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Monthly Archives: December 2012

42,000 words! :)

So while I have no idea where the bulk of my day went, I did spent some time writing.  And while I’m not sure where the rambling was going (seemed like filler writing, getting from one place to another and not writing the scenes I’m wanting to write) I did make some words and got closer to where something will be happening!

Yay!

Of course, sometimes this happens.  I write myself into a corner and have to work through the spot.  Or, in my head, I knew I had to get somewhere and had an empty day for my characters.  While I didn’t especially want to write the day out, I found I couldn’t quite just skip it.  So, a long Chapter 38 that I hadn’t expected at all.  Looking forward to the following morning, but I have at least one or two chapters until that time.  So chapter 40 or 41 is a large part of done, I just have to GET THERE.  Ugh.  🙂

I spent the morning passed out quite nicely in bed, after waking up an hour after I fell asleep last night with spasming leg cramps that had me walking around and swearing for ten minutes.  It was great inspiration for John, actually, in chapters 36 and 37, but as those chapters were already done before, I didn’t need the timely reminder of how much they suck.

I wrote a little on a one-shot that crawled into my head.  A second one, actually, since I started on a different one the other day.  Damn brain.  I barely have the energy to work on this long bastard, much less get interrupted by weird Sherlock Snow White and Gambling John mistress fics.  Gah.

Yes, those were intentional teasers.  🙂

I did weird research.  Did you know that the hairs of violin bows can get eaten by bugs, particularly when shut in violin cases for long periods of time?  And that in 1815, John’s pistol would have to have been a flintlock?  And that there really weren’t many universities in London at the time?  And Regent’s park wasn’t built yet, which would be the park closest to them at Baker St.?  And for the Gambling John fic, I had to decide what sort of game he’d play, whether faro or hazard or piquet or whatever, and also what the heck those were?  And that while Queen Victoria took mourning to a new level, there was still mourning and half-mourning and such in the Regency era?

This is not to mention the research on fashion, and whether they’d have a coal fire or a wood fire (in the city it would most likely be coal since wood would be more scarce), and whether there were aquariums or not (mostly not).  I had to look up what type of night-clothes people would wear because there’s a definite nightshirt scene coming up and Sherlock wearing a banyan and drawers just for fun.  Also, two of the books I mention actually exist, though I’m not sure if Sherlock would have thought the Albini’s illustrations proper; apparently the illustrator set skeletons in woods and quaint settings and there was a scientific furor.  So Sherlock might like it for its accuracy or for its somewhat macabre pictures, or he might have hated it for being somewhat sentimental.  And humoralism!  Jeez.

And keep in mind, I’m doing this in the most half-assed way possible!  I’m deliberately leaving in anachronisms just because I prefer certain things or certain references.  Gotta give props to those who write even trashy historical romances for a living!  Researching every dang detail is hard! 🙂  I also use thesaurus.com about three times a page because I can never think of quite the right word.

 

Chapter 36

 

With John tucked away for the night, Sherlock went up to his room and adjusted his clothing to his comfort.  The dreadful cravat flew towards the fireplace and only the lack of aerodynamics inherent in a wadded strip of silk saved it from being ash.  The close-fitting jacket and waistcoat were next, replaced with a dark blue silk banyan which he let drape around him rather than tying it closed.  He slipped his feet out of his dress shoes and into a much more comfortable pair for around the house.

When he went past John’s door downstairs, he could hear the man inside readying for bed, limping across the room, crawling between the rustling sheets and sighing as he settled in.  Light still glowed from underneath the door, brightly, as if a lamp had remained lit just beside the door.  Logic would indicate that the light would remain by the bedside so that John could extinguish it without walking across the room in the dark.  Conclusions: he meant it to remain lit; childish habit, unlikely; unfamiliar bed, likely; consistently woken by dreams from the war, possibly.

Sherlock continued on into the sitting room and glanced around at the crates of books stacked around.  He frowned.  Mycroft had deliberately instructed that the books be packed away in random order, instead of taking them off the shelves in the proper order so they could be more easily reshelved.  They appeared to be sorted due to size, height and then width.  It would take the rest of the night to reorganize them.

Sherlock emptied the first few boxes out onto the floor, made a few calculations in his head of the length of the available shelving, and began placing books where they would belong.  He drank the tea Matthews had left for him, though after the first two mouthfuls, it had gone cold.  He drank it anyway, in one long gulp.  It sloshed a bit uncomfortably in his belly for a few minutes, but the sensation was lost as Sherlock set his mind to the completion of the task before him.

By the time the fire had died down due to lack of attendance and the room began to chill, Sherlock had discovered that Mycroft had kept the second volume of his favorite treatise on medicinal herbs, his copy of Albini’s Tabulae Sceleti et Musculorum Corporis Humani and, most grievously, both volumes of Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates.  The villain.  All could be replaced, true, but the first two were already full of his notes and corrections and repeating himself on a new text would be tedious.

Sherlock was distracted from his indignation by a noise from John’s room, part exclamation, part groan.

Nightmares, then.  He tilted his head towards the sound, listening closely.  There was no sound for several minutes, but then the covers rustled and the bed creaked.  Feet hit the floor.  Floorboards creaked as footsteps padded slowly around the bed, back and forth just the length of the bed as if John was using it for support.

Sherlock glanced at the face of the clock on the mantle, without moving from his kneeling position by the bookshelves.  Nearly half three and John was pacing clumsily in his room.  Sherlock continued to listen as John, for nearly half an hour, paced, never once sitting, never once climbing back into bed.

Sherlock could hear him so clearly, he may have been sitting in the room watching.  That was one of the things Sherlock so loved about the dark hours: so few other distractions.  People were mostly asleep and the world was as close to still as it ever got.  The flow of information slowed to a crawl and Sherlock’s brain, well, it never rested or he would be dangerously bored, but it could process only the information Sherlock himself introduced.

When the ticking clock neared four, Sherlock heard John sigh and climb back into his bed.  After a few minutes, Sherlock stood, knees hardly stiff thanks to Mummy and her ridiculous insistence on hours of kneeling prayer when he was bad.  He wrapped his banyan tighter around his waist and installed himself on the sofa.  Mrs. Hudson had kindly left a knit blanket draped over the back, so he curled up with that, too.

Sleepless John filled Sherlock’s mind.  He’d not come out of his room to see if Sherlock was still awake, doubtless assuming he wasn’t.  He’d barely left the side of the bed, until the end when he’d stirred the dampened fire a little and added a little coal.  His step had not been steady or regular as he shuffled about.  Aside from that first noise upon waking, though, John hadn’t made another sound that Sherlock could hear.  Sherlock’s deduction turned from nightmare to pain, and pain regular enough that John was used to it, that he bore it without complaint.

That thought made Sherlock’s nerves tingle in odd places, above his upper palate, in his throat.  He swallowed a few times and the feeling dissipated.  Odd.  Sherlock closed his eyes and listened more intently.  He couldn’t hear John breathing beyond the wall separating them and above the flames in the fireplace.  John didn’t snore and if he made any soft snuffling noises when he slept, they weren’t loud enough to detect from here.

Still, Sherlock was content with the lack of further shuffling that John had fallen back asleep, and he let himself follow suit.

 

Chapter 37

 

John woke far too early for his liking, but his body reacted to the light streaming in around the edges of the heavy curtains on his window.  He stayed abed for a quarter of an hour more, trying to fall back asleep, but even as tired as he was, his brain wasn’t having it.  He finally got up and used the bell pull.  By the time he’d used the chamber pot and pulled on the thick damask dressing robe draped across the foot of his bed, Matthews was knocking lightly at his door.

John hobbled over to the chair by the fireplace and Matthews moved a small table to his side, laying tea out for him.  There were plenty of warm scones as well, with jam and cream.

“Is there anything else I can get for you, sir?”  Matthews seemed more than efficient; in just a few moments he had built up the fire, gathered up the clothing John had worn yesterday, carried away John’s boots for polishing, and laid a lap rug over John’s legs as he warmed himself in his chair by the hearth.

“No, I think I’m perfectly situated for a while, thank you.”  John would be quite comfortable spending a good portion of his morning exactly where he sat.  His leg had cramped up in the middle of the night, every muscle from hip to ankle twitching in its turn.  It wouldn’t be quite so unbearable if the muscles in his calf wouldn’t spasm at the same time as the ones on the front of his ankle.  He couldn’t stretch the one without painfully indulging the other.  The spasms had taken their toll, as well; his leg still ached from the strain of the contracting muscle.

“Very well, sir.  Ring when you wish to dress.”

Matthews left the room and Sherlock burst in only a few seconds later.

“When will you be ready to go to the shops, John?”

Sherlock was fully dressed, splendid in a midnight blue velvet jacket with a powder blue waistcoat peeking from the cutaway.  The dark color accented the darkness of his hair and the brightness of his eyes.  He settled into the chair opposite John’s and stretched out his long legs in their buff breeches and tall boots.

“Are we going to the shops?” John replied more calmly than he felt, his quiet morning invaded by a restless Sherlock.  “Have you eaten?”

“I ate yesterday after the wedding.”

“That’s a no, then.”  John split a scone and spread it liberally with the jam and clouted cream and handed the small plate to Sherlock.  “There’s a second cup on the tray; would you like tea as well?”

Sherlock took the plate with a belabored sigh, but finished every crumb.  He took the tea with less complaint, ordering three sugars.

“Did you sleep?”

“A little, on the sofa, after I’d finished with my books.  Mycroft stole my favorite one; I’ll have to send him a bill for a dozen others.”

“So the bookshop, then.”  Sherlock nodded in agreement.

“I received a notice from Harris’ that an idiot of whom I’ve made the unfortunate acquaintance has published his thoughts on the sciences.  I plan to correct the text and return it to him.”

Oh, so many questions.  John almost laughed.

“But what if he’s written something correct?”

“Unlikely,” Sherlock scoffed.  “His mentor is a man named Fortager who still believes in balancing the bodily humours.”

“That’s a respected viewpoint, Sherlock,” John said, just to see what Sherlock might say.

“It’s an idea almost two thousand years old, John!  How can we, with all the advances in the recent age, believe in a theory propagated by such scientifically backward generations?”

“The ancient Greeks were hardly backward, Sherlock.”

Sherlock continued as if John hadn’t said a word, and certainly didn’t notice the tilting up of the corner of John’s mouth.

“I could spend my lifetime disproving such prattle and nonsense, but it would be futile.  One would think that a simple microscope and cadaver would be enough to teach these fools differently, but they only allow evidence in front of their eyes that confirm their prejudices.  It’s the worst kind of scientific theory!”

It was then Sherlock apparently noticed John’s smile, for he ceased his haughty lecture.

“You trained as a doctor, yet you don’t believe in humoralism either?”

“I’m of a slightly more modern viewpoint, yes, and I think there is a lot we don’t yet know about the human body.  Keeping strictly to old ideas is limiting to progress.”

“You were just having me on, then?”

John tried to hide his smile behind his teacup.  “It is fairly easy to wind you up, apparently.”

“John!”  But then Sherlock’s stern face broke into a grin.  They chuckled together a moment.

“I must say I’m quite relieved, John.  At least we won’t have to have an awkward conversation about bloodletting if I ever grow ill.”

“No, I’ve seen the results of losing too much blood.  It didn’t improve the health of anyone on the battlefield.”  John hadn’t meant for his statement to come out so seriously, but Sherlock reacted as such.

“No, I imagine it didn’t.”

There was a moment of grim silence before John spoke again.

“So what else are we shopping for?”

“Glassware for an experiment.  I’ve a special item on order at Edgers and Sons.”

“I suppose I ought to hurry and dress, then, so advancements in scientific experimentation by the great Sherlock Holmes are not further delayed.”

 

Chapter 38

 

Sherlock didn’t leave the room as John dressed, so he dragged his lap robe with him before flicking it onto the bed.  His dressing gown was long enough to nearly touch the floor, and as long as he wasn’t walking towards Sherlock, it hid the scarring on his leg well enough.  John rang the bell for Matthews, who might have been waiting on the other side of the door with the basin of warm water for as quickly as he appeared.

John stepped behind the screen in the corner, washed, and only reappeared when he had the majority of his clothing about his person.  John’s new clothing had been installed in his new home, but he looked at the knit sweaters from Mrs. Phillips sitting in a drawer next to his worn buckskins with longing.  He felt a bit like he was wearing a stranger’s clothes.   Matthews helped with the buttons and ties and coat, straightening him up quite tidily.  In no time at all, he was ready to hobble along the market street after his husband.  He had to admit that, with walking sticks being in fashion, he looked quite dapper.  If he leaned a little more heavily on it than other gentlemen, well, no one would say anything.

The bookshop was within walking distance, and John felt healthier with the morning sun on his face and the warmth of a good walk in his legs.  In the places where the cobbles were rougher, Sherlock took John’s hand and wrapped it around his elbow for balance.

“Pick out anything you like, John,” Sherlock directed as they stepped into a warm bookshop that smelled of leather and paper and the tangy scent of ink.

“Oh, I’m sure I can make do with the books in your library, Sherlock.  There are bound to be dozens I’ve never read.”

Sherlock sighed.

“I will tell you if the books you pick out are already in my library.  We’ve no need for frugality on Mycroft’s tab.  Go.  Buy something.”

Sherlock fell into conversation with the shop owner, someone apparently well-acquainted with Sherlock’s preferences.  John looked about himself in a bit of awe.  There were quite a few books around when he was growing up, but they weren’t really intended for reading.  They arrived by the crate and later disappeared the same way.  He had his medical texts, certainly, but much of what he had learned was by apprenticeship and practice.

Now, faced with such choice, he grappled with indecision.  What did he want?  He moved to the nearest shelf, eyes flicking over the gilding on the spines.  He could have anything.  John walked from section to section, reading labels and pulling random books off the shelves.  He felt like the whole world was crammed into this tiny shop in London and he was welcome to venture anywhere.

