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What the hell :)

I decided ‘what the hell’ and have continued posting my Gambling John story.  At this rate, I’ll quickly run out of finished story, (as I haven’t drafted the second half yet) but I’m not really concerned about that at the moment.  I just wanted a bit of something out there that makes me happy while so many other things were making me feel bad.

Anyway, I’ve posted up through chapter 7 now, so I’ll post 3-7 here to catch up.

Soon I’d better get something done on Lazarus Machine.  The villagers are restless 🙂

 

 

Mycroft’s Two Cents

 

Sherlock lounged in the chair facing Mycroft’s desk with the indifference of a recalcitrant student facing down a loathed headmaster.

“Brother, have you lost your mind?”  There was no need to question how Mycroft had found out about Sherlock’s little deal with John Watson.  He had spies everywhere that reported directly to him at all hours of the day and night.

“Hardly, Mycroft.  I simply arranged to get what I wanted.”

Mycroft Holmes’ thin lips tightened until they were nearly nonexistent.

“You’re going to track down a criminal with your newest illicit lover.  What happens when that extorter decides to turn his money-grubbing eye towards you?”

“Hardly a sound business practice for an extorter to choose me as a target.  It doesn’t matters to me if people talk; they do little else.”

“You may care when you’re thrown into prison for your indiscreet and indecent behavior.”

Sherlock scoffed, knowing Mycroft dangled enough nobles by their purse-strings to ensure Sherlock would never see time in prison no matter what he did.

“And you wonder why I worry constantly.”  The man looked sadly down at the little empty plate still perched on the edge of his desk from tea.

“Biscuits will only serve to pad your backside, Mycroft,” Sherlock lashed out impertinently.

“You’re no better than the malefactor for whom you’re searching, extorting intimacies from the victim,” Mycroft shot back.

The bright side to this conversation was that after Sherlock stormed out, Mycroft was free to ring for a servant to bring another slice of cake.

 

Baker Street

 

John stepped down from the carriage carefully.  He was healing well, regaining most of the strength in his leg, but it still sometimes weakened unpredictably.  His shoulder wound had healed better, despite the infection, but John attributed that to the time spent in sickbed.  He was certain that with regular walks, he would continue to improve.

He swung the door knocker after assuring himself this was the right address given him.  A young man opened the door, affecting a staid and proper aspect.

“Doctor John Watson for Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”  John offered his card forward.  The young man received it and nodded to someone just inside.  Another footman emerged to lift his trunk down.  John was ushered inside.

“Yes, sir, of course.  Mr. Holmes told us to expect you.  We will bring your belongings upstairs.  You may take tea in the downstairs sitting room, if you wish, or follow Alfred upstairs to take a rest.”

“I believe I will have tea.”  Tea was good, tea was calming, tea was every single day.  It was the last vestige of normal in John’s life.  Even at war, there was tea (though its authenticity was often questionable).

“Very good, sir.”  The footman showed John into the sitting room, where he made himself comfortable.  He wondered when Sherlock would make his appearance, whether he was even at home.  While he waited, he had far too much time to examine his own choices and behavior.  What was he doing here, preparing to play lover for some stranger for the promise of money?  What guarantee, besides the promise of an unfamiliar man, did he have that he’d receive the money he needed?  And even if he found himself able to pay, he would still be trusting that the faceless, nameless criminal would do as he promised and turn over the incriminating letters.

John tried to calm his thoughts, reasoning with himself.  He had Mr. Holmes’ IOU in his pocket, a luxurious roof over his head for the next few weeks, and the freedom to explore the most sinfully titillating appetites this man inspired.  His situation was little more precarious than it had been the day before when he’d struggled to win steadily against the odds.  Maybe for once, the odds were in his favor.

He ought to enjoy it, for what did he have to return to after the month was up?  A mouldy room with a snippy landlady who constantly harped on the fact that John returned to his room quite late at night?  He couldn’t return to the estate house as it was let for the year.  His sister Harriet had been living with her godmother since their father’s death and would do so until the wedding but their mother’s friend had expected John to take his own lodgings after his recovery.  Soon, Harriet would marry and be safely away on her honeymoon trip, and he would have only the most distant family and tenuous connections and few of either in London.

John listed the good that could, that would, come of this.  Harriet had a welcoming home until the wedding; John would have the money by the extorter’s deadline and ensure his sister’s happy marriage.  John would find a job more easily as another month of rest and recuperation would surely benefit his limp and could begin to consider his own future.  He may even meet someone in true need of a personal physician through Mr. Holmes, or at least be able to search for a position at a hospital.  All this for a spending a month of his time with Sherlock Holmes.  A month may go by quite easily, if he could quiet his conscience and assuage his shame.  And surely Holmes would not need him every moment of the day; there would be plenty of time for him to make inquiries of acquaintances and colleagues.

John was hopelessly optimistic about their future intimate relations; their kisses in the office of the Diogenes Club made his blood run hot in simple remembrance.  John hadn’t quite placed the man at first, but he’d finally recalled seeing him at Gentleman Jackson’s Saloon, stripped to his linen shirt, lean and rangy with a roguish air.  John had smiled at him; perhaps the first spark between them was already there.  If he hadn’t already been apprised of the blackmail, he might have considered that Sherlock Holmes had masterminded the whole plan just to trap John into his bed.  Of course, in the way of novels, a few flirtatious winks and honeyed words would be too simple for a brilliant and jaded protagonist.  He would have to play an elaborate game to win his conquests.

If he had, John mused, he was flattered in a twisted way.  It would be a lot of trouble to go through to seduce a retired army surgeon who hobbled around London on a cane.  He may have succumbed to a simple flirtation if his pride hadn’t overruled his loins.

John read too many novels during his convalescence.

The tea arrived, but Sherlock Holmes did not.  The footman acting as butler bade him to feel free to use the library as he pleased, and John spent a pleasant afternoon being astounded by the vast collection of sciences and philosophies.  Dinner was served informally, but there was still no sign of the man himself.

After dinner, the servant offered John a bath, and he was properly ensnared by what awaited him.  The tub was ridiculously luxurious and large enough to recline in.  The rising steam was scented with something subtle and masculine, spicy and foreign and was hot enough to soften his whiskers.  John washed and relaxed in the water until his fingers and toes wrinkled.  To John’s amazement, when he was finished, the water drained away through pipes installed in the townhouse walls.

He’d never felt so pampered before.  But as soon as the word fluttered into John’s head, he stopped enjoying it so much.  Of course he was being pampered.  He was essentially a rich man’s mistress, being tempted and seduced by luxury and wealth, only to ease the master’s way into his bed.  The realistic side of John wanted to keep enjoying it; at least Sherlock Holmes was interested enough to make the effort rather than just demanding John submit.

The footman helped John into a silk robe once he’d dried off and showed him into the adjoining bedroom.  It was elegant and pristine in appearance, but somehow cold and impersonal.  John wondered if it was Sherlock’s or if it was a guest room.  Surely such a fine bath-room would be adjoined to the master’s bedroom; however, there were no mementos, no trinkets.  He explored a bit.  A tall wardrobe did contain clothing, neatly pressed and folded shirts and waistcoats, with drawers of various neck cloths and smallclothes.  The desk near the window had paper and ink set out for use, but all the little drawers and cubbies were locked.  Still, John did not feel entirely confident that Sherlock Holmes actually slept here.  He moved to the bed, piled high with down pillows and what had to be the most expensive sheets he’d ever lain upon.

Most people found they couldn’t sleep in the face of anxiety.  But John had been to war, had needed to sleep whenever and wherever he could.  All the terror for his life was nothing when faced with sheer exhaustion.  As it was, he only had uncertainty for what might happen that night, or the next, or the twenty-eight after that.  That uncertainty, coupled with his stress and worry for his sister could be boxed up and shoved underneath this magnificent bed fit for the King.  John Watson threw his robe over the end of the bed, huddled under the covers and fell straight to sleep.

 

“I’m not done with you.”

 

John woke to lamplight and the scratching of pen on paper.  He jerked his upper half up awkwardly from the bed to stare at the intruder.  No, not an intruder.  Sherlock Holmes.  The man was sitting at the desk in a thick, quilted robe, shiny like satin but likely lined with silk against that posh skin.  It was dark blue, appearing almost black in the lamp and firelight, or perhaps it was so black it was nearly blue.  Either way, it made Holmes’ pale skin glow.

“Ah, so you’re finally awake.”

“What time is it?”

“Half-two.”

“When did you get home?”

“Twelve.”  Which meant if he had been at the Diogenes Club, he left quite early.  Many nights the club was finally escorting the last patrons outside as the sun rose; on occasion, it played host to revelries that took days to dissipate.

“Why didn’t you wake me?”

“I did not believe it to be a wise move to startle a wounded soldier in an unfamiliar bed.”

Holmes was correct, John supposed, as he still did occasionally have nightmares.  He now kept no weapon within reach of the bed deliberately because he’d done so for years.

Holmes fell quiet after his response and continued to write, the nib scratching the paper almost continuously save for the brief second he dipped it into the ink.  John’s heart had begun racing when he thought Holmes (ought he call him Sherlock? Lovers would surely use each other’s Christian names) might join him in bed forthwith, but as the lapsed time increased, John began to feel almost… disappointed.

Well, if Sherlock wasn’t coming to bed on his own, he would just have to invite him.  Perhaps it was the nap that invigorated John, or perhaps it was the dream of gray eyes and sharply-drawn lips.  He wanted those kisses from the previous day.  He wanted more, even if it was an engraved invitation to perdition.

With a playful quirk of his lips, John pushed down the covers to his thighs.  Sherlock’s head didn’t even flick in his direction.  John plumped a pillow under his head, reclining comfortably, but upright enough to still be able to view the man across the room.   Then he started trailing his fingers along his belly.  He’d love the feel of Sherlock’s fingers there more, but the light tickle of his own fingers was enough for now.  He stroked his other hand over his chest, tweaking a nipple and teasing it into rigidity.  John imagined Sherlock’s mouth there, with John’s fingers combing through his dark, curly hair as the man nipped and sucked.

John smiled in Sherlock’s direction, though the man still wasn’t watching unless he had the all-seeing eyes of God.  John let the hand on his belly trail lower, tracing the line where thigh joined hip.  He raised one knee and scratched lightly at the sensitive flesh of his inner thigh.  He combed his fingers through the dark blond hair around his cock and balls, carefully avoiding them while enjoying the exploratory touch.

It didn’t take much thought, seeing Sherlock’s damp curls, to begin to imagine Sherlock in that luxurious bathtub, or climbing in after him.  He could slide his hands over that slick, wet skin, lick away the water droplets, feel the steam rise from the tub and the conversely cool drips from Sherlock’s hair on his chest.

The hum he gave when he allowed his hand to grip his hardening flesh made Sherlock finally lift his head from his work and turn towards the bed.  If John was any judge at all, the man was instantly entranced.  Glittering eyes followed John’s hand as he stroked himself lazily and without rhythm.

“What are you..?”

John smirked.

“Are you trying to seduce me, Dr. Watson?” Sherlock growled, pushing back his chair roughly and prowling towards the bed.  His robe was unfastened.  The shadows in the room were deep, and only a peek of alabaster flesh appeared as Sherlock moved towards him.  John couldn’t move his eyes away.  He suddenly knew what it was like to be prey: heart pounding, mouth dry, breath caught.  He’d been to bed with people before, women, but why did this singular man make him feel so stalked, so caught?  How did Sherlock so suddenly make John feel like the about-to-be-ravished innocent when John had set out to seduce him?

“Depends.  Is it working?”  John couldn’t believe he’d managed to make the cheeky retort.

Sherlock was taller than John, and in fine form.  When he leaned over John, he utterly dominated John’s senses.

“I would have left the club much sooner had I realized you so highly anticipated our encounter that you would ensconce yourself naked in my bed.”  Sherlock gave John the most devilishly pleased smile.  John flushed, his hand falling away from his erection.  Sherlock’s eyes fell to it and one hand moved as if he thought to touch it, but changed his mind.

“This is the room to which I was shown,” John stuttered.  “If I’m disturbing your work, I can leave.”

“You are precisely where you are meant to be, John.”

The intimacy of being called by his first name by Sherlock Holmes was unbearably arousing and his cock twitched.  “Oh,” Sherlock said, as if he noticed and was pleased.

Sherlock shed his robe at the side of the bed, let it slip off his shoulders and fall to the floor without the least twinge of shame or nervousness.  His hands moved aside the coverlet and sheets more fully.  John followed the movement up to his arms where the muscles flexed lightly under his skin, to wide, defined shoulders that arched over a well-formed chest.  Sherlock may have been narrow and sinewy, but his state of undress showed off the toned muscle that roped over his long bones.

Sherlock’s right knee, and then the other, popped into John’s vision as he crawled onto the bed.  John’s eyes bounced from firm thighs to tight stomach, to dark and shadowed curls centered between them.  He swallowed, dragging his eyes away.

Sherlock’s eyes tripped down John’s body in return.

“John,” he breathed, making John’s body break out in goosebumps.  Even his nipples hardened at the sound.  Sherlock’s eyes were drawn to them, particularly the left where a tendril from John’s scar dragged low.  “John.”  Those sharply defined lips lowered to John’s chest, mapping the edges of the scar with the narrow point of his tongue.  John’s fingers reflexively buried themselves in Sherlock’s damp hair, tightening when his tongue swirled around the tight nipple.

John felt more sensitive than he’d ever been, as if every nerve ending attuned itself solely to Sherlock’s touch.  When Sherlock’s hands started to drift over his body, examining every inch, memorizing every texture, John could only sigh as he discovered how pleasurable a calloused fingertip could feel stroking the tender skin of his inner elbow.

“You surprised me, John.”  Sherlock peered up at John’s face, eyes soft and half-lidded for once.  “So few people ever do.  I expected to have to tempt you, convince you, lure you into my bed.”

“I am inexperienced with men, but I am neither ignorant nor innocent, Sherlock.  It could be important to know that about me.”

“I will not forget, John Watson.”

“Good.”

John suddenly blushed.  Sherlock noticed and his lips rose in a smirk.

“Blushing, after all that?  What naughty thoughts have crossed your mind, John?”

“I want you to kiss me… Sherlock.”  The name was added on almost as an afterthought, as if John were tasting the word on his tongue and found it quite savory.

“Oh, yes.”  Sherlock shifted so he was mouth-to-mouth with John, chest-to-chest, and nearly hip-to-hip, though Sherlock was slightly longer in the waist.  It hardly mattered that they didn’t exactly correspond, though, once their lips met.  Breathy, heart-racing kisses left John grasping for a handhold; he found the nape of Sherlock’s neck, the springy curls tangling around his fingers.  His other hand wrapped around Sherlock’s back to pull him closer.  His most secure grip, though, was the leg wrapped around Sherlock’s flank; Sherlock’s hips wedged between John’s thighs and they fitted together with perfect intimacy.

The kisses made John dizzy with lust, tongues dueling and then stroking gently.  Sherlock would pull back only to lay chaste kisses on John’s mouth, then moments later, demand entrance.  It tugged him much further down when Sherlock sucked lightly on the tip of his tongue.

“Touch me, John,” Sherlock whispered against his lips.  John’s hands obeyed, stroking that pale, perfect back from shoulders to waist, and lower, cupping and pulling that plush arse.  Sherlock’s cock had only been stirring to life when he crawled onto the bed, but he was now firm and interested and pressed along John’s length.

Sherlock stroked a hand along John’s thigh, the one he’d lifted around Sherlock’s hip, then dug his fingers into the softness of his arse as he pushed his hips tighter into the cradle of John’s.  A stuttered moan came from John’s mouth beneath his.  Yes, again, and that thought came simultaneously from both of them.  Sherlock did it again, even though the heat and friction would quickly become too much.

John whimpered when he pulled away, eyes lust-blown and blinking slowly as he watched Sherlock sat on the edge of the bed and opened the top drawer of a small bedside table.  He pulled out a small bottle of oil, which turned out to have a silky feel and considerable viscosity, and poured a little into his hand.  John watched with a twinge of jealousy as the man wrapped the wet hand around his prick and began to stroke, spreading the oil over the whole length.

And his cock was impressive to look at.  It was of a length commensurate with Sherlock’s height, and a pleasing width.  The foreskin had already moved down to reveal the head.  John shifted to get a better view, licking his lips as Sherlock’s hand slid up and down the shaft.

“Another time for your mouth, John, though I do want it so desperately.  Lie on your side, facing away.”

John did as he was told, though with a rod of tension against his spine.

“Don’t worry, John,” Sherlock rumbled as he pressed up against John’s back.  Of course he noticed the tension.  “I don’t intend to penetrate you tonight.  That is for a time when we are more comfortable together, or it will not be pleasant for either of us.”

The reassuring voice, in Sherlock’s particular deep tone, served to relax John a bit.  He only twitched a little in surprise when Sherlock’s slick hand pressed between his thighs, rubbing the oil into the crevice between and up along his perineum.  John submitted to the intimate massage, holding his thighs just slightly apart, a bit surprised at how pleasurable Sherlock’s fingers were, sweeping silkily over the tight pucker and forward almost to the base of his bollocks and back.

Sherlock teased a little, circling the tight hole, dipping into it just slightly and back around again.  The finger moved forward again, finding a rather unlikely spot and testing different levels of pressure.  Sherlock watched John quite closely, kissing his ribs as his breathing quickened, steadily increasing the pressure until John gasped.

“John?”

John had his face turned into the mattress, fingers clenched in the sheet.

“God, do that again.”

Sherlock did, watching avidly as John’s cock hitched upward and seeped several drops of fluid.  John’s hand moved from the bedsheets to flutter in the vicinity of his cock, clearly wanting to stroke himself but unsure if Sherlock would approve.

“Don’t touch.  Mine,” Sherlock breathed into John’s neck as he plastered himself against John’s damp back.  His cock nudged against John’s arse, prodding blindly for a moment before Sherlock found the right angle and slid into the crevice he’d so thoroughly oiled.  A few experimental thrusts found the optimal movement.

“Sherlock, please.  Touch me.”

A true downfall of this position was that Sherlock couldn’t clearly see John’s face.  Still, he could easily reach around and wrap his hand around John’s cock, slicking it with residual oil; and the sound of John’s moan when he did so was by no means muffled.  Keeping his hips rocking at a steady but indolent pace meant he could spend the time to tease John, alternating firm movements along his shaft with deliberate circles around the sensitive glans or exploratory fondling of John’s scrotum.  Sherlock particularly enjoyed the latter when he thrust forward and could feel the head of his own cock just there.

He also had easy and plentiful access to John’s neck, and he set about to mark him; each bite and suck made John arch his neck and groan, sometimes Sherlock’s name, sometimes just a wordless keening of pleasure.  They both drew it out as long as they could.

It wasn’t nearly long enough, in Sherlock’s mind, before his hips began to drive forth at a tempo of which he was not consciously in control, and John’s hands were clenched white-knuckled in the sheets to keep him from spilling before Sherlock was ready to allow it.  They rocked together faster, John’s hips moving forward to thrust his cock into Sherlock’s tight fist, thigh and arse muscles clenching as he did so to squeeze Sherlock’s prick with a blinding amount of bliss.

John spilled first, his seed erupting onto the bed below and coating Sherlock’s fingers with new slickness.  Sherlock had not yet released him when he reached his apex as well.  Sherlock’s spend trickled down John’s thigh, smearing between them as Sherlock continued to slide in the crevice until he could no longer tolerate the hyper-sensitization.  He panted against John’s neck, gratified to feel the other man slump against him rather than pull away.

Sherlock wanted to catalog the taste of John’s sweat, compare the drops in the small of his back to the ones on his temple.  He wanted to taste the semen that dripped from him.  He placated himself by pressing back against John’s backside once his spent cock had softened and running his hand over John’s stomach and chest.  John didn’t complain that Sherlock was basically painting him with seed and oil.

“Sherlock, that was extraordinary,” he finally breathed, shifting a bit until Sherlock let him go and John flopped on his back.  He was finally in a position where Sherlock could kiss him again, so he did.  John responded lazily, eyes closed even when Sherlock pulled back to observe him.  Sherlock couldn’t help but smile at the utterly satisfied expression on John’s face.  He kissed John’s jaw so as to not disturb the smile, and then forced himself to rise and get a cloth and some water.  John would be uncomfortable if their seed was allowed to dry on his skin until morning.

John allowed Sherlock to wash him, though now that the acute passion was exhausted, a touch of embarrassment returned.  He obligingly parted his legs and let Sherlock wipe his most intimate areas, but he blushed as he exposed himself.  When Sherlock was done, John shifted to a clean and dry portion of the bed and Sherlock tucked the bedding around him.

“Aren’t you sleeping?”  John blinked slowly at Sherlock.

“In a few minutes.  Rest.”

John dozed for a few minutes, waking to find that Sherlock was back at his desk.

“I can sleep elsewhere so I don’t disturb your work,” he offered again.  Surely Sherlock didn’t intend for them to share a bedroom; there must be another tucked away in this three-story townhouse.

“No, I’m not done with you yet.”

John had to fight back a smile, residual from the rush of climax, surely.  He lay back down, eyes watching Sherlock’s hair twitch over the collar of his robe as he wrote, dipped his pen, wrote more.  John wrapped himself in the scent of sex and Sherlock and let himself doze back off until Sherlock wanted him again.

 

Lestrade and the Suicide

 

John woke alone in the morning.  The solitude was a bit of a relief.  After how utterly intimate he’d been with the enthralling and enigmatic Sherlock Holmes, he feared the difficulty of appearing detached and professional in public – or even at breakfast.  He washed and dressed and tried not to think of the night before in too much detail.

Still, his cheeks showed a faint tinge of pink when he was shown to the room where Holmes sat indolent in a chair with a cup of tea and a newspaper.

“Good morning,” John said, cursing to himself when his face flamed hotter.  He needed to get his reaction under control.  John cleared his throat.

Sherlock’s eyes finally flickered up from his paper.  “Watson,” he said coolly before returning to the accounts of things happening in London.

See, John, Sherlock can comport himself like a proper gentleman; you can do the same.

“Have you plans for the day, Holmes?” John asked politely as he filled a plate from the buffet.

“No.  The city is insisting on being insufferably dull at the moment.”  Sherlock flung away the paper in his hand and reached for another.  One of the footmen retrieved the paper from the carpet, neatly refolded it, and handed it to John upon the doctor’s gesture.

“Have you eaten?” John asked, realizing as he seated himself that there was no plate in front of Holmes and there was an inordinate amount of food on the buffet for two men, especially if one was not eating.

“Doctor Watson, may I remind you that your guise as my personal physician does not actually require you to act in that capacity.”

The scathing tone of Sherlock’s voice did much to tamp down the lingering flush in John’s cheeks.  He found it much easier to focus on breakfast and his paper.  Still, John wasn’t about to let a whole meal go by in silence.  It took less than ten minutes for him to speak up again.

“I wonder what happened,” John said, pointing to a short article in the newspaper.  “I only met Captain Howell a few times, but he seemed like a good man.”

“Hmm?”  Sherlock barely looked up from the crime section of the paper.

“It says here that The Honorable Sarah Blackwell ended her engagement to Captain Thomas Howell.  I wonder what happened.”

Sherlock rustled his paper, turning the page and refolding it to hold in one hand as he sipped his tea.  “Likely Miss Blackwell found out about Howell’s predilection for a certain male opera singer.”

“What?  How do you know that?”  John was startled.  While he shared only a mild acquaintance with Captain Howell, having treated him for an arm fractured by a bullet, he’d never known the man to mention anyone but the girl he had waiting for him back home.  Sherlock merely raised an eyebrow in reply and returned to his paper.

“He and I have run into each other once or twice.”

John cleared his throat, took a sip of tea, and cleared his throat again.  “I see.”

Their breakfast descended into another bit of awkward silence until it was broken by a knock at the front door.  Sherlock’s ears perked up and he set aside his paper, gulped the last of his tea.  He bounced up and gestured to John.

“Come along, Watson!  Our presence is required at the scene of a crime.”

“A crime?  Holmes, what?”

“Don’t be slow, John.  I occasionally consult for those that pass for police in this city.  They’ve come to me with a case.”

“How can you tell that from a knock at the door?”

“Donovan always knocks the same way, five times, holding the door knocker instead of simply letting it clack once or twice.  Do hurry, John.”

John descended the staircase only to see Sherlock and an unknown man talking in the foyer.

“And who is this?” Donovan drawled, clearly delighted to be an observer to some immoral facet of Holmes’ life.  John was incredibly glad that Sherlock’s man had dressed him immaculately before breakfast this morning and that he had a starched, buttoned-up façade to show the constable.  He was also glad that Sherlock had conceived of a realistic story to relate as to their cohabitation, though John wondered why people might believe Sherlock would be in need of a doctor ’round the clock.

“This is Doctor Watson, my personal physician.  He will be accompanying me today.”

“Lestrade said nothing about you dragging along your physician to the crime scene.”

“Nevertheless, I require Dr. Watson by my side and Lestrade will surely allow it.”

