March 26, 2008
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The Grimpen Legacy

“By Moonlight Born”

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by nlr alicia
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<< This story is inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of his immortal characters, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson. The content shared here is the responsibility of this author.>>

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On style choices: I use Americanized spelling and punctuation because I’m not confident I’ll always remember to use Anglicized alternatives and the possessive “Holmes’s” as Doyle does in the Strand version of HOUN because I like it better.

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Author’s Note: This is a sample chapter for a novella-sized AU retelling of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Look for the story to kick off as soon as The Longest Night wraps up. Thanks for the great support and feedback, gang.

Content Warnings:
Clear and present slash. Blood. Gothic excess. Poor lighting. Serious weirdness.

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Holmes coursed like a deer over the tumbled stones of the moor. My rugger training, kept up over afternoons at the rough fields skirting Regent’s Park, had kept my legs strong and my feet agile. Even so the old wound in my thigh burned as a tangle of thorny scrub caught at my ankles causing me to stumble. I righted myself just in time to vault an outcrop of ragged boulders thrusting up through the loose scree and damp soil.

Holmes reached the flats in front of me and shot a glance over his shoulder. “Watson, in heaven’s name, don’t fall behind.” I heard the roughness in his voice and knew even he, all lean muscle and tightly controlled power, was fighting to keep this brutal pace.

Not sparing breath to answer, I concentrated on the lithe shape of my friend. His white linen shirt glowed like a beacon in the too bright glare of the full moon. My gaze shifted ahead and I nearly cried out in relief on glimpsing flickering candlelight in a window of Baskerville Hall. A few minutes more and we’d reach the yew alley. Surely, I thought, our combined strength was enough to save us from the fate of Sir Charles. We would make it, I repeated again and again. We were younger, stronger. We would make it. We had to.

A low chuff sounded not six feet behind me and I knew it was already too late. I wheeled, praying Holmes wouldn’t hear the rattling spray of stones kicked out by my skidding heel. A low, undulating shape hove out of the darkness, blacker than the surrounding night.

Another chuff of hot breath and the huge cat was so close I could make out surging muscles under the midnight velvet pelt. Massive paws dug into the soil, propelling the creature forward. Its shining yellow eyes were focused straight ahead, not on me, but on its true prize.

Too close to draw my revolver, I thought. I braced my heels to break forward. If I could strike first and tackle it to the ground Holmes might gain enough lead to make the cover of the trees just ahead.

In instant defiance of my hopes, a bright shape dove past me, launching shoulder first into the black form. A coarse snarl rent the air and they were down, white linen and midnight fur, tumbling over and over.

“Holmes, damn you– ” I groaned as I propelled myself forward, yanking my service revolver free of my suddenly too heavy coat. Fist and knee were no match against tooth and claw, but maybe I could level the field again if only I could get off a shot. I cocked the hammer, drawing down and searching in vain for an opening.

Holmes was on his back. He landed a heavy kick against the creature’s midsection and it broke away, hissing in rage, but now Holmes was between me and the beast. I sidestepped trying to get a line of sight and as I did, the black head came up, ears flattened, taut muscles standing out along the sleek neck. The long tail thrashed the air once and huge claws dug into the stony soil as it bounded forward, crushing jaws parted, gleaming fangs bared.

Holmes twisted, trying to hurl himself to the side, but with one spring of its powerful hind legs the beast was on him, bearing him down with a massive paw and pinning him to the ground. I heard the harsh sound of Holmes’s breath forced from his lungs. The monstrous cat lowered its head and let out one sharp, coughing snarl. At the sound I saw Holmes stiffen in what looked like shocked surprise then the fangs descended toward his naked throat.

Every fiber in my body screamed out to take the kill shot, but it was too narrow a margin. Instead I drew down, aiming for one massive shoulder, thinking to at least knock the beast back. But even as my finger tightened on the trigger Holmes arched back and brought his arm up. A rattling gasp was the only sound he made as the crushing jaws closed on his forearm. There was a harsh rending sound.

I gave a wordless yell and squeezed off the shot. At the crack of revolver the creature released its grip and wrenched to the side. The shot went wide, but at least, I thought grimly, I had drawn its attention.

