable ember that warmed more things than their bed. Theirs was a true partnership, a union of complementary parts which proved hollow without their matches. Love, Watson found, was in the way Holmes’s eyes warmed when Watson entered the room, or how he rubbed the ache from Watson’s joints after a damp day, or brought back books just for Watson from the library. Lust was incidental, a young man’s urge — but sometimes, it still washed over them with surprising force.
Watson pushed Holmes’s shirt up and buried his face in the soft flesh he found here. The skin quivered against him as he breathed deep the scent of the garden, the wind, the honey, and always, underneath, Holmes. He was tracked here and there with jagged silver lines, delicate as gossamer, and these Watson traced now with sucking kisses and drags of his tongue. He felt Holmes take a sharp breath and hold it even as his grip on Watson’s shoulders tightened. Watson brought his own hands ’round to palm greedily at Holmes’s plush backside. With one hand he kneaded at the swell of one buttock and with the other he swept his fingertips into the groove of Holmes’s arse. He traced a light circle around the hole until the muscle gave and allowed him entry. Holmes gasped and jerked his hips forward, and Watson took pity on him, opening his mouth wide and sealing it over Holmes’s prick.
Holmes rocked into the suction with a stifled groan. Watson let go of Holmes’s generous cheek to grasp around the base of his prick and steady his work. He loved this — the weight of Holmes’s steely flesh in his mouth, vulnerable and heady. Watson had always excelled in rendering Holmes speechless like this, pumping the shaft into his mouth, pushing his tongue underneath Holmes’s foreskin to flick firmly at his frenulum. Holmes stumbled back until he was against a window and the whole of Watson’s finger was crooked up inside him. He hooked a knee over Watson’s shoulder to bring him closer, as close as he could get, and he held his hair, gentle but insistent, as if there were any force on Earth that could wrench Watson from where he was happiest, moaning and salivating around Holmes’s cock.
Holmes tightened around his finger and gave a keening gasp before he spent himself down Watson’s throat. Watson drank up his leavings greedily as he shook and sagged against the window sill. When Watson freed his own cock, leaking copiously and purple with neglect, Holmes knelt before him on shaking legs and knocked his hands away.
“I would have you, Watson,” he said, voice rough, and arranged himself on his side on among the cushions. He spat in his hand and slicked his thighs before drawing Watson to him and locking his legs together.
“Holmes,” Watson said, hoarse. Holmes kissed him tenderly and backed himself up into the cradle of Watson’s pelvis. Watson pushed himself into the channel of Holmes’s thighs and Holmes gave a contented sigh when the head of Watson’s prick dragged over his hole and into the back of his testicles. Holmes’s arse was a revelation, soft and delicious against Watson’s skin, and he tightened his grasp on a lush hip to fuck him faster. Holmes reached around behind him to pull Watson closer still, and when Watson spent himself, it was with his face buried in Holmes’s shoulder, his mouth open and gasping against pale, intoxicating flesh. When the tremors were over, he slumped against Holmes, whose hands were tracing gentle patterns into his arm, his back, his shoulders. Watson whispered, again, his name.
“My dear man,” Holmes said softly.
Later, Watson would lead Holmes from the open parlour into their bedroom, where he would divest him of all he wore and open the curtains so the light from the garden could spill in and illuminate all Holmes was, all that they had ever been to each other, and he would press reverent kisses into each increasing bit of him, front to back, top to bottom, side to side. How could I ever regret that there is more of you? he would say. How could I turn away such an embarrassment of riches? Privately, he would be grateful, and so glad, that the two of them were afforded the time to become old, to become larger with comfort and affection. Watson would look back upon the tenure of their union, so often tumultuous and fraught, and marvel at their luck. He would gaze upon Holmes in the mess of their bedding and be humbled at the workings of the universe. And Holmes would take him into his arms, smooth a hand over what was left of Watson’s hair, and say, I know, old boy.