In the end, he selected two travelogues, one about Egypt and one about the West Indies.  He might be able to ask Petrina Holmes how accurate it was to her experiences if she visited.  When he carried them up to the counter, Sherlock merely glanced at him and said, “Only two?” and added them to his growing pile.

Sherlock signed his name to the bill and gave the direction of Lord Sherrinford while smirking.  The shop owner didn’t seem surprised in the least; of course, Sherlock had been charging to his brother’s accounts all his life.  Sherlock made further instruction for delivery of the books to Baker Street before taking John’s arm and strolling back into the street.

“Is there anything else you have need of while we’re out, John?”

“I can’t think of anything I need.  Everything seems to have been taken care of for me.”

“Yes, well, that’s Mycroft at his most overbearing.  He’ll make all the arrangements for every breath you take, if you let him.”

They stopped at Edgers and Sons, which turned out to be a small forge.  The air inside smelled hot and smoky.  Workers spun long tubes with glowing bubbles of molten glass on the ends, handling them as easily as if they were children’s toys.  To the side of the glassworks was a glittering shop full of their wares.  The front room held all the decorative items, pleasing to the eye and glinting at the passersby.  Sherlock walked through this without looking and entered a back room more practically stocked with flasks and bottles and jars.

“Mr. Holmes, good day!” greeted one of the young men bustling about this second room.  “Father just finished your project yesterday.  It’s quite a beauty.”

“Excellent.  Let’s have a look, shall we?”

John followed with curiosity as the young shopkeeper led them down a hallway and into the forge proper.  At the end was a table with a sizable glass tank perched on top.  Five large panes of glass were edged with metal framing.  A lid of sorts fastened on with hinges and a locking mechanism.  The lid was partially solid, partially fine mesh webbing.

“It’s completely secure?”  Sherlock continued to examine the finished product minutely.

“Utterly.”

“What’s it for?  A pet?”

“Of a sort.  We’re picking that up later.”

“And you’re not going to tell me?”

A smile played on Sherlock’s lips as he straightened up.  “No, it’s a surprise.  Pack it up and send it to 221 Baker Street, Edgers.”

“Of course Mr. Holmes.  This very afternoon.”

John kept his curiosity to himself as much as he was able.

“Where to next, Sherlock?”

“Lestrade has promised we could speak to some of the families of his missing persons.”

“He isn’t going to have them try to identify the body parts, is he?”  John followed Sherlock out onto the street where he hailed a hack in record time.

“To Bow Street,” he directed, climbing inside.  “No, John.  It is unlikely that the families would be able to recognize a foot or hand separate from the rest of the body, especially after preservation methods.  Most people aren’t terribly observant anyway, and there were no particularly distinguishing marks on any of them.  Even if we do discover the rest of the body, it may be so decomposed that the face will be unrecognizable.”

“So what can they tell us that isn’t in the files?”

“People tell you so much if you only know how to observe, John.  One can spot lies, guilt, and deception so easily.  Eyes might flicker to a spot where something is hidden.  Incongruous hairs on a shoulder may signal an affair; ones on an ankle may indicate a pet.”

“And what, pray tell, will signal that these people know anything about the deaths of their loved ones?”

“I have no wish to speculate.  That is invariably harmful to the process.  We shall have to wait and see.”

At Bow Street, Lestrade climbed into the hack and directed the driver to the first address on his list.  John greeted a haggard-looking Lestrade with a genial, “Good morning,” but Sherlock looked at his person and greeted him with something much more blunt.

“I don’t know why you tolerate her indiscretions, Lestrade.  She can’t possibly believe you won’t find out; in fact, I suspect she does this deliberately to hurt you.”

“Do me a favor, Holmes, and stay out of my relationship with my wife.”

“You should make her leave…”

“Sherlock, hush.”  Sherlock, surprised at John’s tone, did just that.  Lestrade looked at the quiet man sitting across from himself with a curious appreciation.  Then, as quickly as he was able, he began to lay out the facts surrounding their first missing person.

“Dorothy Mae Hopkins, dressmaker.  Didn’t show up for work Monday morning three weeks ago.  Her sister is the family member who came to Bow Street; she’s married to a solicitor for Bleeker and Avery.  Miss Hopkins had spent Sunday with her sister, going to church, staying for tea before being taken home by her sister’s carriage in the evening.  Sometime between eight that evening and nine the next morning, she disappeared.”

“Can we see her rooms?”

“Doubtful.  They’ve already been let.  But we can speak to her landlady, if you wish.”

“That will have to do, but it’s detrimental to the case, Lestrade,” Sherlock pouted.  “We’ll have to rely on the family and landlady to remember pertinent details as they cleared the room.  It’ll be nearly useless.”  Sherlock sank into his own head and was silent for the rest of the journey.

The hack pulled up to a modest house, the sister’s, and they disembarked.

Lestrade introduced Sherlock and John to Mrs. Evans, a subdued young woman in a gray dress and only slightly darker shawl.

“Have you come to tell me my sister is dead, then, Mr. Lestrade?” she asked once she’d shut the door behind the three gentlemen.

“I’m afraid we have no concrete proof of that at this time, Mrs. Evans.  I’m sorry,” Lestrade said.

“It is likely, though, after three weeks with no indication of her having gone somewhere deliberately and no word.  But I can see you realize that; you’ve donned half-mourning already, as if in preparation for bad news.”

“Holmes!”  Lestrade was glaring at Sherlock again, as if that was all he was going to do today.

“I haven’t said anything untoward, have I, John?”  Sherlock looked to his husband.  John’s face wasn’t nearly as grim as Lestrade’s.

“A bit more gentleness and tact would be appropriate, Sherlock,” John replied, patting his husband’s arm, “but I don’t believe Mrs. Evans is offended.”

“Please, come in and sit, sirs.  I’ll fetch a pot of tea.”

They made themselves comfortable as Mrs. Evans left the room, John and Sherlock perching on a small sofa and Lestrade on a rather too-soft chair.

“John, I might take a moment to tell you that I do feel that tact is akin to lying, and I do not see the point.  Would it not be more of a relief for Mrs. Evans to have concrete evidence that her sister is dead than to live with false hope?”

“As we do not have a body for Mrs. Evans to bury, that argument is premature, Sherlock.  There is no reason to press her to feel more sadness than she already does.”

Sherlock seemed to take this under advisement.

“Very well, John, though you may have to remind me, as I will likely misstep again.”

John flashed a smile at Sherlock and it wasn’t the same sympathetic smile he gave Mrs. Evans when she handed him a cup of tea.  When they were all politely served, Mrs. Evans sat and patiently awaited the purpose of their visit.

“Mr. Holmes would like to ask you some questions about the movements of your sister prior to her disappearance and also about the state of her rooms on Grace Street when you removed her things.”

“Yes, of course.”

Lestrade and the Watson-Holmes found Mrs. Evans more than gracious.  Sherlock was thrilled that she wasn’t overwrought with emotion, unlike most women, but her manner also didn’t indicate a complicit sort of guilt, either.  She was sensible, almost intelligent, something Sherlock thought was a rare find.

However, her information was limited.  She had not seen her sister for long after supper and only realized she was missing the very next day because she had stopped by the shop where her sister worked to look at a bolt of fabric she’d mentioned.  When she was not there, she quickly proceeded to Grace Street in case her sister was ill.  She wasn’t there and hadn’t been seen since coming in the night before.

“Did the landlady let you into your sister’s room that day?”

“Yes.  There was no response to my knocking and I was worried she might be very ill and unable to answer.  The key was not in the lock or on the table near the door where she kept it and her gloves and reticule.”

“Were her other belongings on that table?”

“No, just three of her handkerchiefs, neatly folded, a small dish where she kept a couple of mint drops, and a hatpin.”

“Did she normally keep her hatpin there?  Did she only have one?”

“She had several; I gave her a few as gifts.  She usually kept them in a hat pin cushion on her bureau.”

“Did you notice any belongings missing?  Were all the hat pins found, was she wearing a bonnet when she disappeared?  Was she wearing her work dress, or was her Sunday dress missing from her belongings?”

“The dress she wore Sunday was hanging up.  All her other things were there.  Just her work dress was missing and the few things she would take with her every day.”

Sherlock continued to ask questions about every detail Mrs. Evans could remember.  When he’d finished, he told Lestrade that they could reasonably presume that she had made it home the night before, slept, and likely left for work in the morning.  That would narrow down the time for her disappearance to a couple of hours of the morning, sometime between when she would normally leave the house and when she was to arrive at work.

Sherlock’s questions delved into Miss Hopkins’ personal life, which Mrs. Evans answered guilelessly.  She’d never mentioned a suitor or particularly problematic customer.  There were no gifts of unknown origin – Sherlock even asked Mrs. Evans to produce the woman’s jewelry box and she named the provenance of the few pieces easily.

Their reception at Miss Hopkins’ last place of residence was significantly less helpful.

“I don’t know what you think, asking me all these questions.  I stay out of the lives of my tenants!”

“It would be significantly more profitable if you admitted to being the nosy, intrusive landlady you so obviously are,” Sherlock had finally replied quite scornfully.  “It would have also been more conducive to the investigation if you had waited to clean out the room until the end of the month, instead of telling her sister Miss Hopkins had only paid through the end of the week.”

The woman’s face burned, clearly caught out.

“I have a living to make.  I can’t leave rooms empty when the tenant is clearly dead and gone.”

“And how can you be so sure?”  Sherlock stood, his tall form quite imposing leaned over the indignant woman.  “Did you observe a threat to her person, perhaps her abductor, and refuse to say anything all this time?”

“No, of course not.”  But she seemed much more intimidated now than she had.

“Then what are you hiding?”

“Nothing.”

If a Sherlock-level glare wasn’t going to make the woman spill, nothing would.  John and Mr. Lestrade collected Sherlock and ushered him out the door.  He was scowling, but strode off in the direction of the shop where Miss Hopkins worked, taking the most likely route and throwing his eagle eye in every direction as he went.

John and Mr. Lestrade followed, their pace leisurely because Sherlock stopped often to examine this or that, or speak to someone on his way.

“Would that we could have him on every case in London,” Lestrade mused.  “The city would be a much safer place if every potential criminal knew he’d be caught out within hours of his crime by the likes of Sherlock Holmes.”

“Is that why you work with him?  To ensure justice?”

“That is a perk, yes, but I do get paid by how many criminals I bring in, how many crimes I solve.  Mr. Holmes will make me a rich man by the time I retire.  No one else at Bow Street is smart enough to realize that.”

“Quite shrewd, Lestrade, I must admit.”

The walk from the boarding house to the shop took nearly an hour at their snail’s pace.  It might take Miss Hopkins a quarter-hour at most if motivated.  Once at the shop, Sherlock asked a few questions of the proprietor about the daily habits of Miss Hopkins and left looking thoughtful.

“Lestrade, if you don’t mind, I have an appointment to keep.  We’ll work on the next victim on your list tomorrow.”

“Really?” Lestrade gaped, unable to believe that Sherlock was going to abandon an investigation mid-afternoon.  John was somewhat astonished, too.  Of course, they had been shopping in the morning with little mention of the case.

“A bite to eat, John?”

John agreed because they had not paused in their day and he’d been ignoring his stomach for an hour.  A cup of tea and a couple small biscuits at Mrs. Evans’ home earlier did little to satisfy.

Sherlock found them a cozy little dining room with a spot near the window facing the street.  He declined to order any food, but when John’s meal came, he did steal a slice of bread and butter from his plate.

“So what do you think about Miss Hopkins?”

“I think the abductor would have had to be very clever to carry someone off without alerting anyone, especially on a busy street in the morning.  She would have had to appear to go willingly.”

“Perhaps a friend, or someone she thought of as a friend.”

“Perhaps.”  Sherlock peered out the window, thinking, always thinking.  “I wish we could have seen her rooms intact.  I might have been able to see the quality of her mail and whether she burned papers in her fireplace.”

“A secret affair?”

Sherlock sighed.  “Useless speculation.  Are you quite finished?  I have someone I wish for you to meet.”

John might have wished for a few more minutes to let his meal settle, and to rest from their day-long excursion, but he was plenty used to eating in a rush from the army so he rose without complaint.  Sherlock left a generous coin on the table for the meal and tucked John inside another hack.  The address he gave the driver was near the university hospital with whose morgue John was already acquainted.

 

***** End of chapter 38, though I wanted to point out that I thought it was funny that wordpress kept suggesting that there was more than one abductor, for the word was underlined and the suggestion was “abductors.”  Now who is the detective here, wordpress, I ask you??  LOL

 

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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

37,188 words. Fighting for every last one…

This last week has been rough to get myself to write.  Partly because I had very little material done for the chapters I was working on and partly because I ended up doing a massive rewrite of the last chapter I posted.  I like to have notes and things I’ve jotted down, clever ideas and partial scenes to work with when I really sit down to write.  It makes me feel like I’m not starting with a blank page and no ideas.  So even though I knew what I wanted to happen in each of the next chapters, and where my goal was for the end of the day today, it was pulling everything out breech.  Urg.

And just now I pasted everything in this box and it said there was only 1900 words, I about died.  All that work and less than 2K words?  Kill me now.  (Fortunately, it eventually updated to more like 5200, and at least that feels much more worth it!  I was scared there for a moment!)  The posted work is 87 pages so far, with another 15 or so of notes and scenes that may or may not find their way into permanent chapters.  I didn’t post a word count on my last post, but did mention 75 pages, so I must have made a dent.  I got past the wedding, the morgue, the ball afterwards and by the end of this, John and Sherlock have arrived at Baker St.

Whew.

Now, I have bits and scenes of their home life, and ideas for advancing the plot, but I think even the Dr Pepper I had today can’t keep me going any longer for today.  And to think, all this might not have been done if I had worked like I was supposed to today!  Snow day! 🙂  I tried to get things done yesterday so I wouldn’t have much in the way of household chores to do today, but I still procrastinated a lot.  Nice day, though, if it sped by awfully fast.

