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Seven Ate Nine…

19 Nov

After my day off yesterday and my late working day today, I had hoped to have much more done.  My official count is only at 14,051, mostly because my progress was made in finishing up some chapters moreso than writing altogether new.  Doubtful I’ll finish in Nov at this rate; something like 3000 words a day to finish, but I’m getting some readable stuff so far.  I could have posted more, but there’s a bit in the next chapter I want to play with a bit first.  I didn’t quite get a line in there that I wanted, and something got unreasonbly awkward, so I’m hoping to smooth that out first.

Chapter 7

 

Lord Mycroft Holmes, Viscount Sherrinford entered the sitting room where John was taking tea alone.  Sir Harold was still in his study, trying to make up for being passably sober all day.  Going through all the financial statements from the estate was proving to be a grueling job, and worse to come was the statements of debt.  Lord Sherrinford figured they could both use the break.

Sherlock, having grown bored with the finer details of negotiation, had been wandering around the house and grounds for two hours now.  Lord Sherrinford hoped he’d make it back before dinner.  Or Michaelmas, knowing Sherlock.

When Lord Sherrinford entered the room, John leaned heavily on his cane to stand.

“Oh, no need to stand for me, Captain Watson, as we are soon to be family.”

“I prefer not to be coddled, Lord Sherrinford.”

He allowed John to make him a stiff bow.  “May I sit with you, Captain Watson?”

“Of course.  Tea?”  John lowered himself back into his chair, resting his cane against the arm and stretching out his stiff leg in front of him.

John wasn’t sure if Lord Sherrinford would view their shabby furniture as distasteful, but the elegant man sat down looking like he owned the place.  For all the money Lord Sherrinford was expending in the marriage contract, it would be foolish for John to deny that, in essence, he did.

“I do hope Mr. Holmes has not gotten lost on the grounds.”

“Don’t worry yourself, Captain Watson.  Sherlock does not get lost, even when you really try.”

The maid in the corner moved to pour Lord Sherrinford a cup of tea.  If John had not received the tray only a few minutes before, he would have ordered a fresh pot.  Either way, though, it was unlikely their tea would be as exotic as the tea served at the Holmes’ estate.  Of course, Lord Sherrinford was too much of a diplomat to complain.  Maybe John wanted his future brother-in-law to complain.  Sherlock would have let his displeasure be known.  He was nothing if not completely, blatantly, forthright.

Lord Sherrinford, however, was untrustworthy, in John’s opinion.  He had the way about him of a man used to total control.  This was not uncommon among the aristocracy; however, it was typically illusion.  If the monarchy was in a state of more disarray, Lord Sherrinford, for all he admitted to “dabbling in the House of Lords,” would have been called king-maker.  As it was, he had the ear of the Regent and an ingratiating smile for everyone else.

“I wanted to speak privately to you, Captain Watson.”  And there was that soulless smile.

John met the other man’s eyes quite directly.  They were piercing and judgmental, and in no way friendly.

“You see, our parents died when Sherlock was very young.  I was barely of age to inherit the estate and I did not give Sherlock the discipline he needed.  I allowed him to have too much sway over his schedule and his tutors, and once he’d gone off to school, I barely saw him.

“You see, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  Not the army or navy, like many second sons.  It was quite clear from the reports sent back from school that he would not thrive in such disciplined settings.  He excelled at the studies which interested him, but his impiety made him eminently unsuitable for the church.

“I’ve become resigned to the fact that Sherlock will receive his income from me.  At least it grants me some control over his rashness.  But I cannot be there for him all the time.  I cannot watch him all the hours of the day.  And I assure you, Captain Watson, I worry about my brother.  Constantly.”

“So, a husband.”

“Yes, Captain Watson.  A husband.  Preferably a husband with strong character to exert some influence over my brother’s… shall we say… impetuous tendencies.  A husband, Captain Watson, who is very aware from whence his income derives.”

John tensed at this.

“You wish to pay me to spy on your brother.”