John was quick to don his greatcoat and followed the two men to the hackney cab outside.  The ride progressed in silence as neither Sherlock nor the man he’d named Donovan seemed inclined to small talk and when John asked about the nature of the crime, Sherlock responded tersely.

“I prefer to know as little about the scene as possible before viewing it, so as to not defile my observations with presuppositions.”

When they emerged from the cab less than two miles away, Donovan pulled John aside as Sherlock swept through the open door of the boarding house and up the stairs.

“Whatever you’re doing with that man, I recommend you run fast and far away.  Sherlock Holmes brings no one anything but trouble.  He’ll destroy you the second he doesn’t get his way and never feel one iota of guilt about it.”

“Pardon me,” John said coldly.  He jerked his sleeve from the hand of the constable.  Perhaps he felt some certain loyalty to Sherlock, whether the man deserved it or not.  He had seen fit to take John’s problems as his own, even if it was because it served his own selfish needs.  And if John was later tossed out and forgotten, well, it was nothing less than what he expected anyway.

None of the officers stopped him from mounting the stairs and from there it was easy to find Sherlock.

“Why have you called me in for a simple suicide, Lestrade?  You do not need my confirmation when the gun is in the man’s dominant hand and he has left a note, several, in fact, to family and friends.  Even you can see, Lestrade, how deliberately he prepared for his death.  Howell rose early, or, more likely, stayed up through the night writing his letters, shaved and dressed to present the most respectable façade to those that might find him.  So melodramatic, that, suicide at dawn, all too common among so-called men of honor.  If you bumbling idiots have not noticed, this man is Captain Thomas Howell, who so recently became estranged from his long-standing fiancée.  He would have been distraught over the circumstance and thus took his own life.  Obvious.”

John made it to the door just as Sherlock approached it to leave, fuming.

“Yes, he did leave letters, Holmes.  One of them, in fact, was addressed to you.”

The gray-haired man’s exasperated voice stopped Sherlock cold.

“Give them to me.”

John looked over at the body, lying across the bed in full dress uniform, blood staining the wall and the bedclothes.  It was no shock to John, not after all those years at war, but the senseless loss of life still saddened him.  The gunshot was at close range, through the temple.  The captain’s hand was still wrapped around the butt of the gun, finger against the trigger.  It was, as Sherlock had said, the man’s dominant hand since the other arm had been significantly damaged by his injury and John remembered Howell being relieved that it was his weak arm anyhow.

John was afraid of something like this happening to his sister Harriet.  She’d been so distraught when she’d come to him with the blackmail note.  John had been surprised anyone had ever found out about Harriet’s first lover, but apparently her highly incriminating letters from the man had gone undestroyed.  Some enterprising servant must have come across them and was now using them, or had sold them for quick coin to someone who was willing to wait for and force a much larger sum.  John had promised to help.  In fact, he’d written her a letter before leaving his small rooms for Baker Street explaining he’d be able to produce the full amount of money when the time came for the exchange and necessarily indicating his address change.

Sherlock, meanwhile, had broken the seal on the letter addressed to himself and skimmed the contents quickly.  He handed the letter to John, who, confused, took it.  Sherlock gave him a significant look and broke the seal on the letter to Miss Blackwell.

“Oi, you can’t read the lady’s letter without her permission.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes.

“Just proceeding at the height of efficiency, Lestrade.  We could trek to Mayfair, wait while the lady weeps over the death of her captain, wait for her to read it through bleary eyes and sniffles, and then beg permission which she will surely give, or we could simply read it now and pass it along later as necessity dictates.”

John read through the letter he’d been handed.  The captain wrote to Holmes that he had been found out by an extorter and certain letters had been stolen from the dressing room of his opera singer lover.  He’d refused to pay the extorter out of a mix of honor and fury, and the letters had been promptly delivered to his affianced.  He did not beg forgiveness for his actions, only requested that Sherlock track down and stop the culprit before these terrible events repeated.

I know you will not be sympathetic to my plight, Holmes, but I rely on our most tenuous bond to request your assistance.  I never knew the man who threatened me.  Others must know, for I do believe I am not his first target.  For their sakes, as well as the sake of my dear Sarah, who will be heartbroken even as she evicted me from her future, I implore you to stop this man.

Sherlock barked at the constables to vacate the room so he could search for more evidence.  Even Lestrade seemed baffled by this instruction.

“Evidence of what, Holmes?  I thought you agreed this was a suicide.”

“Hush, Lestrade.  Watson, you stay.  Everyone else, get out so I can think!”

Lestrade rolled his eyes but did as he as he was instructed.  He was familiar with the ways and methods of Sherlock Holmes.

As soon as the room cleared, Sherlock began to spin in a slow circle, his eyes raking over everything.  John looked around, too, curious and eager to look away from the sad sight of the corpse cooling on the bed.

“If you were going to hide a letter from an extorter, where would you put it?” Sherlock asked.  John opened his mouth to reply, but Sherlock cut him off.  “No, not you.  Your concepts of pride and honor do not match those of Captain Howell.  You are willing to pay; he was not.  You sought a solution to your problem; Howell knew me and my reputation beforehand, yet foolishly did not seek my help until after his death.  Idiot.  He has made this much more difficult.  Where would a vainglorious wastrel hide a threatening letter?”

“I was going to say, he probably burned it.”

“Of course he would!” Sherlock exclaimed as if he’d thought of it himself.  “He would have been angry and embarrassed and tossed it directly into the fire.”  Sherlock crouched immediately by the small fireplace in the room.  “Shame his landlady was worth more than most.  His grate has been cleaned recently and likely several times since he received his letter.  We may as well go, Watson.  How do you feel about the opera?”

“The opera?  It’s still morning.”

“All the better to interrogate the performers when they are not performing, John.”

Sherlock brushed past Lestrade and dashed down the stairs.  Lestrade shouted after him, but the man paid no attention, having hailed a passing hack by the time John had politely moved through the constables in the narrow hall and down the stairs after Holmes.  Lestrade followed John out onto the street and demanded Sherlock speak to him.

After a deep, put-upon sigh, Sherlock acquiesced.  “Lestrade, it was suicide.  Your men can remove the body.  Be sure to go through the man’s belongings and let me know if you find a threatening letter addressed to him, though I doubt you will.  The man was being extorted.  I’m on the case!”

With that, Sherlock swung himself into the carriage after John and pounded on the roof to get the driver moving.  When they were a few blocks away, John fancied he finally couldn’t hear Lestrade swearing anymore.

“What did you do with your letter, Watson?”

“My letter?  Oh, it’s tucked away in one of my medical texts under A for aneurysm.”

Sherlock laughed.  “You are much less idiotic than Howell, at least, to have saved valuable evidence that may prove useful in tracking down the culprit.”

“You think that the same man is behind both threats?”

“I would be a fool to discount any possibility at the moment, but that is one of my theories, yes.”

The remainder of their trip into the depths of London was spent with Sherlock alternating between a manic sort of silence and sharp questions regarding the letter in John’s possession.

Suddenly, he said, “We’re nearly there,” and he directed the carriage to the mouth of a narrow street.  He stepped down and tossed a coin to the driver.  John emerged immediately behind.

 

Sherlock and the Case

 

“Where are we, Holmes?” John asked, looking around after descending to the street.  There certainly wasn’t any indication of an opera house or any sort of theater in this neighborhood.  The wider cross-street was lined with small shops and secondhand dealers, with a cobbler on the corner.  The people moving around were simply dressed but not caked with the filth of poverty.  It was a working class area, proprietors of small shops, perhaps, and respectable.

“Nowhere, yet.  It wouldn’t do to be dropped directly at the door of a molly house, now would it?”

John tugged the brim of his topper a bit lower over his forehead and followed Sherlock down the narrow street, through an alley lined with garbage and prowled by strays, and up to the back entrance of an unassuming building that John would never have guessed housed much more than a lowly pub and a few rooms for tenants upstairs.  John ducked in after Sherlock who spoke to a man sweeping the floor.  A coin flashed between them and Sherlock was given a nod and a room number.  Sherlock found the stairs and took the steps two at a time to the third floor.  John trailed after only to see a door open a crack in response to Sherlock’s incessant knocking.

“What do you want?”  Little more than a dark eye ringed with thick black lashes appeared between door and jamb.

“You know a Captain Thomas Howell?”

“I know a lot of men,” came the disaffected reply.

“He committed suicide this morning.”

The only indication that the resident of the room heard this pronouncement was the squeak of the hinges as the door swung further open.  The young man disappeared from the crack and Sherlock took this as invitation to enter.

The room was dingy and dim, the single window covered over with a haze of gauzy fabric.  Shimmering costume pieces decorated every flat surface, including the floor, though the majority hung along the nearest wall.

The young man suddenly looked particularly boyish as he wrapped his robe tighter around his waist and perched in a chair with his bare feet tucked underneath him.  The shape of his face had a certain sweet charm, though his dull eyes spoke volumes.  John sat where the boy gestured, but Sherlock stood, pacing the room and no doubt collecting every bit of the detritus with his eyes.

“When did the captain’s letters to you go missing?” Sherlock opened with the toss of a shilling into the lap of the captain’s lover.

If the young man was surprised at the stranger’s blunt question, he did not show it.

“About six weeks ago.  I didn’t tell Tom, but he found out a few weeks later.  He thought I was behind the threats, at first.”

“Did Howell injure you when he found out?”  John thought the young man’s face was showing the faint discoloration of much-faded bruising, but perhaps it was just remnants of powder from a performance.

“Irrelevant,” Sherlock announced, still taking note of the reaction, which was better than an answer any day.  “Had you any other gentleman callers who may have stolen the letters from your room?”

“No, Tom paid for exclusivity.  He said he loved me and could not bear for me to be touched by any other.”

“Did you love him?”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at John when he interrupted again, but let the question stand.

The boy exchanged glances with Sherlock then answered John with half a shrug.  “He was handsome and wasn’t usually rough with me.”

“What did you think of his upcoming marriage?” John asked, curious if the boy had been jealous of his lover’s fiancée.

“Can’t say as it made any difference to me,” the boy replied, giving John a look that said he thought he was ridiculously naïve.  “Wasn’t planning on becoming his lady wife myself.”

John flushed.  What was he thinking?  Of course the boy knew precisely where his place in Howell’s life was, and that would likely be unchanged by the man’s marriage.

“Who else besides Howell had access to your room?”  Sherlock moved to the door to examine the lock.  The rim lock was fastened to the door on the inside, but the keeper on the jamb was loose enough that a bit of wiggling and some force might encourage the release of the bolt.

“Anyone who had an interest, I suppose.”

“Hmm.  Did anyone who worked here leave around the same time?”

“Rhetta’s been gone about a month.  She did a shite job on the costumes, but the audience didn’t seem to mind when the stitches burst open on occasion.  One night she told Steeds to shove the eight pence he owed her up his arse and sauntered out.”

“Do you know where I can find her?”

“She sometimes stayed in the garret above, but mostly with a man when she could.”

“Which man?”

“Any man.  The only place she’s likely to turn up is at Three Sheep.”

John saw Sherlock calculating in his head.  It was clearly far too early to visit a pub.

“We’ll go straight on to speak with Miss Blackwell.  Lestrade will have informed her by now.  Hopefully she will be able to provide some information on how the letters were delivered into her possession.”

Sherlock gestured to John, who stood.

“I’m sorry for your loss…”  John realized he had no idea of the boy’s name.  He nodded his head as if dismissing himself then followed Sherlock out the door and back down to the street.

“I’m sorry for interrupting, Holmes.  I make a horrible investigator,” he confessed as Sherlock raised his hand for a hack.

“It’s fine, Watson.  Your questions were the questions anyone would ask.  That you asked them did not impede me from asking the correct questions.”

“Thanks for that,” was John’s dry response.

Sherlock grinned.  “We now know a number of useful things, Watson.  It is likely that this Rhetta stole the letters and sold them to someone else.  She is an unlikely candidate for something as sophisticated as blackmail, but she would have been easy to approach for a small amount of burglary.  A few coins in exchange for a few letters, so very simple.  If we’ve any luck, she won’t have been paid quite enough to completely forget her employer.”

John nodded, but he wasn’t thinking ahead to the next step of the investigation as Sherlock was.  He was wondering how fate had entangled him with this inexplicable man, and for what possible reason.

“You ought to be more excited, Watson!  If we can hunt the villain down through the clues Howell has left for us, we may be able to solve your little problem as well.  That seems most efficient.”  Sherlock rubbed his hands together.  “Oh, I do love it when the most random occurrences tie together in such a satisfying way.”

John ignored Sherlock’s glee and remained silent the rest of the distance to the Blackwells’ door in Mayfair.  The knocker had been removed from the door, signifying that the occupants were not “at home,” though with several constables milling about, someone was clearly in residence.  Family friends and gossips alike were being turned away at the door.  The news of the captain’s suicide had apparently travelled faster than thoroughbreds.

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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Writings

 

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Teaser Morsel of Gambling!John

I’ve been sitting on the beginnings of this story for a while, and instead of whining and sobbing about how depressed I am, I thought I’d post the first two chapters on here.  I currently have just under 18K words on it right now.  I was going to save it for a special 100K word prize giveaway or some such, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to start posting it on AO3 or ff.net just yet (since Russians are already wondering if I am dead or abandoned Lazarus Machine), but I wanted someone else to read it.  So, if you’re into Johnlock smut and romance novels, here’s a tasty tidbit of Gambling!John.  (I also need a better, or actual, title.  Comment if you have a suggestion!)

Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, this is not set in the same world as Lazarus Machine.  It’s a separate Regency world with somewhat more realistic attitudes towards homosexuality, though I don’t delve TOO deeply into that for the most part.  I also must dedicate the plot of this story to the nutjob who bitched about the Sherlock Holmes movie “The Master Blackmailer” on Netflix.  Thank you.  🙂  It made me watch it and without that, I would not have gotten as far in this story without a plot to follow, and the flick takes some interesting liberties with the original story of Charles Augustus Milverton.  🙂

 

 

First Sight

The first time Sherlock Holmes saw Dr. John Watson was at Gentleman Jackson’s Boxing Saloon on Bond Street.  He was bared to the waist, displaying a reddened starburst scar on his left shoulder, muscled back slick with sweat.  Sherlock could anticipate each punch by the way the muscles of his back would tense beneath the skin, and he was inordinately appreciative of the way his torso would twist and stretch upon delivery.  The reciprocal blows were received with a guttural grunt that entered through Sherlock’s ears but seemed to sink directly into his gut and clench his insides.  Riveting.  Sherlock’s attention was more than captured.

Despite what had to be a painful assault on his shoulder, his sparring opponent displayed more signs of exhaustion and injury than Watson did.  Skill, stamina, willpower…  War, Sherlock decided, not a career in pugilism.  Lucky to have survived the wound on his shoulder.  The spread of scarring indicated infection, fever.  Building his strength at Gentleman Jackson’s, not his first time here.  At least three visits in the last two weeks alone, given the bruising patterns and fading.

Shirtless, showing off his scar.  Opponents thought it a weakness, focused on it.  However, likely nerve damage, Sherlock decided, made it a decoy.  A forceful fist hit but Watson rolled his shoulder with it and followed with a right so suddenly that his opponent was surprised right to the floor.  Victory.

The fighter, John Watson, walked past Sherlock, favoring him with a smile, perhaps because Sherlock schooled his face to look most dour much of the time, or he was just a friendly sort, or even that he was simply exhilarated from his triumph.  Or was he interested?  Sherlock couldn’t help but turn to watch him walk away.  His breeches were fitted with the most attractive buckle on the back, drawing attention to the line of his torso flaring to a firm arse and thighs.

Gentleman Jackson’s was not a place Sherlock hunted for conquests.  Too public, too full of men he may run into again, too dangerous.  Still, the man’s name wasn’t difficult to ascertain through overheard conversation and Sherlock locked away the knowledge in a new room that was swiftly filling up with tiny details:  Watson’s hair was fading from dark blond to gray though he was only in his thirties; the business of soldiering had tanned lines around his eyes and roughened his skin; and the business of being wounded and subsequently ill had made his frame more lean than it had been.

Sherlock turned away, next in the exhibition ring, more than ready to have the lust beaten out of his traitorous body.

***

The next time Sherlock saw Dr. John Watson, he was properly buttoned and laced into tight, fashionable clothes, every inch the starched, upright gentleman.  If the colors were a bit plain and not the vivid jewel tones Sherlock preferred for himself, well, that was simply an example of his respectability.  Sherlock found that somehow even more enticing, the idea of seducing an exemplary member of society.  But he would also have to be much more circumspect in his approach.

Watson took a seat at a hazard table in the Diogenes Club, a luxurious gambling hell owned and operated by one Mycroft Holmes.  Sherlock, Mycroft’s brother, was employed to keep the tables honest, relatively, and took his cut of the house rather than the amounts he won at the tables.  He preferred games of skill rather than chance, though his keen mind could calculate the odds in the latter with startling accuracy.  Fortune did not interest him, however.  The challenge of the game was enough.

The room was comfortably full; the doorman made sure that the tables were kept exclusive enough to attract discriminating players, but never let the place get that desperate, deserted feeling even in the small hours.  And when Sherlock had mentioned a certain name, just in passing, the gentleman in question had been welcomed into the club, much to his surprise.

Sherlock prowled around, observing the players and seating himself at any table but John Watson’s.  The man had not noticed Sherlock watching him, paying avid attention to the other players and each roll of the dice.  He was a serious player, then.  And he won, Sherlock was interested to note.  Watson was a cautious player, generally, but when he truly made a leap of faith, he was rewarded.  He played as if he could not afford to lose.

John Watson continued to display the combination of skill and luck as he habitually attended the hell over the next week.  Despite his steadily taking money from the other players, the gentlemen welcomed the young man to their tables.  Perhaps he regaled them with war stories or other amusements, or was simply pleasant company.  Sherlock overheard mere snippets when he was positioned at a nearby table and the raucous din of men at their entertainment momentarily lulled.

Sherlock continued to discreetly observe the man, careful that Watson remained oblivious.  He wasn’t a man Sherlock could proposition with a flick of his eyes towards an unoccupied room.  Still, at one point Sherlock was distracted from his card game long enough for one of the others at the table to draw his attention with a casual clearing of a throat.  Sherlock returned to his game until his first opportunity to excuse himself and then adjourned to his brother’s office.

 

The Offer

 

Doctor John Watson had been coming to this particular gambling hell every night for a week.  He wasn’t certain how a retired army doctor warranted entry to the exclusive building, but the steward had taken his name and bowed as he walked through the door.  The establishment was renowned for its lack of tolerance for cheats, which made it an attractive spot for those who loved the purity of a wager.  And it had proven lucky for John.  If his luck had held out, he’d have had enough of a stake to join the deeper games, the ones whose payouts would ease his financial troubles.

If it hadn’t been for that last stupid, impulsive wager based on a giddy rush of adrenaline and that calamitous throw of the dice, John would be at one of those fine tables right now.  Instead, he sat white-faced in the office of the proprietor, hoping to beg some credit, any small amount that he might turn into a healthy bank again.  John was nearly desperate enough to go to a moneylender, though that would only exacerbate his problems, delay the inevitable.

The door opened behind John and he rose up, leaning on his cane.  The gentleman who entered the room was not Mr. Mycroft Holmes, the owner of the hell.  John had only seen him once, moving deliberately to one of the tables and calmly directing the removal of one Lord Ashforth, who had apparently switched out the hazard dice for ones more favorable.  Mr. Holmes had been soft-spoken yet commanding.  With the slightest of movements, he’d had two burly bouncers escort Ashforth through the front door, but made it clear that he was the real threat, not the former prize-fighters.

No, that tall, auburn-haired gentleman was not the man who walked through the door.  The man who sauntered in, bowed very slightly to John, and stood behind the great, intricately-carved desk was raven-haired with eyes sharp as a stiletto.  In fact, nearly everything about the man was sharp: his clothing was arranged in crisp, definitive lines; his cheekbones were marble honed to a fine edge; his fingers resting lightly on the blotter were long and thin.  Only his dark curls were round and soft, though John imagined there was tension even in those coils, resilient as springs.

John flicked his eyes downward, away, remembering belatedly that he really ought to breathe.  To live, you know.  He retook his seat rather heavily at the imperious invitation, trying to avert his eyes from the rather striking man in front of him.  It wouldn’t do to have thoughts about this man.  He could, and would, control himself.

“Doctor John Watson.  You wished to see the owner of the Diogenes Club about extending credit.”  It was quite clearly not a question.

“Y-yes.”  John cleared his throat.

“You wagered very foolishly for a man who could lose everything.”

“Yes, I did.”  John sat up straighter and met the pale, keen eye of the man across the mahogany.  It wouldn’t do to deny it.

“You were winning a great deal of money, in a very methodical fashion.  Yet you abandoned your caution on a single throw of the dice.  Why?”

John opened his mouth, though he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to say.

“Quiet.  That was not a question for you.”  The man’s fingers steepled in front of lips that God Himself must have carved quite deliberately.  He was silent for a few minutes, moving only his eyes over John’s person.  John felt those eyes, those flinty gray eyes, probing into his every pocket and crevice.  He fought the blush that crept to his cheeks, determinedly forcing his mind to clear of everything except his purpose.

Finally, the stranger spoke so rapidly John could only just follow.

“You are a man of reasonable means, recently returned home from the war, where you had quite a reputation as a skilled physician.  No doubt many men’s lives have been saved due to your dauntless efforts, risking harm to yourself, even, to that end.  Your return home had as much to do with your inheriting the family estate due to the death of your father as with your injuries.  Unusual that the heir to an estate would be schooled in medicine or would have chosen a military career when he ought to have been learning to run the estate.  Either you were a second son unexpectedly elevated to your rank, or your father was a young, vigorous man, perhaps a second son himself, who valued service to one’s country, education, or, most unconventionally, thought that even gentlemen ought to have a proper occupation.

“No doubt the inheritance taxes were crippling, but that would not be enough to make you desperate.  After quite some years in the army, you’d be used to living simply and the modest estate left to you would be more than adequate for your needs.  No, your sudden need for money is for some other reason.

“You are a skilled gambler, doubtlessly honed among other soldiers and gambling establishments throughout Europe.  You may owe money to someone who has threatened you to collect, but that doesn’t seem quite right.  There is a threat here, though.  Interesting.  The threat doesn’t seem to be aimed at you.  Oh, protective, a sibling.  Trying to put together a proper dowry for a sister, perhaps, or pay the debts of a younger brother still at school?

“Neither of those quite add up to the desperation you’re now displaying.  Never play a game where you need to bluff, John Watson, for your face clearly shows everything going on in your head.  The sister, yes, and a wedding, but not a dowry.  Family honor?”  Those steepled fingers tapped against those sharply etched lips.

“Oh!”  The man leapt up from his seat and started pacing back and forth behind the desk.  “Extortion!”

John slumped against his seat, quite astonished.

“Amazing,” was the only thought he could force into words.

The eyes turned back to him and the pacing stopped.

“Most people are quite unnerved that I can know all their secrets, especially the ones they try to hide most.”

“I would imagine so.”

The eyes peered at John so intensely he could feel the weight of it pressing on the shoulders of his soul.  He did his soldier-best to not squirm under the scrutiny.

“Fascinating.”

The man came around to the front of the desk and leaned up against it.  His long legs stretched out perilously close to John’s.  John shifted his feet minutely, trying to hide it under the pretense of shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

“You came here to make a request.  I’ve been charged to inform you that Mr. Holmes has agreed to forward you credit of one thousand pounds, the amount you lost on your last bet.  I also have an alternative arrangement to offer.  Both options involve risk and closure to your financial difficulties.  My offer, however, will not depend on the further casting of dice, nor favors owed to the notorious Mycroft Holmes.”

“I’m listening.”  John’s hand tightened on the handle of his cane.  A million possibilities flew through his head.  This quite brilliant young man wanted something from him and he was offering the money John needed in return.  John would do almost anything short of murder to clear his current situation from his life.  And maybe even that, if he could manage to justify it.

“First, let me hear the details of the case.  How much does the extorter want?”

John named the figure, a quite debilitating sum.  After he did so, he wondered why he was confiding in this stranger, this man both pale and dark.  Granted, the man had deduced his very personal concerns after a very few minutes; hiding the truth would likely prove pointless.

“Why would he possibly think you have that much?  The sale of your estate could yield that much blunt were it not entailed, but few even of much higher rank keep that amount to hand.”

John could only shrug.

“Then it is likely that our miscreant perhaps owes debts elsewhere himself, or realizes you’re proud enough to do almost anything to get it.  What makes you think that this single payment will be the end of things?”

“I don’t.  As time passes, though, the scandal will become less harmful and perhaps less believable.”

“Once your sister is safely married, the reveal won’t matter so much.”

“Yes.”

“And you can’t just kill him, why?”

John almost laughed at the genuine sincerity of the question.  “I don’t particularly wish to be hanged or transported.  I also understand that he has a solicitor with access to the letters, which would be delivered upon an untimely end.  But thirdly, the fellow has taken great pains to remain anonymous.  I have been given a clear and undeniable threat, but I have no idea from whence it came.”

