It was the scents that finally penetrated through my concentration on the damnable case of the watchman's truncheon as I'm sure Watson will call the tale when he writes it up for his not-so-patiently waiting public. Everywhere I went, the scents of pine and bayberry wafted through the air. When I finished my interrogation of the last suspect on my list, I headed back to Baker Street to put on my thinking cap and smoke a pipe.
All the facts were there, I just needed to sort them out and decide on the actions that would bring the scoundrel to justice. When I entered the front hall, there were the same smells I'd been sniffing all week, along with the heady smell of cookies in the oven. Finally, the new decorations along the stair railings caught my eye. The gleaming oak was entwined with garlands of pine and knots of holly berries.
Ah yes, Christmas. It was not a holiday that held any good memories for me so I'd once again managed to filter out all the clues that would have reminded me of the festival. It was December 21st and there were four days left to catch a villain. I knew from long experience how addlepated the populace became on the 25th and nothing could be done until everyone had sobered up.
Sighing, I unbuttoned my coat and unwound my scarf. Mrs. Hudson came out from the back hall and took my outer garments with a tsking sound when the snow was shaken to the floor mat. "Mr. Holmes. You're just in time for tea. Dr. Watson came in a good half-hour ago and told me to wait until you came home. Kathleen will bring it up as soon as the water boils."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson, that would be just right. Have you by any chance thought about the cookies for the Irregulars?" That was part of the holiday tradition that I'd just remembered.
"Certainly, Mr. Holmes. Ten dozen are cooling as we speak and they'll be ready for you to take to Professor Jenkins tomorrow." She hung up my outerwear in the closet under the stairs and bustled back to the kitchen.
I slowly mounted the stairs and pondered what else I'd allowed to slip my mind. Gifts. For various and sundry people in my life. I am very bad at choosing appropriate presents for those with whom I share my life. A bottle of port for Mycroft. Some lace for Mrs. Hudson. Shillings for the Irregulars. A box of cigars for Lestrade. These were the same each year. Reaching the door to our sitting room, I sighed. But what for Watson?
He'd given me the most precious gift of all this year ... his love. And he gave it continuously and generously every moment of the day. There was nothing I could gift to him that could even begin to compare. I created a smile and opened the door to see his familiar figure reading the paper in his chair by the fire.
"Welcome, Holmes. Come in out of the cold and warm up in comfort." Rising, he threw aside the paper and held out his hands.
Shutting the door, I made haste to join him. His lips were so soft and yielding beneath mine. Each kiss was a new adventure in taste and feel.
"Ah, you had a glass of sherry this afternoon and some of that anise candy you love." I said somewhat breathlessly when he released me. This was a game we'd begun one afternoon when he'd returned from his club and an afternoon of playing snooker. Their port is quite distinctive.
"Quite right. And now I'm looking forward to my tea. Dare I hope you ate something today?" He helped me off with my jacket and handed me my dressing gown, which he'd had warming by the hearth. He was past master at taking care of me.
"Afraid not. Tea will be most welcome. I must retreat to think afterwards. The threads are complete and I need to see what sort of solution they will weave." I settled down in my chair and watched his face fall before he smiled in resignation. I continually disappointed him with my requests for solitude when he had no doubt been looking forward to our spending the evening together.
"I understand, Holmes. The watchman case, is it?" He patted my shoulder and took his own chair after pulling up the tea table and opening the door for Kathleen. He poured for both of us and I watched him while racking my brains for an idea for a Christmas gift for him. Surely, this year I could think of something that would please him. Now, that I'd decided to make use of my inheritance, I was not constrained by lack of money as in previous years.
But that brought back very bad memories indeed and I shifted in my chair while slamming the door on my childhood thoughts. They would not help and would only cast me into a deeper depression than that which stalked me at this moment. I was determined to be cheerful for Watson. He so enjoys these holidays.
"Is anything wrong, Holmes?" His worried tones alerted me to the fact that he knows me too well. A bit of misdirection would not come amiss.
"I'd quite forgotten the time of year, Watson. Now, I must think of something to get for Mrs. Hudson and my brother." I quirked an eyebrow in his direction and watched him take the bait.
"I found a beautiful set of hand painted cups at Harrod's that she would enjoy. Violets tastefully enameled on six porcelain cups and saucers. They were a little too expensive for me but if we were to go in together, the cost would be just right." Watson beamed across the table.
"Well done, my dear fellow. Dirksen's will know what Mycroft has been drinking lately so I can just send a bottle to him at the Diogenes Club. While I'm delivering the cookies to Jenkins for the Irregulars along with their shillings, I'll stop in at the tobacco shop and have them send over a box of cigars to Lestrade." I smiled back and nibbled at one of the cookies Mrs. Hudson had just baked. It was still warm and the sugar sprinkles cascaded down my dressing gown, quite messy but good for all of that.
Watson chuckled and caught his sprinkles in his teacup. He was always such a neat eater even when it came to finger foods. It must come from being a doctor. My mind was already straying to the case I'd been investigating and he poured me more tea before retreating to his paper.
I got up and filled my pipe from the slipper on the mantle, making a mental note to replenish my own supply of tobacco, lest I run out. Lighting up, I began the leisurely pacing that helps me to think through the myriad of problems that must be addressed before I presented the solution to the problem of the watchman. Two hours later, Watson kissed me goodnight and went up the stairs to his room.
