I’ve been sitting on the beginnings of this story for a while, and instead of whining and sobbing about how depressed I am, I thought I’d post the first two chapters on here. I currently have just under 18K words on it right now. I was going to save it for a special 100K word prize giveaway or some such, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to start posting it on AO3 or ff.net just yet (since Russians are already wondering if I am dead or abandoned Lazarus Machine), but I wanted someone else to read it. So, if you’re into Johnlock smut and romance novels, here’s a tasty tidbit of Gambling!John. (I also need a better, or actual, title. Comment if you have a suggestion!)
Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, this is not set in the same world as Lazarus Machine. It’s a separate Regency world with somewhat more realistic attitudes towards homosexuality, though I don’t delve TOO deeply into that for the most part. I also must dedicate the plot of this story to the nutjob who bitched about the Sherlock Holmes movie “The Master Blackmailer” on Netflix. Thank you. :) It made me watch it and without that, I would not have gotten as far in this story without a plot to follow, and the flick takes some interesting liberties with the original story of Charles Augustus Milverton.
The first time Sherlock Holmes saw Dr. John Watson was at Gentleman Jackson’s Boxing Saloon on Bond Street. He was bared to the waist, displaying a reddened starburst scar on his left shoulder, muscled back slick with sweat. Sherlock could anticipate each punch by the way the muscles of his back would tense beneath the skin, and he was inordinately appreciative of the way his torso would twist and stretch upon delivery. The reciprocal blows were received with a guttural grunt that entered through Sherlock’s ears but seemed to sink directly into his gut and clench his insides. Riveting. Sherlock’s attention was more than captured.
Despite what had to be a painful assault on his shoulder, his sparring opponent displayed more signs of exhaustion and injury than Watson did. Skill, stamina, willpower… War, Sherlock decided, not a career in pugilism. Lucky to have survived the wound on his shoulder. The spread of scarring indicated infection, fever. Building his strength at Gentleman Jackson’s, not his first time here. At least three visits in the last two weeks alone, given the bruising patterns and fading.
Shirtless, showing off his scar. Opponents thought it a weakness, focused on it. However, likely nerve damage, Sherlock decided, made it a decoy. A forceful fist hit but Watson rolled his shoulder with it and followed with a right so suddenly that his opponent was surprised right to the floor. Victory.
The fighter, John Watson, walked past Sherlock, favoring him with a smile, perhaps because Sherlock schooled his face to look most dour much of the time, or he was just a friendly sort, or even that he was simply exhilarated from his triumph. Or was he interested? Sherlock couldn’t help but turn to watch him walk away. His breeches were fitted with the most attractive buckle on the back, drawing attention to the line of his torso flaring to a firm arse and thighs.
Gentleman Jackson’s was not a place Sherlock hunted for conquests. Too public, too full of men he may run into again, too dangerous. Still, the man’s name wasn’t difficult to ascertain through overheard conversation and Sherlock locked away the knowledge in a new room that was swiftly filling up with tiny details: Watson’s hair was fading from dark blond to gray though he was only in his thirties; the business of soldiering had tanned lines around his eyes and roughened his skin; and the business of being wounded and subsequently ill had made his frame more lean than it had been.
Sherlock turned away, next in the exhibition ring, more than ready to have the lust beaten out of his traitorous body.
The next time Sherlock saw Dr. John Watson, he was properly buttoned and laced into tight, fashionable clothes, every inch the starched, upright gentleman. If the colors were a bit plain and not the vivid jewel tones Sherlock preferred for himself, well, that was simply an example of his respectability. Sherlock found that somehow even more enticing, the idea of seducing an exemplary member of society. But he would also have to be much more circumspect in his approach.
Watson took a seat at a hazard table in the Diogenes Club, a luxurious gambling hell owned and operated by one Mycroft Holmes. Sherlock, Mycroft’s brother, was employed to keep the tables honest, relatively, and took his cut of the house rather than the amounts he won at the tables. He preferred games of skill rather than chance, though his keen mind could calculate the odds in the latter with startling accuracy. Fortune did not interest him, however. The challenge of the game was enough.