“Well, the man certainly reads enough sensational fiction to make a proper go of this, doesn’t he?”

John had to laugh at that, despite the bleak situation.

“Your offer, then.”

“You will earn my assistance, Dr. Watson, in my bed.”

John’s head jerked up in surprise.

“I… I beg your pardon?”

“You heard me, Dr. Watson.  Drink?  Mycroft keeps the finest Scotch whiskey, but rarely drinks it.”

The tall man progressed to a sideboard where he poured out a generous dram of whiskey and added a few drops of water.  John took the glass, shivering a bit at the cool brush of the man’s fingers along his own.

“You’ve caught my interest, Dr. Watson.  You can refuse, of course, giving any reason at all, whether your honor or your supposed lack of proclivities in that direction.  You may even plead a fiancée, though we’d both be aware of the lie.  But the truth of the matter is that I desire you and I have the means to offer the solution to your problem in exchange for your tolerance of those desires.”

John shot back the whiskey in his hand with a shockingly low appreciation for the fine, peaty aroma.

“What makes you think I won’t go to the magistrate with this indecent offer of yours?”  John’s voice was perhaps not as outraged as it ought to be.  “It’s madness, what you are suggesting.  Illegal.”  Whether it was the whiskey or something else he cared not to define, heat began seeping through John’s veins.

The man circled the room, always moving, never sitting still and every second demanding John’s attention.  He tugged on the lower edge of his waistcoat, making sure it was properly displayed beneath the cut of his jacket, and John’s eyes tore away before they drifted lower.  He took the glass from John’s hand to refill it, peeking over his shoulder to best display his elegant profile as he slowly returned.  When he handed John the glass, he placed a hand on John’s good shoulder, squeezed it in the most innocuous manner, but the thrill burst down John’s spine and straight into his groin.

“I observed the way your eyes shy away from lingering on my person.  Your breathing became quick and shallow when I walked into the room and again when I leaned on the front of the desk and stretched my legs near to you.  You’ve done a fine job of tamping down your reactions, but certain immediate responses to an attractive person are uncontrollable.

“You may play offended, Watson, but both you and I know better.  Legalities aside, you are at least one of the following: curious, intrigued, excited, or aroused.

“However, if the thought of a discreet dalliance with a man is too much for your nerves, you make take your credit and build your bank.  With your skill at gambling, if your luck holds, you may be able to raise the funds you need.  Precisely how long did you say you had left?”

John hadn’t.  “Two weeks.”  It had taken him that long to quadruple the small bankroll he’d been able to scrape together, which had evaporated on one foolhardy wager.  He’d have to trust that his luck would improve, for he’d have to make more reckless and impulsive wagers to make up for the lack of time.

Or he could give this man precisely what he wanted, which would be little hardship if he truly admitted it to himself, and rest easier knowing his sister could be happily married.

“Terms,” John croaked out.  He cleared his throat but couldn’t clear his embarrassment.  Of course he was insane even considering this offer.  It was illegal, for one, such desire considered immoral.  John knew this sort of thing happened, of course it did, but that it happened with such insouciance was mildly shocking.  No matter that John had more than once allowed his mind to wander in his self-pleasure (also a sin, but a lesser one rarely avoided) over bodies taut with muscle and scars instead of soft and curvaceous.  What happened in his mind was between him and God.  To actually succumb to illicit temptations…

“So you accept my offer?  I am delighted.”  John could feel the slow phrasing of the word “delighted” crawl all over his skin.  John wanted to see if the touch of that voice alone could make him reach the peak of pleasure.  Insane, he was definitely going insane.

“Not until I hear your terms for such an assignation.”

“Ah, negotiation. Not my particular forte, but I will endeavor to compensate.”  Finally, he sat, leaning back in the chair and pushing back from the desk so he could cross his long legs.  “I would have your undivided attentions for a six-month.”

John gasped.

“Six months?  But that…”

“Oh, do not worry yourself so, John.  I will likely tire of you long before and release you from your obligation.  But I do believe my compensation is more than generous for such a small window of time.”

John said nothing, feeling the heat creep up his face.  So he was to be a mistress then, for lack of a better word, a kept man.

“My sister’s wedding is in a month.  What would keep me from abandoning our agreement once the danger was over?”

“Watson, I thought so much better of you.  I would have suspected your honor would hold you to our agreement.  The arrangement is mutually beneficial.  Your extorter will cease to be a bother.  I may be in a position to recommend your services as physician to several wealthy clients.  And we will both experience pleasure behind closed doors.  But if I must threaten, you have already granted me access to enough of your secrets.”

“What if we are found out?  If the extorter, or subsequently the public, discovers the particulars of our relationship?  My reputation and occupation would be destroyed by such a scandal.”

“He could catch us in flagrante delicto and it would be nothing but his word against ours.  Simply take care not to provide written proof and show caution in front of witnesses.  My servants are well-compensated and will not tattle.”

“One month.”

“A single month, John?  I doubt that you will tire of me by that point.”

John wanted to snort at the overconfident statement, but he couldn’t.  He was too busy imagining the sordid acts in which this man might prove his self-vaunted skill.

“One month.  I will attend my sister’s wedding as a free man.”  John held himself steadily to his words.  Thirty days, he could take down his own walls and explore the desires he kept so tightly hidden.  He couldn’t imagine living with the subterfuge for longer than that, the guilt, the shame.  The end had to be foreseeable, when he could get back to his own life, to his plans for the future.

“Very well.  But we will begin immediately.”  The man rose and circled the desk like a beast tormenting his prey.

“Now?”  John jolted against the upright back of his chair as feline grace swiftly narrowed the space between them.

He leaned over John, his hands resting on the arms of the chair, his breath whispering against John’s lips.  “Now,” he said in a low voice that made John’s body thrum.  “A kiss, to seal our bargain.”

It was a bargain with a devil in a well-tailored suit, one who kissed like his lips were made for nothing else.  Well, maybe something else.  John couldn’t help but open his mouth to the man, allow him to stroke his tongue along the sensitive underside of his upper lip.  Just a quick taste, and that wicked mouth pulled back.

“Be my lover, John Watson.”  And that voice, that thick, smoky voice.  Why, oh why, did it affect him so?  Hadn’t he heard a multitude of deep voices in his life?  Why did this one make his thigh muscles clench, make his stomach jump, make his heart beat harder until there was nothing but the whoosh of his blood and that bewitching voice in his ear.

“Yes, God, yes.”

And those lips met his again and again, pulling back, tasting, pressing forth again until John’s mind was nothing but a fog of desperate need.  He moaned against those lips as slim fingers stroked the side of his neck, dipping under his cravat just behind his ear.  Holding back his response hadn’t even occurred to John; he initiated deeper contact with his tongue, flicking it over the full lower lip.

When the tall man stood again, smug and self-satisfied, John felt utterly bereft.  Despite the vainglorious attitude, John wanted to yank the man down again, push more than his lips against him.

“Go home, Dr. Watson.  Pack your belongings, leave word with your landlady.  I require you in my townhouse tomorrow afternoon.”

“I shall be residing with you?”  Had that been implied in the terms of their agreement?

“It will add credence to the premise that I have employed you as my personal physician.  The privacy of my home will aid in protecting your valued reputation, as well as our absolute discretion when in the public eye.  Also, I will require you to be available at a moment’s notice.  I do not wish to trek to your little room south of the Thames every time I desire your body.  And, trust me, Doctor Watson, I will desire your body, again and again.”

One long-fingered hand was still touching him, stroking John’s chest through his waistcoat under the lapel of his coat.  One fingertip found the sleeve edge of the waistcoat and John felt it with only the thin linen of his shirt between them.  He tamped down the impulse to strip here and now just to feel those deliberate fingertips all over his body.

“You haven’t even told me your name.”  Had John been so entranced he’d never realized the man hadn’t introduced himself until this very moment?  Apparently.  The response was a highly gratified grin.

“Sherlock Holmes, and the address is 221B Baker Street.”

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Writings

 

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Sherlock and the Huntsman, a Sherlock / Snow White tale

Once upon a time there were two young princes.  Each little boy was utterly enamored of their mother, the Queen, and each in their own way tried to win her attention.  The elder brother, Mycroft, was the dutiful son, the heir, the one Mummy trusted in his teens to be ambassador and councilor and would one day be a fine king.  The younger, Sherlock, played his violin for Mummy and behaved abominably the rest of the time, leaving dissected frogs and sheep’s eyeballs in the strangest of crannies in the castle.  He would never make a good prince and it was lucky he would not be king, for the kingdom would forever be at war for the unrestrained comments that would fly from his mouth.

Prince Mycroft thought that Mummy loved Prince Sherlock best despite his behavior.  She was too tolerant, too lenient, and she smiled too fondly at her beautiful son.

Prince Mycroft became bitter as he grew up and started taking more and more of the responsibility of taking care of the kingdom while Sherlock grew only more dissolute and uncontrollable as he came of age.  His brother was clearly mad, a detriment to the future of the kingdom, whispered his closest advisor.  After all, what if Mycroft himself died without issue?  The kingdom would fall to Sherlock and it would surely disintegrate into a chaotic ruin within a year.

The only way to ensure that this would not happen was to make sure Sherlock perished first.

Preferably soon.

An accident.  Everyone would believe an accident, whispered the advisor when he and Prince Mycroft were in closed quarters.  Prince Sherlock is careless, he said.  No one, not even the Queen, will suspect anything.

And this was true.  Sherlock had converted part of the dungeons into a laboratory, where he could experiment in peace far from the living areas of the castle.  He often mixed chemicals together just to see the results, and many times, this had resulted in fumes and smoke and in liquids that burned through tabletops.

Therefore, when the accidents started happening, no one really noticed.  When two flasks got mixed up and caused a small but smoky explosion, Sherlock just stormed up to his room and hid away until he could stop coughing.  He appeared when summoned later, stroppy and disgruntled, upset that he’d made such a stupid miscalculation.

It wasn’t until the third time that Sherlock saw the pattern and began to look furtively at those who came and went in the lower parts of the castle.

It also didn’t take him long to recognize the expression of disappointment on his brother’s face once he was looking for it.  The advisor’s face held unrestrained glee, knowing that Prince Sherlock knew and could do nothing about it.

Mummy had fallen ill by this time and Sherlock didn’t think he could take his suspicions to her.  And if she died, Mycroft would become king.  At that point, it was likely that the attempts on his life would be more relentless and less discreet.  After all, Mummy wouldn’t be there to mourn him.

So the night his mother breathed her last, Sherlock left the castle.  He stole the clothing and cape of a servant, still finer than worn by the common folk of the kingdom, a bit of bread and cheese, a water skin and a few coins.  He wasn’t sure where he could go that would be safe, but anywhere else would be safer than the castle.

And this is where our story begins.

***

Prince Sherlock walked for several days, taking only short breaks to rest or to nibble on the food he’d brought, trying to make it last.  Food in the castle he could take or leave, but food in the forest had to be worked for.  And Sherlock knew a great many things, but how to survive in the forest on his own was not one of them.

Word in the kingdom spread faster than Sherlock could flee on foot, for the first town he came across already had posted handbills with Sherlock’s likeness on them.  They offered a reward for his heart to be carved from his chest and brought to the castle.  Whatever reason the new king might give for this decree was irrelevant.

Sherlock had planned to spend a coin on a warm bowl of stew at the inn, but pulled his hood over his dark hair and walked back to the edge of the woods.  He would not be able to venture into towns, not without incredible risk.  And if the guard had already traveled farther from the castle than him, he might never be able to pass them and make it to the border of the kingdom.

Sherlock passed the night shivering, tucked into a tight ball, and the next morning running from the Royal Guard.  He tried every trick he had ever read about, backtracked, hid, flew through the brush as fleet as a deer.  The sun rose and the fog began to clear when Sherlock finally felt he’d evaded his death that day when across a clearing, he heard a forceful command.

“Halt!”

Prince Sherlock did little better than collapse into a panting mess on the ground at the surprise.  He was exhausted from lack of sleep, little food, and the cold that had settled into his bones.  The smaller heart of a rabbit could beat faster, but Sherlock’s heart was attempting to keep pace.

Sherlock swept back his hood and lifted his face and stared at the stranger across the small clearing.  A huntsman, bow steady, arrow nocked and drawn back with a sure hand.  Not one of the Guard, then, but perhaps looking for the reward money.  He was built well, though shorter than Sherlock, clearly capable of the physical work required in the forest.  His sandy head was bare, his clothing serviceable and warm, boots worn but sturdy.  He had kind blue eyes.

Sherlock wasn’t sure why he noted that sentimental detail, particularly when those eyes were aimed at him much like the arrow.

Sherlock drew himself up to full height; he wouldn’t be taken down cowering.  The eyes kept looking at him; the hands remained steady.

Suddenly the arrow flew and for a long moment, Sherlock wondered where he was hit.  Then he realized the arrow hadn’t hit him, not at all.

“You missed,” he said, with a characteristic smirk.

“I never miss,” the huntsman replied.  “Come now, Your Highness, we must get you to safety.”

Sherlock’s head whirled around.  One of the Guard had crept up behind him and now had an arrow vibrating in his heart.  Sherlock peered down at the body before quickly pulling out the arrow and following the huntsman who was already dashing through the trees.

They ran together for almost longer than Sherlock could bear it before the huntsman paused so they could rest.  The huntsman crouched with his back against a tree and kept his eyes on Sherlock, who sat more firmly on the ground, panting.

“The King thinks you killed the Queen,” the huntsman said, making conversation.

“No, he doesn’t.”  For Sherlock knew Mycroft thought no such thing.

“I see,” replied the huntsman.

After a few more minutes, they ran again, deeper into the forest.  They paused to catch their breath again.  The huntsman filled his water skin and Sherlock’s at a small, clear stream.  They drank deeply and filled them again.  The huntsman gave Sherlock a strip of jerky from a pouch at his waist.  Sherlock was too tired to chew it properly, so he just bit off small pieces and washed them down with the water.

“My name is John, Your Highness.”

“Call me Sherlock.  I’m hardly royalty anymore.”

“Of course.  Sherlock.”

They set off again, this time at a brisk walk.  Apparently John knew the forest well enough to know they were far from the remaining Royal Guards, though where they were headed, Sherlock didn’t know.  It wasn’t towards the man’s own home, though, that was certain.

“Where are we headed?”

“I know somewhere you can stay.  Somewhere safe.”

“There is nowhere safe when the reward will make a betrayer a wealthy man.”

“Have I betrayed you, Sherlock?”

“That remains to be seen.”

They traveled the rest of the way in silence.  The safe place John the Huntsman led them to was a cave.

“This part of the forest is enchanted.  No one can find their way here unless they’ve already been.  You’ll be safe.”

“I don’t believe in enchantments, John.  Magic is for children’s bedtime stories and idiots.  There is a scientific explanation for everything.”

John regarded Sherlock in silence for a few minutes.

“Nevertheless, I believe you will be safe here.  The men that live here have received no visitors besides myself in years, and my father before that.”

“You are not afraid of the forest.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Most people are.  They’re afraid of getting lost, afraid of the wild animals within.  We are most of a day’s walk from the nearest village and I saw no path except those the animals use to drink from the stream.”

John the Huntsman nodded.

“Enchantment aside, you may be correct.  I will likely remain unfound here, if the inhabitants are agreeable and offer sanctuary.”

“We’ll have to wait.  They won’t be back until dark.”  It was getting close to winter and darkness fell early, but it was still a long, cold wait.  After the darkness fell and Sherlock could barely see John in front of him, he heard a whistling in the trees.  Soon after, he saw lamplight pierce the darkness, flickering between the tree trunks.  A line of short men steadily appeared.

***

Three days later, John the Huntsman came around with a “Hallooo,” at the entrance to the cave.  Sherlock rushed out, slowing his steps at the last moment so he wouldn’t appear too eager.

“Any news?”

“They’re still looking, but they think you’ve gone further afield.  Most of the Guard has moved out.”

“Most, but not all.”

John shook his sandy head.  “Should be safe in the woods.  They didn’t leave enough to patrol, only represent the Crown.”

Sherlock paced.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“I could cut out the heart of the next stag I take down, take it to the Guard, tell them it’s yours.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, John,” Sherlock said sharply.  “A stag’s heart is completely the wrong size.  They would know in a minute you were lying.  Better to take the heart of a youthful boar.”

John stared at Sherlock for a minute then started to laugh.

“Okay, so it was a bad idea,” John said, finally.  His laughter finally induced Sherlock to smile, and that made him feel better, too.

“How are you getting along with the men?”

“You mean Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful, Grumpy and Hudson?”

John laughed heartily.  “Tell me you do not call them that.”

“Only Hudson.  Who, by the way, constantly tells the others he is not their housekeeper, yet he cooks and cleans and makes all the tea.  Does he not realize?”

John could not stop laughing.  Sherlock finally began laughing at John’s laughter and some of the ache at his plight broke.  They sat together at the entrance to the cave and talked and laughed about nothing of consequence.  All too soon, John had to leave.

“If I think it looks safe, I’ll stop by here tomorrow and you can come hunting with me if you like.”

“I think I should like that very much, John.”  For Sherlock had never really had a friend, and certainly not one such as John, one who could make him laugh, one he actually cared to speak with instead of talk at.

***

John arrived early the next day, flushed from jogging through the trees much of the way from his small cottage to the cave.

“You don’t live in the village,” Sherlock stated when he saw John.  “You live alone and a good distance into the forest.  There is a path that leads from the village to your cottage, so you’re not hidden, but you often prefer the seclusion.  You also have excellent stamina to have kept up a pace that would allow you to arrive before the sun was halfway in the sky, even as hermetic as your cottage is.”

John stood straight, facing the onslaught of Sherlock’s deductions with more than a little curiosity.

“You recognized me as Prince, though we have never before met.  You killed a King’s Guard with little thought to treason.  You didn’t believe the accusations on the handbills and you have little love for the King to have helped me so readily. Why?”

John didn’t answer; Sherlock wasn’t really asking for one.  Pale fingers steepled against carved lips.

“Perhaps once you worked for the Crown.  A guard, a soldier, a bowman given your skill with the instrument.  Something happened to make you leave, make you angry.”

“That’s quite amazing, Sherlock.”

“Really?  That’s not what most people say.”

“What do they say?”

“‘Please excuse me, Your Highness.’  Because, of course, they can’t just say ‘piss off,'”

John laughed.  “Well, I promise that if I ever wish to tell you to piss off, I shall.”

“That would be… unpleasant, I think.”

“Then don’t give me a reason.”  John’s blue eyes twinkled.  “Come, I told you I’d take you hunting.  I can teach you how to track, and how to not get lost in the forest, if you like.”

“Those skills would be useful to acquire,” Sherlock agreed.

John and Sherlock spent a good part of the day in the forest together.  John showed Sherlock the signs that a deer or large animal had passed recently and Sherlock proved remarkable at observing them.  John set a few snares and they made a meal of rabbit roasted over a small fire.  Sherlock watched eagerly as John made short work of dressing the animal and laid out the bones in their proper order on the ground as they picked them clean.

They talked companionably when the hunt allowed, and stalked silently when necessary.  John kept them within the reaches of the enchanted part of the forest, no matter how much Sherlock scoffed at the idea.

“I warn you, Sherlock, do not venture too close to the village.  The forest can only protect you if you stay deep within.”

“I understand that, but it is not magic, John.  It is simply being far enough from civilization that keeps me hidden.”

“Call it what you like, Sherlock.  The outside world cannot touch you here.”

“Why do you care if I am safe?  I am not your liege, nor anything but a death sentence for you.”

“I think of you as my friend, Sherlock.”

“I don’t have friends, John.”  Sherlock knew he’d made a mistake when John glared at him and turned and walked the other way.  “No, I meant, I’ve never had a friend.  I don’t have friends.  I only have one.”

John sighed.

“I suppose I can teach you that, too.  Come on then, you big git, let’s get you home.”

And Sherlock followed, pondering the way he felt about being so affectionately called a ‘git.’

***

A few weeks passed and the notion of their friendship became truer.  John came by the cave at least twice a week to save Sherlock from the inanity of living with seven strange little outcasts.  Each time he saw John’s smile emerge from the woods into the little clearing, his heart fluttered just a little.  At first he suspected it was because John’s was the only friendly face he saw, well, ever.  After a while, Sherlock began to suspect something more.  He had to struggle to keep the irrational reaction well tamped-down.

The odd men who had allowed Sherlock sanctuary were tolerable enough, if a little eccentric.  Sherlock could hardly fault them for that.  But their relationship with their guest improved when Sherlock took the observations he’d gathered on his treks with John and applied them to the mining work they did.  He brought them to several new places to dig, and the men struck gold in several cases and diamonds in another.

Overjoyed, they sent the ones Sherlock referred to as ‘Happy’ and ‘Grumpy’ on a week-long trek to the capital city to trade.  When they returned, they brought with them news and a few fine trinkets to thank Sherlock for their good fortune.  Sherlock examined most of their gifts with disinterest – he missed his laboratory at the castle, and he was not appeased by an ivory comb for his oft-tousled hair, nor odd hats and jewels.

One item caught his eye, though, a fine brocade tunic with silver buttons down the front.  He didn’t wish for it for himself, but when he saw the sky-blue color, he was reminded of John’s eyes.  Likely he would rarely wear it, for his life was too rough for fine clothing, but perhaps when he saw it, he would think of Sherlock.

Sherlock resolved to give it to him the next time John visited.  He wrapped it carefully back in the muslin scrap it had arrived in and tied the bundle shut.

***

John consented to stay the night as he said it was a holiday and the nine of them had a merry evening.  Hudson cooked a fine meal and news of the state of the kingdom spread around the table.  Apparently King Mycroft had negotiated for a wife and would marry in the spring, uniting his kingdom and one neighboring to the south.  John and Sherlock shared a look – if he continued to run, south would be a disastrous direction, then.

Still the news of a wedding relieved Sherlock somewhat.  His brother might be distracted, at least a little, by the preparations and soon his new wife.  His search for Sherlock would not be foremost on his mind.

“I’m off to bed,” one of the men said, yawning and stretching.

Sherlock caught John’s eye and mouthed, “Sleepy,” and they both started to giggle to the confusion of the others.

The one Sherlock called ‘Bashful’ could play a rousing tune on a pipe if suitably convinced, and Sherlock muddled along on a rough-hewn fiddle nothing like his fine violin back at the castle.  The music didn’t seem to rouse ‘Sleepy,’ nor did their laughter and clapping, even though it surely echoed through the length of the cave.

One by one, the little men claimed exhaustion and the party dropped off to just John and Sherlock.

“I have a gift for you, John,” he blurted out, not knowing how to bring the conversation around to the topic smoothly.

“You do?  I haven’t gotten you anything.”

“You gave me my life, John.”

Sherlock brought out the bundle and laid it in John’s lap where he sat in a chair near the hearth.

John’s eyes were wide as the firelight caught the shiny buttons and the thin silver threads of the brocade.  Sherlock watched him from his position nearby crouched on the thick rug in front of the fire.

“It’s stunning, Sherlock.  Where did you get it?”

“They brought it back from the capital.”

“Why did you not keep it for yourself?”  Sherlock’s ill-fitting clothing was becoming worn.  Hudson had mended his shirt three times and the fabric of his tunic was beginning to fray near the buttons.  And the fine fabric was much more suited to Sherlock’s elegant good looks.

“I simply wished for you to have it, John.  There were other clothes for me.”

“Thank you.”

John stood, undoing the ties of his plain brown tunic.

“What… what are you doing?”

“Trying it on, obviously,” John teased.  Soon he stood in front of Sherlock in his billowy white shirt, open at the throat.  Sherlock could see where on John’s neck his stubble ended, where the fading tan lines marked the collar of his summer clothing.  He wanted to help John with the buttons, but not to fasten them.  Sherlock gripped his knees tighter, but could not look away.

In the rich fabric and with his neat, sandy hair, John could have passed for a lord, a prince himself.  He smiled with such pleasure at Sherlock that Sherlock felt dizzy.

“It suits you perfectly, John.”  He found he barely had control to say the words.

“I don’t know, Sherlock.  I didn’t think so at first, but it feels a bit tight.  Maybe it would fit better on someone with your slender build.”  John fidgeted.

“The buttons aren’t straining, John.”  Sherlock’s brows furrowed.  “It doesn’t look tight.”

“No.”  John coughed lightly.  “But it must be.  It’s a little hard to breathe.”

John moved his fingers to the buttons but he fumbled.  His face was turning red and he tried to pull in a breath but couldn’t.

“Sherlock,” he wheezed.

“John.”  Sherlock shot up, tried to help him with the buttons.  No matter how many times Sherlock thought he’d pushed it properly through the hole, it was still fastened a second later.  Now his fingers were trembling and John’s hands had fallen away.  He was gasping, trying to breathe.