My moment of triumph was over in an instant, A shout of pure fury burst from my throat, as the creature hooked a paw under Holmes’s upraised arm, digging its claws deep into the flesh of his side and dragging him closer.

Holmes let out a sharp cry and I heard the sickening scrape of claw on bone then he lay still. The cat shifted, its supple body flexing effortlessly as it moved to stand astride him. The head came up, teeth bared, poised above Holmes’s shoulder then descended.

I gasped in a breath, drew down and fired again. This time the animal wasn’t fast enough. The crack of the shot echoed off the tumbled stones just as I heard the thud of the bullet hit home. With a spitting cough of pain, the huge cat fell back. I caught a glimpse of shining wetness on its shoulder as it came up in a crouch then to my horror I saw its shape flicker and bend like a guttering candle.

In that instant our wildest theories were confirmed. This was no jungle cat, broken free from a gypsy caravan and loosed on the moors. This was something other, something worse and infinitely more deadly. Neither beast nor man, but with the most treacherous characteristics of both in one lethal feline form.

The shining yellow eyes rose and as they locked with mine I felt some silent threat pass between us. It wasn’t the recognition of predator and prey. It was something just as primal, something I couldn’t name. It was about control and territory and possession and it sparked a fire that burned through me, wiping out conscious thought, churning up words in my mind that were on my lips even before I recognized them.

“He’s mine,” I snarled.

My eyes widened in realization of the contest between us and the beast gave another low barking growl. Then suddenly, miraculously it sprang away. The next instant it was rocketing off into the darkness. There was a thudding of paws against the loose soil and a black shape bounded up and over an outcrop of stones and was swallowed up by the night.

Two long strides and I dropped to my knees at Holmes’s side. The blood was so thick on the arm clutched against his ribs I couldn’t make out the wounds, but no pulsing throb marked a torn artery and the hard knot in my gut released by a fraction.

I didn’t pause to examine him further but braced my hand under his unmarked side and gripped the wrist of his outflung arm, pulling him up to a sitting position. His low cry pierced my chest, but I didn’t hesitate as I shrugged out of my coat and dropped it over his shoulders. I came to my feet, pulling him up with me. This time the sound that tore from his throat drew an answering gasp from me, but I wrapped his unhurt arm around my neck and bracing him against my hip, turned and started for the lights of the Hall.

Immediately he pushed against me and my temper flared. “Don’t fight me. I will carry you if I have to.”

“Damn it, Watson,” he hissed, trying to wrench his arm from my grasp. “Leave me. It’s too dangerous.”

“Save your breath,” I snapped.

“John–”

I planted my feet and half-turned to meet his eyes. They were glazed with pain. My anger melted in an instant. “If you’re going to struggle the whole way,” I said softly, “Neither of is going to make it, because I’m not going back without you.”

He exhaled and his eyes drifted closed. He nodded and tightened his grip on my shoulder.

With a welling of relief I started forward. He stumbled at first, but soon he began to match my stride with only a few missed steps.

I wanted to be sure he was still alert and so cast about for something to say. I asked the first question that came to mind. “Do you think it was Stapleton?”

“It was,” he said, then hesitated before he went on. “For a moment… I recognized his eyes.”

Something in the subdued tone of his voice was worrying. I sought for another question.

“What about Beryl Stapleton,” I said, as I bulled my way through a growth of brambles, turning to shield him from the worst of it. “Should we assume she’s one, too?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Yes, probably. I imagine I’ll find out soon enough.”

“Holmes,” I began, but he cut me off.

“John, he wasn’t trying to kill me. He could have done that at any time with the ease of swatting a fly. I felt– I knew that wasn’t his aim. What he wanted…” He drew in a breath. “It’s about… control. And rights of ownership.”

“I know,” I said simply. “We had a kind of a conversation about it. Right after I shot him,” I added with some satisfaction.

“You… said something. When he released me.”

“Yes.” I tried to concentrate on my footing. “I advised him that you were mine. It seemed to give him something to think about.”

Holmes was silent. The unasked question hung in the air between us.