The room was comfortably full; the doorman made sure that the tables were kept exclusive enough to attract discriminating players, but never let the place get that desperate, deserted feeling even in the small hours. And when Sherlock had mentioned a certain name, just in passing, the gentleman in question had been welcomed into the club, much to his surprise.
Sherlock prowled around, observing the players and seating himself at any table but John Watson’s. The man had not noticed Sherlock watching him, paying avid attention to the other players and each roll of the dice. He was a serious player, then. And he won, Sherlock was interested to note. Watson was a cautious player, generally, but when he truly made a leap of faith, he was rewarded. He played as if he could not afford to lose.
John Watson continued to display the combination of skill and luck as he habitually attended the hell over the next week. Despite his steadily taking money from the other players, the gentlemen welcomed the young man to their tables. Perhaps he regaled them with war stories or other amusements, or was simply pleasant company. Sherlock overheard mere snippets when he was positioned at a nearby table and the raucous din of men at their entertainment momentarily lulled.
Sherlock continued to discreetly observe the man, careful that Watson remained oblivious. He wasn’t a man Sherlock could proposition with a flick of his eyes towards an unoccupied room. Still, at one point Sherlock was distracted from his card game long enough for one of the others at the table to draw his attention with a casual clearing of a throat. Sherlock returned to his game until his first opportunity to excuse himself and then adjourned to his brother’s office.
Doctor John Watson had been coming to this particular gambling hell every night for a week. He wasn’t certain how a retired army doctor warranted entry to the exclusive building, but the steward had taken his name and bowed as he walked through the door. The establishment was renowned for its lack of tolerance for cheats, which made it an attractive spot for those who loved the purity of a wager. And it had proven lucky for John. If his luck had held out, he’d have had enough of a stake to join the deeper games, the ones whose payouts would ease his financial troubles.
If it hadn’t been for that last stupid, impulsive wager based on a giddy rush of adrenaline and that calamitous throw of the dice, John would be at one of those fine tables right now. Instead, he sat white-faced in the office of the proprietor, hoping to beg some credit, any small amount that he might turn into a healthy bank again. John was nearly desperate enough to go to a moneylender, though that would only exacerbate his problems, delay the inevitable.
The door opened behind John and he rose up, leaning on his cane. The gentleman who entered the room was not Mr. Mycroft Holmes, the owner of the hell. John had only seen him once, moving deliberately to one of the tables and calmly directing the removal of one Lord Ashforth, who had apparently switched out the hazard dice for ones more favorable. Mr. Holmes had been soft-spoken yet commanding. With the slightest of movements, he’d had two burly bouncers escort Ashforth through the front door, but made it clear that he was the real threat, not the former prize-fighters.
No, that tall, auburn-haired gentleman was not the man who walked through the door. The man who sauntered in, bowed very slightly to John, and stood behind the great, intricately-carved desk was raven-haired with eyes sharp as a stiletto. In fact, nearly everything about the man was sharp: his clothing was arranged in crisp, definitive lines; his cheekbones were marble honed to a fine edge; his fingers resting lightly on the blotter were long and thin. Only his dark curls were round and soft, though John imagined there was tension even in those coils, resilient as springs.
John flicked his eyes downward, away, remembering belatedly that he really ought to breathe. To live, you know. He retook his seat rather heavily at the imperious invitation, trying to avert his eyes from the rather striking man in front of him. It wouldn’t do to have thoughts about this man. He could, and would, control himself.
“Doctor John Watson. You wished to see the owner of the Diogenes Club about extending credit.” It was quite clearly not a question.
“Y-yes.” John cleared his throat.
“You wagered very foolishly for a man who could lose everything.”
“Yes, I did.” John sat up straighter and met the pale, keen eye of the man across the mahogany. It wouldn’t do to deny it.
“You were winning a great deal of money, in a very methodical fashion. Yet you abandoned your caution on a single throw of the dice. Why?”
John opened his mouth, though he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to say.
