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Fallen Through Time

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People disappear all the time. Ask any policeman. Better yet, ask a journalist. Disappearances are bread-and-butter to journalists. Young girls run away from home. Young children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives reach the end of their tether and take the grocery money and a taxi to the station. International financiers change their names and vanish into the smoke of imported cigars. Many of the lost will be found, eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually.

 

-Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

 

---

 

“MRS. HUDSON!” Sherlock Holmes, the world’s only consulting detective, was darting about the sitting room of his flat at 221B Baker Street in London, throwing papers and books and pillows and anything else he could get his hands on in a desperate search. “ MRS. HUD-SON !”

 

The woman in question came scurrying into the parlour, clutching her chest as though in danger of having a heart attack. This was, of course, not a real threat as her heart was in remarkably good condition for a woman of her age.

 

“Sherlock! What is the matter with you? You gave me such a fright I nearly dropped the vase I was holding.”

 

“I can’t find my cigarettes!” Sherlock bellowed, his hands flailing as he stepped callously across his armchair to better reach a high bookshelf.

 

“Well, that’s hardly my problem, is it?” Mrs. Hudson exclaimed. “Do mind the furniture, Sherlock - you’re not meant to climb on the built-ins!”

 

“It is your problem if you’re the one who took them. You’ve been in here cleaning, I can tell, don’t lie to me!” Sherlock rounded on her, his sharp blue eyes boring directly into her, and pointed an accusatory finger in her direction.

 

“I haven’t taken your cigarettes, dear, I know you like your dust exactly where it is.” Her tone was lighter, sarcastic, even.

 

“I just told you not to lie to me!”

 

“And I don’t have to do what you tell me!” Mrs. Hudson replied smartly. With that, she turned on her heel and sauntered back down the stairs with her nose in the air. She called over her shoulder, “I’m not your housekeeper!”

 

“If you were, you’d be fired !” he yelled crossly. He had already checked the slipper on the mantle, but he looked again desperately, hoping against hope that he had made a mistake for once. He hadn’t.

 

“Dear, dear, brother mine,” came the single most annoying voice in Sherlock’s expansive memory. “Getting a little desperate, are we?”

 

Heaving an impressive sigh, Sherlock whipped around and stared his brother full in the face. “Mycroft. Either give me one of yours or leave.”

 

“I quit, little brother. Weeks ago.” The fingers of his right hand drummed against the handle of his umbrella and Sherlock smirked.

 

“You are such a terrible liar, Mycroft, it is truly a wonder that you are still employed.” Sherlock waved a dismissive hand and resumed his search, futile though it may be. “Why are you even here?”

 

“Your country needs you, Sherlock.”

 

“No.”

 

“Yes, it does.”

 

“I’m sure it does but that ‘no’ was in answer to your forthcoming question: No, I will not help you. It is boring and you are only here to ‘keep me busy’ on Mummy’s behalf,” Sherlock answered. At that moment, Sherlock’s phone gave a little ding and he practically pounced on it from across the room.

 

Tower Bridge. It’s a weird one. Will you come? Lestrade ‒ thank the good Lord for Lestrade and his inability to perform his own job.

 

His face lit up and his hands clapped together ‒ at last, a distraction. “Get out, Mycroft, I have real work to do.”

 

“It can’t possibly be as important as what I ‒”

 

“It is to me.” Sherlock swept toward the door, grabbed his Belstaff coat and scarf, and swiftly wrapped himself in his chosen armour. “Especially if it means you will go away.”

 

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I will not be gotten rid of so easily,” Mycroft called after his brother, following him down the stairs and out onto the street. “The sooner this trifling ‘ case ’ is solved, the sooner I can get you working on the real issues of the world.”

 

“I don’t need you to chaperone me, Mycroft. I’m a grown man, I can take care of myself.” Sherlock waved for a cab but, in a cruel show of defiance, none showed.

 

“Yes, that much is evident by the alarming frequency with which you relapse into your old habits.” Mycroft opened the door of a sleek black town car and gestured for Sherlock to enter. He did not.

 

“It’s been months since the last one,” Sherlock said defiantly.

 

“Three months, twenty-one days,” Mycroft clarified. “You know the rules ‒ six months clean and you’re free from my watchful eye.” Sherlock snorted a derisive laugh.

 

“As I said ‒ a terrible liar.” He got in the car all the same and they started toward the Tower.

 

It was no challenge to find the crime scene; Scotland Yard had cordoned off a large area on the muddy shoal beneath the South tower. Of course, seeing the commotion, more and more passers-by came to see what was the matter, camera-phones flashing and necks craning all about the scene from the pedestrian path above. It was only eighty-thirty in the morning and already the path was a sea of selfie-sticks and tacky Union Jack souvenir hats.

 

The scene was the body of a woman in full Victorian dress lying on her side in the rocky mud. That was interesting. She was positioned in rather an unnatural angle, likely having fallen or jumped from the bridge.

 

“Sherlock, thank God.” Detective Inspector Lestrade poked out from under the crime-scene tape and gestured for Sherlock to come forward. “All these people milling about ‒ we need to get what we can from the scene so we can clean it up.” He was sweating despite the chilly September morning air, clearly nervous about the crowds. “This is your brother, right? What’s he doing here?”

 

“I am merely keeping an eye on my little brother,” Mycroft answered, an annoyingly-sly smile on his thin lips. “I have a problem which requires his attention and, left to his own devices, he would leave this place and continue ignoring his duty as a British citizen.”

 

“That is true,” Sherlock said matter-of-factly. He swiftly pulled his magnifier from his pocket and opened it with a snap . He ducked under the tape and set about investigating the body, slipping slightly in the thick sludge as he bent his knees.

 

Mid-thirties; mousey brown hair beginning to grey around the hairline; four prominent teeth crudely removed several years ago; and a truly offensive odour coming from her clothes and body . The smell wafting into Sherlock’s nostrils was far worse than it should have been given that the woman was only dead for about seven hours. It was the scent of open sewage, body odour, and stagnant water. It nearly made his eyes water, but he pressed on.

 

Obviously, the most curious element of the scene was the woman’s clothes. She was dressed in the garb of a middle-class Victorian woman, every detail completely authentic. Sherlock examined the stitching - single thread, chain stitch, antique machine in need of repair judging by the skipped stitches. Simple cotton blouse, hoop skirt, black boots worn through at the edges of the soles, threadbare cape and bonnet. Authentic, not reproduction. Interesting, indeed. Her wardrobe was damp where it was soaking in mud, but she had not been pulled from the water. The woman’s hair was mostly dry, her skin was not wrinkled, and there was no telltale swelling from having been submerged in the river. She had come from the street end of the bridge, not far enough out to land in the water.

 

“Lestrade,” he called out and the inspector was beside him in a flash. “Phone every nearby museum and archive to see if anyone is missing any artifacts.”

 

“We already did,” he replied, befuddled as ever. “We can’t find anyone who’s missing anything. I’ve got a call in to a re-enactors’ troupe ‒”

 

“Don’t bother with people who play pretend, these are the real thing.” Sherlock plucked the fabric of her cape aside with two fingers and found the cause of death ‒ a bloody wound in her abdomen from a thin blade which had slipped expertly between her ribs. A pool of blood had dripped onto the ground in front of the woman and there was no sign that anyone had disturbed the blood after the fall. Someone had stabbed this woman and then thrown her over the edge. Why would they do that? A tiny grin flicked over Sherlock’s face and he stared up at the bridge as a cold drizzle began to fall.

 

“The real thing? How can that ‒ Sherlock!” Lestrade called after him as he darted off toward the stairs leading up to the sidewalk. Leaping over the crime tape, Sherlock flew up the path, his coat flapping behind him. He was practically giddy.

 

Nosy tourists and onlookers called out to him for details but Sherlock was deaf to their shouts. He was looking for clues. Any clues. He saw no evidence of recent footprints or sign of a weapon to indicate the presence of the killer, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t find something. He always found something. Sherlock dashed up the stone steps and onto the bridge itself. Leaning over the rail, Sherlock quickly determined that from this position, there was not enough height for the body to land so far away in the mud. He spun around, looking for a higher vantage point.

 

A little sparkle caught his eye ‒ a security camera glinting in the weak sunlight peeking through the light rain. Sherlock dashed around the stone tower to the maintenance door. Locked. Or supposedly. Sherlock whipped out his toolkit and made swift work of the frankly pedestrian mechanism. Up the interior stairs he flew, coming out onto a landing that looked looked over the shore. Perfect angle . Sherlock grabbed the pole of the security camera, clambered up onto the battlements, and revelled in the unencumbered view of the crime scene.

 

“Sherlock!” Mycroft bellowed from below, his mouth twisted in a furious expression that bore a frightening resemblance to their mother. “Come down from there this instant !”

 

“Make me!” Sherlock shouted defiantly. Mycroft made a commanding gesture at Lestrade from his mudless perch on the steps and the detective slogged through the muck, clearly intent on fetching Sherlock himself. Sherlock rolled his eyes ‒ as if Mycroft or Lestrade could make him do anything he didn’t want to.

 

There was a low roll of thunder and a strong gust of wind. Sherlock gripped the pole tighter against the slipping of his Oxford shoes on the rain-slick stone. Perhaps best not to stay up here, after all. He made to hop back down onto the landing when he felt an intense buzzing, akin to static electricity. The sensation took him over, pulsing deep in his bones and sounding deafeningly loud in his ears. Sherlock brought his free hand to his head, trying to dull the thrumming in his skull.

 

His vision was blurred and there was a bizarre warm feeling running from his lumbar spine through his extremities, not unlike when he was high. Sherlock reached forward with his foot, seeking the edge, and he slipped. Reeling backward, he flailed his arms and dropped into the empty air behind him. Then all was darkness.

 

‒‒

 

The first sensation he recognized was pain. A dull ache throbbed in the back of his head and his fingers gently found the wound ‒ a small abrasion, but enough to have rendered him unconscious for a time. The second sensation was embarrassment. All he needed was for some luddite with a camera phone to post a video of him falling into the mud on YouTube. There was no commotion, though ‒ maybe the crowd was distracted by something else.

 

“Sir, can you hear me?”

 

Damn .

 

Sherlock opened his eyes and was met with a pair of deep blue irises which were framed by sandy brows furrowed with concern.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“I’m quite fine, thank you,” Sherlock spat, his humiliation getting the better of what few manners he possessed. He made to sit up, but the man above him pressed a warm hand into his chest.

 

“Don’t move, you could have a serious injury.”

 

“I’m sure I’m ‒”

 

“Just stay still. I’m a doctor.” The man gave Sherlock a firm look and he stilled, bringing his hand away from his head to find coagulated blood. The doctor raised a finger in front of Sherlock’s eyes and he diligently followed the digit back and forth with his gaze. “Good. Ocular functions normal. Do you know today’s date?”

 

Sherlock sighed impatiently. “Twenty-second of September, two-thousand and eighteen.”

 

“Hmm.” The doctor’s eyes darkened with worry.

 

“What?”

 

“Well, you’ve got the date right, but the year is eighteen-hundred ninety-five.” He gently turned Sherlock’s head between his fingers, the better to see the wound, and Sherlock’s own eyebrows lowered in confusion.

 

“What did you say?”

 

“Eighteen-hundred ninety-five,” the doctor repeated. “You could be mildly concussed, but I don’t think the wound is anything to be alarmed over.” He stopped examining Sherlock’s head and held out a gloved hand to help him sit up. It was only then that Sherlock began to take in the details of the man before him.

 

Five feet, seven inches; one-hundred and fifty pounds; sandy blond hair; blue eyes; full, closely-trimmed beard and moustache. He was clad in a brown tweed three-piece suit complete with a pocket watch and a brown Derby hat. As they stood, Sherlock noticed him grab up a wooden walking stick he had not seen right away. His reflexes were slow ‒ perhaps he was concussed. And twice he had heard the man say that the year was 1895.

 

“You’re some sort of re-enactor, I suppose?” Sherlock posited.

 

“Re-enactor of what?” The man appeared genuinely confused, but Sherlock was given to understand that these people could be very committed to their playacting. He rolled his eyes, but flinched when a sharp pain followed the motion of his head. The doctor laid a comforting hand on Sherlock’s bicep before saying, “Let’s get you out of this mud, eh? My name is Doctor John Watson.” He put out a hand and Sherlock took it, giving it a firm shake. Loathe though he was to admit it, the touch gave him a bit of a shudder. Definitely concussed.

 

“Sherlock Holmes.”

 

“A pleasure to meet you, Mister Holmes, though I wish it were under different circumstances.” Doctor Watson gestured toward the stone stairs and they took off together. “Whatever were you doing in the down here, Mister Holmes?”

 

“I was searching for the killer,” he answered plainly, the heels of his hands pressed into his eyes as he tried to clear his head. Watson’s steps paused and Sherlock stopped as well.

 

“Killer?”

 

“Yes ‒  the person who killed that woman on the beach.”

 

“That’s why I’m here!” Watson exclaimed. “I suspect she was killed before being pushed from the bridge ‒ there was a stab wound in her abdomen.”

 

Sherlock turned to face him fully, impressed. “Yes, there was.”

 

“Do you work with Scotland Yard?” Watson asked.

 

“On occasion. And you?”

 

“On occasion.” They exchanged a smile.

 

His headache beginning to dissipate, Sherlock glanced upward toward the crime scene. Only there was no crime scene ‒ no tape, no crowd, no ambulance. Only a smattering of men milling about the body in matching blue jackets remained. “Who are those people?”

 

“Policemen, of course,” answered Watson. “Didn’t you say you worked with them?”

 

Sherlock did not reply. Instead, he increased his pace until he was several strides ahead of the doctor and nearly upon the scene.

 

The body was the same. The clothes were the same. The muddy beach was the same. But the few people gathered around to witness the excitement were all very different.

 

Something was very wrong.

 

Chapter Text

The shore was swimming a little in Sherlock’s field of vision ‒ there was too much to take in at once. There was not a single officer that he recognised, no medical examiner, no crime tape, no nosey crowd. Wrong ‒ the only word for it was wrong.

 

“I don’t understand,” Sherlock mumbled. Dr. Watson put a gentle hand on his elbow and nodded knowingly.

 

“That’ll be the concussion ‒ not to worry. I’m heading to Bart’s now to meet an old friend. Come with me and I’ll tidy that wound up. You shouldn’t be left alone until you’re a bit steadier on your feet.”

 

Still slightly dazed, Sherlock said, “Alright.” Bart’s was good ‒ he knew the hospital like the back of his hand. He would be safe there from all this confusion. He did not care for confusion.

 

Watson gave a small wave to one of the officers who approached them with an expression of mild bewilderment. “Detective Gregson, I’ll be in touch once the postmortem is complete. But right now, I need to take this man to the hospital to be treated for a head injury.”

 

“Who is this person?” Detective Gregson asked, clearly affronted at Sherlock’s presence. Where was Lestrade? Where was Mycroft? Who was this Gregson to question Sherlock’s being at the crime scene?

 

“Sherlock Holmes ‒ who are you?” he demanded.

 

“I beg your pardon, but I am the chief detective on this case and I will not have civilians traipsing through ‒”

 

“I’m hardly ‘traipsing’,” Sherlock interrupted. “And I’m hardly a ‘ civilian ’. I was investigating this body and searching for the killer when ‒”

 

“Investigating? Who let you near the body? It’s only just been reported to us.”

 

“I don’t care to speak to you any more ‒ where is Lestrade?”

 

“Who?”

 

“Alright, alright!” Watson put in, his hands between the two men who were gradually advancing on each other. “Gregson ‒ we are leaving now. I will be in touch.” With that, he gripped Sherlock by the bicep and led him up the stone stairs and away from the beach.

 

“Who is that man?” Sherlock demanded in frustration, pulling his arm from Watson’s grasp as they marched away.

 

“Detective Gregson works for New Scotland Yard,” Watson explained calmly. “Don’t worry about any of that now ‒ we’ll be at Bart’s in no time.”

 

When they reached the main street, Sherlock stopped dead in his tracks. There were no cars, only carriages. Women were wearing bustle skirts and bonnets, the streets were cobbled stone, all the street lights were gas. Sherlock’s mouth actually fell open. Wrong .

 

Watson directed him into a carriage and Sherlock climbed inside as though drunk. He put a hand over his astonished mouth and took a steadying breath. 1895, that’s what Watson had said. 1895. 1895.

 

The carriage jerked into motion and Watson’s voice drew Sherlock out of his reverie. “That’s quite the interesting suit, Mister Holmes.” Sherlock looked down and quickly compared his own ensemble to Watson’s. He was dressed in his usual clothes ‒ bespoke trousers and suit jacket, his favorite plum-colored shirt, Oxford shoes, and his Belstaff coat. Practically a uniform. Armour.

 

But Watson was far more formal by comparison. His tweed suit included a vest into which his necktie was neatly tucked. The chain of his pocket watch was pinned to one of his vest buttons and Sherlock even noticed a pocket square which coordinated in color with his tie. His heavy wool coat was several inches longer than Sherlock’s and the Derby hat he now held in his gloved hand even had a small arrangement of feathers in the band. The ensemble suited him, but was far more elaborate and far less fitted than Sherlock’s own.

 

“Yes, I ‒ ah ‒ got dressed in rather a hurry this morning.” He hoped that would be a sufficient explanation.

 

“A pity about the mud on your coat, though,” Watson commented. “We’ll tidy you up at the hospital.” From there, they were quiet, Watson staring placidly out the window as Sherlock tried to organise his thoughts. The journey to St. Bart’s hospital took nearly twice as long in a carriage versus a cab and Sherlock was growing more and more anxious by the minute.

 

The familiar sight of the hospital finally came into view and the driver pulled the horse-drawn carriage to a stop in front of Henry VIII gate. The people were no more normally attired here and Sherlock’s sense of relief at the sight of the hospital was short-lived. Into the building on the right, which looked precisely the same except for the lack of signage and bicycle racks, Watson led Sherlock through now-unfamiliar corridors and stairways. Gone was the hum of the electric lights, the shine of metal carts and tables, the tinny announcements over the intercom. It was too much ‒ it was all too much…

 

“Mister Holmes?” Sherlock started and realised that Watson had said his name more than once.

 

“Y-yes?”

 

“Come inside, won’t you? I’ll patch you up and you’ll be right as rain.” He was gesturing toward the door of a lab Sherlock had visited before, though under very different circumstances. “It’s not exactly clinic conditions, but we’ll make do.”

 

“Watson, my good man!” A portly man in a brown suit ‒ simpler than Dr. Watson’s but still more elaborate than Sherlock’s ‒ greeted them warmly. He had a rosey face and thin, round glasses that only accentuated the spherical shape of his face. “And who’s this, then?” The man held out a hand to Sherlock, who took it briefly.

 

“Sherlock Holmes,” he muttered, unable to make eye contact as he scanned the room around him. Porcelain basins, candlesticks, brass scales and instruments. Glass bottles containing mercury, arsenic, phosphorous, and chloroform. And laudanum. God, that sounds appealing at the moment. Just a few drops through a syringe and he wouldn’t care what year it was.

 

“Michael Stamford,” the man said, drawing Sherlock back from his dangerous thoughts. “Are you a friend of Watson’s?”

 

“We’ve only just met ‒ the poor chap’s gone and split his head.” Watson put his hand on Sherlock’s arm again ‒ that was pleasant. Steadying. He urged him onto a stool and quickly but calmly gathered a few tools while Sherlock removed his soiled coat. Armed with a needle and tread, a small basin of hot water, and a bottle of alcohol, Watson gently pushed back Sherlock’s hair. He took to cleansing the wound there, which was larger than Sherlock had initially determined. When Watson pressed an alcohol-soaked cloth to the cut, Sherlock hissed with pain. “Apologies, sir.”

 

“Not to worry,” Sherlock mumbled, his gaze drifting across the doctor in front of him. Watson was chatting quietly with Stamford about who-knew-what and Sherlock took the opportunity to observe more about his new acquaintance.

 

Medical doctor, obviously. Likely trained at Bart’s, given his familiarity with the place. Short-cropped hair gone slightly longer than he prefers, upright stance, parade rest. Military. So an army doctor. Obvious stiffness in the left shoulder, but a limp in the right leg. As he observed, Sherlock noticed Watson rest his cane against a cabinet and move unencumbered around the room. Ah ‒ psychosomatic. Injured under traumatic circumstances. He had taken to stitching Sherlock’s wound with a steady hand. A good doctor, then.

 

“I’ll just pop out and get a paper while you finish up, shall I?” Stamford stepped jovially from the room, leaving Sherlock and Watson alone.

 

“You’ve got quite the injury here, Mister Holmes. Are you sure you don’t feel ill at all?”

 

“No, not ill.” Not exactly. “Sherlock.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Call me Sherlock, please. ‘Mister Holmes’ sounds far too much like my brother and I do so hate to be formal.” Watson gave him a lopsided grin.

 

“Sherlock it is, then. You can call me John, if you like.” Watson ‒ John ‒ added another careful stitch to the side of Sherlock’s head.

 

“John. Where did you sustain your injury?” John paused.

 

“I haven’t any injury.”

 

“Your shoulder,” Sherlock elaborated, distracting himself from the sting under John’s needle. “It’s clear that you’ve been injured there. How?”

 

“Clear?”

 

“Clear to me.” Another pause followed by some curious blinking.

 

“Afghanistan,” John finally answered. “Kandahar, about fourteen years ago.” His shoulders stiffened as he remembered. “I was shot in my service as an army doctor in the Second Afghan War.”

 

“And your leg? It doesn’t always hurt, does it?”

 

John stopped working entirely and gave Sherlock a shrewd look. “No, it does not. Only, it seems, when I ‒”

 

“When you think about it.”

 

“Yes.” At the mention of his so-called “wound”, John’s stance shifted so that his weight was on his left leg. “How did you know that?”

 

“It’s psychosomatic.” John looked at Sherlock with a deep expression, his dark blue eyes boring into Sherlock’s in an attempt to determine his character. He had overstepped again. He was always doing that, according to Mycroft. Changing the subject, Sherlock asked flippantly, “Will I live?”

 

A small smile returned to John’s face and Sherlock relaxed at his softened expression. “I believe you will.” He tied off his final stitch and stood back to look Sherlock directly in the eye. “Have you any headache? Any blurry vision or dizziness?”

 

“A bit,” Sherlock admitted. “I… I’m not sure what…”

 

“What is it?” John put his tools aside and stood upright, looking down at Sherlock with genuine concern.

 

“I think… I think something rather unbelievable has happened,” Sherlock said quietly. Something about John Watson made him want to talk about what was going on ‒ whatever was going on. “But… when one has eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Right?” He stared up at John expectantly.

 

“I suppose so,” the doctor said slowly. “What’s happened to you, Sherlock?”

 

Deep breath. Stop shaking! You’ve examined the facts ‒ you know what happened. Just say it.

 

“I think I’ve travelled through time.”

Chapter Text

John stared down at Sherlock for so long that he became uncomfortable. Then he snorted out a laugh and gave Sherlock a dismissive little wave.

 

“That’s good ‒ that’s quite funny.” His laughter faded into a little titter that Sherlock found rather charming. But the whole thing was far from a joke.

 

“I’m being serious.”

 

There was still a disbelieving glint in John’s eye as he spoke. “Come on, then, chap. You’ve had a blow to the head ‒ you’re confused.”

 

“No, I’m not. I was on the bridge investigating the murder when I fell, only it was a hundred and twenty-three years from now in two-thousand and eighteen,” Sherlock said emphatically. John’s eyebrows knitted together and the smile faded from his lips.

 

“I think you must have had a dream while you were unconscious,” he said gently. “You’re confused.”

 

“I’m not!” He didn’t mean to shout, but he was beginning to panic again. All the facts were there, why couldn’t John see? A thought flew into his head and he frantically dug into the pockets of his coat. “Here! Take a look at this ‒ tell me any of it makes sense.”

 

Sherlock shoved aside several medical tools and dropped the contents of his pockets onto the wooden surface with a clatter. A small spiral-bound notebook, a ball-point pen, laminated guest passes to New Scotland Yard and Bart’s, his folding magnifier, a cigarette lighter, his tri-fold wallet, a Swiss-army knife, his lockpicking kit, a receipt from Speedy’s and ‒ most importantly ‒ his mobile phone. There . That was sure to convince John.

 

“What on earth…?” the doctor intoned and Sherlock breathed a sigh of relief. John reached out and took up several objects, turning them over in his hands. He was fascinated by the bank notes and Sherlock’s driving license inside his wallet. “Who are these people on these notes? What is this card made of?” He seemed to be wondering aloud, not really asking, so Sherlock let him explore the pile on the table. “This… placard says you’re a permitted guest at St. Bart’s, but I’ve never seen anything like this before. Never in my life…” He grabbed up the receipt paper. “What’s Speedy’s?”

 

“It’s a sandwich shop downstairs from my flat on Baker Street ‒ or it will be in about ninety years. But look ‒ look at the date!” He tapped the paper in John’s bewildered hand and continued, “I had a full English breakfast there yesterday morning.”

 

Four pounds forty ?” John looked up at him with absolute astonishment. “That had better be the best damn English breakfast in the country!”

 

“Not bad, but that’s beside the point, John. Focus! The date!”

 

“Twenty-first September, two-thousand eighteen.” John pursed his lips in contemplation before slowly setting the paper back down and taking up Sherlock’s mobile. “And this? What is this contraption?”

