First, of course, there were recriminations.
Holmes was quite prepared for it—was even looking forward to it, truth be told, for he had missed Watson's cutting wit these long, wearying months and was, for a moment, almost shockingly overwhelmed with the sensation of, well, rightness, not to put too fine a point on it.
Which led him to make the catastrophic mistake of saying, "Seems you've put on a few, my dear boy. I'd have expected you to be wasting away in grief."
Watson proceeded to clock him one, with all the force of those added pounds behind his fist.
When Holmes swam free of the murk of unconsciousness, it was to find Watson tending to him with a cold compress, face twisted in a concerned frown.
"You're too thin for comfort," Watson said. "What have you been doing? Other than being dead, that is."
"I've been dismantling Moriarty's European organization," Holmes said. "Oh, and upon occasion I've been traveling as a street performer with a band of Romani. We're quite good."
"Are you," Watson said heavily. He dropped the cold compress on Holmes' chest.
"Watson, I couldn't—surely you must realize if I'd involved you in even the smallest of ways, Moran would have used you and Mary against me, just as Moriarty had before him. I couldn't trust any means of communication."
"Moran." Something eased in Watson's expression; Holmes didn't dare hope for forgiveness at this early juncture, but perhaps his Zygomatic arch might remain intact for another day.
"Yes. He is here in London. It is time for the end game."
Mary Watson seemed unsurprised to find Holmes alive, much less so than Watson, which was to be expected—she was a clever girl, and perhaps her lack of emotion toward him allowed her clearer sight, whereas Watson—but that, Holmes told himself, was not within his realm to speculate upon.
Just as it never had been.
She seemed almost indulgent, however, as she helped him prepare the waxen likeness of himself that was to serve as the centerpiece of their somewhat simpleminded little plan to entrap Moran.
"Oh, your eyebrows are a good deal heavier than that, I think," she said, and added a few brushstrokes. "And your nose is a bit longer as well."
"Make me to be a Joseph Grimaldi, why don't you?"
She smiled and nudged his cheek, turning his face before going back to the dummy. "But the eyes, they need to be a touch sadder."
Holmes blinked and started to move away, but realized he had no recourse. She had trapped him neatly for this conversation. "I assure you, madame, on the eve of the final wrap-up of this, the greatest case of my career, I couldn't be happier."
"Mmm, I suppose."
"Also, being reunited with my dear friends has put me in quite the joyous mood, as you can well imagine."
"Oh, I can." Her blue eyes were a little too discerning for comfort. "John, of course, once he got over his initial fury at your deception, was quite over the moon last night. He couldn't stop talking about how amazing it was—the fall you had survived, the further assassination attempts you have evaded since. But now you are on the ragged edge, he said, and we must take care of you."
A strange swell of feeling pushed at Holmes' throat, borne of panic and gratitude, both. He clenched his jaw, trying to contain it. "I wouldn't think of putting you out—"
"You misunderstand my intention in bringing up the matter." She brushed her fingertip along the sore point of his cheek. "I don't suppose I should give the dummy a black eye for verisimilitude?" Turning back to the waxwork, she said, "John is a changed man since you returned, Mr. Holmes. In fact, he is once again the man I married six months ago."
Holmes was grateful for the privacy she'd granted him before making that statement. He observed the curve of her neck, the strength hidden in sweep of her shoulders. What an extraordinary woman. When he could speak, he said, "Just 'Holmes', if you please." He quirked a small smile when she glanced at him.
"Holmes." She tilted up her chin. "I find I very much like having my husband back. And I am willing, if necessary, to do what needs must to accommodate...to, ah, turn a blind eye, if you will, to keep him happy."
Holmes stared at her in shock. "Madame—"
"'Mary'," she said firmly.
"Mrs. Watson," Holmes said, his voice betraying not a tremor of the flurry that was his heart pounding, hammering at the wall of his chest. "I don't know what you think of your husband, or what you take me for—"
"An invert, I thought perhaps."
Holmes was struck momentarily speechless before he blurted, "I don't know that I am, but be that as it may, one thing I am not is a sore loser."
"No, I am not. I didn't come here to-to—Watson is my dearest friend, he is my—" My heart, he decidedly didn't say. "—compatriot, my companion, and you are his wife, and what you are suggesting is unkind to both of you—" And me. "I wouldn't ask any such wretched thing of either of you." He struck his eyes everywhere, on the dummy, on the table with the cosmetics, on the corner of Mary's skirt, where she'd obviously brushed it against the bread stall as she'd passed through the market—he could see the distinctive mark of oven char, from the market where Watson was—blast it, when would he be returning?
"Mr. Holmes, are you quite all right?"
Outside, he heard a constable's whistle, and the jingle of harnesses, and the cry of the fishmonger, and inside the tick of the clock on the mantle, sounding obscenely loud, louder with each passing moment.
And a thrumming in his ears that he recognized as being the wash of all these things against his nerves, the sign of a very good migraine, one he usually treated with his seven percent solution, but his long travels in Europe had forced him to give up the needle. He had nothing here. He would have to ask Watson—Watson, where was Watson—
Ah. That voice, and the familiar halting footstep, and the pressing grip on his arm.
"Watson, I think we're almost done here." But his voice was but a ghost, and he didn't fight it when Watson steered him toward the settee in the corner. "Mary has done a wonderful likeness, don't you think?"
"Yes, I think you look about as ghastly as that wax dummy. What have you done to yourself? Is this about the case?" Watson pushed him down to sit.
"I'm afraid it's my fault, dearest. I said something to upset him."
Watson's blue eyes snapped over toward Mary. "What? What could you have possibly—?"
"She says my eyebrows are too thick."
Mary smiled at him, a rueful, apologetic smile, and Holmes twitched one back before closing his eyes.
"Honestly, I can't leave the two of you alone for a moment."
"No, I suppose not." Holmes rubbed his forehead, pressing on the ache. "Watson, do you have something for the hammer and tongs working on my cranium at the moment?"
"Yes, yes of course." Watson hurried off.
Blessed silence followed in his wake. Always silence—that was Watson's gift.
Mary's soft whisper broke it. "I am sorry, Holmes."
He waved his hand. Later. Later he would ponder how extraordinarily confusing his life had become.
First, there was Moran.
It all went as Holmes planned, except where it almost tragically did not. He hadn't, for example, anticipated Moran would choose to take his fatal shot from very house Holmes and Watson were using as their vantage point.
However, as usual, Watson proved himself to be a superlative companion, and took down Moran with a mighty blow just as Moran was shooting at the wax dummy that Mary was animating into motion using puppet strings.
It seemed they made a formidable team. The thought was vaguely disturbing, as was Holmes' lingering weakness. After a somewhat hearty reunion with Lestrade and the rest of the Yard crew, who hauled Moran off in irons, Watson and Holmes returned to Baker Street, Holmes' sole intent to collapse by the fire with his pipe.
But Mary was still there waiting, a tray of hot tea by her side. She was in conversation with Mrs. Hudson, who had seen to restoring his rooms.