“Quiet. That was not a question for you.” The man’s fingers steepled in front of lips that God Himself must have carved quite deliberately. He was silent for a few minutes, moving only his eyes over John’s person. John felt those eyes, those flinty gray eyes, probing into his every pocket and crevice. He fought the blush that crept to his cheeks, determinedly forcing his mind to clear of everything except his purpose.
Finally, the stranger spoke so rapidly John could only just follow.
“You are a man of reasonable means, recently returned home from the war, where you had quite a reputation as a skilled physician. No doubt many men’s lives have been saved due to your dauntless efforts, risking harm to yourself, even, to that end. Your return home had as much to do with your inheriting the family estate due to the death of your father as with your injuries. Unusual that the heir to an estate would be schooled in medicine or would have chosen a military career when he ought to have been learning to run the estate. Either you were a second son unexpectedly elevated to your rank, or your father was a young, vigorous man, perhaps a second son himself, who valued service to one’s country, education, or, most unconventionally, thought that even gentlemen ought to have a proper occupation.
“No doubt the inheritance taxes were crippling, but that would not be enough to make you desperate. After quite some years in the army, you’d be used to living simply and the modest estate left to you would be more than adequate for your needs. No, your sudden need for money is for some other reason.
“You are a skilled gambler, doubtlessly honed among other soldiers and gambling establishments throughout Europe. You may owe money to someone who has threatened you to collect, but that doesn’t seem quite right. There is a threat here, though. Interesting. The threat doesn’t seem to be aimed at you. Oh, protective, a sibling. Trying to put together a proper dowry for a sister, perhaps, or pay the debts of a younger brother still at school?
“Neither of those quite add up to the desperation you’re now displaying. Never play a game where you need to bluff, John Watson, for your face clearly shows everything going on in your head. The sister, yes, and a wedding, but not a dowry. Family honor?” Those steepled fingers tapped against those sharply etched lips.
“Oh!” The man leapt up from his seat and started pacing back and forth behind the desk. “Extortion!”
John slumped against his seat, quite astonished.
“Amazing,” was the only thought he could force into words.
The eyes turned back to him and the pacing stopped.
“Most people are quite unnerved that I can know all their secrets, especially the ones they try to hide most.”
“I would imagine so.”
The eyes peered at John so intensely he could feel the weight of it pressing on the shoulders of his soul. He did his soldier-best to not squirm under the scrutiny.
The man came around to the front of the desk and leaned up against it. His long legs stretched out perilously close to John’s. John shifted his feet minutely, trying to hide it under the pretense of shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
“You came here to make a request. I’ve been charged to inform you that Mr. Holmes has agreed to forward you credit of one thousand pounds, the amount you lost on your last bet. I also have an alternative arrangement to offer. Both options involve risk and closure to your financial difficulties. My offer, however, will not depend on the further casting of dice, nor favors owed to the notorious Mycroft Holmes.”
“I’m listening.” John’s hand tightened on the handle of his cane. A million possibilities flew through his head. This quite brilliant young man wanted something from him and he was offering the money John needed in return. John would do almost anything short of murder to clear his current situation from his life. And maybe even that, if he could manage to justify it.
“First, let me hear the details of the case. How much does the extorter want?”
John named the figure, a quite debilitating sum. After he did so, he wondered why he was confiding in this stranger, this man both pale and dark. Granted, the man had deduced his very personal concerns after a very few minutes; hiding the truth would likely prove pointless.
“Why would he possibly think you have that much? The sale of your estate could yield that much blunt were it not entailed, but few even of much higher rank keep that amount to hand.”
John could only shrug.
“Then it is likely that our miscreant perhaps owes debts elsewhere himself, or realizes you’re proud enough to do almost anything to get it. What makes you think that this single payment will be the end of things?”
“I don’t. As time passes, though, the scandal will become less harmful and perhaps less believable.”
“Once your sister is safely married, the reveal won’t matter so much.”
“And you can’t just kill him, why?”
