So the writing on Regency!Sherlock has been going slower than I like lately. Not only have I been spending time working on Gambling!John, but I’ve been stressing about other things and sometimes napping quite unexpectedly (really, just going to close my eyes for a minute and BAM! four hours later…).
Also, chapter 64 was a plot-heavy chapter and I was having a tough time figuring out exactly what was going to happen. As I said in my author notes on AO3 and FF, I had the first partial page of what happened before going into the warehouse, and pages once they walked out, but the warehouse itself was a total blank. I had no idea what happened in there. It was like Sherlock looked down his nose at me and said, “I can’t tell you what happened in that warehouse. I’ve deleted it.” Dammit, Sherlock, you rat bastard. 🙂
Actually, I blame 64, but all three of these chapters had me in knots. Irene is fun to write, but I’m not witty nor clever much of the time, so it’s difficult to come up with things for her to say.
Anyway, I had a day to dedicate to sleeping in and relaxing (and a little housework, though dishes are just neverending) and spent quite a few hours at the computer working it all out. I filled my blank hole, smoothed it out, and finished the chapter. I also worked on the following chapter, connecting everything together with what I’d previously written. Chapter 65 is still a bit rough and there’s not enough John, so that’ll take a day or two to work on yet, but I’m fairly pleased with my day’s work.
Now I just have to worry that my poor Huntsman story is going to be a month since my last post before I get to the next chapter (another hole where I have much of the end written but am having trouble with the next chapter). Posting does help keep the story moving along (or wouldn’t we all just nitpick ourselves to death) but sometimes it’s frustrating that you can’t quite skip something that’s being difficult for the time being. Of course, being forced to work through something difficult is good as well.
My last bit of news is that on AO3, I’m listed as 99 words away from 80,000 posted words on this story. FF.net, I’m over because the author notes are not separated in the same way. It’s officially novel-length and not NaNoWriMo short novel length. Good grief. 🙂 Gambling John better move along quickly and not last past the summer, because I’m not doing this six month plus thing on another Sherlock fic! Gah! 🙂
Within an hour, they’d bundled themselves into a shabby carriage for hire and were underway towards Lady Adler’s Bond Street address. They rolled through several intersections in silence, Sherlock thinking and John observing him from the corner of his eye, of which Sherlock was more than aware. Still, it surprised him when John lifted Sherlock’s hand, turned it, and placed a small kiss on the bare inside of his wrist, just above the leather of his glove.
Sherlock’s eyes flickered up and down over John but John just returned Sherlock’s hand to his lap with a smile curving his lips and turned his attention out to the city passing by his window. He quickly assessed his own involuntary reaction to the gesture. So very curious, this thumping in his chest, this ache – but no, ache wasn’t the right word as it was infinitely more pleasant.
“Now that I’ve agreed to consider incorporating a sexual component to our marriage, are you going to expect saccharine cossetting like hand-holding?”
“Does it bother you if I am sentimental?”
No. No, not at all. But Sherlock didn’t put his answer into words. Sherlock had already put together that he was attracted to John no matter how much he would prefer for it not to be true. Even admitting it, however, did not make him refrain from repressing it or attempting to avoid the whole realm of emotion.
On the other hand, Sherlock considered that part of John’s appeal was that he was an unknown entity, an unsolved puzzle, something that Sherlock had forbidden himself. Sherlock could only imagine how he would be – he did not know despite his fever dreams and this morning’s unintentional proximity. Possibly the reality would disappoint. Perhaps if this were proven true, as Sherlock invariably found encounters of such magnified anticipation, then the desire he felt might dissipate. To this end, perhaps he ought to initiate intimacies at the first opportunity rather than hold off and continue to so sharply desire something that could not possibly live up to his fantasy.
“I don’t expect anything, Sherlock, except that you are yourself,” John said when it became clear Sherlock wasn’t going to answer him. “As for hand-holding, I would need to be on your other side, to keep my gun-hand free. Practicality, you know.”
Sherlock had little response to this but his lips twitched upwards.
“So is there anything else I ought to know about Lady Adler before we visit?”
Sherlock mused through the vast multitude of facts he’d collected about Irene Adler.
“I suspect you know enough to be going on with, John. She will likely play her games and tease, but she likes to be clever as much as I. If she knows something I do not, she will be inclined to share just to see the rare look of surprise on my face.”
Sherlock had the carriage let them out onto the stone walkway several doors down from Lady Adler’s, in front of a building that housed Angelo’s Fencing Academy, next door to the famous Gentleman Jackson’s Boxing Saloon. John’s eyes lingered upon the signs with more than casual curiosity.