Everything was almost, but not quite, as Holmes remembered. The fog of his journeys and his fatigue threatened to put a patina of nostalgia over every item in the room, from his tiger skin rug to his Seltzogene bottle.
"Welcome home, Mr. Holmes," Mrs. Hudson said, her perfunctory words belied by an atypical fondness in her voice.
"Thank you, Nanny. Is the tea poisoned? I warn you: I've had a long trip and I've survived the worst the Continent has to offer."
"No, indeed, sir. Just your standard Earl Grey."
Holmes glared at her skeptically, but could only provoke an amused smile.
"Come on, old cock. Sit down before you fall down."
Holmes sat and drank his tea, listening idly while Mrs. Hudson chatted her welcome to Watson, then said her good nights. Mary freshened their tea and then offered John some whiskey in his; when Holmes held up his cup, he received nothing but a dry refusal.
"Ah, I see how it is—neglected in my own home."
"John said he wishes to examine you first."
"What's this?" Holmes craned his head over to peer at Watson. "I'm perfectly fine, Doctor."
"So perfectly fine you couldn't stand up against a kitten at this point."
"I could very well, if you had any kittens on hand. Do you?"
"I don't." Watson blew out a breath. "You nearly collapsed today, Holmes. So no stalling—to your chambers so I can have a good look at you."
Holmes surged to his feet, indignantly he thought, but once he was upright the room chose to swirl madly about in a Mazurka. "Oh," he said as Watson caught him on one side and Mary on the other.
They carted him off to his room like a sack of grain, or perhaps a barrel of gunpowder—he did feel quite near to combustion with the untidy confusion of his feelings. Watson, ever steady and dependable under his left arm, close to his heart, and Mary, willowy yet somehow strong, smelling faintly of lavender and the wax from the dummy, so unlike Irene—oh, Irene, why?—honest where Irene was crafty, steadfast where ever Irene slipped away like smoke. Watson had Mary, and Holmes would die alone, because even his waif, his confounding, irritating, beautiful, brilliant criminal, was gone.
And Watson had Mary.
Holmes had his eyes closed when they seated him on his bed, but he was vaguely conscious of a whispered conversation going on overhead, and then Watson was easing off his waistcoat.
"This is one of mine, isn't it? You wore this all over Europe?"
"And even to Persia for a short while. But I suppose you can have it back now."
Watson began unbuttoning his shirt. Holmes blinked open his eyes hastily. Indeed, Mary Watson was still in the room.
"If we could have some privacy?" Holmes said, stopping Watson's hands.
"Mary often helps me with my patients," Watson said, his voice completely devoid of guile. Thus it was apparent he was lying.
"Oh, does she?"
"Well, the children, at least—but you do have the maturity of a six year-old."
"That cannot be denied, but I don't see why—"
"Because I wish to be here."
This closed Holmes' teeth almost directly on his tongue, and he stared at her, dumbfounded, while Watson stripped him of his shirt. So it was he was looking at her when her eyes dropped to his bared torso, and he watched her draw in a breath.
But it was Watson who gasped aloud. "Holmes! Christ, you've dropped a stone."
"Don't exaggerate, mother hen."
Watson pushed him to lie down. "And what is this? And this? And this?" he said, drawing his finger along the various healed knife and bullet wounds on Holmes' chest and ribs, stopping with his hand above the bandage just at his nearest floating rib, lower right quadrant.
"Missed opportunities, I suppose," Holmes said.
"You bastard." Watson's voice started low, but then he grabbed Holmes by the shoulders and started shaking him against the bed, yelling, "You bastard, you unbelievable bastard!"
"John!" Mary pulled Watson away.
"You would have died. You would have died how many times? And I never would have known."
But you already did. At the very least, Holmes knew not to say it, but perhaps it wasn't necessary, because Watson's face crumpled.
"Did you think I was joking?" Holmes asked incredulously. "I told you what I was doing—I wasn't off on a pilgrimage, man. I had to keep you out of it, you and Mary, unless you wanted me to throw her off another train." He flicked her a glance and saw her holding her hand over her mouth. "And yes, so they came quite close when I sometimes miscalculated or stopped to, forgive me, sleep on occasion—"
"Shut up! Just—" Watson staggered forward, pulling Mary with him, to kneel down beside the bed. "You have to promise me," Watson said in an awful voice.
"Us," said Mary.
"Yes, us." Watson nodded. "You have to, Holmes. Never again."
"Yes, anything." He would promise anything to make that terrible sound leave Watson's voice. "But what? I don't understand." His pulse was throbbing in his temples, and he could feel dampness on his forehead despite his chest being exposed to the cool of the room. Mary and Watson looked at each other, and then Watson took Holmes' hand and joined it to his and Mary's.
"What are you doing?" Holmes said fretfully.
"I am doing nothing. You are making a promise."
"Is this about Persia? It's not like I could prevent the assassination attempts," Holmes said, tugging at his hand. It wouldn't seem to come free. "In fact, that's what I was endeavoring to do all along, but I'm quite through now. Moran is in chains and he's for the rope."
"You are a ninny," Mary said.
"I'm the finest detective in London!"
Watson broke into a reluctant grin. "This is you promising not to do it alone anymore, Holmes. And that means we're all in it together. You, me, and Mary."
Holmes looked away. "Oh, fine, yes. If that's all. I promise to wire you if any world-wide criminal masterminds have it in for me in future. All right?" He tugged once again, but their hands remained entangled.
"Look at me, Holmes."
Rolling his eyes for good measure, Holmes deigned to look at Watson, and at Mary, whose face hovered next to her husband's.
"No dying alone, Holmes." Watson squeezed their joined hands. "Do you understand what we're telling you, really?"
Holmes felt a shudder run through his body. He tried desperately to hide it, but was betrayed utterly when even his skin reacted, pebbling to the touch of the air around him.
"No, I—you can't mean—"
Watson nodded and finally released their hands. "Mary, get me my bag, would you? I need to change his dressing before he catches a chill."
"Of course, dearest." She kissed Watson's cheek and then rose gracefully, giving Holmes a Mona Lisa smile before she swayed from the room.
"I had a long talk with my wife last night, old boy." Watson was running his fingers down Holmes' flank to his bandage as he spoke, and Holmes had to suppress a shiver. With delicate fingers, Watson picked at the edge and started to unravel it. "We came to some surprising revelations. Are you interested in hearing them?"
"I'm not altogether certain I am, no."
"Not even a little bit curious?" Watson tugged a little too hard, and Holmes gasped.
Watson's moustache lifted. "It seems she offered you a proposition, and you didn't react quite as expected, but neither did you actually deny her assumption. And since this was more information than I'd managed to deduce in the many years I've known you, I thought it was rather good detective work on her part."
"I don't know what the devil you're talking about." He couldn't think clearly, and felt hot now despite the chill.
The bandage came loose, and Watson very carefully peeled it away from the wound, which had been greatly paining Holmes of late. With good reason, Holmes could see as Watson finally removed the linen.
Holmes winced. "Well, that doesn't look good."