Watching him go, I sighed quietly and brought my mind back to the problem at hand. Only the discipline of years enabled me to push aside the thoughts of lying with him under the covers whilst we made love. Never had it been so hard to let go of my pleasure for the greater good. John was undoing all the hard work my parents put into making sure I was seen occasionally and never heard.
I shut off those thoughts as well and continued thinking through the case until about midnight, when the solution presented itself. Another hour of testing it from every angle of which I could think and I laid my pipe aside and headed for my cold and lonely bed. Slipping between the sheets, I fell quickly asleep between wishing for the heat of John's body and being glad that he, at least, had had an uninterrupted night.
"Sherlock. Please wake up. Please, my friend." The urgent whisper reached the part of my brain that told me it was Watson and he appeared to be in some distress.
"Yes, John. What is it?" I shook my head and sought the clock above the mantle, not quite five o'clock.
"You were having a nightmare, thrashing about and calling out something I couldn't quite understand. You sounded quite distressed." He lifted the covers and joined me on the bed, untwisting my nightshirt and pulling me into his warm embrace.
"I remember nothing of a dream, John." Searching my memory, bits and pieces flashed back to me. A dark room. A door that slowly opened with no sound at all. And fear. Overwhelming fear that paralyzed me. I must have shivered because John immediately pulled me in closer.
"What have you remembered, Sherlock?" He soothed his hands over my back in long calming strokes.
"A childish memory, nothing more. I fear there may be something in what you say about the effects of tobacco late at night." I held him tightly. Always he has been my shield against the darkness that would claim me for its own.
"I see." He pulled back enough to look into my eyes in the flickering light of the candle he must have brought with him. "You know that I will never let anything harm you, my dearest friend. I hate to see the pain that you hide inside. Can you not trust me with some of it?"
Mute with sudden despair, I just looked at him.
Perhaps he saw that I was truly unable to answer him for he sighed and smiled reassuringly at me. "When you are ready, Sherlock, I will be right here."
Swallowing over the lump in my throat, I coughed once and whispered to him. "I trust you with my life, John, and . . . with my heart. But some of my memories would only hurt you. I could not bear that."
"Oh, my love. I adore you. You are my heart and soul. Your beauty shines on me like the June sun." Each foolish endearment was followed by a soft kiss that lulled me back to a dreamless sleep where nothing could harm me since my beloved guarded me from all bad memories.
Working with Scotland Yard can be a bit of an exercise in futility at times but I persevered and soon had events lined up for the taking of the watchman before he could kill again. Patience is indeed a virtue when it comes to dealing with the bureaucratic mind. There is some hope though. When I see some of the new breed of policeman coming up through the ranks that listen and apply reasoning to their investigations, I foresee a day when I will not be needed.
I hid a smile behind my hand while I listened to Lestrade passing on some of my suggestions to his subordinates as if they were collaborations between us. But that day has not yet come and I didn't look for it anytime soon. My mind drifted away to the urgent problem of a gift for Watson. Christmas Eve was tomorrow and I had still not found an adequate present.
Oh, I had a brand new leather doctor's bag, outfitted with a complete assortment of the tools of his trade and his initials tastefully embroidered on the inside silk lining. A bottle of his favorite sherry put carefully away. A new pen, heavy and substantial, with matching malachite inkwell for when he's in the throes of composing one of his lurid tales.
But those were just things and could not convey my deep gratitude for the love he introduced into my life. Perhaps, he'd like a trip to the southern coast of France, or one to Greece to tour the ruins of that ancient country? He was fascinated by past medical practices while dedicated to improving his patient's care in the present. Perhaps he would enjoy touring the land that brought us Galen and the god of healing, Asclepius.
"I say, Holmes. Did you have anything you wish to add before I send out the men?" Lestrade's voice penetrated my musings and I leaned forward with an alert look.
"I believe you have covered all the salient points, Lestrade. If I might however add a note of caution, Sellers has proven he has a native cunning that has worked in his favor before. He thinks quickly and does not always react as you might expect." My gaze met each pair of eyes around the table in turn. "Be careful that he does not add one of you to his list of victims."
"We're all highly trained men here, Holmes. Mr. Sellers doesn't stand a chance against this force." Lestrade spoke proudly and I nodded, acknowledging his belief but determined to be in at the kill anyway. I had put myself into Sellers' mind in order to catch him and it was not a mind that Lestrade or these policemen would understand.
We left immediately to set the plan into action. It was quite simple really, I've found that the more complex the plan, the more chance that it will go wrong. Especially, when more than one person is involved. I waited in Fishermen's Alley with one of the members of Lestrade's team. Constable Allen had the fresh-faced look of a farm boy and appeared to be no more than two and twenty.
I mused on the fact that as I aged, everyone appeared to be getting younger around me. The constable had a quiet demeanor and his eyes moved constantly, checking the movements of the denizens of the alley and watching for anomalies, much as I was doing. My spirits rose when I considered his quiet competence and what they heralded for Scotland Yard.