“John.  John, try to relax.  I’ll get you out of this.”  Sherlock grabbed a knife from the dinner table and began to saw away on the threads that held fast the buttons, one by one.  He couldn’t wedge the knife under the tunic for risk of cutting John instead.

Half the buttons were gone, tumbling and bouncing on the floor, but John still couldn’t breathe.  His eyes were starting to get droopy as his little sips of air were getting smaller and smaller.

“John, stay with me!  John!  John!”

Sherlock got a firm grasp on the edges of the tunic and pulled with all his strength.  The rest of the buttons flew away and John fell to his knees.  Sherlock dropped to his as well and pushed the tunic off his shoulders.  He was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath as John’s chest was finally allowed to expand fully with air.

“John, John, are you alright?  Can you hear me?”

“Quiet down, Sherlock,” John rasped after a moment, “unless you want to wake the household with your shouts and have everyone see you’ve undressed me.  People will talk.”

Sherlock stared at John a minute, unable to believe he was joking at a time like this.  Still, the hysteria bubbled over and he found himself laughing himself to tears over John’s wheezing giggles.

***

“It was most certainly not an enchanted tunic.  That’s ridiculous, John.  It was clearly poison of some sort, some chemical that caused your body to begin to asphyxiate.  There are several chemical combinations that create a gas that…”

“Disappear entirely the moment the tunic is unfastened?  That didn’t affect you in the least?  It was magic, Sherlock, admit it!”

“There is no such thing as magic.”

John sighed in frustration, running a hand through his hair.  He was still in his shirt sleeves, pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace.

“We ought to burn it, just in case.”

“I’ll dispose of it when I’m finished experimenting on it.”  Sherlock was gathering the buttons from the floor and putting them in a small pouch, awkwardly because he was wearing a thick pair of mittens Hudson had knitted.

“Just… just don’t put it on, Sherlock, okay?  Promise me that?”

Sherlock took too much time to think this over, in John’s opinion.

“Very well, I promise,” he finally said, “but it would be more informative to attempt replication of the previous…”

“Absolutely not.  I’m holding you to that promise.”

Sherlock sighed.  “Very well, John.  We’ll have to find out where it was purchased in the morning.  More information will be helpful.”

John watched Sherlock pick apart the fine tunic one thread at a time.  He held the fibers close to the lamp to examine them and sniffed at the fumes created when they burned.  His sharp eyes examined the weave of the fabric, the stitching, every nuance of the construction.  He didn’t sleep, but sat close to the lamp until John’s eyes couldn’t stay open any longer and he dozed in the chair.

‘Happy’ looked anything but when he found out what happened the night before.  John woke in the midst of Sherlock berating the much smaller man.

“Describe the person who sold you the tunic,” Sherlock demanded.

“Just a man.  A vender with a stall on the street.  He had many nice things.”

“Did he recommend this one in particular?  Did you buy anything else from him?  Did he ask where you were from?  Did he ask your name?  What did he look like?”

The poor man struggled to remember, to answer the questions Sherlock shot at him.

“He was short, slim, dark haired, I think.  He had a pretentious city accent like yours.  I just asked him if he had anything that would suit a tall, slim man…”

“In short, you described me to him, a vender in the capital city.”  Sherlock paced back and forth.  “Did this man give you a name?  Think!  You must think!”

“If he did, I don’t remember it.”

“Did he or didn’t he?” Sherlock shouted in his face, towering over the diminutive man.

“Yes…” came the stuttered answer.  “I think… it was something like… Maurice or Motley or…”

“Moriarty,” Sherlock breathed.

“That’s it!”  The little man nodded in relief.  It was short-lived.

“Get out!  I have to think and I can’t do it with all of you staring at me like anxious little puppies!”

The dismissal both angry and regal, the seven little men vanished, leaving John regarding Sherlock with a small amount of disapproval.  Sherlock glared at John before resuming his pacing, tossing his arms around like he was breaking imaginary plates and cups and occasionally large furniture.

“It’s not his fault, Sherlock,” John said finally.

“I know that,” he bit out.  “But he was careless.  And now there’s a clue to my whereabouts.  There are now people to be questioned.  Who was the strange little man who came to trade gold and diamonds?  Did he mention where he came from?  Which road did he take?”

“It could all be an accident, a coincidence.”

“Moriarty can twist coincidences out of thin air, John.  I know my brother’s advisor well.  What coincidence is there to the advisor to the king selling clothing on the street?”

“Maybe Moriarty wasn’t the name the vendor said, but it sounded close enough when you suggested it.  Maybe it was a family member, same name, same general description.  Maybe the King threw him out on the street and that’s how the wretched troll makes his living now.”

“Quite imaginative, but each scenario you come up with is less and less probable, John.  Now, do stop talking.  I must think.”

John left Sherlock to think shortly after.  Sherlock hadn’t wanted him to go, not really, but he didn’t say anything because saying something would likely result in saying too much.

Moriarty.  The slender man had appeared one day as a minor courtier when Mycroft was still a teen.  The two bonded quickly over little palace intrigues and gossip.  Sherlock and Mycroft had never had the most amicable relationship, but after Moriarty, it was worse.  Each poisonous whisper in the future king’s ear drew the web more and more tightly around Sherlock.

When Sherlock escaped, it was certainly only because Moriarty wanted to extend that devious little game of his.  Make the Prince run, hunt him down like a hound after a fox.  The real prize wasn’t in the capture, but in the chase.

Sherlock could imagine that whatever slight he’d given unto Moriarty was not imagined; he was quick to annoy people, oblivious to consequences.  But the situation had long been past forgiveness, either asking or giving.  This wouldn’t end until one of them was dead.

***

Sherlock tried very hard in the next few days to unravel the mystery of the suffocating tunic.  John came to the cave daily to try to coax Sherlock into keeping him company in the forest, but he was soundly ignored.  He noticed the dark circles under Sherlock’s eyes, the dull tone of his skin, but did not comment on them.  John didn’t need to be told that Sherlock wasn’t sleeping.  Hudson did tell John that Sherlock only nibbled on the meat John brought and nothing else he could bake would tempt him.

Sherlock finally let John burn the tunic in the crisp winter air as they both watched.

“Sherlock, you’re safe here.  Everyone will be more careful about bringing things into the cave from now on.”  John’s voice was reasonable; it always was.  But Sherlock paced back and forth.  He had reason to worry.

“And every nibble of food will be shared with the mice to see if it’s poisoned?  Every scrap of fabric wrapped around a rabbit to see if it dies?  And when he shows up here with a full contingent of guards and makes a massacre of us all, then what?  I couldn’t bear it, John, to bring death to you.”

“I would have brought it to myself, Sherlock, the second I chose to let that arrow fly into the heart of the guard instead of yours.”

Sherlock paused in his anxious pacing to stand directly in front of John.  His voice was strained.

“I cannot come to any other conclusion than yours, John, but I still cannot believe it.”

“I don’t need to be right over this, Sherlock,” John said, placing a firm hand on Sherlock’s shoulder.  “You don’t have your scientific equipment from the castle.  That is limiting.”

Sherlock didn’t respond.  John’s hand on his shoulder was pleasant, more than pleasant, but it made his stomach and throat tighten.  He hadn’t eaten, he supposed, and his stomach was shrunken to a tight little tumor in his gut.  He had poured all his focus and attention into the tunic to distract himself from the awful nightmares he’d had anytime he allowed himself more than ten minutes sleep.  It hadn’t helped.  The tunic was still a mystery, or magic, and his nightmares infringed upon his waking mind.

While Sherlock did not believe in magic, he had a sick feeling that Moriarty, his brother’s advisor, was behind everything.  Somehow.  Only that man could infiltrate a mind like a worm, eating its way through the folds of brain matter and leaving a path of destruction.  He’d crept into even Mycroft’s formidable brain, turning him against his family, his brother.

Sherlock had no doubt the tunic was meant for him, that Moriarty had figured out where Sherlock had been hiding.  And now he was toying with him, inflicting his special brand of terror.  In the dreams, Moriarty would smile his oily, vicious little smile and say, “Oh, Sherlock, my frigid prince.  Have you found a heart at last?”

“What have I done to you?” Sherlock could not help but cry out every time.

“You were a convenient adversary and a surprisingly fleet and wily foe.  Your brother was hardly a challenge in comparison.  He was so anxious for a friend, for a close whisper in his ear.  It took so little to turn him against you.”  Moriarty was always so cheerful, so utterly disturbing.  He’d whistle a little tune over Sherlock’s eviscerated corpse, quite likely.  “It’s been delightful, Prince Sherlock, but I tire of this game.  It is time for it to come to an end.  And now that you’ve found a heart, I’m going to burn it out of you before I see you dead.”

Sherlock would wake in a cold sweat.  He was not safe here if Moriarty could find him, had found him.  And John and the others would not be safe either.

Sherlock had to leave.  There was one thing he had to do first:  say goodbye to John.

***

John was surprised to see the cloaked figure emerge from the woods one gray afternoon.  It was a day he had stayed close to home to hunt and those had been far too sparse recently.  The people of the village had remained well-fed, could not complain, but only because John dragged his carcasses home on a sled from deeper in the woods where he could hunt with Sherlock.

The deer had not moved on yet and were still plentiful near the village.  Hunting far afield was only an excuse to spend time with Sherlock.  The tall, striking prince was brilliant and energetic and when they ran together after prey, John’s heart had begun to beat quickly for more reasons than exertion.

And here was the man himself, skulking out of the woods.  His face was hidden by the hood of his cloak, but John would know those long legs and that mile-eating stride anywhere.  John turned back to the hanging deer he was skinning to hide his pleased smile.  He’d seen Sherlock only the day before when he’d finally managed to coax a full meal into the man after so many days.  He had been planning to head back to the cave tomorrow if the clear weather held, but Sherlock had not waited.

Sherlock approached until he stood on the other side of the deer carcass and watched John work for a minute.  His hands were so capable, wielding the sharp knife with assuredness.  His handsome face was touched with pink from the cold wind.  John caught his eye and smiled.  That smile he gave Sherlock, that was the utter essence of John.

“Sherlock, what are you doing here?”  Wait, that hadn’t come out right.  “It’s not safe this close to the village, I mean, not that I’m not glad to see you.”

“I did not want to wait until tomorrow to tell you, John.”

“Tell me what?”  John moved his hands away from the deer and wiped down his knife with a rag.

“How much I admire and love you.”

As many times as John had imagined Sherlock expressing sentiment, he never thought it would actually happen.  He had no idea how to respond and only hoped that his expression was encouraging.

“I have always preferred my own company above anyone else’s.  I never thrived at the castle, but I never realized how empty I was, either.  You, John, you fill me with your light and your goodness and your friendship.”

“Sherlock.”  John felt so very soft and melted at this moment, despite the winter wind.  Sherlock didn’t let him continue.

“I realize I am a difficult person, John.  But you make me wish to be so much better.  And when I’m with you, I believe I can be.  I came here today because I could not stand not being with you one moment more.”

Sherlock moved closer, rubbed his fingertips against the stubble on John’s cheek.  His bare hand felt warm against John’s wind-roughened skin.  He bent his head to John’s and breathed rapid puffs of warm air against John’s lips as if unsure whether he should move forward, whether John would push him away.

John was too eager for their lips to touch to wait.  He moved forward, brushing his lips against Sherlock’s.  His skin was cool, but the mouth that opened to his was hot and silky.  It was just their lips touching at first, moving together, tasting, but it was absolutely everything.  Then Sherlock’s fingers moved from John’s cheek, stroked the nape of John’s neck.  Sparks of pure thrill streaked down John’s spine.

“You would kiss me when my hands are covered in blood.”  John laughed faintly as he pulled away.  “When all I want to do is pull you closer.”

“John,” Sherlock said in that voice, the voice that made John weak in the knees as the deep tones reverberated in his ears.

“Go inside, Sherlock.  Warm up some water for me to wash with.  Eat a little something.  Please, for me,” he added when Sherlock sighed impatiently.  “There’s bread and cheese.  I’ve eaten some of both, so they will be safe.”

Sherlock started to look petulant.

“When you’ve done those things,” John said, his voice dropping lower, “I want you to undress and get into my bed and wait for me.”

“John,” Sherlock practically moaned.

“Go.”  John grinned at how frustrated Sherlock looked.  “No one has seen you, yet, but it is not wise to tempt fate.  Go inside where it is warm and safe and wait for me.  I need to finish this before the hide freezes to the meat.”

“Can’t you come in now?”

“No, Sherlock.”  Now it was John’s turn to move slowly, to tease.  “Someone could see the half-skinned deer and wonder if something is wrong.  I don’t want to be interrupted.”  John lifted his mouth to Sherlock’s for a brief, fierce kiss.  “I want to spend the rest of the day and, if possible, the entire night loving you.  Touching you.  Cherishing you.  Worshipping you.”  Each statement was coupled with a soft kiss or a flick of tongue.

“Trust me, Sherlock.  I will hurry.  The thought of you waiting for me in my bed is rather intense motivation.”

Sherlock groaned, buried his mouth and nose against John’s neck for a moment, scenting him, tasting him, feeling that rough stubble against his lips.

“Very well, John.  But be careful with that knife.  You will need all your fingers and certainly all your blood to take proper care of me.”

Sherlock smiled as he heard John’s laughter behind him as he went into John’s little cottage.

***

John rushed to finish stripping the hide from the deer.  The deer could hang in the tree all night before he finished butchering it, but he ought to at least get the hide salted in the lean-to before hoisting the carcass higher into the branches.  As much as he wanted to talk himself into not needing either the deer or the hide, it was wasteful and surely someone would notice.  His cottage wasn’t distant enough from the village that no one would ever stop by just to see how he was getting on.

That was one of the reasons he’d never invited Sherlock back to his home.  He couldn’t risk the prince’s life on the behaviors of his neighbors.  Even now, John worried that someone had seen his tall figure walking through the woods, that a child gathering kindling saw them here together and might make an innocent comment to her parents, that the Guard might decide today was a good day for a house-to-house search.  Sherlock was safer far in the woods, even if they could never be quite alone.

John tried to dismiss the worry with thoughts of Sherlock waiting for him, pale skin surrounded by John’s sheets, the furs on John’s bed.  Would he be demanding as John walked in the door, frustrated from the teasing?  Or would he have grown shy, all his forthrightness used up to walk all this way and state his feelings?  Would John have to teach him love, the way he’d had to teach him friendship, or would Sherlock be the more experienced, the more worldly?  John had never had a man in his bed.

A frisson of heat blazed in John’s belly a second, thinking of that.  It was the sweetest feeling.  Love.  It was bittersweet, feeling love for the first time in years, knowing Sherlock’s situation.  How were they to be together?  They could leave together, flee somewhere Sherlock was unknown.  Or John could build them a little cottage in the enchanted part of the woods, somewhere they could live and love freely, and John could come alone to the village when he needed something the forest could not provide.

It was a silly fantasy that he could keep Sherlock happy while isolated in a tiny cottage in the forest.  There had to be some way to end this, some way to either repair the rift between Sherlock and the King or escape His Royal Wrath completely.  Perhaps in the morning, they could discuss it.  Sherlock was brilliant.  Surely between the two of them, they could come up with a plan.

John recalled the first time he’d seen Sherlock.  The prince’s beauty had struck him: hair as dark as ebony, skin as pale as snow, high cheekbones flushed with his panicked flight from the Guard.  Yet when he thought he was captured, moments from death, he stood, faced John bravely.

And when he’d so cheekily taunted John for missing… John laughed.  Maybe he’d fallen a little in love just then.

***

Sherlock entered John’s little cottage, closed the door behind him, and stopped.  His frozen posture wasn’t because he had never been inside John’s home before and needed to take the time to suss out every detail about John’s life he’d not yet known.  He certainly didn’t stop because he was unsure of his intentions nor because he had any regrets.

No, he stopped because there was a quite unexpected visitor sitting in John’s chair near the fireplace.  Unexpected and vastly unwelcome.

Sherlock glanced at the door behind him, hoping John would stay outside and out of harm’s way until the confrontation was done.

“Prince Sherlock, you’ve kept me waiting a very long time.”

Sherlock said nothing in response to the sing-song accusation.  An apology wasn’t merited.

“I am not a patient man, you know, unless winning the game is well worth it.”

“Has it been worth it, Moriarty?”

The small, dark man produced a knife and an apple from his pocket.  His cloak was draped over John’s bed; the man himself was sitting on John’s chair.  Sherlock felt sick.

“You’re wondering what would have happened to your beloved huntsman if you hadn’t come here today.  Let me settle that for you.  I would not have found your huntsman if you had not ventured from the forest.  I know you, Sherlock.  I know you don’t believe in enchantments and magic.  But you were very well-hidden.  I’ve been awfully bored waiting for you to make a mistake.  To be honest, it isn’t a mistake I thought you would have ever made.  Sentiment.  Makes fools of us all, doesn’t it?  Well, not me, of course.”

“If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with.”  But leave John alone, Sherlock wanted to say.  He didn’t, knowing that Moriarty would just kill John in front of him if he thought it would upset Sherlock more.

“I’m not going to kill you, dear Prince.”

Sherlock’s stomach dropped.  Not John, please not John, please not the only man who ever loved me, the man who made me feel, made me live, made me human.

“You’re going to kill yourself.”

“What?”  Sherlock tried to sound defiant and confident.  His voice was a bit too high, so he probably failed.

Moriarty displayed the glossy, red apple he held, and the knife in the other hand.

“You can choose not to, of course.  Apple for you, dear Prince, or the knife for your huntsman.  I really don’t care which.  Of course, the apple will be quick and painless.  The knife, not so much.”

Sherlock felt like the knife was already ripping into him.  He’d never before thought that an emotion like anguish could be so physically painful.

“The sun sets rather early these days, so I’ll give you until sunrise tomorrow to accomplish the deed.  If you try to run, and believe me, with the Guard surrounding this little hovel, you won’t get far, I’ll haunt you the rest of your days and I’ll skin the huntsman in front of you and tan his hide.  He certainly has a fine blade for the task, doesn’t he?”  The knife glinted in the cool winter sun, as shiny as the polished apple.

Moriarty stood and with a quick, violent movement plunged the knife into the oak mantle above the wide stone hearth, then set the shiny apple beside it.

“Sunrise, Prince Sherlock.  I’ll return with the Guard, then, to take a body to the King.”

And he was gone before Sherlock could even truly rationalize that he’d been there at all.

***

Sherlock had taken the apple and the knife and folded them in his cloak, which he laid on the chair by the hearth.  He couldn’t look at them.  He didn’t want John to see them.

John couldn’t know.  He’d insist that they run, that the forest would protect them.  It couldn’t, not forever, even if they could get past the Guardsmen Moriarty had stalking the nearby woods.  John, good John, caring John, would come to the village to trade, to bring food to the hungry, something, and Moriarty would be waiting.  Or Moriarty would grow impatient and quite literally burn the entire forest to smoking char hoping to trump him. 

Sherlock perched on the edge of John’s bed, fingers steepled in front of his lips, staring off into a dim corner.  His mind immediately started deducing the apple.  Poison, most likely, but either grown into the fruit itself or injected under the skin, for Moriarty had no qualms about handling it, polishing it on his shirt.  Would likely be quick and relatively painless.  Moriarty said one or the other, therefore the game would be over and John would be safe.  He had a choice, but there was no choice, no choice. 

But Moriarty might let John live if Sherlock ate the apple.  It was John’s only real chance, though a slim one at that – Moriarty’s word was far from trustworthy.  But Sherlock knew for a fact he couldn’t live knowing John had been tortured to death because of him.  Watching that would kill him just as surely.  Sherlock was dead either way, wasn’t he?  Was it selfish of him to not want to watch John die?

The horror of it all gripped Sherlock ferociously.  It was all he could do to dig a hole in his mind and bury those feelings deep enough so that they would not sprout up until just before dawn.  After all, he knew what he was going to do.

***

John was whistling as he approached the door, opening it cheerily and giving Sherlock a bright smile even when he noticed that Sherlock was neither naked nor lounging in his bed.  He was sitting on it, though, fully dressed and in his thinking pose.

“Figuring out all my secrets, Sherlock?  I should have known you’d be distracted; it’s the first time you’ve been in my home.”

“You know me so well.”  Sherlock smiled and tried to sound flippant.  He moved his hands to the bed behind him, leaning back a little and propping himself up.

John lifted the kettle from the hearthstone.  It was still half-full from this morning.  He could have a little warm water to wash with, and he poured it in his wooden wash bowl carved from a burl.  He topped off the basin with cold water from the village well before stripping off his coat, belt, thick woolen tunic, thin woven shirt.  He scrubbed himself clean, feeling Sherlock’s eyes on him from across the room.

John turned to face Sherlock as he dried himself with a scrap of linen.  Sherlock’s eyes were flicking over him, surely spotting every detail, every scar, every muscle, but John couldn’t quite figure out his thoughts.

“You haven’t changed your mind, have you, Sherlock?  I don’t want to rush you.”

“I feel like I want to do everything, all at once,” Sherlock replied bluntly.  A blush crept up his cheekbones, over the bridge of his fine Roman nose.  “I simply do not know where to begin.”

“A statement like that is an excellent start, Sherlock.”  John strode to stand in front of Sherlock and leaned down to press a warm, lingering kiss to Sherlock’s lips, cupping his jaw with both hands.  His hands itched to stroke that fine, pale neck beneath the cowl, to bare it, to lick it, to mark it as his.  Patience.  John brushed his fingertips through the soft hair that curled over Sherlock’s forehead as he pulled back.

“John,” Sherlock whispered, eyes wide.

“I love you, Sherlock.  I can never tell you enough.”  John moved to sit beside Sherlock on the edge of the bed.  He leaned forward to remove his boots, untying the leather laces.  Sherlock did the same, only faster, and curled his feet underneath him, shifting behind John.  John leaned forward to remove his second boot only to find that his fingers had forgotten how to untie laces; Sherlock’s hands were pressed firmly against his shoulder blades.  Those hands, Sherlock’s hands, on his bare skin made John’s heart flutter and his eyes droop closed.  It was incredible, like he’d never been touched before.

Sherlock moved his hands down John’s back and pressed his lips against the nape of John’s neck.

“You taste like snow, John.”  He ran his hands around to John’s chest, where one of John’s hands covered one of Sherlock’s.  That voice rumbled through him.  He had to capture it.  John turned, took Sherlock’s mouth with his, plundered it, swallowed every deep moan.

They came together in a flurry of kisses and stroking hands.  Some moments were incredibly tender: when John pulled back only to deliver soft kisses to a passion-blown Sherlock; the first time John entered Sherlock’s body and their eyes met in wonderment of the overwhelming nature of it; the second and third times they started up again because they were simply unable to refrain from touching each other now that they had permission to do so.

Other moments were incredibly exhilarating: the way Sherlock’s innate curiosity explored every inch of John’s body with fingers first, then tongue; the desperate pleas just before climax; the bite Sherlock inflicted on John’s shoulder when he first shuddered with such intense, unknown pleasure.

And Sherlock truly did want to experience everything with John.  When John laughed, (and Sherlock so loved John’s laugh, his sparkling eyes, the warm, homey sound of it), and said that they didn’t have to try everything tonight, Sherlock could only kiss him and shut away the anguished scream inside.

***

John woke to Sherlock sitting on the edge of the bed, wrapped in a rough sheet.  The sun had not risen yet, but the pre-dawn light and the glow from the fireplace was just enough to see by.  John moved a hand to Sherlock’s hip, ran his hand lightly down his leg.

“Something I can do for you, love?” he asked.

Sherlock captured John’s roving hand and pressed it to his lips.  His eyes glittered in the dim blue light.

“I love you, John.  I’ve never loved anyone or anything so much, but as much as I want to, I can’t stay here.”

“Sherlock, we can find a way.  I know we can.”

The taller man shook his head slowly.  More than his eyes glittered now; his high cheekbones were glossy and wet.  John lifted a hand, brushed away the tears with his thumb.

Sherlock stood, moved away.  He scrubbed his face with the back of one hand.

“There’s no other way.”

John saw what had been hidden in his hand.  At first he couldn’t figure out what it was, but the shape, the firelight reflected in the glossy red skin, the way Sherlock cradled it in his hand linked in his mind: apple.

“Where did you get that?  Sherlock…”  John sat up, threw his legs over the side of the bed to stand.

“There’s no other way.  They’ll be here for me at dawn.  I’m sorry, John.”

And before John could get to him, Sherlock lifted the apple to his lips, took a large bite, and fell down dead.

***

John’s heart stopped as Sherlock slumped to the floor of his cottage.  When John’s heart started again, it made itself known with a painful, wheezing thump against his ribcage.  Blood rushed loudly in his ears, blocking all other sound, and his vision throbbed bright and dull with the pulse.

“Sherlock, love, no, Sherlock,” John repeated over and over, scrambling to kneel beside his beloved.  He slipped a finger past those still, white lips only to find an empty mouth, a clear throat, where there should be a bite of apple.  Enchanted apple, then, poison.  The shiny red fruit had rolled from Sherlock’s slack fingers onto the floor a few feet away.