I drew in a breath as I navigated us around a tangle of gorse. “Holmes, I regret not broaching this subject before. God knows there were better opportunities. But the plain fact is, jaguar or man, Stapleton is not going to win this fight. I saw you first and I intend to keep you.”

He was silent for another long moment in which my heart seemed to cease beating. At last he said, “This is not how I imagined this conversation.”

Even as I marveled at the revelation of his statement, I tried to think how to phrase my next question. Holmes forestalled me.

“I feel the same,” he said quietly, very close to my ear. I tightened my hold on the arm he had wrapped around my shoulder.

“But,” he went on. “I’m afraid we won’t get to discuss this mutual regard in any great detail. If it’s true, if the gypsy woman was right, it’s not safe to be near me.”

“Holmes, now you’re trying my patience,” I said as evenly as I could though I was forced to grit my teeth against the throbbing pain in my thigh. “I would like to concentrate on getting us to the Hall, if you don’t mind. This discussion can wait.”

“If we trust the old woman’s story,” he persisted, “His bite is a kind of infection. I’ll be one of those things by morning. And I could very well kill you, just for the sport of it.”

My temper was rising again, but I couldn’t waste breath in argument. “You won’t,” I grunted. A few more steps and I felt a surge of relief as we hit the flat turf leading to the gate that marked the end of the yew alley.

“How can you know that?” he said. “And how will you keep a two hundred pound jungle cat contained in Baskerville Hall? One that is determined to escape,” he added and I heard an odd undercurrent in his voice.

I realized what he planned the moment before he bent and tried to drop out of my grasp. “Damn it,” I snarled, holding fast to his unbloodied arm. “Holmes, don’t make me do this.”

But as I spoke he jerked back, his wrist nearly slipping from my grasp. I knew I had no choice. My arm came up and gripped his wounded side, holding him fast.

He gasped and went rigid then staggered and would have fallen had I not held on tighter still. I stumbled, but caught myself in two strides and reached the stone walkway.

I tried not to think about the ragged skin under my palm. As a battlefield surgeon I’d handled more wounds than I could recall, but I knew this would be the first to cause me to shoot awake in the night, bathed in sweat.

The thought reared up in my treacherous mind as I half dragged him up the stairs– if only I knew I’d wake from those night terrors to reach over and feel Holmes asleep beside me. If only I’d have time to walk out in the morning with him and tell him of my wish to spend the rest of my days and nights by his side. But even as I thought it, I knew, it would be a miracle if we both lived to see the sunrise.

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There was yet no sign of gray light in the glowering sky. I checked the bar on the window as I’d done ritually through the long watches of the night then turned back to the marble night table where I’d arranged the ewer of water and strips of torn sheet serving as makeshift bandages.

I studied Holmes, tossing in fitful sleep under the heavy quilted bedclothes. His face was flushed and bathed in sweat. I wondered if I could risk trying to cool him with a dampened cloth or if it would wake him. I was sure it was better that he sleep, yet the fact he was able to doze at all, even fitfully, when I’d had nothing to give him for the pain of his wounds, was worrying.

After that last struggle, I’d managed to get him into the Hall and up the stairs to my room, mercifully down a long corridor away from Sir Henry’s suite and the servant’s hall. I’d half dragged, half carried Holmes in and barred the door behind us. It wasn’t the most secure room imaginable, I considered. But then, as Holmes himself had implied, I wasn’t spoiled for choice. At least this bedroom had only one window and door, both of which could be barred.

And the fact was, I thought, I really had no idea what to expect. For the hundredth time I wished I had the old gypsy woman by my side for counsel. But her body lay in the police surgery at Grimpen township, torn nearly asunder.

Continuing what seemed a useless task, simply to satisfy my wish to be doing something, I folded another strip of sheeting into an approximation of a gauze dressing. As I added it to the stack I heard a stirring beside me. Holmes had pushed away the bedclothes and I saw his chest, bare but for a girding stripe of bandages, rise and fall with shallow breaths.

Moving to the edge of the high bed with its serpent-twined mahogany posts, I rested my hip near his and moved to feel the pulse at his wrist. At my touch, his eyelids fluttered and opened. As I met his gaze my movement was arrested.