I’m shutting up now.  Reminder, Chapter 32 is a repost due to about 50% new material and some other editing that I can’t believe I missed.  So, 32-35.  Hopefully the rest of them aren’t full of glaring errors. 🙂

 

Chapter 32

The number of guests more than tripled as the sun faded from the sky.  All the dividers in the ballroom had been opened until it nearly spanned the length of the manor’s west wing.  Between the roaring fireplaces and the hundreds of candles reflected in dozens of mirrors, the place was ablaze with light and heat.  The crush of people, as well, kept the room warm despite the balcony doors being opened to the gardens.

Sherlock and John were separated for some time after dinner, until Sherlock found him speaking with an ambassador of some sort in their only common language: quite rusty Latin.  Sherlock tucked John’s free hand around his elbow and smiled graciously at the man.  John’s fingers tightened under Sherlock’s, but other than that, he showed no outward expression of surprise.

Interesting, Sherlock thought, he has his shining, smiling party mask as well.

Sherlock moved John to one guest after another, making introductions and showing his most polite face.  It was the in-between that had John’s face red with laughter.

“You shouldn’t be telling me that, even if you know it, Sherlock,” John huffed, wiping a tear from his eye.  The Italian ambassador apparently favored a red satin corset and padded his breeches as well as his stockings to appear much more robust and well-formed than he was.

Sherlock merely winked and wheeled John around to meet Lady Ravensford, a young woman newly married to an older Lord, and even more newly debauched by… Sherlock glanced around… the youngest of her husband’s sons, newly in London to attend university.

“My, you are the worst gossip,” John scolded, with an incongruous grin on his face once the young lady had departed.  “How do you know it was not someone else?  There are a lot of people here; perhaps more than one couple has snuck off for a tryst in a quiet corner.”

“No doubt that is true, John, but she is young and newly wed.  She has hardly had the time to make a wide acquaintance in this circle.  She would be familiar with her new family.  Not to mention, they returned to the ballroom from different doors, but too close to the same time for coincidence.  They are both too silly and inexperienced to hide it.”

Sherlock’s deductions warmed John’s ear and tickled his neck just beneath his collar.  The taller man leaned closely to John so he could speak softly.  Sherlock understood discretion; he simply chose not to employ it much of the time.  But since his close confidence and toeing the line of propriety with wild accusations was amusing John, he found it useful not to blatantly insult everyone in the room like he might otherwise do.

And John, he was even more golden when he laughed with Sherlock.  His eyes alighted on him and lingered.  His hand stayed firmly wrapped around Sherlock’s elbow and Sherlock knew his arm would feel cold when John finally pulled away.  John was having a good time and Sherlock found he was delighted to keep entertaining the man.

These thoughts were interrupted by yet another politician, one Lord Crossham, whom Sherlock had met more professionally.  Sherlock hardly had to open his mouth for introductions before the good-natured man reached out his hand.

“Your husband, Holmes here, tracked down a diamond set that had belonged to my grandmother,” the man said as he shook John’s hand vigorously.  “Even Bow Street turned up their nose at it, but within two weeks, this one walked to a completely random tree in Hyde Park, reached into a knothole, and pulled out thousands of pounds worth of jewels!”

“It wasn’t random, obviously,” Sherlock stated, rolling his eyes.  John grinned at him.

“So how did you figure out where they were stashed?”

“Followed the thief when he hid the next thing he stole, a pair of pearl drop earrings from Lady Abbotsford, I believe.”

“And your discovery of the thief?”

“Elementary.  As the jewels weren’t immediately dismantled and pawned – none of my contacts had come across anything of the sort – the criminal must have been taking things for fun, from houses or people in his acquaintance.  It was merely tracing rumors of other thefts, comparing their invitation lists and investigating the suspects.  Honestly, I don’t know why Bow Street hadn’t gotten anywhere with it.”

“Likely no runner wanted to be in a position to accuse gentry of theft,” John said, ever the voice of reason.

“If they’d even the mind to consider the option,” Sherlock added smugly.

“Either way, it didn’t earn them any favors,” Lord Crossham concluded.  “However, it enhanced my opinion of Holmes here, greatly.”

John and Sherlock had barely excused themselves when they turned right into a breath-takingly lovely woman resplendent in emerald, both in gown and in jewel.  Her dark hair was twisted up quite simply, despite the Grecian curls that seemed to be in fashion.  This woman did not need to obey fashion to be beautiful.

“My dear Mr. Holmes!  Would you care to dance?”  Her voice was warm and honey-toned.

“You know very well that I do not dance,” Sherlock returned stiffly, cupping his free hand over John’s fingers where they curled around his elbow.  He might have moved himself and John away entirely if giving this woman the cut direct wouldn’t place him in a more awkward position, both with his brother and with having to explain to John why.

“Oh, but now that you are married, surely you will be enticed into a turn on the floor now and then by your handsome husband?”  Her eyes glinted with repressed laughter.

John lifted his cane.  “He has been forgiven from such tedious activities, my lady.”

“Captain Watson, my most heartfelt congratulations on your acquisition.”  She offered one black satin-gloved hand to John.  “And since Mr. Holmes will never introduce us properly, allow me to do so.  Lady Adler.”  She beamed, inordinately pleased when John bent and brushed his lips to the back of her hand.

“I was astonished at the news that Mr. Holmes was to marry.  I can certainly see why he would be convinced.”  Her melodious voice was altered only slightly by the sly smile on her face.  “Such nice manners on your inamorato, Mr. Holmes.”

Sherlock glared at her and changed the subject.  “So, you finally managed to convince the Prince Regent to bestow a title on you, Irene.”

She reacted by giving no reaction other than a simple smile.

“Yes, Prinny has been quite generous.  He’s even hinted that the title could become hereditary if I produced a son.”

“Will you?  Are you?”  Sherlock realized he was far too intent on the answer and schooled his features with a touch more disinterest.

“Really, do I look like one who would do such a thing only to benefit ungrateful future generations?”  She ran the edge of her fan up Sherlock’s arm, stepping closer and smiling up at him.  Sherlock felt John’s grip on his other arm tighten.

“Hardly, Irene.”  Sherlock quite pointedly shifted away.

“You know me so well.”  She cocked her head, examining the two of them together.  “I do hope we will run into each other again very soon.  I do imagine Prinny is quite bereft without me.”

With a flicker of her eyes over the pair of them, she swanned away and disappeared into the crowd.

“Goodness, Sherlock, how do you know her?”

“We used to frequent some of the same house parties.  She was not always as elevated as she imagines herself to be now.”

“House parties?”  Sherlock at a house party?  In the dull country?  That would mean keeping company and polite conversation and no running off to investigate crimes and examine bodies in the morgue.  John couldn’t imagine it.

“We had some mutual acquaintances when I attended lectures at the university.”

“If I didn’t know better, Sherlock, I would say the two of you had been involved.”  That came out before John thought better.  He bit his lips together and looked away before he flushed.

“Jealousy is one of her many tools, John,” Sherlock replied with a cool edge.  “She is a cat, invested only in the hunt and toying with her food before she devours it.  She only plays her game with me because she can’t believe how fruitless the endeavor is.”

“I’m sorry, Sherlock.”

“Whatever for?  Come now, Mycroft expects me to introduce you to more of his vapid cronies.  We should get that over with.”

 

Chapter 33

 

As the evening lengthened, Sherlock found John a spot at a whist table with his cousin Petrina.  John seemed to enjoy her conversation and dinner, and now that his leg was tiring from endless trips up and down the ballroom, he deserved a little time to sit and relax.  Petrina promptly arranged the game and seated two others at the table, neither of them Holmes’.

“Now, Petrina, don’t steal away all of John’s pride and pocket money,” Sherlock said with a wink.

“Oh, now, cousin, would I do that?”

John, who showed his relief at being seated for only a brief flicker, was quickly introduced to the two other players and Sherlock left him to seek out a brief moment of quiet.  It wouldn’t be too long before they could consider their obligation to Mycroft complete and depart for the quiet of Baker Street.  There were too many people here, as there always were at Mycroft’s entertainments.  Sherlock had yet to see the Regent, but no doubt he was holding court in some corner with Irene by his side.

Sherlock found himself upstairs in his old room, alone, and the voices from downstairs began to fade.  Of course, that only made the noise in his head appear louder.  Sherlock sat in the chair by the window, bowed his head into his hands and closed his eyes.  This all hadn’t seemed so overwhelming with John on his arm.  Sherlock rubbed his elbow; his arm was cold.  He took no pleasure in having predicted this correctly.  Perhaps he should just go downstairs.  Likely no one would allow him at their table, but he could watch John enjoy his game.

It didn’t take Sherlock long to come to his decision and he stood just as someone opened the door.  Sherlock was about to scold a wayward guest for daring to use his room as a trysting spot when he realized who the person backlit in the doorway was.

“Victor.”  The name dripped from his lips like gurgled-up poison.

“Sherlock.”  The man stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.  For a mere second Victor disappeared from his view when the light from the hallway was closed off, but then Sherlock’s eyes adjusted and the slim figure protruded from the darkness.

“What do you want?”

“What do I ever want, Sherlock?  A bit of your time and attention.”

“No.”  Sherlock tried to conceive of a plan to escape: forward would only bring him closer to Victor and Mycroft had constantly cleared his balcony of a

anything useful to climb down even going so far as to remortar the chinks in the brickwork to remove convenient toeholds.  “I’m not yours anymore.”

“Yes, yes, married to that bland-looking Watson fellow.  Why on earth would you do something like that?  So incredibly dull.”

Sherlock couldn’t formulate an answer that wouldn’t sound defensive or petulant.  He went with defensive.

“John is not dull.”

“Oh, was it true love, then?  Die Liebe auf den ersten Blick?”  (Love at first sight.)  The young man faked his overwhelming delight.  The inherent cynicism was grating.

“Victor, you’re being dreadfully tedious.”  Sherlock heaved out a sigh.  “As usual.”

That addition brought a glare.

Sherlock used that moment to brush past Victor and open the door.

“Oh, I’m sure your limp-legged husband won’t ever grow tiresome, Sherlock.  Because you never, ever get bored with your toys.”

Sherlock went out the door, practically flew down the hall and strode down the stairs, all too aware that Victor trailed close behind.  What he wasn’t entirely aware of was the smug look on Victor’s handsome face as he langorously followed Sherlock down the stairs.  A few glances and whispers among the guests traveling through the foyer made him look back.  Victor made a few unnecessary adjustments to his clothing and leered.

A quick glance at the guests at the foot of the stairs told Sherlock exactly what they surmised had happened in the private rooms upstairs.  Well, their lecherous deductions were completely wrong!  Sherlock felt his face warm in annoyance.  Mycroft was going to be furious, since there was no chance he wouldn’t hear of this.  Chances are, whispers were making their way into his ear this very second.  Sherlock’s only chance was to have an alibi in John; the man could say that Sherlock had left his side only a very short few minutes.

Play the loving husband, Sherlock.  Mycroft’s words pecked at his shoulders, hounded him.  Was there something else he could do?  Find John.

John was precisely where Sherlock had left him, having received a slice of cake from somewhere and finished most of the dense, fruity dessert.  Sherlock absently picked up a crumb and had a taste, resting his hand on John’s shoulder.  Victor hadn’t followed him in here; hopefully he had skulked out of the house now that his mischief was managed.  Sherlock’s eyes scanned the room for a few moments, noting the occupants and the various games at play.

When his eyes finally were drawn down to John’s table, he was surprised to see Petrina and John in gleeful conspiracy and with already a hearty addition to their token piles of coin.

“Quite the gambler, are we?” Sherlock mused.

John chuckled, much to the chagrin of the two non-Holmes’ occupants of the table.  “There is plenty of boredom while at war.  And sometimes the best way to heal a wound is to play a few hands of cards with the unfortunate soldier.”

“Really, John, magically healing card playing?  Ridiculous.”

John laughed again and threw down another card.  “Do you play, Sherlock?”

“Only with absolute strangers,” Petrina interrupted.  “Once someone knows our Sherlock, they wouldn’t dare.  He can tell which cards I have in my hand by the flyaway hairs on my head, I wager.”

“I’ll take that wager.  Sherlock, do tell me which cards she has in her hand.”

Sherlock glanced at his cousin.  She had a tendency to arrange the cards in proper order, move the cards around in blocks of their suit.  Sherlock saw the cards on the table, the cards in John’s hand in front of him.  Each player had six cards left.

“Six of hearts, three and queen of diamonds, nine and ten of clubs, king of spades.”

“And this is why no one plays whist with Sherlock.”  Petrina laid her hand out, exactly as Sherlock had stated.

“Amazing,” John breathed.  “I suppose I owe you a forfeit, Miss Holmes.”

“You most certainly do not, John!  She wagered that I’d know by her flyaway hairs.  I knew because I walked into the room from behind her and saw her cards.  It only took deducing the game play I witnessed to narrow down the cards she had left.”

Petrina laughed and flicked over her largest coin into John’s pile.  “Foiled by semantics.”

“It’s still quite brilliant, Sherlock.”

John was looking up at him with that golden look again.

“It’s quite warm in here.  I swear Mycroft is a crotchety old woman sometimes, with how he stokes the fires.  Come out to the gardens with me.”

The other table occupants exchanged smiling glances.

“Miss Holmes, if I don’t see you again before you head to the Dark Continent, it was a true delight.”

“Oh, I’ll impose on your hospitality, I’m sure, Captain Watson, once you are settled.  Good evening, cousin.”

“Petrina.  Come along, John.”

John dawdled a moment more, politely wishing the others at the table a good night and sweeping up his winnings.  He collected his cane and took Sherlock’s arm and allowed himself to be lead outside.