When he held his ear to Sherlock’s still chest, feeling and hearing nothing but the rush of his own panicked heart, something inside John broke.  He can’t be dead.  He can’t be.  But as John waited for the thump of a heart in the chest beneath his ear, praying to every god there ever was and perhaps even begging the devil to show up and trade with him, he began to realize that Sherlock wasn’t going to suddenly sit up with a deep gasp.  This was no constricting tunic that could be removed.  This was fate.  This was what was meant to happen when John intervened those months ago and shot the guard chasing Sherlock.  Their love wasn’t meant to happen.  The fact that it did was a miracle.  That John had those months with his beloved Prince, that John had that single night and the love of such a man was a bittersweet gift.

John waited for nearly an hour, his head resting on Sherlock’s still, cool chest.  The position pained his back, his knees.  He ignored the chilling of his bare skin just in case he might miss the tentative restarting of Sherlock’s heart, just in case some magic required John to be there, to feel it for it to beat a second and a third time.

There was nothing to miss.

John might have waited until he too, expired from cold or thirst or hunger.  There would be no better place to die than with his head resting on his beloved’s chest.

The sound of horses outside, though, and a quantity of men’s shouts made him lift his heavy head.  A gauntleted fist beat at his door; a gruff voice demanded he appear.  Mindless of the cold outside, John pulled on only a pair of trousers to cover his nakedness and threw open the door.

The man at the door flickered his eyes over John’s bare chest and feet but, aside from the twitch of an eyebrow, showed no sign of surprise.  He stood aside, taller than John by more than a head and with a shock of blond hair on his head that screamed Viking.  His soulless eyes were certainly cold enough to come from the frozen North.

A smaller man swept up past his silent guard.

“Well, well, have I interrupted something?” he said in a lilting, playful voice.

John had never seen him before, but he knew him at once.  This was Moriarty, the advisor to the King.  This was the foul little man who had chased Sherlock from his home, who had hunted him, who had gone so far as to disguise himself and sell their friend an enchanted tunic that had almost killed John.  And this man was the reason Sherlock now lay on John’s floor cold and lifeless.

The vile creature spied the body on the floor behind John’s protective stance.

“So he did it.  How utterly dull.”  Moriarty did his best to disguise his delight with disappointment.

“What do you want, Moriarty?”

“Ah, so my reputation does precede me.  I want my proof, John the Huntsman.  I am here to take the Prince back to his brother, the King.”

“No.”  John would rather be flayed and boiled before allowing this demonic little man to cart away the body of his beloved Prince.  If it was the last thing he did, if it was the only thing he ever did, he would guard Sherlock with his very life.

“No?” Moriarty’s playful voice intoned.  “And you think you’re going to stop me, Huntsman?  You’re not even armed.”

“I’ve arms and hands.  We shall see if that is enough.”

“Oh, such a brave, stupid, savage man.  What such a brilliant, delicate Prince saw in a filthy brute such as yourself is unimaginable.”

“Clearly not, since you apparently like a bit of rough yourself.”  John’s eyes flicked to the tall, blond Guard standing nearby.

Moriarty’s eyes narrowed.

“Moran, go inside and collect the Prince.”  His voice was cold now, not playful and lilting.

“You shall not have him.”  John was not cowed by the taller soldier.

“By order of the King, I shall have the Prince’s body,” the Guard Moran said in a very official voice.  “Stand aside.”

“No.”

The Guardsman approached, using his broad shoulders and chest as intimidation.  John stood firm in his doorway even as the heavy-booted feet crossed his threshold.  Moran lifted a large hand to thrust John to the side, but as he moved, John’s quick fingers found the dagger in Moran’s belt, swept it free from its sheath, and thrust it low into the inner thigh of the Guardsman.  Moran wobbled before he could even see that he’d been injured.

The Guardsman glanced down at the bloody dagger in John’s hand, then lower at the blood spurting from his own thigh.  Armor plates covered his chest and shoulders, protecting him from arrows and sword-blows; thick leather was molded along his neck and waist; studded leather wrapped around his upper thighs, but John had swiftly thrust the dagger into an unprotected joint underneath the tails of the chain mail hauberk.

The blood streamed in waves to their feet and John wiggled his toes in it.  Moran lifted a fist to smash it into the smaller man but wavered.  So much blood gushed from that small wound.  John was a huntsman, after all.  He knew where the rivers of blood flowed through the body.  He knew how to drain a carcass.

The tall Guardsman staggered to his knees, unwillingly bowing before the David to his Goliath.  John flipped the dagger around in his hand and slashed it underneath the raised chin.  More blood flowed.  John pushed against the man’s shoulder and he fell to the snow-covered ground beyond the doorway.

John raised a red hand and left a vivid handprint over his heart, fixing his cold eyes to Moriarty’s infuriated ones.

“I’ll gladly bathe in your blood as well, Moriarty.”

“You are an unworthy adversary, huntsman,” the dark little man sneered.

“Why?  Because you know you won’t best me?”

“Because it would be no challenge to kill you.  Violence is so boring.”

But they both knew it was a tactical retreat on Moriarty’s part.  John may gladly die but he’d take Moriarty with him.

“Just leave me to fucking grieve.”

John disappeared from the doorway for a brief moment before returning.  He threw the bitten apple at Moriarty, who caught it with one gloved hand.

“Your proof, then.  Go.  Never return.”

“I will not forget this, huntsman.”

“Neither will I.”

Two other Guardsmen appeared as Moriarty jerked his hand.  They approached quickly, but only grabbed Moran’s body around the upper arms and dragged him away.  Neither of them dared look in the eye of the blood-covered huntsman.

***

When the Guard reformed their squad and marched away, John moved Sherlock’s body to his bed, arranging his long limbs carefully.  When Sherlock was… comfortable, and covered with a sheet to his shoulders, as if he lay there asleep, John washed and dressed.  He didn’t want to wash.  He didn’t want to rinse away the feeling of Sherlock’s touch on his skin.  He cleaned away the blood from the guard, but deliberately didn’t rough up his skin with the wet cloth anywhere it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

John melted kettlesful of snow and used them to wash the floor where the guard had bled out.  Once that was done, he collected more snow and warmed it by the fire.  There was nothing to do except wash Sherlock’s body, prepare it for… final rest.  He took his time, caring for each inch of the cooling flesh.  When he was done, he wrapped Sherlock in his bed sheet, tucking and binding the fabric before wrapping Sherlock’s dark cloak around him.  When he shook out the cloak, something clattered to the floor.  A knife had fallen, a wickedly sharp skinning knife.  John set it aside, not even wondering where Sherlock had gotten it or why it was folded in his cloak.

John layered himself in his outdoor clothes, trying not to remember that the last time he’d worn them, Sherlock had come to him from the woods and kissed him for the first time.  He carried Sherlock to the small sleigh he used in winter to transport deer or bear from deep in the woods back to the village and lashed him to it securely.

It was too cold, the ground too frozen, for John to dig a grave for Sherlock.  He couldn’t truly bear to think of Sherlock hidden under the cold ground, anyway.  He would take him into the forest instead.  He took special care with Sherlock’s body, as if he held his hand and led him blind through the maze of tree roots and brush.

It wasn’t until he reached the cave and Hudson patted him on the back with sympathy that he felt the first hot tears fall from his eyes.

The seven men and John built Sherlock a bower in the forest out of an old bed frame and two trees “Happy” felled near the clearing John picked.  This was the spot he’d thought about building them a cottage of their own.  It was near a small lake and far from anything else.  The edges of the lake were coated with a layer of ice as clear as glass.  John broke off a piece and set it in the top of the coffin, like a window.  He’d be able to see Sherlock’s face until the end of winter, and maybe pretend it wasn’t frozen and lifeless.

When the final wedge had been placed to hold the ice in the wooden frame, John knelt by the side of the coffin.  He was simply too heavy to stand any longer.  It didn’t matter that the ground was hard and bitter beneath his knees and the snow melted and soaked even through the leather covering his legs.

“Sherlock.”  He spoke quietly, oblivious to the presence of the seven men milling behind him.  “I think I understand why this happened, but I’ll never understand how you could do what you did.  You left me, Sherlock.  How am I supposed to…?” John trailed off.  What was he even supposed to do?  Live?  Move on?  Track down Moriarty and the King and have his revenge?  Nothing he could do would bring Sherlock back.

Why had Moriarty not killed John right away, assuming he could?  Another game to play?  Would he laugh up in the castle watching John try to exact revenge?  Would he simply find a way to manipulate John into the executioner’s noose?  John had killed two Guards and no one had arrived to take him to gaol yet.  Should he see how many Guards he could take down, how close he could get, before he was executed for treason?

But a part of him felt he had to stay alive to guard Sherlock’s body.  Moriarty had tried to claim it once; surely the King would send him to try again.  John couldn’t guard Sherlock forever, surely, but eventually there would be no one to look for him.  Even if he had to help that circumstance along.

John couldn’t account for how long he knelt there.  Voices around him came and went, calling for him, “John, John,” until it rattled in his head, a cacophony of little men and little voices.

It was long after dark when he looked around.  Only Hudson hovered over him and John now had a blanket slung over his shoulders.  It couldn’t help.  He was beyond cold.

“John, please come back to the cave, get warmed up.”  The little man frowned when John only blinked.  “Please don’t grieve yourself to death.”

“I don’t want to leave him.”

“I know, John, I know.”

But John allowed himself to be gathered up and followed soullessly behind.

***

John visited each day to make sure the grave remained undisturbed.  Snow occasionally turned the coffin into a soft, white hillock but no harm ever came to it – no animals disturbed it, no branches fell upon it, and no human footprints approached the clearing except John’s.  More surprisingly, no blue, nor frost, nor corruption marred those beloved features.  It looked for all the world like Sherlock was merely sleeping.  He gazed at the strong, beautiful face beneath its window of ice for hours.

In those cold months, John would kneel and stare in silence, one hand on the wood over Sherlock’s heart.  His clothes went unmended, his face unshaven.  He ate and slept without much thought about either.  Those in the village who came to expect a pleasant chat from the man were rebuffed, but no one could force him to tell them what was wrong.

When John finally began to speak, it was only to Sherlock.  When John talked, he told Sherlock all the things they’d never gotten a chance to talk about.  Some things Sherlock had known, probably – he was brilliant like that.  Others, John would have told him eventually, if they’d had the time.  Sherlock deserved to know.

The first thing John said was, “I hope you like this clearing, Sherlock.  I had hoped to build us a little house right here.  It’s lovely in spring.”

Little shoots had begun to creep up around the wooden coffin, curling around it, decorating it with soft green leaves.  A nearby tree had wept white blossoms, covering the clearing like a soft blanket and the coffin was dotted with blooms as if they’d been strewn by a lover.  John brushed a few away from the pane of ice that covered Sherlock’s face.

Sherlock himself remained pristine and uncorrupted despite the warming weather and the sun through the trees.  The clear ice above his face never melted, though water ran in rivulets across it when it rained.  It was as if it were glass or diamond, though it still felt like ice to the touch when John pressed his fingers to it above Sherlock’s cupid’s-bow lips.

Another day brought, “We could have fought this, together.  We could have come up with a plan.  We could have done something.”  John’s voice cracked.  “Why couldn’t you tell me?”  That had been the last very, very bad day.

A more resigned John, beard trimmed for the first time in months so he looked less like a wild man, came to the clearing and said, “God knows I didn’t know how on earth I would be able to keep you.  I like to think that you would have been happy with just me in our little cottage.  We could have hunted together and made love in the sun near the lake.  I would have done anything in the world to make you happy.  You only needed to ask, Sherlock.”

Weeks later, nearly summer, John said, “I never told you about Mary, did I, Sherlock?  You asked once – well, not exactly, but you said something happened to make me angry with the King.  You were right.  When he was still Prince, he was given control of the armies by your mother, the Queen.  I’m sure you remember the Belgravia offensive, though you were little more than, what, fourteen?  The Prince conscripted every able-bodied man and drove us to the outskirts of the kingdom.  While we marched, a small band from Belgravia rampaged through the countryside.  There were no soldiers, no men capable of defending the villages in their path.

“It wasn’t until the Guard repelled them at the castle gates that they were stopped.  The affected villages were left to rebuild and somehow survive on their own.  The Prince didn’t even repeal the taxes that year.

“We men were allowed to return to our homes a few weeks later.  None of us knew whether we had homes to return to, or not.  I found out why I hadn’t had word from anyone in the village.  It had been ransacked.  The only ones who survived were those who ran and hid far enough into the forest.

“I was married, Sherlock.  I don’t know if you ever deduced that, but I know I never told you.  I never speak of Mary.  I’d known her all my life.  We had a little home in the village and she was heavy with our first child when I was taken away.  She couldn’t run when the marauders came.  I was told the midwife stayed with her, that her pains were coming.  The midwife was struck down.  Our home was burned with Mary laboring in our bed.

“I blamed myself for not building our home far outside the village for a while, but never as much as I blamed the Prince for insisting on such a stupid display of posturing.  Perhaps he learned from his mistake, but there were so many of us who had to suffer for it.”

“And he was not done making mistakes, was he, Sherlock?  He drove you away, the finest man I have ever known.”

It was days later before John fell to talking again.  His grief was too raw, the wounds scraped open doubly.

***

King Mycroft had lost more than a stone in the months preceding his nuptials.  The courtiers snickered, postulating that he was trying to improve his physique to impress his pretty young bride.  The kinder souls, though there were few at court, privately thought he was still mourning his mother despite the fact that he was rushing to secure a wife and heir.  No one even whispered of his brother, relegating Sherlock to complete non-existence.

When the bride’s party arrived at the castle, King Mycroft received them in the Great Hall, as was proper, and then returned to the study with Lady Anthea’s father to finalize the negotiations.  The lady’s person was inconsequential; King Mycroft barely looked at her.  Though she was lovely, this marriage was about money and the perpetuation of the royal lineage.

The bride’s father, a younger grandson of a neighboring kingdom, made a show of bargaining, torn between the knowledge that his daughter was receiving the ultimate honor, and wanting to take advantage of the fact that this was a most ideal time to gain quite a settlement from the King.  However, King Mycroft prided himself on his ability to dictate a favorable contract and he looked forward to the coming debate.

A note signed with a boldly scrolled A found its way into the King’s hand via the tea tray.  The advice it delivered was curious, but King Mycroft found he had nothing to lose by abiding by it.  He accepted the offer of a bow and arrow made by the neighboring land’s master bowyer and fletcher and would not relinquish the items for any price.  Lady Anthea’s father became ever more unnerved by the King’s vehemence regarding what most would consider a trinket of little value and eventually ceded more land and coin than he’d ever intended.

In the days that followed, Lady Anthea proved far shrewder than her father.  Well-versed in courtly life, she merged into the crowds in the Great Hall with ease.  She was most attentive and soon had a mental map of all the games and intrigues in play.  She held herself apart from the bored and frivolous nobles, and soon they were currying her favor.  She engaged with those who held the King’s ear and they were soon won over as well, impressed by her information and insight.

Even James Moriarty was not exempt from Lady Anthea’s charms, though in a much more blunt and base manner.  He found the lady unattended of an evening and imposed upon her solitude to ardently profess an admiration for her skill in sovereign affairs.

“I do believe we could make quite the pair, Lady Anthea,” Moriarty murmured, looming far too closely to be proper, “particularly if you would promise me your firstborn son.”  His hand drifted shockingly low on her person, making his meaning quite clear.

“Sir, you do flatter me with your reverence, but I possess neither the cleverness nor the fortitude to cuckold the King.”  Lady Anthea twisted away, feigning timid virtue.  She would not be used to put this vile man’s seed on the throne, but she also could not let him know just how much his zealotry disgusted her.

Moriarty seemed to be fooled by her blushing humility and smirked.

“Ah, dear maiden, do remember my offer when your marriage bed proves unfulfilling.  Your future husband cannot do anything without my advice, and that includes getting his wife with child.”

Lady Anthea made note of this treasonous overture and was more than relieved when Moriarty slipped away.

***

The wedding ceremony was long and tedious.  King Mycroft was in little mood for celebration.  Lady Anthea merely indulged him with a sphinxlike smile which made the King more uneasy.  He’d seen her maneuverings at court these past weeks.  At first he’d been pleased that she so deftly handled herself among the sniping factions but then he began to wonder precisely what her designs were.

King Mycroft endured the raucous tidings that followed the new couple to the marital bedchamber, but upon arrival, sent everyone out of the room except for his new Queen.

“I wish to speak to my bride in private,” he bellowed over the protests of “Not done,” and “But, my King…”  Every servant and well-wisher was ushered out the door, which was quickly barred against them.

“My lord, this is most unusual,” she said, unflustered by the fact that the King was defying convention.  She ought to have been undressed and put to bed by her maids and mother while he was readied in the adjoining chamber.

“My Queen… Anthea, I wish to ask you a question.”

“Of course, my lord.  I am at your command.”

“Are you conspiring to assassinate me?”

There was no overblown shock, nor weeping, nor anger at the accusation.  Queen Anthea simply tipped her head to the side.

“What gives you the impression I would benefit from your death, my King?”

“I’ve observed precisely with whom you have spoken, and more tellingly, whose company you’ve rebuffed.  You cleverly hold court with the ladies, but always within earshot of more important conversations.  You’ve quickly tangled yourself in the web around the throne; surely the spider has revealed himself, secured your assistance.”

“I realize you have little reason to trust me, my lord, but at least understand that were I to assassinate you at this stage, without at least a potential heir in my belly, that I would no longer be Queen.”

“Someone always wishes to overthrow the king, and as I have no proper heir, anyone with either enough support or barbarity could gain the throne.”

“While that is most certainly true, I would personally prefer you kept it.”  Queen Anthea indicated with a gesture that she would prefer to sit.  The King nodded his permission and she perched on a small chair, smoothing her skirts with precision.

“I knew I would one day be married to a great man.  I endeavored to prepare myself for that future.  Upon arriving at your court, I took very careful note of every word against you.”  For the first time, the brilliant wisp of a girl in front of him looked uneasy.  “Your advisor, Moriarty, I know you hold him in your confidence above all others.”

“And thus you should be careful what accusations you make against him.”

“I understand that, but if you truly look for a spider, you must hear me.”

King Mycroft listened to his Queen’s confession of Moriarty’s proposition with a most uneasy feeling.  She could be lying, of course.  Causing dissent between the King and his closest advisor could have countless outcomes, if even to bring another advisor to Moriarty’s high position.  Moriarty, himself, could even have reasons to compel the Queen to make such a confession, such as testing her loyalty.  And yet there remained the possibility that she told the simple truth, which was particularly more distressing.

In the end, the King knew he could not fully trust his wife, but neither could he trust his closest friend.

“My lord, there is one question I wish to ask you, though I do not wish to be indelicate.”  Despite her cautious words, her tone was flat and practical.

“Ask.”  The King was lost in thought and his reply came nearly a minute later.

“What happened with your younger brother?”

This caused the King to start.  No one had mentioned Sherlock in weeks, as if he’d ceased to exist.  Certainly, the search went on, but no results had been reported and soon the reports themselves became infrequent.

“He ran off the night our mother, the Queen, died.  He had always been foolish and tempestuous and we fought viciously during her illness.”  The King sighed.  “I worry what has become of him, though we never loved each other as brothers ought to do.”

Queen Anthea considered her next action very carefully.  She deliberately lifted the hem of her skirt, smirking when King Mycroft looked away for propriety’s sake.  It was their wedding night, after all.  What she removed, however, was not a piece of clothing.  She extracted a rolled up piece of vellum from a hidden pocket in her skirt.

“My lord,” she said, proffering the scroll.  “My wedding present to you.”

King Mycroft accepted the gift hesitantly, but with all the grace of his station.  He unfurled the weathered notice carefully, curious as to why she’d secret it upon her person.

At first, he read what he expected, an offer of a reward for information on the location of his brother.  But after a moment, the lettering seemed to reorganize itself.  The handbill not only offered a reward for information on Prince Sherlock’s whereabouts, but declared him a treasonous fugitive; the delivery of his head and heart was double that of him as a prisoner.

Seeing the face of his brother and the lethal decree printed in King Mycroft’s name, something tiny in his chest broke.  It made him gasp.

“Was it right, then, that I took one of these?  I had done so with the intention of asking which treasonous offense he had committed, but upon my arrival, other probabilities became clear to me.”

Queen Anthea saw how much this information upset her husband.  She stood near him, hand on his shoulder, hoping her quiet presence would be a comfort.

“I am sorry.”

“I have been a fool, given a madman my ear, shoving forth all the keys to my betrayal with glee.  I was raised to be a strong man, a king, yet I could not even see my own actions.  I need to think, Anthea.  Please, leave me.”

And for the first time, King Mycroft saw the web within which he’d become so tangled.

***

King Mycroft decided to proceed in public as if his Queen had not confessed the perfidy of his closest friend.  His subtle investigation into the matter of Moriarty and his brother would go better undetected that way.  Still, he found himself avoiding James’ company, more certain every day that his eyes had been opened to Moriarty’s true motives; the man’s cloying demeanor had suddenly become intolerable.  At least the King could excuse himself, citing his wish to remain closeted with his new wife.  Their bedchamber, however, was a place of confidences and plotting, a private spot where conversations were not overheard.

The new Queen gave invaluable advice, but was content to present a vacuous façade.  They developed a sort of code for public appearances, wherein she could make her opinion known without contradicting her husband.  Another benefit of a wife from another land, another court, was the inclination of all the resident nobility to share gossip with the newcomer.  Queen Anthea was thoroughly regaled with secrets and aspersions by and against every person of consequence and even several of no consequence.  She dutifully reported the most relevant of these to her husband and they drew a clearer picture of Moriarty’s web.

They discussed what to do regarding the missing Prince.  There was a good chance that the King’s brother was long dead and it was certainly Moriarty whom the King had entrusted with the search.  Still, he had no proof that the order for Sherlock’s head had not come from his own mouth; in fact, it certainly may have.  His grief during their mother’s illness had been exacerbated by Sherlock’s abominable behavior.  The Prince had rarely visited her in her chambers, spending days with his chemicals and experiments and creating mayhem with his explosions.  When the Queen had died and Mycroft realized his brother was gone, had he shouted to bring the Prince back at all costs?  And was James there to twist and relay such words with his own nefarious agenda?  He’d rarely left Mycroft’s side, all the better to manipulate the goings on in the kingdom.

Queen Anthea recommended that he speak to someone in the Royal Guard, preferably one from the squads that patrolled beyond the castle walls.  If news of the Prince was not reaching the King, then they must consider which soldiers may hold more loyalty to Moriarty than himself.  In the end, the King commanded common vestments from a servant and snuck down to the garrison at the city walls.  He was not unrecognizable, of course, but attempted to draw as little attention to himself as possible.

Once there, he found a grey-haired man, obviously long a soldier, and drew him away from the training of the young squires.  The soldier took in his clothing and demeanor and remained discreet, nodding instead of bowing and leading his King to a private spot where they could speak freely.

“Sire, what can I do to serve you?”

“I wish for you to tell me how goes the search for my brother, Prince Sherlock.”

The weathered face of the soldier made only the tiniest show of uneasiness.

“Wouldn’t this be a question more appropriate for your generals, my King?”

“Must I ask twice?” the King replied archly, though if he read the soldier right, he wasn’t going to enjoy the answer.

“My utmost apologies, sire.”  The soldier straightened up and delivered the news frankly.  “The search has been called off and the soldiers stationed in the far reaches have returned to the city these past weeks.  The Prince was discovered dead in a huntsman’s cottage near the village of Marylebone.”

“And why was his body not returned to the castle?”  The King could not believe he managed to speak the words, speak any words.  His brother was dead and it was most certainly his fault.

“Ah… the huntsman guarded the body fiercely.  Captain Moran approached and was slain within seconds.  Lord Moriarty immediately withdrew the squad.”

“Did this huntsman kill my brother?”

“No, I do not believe so.  Sire, if I might speak freely?”

The King gave no response but to wave the go-ahead.  He felt ill and gullible, as if he’d been slowly poisoned for months and only discovered the treachery after the final, fatal dose had been delivered.

“Were you never informed of these facts?”

“No.”  The King’s voice was hollow and the soldier felt a pang of sympathy.  Despite everything, the King was but a man, and clearly an imperfect one.

“I am sorry, sire.”

They spoke a while longer before the soldier escorted the King back to the castle, where King Mycroft relayed the news to his wife that night.  She comforted him as best as she was able.  They spoke of what must be done to allow the King to travel to Marylebone without attracting the suspicion of Moriarty.  The grey-haired soldier was to hand-pick the contingent of guards to accompany the King.  He knew it was absurd to trust the man so implicitly, since his trust was so wrongly placed before, but he had little choice.

In the end, a diplomatic missive arrived and the King elected to travel with his new wife to settle the differences between two of his far-flung nobles.  Moriarty showed no signs of being suspicious of the newlyweds’ decision to travel to a pleasant locale at the onset of summer.  He also showed no desire to personally abandon the capital for the more rusticated provinces.

