An excerpt from
The Early Years:
“I suppose I shall have to compound a felony, as usual.”
—Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Three Gables
Excerpt from the private journal of Sherlock Holmes, August 1881
I have been blessed, as some would say, with the great gift of observation. That on its own, of course, is meaningless, but over the years I have cultivated my methods of observation and honed the science of deduction. Now I can tell a man’s profession from his appearance, a family’s secrets from their interactions, and the culprit of a crime from footprints in the dust. Thus it was that, though distracted by the success of a significant chemical experiment, from the first moment I met John Watson in the laboratory at Bart’s Hospital several things were obvious to me:
1. He had been in Afghanistan – the handsome tan of his face, his upright bearing, the way he minimized his limp skillfully with the strategic use of his walking stick;
2. He was an orphan – obviously a war hero in London looking for rooms to share did not have the benefit of familial support;
3. He was an honest man – the way he spoke, shook my hand, looked me in the eye;
4. It was imperative that he be induced to share digs with me.
These deductions were but the work of a moment: with a glance I could make out a great deal about him as a person. What I could not work out was what the sound of his voice did to me, nor how a list of his vices endeared him to me instead of warning me off.
I told him of my own shortcomings as honestly as I could: my smoking, my black moods, my penchant for playing the violin at apparently inappropriate hours. There was something in his eye as I spoke that forced me to suppress a shiver. He obviously didn’t approve of these habits, but instead of wanting nothing to do with me I could see that he wanted to make it better. It pains me to admit I did not see the rest of it coming. I invited him to see the flat at Baker Street with me and he agreed. I needed to know more about him, to understand what it was I saw in him, indeed what I needed from him, for there was undoubtedly something I needed. He was charming and kind, his hands gentle but firm, his eyes bright and intelligent, but it was more than simple physical attraction. I wanted him close, and not just so I could lust after him in secret. I would do that anyway.
* * *
Nothing of note happened for quite some time. Watson was an excellent flat mate—almost irritatingly so. He was quiet, polite, and patient. He didn’t object to the smoking, or the music, or the clients coming in at all hours. He did mind the cocaine, but he didn’t say anything about it. Once or twice he imposed upon me for the rent as a consequence of losing a good deal of money at the card tables, but he paid me back within a month every time.
Sometimes, when I was up in the wee hours of the morning in the darkened sitting room with only the fire crackling in the hearth, I could hear him upstairs, moaning and crying out in his sleep. The enteric fever came back and he was laid up for three days, pale and trembling and trying not to be a bother. He was in a sorry state, and it made my chest ache to see him like that: teeth gritted and eyes shut, soaking his sheets, occasionally delirious.
It was an unimaginable relief when he was better, and I came out of my room one morning to find him sitting at his desk, still pale but no longer sweating and shaking, looking worn but considerably healthier. He glanced up from the paper, gave me a tired smile, and said, “Good morning, Holmes. There’s breakfast, if you want it.”
I did want it, but something stayed my hand. Instead of sitting down with him, I crossed to the fireplace, where I fished tobacco out of the Persian slipper and started to pack my pipe.
“You’d better eat something or you’ll make yourself sick,” he said. From the rustle of the newspaper, I could tell he hadn’t looked at me again. I ignored him, picked up the pack of matches.
“Holmes,” he said, and then he was looking at me, gaze fierce. “Eat something.”
Immediately I found myself putting the pipe and matches down on the mantle, stepping back across the room, and sitting down to breakfast.
That was the first time.
Later that same month, I took Watson with me on the Brixton Road murder as an experiment, to see if he would be horrified or intrigued by the whole affair. He did very admirably, following in my footsteps and obeying my every directive. He was in awe of my talent, which was not unwelcome, but I found myself hating every time he deferred to me, or stood out of the way. I did not mind him watching me work, though, and I found myself caught in an unregulated seesaw of emotion, both furious at his obsequiousness and flattered by his attention.