When the action began, it started and ended so quickly that the main group of constables never even saw it happen. Constable Allen touched my arm when he spotted Sellers beginning to stalk his next victim and I gestured for him to go one way while I went the other. The hunter thus became the hunted and we were able to subdue him before he could take another life.
While the constable blew his whistle and put the handcuffs on the prone Sellers, I straightened and winced. He'd had a moment to wield his truncheon and I'd taken the full force of the blow to my upper left arm. Flexing my muscles, I decided that it wasn't broken but was probably bruised rather severely. Smiling down at the cursing man, I decided the price was well worth the satisfaction of another puzzle solved.
"Are you all right, Mr. Holmes? It appeared he hit you while we were struggling." The constable looked quite anxious and I hastened to reassure him.
"Just a tap, Constable Allen. It was your quick work that subdued him so competently. Good work, young man. I see a very bright future for you in the Yard." My praise made him blush but his eyes shone with gratitude and he bobbed his head in acknowledgment of my praise just as Lestrade strode around the corner from where he'd been waiting with the second team.
The next hour was spent in the inevitable paperwork without which the world could not run. I was able to bow out quietly once I made sure that the wording on the charges was quite correct. My study of law was a great help to me when it came to making sure the villains I pursued didn't later get off on some legal technicality. My arm was aching quite abominably by this time and I called a hansom cab to take me home. In the privacy of the cab, I was able to cradle it against my body but every pothole we hit jarred it further.
It rather felt as if it were on fire by the time I got to 221B and I had to drop my coat off of the left shoulder because of the numbness in the afflicted limb. Shaking my head in disgust at my stupidity, I trudged up the steps, thinking longingly of a hot soak in the tub. But it would take an hour or more to get the water heated and Mrs. Hudson and her little staff were busy with holiday preparations. A simple poultice would have to suffice.
But when I opened the door to our sitting room, I was surprised to find Watson already there. He greeted me with a smile, which quickly turned to a frown when he saw how I was cradling my arm.
"Holmes! What has happened?" He drew close and closed the door behind me.
"A little altercation when we took Sellers. It's just a blow to my arm. A bruise is all." I tried to downplay the pain but I could tell from the look on Watson's face that he saw right through my pretense.
"When you get your medical degree, Sherlock, I will let you diagnose. But until then, why don't you let me take a look at it?" He was steering me to my bedroom and I went quietly. There is never the slightest use in fighting his healing instincts.
He undid the buttons on my waistcoat quickly and neatly, stripping it from me with deft movements. I had my shirt unbuttoned and he eased it off with a small hiss when he saw my upper arm. Even I was rather taken aback when I saw the extent of the bruising. It was already a deep shade of blue and black that stretched from just above my elbow in a long band to three inches below my shoulder.
"You're quite lucky he didn't break the bone." Watson's face was fiercely intent while he ran gentle fingers over the skin next to the bruised area. It was all I could do to keep from flinching and he must have felt me tense. "I expect it hurts quite badly, Holmes. You have no need to be stoic with me. Tell me where the pain is worst."
He probed tenderly and I grimaced when the pain sharpened. "Just there, Watson. It was probably the place where the truncheon landed before young Constable Allen had a chance to subdue the villain."
"You can tell me about it, Holmes, in just a few moments. I must just call down to Mrs. Hudson to bring up some hot water." He ran a gentle finger down my cheek before leaving me by the fire to call down from the top of the stairs. A moment later, I could hear him rummaging through the cabinet where he keeps his supplies in the sitting room.
When he returned, he bore a jar of dried herbs and some of his white cotton bandages. Setting them aside, he went back out to the sitting room and reassured Mrs. Hudson before sending her back downstairs to make tea. I watched him in silence while he deftly sprinkled a thick layer of the roots and leaves onto a bandage before folding it in thirds and soaking it in the basin of steaming water. Leaving it for a moment, he got my empty basin and poured in a little of the cold water from my dresser.
Bringing it back to where I sat in the slipper chair by the fire, he removed the steaming bandage and dipped it briefly in the cooler water before wrapping it around my upper arm. The sensation of heat was intense and I barely held back a gasp before feeling the soothing warmth spread throughout my arm. The tingles in my lower arm eased and I was able to flex my fingers without immediate pain.
"Better, Holmes?" He was tying off the ends so the pad pressed tightly but not uncomfortably against the bruise.
"You always make it better, John." I returned his fond look with one of my own and enjoyed the brief kiss he bestowed upon me.
"Now, tell me all about it. How did you come to be in at the kill? I thought your role was just to advise Lestrade's men." He settled on the hearth and looked up expectantly.
So, I settled back against the crimson velvet back of the slipper chair and told him of the events and deductions that led to the constable and myself bringing Sellers down in the back alley. I could see his writer's mind mulling over the events and the frown when I got to the blow.
"Really, it was quite unexpected, Watson. It never occurred to me that we would actually come to blows."
"And yet you warned Lestrade's men about being careful of Sellers." He pointed out. "I must thank your constable when I meet him."
"Quite an intelligent young man. He gives me hope for the future of the police force. Since you could not be there, he made an adequate replacement." I was still caught up in the memory of the events and so did not notice Watson's silence until I looked over and caught his pensive look. "What?"
"So, this young man could replace me, Holmes? Just how attractive was he?"