 

“It’s a telephone.”

 

“A telephone?” John laughed, flabbergasted. “That’s ridiculous!” Sherlock took the phone from John’s hand and pressed down on the home button. Miracle of miracles, it lit up, displaying the time and the generic blue background of his lockscreen. “Good God,” John exclaimed. With his thumb, Sherlock unlocked the phone’s functions ‒ no service, obviously, but there was still 80% battery power. John was mesmerized by the movement of the apps and the screen under Sherlock’s fingers and he was tempted to smile as he tapped open his music library. Selecting one he guessed John would know, he pressed down and was not disappointed.

 

John’s face positively lit up as Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia: Act I began to play at top volume. His countenance, shining in the blue light of the device, gazed up at Sherlock in near adoration. A broad grin spread over his face and Sherlock could not help but return it.

 

“Rossini? But how is this done?” He put out his hand and Sherlock deposited the mobile into his palm so that he could turn it over and search for the source of the orchestra.

 

“It’s a recording ‒ like a phonograph record, only small enough to carry around.” John was silent for a moment as he handed the device back over to Sherlock. Turning the volume down to a soft whisper, Sherlock watched as John ran his hands over the miscellaneous objects on the table.

 

“You know, Sherlock,” he finally said quietly, “in another time, one might accuse you of witchcraft.”

 

“Well, thank God we’re beyond all that.” They grinned. “So…” he started cautiously, “you believe me?”

 

“I think I have to,” John answered, gesturing down at the collection before him. He was quiet for a moment and Sherlock could see that he was thinking; his lips were pursed and his eyebrows were twitching gently. It was a rather endearing expression. At long last, John said, “What I don’t understand is how it’s done. How did you end up here, in this time?”

 

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Sherlock admitted. “It is not a sensation with which I am entirely familiar.”

 

“Then we should return to the bridge,” John said matter-of-factly. “Re-create the circumstances.”

 

“I’d rather not retain another serious head injury, if you don’t mind.” John smiled at that.

 

“It is a miracle you survived that fall with only a small laceration,” he said. “But I promise not to push you or stike you on the head. I am a doctor, after all. ‘Do no harm’, and all that.”

 

“Perhaps we could ‒”

 

“Watson, have you finished?” Stamford had returned. His round face poked around the door frame and Sherlock swiftly stepped between him and the pile of futuristic objects on the table. “We’ll be late for the lecture.”

 

“Lecture?” Sherlock inquired.

 

“A medical discourse,” John replied. He caught Sherlock’s eye and made his contemplative face again. Turning to Stamford, he gave a casual little wave and said, “Go without me, Stamford. I want to be sure Mister Holmes here gets home safely.” Stamford’s face began to fall, but John soldiered on. “Why don’t you see if Miss Larson in the front office can attend with you?” He raised one eyebrow and gave Stamford a knowing look.

 

The other man’s disappointment was quickly replaced with excitement. “Now there’s an idea! Only if you’re sure, Watson…”

 

“I’m sure. Go, go.” John waved him away and Stamford grinned like a giddy schoolboy as he left the room. Sherlock sighed and pocketed his possessions as swiftly as possible.

 

“You didn’t have to cancel your plans on my account,” Sherlock said quietly. “I’m more than capable of taking a walk along the bridge.”

 

“Going by the stitches I just administered, I’d say perhaps you are not.” Fair point . “I want to be there in case something goes wrong. And, truth be told, I’m more than a little curious.” Sherlock’s cheek lifted a little. John was inquisitive ‒ not just nosey. It was a subtle but important difference. Most people were patently unbearable ‒ stupid and slow and easily put-off by Sherlock. But so far, John had proven intelligent and commanding. Sherlock would almost be sad to see the last of him. John extracted his pocket watch and checked the time before offering Sherlock a rather charming smile. “Why don’t I treat you to a reasonably-priced supper before you go?”

 

“I don’t eat while I’m working ‒ digestion slows me down,” Sherlock replied automatically. At once, he was disappointed in his own response.

 

“You’re not working now.”

 

“Unfortunately, I’m still on the case of the murdered woman on the beach,” he continued, picking up his coat and wiping dried mud from the folds. “And there’s the matter of my own travel here.”

 

“Then you can watch me eat.” John collected his hat and cane and made for the door. “Probably best for us to wait until nightfall, lest someone see us at our attempts at time travel.” Out he went and, with a small grin, Sherlock followed.

 

‒‒

 

“So what is it that you do to assist Scotland Yard in your own time?” John carved another bit of pheasant and swirled it in mandarin sauce before looking up at Sherlock with an expression of genuine curiosity and congeniality.

 

“I’m a consulting detective ‒ the only one in the world. When the police are out of their depth, which is always, they consult me.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I notice things other people are too dull to pick up.” He took a large gulp of his tea, suddenly nervous that this conversation would make John uncomfortable. “Normal” people were so sensitive to being observed ‒ they had so much they wanted to hide for reasons Sherlock could never understand.

 

“Oh, such as my shoulder injury?” He didn’t seem too put off, so Sherlock nodded a bit. “What else have you observed?”

 

Sherlock hesitated, his eyes raking over John from across the table. He took a deep breath and said as calmly as possible, “Single, never married. You date regularly, but never the same woman for long. No pets, you live alone and you’re estranged from family. Parents both alive, one brother with whom you have a strained relationship. You’re living slightly above your means, but won’t go to your family for help, possibly because of the slightly abusive relationship you have with your father, possibly because your brother drinks too much for your liking.” He caught his breath and struggled to make eye contact.

 

John’s fork was hovering between his plate and his mouth, which was slightly agape. Upset. Offended. Typical , Sherlock thought. “That,” John started slowly, “was amazing.”

 

Sherlock blinked.

 

“You think so?”

 

“Yes, of course it was.” He dropped his fork back onto his plate and dabbed at his lips with his napkin. “That was quite amazing.”

 

“Did I get anything wrong?” John tilted his head from side to side in affected contemplation.

 

“Well… I have never been married,” he confirmed. “My parents and I don’t get along very well. Harry does imbibe a bit too much a bit too frequently.” There was a brief pause while John considered Sherlock. He was not used to being observed himself. Finally, John spoke. “Harry is my sister. Harriet.”

 

“Sister!” Sherlock hissed, lightly pounding his fist on the table in frustration. “There’s always something.”

 

“Pretty spot on, though,” John replied, his eyes twinkling in the low light of the candle in the center of the table. “I see how that could be a useful skill.” Finally taking that bite of pheasant, John continued around his mouthful, “What about you? Have you ever been married?”

 

Sherlock snorted. “No. Never.”

 

“Have you a special lady, then?”

 

“Lady… no,” Sherlock’s eyes widened with barely-contained indignance. “Not really my area.” He took another sip of his tea.

 

John cleared his throat and blinked rather quickly. “Oh. Right.” He chewed his lip a bit, but managed to meet Sherlock’s eye despite his obvious discomfort. “Have you got a… companion ?” Sherlock narrowed his eyes and tried to suss out the meaning in John’s tone. Fear? A bit of disgust, perhaps?

 

“Companion?”

 

“Which is fine, by the way ‒”

 

“I know it’s fine.”

 

“So you’ve… got someone?” John licked his lips and refused to look away. Sherlock felt his heartbeat thump in his neck.

 

Attraction .

 

Attraction for Sherlock?

 

It wasn’t entirely unheard of ‒ people had been attracted to Sherlock all his life. Occasionally, they had been inclined to act upon those feelings. Occasionally they did so without his express permission. But John was behaving differently. He was asking Sherlock.

 

Sherlock would say that his heart skipped a beat, but he had never been given to bouts of arrhythmia before. And such expressions were trite and reductive.

 

“No. No one.”

 

“Right.” John answered immediately. “You’re unattached. Just like me.” Again, he licked his lips and Sherlock found himself unable to look away.

 

“I suppose so.”

Chapter Text

“Let’s see about getting you back to your own time, then, shall we?” Standing outside the restaurant, John held out his arm and flagged down a cab. Sherlock gathered his coat closet around him, much colder now that night had settled.

 

The city was rather beautiful ‒ Sherlock had always adored London, treated the place like an old friend. A trusted companion ‒ the only one he’d ever had. A refuge from the stifling familiarity of his parents’ country estate and the nearby village. But now, more than a hundred years younger than he had ever seen her, London was truly a sight to behold.

 

The gas lamps cast the streets in a hazy glow, fog settling in and billowing in the clouds of light. As people moved about from building to building, shop to shop, house to house, Sherlock was rather taken with the picturesque scene before him. Little groups of women with their bonneted heads together, men smoking pipes at the newsstand, street urchins dashing about as they likely picked pocket after pocket. A lopsided grin unfurled on Sherlock’s face. What was the expression? The more things change…

 

“So what’s it like in your time?” John’s voice pulled him from his thoughts and Sherlock turned to see that he had been observing him as Sherlock watched the city pass by. “London?” He thought for a moment.

 

“Busier.” John let out a single chuckle.

 

“I don’t see how that can be.”

 

Sherlock’s smile grew and he gestured out to the lamps along the roadside. “All the streetlights are electric and they stay on all night. People are always out, but I find it to be quietest in the four AM hour. Instead of carriages, there are automobiles everywhere. Everywhere . Easily ten times the number of carriages at any given moment. The Underground is massive ‒ more than four million people every day.” John’s look of amused disbelief was so endearing that Sherlock felt compelled to continue. “And that’s just the streets. That’s to say nothing of the businesses, the towering buildings, the enormous Ferris wheel on the Thames, the constant phone calls, the enormous advertisements, the noise. So much noise ,” Sherlock said this last with an air of nostalgia. The constant barrage on his senses that was his beloved London was the best distraction he could ask for ‒ it occupied his hindbrain just enough to be able to focus on things that truly mattered, like solving crimes and not contacting his dealer.

 

“It sounds overwhelming,” John mused.

 

“Oh, it is,” Sherlock said with a sigh. They rode on in companionable silence for the remainder of their journey. Amazing , Sherlock mused. That he should already feel so comfortable around a stranger was nothing short of miraculous.

 

All too soon, the cab rolled to a stop in front of the South Tower of the bridge and the two of them slid out onto the pavement.  Before the driver pulled away, John reached out and collected a small lantern which was hanging from the side of the cab to provide and tossed the man a coin in thanks. Down the walkway they began, making their way toward the muddy beach under Tower Bridge. Checking that there was no one around, Sherlock smirked, pulled his mobile from his pocket, and switched on the torch function.

 

With a look of amazement that was bordering on annoyance ‒ Sherlock supposed John had taken rather a lot in stride today ‒ John said, “Really? That thing is a lantern, too?”

 

“It’s just about everything.” Sherlock took the lead, the light from his mobile significantly brighter than the lantern in John’s hand, and and in no time they were at the bottom of the stairs and on the shore. He took a survey of the surrounding area, but saw nothing of note. The body had been removed to the morgue, but the indentation remained, as well as multiple sets of footprints. Most of the pool of blood had soaked into the mud, but some remained atop the rocks scattered about.

 

“What do you expect to find?” John inquired as they reached the area. “Some… supernatural sign?”

 

Sherlock pfft -ed. “Hardly. Such a thing defies all logic.”

 

“So does traveling back in time by more than a hundred years, but that hasn’t stopped you thus far.” Sherlock gave a little hmm of amused agreement. “Where exactly were you when you hit your head?”

 

“I was just… here.” Sherlock stopped abruptly and stooped down to have a closer look at the ground before him. There was the rock on which he’d cracked his head, still splattered with his blood. But nothing otherwise out of the ordinary. Both of their gazes turned upward, examining the rampart from which Sherlock had fallen.

 

John propped his walking stick against the foot of the tower and crouched next to Sherlock. With a bit of a sigh, he said, “Nothing strange. Do you… feel anything?” Sherlock’s gaze snapped up to catch John’s, bright in the blue light of his mobile.

 

“Like what?”

 

“I dunno… a tingling or a pulsing or… something. Anything?”

 

What it was was a buzzing , but it was purely internal. There was nothing coming from the ground beneath him or the air around him, but from the electrical pulse of John’s body, so close to his own in the dark. It caused the hair on his arms to stand on end and his mouth to go dry and the blood to rush deafeningly in his ears. He was reminded with an odd palpitation in his heart of the sensation he felt before he had fallen from the tower that morning.

 

“N-no,” he lied. “Nothing.”

 

Tap tap . They froze. John put a finger to his lips and tilted his head, listening. Tap tap . Footsteps.

 

Their eyes met and there was a silent understanding between them. Someone had followed them, someone who was now quietly observing from the walkway above.

 

Immediately, Sherlock switched off the torch on his mobile. But John raised his lantern as he slowly came to a standing. They remained facing each other, not wanting to alert their stalker. The sounds of the mystery person increased in frequency, but decreased in volume. Moving away; heading South; five feet, six-to-ten inches ‒ likely male; light tread.

 

“Well, I don’t see anything here of particular interest,” John said nonchalantly. He nodded his head backward and they began to move in the direction of their follower. “Let’s go back up to the path and see if there’s anything there.”

 

At John’s words, their pursuant broke into a jog, still cloaked by the night. Sherlock and John immediately leapt into action, running as quickly as possible through the muck in the direction of their stalker. Sherlock’s longer legs threw him in the lead and he turned to shout over his shoulder, “John ‒”

 

“Here!” With unspoken understanding, John reached forward and handed over the lantern. “Go! I’m right behind you!”

 

Right behind him, he was. Sherlock took the stairs two at a time and burst out onto the walkway, John right at his heels. In no time, they had sprinted across Potters Fields Park, following the male figure toward the train tracks.

 

Sherlock and John gave chase for more than a mile: left onto Tooley Street; through the trees and across the grass behind the London City Mission; under the train overpass and turning right, zigging and zagging through narrow streets and passing the trainyard. Sherlock was at a loss ‒ the streets were familiar, but not quite the same. Buildings and tenements existed which had long gone by his own time and Sherlock had nearly no way of anticipating where his quarry was headed. When they came to the divergence of the tracks, he took a gamble and chose to take Southwark Street to the East, but it was a gamble he lost. The faceless man dashed North toward the river and he was quickly lost in the dark, narrow alleys.

 

“Damn!” Sherlock exclaimed, coming to a stop and attempting to catch his breath. John was right behind him and they both fell back against the brick wall of an alley in frustrated exhaustion. Leaning forward with his hands on his knees, Sherlock set the lantern down on the ground and huffed until his breathing was more under control.

 

“Where ‒ where do you suppose he’s gone?” John panted. He was clutching his side, trying to rub out a cramp.

 

“God only knows,” Sherlock spat. “He could be anywhere ‒ hop onto a train and go in literally any direction.” He spun around and slapped his hand against the wall in fury. John released a long exhale and his breathing was nearly normal again, though Sherlock could see clear signs of adrenaline still pulsing through him.

 

“Likely won’t go far, though, will he?” John said. “He stuck around the bridge for some reason ‒ looking for some sort of… I dunno, result or reaction , right?”

 

Sherlock was impressed. He was correct ‒ there had to be some reason the killer had returned to the site of the murder. If they could figure out that it was, they might be able to find him again. “We should go back tomorrow evening ‒ see if he goes searching again.”

 

John nodded, then, to Sherlock’s surprise, he started to giggle. In the dim lantern-lit alley, Sherlock could see his eyes dancing as his nervous energy expressed itself in a rich, genuine laugh. “That…” he huffed, “was insane.”

 

By now, Sherlock was laughing, too. John’s smile was contagious and he was rapidly overtaken with deep, rumbling chuckles as he watched the man before him. “You invaded Afghanistan,” he pointed out incredulously.

 

“Ha! That wasn’t just me.” His laughter overtook him again and Sherlock felt his own heart-rate beginning to ease off, the stress of the chase giving way to the pleasant energy between them. His head tilted forward, his arm still bracing him against the wall, and his shifted his stance until ‒ suddenly ‒ he was much closer to John than he had anticipated.

 

There was that buzzing again. A low, barely-detectable thrum in his veins as John’s chuckles calmed and he looked up at Sherlock. Another huff of quiet laughter, then the sound of their mingled breathing. When did he get so close?

 

When John leaned forward and pressed his lips against Sherlock’s, all of his senses were numbed. He heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing. No, that wasn’t right ‒ it was that he felt nothing else . Nothing else but the firm pressure of John’s warm mouth against his own. And John’s gloved hands cupping his jaw. And John’s close-trimmed beard brushing against his cheeks and chin. He felt nothing else but John.

 

And then it was gone. Sherlock was nearly dazed as John pulled back and swallowed, collecting himself all over again.

 

“I’m so sorry,” he said, putting a hand up between them as though to let Sherlock know he wouldn’t attack him again.

 

“Don’t be.” Sherlock answered too eagerly for his own liking, but there it was. John was still talking.

 

“You’ve only just gotten here ‒ all you’ve been through today and now I’ve gone and… and… forced myself on you ‒”

 

“John.” He stopped backpedaling. “It’s fine.” More than fine. Magnificent. John looked up at him imploringly, but found no discomfort in Sherlock’s eyes. He visibly relaxed and licked his lips, still a bit nervous.

 

“I don’t… this isn’t a proposition , but…” Sherlock smiled a bit at that, “if you haven’t any place to stay, I do have an extra room.”

 

“No. I don’t have anywhere else.” They exchanged a smile, flirtatious and a little self-conscious.

 

“Good.” With that, John pushed away from the wall and they headed back out onto the main road, Sherlock grabbing up the lantern as they went. John flagged down a cab and they rode in quiet for some time before John suddenly started to look about him as though in search of something.

 

“Everything alright?”

 

“Where’s my walking stick?”

 

He’d left it in on the beach.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was at a complete loss for words. It was not a sensation he enjoyed.

 

Before him stood the familiar black door and white brick of 221 Baker Street. The brass numbers and slightly-askew knocker shone cheerfully in the light of the lamp beside the door, completely oblivious to the cold confusion and panic that was rising again in Sherlock.

 

“What are we doing here?”

 

“I live here. I told you ‒ I have a spare room,” John answered as he mounted the stoop. Sherlock remained glued to the pavement.

 

“But this is where I live.”

 

“Yes, I remember you saying that you lived on Baker Street. I thought that was a startling coincidence but—”

 

“No. I live here. ” That finally caused John to turn and look at him.

 

“You live at 221 Baker Street?” he asked slowly.

 

“Flat B,” Sherlock confirmed with a dazed nod. He knew without asking that was where John lived, too.

 

John stared down at Sherlock for a long moment, his thin lips pursed in deep thought. Finally, he nodded backward toward the foyer and walked determinedly inside. Sherlock hesitated for a brief moment before he followed John up the stairs.

 

The flat was almost frighteningly familiar. The hardwood floors were the same, but bore none of the signs of wear and tear that Sherlock had come to know. There was even a long, low sofa in front of an eerily-similar damask print wallpaper. But there was also a strange feeling of having stepped through the looking glass. Where Sherlock’s armchair sat to the right of the hearth, John’s was situated to the left. There was still a small work table between the tall windows, but where Sherlock usually sat facing the fireplace, it was clear that John sat with his back to it. There was even room remaining on the bookcases for Sherlock’s miscellaneous reference materials between John’s medical journals and crime novels. Two sides of one coin…

 

The whistling of a kettle caused Sherlock to nearly jump out of his skin. John was in the kitchen making up a tea tray with a determined expression ‒ how long had Sherlock been standing there? With the tray balanced in the crook of one elbow, John grabbed a kitchen chair and plopped it down opposite his much comfier-looking seat. He carefully poured out two cups and placed a shortbread biscuit on each saucer before sitting down and waiting for Sherlock.

 

Sherlock sat. He took a deep, calming breath, picked up his cup, and tried not to think about how much he desperately wanted something much stronger than tea.

 

“Alright,” John said softly. He took a careful sip of his tea and made firm, commanding eye contact with Sherlock. If he hadn’t already determined that John had been a military man, his expression would have said it all. “Something is going on here. Something stranger, even, than merely traveling through time. If you have any idea ‒ if you’ve kept anything to yourself ‒ now is the time to share it.”

 

Surprisingly, he had not kept anything to himself. Upon reflection, it was still unknowably strange that Sherlock had such immediate trust in John, but it was what it was. He had already divulged everything that had happened and flitted into his mind. Except for the little shiver of arousal that went through him at their proximity. But then, John had acted upon that himself so it hardly seemed that Sherlock could consider that “kept to himself”.

 

What was at the root of this new wave of panic was the added level of impossibility. The facts before him had led Sherlock to the conclusion that he had traveled through time and that was a hard enough pill to swallow. But the flat, the furniture, the wallpaper … It was a dream. That had to be it.

 

“I have reached a new conclusion,” Sherlock said and his voice was blessedly steady.

 

“And?”

 

“I have determined that I must have hit my head harder than I initially thought and now am in hospital. This is a dream ‒ that is the only explanation of all the facts.” To his surprise and mild offense, John pfft -ed.

 

“I hardly think so.”

 

“Wh-what?”

 

“I think I would know if I were a fictional character in someone’s trauma dream.”

 

“I’m not sure you would.”

 

“What if I’m dreaming and you’re the delusion?”

 

Sherlock rolled his eyes and clicked his tongue. “I am not a delusion . I’m positive.”

 

“So am I.”

 

“But ‒ this… it doesn’t…” Sherlock gestured about the sitting room before dropping his teacup and saucer back onto the tray with a frustrated clatter. “It doesn’t make sense , John!” He buried his fingers in his hair and pulled a little, the stinging in his scalp helping to ground him. “I… everything in here! It’s as though… as though…”

 

“What, Sherlock?” John prompted, leaning forward encouragingly. He stared at John for a short moment before leaping to his feet and pointing around the room as he dashed back and forth.

 

“Your armchair ‒ left side of the fireplace, but I keep mine on the right, end table in exactly the same place. You sit at this table with your back to the fire, likely because the heat soothes your shoulder ‒ I always sit on the other side because I don’t care to block the light when I’m working. The front door knob sticks when it’s humid, doesn’t it? A common problem with old buildings like this, but kicking the moulding with the heel of your boot usually shakes it loose. I’ve always slept in the bedroom behind the kitchen ‒ further away from the street noise and when I do sleep, I don’t care to be disturbed. But I’m willing to bet that, despite your psychosomatic limp, you’ve taken the bedroom upstairs because the sun comes in in the mornings and your military training just won’t let you have a lie-in and you find the partial view of the park to be soothing.” He sucked in a deep breath and tried to control the shaking in his hands.

 

John replaced his own cup and saucer and calmly approached Sherlock where he stood, panicking, in the center of the room. He placed a soothing hand on Sherlock’s shoulder and said imploringly, “Sherlock…” But the detective cut him off.

 

“And the buzzing !” Sherlock jerked away from his touch, clenching his eyes shut and trying not to feel the bizarre sensation thrumming in his veins. “God! The buzzing is driving me insane!”

 

“You feel it, too?”

 

Sherlock whipped around, his eyes meeting John’s in a fervour. “‘Too’?”

 

“I thought… on the beach… I thought it was static or… I dunno, something, but…” John’s eyes were wide with utter astonishment.

 

“It’s not as strong as when we were there,” Sherlock put forth. John nodded. “But still.” Another nod. A heavy pause.

 

They were nearly panting as John finally said, “Sherlock ‒ I don’t know what’s at the root of all this ‒ I don’t know how you’re even here, but there is clearly something … some sort of connection between us.” As though to demonstrate, John slotted his fingers together and Sherlock nodded dumbly. “As though you’re supposed to be here.”

 

Supposed to be here . Sherlock had never been supposed to be anywhere ‒ he was always out of place. Too clever for school, too brusque for polite society, too emotional for his own damned family. But here was John saying that Sherlock was supposed to be with him. So much so that he had defied the laws for physics to finally find his place? The notion was completely overwhelming and the only thing that was keeping him from sinking to his knees in utter exhaustion was the deep blue of John’s gaze. He was tired ‒ so tired . And despite his impulse to remain awake as long as possible while working a case, Sherlock felt as though he needed nothing more than he needed to reset his hard drive.

 

“Was I right about your bedroom?” John seemed taken aback by his abrupt change of subject.

 

“Yes.” He blinked twice, his brows lowering as he thought. “But I’m not sure if now is a good time for us to‒”

 

“No,” Sherlock interrupted, his hands flying up between them. “No ‒ nothing like that. I’m just tired.”

 

“Oh!” John let out a laughing huff and relief washed over his face. “That’s fine then. Not that I don’t want to ‒”

 

“Oh, of course not! I would like to ‒”

 

“Perhaps in more time ‒”

 

“Very much.”

 

A grin passed between them and, much to his chagrin, Sherlock felt his cheeks warm.

 

John gestured toward the back bedroom. “I’ll see you in the morning, then. You’ll find everything you need in the wardrobe.” Sherlock nodded, still smiling softly.

 

“Thank you. Good night, John.”

 

“Good night, Sherlock.”

Chapter Text

For a brief moment, he forgot.

 

He awoke in his bed, facing the window, the thinnest sliver of early-morning sun peeking around the curtain in the usual way. But then he remembered.