"No, it doesn't, does it? I'll need to cut the stitches, drain the pus and apply a hot compress before putting a fresh dressing on. Is this your hashwork of a suturing job?"
"I didn't have a lot of time, thank you very much. I did it while riding."
"You. Rode a horse." Watson gave him a disbelieving look.
"It was a llama."
Watson blinked at him, then shook his head and went back to his bag. "You will tell me the whole story some day, won't you?" he asked plaintively. "I hate to think of my chronicles being incomplete."
"I promise, old boy."
The next hour was quite unpleasant, ameliorated somewhat by the anaesthetic embrace of whatever was in the very nice little vial Watson made him swallow.
Mary came in after he was bandaged and swathed in a clean sheet, and she forced him to eat a bowl of very rich soup. He found himself apologizing to her for the very first time he met her, when he'd rudely deduced she had left her poor fiancé for richer prospects.
"You see, I am quite unable to deduce matters of the heart, m'dear," he mumbled.
"Oh, that is patently obvious, I'm afraid."
"What? Oh, dear. I seem to have soup on my chin."
Nothing was very clear at all after that.
Thence followed a period of delirium, one which later Holmes sincerely hoped was only a nightmare, since during his tossing and turning he vaguely remembered calling for Watson and apologizing endlessly for Reichenbach, for the choice he'd made, which at the time seemed inescapable, the logic purely sound. Moriarty, he tried to explain, had a single weakness, one it was imperative he exploit, no matter the cost, especially when in the end he once again threatened Watson and Mary.
There was just one element Holmes hadn't factored into his calculations: as he'd pulled Moriarty over the edge, the last thing he'd seen was the expression on Watson's face. And he'd carried that expression through all his travels, terrified of seeing Watson again, absolutely horrified Watson would never forgive him.
Cool hands touched his brow, but they were too thin and soft to be Watson's, and again he apologized, but this time his guilt was as formless as the waters beneath the falls.
Finally, his fever broke, and he opened his eyes to find Watson tugging at his bandages once again, his face tired-looking, eyes dark with shadows.
"Watson," Holmes croaked.
"Hush. Drink this," Watson commanded, handing him something.
Holmes gave in.
This seemed to establish a strange pattern of days, wherein Holmes was tended to by Watson medically or by Mary when it came to the matters of being fed or keeping the invalid amused by reading him the paper. Holmes would solve the ridiculously easy mysteries implied in the headlines, making Mary laugh and eye him with more than a little delight, which confounded him utterly.
Once the wound sickness had passed, Watson would come and coax him up to visit the loo and bathe, and Holmes would return to bed on shaky limbs to find his linens had been changed, and he would thank Mary with helpless gratitude as he eased himself into their crisp, fresh-smelling welcome.
The silence that had always accompanied Watson began to float around Mary as well, an ease to the noise in his head, a banking of the voices and clutter of images and data, data, always data. One touch of her cool hand on his forehead, or the sound of Watson's voice calling his name in that particular tone, and Holmes would focus on them, present and aware—almost painfully so—of how dear they were to him.
And then, one day, he woke up feeling well. His head was clear, his weakness gone, and he felt an itch to get out of bed and go outside and immerse himself in the city—in his city, London, with her grime and bustle and greed and crime, and make her dance to his wishes.
"Watson. Watson! Where are my letters?"
"Letters?" Watson came clomping in, a newspaper tucked under his arm. "You don't have any, Holmes. You're dead, remember?"
"Oh, right. Well, we'll have to remedy that, won't we?"
Watson's moustache twitched, a smile growing under it. "Feeling better, are we?"
"Well, I don't know about you, but I'm feeling right as rain."
"And ready to get into a heap of trouble, I'd imagine. Not two weeks off the fever and—"
"A man has to make a living, hasn't he? These apartments don't let themselves for free."
Watson rubbed at his chin. "Yes, about that." He waved his newspaper at the settee. "Have a seat; we need to talk."
And for a moment, Holmes had the sensation he was once again at Reichenbach just as he pushed backward over the balustrade. One brief instant of seeing Watson's face, his blue eyes, before the long, dark fall.
This was it, then. Holmes was well again, and Mary and Watson would depart. Holmes would be made to promise to notify them should he get into a bad situation, but the likelihood of his knowing in sufficient time for Watson to come to his aid was very small. It was a pointless exercise, well meant.
"What is it, old boy?"
Watson scraped his teeth over his lower lip. "Mary and I want to move in."
"I beg your pardon?" Holmes endeavored to understand the expression on Watson's face. He certainly didn't seem to be making a jest. "Have you gone quite out of your mind?"
Watson smiled suddenly. "Well, then we'd be in good company, wouldn't we?"
"You two can't move in here!"
"And why not?"
"The mere idea is sheer lunacy!"
"You're repeating yourself, Holmes." Watson shook his head mockingly. "I don't think I've ever seen you so befuddled."
"I'm not—it's simply—" Holmes didn't know what he was feeling, but the sensation was quite alarming. He stood suddenly and strode to the window then back again, almost tripping over the tiger's head in the process. He tied his housecoat closed and felt Watson's eyes following him as he continued to pace.
"If you have an actual objection, I'd be interested in hearing it."
"I told you, it's madness," Holmes muttered. "The two of you, stuck here with me—why, you barely tolerated me as it was." Yes, that was the truth, Holmes had driven Watson out, driven him right into the arms of Miss Morstan; Holmes remembered it with great clarity. "I'll have the two of you estranged within a month."
"If you say so," Watson said with far too much aplomb. "But that hardly seems like an objection on your own behalf."
"Oh, but then," Holmes swung around and pointed, "you would blame me for the entire fiasco, and come to despise me for it."
Watson sniffed. "I promise I won't."
"I'll even put it down in writing." Watson acted as if this were an entirely reasonable suggestion, walking over to Holmes' writing table and pulling a sheaf of paper.
"Don't be ridiculous."
Watson put down the inkwell. "All right, then. Any other objections?"
Holmes pondered desperately. Other than the sensation he'd just been manoeuvred into a situation beyond his control, for reasons beyond his understanding, which made him feel a strange, burgeoning...something just beneath his breastbone—no.
So he shook his head, and Watson grinned and came over and sealed it with a handshake.
"Jolly good then, let's get on with it."
Watson and Mary ended up taking Watson's old examination room as a master bedroom. The spider's web had to come down, and Holmes' makeshift morgue and laboratory were moved into Watson's old bedroom upstairs.
What this meant, Holmes discovered, was he might overhear them enjoying their conjugal bliss on any given evening, seeing as his study was just on the other side of their bedroom.
The first time it happened, he was engaged in his usual late night maundering in the study and it seeped into his consciousness gradually. The case wasn't at all difficult, although discovering the murderer's motive was. This type of situation always frustrated Holmes, because he vastly preferred it when he was able to locate the killer only by first finding means and motive, thus triangulating the who. But he was never quite satisfied when he found the who and how first, and not the why.