The King was thoughtful in his travelling carriage and Queen Anthea allowed his silence.  She knew what he was seeing as he stared out at the thick forest: Prince Sherlock running through these trees, fleet as a hart and being hunted as one.

The village of Marylebone boasted a noble house, though one abandoned for several years.  An entire wing of the building had been destroyed during the Belgravia offensive and the aging Count who had lived there had done little more than close off the rest of the house from the rubble before he’d moved permanently to the castle.  The King had been warned of this, but he did not care.  Moth-eaten bed-curtains and musty bedding suited his mood.  The Queen sent two of her own servants ahead to make it habitable.

Once settled there, subtle inquiries obtained the direction of the huntsman’s cottage.  The grey-haired soldier, Lestrade, reported that the villagers seemed loathe to discuss the huntsman.  They had no complaints against his work and generally appeared well-fed and comfortable, but the man was regarded as forbidding and solitary.  They warned against approaching him without good reason.

King Mycroft took this under advisement; that is to say, he ignored it completely.  He had come to see this man and would not be dissuaded.  However, he should have expected the effrontery of the small, blond man taking a long look at the bejeweled, silk-clad king standing on the other side of his humble threshold before shutting the door firmly in his royal face.

“Shall I open the door, sire?” Lestrade asked mildly.

“No, no.”  The King rapped lightly on the door with his own knuckles.  “This will be a unique challenge of diplomacy, I see.  You may stand down.”

Alas, it was a day when John was unable to speak, nor did he answer the door again.  King Mycroft patiently waited, knocking no more aggressively every half an hour, until Lestrade whispered in his ear that he ought to allow his guards to return to their makeshift barracks and rest.

“I will return tomorrow, John the Huntsman,” he intoned loud enough to be heard through the door.

King Mycroft returned the next day, returning to his bride mere minutes later when it became clear that John had left for the woods quite early that morning.  The King posted someone to wait and inform him when John returned, though warning the young soldier quite implicitly not to approach or threaten the man in any way.

The King tried to approach again when John was outside his home, cleaning the carcass of a boar.  John ignored him as thoroughly as possible, though he did express his displeasure at the company by disposing of the boar’s offal disrespectfully close to the King’s fine shoes.

Still, the King fell into the habit of watching John labor so honestly.  He thought about speaking, but until the man was ready to hear him, there was little point.  It took a week before John’s resolve broke before the King’s presence.

“What do you want?  If you were going to arrest me, you would have done so by now.”

“Why would I arrest you?”

John remained silent.

“Ah, yes, Captain Moran.  No, he is not the reason I have come.”  Of course it wasn’t.  No King would bother being present at the arrest of a man over the murder of a Guard captain.  “I wish to see my brother.”

“He is dead.”

“I know.”

“Then we’re done here.”

“Please, I wish to see my brother’s grave.”

“No.”  John’s response was firm and absolute.  “He is finally at peace.  You hounded him into that grave; I shall not allow you to desecrate the serenity of it.”

The King caught just the faint glimmer in the huntsman’s eye before the man turned to his house and slammed the oak door behind him.

King Mycroft returned the next day, and the next, but each time the answer was the same.

It wasn’t until the King said nothing but, “I need your help to vanquish Moriarty,” that John reluctantly agreed to listen to the King.

“Why should I trust you?”

“You probably shouldn’t.  I was weak.  I let myself be bewitched by James… by Moriarty, believing all the while I retained the upper hand.  I did not.  I never did.”

“The ego of a king.”

“Yes.”  King Mycroft looked discomfited at needing to be humble for the first time in his life.

It was this humility that convinced John to follow the King and Lestrade to the noble house where Queen Anthea waited.  Once they had secreted themselves in the house’s shabby library, hidden away from eavesdropping servants, the circumstances of Sherlock’s death were fully laid out from both sides.

If the King and Queen realized John’s version of events was heavily edited, they said nothing.  The King outlined his history with his brother to the best of his ability, admitting when he’d allowed his anger and jealousy to overwhelm him and how that weakness abetted Moriarty’s plans.  John retained his stoic façade, giving only one response.

“What do you need me to do?”

As the King pursued John, the Queen had spent her lonely days conjuring up a plan to, plainly, assassinate Moriarty.  Anything less might invite retribution or incite a revolution among his supporters.  Something that looked like an accident would be ideal, but it would have to be distinctly and immediately fatal – no slow poisonings or arranging for a fall from a horse.  She considered everything she had learned about the layout and routine of the castle and its surroundings and worked her way through a number of possible sequences and their repercussions.

Here she shared her plan.  Both men turned pensive.

“Lestrade will be with you, John, and will ensure your escape before the alarms are raised,” Queen Anthea said.  “There will be no repercussions, no way for anyone to prove it was you.”

“I am not worried for my life,” John countered mildly.  He truly wasn’t.  Since Sherlock’s death, his own life meant little to him.  But traveling to the capital would take him far from Sherlock; it had been difficult enough to visit the grave with the King in constant attendance.  Perhaps if he could sneak away for one last day, he could excuse his absence and promise vengeance.  And if he did not return, well, did not the priests say they would meet in the afterlife?  “How can you be so certain this will work?  Magic is notoriously unreliable.”

“I suppose if I am the villain, it will strike me.”  King Mycroft said this with all the nonchalance in the world, but somewhere inside him, he was worried.  He was guilty.  Whether the enchantment would judge his betrayal worse than that of Moriarty was certainly something he considered.  Anthea was confident it would work, but she hadn’t been there.  She couldn’t possibly know.

“I’ll do it,” John said, as if the King’s discomfiture made all the difference.

***

The forest was cool even this time of year.  The sunlight dappled the ground, bright spots twinkling over the ground like fairies as the leaves in the canopy overhead rustled and flitted in the breeze.  The lovely scenery was a good excuse to keep to the woods, though John didn’t particularly need to stay hidden.  The nature of his solitary sojourn was best kept discrete, yes, but mainly he didn’t feel like being social on the proper road to the capital.

He’d waited for the King and Queen to depart with their full entourage before trekking to say goodbye to Sherlock, as he could not be convinced to share the location of Prince Sherlock’s final resting place.  When he was certain they’d gone, John walked that familiar path into the forest.  He spent several hours in the peaceful glade lying on the ground next to Sherlock as if they were comfortably in bed and discussing the events of the day.

Despite the royal assurances, John was not certain he’d be returning home.  There was always the chance that he’d run into Moriarty unexpectedly or that Lestrade wouldn’t be able to facilitate his escape.  The King himself may betray John and have him executed for the crime he begged him to commit, or any of a dozen other things may go awry.  When John said goodbye to Sherlock, he didn’t cry.  He said it in the manner of a man who knew they’d meet again soon, one way or another.

Once he started his longer journey, John found himself on a path through the woods that would take him past the spot where he’d first encountered Sherlock.  The body of the Guardsman was no longer there; whether he’d been found by animals or humans was anyone’s guess after all these months.  John forced himself not to pause too long.  Still, he couldn’t help but touch his fingers to the foreign bow slung across his back, check the arrows in his quiver just in case he might need to pull one.

The journey on foot, steadfast and straight as the crow flies, took John several days.  He tried not to think on the task at the end of his pilgrimage.  When he thought about it, he felt foolish, trusting in a foreign Queen and a guilt-ridden King.  For all their seeming-sincerity, John knew he could simply be little more than a disposable pawn in a much larger game.  Still, there was little other option than to go forward.

Thus it was with an uneasy heart that he finally slipped past the looming city walls, mingling with a boisterous caravan of merchants, and settled in to wait for the prearranged time.

***

King Mycroft sat alone in his library, having dismissed all advisors and politicians and servants – in short, everyone around him who breathed lies.  Aside from the birds chirping in the gardens below his wide-open window and the muffled shouts of the Guard at training drills beyond the city wall, the room was silent.  It had been occupying his mind for days now, exactly what he would say to James.  The man had so thoroughly betrayed him, had been manipulating him, laughing at him, plotting to usurp him every moment.  Would the man now, upon confrontation, lay his plot open or deny his devilry?

The door opened and James sauntered in.  His longstanding familiarity with the King negated the need for him to wait for acknowledgement or invitation to sit, so he sprawled in his usual chair.

“Ah, my lord, how was your adventure into the hinterlands?”

As far as King Mycroft knew, James suspected nothing of his trip to see the huntsman.

“Quite fruitful I do believe, James.”  Now that the first words to the traitor had been said, the rest flowed much more easily.  “I trust things went smoothly in my absence.”

“Regular as the moon phase, Sire.”

“Excellent.  Any news regarding the whereabouts of my brother?”

One dark, well-shaped eyebrow went up.

“I would have informed you immediately, sire.”

James was an excellent liar.  There was nothing in his face or manner that conflicted with his statement.  In fact, it was given with just the correct mixture of apology and deference.

“Then perhaps you ought to inquire again of your retainers, for they have been keeping secrets.”

“Have they?  Then you are quite right; I shall have to investigate the matter.  But you have had news then!  Surely you will share your information.”

“Of course, James.”  King Mycroft took the moment to observe his advisor.  The man had never remained perfectly still, full of energy and rapid thought, but now he jumped up and paced the room, rubbing a thumb over his lips and fixing the King with an intense glare when he still hadn’t shared his news.

“I have it on good authority that the Prince was discovered dead during the winter.  His body was interred in one of the provinces.”

“That is unexpected, my lord.”  Moriarty flopped back into his chair, all the better to observe the King’s mood and respond appropriately.  “It is a good thing, then, that Your Highness has married and may soon have a proper heir to the throne on the way.”

“The Fates willing,” King Mycroft agreed.

“Oh, I do hope you know that Fate has very little to do with it,” Moriarty insinuated with a wink.  Apparently, he planned to say nothing else about Prince Sherlock’s death.  That would not do.

“I am aware that the Prince and I had our differences, James, but I did not truly wish for his death.  It weighs heavily on my heart.  I would do anything to bring him back.”

“Anything, my lord?”  Moriarty’s eyes flared.  This was too good an opportunity to pass up.  Here was the King offering everything on a silver platter.  Surely it wouldn’t be any more satisfying to slither around for untold years yet plotting to obtain what was now so freely offered.

“Anything.”

“Even turn over your kingdom, wallow in hunger and poverty, just to have his voice in your ear uttering complaints and finding fault with your circumstance?”

They looked intently at each other for a long minute before King Mycroft flicked his eyes away in dismissal.  “It’s not as if it is possible.”

“What if it was?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if there was a potion or a bit of magic that could bring your brother back?  What would you give for it?  Your kingdom?  Your bride?”

“What next, James, my very own life?  It is unlike you to speculate in such hypotheticals.”  King Mycroft kept his tone disbelieving and dry, though this conversation was not progressing in any predictable way.  “Have you come to sell me some magic beans?” he all but scoffed.  “I’m hardly in the mood.”

***

John found Lestrade in the morning and was invited to join in with the Guard’s archery practice just south of the city walls.  Lestrade, in friendly competition, proved himself to be a more than adequate archer, but John’s skills bested many a young man, whether the arrow was shot at a moving target or stationary.  He helped Lestrade critique form and gave advice to those who needed it.

The men didn’t question the presence of this former soldier, this friend of their mentor.  They joked and laughed jovially with him, even when John’s response was more restrained.  Many of the men admired the bow given to John by the Queen but John didn’t let it leave his own hand.  It was beautiful, the craftsmanship unlike that which John had ever dreamed.  The elegance of the bend was unmatched; the weight of the draw and the snap of the string spoke to the perfect ratio of heartwood to sapwood.

It was perfect and the Queen had held the bow and a single arrow in her hands most reverently.

“There is a legend in my land,” she said, “of a master bowyer and his three children.  Their descendants create all our weapons, but each generation crafts just a few such masterpieces.  I entrust you with one of them for it will be the key to the justice you seek.

“Once there lived a master bowyer, who sent his eldest son high into the mountains to find the best wood for his bows.  As the young man moved to cut down a particularly fine young tree, a terrible maiden with eyes dripping blood appeared.  She warned him not to touch the yew on this particular mountainside as it was sacred to her sisters.  The young man recognized her as one of the Erinyes, the Furies, and offered his skill to her in trade.  If she would allocate him a few trees to craft his bows, he would ensure they would only be used in her name, that of righteous fury.  She acquiesced to the man and allowed him three trees.

“Now, the nature of the yew tree is such that the branches may droop to the ground and take root, creating a new trunk over time.  The apprentice bowyer knew this and did not cut down his allotted trees.  He removed part of a single tree and made a single bow.  He brought his eldest son to the sacred place and together they did the same from the second.  The man’s descendants returned time and again to those three sacred trees, ever growing, ever spreading, crafting longbows which never broke.

“The master bowyer’s second son would become a fletcher.  He learned of his brother’s arrangement with the terrible maiden.  He went to the same mountain and found a stand of ash trees.  Just as he was about to cut down a tree, a pale maiden belted in writhing snakes appeared and forbade him from cutting down the trees sacred to her sisters.  The clever boy gave the spectral Fury the same offer as his brother; he would dedicate the use of the arrows he made to vengeance and justice.  She agreed and allowed him three trees.  He and his descendants collected the branches fallen from those trees and made the straightest, fiercest arrows in the land.  They always flew true.

“The master bowyer had no more sons, but a daughter.  She made her way atop the mountain and began to collect spider silk from the trees.  The third Fury watched the girl from the shadows as she spun the gossamer threads together.  When the girl was finished, she held the woven bracelet out and met the eyes of the reticent Fury as if she’d known the deity was there.  The offering was admired, and the girl was gifted with three spiders.  She would teach her daughters the secret of weaving the wispy threads into a bowstring that could rival steel for strength.

“‘Your family’s bows and arrows shall forever punish those who have sworn a false oath, in the name of the Erinyes, my sisters,’ the Fury said, which was as close to a blessing as a goddess of vengeance could invoke.”

John and King Mycroft had listened to Queen Anthea’s haunting tale, after which she laid the bow and arrow that was her deceptively innocuous bridal gift into the huntsman’s hands.  The King was ever more grateful that he’d heeded the Queen’s covert advice to accept it.  He often told her in private that marrying her was the wisest decision he ever made.  She would tease him in return about his most divine luck, as he had neither spoken nor corresponded with her prior to their marriage.

Whether the legend was true or not, John was not one to discount curses and blessings.  His father’s fireside tales had always stressed that faith and resolve were the most important components of magic.  John knew the enchantments in the forest had kept Prince Sherlock safely hidden while he’d remained within its confines.  Even now, the magic protected his body.  He could have faith a little while longer that a sacred arrow shot from a sacred bow would find its way into their greatest adversary.  John only needed to hold that faith for another minute, at most.

As the sun rose in the sky, they shifted position to practice with a glare in their eyes.  The flight of their arrows ran parallel to the thick stone wall separating the meadows from the castle’s gardens.  Lestrade arranged the archers in formation as if they were shooting into the ranks of a vast army.  Accuracy wasn’t the goal in this exercise; distance and spread was.  No one would see where all the arrows fell in the vast field beyond; no one would notice if one veered over the city wall.  No one, that is, except for the man it struck and the man who was with him.

John pulled the curse-blessed arrow from his quiver, nocked it in well-practiced unison with the other archers and waited for Lestrade’s command to shoot.  He lifted his eyes to the open window of the tower room where the King had indicated he would summon Moriarty today at noon.  All John had to do was fix his mind on Sherlock, on his heart-rending grief, on the diabolical cause of it all, and focus his eyes and aim on that window.  The bow and arrow would do the rest.

John let out his breath as he leaned into the heavy draw, bending the bow and lifting it towards Chiron.

“Loose your arrows!”

***

“It’s not a bean, my King.”  Moriarty’s face twisted in vexation, which he quickly smoothed over.  “It’s simply a possibility, one which I, alone, can twist into being.”

The King wasn’t certain if he ought to believe Moriarty before he realized that of course he should not.  The man may make all the promises in the world, but he would never follow through with something that wasn’t to his own advantage.  It was hard to think of James, his friend, that way; but what was seen cannot now be unseen.

“Do feel free to tell me how the dead can be resurrected, James.”  Mycroft let all his skepticism appear in his voice.  Perhaps it was too much.  James narrowed his eyes at his King.  Then he laughed, a high, shrill noise that made the King’s teeth shiver.

“Your brother was really a very brilliant man, you know, much cleverer than you.  He saw my true nature as a mere boy, though he was unable to do anything about it once I had you on my side.  It is a shame he was so utterly ordinary in the end.  All it took was threatening his precious huntsman.”  James said this in a light, playful voice as if he were teasing.  “I had heard such tales of the matchless intelligence of the princes of the Holmes lineage before I came to this kingdom, but your brother willingly ingested poison to spare the life of a mere peasant and you, you still do not truly see.  You cannot see what is right in front of you.  It is rather pathetic.”

Moriarty’s voice had grown sharp and annoyed.  He closed his eyes, took a deep breath like he was centering himself, and beamed, gesturing in the air like a showy magician.  “I do not propose resurrection.”

Here the arrow appeared at the window, its trajectory sure and true.  The King had two thoughts within that brief moment of time: please let it hit James, for he was still guilt-stricken with his own role in his brother’s death; and no, not before he tells me what he means; but only the first fervent request was granted.

The arrow hit Moriarty’s chest as he turned in vigorous gesticulation.  Considering how far it must have flown to even reach the window, it hit with quite a bit of force.  Moriarty stumbled back mid-gloat, astounded at first; then his eyes glinted with mania as blood bubbled up into his mouth.

“This is an outcome I did not predict, Mycroft.”  He coughed and his chin flooded with scarlet.  “I thought we’d make a deal.  But now, I’ll take your brother to the grave.”

“He’s already there,” Mycroft stated plainly.

“Yes,” was the bloody, smirking response.  Moriarty’s legs faltered beneath him; he hit his knees, then the floor.  The King’s eyes didn’t flick away from Moriarty’s until they had become glassy and still.

King Mycroft waiting another few minutes before calling for help – both for John to take his leave from the archers and to make sure nothing could be done for James Moriarty.  As the lifeless body was hauled away, questions asked, gossip spread, King Mycroft felt more relief at James’ demise than bitter regret at not discovering all of Moriarty’s secrets.  It was probably a lie, anyway, the possibility of Sherlock coming back, one of thousands of whispered, wormy little lies.  He’d only hear them in his nightmares from now on.

***

John bid the archers farewell and clasped Lestrade’s hand, exchanging their secrets with just a look.  John walked unmolested from the city without hearing any hue and cry.  In fact, there was so little deviation from mundane routine, John wondered if the whole plan had come to naught.  It wasn’t until he stopped at an inn two nights hence that he heard of his success.

John had ducked inside due to a fall of rain that made him consider the tale of Noah.  While his sodden clothing steamed by the common room fire, he overheard two noblemen discussing the incident at the castle – one was outraged that more hadn’t been done to punish the Guard archers while the other reminded him that neither of them were sad the mad bastard was dead.  “Besides, he was the King’s closest advisor.  If his Majesty sees fit to declare it an accident, be grateful he is not looking for conspirators within the castle walls.”

John felt something inside him break.  He wouldn’t call the feeling relief, exactly, but it wasn’t quite grief, either.  No one, not even John, noticed the tears that mingled with the rain still streaming from his hair.

***

The coats of the deer and other animals had begun to thicken by the time King Mycroft found his way back to the decrepit noble house in Marylebone village.  He trod the familiar path to John’s cottage with only Lestrade trailing behind.

“I imagine you have heard,” the King said when John responded to his knock.

This time John spoke to the King on his first visit, though King Mycroft wasn’t entirely certain he would.  Much of his anger had dissipated in the intervening months though he wasn’t certain he’d ever feel peace again.

“Yes, before I reached Marylebone.”

The silence stretched between them.  After a bit, John pulled back from the door, leaving it open in as much invitation as he was capable of lately.  The King stepped inside.  The cottage was sparse and tidy as if John only rarely lived there.  The shorter man pulled a small glass of ale from a cask in the corner.  He set it on the short plank table and the King sat.

“This is quite good,” the King said to break the silence.

“Traded it for a bear skin from last winter,” was all John said.  He did not add that Sherlock had been a party to tracking that bear, had helped him field dress it.  Certain words caught in his throat still.

John sat in the opposite chair and drank with the King.

“John, may I ask you again to take me to see my brother?”

John knew that question had been coming.  The King would not have come all this way just to inform him that Moriarty was dead.

“Tomorrow, quite early.  Just you.  No guards.”

King Mycroft didn’t have to think about the offer, not for a moment.

“Yes.”

***

The King wore simple, durable clothing borrowed from Lestrade, though his fine boots were still his own.  He judged they would have to do.  He arrived at John’s cottage before the dawn had lightened the forest.  John was awake and dressed with a pack of food waiting on the table.  Neither of them had slept.

The King was not used to the distance they travelled, even if some days he felt like the corridors of the castle were endless.  John allowed him to rest frequently, though King Mycroft was anxious to continue the journey at the end of every break.

“How is the queen?” John asked as the sun hoisted itself into the sky.

“With child,” the King huffed in return.  “Running the kingdom.”

John wondered when his heart would stop aching.

“Thank her for the bow and arrow.”

“I do, every day.”

The clearing broke open before them some time later.  The ground was thick with grasses and wildflowers.  The wooden coffin peeked out over the tops of the swaying flora, as pristine as the day it was hewn.

John couldn’t greet Sherlock as he usually did; his royal audience made the pain too raw.  He moved towards the coffin slowly, leaving the King behind, and peered at the still, pale face behind the window of ice.  He plucked away a few white petals that had fluttered from the trees since he’d last visited.

The King was slow to approach, but his eyes moved quickly over the scene.  If he was surprised at this unique manner of entombment, he said nothing.  He looked through the incongruous pane of ice and saw his brother for the first time in nearly a year.  He fell to his knees, an honor bestowed by the King unto no one else.

“I am so sorry, Sherlock.”

John stood a short distance away as the King bowed his head and placed one hand on the coffin over Sherlock’s heart.  John had spent many hours in the same position.  For now, though, he hunkered down at the edge of the clearing and looked out towards the gently rippling waters of the lake.

After a tentative touch to the pane of ice that revealed the Prince’s face, the King joined John.  He sat on the ground cross-legged; it looked strange, as if John expected a servant to follow the man around carrying a throne, or at least a padded, velvet stool.  The King remained silent as John broke open a round loaf of bread to share and arranged their lunch on a scrap of cloth.  He had no fine pastries to tempt the King’s appetite, but King Mycroft made no complaint of the plain fare.

“I feel as if Moriarty had my head muddled with a spell all this time, and that he finally lifted it so I could feel all the anguish and pain and guilt purely.”  The King pulled the cork from the bottle and took a long drink.  He didn’t expect John to feel any sympathy for him.  “That arrow silenced quite a vitriolic diatribe, John.  Moriarty seemed convinced that I would turn over my kingdom, my wife, everything, to bring my brother back to me.  And I considered it.

“However, I could not believe the offer.  No one can resurrect the dead.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about the last thing Moriarty said, that it would not be resurrection.”  The King watched John avidly.  The simple man’s head was bowed, but the tensing of his jaw, the clenching of his fists was more than obvious.  “Now I see my brother as if he had ceased breathing a moment ago and I do wonder if Moriarty’s ranting held some iota of truth.  I do not say this to give you hope where there may be none, John.  I say this to beg your permission to try something.”

“What is there to try?  His body lies uncorrupted due to the enchantment within the forest.  If he could have magically returned to life, don’t you think he would have by now?  When Moriarty died, perhaps?”

The King did not answer this directly.

“Once Moriarty was gone, I made it a point to search his rooms at the castle thoroughly.  I had men removing the very walls, stone by stone, to reveal anything that might be concealed there.  I had the entire staff clean the castle from top to bottom and bring me any insignificant but unusual item they found.  I was certain after a time that I truly was looking for a magic bean, a pill, a phial, anything Moriarty might have concealed.  But there was nothing.”

After a moment, he said, “My brother was a brilliant child, but difficult.  His alchemy tutor was the only teacher he didn’t drive from the kingdom.  I am convinced that Sherlock would never have learned to read or write or do mathematics if he hadn’t needed to learn these things for his work in the sciences.  Still, his tutor understood that he needed to be set with difficult tasks, even as young as he was, and thus set him upon creating a panacea.

“This led to more than a year of mixtures and experiments; Sherlock was utterly engrossed as they worked to a viable solution.  One day, and keep in mind, he was all of nine years old, Sherlock came to me with a tiny golden vial on a chain.  He told me, quite seriously, that I ought to wear it at all times.  As heir to the throne, I was susceptible to threats on my life.  He was certain his concoction would negate all known poisons.

“I did laugh at the time, but took the charm.  I put it on to humor him, but as the years passed and our brotherhood progressed towards antipathy, I put it aside.”  The King withdrew the small gold necklace from his shirt, drew the chain over his head.  “I kept it, but only in the sense that I rarely thought of it and certainly not for long enough to dispose of it.  And after Moriarty’s death, I began to wonder if he knew of this panacea of Sherlock’s, if the key to bringing Sherlock back was such a little thing already in my possession.