 

It wasn’t his bed at all. It was a scratchy wool mattress stuffed with some sort of hair — Sherlock did not care to think on it too much. After only one night he greatly missed his pillow-top and his satin sheets — this monstrosity offered no support whatsoever. Four posts draped with muslin curtains surrounded him and he was wearing a set of cotton pyjamas — he thanked his lucky stars that he had not come upon a nightshirt in the wardrobe. Frankly, between the sagging bed, the slightly-too-small pyjamas, and the sound of a mouse scuttling about in the walls, it had been a miracle that Sherlock was able to sleep at all.

 

There was a soft clank from the direction of the kitchen and Sherlock started. There was someone else in the flat. A deep thump sounded, followed by a low, “Damn,” and Sherlock breathed a sigh of relief. John . Of course. It wasn’t his flat ‒ it was John’s.

 

Sherlock clambered out of the deep pocket that was his bed and stretched his aching back. He stuffed his feet into the pair of slippers by the door and grabbed up the dressing gown hanging in the wardrobe. Shaking off the familiar cold of the flat in the morning, Sherlock went sleepily down the corridor, scratching his head as he yawned.

 

John was fussing about in the kitchen, having clearly just banged his foot into the table leg while attempting to be quiet for Sherlock’s benefit. He started when Sherlock entered the room and released his aching toes back to the floor. “Oh, Sherlock. I’m so sorry — did I wake you?”

 

“No, not at all,” Sherlock replied. The table was laid with two place settings, a plate of crumpets, a jar of marmalade, and a steaming pot of tea. It did look appealing. Despite his disdain for eating while on a case, Sherlock had a feeling that he would be here for quite some time. Neglecting the basic needs of his transport for as long as it would likely take to sort out how a murdered woman had ended up in 2018 while simultaneously appearing in 1895 would not be good. If his body broke down, his brain would not function. “Is this… for me?”

 

“Of course,” John gave a casual little shrug and pulled out a chair for himself. He gestured for Sherlock to sit and he did so. No one had ever cooked for him before. It was… kind. Sweet. As he spread marmalade over a warm crumpet, Sherlock took in John’s appearance. His striped dressing gown was tied loosely over his blue plaid pyjamas ‒ a terrible combination of patterns, really. Must be sentimentally attached to either of them… Dressing gown is new — no repairs. Two small spots of wear on the collar of the pyjama shirt — had them for a while. Mainly blue with black and white accent stripes — tartan, then, not merely a plaid. Not Clan Watson — theirs is green. Clan Austin? No — Napier, that’s it. Prevalent in the Lowlands.

 

“Your mother, she’s Scottish?” Sherlock asked, taking a bite of his crumpet. John nearly choked on his tea.

 

“How could you possibly have known that?”

 

“Your pyjamas,” he answered calmly and John glanced down at the garments. “I’m not as versed in Clan tartans as I might like, but I suspect she is a Napier.”

 

John blinked dazedly at him. “Yes. Yes, she is.” He shook his head and took a bite of his own breakfast. “You know, I hope you’re here long enough for me to get used to that.”

 

Sherlock, a life-long lover of the last word, was at a loss. Luckily, John continued talking and spared him the need for speech.

 

“First things first,” he said in a chipper tone, “I reckon we ought to get you some more suitable clothes. Your… suit from yesterday leaves little to the imagination.” Sherlock felt his neck flush.

 

“But I haven’t any money,” he said, surprisingly sheepish. There must be something he could do to earn some quick cash. When he was freshly turned out of uni, he had done some things he wasn’t necessarily proud of to keep himself in heroin and the occasional bit of sustenance. That was how he’d come to be acquainted with Lestrade, as a matter of fact — one doesn’t get arrested for possession and a bit of prostitution as often as Sherlock had done without getting to know a copper or two. I wonder what he’s doing now? Mycroft likely has him locked away somewhere until he can determine my whereabouts. Arrogant twat.

 

“Not to worry,” John said, finishing his meal and downing a final gulp of tea. “I’ve some money set aside for emergencies such as this.”

 

“‘Such as this’?” Sherlock watched as John gathered up their dishes and placed them in the sink. “You play host to time-traveling detectives on a regular basis, do you?”

 

“I can assure you that there is nothing ‘regular’ about you ,” John quipped with a little laugh. Then, having realised his inflection, he turned and gave Sherlock a bashful little grin. “You know what I mean.” His tongue darted out over his lips and Sherlock found himself entranced.

 

‒‒

 

Thirty minutes later, Sherlock found himself wrapped rather more tightly in his coat than usual as he and John made their way through Mayfair. In the bright light of day, it was easy to see how very un -dressed Sherlock looked by comparison. Normally, his suits would elevate him a touch above the average Londoner, lending him an air of class most people sorely lacked. But by Victorian standards, he might as well have been dashing about in his pyjamas.

 

“Here we are,” John said and Sherlock looked up to see a carefully-painted sign above a shop which read M.C. Freeman, Haberdasher . “Best clothiers outside of Harrod’s.” He pushed open the door and gestured Sherlock inside.

 

“Doctor Watson!” A crisp female voice called out from the back of the shop, drawing a polite smile from John. “A pleasure to see you again.” The woman belonging to the voice stepped around the counter and John gave her a quick handshake. Irish, dark hair and eyes, approximately thirty years old, unmarried, one flatmate and a cat.

 

“Miss Hawkins, this is my new friend, Mister Sherlock Holmes,” John said, gesturing toward him. Sherlock took her hand in a brief grasp and noticed her eyes widen as she took him in. Miss Hawkins gave him an unabashed once-over and the corner of her mouth lifted in a rather forward grin. Sherlock resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

 

“An absolute pleasure, Mister Holmes.” Her voice dripped with attraction and Sherlock took a deep breath.

 

“Likewise,” he replied curtly. She did not appear put off.

 

“Are you in need of some new clothes, Mister Holmes?”

 

“That’s precisely why I’ve‒” John started, but she cut him off, apparently unable to hear him now that she had caught sight of Sherlock.

 

“We’ve a lovely blue pinstripe fresh in from Paris that will bring out the striking colour of your eyes.” Miss Hawkins practically batted her eyelashes at him and Sherlock saw John suppress a laugh.

 

“Something a little more subdued, I think, Miss Hawkins,” Sherlock answered, adopting a calm and slightly-authoritative tone that he thought would charm her. It did.

 

“Oh, have a little fun, Mister Holmes.” She gave him a flirtatious smile and extended her arm toward a half-finished suit near the window. It was a handsome dark-green plaid and the pinned hems were waiting to be trimmed to their buyer’s specifications. “How does this one strike you?”

 

“Quite nicely, actually.” At his affirming expression, Miss Hawkins approached the mannequin and disrobed it. She gestured toward a screen in the corner and Sherlock removed his coat. As he hung it on the peg by the door, Miss Hawkins’s mouth fell open a little.

 

“My, what an… interesting suit.” Her eyes raked him over again and Sherlock took a breath. It would not do to offend her, especially if John liked her.

 

“Yes, well, a number of my garments have been irreparably damaged. Burst pipe,” he said, giving his jacket a little swipe with his hand. He felt a little more “on display” than he generally cared for while under Miss Hawkins’s gaze.

 

“What a shame,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re clearly a gentleman who cares for his appearance.” With that, Sherlock stepped behind the screen and removed his jacket. “Just give a little shout when you’re ready and I’ll fetch Mister Freeman to do your measurements.”

 

“Oh,” Sherlock said, feigning surprise and disappointment, “you won’t be fitting me?” His ruse was effective — she lowered her lashes again and deepened her smile.

 

“That would hardly be proper, Mister Holmes.” She have him a little wink before she moved on to the back of the shop. Sherlock made eye contact with John over the screen as he unbuttoned his shirt and, finally, John let loose a little snort of laughter.

 

“Ooh, you’re a bad man, Mister Holmes ,” he chuckled.

 

Once Sherlock was fully dressed in easily twice as many garments as he normally wore, he stepped around the screen and put his arms out, awaiting John’s opinion. “Well? Do I look a proper gentleman, now?”

 

John has been leaning casually against the shop counter as he waited for Sherlock to change, but he stood stock straight as he took in Sherlock’s appearance. His eyes widened slightly and he gave Sherlock a look of what could only be described as “heated approval”.

 

“It, ah… it suits you.” John ran a hand over his beard and shifted his feet. “No pun intended.”

 

Sherlock stepped in front of a full-length mirror near a wall that was full-to-bursting with bolts of fabric and took in his own appearance. He did look rather… dashing, perhaps? Very dignified. The wool trousers fitted his hips nicely and the waistcoat accentuated his slim torso. I ought to wear waistcoats more often , he thought approvingly. He turned to admire his reflection over his shoulder, lifting the tails of his jacket to give his rear end a pleased smirk.

 

“Alright, alright,” John said, giving Sherlock a little wave of his hands. “We can all see you’re handsome ‒ let’s just move this along, shall we?” Sherlock’s self-satisfied smile deepened as John called out to the back of the shop, “Miss Hawkins? Could you fetch Mister Freeman, please?”

 

Mr. M.C. Freeman, haberdasher, was a short, genial little man in his seventies. He had a bit of a tremor in his calloused hands, and Sherlock was concerned for his more delicate parts as he approached with a set of very sharp pins. His worries were quickly alleviated, however, as it seemed Mr. Freeman’s hands could be relied upon to take measurements and make adjustments without the slightest shake before returning to their tremulous state no sooner had he completed his ministrations. Properly fitted and looking perfectly Victorian, Sherlock grabbed up his Belstaff coat as John wrote out a cheque to Mr. Freeman.

 

“You ought to think about a more suitable coat, as well, Sherlock,” John said, looking over Sherlock’s shoulder at his reflection in the mirror as Sherlock made small adjustments to his appearance. “You look a bit of a sailor in that peacoat.”

 

“The coat stays.” Sherlock ran his fingers through his unruly curls, attempting to tame them the slightest bit to suit his new look.

 

“You could cut your hair,” John suggested. At the look of absolute effrontery that Sherlock gave him, John raised his hands in a “don’t shoot” sort of gesture. “ Mea culpa . I like it. Only…”

 

“Only?”

 

“You look a bit like Lord Byron.” Sherlock gave a genuine chuckle.

 

“A complement in the highest.” All the same, Sherlock reached over to a small collection of hats near the door and pulled the nearest one onto his head. It was a deerstalker ‒ a completely ridiculous accessory for central London, but something about it did appeal to him. John grinned a broad grin that climbed all the way up into his cheerful eyes.

 

“Perfect.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock extended a confident hand and waved down his first Victorian cab. As John climbed in, he said to the driver, “Bart’s Hospital, please.” The man nodded and Sherlock slid into the back of the carriage, settling in beside John.

 

“I have a friend who works in the morgue who should be able to sneak us a peek at the murder victim,” John said, unbuttoning his jacket and making himself comfortable. “Perhaps we’ll be able to suss something out without traveling through time or casing a stalker through a trainyard.”

 

Sherlock huffed a little laugh. “It would be helpful to finally have uninterrupted access to the body,” Sherlock mused. He ran his hands over the fabric of his new suit, admiring the handsome plaid pattern, and it occurred to him that John had made rather a large sacrifice in paying to clothe Sherlock. He had deduced when he first met John that he was living above his means simply for the sake of living in London and not begging to his family, and now he had gone and spent what much surely be a large sum of money on a man he had only just met. And kissed. Rather spectacularly. Sherlock felt his cheeks flush; John had done him a favour, apparently out of the goodness of his heart.

 

“John,” he said, keeping his face as smooth as possible, “I’d like to thank you for the suit. Sincerely. It was… quite generous of you.”

 

John looked almost taken aback. He blinked a little confusedly and uttered, “Oh — ah, of course. Think nothing of it.” He offered Sherlock an awkward little smile and turned his face back to the window. Doesn’t like to talk about money. Noted. Is that why he won’t go to his family? Oh, no. His family is why he doesn’t like to talk about money. Unsure of the next “appropriate” thing to say, Sherlock decided to leave it be. He had done what was socially required when a person does one a favour and, surprisingly, he had meant it. Sherlock continued to fiddle with his jacket until he felt something in his pocket. His eyebrows furrowed, Sherlock extracted a small slip of cardstock. It was printed with a delicate image of a bouquet of roses and read, “Miss Janine Hawkins, 43 George Street.”

 

“What on Earth?” Sherlock mumbled and John turned to see what he was on about. Sherlock turned the card for John to see and was surprised when John’s face split into a wide grin. “What?”

 

“It seems Miss Hawkins would like to see more of you, Mister Holmes ,” he teased with a bright laugh. At Sherlock’s continued confusion, he explained, “It’s her calling card ‒ so you know where to find her. Surely people do something similar in your own time?”

 

“My understanding is that when young people are interested in coitus they send small pictures of aubergines and peaches via their mobile phones to the object of their affection.” Now it was John’s turn to be confused.

 

“Whatever for?”

 

“I believe it is due to their vague resemblance to human genitalia.” John’s eyebrows flew nearly to his hairline and Sherlock chuckled.

 

“Dear God,” he muttered, utterly scandalised.

 

“I know. Vulgar, isn’t it?”

 

“Rather.” They made eye contact and were soon enveloped in a fit of giggles that lasted until the cab pulled to a stop in front of St. Bart’s Hospital.

 

The morgue was located exactly where Sherlock remembered it — in the basement — and that small similarity gave him a tiny feeling of reassurance. This was a case, like any other, and he had to go about the Work with the same diligence and fervour with which he treated every case.

 

John led the way into the morgue, Sherlock following close behind. There were several bodies laid out on work tables, all covered over with heavy linen, and a quick survey told Sherlock that they were, surprisingly, all female.

 

“Miss Hooper. Thank you for agreeing to meet with us,” John was saying cordially, and Sherlock’s attention was drawn to a living woman at the back of the room. She turned and offered John a mousey little smile, taking his hand in a polite shake. Her hair was pinned up in a simple, slightly-askew bun and her clothes were plain. Simple. Practical , Sherlock mentally corrected. Durable fabric, no excessive frills, well cared-for but clearly worn regularly ‒ not a large wardrobe, then. Single, lives with a relative ‒ likely an aunt or some such ‒ late twenties, works with her hands.

 

“You must be quick, Doctor Watson,” Miss Hooper replied in a thin voice. “I’m really not supposed to let you down here while I’m working.”

 

“Working?” Sherlock inquired with a tilt of his head. “You work with the bodies?”

 

“Yes,” Miss Hooper replied, slightly surprised by the question. “I’m the undertaker here for women and children. And you are…?”

 

“Oh! Apologies,” John interjected, “Miss Margaret Hooper, this is my new friend, Mister Sherlock Holmes. He’s a detective, helping me to investigate this murder.” Sherlock gave John a slightly-indignant look at being referred to as someone else’s helper, but he let it slide. He was, after all, the stranger in the strange land. Sherlock offered Miss Hooper a handshake and she took it.

 

“I didn’t expect a female undertaker,” Sherlock explained, but that earned him a surprisingly-hard expression from Miss Hooper. Her mouth formed a thin line and her eyes narrowed, clearly having heard this sentiment before.

 

“It’s more common than you might think,” she said, almost accusatory. “Bart’s has a policy against men embalming females and children for the sake of decency. It seems that even dead women are not free from the societal pressures of modesty.”

 

Sherlock was a little taken aback ‒ he had only suspected that, due to the time period, women would not be allowed to do what was often considered “man’s work”. Certainly, he didn’t think one’s gender had any bearing on their competency. Societal constructs of gender and sex were completely arbitrary, besides. Suddenly, it occured to Sherlock that he had not voiced any of these thoughts and had been staring uncomfortably at Miss Hooper for nearly thirty awkward seconds. “That’s not ‒ I didn’t mean…” he stuttered quickly, but John stepped in.

 

“I’m sure Mister Holmes is merely surprised,” he supplied helpfully. “He’s never worked with an undertaker before ‒ you must forgive his ignorance, Miss Hooper.” Ignorance? Sherlock had never been accused of ignorance before in his life. Well, except by Mycroft, but he was a cock. John raised a warning eyebrow at Sherlock and he decided to take the path of least resistance.

 

“Apologies if I offended you, Miss Hooper. I am grateful for your assistance.” He nearly pulled a muscle from trying to maintain an expression of plausible contrition. But it appeared that Miss Hooper was mollified.

 

“I’ve heard it often enough,” she said with a sigh. With little fanfare, Miss Hooper approached one of the slabs and whipped the sheet from the body atop the wooden surface. “Mrs. Edith Herraldson, formerly of Swindon, in town visiting her sister who identified her earlier this morning. Thirty-four years of age, stabbed on the left-hand side with a non-serrated blade which punctured her liver and lung.”

 

“A bit of an expert maneuver, wouldn’t you say?” Sherlock asked casually, bending to take a closer look at the wound in question. “To miss the ribs and not make a mess of the whole affair?”

 

“I’d say so,” Miss Hopper concurred.

 

“Are these bruises on her chin?” John was bent over Mrs. Herraldson’s face, his eyebrows furrowed and his fingers gently tilting her head left and right. “Here ‒ along her right jaw.”

 

Sherlock stepped closer and examined her face from John’s point-of-view. He was correct. “The killer must have gripped her ‘round the mouth as he stabbed her.”

 

“He?” John asked.

 

“Most likely, given the spacing of the bruises and the strength required for this kind of stabbing.” Sherlock righted himself and looked down at John, his open face a touchstone for steady thought.

 

“So he ‒ what? ‒ stood on the bridge beside her and held her by the jaw?” One of John’s eyebrows lowered in contemplation. “Why wouldn’t she have moved away? Been afraid or offended?”

 

“I expect he was making a pass at her.” Sherlock looked quickly around the room before clearing a space along a wooden counter. He pointed to a spot on the floor and John moved to stand against the counter before Sherlock stepped beside him. “He joins her against the rail, at a respectable distance, they start chatting and he slowly sidles closer.” Sherlock demonstrated and John turned to look at him with an expression that was somewhere between bemusement and amusement. Dropping his right arm onto the wooden surface behind John’s shoulders, Sherlock leaned over him a little as he continued to speak. “He’s making her feel comfortable ‒ flattered, even. She’s not paying attention to his hands.” Sherlock dropped his gaze a little, glancing down at John’s mouth before meeting his eyes again. There was heat in John’s blue irises that hadn't been there a moment before. “It’s the perfect moment to strike.” Sherlock quickly wrapped his right hand around John’s jaw, covering his mouth, and jabbed John in the side with his left index finger. John jumped at the attack and Sherlock smirked. A little huff of embarrassed laughter escaped John’s nose and he practically rolled his eyes as Sherlock pushed away from their makeshift bridge.

 

“You git,” he said, but there was no real annoyance behind the word.

 

“I’ve heard it often enough.” Sherlock grinned and offered Miss Hooper a playful little wink. Finally, she smiled at him and shook her head. It occured to Sherlock that in his own time, working with people was an unfortunate evil. He would never have felt inclined to make peace with someone whom he had offended ‒ or even realise that he had offended someone in the first place. But John was introducing him to people, practically insisting that he engage in polite conversation, and for some reason, Sherlock felt inclined to comply. It had been easier, for certain, to deal with people after being nice , if a little more time-consuming. But perhaps, in the long run, it would prove beneficial for people to feel engendered towards him. John truly was proving himself to be an asset to Sherlock’s very existence in this time.

 

“Well, if the two of you have gotten everything you need,” Miss Hopper said as John replaced the chairs to their proper stations, “Professor Moriarty will be down shortly to make his own notes and I’d rather not be caught letting unauthorised persons in the morgue.”

 

“Certainly, Miss Hooper,” John said, waving his hat politely before donning it.

 

“Thank you again.” Sherlock nodded with a small smile, which Miss Hopper returned, and he and John took their leave.

 

‒‒

 

“I don’t know what it is you want me to say, Mister Holmes. I know as much as you do.”

 

“Well, I doubt that very much.” Mycroft sat back in his chair and tapped the capped end of his Montblanc pen impatiently against the surface of his desk. He stared across at Detective Inspector Lestrade with a shrewd expression. “But when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, there are certain details of his everyday life which he still manages to keep from my sight.”

 

“What makes you think I know anything?” Lestrade demanded, equally impatient but unable to remain as infuriatingly calm as Mycroft. “I need him on this case ‒ a body turns up under Tower Bridge in what Sherlock assures me are authentic Victorian clothes, he goes running off along the bridge, we all turn our backs for one second , and next thing he and the body are missing. Vanished, both of ‘em, from in front of at least fifty people ‒ what am I s’posed to do with that, eh? If I knew where he was, don’t you think I’d be after him myself?”

 

“I think you know where he is because, loathe though I am to admit it, you do probably know him best.”

 

“I’ve known him for five years and no I don’t.” Lestrade crossed his arms and flopped back in his own chair, far less comfortable than the one in which Mycroft reclined.

 

“You’ve been his arresting officer on no fewer than eleven occasions. I believe that gives me reason to suspect that you may have an inkling as to his whereabouts. His most-frequented bolt-holes, the people with whom he usually associated when he… relapses.”

 

“You’re the one with all this power ‒ you can’t track him or anything?”

 

“Power?” Mycroft scoffed. “What makes you think I have any power whatsoever?”

 

“Well, I’ve been sequestered in this office for more than twelve hours, brought here by spooks in an unmarked town car. And, as you say, I’ve arrested Sherlock at least eleven times and the last time I checked, he doesn’t have so much as a parking ticket on his record. I know I didn’t pardon him.” Lestrade lifted an eyebrow and gave Mycroft a look that could only be described as sassy . “Now, I will do anything I can to find Sherlock because he’s my friend, it’s my job, and I need his help. But I can’t do anything while I’m trapped in this bloody office.”

 

Mycroft took a deep breath through his nose and considered the detective before him. “This conversation never happened.”

 

“I’m sure it didn't.” Lestrade stood from his chair, grabbed up his jacket, and marched through the door.

Chapter Text

“There’s still something I can’t quite put my finger on,” Sherlock said, drumming the fingers of his right hand along his chin as he and John walked along Old Bailey.

 

“Just one thing?” John replied smartly.

 

“To be fair, it is one more thing than usual,” Sherlock said with a smug smile.

 

“Go on then. What is it you can’t put your finger on?”

 

“Why would the killer haul the body all the way up those stairs?”

 

“What do you mean? He pushed her from the bridge, did he not?”

 

“No,” Sherlock answered thoughtfully, “he did not. From the position of the body, it’s clear that she had to be pushed from a more considerable height. That’s why I was on the lower tower to begin with ‒ trying to find the right location. But the question is why ? Just to get her to fall further away from the bridge? That hardly seems necessary.”

 

“It hardly seems necessary to me that someone should kill this woman in the first place, let alone throw her off a bridge after the fact.”

 

“Of course, of course,” Sherlock added perfunctorily, “but he did , and so we must ask why .”

 

“Perhaps he was trying for something,” John mused. “Trying to position her further away or… I dunno, send a message or perform some sort of experiment?”

 

“To observe the effects of the fall?” Sherlock stopped and turned to look John full in the face, tilting his head in owlish contemplation. “That is odd…”

 

“Wouldn’t one have to be? To do such a thing?” John looked at Sherlock with a dark expression. Before Sherlock could gather his thoughts, John was jostled from behind as the crowd surged around them on the walkway. Swiftly turning his head, Sherlock’s gaze landed on a boy in too-short trousers who was looking at John apologetically.

 

“Sorry, sir! Meant no ‘arm, sir,” the boy said in a frightful voice, his brown eyes large as he backed away from John, nearly melted back into the crowd.

 

“No harm done,” John said jovially, but Sherlock threw out his arm and caught the boy’s shirt collar before he could slip away. “Sherlock! What are you ‒”

 

“The doctor’s wallet,” he demanded with a severe expression. Extending his free hand, Sherlock continued menacingly, “Now.”

 

John blinked in confusion as the boy in Sherlock’s grasp began to struggle. “Get off me!” he yelled, all traces of innocence gone. “Let me go you bleedin’ bastard!”

 

“Not until you hand over the wallet,” Sherlock said calmly, his eyes narrow with insinuated threat. The boy gripped Sherlock’s wrist with both hands and kicked outward, but Sherlock dodged his attack. In one swift movement, Sherlock turned the boy in his grasp until his right arm was looped around his throat, his left hand holding his grip firm. It wasn’t enough to hurt him, but it was enough to scare him.

 

“Alright! Alright!” Sherlock loosened his hold but did not relent until the boy retrieved John’s wallet from within his dingy pocket. He tossed it disdainfully at John, who caught it in disbelief.

 

“You little bugger,” he muttered with growing anger. “How dare you?”

 

“Man’s got to eat,” the boy replied, remarkably cheeky for someone in a headlock. “You looked an easy mark.”

 

“Why?” Sherlock demanded, spinning the boy in his grasp again until he was bent to look him in the face, gripping him by the shoulders. “What made him easy?”

 

“Well ‘e was too busy lookin’ at you, wasn’t ‘e?” The boy looked ready to spit with cocky insolence, but Sherlock did not relent.

 

“And why not me? I was looking at him.”

 

“You haven’t got anything.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“Your pockets are too flat.” Once more, the boy tried to shake Sherlock’s grip, but it was to no avail. He eased a little, however, when he noticed Sherlock’s sly grin. “What?”

 

“How’d you like a job?”

 

“A what?” John and they boy exclaimed in unison.

 

“A job,” Sherlock repeated. He stood upright, but kept one hand on the boy’s shoulder, ready to grab him again if necessary. “I’m a detective and I need clues for a case I’m working.”

 

“What sorta case?”

 

“That’s for me to know,” Sherlock answered. “What’s your name?”