I dragged him all over town, just to see if he would stay, and he did. He wrote it all down, too, documenting my every move. He muttered something about publishing it, but I doubt he will follow through with that threat.
A few weeks after the arrest and subsequent death of Jefferson Hope, Watson and I were whiling away an afternoon in our sitting room at Baker Street. I was toying idly with my violin and he was sitting at the desk again, scribbling furiously. He stopped suddenly, put down his pen, and said, “Play something for me.”
It wasn’t quite a request. Instantly I was formulating in my mind what would please him most, and I played for him for several hours, watching the smile on his face and the relaxation in his limbs as he wrote. I played sonatas and concertos, the first violin part of quartets I knew, and even his favored outrageous show tunes, until he rose from the desk with a sigh.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said sincerely, and put his hand on my waist as he passed me to go upstairs to his bedroom.
The touch burned like fire, lighting me up even through my shirt and dressing gown. I realized I’d stopped breathing, but by then he was already at the bottom of the stairs, and I busied myself with putting the violin away in its case. When I turned back around, he was gone.
That might have been the second time.
* * *
Over the next six months, as we got used to one another as flat-mates, we continued to dance around this issue I wasn’t sure I fully comprehended. Watson’s health improved and with it came the forceful nature I’d seen under the surface when I’d met him, the temper that he’d alluded to in his mention of keeping a bull-pup. Now that I was sharing my profession with him, I allowed him to see me when I was frustrated with the police or irritated by a client, or just plain stuck on an incongruous fact. He, in turn, would speak sharply to me when my pacing and complaining became too much, make me sit down and have a cup of tea, and insist that I forget about the irritation.
It worked. I would be furious at the time and I would tell him what I thought of being ordered about by a man I’d only known half a year, but by morning I would have the solution in hand, and I would be running out the door to clear the whole matter up. Watson would regard me smugly when I returned, as if it were he who had solved the mystery, and we never discussed the way his tone of voice made my knees weak and my head clear.
Some days it was torture to be near him. I wanted him with every fibre of my being. Even the logical part of my brain (which is most of it) was overwhelmed with the need to be close to him, the knowledge that he made me happy despite his unreasonable demands on my manners, and the growing understanding that he was not as much of a womanizer as I had been led to believe. He might have been the scourge of three continents, but there were men on those continents, too.
In November, things came to a head. The temperature had plummeted, and it seemed the whole city had gone into hibernation at once. There had been no work, no clients at the door, no stumped police detectives in our sitting room, and I was starting to slide into a dark mood. In an attempt to stave it off, I went out looking for trouble.
I missed dinner and returned late, my knuckles split and a bruise blooming on my cheek, cold to the bone and no less annoyed than I’d been a few hours before. It hadn’t been the kind of release of tension I’d needed. Watson saw to both injuries at once, his hands steady and sure, but the moment it was done he was on his feet, expressing with vehemence his displeasure at my ill-advised risk-taking. I don’t recall the whole conversation, but it quickly gained volume and fervor and soon we were verbally abusing one another across the hearthrug about my “total disregard for personal safety” and his “inability to aid me in all things.” What I do remember is his shouting, “You’re completely out of control, Holmes!” and my yelling back, “Well, then, control me, why don’t you?”
He went silent. It was suddenly so quiet in our sitting room that the noise of the fire crackling behind me was almost deafening. I knew I had strayed, but I didn’t know where.
“You’d prefer that, wouldn’t you,” Watson said, eyes narrowing. He was breathing hard, face flushed from the shouting, and he was dangerously beautiful. Then, in a voice that brooked no argument, he said, “Get on your knees.”
I slid to my knees instantly. I was shocked at my own behavior, but from that position I didn’t know what to do about it. My heart was thundering in my chest. This was it. This was what I had needed.
Watson sat down in his chair, lacing his fingers together and touching them to his lips, contemplative. He looked at me for a long time, visibly calming himself, and then he said, “Come here.”
I started to rise.
