Here are chapters 42, 43 and 44. If you follow me on AO3 or FF.net, then you’ve seen these by now. 🙂 I’ve been getting some very sweet comments all around, and thank you for all of them 🙂 There’s still a lot more to go!
In this segment, I finally hit the 50,000 word point that was my NaNoWriMo goal. Granted, it’s just about two months late, but still, I’m very pleased with what I have. I can’t guess how long this will be by the end, and not all of those 50K words are for sections posted (includes notes and future scenes), but I’m hoping I’m over halfway done. Hoping! 🙂
I also had a bit of trouble with chapter 43. I ended up writing down all the bits I wanted to say, printing out the pages, cutting each bit apart and taping it back together after I pieced it like a puzzle. Worked much better in my brain to do it that way rather than seeing small sections of it on the computer screen.
As for other news, today is the last day of my vacation week. It was a rather nice week off since I didn’t have to leave the house for work when it was 30 below zero windchills and I didn’t have to get up early any days at all. It was productive as well, since I got a couple chapters done on my Sherlock and the Huntsman story (not posted here yet) and some work done on Regency Sherlock, (which is titled The Lazarus Machine elsewhere, but I still refer to it in my head as “regency sherlock”). I, of course, didn’t get as much done as I’d like, since there were books I wanted to read that I didn’t and I could have gotten a lot more writing done, but I relaxed and that was what was important.
So, if there was anything else I wanted to say, I’ve forgotten it.
Lestrade found Sherlock the next morning in the morgue at St. Bart’s. Anderson wasn’t in that day, so the place was devoid of the normal din of insults and potentially lethal chemical altercations.
“Heard we’ve got something we can identify.”
Sherlock gestured to the three heads propped up on the table before him.
“Right, well, I’ll go through the files and bring in a few likely…”
“No need,” Sherlock said shortly. “Lionel Pine, Dorothy Mae Hopkins, Charles Bellows.” Sherlock pointed to each in turn without looking up from his scribbling.
“Well, I’ll go visit the families, then, have someone come down to claim the… bodies.”
“Fine. I’m finished with them.”
“No mummification or jars full of alcohol or boiling them in acid, Holmes?”
That was the response that gave Lestrade pause. Sherlock would usually have told him how moronic his suggestions would be, not catching the joke. He’d start a lecture on the scientific process of evidence-gathering and proper analysis of human remains. Maybe even go off on a rant about destroying vital evidence and how could Lestrade even suggest that as someone who “aspired” to be a detective.
Lestrade wasn’t sure what to say now that the conversation had escaped normal parameters.
“So…” Lestrade looked around the room. “Where’s that new husband of yours?”
“Home, I expect,” Sherlock answered after nearly a minute.
“Well, I suppose running after you all day can exhaust any man.”
Sherlock just stared at his pages of notes, not writing, not even seeing them as he rifled through them, possibly.
“So if you’re done with the heads, why are you still at the morgue?”
“Lestrade, this is hardly the time for idle chatter. Don’t you have families to notify?” Sherlock’s voice was sharp.
“Is something wrong, Holmes? You seem…” Lestrade would have been hard-pressed to say that
Sherlock was behaving worse than usual, but he was generally more manic and buoyant. Granted, this case had been dragging on, but Lestrade thought that the utter peculiarity would keep Sherlock vastly entertained.
“I’m fine.” Sherlock stood and began gathering his papers together as Lestrade perched on a stool across the table from him.
“You and Watson have a little tiff already?”
“None of your business.” Oh, that was full of bite.
“What did you say to him?” Lestrade asked, tone full of condescension and scold.
“Why do you automatically assume it was my fault?”
“Ah, so that is the problem!” Lestrade leaned his elbows on the table after checking that it was free of bodily fluids. “Watson seems like a good-natured man. And I’ve known you six years, Holmes.”
Sherlock rolled up his papers and tucked them into one of the pockets of his greatcoat before settling it over his shoulders.