 

Chapter 34

 

Sherlock seemed rather desperate for the cool, damp air in the gardens.  There were lights placed here and there amongst the topiary and smaller candles flickered along the paths, but mostly the out-of-doors was watery moonlight and deep shadow.  John watched Sherlock’s eyes dark around in the darkness, taking note of anyone else he saw.  A few people had spilled onto the balcony, so Sherlock pulled John onto the lawn.

“Is everything all right, Sherlock?” John asked when Sherlock had found them a cold stone bench to perch upon.  Sherlock leaned back, stretching out his long legs.  John sat upright and as close to the edge as possible, balancing his cane against the bench behind him.  The cool air felt good after the stifling weather indoors, but the bitter cold against his backside would quickly become numbing.

“Yes, fine, John,” Sherlock replied shortly.  “Just tired of all the stupid people.  So much idiocy and vanity and obliviousness in one place could cause an explosion, you know.  The candle flames would set it off like black powder.”

John patted Sherlock’s hand.

“Can’t escape them for one minute.  Just look at them, the nosy cows.”

John turned his head to where Sherlock was glaring.  At least twenty more people had come out onto the balcony in the few minutes he and Sherlock had been out there.

“Perhaps a dance just ended and they’ve come out to cool down.”

“No, second movement.  They’re watching us.”

John listened to the music still audible from the glowing ballroom.  He had to agree; it didn’t sound like the piece had just started, nor were the musicians taking a break.  He and Sherlock were sitting near several path lights.  If John could see the expression on Sherlock’s face so clearly, surely so could anyone on the balcony.

“Why would they be watching us?  We’re not doing anything interesting.”

“Oh, yes, John, brilliant!”

John would never have guessed what would come after that exclamation.  Sherlock shifted, pressing his knee against John’s, put both hands on his shoulders, and pressed their lips together.

It was chaste, at first, but John pulled back from Sherlock’s enthusiastic embrace just enough to soften the kiss, make it more tender.  John didn’t know what impulse overtook Sherlock, but he wasn’t going to let this chance go to waste.  He moved one hand to Sherlock’s cheek, high cheekbones under his fingertips, and the other hand to Sherlock’s knee where it pressed against his own.

Sherlock’s lips were soft and full with a sharply peaked Cupid’s bow.  John followed the well-defined line with his lips.  A shiver went through him as he thought about tracing that line with his tongue.  He couldn’t believe Sherlock had initiated kissing; John had felt so sure that Sherlock had no interest in him that way.  Their kiss at the magistrate’s office had been somewhat hesitant on Sherlock’s part, and quick.

But Sherlock, John realized after a few seconds, wasn’t actively participating in this kiss.  He was leaning forward, keeping the pressure consistent, adjusting himself to John’s preferences, but he wasn’t really kissing back, not exactly.  John pulled back slightly, his eyes straining to see Sherlock’s eyes in the flickering light.

“Sherlock, I’m sorry… did you… have you… have you never been kissed before?  Or am I doing something you don’t like?”  John made sure to keep his voice very low and not make any sudden movement of withdrawal.  If the people on the balcony could see, they could possibly overhear, and this was private, dammit, no matter how public.

“It’s nothing like that, John,” Sherlock murmured back softly, though that was not really an answer to the question.  “I think we’ve given them enough of a show so that we might make our excuses and depart for home.”  Sherlock gently moved away, his hands dropping from John’s shoulders.

A show.  John turned away from Sherlock, facing the garden so his face couldn’t be seen by the multitudes of curious guests not-so-subtly sashaying past through the glow from the bright windows behind him.  He focused out into the darkness until Sherlock disappeared from the corner of his eye.

“I thought you didn’t care what people thought.”

“I don’t care, John, but sometimes it’s convenient to have them believe one thing or another.”

Sherlock seemed content to let it go at that, but the conversation kept going in John’s head.  He turned it around several ways, but none of them ended well.

When Sherlock plucked at his elbow again and said, “Come, John,” he dutifully followed his heartless husband into the cackle of hyenas inside.

 

Chapter 35

 

Lord Sherrinford met John and Sherlock in the foyer as they waited for their overcoats.

“Pardon us, Captain Watson.  I must have a final word with my brother before he departs.”

Lord Sherrinford didn’t wait for John’s brief nod before unlocking the study door and ushering Sherlock into the empty room.  He made sure the door was shut completely behind him before speaking.

“Congratulations, brother, on that lovely display on the balcony.  Lady Adler almost believed it, for a brief second, just long enough for her laugh to stutter.  She handled it quite smoothly, though, pretending she was entranced by the beauty of such a loving moment.”

“Did Victor believe it?  That will be the true test.”

“What do you mean, Victor?”

“Do not tell me you neglected to invite him, Mycroft.”  As annoyed as Sherlock was at Victor’s unexpected presence, he did enjoy knowing something his brother did not.

“I most certainly did not invite that man, I promise you.”  Lord Sherrinford’s voice was edged with the pointiest icicles.

“He was here.  Gone now, most likely.”

“Did you invite him?”

Sherlock glared at his brother.  “No, of course not.”

“He must have accompanied someone else.  I shall endeavor, dear brother, to find out whom.”

“Don’t bother.  He’s already made his trouble.”

Sherlock didn’t put it above his brother to allow Victor into his home for the sole purpose of proving to the provocateur that Sherlock was now a married man and out of his reach.  Sherlock just wasn’t sure if Mycroft understood that his marriage would mean nothing to the Victor he knew.  Marriage vows meant little when it came to his pursuance of pleasure and discord.

“What sort of trouble?”

Sherlock didn’t want to tell him, but Mycroft was only helpful if he had full knowledge.  Surprising him only led to further annoyance.

“I had gone up to my old room; he was there.  When I descended the staircase, he followed.”

“Making it clear what you two were doing in an upstairs bedroom, no doubt.  Sherlock, how could you be so stupid?”

“I’m not going to have this argument for the umpteenth time.  My acquaintance with Victor is over.  It’s been over for a year.  It is not a mistake I wish to repeat.”

“See that you don’t.”

“Bossy, egotistical, pushy…”  Sherlock drained his extensive vocabulary onto his brother as he pulled open the door and rejoined his new husband in the foyer.

Lord Sherrinford moved to shake his brother-in-law’s hand.

“Have you said goodbye to Sir Harold, Captain Watson?  I understand he leaves for Essex in the morning.”

“I’ve no wish to, Lord Sherrinford,” John answered shortly.  “Are you ready, Sherlock?”

“More than,” answered his husband with a dramatic sigh.

Lord Sherrinford’s coach was waiting at the foot of the front steps to transport them to their new home on Baker Street.  Neither of them spoke, and John only sat on the seat beside Sherlock so he wouldn’t have to face that probing glare directly.

Time, he told himself, they both needed time to figure out where their place in each other’s life would be.  Nothing had to be set in stone tonight.  John could be patient.  Just because John so desperately wanted to kiss Sherlock and Sherlock came away from the activity so dispassionate didn’t mean that was the end.  And even if it was, John could live his own life.  Sherlock was right about one thing: this marriage was freedom for them both.

But he didn’t have to think about this now.  He certainly didn’t want to talk about this now and was very glad for the other man’s silence.

The ride to Baker Street was surprisingly quick, not being too terribly far from Lord Sherrinford’s posh Mayfair address.  John thought he might have walked farther to Bow Street, but he’d have to check a map.  Also they were situated very near the bit of land the Regent had commissioned architect John Nash to develop.  It would be a lovely place to walk, if they allowed in the public.

The coach pulled up in front of a narrow townhouse in a row of similar places, number 221 next to the door.  Lamps glowed in two of the upstairs windows; their few servants had been sent ahead by Lord Sherrinford to prepare the place for habitation and, of course, Sherlock had already taken up residence.  One of the young, efficient footmen from the Sherrinford House opened the door a few moments after the clatter of hooves stopped in front of the house, welcoming the new occupants as they descended from the coach.

“Welcome home, Captain Watson,” a womanly voice greeted as John stepped inside the door.  The young man closed the door behind him and instantly moved to take John’s coat.

“What about me, Mrs. Hudson.  Am I not welcome?”  Sherlock was grinning at the woman who’d appeared.  She was older, but still spry.

“Of course you are!”  She patted him on the shoulder with a good amount of familiarity.  Sherlock bussed her cheek, stripping off his greatcoat and tossing it to the footman, who caught it easily as if he expected the heavy wool to fly into his arms at any second.

“Goodness, let me look at the both of you.”

Sherlock obediently descended the two steps he’d already climbed and stood next to John.

“Married, I just can’t believe it!”

“It must have been inevitable, Mrs. Hudson, for you know I do not believe in miracles.”  Sherlock’s tone was friendly and impish.  John had never seen him behave like this with anyone else in their short acquaintance.

“John, this is Mrs. Hudson.  She will be our housekeeper.  Matthews there is footman, valet, butler, whatever-else-you-may-require.”  The young man bowed politely to John, arms now relieved of coats.  “Mycroft provided you with a maid, too, did he not, Mrs. Hudson?”

“Yes, yes, I sent her home for the night ages ago.  She’ll be around in the morning.  Now, you should show your Captain Watson around the house.  I could send a nice pot of tea upstairs for you, if you wish?”

“That would be lovely, thank you, Mrs. Hudson.”  The woman and their footman disappeared towards the back of the house.

“A quick tour, then, John?”

“Certainly.”

Sherlock was off and practically running.

“First floor sitting room, public.  I see Lestrade and clients in here.”  He took a few steps past the staircase.  “Kitchen,” he gestured vaguely in the direction Mrs. Hudson had disappeared.  Her rooms are tucked behind there.  This,” Sherlock said with a grand gesture of flinging open the door just under the staircase, “is my laboratory!”

John caught up to him and peered inside the door.  The room was spacious, or would have been if it was not piled with books, papers, and boxes of glass lab equipment.  The walls were lined with tables and there were two large windows that opened to the narrow space between the houses.  They were clearly more for ventilation than any sort of light or view.

“I have not had time to set up all my experiments.  I do not allow Mrs. Hudson or the maid in here, and no one at all unattended.  They might disturb something fragile or important.  You may come in here, if you wish, but I don’t recommend touching anything.”

This was clearly a large compliment to John, since he was apparently trusted not to louse anything up.

“Our main living area is upstairs.”

Sherlock took the lamp from the table near the door and closed up his lab.  His long legs took the stairs two at a time; John followed more carefully.  It had been a long day and his legs were getting tired.

The room at the first landing was a rather nice sitting room with windows facing the garden at the back of the house.  The view was slightly desolate this time of year, but no doubt Sherlock would instruct the growth of vibrantly colored poisonous plants in spring.  The thought made John smile just a little, remembering the day they met.  Sherlock was a force of nature, he was.

The sitting room was mostly set up, though there were boxes of books and paperwork.

“I wish to organize my books myself, or I shall never find anything.  I can’t imagine what Matthews, or Heaven forbid, the maid thinks is proper cataloguing.”

There was a large desk near the window, plenty of shelves on the wall near the fireplace, comfortable-looking leather chairs and a long sofa.  John glanced around.

“I think this will be quite nice, Sherlock.”

“You’re pleased?  Excellent.  Moving everything again would be quite tedious.  Come along.”

Sherlock disappeared through a door.

“This is your bedroom,” he announced when John had followed.  “I’ve taken the second bedroom upstairs.  I thought that with your leg, the fewer stairs at the beginning and end of the day, the better.  However, if my habits of wandering around at all hours of the night begin to annoy you, we can switch.”

John wasn’t quite sure what to say.  “I’m sure it will be fine,” he finally managed, but Sherlock wasn’t particularly listening to him.

“I see you’re tired, John.  It’s been a long day.  Be grateful that newlyweds are expected to leave early.”  Sherlock grinned impishly.  “Mycroft will be kept awake by the festivities until nearly dawn.  Get some rest.  Matthews will bring up the tea tray for you, a nice, soothing peppermint I imagine, and you can settle in.”

Sherlock was nearly out the door when John spoke.

“When did you last sleep, Sherlock?”

“What day is it?” he replied with a distracted flutter of his fingers.  “Too much to do, John!  I ought to be able to finish the books in the sitting room at the very least, see what Mycroft has kept behind that I’ll have to steal next time he makes me visit.”

Sherlock swept the door shut behind him, not hearing John’s belated, “Good night.”

John had indeed settled in a half hour later, warm tea in his stomach, a glowing fire in his fireplace.  He could hear Sherlock puttering around in the sitting room next door, but the sounds were homey and comforting.  He would much rather that Sherlock, well, was in this large, soft bed with him, but he didn’t feel nearly as lonely as he thought he might.  He felt a lot of possibility opening in front of him, and so while he was still a bit unsettled, he wasn’t unhappy.

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Chapters 29-32

I feel like I’ve read over these chapters about a million times and I’m still missing things 🙂  So hopefully there’s nothing left too mangled.  Still, hit the 75 page milestone! 🙂  Hope no one is bored! ;o)

Also, I got my AO3 invite today, so someday soon I will work on posting this and my old Anita Blake stuff there.  I might have done so today, but I was lazy and then my mom called and we chatted for an hour until I was sleepy and lazy so I’m merely grateful I got all this written.  As it is, I think I’m going to post this and go have dinner and watch Elementary.  I close again this weekend, so perhaps I will get several more chapters done in the mornings.

Chapter 29

 

John was sure that the resplendent sight of Lord Sherrinford’s gilded coach drew more than a few eyes as their driver pulled up outside the hospital near the morgue entrance.  Sherlock neither noticed nor cared, and merely dismounted and left John and Lestrade to follow in his wake.

“I truly am sorry for interrupting your wedding day, Captain Watson,” Lestrade said as they followed Sherlock inside.  “I guess it will be something you’ll become accustomed to, married to a Holmes.”

“It’s only been an hour, Lestrade, and it’s interesting already.”