“I didn’t say get up.”
I swallowed hard, steadying my nerves, and shuffled across the rug to him. I stopped just before his chair and didn’t dare lift my head.
“Look at me,” he said.
I raised my eyes and met his gaze. I was shocked to find it gentle, fond, and a little afraid. He opened his hands and reached out, stopping just shy of my cheek. I trembled, wishing he would touch me, wishing he would get it over with. I wanted him desperately, and it was making it hard to think.
He did touch me, finally, brushing the palm of his hand across my uninjured cheek and sinking his fingers into my hair. He cradled my skull, gently, and then did the same with his other hand. “Do you want that?” he asked, looking into my eyes. “Do you want me to tell you what to do, run your life?”
I nodded. It was the only thing that made sense. His presence grounded me when I was starting to lose my grip. Even now, on my knees on the floor, my face aching and my throat closed up around the shock, I knew this felt right.
“I want to take care of you,” he said. “Would you let me do that?”
I nodded again, and opened my mouth.
“Shh,” he said, and I said nothing. “Are you aware that there may be a sexual element to—to something like this?”
I let out a shuddering breath and nodded. Thank God, I thought. I was aroused already and I wasn’t sure I would take it well if he turned me away on those grounds. His hands on my neck were warm and steady, and I felt myself relaxing into their comforting pressure. He was still gazing into my eyes, and there was desire written plain and obvious on his face. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before.
“Watson,” I began.
“John will do,” he replied, and he kissed me.
I moaned, and he used the opportunity to kiss me more deeply, tilting my head to his liking and licking into my mouth. I opened for him easily, leaning back on my heels as he slid forward in his chair, and I reached up to grip the front of his shirt with both my hands.
“Let go,” he said, very quietly, against my lips, and I let go automatically. He murmured his approval, and kissed me again.
I was aching, shuddering, my cock hard in my trousers, my hands clenched uselessly on my thighs. But I didn’t dare touch myself. It was for him to decide, I realized, and he knew it.
He released me and sat back. I panted for breath. He was flushed, and the line of his trousers was distorted by his erection.
“Sherlock,” he said, and I jumped, startled out of my contemplation of his trouser front by the sound of my given name. “How many lovers have you had?”
Only Victor, I thought, who was disappointing and confusing and nothing like you.
“One,” I blurted. “Just one.”
I shivered at the implications. “Besides you,” I agreed.
“Has anyone ever—” He paused, searching for a delicate term. “Done this for you before?”
I shook my head. “Watson—”
“John,” he said again.
“John,” I agreed. “I’m afraid I don’t know what this is.”
He bit his lip. “We should probably talk about it before we get in too deep, shouldn’t we.”
“No,” I said. “Not yet. Please. Tomorrow.” I didn’t want to be distracted by details. I wanted him and whatever he would do to me, the consequences be damned. If we could put off a conversation about it until the morning, perhaps I’d be able to formulate some kind of rational thought, but just then I wasn’t capable of much beyond the knowledge that I needed more of this, whatever it was, immediately.
John tilted his head marginally to the side. “Very well,” he said. “Tomorrow. Now, then,” with a smile, “you’re mine, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, breathless with relief, and the smile that appeared on his face was like the sun rising.
He sat back, then, spreading his knees a little wider. He put his fingertips back against his lips, contemplating, and said, “Undo your cuffs and collar.”
I complied, and placed my cufflinks and collar studs in his outstretched hand.
“Now your shirt,” he said.
I unbuttoned my shirt, baring my pale, narrow chest to him, and watching the appreciation in his eyes. He was fighting a smile, his moustache twitching. More of the tension drained out of me– he was just Watson, just John, and I knew him. He wouldn’t hurt me, and he wouldn’t shame me. My fingers moved more quickly, more surely, and soon I was shrugging my shirt off my shoulders, leaving it to pool on the floor behind me.