“Come on, what happened last night? I know there was a chase. Had Gregson from the night watch in my office when I got there this morning but he didn’t tell me much.”
Sherlock gave Lestrade his typical contemptuous look.
“Gregson was late, as usual.”
“You’re really going to make me drag it out of you, Holmes?”
“What do you want me to say? I don’t understand why John is angry with me. I don’t understand why he departed so suddenly for home after stopping a suspect from strangling me.”
“So he saved your life. Great, what did you say immediately after that?”
“He did not save my life. I hadn’t even lost consciousness yet.”
“That’s what you said to him?” Lestrade was using that Sherlock-is-an-idiot tone even though he was quite aware how much Sherlock hated it. Except this time Sherlock didn’t react to it with the huff and stalking off like he usually did. Interesting.
“No.” Sherlock sat down again, resigned to hashing out the night with Lestrade. Maybe it would be helpful. Sherlock could admit that he wasn’t the best at understanding the people with whom he interacted personally. Something as intimate as marriage was certainly a conundrum. “Well, not right away.”
Lestrade merely raised an eyebrow and waited.
“When we saw the man drop the bag off the edge of the bridge, I told John to fetch the bag and wait for me. Instead, he ran after me. I indicated he made the wrong choice.”
Lestrade rubbed his face, ending with the palm of his hand over his mouth as if to keep from interrupted Sherlock to scold him. “Mm hmm,” was all he uttered.
“It could have been lost, Lestrade, though clearly the culprit wants the clues to be found. The bag was tossed over the edge in such a way that it landed on the Westminster Stairs. By the time I returned for it, the contents had already been discovered and reported. It’s vital to unraveling the mystery to have concrete identifications to our victims. It will help us narrow down the time and place of the disappearances, which may help us…”
“John Watson, Holmes. You’re veering off topic.”
Sherlock looked chagrinned.
“What was the last thing you said to him before he got angry?”
“He refused to listen to me regarding the sack. He kept repeating that I almost died, when I didn’t. I told him not to worry so much because his provision in the case of my death was quite generous.”
Lestrade closed his eyes to keep from rolling them heavenward when he heard this.
“I see,” was all he could say for a few minutes. Then, “First, you should have thanked him. I realize that gratitude is not in your repertoire, but when someone saves your life, you thank them.”
“Lestrade, as you say I am hardly the most gracious person; it would not have occurred to me to change my habit in that situation.”
“That is another thing. You can’t treat him like you treat everyone else. He’s your husband, Sherlock. I realize you’ve barely just met, and Heaven knows you’re a difficult, forthright man, but you’re going to have to learn some amount of consideration if you wish to have a pleasant home.”
“What do you mean?”
“You and Lord Sherrinford, for instance. Did you enjoy sharing a home with your brother?”
“I agreed to marry a virtual stranger to escape that household, Lestrade. Surely you’re not actually asking that question.”
“Do you wish to have that same antagonistic relationship with your husband?”
“Oh. Oh.” The unpleasant possibilities apparently flooded Sherlock’s head. “But I’m still not sure where I misspoke.”
“You basically told him that he couldn’t care less if you lived or died.”
Sherlock turned his words around in his head. He supposed they could be interpreted that way.
“But we barely know each other. Why should he care? He married me for money; that’s hardly a secret between us.”
Lestrade just shook his head.
“Captain Watson is a good man. I believe he wants to be a good husband.”
“You’ve barely met him.”
“Do you have evidence to contradict me?”
Sherlock was silent.
“He admires you, Holmes. Enjoys your company, no? Stayed all night with you in a morgue without complaint?”
Sherlock gave a half-shrug, half-nod.
“You know what? Go home. Talk to your husband. Fix this. Apologize and thank him. And then, for Heaven’s sake, shut your gob. I’ll send a message if I get another letter at Bow Street.”
“Go, or I won’t send you a message if I get another letter. I’ll burn it instead.”