Why, as he well knew, was his Achilles' heel, and it was always more difficult to pinpoint later, without any data but intuition.
He was pondering the significance of Mr. Walthstone's choice in weapon, a Medieval morning star, when it occurred to him the breathy, high-pitched sound he was hearing was not coming from some unknown species of nocturnal forager outside his window.
A shiver ran down his spine when he identified, a moment later, Watson's lower voice saying Mary's name in an almost voiceless moan.
Holmes sat frozen in his chair for another agonizing moment, his pulse beating too frantically in his veins, as he listened to their contrapuntal whispers of passion and the faint creaking of the brass frame of their bed. Images, all unbidden, sprang before his eyes to illustrate the sounds he was hearing, and in the next instant he jumped from his seat and fled to the safety of his rooms to crawl beneath his bedcovering.
His chamber was quiet and dark, yet still he imagined he could hear the faint sounds coming from below, and between his legs his groin felt hot and heavy with blood.
His hand most decidedly did not creep ever closer to his member, nor did he press the heel of his palm against it for a momentary measure of relief.
He did, however find it necessary to bury his face in the cool of his pillow and wish hard for sleep.
Morning came, and with it rationality, and not a little anger.
It was the smirk, the tiniest little smirk lifting the edge of Watson's moustache as he asked Mary to pass the jam over breakfast.
"But of course, darling," she said.
Oh, Holmes knew what it meant. Watson knew Holmes' habits—knew he kept late hours and would often be occupying the study at the same time the couple would want to engage in such carnal activities. The whole thing had been planned.
Obviously, this was nothing less than a ploy to get Holmes to keep more reasonable, healthy sleeping hours. A sneaky, dastardly ploy, because Watson knew Holmes couldn't in good conscience mention anything about it.
Well, Holmes would put paid to that plan. He would simply ignore them. If it didn't bother them to have Holmes listening to their connubial activities, then so be it.
The next time it happened was that very evening. Again, the situation crept up on Holmes; again, he was deeply absorbed in a case. Walthstone, as it turned out, had been motivated by jealous fury; the morning star was his elder brother's, stolen from the family estate in North Yorkshire.
Tonight, it was the case of the broken hedgerow. The hawthorn had been damaged in the most peculiar way during the thieves' escape. Holmes was almost certain it was connected to their means of transporting the stolen paintings—
"Oh, oh, oh..."
That most certainly wasn't a nightjar, which, in any event, tended to prefer bracken as their habitat.
Watson's moaning continued, and this time Holmes forced himself to stay, hands clenched tightly on his dressing gown, even after he realized, when Mary remained silent, what activity she surely must be engaged in to put that ecstatic tone in Watson's voice. An activity Holmes had dreamed of once, mouth moving in his sleep, and woken to realize, face burning, he wanted to try, to feel, to understand.
No woman had ever touched him like that, like Mary was now touching Watson, as he said her name softly, with reverence, then cried out sharply and went silent.
Holmes discovered he was panting silently, frozen in his chair once again, his hands aching with the force of keeping still and quiet.
He closed his eyes and made himself ponder a hedge of hawthorn, damaged by, perhaps, the woodsman's cart.
"Play me another?"
"Yes, of course, my dear. What would you like to hear?" Holmes lifted his bow.
"Something lively, I think. I wish to dance with my husband."
"Are you quite certain the sitting room will survive?"
"Very funny." Watson took a swipe at him, and Holmes batted him off with the bow, then started playing, knowing full well what would happen. He chose one of the jigs he'd learned from the Romani he'd toured with, and sure enough Watson was soon red-faced, his eyes glowing, and Mary was laughing as they spun about while Gladstone barked confusedly at the ruckus, and when the two of them collapsed at his feet Holmes ended with a flourish and grinned down at them.
"I never much cared for that lamp anyway."
"Is that your shirt, or my shirt?"
"I believe it's our shirt," Watson said, brushing at the sleeve. "Isn't that right, Mary?"
"But I was planning on wearing my shirt—"
"The shirt to the opera tonight."
Mary and Watson shared a look. "What, without us?" Watson said.
"No! I, of course, would...it's just..." Holmes ducked behind his paper. "They're putting on Don Giovanni. I thought it might have some...negative connotations."
When he peeked over the edge of his paper, Watson's eyes were watching him, mouth soft.
"Mary and I would love to join you."
So they did, and insisted he sit between them for some reason. Mary's joy in the spectacle was expressed in delighted gasps and her gloved hand pressing his leg, uncomfortably high on his thigh, while Watson leaned close, his bulk warm against Holmes' side, and rested his arm along the back of his seat, his hand sometimes closing on Holmes' shoulder.
It was terribly distracting.
That evening, Holmes couldn't force himself to linger in his study, and instead retired almost immediately to his chamber to seek some personal relief.
The next night it was the case of the absentee headmaster, and Holmes learned, from Mary's husky avowals, that Watson was most inventive with his mouth.
"Jam, please," said Watson.
"Oh, dear. We seem to be out. Perhaps some honey, sweetness?" Mary leaned over Holmes' back to take the honeypot, the swell of her breast pressing enticingly against his shoulder for just a moment before she moved to sit down. He closed his eyes, appalled at himself. This was his best friend's wife, for God's sake. But after a week of their nightly tortures, he was fast losing his ability to think rationally. Or at all, really.
He opened his eyes and found Watson's upon him, cheek dimpled in a tiny grin.
"Do I have something—?" Holmes brushed his napkin over his chin. "I'm sorry, I didn't get much sleep."
"You really should go to bed earlier, Holmes," Mary said chidingly. "You work too hard."
"Yes, yes, I'm well aware of your little 'plot' to get me to run off to bed earlier." He bit his lip, horrified at the slip. "Besides, you know I have difficulty falling asleep," he added hurriedly. Heat rose on his face, and he lifted the paper. "Oh, goodness, someone has stolen a chandelier from the House of Lords."
There was a pointed silence on the other side of the paper, then Watson said, "I know something that could help you get to sleep."
"I don't require any sleeping aids, thank you, Doctor." He noticed neither of them had denied their little plan.
"This isn't a sleeping aid. It's something I learned in the army."
Mary made a choked noise.
"You mean like a meditation or the like? Something from the Indies?"
"Something like that."
Holmes was always curious about Watson's time in the army. He dropped the paper. "All right, I suppose."
Watson grinned broadly. "That's the spirit."
Mary was also smiling, which was enough to make Holmes suspicious again, but just then Lestrade arrived, and it was time to amaze the good Inspector with his detecting prowess.
Besides, what harm could a little meditation do?
Mary insisted they dine out to celebrate the successful conclusion of the broken hedgerow case. Holmes was at a loss to explain how paltry and minor his effort had been, how low on the scale this particular case fell.
Watson was no help, beaming at both of them as Holmes turned red under Mary's frankly exorbitant praise.
Adding to his discomfiture was the seductive glitter of the Maharajah's jewel; she'd recently had it reset into a pendant and it hung low in her décolletage, catching his eye repeatedly while she hailed his triumph. Of course, she couldn't possibly understand the significance of wearing the diamond thus. She'd said it was too large to wear comfortably on her hand, and Watson's more modest ring now graced her finger, along with her wedding band.