“Good,” John said, drawing my attention back to him. He hadn’t moved. He was just watching me, watching with such scrutiny. I could feel goose flesh breaking out up my arms and shoulders, and my nipples tightening. John licked his lips unconsciously, and I couldn’t help mirroring the motion. “Take yourself in hand,” he said after a pause, almost hesitant. “Show me the way you touch yourself. But don’t—don’t finish until I say.”
My heart caught in my throat. It was one thing to undress before a lover, and quite another to put myself on display. But John’s face was set, controlled, and so I obeyed him.
I opened my trousers and pushed them down around my thighs. My knees and ankles ached from the unfamiliar position, but my cock stood hard and leaking. Tentatively, I curled my fingers around it. I heard John inhale as I rubbed my thumb across my sensitive, exposed crown, and it sent a bolt of lust through me. He wanted me, I could see it in his eyes. He wanted to touch me like this, but he was denying himself. He wanted to see what I wanted, first; whether I would go through with it; whether I would submit to him.
My other hand wandered as I stroked myself, resting first on my belly and then inching up to brush one nipple with the tip of my littlest finger. I closed my eyes and focused on the sensations, on the weight of John’s gaze, on the desire coursing through me. I thought of the ways he could control me, how he might tell me to use my mouth on him, or open me up with his fingers—God, his fingers, so precise and firm and perfect; how he might tie my hands, and how I would let him; how he might bind me to his bed and not let me up…
I worked myself faster, pleasure rising, and my hips thrust minutely into my hand. I was leaking profusely, slicking my fingers, and my strokes were easy and smooth and perfect. I was hurtling toward my climax, and I opened my eyes. I needed to see him, see what he saw in me.
“Stop,” he said. “Sherlock, stop.”
I froze, quivering, body arched and chest heaving. I was so close, so bloody close I could taste it. If I moved an inch, I would come.
“Good,” John breathed, sounding shaken. “By Jove, you’re so good. Look at you. You’ll do whatever I say.”
“Please,” I heard myself say. I eased my fingers away from my straining cock, my hand trembling.
“Stand up,” he said.
I stood, slowly, my trousers falling to the floor. He reached out and took hold of both my hips, and drew me toward him. My ankles felt like they were bound, and I stumbled, but he caught me smoothly, arranging my knees on either side of his hips and my hands on his shoulders.
He carded his hands through my hair again, his strong, warm chest against my bare one, and tugged me down for a kiss. He kissed me deeply, searchingly, his moustache tickling my lip and his tongue caressing mine. I made a noise embarrassingly close to a whimper, and he moved one of my hands from his shoulder back to my cock.
“Finish it,” he said, and continued to kiss me. I bit his lip and pumped my fist, groaning, and reached my peak in an instant, spurting over my fingers and ruining his shirt. He moaned and hugged me close, grinding his hips against my arse, and I felt him surge with his own climax.
He kissed me through it, still mostly in control, and when he was finished he kissed my face—my cheeks, my temple, behind my ear. He murmured, “You were perfect,” and held me in his arms until the shaking in my limbs subsided, and I was able to disentangle myself.
I dressed myself again, carefully, and he handed me my studs and cufflinks.
“We will talk tomorrow,” he said, and disappeared upstairs.
I slept unbelievably well that night.
* * *
I awoke in the morning much later than was my usual habit, feeling refreshed and restored and utterly terrified. My cheek throbbed from the fight I’d picked and the bruising on my knuckles was a ghastly purple. I rose and dressed, steeling myself for an awkward confrontation, but when I emerged from my bedroom, the sitting room was empty. Breakfast sat cooling on the table. Watson’s hat and coat were missing from the rack, so I knew he was out of the house, not just hiding in his room as I wished to do.
There was a note on the table that simply said, Eat. – JW, so I sat down and ate. Afterwards I could think of nothing better to do, so I alternated between smoking my black clay pipe and scraping at my violin, trying not to dwell on the night before. With Watson gone, I couldn’t deduce his reaction to the development in his expression, nor read his train of thought from the crook of his eyebrows. It was torture not to know.