“You wouldn’t.” Sherlock started out confident, but as Lestrade glared at him, his confidence faltered.
Jesus Christ on a cross, Lestrade thought, Sherlock Holmes might have just actually listened to me.
“Where’s John this morning, Matthews?” Sherlock asked as he walked in the front door.
“Still abed, I imagine, Mr. Holmes. He hasn’t rung yet.”
Sherlock glanced at the grandfather clock on his left. It was nearly eleven. Curious. Army habits should have woken him long before now. Months of illness and recovery, he supposed, could alter his sleep pattern.
“Have Mrs. Hudson prepare a tea tray and leave it by the door.”
Sherlock peeled off his outerwear and let Matthews take his hat and coat before climbing the stairs. He wasn’t confident that Lestrade’s instructions would be of any use; after all, the man’s wife was bedding other men. Still, despite his apparently abominable choice of spouse, the man had been married nearly ten years.
Bristling, Sherlock put his hand on John’s doorknob to do as he was ordered.
Sherlock crouched to peer in the keyhole in the door plate. The key was still inserted on the other side, obstructing his view, but a careful prod with a piece of wire from the lock picking tools quickly retrieved from his room indicated the key was half-turned to wedge in the lock. Still, it was little matter to twist the key from the outside, prod it carefully until it fell to the floor, and twist a square-bent piece of wire until the bolt disengaged.
Sherlock entered the dim, quiet room with little thought of his intrusion. He was staunchly ignored by the figure in the bed, standing in the middle of the room, lock picks still awkwardly clutched in one hand.
“Your pattern of breathing indicates you are awake.”
Still nothing beyond another fluctuation of breath.
The fire had been allowed to die, Sherlock noticed, and the room was chilled. The curtains were drawn against the late morning sun. John’s clothes were neatly hung behind his dressing screen, though clearly Matthews had not been allowed in to help him undress. John’s cane was propped against the bedside table, but his robe had slipped off the foot of the bed to the floor. The lamp that had remained lit the night before was dark; the oil level was still sufficient, so John had risen at some point and extinguished the flame.
John was turned towards the far side of the bed, covers tucked up past his shoulders. Sherlock moved to the far side of the bed so John faced him.
“John, are you ill?” The thought alarmed Sherlock, even if he could see that was not the case. John’s face was not flushed with fever, nor was his hair matted with sweat.
John did, however, close his eyes and twist around in bed so he was facing the other direction. When Sherlock followed, John moved to his back and stared resolutely upwards. If Sherlock wanted to look him in the eyes, he’d have to climb on top of him.
Sherlock recognized the silent treatment; he was a master of it when doling it out to Mycroft. Very well. John may not be speaking, but he wasn’t deaf.
“Lestrade said I ought to thank you for your assistance last night, and apologize for what I said.”
“Huzzah for Lestrade.”
“Pardon?” Sherlock was relieved that John spoke, but he didn’t understand the response. He had hoped that John would, at least, turn towards him.
An arm appeared from under the covers; it draped over John’s eyes.
“But, John, I…”
Sherlock had heard that often enough in his lifetime; he was generally pleased to oblige. Somehow, though, it actually hurt when it came from John. John was so genial, so amiable, even to Sherlock. Usually.
When John hadn’t spoken again and Sherlock hadn’t moved after five minutes, John gave in.
“When the door is locked, Sherlock, that is usually more than a mild request for you to stay out.”
“There is little more inviting than a locked door, John. Besides, if you had truly meant for me to remain outside at all costs, you would have moved the wardrobe in front of the door, or the dresser.”
“I’m tired, Sherlock.”
John’s voice did sound weary, though it didn’t have the slow cadence of sleepiness.
“Did your leg pain you in the night? Perhaps I dragged you about the city too much yesterday. The exertion must have taxed the healing muscles, and I know you’re subject to cramping in the night…”
“Damn my leg!” John sat up suddenly and threw a convenient object at Sherlock with force; it might have done damage if the object had not been a pillow that simply whumped Sherlock in the face.