 

“Wiggins,” he replied.

 

“Just Wiggins?”

 

“Well…” his gaze dashed side to side in a little embarrassment ‒ finally he looked a proper child, “It’s Billy, actually, but that don’t do much in the way of strikin’ fear, you know?” A small smile pulled at Sherlock’s cheek.

 

“And how old are you, Wiggins?”

 

“Twelve next month,” he answered smugly. “How old are you ?”

 

“More than twelve.” They took a moment to stare one another down.

 

“What sorta clues you lookin’ for?” Wiggins’s eyebrow curved downward in an expression of cautious curiosity.

 

“I’m looking for a person, actually.”

 

“Who?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Well, that’s gonna make it hard to find ‘im, innit?”

 

“I need you to keep an eye on the South Tower of Tower Bridge and report back to me if you see anything odd. A woman’s been murdered and I think the killer might return, but he’s seen me now, so I can’t watch for him there.”

 

“You want me to watch for a murderer ?” Wiggins sounded more excited than scared. Sherlock liked that.

 

“Yes. Anyone who comes around acting suspicious ‒ sneaking up the stairs, snooping around the beach, murdering people, you know.”

 

“And if I see anything?”

 

“I’ll pay you.”

 

“How much?”

 

“You tell me.”

 

“A shilling,” Wiggins said rapidly.

 

“Fine,” Sherlock agreed.

 

“A day.”

 

Sherlock nodded, “Alright.”

 

“Plus expenses,” Wiggins slipped in, his chin lifted defiantly. “Food, disguises, you know?” Sherlock’s eyes narrowed.

 

“Fine. Tally it up and find me at the end of the week,” Sherlock said.

 

“Oh, no ‒ I’ll take it up front.”

 

“You must think me some kind of idiot,” replied Sherlock with mild amusement and annoyance. “Besides, I haven’t got any money. I’ve got to find a job for myself.”

 

“You haven’t even got a job?” Wiggins was nearly disgusted. “What sort of grown-up are you?”

 

Sherlock’s eyebrows flitted upward, reminded suddenly of Mycroft. “Not a very good one.” Wiggins let out a little pfft of indignance. “The name’s Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221B Baker Street.” He held out a hand and Wiggins took it, an expression of age-old tiredness on his youthful face. “A pleasure, Mister Wiggins.”

 

“Likewise, Mister Holmes.” He made to leave, but Sherlock retained his grip on his little hand.

 

“I’ll take the doctor’s pocket watch before you go.”

 

Wiggins gave Sherlock a devilish grin, pulled John’s pocket watch from within his grubby shirt, and tossed it to the doctor before dashing off in the opposite direction.

 

“How did he…?” John mused, re-securing his watch to his waistcoat.

 

“For a military man, you really ought to be more alert, John,” Sherlock chided, a little playfully.

 

“I just… I don’t…” John finally made eye contact with Sherlock and said defensively, “You’re distracting!” A sudden warmth flooded Sherlock’s neck and cheeks and he waved off John’s admission with a barely-suppressed grin.

 

“I could say the same,” he replied and they started walking again. “I don’t normally talk to people this much.”

 

“No one?” John asked, an odd expression on his face.

 

“Well…” Sherlock tilted his head side to side, “I have a skull. On my mantelpiece. Funnily enough, he’s also called Billy.”

 

“A human skull?”

 

“Obviously.”

 

“And you talk to it?”

 

“Only because I feel silly talking into the mirror,” Sherlock admitted. “Sometimes I need to talk to someone as clever as I am.”

 

“And who’s that?”

 

“Me.” John’s eyes closed with a small shake of his head, but Sherlock saw a smile touching his thin lips. “You’re doing a wonderful job standing in, by the way.”

 

“Oh, thanks for that,” John’s tone was dripping with sarcasm.

 

“And you’re a far superior kisser,” Sherlock teased, causing John’s eyes to widen and glance around them warily before slapping Sherlock’s upper arm with the back of his hand.

 

“I don’t even want to know.” A deep chuckle rumbled from Sherlock’s chest at his expression. By now, they were walking along Victoria Embankment and Sherlock took a moment to contemplate the oddity of a London skyline without the Eye or the Shard or any of the other skyscrapers and modern architecture. At once, it looked completely foreign and completely right. London as people romanticised it ‒ perhaps there was something to that.

 

From their path, it was clear that John was leading them to Scotland Yard and they carried on in companionable silence for a time before Sherlock heaved a slightly-frustrated sigh and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I do need to find some sort of work,” he said. “I can’t live off your charity for an indefinite amount of time. No matter your intentions, your resources will eventually run out.”

 

“What did you do in your own time?” John asked, withdrawing a pipe from his coat pocket and packing it with tobacco. He lit the pipe and gave it a few short puffs before smoke began to billow gently from the bowl. Sherlock took a deep breath, soaking his lungs in the sweet nicotine vapor.

 

“Occasionally, I take on private clients ‒ standard adultery and corporate espionage, that sort of thing. Boring, but it pays the bills.” He inhaled strongly of John’s pipe smoke again as John tucked away his snuffbox. “To be completely honest, my family has money and my brother practically is the British government so I want for very little.”

 

“So you’ve never worked?”

 

“Not in a traditional sense, no,” Sherlock admitted.

 

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with being a gentleman,” John replied with a little shrug, but Sherlock could see in the lowering of his brows that even John did not believe that. Not entirely.

 

“I’m hardly a gentleman.” Sherlock rubbed a hand over his jaw, his second-day scruff beginning to poke through the skin.

 

“You hardly strike me as a layabout,” John said. Sherlock let out a huff that was akin to a laugh.

 

“God, no. I try not to be.” He glanced down at John, who was placidly observing their surroundings as he smoked. “My mind rebels at stagnation.”

 

“Then let us try to put it to good use.” John smiled encouragingly up at Sherlock, his pipe clasped between his excellent teeth. He took another puff and Sherlock nearly closed his eyes as he inhaled the smoke. John’s expression faded into slight confusion. He glanced down at the pipe in his hand and back at Sherlock before offering it up to him. “Would you like a bit of a smoke?”

 

“I... usually prefer cigarettes,” Sherlock answered, sheepish at having been caught literally sniffing around John.

 

“But you haven’t any,” John replied, his grin back in place. He lifted the pipe a smidgen higher in offering and Sherlock felt his will weakening. He had been trying to quit. But really, he had been very good today, speaking to people and making nice . And he had been through an awful lot…

 

“Oh, go on then,” he said, reaching out to take the pipe from John with anxious fingers. Sherlock had never successfully smoked a pipe ‒ he had tried, when he was eleven, and he had stolen Mycroft’s from his school trunk. What a pompous prig, to smoke a pipe when everyone else had the good sense to just buy cigarettes. Anyway, his experiment with Mycroft’s grandiose pipe and snuff had left Sherlock violently sick on his stomach and he had never gone for the silly thing again. But, beggars, he was given to understand, could not be choosers. So he placed the stem between his teeth and took a long pull ‒ the smoke was hot and sharp and sweet and Sherlock let out a decadent groan as the nicotine flooded his neural sensors. His mind, constantly roused by external stimuli and anxious over his own situation, finally quieted, just a little.

 

They continued smoking, passing the plain wooden pipe between the two of them, as they walked along the river’s edge. “So,” John prompted. “Work?”

 

“Yes. Work,” Sherlock replied unenthusiastically.

 

“You could make your deductions,” John suggested. “At fairs and parties and such. For a fee, of course.”

 

“It’s not some cheap party trick, John,” Sherlock insisted.

 

“No, it’s not, it’s a skill ,” John agreed with a smart expression. “And a bloody rare one at that.”

 

Sherlock hmm -ed. It was a distasteful thought, to put himself on display like some sort of circus freak all for the sake of money. His skills at deduction had earned him quite enough negative attention during his school years and he had no intention of reliving the experience. “Everyone isn’t as… receptive to being observed as you are, John. Most people don’t say ‘that was amazing’ when I’ve just pointed out their chronic sweets-eating problem or their sexual proclivity for feet.”

 

“What do they say?”

 

“‘Piss off.’” John cast his eyes down with a rueful little grin.

 

“Yeah, that sounds about right.”

 

The Romanesque brick facade of New Scotland Yard came into view ‒ the white stone building that would house the Met in Sherlock’s own time had not yet been built and in its place was a pleasant swath of green grass overlooking the river. John led them confidently inside, their shared pipe now extinguished, and through the corridors until he found the small office of Detective Inspector Dimmock.

 

“Doctor Watson,” as with everyone else, Dimmock was pleased to see John. But his expression quickly fell as his gaze landed on Sherlock. “Mister… Holmes, was it?”

 

“Inspector,” Sherlock acknowledged, his eyes cold with barely-repressed annoyance. Dimmock turned his attention back to John.

 

“Have you brought your observations about the late Mrs. Herraldson?”

 

“Indeed, we have, Inspector,” John replied. “As you suspected ‒ foul play.” Sherlock scoffed loudly and John turned a warning gaze on him.

 

“What? It’s hardly a difficult leap to murder ‒ was there ever a suspicion that she stabbed herself between the ribs?” he questioned indignantly.

 

“We wanted to be sure she hadn’t drowned,” Dimmock replied defensively.

 

“And what? Drowned and then been stabbed?” Sherlock answered smartly. “Don’t be ridiculous. Her clothes weren’t even wet.”

 

“She could have been there for hours,” said Dimmock. “She could have… had some sort of attack and been stabbed after the fact ‒ kids having a prank or something.” He was desperate to regain the upper hand from Sherlock and it showed.

 

“No attack. No prank. She was stabbed, then dragged up the stairs and tossed from the lower tower,” Sherlock said matter-of-factly.

 

“How do you know?”

 

Sherlock let out an exasperated groan ‒ he was growing tired of explaining this to people. “She was too far away to have fallen or been pushed from the bridge itself. Given the precise nature of the wound, I would estimate that we’re looking for a medical man. He’s between five-feet-six and -ten, slight build, and likely relatively young going by the speed and endurance with which he ran from us last night.”

 

“You saw him?” Dimmock was both amazed and angered.

 

“We went back to the bridge to see if there was anymore information,” John said, his tone attempting to diffuse the tension. “Someone was watching us and ran when we headed in his direction ‒ we have every reason to believe it was the killer.”

 

“And he will likely kill again in an attempt to replicate the experiment,” Sherlock added.

 

“Experiment?” Dimmock asked, more than a little disgust colouring his expression.

 

“Yes, experiment. He came back to observe the result of his work.”

 

“And just how are we supposed to find him? If you didn’t see his face and chased him away?” Dimmock’s eyebrows rose in a self-satisfied manner, but Sherlock returned his smugness.

 

“I’ve got a man on it,” he replied.

 

“Oh, how generous of you. Do keep us apprised of your findings, won’t you, Detective ?”

 

“I shall inform you once I have something substantial,” Sherlock answered, meeting Dimmock’s sarcasm with surety. “John?” Dimmock gave them an odd little glance at Sherlock’s use of the moniker, but said nothing.

 

“Have you quite finished?” John asked, his eyes heavy-lidded and eyebrows raised with an almost parental expression of feigned patience. Sherlock suddenly felt rather abashed at his behaviour, a sensation he had never experienced before.

 

“Yes, John.”

 

“Good. By your leave, then, Detective Inspector?” Dimmock nodded, his mouth slightly agape at John’s apparent ability to quell Sherlock’s fit of indignance.

 

“Oh! I, ah, I almost forgot.” Dimmock searched about on his desk for a moment before extracting a file from a rather large stack. “This came in earlier and I’d like your opinion on it ‒ fourth one in as many months.”

 

John took the dark brown folder in hand and gave the contents a cursory glance. Sherlock stepped closer to look over his shoulder as John asked, “Poison?”

 

“Yes,” said Dimmock. “Found her in an abandoned house in Brixton. Four suicides ‒ all alike.”

 

“No,” Sherlock said abstractedly, his eyes narrowing as they took in the notes before him. “Murder.”

 

“It can’t be,” Dimmock said in disbelief. A thought flew into Sherlock’s head and he looked up from the papers to meet Dimmock’s gaze directly.

 

“I’ll prove it,” he said. “I’ll bring you this murderer and Mrs. Herraldson’s, too. And any other you care to send my way. For a fee.”

 

Dimmock’s eyes narrowed and he glanced at John, asking. John gave him a swift little nod and Dimmock sighed. “How much?”

 

Sherlock drew a blank. He had no idea how much things cost, but he was certain that his usual four-figures was far too much. He, too, glanced at John, who subtly touched his bearded cheek with three extended fingers. Turning back to Dimmock, he said confidently, “Three pounds a week.”

 

After a moment’s contemplation and another deep sigh, Dimmock nodded stiffly. “Fine. But don’t you even think about compromising my cases, Mister Holmes, do you understand me?”

 

“Plainly.” Sherlock suppressed a relieved grin.

 

“I’m going on your recommendation here, Doctor Watson,” Dimmock warned. “If he buggers anything up, it’ll be on your head.”

 

“A responsibility I gladly shoulder,” John replied. With that, they turned and left the room.

 

Chapter Text

Sherlock clapped his hands together and finally let a grin overtake him. “Four serial suicides —and this one’s left a note. It’s Christmas!” John snorted a little indignantly.

 

“You could try to reign in your excitement,” he said. “It’s hardly proper.”

 

“Ugh, proper —propriety is so… dull , John. Dull!” Sherlock nearly skipped a step or two and took up a brisk pace. “What’s the address?”

 

Fumbling with the folder as he walked, John read, “Ah —number three, Lauriston Gardens. There’s a block of row houses there that have been condemned.” Sherlock spotted a cab coming down the road and threw his hand out with enthusiasm. He gave the address in a clear voice as he held open the door for John and his knee bounced with rapid excitement as they rode into Brixton.

 

Lauriston Gardens was a large, u-shaped building complex in a clear state of dereliction. Broken windows, overgrown in moss and ivy, stared empty and threatening down at passers-by. But Sherlock leapt out of the cab as if it were the open arms of an old friend and, in a way, it was. A case — at last, a case! John slid out after him, barely a step behind.

 

In Sherlock’s day, there would have been crime tape. But all that suggested a police presence now was a single bobby posted outside the main door. “Doctor Watson,” he acknowledged with a stiff nod, stepping aside to allow them inside. “Second floor, Doc.”

 

“Cheers, Mackenzie,” John replied with a little salute.

 

“Who’s this then?” Mackenzie asked curiously, giving Sherlock a once-over.

 

“He’s with me,” John gave as his answer and Sherlock allowed a small, smug grin to slide over his face. “Dimmock’s just brought him on as a… ah…”

 

“Consulting detective,” Sherlock supplied helpfully. With a little smile of his own, John nodded to Mackenzie and on into the foyer they went. Up two flights of stairs which wrapped around the columnar central corridor and to the open door of a flat that was filled with police officers and one dead body.

 

Already, Sherlock’s mind was flying. People were traipsing all over the place, stepping over the body haphazardly and even nudging it with their boots, compromising the crime scene at every available moment. The sight of their bumbling made his skin crawl. “Everyone out!” he demanded in a clear voice, drawing dozens of irritated eyes to him.

 

“And just who might you be?” asked a man near the body, his tone somewhere between annoyance and amusement.

 

“Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective. I’m here on Detective Inspector Dimmock’s authority to investigate this murder.”

 

“It’s obviously suicide,” said another, smaller man. Sherlock turned on him, his mood rapidly slipping downhill, and gave him his most imposing glare.

 

“I would appreciate it if you would refrain from spewing stupidity while in my presence.”

 

“Now, wait just a mo’,” said the first detective, flapping his hands in an attempt to calm everyone. “How do you know it’s murder?”

 

“That,” Sherlock said simply, pointing to a place on the wall and all eyes followed his finger. There, scrawled across the peeling layers of plaster and wallpaper, was a single word written in blood: Rache.

 

“A suicide note,” said the idiot. “People leave them all the time.”

 

“But they don’t usually issue a painful, bloody demand for revenge , now do they?” Sherlock replied smugly. “I’ve read the file — Hanna Mayer, age twenty-nine, recently immigrated from Germany to take work as a seamstress, identified by a nosy neighbor this morning.”

 

“And a small vial containing evidence of poison, but no signs of struggle,” said the first detective. “No sign of another person at all.” He shrugged. “Suicide.”

 

“So it would seem,” Sherlock answered in a patronising tone.

 

“Unless…” the detective mused, running his finger and thumb across his moustache, “unless someone forced her to take it herself.”

 

Sherlock narrowed his eyes for a moment, staring intently at the detective. “What is your name?”

 

“D.I. Gregson,” the man replied, extending a hand to Sherlock. “And this must be Doctor Watson,” he said, offering the same hand to John. “Dimmock’s mentioned you before.”

 

“Gregson, you may prove not to be a complete idiot after all.” Sherlock stooped closer to the dead woman and said without glancing up, “Please see that these other people stop contaminating evidence.”

 

With a small shrug that spoke volumes considering how short a time he had actually known Sherlock, John have Gregson a questioning look and the Inspector started ushering people from the tiny flat. As the door clicked shut behind the team of policemen, John knelt down next to Sherlock and joined in his investigation.

 

“So what exactly are we doing here?” John asked in a low tone, gently examining Miss Mayer’s hands for signs of struggle; the beds of her fingernails were discoloured, but the only blood was her own. There was a plain gold hatpin in her right hand, the tip bloodied from where she had pricked her own finger to write the macabre message on the wall.

 

“Proving a point,” said Sherlock, sniffing around her slackened mouth and nose. He gestured for John to do the same. Garlic ‒ arsenic poisoning, then. A large dose, as well, to kill her so quickly.

 

“We’re supposed to be working to make rent,” John chastised without a trace of ire. “Arsenic?”

 

Sherlock shrugged. “This is more fun.”

 

“Fun?” Now John’s tone was a little incredulous. “There’s a woman lying dead.”

 

“Perfectly sound analysis, Doctor, but I was hoping you’d go deeper.” They exchanged a heated look, but the door creaked open and Gregson re-entered the room.

 

“Well? What have you got? I can’t keep them at bay for much longer.”

 

Sherlock stood upright and made a final lap around the prone form on the dingy floor. “As you say, Inspector, someone likely forced her to take the poison. No signs of struggle, so more likely the killer convinced her to do it. But he didn’t stay to observe her dying, or she wouldn’t have been able to write the note. Something drew him back outside….” Sherlock trailed off thoughtfully.

 

“Why would someone do that? Take poison and kill themselves all on someone else’s word?” Gregson mused.

 

“Revenge?” John put forth, gesturing toward the bloodied wall.

 

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed, “but not toward her ‒ that’s not why she’s dead. That’s what she wants. She came up here, resigned to her fate, and is asking for revenge on her killer.” Sherlock looked up and met John’s eye with a weighty expression. “I think we can oblige her request, can we not?”

 

“Too right.” John nodded solemnly.

 

“All of the victims were found in a similar state, yes?” Sherlock demanded of Gregson. “Alone, in an abandoned area, dead by poison ingestion?” Gregson nodded. “And nothing else in common. Different ages, genders, nationalities, days of the week, times of day ‒ a series of crimes of opportunity.” Sherlock drummed his fingers against this lips as he began to pace. “Generally speaking, serial killers require attention, accolades ‒ there is something that connects the victims and they tend to escalate the frequency of the killings as the addiction overtakes them. But this … this is different. The killer is selecting people almost completely at random, except that they are alone. Calm… calculating… not driven by the urge to kill, but by something else entirely.” His eye landed on Ms. Mayer’s right hand, but not to the hatpin fallen from her grasp, but to an impressive ring which had no bearing on her death. He stooped and slipped it from her finger, examining the not-inconsiderable pearl set in gold. An heirloom, given the simplicity of her other accoutrements. Surely something she would want back… .

 

“What are you going to do with that, then?” John asked as Sherlock tucked the ring safely into the pocket which would normally carry a watch and buttoned it closed.

 

With a cheerful little pat of the pocket, Sherlock replied, “I’m going to smoke out a murderer.”

 

“With a woman’s ring?” Gregson questioned as Sherlock strode toward the door, John just behind.

 

“Don’t concern yourself, Gregson, it will all become clear in due course,” Sherlock assured the detective.

 

“Thank you, Gregson.” John offered him a polite little doff of the cap as he stepped out into the corridor. Struck by an impulse he’d never felt before, Sherlock turned and gave the Inspector a similar gesture, though he wore no hat. He had been far more polite in the past two days than he ever had been in his life ‒ his nose wrinkled. That would undoubtedly be John’s influence.

 

They retraced their steps, winding down the central staircase and through the throng of curious policemen. A cursory wave at Mackenzie and they were back on Brixton Road, walking briskly in the general direction of Vauxhall. Dusk was rapidly falling and Sherlock wrapped his coat more tightly around himself.

 

Without any warning, John’s hand flew out, grapsed Sherlock by the elbow, and nearly flung him against a the wall of a narrow alley. Before Sherlock could so much as gasp in protest, John was pressed full and firm against him from hips to lips, and Sherlock surrendered immediately.

 

It was so similar, in a way, to their first kiss just yesterday. Yesterday ‒ that was ages ago. Squeezed against one another in a darkening alley. Frankly, Sherlock hoped it would become a pattern. But it was also very different. There was no hesitation, not from him, certainly not from John. No startled pull-back, no concerned expression. Only John’s fierce assault on Sherlock’s lips.

 

His tongue swept into Sherlock’s mouth, deep and sure, and he threaded the fingers of one hand in Sherlock’s hair, keeping them pressed together. Sherlock groaned, his own hands tangling in John’s coat lapels. When John shifted his stance, pressing his groin against the hard plane of Sherlock’s thigh, Sherlock’s head fell back with a soft thump against the brick.

 

“You were brilliant,” John whispered roughly in his ear, drawing a shiver as his beard brushed against the sensitive skin of Sherlock’s neck. “Truly. Amazing.” He rolled his hips, just a little, and Sherlock felt the length of his erection against him. A wanton moan escaped Sherlock’s throat and John cut the sound off with another deep kiss. “Sshh,” he said against Sherlock’s mouth. “We’re practically in the street.”

 

“Then you’d better stop doing that ‒ oh ,” Sherlock bit his lip as John maniacally writhed against him again.

 

“I’d really rather not,” he murmured, his tongue darting out to the place behind Sherlock’s ear.

 

“Then you’d better take me home.” Sherlock dropped his hand to John’s waist and slipped his long fingers into the band of his trousers. “I don’t fancy Gregson being forced to arrest us for indecency.” John uttered a deep chuckle, nipped deliciously at Sherlock’s neck one more time, and took a step back. With an obnoxious level of calm, John straightened Sherlock’s jacket. Sherlock himself was feeling rather breathless and he was sure he looked wrecked. He couldn’t be arsed to care.

 

The cab ride back to Baker Street was interminable. Sherlock could not bear to so much as look at John, so keyed up was he with arousal. Finally — finally , the black door was before them, shining in the bright lamplight.

 

They were hardly inside the foyer before they were upon each other again. There was a flurry of hands pulling at coats, knees knocking as the two of them struggled up the stairs, reluctant to stop kissing a second time. God, he smells amazing. How can he smell so wonderful ‒ aren’t people supposed to stink these days? But stink, John did not. He smelled of pipe tobacco and castille soap and black tea and John ‒ something indescribable that shot straight to Sherlock’s groin.

 

Somehow, they made it up the stairs just as John managed to undo all of the buttons on Sherlock’s waistcoat. John’s was more stubborn and Sherlock let out a frustrated growl, nearly ripping at the fabric in his desperation to see and touch and smell as much of John as possible. Finally, John put a firm hand on Sherlock’s chest and pushed him backward, just a step or two. “Undress,” he ordered in a low tone and Sherlock immediately hopped to. His hands were steadier on his own clothes and he was actually able to see John as he stripped. John shucked his coat and jacket, nimbly undid his waistcoat and dropped it to the floor. Sherlock found that his hands were moving in near mirror to John’s, unable to think for themselves.

 

When at last John had shed his trousers, shirt, and vest, standing in only his thin linen pants, Sherlock was panting. With far less grace than he usually managed, Sherlock stepped out of his own stiff wool trousers and stood upright, chest flushed as he took John in. He was magnificent ‒ truly ‒ strong and firm, broader than he appeared and trim despite his long retirement from military service. And he held himself with such confidence that Sherlock wanted little more than to sink to his knees and swallow him down.

 

But it was John who moved first. “Come here,” he growled, stepping forward and clasping Sherlock’s jaw in both hands as he took his mouth in a searing kiss. Sherlock could only utter a desperate unf as he finally, finally , laid his hands on John’s body. Sherlock had never been so unable to find his words in his life, only managing to make frankly embarrassing little whines as John’s mouth moved across his jaw to nip at his clavicle. John pressed his hips against Sherlock’s until his knees hit the low sofa and they fell onto it in a delicious tumble of limbs. Laid back across the cushions, Sherlock let his legs fall open and John immediately lowered himself fully against him. His hands ran the length of John’s rolling shoulders, slipped into the band of his pants, and tugged them away. John sat back, shoved the fabric down as far as he was able, then pulled Sherlock’s obscenely-modern boxer-briefs over his own hips. “I quite like these,” he said, leaning forward to lick a stripe up Sherlock’s pectoral muscle. “They leave very little to the imagination.”

