Chapter 1 - By No More Storms Distrest by A.J. Hall
Being a coda to the account of the quest of John Watson, Physician
A bed. I never imagined a bed.
Three weeks ago he’d ridden out from the city on a borrowed skewbald, the moon setting red behind the cathedral. As each mile fell away behind him, another link in the chains he had forged to keep a lock on his desires had crumbled into rust.
So many years, so many chains. All gone, now.
Two nights out from Court, in a tawdry room in the principal inn of a stuffy provincial town, John had lain down on the bed, his hand on his prick, his breeches round his ankles. The muffled grunts and squeals of a local worthy trying something over-ambitious with one of Big Gertie’s sisterhood drifted through the thin wall.
Two firm strokes and he’d been back above the Pass of the Eagles, sharp rocks digging between his shoulder-blades, their mingled breath a white cloud through which Sherlock’s eyes shone brighter than the swirling stars above. The thin air of the mountains cut like knives into every scrap of exposed skin. Their hands, though – those burned.
Sherlock’s tongue traced lines of fire down his throat, outlining as precisely as an anatomist’s drawing the tendons standing out on his neck. Agile, impertinent fingers reached inside John’s clothing to the eager, straining flesh within; stroking, rubbing, teasing –
John spilled over his hand, and was back in the stuffy inn, the cracked plasterwork of the ceiling cutting off the stars, the touch of long, phantom fingers fading along his nerves.
In stinking shepherds’ huts, random barns by the wayside and, once, in the country grange of an eccentric squire with wild theories about the retina, he’d gone through the same routine. His fantasies became more urgent as days passed with never a trace of the living man. He and Sherlock coupled amid the rocks above Castle Cavron; in a muddy bivouac on a heath in Northern Gondal; by a forest tarn in the drugged heat of late afternoon.
But I never imagined a bed.
Nor a complaisant landlady, who’d made herself scarce and told them when to expect her back.
Nor, for that matter, the corpse of a noble Lord of Gondal in the next room: jointed, barrelled and about to be consigned to the Pretender in the guise of premium pickled lake char.
Though – his lips curved involuntarily upwards – if anything could convince him this was not one of his fevered dreams, that body in brine should do it. Only the authentic Sherlock could produce that touch of the fantastic.
“Well?” Sherlock demanded. “What’s so funny?”
For a moment he hesitated. Then, with an obscure sense of throwing caution to the winds, he said, “In the old songs, lovers who’ve been separated for years just produce half a ring as a token. We’ve been apart less than two months – you know, I think I’d have guessed you were you even you hadn’t brought a corpse to prove it.”
The silence in the room had a texture all its own. Then they both collapsed in giggles – great uncontrollable bursts of hilarity that made the muscles of the diaphragm ache and forced tears from their eyes. Each time the tempest seemed to be passing one of them would catch the other’s eye and be off again.
At length, John waved an unsteady hand. “You know, I almost feel sorry for Moran. Given what a grandiose swine he was, convinced no-one could better him, in bed or in the field. And he always fancied you; I used to catch him watching, sometimes, back in Gondal. I wonder what would piss him off more, knowing he’d been killed by an old woman with a pan of vinegar or that we were going to fuck before his body was even cold, let alone buried.”
All laughter vanished from Sherlock’s expression; his voice dropped to a low, intense growl. “I know what I want him to regret most.”
He made two strides across the room and grasped John in a frantic embrace. His mouth was hot, intense, hungry. All the air left John’s lungs in one shuddering gasp.
Holy Christ on the cross! He had forgotten how strong Sherlock was. Decades of scouting and soldiering had honed that whip-thin body. The slender hands now slithering in indecent haste to cup and squeeze his buttocks could probably bend steel pokers.
Being the sole focus of all that power and passion went straight to his prick. He felt harder than he could ever remember. His vision closed in. His only coherent thought was of that blessedly close bed.
Sherlock, thank God, seemed to have the same idea. John felt the bedframe hit his calves an instant before he fell back onto the mattress and Sherlock swarmed over him, hands busy at the lacings of his shirt, then lower; swift and assured on the fastenings of his breeches.
“God, yes –”
The shirt discarded, the chill air set goose pimples rising on his half-naked body; he was acutely conscious of the odd grey hair among those on his chest, the puckered scar below his shoulder.
Sherlock’s eyes blazed. He rose from the bed, stripped off his clothes in a few economical movements, and dropped them to the floor. For one stunning moment he stood, outlined against the light filtering through the shuttered window: naked, desirable and wholly, incomprehensibly, John’s for the asking.