Earlier as I’d dressed his wounds I’d looked up to try to gauge his level of pain. In those fog gray depths I’d always found such an endless source of fascination, I’d been shocked to see a bright flicker of blue. At first I thought it a trick of the candlelight, but as I worked I’d seen the glowing color deepen and spread.

While he slept, part of my mind had wrestled with the idea the shade was oddly familiar. Now as I met a piercing gaze of pale sapphire, I felt a sudden thrill of dread recognition. It was the same blue I’d seen in the eyes of young cats, before the true color took hold.

I covered my dismay by reaching for the dressing gown I’d hung on the nearest bedpost. I tugged it down and draped it across his legs. I was only somewhat relieved when he didn’t protest my “fussing.”

“What’s the time,” he murmured.

Relieved by the momentary distraction I reached for my watch. It only confirmed what I instinctively knew. “Only four hours more.”

“Still four hours,” he breathed and his gaze moved to the ceiling. “I thought– It seemed it was getting lighter.”

I hesitated. “I think it’s your eyes,” I said carefully. “They’re changing.”

His gaze locked with mine. I saw the alarm that crossed his face before he could school his expression to a look of bland interest.

“There’s very little pain,” he said conversationally.

There was no point trying to shrug it off, I knew. His body was telling him things that it would be ridiculous for me to deny.

“That’s both good and bad, I think,” I said honestly.

“The wounds are closing already.”

I nodded. “There was surprisingly little bleeding. Your skin was mending almost quickly enough to see the edges of the wounds knit together.”

“It feels–” he began in a rumbling murmur, then blinked and seemed to try to collect himself. He cleared his throat and his voice was a deeper version of his normal tone when he said, “I don’t need the bandages. Would you– might you help me take them off?”

I frowned. “I don’t think that’s wise,” I answered. “No matter how fast your injuries are healing…”

He didn’t let me finish. His voice dropped to a near growl. “I’m asking for your help, Doctor,” he said, his bright eyes narrowing to slits. “Not your permission.”

It was then I observed his hands, clutching the bedclothes so tightly it seemed his knuckles might burst.

“It’s uncomfortable against your skin,” I said not requiring his confirmation as I reached for the small nail scissors on the night stand.

“Not just my skin,” he said with an apparent effort at keeping his voice steady. “It’s rather like being garroted.”

“I’ll have them off in a moment,” was all I could find to say.

His grip on the bedclothes relaxed marginally as I slid onto the bed. I carefully pushed him back so he lay reclining against the pillow, his wild raven hair standing out in sensuous contrast against the white linen.

Even allowing for the pulsing undercurrent of desire that was always present when I was near Holmes, I knew there was something stronger, more fierce and oh, so much harder to control in the impulses that surged through me at the sight of his bare skin this night.

I fought down the urge to drink in the vision of his lean muscled shoulders, bare and slick with perspiration, so close I could nearly bend down and taste– I drew in a calming breath as I determinedly quashed the thought.

Hoping the unsteadiness of my hands wasn’t as obvious as it felt, I lifted his injured arm and rested his hand on my thigh for the better convenience of unwinding the bandage. Some part of me, the professional part, I thought despairingly, was finding it desperately difficult to take note of the rate of breathing that caused his chest to rise and fall so quickly. Instead, all I could see was the flicker of the pulse in his throat and his parted lips as he drew in shallow breaths.

“Better,” he murmured as the bandages began to loosen and fall away from his skin.

His voice was oddly distant. I glanced up thinking to gauge his awareness and found his eyes were staring fixedly at the front of my shirt. I’d replaced the blood soaked one I’d been wearing when I bore Holmes into the room, but I’d forgotten to fully fasten it. The implication of Holmes’s steady gaze was more than I could consider on top of my own roiling impulses.

I unspooled the last strip of bandage and cast it aside on the wide bed. The skin of his forearm was nearly unmarked. The only evidence of the horrifyingly torn flesh was a series of pale circles, above and below, in the shape of half moons and a dark flush that bordered where the bandage had been.