 

“I prefer things this way,” Sherlock breathed, canting his hips upward until their erections brushed against one another, drawing twin moans from the two of them.

 

“Hmm,” John sighed, his head dipping as he rolled his hips against Sherlock again, “I’m inclined to agree with you at the moment.” John’s tongue flicked out and teased at Sherlock’s left nipple before he continued in an awed tone, “Jesus Christ I could stare at you for days .” Sherlock’s head fell back against the armrest and he thrust his hips upward again, trying desperately to feel more of John’s hot, hard length against his own.

 

“If you don’t stop talking and fuck me ‒” he growled.

 

“Then what?” John was smirking. Sherlock’s cock twitched at the sight.

 

“Then I will.”

 

“Noted.” At last, John stopped mucking about. He reached between them and took Sherlock’s cock in a firm grasp and gave him a few swift pumps. Sherlock’s eyes slammed shut and he let out an obscene moan and John did not stifle him this time. “Jesus…” John whispered, his eyes glued to Sherlock’s erection in his hand, growing impossibly harder by the second and glistening with arousal. Placing his other hand on Sherlock’s hip for balance, John shifted until his cock slipped into the crook of Sherlock’s groin, pressed firmly between his thigh and his throbbing erection. “Ah ‒ fuck!” John hissed as he slid, wet and heated, against Sherlock’s flesh. He switched hands, his left taking hold of Sherlock’s length, thumb swirling over the head, and his right pulling Sherlock’s knee up toward his chest.

 

At the tighter contact, Sherlock forced his eyes open, desperate to watch John as he came. “Fuck, yes, John!” He wrapped his fingers in John’s hair so tight that he thought he might pull the strands out by the root. His arousal spiraled hard and fast and suddenly he was coming as hard as he ever had over John’s fingers.

 

His face contorted in ecstasy, John uttered an animalistic growl as his thrusts became frantic. His fingers dug bruisingly hard into Sherlock’s thigh and he came with a low, “Fuckfuckjesusfuck.”  Sherlock moaned as he felt John spill across his hip and stomach and it took all his effort not to lie back and writhe wantonly against him. But he’d wanted to see and God had John been magnificent.

 

John’s forehead landed on Sherlock’s sternum with a soft thump and his panting breaths puffed out across his rapidly cooling skin. His arm was still holding Sherlock’s knee over his shoulder and the gentle stretch in the tendon there was just enough to keep him grounded. He desperately wanted a smoke, but settled for dragging his fingers through John’s hair and taking as deep a breath as possible. The room positively swam with the odour of them and it left him more light-headed than before.

 

After what felt an eternity and no time at all, John heaved himself off of Sherlock’s chest and sat back on his heels. “God,” he huffed, a relaxed and contented expression washing over his face, “that’s fantastic.” He ran his hands over his bearded cheeks and let out a satisfied puff of breath.

 

“Do you know you do that out loud?”

 

“Sorry, I’ll be quiet,” John replied, his cheeks reddening just a little.

 

“No it’s… fine.” Sherlock offered him a lazy little grin and John grinned back.

Chapter Text

Sherlock dozed on and off throughout the night, as comfortable on the sofa as he would have been in his bed. Mostly he attempted to occupy his mind. John’s medical journals were relatively interesting and he had made remarkably modern notes in the margins of some of them. Scrawled near an account of John Snow’s discovery of the source of an outbreak of cholera in 1854, John Watson had written: Mr. T. Carlton ‒ recently returned from India. Small ep. Typhoid, Poplar 1890. MUST WASH HANDS! And he had crossed out several lines of text detailing the negative effects of female hysteria and had written between the rows: Husbands unable to understand female anatomy blame marital issues on mental imbalance. Have these women not suffered enough? That one made Sherlock snort with laughter.

 

To his credit, John had attempted to remain awake with Sherlock to help him with the case and to keep him from getting bored. But it was no use ‒ he was merely human. A remarkable human , Sherlock thought as he watched John’s chest rise and fall steadily where he lay on the sofa. Contrary to Mycroft’s assessment of Sherlock’s opinion of himself, he had always felt that he was rather less than human, not more. More than one person ‒ professional or simply pissed off ‒ had accused Sherlock of having a superiority complex when, in fact, he had long believed himself to be disappointingly inferior.

 

Don’t start down that path again, he chided silently. This is no time for a pity party. No, it was not. It was the time for Work. Two cases ‒ his own and that of the serial “suicides” ‒ lay before him, in desperate need of his mental acuity.

 

Hours passed. Ideas came and went. Facts and tidbits swam to the surface of his mind and sank back down once he had examined them thoroughly. He needed a smoke, but decided to content himself with poking about the flat.

 

Most everything was laid out in the same order as in his own time, except for the little touches of John that were scattered about the place. He was more orderly than Sherlock. Interesting. Military training, I expect. His bed was done up with tight, hospital corners and an old revolver ‒ likely a service weapon ‒ lay at the top of his bedside drawer. Inside a black case tucked under the bureau was a clarinet, clearly unplayed in more than a decade, along with a note which read Give it up! ‒ Harry . John’s wardrobe was as expected, though fingering through the hanging tweeds and wools in the cabinet brought a tiny smile to Sherlock’s face. Tucked in the back was his old uniform, the bright red of his jacket barely faded. The fabric was dotted with little bars and medals and insignia, each one detailing aspects of John yet undiscovered by Sherlock. Victoria Cross, “most conspicuous bravery”; Distinguished Service Order, “active operations against the enemy”; Distinguished Conduct Medal, “gallantry in the field”, earned before promotion to Captain; Afghanistan Medal and Kabul to Kandahar Star. Nothing to say of his injury. But John did not strike Sherlock as the sort of man to put his injury on display, even if such things were given out.

 

Sherlock tucked the uniform away and went back downstairs. John’s medical kit was by the door, ready for any situation. The bathroom contained the typical accoutrements of bachelorhood ‒ one practical bar of all-over soap, one large towel for hands and body, an empty cup for late-night drinks of water, and a small tin of charcoal tooth powder and what appeared to be a homemade toothbrush. Sitting on a small shelf below the mirror was a shave kit, complete with foaming soap, a soft-bristle brush, and a long straight razor.

 

Running a hand across his own chin and cheek, Sherlock pursed his lips at the blade. He could do with a shave, but he had never used anything but safety razors. Mycroft had tried to teach him to use a straight razor when he was younger, their father being too busy to do so himself, but Sherlock found his hands shook with apprehension. He knew too well how close his arteries were to the thin surface of his skin and the notion of placing a knife to his own throat was one which unnerved him from the word “go”.

 

“Why the dark face?” John’s voice caused Sherlock to jump embarrassingly. He was leaning against the doorframe in his trousers and vest, looking devilishly handsome with his braces hanging about his thighs, watching Sherlock with a mix of curiosity and amusement.

 

“I need a shave,” Sherlock replied, his heart rate returning to normal.

 

“Well, that’s hardly call for such a serious expression,” John laughed. “Feel free, I don’t mind.” He gestured casually toward the shave kit before pushing away from the door, making toward the kitchen.

 

“Could you ‒” Sherlock called out and John stepped back, eyebrow raised. “Could you…” Sherlock blinked a few times and stared down at the razor in his hand. “I’ve never used one of these before.” John tilted his head in surprise, but his expression bore no judgement and for that, Sherlock was relieved.

 

“Of course. Just…” he held up a finger, stepped into the kitchen, and Sherlock heard him putting the kettle on. A stool and tea towel in hand, John returned to the bathroom and gestured for Sherlock to sit. Back out into the kitchen he went to await the heating of water, and Sherlock took up his perch and watched his own impatient face in the mirror. After their romp on the sofa the evening before, Sherlock and John had each only half-dressed in their trousers and undershirts. He pulled his vest over his head and dropped it on a peg by the door just as John returned with a steaming kettle, not quite boiled. He stoppered the sink and poured the water in so that steam billowed up and around the two of them.

 

“How would you like me?” Sherlock asked, trying to sound casual and flirtatious rather than nervous and exposed. John smirked at him through the mirror.

 

“Just as you are is perfect.” He stepped up behind Sherlock and he could feel the firm warmth of his chest against his shoulder blades. John worked the soap cake into a thick foam with the brush before spreading it heavily over Sherlock’s jaw, the fingers of his free hand gently tilting him back and forth. Then, he dipped the razor into the steaming water and raised the blade with a gentle and knowing hand. He held it almost as Sherlock held the bow of his violin. “Just relax,” he said softly and Sherlock did.

 

At the first gentle glide of the blade across his neck, Sherlock let his eyes fall closed. The soap smelled of sandalwood and lanolin and John’s warm hand was steadying his jaw and Sherlock thought he had never felt more comfortable in all his life. John had him.

 

It was painfully intimate, to put his life and his care into John’s hands so readily. But there it was. Sherlock trusted him. With a gentle press of his fingertips, John tilted Sherlock’s head the other way and began shaving at the left side of his throat in short efficient strokes. Sherlock’s eyes fluttered open and he watched John in the mirror, an expression of intense concentration on his handsome face. After a moment, John looked up and caught Sherlock’s gaze in his own, a heated grin pulling at his lips. He cleared the spot below Sherlock’s left ear of stubble and soap before bending down and placing a damp kiss just above his pulse. “Not one for beards, then?”

 

Sherlock hmm -ed as John rinsed the razor. Moving his jaw as little as possible as John resumed his ministrations, Sherlock answered, “No, never been much for facial hair, myself.”

 

“More’s the pity,” John mused. “I think you might look good with a beard.”

 

“I like yours ,” Sherlock replied, fascinated by the deft movement of John’s fingers. “And I generally prefer my doctors clean-shaven.”

 

John chuckled. “I was thinking of being rid of mine. Sometimes I feel I’m starting to go a bit ragged.”

 

“‘Rugged’ is the word, more like,” Sherlock said in a low tone. He did like John’s beard. He liked how it felt against his skin when John kissed him. He wondered with an undisguisable flush how it would feel against other parts of his body.

 

“Rugged.” John ran his free hand over his own beard and smirked into the mirror. “I quite like the sound of that.” He pulled the razor in downward motions now, starting at Sherlock’s cheekbone and moving toward his chin. How he knew when to change direction was completely beyond Sherlock’s comprehension. With Sherlock’s head tilted to the left, John reached forward and rinsed the blade again, dropping a warm kiss to the plane of Sherlock’s throat as he leaned around him. “Even without a beard, you look incredible.” Another swipe along his jawbone, another little kiss, and Sherlock’s pulse was increasing steadily. “You are incredible. I could stand here all day, tasting your jaw, your throat.” His tongue darted out to the jumping pulse point in Sherlock’s neck and drew out a soft moan. “Tasting every inch of you.”

 

Sherlock swallowed carefully. “I’d rather you finished with the razor first.”

 

John let out a little breath of laughter against Sherlock’s neck, expertly drawing the blade away before Sherlock twitched at the sensation. He resumed shaving him properly, though his free hand had dropped to Sherlock’s sternum. The blade swooped efficiently over his chin before John moved to stand in front of Sherlock.

 

Without a trace of hesitation, John dropped one leg over Sherlock’s lap and sat across his thighs, drawing a surprised gasp from the detective beneath him as their groins came into contact. A low-watt arousal buzzed between them as John gently pulled Sherlock’s head back by his hair. Sherlock’s hands fell instinctively to John’s hips and squeezed lightly. John’s thumb traced languidly over Sherlock’s bottom lip before he carefully insinuated the razor just below, slicing away the stubble in the swell of his chin. Finally, he adjusted his arm and commenced to ridding Sherlock of his sparse moustache. John dropped the razor into the sink without looking around, wiped the last vestiges of lather from Sherlock’s face and neck with the tea towel, and leaned in to kiss Sherlock full on the mouth.

 

It was glorious ‒ slow and humid and warm and Sherlock moaned into John’s mouth, delighting in the echo of the small bathroom. John tugged at Sherlock’s hair again and made for his neck, now smooth and soft and sensitive to the bristles of John’s beard. He kissed and tongued his way from Sherlock’s ear to the dip in his clavicle, careful to brush as much of his facial hair against Sherlock’s sensitive skin as possible.

 

“If you haven’t any further need of my barbering services…” John murmured against Sherlock’s chest, letting the thought trail away in a shared huff of arousal. Sherlock let out a long, low hum as John slid from his lap and onto his knees between the stool and the sink. He nipped at the flesh before him as he slowly drew down Sherlock’s trousers until they pooled on the floor. No pants. Sherlock couldn’t be arsed before and he couldn’t have been happier now.

 

With a teasing exhalation of warm breath over his erection, John’s tongue darted out to taste the head of Sherlock’s cock. Sherlock bit his lip, buried one hand in John’s hair and grasped desperately at the rim of the sink with the other. Arching forward, Sherlock watched as John slowly licked his way up Sherlock’s length before taking him almost completely down his throat.

 

It was ungodly, how amazing John looked on his knees in front of Sherlock. And he felt unbelievably better, the wet heat of his mouth almost too much for Sherlock to bear. He wanted nothing more than to stare at John as he worked his way ever lower on Sherlock’s erection, but as he finally swallowed Sherlock completely, his eyes closed and his head fell back with a delirious moan.

 

John’s beard felt even more amazing than Sherlock had anticipated, the sharp bristles tickling the creases of his thighs as John bobbed up and down. His skin was alight with the sensation and his toes curled against the cold tile floor and Sherlock could feel his orgasm building from almost every nerve in his body, swirling down toward his groin.

 

“John — ah — st-stop, please,” Sherlock begged, his hands simultaneously pushing and pulling at John’s head. John pulled away and looked at Sherlock with concern.

 

“Is everything alright?” He looked an absolute wet dream, his thin lips swollen and red, a drip of pre-cum clinging obscenely to his tongue. Sherlock bit his lower lip at the sight of him and reeled in his arousal.

 

“Just… too close,” he panted. “Don’t want to cum just yet.”

 

John’s face relaxed into a bit of a smirk. “I thought that was the whole idea.” Leaning forward, he rubbed his rough cheek against Sherlock’s inner thigh, eliciting another moan from the detective above him. It tickled in the most erotic way, sending shivers through Sherlock’s entire body. And John’s warm, deliberate breaths against his balls were still very nearly too much.

 

“God, John,” he groaned, low and deep, “I want you to fuck me.”

 

He hadn’t meant to say that. It was very, very true, but he was given to understand that two days, two snogs, a bit of frottage, and an incomplete blowjob was not necessarily “enough” to warrant full sexual penetration. People normally led up to that sort of thing with absolute ages of heavy petting and “getting to know one another first.” But John Watson made Sherlock want to take up the ridiculous notion of religion just so that he could thank someone for the incredible man before him.

 

John stood from the floor and, to Sherlock’s surprise, cupped his face with both hands and stared down with eyes so blue they might as well have been black. “Say that again.”

 

Sherlock swallowed. No going back now . “I want you to fuck me.”

 

With a barely-restrained growl, John pounced, his tongue delving deep into Sherlock’s mouth with an unprecedented fervour. Sherlock moaned into his mouth, spreading his knees on his perch so that John could grind against him again and it was glorious . John’s hands dropped to Sherlock’s hips, pulling him from the stool and onto shaky legs. Tugging him toward the door, John moved his lips across Sherlock’s jaw and murmured against his skin, “Keep talking.”

 

Sherlock was all-too-happy to oblige. He dropped his voice an octave and said, “John, I want you to fuck me. Hard. And fast.”

 

“Hng… yes ,” John moaned as they stumbled through the kitchen and toward Sherlock’s room. Barely breaking their embrace, John’s hand flew out and grabbed a half-empty bottle of olive oil from the counter. They continued toward the bedroom, lurching backward and forth against each other. John’s ministrations on Sherlock’s throat were merciless, nipping and sucking bites and bruises all along the pale column of sensitive flesh as Sherlock continued to speak.

 

“I want your fingers inside me, stretching me, filling me, until I’m desperate for your cock,” he breathed against John’s ear and felt his moan more than heard it. “Then I want ‒ need you to thrust into me with everything you’ve got until I’m begging you to let me cum.”

 

“Jesus Christ,” John’s voice came out in a ragged exhalation as they finally crossed the threshold into the bedroom. None-too-gently, he pushed Sherlock backward until he tumbled onto the bed. John clambered on top of him, kissed him deeply, and sat back on his heels, taking in the sight before him. Sherlock knew he must look a complete and total slag, legs splayed open, cock hard and leaking, chest heaving with need, but he could not care less. The only thing that mattered was that John was pouring olive oil onto two of his fingers and crawling over him again.

 

At the first deft slide of John’s finger, Sherlock’s head flew back so far that his back arched. A few testing thrusts and John pulled away, only to redouble his efforts with a second finger. He scissored the digits apart, stretching Sherlock’s hole before pressing upward against his prostate with expert precision. Sherlock’s vision went hazy around the edges

 

“Oh, fuck ‒ fuck!” Sherlock’s hands tightened against the bed clothes so hard that it hurt his knuckles. His heels hit the mattress and he thrust his hips upward just as John slipped a third finger inside him. John clapped his free hand on Sherlock’s hip and drove his fingers hard into Sherlock’s channel. “God! John ‒ fuck me, fuck me ‒ ah ‒ now!”

 

John chuckled. Chuckled! How on earth could he be so composed? Sherlock was melting under his hands and John’s expression was predatory, but in control. “Demanding thing, aren’t you?”

 

“I know what I want,” Sherlock panted, working his hips downward on John’s touch.

 

“So do I.” John kissed him hard, removed his fingers, and swallowed Sherlock’s moan. He sat back again and poured a generous amount of oil over his thick cock, giving himself a perfunctory stroke before gripping Sherlock’s hip with his free hand. “Turn over.”

 

Sherlock flipped onto his stomach with embarrassing speed, drawing up his knees and lifting his arse. He dropped his head to the mattress and took a firm grip on the covers, waiting eagerly for John to get on with it . Thankfully, John did not dally. He pressed the blunt head of his cock against Sherlock’s hole and pressed forward in one slow, deliberate thrust.

 

It was like a punch to the gut ‒ it left Sherlock breathless and shaking. But he needed more. He pressed his hips backward, but John’s hands squeezed into his buttocks and he let out a harsh breath. “Just ‒ just give me a second.” Sherlock nodded, fighting the nearly-overwhelming impulse to rut backward and fuck himself senseless on John’s prick. After a moment, John leaned forward, pressed a kiss to Sherlock’s spine, and finally began to move.

 

It was too slow, too shallow. “God, John, come on!”

 

John’s voice in his ear made him shudder. “Beg.”

 

His brain stuttered. “What?”

 

“You heard me. Beg.”

 

“Nng ‒ John! Please! Fuck me! Hard ‒ like you mean it!” John picked up the pace and Sherlock let out an obscene moan. “God… I need it ‒ I need your cock. Make me cum, please! Make me cum…”

 

“Ah! Fuck!” John pounded into Sherlock, brushing brutally past his prostate with every thrust and forcing shallow huffs from the incredible man beneath him. Leaning forward and covering Sherlock’s entire back with his body, John sank his teeth into the flesh of Sherlock’s shoulder and let out an animalistic growl. He wrapped one hand around Sherlock’s erection and it only took three firm pulls before he was cumming all over the mattress with an obscene shout. “Jesus Christ , Sherlock!”

 

He could feel John’s release inside him, feel him tense and force himself impossibly further into Sherlock’s willing body. It was unbelievable. It was glorious. It was transcendent.

 

For all Sherlock knew, they could have remained in that position for seconds or hours, he on his knees with John pressing kisses to his back, before John pulled out. “God,” he moaned, running his hands along Sherlock’s waist, “you’re amazing.”

 

Sherlock’s brain was completely offline. He slumped bonelessly onto his stomach and John followed him down, panting against Sherlock’s shoulder. “‘Markable…”

 

“Come again?”

 

“I don’t think I can.” John’s laugh was an exhausted little exhalation against Sherlock’s skin. Sherlock swallowed and caught his breath. “I said you’re remarkable.”

 

“I don’t know about all that,” John answered modestly.

 

“John, I am an incredibly intelligent man. I have studied a myriad of subjects from chemistry to math to philosophy and psychology, so let me assure you that when I determine someone to be remarkable it is not only a rare thing, but a sure thing.” He said all this in as dignified a tone as he could muster while his cheek was pressed lazily against the bedclothes. “Wake me in an hour ‒ we have much to do today.”

 

Another little chuckle. “As I said ‒ demanding.”

Chapter Text

“You’ve… um…” John touched hesitantly at Sherlock’s neck just below the jaw and his cheeks pinkened charmingly. Sherlock glanced into the mirror over the fireplace and saw a small purple bruise forming where John had nipped at him earlier. With a smug little smile, Sherlock turned and grabbed his scarf from the peg near the door, thankful now that he had worn it on the day he traveled back in time. “I’ll have to be more careful next time,” John said, clearly trying not to smile himself.

 

“Don’t you dare.” Sherlock wrapped the scarf around his neck, turned his coat collar up, and held the door open for John. “Now ‒ where might one take out a newspaper advert?”

 

The Times office, I suppose. Why are you taking out an advertisement?” They went through the foyer and out onto the street where Sherlock hailed a hansom.

 

“The ring I procured from the crime scene yesterday,” Sherlock replied as they climbed aboard.

 

“What about it?”

 

“It’s the perfect opportunity to smoke out the killer.”

 

“I still don’t understand.”

 

“Come on, John, do keep up. We collected the ring from the dead woman and then an ad appears in The Times which can only be from her, describing the ring and begging for its swift return. The killer panics and finally makes a mistake.”

 

“Brilliant.”

 

“Elementary.” They rode on through the city for several miles before arriving at a large red-brick building just across the Blackfriars train tracks. In his own time, the area known as Printing House Square had been completely replaced with a modern office complex which housed mostly financial advisors and consultants. In 1895, however, the area was abuzz with the daily activity of Victorian life: solicitors’ offices, a furniture shop, leather goods, a small school, and a stationer, among many more. People of all ages and social strata were milling about, making noise, and Sherlock gladly drank it in.

 

The office of The Times was right on Queen Victoria Street and Sherlock and John joined a short queue of people at the advertising desk.

 

“How can I help you, sirs?” The woman behind the desk had a strict sort of face that did not bode well for Sherlock’s limited social skills.

 

“I need to take out an advert asking for information,” Sherlock answered. The woman handed him a thin sheet of paper without any sort of fanfare or interest.

 

“Fill this out and I'll tally your cost.” The woman gestured for Sherlock to stand aside as she helped the next person in the queue.

 

Sherlock extracted the ring from the pocket of his waistcoat and examined it for reference. Missing: pearl ring set in gold , he wrote on the bracketed sheet. Lost in Lauriston Gardens, Brixton. Contact Ms. H. Mayer at 221B Baker Street for reward.

 

“And you think this will be enough to spook the killer?” John asked as Sherlock handed the paper back to the woman behind the desk. She counted up the number of words and John very magnanimously paid the total.

 

“Yes, I do.” Sherlock adjusted his collar as they made their way back out onto the street. “If I had just killed someone and that person took out an advert in the Times , I would be very interested to see how they had managed it.”

 

“So you've invited a murderer to our flat?” John looked mildly miffed, but winked at him and he seemed sufficiently charmed.

 

“Not to worry, John,” he replied. “I won't let anything happen to you.”

 

‒‒

 

“That’s… fourteen good Samaritans wanting to return Ms. Mayer’s ring?” John sighed as he dropped into his armchair, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Over the course of the past two days, a surprisingly large number of people had popped by to try and convince Sherlock that they were there to return a ring of which he was already in possession.

 

“Fifteen if you count those twins as two separate people,” Sherlock answered, equally frustrated with the whole turn of events. John let out a tired huff of a laugh.

 

“I’d nearly forgotten about them. Tried to forget about them, I suppose. They spoke in unison ‒ what was that about?”

 

“And they ate all the biscuits,” Sherlock put forth with calm disgust. They shared a little chuckle before there was another knock at the door and their laughter turned to sighs.

 

“I’ll get it.” John stood from his chair and opened the door. A small, plump woman was on the landing, her frizzy black hair struggling to remain under her small hat. “Mrs. Turner! What a pleasant surprise ‒ come in, please.”

 

“Thank you, Doctor Watson,” said Mrs. Turner, putting a motherly hand to his cheek. “When are you going to be rid of that beard?”

 

“I’ve gotten some positive feedback lately ‒ I think I’ll keep it.” John smirked in Sherlock’s direction and the detective stood from his own chair. “Mrs. Turner, this is Sherlock Holmes. He’s a detective and he’ll be staying with me for a little while. Sherlock, this is Mrs. Turner, my landlady.”

 

Sherlock extended his hand and Mrs. Turner took it, giving him an oddly appraising look. “Mister Holmes…” she said slowly, her shrewd eyes narrowing. Giving John a smile with an undertone Sherlock could not quite identify, she said, “Finally made use of that second bedroom, then, Doctor Watson?”

 

Oh!

 

“Yes, of course…” John trailed off with confusion all over his face and Sherlock nearly rolled his eyes at his naivete. Mrs. Turner nodded soothingly and patted John’s hand. Still clearly oblivious, John offered, “Would you like some tea, Mrs. Turner?”

 

“Oh, no thank you, dear. I just wanted to pop by and let you know that I’d come back from visiting my sister. Mister Holmes,” she turned to smile at Sherlock, “a pleasure to meet you.”

 

“Likewise.” He returned her knowing smirk with a little wink. He thought that he might actually like Mrs. Turner.