Lestrade chuckled.  “That’s the spirit.  So I’m guessing there is no honeymoon trip planned?”

“Can’t imagine dragging Sherlock out of London right now, can you?”

“Mighty understanding of you.”

“I’ve spent enough time away from England, anyway.  I’d prefer to settle in.  Just moving to London is enough of a change from Essex and a hell of a change from France.”

Lestrade grunted in agreement and opened the morgue door for John, gesturing the gentleman inside ahead.

Sherlock stood at the table where a small body lay.  The clothing had not yet been removed, but the body was flat on the table.  Sherlock cautiously moved one of the limbs and, while it didn’t flop loosely, it wasn’t completely stiffened with rigor, either.  John moved up behind his husband and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Is it one of the boys you spoke to last night?” he asked in a low voice.

Sherlock did not precisely move away because John’s hand was on his shoulder, but he did find that he needed to examine the body from another angle, one out of John’s reach.

“His name is James, usually called Moss.  His mother is Frannie Sue.  She works on Fetcher Street in Whitechapel, but you will most likely find her at the Cock and Sow.  No real point in finding her, Lestrade, she already knows.”

Sherlock picked away at the roughly stitched shirt the boy was wearing.  The sleeves of a much larger shirt had been folded back along his short, skinny arms and the cuffs fastened with black stitches near his shoulder.  The excess fabric along his cuffs was pinched with stitches.  The too-wide collar was tethered closed with a bit of cording and the billowing fabric around his waist was wrapped around him more than twice.  It helped keep him warm under a tattered jacket more loose thread than weave.

“How would she know?”

“The children, Lestrade, they’re everywhere,” Sherlock said impatiently.  “The eyes and ears of this city.  Find her, if you must, but she will have no facts to add.  She’s likely been soused since hearing of it.”

Sherlock pulled up the boy’s shirt and began examining the ribs that had been broken.  John could see the breaks clearly through the thin layer of skin on the fragile-looking boy.  His chest had been crushed; he’d had no chance.  The boy could have been any age from five to ten, he thought.  His height and weight were sleight, but often malnourished children ceased to grow.  John reached for his mouth to see if any adult teeth had broken through yet or not.  He wished he had a little more light.  Even with the windows, the room was dank.

Sherlock began laying his forearm against the boy’s chest in varying angles.

“Don’t look at me like that, John.  Mycroft will make both of us change anyway, just for having set foot in this place.  Wouldn’t want to bring the stench of inevitability to the party.”

John hummed in response.  Sherlock turned the body onto its stomach, easily shifting the small boy into the new position.  Again he moved aside the shirt and coat, took in every detail with his sharp eyes, and rolled the body back again.  When he finished his perusal he stood straight.

“What do you see, John?”

John examined the boy another few minutes and Sherlock seemed content to wait for his appraisal.

“The deceased is a young boy about seven or eight judging by the eruption of several adult teeth but missing others and no adult molars yet.  He lived rough judging by the condition of his clothes and the thinness of his body.  He rarely had enough to eat.  Lack of pronounced rigor indicates he likely died within the last three or four hours, though I’d prefer to confirm that with a temperature reading.  Cause of death: pneumothorax, given the cyanosis, spots of blood on the lips, and several compound fractures of the ribs.”

“Is that all?”

“What else do you want me to say?”

“The most important thing!  The cause!”

“Pneumothorax, as I said.  His lung became punctured and, untreated, he eventually asphyxiated and died.  It was a drawn out, painful, unnecessary death for a small boy, Sherlock.”

“Exactly!”

“What?”

“He may have died only a few hours ago, but he was left to die by someone incapable of making his death quick and painless.”

“What do you mean, Holmes?” Lestrade jumped in.  He’d been observing the two men examining the corpse, each in their own particular way.

“Look at the fractures.”  Sherlock demonstrated by laying his arm against the boy’s chest again.  “They match the length and direction of a man’s arm, in a way that suggests he was holding a struggling boy tight to him.  Any accomplished murderer would have brained him against the cobbles or the brick of a building, or snapped his neck.  But this murderer was clumsy, ham-handed even.  He simply squeezed the boy until he stopped moving, dropped him and ran away.  Bumbling oaf.”

“That’s ghastly, Sherlock.”

Sherlock’s feverish eyes rose to meet John’s somewhat appalled ones.

“Not good?”

“Bit not good, yah.”

Sherlock looked a bit flustered.  “It would have been a kindness to the lad to have died more efficiently.”

John was only slightly mollified by this turn of phrase.

“So we’re looking for a rather inept killer, then?” Lestrade asked, clutching one wrist with the opposite hand behind his back and looking for the moment like a completely capable officer of law and order, even if Sherlock’s pronouncement baffled him.

“Yes, at the very least.”  Sherlock rolled the body away from him, just a little, and closely examined the boy’s collar, pinching a few stray hairs away with his gloved fingertips.

“Sherlock, we ought to be getting back soon.  Your brother will become concerned.”

“You mean angry, John.  Try to speak accurately.”

“Yes, Sherlock, angry,” John humored him.

“I’ll only be a few more minutes.”  Sherlock took his prizes to a microscope that faced a window.  After a few moments of adjustments to the mirror and the lens, he spent some time in silence bent over the eyepiece.  Shortly, though, he folded up the hairs in a piece of paper and stuck it in his inner pocket.

“Anything else, Sherlock?”

“Tall, my height at least, lumbering gait but not thickly built.  Unkempt, but his clothing would be fine enough not to not leave behind stray fibers.  There is a little bit of dried fluid on the back of the boy’s neck, perhaps blood thinned with saliva, though with the variety of smells from the boy’s lifestyle, death, and location in the morgue, it is difficult to pinpoint.”

John looked at the spot on the boy’s neck, drawn in by utter curiosity.  There was a smudge of cleanliness, incongruous.  The gloss over the spot was faintly pink.

“It could be the boy’s own blood.  He coughed into his hand, swiped the back of his neck,” John suggested.

“There is no such evidence on either of his hands, John.  Thus, our killer is either injured or ill.  Our work is done here, John.  Good day, Lestrade.”

Sherlock quite abruptly swept out the door.

“Yeah, he’s always like that.  Go on, John, while he’s of a mind.  Enjoy your wedding day.  I’ll have a search around and send a message if I find anything more.”

“Thank you, Mr. Lestrade.  Would you care to stop by the house for a drink later?”

“Heavens, no.  The place will be crawling with high-arsed toffs who look down on a man for having an occupation.”  Lestrade smiled, mollifying his words.  “Thanks for the invitation, though, Captain Watson.  Now, go before your husband convinces the coachman to drive along without you.”

John lurched into the coach and was barely settled when Sherlock knocked on the roof to signal the driver.

“John,” Sherlock breathed, his eyes alight.  “Our killer is leaking.”  He illustrated this statement with one forefinger drawing across the base of his neck.

“Dear Lord, Sherlock, what does that mean?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea!  Isn’t it wonderful?”

 

Chapter 30

Sherlock was quite correct that Lord Sherrinford made them both change before joining the festivities.  John wondered if this fastidiousness wasn’t less related to the faint smell of the lower parts of the city clinging to them and more that he wanted to separate the new couple and have harsh words with his brother in private.

Sherlock, however, knew this to be entirely true.

“Sherlock, I do suggest you at least attempt to play the part of loving husband.”  Mycroft stood stiffly by the door as his personal valet attended to Sherlock’s wardrobe.  He’d been resigned to Sherlock’s attendance at the morgue even on his wedding day, but he wasn’t about to tolerate a minute more of his brother’s eccentricities.

“I despise playing roles for you, Mycroft.  You know I don’t care what people think.  Especially these people.”  Sherlock craned his neck as the valet tied the cravat around his high collar, pale features twisted in annoyance.

“I won’t deny that it would benefit me for my brother to appear happily settled.  But it may also benefit you to be seen by certain persons as utterly off the market, so to speak.”

Sherlock huffed.

“As if that truly mattered in this crowd.”  Sherlock batted away the valet’s professional hands and loosened the neckcloth an inch, retying the knots himself.  It didn’t look quite as proper, but Mycroft said nothing.  Knowing it was a true blessing that Sherlock was doing anything he asked at all.

If the Regent attends, I cannot bar her entrance to the house.”

They both fell silent, appraising each other.  Mycroft, Lord Sherrinford, could not snub the mistress of the acting king, and Sherlock avoided The Woman as avidly as he avoided speaking her name.

“She will behave quite properly in company,” Sherlock soon proclaimed.  “And I will have John by my side.”

“I think you underestimate the harm she can do even while ‘behaving properly,’ as you say.”

“There is little else to be done, brother, but suffer through.”  Mycroft thought he’d never seen his brother speak so like Mycroft himself.

Sherlock strode past and into the hallway, tousling his curls a bit with a white-gloved hand.  He unerringly entered John’s dressing room, where his husband leaned on his cane while staring in the mirror.

“Are you ready, John?”

 

Chapter 31

 

“Are you ready, John?”

His new husband’s voice woke John from his reverie.  He’d never expected his life to end up like this.  A year ago he’d been living rough in the army, sometimes staying awake for days performing endless surgeries and watching good young men die anyway.  He’d rarely had time to stop and think, and when he had, he slept.  But now the war was over and the army had no use for a captain with a bum leg.  His brother had grudgingly accepted him into his home to recover from his injury but had found a new place for him as soon as possible.

And this new place, well, wasn’t this world a marvel?  John hated that he might be tempted to thank Harry one day.  He was given money enough to be comfortable, fine clothes, a home to share with an interesting husband (a stunning, impetuous, brilliant husband) and all he had to do to earn it was bear the whorls of the ton for a night.  Maybe one day he’d be asked for more (God, he begged to be asked for more by his aloof husband, but hadn’t it been clear enough that he wouldn’t be?) but for now, all this had required was a signature and a promise.  They’d muddle along and find their lives together along the way.

“Yes, Sherlock, I’m ready.  I’d rather be announced from the foot of the stairs, though.”  John brandished his cane.

“Of course.”

And so it was that Captain and Mr. Watson-Holmes were announced upon entrance to the dining room rather than having the guests gather at the foot of the stairs only to watch as John would carefully pick his way down the staircase.

The following meal was not so intolerable.  John did find Sherlock’s relatives rather fascinating.  He found himself seated next to Petrina Holmes, a well-educated woman who had recently returned from the West Indies and she had quite absorbing tales of life there.

“I do quite miss the heat and the sun,” she declared, still with an unfashionable golden glow to her skin.  “I desired nothing more than to be marooned on one of those islands, living out my days simply and wild.”

“And yet you returned to civilization, Miss Holmes,” John inquired with wonder.

“Civilization is encroaching upon the wilderness, Captain Watson,” she replied sadly.  “I believe that I shall explore Africa from the Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope next year.”

“Goodness.  That land is so vast, I might never have the pleasure of meeting you again.”

“And a hundred years from now,” she added, “there will be tales of a mysterious woman who explored the jungles and made peace treaties with the tigers!”

“To peace treaties with the tigers, Miss Holmes.”

They touched wine glasses and laughed together when John caught Sherlock’s eyes on him from across the table.  Sherlock’s eyes darted away when he was caught, but John still felt a twinge of hope in his belly.  He’d been looking, perhaps he’d been admiring.

Don’t be foolish, John.  The man had made no overt gesture signaling any intention of consummating their marriage.  And that was fine.  The circumstance of their marriage made for an awkward situation.  But still, John couldn’t help but acknowledge that he himself felt something, felt yearning.  It could be controlled.  It would be controlled until he understood otherwise.

 

Chapter 32

The number of guests more than tripled as the sun faded from the sky.  All the dividers in the ballroom had been opened until it nearly spanned the length of the manor’s west wing.  Between the roaring fireplaces and the hundreds of candles reflected in dozens of mirrors, the place was ablaze with light and heat.  The crush of people, as well, kept the room warm despite the balcony doors being opened to the gardens.

Sherlock and John were separated for some time after dinner, until Sherlock found him speaking with an ambassador of some sort in their only common language: quite rusty Latin.  Sherlock tucked John’s free hand around his elbow and smiled graciously at the man.  John’s fingers tightened under Sherlock’s, but other than that, he showed no outward expression of surprise.

Interesting, Sherlock thought, he has his shining, smiling party mask as well.

They had barely excused themselves when they turned right into a breath-takingly lovely woman resplendent in emerald, both in gown and in jewel.

“My dear Mr. Holmes!  Would you care to dance?”  Her voice was warm and honey-toned.

“You know very well that I do not dance,” Sherlock returned stiffly.

“Oh, but now that you are married, surely you will be enticed into a turn on the floor now and then by your handsome husband?”  Her eyes glinted with repressed laughter.

John lifted his cane.  “He has been forgiven from such tedious activities, my lady.”

“Captain Watson, my most heartfelt congratulations.”  She beamed at him when he properly took her hand in his and brushed his lips over it.  “And since Mr. Holmes will never introduce us properly, allow me to do so.  Lady Adler.”  She offered one black satin-gloved hand to John.  She seemed inordinately pleased when John bent and brushed his lips to the back of it.

“I was astonished at the news that Mr. Holmes was to marry.  I can certainly see why he would be convinced.”  Her melodious voice was altered only slightly by the sly smile on her face.  “Such nice manners on your inamorato, Mr. Holmes.”

Sherlock glared at her and changed the subject.  “So, you finally managed to convince the Prince Regent to bestow a title on you, Irene.”

She reacted by giving no reaction other than a simple smile.

“Yes, Prinny has been quite generous.  He’s even hinted that the title could become hereditary if I produced a son.”

“Will you?  Are you?”  Sherlock realized he was far too intent on the answer and schooled his features with a touch more disinterest.

“Really, do I look like one who would do such a thing only to benefit ungrateful future generations?”  She ran the edge of her fan up Sherlock’s right arm, stepping closer and smiling up at him.  Sherlock felt John’s grip on his other arm tighten.