“Spy is such a loaded term, Captain Watson.  I prefer to say that I am entrusting the care of my very precious brother to you, and I am extending you a comfortable living so long as Sherlock stays safe.”

“Yet you do intend for me to report back to you.”

“A bit of familial mail would not be unwelcome.”

John could not resist the need to snort at this.

“Lord Sherrinford,” he started as diplomatically as possible, “duty has made it known that I will be Sherlock’s partner for life.  I will guard him as I would any choice in spouse; with my life, if necessary.  I will do my best to fulfill my promise to honor and cherish him, as one should.  But I will not report back to you as if you were my commanding officer.  Sherlock does not deserve that subterfuge from a husband, even an arranged one.”

Lord Sherrinford’s eyes hardened to cool blue-gray granite.

“Very noble, Captain Watson.  Perhaps I’ve chosen for Sherlock a better man than I thought if you are so loyal after only a few hours of acquaintance.”

John didn’t reply.  He stared stonily and rather impolitely at the man until Lord Sherrinford stood.

“I have much correspondence that needs attending to before supper.  If you’ll excuse me.”

John briskly nodded his head, but this time he did not rise.

Lord Sherrinford noticed.

 

Chapter 8

 

Sherlock did not appear for the evening meal and Harry just picked at his food, refilling his wine goblet several times before John motioned for the servants to remove it from the room.  Lord Sherrinford had elected to take his supper in his rooms and John was glad for that.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to speak to him again so soon, neither something serious nor witheringly dull small talk.  Of course, company with Harry was less fun than a picnic out on the moors in February.

“It’s good of you to do this, John,” Harry slurred.  “I’m ever so sorry, John.  That man, he’s horrible.  I wish I didn’t have to beg you to do this.  There was just so much to pay in debt and taxes when Father died…”  He trailed off.  “And Clara, darling Clara, she hasn’t but a ha’penny to her name.  I love her so, John, but we can’t be together.”

Jesus, Harry was a dismal drunk.  No wonder nothing ever got better if Harry couldn’t see his way out of it.

“Maybe after my marriage, when things are looking up and more in control, her family will reconsider your proposal.”

Harry went on like he hadn’t even heard.

“I could sell the house, the lands, but what happens when that is gone?”  Gets taken away, he means.  Debts, debts to someone, a moneylender perhaps.  “We’ll have nothing to live on.  We’ll be lucky to eke out some sort of living for ourselves.

“Do you love anyone, John?  Have I, in my disgrace, done you a broken heart?”

“No, brother, worry not.”  John had courted girls in his younger years, the happier, brighter years, most recently in his dashing red uniform before heading to the war.  And they had swooned for Captain Watson, charming, vivacious, always ready with a genuine compliment and a request to dance.  But none of them were serious; none of the young girls or young men truly caught his eye.  Too insipid, too flirtatious, too, too much.  Frivolous, he supposed.  There would be plenty of time to settle later, particularly since he was not the heir and did not need to provide children.

Then army life was challenging, too challenging to think of things like love and marriage.  John spent most of his waking hours thinking of his patients, his comrades.  The occasional requirement of an Officer’s Ball kept his social skills in tact, but he could not help but feel they were a ridiculous waste of time.  They were at war, a seemingly endless war with the rest of the world, and somehow there was time for celebration and jubilee while his men were sometimes starving and cold, injured and dying.

Finally, there was the injury, John’s injury.  The one that would keep him from the army, from his career.  At least he’d kept his leg – so many others lost limbs or eyes or scarred so badly they were fearsome to look at even healed.  John had seen so many of these men, it broke his heart.  He’d done his best for each and every soldier he encountered but he was home now.  After Waterloo, most of them were home now.

Once, he’d imagined after the war he’d start up a small practice, but his after-the-war started so abruptly, and his recovery took so much time, and Harry could barely hold things together, well, he’d utterly abandoned those plans.  And now, now John had no real idea what his future held.  He’d be married to a stranger, living, most likely, in London.  His new family was gentry of a much higher caliber than his father, a landed country squire.  His future was a world apart from where he’d ever imagined.