I stared at him in consternation. He could not think ... He could not be making the allegation ... I could not seem to finish any of my thoughts.
"When I think about how attractive you are, Sherlock, I can not help but wonder when you will decide to turn to a younger, more intelligent partner. I know my slowness in understanding often frustrates you."
I heard the words but they made no sense at all. He was the beautiful one who attracted men and women with his sweetness and gentle manners. No one but he had ever looked at me with the eyes of a lover and I knew not what to say to erase that sad look in his eyes.
"John." There, I'd managed his name and something in my eyes must have gotten through his introspection for he took my cold hand in his and held on tightly. "You must not ever doubt my love for you. Without you I would be the cold, dry husk of a man who met you so many years ago. I live each day in fear that you will leave me because of my short temper or my egotistical need to always be right."
"Never, Sherlock. I will never leave you." His answer was immediate and vehement. "You are just in the full bloom of your manhood and intellect. I have my own fears, I guess about my ability to keep up with you."
"You keep me sane, John. You remind me that I am human. Not just a brain but also a man with needs and desires that I've never been able to express before. It was so cold in my world before you brought your light and warmth into it. I take so much from you and give nothing in return."
"Not so, my love." He kissed the palm of my hand and the tingle that shot up my arm had nothing to do with pain. "You trust me to lead you down an unknown path to an intimacy that clearly disconcerts you but you let me take you there anyway. Sometimes, I'm afraid I will fail you and you will turn away from it and me."
"Never." My brain failed to find the words I needed to reassure him but my body knew the right answer. I raised his hand to my lips and kissed the pulse in his wrist before bringing it to lie on my chest over my heart. We looked at each other in the silence of the room and I felt more peaceful than at any time before.
We heard the clatter of the tea tray in the outer room and Watson went out to deal with it, closing the door gently behind him. I leaned my head back and thought about the last few moments. How could a simple statement of fact lead to such terrible conclusions? I thought I was the only one with fears in this relationship but John had just pointed out how alike we were when it came to our feelings.
I had to find the words to tell him of my life up to the moment we met. It was only right that he should know the childhood events that shaped the misanthropic man to whom Stamford introduced him. My greatest fear had been that they would push him away but now I could see that it was my silence that threatened our relationship. Perhaps it would not be so bad after all, I told myself.
The rest of the day was spent quietly with John diligently changing the poultice every hour with fresh herbs and hot water. I went to bed early and he cushioned my arm with a pillow so that I would not accidentally roll over onto it. Kissing me gently, he held my hand and hummed me to sleep before leaving for his own bed.
Christmas Eve dawned cloudy and cold. I could smell snow in the air and while my arm ached, the pain was quite gone. John left to make his rounds in the hopes that an ounce of prevention would keep him from being called out the next day. I waved him off with a sigh of relief. I had still to wrap his presents and while I did that, I brooded over what I was going to tell him.
I would give him the gift of my memories and pray that they did not send him in disgust away from me. A linear rendition of my early years? Or a brief synopsis and let him question what he would? I fretted over my inner debate until I felt quite worn out. Mrs. Hudson tempted me with a savory mid-day meal but I had no appetite and I could hear her mutters all the way down the stairs.
If my arm had not ached so much, I might have found solace in my violin but I could not hold it for more than a moment before the pain began. Huddling in my dressing gown before the fire, I pondered my life and the fantastic turns it had lately taken. I had never expected love and had not believed in it when it first arrived. But now I was desperate not to lose the warmth that John brought to my life. I no longer had any wish to return to the days before him.
My mind could not rest so I resorted to a technique the old hermit in Tibet had taught me. Sitting cross-legged on the hearth and focusing on the flames, I calmed my mind and entered a meditative state, which took me out of time to a place of safety and quiet. And there I stayed until I heard the noise of Kathleen and her ascent of the stairs with the makings of high tea.
I slowly uncurled and raised myself to the chair where I would not disconcert her. She was followed closely by Watson and it was good to see his high spirits. He regaled me with the story of his successful delivery of a child to one of his favorite patients. This little girl was a healthy baby after two previous miscarriages and both parents had been ecstatic.
I enjoyed his story, glad that there were still children who were wanted and loved. I retained some of my meditative state and felt only a distant sadness for the small child who had stopped asking why mother and father didn't want to see him at a very early age. Watson devoured the sandwiches and cakes that would serve as our dinner on this snowy eve to the holiday in between telling me of his afternoon.
Mrs. Hudson checked on us before leaving for early church services with Kathleen. But Watson sent her on her way with a cheery 'Merry Christmas' and the promise of a late breakfast on the morrow. He locked the door behind her and told me he would return after he changed into something more comfortable. But before he went upstairs, he smilingly suggested that I also get undressed.
That usually meant that we would make love later but I wondered if he would still wish to after I'd spoken. Probably, he only wished to be sure of the condition of my arm. So, I undressed and put on my flannel nightshirt and dressing gown. Opening the cedar chest at the foot of my bed, I pulled out a Shetland wool blanket for additional warmth while we talked.
I pulled the settee closer to the fire. For this conversation, I wanted to be as close as possible to John. Pushing a pillow to my back, I curled my legs to one side and huddled under the blanket, suddenly cold. John joined me with a worried look.
