Well, these chapters are long awaited by my friends and myself. There are a few things I wanted to say in them but they didn’t flow quite right, so I’m saving a few statements for later chapters. I (finally) got to use my flintlock research (yay, and John’s gun is here) and a bit of the Gloria Scott plotline regarding Victor Trevor, original canon (emphasis on a bit). Total wordcount so far 46,432, including some bits I haven’t used yet. Almost to my Nov 30 goal! ;o)
WordPress was looking a little wonky today, so I hope this posts okay.
Sherlock had anticipated the question, but had been too busy thinking about the case to devote himself to formulating a proper answer. He also hadn’t expected a visit to the Professor to introduce the name into John’s mind, though perhaps he should have. They walked past several buildings in silence before Sherlock could decide how to explain Victor Trevor.
Victor Trevor was a mistake. No, definitely the wrong statement, no matter how true it was.
Victor Trevor was a friend. Hardly something Sherlock would care to admit. He didn’t pretend to truly understand friendship, but what he and Victor were to each other was not friendly.
Victor Trevor found Sherlock amusing, diverting, interesting. Promising. Mostly true.
“We met during a university lecture. Or, rather, just after I’d harangued a guest lecturer about his conclusions regarding the coagulation times of blood and stormed out of the theater. Victor popped out of the door a minute later and let loose a burst of laughter.
“‘Oh, that was the most infamous thing I’ve ever seen!’ he said. ‘It was glorious to see you put that imbecile in his place. However he was invited to lecture here, I do not know.’
“I was almost tempted to laugh with the young man, but my mood was too ruined by the false promise of a useful lecture.”
“‘Come, let us find a drink and while away the afternoon. I think I will quite like you, Mr. Holmes.’”
Sherlock walked a few paces with a silent John before speaking again.
“No one had ever thought they might like me before. My tutors despised me for I mostly proved to them they had little to teach me. I had no playmates as a child except Mycroft, and he was much older than I. I was fascinated with Victor, if perhaps in the most selfish way possible.”
“Your cousin Petrina seemed fond of you,” John offered.
“She grew up in Italy. We met perhaps only three times until our late teens.”
“That’s too bad. I can only imagine the mischief the two of you would have caused.”
“We did manage to dye a cow orange once when I was eight.”
John’s laughter rang out.
“You’ll have to elaborate on the intention of that experiment sometime, Sherlock.”
“Hmm, yes, well, it did have quite unexpected results.”
“Victor,” John reminded gently when Sherlock’s thoughts drifted into experimental directions.
“Mycroft disapproved of Victor. He was an illegitimate son, though his studies were financed by his father, a German baron. Mycroft thought he was seeking a soft life, money. I argued that his father clearly supported his son and he wasn’t a fortune hunter. Mycroft didn’t threaten to cut me off, not at first, but he made it quite clear that he didn’t trust Victor.
“We spent a lot of time together in the next few months. We shared many of the same intellectual interests, science, medicine, philosophy. We could speak for hours on these subjects. We visited the Professor together, helped with his experiments.
“Victor invited me to spend a summer holiday at his father’s home. We traveled up the Rhine to get there and were to spend nearly two months in company. Though Victor was illegitimate, his father socialized with him quite openly. The man had no children by his marriage to a quite eligible young heiress and had been considering naming Victor Trevor his heir.
“During the holiday, a letter arrived for the Baron, one which upset him grievously, though he wouldn’t say a word to anyone about its contents. That seemed to be an end to the matter, except for a few days later, the Baron fell ill.
“Victor sat by his father’s bedside, reading to him, comforting him, until one morning he very quietly passed away. I took my leave from the house of mourning, but not before being regaled with the tale of a spectacular turn of events.
“The Baron had confessed all on his deathbed. He had been the father of Victor Trevor; that was no lie. The secret was that young Victor’s mother had indeed been his wife, not the woman who so long claimed the position with face and fortune. Theirs had been a secret marriage between young lovers without thought to consequence. When the Baron was told by his father that he would have to marry a particular heiress or risk being disowned entirely, he held his tongue and obliged. The secret wife kept silent as well, but eventually died of heartbreak.
“The letter the Baron had so recently received listed these details and more. In return for a hearty and regular sum, these events would remain secret until the Baron’s demise. If the money faltered or the blackmailer was sought after, the shame of his bigamy would be spread far and wide. His lady wife would not visit him in prison, nor would the magistrates be inclined towards empathy by his defense.