Then he climbed back onto the bed, planted the flats of his hands either side of John’s face and lowered his head. Dreams became flesh, as Sherlock began the long, slow flare of his tongue along the line of his exposed throat.
John groaned, arching his spine upwards towards Sherlock’s groin – an inch more, only an inch –
His leg cramped, excruciatingly, along the line of the old wound. Red-hot skewers jabbed all along his nerve endings. His toes curled and John slumped back into the mattress.
Sherlock froze above him, all his weight on his forearms, hair flopping forward.
“What?” He sounded both bewildered and affronted, at least to John’s sensitised ears.
In pure self-disgust, he almost snarled back. “That’s what you get for bedding an old man! Rheumatism and decrepitude.”
Sherlock bared his teeth in a predatory grin.
“And if I didn’t bed a younger man, it wasn’t for want of trying. Years of it, as you may recall.”
“That’s scarcely the point – “
“And what is? Your leg? I’ve waited too long for you to have your leg start acting the duenna now.” A pause. Then, “That is, not if you really do want me.”
Sweat started on John’s brow. Sherlock’s face was mere inches above his own. Even so practised a dissembler could hardly mask his feelings at this range. Not to someone who knew him this well.
Oh my love.
For a second he was back in the old part of the Palace complex in Gondal town. He could hear the bullies’ footsteps racing away down one of the cobbled passages. He bent over their erstwhile victim, assessing the damage. Two extraordinary eyes stared up at him out of a bruised and bleeding face: unblinking yet wary, like a hawk with its jesses caught in a bush, unsure if the approaching falconer represented its saviour or its jailer.
He almost choked, getting the words out.
“Idiot. Do you really think I’d change my mind now?”
Sherlock’s muscles could barely have relaxed a fraction, and yet relief suffused his whole body. His voice, too, resumed at least the shadow of his old insouciance.
“Then get rid of those breeches, and let’s show your leg who’s master round here.”
Sherlock hopped off the bed and bent to retrieve something from the heap of discarded clothes on the floor. From his position amid the pillows John, despite the increasingly demanding chorus of pain from his leg, lay back to enjoy the view. The curve of Sherlock’s back and thigh was something out of Greek sculpture, something that should be captured in marble and wondered at until the end of time.
Sherlock gave a small “hah!” of satisfaction and raised his prize aloft.
“What the -?”
“Moran’s flask. I took the liberty of filling it from Mrs Hudson’s oil jar, while you were out in the pantry, sharpening the cleavers. Not that it was your leg I’d originally planned to use it on.” His grin became more vulpine. “Still, it’s a big jar, and nearly full. I doubt we can make that much of an inroad. Not in the time we’ve got, anyway.”
His voice became something compounded of smoke and honey and the raw, fierce spirit they brewed along the border. “Lie back. And close your eyes.”
Sherlock’s oiled hands made long, slow, strokes along the major muscle groups of his leg, his thumbs applying pressure firm and probing enough to make him grit his teeth. Effective, though. The red-hot skewers ceased their jabbing. The tension ebbed along his nerves, leaving behind only the memory of pain, a lasting weariness. He eased and stretched, revelling in the fact that he could, and let out an absurd little sound of contentment.
“John.” Only the briefest warning in that velvet voice. Then, the hand that had been massaging his thigh shifted, circled his prick and began stroking with a vigour which left him gasping and clutching at the sheet in his struggle to keep control.
His eyes snapped open.
“Christ, Sherlock, what do you think you’re playing at? Do you want to finish me now? Mrs Hudson said she’d be away two turns, not two minutes!”
The fierce pressure eased to a feather-light brushing.
Sherlock regarded him, unblinking. “Make your mind up. Are you being seventeen, or seventy at present?”
“I’ll let you know.” A lingering flicker of exasperation prompted him to add, “When you finally stop playacting and tell me what it is you want.”
A pause. The creak and groan of the bedstead as Sherlock shifted position. Then he was straddling John’s body, hard and hot against him. He lent down, so his lips were right against John’s ear.
“I’d have thought I’d made that obvious. I want you to fuck me, John. Just like this.”
He squeezed John’s thighs hard between his knees, and ground down upon him so that, for one frantic second, John almost came undone.
He took a deep breath. “Well then. If that’s what you want – stop talking and pass me that damned flask!”
There was a moment of absolute silence.
Then, with the most perfect court formality, Sherlock said, “I assure you, it will be my pleasure.”
That was, to be honest, the last coherent sentence either of them was capable of for some time.