“Hardly, Irene.”  Sherlock quite pointedly shifted away.

“You know me so well.”  She cocked her head, examining the two of them together.  “I do hope we will run into each other again very soon.  I do imagine Prinny is quite bereft without me.”

With a flicker of her eyes over the pair of them, she swanned away and disappeared into the crowd.

“Goodness, Sherlock, how do you know her?”

“We used to frequent some of the same house parties.”

“House parties?”  Sherlock at a house party?  In the dull country?  That would mean keeping company and polite conversation and no running off to investigate crimes and examine bodies in the morgue.  John couldn’t imagine it.

“We had some mutual acquaintances when I attended lectures at the university.”

“If I didn’t know better, Sherlock, I would say the two of you had been involved.”  That came out before John thought better.  He bit his lips together and looked away before he flushed.

“Jealousy is one of her many tools, John,” Sherlock replied with a cool edge.  “She is a cat, invested only in the hunt and toying with her food before she devours it.  She only plays her game with me because she can’t believe how fruitless the endeavor is.”

“I’m sorry, Sherlock.”

“Whatever for?  Come now, Mycroft expects me to introduce you to more of his vapid cronies.  We should get that over with.”

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

67 complete pages, 30,272 words, 28 chapters, week past deadline, still happy with it :)

Finally past the wedding ceremony!  I had intended it to come along much sooner, but I just kept enjoying what was happening along the way 🙂  Plus I needed to put some of the plot-happenings sooner rather than just idle around relationship-town… because if there are no murders, there is no love.  STILL dying to have some of the household bits come up, but there are a few wedding reception chapters after the next morgue chapter, so it’s going to be forever.  And I have a feeling this will end up being one of those 100K words plus fan fics that I’m always so baffled by.  I mean, if you can come up with that much work, why haven’t you just written a book?

Yah, I’m pointedly looking back at myself here.  🙂  Jeez.

Also, I had this inane desire for a Christmas tree Wed.  I am not sure if it was just that I got my Christmas money from my mother and it was burning a hole in my pocket or if all the Sherlock Advent stories are getting to me or what, but I really, really wanted to buy some pink lights and ornaments I saw at Goodwill.  They even had a crisp white tree there I could have bought to hang them on.  I didn’t buy any of it because I’m sure the urge will pass, and I’m not really a Christmas person.  (Hmmm, purple bat lights on a white tree and Halloween ornaments… that would match my Cthulhumas tentacle stocking next October and then I could almost justify the pink lights and pink globes and the flamingo lights I saw at Target.  Gah.  No.)

Anyway, ado, ado, ado.  Here are chapters 24 through 28.  Oh, by the by, yes, I did have fun looking up bizarre and obscure names to drip all over the extended Holmes clan.  🙂  Also I use the phrase Black Maria for the prison wagon, even though that would not come into usage for a good 20 years after the story is set.  (stupid research)  Don’t care, Love the phrase.  And it would hardly be the first or last anachronistic or completely ridiculous thing in this story.  🙂

Chapter 24

 

Sherlock returned John back to his brother’s home in time for supper.  Sherlock declined to enter, informing John that both Mycroft and Harry were currently in residence and that he’d be much better off dining elsewhere that night.  However, Sherlock dashed off before John could inquire if that was an invitation to dine with him, so John entered the house.

Harry was in a mood and Lord Sherrinford ignored it, asking utterly mundane and impersonal questions about his day.  When the questions turned around to John, he wasn’t quite sure what to reply.  I spent the night and most of the day with my fiancé and a couple of bags of rotting body parts.  Surely not proper dinner conversation.  He tried to avoid the topic entirely and thanked Lord Sherrinford for the clothing he was having made for John, something generally above and beyond his duties.

“You’re very welcome, Captain Watson.  We must have you outfitted in the latest to properly present you to our acquaintances.  I do hope you like the wedding suit in particular.  I had it modeled after your uniform.”

John’s mouth tightened.  “It is quite a fine-looking suit, Lord Sherrinford.”  It was, and it fit well, but John was no longer part of the army.  He wouldn’t have chosen the pattern.  Lord Sherrinford just inclined his head slightly.

“Tomorrow will be a busy day.  The members of the family who must travel will arrive then.  I do expect both of you around for tea and introductions.”

“Sherlock and myself?”

“Heavens, no, they already know Sherlock.”  Lord Sherrinford laughed at his little joke.  “No, you and Sir Harold.  We want them to see what a fine young man will be joining our family.”

“Of course, Lord Sherrinford, I shall make it a point to be available.”

John spent the day in the sitting room, alternately reading and greeting even more eccentric Holmes relatives with Lord Sherrinford and Harry.  Many of them had the same sharp, probing eyes as Sherlock, though few had his utter disdain for formality.  A few, to John’s delight, insinuated that they had expected this invitation due to Mycroft’s wedding, not Sherlock’s, and that they were anxiously awaiting word of the next heir.  This managed to make Lord Sherrinford color and cough into his fist.  He could only indicate that he chose to settle his brother first before focusing on himself.

John tried to remember all names like Aberforth and Euphemia and Drucilla, Philander and Petrina, Lord Talmadge and his young twins Engelbert and Ebenezer.  He’d never spoken so many syllables in his life.  A few looked rather amused at his name, John, the most common name in the country, the name given even to the anonymous man John Doe.  Try as he might, he only could later recall one of Sherlock’s great-aunts, Eunicetine, because of the staggering amount of feathers she wore in her hair (fanned out much like a peacock’s tail) and the fact that the old woman’s hands wandered quite freely.  Far too freely.

Still, John found himself having a surprisingly amusing afternoon and evening.  He and Harry didn’t have much extended family and they were not as jovial and familiar as those who descended upon the Sherrinford house.

“It is a bit overwhelming now, Captain Watson, but they will be diluted among the ton who will attend the ball tomorrow evening in celebration of the nuptials.”  Lord Sherrinford had finally finished a last introduction of a latecomer, Barindel Holmes.  The gentleman had assessed John quite thoroughly, but he was used to it now.

“Oh, I don’t mind in the least,” John said, drinking from his glass of champagne quite newly imported from France.  “Everyone has been lovely.”  And they had been.  Everyone was so pleased that Sherlock had agreed to marry, even if the man wasn’t here to dispel any lingering fancies that this was a love match.  John had flushed when Amphasia Holmes had kissed both his cheeks and declared him adorable and quite what Sherlock needed.

“The reports indicate they are just as taken with you, Captain Watson.  Quite interesting.”

 

Chapter 25

 

John stood at the top of the stairs the morning of his wedding heading down for breakfast, when the front door burst open and a seething mass of Sherlock swarmed inside.  Though to be honest, he wasn’t sure what monster from the depths of the Thames had burst inside at first.  It wasn’t until the voice, that voice, his voice rose over the kerfuffle declaring, “This is completely unnecessary!” that John had any inkling of this raggedy creature being the man he was due to marry in a matter of hours.

The ragged mass separated into several officers and one disgruntled Sherlock, and Lestrade himself stepped in behind, a smug look upon his face.

“I promised your brother I would have you here in time, Mr. Holmes, no matter what methods I had to use to accomplish the feat.”

“You put me in a Black Maria, Lestrade.”  The tone was pure disgust.

“And I’ll put you back in on the way to the magistrate if that is what it takes.”

“I gave my word.”  Haughty.

John slowly descended the staircase, eyes awfully wide.

“Sherlock…”  But he was interrupted by an unseemly bellow from none other than Lord Sherrinford.

“Sherlock Holmes, what have you been doing?  Swimming in the Thames?  On the morning of your wedding?”

“Mycroft,” Sherlock began, but was cut off.

“You will bathe immediately!  Twice!”  John had never seen Lord Sherrinford angry, or for that matter, display any particular emotion.  The man turned as red in the face as an apple, yes, with some sickly green behind.

“And that filth you are wearing will be burned!”

Heads started popping out of doors and John felt an audience behind his back at the stair railing.

“No!  I spent months on this disguise!  It took forever to get the fray and the dirt and the smell just right!”

“Well, it wasn’t very effective from keeping the good men of Bow Street in the dark, was it?”

“That is not what it is for, you blithering…”

“Upstairs!”

If Sherlock’s person had not been quite so foetid, his brother surely would have laid hands on him.  As it was, several resigned-looking footmen crowded around Sherlock and started to usher him upstairs.

“Handcuffs, Lestrade!” Sherlock called over his shoulder.

The detective, still very smug, trotted forward and pulled the key out from… his shoe.

“Dammit, your stride was a little stiff in the foot.  I can’t believe I didn’t deduce it!  I thought you had a blister from your new footwear.  You’re learning quickly, old man.”  Sherlock sounded like he was almost proud of Lestrade for besting him.

“I’ll have to get especially creative if there is a next time, Mr. Holmes.”  Lestrade unlocked the cuffs and Sherlock moved his thin hands in circles to renew his circulation.

“Indeed.”

The footman reinstated their escort, herding Sherlock as much as possible without touching his rank clothes.

“Good morning, John!” Sherlock called jovially as he spied his intended on the stair.

“Good morning, Sherlock,” John replied a little less certainly.

“Lovely day for a wedding, is it not?”

And that appalling man winked at him as he passed by.

Mad, he’s mad, John thought, continuing down the stairs as he heard Sherlock laugh behind him, sprinting towards the bathing room.  John turned the corner at the foot of the stairs and entered the breakfast room, where all the snickering Holmes’ had hurriedly reoccupied their seats.  He couldn’t help but hear the last of the conversation in the hallway as he seated himself.

“Handcuffs and a Black Maria, Lestrade?  Was that really necessary?”  But Lord Sherrinford didn’t look put out in the least as he and Lestrade shared a conspiratorial chuckle.

“He deserved the first.  A hack would have done but none would allow him inside to muck up their interior.”

“Good man, good man.”  Lord Sherrinford tossed a small bag of coin in Lestrade’s direction.

 

Chapter 26

 

The next debacle of the day (there would be many, so keep in mind that this is only the second and they hadn’t even left for the magistrate’s office yet) was when Sherlock adamantly refused to ride with Lord Sherrinford in his carriage.

“It’s ridiculous that tradition states I cannot arrive in the same carriage as John.”

“Propriety, Sherlock.  You have already flouted convention by dragging Captain Watson all over London at all times of day or night.”

“Mycroft, what difference does it make?  He and I will be married in an hour.  What makes it more proper after signing papers than before?  Really?”

“Taking vows, Sherlock.  Promising your life to someone.”

“As far as I am concerned, I made those vows already, when I agreed to marry John in the first place!”

“You are being petty and ridiculous, Sherlock.”

“So are you!”

“I don’t have a problem with riding in the carriage with Sherlock, Lord Sherrinford,” John interrupted, a bit flattered that Sherlock was fighting so hard to ride in the carriage with him.  Of course, it could be that he was simply fighting to not ride in a carriage with his brother.  It doesn’t really matter his reasons, John told himself.  “I agree with him.  It is a tradition that means very little to either of us.  And it is our wedding day.”

Both men turned to John, shocked he’d opened his mouth, much less agreed with Sherlock.  Sherlock recovered first, gloating openly at his brother.

“Fine,” Lord Sherrinford finally gritted out.  “I suppose a little unconventional behavior is expected from Sherlock anyway.”  He quickly reorganized the occupants of the parade of carriages that would take everyone from the house to the magistrate’s office.  Several of the more venerable Holmes relatives were accompanying them to the small ceremony; others would remain at the house until they returned for the celebrations.

A few efficient moments later and Sherlock and John had a carriage to themselves and were riding to the magistrate’s office.  Arranged marriages like theirs, and other marriages involving such a large exchange of money , took place in more legal settings.  They could have a religious ceremony at a church if they wished, but Lord Sherrinford had quite correctly interpreted that his brother would only become much more difficult as the day dragged on and tried to make the formalities as concise as possible.

“So where precisely did Lestrade find you this morning?”  John’s question drew Sherlock’s attention away from the window.  He’d been more subdued since his (second) argument (of the day) with his brother.

John was glad that whatever smell the wretched clothing had been imbued with had not permanently stuck to Sherlock.  That would have made this carriage ride, not to mention life in general, very unpleasant indeed.  His clothing now was very fine: black trousers, bottle green jacket which turned his grey eyes into the color of the ocean, starched whites so bright that they brought color to Sherlock’s pale skin.  His curly hair had been trimmed but still fell over his forehead and along his high collar.

John was very expensively done up for the occasion, but compared to Sherlock, he felt dowdy, very country.  The man was simply stunning.  His slim grace was only enhanced by the well-tailored clothing.  John had to tear away his gaze before he started picturing Sherlock out of the well-tailored clothing.  It wouldn’t do to deliberately frustrate himself.

“I was down by Blackfriars interviewing the mudlarks who spotted the bag of feet.”

“I thought they’d already talked to Lestrade’s men or the River Police.”

Sherlock snorted.

“The boys Lestrade’s men talked to were not the boys who found the bag.  It was passed through several hands before the River Police were summoned, and once more before the Runners got there.”

“But why would they do that?”

“They’re practically feral, John.  They do what they must to survive, though most don’t.  They certainly wouldn’t survive very long if they were known to talk to the police.”

“But some of them did talk to the police.”

“Obviously.  But only the ones who weren’t actually there.  Do keep up, John.”

John paused to process the idea.

“So did you find the ones who were actually there?”

Sherlock nodded.  “Gave me a good tip, too.  Two little beggars tried to lift the man’s purse and got up close and personal when the man tossed them into the gutter.”

“Goodness!  Would they be able to identify him?”

“Could, but won’t if they know what’s good for them.  However, I’m quite keen to do what is bad for me, so they passed along the description.”

“Well?”

“Tall as me, dark hair, scruff, but most telling of all was the fact that someone had apparently tried to slit his throat recently enough that the wound had been stitched but had not begun to heal.”