Watson came back in the afternoon, smelling like his club. The mud on his boots, though, said he’d been walking in Hyde Park for some time as well. He hung his hat and coat, slipped his walking stick into the umbrella stand, and finally turned to look at me. I put down my violin and waited.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you got up,” he said. “I had– I needed to think a few things through.”
“Ah,” I said. It was almost embarrassing, how strongly I was affected by his voice, what power he held over me, but I knew he had enjoyed what we’d done just as much as I had. Now I could tell he was only hesitating because he wasn’t sure of my own state of mind. I crossed to the sideboard. “Brandy?”
“At this hour–?” he began, but I fixed him with a look and he said, “Yes, thank you.”
I handed him a glass and threw myself as carelessly as I could onto the settee. He took a seat in his armchair, turned the glass in his hands a few times, sipped, and set it aside.
“We need to discuss what happened.”
“Yes, I daresay we do.”
Neither of us made a move to begin that conversation, however, and for a minute we sat staring at one another in silence. I was sure he could hear my heart beating.
Finally he stirred himself and said, “We must come to an agreement. I can’t– I can’t just tell you what to do all the time. It wouldn’t be right.”
I inclined my head in agreement, hoping he would clarify.
“You’re your own man,” Watson went on, gesturing with an outstretched hand. “You get on just fine without me—”
“I don’t want to,” I said, surprising us both.
He smiled softly. “I understand,” he said. “But you have your work, and you have to be in control of it then. You know far better than I what needs to be done.”
He was right, of course. The art of investigation was mine alone, and he was my assistant at best. I nodded and took a sip of my drink.
“Do you propose, then, that we do it again?” I asked, fortified by the burn of the liquor.
“If you are amenable,” Watson said.
“Let us suppose that I am.” That was an understatement.
“Watson, I am not–” I wasn’t sure of the words I wanted to use. “I am not well-versed in the…physical…”
“You said you’d only had one lover,” he interrupted, saving me.
I nodded gratefully. “It was several years ago, and it did not last very long. I am not an easy person to get along with.”
Watson’s mouth twisted, and I could tell he both agreed and disagreed with that final statement. He knew I didn’t have many (any) friends, and yet here we were, rubbing along together beautifully. “I suppose,” he said, “that relationship did not have this kind of…dynamic.”
“It did not.” How could it? I barely understood what had happened last night; I only knew that I wanted it to happen again, and again, for as long as I lived.
Watson went on, as if reading my mind. “You also suggested that the whole notion was unfamiliar to you.” He was speaking slowly, choosing his words carefully. He was also looking directly at me, the intensity of his gaze making me fight the urge to squirm.
“As much as I hate to admit to a gap in my understanding,” I said, “I was not even aware there was a gap.”
He smiled again. “I realize it was not the most tactful way to go about it,” he said, “telling you to get on your knees like that. I hope you don’t think I was being disrespectful. I… I got the sense that you needed to be… relieved of some responsibility.”
I swallowed hard and said nothing.
“I see it as an exchange of power,” Watson said. “When you feel that the pressure is too much, that you are starting to slip, I offer myself as an agent of balance.”
“By ordering me about?”
“If you wish.”
“But only some of the time.”
“What about the… the sexual element. Is that–?”
“We don’t have to do that again,” Watson said quickly, “if it was not agreeable to you. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have initiated that without–”
“No, Watson,” I interrupted, blushing, “it was agreeable.”
“Ah,” he said. He picked up his glass again and finished the brandy. “Good.”
“I meant to ask, is it usual? The sex, I mean?”
“It is…” He set the glass aside. “It is common, but not always present.”
I needed to smoke. I got up, fetched my cigarette case, and offered Watson one. He accepted, and I lit both. We sat back, silent again, letting the tobacco steady our nerves.
“How do you know about this sort of thing?” I asked, finally feeling braver.