But seeing it, and knowing she was wearing it around her neck, not as an emblem of her marriage to Watson, was doing strange things to Holmes' interior.
He dragged his gaze away to find Watson's eyes on him, his face oddly tense. Guilt assailed Holmes, disorienting for its origins, and he dropped his eyes to his plate.
"Oh, I'm sorry about prattling on, Holmes. You must be exhausted after such a day," Mary said, placing her hand on his arm.
"Right. Time to call it a night, I suppose," Holmes said, drawing away. He couldn't help a glance in Watson's direction, but for some reason Watson was smiling now, affection softening his eyes as he observed them both. It was beyond puzzling.
Mary was after Holmes on the carriage ride home, asking him for his observations on everything from the driver to passersby, almost as if she were trying to distract him from something occurring under his nose, but when he looked at Watson, he found him simply watching the two of them, that same fond smile on his face.
"New lovers, I believe," Holmes said. "Both married to someone else. I noticed they both kept looking around, as if fearing observation. She was wearing a new brooch, a gift, I think, from the way she touched it and smiled. But he is already regretting such an expensive purchase. He can ill afford it, from the state of his wardrobe, but he is trying to impress her, though she is above his means. I think they are most probably doomed."
"How depressing," Mary said. "You have such a gloomy outlook."
"I suppose that's true; but then, reality has a tendency to be gloomy all on its own."
"That's enough. You'll get him into a state," Watson said, drawing Mary closer to his side.
"You worry too much, mother hen." And though he tried, Holmes couldn't help the smile he felt tugging at his lips, for he'd had his own worries, apparently groundless, that Watson would stop caring once he married Mary, or that the recent strangeness would somehow change that mutual affection upon which Holmes had come so desperately to rely.
But no—he loved Watson ever as much as he always had. Unshakably, it seemed. Pathetically, perhaps. It was comforting to know he would always be the fool for his blue-eyed doctor. And that Watson would always be ignorant of that fact.
Holmes puttered for a short while in the study, straightening his notes on the case and having a pipe, before he remembered tonight was the night Watson had promised to show him his meditation techniques.
"Watson!" he called out, "You were going to show me your sleeping cure." And then, feeling much like an interloper, although Watson and Mary had both claimed he was always welcome to visit, he knocked on the door to the master bedroom.
"Come in," Watson said, his voice muffled.
Holmes expected to find Watson alone, Mary perhaps downstairs visiting with Mrs. Hudson, but instead Mary was standing with Watson, embracing him face to face, Watson in his shirtsleeves and Mary tenderly smoothing her hand through his hair.
"It will be all right, dearest," Holmes distinctly heard her whisper.
"What is it?" he said. "What's happened? Has there been news?"
Watson turned his head, saying, "No, no. Nothing terrible has happened, Holmes."
"But then what—?"
"I'll tell you later," Watson said, finally coming over to him.
"You can show me the meditation later if you are indisposed. There's no great rush."
Watson smiled a terribly boyish smile. "No, I really think now is the perfect time."
Holmes found himself smiling back. "All right then. What do I do?"
"Come here." Watson led him over to the bed which, really, took up most of the room. Holmes gave Mary a questioning look, but she returned it serenely.
"Will she be staying?"
"Yes, I think she has to."
Holmes frowned and sat down. Watson joined him, sitting beside him and then turning toward him to rest one hand on his leg. An uneasy feeling settled over Holmes like a cloak.
"Holmes, before we begin, I think I have to warn you—you will find this concept quite frightening."
"Your sleep aid is frightening?"
Watson took his hand and rubbed his thumb across the back. Holmes' heart gave a startled thump.
"Well, I suppose if you learned it in the army, it might be so," Holmes said, aware that he was babbling but somewhat helpless to stop it, because Watson was staring at him, the same tension in his face as from at the dinner table, yet now it was so easily apparent it was not jealousy or anger, as Holmes had heretofore suspected.
Watson lifted their hands and kissed each of Holmes' knuckles, slowly, his eyes never leaving Holmes' face. The tickle of Watson's moustache felt like a hundred tiny bristles against his skin.
"You'll need to be undressed for this cure," Watson said, his voice low and terribly husky. "Mary will help."
"Are you—" quite mad? But he didn't say it, because he recalled, as he was helpless to forget anything, Watson leaning into Mary for comfort just before Holmes had entered, and her quiet words, "It will be all right, dearest." As if Holmes had the power to hurt him. As if Holmes could ever wish to, or allow such a thing.
And he remembered a promise, a fool's promise, one he was too delirious to comprehend, but that he now desperately wanted to believe.
"Are you both quite certain?" Holmes whispered instead, his voice cracked and raw, because this was almost surely more risky than Mr. and Mrs. Watson moving in with an eccentric and possibly becoming estranged out of sheer irritation.
"We'll put it down in writing if you wish." Watson and Mary shared a luminous look filled with humor and so much love that Holmes ached with it, with wanting even a small part of it, and he stared down at the bedspread suddenly, noting the small fish leaping over leaping fish over leaping fish, trying to track the gold against green against gold but they blurred for some reason, swimming together, but of course they were fish, so—
"Holmes." Mary's smaller hand, but a sure grip, tight on his arm, familiar, steered him from the waters. He looked up and caught her smiling down at him. "Stand up for a moment."
Holmes stood. Mary was a tall woman, only a little shorter than he was. She trailed her fingers along his cheek, and he remembered when she'd done so in working on the waxwork. "I'm glad you shaved for dinner," she said.
"You told me to."
"Yes." She was smiling. "This is why." And then she leaned up and kissed him.
Holmes tilted his startled eyes over to Watson, but he was watching them both with a curious expression, as if wondering himself what his own reaction was. And then Mary slipped her tongue into Holmes' mouth, and he stopped thinking at all of Watson, except as an added taste, that here was Mary, Watson's Mary, but also, here was the Mary who teased Holmes about his hair's utter inability to stay kempt, and insisted his tiger rug needed a mate, and whom he had sometimes—he could almost swear—caught looking at his rear end when he wasn't wearing a coat.
"Mary," he murmured as their lips parted. He opened his eyes that had slipped closed and saw her smiling up at him, her lips damp and reddened. "Oh, dear," he said, and turned toward Watson, dropping his hands from her waist.
"Have you been kissing my wife?" Watson said. He had risen from the bed and was leaning against the bureau, a quirk to his mouth that Holmes couldn't rightly identify.
"Yes," he said belligerently.
"You'd better kiss me too, then," Watson said, eyes dark.
"You kiss me," Holmes countered automatically, his breath catching in his throat, and then Watson did just that, with no hesitation, and his lips were soft, so very soft.
"Oh, Holmes," Watson murmured, the brush of his moustache scratchy and strange, yet Holmes could swear he had felt this before, in dreams, in a cocaine haze, in a delirium dream after the pneumonia took him once he'd crawled from the waters of the Reichenbach, battered and frozen and half-dead. He was conscious only of Watson's lips and tongue and his hard hands and arms pulling Holmes close, and of Mary's faint gasp.