He exhaled a long breath and I hooked a hand behind his shoulder to help him rise. He came up surprisingly readily and immediately drew up his knees to sit cross-legged on the bed beside me. I couldn’t tell if he was conscious of how close he was, but I seemed to feel the heat radiating from his bare skin.

I almost regretted persuading him to change from his bloodstained clothes into a pair of my pajama trousers. The trousers had proven long enough but somewhat too large in the waist. They hung on his hips revealing a quantity of skin that was all the more bewitching for the mental image of what was barely hidden by the loose folds of linen. It was all I could do not to betray my fascination with the dark dusting of hair that ran from the hard muscles of his abdomen to below the waist of the trousers.

Trying to focus on my task, I found an end of the bandage tucked under his arm and tugged it free. Holmes made a small sound of satisfaction in the back of his throat then gave a low cough and said carefully, “Before. You said ‘jaguar.’ Are you certain?”

I nodded. “I’ve seen one. A black one. That’s a rare thing, but not unheard of. It was many years ago.”

“Tell me what you know about them,” he said. The ghost of smile crossed his lips. “The genus Felidae is one of those regrettable gaps in my education you so decry.”

Meeting his searching gaze, I knew there was no reason to deflect the question. As ineffectual as I’d proved to be thus far, he was owed what little help I could give now.

“I don’t know much about jaguars as a species,” I said honestly. “I learned something about tigers while in India. I believe their habits are similar. They’re both fiercely territorial creatures.” I cast my mind back. “You’d find jaguars on the southern American continent. That’s where I saw one…” I caught myself before I added “previously.”

It belatedly crossed my mind I’d have to reach around Holmes’s back to unwind the bandages binding his chest. Almost at the same instant he raised his elbows so I might have better access. I leaned close enough to feel the electric sense of the skin of his shoulder just a breath away from my lips. I focused all the attention I could manage on my tale.

“I spent several weeks in British Honduras in the years I was ranging about trying to find my place in the world,” I said. “That was before I came back to Edinburgh to finish my education.”

I was pleased to see a glimmer of interest in his eyes at this information. We’d neither of us often talked about our past. I’d always believed it would prove an endless source of discovery as we grew into our lives together, but if it would provide distraction from our current situation, I was more than happy to tell him my life story.

“I was working my passage on a steamship out of French Guiana. One evening in the port of Punta Gorda, I heard of a jaguar that was attacking cattle on a nearby plantation. I was curious, having never seen one, and I volunteered to join the hunting party. There were several native Indians in the group. They told us they call jaguar ‘the beast that kills with one bound.’ The creatures are remarkably silent and swift hunters and have an incredibly powerful bite. Strong enough to crush the skull of a calf. They’re night hunters so we had to track it in the hours of dawn and dusk. It took more than three days. The first two days we didn’t glimpse it at all. We finally treed it in a river canyon.”

I stopped short, belatedly realizing how ill-considered it had been to launch into my tale without consideration for the ending. Under Holmes’s intense gaze, I couldn’t but come to the inevitable conclusion.

“It was almost a shame to see such a beautiful creature brought down. It took several shots,” I said. “They’re strong beasts and the natives hoped not to spoil the pelt. In the end it was a coup de grâce to the head that finished it.”

All too keenly aware of the slick skin under my fingers, I worked on, waiting for his next question.

“You said they’re territorial.” His voice was a low rumble that seemed to echo in my chest.

I nodded. “They’ll fight for territory and for mates. Sometimes to the death.”

“You know Stapleton sees you as a threat. He won’t ignore you next time. You’re in more danger than I.”

“That’s certainly true,” I said evenly. “He was trying to stake his claim. He failed. The contest is between he and I now.” Mercifully, the last of the bandages came free in my hand and I sat back with an audible exhalation and cast them aside. Like his arm, the claw marks along his sharply defined ribs were all but invisible.

“And how do you intend to win that contest?” he asked quietly.

I drew in a breath and met his sapphire blue eyes. “I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I hadn’t planned beyond the next four hours. Can we not have him arrested in the morning?”