"Are you all right, Sherlock? You haven't caught a chill, have you?" He sat down and drew me into his arms. I spread the blanket over us both and slid my good arm around him.
"It is winter, John and sometimes I feel the cold. But not when you are with me." I laid my cheek on his shoulder and breathed in the scent that had come to mean home.
"You're not still worrying about our misunderstanding yesterday?" He cuddled me close and stroked my hair with his free hand.
"That was my fault. Hush, now." I stilled his automatic protest with a finger to his lips, which he promptly sucked into his mouth and laved with his warm tongue.
I shivered and lost my train of thought for a moment but he seemed to sense that I needed no distractions and finally let it slip free. I searched for the words that would explain to him just what I was feeling but they proved elusive. Sighing, I focused on the fire and let my mind go free.
"It was my fault because I have never shared with you exactly why you found me a physical and emotional virgin, John. You spoke today of the joy that your patient had in the birth of her child. My parents had no such joy in me. Mycroft was wanted in the sense that Father needed a son to carry on the name and the heritage but I . . . I was a mistake. An afterthought, conceived in a night of drunkenness on my father's part and then born from my mother's pain and suffering."
"I was a frail child and was often told while small that the doctor had held out little hope of my survival. But the nanny chosen to care for me was a countrywoman of great common sense and she nursed me through the childhood illnesses that plagued me. I was almost two years old before I saw my mother or father."
John's horrified gasp interrupted me and the tears in his eyes gave me pause but he smiled tremulously and nodded for me to go on.
"Nanny Wallace dressed me up and carried me down to the first floor of the house. I can still remember how curious it looked to my wondering eyes. I'd only ever seen the third floor nursery and some of those rooms. Well, them and the back stairs that led to the kitchen gardens where I often played in the sun while Nanny had a gossip with the cook."
The memories were coming quickly now and I felt the cold creeping from the inside out. "She set me down and straightened my collar before taking my hand and knocking on the great oak door. I can still remember my first sight of the study. Books climbed the walls on all sides, their shiny leather bindings dazzling in every color of the rainbow. A very tall man sat behind a huge desk and he looked up, a frown on his face when he saw us. He looked so piercingly at me that I remember thinking I must have a spot on my jacket. He quizzed Nanny about me as if I wasn't there then frowned again at her answers before dismissing us with a wave of his hand. It was two more years before I saw him again."
"And what of your mother, Sherlock? Surely she visited the nursery." Watson rubbed my back with soothing strokes meant to comfort.
The cold intensified into an icicle inside of me. "Shortly after I was introduced to my father, I was summoned to my mother's bedside. She remained a semi-invalid after my birth. Something had gone wrong, I was told years later. She had beautiful pale skin and dark hair that fell about her face in soft ringlets. Her eyes were the same color that I see every morning in the shaving mirror. She just looked at me with no expression at all. When Nanny asked if she had any questions for me, she shook her head and said, 'I just wanted to see the cause of my ill health. I don't suppose he's as weak as he looks?' Nanny held my hand very hard and said I was a bonny wee lad and smart as a whip."
"My mother nodded and looked right at me, 'Keep him away from me and I'll not interfere with you. Do we understand each other, Nanny Wallace?' Nanny nodded and took me out of Mother's boudoir. I never went back there. Although once Nanny was sent away and I was given a tutor, I did occasionally visit the study to get a book." My voice died away and I sighed.
"What of Mycroft, Sherlock? Did you ever see him?" Watson's voice was choked and when I looked up, I surprised tears on his cheek.
"He was away at school when I was born and only returned at the holidays. I remember him as a very kind boy who always visited me and sometimes brought me a present of candy. And once a red top with which I played until my tutor took it away from me. He didn't believe in toys." The red top spinning across the nursery floor was etched deep in my childhood memories. "I looked up to him and he never let me down. Not once. But our age difference was too great and I didn't know how to talk to him about why our parents didn't love me."
"My God, Sherlock, I can't even imagine a mother and father who wouldn't be proud of such a son as you. Did it ever get better?"
"No. I continued a disappointment to them all through my school years. Thank God for school. After the first year, I was told I was to stay there year round, even during school holidays, a relief on both our parts. Mycroft visited me once a year and took me out for dinner to quiz me about my studies. He always left me a little pocket money, which I am sure came out of his own allowance. My fees were paid but that was all. It was only at my parent's death that I discovered that we were not poor nobility trying to keep up appearances but rather wealthy beyond my comprehension. All those years, I tried so hard not to be a burden on them. I tutored some of the slower students and picked up odd jobs during the holidays when I grew older."
Watson drew a shuddering breath and I surprised more tears on his cheeks. Wiping them away with my thumb, I shook my head. "I was so unlovable, John that they even named me in their will as 'their disappointing son, Sherlock'. I thought I'd grown beyond their ability to hurt me but that stung. I was determined to make my way on my own from that point on. And I haven't done too badly."
I tried for a small smile but failed. Watson merely pulled me closer to him and cleared his throat. "You are not unlovable, Sherlock, because I love you with all my heart. And Mycroft in his own way loves you as well. You have been and will always be worthy of love. I told you once that if I had to tell you, I love you, everyday for the rest of our lives, I would never tire of it. Or of you."