 

“I live just next door if you ever need anything, dear.” With that, she turned and headed through the door which John cordially held open for her.

 

The door closed, John said to Sherlock with furrowed eyebrows, “Well, that was odd. I wonder what all that about the second bedroom was about?”

 

“Probably that Mrs. Turner has ascertained that we are shagging.”

 

John nearly choked on his own breath. “Good God!” He ran his hands over his beard in a panicked movement and paced about the room.

 

“Rather a quick deduction, on her part,” Sherlock muttered. “She seems a… competent woman.”

 

“Sherlock!” John’s voice startled Sherlock out of his musings. “Mrs. Turner thinks we are… that we’re…”

 

“That we’re what?”

 

“That we’re shagging !” John cried, far more upset than Sherlock thought was necessary.

 

Sherlock lowered his brow. “We are shagging.” Why was John behaving this way?

 

Oh. He’s ashamed.

 

“That’s beside the point, Sherlock.”

 

“No, I don’t think it is,” he answered in an icy tone and went stoically into the kitchen to pour himself another cup of tea.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“You’re clearly ashamed at having entered into a sexual relationship with a man and now that a third party is privy to that information, you are afraid that your deviant little secret will be let out.” Sherlock took a sip of his tea and stared unrelentingly at John, who had come to a nervous halt in the center of the parlour.

 

“That’s… that’s not‒”

 

“It’s fine, John,” Sherlock interrupted tersely. “I understand that people who are raised in certain religions are given to guilt regarding their baser instincts. I am not wholly unfamiliar with men acting out as an expression of their shame, so if we could forgo the name-calling and attempts at physical abuse, I would be most obliged.”

 

John looked absolutely horrified.

 

“Sherlock, I would never‒”

 

There was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it.” Sherlock set down his cup with rather more force than was strictly necessary.

 

“No, Sherlock, let’s talk about‒”

 

“Let’s not.” Sherlock threw open the door and looked thunderously down at the grimy face of Billy Wiggins. “What is it?”

 

“I might’ve seen your man,” Wiggins said, striding confidently into the room. He spotted a plate of biscuits in the parlour, refreshed after the odd twins had left, and promptly shoved two into his mouth. “Professor-lookin’ bloke came pokin’ about the beach this mornin’.”

 

“I’m sorry, Wiggins, but if you could just give us a moment‒”

 

“No, Wiggins, it’s fine, continue,” Sherlock cut him off, crossed his arms, and stared down at the boy. Wiggins stared right back, one brow lifted as his chewing slowed curiously.

 

“You two havin’ a domestic?” Wiggins gestured between the two of them with a biscuit and John threw his hands up in frustration.

 

“Jesus Christ,” he hissed, the heels his hands pressing into his temples. Sherlock felt angrier than he usually would during this predictable crisis of sexuality ‒ more than one man in his past had insisted beyond vehemence that he was not gay and this was simply an aberration. A “one-time thing”. But something about John’s reaction to the idea of people knowing ‒ not even knowing, but suspecting ‒ about the two of them made Sherlock’s forearms itch in a most unpleasant way.

 

“We were having a discussion before you arrived, Wiggins, but it is of no matter now. Tell me about the man.”

 

“Well…” Wiggins swallowed his biscuit and took up Sherlock’s tepid cup of tea. “He was about your age, maybe? A bit younger? ‘Bout the same height as the doc, but thinner. Dark hair, clean shaven.” He took a large gulp of tea before continuing. “I reckon he’s got money ‒ nice suit and watch. Shiney shoes,” Wiggins finished impressively.

 

“Is that it?” Sherlock demanded. “Nothing distinctive? You said he looked like a professor ‒ why?”

 

“Chalk on his sleeve,” Wiggins answered, gesturing to the ratty cuff of his own jacket.

 

“Excellent deduction, Wiggins. If I can determine where this man is employed‒”

 

“Oh, by the way, there’s a cab waitin’ downstairs for you, Mister ‘Olmes,” Wiggins said around a mouthful of shortbread. “Nearly forgot.”

 

“You forgot?” Sherlock replied indignantly as John went to the window.

 

“No, I nearly forgot.” Wiggins settled into John’s armchair. Sherlock rolled his eyes and made to grab his coat.

 

“Wait ‒ you’re going?” John asked as Sherlock pulled open the door.

 

“Of course I’m going.”

 

“Just… give me a mo’, I’ll come along.”

 

“No, stay here,” Sherlock said. He flipped his collar up defensively. “Won’t be long.”

 

“Sherlock‒” The door slammed shut on John’s voice and Sherlock darted down the stairs.

 

Just outside the front door, a slightly-overweight man with a thin beard was leaning casually against the door of a hansom cab. The horse shuffled its hooves impatiently on the cobbled stone. “Hansom, Mister Holmes?”

 

“I’ve always thought so.” The cabbie lt out a humourless laugh.

 

“They told me you were clever,” he said. “I wonder if you’re clever enough.”

 

Sherlock looked the man over: mid-fifties, single, living on a strict budget. But what is he ‒ oh! Of course. He’s the killer. A cabbie ‒ brilliant! Hunting in a crowd, preying on whomever presents the best opportunity.

 

“I didn’t order a cab,” Sherlock said calmly.

 

“Doesn’t mean you don’t need one.”

 

“You’re the one. You’ve been killing people and making it look like suicide.” Sherlock slipped his hands into his pockets and feigned nonchalance.

 

“See, no one ever thinks about the cabbie. It’s like you’re invisible ‒ just the back of an ‘ead. Proper advantage for a serial killer.” The man ‒ his badge read J. Hope ‒ rocked on his heels with an air of causality that actually unsettled Sherlock.

 

“Is this a confession?”

 

“Oh, yeah. And I’ll tell you what else: if you call the coppers now, I won’t run. I’ll sit quiet and they can take me down, I promise.”

 

“Why?”

 

“’Cause you’re not gonna do that.”

 

“Am I not?”

 

Hope smiled. “I didn’t kill those four people, Mr Holmes. I spoke to ’em and they killed themselves.” Hope half-turned and gave his horse a pleasant little pat on the rump. “And if you get the coppers now, I promise you one thing: I will never tell you what I said.” With that, he climbed up into the driver’s seat and took up the reigns.

 

No one else will die, though, and I believe they call that a result,” Sherlock said, still wary.

 

And you won’t ever understand how those people died. What kind of result do you care about?” Hope spoke as if he already knew the answer ‒ already knew Sherlock in a way he could not possibly already know Sherlock.

 

Taking a deep breath through his nose, Sherlock turned and looked back up at the windows of 221B. The curtains were drawn. John was probably trying to convince Wiggins to leave him and his biscuits alone. It was about that time, though, in their relationship. If that’s what it was. It was about time, in Sherlock’s experience, for the other man to decide that he was no longer interested. No longer interested in the sex, in the drugs, in Sherlock, in paying him to be quiet and pretending they weren’t. He hated that things seemed to have reached that point with John so soon. At all.

 

He turned away from 221. “If I wanted to understand,” he started, stepping closer, “what would I do?”

 

“Let me take you for a ride,” Hope answered.

 

“So you can kill me, too?” A slight burning in his veins and a vicious little voice said, What’s the difference?

 

“I don’t wanna kill you, Mister Holmes.” Hope turned to look at him with false empathy. “I’m gonna talk to you, and then you’re gonna kill yourself.”

 

What’s the difference?

 

Sherlock climbed into the cab.

Chapter Text

“How did you find me?” Sherlock stared intently at the back of the cabbie’s head as he unthinkingly maneuvered the reigns. Been doing this for a long time, then. Hope had referred to the vehicle as a hansom, but in truth it was an old Victoria carriage and the driver sat at the front of the cart rather than perched behind. Larger fares, but he’s not spending the money on himself. Cab needs new paint and the left rear wheel is wobbling. “Who warned you about me?”

 

Hope turned his head slightly to be heard over the clatter of wheels over cobbled stone. “Just someone out there who’s noticed you.”

 

“Who?” Sherlock demanded. “Who would notice me?” Especially here, now. It wasn’t as though he had a reputation which preceded him in 1895. This was his first case in this time ‒ he had never reluctantly been photographed for the papers or followed by socially-awkward fans obsessed with puzzles and serial killers. “Who would notice me?” Hope chuckled.

 

“You’re too modest, Miser Holmes.”

 

“I’m really not.”

 

‒‒

 

John gaped at the street below him, disbelief pulling his jaw down. “He’s just got in the bloody cab,” he muttered.

 

“Maybe he needed to go someplace,” Wiggins shrugged and crammed another biscuit in his mouth. Turning away from the window, John grabbed the boy up by the shoulder of his jacket, ignoring his annoyed cry of, “Watch it!”

 

“Come on ‒ off with you. I’ve got to go.” John pulled his own coat over his suit and pushed Wiggins through the door.

 

“Where’re you headed?” he demanded as John strong-armed him down the stairs.

 

“I’m going after him, obviously.” John waved a hand and swore under his breath as the first cab passed him by. “If you’re still hungry, go next door and tell Mrs. Turner I sent you. She’ll feed you properly.” Wiggins’s eyes lit up and he darted away from John’s grip and toward the landlady’s door.

 

The second cab stopped and John pulled himself onto the step and said up to the coachman, “I’m looking for someone who went off in a carriage ‒ a, erm, a Victoria, I think. It’s urgent that I find him, they went off in that direction.” Swinging into the seat, John rubbed mindlessly at a pain in his thigh as the cab jerked into motion. Where could he have gone? He doesn’t even know anyone. Jesus Christ, Sherlock, if you get yourself into trouble, I’ll murder you myself.

 

‒‒

 

The cab slowed to a halt and the fingers of Sherlock’s right hand drummed against his thigh as his thoughts raced through his mind. “Where are we?”

 

“I’m told you’re very smart, Mister Holmes. I’d wager you know exactly where we are.” Hope ambled down from the driver’s bench and tied his horse to the hitching post on the sidewalk.

 

“University College, medical sciences building,” he answered swiftly. “Why here?”

 

“Thought you’d like it,” Hope replied, a smug little smirk on his sagging face. He shrugged. “And it’s open. One thing about being a cabbie ‒ you always know a nice quiet spot for a murder. I’m surprised more of us don’t branch out.”

 

Eyes darting over the building’s white stone facade, Sherlock pursed his lips in thought. “And you just walk your victims in? How?” A clattering old pistol swung into Sherlock’s view and he sighed in exaggerated exasperation. “Dull.”

 

“Not to worry ‒ it gets better.” Hope lowered the gun, a cruel twinkle in his eye. “Don’t need this with you, though. ‘Cos you’ll follow me.” He turned toward the building and Sherlock sighed again, this time in self-loathing and annoyance. Of course he would follow.

 

‒‒

 

“Here! Turn here!” John pointed down an alley where he saw a carriage of similar size disappear. Rounding the corner, the cabbie obligingly kept the pace quick, but John was at a loss. A similar vehicle, but it contained a raven-haired woman, a far-cry from Sherlock, and he cursed his panicked observation. “Keep going!” He waved his own carriage forward, attempting to will Sherlock into view. He could be with anyone. Anything could happen to him.

 

But somehow, knowing Sherlock, John knew precisely who he was with.

 

If I were going to murder Sherlock , John thought, and not just for taking off with a serial killer, where would I take him? Where would be the poetry? Bart’s? No ‒ too simple and yet too difficult. It would be occupied at any time of day or night. Dusk was quickly falling ‒ John had to think fast before he lost all possibility of spotting Sherlock. The killer clearly knew Sherlock, at least a bit about him. They had not included Sherlock’s name in the advert for the lost ring. Where would someone take Sherlock to die?

 

All the victims had been found indoors, so that eliminated parks. They were alone, no witnesses for hours, so somewhere abandoned or closed. They took the poison themselves, so hopefully Sherlock would not be stupid enough to ingest anything, but John had already seen the bright eagerness that lit in Sherlock’s eyes at the prospect of danger. He was strong, John knew that much, so he could defend himself. Buy some time until someone came for help.

 

Cold regret splashed over John’s heart ‒ Sherlock was not expecting help. The only person he knew ‒ John ‒ had left him with words of frustration and apparent shame. Damn him for a fool! Sherlock thought John uncaring and had gone off into the care of a serial killer believing that no one cared what happened. Oh, God, I have to find him….

 

Feeling very much as if he were chasing wild geese, John flung out his arm and shouted back to the driver, “Turn here!”

 

‒‒

 

Sherlock followed Hope through the clean corridors of the anatomy building, the air smelling specifically academic ‒ chalk and paper and slightly-stagnant air. He wondered briefly if there was a connection to the professorial man who had killed the woman at the Tower. Sherlock’s entire circumstance seemed to have a distinctly collegiate ring. There was no evidence at the moment to suggest that the two killings were even connected, so Sherlock let the thought slip away as he stepped into an empty classroom behind Hope.

 

“Well,” the cabbie said, arms outstretched to the room around him, “what d’you think?” Sherlock shrugged with a mixture of impatience and impertinence. “It’s up to you. You’re the one who’s gonna die here.”

 

Slowly, confidently, he replied, “No, I’m not.”

 

“That’s what they all say.” Hope stretched out a hand to one of the long, wooden benches that were situated in two columns along the classroom. He took up a stool and Sherlock took his time collecting a stool for himself and pulling it up to sit opposite, being sure to maintain his composure. It would not do for Hope to think, even for a moment, that Sherlock had surrendered the upper hand.

 

“Bit risky, wasn’t it? Took me away on a busy street, dozens of witnesses, no cover over your face. You spoke directly to Wiggins, he’s sure to remember you.”

 

“You call that a risk?” Hope let out a lazy sound of dismissal. “Nah. This is a risk.” From within his coat pocket, Hope removed a small glass vial, corked and containing a single capsule about the size of a paracetamol tablet. It looked completely innocuous, but Sherlock knew better than to be fooled by mere appearances. He squinted his eyes and searched for clues of any kind. No doubt this was the method of delivery for the arsenic…. “Oh, I like this bit,” Hope said teasingly. “‘Cos you don’t get it yet, do you? But you’re about to. I just have to do this….”

 

A second bottle was presented, identical to the first in every way. The cabbie set it down on the smooth wooden tabletop with a smart little click . His hands shook minutely, but not from fear. Sherlock surmised that it was likely adrenaline. Excitement. The sensation had begun to thrum through his own veins.

 

“You weren’t expectin’ that, were you?” He leaned forward and Sherlock could see the sadistic gleam in the old man’s watery eyes. “You’re gonna love this.”

 

“Love what?”

 

Hope sat back with a tsk of barely-suppressed enjoyment. “Sherlock Holmes…. Look at you ‒ here in the flesh. He told me you were somethin’ else…”

 

“Who told you?”

 

Hope ignored him. “You are brilliant, you are. A proper genius. Between you and me sittin’ here, why can’t people just think ?” His conspiratorial expression changed over to anger and disgust. “Don’t it make you mad? Why can’t people just think ?” The fury in his eyes made Sherlock recoil internally, but he maintained his facade of cool composure. The anger was what would cost Hope in the end, he knew it now. Everyone has a weakness .

 

“Oh, I see,” Sherlock said, voice dripping with sarcasm, “you’re a proper genius, too.”

 

“Don’t look it, do I?” No, you certainly do not .

 

“Okay,” Sherlock said, “two bottles. Explain.”

 

Hope sat more upright and rested his hands on his round abdomen as though he were about to explain to a child the truth about Father Christmas. “There’s a good bottle and a bad bottle. You take the pill from the good bottle, you live ‒ take the pill from the bad bottle, you die.”

 

“And you know which is which.” It wasn’t a question.

 

“Of course I know.”

 

“But I don’t.”

 

“Wouldn’t be a game if you knew.” The older man shrugged nonchalantly. “You’re the one who chooses.”

 

“Why should I? I’ve got nothing to go on. What’s in it for me?”

 

The gleam was back in Hope’s eye. “I haven’t told you the best bit yet. Whatever bottle you choose, I take the pill from the other one – and then, together, we take our medicine.” Sherlock felt a curious grin begin to slide over his lips. Here was something . Something to finally take his mind off everything. A real puzzle. A real problem. Not the petty squabbles of an affair falling apart or the phantom twinge in the crook of his elbow. A real life or death problem with Sherlock at the center of it all. “I won’t cheat. It’s your choice. I’ll take whatever pill you don’t.” Sherlock stared down at the bottles, concentrating hard, taking in every detail. “You take your time. Get yourself together. I want your best game.”

 

Sherlock looked up at that. “It’s not a game . It’s chance .”

 

Playing at effrontery, Hope put a hand to his chest. “I’ve played four times and I’m alive. It’s not chance, Mister Holmes. It’s chess. It’s a game of chest with one move and one survivor. And this…” he held up his left hand and reached forward, “this is the move.” With one finger, he pushed one bottle across the table until it was directly in front of Sherlock. He licked his lips and Sherlock could hear his tongue sliding wetly across his mouth. “Did I just give you the good bottle, or the bad bottle?” A grin played over his wrinkled face. “Ready to play?”

 

Sherlock huffed in annoyance and disappointment. “Play what ? It’s a fifty-fifty chance.”

 

“You’re not playin’ the numbers, you’re playin’ me.”

 

“Still just chance.”

 

“Four people in a row? That’s not just chance.”

 

Sherlock leaned forward and let the word slide, disdainful, out of his mouth, “Luck.” Hope shook his head.

 

“It’s genius . I know how people think .” Sherlock actually rolled his eyes. “Or maybe God just loves me.” What a ridiculous notion . “Everyone’s so stupid ‒ even you.” An even more ludicrous suggestion .

 

Sherlock sat back and stared the man down. “Either way, you’re wasted as a cabbie.” A genuine smile flitted over Hope’s cheeks. Sherlock did not care for it anymore than the cruel smiles from before. “So, you risked your life four times just to kill strangers? Why?”

 

Hope tsk -ed and tapped at the table between them. “Time to play, Mister Holmes.”

 

Leaning forward again, Sherlock laced his finger and rested them on the bench. “Oh, I am playing. This is my turn.” His eyes scanned Hope for the umpteenth time, details and information falling into place like Tetris pieces. “There’s shaving soap behind your left ear. Nobody’s pointed it out to you. Traces of where it’s happened before, so obviously you live on your own; there’s no-one to tell you.”

 

Hope began to fidget. Sherlock smirked and continued.

 

“You checked your watch earlier ‒ inside, a photo of two children. No mother. If she were dead, you’d have her in the picture, too. You think of your children but you don’t get to see them.” The cabbie’s eyes flitted away, the veneer of his confidence finally slipping. “Estranged father. She took the kids, but you still love them and it still hurts.” Sherlock’s hands found their way into his most comfortable prayer-pose, steepled under his chin in worship of the facts before him. “But there’s more. Your clothes and the carriage: all higher-quality than typical London cabbies, but not kept up. Nothing new in a few years and no costly repairs.” He paused in consideration. Then it clicked.

 

Dying.

 

“You’re a dead man walking.”

 

“So are you,” Hope spat, a tinge of sadness colouring his rancor. Sherlock was getting under his skin.

 

“You don’t have long, though. Am I right?”

 

A humourless smirk in reply and an emotionless tap square on his own chest. “Aneurysm. Right in here.” Sherlock’s smile was genuine. “Any breath could be my last.”

 

“And because you’re dying, you’ve just murdered four people?”

 

“I’ve outlived four people,” Hope corrected with contaminated passion. “That’s the most a man can hope for on an aneurysm.”

 

Carefully, thoughtfully, Sherlock spoke again. “No… no there’s something else. You didn’t just kill four people because you’re bitter . Bitterness is a paralytic. Love…” his heart gave a traitorous, sentimental flutter, “love is a much more vicious motivator.” John’s face swam in his mind’s eye, but he shook it away, dragging his focus back to the moment. “Somehow,” he continued, “this is about your children.”

 

Hope looked away and shook his head in reluctant admiration. “Oh, you are good, ain’t you?” Sherlock waited expectantly. “When I die, they won’t get much, my kids. Not a lot of money drivin’ a cab.”

 

“Or serial killing,” Sherlock answered smartly.

 

“You’d be surprised.”

 

“Then surprise me.”

 

They were only a few inches away now, both leaning forward in the heady anticipation of the game between them. “I’ve got a patron.”

 

“You’ve got a what ?”

 

“For every life I take,” Hope explained, “money goes to my children. The more I kill, the better off they’ll be.”

 

Sherlock’s brow furrowed. “Who would pay to support a serial killer?”

 

“Who’d be an admirer of Sherlock Holmes ?” That tripped him up. No one, that was who. Certainly no one in this time.

 

John .

 

Sherlock shook his head, forcing thoughts of the doctor from his mind. He needed to focus .

 

“Now,” Hope’s gruff voice pulled him back to the present, “no more chatter. Time to choose.”

 

“What if I don’t choose either? I could just walk out of here.” From under the bench, Hope extracted the pistol and held it causally in Sherlock’s direction. “Please. I know a loaded gun when I see one.”

 

With an expression that bordered on tedium, Hope thumbed open the release and revealed an empty chamber. “None of the others did.”

 

“Clearly.” Sherlock stood, straightened his coat with unaffected boredom, and stared down at Hope in disappointment. “I look forward to the court case.”

 

He was halfway to the door when Hope spoke again. “Before you go… did you figure it out?” Sherlock stopped, staring at the classroom door. “Which one’s the good bottle?”

 

“Of course. Child’s play.”

 

“Well? Which one would you have picked? Just so I know whether I could have beaten you?”

 

Sherlock turned on his heel, stalked back to the bench, and snatched up the bottle nearest to Hope.

 

‒‒

 

A narrow, covered alleyway stretched between two of University College’s medical buildings and John dashed under the portico. A door on both his left and right. If he chose poorly, it could be Sherlock’s death. Hell , he thought, Sherlock might not even be here. A courtyard beckoned beyond the causeway, opening onto the rear of several buildings. John searched every available window for any sign of life, the faintest glimmer of candlelight in the early evening gloom.

 

He started forward.

 

‒‒

 

The other bottle was in Hope’s age-spotted hand. A rush ran through Sherlock’s every vein as he considered the possibilities. It truly was a fifty-fifty chance. Anything could happen. Hope could die. He could die. Probably not. So far, death had not been able to enclose its grasp on Sherlock, despite its greatest efforts.

 

“So what d’you think?” They stared at one another, neither giving anything away. “Are you clever enough to bet your life?”

 

Callously, Sherlock replied, “Oh, nothing so invaluable as that.” They each raised their bottles.

 

“I bet you get bored, don’t you. A man like you….” Lids were unscrewed. “So clever.” Bottles were discarded. “But what’s the point of bein’ clever if you can’t prove it?” Capsules in hand. Sherlock raised his to examine it more closely. No scent of arsenic. “You’d do anything ‒ anything ‒ to stop. Being. Bored.”

 

Slowly, in unison, they raised their hands to their lips.

 

“Not bored now, are you?”

 

A gunshot rang out, calamitously loud in the small room, and Hope fell to the floor with a cry.

 

Blood was pouring from his chest, but Sherlock darted toward the classroom window. A small entry hole marred the glass, but all he could see outside was night. He spun on his heel and leaned over Hope. The man, so small now, was gasping wetly and clutching at the wound just above his heart. He would bleed out in less than a minute.

 

“Was I right?” Hope only groaned in pain. “I was, wasn’t I?” Sherlock nearly shouted in his desperation to know, “Did I get it right?” Fury overtaking him, Sherlock flung the capsule still in his hand until it clattered against the opposite wall. “Okay, tell me this: your patron ‒ who is it? The one who told you about me. My admirer ‒ I want a name.”

 

Weakly, Hope’s head lolled from side to side in refusal, his eyelids fluttering as he struggled to hold on to life. “N-no….”

 

The puzzle was over and with no satisfying end and Sherlock was left alone, his skin crawling, his mind racing, and no quiet in sight. In a surge of utter malice, Sherlock pressed his foot to Hope’s shoulder, just above the wound. The cry Hope let loose was visceral, infantile and animal in equal measure, and Sherlock’s chest swelled sickeningly with the sound of his pain. “Give. Me. A. Name.”

 

Hope gasped, blood surging into his throat and lungs. He whined, grimacing as Sherlock pressed his weight onto his injury with a curl of his full lip.

 

“The NAME!”

 

“BROOK!” The name was the last syllable he uttered. Hope’s head hell to one side and his eyes lolled backward as his breath finally left him.

 

‒‒

 

“A cabbie? Really?” God, how could Dimmock still be asking him these inane, repetitive questions?

 

With an extreme sigh, Sherlock said, “Yes. A cabbie. Someone was paying him to murder people ‒ as far as I can tell, out of simple altruism.” Dimmock’s eyes widened in shock. “Obviously, not for the victims. Hope needed money to leave his children and his mystery patron was compensating him for each murder, but not for any larger purpose.” Sherlock wanted so badly to be rid of these people. Who had even brought them here?

 

Across the courtyard, a small, stout figure was standing at parade rest, rocking on his heels, looking about the scene almost casually.

 

John .

 

Sherlock’s breath hitched as John’s eyes found his. The expression on his face was serious, but relieved. Still, he made no move toward Sherlock. And Dimmock was still speaking.

 

“So,” Sherlock cut the inspector off, “the shooter ‒ no sign?”

 

“None. Scarpered before we got here. I reckon a man like Hope’s got to have some enemies, though. But… we’ve got nothing to go on.”

