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.
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.”
“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.
“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?”
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.”
“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?”
“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.
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.
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.”