"For so many years, I would have disputed your statement, John. But you brightened my world with your warmth and your humor. You shone your sunlight into my dark prison and slowly I began to believe that even I might find love. But then I ran away because I feared you and the love you brought."
"Never run from my love, dear heart." He spoke against my temple. "It would kill me to lose you now. You are the blessed sun around which I revolve."
I managed a small smile. "I love you too. You must know that and remember it when I am bad tempered and out of sorts. I simply have had no practice at showing my love to another."
"And it's why you so often look surprised when I show you affection." He mused.
Blushing, I hid my face in his shoulder. It's true, I am often surprised when he strokes me lovingly or pays me a compliment. And why I am often at a loss as to what my action should be in return. "You are an excellent instructor, John. By paying close attention to what you do and say, I then can initiate a response. Spontaneity in emotions has never been my strong suit."
"In another twenty years, if the good Lord grants us that long, you will be an old hand at it, Sherlock. You know what is said about practice!" He smiled down at me before the pensive look came back onto his face. "Why now, my love? Why share this with me on Christmas Eve?"
"I had no gift good enough for you, John." I could barely get the words around the lump in my throat. "I wanted to give you something that on one else has ever received from me. You have my heart already. I thought if you could understand my past, you would forgive my ineptness at loving."
"You are not inept." He sat up very straight and hugged me tightly, forgetting about my sore arm completely. "I never want to hear you say that again. What you have given me is the gift of your love, a priceless present of yourself. Sharing your past was hard and the fact that you wanted to share it with me, makes me feel very humble. I do understand why you react the way you do sometimes and I shall say one thing about what you have told me then we need never talk about it again unless you wish."
He stopped and kissed me gently, parting my lips with his spicy tongue and stroking mine with tender fervor. I was helpless at his caress and could only moan when he pulled away. "Some parents should never have children but even though they were grossly inadequate, I am still very glad that they didn't stop at Mycroft. I can not imagine a world without Sherlock Holmes in it. And for that they have my undying thanks. But I thank God for Nanny Wallace and your brother for keeping you alive and sane through a truly terrible childhood. Had your early years been different, you might have led a very different life and I am selfish enough to admit that I can not bear the thought that we might never have met or loved."
It was a new thought for me. I wondered what my life might have been like had I not chosen the eclectic studies that led to my love of detecting. Perhaps, I would be married with children of my own, going to a job each day and spending my weekends gardening or playing bridge. What a horrible thought! I shuddered and listened to Watson's laughter ring out in the still air.
"You are thinking about what an average life might be, aren't you, my love? A daily job in an office, perhaps, a trip to your club once a week, even a wife and children. Very ordinary and boring to a man of your temperament."
"Quite true. Much better to have an unhappy childhood and be a consulting detective with a beautiful doctor to make love to me." I ventured to tease him and he laughed out loud again. The ability to make him laugh was one I cherished. He told me once that laughter can heal and he has been proven right once again. Most of the pain was gone, now that I had purged myself of the helpless despair of those early memories.
"Feel better now, dear heart?" Watson's wise eyes gazed down on me and I nodded. "Then let me take you to bed and show you just how much your very special gift means to me."
"Always, John. You take all the pain and soothe it away. I love you with all my heart."
"Oh, my love," was all he said, catching me up into a hard hug and leading me to my bedroom. "I have a very special Christmas gift of my own to share with you tonight. Perhaps, you would care to help me unwrap it?"
His mischievous grin and the slight pull on my robe sash told me what he wanted me to unwrap and I began the task of slowly undressing him by the bed where I would soon be shown just how much I was loved. This was one present that I could unwrap again and again and never lose the delightful feeling of surprise.
It was going to be a very merry Christmas,indeed.
I was quite snug and content here in my bed with the fire still crackling on the hearth. John blanketed me with his body and his warmth rivaled the flames beneath the mantel. His head was tucked into the hollow of my shoulder and his breath gusted in small almost snores against my skin. I savored his quiet contentment but my mind could not find the rest to which he succumbed after we made love.
I rested my cheek on his silken sable brown hair and breathed in deeply. I was a man who depended on my senses to gather in the data, I needed to investigate the crimes that are my livelihood. And he was a blessed feast for all my senses. My eyes rejoiced at his clean-cut beauty and the way his beautiful blue eyes sparkled for me. My nose could always tell when he was near for his fresh scent reminded me that wherever he was, there was my home. My tongue had still not cataloged all the wonderful tastes of his body, especially his mouth with its myriad of spices. My ears heard him even when asleep and listened for his dulcet tones when awake.
But my fingers loved to touch him, all the textures of him from head to toe; silky hair, which coarsened slightly near his groin; satin skin adorned with the sinewy puckers of old scars; the long muscles in his back that flexed beneath my hands when he was on top of me; the powerful legs that entwined with mine after we were sated and complete; the strong arms that cradled me so tenderly; and the hands that shaped my own body into being. And what could I say about the organ that pulsed in my hand while we were making love?
My hands and mouth both know it well after these last months. I have mapped it with my tongue while he writhed beneath me, panting out my name like a prayer. I was not fond of the organized religions but I believe that I could worship his shaft in all its states from full to limp. I smiled to myself at the whimsical notion and hugged him a little tighter, my hands wandering down his back to the gentle swell of his buttocks.