Exposure to maudlin-drunk Harry was apparently contagious.  John pushed away from the table, aware that Harry was still muttering on to himself and had never stopped.

“Good night, Harry.”

His brother looked up in surprise, as if not realized he’d been talking to someone this whole time.

“Good night, John.”

John left the dining room and paused in the hall.  He didn’t want to retire, not yet.  He spotted a young footman with a covered tray dashing back towards the kitchen.  He was one of the three servants that had arrived with the Holmes brothers.  John wasn’t sure if it was kindness or insult.  The small staff the Watsons could barely afford to employ would be stretched taking care of the personal needs of the viscount and his brother; however, Lord Sherrinford knowing that in advance was shaming.

“You, there,” John called, trying to catch the man’s attention before he disappeared.  The footman stopped and stood at impeccable attention.

“Yes, sir.  What can I do for you, sir?”

“Has Mr. Holmes returned to the house?”

“Yes, sir, an hour since.  I believe he is in the conservatory.”

“Thank you.”

“Will that be all, sir?”

“Has he had supper?”

“Not that I am aware of, sir.  Mr. Holmes rarely keeps regular mealtimes.”

Whatever was that supposed to mean?

“Have the cook put together a cold plate and please bring it to him in the conservatory with some hot tea.”

“Right away, sir.”

The young man paused a bit, trying to judge whether John had finished with his orders or not.  When John began to shuffle towards the conservatory, the footman quickly strode to the kitchens.

The conservatory had been built onto the house only two generations ago.  It was a small room, one John had used as a reading room as a teen and a playroom when he was a child.  He was usually alone there; it was quiet and had a pleasant, foreign smell full of herbs and damp warmth.

It was still much the same.  John hadn’t spent much time in here since he’d returned home.  He more recently avoided it as he’d begun to fear that Harry would dismantle the room for the costly glass and metal framing.

The sloped ceiling was interspersed with glass panels, revealing a clear night sky.  John could remember a childhood of playing that the stars revealed through the glass panels was a sky revealed by the lush foliage of a jungle.  He’d peek through the plants, pretend-slashing at the leaves with his imaginary sword, and explore the wild unknown.

Sherlock Holmes had invaded his room, now.  In fact, he’d sprawled out on one of the heavy marble benches, his greatcoat balled up as a pillow beneath his head.  He was looking up towards the skylights, but John could see he wasn’t really stargazing.

“I’m sorry to intrude, Mr. Holmes.  You weren’t at supper, so I took the liberty to arrange for a plate from the kitchens for you.”

“Unnecessary,” the sprawling figure drawled without moving.

John wasn’t quite sure what to reply.  He stood awkwardly in silence a moment.

“You’ll want the tea, at least, surely.  If you were walking about the estate and came straight into this unheated room, you must be chilled.”  John’s intonation crept up at the end, a bit of a question.

Sherlock’s eyes flickered to him.

“Yes, very well.”  He curled up and rolled into a sitting position, but his long form was still rather languidly posed along the bench.  His long legs were crossed and stretched toward John and he leaned back, propped up on his arms.  He and John stared at each other for a long minute until the footman rattled the tea tray directly behind John and he moved, breaking the spell.

“Thank you.”

“Lewis, sir.”  The young footman set the tray on a small nearby table with a flourish.

“Thank you, Lewis.”

The young man quite expertly prepared Sherlock’s cup of tea.  There was a second cup on the tray.

“One for you, too, sir?”  John paused.

“Oh, do sit down, John,” Sherlock ordered, with a hint of smile around his lips no matter how abrupt the words.

“Yes, I suppose so, then.”

John made himself as comfortable as possible on a cold iron chair near the tea table.  The footman finished serving him and exited the room, likely to wait outside the door should he be needed again.

John continued to watch Sherlock, who had done little more than take a small sip of tea and set the cup and saucer on the bench beside him.

“You’re not hungry?  I see Mrs. Richardson has plied you with some jam tarts.  I couldn’t get enough of them when I was a child.”