John almost laughed at the genuine sincerity of the question. “I don’t particularly wish to be hanged or transported. I also understand that he has a solicitor with access to the letters, which would be delivered upon an untimely end. But thirdly, the fellow has taken great pains to remain anonymous. I have been given a clear and undeniable threat, but I have no idea from whence it came.”
“Well, the man certainly reads enough sensational fiction to make a proper go of this, doesn’t he?”
John had to laugh at that, despite the bleak situation.
“Your offer, then.”
“You will earn my assistance, Dr. Watson, in my bed.”
John’s head jerked up in surprise.
“I… I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me, Dr. Watson. Drink? Mycroft keeps the finest Scotch whiskey, but rarely drinks it.”
The tall man progressed to a sideboard where he poured out a generous dram of whiskey and added a few drops of water. John took the glass, shivering a bit at the cool brush of the man’s fingers along his own.
“You’ve caught my interest, Dr. Watson. You can refuse, of course, giving any reason at all, whether your honor or your supposed lack of proclivities in that direction. You may even plead a fiancée, though we’d both be aware of the lie. But the truth of the matter is that I desire you and I have the means to offer the solution to your problem in exchange for your tolerance of those desires.”
John shot back the whiskey in his hand with a shockingly low appreciation for the fine, peaty aroma.
“What makes you think I won’t go to the magistrate with this indecent offer of yours?” John’s voice was perhaps not as outraged as it ought to be. “It’s madness, what you are suggesting. Illegal.” Whether it was the whiskey or something else he cared not to define, heat began seeping through John’s veins.
The man circled the room, always moving, never sitting still and every second demanding John’s attention. He tugged on the lower edge of his waistcoat, making sure it was properly displayed beneath the cut of his jacket, and John’s eyes tore away before they drifted lower. He took the glass from John’s hand to refill it, peeking over his shoulder to best display his elegant profile as he slowly returned. When he handed John the glass, he placed a hand on John’s good shoulder, squeezed it in the most innocuous manner, but the thrill burst down John’s spine and straight into his groin.
“I observed the way your eyes shy away from lingering on my person. Your breathing became quick and shallow when I walked into the room and again when I leaned on the front of the desk and stretched my legs near to you. You’ve done a fine job of tamping down your reactions, but certain immediate responses to an attractive person are uncontrollable.
“You may play offended, Watson, but both you and I know better. Legalities aside, you are at least one of the following: curious, intrigued, excited, or aroused.
“However, if the thought of a discreet dalliance with a man is too much for your nerves, you make take your credit and build your bank. With your skill at gambling, if your luck holds, you may be able to raise the funds you need. Precisely how long did you say you had left?”
John hadn’t. “Two weeks.” It had taken him that long to quadruple the small bankroll he’d been able to scrape together, which had evaporated on one foolhardy wager. He’d have to trust that his luck would improve, for he’d have to make more reckless and impulsive wagers to make up for the lack of time.
Or he could give this man precisely what he wanted, which would be little hardship if he truly admitted it to himself, and rest easier knowing his sister could be happily married.
“Terms,” John croaked out. He cleared his throat but couldn’t clear his embarrassment. Of course he was insane even considering this offer. It was illegal, for one, such desire considered immoral. John knew this sort of thing happened, of course it did, but that it happened with such insouciance was mildly shocking. No matter that John had more than once allowed his mind to wander in his self-pleasure (also a sin, but a lesser one rarely avoided) over bodies taut with muscle and scars instead of soft and curvaceous. What happened in his mind was between him and God. To actually succumb to illicit temptations…
“So you accept my offer? I am delighted.” John could feel the slow phrasing of the word “delighted” crawl all over his skin. John wanted to see if the touch of that voice alone could make him reach the peak of pleasure. Insane, he was definitely going insane.
“Not until I hear your terms for such an assignation.”
“Ah, negotiation. Not my particular forte, but I will endeavor to compensate.” Finally, he sat, leaning back in the chair and pushing back from the desk so he could cross his long legs. “I would have your undivided attentions for a six-month.”