My fingers had a new sensation to ponder today, the first day of the New Year and I realized that that was why I could not fall immediately to sleep after our lovemaking. Tonight, I buried part of myself in his body. I teased his secret opening with an oiled digit and sank it deep inside of him. I searched for the gland that he had triggered in me and it seemed impossible that the tiny bump I found could produce his deep moans. His entire body froze before he began to shake as if all of his muscles were in spasm and he came for long moments into my waiting mouth.
He collapsed afterwards, all his strength spent. I tenderly removed my finger, careful not to cause him any pain but he was completely relaxed and never even twitched. After he'd fallen asleep in my arms, I carefully examined my hand but it appeared the same as always except for the oil that coated my fingers. I was still unsure about this particular caress but John had promised that we would go slowly and he would instruct me in the particulars before we attempted any further experiments in loving.
I pulled the covers up a little higher and allow all extraneous thoughts to drift away.
I stretched awake with a little flex of my whole body and opened my eyes to a bright blue gaze. John was propped on one elbow and was watching me while his right hand stroked my arm. I smiled up at him and watched while his lips moved to mine in the first kiss of the New Year. Of all our kisses, this morning kiss tasted most like pure and unadulterated John.
My tongue stroked his with lazy enjoyment while my hands moved up and down his spine, tracing each bump of tissue, which guards his nervous system. Sometimes I got the oddest pictures in my head of old anatomy text line drawings that match the part of John's body that I'm touching. Perhaps my mind was trying to tell me I needed to do some further research.
My smiling during our kiss made Watson pull away and shake his head. "Happy New Year, Sherlock. What odd thought has come to you now?"
I blushed but immediately told him of my notion. He nodded. "I agree. There are very good texts that will answer some of your questions. Most of your work in hospital was with dead bodies. I would prefer you do your research with this live body." He took one of my hands and kissed each finger tenderly before laying it against his breast.
I enjoyed touching his nipples and he fell onto his back to bring me up over him in one of our favorite positions. Our shafts nestled together and my legs fell to either side of his. I bathed each of his nipples with a broad swath of my tongue and he shuddered beneath me. He brought one of my hands to his lips and sucked my two index fingers into his mouth.
He let the wet digits loose and brought them to his right nipple while my mouth hovered over the left. Understanding, I stimulated both of the peaks with fingers and tongue. He arched up with a sigh and our shafts moved together in hardening bliss. Then he licked one of his own fingers and I soon felt the new caress between my cheeks. I no longer feared it but was still uncertain. So, I concentrated on John and tried not to notice when he penetrated me.
The muscles seemed to be getting used to John's touch for they relaxed with only a token protest. It no longer hurt and the soothing circles John stroked inside of me felt rather good. A good text on the nervous system perhaps, I decided. It seemed a disproportionate number of nerve endings existed within the anal canal.
"Holmes, would you move up a bit?" He arched up and I went onto hands and knees, wondering what he had planned for us next. His inventive nature kept me in a constant state of surprise.
Tugging me further up his body, I found myself straddling his chest with my hands on the wrought iron headboard while his tongue teased my shaft to hardness. One hand pushed back my foreskin and grasped the base of my cock in a firm grip while his fingers returned to my cleft. Only this time, he eased two of them inside and I tensed at the unaccustomed fullness. But he slowly moved them in and out while his tongue traced small circles around the flaring head of my cock and I could no longer deny him.
Relaxing as best I could, I opened my eyes and watched his mouth engulf me almost to the root. Such a wanton sight, his full rosy lips stretched around me, gliding back and forth. Exploring this new position, I flexed my legs and moved in and out of his moist mouth. I worried that his neck muscles would become sore and it was easy for me to take over the movement. He hummed and smiled around me, declaring his enjoyment of my understanding moves.
A sudden warmth filled my body and I recognized the flash of fire that radiates out from his inner massage of my gland. It was stronger than before and this time I pushed back onto his fingers before thrusting gently back into his waiting mouth. I was panting now and trying to keep my cries silent. It would not do to betray our secret but it had also never been so hard to maintain my reserve.
The simultaneous bolts of lightning from below and behind were both threatening to send me over the edge too quickly. When John tongued the small slit free of leaking semen and thrust his fingers deep, I erupted into nerve tingling, fire hot release. My hands on the iron uprights were all that kept me from collapsing onto him and I knelt, shaking into small fragments of disconnected body parts.
For long moments, all I could do was feel the quivers slowly subside and parts of my body come back into some semblance of the Sherlock Holmes who'd existed only an hour ago. John was slowly moving beneath me, coaxing my limbs free from their frozen cramp and rolling me to one side. Finally, I let go of the headboard and flexed my hands to try and restore some of the feeling.
"Slide down, Sherlock. Let me hold you." His gentle murmur warmed and gave me the strength to slip down into his embrace. He enfolded me with his arms and legs, cocooning me with his love beneath the blankets that smelt so strongly of us now.
"Oh, John." I do not know what to say to this amazing man who kept introducing me to new facets of my body.
"I think you enjoyed that, my love." He kissed me and I shared the taste of our love with him. I thought I might be growing sweeter tasting.