“Have you interest in fencing or pugilism? I know the elder Angelo; he owes me a favor.”
“I don’t think I’d be terribly nimble at fencing, not with my leg.”
“With proper instruction, it is quite possible that the exercise will be beneficial.” Sherlock tucked John’s hand around his elbow and guided John the correct direction to Lady Adler’s door. “We could discuss it another time, perhaps in the spring when the weather warms.”
Don’t think about John in his shirt sleeves and breeches, sweat rolling down the back of his neck as the muscles of his legs and back and arms tense, advancing relentlessly towards his adversary. Don’t think don’t think don’t think… Sherlock very deliberately began to categorize his surroundings.
The street was only beginning to bustle this early in the day. Many among the ton would have been at entertainments late into the night and would not yet have risen for the day. Later in the day, the walkways would be brimming with ladies and their parasols and other fripperies. After dinner, the young bucks would take over, perfecting their struts and bathing in the glory of being seen or going about unwholesome business. But for now, John and Sherlock walked easily around the merchants and their clerks arriving for work, the early risers who preferred to make their purchases before the busy part of the day, and a few gentlemen indiscreetly staggering home from a sporting hotel.
Sherlock opened a door set between two storefronts and started up the steep flight of stairs.
“Surely the Regent does not climb these steps, Sherlock,” John said with a trace of self-depreciation as he struggled with the final few steps to the second floor. The Prince Regent was currently in his fifties and known for being a rotund gentleman.
“I believe not.” But Sherlock had caught the humor and rubbed a hand comfortingly over John’s left shoulder blade as he caught his breath on the landing. Then he realized what he was doing, jerked his hand away, and it became an awkward moment. He should not have jerked away, but couldn’t take back either the touch or the alarmed reaction.
John cleared his throat. “Yes, well, which door is it?” He smiled and allowed Sherlock to step by and rap with gloved hands on a white door with baroque styling and gilt paint. “Of course.”
They waited for a few minutes before Sherlock rapped again. This time there was a rustling behind the door and it opened to a simply dressed young woman, blonde hair tied back in a ribbon. Sherlock skipped the whole calling card convention and simply stated his purpose.
“Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to see Lady Adler.”
“My lady does not receive visitors at this time of day, gentlemen,” the young lady said with a surprising amount of confidence.
“It is a matter of some urgency,” Sherlock said, stepping into the doorway as if he hadn’t heard her. “Go fetch your mistress or I shall be forced to interrupt the lady in her chamber.”
Any other lady’s maid or servant might have scampered do to Sherlock’s bidding, or even called for a footman to assist the gentleman back out the door, but this one eyed him up before flinging an arm in the direction of a regal blue sofa. She marched off, head high and back straight, through a door on the far side of the room.
John removed his gloves and tossed them in his top hat. Sherlock did the same, but removed no more of his outerwear; it wasn’t like they were staying for tea. He stalked quickly around the room, examining the walls, the paintings, the ceiling, the doorframes, even what appeared to be the amount of dust on the carpet. John watched him, getting comfortable on the sofa. He may as well. There was no telling how long the lady would keep them waiting.
It was hardly five minutes before the door on the far side of the room opened again. John stood automatically, turned to make a greeting, and froze. Sherlock turned from his inspection of a blue and white vase in the corner to see what sight had struck John mute when duty called for a polite salutation.
It was indeed Lady Adler entering the room. And she was quite nude.
“Gentlemen, what a lovely surprise.”
“Irene, really, such a shameless display,” Sherlock scolded as if completely unaffected. “John doesn’t know where to look.” John, after a bit of choking gasp, had turned his gaze deliberately towards the fireplace.
“I think he knows exactly where to look.” Irene smirked and draped herself across a chaise with all the deliberate eroticism of Venus. “I find his shyness quite appealing. I suppose you haven’t quite found the time to thoroughly debauch him yet, then?”
Sherlock paced behind her and with a sweeping elegance of his own, drew off his greatcoat and shrouded all her mysteries with it.
Irene looked a tad put out, but Sherlock smiled falsely and said, “We wouldn’t want you to catch a chill.”
“Why, thank you for your concern over my well-being.” She claimed his greatcoat as her own, slipping it on and looking all the more naked with just a bare knee deliberately exposed by the arrangement of the wool.
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed as his brain started churning. He glanced at Irene as he paced about the room.
“What are you hiding?”