“Six months? But that…”
“Oh, do not worry yourself so, John. I will likely tire of you long before and release you from your obligation. But I do believe my compensation is more than generous for such a small window of time.”
John said nothing, feeling the heat creep up his face. So he was to be a mistress then, for lack of a better word, a kept man.
“My sister’s wedding is in a month. What would keep me from abandoning our agreement once the danger was over?”
“Watson, I thought so much better of you. I would have suspected your honor would hold you to our agreement. The arrangement is mutually beneficial. Your extorter will cease to be a bother. I may be in a position to recommend your services as physician to several wealthy clients. And we will both experience pleasure behind closed doors. But if I must threaten, you have already granted me access to enough of your secrets.”
“What if we are found out? If the extorter, or subsequently the public, discovers the particulars of our relationship? My reputation and occupation would be destroyed by such a scandal.”
“He could catch us in flagrante delicto and it would be nothing but his word against ours. Simply take care not to provide written proof and show caution in front of witnesses. My servants are well-compensated and will not tattle.”
“A single month, John? I doubt that you will tire of me by that point.”
John wanted to snort at the overconfident statement, but he couldn’t. He was too busy imagining the sordid acts in which this man might prove his self-vaunted skill.
“One month. I will attend my sister’s wedding as a free man.” John held himself steadily to his words. Thirty days, he could take down his own walls and explore the desires he kept so tightly hidden. He couldn’t imagine living with the subterfuge for longer than that, the guilt, the shame. The end had to be foreseeable, when he could get back to his own life, to his plans for the future.
“Very well. But we will begin immediately.” The man rose and circled the desk like a beast tormenting his prey.
“Now?” John jolted against the upright back of his chair as feline grace swiftly narrowed the space between them.
He leaned over John, his hands resting on the arms of the chair, his breath whispering against John’s lips. “Now,” he said in a low voice that made John’s body thrum. “A kiss, to seal our bargain.”
It was a bargain with a devil in a well-tailored suit, one who kissed like his lips were made for nothing else. Well, maybe something else. John couldn’t help but open his mouth to the man, allow him to stroke his tongue along the sensitive underside of his upper lip. Just a quick taste, and that wicked mouth pulled back.
“Be my lover, John Watson.” And that voice, that thick, smoky voice. Why, oh why, did it affect him so? Hadn’t he heard a multitude of deep voices in his life? Why did this one make his thigh muscles clench, make his stomach jump, make his heart beat harder until there was nothing but the whoosh of his blood and that bewitching voice in his ear.
“Yes, God, yes.”
And those lips met his again and again, pulling back, tasting, pressing forth again until John’s mind was nothing but a fog of desperate need. He moaned against those lips as slim fingers stroked the side of his neck, dipping under his cravat just behind his ear. Holding back his response hadn’t even occurred to John; he initiated deeper contact with his tongue, flicking it over the full lower lip.
When the tall man stood again, smug and self-satisfied, John felt utterly bereft. Despite the vainglorious attitude, John wanted to yank the man down again, push more than his lips against him.
“Go home, Dr. Watson. Pack your belongings, leave word with your landlady. I require you in my townhouse tomorrow afternoon.”
“I shall be residing with you?” Had that been implied in the terms of their agreement?
“It will add credence to the premise that I have employed you as my personal physician. The privacy of my home will aid in protecting your valued reputation, as well as our absolute discretion when in the public eye. Also, I will require you to be available at a moment’s notice. I do not wish to trek to your little room south of the Thames every time I desire your body. And, trust me, Doctor Watson, I will desire your body, again and again.”
One long-fingered hand was still touching him, stroking John’s chest through his waistcoat under the lapel of his coat. One fingertip found the sleeve edge of the waistcoat and John felt it with only the thin linen of his shirt between them. He tamped down the impulse to strip here and now just to feel those deliberate fingertips all over his body.
“You haven’t even told me your name.” Had John been so entranced he’d never realized the man hadn’t introduced himself until this very moment? Apparently. The response was a highly gratified grin.
“Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B Baker Street.”