"You are quite remarkable, John. However do you keep coming up with such new and inventive positions to pleasure me?" I was trying not to blush but it was still hard to talk about making love.
"I merely think of what would please me and practice on you. It is very easy to love you, Sherlock. Were two fingers too much for you? You seemed to be enjoying it but you must promise to tell me if I hurt you in any way."
I blushed. "You could never hurt me. It felt very full but the warmth that blossomed when you touched my gland was much more intense than before."
"Ah, I was hoping it would be so." John hugged me tighter. "It is another of those acquired tastes and since I enjoy it so much, I was hoping that you might as well."
I felt my curiosity blossom at his statement. "What does it feel like to you?"
He paused for a moment, his hands stroking my back. "Fullness. Almost a tickle with just one finger, but two creates a most welcome feeling of being filled with you. When you touch the gland, even the merest touch jolts me as if lightning struck. Fire burns through my nerve endings and I want more and more until I am overcome with the tingles and must let go all control."
I have never been so jealous in my life. I could feel a red haze cover my eyes and I had to fight not to show it. For I have only inserted one finger in him and his knowledge of two must be a favored memory of his first male lover. Suddenly I needed to know what happened when more than fingers were involved.
"John, what does it feel like when ..." I couldn't say it out loud and so apologetically touched his genitals to finish my question.
He smiled into my eyes and brought my fingers up for a series of nibbling kisses. "Fullness once again but an extreme fullness that takes long moments to get used to. A penis feels very large inside the anal canal and the penetrator must stop and let his lover get used to the size and bulk in that most private place."
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine feeling Watson's straight, thick shaft breaching me. Dear heavens, what a loss of control that would involve. His voice called me back from a shuddering breath. "Sherlock, open your eyes. Open those beautiful gray eyes for me."
I had failed him again with my fears so I knew I must obey and accept my punishment. But his gaze was sweetly open to me and he shook his head. "Too much, too soon, my love. We may never reach that point, dear heart. Just remember that I have never lied to you and that I enjoyed making love that way immensely. Some day, I want you to feel comfortable enough to come inside of me. But until then, we will enjoy what we can. Agreed?"
Nodding, my throat closed in relief that he does not hate me. Even when I disappoint him, he forgives me. No man ever had a better lover than John Watson. Clearing my voice, I managed to speak. "I love you, John. I will try to do better."
For just a moment, I saw an old grief in his eyes before he kissed me and murmured against my lips. "You always do your best, Sherlock. You have never failed me. In time we will look back on these early days and laugh at our fears. You are not the only one who hesitates. What if I hurt you in my enthusiasm? Or go too fast?"
The reminder was a timely one. We had only been lovers for such a brief time compared to the length of our friendship. "It sometimes seems like yesterday that you first took me to bed. And conversely, a lifetime ago."
"Ah, but you were the brave man who kissed me first." John settled us more comfortably against the pillow.
"It wasn't a very good kiss until you took it over."
"It was the very best kiss I'd ever received in my life." His voice bore such conviction that I was startled. "For it told me that my dearest wish in the world was coming true. That you and I would be lovers. And we are lovers, even when we can not be together or must play a part for society. Even when I'm not touching you, I am loving you with every fiber of my being."
I had to close my eyes against the sudden ache of tears. It was true. I could feel his love wrap around my cold heart, warming it with his fire and passion. "You bring me such joy, John. I have never felt such emotion and sometimes I do not know what to say or do to show you how I feel. My tongue is glued in place and I am mute."
"I know, sweetheart. It is the same for me when you surprise me with a touch or a loving look. I know it's hard for you but it makes me feel ten feet tall. I want to puff out my chest and strut about the place." His look was rather shamefaced while he confessed his innocent reactions.
I could not help but laugh with delight that it was I who inspires such feelings within him. And when I told him so, he joined in my laughter. "We are a pair, John. Once I have done my research, I will come back to this form of lovemaking but until then, I promise not to flinch or hold back my reactions from you."
"Good. I will hold you to that, Sherlock." He ran his hands down my back and cupped my buttocks in his strong hands. "But now, we must get up and face a new day or I will surprise Kathleen laying breakfast by coming out of your door looking much too satiated."
I kissed him goodbye reluctantly. Watching him wrap his robe around himself and leave with a blown kiss for luck, I curled around the pillow that still smells of him and wondered for the thousandth time at my great good fortune. But rather than lie and worry about what I did not know, I sprang from the bed to get ready for the new day.
Research and I were old friends and it looked as if I would be spending some time in the British Museum Reading Room. First, the texts that John had recommended, then a look at some of their pornography, I thought while shaving in the cold water left on my stand. Some of my cases had been strange indeed and the attendants who retrieved the books had given up trying to understand my odd requests. Or perhaps I could try my favorite bookstore, Harbottles?
In this, my strangest case indeed, my research into physical love was one that I was determined to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. It was time to let old fears go and allow the New Year to bring me new experiences in loving. The sound of teapot and cups rattling in the sitting room reminded me that I was suddenly starving. While I tied my tie, I wondered if anyone had ever studied the effects of lovemaking on the lover's appetite.
Grinning, I headed out for breakfast. That was one study I wouldn't mind taking part in myself.
End chapter three