“I could not possibly be hiding anything. You, on the other hand, are hiding me.”
“Nonsense, Irene. You would not have pulled such a stunt unless you were deliberately trying to distract me from something. You’ve hidden something, something concrete. Something you do not wish discovered.” A mere moment, a single stride, and he had it. “You’ve stolen something from the Prince, letters of some sort. Hmm, and where are you hiding them? In this room, surely.”
Irene’s face didn’t change a whit, but that was as telling as any reaction. Her eyes flickered in a direction only briefly, but Sherlock was waiting for it.
“Tell me what I want to know, and I won’t open the safe behind your poor copy of a Reynolds and return the contents to their rightful owner.”
“You haven’t asked me anything.” Oh, she was so smug.
“Honestly, Irene, does history teach you nothing? I realize you were an infant when that actress tried to blackmail the prince, but surely you must know that it won’t work.”
“I would never stoop to blackmail. The letters are for my protection.”
Sherlock snorted. “Protection from poverty, perhaps.” Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “They’re not letters to you. You wouldn’t have had to steal them and the Prince Regent would never be so careless again as to write anything incriminating to a rather temporary mistress. What precisely do you have?”
They glared at each other. John looked on, utterly speechless.
Sherlock suddenly gave a grin worthy of a sun-bleached skull.
“Fine. What do you want?”
“A name, or names. Has there been any talk, Irene, of someone doing experiments with embalming fluid? Or possibly of a regenerative nature? I’d be most interested in the lowest gossip, the inane accusations.”
Irene made a face. “Embalming, so dull. What use is a chemical to preserve the dead?”
“What if it could preserve life?”
“Then perhaps I could keep a secret if such a miracle were promised to me. They say that beauty doesn’t last forever, but I intend that mine shall.”
“That is foolish, Irene. You’d be better suited to becoming the muse of some poor, talented painter in your quest for immortality. Though that would certainly disrupt your current comfortable arrangement.”
“It’s dreadfully dull sitting for portraits, Sherlock. I prefer to make my mark on life. Besides, if you are looking for embalming and regeneration experiments, you should not have left the dissection so early the other day on Victor’s arm. The heart began to beat while completely outside of the chest!”
That he’d missed something so spectacular only served to raise Sherlock’s ire; that, and the way her eyes slid to John, to gauge whether Sherlock’s husband had spied Victor and Sherlock leaving together the way she had. John’s visage remained relaxed and unchanged, to which Irene replied by twisting her mouth into a petulant little moue.
“I’ve already discounted the work Oliver has been doing in the anatomical field.” Sherlock paced and waved his hand as if physically wiping Oliver’s presence from his mind. “There is no indication he has a skill level commensurate with the work we’ve been seeing.”
“The bodies found yesterday?” Irene’s eyes lit up. “I do so love a mystery.” She straightened up on the lounge, arranging herself quite primly. “Will you share?”
“Yes. Now, who else has dropped whispers of such dealings? Who has shown undue curiosity on the subject?”
“Undue curiosity, my dear Sherlock? The subject is all the rage, as well you know. Even Byron and Shelley muse about the natural philosophies.”
“Many may wax poetic on the subject, but few would have the chemical skill to design such a compound.”
“Well, then, if I had to name three, they’d be you, Victor, and the Professor.” Her eyes glimmered with mirth.
“That’s hardly helpful, Irene.”
“Truthfully, Sherlock, I haven’t the foggiest. There are those who seek to continue Galvani’s work on anatomical electrical impulses, such as Volta. Or you could speak with Gerdy or Gratiolet, but they’ve not been in London to my knowledge.” Irene smiled again. “Perhaps you ought to ask at a bookshop to see if there have been any suspicious characters purchasing Galvani and Darwin.”
“Have you been following me?” Sherlock himself had purchased one of Galvani’s works and The Temple of Nature by Erasmus Darwin just the other day. How had she known? Of course, in spite of her cloying femininity, Irene would have won an argument with Plato himself.
“I hardly need to. You are nothing if not predictable.”
Sherlock squeezed his long fingers into tight fists, trying to control his temper. He would not let this woman crawl into his head and make a home there. To get the information he needed, he must outwit her.
“Very well, then. Let us examine your suspects. I know where I’ve been these past weeks and I am certainly not the murderer. I know you’ve been carousing with the Regent, so you’re unlikely to be experimenting with chemicals between fetes and banquets. The Professor has likely been engrossed in building his electrostatic generator for weeks now. We all know how bewitching he finds new toys. So then what has Victor been up to?”