The outburst stunned Sherlock into silence.
“Of course you didn’t think I could keep up with you running after that criminal! I couldn’t! But I’m not helpless and I hate being treated as if I am! I’m tired of it, Sherlock.” He slumped back on to the bed, flat now that he’d discarded his pillow. “So damn tired.”
“John, I…” Sherlock wasn’t sure what to say. Lestrade hadn’t thought of this angle, apparently, and hadn’t given Sherlock any clue as to how to deal with it. He reiterated Lestrade’s advice in his head. Apologize. Thank him. Shut your gob. The first two were helpful; the last, insulting.
“I may have been wrong to instruct you to stay with the evidence. You quite possibly saved my life. I imagined he was only seeking my unconsciousness, but if he had continued after I stopped struggling, he may have succeeded in killing me.”
There was no response from the bed.
“Lestrade also informed me that the remark I made about… after… was insulting to your character. I did not intend that result. I’m sorry. And mind you, I’ve never said those words to anyone but Mother, and I rarely meant them.” Sherlock added the last statement in a rush, horrified at his own awkwardness.
Sherlock searched his mind for something to fill the suddenly very loud silence in the room. John wasn’t forgiving him. John didn’t want to speak to him. Sherlock failed at something so basic as giving an apology.
“You hit him, you know.”
John still didn’t reply, but Sherlock had the distinct impression that he was listening.
“That was quite an impressive shot. How far away were you when you fired? Fifty yards? You hit him in the chest between the fourth and fifth rib yet he barely flinched when the ball struck. He only disengaged when you continued to run closer.”
“He really ran away with a lead ball in his chest?” John finally said after an excruciatingly long minute.
“Probably puncturing a lung at the very least,” Sherlock verified.
“I’ve no idea. It didn’t seem to affect him in the least. Perhaps he wore some sort of armor or the ball had to penetrate a leather wallet and that slowed it down enough to cause very little damage. However, some of the man’s fluids dripped on me, which I discovered later.”
“Fluids? Like blood?”
“Very unlike blood, actually.”
John sat up at this and Sherlock smiled broadly, uncontrollably.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the murderer of the street boy Moss is in fact the same man dumping body parts. There must also be another criminal mind behind this, clearly. The oaf from last night is little more than a henchman. Less, perhaps.”
“He seemed to be a capable enough murderer last night.” John’s voice turned gentle. “How is your throat feeling this morning? And the bruising?”
“It will heal.”
“Open the curtain, Sherlock, and let me examine it.”
Sherlock’s immediate impulse was to argue, but he pulled the curtains so the weak winter light filtered in. He also opened the door to bring in the tea tray. Matthews had not left it beside the door as instructed but instead was holding it himself. Sherlock gestured the man inside to set up tea and also tend to the cold fireplace. He did so efficiently and unobtrusively. Sherlock also imagined he would report every word of his overheard conversation with John to Lord Sherrinford.
John had settled himself upright while Matthews rebuilt the fire. He patted the edge of the bed beside him. Sherlock promptly sat.
John’s fingers worked at the knot of Sherlock’s neck cloth, much less harried than he’d been when he’d done the same thing the night before. Sherlock had done a sloppy job retying it without a mirror when it was clear he’d be out for the rest of the night.
“Does it hurt when you swallow?”
Sherlock’s Adam’s apple bobbed just above his high collar as he tried it out.
“A little. Nothing I can’t ignore.”
“Does it hurt to twist your neck?”
The knot came undone and John’s nimble fingers unwound the cloth. He loosened the collar of Sherlock’s shirt, gently touching Sherlock’s chin to indicate he should look upwards, then side to side.
“No, it’s fine.”
“Good.” John spent another minute lightly touching several of the bruises that ringed Sherlock’s throat. “Might feel worse after you sleep, though.”
“I’m sure it looks much worse than it is.” Sherlock felt his face flush a little. John removed his probing fingers.