“There are establishments that cater to… men of my disposition, and yours.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“For a nominal fee, a girl will let you tie her up and spank her before you– that is– before you fuck her. Or I understand you can get a girl to do the same for you, if you prefer it that way.”
I rubbed the heel of my hand against my forehead, blushing so hard I could feel my pulse in my temples. The idea that he might want to spank a girl like that– or that someone might want to be– I was dizzy with possibility.
“They have strict limits there,” Watson went on, apparently not noticing my discomfort. “Everything is agreed upon in advance, and they have signal words they use if things start to get out of hand.”
Something hot and unpleasant was blooming in the middle of my chest. “Is this something you do on a regular basis?” I demanded.
“No,” Watson said quickly, “it was… a few times, when I was younger. In the army. I haven’t… indulged in a long time.”
“Would you consider last night an indulgence?”
He paused to smoke his cigarette. “In a matter of speaking,” he said. “I believed you needed it. You asked me to control you.”
I took another nervous inhale myself and let the smoke out again in a cloud. “I did.”
“I took a liberty,” Watson said. “I won’t do it again without your permission.”
“Watson, you are the expert in this matter,” I said. “I propose you assume permission is given.”
He stared at me. “Are you certain?”
I met his eyes. “Are you?”
“I don’t enter into this lightly,” he warned.
“Do you believe that I do?”
He shook his head slowly. “No, I don’t.”
“So, tell me how we go about it.” I finished my cigarette and threw it into the grate. I wanted another, but I refrained. Instead I crossed my legs and affected nonchalance, spreading my arms along the back of the settee.
Watson cleared his throat. “Well, I– first I propose we agree upon a time and place.”
“Holmes, I don’t want to put you in any kind of situation that might endanger you or your reputation. This is—well to say it’s frowned upon by general society would be something of an understatement.”
“I am aware of the legal ramifications,” I said. “In that case, perhaps we only engage in this sort of activity when that door—” and here I indicated the sitting room door— “is locked? So that we cannot be interrupted by nosy housekeepers or desperate clients?”
Watson started to smile. “A sound proposal,” he said. “I agree. And we ought to pick a word that, if used, stops everything at once; something that will end the interaction until we agree to begin again.”
“Is ‘stop’ not a good enough word?” Though, we were having enough trouble saying what we meant even now.
“No,” Watson said, and his voice dropped. “Perhaps if you had misbehaved, I might be inclined to take you over my knee and spank you like an errant boy. You might cry ‘stop, stop,’ but you might not mean it. Do you see?”
I did see. I suspected the spanking would become a theme with him, and the thought made me hot all over. I hadn’t expected discipline to be something that aroused him, but then he had been in the army. Surely that wasn’t connected. I was having trouble rationalizing. “You would do that?” I asked, and realized I sounded out of breath.
“If I thought you needed it,” he replied, full of dark promise. “Well?”
“Yes,” I said quickly, “we ought to pick something else.”
“Something that would not normally come up.”
“‘Lestrade’?” I offered. A mention of the Scotland Yard detective we both knew would undoubtedly halt any kind of amorous encounter in its tracks.
He was fighting a laugh. “That is the last thing I want uttered while I have you at my mercy. Think of the implications.”
I ducked my head and smiled. “Very well,” I said. “Not ‘Lestrade’.”
After that it became easier, and we talked well into the evening, laying out rules and guidelines. Watson mostly made suggestions of ways he might take control of me, and I agreed or disagreed depending on how strongly the ideas affected me. There were not many things I declined to try. Mostly I impressed upon him that I was open to making the decision in the heat of the moment, and that if he thought I needed to be put in my place he should just do it. If I disagreed with his assessment, I would tell him.
Eventually we were interrupted by Mrs. Hudson arriving with the supper tray, but I felt that even though some things had been left unsaid, I had a much better idea of what we were getting ourselves into. I sensed that there were further unplumbed depths to Watson that I would not experience until I was at his mercy once more. I was eager to learn.