“Oh, so now you’re asking me about Victor? You could simply stop by. I’m certain he would be absolutely thrilled to see you. You could even bring your husband; I’m sure Victor wouldn’t mind.” Irene’s tone remained playful, but Sherlock couldn’t quite see from his position what sort of look that she gave John to make him blush and fidget on the sofa. Sherlock paced back behind John so that if Irene looked at John, she’d have to look at Sherlock directly as well. She preened under his withering glare.
“Irene,” he warned. She smiled and continued on in her puckish tone.
“Before the dissection, though, I hadn’t heard from Victor in weeks. He has withdrawn from Prinny’s circle, has hosted none of his usual entertainments. I gather he has found a new lover over whom to obsess, a soldier.” Irene eyed John. “Perhaps I ought to try one. Apparently, they’re utterly captivating.”
“Have you met this soldier of his?”
“No, as I said, I hadn’t seen him until the morning of the anatomical demonstration. I take his solitude at the event to mean that his new friend is somewhat rough and uncouth, or he would have attempted to use the man to inspire your jealousy.”
Sherlock was frustrated. His conversation with Irene was getting him absolutely nowhere. He wandered over to the window, wondering where else to go, who else to ask. Perhaps he ought to spend more time with the children on the streets. They certainly saw more than anyone else in the city, and would enthusiastically turn their observations into coin. Or perhaps the resurrection man Corbeau was charged with sending along with turn out useful, if he ever showed up.
He paced to the window, hearing Irene engage John in low conversation while Sherlock thought and turned things over in his mind. The culprit simply had to be a man of science, someone educated. He would make a list of all the scientific men in London if he had to, search each of their homes for proof…
Sherlock paused by the window, watching the people stroll past. Just then, a hack paused to pick up a lone passenger. The young man hopped into the carriage, testing the no-doubt aging springs. When the carriage didn’t drift back into traffic immediately, Sherlock ducked his head forward to peer more closely at the driver and his head thunked against the glass.
Irene’s titter and John’s “Are you alright?” registered, but Sherlock paid them no heed. The would-be passenger exited once again only to shout something at the driver which was roundly ignored.
“Would someone be looking for those letters you stole, Irene? Because there is a very suspicious driver intent on remaining in front of your door.”
“Captain Watson, despite my teasing, I do wish you and Sherlock the very best,” Irene said as Sherlock strode to the window and immersed himself in the passing traffic. She spoke softly as not to be overheard.
“Thank you, Lady Adler,” John replied politely.
“You are much more confident in his presence this morning.” Her gaze had focused on John again.
“You do seem to have reached a sort of accord. I must say, I didn’t imagine anyone would be able to reach him.” She glanced behind her towards the window, gaze lingering on Sherlock’s stiff posture.
John suppressed his surprise. Everyone in Sherlock’s world seemed to be far too clever. Still he wasn’t about to be provoked into sharing intimate details of his marriage with this woman.
“I have no idea what you mean, Lady Adler.”
“You’re in love with him.”
“You’re mistaken. We met less than a month ago.”
“If you say. But I see how you look at him.” She grinned with her usual playful intent. “I see how you look at me when I look at him.”
John didn’t like her observation one bit. “I believe Sherlock and I will suit each other, Lady Adler, and that is all I mean to say on the subject.” John edged forward in his seat, hoping Sherlock would decide it was time to leave very soon.
“Captain Watson, do forgive me if I am unkind.” She leaned forward towards him, clutching the wool of Sherlock’s greatcoat around her neck to imply modesty. “I am afraid I have grown bitter and it escapes me at times.” Lady Adler looked sincere but John would be foolish to trust her.
“I do not presume to know what you mean.” John eyed Sherlock pacing near the window, but the man gave no indication that he’d heard. He was lost in his own thoughts as usual.
“Sherlock was always the man none could tame. Victor came the closest, but in the end he misjudged his manipulations and lost. I don’t think he has ever forgiven himself for that. And I have no one but myself to blame for my imprudent heart.”
“Lady Adler, I really don’t think we should be having this conversation.”
“Captain Watson… John, please. One would think a man like him would be difficult to love. Even he believes it. But he is a brilliant sun, burning those who don’t bask in his glow. So few truly understand him and he understands no one. He refuses the love given to him and I suppose I cannot blame him – I had nothing but selfish love, Victor, obsessive love, and Lord Sherrinford lorded over him since childhood. He throws off us all for those imperfections. Do not be ‘dutiful’ love, cold and cheerless, I beg of you.”