“But I needed you to bring me here, John.  Because there was no way for this to work if Sherlock had…”  He could not say it, but John knew.  “I didn’t want to tell you yesterday, in case…  I had to see his body.”

“Must you talk so much?  If you’re going to try it, then do it,” John snapped.  Somehow that little bit of hope, that glint of gold in the King’s hand, made John sick and all the pain was refreshed.  He just knew that the disappointment would start the process of grief all over again.  The childish elixir wouldn’t work and Sherlock would be dead anew.  Damn the King.

The King’s hands shook as they pried away the small wedges holding the icy window in place.  Once that was removed, John couldn’t help but reach inside and stroke a fingertip along a still-supple curl.  The King was reminded of his Queen.  “He loved your brother,” she had told her husband when they were alone and Moriarty was gone.

“It seems so,” agreed the King, though this seemed unbelievable.  He wondered if his brother had returned that love, if he’d found himself capable.  Sherlock had always shut himself so tightly away from such things.  Their mother was the only person to whom the Prince had ever shown any affection, and that was before her illness.

And here the King was, watching John, a simple huntsman, grieve his aloof, abrasive brother; and all evidence indicated that Sherlock had died for this man.  He opened the tiny vial carefully, not certain what, if anything, was within.  The King gently parted Sherlock’s lips and tipped the gray, powdery dust into his mouth.  There was no glint, no effervescence, no miraculous waking.  The Prince did not grimace at the foul taste, nor swallow, and those pale lips certainly did not berate Mycroft for such a coarse mouthful.

As much as King Mycroft’s heart broke as they waited fruitlessly, he felt John’s despair more keenly than his own.  John looked like he’d sooner crawl in the coffin with Sherlock than live to be disappointed again.  The huntsman’s rough hand stroked over Sherlock’s lips, closing his mouth and then he spoke as he did when the King wasn’t there.

“Sherlock, my love, I know you hated sleeping.  You never wanted to miss anything.  But right now you’re missing your stupid brother groveling at your side.  It’s quite a sight, let me tell you.  And you missed a summer of long, lazy days swimming with me in our lake.  Or perhaps you’d prefer to experiment on the tadpoles.  We can’t do that now; they’ve all turned to frogs.”

King Mycroft stood and moved away, letting John talk to his brother.  He rested his own head in his hands and wept, unaware how much he anticipated being right and just how utterly crestfallen he was that the elixir did not work.  He wept until his head hurt from it and John fell silent.

John sat next to the coffin, one arm draped over the wood as if he could hug the man inside closer.  His face dripped with tears that he let fall freely as if he couldn’t even feel them anymore.

“Sherlock, my love, I was so alone.  You were my miracle; you brought me back to life.  I hate to have to ask this, but would you do just one more thing for me?”  He ran a thumb over Sherlock’s cheekbone and took a deep, shuddering breath.  “One more miracle?  Don’t be dead.  Just stop this.  For me.”

John leaned over the open window and lightly pressed his tear-damp lips to Sherlock’s.

John would later attribute what happened to the magic of the forest and the endings of fairy tales.  King Mycroft suspected that the panacea had dried out in the little vial and needed to rehydrate; the liquid of John’s tears on his lips as he kissed Sherlock was enough to activate the elixir.  Whatever the reason, when John pulled back, Sherlock’s eyelids fluttered.  He inhaled with a sudden, sharp gasp.

“John?”  His voice was rough with disuse and his hands were cool when they stilled John’s desperate attempts to rip the wooden coffin apart.  “John, you’re alive.”

“Of course I’m alive, Sherlock.”  John knew he sounded hysterical as he laughed and cried at the same time.  “You were the one who was dead.”

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, John.  I couldn’t bear to watch you die.”  Sherlock could barely get his words out as John took his face in his hands and kissed him again and again.

“You can be sorry later when I’m not so glad, Sherlock.”

The King wanted to greet his brother, beg for his forgiveness, but John’s ebullition put a blush on his cheek and so he turned away to give them some semblance of privacy.

***

The clearing was closer to the cave housing Hudson and the other small men, though John rarely had the heart to visit.  Still, Sherlock had no clothing or shoes save the sheet he was wrapped in and his cloak.  Sherlock argued that he would prefer to go straight home, meaning John’s home, but he wouldn’t take John’s boots and John wouldn’t allow him to walk all that way barefoot.  He still had belongings in the cave, and despite the fact that the men would surely make a fuss about Sherlock being alive were they home, they would go collect them.

Due to Hudson’s fussing, the exhausting explanations all around, and the long walk, it was night by the time the King had left them alone in John’s small cottage.  Despite the bad thing that had happened there, good had happened as well and there was no place they would rather have been.

John undressed Sherlock again and pressed his lips to every place he could feel Sherlock’s heart beat.  The flat of Sherlock’s chest reverberated under John’s lips.  The blood swooshed rapidly through the artery in Sherlock’s neck.  The rhythm was faint at the bends of Sherlock’s elbows and at his wrists, but John could taste the pulse on his tongue.  And then John gripped the soft, smooth skin of Sherlock’s inner thigh between his teeth so gently.

But while John lusted for every living inch of Sherlock, nothing but the pulsing throbs of climax, nothing but the warm, living fluid flowing into his mouth would satisfy him.

As for Sherlock, he could only vow to never let this man leave his arms again.

***

King Mycroft wished to find them a grand home befitting the brother of a king.  He offered to rebuild the manor house in Marylebone if they did not wish to return to the city.  Prince Sherlock refused on both counts and he and John built themselves a small, simple home.  It had servants, yes, more than John would ever become used to, and a space for Sherlock’s laboratory; but it was peaceful and close to the forest where they could hunt and provide for the villagers.

A new Prince and heir was born the following spring and in due time, he and his siblings’ earnest minds were well-filled by their uncles.  Uncle Sherlock taught them facts, sciences, math; Uncle John taught them to play and to hunt, and tucked them into their beds at night with tales of heroic princes, loyal knights and magic.

As those fairy tales often end, John had gotten his Prince.  And Prince Sherlock, well, he had found his heart in a simple huntsman.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Writings

 

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62-64, and other babbling

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! 🙂

Chapter 62

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?”

“No.”

“Selfish.”

“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.”

“Hardly possible.”

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.”

 

Chapter 63

 

“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.

“Am I?”

“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.

 

Chapter 64

 

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.

“John?”

“Thank God,
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.”

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Writings

 

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Chapters 56-58, Lazarus Machine

My word count for Regency Sherlock is 72,507 including notes, something around 67,000 for posted, finished material.  Last night, writing chapter 58, I had to go back through my chapters and take brief notes as to what happened in each one.  I also counted which days had passed so that I might have some idea how long the boys have been married by the end of this section (4 days, jeez, it’s been a BUSY four days).  I wasn’t overly fond of this housekeeping but I found I couldn’t keep the plot altogether straight in my head.  The romance is easy.  The mystery plot, not so much.

I even found in doing this that I’d introduced a plot bunny and then completely forgotten it.  I honestly would have gone on to finish the story (after a few weeks/months) and just never mentioned it again.  Which is funny, in a way, but also a good reason to have a central outline, whether done before or after the writing of the chapters.  Helps keep track of what happened and what you need to do yet.

At any rate, I finished my chapter, started a little of the next (and the chapter after that is mostly written already mainly because I just really wanted to write that scene) so perhaps it won’t be ten days until I post another chapter!  I can’t believe how long it takes sometimes.  I really need to be better at writing on days I work.  It’s hard, though, because either I work early and don’t get enough sleep and I’m tired, or I sleep in and just putter around until it’s time to get ready for work.

I also want to add a project.  I want to Camp NaNoWriMo my Ethne story, finish it up and get it ready to publish.  Goals are helpful!  Not quite sure how I’m going to divvy up the daily goals.  Maybe 2000 words a day, since it is editing, and post the sections in a new file to keep track.  I’m not starting it today, though, since I’m yawning and have to be up for work in five hours.  At least most of the really hard work is already finished, the writing.  Not that editing is easy, but it’s not quite as terrifying as creating completely new content.

Also had some fun research tidbits pop up doing chapter 58.  In 1815, bodies generally weren’t embalmed and when they were, it was using poisonous chemicals that would be fairly harmful to those that worked with the bodies after, like medical students.  Modern American embalming methods arrived just as the American Civil War started, developed by a man named Thomas Holmes (b. 1817).  None of my research really talks about European embalming and it really wasn’t something I needed to know anyway.  🙂

Also, receiving houses are places set up by the Royal Humane Society along bodies of water like the Thames.  Attendants were trained in resuscitation and would try and revive victims of drowning, whether accidental or intentional.

Anyway, since this section of chapters is rather long, I’ll stop yammering.  Um, Chapter 56 is smutty.  Forewarned is forearmed.  🙂

 

Chapter 56

Sherlock gripped himself firmly once John’s footsteps down the stairs ceased to be audible.  His hand worked his cock quite efficiently, taking only minutes to relieve the pressure that had built up.  Momentarily, the pleasure whited out his mind.  When his eyes blinked open again, Sherlock felt more ireful than sated.  He cleaned himself with the soft cloth John had left for him then threw it across the room.  That Mycroft was downstairs proved Matthews was a well-paid minion of Mycroft’s, though that was no surprise.  Let Matthews find the defiled cloth in the morning.

Previously, Sherlock had always felt much more amiable on the drug – of course, he had never deliberately denied himself pleasure while imbibing, either.  The effects of abstinence were insufferable.  However, the thought of indulging was inconceivable.

So, intermittent self-release was clearly the only course of action.  This is infuriating, intolerable, unforgivable, Sherlock seethed.  The aftereffect of climax in his condition was a blessed moment of clarity, a brief respite before the agonizing desire ramped up again.  The cold lucidity wouldn’t last long, however, and in between, he’d soon begin to deteriorate into little more than a mindless beast.

This was the very reason Sherlock had deliberately shunned Victor and his drug – the constant arousal, the senseless drive of lust, the glee Victor had displayed when preparing the injection.  Sherlock had seen himself becoming little better than an animal, consumed by a maelstrom of carnal lust and rutting between any set of legs Victor opened before him.  It had taken too long to recognize Victor’s depraved divinity over Sherlock, the puppet for pleasure.  He’d been so stupid.

But John, John tended to him, stubbornly ignoring every shout, every insult, every declaration that Sherlock wanted to be left alone.  He didn’t see this loss of control as entertainment or a sign of Sherlock’s weakness.  He understood how this is an attack – how it had always been an attack even when it was self-inflicted.  And most importantly, he was not taking advantage.

Mycroft, his own brother, would have simply locked a couple of prostitutes in the room and let Sherlock shout abuse at them or indulge as he saw fit.  He would not have been caring.  He would have been disappointed in Sherlock’s failings.  He was likely downstairs voicing his disapproval this very minute.

Why was John behaving as he was?  Concerned.  Doting, even.  Sherlock pondered John’s own recent illness.  Clearly he recalled his own need for comfort in his distress, appreciated being cossetted, cared for.  Still, it seemed a trifle unlikely; John had burst out in a temper when Sherlock had pandered to John’s bad leg too much.  So what was the reason?

And John was being so insufferably kind.  Really, it was the most horrid thing.

But John’s presence was comforting; it was the only reason Sherlock had not yet gone mad.  John’s gentle voice distracted him from the burning in his veins, the heartbeat that seemed to throb outside of his body, the desperate feeling of dozens of hands all over his body.  The cool water John bathed him with eased the feverish symptoms, if only slightly, and made Sherlock feel warm in an entirely other way.

And why was he thinking about John anyway?  It was unlike Sherlock for his thoughts to be consumed by another person – not a criminal or a puzzle, that is.

It’s the drug, it’s all the drug, Sherlock tried to convince himself.  He wasn’t really enamored of John.  He didn’t really require John to smile at him, to assist him, to work by his side, to listen to his deductions.  He certainly didn’t want invite the man to his bed, rut with him insensibly, hear his moans and gasps of pleasure, hear that soothing voice crack when panting, “Sherlock.”  No, he didn’t want that at all; he needed it.

Sherlock heard John’s footsteps pause outside the door to his room.  John was apparently listening since the pause between his final footfall and his soft rap at the door was more than generous.

“It’s fine, John.”  Sherlock was in his finest sulk.  Not only was he stuck in bed, useless and unable to focus on anything but the sensations fogging his body, but he was embarrassed.  He was never embarrassed.  Annoyed, yes.  Indignant, wrathful, incensed, even, but not embarrassed.

John walked into the room, moving first to the fireplace where he shifted the coals around.  The firelight haloed him from Sherlock’s perspective.  He had removed his jacket while he was gone, left it in his room with Matthews most likely, and now exposed his shirt sleeves and his cream and gold waistcoat to Sherlock’s hungry eyes.  The winking golden threads reminded Sherlock of John’s hair, fair and glinting in the sun.  Sherlock saw himself bracing John against the wall, the man glowing in front of him like an idol.  He knelt behind him, worshipping him.  He could almost feel John’s firm arse in his hands.  He could feel the curve of it against his cheek as Sherlock poked his nose underneath that waistcoat to snuffle at the small of his back.

Sherlock blinked rapidly and took a deep breath.  The vision faded away and John stood there with a rather worried expression.

“I’m fine,” Sherlock assured.  “Hallucinations starting.”

John hid the worried crease of his brow, ducking his head, and moved to the desk to write this down very carefully.

“What did you see?”

“Irrelevant,” Sherlock answered.

John did not respond.  He carefully checked Sherlock’s temperature with his hand before laying the cool cloth on Sherlock’s forehead out of their established time frame.  Sherlock didn’t argue.

Sherlock went over the hundreds of details of the found and missing people in his head, trying to keep his mind occupied, going over and over each detail of the body parts being strewn so deliberately along the Thames, until the symptoms became too much.  Then he tried cataloguing each symptom and its intensity, dictating to John a scale of numbers which John dutifully recorded at the little writing desk.  Hopefully his observations wouldn’t be a hopeless jumble by morning, the ranting of a madman.

He ignored the needs of his body as much as possible, trying not to writhe against the sheets to pacify his over-sensitive skin, trying not to feel the discomfort, nor respond to the soothing pleasure of John’s repeated cool bathing of his forehead, neck and shoulders.

John read aloud for a while, and that was pleasant, when Sherlock could not direct his own mind anymore.  He could focus on that soft voice, the delighted hum that he added when something was amusing or ridiculous.  But there came a point in the night when even that was too much and the innocuous words seemed to float over his skin and the voice caressed him, blew softly in his ear, entered the most vulnerable parts of him.  He tried to beg John to stop, to be quiet, to leave him to his sensual misery, but he wasn’t sure if John heard him or if he’d just been babbling and moaning.

Sherlock wanted John in here with him, except that he didn’t.  Really, his mind was so horribly abuzz, how could he know what he wanted?  John gave Sherlock periods of privacy once an hour, discreet even in the leaving of a small jar of silky lotion on Sherlock’s bedside table.  Sherlock missed his calm presence when he was gone.  Still, he wouldn’t meet eyes with John when he returned, ashamed in his lucidity.  They did not speak of what happened in the interim.

Sherlock dozed for a short while sometime after the downstairs clock struck eleven, and when he woke, he demanded of John, “Have you been checking every fifteen minutes, John?”

“I let you sleep.  It seemed to… disturb you if I touched you too much.  You need to rest.”

John laid a cool hand on Sherlock’s forehead again before bathing away the heat and sweat.  Despite the sweat, he felt dry, so dry, like every drop of liquid was being forced from his body.  John made him drink each time he checked his pulse, but Sherlock imagined he would have to take a bath and let every inch of his skin drink in the water from the tub before he’d be satiated from his thirst.

“I’m awake now.”  Sherlock imperiously held out his arm for John to take his pulse.  When John had recorded his results and checked Sherlock’s pupils with the aid of a lamp, he bathed Sherlock’s forehead with fresh, cool water which Matthews must have brought up while Sherlock was asleep.  The radiating chill and clean scent overwhelmed Sherlock’s senses for a second.  If he reacted outside his own head, though, John showed no sign of it.  He merely wiped the sweat from Sherlock’s face and neck and replaced Sherlock’s damp, flat pillow with a cool, fresh one.  John’s pillow.  Sherlock buried his face in it and breathed in the scent of his husband.  He wanted nothing more than to do the same to John himself.

Sherlock tugged the sheet loose from the other covers and rolled himself up in it.  The fabric pulled tight against his skin – if he shut his eyes and let his mind truly wander, he could imagine it was another body pressed against his.  John’s.  No real point fighting it, though he still tried.

His fevered, drugged mind took hold of the fantasy and John was right there next to him.  Had Sherlock fallen asleep and woken to find John taking a well-deserved nap in his bed?  No, when Sherlock opened his eyes, he saw two of him.  Hallucination, then.  John the doctor had fallen asleep in the chair at Sherlock’s bedside, fully dressed with his robe wrapped over his waistcoat and shirt sleeves; he’d donned the robe as the night chilled.  John the lover was in Sherlock’s bed, bare and smiling.  He pressed against Sherlock’s back, arm around Sherlock’s chest holding him tight, giving kisses and little nips on the back of Sherlock’s neck.

Each little touch sent sparks through Sherlock’s body.  There was no mind now, no thoughts to interrupt the pure feeling.  John was pressed up to him; John was kissing him; John’s hand was stroking over his chest, his belly, lower and there was only John.  Sherlock turned to John, unable to resist kissing that clever mouth, tasting him, swallowing the other man’s moans and whimpers of pleasure.

Sherlock touched John like he could never touch him enough.  His hands skimmed over bare skin, firm muscle, scars, yes, even the scars on his leg.  Beautiful, so beautiful.  But John’s eyes were the most captivating.  Pale blue irises surrounded open, dark pupils.    They were crinkled at the corners from marching in the sun and from general good humor.  John’s eyes fluttered closed when Sherlock kissed him, opened to follow Sherlock as he moved to kiss John’s neck, shoulder, chest.

Sherlock pushed him flat against the bed, and John accepted Sherlock’s weight above him.  Their heated fumblings pushed Sherlock’s drawers down over his hips; once freed, Sherlock pressed his erect cock against John’s.  John’s moan of pleasure brushed against him like a sultry summer breeze.

John’s thighs rose around Sherlock’s hips as he thrust down against John.  Splayed beneath him, wrecked with pleasure, whimpering – John was as gorgeous a creature as Sherlock had ever seen.  He needed him, needed all of him, needed to be inside of him.  Sherlock abandoned his desperate movements to slip a finger into John, then two.  John urged him to hurry; he was as impassioned and frantic as Sherlock.  Sherlock eased inside with no more lubricant than was provided by his pre-come.  John didn’t seem to mind.  He implored Sherlock to move, that he couldn’t hold off, that he needed Sherlock.

Sherlock needed John, too.  And now he had him.

John’s hard cock rubbed between their bellies as Sherlock rocked into him.  Sherlock breathed hard against John’s skin, covering him so close and tight that he finally understood the ‘beast with two backs.’  They were one being together, writhing and grunting and moaning, but most importantly, one.

It ended too quickly, though the climax shuddered through Sherlock for long moments until he thought he wouldn’t be able to stand another wave.

“John, John,” Sherlock cried out, rutting against the rumpled sheets.  The empty sheets.  The lover John had disappeared and the doctor John was beside the bed to comfort him.

“Shh, I’m here, I’m right here.”  John must have woken from Sherlock’s exclamations of passion.  He was warm and sleep-rumpled, but he stood by the side of the bed quickly.  He soothed Sherlock with a cool wet cloth on his forehead, his neck, his chest.  What Sherlock wouldn’t give for that same treatment by John’s lips, but he can’t have that.  His breathing calmed as John bathed him, stroked light fingers over his brow and along the delicate skin beneath his eyes to judge his temperature – still elevated, but improved.  Hopefully, the drug’s effects would soon abate.

John untangled the sheet from Sherlock, stripped him of the linen drawers he’d managed to wear the entire night.  He cleaned Sherlock emissions most professionally and Sherlock lay still, unable to assist or resist.  Then John covered Sherlock with a clean, dry sheet and a thin quilt and sat down, eyes firmly on the pages on the writing desk.

Reality came to Sherlock as he surfaced from the fever-dream.  He rolled over, facing away from John’s patience and kindness.  Knowing John, feeling him wrapped around him, hot and welcoming, had been so gut-wrenchingly real.  He wanted John, every bit of John, but he doesn’t want this hormone-driven, lust-addled life.  He’d put it all aside, filled himself with the purity of the work.  The work had been enough, until John.  Now it would never be enough.

Despair.

 

Chapter 57

 

A faint knock at the door woke Sherlock.  The sun was beating against the drawn curtains; it was an unusually sunny day for this time of year in London.  A strong wind rattled the shutters just as Sherlock noted that there must be one to rid the city of the ever-hanging fog and smoke.

John slept on, oblivious to the sun and the visitor at the door.  He was going to be sore and stiff when he awoke, having slept in the chair all night.  He had his robe on and his feet propped up on the edge of Sherlock’s bed.  At some point, John had found a blanket as well, or Matthews had draped one over him.  Despite his uncomfortable position, he was sleeping peacefully.

Sherlock wrapped himself in his clean sheet and went to the door to keep Matthews from rapping again and waking John.  Matthews looked none the worse this morning for likely having been awake as late as John or later, ready to assist if needed or run any errand.  Sherlock made a shushing gesture and stepped into the hall.

“Mr. Lestrade is downstairs, sir.  He says it’s more than urgent.”

Sherlock ignored Matthews’ surprised, “Sir!  Your clothes, Mr. Holmes!” and flew down the two flights of stairs in nothing but his improvised toga.

Lestrade was in the public parlor waiting, pacing to be more precise.  He wasn’t taken aback by Sherlock’s dishabille, but intensely worried.

“Did another note arrive?”

“That’s not why I’m here, but yes.”  Lestrade handed Sherlock the folded and sealed sheet of paper.  Sherlock wasted not a second before he broke the seal and read the contents.

The three I freed cannot tell tales.

You won’t catch me before another ship sails.

“What does it say?”

Sherlock wordlessly handed over the paper.  He glared at Lestrade when the runner snorted, but Lestrade was not amused.

“It’s right, Holmes.  We’ve found at least eight bodies this morning, torsos, vivisected.  Lord Almighty, was that another whistle?”  Lestrade rubbed his hand through his hair.  “The watchmen are frantic this morning.  It’s one thing for a suicide or two to wash up, or a few frozen vagrants in the dead of winter, but this… this is…”  Lestrade cut off.

“No time to waste, Lestrade.  Where have they been finding the bodies?”  Before Lestrade could respond, Sherlock called out the doorway, “Matthews, clothes!”

“Three were found on the stairs to the Thames, much like the others, and one was propped up against a receiving station, but no one saw anything until the watch walked by at the six o’clock mark.  The others have been found in busy places.  I’ve every constable and runner I can contact searching for witnesses, but it’ll be hours before we have anything useful along that line.”

“I hope your colleagues have been keeping detailed notes on which body was found when and where.”

“We’re doing our level best, Holmes, to keep everything in proper order.”

“And the bodies are being transported to a central location?”

“Bart’s.  If we run out of slabs, there are surgical theaters.”  Sherlock nodded swiftly, finding relief that his mind seemed to be functioning properly this morning.  He would have an immense amount of data to categorize today and he couldn’t waste any more time on inconvenient bodily functions.

When Matthews appeared with a stack of clean clothing, Sherlock unwrapped his sheet and pulled the billowy shirt over his head and the drawers up over his bum with haste.

Seeing nothing he hadn’t seen before dealing with Holmes, Lestrade exited the parlor calmly and stood in the hall.

“Oh, good morning, Dr. Watson.”

Sherlock paused, almost flinched.  He quite deliberately pulled on his trousers and focused on tucking his shirt in.  Matthews fussed with his braces.

John made his way slowly down the steps.  “Good morning, Mr. Lestrade.  I take it there has been some progress in the case?”

“I’ll let your husband fill you in on the way to Bart’s.  Sherlock will have need of your medical expertise, I imagine, with the sheer number of bodies turning up.”

Sherlock swatted Matthews away from his neck cloth and tied it haphazardly himself while entering the hall.

“I will need to examine every body personally, Lestrade.”

“Of course, Holmes.  I’ll make sure they’re kept in state as much as possible.  Gentlemen.”  Lestrade ducked his head in adieu and flew out the door, his coat tails flapping behind.

Sherlock was all aflutter, with Matthews following in his wake trying to finish dressing him.

“I must fetch some of my surgical equipment from upstairs.  No, no, Matthews, I’ll get them.  It’ll take longer to explain what I want.”  Sherlock lunged up half the staircase, but John shifted minutely to block his ascent further.

“How are you feeling this morning?”

“Fine, fine!  Move aside!  There’s no time to waste.  I’m sure evidence has been lost simply because I overslept.”