“On what grounds?” Holmes asked, and I saw a muscle in his jaw flex. “The maddening thing is there is no charge we can proffer against him. I can’t think what we’d put on the warrant.”

“Surely there’s something among his crimes you can give to Lestrade,” I offered.

He barked a guttural laugh. “What do you suggest? Keeping an unlicensed pet?”

I chose to ignore the unspoken implication of his words. “The murder of the gypsy woman. Can you tie it to him?”

“No,” he said with an evident effort at coolness. “That was Selden. Though I’ve no doubt it was on Stapleton’s orders.”

“Then who killed Selden?”

“He killed himself,” he said evenly. “At least that’s how Stapleton arranged it.”

“Beryl Stapleton, then,” I said, though I knew the answer it was worth his scorn to keep him talking.

“Wives can’t give evidence,” he said flatly, “And you’re trying to distract me.”

“True,” I said, permitting myself a small smile. “For a moment I thought I was succeeding. What about–” But before I could voice another useless suggestion I heard him draw in a sharp breath.

His eyes fixed on mine. “Abduction,” he said tightly. “Tell Lestrade… Tell him you were to meet me at the hut on the moor tonight. There’s ample evidence of struggle. Lestrade will back you up with little prompting.”

I felt my jaw tighten. “Need I ask where you will be?”

“I’ve no idea,” he said levelly. “That’s up to Stapleton.” His eyes flicked toward the window and back.

My hands tightened into fists on my thighs. I willed them to relax. “Is he waiting out there? Right now?” I asked, even as I knew the answer.

He shifted on the bed. “Yes.”

“Then he is wasting his time.” I said grimly. “As I explained to him before.”

He gazed at me steadily. “Words aren’t enough, John. You didn’t answer my question. What would you do to win?”

I felt my jaw tighten. “Whatever it takes.”

His gaze was unwavering as he said, “Stapleton was ready to stake his claim in my skin.”

I looked into those sapphire depths. “Tell me what you need from me.”

He exhaled a long breath and his eyes drifted closed. He gave a quick shake of his head as though brushing away a fly. “I don’t know,” he said. “I feel…” His vivid blue eyes opened and stared into mine with shocking intensity. “I only know I want it very badly.”

The ferocity of his gaze contrasted with the flush in his skin and his tousled hair was breathtaking. For a split second a vision flashed up in my mind of Holmes, his naked body slick with perspiration, head thrown back, mouth wide in a wordless howl and the feel of the soft skin of his throat against my teeth. I struggled to master myself. It must be some sort of chemical response, I reasoned. Something in his changing constitution triggering this reaction in me.

Perspiration had started out again on his skin. The pulse visible in his throat fluttered alarmingly as his voice dropped to a guttural whisper. “You feel it, too, don’t you? I can see it. I can almost…” His eyes drifted closed and he inhaled a long breath. “I can almost smell it.” His luminous blue opened and met mine.

My mouth was suddenly dry. “Holmes,” I breathed. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Something flared in his eyes that sent a warning thrill through me. His mouth curled in a tight smile that showed a flash of teeth that were far too long and sharp. “You said you intend to keep me, John,” he murmured, his voice a throaty purr, then he leaned so close I could feel the heat of his skin against my cheek and breathed, “Why don’t you prove it.”

With impossible swiftness, he launched himself forward, seizing my shoulders in an iron grip. With one sharp twist, he thrust me over and back against the bed. Before I could react except to gasp he’d moved astride my thighs, pinning me down.

The bright color that tinged his high cheekbones, his wild dark hair, his lips, parted as he took in short, quick breaths, all sent a pulse down through my midsection that shocked me with its sudden intensity. I felt a flush start in my face.

His lips curled in a tight smile. “Is this how you claim your prize, John?” His hips thrust forward and a groan tore from my throat as I felt him hard against me. The blood that had coursed through me gathered in an instant and I heard as much as felt his soft exhalation, something like a sigh of satisfaction as he lowered his face to my neck. I felt sharp teeth brush my skin and in that instant my conscious mind reasserted itself.