John stiffened. “Lady Adler…”
“Just pray don’t give up on him. Just love him even when he won’t allow it.”
Just then, Sherlock knocked his head against the window glass with a loud thunk, and gratefully, without a tinkling of shattered glass. Lady Adler’s nervous titter and John’s, “Are you alright?” were ignored and Sherlock sprang away from the window.
“Would someone be looking for those letters you stole, Irene? Because there is a very suspicious driver intent on remaining in front of your door.”
John marked a rapid blink of Irene’s eyes, the only indication she was worried at all by the implication. She stood gracefully, fastening the coat’s buttons to keep it closed over her naked for more securely.
“Kate,” she called, her voice not the least bit tremulous, “Beta.” The maid, or companion, or whoever she was appeared a moment later with a satchel, a sturdy pair of shoes, and a large swath of sheer veil.
Stuffing her feet into the quite un-Irene-like shoes, she progressed to the painting Sherlock had indicated before, swung it on hinges hidden in the framing, produced a key from whence John could not possibly guess as she’d not been wearing so much a necklace, and turned it in a safe box recessed into the wall. Irene swept the contents into the satchel without a modicum of interference from either Sherlock or John.
“Sherlock, my dear, I’m obliged to borrow your coat awhile. I shall return it when I can. Captain Watson, our chat was lovely. I do hope we meet again.”
With that, she ran lightly across the room to a small half-door Kate had opened in the wall, the entrance completely disguised by the lines in the wainscoting, ducked into it with the woman, and was gone.
“Should we follow her?” John said after his startlement had eased.
“To what purpose, John?” Sherlock replied drily. “Capture her for the sake of justice or offer gentlemanly assistance to a lady who has no need of it?”
Since John didn’t really have an answer, he remained silent, allowing Sherlock to reveal his purpose when he chose.
“Besides, John, it is the driver we are interested in!” Sherlock gestured towards the window. “Hurry now, John, we must catch a hack.”
Sherlock burst out the door and was down the stairs. John followed as swiftly as his leg would allow. He clomped heavily down the steep staircase after Sherlock, glad they had little need of stealth since he could provide only one or the other.
“Why the hack, Sherlock?” John panted as he caught up to Sherlock, who was peering out the door onto the street. “Surely if it is someone the… that was sent after Lady Adler, it is not a situation in which we ought to interfere.”
“It’s doubtful this man was sent after Irene. I simply wanted to see if I was right about where and what she had hidden in her apartments. The papers were most precious to her, so of course she would save them. I suppose I could have set a fire, but such extremes proved unnecessary.”
John blinked. “Sherlock, that was reprehensible!” But when Sherlock glanced back at him uneasily, he surely saw the irrepressible mirth on John’s face. When John began to let his laughter sputter out, Sherlock returned the smile. “Oh, I shouldn’t be laughing, Sherlock, but I suppose she deserved a fright.”
John was wiping his eyes, still giggling, when Sherlock leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his upturned lips. The action silenced him immediately. It was a chaste kiss, just a press of lips, but John’s heart felt like it flopped onto a bed in an overly dramatic swoon.
Sherlock hastily pulled back, clearing his throat and letting his eyes flutter back to the sliver of light from the street. “Yes, well, she will return when she realizes she is not in danger. In the meantime, take a look at the driver and tell me what you see.”
John shifted towards the opening in the door. Sherlock didn’t relinquish his place, so John tucked himself very closely against his husband. The contact made him smile, aware of where his body touched Sherlock’s: his left shoulder was tucked up against Sherlock’s arm; Sherlock leaned forward, pressing his chest against John’s back; and now John’s ear was nestled against Sherlock’s jaw as they shared the view out the narrow gap in the door. John almost couldn’t be bothered to use his eyes, so distracted was he by Sherlock’s body.
It took him nearly a minute to see the driver and several long seconds before he understood what precisely Sherlock was trying to point out to him. When he realized, he started, almost knocking his head into Sherlock’s.
“That’s the man we chased off Westminster Bridge the other night!” The recognition had hit John all at once, though he could not have described the man in much detail. There was simply something in the way that the man’s hat was pulled down low over his face, his shoulders were hunched and the collar of his coat was drawn up around his ears. There was just the sense of awfulness, wrongness that John recognized from the bridge as if it were a smell.
“Yes,” Sherlock replied in a low voice close to John’s ear. “Shall we see if he gives us a lift?”