“Victor was named heir and returned to London a month after I did. He’d changed. I mean, he was always supercilious but now he was entitled to deference.”
The idea of finding a hackney to take them the rest of the way home had been lost and the pair of them set foot on Westminster Bridge. There were plenty of people crossing the Thames even at this time of night. Most hurried on their way; a few tipped their hats to the gentlemen passing arm-in-arm. A few people, mostly young couples, had even paused on the bridge to look upon the dark water, moonlight reflecting on the inky surface on this unusually clear night.
One of the moon-gazers, though, was neither part of young romance, nor interested in celestial objects. Sherlock’s gaze drew sharper focus around this man: tall, spare despite the width of the shoulders of his greatcoat; pale, the moonlight lighting up the edge of his jaw under the shadow of his hat-brim; coat, long, hiding something in its shadow as well, something tucked between the man’s legs and a baluster at the edge of the bridge.
“John, that man,” Sherlock said lightly as they approached. From the way he was turned, Sherlock deduced he’d come from the Westminster side of the bridge.
“Which man?” John began scouting the closest people to them methodically, a habit surely developed at war when any common man might be an enemy or a spy.
“Top hat, greatcoat, shadow, stopped at the railing to our left. Suspicious and matches the description given me by…”
Sherlock cut off as the man lifted a sack from the shadows near his feet and tossed it over the rail.
“John! Stay here and fetch that sack!”
Sherlock took off running the hundred feet left between him and the man. The man caught his advance from the corner of his eye and turned, shoving a blustering middle-aged banker out of the way before running back to the Westminster side of the bridge.
“Sherlock!” John called, but if Sherlock heard him, his fleet step did not falter as it grew ever distant.
John hobbled quickly to the side of the bridge to see if he could catch sight of where the sack had landed, though his first instinct was to run after Sherlock. It was hard to see in the dark, far past the illumination created by the bridge’s fairly new gas lights, but he hadn’t heard a great, plonking splash, and they were near the bank, so hopefully it had landed in the muddy shallows.
John looked again towards the direction Sherlock had run. The sack could be buggered. He set off at a slow gallop, moving as quickly as he could with his bad leg, cane hitting the ground every third or fourth step. He wasn’t going to catch up with Sherlock’s long legs unless the man captured or lost his quarry, but John didn’t care.
John followed the trail of disgruntled pedestrians, pausing at corners to judge whether Sherlock and his quarry had turned or gone straight ahead. He had not caught sight of them, not yet, but he delved with abandon further into the rabbit warren that was London’s streets. Still, there came a point when John slowed to a walk, feeling hopelessly lost and unable to find either Sherlock or his way home. His chest heaved with exertion; his pounding heart made him feel a bit light-headed.
“Sherlock!” His bellow was met with catcalls and admonitions from the residents of the street. “Sherlock Holmes!” Blast the watch and blast the hour. John strode forward slowly, peering carefully down each narrow alleyway. Nothing, no one.
When his breathing had caught up with him, he moved forward a little faster, sick with worry. John could only pray that his leg wouldn’t give out on him, that he could keep going. Just one more street. Sherlock surely must be around that next corner. He tried to pay attention to the people on the street; they’d helped him track Sherlock this far.
Most of the pedestrians at this time of night strode hurriedly towards their destination: servants on their way home or on some errand for their masters, couples to various entertainments or a late dinner, a few men to the pub or the home of their mistress. None showed signs of having just witnessed a chase or a fight. No fluster or calls for the watchman, no hurried steps away from the site of a scuffle.
John was about to open his mouth and vainly call for Sherlock again when he felt a tug on his coat-sleeve. Pickpocket was his first thought, though a decent pickpocket would perform a bump and run, not tug on his sleeve. He looked down to his left, finding a dirty urchin that reminded him far too much of the boy in the morgue yesterday.
“Two streets up and one that way,” the boy whispered, gesturing to his left. A second later, he’d disappeared among the people and the darkness.
John didn’t wonder for a second if the little boy’s directions might lead him into a trap. He couldn’t risk the possibility that Sherlock’s little spies were truly everywhere. John threw himself into a run as much as he was able. He saw fewer people this direction, and finally a deserted street. Well, nearly.
When John saw his husband flat on his back on the ground and the large man from the bridge bent above him, he was still too far away to do much more than shout, “Sherlock!”