“No,” I growled, and heaved up against him. My arms came up and broke his grip on my shoulders. I tensed to thrust my hands against his chest. Then I saw the lingering evidence of those terrible claws. I hesitated for an instant and it was all the advantage he needed to snare my wrists. He gave a rough cry – of anger or pleasure, I couldn’t tell – and tried to force my hands up and back. I tightened my belly, bowing up toward him and twisting to the side, breaking his grip and knocking him off balance.

I rolled and came up prepared to pin him as he had me, but he was too quick. With incredible agility he ducked to the side, coming up on all fours and pushing forward to bolt from the bed. My rugby training surged to the fore as my arm shot out and gripped him around the waist. His momentum carried us both forward, but I used it to propel myself over, tucking up my knees and pushing off against the bed. I landed hard across his back, my heavier frame giving me sufficient weight to force the breath from his lungs as I twisted to cover him. My hands came up and I seized his upper arms, forcing them down.

The bare skin of his back radiated heat that burned through my shirt. I leaned in so he could feel my breath on his shoulder. His raven hair brushed my cheek and I had the presence of mind to flex to the side so he couldn’t thrust his head back against mine.

Drawing in a quick breath, I hissed, “Is this what you need? If I can’t keep Stapleton from you, will he know? Will it hold him off?”

Holmes’s chest heaved below mine. I desperately wanted to ease back, to let him draw breath, but I knew I couldn’t relax for an instant. At last he gasped in a guttural undertone, “I don’t know. It feels… I think– I think so.”

It wasn’t much of a confirmation, but it was enough. We had to try. Considering how best to keep control, I recalled my army days and willed steel into my voice. “Will you fight me if I let go?” I said harshly.

“Yes,” he breathed. “Oh, yes.”

I set my jaw. “Then I’ll have to tie your hands.” Shifting forward, I slid my hands to his elbows then rocked back enough to take my weight on my knees. With one swift jerk I wrenched his arms back.

The gasp that tore from his lips as I gripped his hands at the small of his back was like a knife in my side. But though my heart cried to let him go, I knew I couldn’t. The stakes were too high.

Holding both wrists in a tight grip, I felt behind me on the bed. My questing hand found a strip of discarded bandage. It took only a moment to lash a bowline around his wrists, hands back to back, forearms interlocked as he’d told me once before was the most secure. In the back of my mind I wondered if it wasn’t easier than I had a right to expect. I hoped it meant he was still capable of rational thought. As I heard the animal sounds rasping from his throat, I feared it wasn’t true.

But I felt his struggles lessen and I spoke again, dragging the words from some deep and primitive part of my mind. I told myself I hadn’t the luxury to be ashamed that I found them there. There would be ample time for that later, whether I succeeded or not.

“I’m going to show you I could take you right now,” I said, dropping my voice to a harsh whisper. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

His only response was to huff out a breath, horribly similar to the sound the Stapleton creature had made before it attacked.

It was pure animal instinct that guided my next actions. If I’d paused to consider, I never could have done it. Pressing all my weight against his back and bound hands, I straightened my legs and used my feet and knees to force his legs apart. I bore down and thrust my hips forward.

The feel of him lying taut and open there below me was more intoxicating than I had ever imagined. My will nearly shattered at that moment, but he bucked against me – to throw me off or heighten the contact, I couldn’t know. Regardless, the realization that he would break my grip if I relaxed for an instant refocused my mind enough to allow me to form thought.

I pushed forward, driving against him and eliciting another shuddering moan from his throat. I dropped my voice to a harsh whisper. “You know I can have you. I can take you whenever I wish. You belong to me. Tell me you belong to me.”

Bearing down on his shoulder with the force of one elbow, I seized the waist of the pajamas in my other hand, fisting it in the thin fabric. “Tell me.”

He exhaled a shuddering breath and I heard it catch in his throat. “Yes,” he rasped. “Yes, I belong to you.”

Blood ran like fire through me at the words dragged up from deep within him. I don’t know if I could have stopped then. I like to think I would have. But the choice was taken from me the next instant as I felt his skin change beneath my hands.

The heat, intense before, surged so high I wondered his flesh didn’t sear from within. The fine dusting of hair on his back and arms coarsened and worst of all, I felt the muscles of his back twist as if trying to reshape themselves.