If this were the end of all things, if he were falling forever into the dark, he would take this with him.
He heard a stifled sound, a muffled keen, like a rabbit trapped in a snare, and then Watson was releasing him with an apology.
"I'm sorry, old boy. You're still not up to snuff."
Oh, but in spite of the pain in his ribs, Holmes regretted it, wanted more, so much more, and maybe his face or his grasping hands were enough for Watson to deduce the fact, because he grinned suddenly, wide and young, and turned toward Mary, saying, "Get him undressed, won't you, my dear?"
"I can undress myself," Holmes said crossly.
"Where is the fun in that, Mr. Holmes?" Mary said archly, turning him and curling her fingers around his Ascot and starting to tug it loose, not that he wore it terribly tight to begin with. Holmes started on the buttons of his waistcoat. Behind him, he could hear Watson divesting himself, but when he tried to peer back over his shoulder, Mary gave him a smart little tug. "No peeking," she said.
It was torment, pure and simple. He had seen Watson's upper torso many times, of course, but now he heard Watson dropping his trousers. It made his fingers clumsy as he tried to shed his waistcoat.
"For the world's foremost consulting detective, you seem awfully fumble-fingered, Mr. Holmes," Mary said.
Holmes made a growling sound deep in his throat.
"Allow me." Her fingers danced nimbly down his shirt buttons, and suddenly he was bare-chested. He felt a vague embarrassment at his still underweight form, at the angry scars peppering his torso, as if he were a sorry cat dragged in from the cold.
Mary dragged her palms over his chest, her eyes bright. "I have a very kind husband, indeed." She dropped her hands to the fasteners on his trousers and began to undo them. A flush of excitement rose in his chest, and he felt his cock harden further when her fingers brushed against him accidentally.
He sucked in his breath at her sly smile. "That wasn't an accident," he accused.
She boldly cupped him in her palm, and he shuddered. "Not even a bit," she said.
"Mary, quit playing and bring him to bed," he heard Watson say, and Holmes could barely keep his knees locked. He couldn't resist looking over his shoulder, and the sight unmanned him completely.
Watson was lying naked on the bed, the corner of the sheet drawn over his groin. But his excitement could not be concealed completely—the sheet was distorted by his erection, so much so that it formed a small tent of the fabric. Even as Holmes watched, Watson's hand traveled lazily down his chest to disappear under the cloth, and Holmes found himself craning his head further and further backward until—
"Nah-ah," Mary said, grabbing his chin. "No injuries in the bedroom."
Holmes gave a whimpering sort of sigh that seemed to inspire a chuckle from behind him, but just then Mary finished undoing his flies and pushed his trousers down, leaving him in his smallclothes. She started to push those down, but he caught her hands.
"And what of you, Mrs. Watson?" he asked. He bent and kissed her under her jaw, following the gold of the chain where it trailed the delicious length of long, elegant neck, nosing away the wisps of her hair. She gave a delightful shiver, and he let his fingers reach behind her and begin the long task of unfastening the oh-so-many buttons ladies indulged in while he nibbled at her ear. He was familiar with this task, although Irene had only on two occasions let him follow through to the end instead of either drugging him or trying to kill him.
For a change the thought filled him with a fond ache instead of the desire to kill Moriarty all over again, only more slowly and with more bloodshed involved.
He reached the end of the row and straightened, pulling the front of her gown from her shoulders so it slipped from her arms, until her dress pooled at her feet in a shimmer of satin and she stood only in a bodice. He noticed with delight she wore no corset of any kind, just a thin, cotton thing with yet more buttons that he attacked with vigor, delighting in her giggles.
"Would you two hurry up."
She wasn't making things any easier on him, her hands playing at his shoulders and waist, threatening to remove his smallclothes, but finally he had all the buttons undone, and he drew the bodice apart to reveal her beautiful, full breasts and pink-tipped nipples. He framed them with his scarred, browned hands and then looked into her face.
She was smiling, glowing, tremulous.
"You are divine," he whispered, overcome.
"Thank you," she said.
"Come to bed, Holmes."
His heart was fluttering all apace with the blood in his ears, in his aching member, and he felt on the trembling verge of being overwhelmed as Mary pushed him from behind to kneel on the bed beside Watson, who had shifted over to make room for them. Holmes tugged up the sheet and slid under it, catching a glimpse of Watson in his glory, and he had to shut his eyes and lie back against the pillows, waves of sound merging into a true muddle—the first sign, the dangerous sign he must heed.
"Holmes." A warm, masculine hand on his bare right shoulder, a right hand, right forefinger calloused on the trigger finger, palm thick from cane use. "Holmes, it's all right." Comforting smell of Bradley's cigarette tobacco and Hoyt's nickel cologne.
Holmes opened his eyes. "Watson. Will you kiss me?"
"Gladly." A dimple creased Watson's cheek as he leaned over Holmes and did so, his lips full and mobile and yes, this would work nicely, and Holmes made a sound in the back of his throat, tiny and inchoate with the desperate fear this was yet a fever dream, but it died stillborn as Watson's tongue slipped into his mouth, thrusting and withdrawing, and Holmes tasted him, the rough pad of his tongue and the whiskey he must've drunk in preparation of this and the yearning, Holmes could taste Watson's yearning as clearly as his own. Their arms wrapped tightly about each other, their torsos aligning, and Holmes felt the warmth and hardness of Watson's erection pressing against his hip. He pulled back with a gasp.
"What do you want? What can I do?" Because these were surely unbounded waters, as Watson must know—three in a bed, and one of them almost completely untried.
Watson kissed him again, a gentle nip of his lower lip that made Holmes shiver, before lifting away and saying, "I want you to take my wife."
Holmes spared a glance over at Mary, who apparently had been watching the two of them with her eyes gleaming. He felt his prick give a throb of approval at the plan.
"But what of you?"
"I will be busy preparing you, Holmes."
Holmes cocked his head. "For what?"
Now Watson's eyes gleamed. "To be taken by me."
Perhaps his brain was not quite capable of integrating data as Holmes had heretofore believed, because he found time passing strangely after that, slipshod, in flashes of images—Mary handing him a French letter, mischievous grin on her face, letting him skim out of his smallclothes under the sheet and apply it with shaky hands while she and Watson kissed languidly, hands traveling over each other. His next clear memory was resting over her, between her legs, and looking down at her pinked, dewy cheeks and reddened lips—he had only the vaguest remembrance of kissing her, of her hands on the small of his back—and then he was sliding into her, warm and silken and welcoming, her eyes widening with pleasure, mouth open on a gasp, and he said her name, "Mary, Mary," in disbelief, with reverence.
She trusted him now. How could he doubt it?
She raised her legs, wrapping them improbably high around his back.
"You are rather flexible, m'dear," he said, surging forward with a gasp, pleasure threatening to end the moment just as it was beginning.