The villain lifted his head as John continued to lurch steadily towards them; his top hat had been lost along the way so his dark, rumpled hair was visible in the glow of the oil lamps that still lighted this part of the city. The blackguard gave John a teeth-baring grimace when he noticed him, but all John saw was Sherlock. Sherlock lying on the ground. Sherlock being held there by thick hands on his throat. Sherlock struggling, but weakly.
John calculated the distance between them. Too far, too far. He kept running towards Sherlock, and pulled the gun from his pocket. At just over fifteen inches, it fit into one of his long, narrow greatcoat pockets and was mostly hidden by the heavy weight of the wool. It was a smoothbore flintlock, which meant accuracy at this distance could be erratic. Closer.
John’s father had purchased the Newland Pattern Pistol when he’d left for the war. Years of practice allowed John to load and fire it three times in a minute. He couldn’t count on having more than one shot here. He had to make it count. And he had to avoid accidentally hitting his husband.
John pulled back the half-cocked hammer, pausing in his run to aim. The whole world focused down to the barrel of his gun and his target. The pounding of his heart and the heaving of his lungs were of no consequence. He’d fired this shot a thousand times in the last few years, despite being a surgeon. It was a battle just to get to the surgeon’s tent some mornings. Breathe in, aim, breathe out, fire.
The flint sparked against the frizzen, the powder blessedly ignited, the ball flew towards its destination.
The flash in the night and the resulting smoke hid Sherlock and the brute from John’s view for far too long. He dashed through the dissipating smoke only to see the lowlife running into the darkness.
“Sherlock!” John rushed through the final yards before collapsing to his knees beside Sherlock’s prone form, dropping his gun to the cobbles.
Sherlock was still breathing, though in a pained, wheezing manner. John pulled away all constraint from his neck, scarf, knotted neck cloth, shirt collar. It was hard to see whether Sherlock’s long white neck was damaged, though his pale skin would surely show brilliant bruises in the next day. Sherlock indicated he wanted to sit up, so John swept his arm under Sherlock’s shoulders and propped him up. Sherlock leaned forward and gave a hacking cough, but his breathing seemed easier after.
“John, you left the bag,” he rasped, barely able to squeak the words out of his injured throat.
“The bag, Sherlock? If I had stayed to get the bag, been even a minute later, you might be dead!” Sherlock wheezed in a breath and coughed it out harshly as if to prove John’s point. “How can you for a moment have thought about that sack?”
“Evidence,” he gritted out, coughing again. “We should go. That gunshot will surely bring the watch.” Sherlock’s voice was gravelly, but stronger.
John hadn’t heard the shrill whistles of the watch at first, but he did hear the shouts and heavy boots striking the cobbles a street away.
“We should stay here, answer their questions if we must, and take you home to rest. You were nearly strangled, Sherlock.”
“Nonsense, John, we need to head back to the river and try to collect that sack, take it to the morgue…”
“Damn that sack, Sherlock! You almost died!”
“Why do you keep harping on that, John? You don’t need to worry; I’m sure your provision in the case of my death is quite generous. You would be a wealthy widower, easily able to attract another spouse.”
Sherlock struggled to his feet; John ceased to support him. In fact, John sat back on his heels and stared up at his husband’s full height, plainly astonished.
“Sherlock,” he breathed. Sherlock barely spared him a glance as he picked up John’s discarded gun from the street. “I realize we haven’t known each other very long, but that has to be the most horrible, vicious thing you’ve ever uttered in your life.”
Sherlock blinked in surprise, but whatever he was going to say was cut off by the arrival of the watch.
“Mr. Holmes, sir, it’s you.” Apparently Sherlock had a reputation among all the law enforcement in the city. Too bad that John didn’t bloody care.
“Too late to be of any use, as usual,” observed Sherlock. “The suspect has gotten away. John, where are you going?” John had struggled to his feet, his leg aching from hip to toe now that the adrenaline of the chase was wearing off.
“Fetch the blasted bag from the Thames yourself. I’m going home.”
John headed towards the last street he could remember where he’d seen a hack, hoping he could find one before his leg gave out entirely. Though he felt Sherlock’s eyes on his back, Sherlock made no move to stop his leaving.
When John made it back to Baker Street, Matthews’ raised eyebrow was all the indication of surprise he showed at John’s turning up alone.
“You may as well lock the door, Matthews. I don’t believe Mr. Holmes will be returning anytime tonight. If he does, he can scratch at the door like any other stray.” John limped up to his room, his extended run taking its toll. He leaned heavily on his cane, even considered asking Matthews for assistance with the steps, but still had the strength left to slam his bedroom door shut. Then he locked it for good measure.