“Sherlock!” John hissed as Sherlock swung the door open and strode out into the sunlight. Sherlock paused, but it was only to offer John his arm.
“Come along, husband. We don’t want to be late.” He winked and grinned at John’s grimace, but John took a deep breath and went along gamely. They strolled up to the still-empty carriage and Sherlock greeted the man perched above.
“My good man, can you take us up to Baker Street?”
The driver turned his head slowly and observed the two gentlemen standing before him. Sherlock had scooped up his hat and gloves on his way out of Irene’s but was still without his greatcoat, though the chill wind didn’t seem to bother him. John leaned heavily on his cane, free arm looped around Sherlock’s elbow, peering up to give the driver a false, friendly smile. The driver’s head jerked in assent.
“Excellent,” Sherlock said, opening the carriage door and handing John inside. He clambered in himself and shut the door. By the time he was settled in his seat, the horses had begun to tug the carriage out into traffic.
“Do you suppose he will actually take us to Baker Street?” John muttered under the noise of the horses, a multitude of wheels on cobbles, and the general cacophony of London.
“I do hope not. Have you got your gun?” John did and he checked it now before sliding it back into his coat’s long pocket. “It is too much to hope that he will take us to his master, I suppose, though that would be a lucky turn in the mystery.” Sherlock glanced out the window to ascertain their route. They were heading neither north nor west towards Baker Street and they passed several streets where their course could have easily been corrected had the driver intended to do so. Sherlock nodded at this with a pleased smile.
“Clearly, he was waiting for us. I do wonder how long he has been keeping apprised of our movements. The encounter at the Westminster Bridge could not have been mere coincidence.”
“We can only assume that it’s been all along, Sherlock. Given the letters addressed to you, and these encounters, is it not likely that this entire puzzle is for your attention alone? One wonders why he bothered to involve Mr. Lestrade or Bow Street at all.”
Sherlock didn’t seem to consider this a question worth an answer, just nodding absently, but he did continue to mark their route through London. John tried to pay attention as well, but certain sections of London were basically unmarked mazes of streets and alleyways, and John had only ever learned his way about Smithfield when he trained at Bart’s. Sherlock likely had a better map of London in his head than anyone could possible print.
So it was little surprise that John had no idea in which dank rookery the carriage finally rolled to a halt and Sherlock stepped from the carriage with an appraising eyebrow.
Judging by the wind’s direction and the smell, they were just west of Messrs. Potts’ Vinegar Works, towards London Bridge, and the grounds of Barclay’s Brewery began just north. They’d practically driven past Bow Street and had crossed the Thames at Blackfriar’s. There was little traffic on this particular street in the midst of a workday, mostly wagons carting barrels and burly drivers one street over.
“Where are we?” John hissed as Sherlock balanced him as he stepped from the carriage.
“Bankside, Baskerville Road,” Sherlock replied. “If all else fails, High Street is in that direction and will take you to London Bridge.” He said this in a low voice, keeping his eyes on the driver descending from his perch. The man clambered deliberately, carefully, as if he wasn’t quite sure of his step or grip, and wouldn’t trust the strength of his limbs with a leap. Sherlock’s keen eyes noted the black-stitched cut on the base of the neck, visible as the man wore neither scarf nor cravat and seemed to be depending on a worn hat pulled too far down and his upturned coat collar for protection from the chill. If he even felt it, of course. If a bullet to the chest had not bothered him, a brisk wind was unlikely to cause discomfort.
John had his gun out, but it was still half-cocked and pointed to the ground, tucked behind a fold of his greatcoat. He was watching their driver as well, ready at any moment to raise his gun in defense of Sherlock and himself. Sherlock was certain from the way John’s eyes focused on the man’s head that any close range shot he fired into the man would not be an inefficacious body shot. He was curious to know if a lead ball to the brain would work, actually, but this was hardly the time for that experiment.
Sherlock kept one tenth of his attention on the driver, but he seemed neither inclined to speak nor attack so Sherlock examined their whereabouts. The long, low building behind them was clearly in use (brass handle on the nearest door, unpolished in a mottled fashion, shiny where hands touched it regularly), though the several residential buildings across the narrow street were clearly unoccupied, (an utter lack of laundry on the lines strung haphazardly across the alley taking advantage of the clear, breezy day; also several of these lines had rotted through and fallen proved that the buildings had been unoccupied for some time).
“This building, then?” Sherlock gestured to it. Their driver, still silent, gestured towards the door with a twitch of his carriage whip. There was a very interesting humming noise emanating from within that drew Sherlock forward without prodding. “Come, John.”