"My wife is studying the ancient Indian art of prana yoga," Watson said, his voice husky in Holmes' ear, his teeth nibbling at Holmes' earlobe. Then Watson bent and kissed his wife again before withdrawing, saying, "You two look gorgeous."
His hands seemed busy with something. Holmes suddenly smelled a distinct odor comprised of beeswax, olive oil and herbs, the Rawleigh balm Watson was wont to use on his lips in cold weather. Holmes' mind puzzled over it as he continued to thrust, his hips moving almost without his will, while he stared down into Mary's pleasure-drunk face.
"My dear, please let me know if I'm not—"
But she cried out suddenly, the same breathless, high-pitched cry he recalled from his eavesdropping. He repeated the motion of his hips again, and then again, and she smiled rapturously, emitting the same cries over and over. They shivered down his spine and directly into his balls in a terribly dangerous way, and he hoped, oh, dearly hoped he would not complete too soon.
Just then, however, the sheet was pulled away and cool air struck his body. Before he could react in mortification, he felt a palm, warm and calloused, touch his backside, moving with him as he thrust.
"Watson," he gasped.
"Don't mind me, old cock," Watson said, sounding amused and somewhat breathless. "Just doing my part."
It was on Holmes' tongue to ask what exactly what Watson meant when he felt something slippery slide between the cheeks of his arse and directly into his entrance. "Oh! Your...part."
He had quite stopped thrusting, and Mary made a disconsolate sound. He opened his eyes and gave her an apologetic look.
"I'm opening you for my use, Holmes," Watson said, his voice rough as he moved his fingers. It felt so very strange, and yet there was an appeal to it that was undeniable, if only because it was Watson's fingers touching him so very intimately.
"Yes, of course."
"Surely you realized my intention?" Now Watson sounded worried, and made as if to withdraw.
Holmes started moving again in reaction, just a gentle motion of his hips to prove his assent, and was startled to feel real pleasure warming him from the press of Watson's fingers inside him. He gave a startled moan.
"Understood, yes, on an...intellectual...level of course. The practical application is...somewhat...distracting," he finished on a gasp, and was embarrassed to hear Watson's chuckle.
Mary pulled Holmes down to kiss his hot cheek. "Fret not, dearest. You'll find John is equally...distractable."
But that she called him 'dearest' only caused him to blush further. He buried his face in her neck and focused on pumping within her, on the slick clutch of her body, on causing her to make those delicious, breathy sounds, and if his rhythm was occasionally lost to the strange feeling of Watson's touch inside him, by the rubbing and teasing twists those clever doctor's fingers found necessary in order to evoke such wonderful sensations—well. He was only human, after all, not a cold, unthinking machine.
He heard Mary's cries begin to reach a crescendo, and he lifted his head to kiss her face, to bend his neck and close his teeth on her nipple, hoping to push her over the edge. The change in position pressed his pubic bone against her, and he was forced to move in a circular motion, but this was pleasing to her, he could tell by the widening of her eyes and her short gasps, and he smiled down at her as she arched her back and held her breath.
Her muscles contracted around him and he felt a wholly masculine pride as she reached completion.
"Oh, Holmes," she breathed, and he kissed her slack mouth, saying, "Dearest Mary."
He wanted to bask in the moment properly, but the urgency in his loins and the sudden stroking Watson introduced to that fantastic spot inside him wouldn't allow it. He circled his hips urgently, saying, "Sorry, Mary, may I?"
She gave him a lazy smile and lowered her legs to his waist, urging him on, "Come then, dear one. You feel delicious."
His cock gave a jerk at her words, or perhaps it was at Watson's groan. Watson leaned over them both, kissing Mary's mouth, her cheek, saying, "Vixen," before sliding his rough cheek over Holmes' shoulder.
Holmes' gasped at the sensation and tried to continue thrusting, but Watson had introduced what felt like yet another finger inside him—how many could he possibly fit?—and the sensation was indescribable. He was reduced to merely quivering and jerking his hips while Watson did most of the work, pushing evenly in and out, the pressure within him matched by the sweet tightness of Mary's quim.
"Oh, dear Lord," Holmes gasped, and then there was a circling, twisting inside him, and Watson said, "That's it, that's it," and Holmes felt himself go over, spilling inside the letter, his body tightening around Watson's fingers just as Mary had around him. Sounds rushed in his ears, colliding with his roaring blood, and he squeezed his eyes tightly closed, overwhelmed, only to feel Mary's cool fingers on his temples, her hands lowering him down to her breast.
"There, sweet boy," she said, and Watson's fingers left him. He heard Watson tidying up beside him.
"Oh, Mary," Holmes said when he could speak. "Am I quite crushing you? I fear I must be."
"You don't weigh nearly as much as my lout of a husband."
Holmes felt his heart contract a little oddly at that last. He'd never been good with comparisons. He eased himself away and sat up to dispose of the letter, feeling awkward and suddenly shy. Catching Watson's eye, he grinned ruefully.
"Well, Watson, this is a fine—"
Watson tackled him to the bed.
"I say, man!"
"My turn," Watson said, and commenced to kiss the breath from his lungs.
It was possible, Holmes conceded mentally, Watson had been made to wait a bit too long, stewing in his own juices, as it were, while watching his wife being taken by another. This might have stirred his friend’s aggression past the point of decency. It could explain why Watson's tongue was so forcefully thrusting into Holmes' mouth in a slick parody of intercourse, or why Watson's hands were clenched tightly on Holmes' butt cheeks while he rutted against Holmes' thigh.
Or even, Holmes thought, why he then pulled away and hauled Holmes' knees in the air to spread them apart.
"Mary, a pillow, if you please."
"Of course, John."
"Watson, I take it this would be the practical application?"
"It would, Holmes." Watson leaned over and kissed him again. Holmes licked his lips afterward, curious as to how they almost tasted coppery, so raw they were. He smiled.
Watson tapped his leg. "If you would lift your hips?"
"Am I having a medical exam?" Holmes obeyed automatically, and Watson shoved a pillow beneath his rear end. It left him in a peculiar position, with his knees falling open and toward his shoulders.
"Don't be a ninny. I'm going to introduce my cock to your bum. What's more," Watson leaned over him, his smile gleaming, "you're really going to enjoy it."
"If you say so," Holmes said airily, his heart pounding, pounding against ribs. Watson looked so thoroughly pleased with himself, his blue eyes sparkling, dimples creasing his cheeks. Holmes reached up and pulled him down for a kiss, and was delighted when Watson responded wholeheartedly, taking possession of his mouth again. Holmes was so distracted by the kiss, by the smooth skin of Watson's back under his hands, he almost didn't notice the shuffle of movement as Watson shifted closer, but he most decidedly did feel the sudden intrusion of the slightly sticky knuckles pressing between his buttocks, seeking out his entrance, making way for, ah—
Watson's cock nudged inside him, insistent, no thicker than his fingers, but different, rounder, fuller. He made a small noise against Watson's mouth, not in protest so much as acknowledgement. I feel you. It pulled away momentarily then pressed deeper, and Watson lifted his head to look down at him.