“Do have some then, John, for my appetite isn’t nearly as appreciative of them as yours.”  Despite that, Sherlock was soon tempted and took a mouse-sized nibble on the corner of one.  Three more soon disappeared.

“I assume you wish to talk?”

“That’s what one normally does with company, isn’t it?”

“I would have no idea.  I strive to avoid polite company at all costs.”

“Oh?  And what about impolite company?”

Sherlock laughed at John’s forwardness.  “Oh, I’m sure the company I keep would be deemed by Mycroft as most impolite and inappropriate.”

“Is the company you keep the reason your brother thinks you should marry?”

John was genuinely curious, but he hadn’t expected Sherlock’s face to shut down and his mouth to tighten.

“Has he ordered you to keep a tight rein on me, then?”  John didn’t answer.  “I expect he has.  All he cares for is power and the proper image of things.  It is understandable that he’d want a loyal spy to keep watch over his shockingly uncouth embarrassment of a brother.”

“I apologize, Mr. Holmes.  I seem to have stepped into a puddle of which I knew not the depth.”

“Why do you call me Mr. Holmes when I call you John?

The change in course startled John and he had to think about his answer.

“It’s impolite to assume familiarity.”

“Do you feel slighted when I do so?”

“No.”  It’s quite nice, actually.

“Then call me Sherlock.  After all, we are rather betrothed, are we not?”  Sherlock’s voice grew lower and John felt a rather embarrassing flutter in his stomach.

 

Chapter 9

 

Sherlock wasn’t nearly as annoyed as he thought he’d be when John invaded his sanctum with tea and food.  Of course, it wasn’t Sherlock’s conservatory, and the way John looked around the place, it was likely John’s sanctum long before Sherlock had claimed it.

The quiet man put him on edge, sort of, or pulled him away from the edge.  Sherlock wanted to talk to him, or listen to him.  Shocking, that second one.  John had no necessary information about science or a mystery or a puzzle.  Yet Sherlock wanted to hear him speak.

So Sherlock ate, because it seemed to please John, to make him more comfortable.  And then Sherlock realized what John must have been occupied with while Sherlock was off exploring this afternoon.

“Is the company you keep the reason your brother thinks you should marry?”

Of course it was.  Obvious, he wanted to say.  Mycroft’s fingerprints were all over this man.  He ought to remember that, to not allow himself the ease.

“Has he ordered you to keep a tight rein on me, then?”  John remained inscrutably silent.  The conversation happened, even if John did not wish to admit it.  “I expect he has.  All he cares for is power and the proper image of things.  It is understandable that he’d want a loyal spy to keep watch over his shockingly uncouth embarrassment of a brother.”

“I apologize, Mr. Holmes.  I seem to have stepped into a puddle of which I knew not the depth.”

Sherlock waved the entire conversation away from his head and changed the subject.  He would come up with a way to get even with Mycroft if it was the last thing he did.

But first, what to do about Captain John Watson?  Was he going to prove a help or hindrance to the work?  He seemed thoughtful, meek even.  The years at war, though, and a certain… presence made Sherlock wonder otherwise.

“Why do you call me Mr. Holmes when I call you John?

The abrupt change in conversation flustered the man only momentarily.

“It’s impolite to assume familiarity.”

“Do you feel slighted when I do so?”  John didn’t act offended.  Sherlock liked to offend people as a matter of course.  Provocation more adequately displayed their true selves.

“No.”

“Then call me Sherlock.  After all, we are rather betrothed, are we not?”  Sherlock’s let his voice dip lower and was pleased when John didn’t appear to know what to say.  In fact, he excused himself shortly after and left Sherlock to his supper plate and cold tea.

Sherlock nibbled on another tartlet and considered the best way to make an ally of Captain John Watson.

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1 Comment

Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

One response to “Seven Ate Nine…

  1. AquaSeafoam

    November 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I was watching some fanvideos then saw the update! Perfect timing! Done reading already, next please! 😉

     

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