 

Sherlock nearly rolled his eyes. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

 

Dimmock returned Sherlock’s annoyance. “Go on, then.”

 

“Kill shot over that distance ‒ that’s a crack shot you’re looking for, but not just a marksman; a fighter. His hands couldn’t have shaken at all, so clearly he’s acclimatised to violence. He didn’t fire until I was in immediate danger, though, so strong moral principle. You’re looking for a man probably with a history of military service….” His voice softened as his sights landed on John a second time. “Nerves of steel….”

 

John Watson. He looked to all the world as the utmost innocent bystander. Sherlock shut his slackened jaw and took a deep breath.

 

“Actually, do you know what? Ignore me.”

 

Dimmock blinked. “I’m sorry?”

 

“Ignore all of that. It’s… shock. I’m clearly in shock. Nearly died just then.” Sherlock took a step away, but Dimmock held out a hand.

 

“Where d’you think you’re going?”

 

“Oh, come along,” Sherlock said with undisguised irritation. “I’ve just caught you a serial killer.” At Dimmock’s raised eyebrows, he amended, “More or less. Let me get on with my life, will you?”

 

Dimmock heaved an exasperated sigh. “Fine. Come by the Yard tomorrow, then.”

 

Sherlock was already walking away. He shouldered through the smattering of policemen and investigators until he was a mere foot or two away from John. The smaller man’s chest expanded with a steadying breath that Sherlock mirrored and they stared at each other for a long moment.

 

“Mackenzie’s just been explaining everything,” John said, the veneer of his calm beginning to crack. Dreadful business, this.”

 

Sherlock nodded slowly, his skin prickling with the tension between them. It was heavy, heady, and almost literally electric. “Good shot,” he said lowly.

 

John blinked up at him unflinchingly. “Yes. Yes, it must’ve been, over that distance ‒”

 

“Well, you’d know.” Another intense stare. “Need to wash the powder from your hands. I don’t suppose you’d serve time for this, but let’s avoid the court case.” John cleared his throat and glanced away, his attempt at looking innocent giving way to a smug little grin. “Are you alright?”

 

“Yes, of course I’m alright.”

 

“Well, you have just killed a man.” John’s jaw clenched and his lips pursed at that.

 

“He wasn’t the first.” He forced himself to meet Sherlock’s eye. Then, a little lighter, he said, “But he wasn’t a very nice man, was he?”

 

A grin that even Sherlock knew was inappropriate crawled across his cheeks. “No, he wasn’t really, was he?”

 

“And frankly, a bloody awful cabbie.”

 

Sherlock snorted with laughter and suddenly, the worry that had put him in Hope’s cab had disappeared. John had sought him out. Saved his life. Followed a nearly non-existent trail of clues to Sherlock’s location and acted calmly and swiftly to protect him. That was… not typical. Sherlock swallowed. Finally, he jerked his head in a beckoning gesture and the two of them started toward the street. Without discussing the matter, they agreed to walk.

 

After a moment’s heavy silence, John asked, “You were going to take that capsule, weren’t you?”

 

“Of course not,” Sherlock lied. “Biding my time. Knew you’d show up.”

 

“No you didn’t.”

 

“Hoped you would.” Not a lie.

 

John stopped walking and turned to face Sherlock, his expression serious. “This is how you get your thrills, isn’t it? Risking your life just to prove you’re clever.”

 

Sherlock hesitated. If John only knew what Sherlock had been inclined to do to get his thrills. This was one of his tamer endeavours. “Why would I do that?”

 

“Because you’re an idiot.” It was said with a smile and Sherlock allowed the tension to slide from his shoulders. It seemed, at least for the time, that John was not going to reprimand him. In fact, the dark expression in his eyes called something completely different to mind.

 

“Thank you,” Sherlock said softly. He didn’t say it often, but he meant it this time. “You… saved my life.”

 

John cleared his throat and looked away, more of that stiff upper lip which had been part of their quarrel, a lifetime ago and only a few hours before. “When I saw you get in that cab, I thought…. Sherlock, anything could have happened to you. I was so….”

 

“I know.” A silence stretched between them, growing heavier with every passing second. Sherlock did not like it. It felt like a balloon being slowly filled with the things unsaid, ready at any moment to burst and frighten John off. “John ‒”

 

“I’m not ashamed of you, you know.” John’s voice was strong as it cut across Sherlock’s. He looked up at the detective and seemed to steel himself. “I’m not… guilty or… disgusted by you. By what there is between us. I just…” he glanced around for some source of inspiration, something to relieve him of the burden of describing his thoughts. “I don’t know what things are like in your time, but here… it’s just not the done thing.”

 

The done thing . How many times had Sherlock heard that before? Mycroft: Sherlock, it’s not the done thing! You have to attend university, you can’t just run off and be a cocaine-addicted crime-solver! Sebastian: It’s just not the done thing, chap. I have to have a girlfriend, you understand. Mummy: You have to be a decent member of society, Sherlock. It’s the done thing. Now get dressed and come along!

 

The cloud was back and Sherlock nodded blearily to John, steeling himself for the inevitable. “I understand, John.”

 

“No, you don’t.” Warm hands gripped his upper arms and held him steady. “I want you. I want you .” John blinked solidly up at him, his decision apparently made. “I want to be with you, whatever that means, for as long as this lasts. We just… can’t be obvious , you know? People get arrested for this sort of thing.”

 

That struck Sherlock like a blow to the face. At home, his sexuality had always been a source of discomfort to him and his family, a threat of abnormality and disregard for the done thing . He had heard every slur in the book, taken beatings from schoolmates and strangers alike, been relegated to the outskirts of society for so many reasons. But it was not a punishable offense to fuck another man. Not in his own time. At least there had been that. But here, now, things were very different. Something niggled in the back of Sherlock’s mind about Oscar Wilde…. Whatever it was made his skin crawl, a memory of some cautionary tale that his mind had forgotten but his gut had not.

 

Sherlock let out a shaky breath. “So… it’s not… me?” His voice sounded small even to his own ears.

 

John’s hands clapped firmly to his jaw and held Sherlock’s gaze to his own. “No, Sherlock. It is not you.” Sherlock wanted suddenly to kiss John as thoroughly as he had ever kissed or been kissed. But perhaps not in the street.

 

“Take me home, John.”

Chapter Text

The energy between them had shifted, turned completely on its ear from uncomfortable misunderstanding to a slow-building heat which intensified with every step. John unlocked the front door, determindley not making eye contact with Sherlock, and held it open for the slim detective to slip inside.

 

With the quiet click of the door, the air around them nearly evaporated and Sherlock was left staring breathlessly down at John in the semi-darkness. A thrill ran down his spine and desire began to pool, hot and quivering, in his abdomen. God, I haven’t even touched him yet.

 

He decided to rectify the situation. Sherlock closed the space between them, sliding his hands around John’s waist beneath his coat and pulling the smaller man into a gentle but fervent kiss. It was a magnificent, slow slide of tongues and shared breath, John’s hands wrapped around Sherlock’s lapels and Sherlock’s own fingers curling around John’s hips. A brief eternity passed, then John pulled back, took Sherlock’s hand, and led him up the stairs.

 

They passed through the sitting room, dropping their coats onto the sofa as they went, and to Sherlock’s surprise, John continued to lead him up the second set of stairs to his own bedroom. Of course, he’d been in there before, but never by invitation. This was different somehow, in some way he couldn’t quite place. It was obviously tremendously generous and intimate that John had invited Sherlock to share his home in the first place, but now, for him to ask Sherlock into the only truly private place he’d retained was nearly beyond his genius comprehension.

 

If he was nervous, John did not show it. His smile was gentle and confident, tilting up at one side as he glanced at Sherlock’s mouth. Slowly, his tongue slid across his bottom lip and Sherlock thought he might forget to breathe completely. With a quiet growl, Sherlock took John’s mouth in another kiss and murmured against his lips, “You have to stop doing that.”

 

John hummed and nipped at Sherlock’s lower lip. “Doing what?”

 

“Licking your lips like that.” Dipping his head, Sherlock licked at John’s bearded jaw and nipped lightly at the skin below his ear. “If you don’t want me to make a scene in public….” John chuckled as his hands slid beneath Sherlock’s waistcoat to begin undoing his clothes, fingers darting across his warm skin.

 

“If I can control myself every time you open that damned mouth, so can you.” Another searing kiss left Sherlock weak in the knees, but something sparked in the corner of his brain.

 

“You like my voice,” he said, low and rough, and John visibly shivered.

 

“It will be the death of me.” John’s ministrations picked up speed and intensity, his fingers popping the buttons of Sherlock’s waistcoat so rapidly that he almost tore the garment in two. He pulled Sherlock’s shirt over his head and dropped it carelessly to the floor before starting on his trousers.

 

“You like the sound of my voice,” Sherlock rumbled as he toed out of his shoes and slowly undid the buttons of John’s waistcoat, “whispering in your ear, shouting your name, moaning as you make me cum.”

 

“Jesus,” John groaned, rolling his eyes and exposing his neck to Sherlock’s roving lips. Nips and licks traced along John’s heated flesh behind Sherlock’s dancing fingers until the detective was on his knees, peeling open John’s trousers and worshiping the skin there as well.

 

“It arouses you, to hear me speak.”

 

“Oh, God, yes. Yes it does.” John’s hands fell to Sherlock’s hair as he was fully divested of his clothes. “I want to hear you, Sherlock. Please .”

 

Sherlock’s forehead fell to John’s hip ‒ his voice did things to Sherlock, too. Rough and guttural, the sound shot straight to his groin and wrenched a sigh from Sherlock’s throat.

 

“I’m going to…” he licked his dry lips and swallowed, “I want to suck your cock, John. Feel you in my mouth, down my throat, hot and hard.” He closed his teeth on the flesh of John’s hip and breathed deep of the musky scent of him. “And I need you to fuck me ‒ I haven’t been able to forget the feeling of you thrusting into me, stretching me, pounding against me ‒”

 

“Oh, Christ, Sherlock,” came a strangled moan from above. “Please ‒ please .” Sherlock could barely stand the sound of his name falling from John’s lips any longer.

 

“If you insist.” He licked a decadent stripe up the underside of John’s erection before swirling his tongue around the tip. When he pressed his tongue into the slit of John’s cock, his head dropped back and his fingers tightened in Sherlock’s hair. It was just the right side of pain and Sherlock groaned as he swallowed John down, pressing his nose against John’s pubic bone and working his throat around the hard heat.

 

He worked his way up and back down again, his tongue undulating along John’s length as he bobbed his head and John staggered as he struggled to remain upright under Sherlock’s attentions. He tasted amazing and Sherlock thought he would gladly starve to have John be the only thing that crossed his tongue again.

 

Desperate and not wanting to waste time, Sherlock pressed John’s hips backward until he sat unceremoniously on the edge of the bed. John reclined back, propped on one elbow as he stared down at Sherlock, his fingernails scraping along the rolling planes of his shoulders. With his left hand, Sherlock traced the seam of John’s balls, rolled them between his fingers then moved to press firmly against John’s perineum. But his right hand was doing the real work ‒ he reached between his own bent thighs and slipped a finger inside himself.

 

“Oh, fuck ohfuck ,” John panted, eyes wide as he took in the scene before him. “Oh, Jesus, yes, Sherlock. Here….” He reached over to his bedside table and came away with a small tin of petroleum jelly, twisted it open and held it down for Sherlock to spread over his fingers. Sufficiently slick, Sherlock impaled himself with two fingers, studiously avoiding his prostate, and continued to suck down John’s cock as though his life depended on it. “God, you’re gorgeous,” John’s voice came out in a heavy huff of breath. “I need to… I need to be inside you, Sherlock, now. Please, are you ‒”

 

Sherlock popped off John’s cock with an obscene wet sound and wantonly licked his lips. John’s eyes screwed shut at the sight of him and he fell back onto the bed, his fist pressed against his mouth as he struggled to control himself. Sherlock wrapped his fist around John’s cock and gave a firm squeeze at the base, staving off his orgasm for the moment, before pulling steadily up his length. Spit and pre-cum spread over his fingers and Sherlock smeared the mixture over his hole with a deviant grin before climbing onto the bed. Leaning down, he nudged John’s hand away from his mouth and drove his tongue into his wet heat before sitting back and impaling himself on John’s turgid erection.

 

They cried out in unison, loud and unencumbered in the safety of the flat and Sherlock began to rock back and forth with abandon. His hips rolled smoothly, deliciously, against John’s pelvis and his muscles clenched around his hard length. “Oh, God, John,” he rumbled, “yes ‒ God, yes! ” John’s fingers dug into Sherlock’s hips and he cried out, “Fuck me, please! Come on ‒”

 

His voice broke off as John bucked underneath him, drawing his knees up in one smooth motion and planting his feet in the mattress. Sherlock leaned back against John’s thighs and rode his thrusts as a serie of sultry moans spilled from his full lips. John pounded upward into him, striking against his prostate with every other thrust, obscene grunts filling the air. Sherlock felt his orgasm spiralling down, tightening in his abdomen, and wrapped his fist around his own erection. In a few short thrusts, he was folding forward with the force of his release, spilling over John’s chest and stomach in hot spurts.

 

“Fuck, Sherlock… gorgeous…” John panted, doubling his efforts, his eyes wide as they observed Sherlock’s face. “Amazing… going to… I’m ‒ ah! ” With a deep, loud shout, John locked Sherlock’s pelvis into place against his own and came, hard .

 

He filled Sherlock to the brim, his cum spilling out over their joining and Sherlock let out an exquisite mewl at the feeling of being so completely taken. His tongue lapped at John’s neck and he rubbed his cheek against John’s rough beard like a preening cat, revelling in the shudder that overtook his oversensitive body.

 

“Christ, Sherlock,” John muttered breathlessly. “That… that was….”

 

“Agreed.” With a heaving breath and a sumptuous groan, Sherlock lifted himself from John’s lap and dropped onto the mattress beside him. After a few moments, their breathing slowed and their heart rates evened out, but Sherlock felt absolutely no compulsion to move except to wrap his long limbs around John’s entire body, warm and slightly sticky in the best way. John’s hand fell gently to his head and pushed his sweaty curls back from his forehead. His every touch was amazing, sparking a low-burning fire within Sherlock’s veins, silencing the noise which usually cluttered his mind. “John?”

 

“Hmm?” He sounded on the edge of sleep, but Sherlock soldiered on.

 

“Is it… usual? What it is between us?” He felt John shift a bit as he made room to look down at Sherlock. Instead of meeting his eye, Sherlock stared resolutely at John’s hip and commanded his body not to become tense.

 

“Well,” John started, taking a short breath through his nose, “I…” He sighed. “No. No it isn’t.”

 

“Is it…” Sherlock swallowed, his throat suddenly thick. “Is it alright?” John brought up his other hand and ran it down Sherlock’s arm so that he was nearly cradling the other man against him.

 

“Whatever it is, Sherlock,” he said, “it’s marvelous.”

Chapter Text

“Greg?” Lestrade looked up to see Anderson in his doorway, looking unusually uncomfortable.

 

“What is it? Is it that case with the kids?” he asked worriedly. Anderson gave a few quick shakes of his head and Lestrade sighed. Sometimes his job was the absolute pits.

 

“No, no it’s not that. It’s…” he trailed off and ran his fingers along the edge of a piece of paper in his hand, looking for all the world like a confused child.

 

“What is it, Anderson? Out with it.”

 

“It’s Holmes, sir.” Lestrade perked up at that.

 

“Have you found him?”

 

“Not… exactly.” And his heart sank again with abject terror.

 

“He’s dead.”

 

“No! I‒”

 

“Jesus Christ, Anderson if you don’t tell me what’s going on, I will have your guts for garters!”

 

Stepping swiftly forward, Anderson dropped the paper onto Letrade’s desk. It was a printout of an old newspaper clipping. 27 September 1895: New Scotland Yard has solved the case of four apparent suicides which turned out to be the work of murderer Jefferson Hope. Hope, a cabbie originally from Essex, used poison to kill his victims. He leaves behind two children and a wife. The case was solved with the aid of “consulting detective” Mr. S. Holmes, who declined to make a public statement.

 

Lestrade’s eyes flew open at the name on the page. S. Holmes . The photo which accompanied the article was small and grainy, but he squinted at it, trying to force details to come into sharper focus. Pictured above: D.I. Gregson, D.I. Dimmock (both of New Scotland Yard), Dr. J. Watson, Mr. S. Holmes.

 

The man to the far right of the group was taller than the others, thin, with dark hair and an imperious stance. But it was impossible to make out any real details of his face. “What is this?”

 

“I’ve been searching the internet since Holmes went missing ‒ just looking for anything that might interest him, you know?” Anderson said, shifting anxiously in front of Lestrade’s desk. “Wouldn’t be surprised if he scarpered to look at some other case he found more interesting.” Lestrade made an acquiescing face at that. “And I was just searching his name this morning, hoping someone had mentioned seeing him, and this came up. Some sci-fi geek who thinks time travel is real.”

 

“Time travel?” Lestrade replied with a scoff. “I swear, people are nuts.”

 

“Yeah…” Anderson said slowly. “Only…”

 

“Oh, God, Anderson, don’t tell me you believe this nonsense.”

 

“Not really, I… I just…” Anderson rubbed at the back of his neck. “It is odd, sir, you have to admit. It even looks like him.”

 

“It looks like that photo of Bigfoot,” the detective answered. “You can’t tell anything from this photo, Anderson, don’t be ridiculous!”

 

“But ‘S. Holmes ‒ consulting detective’ ! Who does that sound like?”

 

“Phillip!” Lestrade made a cutting gesture with his hands and Anderson fell quiet. “This is absolutely insane, do you understand me? We’re all worried about him ‒”

 

“I’m not worried about him,” Anderson spat. “I don’t even like him.”

 

“But we can’t start going down this rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and fairy tale nonsense,” Lestrade continued as if Anderson had not spoken. He sighed, calming himself. This whole business with Sherlock was truly testing his commitment to quit smoking. “Keep an ear to the ground, but don’t go crazy over it. He’ll turn up eventually. He always does.”

 

Anderson chewed his lip and nodded before leaving without another word. Leaning back in his chair, Lestrade took another long look at the printout. His hand hovered over the rubbish bin, but something stopped him. Folding the paper, he slipped it into his back pocket and picked up his mobile.

 

“Mister Holmes. I’ve got something I need you to take a look at.”

 

‒‒

 

“This is utter nonsense, Detective Inspector.” With that typical mightier-than-thou expression, Mycroft Holmes tossed the printed article onto his impressive desk. “You do know that?”

 

“Of course I do, but it’s the only thing that’s come up since Sherlock went missing,” Lestrade said with a sigh. “Is this fellow some sort of… relative?”

 

“I can assure you that my little brother is the first ‘consulting detective’ our family has ever known.” An expression close to a sneer graced Holmes’s face, but he was too composed to let his thoughts show completely. “I haven’t any idea who this man is, but seeing as he’s likely been dead for more than a hundred years ‒ providing he is not a vampire ‒ I suggest you get back to the real work of finding Sherlock, rather than chasing ghosts,” he said sarcastically. Lestrade’s temper rose, but he tampered it with a deep nasal inhalation.

 

“I only wanted to be certain it couldn’t be connected in some way,” the detective answered, more calmly than he felt. “I keep a pretty close tab on Sherlock on the internet ‒ just in case, you never know what he’ll get up to when you’re not watching him. And this is the first I’ve ever seen of this article. And you don’t think it’s a bit odd that it should turn up on the anniversary of that date? Today’s the 27th.”

 

“I am aware of the date.”

 

“You don’t think that’s a bit of a coincidence?”

 

“No, I do not.”

 

Lestrade sighed and stood from the chair across from Holmes’s desk. “Fine. I just thought I’d… I dunno.” Leaving that thought unfinished, Lestrade grabbed his coat from the rack and left without another word.

 

“Coincidence,” Holmes murmured, tapping a finger against the paper before him. “The universe is rarely so lazy….”

 

‒‒

 

“You’ve made quite a name for yourself, for someone who materialised out of thin air only a week ago.” John was sitting in his chair by the fire, reading through the day’s paper, and held out a page for Sherlock’s viewing as he walked by. There was a brief article about the cabbie case as well as a grainy photograph for which Sherlock had been reluctant to pose in the first place. But John had insisted and Sherlock had been unable to refuse him.

 

“Pft,” came Sherlock’s dismissive scoff. “I suppose that’s just what I need.” A second armchair, recently brought into the flat from Mrs. Turner’s storage room, sat opposite John’s own seat by the hearth and Sherlock swept into it with a bored exhalation. Wrapped in a crisp white bedsheet as though it were a toga, Sherlock plopped his feet unceremoniously onto the edge of John’s seat and pressed his toes into John’s warm thigh.

 

“Shouldn’t you be dressed by this time of the day?” John asked without a trace of actual annoyance. He patently refused to look at Sherlock, who was lounging low in his chair, sheet threatening to reveal a scandalous amount of skin. “You look a complete layabout.”

 

“Perhaps I am a complete layabout,” Sherlock replied, his foot inching over the top of John’s thigh and slowly toward his groin. “I need some sort of… distraction .” He raised a salacious eyebrow and John finally glanced up. His eyes narrowed and Sherlock saw a grin begin to grow on his narrow lips.

 

Ring! Sherlock’s own smile slid rapidly into a scowl.

 

“Shut up !” he shouted toward the offensive doorbell, drawing his feet up under his body like a gargoyle in his chair. “Who in God’s name could that be?”

 

“Perhaps it’s a distraction ,” John smirked, rising and dropping his paper onto the end table. “Put on some clothes, Sherlock. It could be a case.” With an incredibly dramatic sigh, Sherlock slithered out of his seat and went to get dressed. A new case would be good, but it did have abominable timing. He was just doing up his tie when he heard John re-enter the flat and call out, “Sherlock? Are you decent?” His tone of voice was different. Strained. Tense. A little excited. Someone he perceives to be important.

 

“Yes, Mother ,” Sherlock answered teasingly as he came out into the kitchen. John met him by the door, a gleam in his eye unlike any Sherlock had ever seen before. “John?”

 

“Sherlock, behave ,” he insisted, reaching up to nervously straighten Sherlock’s tie. “This is an important person‒”

 

“No such thing.”

 

“Sherlock‒”

 

He brushed past John and went into the sitting room where a man was standing, straight-backed, staring into the fireplace with his back turned to a second, much larger man. The first man turned to Sherlock as he entered and extended his hand with a clipped, “Ah, Mister Holmes, I presume?”

 

Accent is a native German speaker, mid-forties, monied, gout. Sherlock shook his hand once and replied, “You presume correctly. And who might you be?”

 

“My name is Herr Schueller, I am ze personal secretary of His Majesty, ze Grand Duke of Bohemia. I come to you wiz a very personal matt—”

 

“No,” Sherlock inserted.

 

“I beg your pardon?” said the man, obviously offended.

 

“Sherlock!” John chastised.

 

“You are not the Grand Duke’s secretary. I suspect, given the frankly alarming size of your companion here,” Sherlock gestured to the second man, who was standing just behind and to the left of the first, “that you are, in fact, the man himself.”

 

Everyone’s mouth fell open except for Sherlock, who looked magnificently smug as his gaze dragged over the first man, his guard, and then John in turn. “I… I am at a loss,” said the first man.

 

“Am I wrong?”

 

With a little shake of his head, the gentleman replied, “No, sir. You are quite correct.” John’s eyes were wide as saucers.

 

The guard stepped forward a small measure and said with his head held high, “You have ze honour of addressing His Majesty Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and ze future King of Bohemia.”

 

“I do hope you’ll understand if I shorten that quite a bit.” Sherlock dropped down into his armchair and gestured for the Grand Duke to sit in a desk chair nearby.

 

“Perhaps His Majesty would prefer…” John started, indicating his own, more comfortable chair by the fire, but Sherlock cut him off.

 

“No,” he said shortly, his fingers steepled beneath his chin. “That’s where you sit.” John exchanged a nervous glance with the Grand Duke, but he gave John a cordial little wave and took up the desk chair, situating himself between the two armchairs. John sank cautiously into his seat and waited.

 

“Mizter Holmes,” the Grand Duke began, “I have it on reliable authority zat you are an incredibly… competent private investigator.”

 

“An understatement if I do say so.” Sherlock tilted his head, indicating that the Duke should continue.

 

“I come to you wiz an extremely personal matter.”

 

“So you said.”

 

“You understand zat not a word of zis can be allowed to be found out?”

 

“Grand Duke,” Sherlock said with a heavy sigh, “you have yet to tell me anything worth finding out.” The Duke allowed a small smile to flit across his face, but he quickly subdued it with an expression that reminded Sherlock almost uncomfortably of Mycroft.

 

“Alright, alright.” He took a deep breath, crossed his legs in a surprisingly casual pose, and began. “I am recently engaged to be married to a lovely young woman ‒ Princess Clotilde of Scandinavia. Unfortunately, some photographs of a rather… compromising nature have been taken from my possession.”

 

“Photos of the princess ?” John asked, completely aghast. Sherlock cleared his throat and John seemed to realise his impertinent tone.

 

“I rather think not,” Sherlock intoned casually.

 

“No,” the Duke agreed. “Photos of myself and a former… acquaintance. A Prima Donna by ze name of Irene Adler.”