Holmes gasped in a breath and turned his head to find Mary's eyes upon him. She smiled and kissed his brow, his eyelid. He breathed again, and Watson thrust deeper, moaning, "Holmes," his hands pressing down on Holmes' shoulders. Then his one hand slid down to rest on Holmes' heart.
Oh, but this was dangerous. It was as if he were cracking open, his ribcage being split wide and spilling out entirely everything. His breath choked in and then out, in and then out. A moment later he felt Mary's hand join Watson's on his chest, and somehow the terrible pressure eased, and he could breathe smoothly once again.
"That's it," Watson said, and there was a shift, Watson rising up, pushing Holmes so his knees rose and were wedged against Watson's chest, and then Watson thrust forward with his hips, and Holmes felt himself impaled, stretched open. His body fairly ached with the pleasure of it, as each rock of Watson's hips seemed to grind against that spot within him that was so exquisite.
"God, Holmes," Watson murmured, and he began to move his hips, thrusting in and out.
Holmes was helpless to respond, engaged as he was in tossing his head back and forth, making unintelligible noises, as he felt his body responding to the sensation of being taken. He was conscious of Mary watching, of her hand stroking his arm and Watson's shoulder, of her fluttering fingers in his hair. Try as he might, he couldn't seem to help pressing his knees against Watson's shoulders in an effort to rub more of himself against Watson, balls and cock against his torso, or split himself wider to get more of Watson's cock inside him. It was the behavior of a toffer, not that Holmes had anything but respect for the girls who worked Whitechapel—they were some of his most honorable sources of information.
But right now, Holmes rather thought he could beat the best of them. "For the love of God, don't stop," he said, writhing that much harder as Watson seemed to slow, but apparently he was only shaking the sweat out of his eyes, because he grinned ferally and started up again.
"You want more then, old cock?"
"I think I had better make you come soon."
"If you insist...yes."
"Or you'll find...walking...to be a problem tomorrow."
"Whatever you say."
"All right then. We'd better crack on." And then Watson leaned back, rolling his hips somehow so the unbearable pressure building behind Holmes' balls finally reached a ridiculous crescendo. It was all Holmes could do to bite his lip and not emit a scream. As it was, he choked out an imprecation he'd learned from one of the Whitechapel girls and reached between them to start stroking his own member, fisting it to prolong the insane pleasure coursing through him, and spattering his own chest with fluids.
After a while, he became conscious that Watson was still thrusting, and that what had been blissfully good mere moments earlier bordered on painfully so now. Still, he was enjoying it in a languid sort of fashion. It was an interesting phenomenon, and one he wouldn't mind investigating at some future date, when he wasn't nearly comatose. Of course, he was almost certain any attempt to replicate the circumstance would likewise render the same result. An interesting conundrum.
Eventually he became aware Watson had uttered his name in a sigh and was resting in a contented heap on his chest.
"I missed it? I missed it. Damnation." Holmes pressed a kiss to Watson's sweaty forehead. "I'm sorry, my dear Watson. I was quite...transported."
Watson raised his head and gave him a positively ridiculous smile. He ruined it in the next moment, however, by choosing to pull his lax member from Holmes' body.
"Ouch! Dear God!"
Mary snickered and patted his arm.
"And you're wearing a French letter? I can hardly get with child, Watson."
"But I don't think you'd want my emissions up your behind. Or rather, coming out again."
"You always want everything tidy, Watson." Holmes turned toward Mary. "Doesn't he always? Everything in its place. Well, not everything stays in its place."
"You've got that right," Watson muttered, returning from the dresser to throw a handkerchief on his face.
Holmes yanked it off and began wiping his chest. "Take me, for example."
"I think I already did."
Mary laughed aloud, and Holmes had to smile, both at the bright sound, and in painful memory of a certain supper. Also, in negation of it. He'd had them both, now. "So you did," he said. "But that's beside the point."
"Well, what was your point?" Watson came back to bed and switched sides with him to give his wife a kiss. They were occupied at it for some time, and Holmes had to admit it was a beguiling sight—now that he knew he had license to participate.
Or at least somewhat. The limits to that participation had not yet been determined, which was why he'd brought the subject up.
"My point is, not everything stays in the box. A Jack-in-the-box, for example—I remember quite fondly when I received one for Christmas when I was four. I immediately took it apart, of course, and it never worked quite right after that. But that's not the point either."
Mary and Watson were both staring at him now, twin blue eyes foggy with confusion and post-coital lassitude.
"The point, I suppose, is after you take it out, it isn't quite fair to stuff it back in and leave it on the shelf and not play with it once it isn't quite the same anymore."
He cringed, but it was too late. Mary's eyes widened, and Watson's narrowed. Holmes prepared to bolt, but Watson was too quick, reaching out and reeling him in before he could leave the bed.
Watson shook him, holding him squarely beneath him. "Now, see here."
Holmes crossed his arms sullenly, a difficult feat as they were tangled with Watson's. "What? What am I meant to see?"
"Who do you think started this anyway? Who came up with this brilliant plan? Was it the big detective? Or the doctor and his wife?"
"Actually, I think it was Mary's idea first."
"That is true, John."
"Yes, all right. The point being, it wasn't your idea. What makes you think we'll put you back in the box? We're not nearly done with you."
Holmes let his fingers describe a nervous pattern on Watson's arm—Vivaldi's op. 6, The Cuckoo Concerto. "I'm not finished either."
"Well, good then."
"There are things I want to try, things I was made to overhear between you two—" heat washed over his face. "And by the way, that was a dirty trick you played. I thought you were trying to force me to retire to my rooms early each night."
Mary burst out laughing. Watson just looked appalled and disappointed.
"Instead, I ended up tossing off twice nightly. I didn't get any more sleep at all."
"Holmes, your depravity really knows no bounds."
"I hope not," Mary said. "I'm interested in knowing what he's eager to try."
"Why don't we get some sleep," Watson said. "Maybe he'll be willing to show us in the morning."
And to Holmes' utter surprise, Watson rolled and turned off the light and then made as if to pull the sheets over the three of them, with Holmes tucked there in the middle. He didn't appear to be putting Holmes away in his box at all.
Instead, Watson leaned over him to kiss Mary, and then Mary's hands found Holmes in the dark, tugging him gently to her lips before she whispered, "Good night, Holmes, dear."
And then Watson was kissing him on his slack mouth, a smile curling his, the warm press of lips almost more than Holmes could bear, and then he said, "Good night, my love." His thumb brushed Holmes' lips.
"I...you...both...I still don't understand." The darkness should make it possible, but even so he closed his eyes. Reaching out with both hands, he somehow found theirs and brought them to his chest. He could hear them breathing, could feel their pulses against his fingertips. "I don't suppose there's ever been anyone so fortunate, or less deserving of this than I. But thank you."
"Hush now," Mary said.
"Hush, Holmes." Watson squeezed his hand. "And go to sleep."
Holmes gave in.