John didn’t know what to say about that, but they pulled up to the magistrate’s office and all John was required to say for the next half hour was, “I will.”

 

Chapter 27

 

Sherlock observed the man standing before him as the magistrate informed them both of the serious nature of their promises, the obligations of marriage, and whatever sentimental drivel he chose to throw in along the way.  John had clearly charmed his notorious family if the smiles behind him, particularly on Great-Aunt Eunicetine’s face, said anything at all.

And now, John stood straight and proud, a serviceman’s posture, and appeared to be listening quite closely to every word being said.  Sherlock knew about Harry’s failings and John’s valiant attempt to right everything.  He was marrying a stranger, marrying Sherlock, to save everyone whose livelihoods depended on his brother’s estate.  It was noble, if a bit… well, no, Sherlock couldn’t quite bring himself to call the gesture ‘stupid.’  John apparently thrived on self-sacrifice, first with the medical degree, then the army, now this.

Now John was looking at him, stonily he would say.  Uh oh.  He’d missed something.

“I do apologize,” Sherlock said quietly.  “My mind wandered.”

“It’s fine, Sherlock.”  John’s hand reached out and touched his arm, took his hand in his.  “Sir, please repeat the question.”  Calm.  Caring.  Not angry that Sherlock had drifted off, though he could feel Mycroft seething at his side.

“Will you, Sherlock Holmes, take this man, Captain John Hamish Watson, to be your lawful husband, your helpmeet through all the triumphs and challenges this life may bring?”

“I will.”  John’s hand squeezed his.  Sherlock tried to tamp down the millions, no, thousands, no, hundreds, no, the one thought he had about John’s hand in his.

“Will you offer your solemn vow to be true to your chosen companion, in the presence of your family and friends?”

“I will so vow.”

“Will you promise to honor and respect your husband, cherish him in good times and bad, in joy and in sorry, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?”

“I will.”

There, his part was done.  Sherlock blew out a breath.  It had been more difficult than he had thought.  Sherlock, no matter what anyone believed, did not give his word lightly.  Mycroft relaxed a little beside him as John solemnly repeated his required responses.

They moved forward to begin signing the papers.  For John and Sherlock, it was just their marriage certificate and the magistrate’s ledger.  For Mycroft, Harry and two other witnesses, it was much more, taking several quite minutes.

“You are so dutiful, John,” Sherlock whispered to his new husband.  John stood facing forward, quite strong and stoic.  “I’m not making fun.  I can admire a quality without wishing it upon myself.”  There, that broke John’s shell a little.  He almost smiled.

Their brothers stepped back into their places after flourishing their signatures and shaking hands with the magistrate and the other.  The magistrate cleared his throat, settling the assemblage of Holmes’ who’d begun to whisper in the interim.

“I will now ask for Mr. Holmes and Captain Watson to share a kiss of peace and seal their promises to each other.”

Sherlock tried somewhat unsuccessfully to contain the blush that rose to his face; his high cheekbones became suffused with red heat.  John had turned to look at him and lifted his face.  Of course, John was too short to kiss him without his cooperation.  Sherlock leaned forward and brushed his lips over the upturned corner of John’s mouth as perfunctorily as possible.  Much to his chagrin, the familial spectators applauded his miniscule effort.  John seemed pleased enough, though and took his arm as they turned and were presented for the first time as husbands.

 

Chapter 28

 

John had never shaken so many hands in his life, and not even the entirety of the Holmes family had attended the short ceremony.  There had been so many well wishes from unfamiliar faces, but Harry had yet to even offer a ‘congratulations,’ much less a ‘thank you.”  John hoped Harry was jealous of his brother’s welcoming family, of his new husband.  It was an ungracious thought, but John couldn’t help it.

“Lord Sherrinford,” John said as soon as the carriages started filling to take people back to the house.

“Yes, Captain Watson?”

“I don’t know how to ask this, but I was wondering…”

It turned out he didn’t have to ask.

“I sent a messenger with monies for the household servants at your brother’s estate this morning.  I made sure everyone was well compensated for their loyal service at such a happy time, and perhaps to make up for the leaner times in the past.”

“Thank you, Lord Sherrinford.  I didn’t really trust my brother to think of it, or to manage it if he did.”

“I hope you know, Captain Watson, that I am here to be of assistance to you.  Whatever you need, you must only ask.”

John wasn’t so sure he wanted to depend so readily on the man, for he had proven to be the manipulative sort, but he did seem to be reliable.  But he now pressed a small cloth pouch into John’s hand and it clinked with small coin.

“Do redistribute these on this happy occasion.”

Lord Sherrinford walked off, leaving John to find Sherlock in the crowd at the door.

“Why is my brother talking to Lestrade?” Sherlock asked as soon as John approached.

“Is he?  He wasn’t a second ago.”  John turned his head in the direction Sherlock had pointed his chin.  There were the two men, colluding for the second time that day.  Lestrade appeared slightly less jovial than he had mere hours ago and Lord Sherrinford’s expression was pained.

“Shall we find out?”  Sherlock quite eagerly grasped John’s elbow and drew him along.  “Lestrade, is there news?”

“I apologize for disturbing your wedding day, Holmes, but this really couldn’t wait.  I’ve promised Lord Sherrinford not to keep you more than an hour.  Just a detour, really.”  Lestrade glanced at Lord Sherrinford with meek apology in his eyes.

“I have agreed you may go, but you must return to the house within the hour.  I will not have you ensconced in the morgue the entirety of your wedding day.  And do not muss your clothing, if you please.”

Sherlock waved at his brother impatiently, whether to agree or to hurry everything along.  “What is it?”  The way Sherlock’s eyes gleamed, he clearly couldn’t have received a better wedding gift than a mystery or a piece to a puzzle.

“One of the mudlarks was found in the last hour with several crushed ribs and a punctured lung.  I was hoping you could identify him so we could notify his family, if he has one.”

“Of course.  Coming, John?”  Sherlock’s eyes kept none of their gleam, as if a solid oak door had slammed behind his eyes and none of his light could escape through the cracks.  He proceeded to their wedding coach in silence, allowing John to distribute the coins in his hand to the well-wishers who gathered at any wedding, cheering and applauding for the lucky coins strewn to the crowd.  Their joyful cries sounded like the sobs of professional mourners, just a bit.

Lestrade joined them in the coach in spite of the strangeness of it, to answer Sherlock’s questions.

“Where was he found?”

“In that little alley behind Lorstan Street, near Vechney.  Anderson thinks he was struck by a carriage.”

“And then, what, dragged himself down that alley to die of a punctured lung?”  Sherlock’s tone reverted back to his annoyed-with-stupidity normalcy.  “How was the body arranged?”

“Curled up in a ball, behind a crate.  He was next to an alley door a merchant used for deliveries or he might not yet have been found.”

“Did anyone actually see him get struck by a wagon or carriage?”

“No one has come forward as a witness, no.  I still have a few men asking around.”

Sherlock huffed.

“I shall have to examine the body.  I will be quick about it,” he added, peremptorily defensive.  Neither John nor Lestrade offered any sort of fight.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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21-23 and a little gnashing :)

Well, as we all know, for the first time since I started NaNoWriMo, I did not finish.  Not even close.  I didn’t even make it to 25,000 words by the end.  Granted, I started quite late and had little to no dedication towards my daily writing goal even when I did start, but I feel a bit pleased with the story I’m telling anyway.

Okay, so I’m totally obsessed with Sherlock, and that was pretty much the only thing that kept me going at all.  🙂

I could whine for a few more paragraphs, but that’s tedious, so I’ll move it along.  I have the next three chapters for today.  I kept hoping to get to the wedding, but it keeps getting pushed back in favor of plot.  So things are happening, but my Baker St home life scenes are getting further and further away, and they’re my favorite parts! 🙂  I’m hoping that the one day left between the scenes here and the wedding will pass in a flurry of exposition and soon we’ll have the ceremony and the celebration and… stuff 🙂

Chapter 21

 

John followed Sherlock to a cab that he somehow managed to wave down even with an unpleasantly lumpy and stained burlap bag in his grasp.  To his surprise, Lestrade hopped up inside with them.

“So, Captain Watson, how long have you been home from the war?” he asked genially as the cab sprang forth towards the hospital.

“Since summer,” John answered warily.  “My leg was injured during Waterloo.  I recuperated from fever at my brother’s home in Essex.”

“You must have fully recovered then, to chase around after this one.”

John wasn’t quite sure how to answer that.

“Much improved, thank you,” he managed.

“So how long have you known Holmes?”

John glanced at Sherlock, but he was staring out of the window, thoughts completely obliterating the conversation happening only a foot away from him.

“We met a couple of weeks ago.  He and his brother visited me and mine at my brother’s estate.”

“Just about the time of the announcement in the papers then.  Couldn’t see it being a love match, I suppose.  Congratulations, at any rate.”  Lestrade’s leaned back, pleased with John’s startled look.

“It doesn’t take a genius, Lestrade, to read a newspaper announcement.”  Sherlock’s chill voice didn’t put a damper on Lestrade’s pleasure.  “And Donovan would offer condolences, but the prat isn’t here.”

“Oh, so you knew.”

“Not for sure until you were introduced.  Never thought Holmes would marry.  Figured it must have been arranged when I saw the betrothal notice, or a grievous misprint.”  The man laughed, but in a pleasant, amused way.  “I never expected to actually meet you, and certainly not at a crime scene.  Figured you’d two keep your paths as separate as possible.  That he’d keep you at home like a little wife.”

“You’re not as dull as I often suspect, Lestrade.”

The man beamed at the offhanded praise from Sherlock Holmes.

“Except if you thought for a minute I’d simply obey Mycroft and be married without the spouse being in the least bit useful, you’re more cracked than Donovan’s left shoe.”

John hadn’t quite known Sherlock well enough to recognize the twisted, deformed nature of his praise, but Lestrade merely laughed again.

“A medical man, and a soldier.  You’ve done quite well for yourself, Holmes.”

An hour later, John Watson found himself watching his fiancé examining a severed foot with a magnifying lens.  Lestrade had hopped out of the hired coach when it neared Bow Street, exchanging promises to keep the other informed, leaving John and Sherlock to travel the rest of the way to the morgue in silence.

“John, take notes,” he had said.  Not, please, John, it will go faster and more efficiently if you take notes.  Still, John wrote down all the measurements and details Sherlock provided, rarely requiring him to repeat anything, and generally submitted in silence.

“Amazing,” he said once, unable to contain himself when Sherlock launched into the conclusion that none of these feet matched any of the hands.  It was simple enough to deduce that, because they were all left feet, there were at least four victims, or at least dismembered corpses, but Sherlock’s tiny details provided very different pictures of the former owners than had been provided by the hands.

“See, John, look!”  Sherlock raced around the morgue, shoving Anderson into the slab where he was working in a fume three times more often than necessary.  “Honestly, Anderson, where did you put the jars?”

“Storage, you dolt, that cabinet there.”  Anderson gestured with a wicked filleting knife.  “Now get away from me.”

Sherlock opened each jar and carefully removed the pickled remains, laying each on a cloth John later realized was Anderson’s coat (due to venomous swearing that went unheard by a flurried Sherlock).

“The feet are all male.  Two of the hands belonged to women, so that leaves us three.  Dock worker, marine, very common jobs.  After years on their feet, there are all sorts of likely callouses, marks from rubbing shoes, probably broken toes from heavy boxes being dropped, et cetera.  Salt water, very drying, damp, causing rubs and rashes.  Also, with the weight of muscle and the added weight of cargo, the bones in the feet would have spread, widened.  See how narrow each foot is, how clean and healthy, skin unbroken?  Plenty of time on horseback, chair, in well-fitted shoes or boots.”

“Third hand, chef.  Obvious from the burn scars and shallow knife cuts.  Much older than the others, though not yet wizened.”  John noticed the scars and cuts, imagined using a knife to cut vegetables and a few small scars were right where he could see the knife slipping.  The scars were faded, almost invisible except for how they sometimes interrupted the flow of the whorls on the fingertips or oddly puckered the skin.  Very old scars, then, from when the man was learning his trade, developing his skills with a knife.

“Fascinating.”  John picked up Sherlock’s lens and peered through it at the fingertips.

A few moments later, he noticed Sherlock had stopped talking and was looking at him quite oddly.

“Er, sorry.”  He offered the glass back to Sherlock.

“No, it’s… fine.”  Sherlock swept away and back, dramatically pacing in a small three step area.  “What else do you see?”

John peered through the glass.  He remembered his questioning the sketches Sherlock had sent him and began to examine the stump end.

“There is more skin than you would typically leave on the amputated limb.  See, here.”  John used a couple of instruments to fold down some of the skin around the wrist.  It didn’t cover the whole of the rawness, but perhaps that was a result of the preservation methods.  “Usually you would leave that on the stump end, to help cover the wound.”

“Hmm.”  Suddenly Sherlock was leaning quite closely over John’s shoulder.  The man radiated heat, but John shivered a little.  “Anything else?”

“Amputation isn’t always done at a joint, depending on the need.  Sometimes you just have to saw through the bone, trying to save enough of a limb to save a joint like the knee.  Makes it easier to attach a false limb and save some of the patient’s mobility.

“These appear to be very methodically removed at the joint.  Disassembled, much like a piece of meat.  You may remove some of the cartilage or tendon to make it easier, but then you just twist until the joint pops.”

“Difficult to do were the patient alive, John?”

“It would be blatant torture.”  John didn’t even want to think about that.  It was bad enough to remember the screams, the all-encompassing horror of the surgery tent, all the blood and pain and torment he’d seen, become acclimatized to on the continent; but to think of someone here, in London, doing this for some sort of sick game made him dizzy.

“Can you tell if the limbs were removed post or ante mortem?”

“Not for certain, no, but the neatness of the cuts would suggest postmortem.  At the very least, the victim would have had to be complete immobile or unconscious.”