John didn’t hesitate, but swung his cane along and kept a wary eye on the driver who followed them to the door. Several things assaulted the intrepid pair as the door opened: a smell both foetid and chemical, an utter miasma of stenches both human and manufactured; radiating heat as from a thousand bodies working in a confined space; and a thrilling buzz of static in the air that made their fine hairs stand up and crackle like miniscule lightning rods.
Despite this, there was no real sense of people within the building.
Sherlock took several curiosity-driven steps forward; John hovered near the door, using the minimal amount of light that penetrated the vast building to survey their surroundings. Sherlock darted to a nearby table and began to survey the equipment it held: blackened glassware, tongs, thick needles sharp enough to pierce leather, a cold, empty oil burner, long coils of copper tubing. Several flasks and vials contained liquids of various colors and viscosities; six jars contained powders. The floor gritted under their shoes from a thin layer of sand.
“Stay by the door for now, John.”
John shifted as little as possible, mostly sidestepping out of the light from the doorway and up against the opened door. He turned slightly so he could watch Sherlock examining the marks on in the sand on the floor and, without turning his head completely, see the driver hovering a few feet away in the street.
Sherlock, satisfied with what he’d gleaned from the marks on the floor, started opening flasks and very delicately sniffing their contents. He did not touch the vial that clearly contained a chunk of white phosphorus and water, nor did he do more with the powders than examine the way they shifted within the glass. It wouldn’t do to cause an unknown reaction in a foreign lab. Still, he slipped a stoppered vial with a thick red liquid into one of his pockets, and a few other unknown items became secreted about his person.
Minutes later, with the majority of the contents of the table stored away in his pockets or in his head, and Sherlock moved on to explore other things. He had yet to ascertain the source of the heat and the humming breeze of static. A light would have been useful here, but Sherlock considered what gasses an open flame might trigger; the smells inside were too strong to discern if anything in the air was particularly flammable. Hopefully John wouldn’t have to fire his gun and prove or disprove the presence of something ignitable within the air.
Sherlock crept deeper into the warehouse, further from the light at the door. Any windows or openings the building had once had for light and ventilation had been closed up tightly. The hot air closed in on Sherlock as his surroundings darkened and the light that remained took on a faint blue tone. That blue light had an edge to it, as if its source was hidden behind a wall. Sherlock moved in that direction, hearing a distinct whir mottled with stops and jumps.
A sudden change to the quality of the light made Sherlock pause and look back. There didn’t seem to be a rectangle of light behind him anymore. There were a few glowing specks here and there, possibly the phosphorus that had been on the table and perhaps a few cracks in the brick or boarded-over windows.
“John,” he hissed. Nothing but silence and darkness. “John?” he called, just a little louder this time. It was unlikely there was anyone in the building to hear him, and the driver already knew they were there. Still, there was no response. Surely if John were in trouble, he would have shouted. Sherlock wasn’t that far away; he would have heard a fight. But if something had happened, a surprise attack he hadn’t time to defend himself against, he’d be unable to respond.
The blue light brightened ahead of him and Sherlock wavered between going forward and going back. John. A pit of dread opened in his belly and Sherlock sucked in a tortured breath.
The sense of uneasiness trebled, and Sherlock had decided to move back to the door to find John and fetch a proper lantern when a faint growl overpowered the electric hum. Sherlock began to back away from the blue glow slowly, but it brightened as if approaching him. The growl escalated into a quick, snapping bark.
Sherlock’s heart began pounding and his eyes opened so wide it ached. His vision was becoming accustomed to the darkness and the blue glow, but he blinked around in a panic looking for something he could not see. Be calm, be rational, he scolded himself, but soon that part of his brain disappeared and he felt like nothing more than a scared, shivering mess. He’d faced worse things in his life; why should a dog and a dark room make him quiver like a child in the dark?
The barking continued until it seemed to echo all around Sherlock, as if Sherlock and the dog were trapped in a tight metal box, the sound reverberating against the walls until there was nothing but the dog, a hundred dogs, a thousand dogs clamoring with foam and bloodlust.
Sherlock had no weapon except for a knife, and he pulled it out now even though the last place he wanted to be was close enough to large angry dog to use a four inch blade. And then he saw it. It was huge, monstrous, with shaggy fur so black it glowed blue, eyes flecked with spectral marsh lights. It barked so vigorously that it drooled drops of acid that glowed like phosphorus and sizzled when they hit the floor.