“Yes, your skin is incredibly fair. Do keep an eye on it. If the pain worsens or if there seems to be any unusual swelling, please let me know.”
“Very well.” Sherlock stood and straightened his collar somewhat, leaving the neck cloth draped around loosely. “If you did not sleep well, and wish to rest, I could play the violin a while. It will help me think and it may help you sleep.” Sherlock felt a sudden need to stroke John’s hair. Ridiculous, and certainly not an urge to be indulged. “I have an experiment to plan out. I smelled a peculiar chemical combination when I was being strangled and from the fluid residue on my coat. I shall attempt to replicate it. Perhaps then we shall know the intent of our murderer.”
John appeared to give this offer much more thought than it deserved. He leaned back against the headboard, eyes flickering over his husband.
“The music would be lovely, thank you.”
Sherlock’s throat was fine except for the bruising. Quite fine. Elegant. John could feel the steady pulse beneath his fingertips as he examined it. When Sherlock abruptly stood, John was disappointed but hardly surprised.
“If you did not sleep well, and wish to rest, I could play the violin a while. It will help me think and it may help you sleep. I have an experiment to plan out. I smelled a peculiar chemical combination when I was being strangled and from the fluid residue on my coat. I shall attempt to replicate it. Perhaps then we shall know the intent of our murderer.”
John had not slept well, but it wasn’t interference from his leg this time, at least not mostly. Instead, terrifying nightmares seared across his brain. It was as if those years at war had filled him up with horror and now the least little upset caused it to spill over. He saw Sherlock in a red uniform, suddenly a darker red because of all the blood. He saw himself cutting off pieces in a panicked attempt to save his life, but the streaming blood only got worse, deeper, rising above his ankles on the floor of the surgical tent.
Once he woke half-paralyzed to the sight of a shadowy surgeon with a dripping saw blade poised just above his knee. It took a few moments to shake himself out of the vision and realize that the agony he felt was simply cramping again.
“The music would be lovely, thank you.” It might relax him enough to sleep without dreaming; no matter how exhausted John was, he couldn’t bear to try and sleep when the dreams were coming incessantly. Plus, now he knew Sherlock was home and safe, not running around London in the middle of the night. That eased his mind.
“Sherlock, I wasn’t really mad at you. I… felt useless. I took it out on you and I’m sorry.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened and he froze.
“That’s… alright, John.”
“No, it’s not. I wasn’t being honest with you. My leg pains me, yes, but when someone else treats me differently because of it, it makes me feel angry.”
“I’m not the best with feelings, John, but I should understand motivation. I will file this away for further consideration. I cannot guarantee my behavior will improve immediately. But you should know, I asked you to get the bag because of the evidence, John, not because of your leg. Well, at least mostly.”
John unexpectedly grinned.
“So what was in the bag, anyway? I assume it didn’t drift away to sea.”
“Three heads. Lestrade is informing the families. One of them was Dorothy Mae Hopkins, so Mrs. Evans will have her closure.”
“As much closure as one can have with only a head and a hand to bury.”
Sherlock’s hands fidgeted.
“I made notes. They’re downstairs, if you wish to look at them.”
John still felt weary, perhaps even more so that his anxiety from the night had gone with Sherlock’s arrival. He wished for nothing more than for Sherlock to crawl into bed with him, wrap those long arms around him, let John use him as a pillow. He couldn’t ask for that, not yet. They were too far apart still; John probably wouldn’t even find it relaxing with the shock in his head of it actually happening.
“Maybe later, Sherlock. I ought to try and rest a little more. If I get up now, I’ll probably fall asleep on the papers.”
“You’d still be handsome, even with ink on your cheek depicting a severed head. Rest, John, and join me when you feel up to it. I’ll get my violin.”
Sherlock fled the room. John didn’t miss their matching blushes when Sherlock told him he’d still be handsome. He lay back in bed with a whole new misery: longing for the touch of Sherlock Holmes.