Sherlock moved to the side, but John caught his face with his hands.  Sherlock was still two steps below John, putting John a head higher than him for once.  Those hands touched his neck, his face, his forehead, stroked his cheek.  For a brief second, Sherlock enjoyed the warmth and comfort of those tender hands before jerking out of John’s gaze and reach and retreating down one step.

“I’m fine, John!  The drug has fully metabolized.”  He wouldn’t look at John; his face flamed anyway.

“Very well, Sherlock.  But if you feel the least bit odd or ill, tell me.”  John didn’t quite look like he believed him, but he seemed satisfied enough with his brief examination.

“I will, John.  Now let me pass.  I’ve got to find the equipment I’ll need to bring along to Bart’s.”

John shifted aside to let Sherlock bound by.

“When you’re finished chasing after Sherlock, I’ll be needing a change of clothes as well, Matthews.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sherlock was heading back down the stairs before John had crested the first floor landing.

“I have no time for your leg this morning, John, so you’ll have to catch up.”

John’s voice was hollow as he responded, but Sherlock did not register the change as he pulled on his greatcoat at the foot of the stairs.

“Do you even wish for me to go to Bart’s?”

“I need an assistant, John, or I may well throttle Anderson by the end of the day!”

Sherlock was out the door before John could say another word, leaving him behind yet again.

 

 

Chapter 58

 

When John arrived at the morgue at St. Bart’s hospital less than a half hour behind Sherlock, he was surprised by the crush of people in the morgue itself, in the hall, bustling back and forth outside.  What he wasn’t surprised by was Sherlock’s bellow for every unnecessary personage to immediately exit the room so he could think.

John hated that this made him hesitate about going in.  Yesterday, last night, had been a disaster.  John had been able to put aside Sherlock’s blunt rejection of him due to medical necessity and common decency, but in the daylight, he felt awkward.  Sherlock had made himself clear.  And this morning on the stairs, Sherlock didn’t even want John touching him long enough to check his temperature, much less the bruising on his neck from being strangled.

John wasn’t sure quite what Sherlock wanted him to be.  He seemed amiable enough to John’s company, had spent whole days taking him around Town.  John would even go so far as to say that they seemed very well suited for each other.  But Sherlock judged him wanting in some way, and that grieved John more than he wanted to admit.

Really, John, you’re too damn sensitive where Sherlock is concerned, he scolded himself.  What happened to patience and learning where you two fit in each other’s lives?  You haven’t even been married a week yet.  He needed to try and be happy providing assistance and companionship if that was all Sherlock wanted.  Just be near him, just care for him.  Be his friend.

And maybe one day your heart will stop jumping at the sound of Sherlock’s voice or the sight of his lips.  

John took a deep breath, straightened his back, and pushed against the tide of people exiting the morgue.  Lestrade had said something about a quantity of bodies, and Sherlock had acquiesced that he would need an assistant.  There was no time for this self-pity and wallowing.  No time for longing and whinging.

John stood to one side of the door, watching for Sherlock’s head to bob above all the others.  Once again, his voice made him known before the sight of him emerged.

He was in a proper flurry, in his element, dashing from slab to slab and several wheeled tables which had been commandeered to hold extra and various dismembered pieces of smaller dimension.  The tails of his coat flared out behind him as he rushed about the room.  His dark curls, not properly tamed before he left the house, were charmingly unruly from the rough night and the morning breeze.

“John, excellent, you’re finally here.  Start a file for each body; interview the watchmen standing by each slab and take special note of where each body was found and in what position.  Note the compass direction as well when you make a sketch.”

John hadn’t even realized Sherlock noticed him entering the room, but he shed his greatcoat and began his assigned task, relieved that Sherlock apparently welcomed his presence.  He found sheets of paper and ink on the desk where he’d napped a few nights before their wedding.  He progressed to the nearest slab, where the watchman present looked the youngest and most uneasy, and started his notes.

The man had simply been doing his rounds without any alert called or distress from the few people out in the wee hours.

“It were quiet, sir, like usual in the stillness of the morn.  I almost wouldn’t have noticed the body except that it was set right in the glow of a gaslight.”  He answered John’s questions succinctly, quite professional for one so youthful, but John noted he kept his eyes specifically on either John or the far wall and never on any of the bodies in the room.  “On its… his back.  South, mainly, towards the river.  Well, the river bends, don’t it, so pointed towards the Thames, but not towards the nearest bank of it.”

John also took note of anything else that came to mind, including the man’s name and address, time on the job and whether this was his normal shift and beat.  He took rudimentary notes on each body to connect it to the watchman and location, so even if the papers got confused later, they could be properly sorted.  He moved on to the next watchman, and the next, and the room gradually began to clear.

The constant work cleared John’s mind, much like surgery after surgery often made him forget about the bloody battle raging less than a mile away.

Even as the number of people in the room dwindled, the room still seemed awfully crowded with even just the bodies present, not considering the morgue staff, himself, Sherlock, and Lestrade.  Sherlock was moving from body to body, sometimes prodding lightly with gloved hands or moving the odd still-attached limb, still working through his cursory examinations.  Lestrade was doing his best to coordinate everyone and kept running to the hallway and back, taking reports and talking quite seriously to the occasional government official.

“John, are you done yet?” came Sherlock’s imperious voice over the conversation with the last of the watchmen.

“Nearly.  Just want to get this last sketch verified before I send Mr. Abbey on his way.”

“Well, hurry, then, and we’ll get started examining the bodies.”

John nodded, turning back to the watchman and his notes.  He made a few changes to the position of the body in his sketch, propped up as it was against the receiving station near the Thames, then thanked the watchman for his time and dismissed him to speak to Lestrade on his way out.

“So, John, shall we go through the bodies chronologically as to when they were found, geographically north to south, or east to west, or just take the nearest slab and have a go?”  Sherlock winked at John cheekily, any residual ill humour from the night before long faded.  The gesture prompted John to smile in return.

“Oh, let’s go chronologically.”  John shuffled the papers in his hands and led Sherlock to a particular slab.  Sherlock brought along a lamp, though the sun still lit the room sufficiently.  “Three-forty-five, Salisbury Square.”

“Not far from Blackfriar’s Bridge.”  Sherlock hummed, glancing at the map Lestrade had tacked to the wall.  The runner had marked the location of each body with a T-pin.  Sherlock nodded sharply once he had apparently fixed in his memory the particular body with its mark on the map.

John hastened to show Sherlock the sketch he had drawn of the body’s position relative to nearby landmarks and compass directions.  Sherlock scanned through the report and then began to examine the body itself.

Like the others that had been found that morning, the body was removed of both clothing and extremities.  In most cases like this, if there had been any other cases like this, unless the victim had some particular scar or birthmark, the body would go unidentified.

“Seven distinct skin discolorations on the ribs, back and left thigh.  One scar on right hip, barely visible, consistent with a fall as a child off a short wall or lower limb of a tree.  No other wounds, no scarring from disease, slight excess weight carried mostly around the waist, firm musculature otherwise.”  John took careful note of each observation.  Sherlock bent close to examine a few tiny puncture marks along the neck tissue.

“Does the body smell unusual to either of you?” he asked, frowning.

Lestrade raised his eyebrow in a manner that said he was trying his best not to smell anything.  But John leaned forward to take the barest whiff.  Those unused to the smells in the morgue were typically relieved by camphor or other strong unguent rubbed beneath the nose, but none of the men, even those watchmen who were ill at ease, had requested such a thing.  Wait, camphor…

“Sherlock, have you noticed that Anderson has not offered us any camphor for the smell?”

“It is unlikely that he’d offer to do so, John, as he resents my intrusion on a normal day, much less under such extraordinary circumstances.  Besides, it is unnecessary.”  Sherlock gave John a questioning look, as if the doctor was admitting he needed such a thing.

“With a roomful of bodies whose time of death has yet to be determined, though they were found hours ago, in places all around the city and some by the Thames?  Even If they all died in the last twenty-four hours, which seems unlikely due to the extent of the pure butchery the bodies have undergone, there would be more than a faint chemical smell emanating from them.”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, sniffed again, then resolutely and methodically sniffed each body in turn.

“Clever John,” muttered, his face closing down as he added the new information to all that which was swirling around in his brain.  “I would be interested to know the formula used to so thoroughly embalm the victims.”

“Could be Ruysch’s liquor balsamicum preservative, or something similar,” John suggested.

“He took his formula to the grave eighty-four years ago, John, and his methods were not widely copied.  And I’m not even certain that his results were quite so pristine,” Sherlock argued, but his tone and smile indicated he was surprised and more than pleased with his husband’s knowledge.  John flushed and ducked his head.  “We shall have to take further samples to see if we can isolate the preservative.”

“Is it similar to the scent of the man from the other night?”

Sherlock considered, sniffing again and rolling the scent around in his memory.

“There are a few notes of similarity, but I suspect this formula was created for a different intent.  Still, such a master of mortuary chemistry!  There is only the slimmest chance that the two formulas are unrelated.”

Sherlock bent over the body again, examining all the raw edges in detail.  John scratched out notes as quickly as he could, trying to keep up with Sherlock’s quick and incessant deductions.

“This quality of preservation calls into question my deductions about the hands and feet we recovered.  I had thought they had been removed close in time, but it now seems entirely possible that each victim could have been killed quite close to the date of abduction.  Between the cool weather and this excellent preservative, these corpses could remain in state for weeks or perhaps months, if not longer.”  Sherlock gestured for John to assist him and the two of them rolled the body on the slab to its side.  “I also believe we can make a reasonable deduction of identity, at least of this particular body.”

“Really?  That’s amazing!” John blurted out.  Sherlock lifted his head for a mere moment.  “Sorry, do go on.”

“It’s fine.”  Sherlock shook himself and resumed.  “I believe this man to be Liam O’Malley.  Lestrade, you’ll have to check the files in your office; I believe I initially set this one aside as I did not believe any of the limbs we found belonged to him, but this scar is mentioned in the missing person’s report.”

Lestrade noted the name in a small notebook with a stub of pencil.

“Next!”  Sherlock looked at John expectantly.  John flipped through his papers and led Sherlock to a female body.

“Four twenty-five.  Guilford Street near the Foundling Hospital.  Shoulders oriented towards the north.  This particular location is on regular patrol, so it’s certain that the body appeared within an hour of being found.”

“Were any of the other timeframes pinpointed so precisely?”

“No, this was the only one that was directly in the regular path of the watch.  The ones not along the Thames were in trafficked areas.  The body at the receiving station was the penultimate discovery; the man on duty heard nothing to signal its arrival and only happened upon it when he went out for a piss.”

“Probably slept through the night sound as a child rather than keeping watch.  South end of the Waterloo Bridge?”

John confirmed this with a nod.

They continued this way through the morning and well past the noon hour, going through each of the bodies in turn.  John continued to be astounded at Sherlock’s ability to connect the subtlest markings with the files he’d read in Lestrade’s office several days past.  Lestrade had a great deal of work ahead of him, between informing the families and interviewing each again about the last days of their loved ones.

“It is unfortunate that the time of disposal cannot be properly pinpointed.  However, we must expect a logical progression through the city.  Lestrade, have your men keep their ears out for descriptions of a wagon or other conveyance travelling in an east-to-west manner between these points.  That would be the most logical progression, given the discovery times and the methods of the watch.”

All three men knew that little would likely come of that.  A wagon going through the streets of London, even in the middle of the night, would bring little attention to itself.

“What is unusual is why these victims were chosen,” Sherlock mused.  “They were people that would be missed; in many cases, almost immediately.  If one was looking for test subjects and did not want to be discovered, there are legions of beggars on the streets.  Few would be missed, and those that were would have no family of means able to search for them.

“Also, the dumping of the bodies stretched over miles, all over Town, with no connection between them.  Why not just dispose of them all at once?  What is the pattern here, the meaning?”

“Were the bodies found near where they were taken, by any chance?”

“Hmm, no,” Sherlock answered after reorganizing the information in his head.

“Whoever it is clearly wants to be discovered, or is playing some kind of game of terror with the city.  After today, there will be no keeping the news from the papers.  Too many witnesses,” Lestrade sighed.  He was not looking forward to the panic this case would bring by the evening editions.

“What?  Be discovered and surely hanged for the crime?”

“Be legend.  Prove his genius,” John said.

Lestrade snorted.  “You know all about showing off, Sherlock.  That motivation cannot come as a surprise.”

Sherlock gave Lestrade a most disgusted look, distracted from his glare only when John patted his arm.

“I think it’s time for a break, Sherlock.  Man cannot live on crimes and puzzles alone.”

“Do not bastardize proverbs, John, to excuse your stomach.”

John did not take this personally; after all, his stomach had been distracting him an hour now.  He smiled and patted Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Shall I bring something back for you?”

“I don’t eat when I’m working.  But do take a break.  Your leg must be paining you.”

“Some tea, at least, Sherlock.”

Sherlock hummed a non-response and moved to another slab.  He carefully extracted a sample from the body and brought it to a microscope near the window.

John took the cold-shoulder with grace and left the room with Lestrade.

Lestrade nudged John in the hallway.  “Well done in there, even if Himself won’t acknowledge it.  But just so you know, I’ve never once known him to trust the questioning of witnesses to another person.  Not even myself.”

John isn’t quite sure how to answer that at first.  Had Sherlock paid him a veiled compliment in trusting him?  “Perhaps he was just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information to be collected that he was forced to delegate.”

“If you feel the need to believe that, Dr. Watson, go ahead.  But I suspect something else entirely.”

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2013 in Writings

 

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44,000 words, Chapter 39

I’ve decided to post Chapter 39 on its own mainly because it’s a longer chapter than I’ve been writing for this story and because my friends are bugging me to get on with it 🙂  If I post this chapter now, and write the next couple on Monday on my day off, then I won’t feel like I’m torturing them (so much).

Also, I’ve begun to worry that I’m researching too much!  I keep finding bits that I want to add in and they’re just not important, so if I post the chapter, I won’t add more crap in, no matter how interesting.  Worse, I started reading a book that is EXACTLY what this chapter is talking about, the anatomy research and practices of the day, as well as electrical research in regards to the body.  I mean, geez, I’m losing my mind! 🙂  It’s so perfect.  So some of the stuff in the following chapter is vaguely based on fact (or wikipedia, which is almost the same thing, though the time period isn’t exact and I am just not going to go crazy with dripping research all over this.  Be thankful.  🙂

At the end, I’ll post a picture of the machine I’m talking about.  Oh, and also, I changed the last line of the last chapter to put John and Sherlock on their way to Lambeth, as I needed them to cross the Thames on their way home.

 

Chapter 39

 

The address in Lambeth was about three times the size of their home on Baker Street, but less well-maintained.  The exterior was chipping and the first of the stone steps wobbled when John prodded it with his cane.  It wasn’t entirely dilapidated, for the windows shone and the walk was swept, just somewhat neglected.

“I feel I must warn you, John.  The Professor is one of the few men in existence whose genius nearly matches my own.  His genius borders on madness.”  Sherlock mounted the front steps two at a time and used the knocker.

“So, if you are the more intelligent, does that make you mad?”  John says this with a teasing grin, surprising Sherlock into a grin.

“Some seem to think so.”  Sherlock winked and John felt a little guilty for thinking him mad on the morning of their wedding.  Was that only yesterday?  Granted, he had just cause, but Sherlock was a vivid, brilliant man and shouldn’t need to explain his reasons for the things he did.

The door opened on an ancient man, skeletal and hunched over with a sunken chest.

“Is he at home, Marley?” Sherlock asked.

“Yes, sir, tinkering away with his latest contraption.”

“Excellent.  We’ll find him in a good mood, then.”

“Very, sir.”

The elderly butler took their overcoats and left them to find their own way.  Sherlock seemed to be a frequent enough visitor that he familiar with the butler and had the run of the household.

“What is that humming, Sherlock?”  John asked as soon as they were alone in the foyer.  Sherlock turned as he opened a door to their left, eyes alight.

“That is bound to be his latest machine.  This should be exciting!  Come along, John.”

John entered the next room after his husband, but he was stopped by the utterly stunning clutter of the room.  Large globes hung from the ceiling in what John surmised was a model of the solar system.  Books and loose papers were stacked in piles three feet deep in corners despite an abundance of bookshelves.  The shelving held other things, notably taxidermied animals John had never seen in his life and pickled punks, two-headed pigs, four-legged cats and the like.  Glass eyes stared out from the shelving as well, often on their own and not encased in any skull.

Bones littered the place, too, but in a way that suggested something crawled up to the hearth and was allowed to die there.  There was no smell beyond the typical coal smoke and dust and paper smell of a library, so John supposed that could not be true.

Sherlock walked confidently through the mess as if he’d seen it all before and opened a door on the far side of the room.

“He’s what one might call a theoretical anatomist.  Taught me everything I know about the subject.  He was the only lecturer at university worth listening to, but of course they quietly tossed him out a few years ago.”

John didn’t ask what for; he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.

Sherlock disappeared through the door, leaving John to follow or not.  John bravely threw himself into the next room, breath held in a mixture of dread and anticipation.

“Good afternoon, Professor!” Sherlock called above the oppressive humming.  It made the fine hairs along John’s skin stand up and a strange pressure throbbed through the rest of him.

“Holmes, lad, good to see you, good to see you!  Give me a few minutes and I’ll be right with you.”

John still couldn’t see the man for he was hidden by a huge machine that took up the center of the room.  It consisted of huge glass disks, spinning with a crank, brass globes, glass cylinders, and metal tubing.  There was a definite chemical smell in this room, as well as the acrid scent of burnt hair.  That smell was coming from the body of a dog on a nearby rolling table.

John glanced at Sherlock, whose bright eyes were taking in every inch of the fabulous machine before them.  He moved entirely around it, eyes calculating how it worked, how every part moved and would be taken apart.  There was only one way to describe how Sherlock gazed at that mysterious apparatus: he was enraptured.  And John was entranced by the keen look in his husband’s eyes, until he reminded himself not to be.  He cleared his throat.  Back to the machine, then.

“What is it?”

“It’s Martinus von Marum’s electrostatic generator.  Well, a replica, anyway,” came the hidden voice again.  This time the gentleman came around the tables that held the generator, wiping his hands on a stained cloth.  He was thin, older, perhaps in his mid-fifties with thinning hair fading from brown to gray.  There was nothing spectacular about his appearance other than his eyes.  They were dark and quick and flicked about much like Sherlock’s.   “Who have we here, eh, Holmes?”

“Husband,” Sherlock replied, distracted, his head awfully close to the glass wheels at the center of the device.

“Don’t touch, Sherlock,” the man reminded him.   “Wait, did you say husband?  Whatever happened with that Victor lad you used to come around with?”

Sherlock’s head popped up.  He strode over to the two of them and placed one hand on John’s shoulder.

“Doctor Watson is a finer man than Victor Trevor could ever hope to be.”

This was the first time Sherlock had ever referred to John as anything other than John; it was also the first time since he’d joined the army that someone had referred to him as other than his rank.  Captain outranked doctor, and like the gentry, the highest title preceded any others.  John found he liked hearing Sherlock call him Doctor Watson.  It almost distracted him from wondering about Victor Trevor.

“John, this is James Moriarty.”  John extended his hand.

“Please call me Professor.  Everyone does.”  The Professor shook his hand, smiling widely.

“Good to meet you, Professor.  So tell me about this generator of yours?  What is it for?”

The Professor didn’t take much prompting.  He began a lengthy explanation of the machine, the gist of which was that it rubbed two pieces of wool or other materials together to create a spark of static electricity.  The charge could be stored in a battery, the bank of Leyden jars.  John tried to follow along through terms like dielectric and corona discharge, whose meanings he could guess at but his education on the theories of electrical charges was limited.

“By any chance, are you relation to Sir William Watson, formerly of the Royal Society?”  The Professor stopped in mid-ramble to ask, his speech patterns much like Sherlock’s.

“No, sir, I don’t believe so.”  John was fascinated by the generator, but he felt overwhelmed.  It was a relief to answer a simple question.

“Shame.  I would have loved to get my hands on anything he might have left cluttering up his attic when he passed.  He improved the Leyden jar, you know.”  The Professor gestured to the several racks of metal-lined glass jars on a small table pushed up close to his generator.

“But what does it have to do with the dog?” Sherlock finally interrupted, impatient in his curiosity.

“Ah, yes, the dog, poor thing.  His heart gave out this morning.  I’ve been trying to test my theory that electrical stimulation to the heart might invigorate the muscle.”

“And did it?”  The Professor had both John and Sherlock’s attention at this.  This might have potential to resuscitate the dead.

“Oh, a few twitches, about as effective as salt on a frog leg.  Pup was nearly stiff when I could manage the experiment.  Have to try with a fresher body next time.”

Sherlock was immediately knuckle-deep in the dog’s body, smoothing the fur away from the wires and the edge of the entry into the dog’s chest.

“I have hope for the theory that electrical pulses from the brain to the extremities control our movements.”  Galvani’s nerve theory, that was something John was at least fleetingly familiar with.

“Extraordinary.  I can see why Sherlock thinks so highly of you, Professor.”

“What about reattached limbs?” Sherlock interrupted again.  “Do you think that it would be possible to regain function in a limb completely severed?”

“Were surgical techniques improved, I do believe so.  However, the reattachment and regrowth of the proper nerves and veins would be quite delicate, far more so than we are capable of at this time.”

John and Sherlock exchanged a look.

“Has there been any talk of such an experiment lately, Professor?”  For if someone were to embark on such a thing, surely their first stop would be to the home of the theoretical anatomist James Moriarty.

The man seemed to think about this for a second.

“No one has discussed anything like that with me in quite a while.  I suppose you could ask around at the Royal Society…”

“Banished,” Sherlock said, waving away the idea with a flung-out hand.  John squashed a smile.

The Professor was a fascinating conversationalist, if you could follow him.  One could almost see the anatomy in front of them as he spoke, see the cuts and delicate surgeries he described, imagine it all being possible.  Sherlock and John stayed well past tea and sunset listening and observing demonstrations of several contraptions around the vast laboratory.  Sherlock continued to insert questions that might be relevant to his case without mentioning the case directly and John abetted his subtlety.

“Sherlock, I believe we have distracted the good Professor from his work for too long,” John finally said.  The evening had progressed to nearly night.  Lamps had been lit long ago and John was hungry.  This did not seem like the sort of house where an invitation to dinner seemed forthcoming, especially if the Professor was anything like Sherlock in his refusal to adhere to proper mealtimes.

Sherlock nodded sagely, as if realizing he’d spent too much time distracted from his case by the Professor.

“Yes, I really must be getting John home.  Professor, it’s been enlightening, as always.”

“Do bring your young man back, Sherlock, anytime.  We must encourage his scientific curiosity, eh?”

“I’ve no doubt we’ll be frequent visitors, Professor,” John said with a smile.

“Oh, Professor!  I meant to tell you that Edger’s will have delivered my terrarium today.”

“Excellent, dear boy.  I’ll start separating out a colony of dermestids for you in the morning.”

They had said their good-byes and left before John asked.  The night was crisp for once, instead of damp and foggy.  They began to walk towards the Westminster Bridge, thinking it more likely to find a hack near Lambeth Road or hovering  near the House of Parliament on the other side.

“Dermestids?”

“Use your Latin, John.”  But Sherlock hummed happily to himself.

“Skin,” John said thoughtfully.  “Oh, Sherlock, skin eating insects?  Tell me I’m wrong.”

“No, you’re absolutely correct!  I’ll be able to clean my own specimens right at home.  Mycroft would never let me bring them into the house.”

“What makes you think that I will?”

Sherlock stopped dead and gave John such a pained, pathetic look that John almost laughed.  Still, he kept a straight face.

“Give me one good reason I would allow such a creature, much less a colony of them, in our fine house?”

“They won’t get out, I swear to you, John,” Sherlock rushed to beg.  “I must have them for my work!  I can examine bone fractures in more detail without the flesh getting in the way.  I’ll keep them in my laboratory.  You’ll never even see them.”

“They’ll eat the hairs on your violin bow if they get out.  You know that right?”

Sherlock’s lips twisted in a grimace.

“It is unlikely that the Professor will give me mere bow bugs when I need them for cleaning flesh from bone.”

“Very well, I agree to your condition – they will stay in your lab and I will not see them.”

“Technically, that’s two conditions.  Wait, yes?!”

“Yes, fine, Sherlock, if they’ll make you happy.  You can consider it a wedding gift from me.”

“Oh, excellent, John.”  Sherlock began rubbing his hands together as if plotting something truly heinous and thrilling.

“I have another condition, as well.”

“The deal has already been struck.  You cannot add conditions after the fact.”

“Alright, then, answer me a question in the spirit of conversation, or as a wedding gift from you.”

“Hardly a traditional gift, the answer to a question, John.  Go on, then.”

“Who is Victor Trevor?”

 

784px-Electrostatic_generator_Teylers_Museum

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Electrostatic_generator_Teylers_Museum.jpg

Too much research.  (I could have put in a MUCH more disturbing experiment that I read about today, but I won’t, you’re welcome.)  And a teaser ending.  🙂  Sorry.  🙂

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2013 in Writings

 

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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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