Sherlock’s throat closed tight with fear; he breathed through his nose with shallow, whistling gasps. He stumbled backwards, trying not to fall against tables or stools, barely noticing the cages and crates as the creature stalked forward towards him, swinging that massive head and baring row after row of serrated teeth the like of which Sherlock had only seen once hanging on the wall of a tavern frequented by sailors. Great white jaws seemed to jump closer and closer to him, far ahead of the beast that stalked him. Sherlock couldn’t turn to run; he couldn’t remove his eyes from that snapping jaw, that horror-inducing creature whose hot breath already surrounded him.
He had to have backed up far enough to be at the door, to run into John, but there was just nothing but endless space for that beast to hunt him. It had toyed with him so far, but soon it would spring, ripping into him, hopefully snapping his neck with those massive jaws before shredding his body into bloody chunks. Yes, that was the only thing to hope for anymore, that he’d die quickly rather than in sumptuous agony.
Then there was a bright white light followed by a deafening bang. After that, all light seemed extinguished, including the beast’s glow. Nothing but panicked whimpers escaped Sherlock’s throat and his hand clenched even tighter around the handle of his knife as he twisted his head back and forth dizzyingly fast trying to see something, anything.
More white light blinded him and he threw up an arm over his eyes with the pain of it.
“Sherlock, Sherlock, are you hurt? Sherlock, please say something.”
The voice slowly infiltrated Sherlock’s ears; he realized he’d been hearing it for a while but it had entered his ears only as a useless buzz, jolts in the constant static thrum.
Sherlock.” Steady fingers peeled his fingers from the handle of the knife. “Come outside. You need some air.” Sherlock allowed himself to be led out into fragrant London. His throat loosened and he swallowed great gulps of tangy, yeasty air. The sky was too bright and the buildings wavered and frowned like great stone heads glaring at him and deciding whether he would be good to eat.
“What happened to you in there? I was calling and calling.”
“I… I don’t know, John. I was investigating the humming sound and this blue light. Then I panicked. And a giant hound was chasing me.”
“That Bull and Terrier? Vicious bastards, they can be…”
“A Bull and Terrier? But it was massive.” Sherlock gestured with his hands before he realized he was describing a dog the size of a horse. He let his hands fall to his sides, then over his face, pressing against his eyes. “I must have inhaled some sort of chemical that invoked hallucination.” He tried to recollect precisely what he saw, but it was wall tinged with panic and confusion.
John clapped a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, trying to be of comfort. Sherlock jerked away and began pacing.
“I need to think, John!” Thinking was harder than it ever was; Sherlock’s mind still felt muddled and in complete disarray. It was as if he was searching through the rubble of a collapsed building. Fine, he’d start with his body. Taking deep breaths of brisk air, Sherlock cleared his mind and eventually the stuttering palpitations of his heart began to ease. When he felt a bit more calm and in control, he opened his eyes and carefully examined the world around them.
The buildings were neither looming, nor staring at him with empty eyes, an all-around good sign. He was slow to come back to himself, to realize that their driver, their guide into this hellhole, was hog-tied just inside the door of the warehouse, squirming and grunting but unable to break the hold of… rope and John’s neck cloth. John was watching him carefully, but he was just John, a capable soldier, a warrior medic even now applying a clean handkerchief to the cut near his temple without wince or complaint. John’s collar was undone and he showed signs of a scuffle: dirt marring the fabric of his coat, a trickle of blood just before his ear, a red mark on his chin that would likely bruise brilliantly by morning.
“John, are you well?” Surely the intense alarm he was feeling was some after-effect.
“I’m fine, Sherlock,” his husband replied breezily. He might have grinned, even, but his face sobered when Sherlock said, “So tell me how you subdued the driver while I was inside uselessly crumbling into a pathetic wretch.”
John frowned, leaning on his cane for a moment before answering.
“The driver tried to shove me aside and slam the door. I managed to subdue him, but it was a close thing. He doesn’t seem to feel pain, even when kneed in the jewels. Once I’d stunned him for a moment, I got his arms wrapped up in my cravat and things went much easier after that. I found a bit of rope and finished wrapping his legs. Just then, I heard the barking, saw you backing away from the dog, and shot it.” John shrugged like it was no big feat, that he hadn’t bested a man who’d overcome Sherlock or saved Sherlock from a living nightmare. “So, now what do we do?”
Shouts echoed a block away and soon thick-soled boots thundered down the cobbled street.
“Apparently we wait for the police to arrive and tread all over every useful bit of evidence.”