“Hmm.”  Sherlock resumed his narrow pacing.

After a while, Sherlock bellowed, “Anderson, clean up!  We’re going!”

John’s head rose from his arms where he’d been dozing awkwardly on the desk in the corner.

“Anderson went home hours ago, Sherlock.”

“Oh.”  Sherlock glanced around him, noticing for the first time the low level of oil in the lamps and the pale grey creeping into the sky beyond the east-facing window.  “Then Anderson will be back shortly; he can clean up then.  Let’s go.”

John struggled to stand.  Sleeping hunched over in a hard wooden chair hadn’t done him any good and now his back ached in addition to his stiff leg.  At least he hadn’t had any nightmares or leg cramps; he supposed he hadn’t gotten enough proper sleep for his body to bother.

“Where are we going?”

Sherlock paused.  “I suppose I can’t very well take you back to Baker Street until we’re married, so Mycroft’s, I expect.  He’ll have my head if I don’t present you for your fittings this afternoon.”

“I have fittings?”

“For your wedding suit, John, yes.  Besides, there isn’t much else we can do right now.  We’ve examined both the hands and feet, and I’ll send along the descriptions of the new victims to Lestrade.  He may need a couple of days to have his men go through the missing persons files at Bow Street.  At any rate, he won’t be there until at least nine to bother him about his lack of progress.”

John blinked wearily.  For someone who clearly hadn’t slept, Sherlock was amazingly alert and spoke almost faster than John could comprehend.  He leaned heavily on his cane and followed Sherlock out onto the street, where he immediately hailed a passing hack.

“I would have thought it would be impossible to find a cab at this time of day.”  London never truly slept, but surely the hour before dawn would be the closest it would come.  Cool grey fog lined the streets, mixed with coal smoke from thousands of homes.  Most people wouldn’t be awake yet and even the night watch might be settling their heads against a convenient wall for a rest.

Sherlock didn’t answer and John dozed off again in minutes, head bouncing against the worn padded seat-back.

He woke to Sherlock instructing the cabbie to wait.

“Go inside, John, and get some rest.”  He hopped out of the cab and gave John a hand down.  John might have protested the gentle treatment if he was more sure that his bad leg wouldn’t turn to jelly at any moment.  He was already dreading the long staircase up to his rooms in the Sherrinford household.

“You’re not staying?”

“I’ll not stay another night in my brother’s house if I can help it.”  Sherlock dashed up the stairs ahead of John and let the knocker fall twice.  One of the rather anonymous footmen answered it almost immediately.  “Good night, John.”

“Good night, Sherlock.”  John’s eyes followed Sherlock as he bounced back into the hack and set off.

 

Chapter 22

 

“Holmes, you can’t just break into my office whenever you have a theory.”

Lestrade was neither surprised nor angry to find Sherlock Holmes sitting at his desk with stacks of papers in front of him.  It didn’t pay to be either.

“You mean to say I shouldn’t, Lestrade.  Obviously, I most certainly can.”

“Have you at least found anything?”  Lestrade removed his hat and coat, hung them on their hook by the door, and eyed Sherlock’s unlikely “organizational method.”  Not only had papers found their way into a multitude of stacks on the desk, but there were now nine haphazard piles on the floor as well.

“There are at least two possibilities for each extremity, though I have categorized them in order of likelihood due to the date they were last seen and the relative lack of decomposition of the feet.  With the hands I could not be sure they had not been preserved since I did not have the chance to examine them immediately.”  His attitude was sharp, but Lestrade ignored it.  “With the feet, there was no lingering preservative odour; they smelled of the burlap, the Thames mud, and only faintly of rot.”

“So they couldn’t have been sitting around too long.  But they could have been taken months ago, held captive, and then murdered all at once.”

“All at once!  Exactly!  The similar state of early decomposition shows that the feet were likely removed within hours of each other.”

“Jesus, Holmes.”  Lestrade didn’t like this investigation one bit.  “You’re not going to let me hold on to my cadavers-from-the-university idea for even the rest of the morning, are you?”

“Why would I let you labor under that misapprehension one moment longer?”

“Because it’s much less grim, Holmes.”

“Boring!”

“The post, sir.”  One of the young lads hired for general errands around the building knocked once lightly and held out a stack of mail.

Sherlock jumped up and grabbed the letters from the boy, turning his back to Lestrade in an effort to hoard them, and flung them aside one by one as he examined their direction.

“Holmes, honestly.”  Lestrade waited until Sherlock had finished flinging papers before bending to gather them back up.  He didn’t notice until he stood again that Sherlock was staring quite thoroughly at one carefully folded and sealed note.

“Boy, come here immediately!” Sherlock shouted into the hallway.  His tone was so forceful that three young men flew to stand before him.  Sherlock proffered the letter at the middle one.  “Where did you get this?”

“Downstairs, sir, at the desk.  Mr. Hampton always takes in the post and sorts it out.”

“And you never set it down from Mr. Hampton’s hands to mine?”

“No, sir, never,” he gasped.

“No one else gave you anything extra to slip this in the pile.”

“No, sir.”

Sherlock barely waited to hear the answer before dashing down the nearest stairs and confronting the unfortunate Mr. Hampton.

“How did this come into the building, Mr. Hampton?” Sherlock demanded in a most hostile tone.

“I beg your pardon?”  Hampton stuttered.  He was not overly familiar with Sherlock Holmes.  He’d heard stories, of course.  Sherlock was simultaneously admired and reviled through the magistrate’s court.  He hadn’t had cause, as a mere clerk, to really work with the man himself.  All he really could do was stay out of Sherlock’s way when he was on a mission to see Lestrade and allow some of the other officers complain in his presence with a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

But to be confronted with the man’s wrath a mere two inches from his face was quite the shock.

Lestrade quickly intervened, tugged Sherlock back.

“This letter, Hampton.  How did it come into the building and how did it come to be sent to my office?”

Hampton ducked around to peer at the letter in Sherlock’s hand, responding nervously even to Lestrade’s even voice.

“Was in with the regular post,” he said quickly.  “I sent it up to your office just like the last because everyone knows he only works with you.”

Sherlock examined Hampton with an intense glare.

“No special messenger arrived with it, then?”

“No, sir.  I’m certain of it.”  It may have been on the tip of Hampton’s tongue to ask what the letter was, why its origin was so important, but he wouldn’t dare speak out of turn.

“Thank you, Hampton.”  Lestrade nodded to the man after Sherlock had turned and started back up the staircase again.  “If any other messages for Holmes arrive, notify me immediately.  If they come special delivery, delay the courier.”

“Yes, sir.  Of course, sir.”

 

Chapter 23

 

John barely managed to be roused for his fittings that afternoon.  Despite how tired he’d been, he laid awake once in bed for a long time.  Funny how that night he could sleep anywhere but in a comfortable bed.  He allowed himself to be poked, moved, dressed and undressed and accidentally stuck with pins without complaint.  He wouldn’t look in the mirror or give an opinion on the clothes, which annoyed his high-strung tailor to no end.

When finally his idea of torture was concluded, John dressed and went downstairs.  He ended up in the library, learning from one of the many footmen that no one else was at home.  Lord Sherrinford was away for the day as usual and Harry had apparently found somewhere else to be as well.  John wondered idly if he’d gone to beg of Clara’s parents again.  Certainly his situation was quite immediately about to improve.  John’s wedding was in two days.

John left his book; he couldn’t concentrate anyway.  The library had an impressive collection of medical texts, books on plants and the sciences.  Normally John would have been utterly lusting after those tomes, breath-taken and overwhelmed with the need to open each one and luxuriate inside.  Today he felt like a bit of flotsam in the surf, buffeted around the huge empty house with no real direction or purpose.  The long, empty hallways, dark from closed doors and lack of life, stretched on forever and twisted into nothingness.

John growled and pushed to his feet.  The servants didn’t seem at all surprised when he called for his coat and said he was going for a walk.

London at least had more life to it, especially once he’d gone further than the posh streets of Mayfair where a few ladies he’d tipped his hat to barely acknowledged his gesture once they’d seen a loose thread on his coat or the battered cane in his hand.  He wondered idly where Baker or Bow Streets were in relation to him now, at which he might find Sherlock, and whether the few pence in his pocket would get him anywhere at all.

A bit of conversation with a grocer’s boy let him know that the Bow Street Magistrate’s Court wasn’t too terribly far so John decided to walk.  The exercise would do his leg good, after all, and the day was somewhat pleasant.  Hopefully his spare change would get him a good way towards the Sherrinford house if he didn’t find Sherlock.

By the time he’d found the Bow Street offices, John was tired.  Still, he asked after Lestrade and was taken straight to a small room cluttered with papers, a disgruntled Lestrade, and Sherlock.

“John!  You’re finally here!”

“Finally?  I wasn’t aware you were expecting me.”

Lestrade very kindly gestured to a comfortable leather chair wedged in the corner and sent a young lad loitering in the hall for some tea.

“Where else would you be?  Mycroft spends his days running England from his club and you aren’t speaking to your brother.”

“Just so.  Have you been here all day?”

Lestrade snorted.  “Had sorted through a stack of missing persons before I even made it in this morning.”

“Sherlock, haven’t you slept at all?”

“Sleep is a waste of time!”

“Nonsense, Sherlock.  We can only function at our peak with proper amounts of rest.”

“Maybe the rest of the mundane population, John, but I simply don’t need it.  Look at how much I’ve accomplished while you spent your day sleeping.”

“You’ve accomplished making quite a mess, Sherlock,” John retorted with a half-smile.  “And I’ll have you know that I also had hours of bloody fittings this afternoon, and I walked here from your brother’s house.”

Sherlock gave a miniscule, “Hmph,” in return and continued peering at the two pieces of paper spread flat on Lestrade’s desk.  A moment later, he jumped up and held each sheet against the window to observe the watermark.

“What are you looking at?”

When Sherlock didn’t answer, Lestrade did.  He handed John a cup of tea as he did so.

“Two letters were addressed to Sherlock, in care of Bow Street, mentioning the hands and now the feet.”

“Letters?”  John knew his voice sounded a bit weak, so he cleared his throat as if he felt a little froggy.  “What do they say?”

“Here,” Sherlock strode around the desk and handed John the papers.  “Do have a look and tell me what you think.”

John took the first and examined the two short lines on the page.

 

Five little hands, waving hello.

Do they tell you what you want to know?

 

“When did you get this?”

“Shortly after we found the hands.”

“Was this letter why you left Essex in such a rush?”

Sherlock confirmed this with a nod.  “If I had been told about the hands in the first place, I never would have left London.”  He was clearly still a bit bitter about his brother’s intervention.

The second letter was also a mere two lines, written in the same careful, perfect script.

 

Care to waltz?  Shall we meet?

My tribute to you:  four left feet.

 

“It’s going to be a rather clumsy dance; all left feet, yah?”

“John, this is hardly the time for levity,” Sherlock scolded, but the corners of his eyes were lifted, like he was schooling his mouth very carefully not to smile.  “Now, tell me, what do you see?”

“I see a madman leading you on a merry dance.”

“John, at least try.”

John sighed and looked again at the letters.

“Waltz leads with the left foot.  He offered you his hand, he’s leading in the dance.”

“Hmm, go on, get to something useful.”

“Well, the waltz is a rather intimate dance, Sherlock.”

“Is it?”

“Don’t you know it?”

“Not important.”  Sherlock paused a moment.  “What if it is?  Show me.”  Sherlock stood from where he’d leaned against the edge of Lestrade’s desk.

“Show you?”  John glanced at Lestrade and the man shrugged, moving into the doorway so he was out of the way.  Papers still littered the open floor space, but there would be room enough for a simple demonstration.

“Yes, John.  It may be vitally important!”

John sighed and pushed himself out of the chair.  He removed his greatcoat and laid it across his seat.

“I expect I’ll be total rubbish, what with my leg and all.”

“We don’t need to careen across a ballroom.  Just show me the steps.”

“Very well.  The most popular, the French waltz, begins with a promenade, like so.”  John stood next to Sherlock, hip-to-hip, facing the opposite direction, and put his arm across Sherlock’s waist.  He pulled Sherlock’s right arm across his in return.  “Sometimes, the posture is different.”  John shifted so that he faced Sherlock, arm one arm still around his back, their free arms joined at the hand.  He guided Sherlock into position, tucked in very close to him.

John made the mistake of demonstrating the eye contact common in the dance.  He forgot that he’d been about to mention the difference between the French waltz and the German waltz, and which steps and positions were common to each.  His mind went blank except for the tall, striking man in his arms.

Sherlock pulled back to see what John’s feet were doing.  They were still.

“Aside from the close positioning, this doesn’t seem like a very scandalous dance,” Sherlock stated.

“That’s because you’re not dancing with a woman,” Lestrade offered.  “A vigorous dance leads to a heaving bosom.”

John flushed and pulled away.

“Is that all?” Sherlock asked.

“No, no,” he coughed falsely, trying to gather time and his mind together.  “There are usually two other parts before the final pirouette.    They would step like so.”

John demonstrated, Sherlock’s attention now on his feet.  He was not fluent with the steps any longer, but he managed to go through the proper movements.  “The dance would progress to faster movements in the third part of the dance, moving in a circle.”

“How do you know all that?” Lestrade asked.  John’s blush deepened with the knowledge that both men were watching him quite markedly.

“Officers were expected to be sociable.”

“I don’t believe the specifics of the dance will be of any use,” Sherlock said suddenly, returning to the chair he’d commandeered behind Lestrade’s desk.  He set his elbows upon his knees and steepled his fingers in front of his lips.

Gratefully, John sank back into the chair in the corner.

Sherlock began to list, in his fashion, everything he knew about the waltz.  Whether he was mumbling to himself or expected John and Lestrade to take note was unclear.

“So I take it there will be no waltzing at your wedding?  Pity, that.”

Both Sherlock and John shot Lestrade with a glare.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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