Holmes bucked under me and I knew this time it wasn’t a bid for freedom but a convulsion of bone and sinew, straining under his skin. Another cry tore from his lips and my voice echoed it as a moan. Then to my amazement he stilled save for a violent trembling that ran the length of him.

Again bowing to instinct, I hesitated only a fraction of second. I pressed his shoulders down with my open hands, trying to ignore the rippling I felt under my palms and leaned down to press a kiss to his throat.

I murmured against his damp skin, “You’re mine, Sherlock Holmes. You know it. You know you’ll always be mine.”

His breath caught and somewhere between a gasp and a sob he whispered, “Yes.”

I steeled myself, breathed a prayer for forgiveness then bared my teeth against the flesh where his neck met his shoulder and bit down with all the force I could stand. Even then, I knew I’d always remember the sweet taste of his skin.

He jerked under me then lay still, drawing in quick, panting breaths. I didn’t let go until I knew the flesh was well marked. It wouldn’t heal by morning. Not like the other wounds. But it had to be deep enough for Stapleton to recognize in the dark.

As I released him he exhaled a long breath like a sigh. I turned my head to nuzzle his ear and whispered, “Remember, you’re mine… and I’m yours.” His only response was a shudder that echoed in my chest. I buried my face in his raven hair, breathing in the scent of him.

My hands relaxed for just an instant and it was all he needed. His head impacted mine with stunning force. I rocked to the side, dazed and he heaved me off then turned and rolled off the bed in one supremely agile movement.

He crouched there on the floor, hands still bound tight behind his back. I couldn’t be sure if it was the flickering candlelight making his skin look as if was shifting and stretching over his bones. I feared it was no illusion.

The bite stood out livid against his darkening skin. It was small comfort as a keening cry burst from his throat and with a sinking sense of dread I heard an answering call from out on the moor.

Would his flesh give before the twist of fabric, I wondered with sudden panic. I felt the answer and knew I had no choice. I reached down and gripped the trailing end of the bandage, yanking it free. The knot unraveled as it was designed to do. I tensed to propel myself forward to snare him before he could bolt away, but he was too damnably quick.

His hand shot up, catching me by the throat and hurling me backward. Choking, I tucked into a roll. I dropped to the floor on the other side of the bed just as he broke around it. He didn’t glance my way, just hurled himself toward the window. I heard glass shatter as his shoulder hit the leaded pane but the window held fast. I knew without thinking, Holmes would batter himself to pieces to get out. I had to trust that our gamble would succeed.

I shot to my feet, knocking him aside, and thrust the heel of my hand against the bar. A jagged piece of glass cut deep into my palm as I shoved the window wide. Before I could even register the pain he’d knocked me back with a heavy swipe of his curled fist and bounded onto the sill.

I landed hard on the floor and he hesitated. An end of the bandage was still bound around one wrist and trailed down the wall. Like a lead, the thought reared up in my mind before I could push it away. He looked down at me. His wide sapphire eyes met mine.

“Go,” I said in the sudden stillness. “I’ll bring you back. I promise.”

He made no sound or any acknowledgement that I’d spoken, just turned and fell out of sight. I threw myself forward, gripping the edge of the sill and leaning out. He’d dropped the fifteen feet to the yard below, leaving barely a mark in the damp soil. I saw a low shape vanish under the cover of the trees and then the lawn was as still and as silent as a churchyard.

I watched out the window for a long moment, looking for some sign I couldn’t name. When I could summon the wit to do it, I began to plan.

In the morning Holmes would be weak and disoriented. Stapleton would likely lock him away until nightfall. I’d have some twelve hours to find him before then. I couldn’t protect him during that time. I had to hope that Stapleton’s injury would prevent him from exacting immediate retribution for his thwarted desire.

But before the sun set again, I would have Holmes back. We would have a chance, I swore, to know what it was to wake in the night and feel the other lying safe beside.

I turned from the window, shrugged into my coat and dropped my revolver into my pocket. There were hours yet to dawn and no reason to wait. I’d hunted jaguar before. I knew how they died. And this time, I was looking forward to it.

To be continued…