Chapter Text

Irene swung her heavy fur coat from around her shoulders and dropped it into the waiting hands of her butler. “Good morning, Miss Adler. A pleasant evening, I presume?”

 

“What other sort would have me home at ten in the morning, Clark?” She winked at the older gentleman and he gave her an indulgent smile in reply.

 

“There can be no other sort when you are in attendance, Miss Adler.”

 

“You’re a terrible flirt, Clark,” she said with mock admonition. “Do keep it up.”

 

“There’s a letter for you, Miss,” he said, changing the subject. “It arrived only moments before yourself.” From the small tray near the door, Clark passed over a thick envelope with no mark from the sender but for an elaborate letter M scrawled across the seal. Irene slipped a finger under the flap and extracted a short note as well as a folded newspaper article. It featured a photograph of some stuffy-looking men who had apparently solved a murder. But the note provided far more interesting information regarding the tall one at the end of the line. Irene tapped the letter against her palm in thought.

 

“Send Kate up to my room, Clark. I’ll need to change. We’re going to have a visitor.”

 

‒‒

 

“What are you doing?” The Grand Duke and his guard having cleared out of the flat, Sherlock had dashed into his bedroom like a man possessed only to begin rifling through his meagre wardrobe with maddened fervour. John was leaning against the doorframe, watching him curiously. “Sherlock?”

 

“Going into battle ‒ I need the right armour,” came the detective’s muffled reply as he pulled his shirt from over his head and selected another one which was pure black. He changed his trousers and waistcoat, as well, leaving all traces of colour hanging in the wardrobe and opting for black from head to toe.

 

“Are we going to a funeral?” John asked facetiously. Sherlock only offered him a dismissive pfft as he took up one of his stiff, white detachable collars and slipped it backward under the lapels of his shirt. He did up the topmost button, securing the collar in place, and held his hands out for John’s appraisal.

 

“How do I look?” He looked every inch a posh vicar, though his expression was far from virtuous as he let John drink him in.

 

Swallowing audibly, John answered, “Uncomfortably attractive, despite the get-up.”

 

‒‒

 

Irene stepped out from behind her screen and struck a pose with her hands on her hips. The deep purple of her sateen and chiffon negligee barely concealed the garments beneath: a black corset over a thin black petticoat which had been ruched in the front, the bands of her stockings visible beneath the hem. “Too much?”

 

Kate ran her pinky finger over her bottom lip salaciously and replied, “Works for me.”

 

“Everything works on you.” Kate’s only answer was a sassy lift of her eyebrow before Irene turned to her reflection in the nearby mirror. With an annoyed little sniff, she said, “Too much.”

 

“So what are you gonna wear?”

 

The negligee came floating gently through the air as Irene tossed it away. “My battle dress.”

 

“Ooh. Lucky boy.”

 

‒‒

 

John waved down a cab as Sherlock hastily scribbled a note on a scrap of paper and looked up and down the street. “Where is Wiggins these days?”

 

“He’s been spending most of his time with Mrs. Turner,” John answered, offering a rude gesture to a cabbie who passed him by. “She keeps him in tea and cakes.” With the limited patience of a hyperactive beagle, Sherlock threw open the door of Mrs. Turner’s townhouse and bellowed for her.

 

“Good God in Heaven, Mister Holmes! What are you shouting for?” she demanded when she finally made her appearance.

 

“Is Wiggins in there with you?”

 

“Why ‒ yes, he is. He’s terribly thin, don’t you think?”

 

“Mrs. Turner, I am paying him to be out on the streets, not to be eating every available cake and biscuit in your house!”

 

“I’m not going to let him starve, dear, that’s that.”

 

“Sherlock,” John called, having successfully hailed a cab, “are you ready to go?” With an exasperated huff, Sherlock pressed the note into Mrs. Turner’s hand.

 

“Give him this, will you? And wrap up some biscuits ‒ he’ll need to be going soon.” He turned on his heel and climbed into the cab behind John.

 

‒‒

 

The last pin in place, Irene’s hair looked the perfect image of casual refinement, a few soft tendrils just whispering past her cheekbones where they fell loose from their arrangement. Kate stepped between her mistress and the vanity and took up the lipstick brush. “Shade?” she asked, running her thumb along Irene’s lower lip.

 

With almost startling swiftness, Irene captured Kate’s thumb between her teeth, closing her lips in a slow, sensual kiss before releasing the digit. Kate swayed a little under her mistress’s fierce attentions.

 

“Blood.”

 

‒‒

 

“Just here, please!” Sherlock hardly allowed the cab to slow before he swung through the door and landed spritely on the street, John hot on his heels.

 

“Where are we?”

 

“About two blocks away from Miss Adler’s house in Belgrave Square. The photos will certainly be in her home, as they are too precious to entrust to anyone else’s care and too dangerous to keep on her person.” He stepped into a broad alleyway and turned back to face John. “This’ll do.”

 

“For what?”

 

“Punch me in the face.” Sherlock gestured to his left cheek with his long, elegant fingers and John stared blankly up at him.

 

“Punch you?”

 

“Yes, punch me. In the face, didn’t you hear me?”

 

“I heard ‘punch me in the face’, but it was drowned out by subtext,” John rasped, an unusual ripple darting through his abdomen. The idea of causing Sherlock real pain was unimaginable. The idea of slapping him ‒ just a little ‒ was… unobjectionable. Biting him, bruising him, miles of hard porcelain skin and quivering muscles….

 

“Oh, for God’s sake.” Fed up with waiting for John’s mind to find its own way out of the gutter, Sherlock pulled back his right arm and landed a firm punch on John’s jaw, enough to anger but not enough to break. As he was shaking out the stinging in his knuckles ‒ John’s jaw was hard ‒ Sherlock was nearly taken aback by John’s own strike.

 

His curled fist made firm contact with Sherlock’s high cheekbone and he felt the skin split. Perfect . “Thank you, that was‒”

 

Sherlock’s voice left him in a huff as John dropped a second punch in his abdomen, just hard enough to wind him. A firm hand closed around Sherlock’s throat and he was suddenly pressed hard against the brick wall behind him, John pressed full against the front of him.

 

In a low, heady tone, John breathed roughly against Sherlock’s jutted jawbone, “You’ll want to remember, Sherlock: I was a soldier.” He squeezed lightly and it was all Sherlock could do to take a short, stuttering inhale. John’s pupils were blown wide and his gaze raked over Sherlock’s vulnerable form with unbridled lust. “I killed people.”

 

Sherlock swallowed and licked his parched lips. “You were a doctor,” he whispered.

 

With a harsh, nipping kiss to the sensitive point under Sherlock’s ear, drawing out a full-body shudder, John uttered, “I had bad days.” His tongue darted out to soothe the bite on Sherlock’s neck and he waited for the detective’s high whining sigh before stepping back, annoyingly composed. “Come on now, Sherlock. This can’t have been your whole plan. We’ll pick this up later.” He smirked as Sherlock righted himself and adjusted his trousers. “Miss Adler?”

 

‒‒

 

The front door bell rang, echoing throughout the foyer, and Kate said cooly to the butler, “I’ll get it, Clark. Miss Adler wants you to finalise the menu for tomorrow night’s party with Mrs. Pulver in the kitchen.” He nodded and went to meet the cook as Kate pulled open the front door. A vicar, tall and handsome and unusually young, stood on the stoop. His eyes were wide with panic and he held a handkerchief to his bloodied cheek. “Yes? May I help you?” she asked calmly.

 

He started pathetically when she opened the door and stuttered, “Oh! Erm… sorry to disturb you. Um, I’ve just been attacked, um, and, um, I think they… they took my billfold and, um, my rosary.” He gave a truly feeble little hiccup and sniffle before continuing, “Um, please, could you help me?”

 

Kate bit the inside of her cheek to keep from giggling. “I can send for the police, if you like.”

 

Tearfully, the young man snuffled, “Thank you, thank you! Could you, please?” He took a shaky step backward and glanced up the street where another, shorter man was making his way hurriedly toward the house. “Oh! Would you… would you mind if I just waited here, just until they come? Thank you, thank you so much.” He looked ready to devolve into actual sobs as Kate stood back to allow him entry into the foyer. The shorter man hopped up the front stairs and followed them inside, a look of utmost concern on his bearded face.

 

“I saw it all happen,” he said, closing the door behind himself. “It’s alright, I’m a doctor.” Kate nodded, a schooled look of absolute fascination on her face. “Have you got a medical kit?”

 

“In the kitchen,” she answered. The doctor followed her gesture toward the stairs and Kate waved the vicar into the parlour, where he continued to utter small “thank yous” at every step.

 

‒‒

 

Sherlock sat in the well-appointed parlour for about five minutes, taking in every detail, before he heard footsteps approaching in the foyer. He sat forward, replaced the handkerchief and his terrified expression, and cast his watery eyes to the floor. A woman’s voice, sharp and no-nonsense, said, “Hello. Sorry to hear that you’ve been hurt. I don’t think Kate caught your name.”

 

Voice still shaking, Sherlock started, “I’m so sorry, I’m…” But his voice trailed off and his mouth remained open at the sight of a small, beautiful woman ‒ completely naked but for the black heeled slippers on her feet.

 

She gave him an almost sympathetic look. “Oh, it’s always hard to remember an alias when you’ve had a fright, isn’t it?” To Sherlock’s complete surprise, she crossed the room in three purposeful strides and stopped directly in front of him. With the grace of a Siamese cat, the woman placed her knees on either side of Sherlock’s thighs, resting on the sofa and not quite sitting in his lap. He leaned back against the couch in time with her motions, keeping a solid two feet between their chests. With a swift, graceful movement, she reached forward and plucked the collar from around Sherlock’s neck. “There now,” she said coyly. “Now we’re both defrocked.” Her lips curled in a knowing smile. “Mister Sherlock Holmes.”

 

He dropped all pretense of fright and answered in his own balanced voice, “Miss Adler, I presume.” She tilted her head and examined the small gash on his face.

 

“Look at those cheekbones,” she said, almost wistfully. “I could cut myself slapping that face. Would you like me to try?” With more of that cat-like swiftness, Adler placed the collar between her teeth with a sharp clack and a teasing gleam in her eye.

 

“Right ‒ this should do it.” John’s voice drew Sherlock’s attention back to the door to see him carrying a small bowl which was covered with a towel, no doubt containing sutures and hot water. He stopped dead at the sight of Sherlock and Irene Adler, collar still in her mouth. He pursed his lips and tightened his jaw and Sherlock could instantly see that he was infuriated. “I’ve missed something, haven’t I?”

 

Adler ignored him and turned her attention back to Sherlock. “This is quite the disguise, Mister Holmes, though completely unnecessary. I’ve been expecting you.”

 

“Clearly.”

 

She wrapped her long fingers under Sherlock’s jaw and tilted his face to one side, the better to see his wound. John cleared his throat in a way that would be threatening to anyone except, apparently, Irene Adler. “Oh, and somebody loves you.” The pad of her middle finger tapped knowingly on the tiny, almost imperceptible love bite John had left in the alley. “Why, if I had to punch that face, I’d avoid your nose and teeth, too.” Her eyes finally cut over to John, who finally let out a forced, humourless laugh.

 

“Ha. Could you put something on, please? Anything at all? A napkin?” He gestured with the aforementioned linen, but Adler remained in her position of power.

 

“Why? Are you feeling exposed ?” The spot on Sherlock’s neck nearly burned with what other people might consider guilt. John had only just expressed concern over people being aware of their… situation. And Irene Adler had seen straight to the heart of it in less than a minute. Sherlock cleared his throat.

 

“I don’t think Doctor Watson knows where to look.” He made to stand and Adler finally replaced her heeled feet on the floor, releasing him from his trap on the sofa. From the back of a nearby armchair, Sherlock grabbed up his coat and held it out to the woman with casual disaffection.

 

A smirk graced her sharp features as she took the coat, but made no immediate move to don it. Instead, she looked pointedly at Sherlock and said, “No, I think he knows exactly where.” John drew in a steady breath through his nose, his cheeks hollowed and his brow lowered in an expression of calm fury. “What about you?”

 

“I can assure you that I have no interest in looking at naked women.”


She gave a curious little hmm as she finally slipped Sherlock’s Belstaff around her slim shoulders. Dropping casually into an armchair, Adler said smoothly, “Well, never mind. We’ve got better things to talk about. I imagine you’re here for the photographs.”

Chapter Text

“I imagine you’re here for the photographs.” Sherlock blinked twice and slipped his hands casually into his pockets.

 

“If you don’t mind,” he tilted his head a bit and continued trying to appraise Irene, but frustratingly came up with nothing. All he could determine so far was that she was clever. And female. Obviously.

 

“Oh, no, that’s never going to happen,” she replied with a flippant gesture. “But we can have a nice little chat, since you’ve come all this way to call on me.”

 

“Alright, let’s chat then,” Sherlock answered smartly. “How did you know who I was? No one knows me.”

 

“I wouldn’t quite say that, Mister Holmes.” Irene crossed one leg over the other, causing John to pinken slightly and avert his gaze as a scandalous slice of thigh was exposed. “The photograph in the newspaper ‒ a friend sent it to me.”

 

“A friend?”

 

“Yes. Then I spoke with one of the policemen on the case ‒ said you were quite remarkable in your work as a private detective.”

 

“You know one of the policemen?” John asked.

 

“Well, I know what he likes,” Irene replied with a little wink.

 

“Oh.” John blinked rapidly. “And you… like policemen?”

 

“I like detective stories.” Her gaze swung over to Sherlock where he stood near the hearth. “And detectives. Smart is the new sexy.”

 

“Excuse me?” John seemed unable to contain himself for a moment, his eyebrows furrowing and his jaw clenching defensively. A shiver ran through Sherlock.

 

“Themanwhobuiltitdoesntneedit,” he spat out in one awkward stream of sounds. John and Irene glanced over at him in utter confusion. He slowed down, but not by much, attempting to regain their attention. “The man who built it doesn’t need it. Neither does the man who bought it. The man who does need it doesn’t know. What is it?”

 

“Oh… are we doing riddles now?” Irene gave Sherlock a look which bordered on sympathetic, as though she ‒ like so many people in his past ‒ was just realising that he was ‘special’.

 

“Why not? Since we’re just chatting …”

 

Irene took a moment to glance at John, who remained stoic in the face of Sherlock’s odd behaviour, before considering her answer. “I don’t know.”

 

Sherlock gave a disappointed hmm . “Pity. Perhaps you aren’t as intelligent as I had initially surmised. Shall we try another?”

 

“Oh, but,” Adler stuttered, “don’t you know the answer?”

 

“Of course I know, just as I know that the photographs are in this room.”

 

“How?”

 

“So they are in this room. Thank you.” John bit back a smirk as Sherlock addressed him. “John, man the door, please.” He nodded and went back into the corridor. All according to plan. Running his hands along the mantlepiece, Sherlock began trying to suss out the hiding place of the photographs. He took a quick breath and started up again. “You hear it speak, for it has a tongue. But it cannot breathe, for it has no lung.”

 

She blinked a few times, taken aback again. “Oh, I ‒ I thought you were looking for the photos now.”

 

“No, no,” Sherlock said with a wave of his hand. “Looking takes ages. I’m just going to find them. Come on, now. Speak, tongue, breathe, lung.”

 

“Erm…” Irene placed her fingers on her chin as she thought. “Some sort of sound, I suppose? Or a language? A tongue with no lung?” She looked mildly pleased with herself, but her grin faded when Sherlock tilted his head in clear disappointment.

 

“Close, but no cigar,” he answered. “But it does make a sound.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

Sherlock heaved an exasperated sigh. “Well, try to.”

 

“Why?” she demanded in clear frustration. A small smirk took over his face ‒ he’d gotten her flustered.

 

“Because you cater to the whims of the pathetic and take your clothes off to make an impression. Stop boring me and think .” He curled his lip and continued sarcastically, “It’s the new sexy.”

 

“It makes a sound and has a tongue…” she murmured, staring at the carpet. Then, with eyes wide in excitement, “A bell!”

 

With truly impeccable timing, the loud clanging of a brass bell sounded from outside. Wiggins’s voice rang through the street, “Fire! There’s a fire!” Irene glanced through the window before her concerned gaze flew over to the large mirror hanging over the fireplace. Sherlock gave her an oily smile.

 

“Thank you,” he said, turning toward the mantle. “On hearing an alarm bell, a mother would look toward her child. Amazing how fire exposes our priorities.” Reaching up, he lifted the mirror from its hook and hefted it down to the floor. A small alcove was cut into the wall which housed a safe. “ Really hope you don’t have a baby in here,” he said over his shoulder. Then, calling out into the hallway, “Alright, John, you can call Wiggins off, now!”

 

From outside, the muffled sounds of panic continued to make their way into the house. It sounded as though the fire brigade were approaching and a crowd was growing outside.

 

“I said you can call him off now, John!” The doctor poked his head back into the sitting room, his face flushed and his eyes wild.

 

“I’d love to, but he’s actually started a fire in the street.” John disappeared and Sherlock could hear his voice join the din outside. He shook his head, torn between amusement and frustration, and turned back to the safe.

 

Aloud, he mused, “Hmm… given the model of the safe, I’d say a six-digit code. Three two-digit numbers…” He slowly spun the tumbler, feeling for minute changes in the machinery behind the door. “No offense, but you were clearly born in the 1860s ‒ the six is pretty stiff so unlikely your birthdate. Three’s pretty loose, though…”

 

Irene stood from her chair in a liquid-smooth movement and straightened Sherlock’s coat as if it were a gown. “I’d tell you the code right now, but do you know what?” She stepped closer. “I already have.” At Sherlock’s darkened expression, she widened her eyes sarcastically and said, “ Think!”

 

At that moment, the door to the parlour burst open and John was shoved unceremoniously inside by an older man in a sharp black suit. And he was pointing a gun at John.

 

Sherlock’s blood ran cold at the sight and it was all he could do to keep calm and still. Uninjured ‒ no blood, moving under his own steam. The he turned his attention to the bastard who was threatening John. Six-feet; mid-forties; six-shot revolver, no additional weapon. Stupid. Clear signs of gout and the slight wheeze of a lifelong smoker. Crush the foot, punch to the abdomen, disarm.

 

“Sherlock ‒ sorry, I‒” Sherlock cut John off as he was ushered further into the room.

 

“Don’t, John.” He gave him an intense look, trying desperately to convey that everything would be alright. He would kill this man for threatening John if it came to that. Perhaps even if it didn’t necessarily come to that….

 

“Miss Adler, on the floor!” the man demanded. Two more thugs entered the room, each also holding firearms. John was tossed to his knees in front of the couch, his hands behind his head, and Irene was shown the same treatment. The first man turned his gun on Sherlock with a smug look on his aged face.

 

“Don’t you want me on the floor, too?” Sherlock said in an oily tone.

 

“No, sir, I want you to open the safe.” The man gestured to the wall with his revolver and gave Sherlock a look of utmost impatience.

 

“American?” Sherlock observed, taking in the man’s accent. “Interesting. Why would you care?” He glanced over at Irene who gave him the tiniest of exhausted shrugs. “Been blackmailing all over the world, have we?”

 

“Sir, the safe. Now.”

 

It was Sherlock’s turn to shrug. “I don’t know the code,” he answered with perfect casualty.

 

“We’ve been listening. She said she told you.”

 

“Well, if you’d been listening, you’d know she didn’t .”

 

The man shifted uncomfortably as he admitted, “I’m assuming I missed something. From your reputation, I’m assuming you didn’t , Mr Holmes.”

 

In growing frustration and likely a bit of panic, John said with a huff, “For God’s sake. She’s the one who knows the code. Ask her!”

 

The gunman nearly smiled. “Yes, sir. She also knows the code that will activate the failsafe within and destroy the contents. I’ve learned not to trust this woman.” So they know each other.

 

“Neilson, Mr Holmes doesn’t‒” Irene started, but the man cut her off.

 

“Silence. One more word out of you – just one – and I will decorate that wall with the insides of your head. That, for me, will not be a hardship,” Neilson said coldly. Then, to the man standing behind John, “Mr Archer ‒ at the count of three, shoot Doctor Watson.”

 

“What?” John exclaimed.

 

Sherlock panicked. “I don’t have the code.”

 

Archer pressed the muzzle of his gun into the back of John’s neck and pulled back the hammer. John bent forward with the pressure of the weapon, his eyes wide, his jaw tight, his breathing measured. Adrenaline. Fight or flight. The angry calm of a soldier.

 

Turning back to Sherlock with a disquieting calm, Neilson said, “One.”

 

Sherlock tried to keep calm. Play his cards close to the chest. “I don’t know the code.”

 

“Two.”

 

“She didn’t tell me!” His panic was clear now ‒ he couldn’t help it. “I don’t know it!”

 

Neilson drawled, “I’m prepared to believe you any second now…”

 

Sherlock tore his gaze from John, who was now breathing heavily as the threat on his life intensified, and looked at Irene. She widened her eyes and looked significantly downward. The floor? His feet? Her body?

 

“Three.”

 

“No, stop!” Sherlock cried, his hand flying out as though he could stop a bullet with nothing but sheer force of will. Neilson threw a cutting gesture to Archer, who blessedly did not shoot John. Taking a deep breath, Sherlock turned back to the safe and reached toward the lock.

 

He spun the wheel three times to the left before settling on 32. Right, 24. Left again. Another calming breath. 34.

 

The last tumbler clicked. Sherlock wrapped his fingers around the handle. “Vatican cameos.”

 

He ducked aside as he threw open the door and several things happened all at once. John flung himself flat onto the floor; a loud shot rang out; Archer fell to the floor, dead; Irene jammed an elbow into her attacker’s groin. Then, swift as the wind, Sherlock grabbed the distracted Neilson’s revolver by the barrel, pulled him forward, stepped hard on his bad foot, punched him in the stomach, and finally swung the gun around and cracked him over the head with it. Neilson hit the floor just as Irene grabbed up the third gunman’s weapon and knocked him out cold, as well.

 

Sherlock fell to his knees and put his hands on John’s shoulders and forced his gaze upward. “John! Are you alright?”

 

“I’m fine…” John panted, relief flooding his body, adrenaline causing him to shake under Sherlock’s grip. “I’m fine, Sherlock…”

 

“Where are they?” Sherlock turned to see Irene standing by the open safe, a nearly-frightened expression on her face. The gun ‒ booby-trapped to fire when the safe was opened ‒ sent smoke billowing out of the otherwise empty chamber. “The photos,” she demanded, hand out. “Give them to me.” She had a very commanding tone. Sherlock was not affected.

 

He stood and John followed suit, still surveying their attackers for signs of further movement. From his jacket pocket, Sherlock extracted a thick envelope which was sealed with wax and ribbon. “They’re all present and accounted for, I presume.” Irene’s eyes widened minutely at the sight of the envelope, but she quickly regained her composure.

 

“I have the negatives, of course.” Her hand was still extended.

 

“No, you don’t,” Sherlock quipped. “Unless the contents of this envelope are provably unique, you won’t be able to sell them.”

 

“Who says I’m selling?” That took him aback.

 

“Then why would they be interested?” He motioned to the men on the floor.

 

“That envelope is my life, Mister Holmes. I’d die before I let you take it.” She took a step closer and raised her hand a measure higher.

 

There was a knock at the door and they all jumped. “That’ll be the police,” John said. “After all the commotion outside and gunshots in here, they’ll be curious.” With a sigh, he stepped out into the foyer and said over his shoulder, “I’ll get it.”

 

Sherlock watched him go, but he let his guard down. A sharp sting rang through the side of his neck and Irene’s surprisingly strong grip pulled him backward. She emptied the syringe into the muscle and swiftly discarded it before guiding Sherlock toward the floor.

 

Almost instantly, warmth spread out from his spine to his extremities. Increased heart rate, trouble focussing the eyes, muscle twitches… Ketamine? That can’t….

 

“What… whatisthat…” he slurred, fighting the impulse to lie down. She slapped him hard across the face and he spun onto the floor.

 

“The photographs,” she insisted. Sherlock turned onto his hands and knees, struggling through the fog to get back up.

 

“No…” he mumbled.

 

“Give them to me!” Sherlock blinked drunkenly ‒ she was swimming before him.

 

“Nnno…”

 

“Oh, for ‒” In two steps, Irene was across the room and reaching into a closet, the door to which was hidden in the panelling, and she swiftly returned to stand over him. A riding crop hovered in his field of vision as he attempted to push himself upward. It was as if the floor was made of sand and his hands were sinking further away. “Drop it.”

 

His elbows buckled, but he pushed back up. “No.” His feet scrabbled over the smooth floorboards.

 

“I ‒” the crop rained down over his cheekbone, “said ‒” another blow to the other cheek, “ drop it!” With a third and final smack, Sherlock lost his grip on the envelope and fell onto his back. His chest and arms were weighed down by an invisible force and try though he might, he could not sit back up. Irene swept up the envelope, slipped it into the pocket of Sherlock’s coat, and smiled benevolently down at him. “Ah… Thank you, dear. And tell His Majesty that the photos are safe with me. They’re just for insurance.”

 

Sherlock tried to speak, but his tongue felt incredibly thick. He ended up garbling stupidly.

 

“No, no, no,” she tutted gently, the tongue of the crop grazing gently over Sherlock’s cheek. “Don’t spoil it. This is how I want you to remember me: the woman who beat you.” Her smile was almost sweet. Almost. “Good night, Mister Holmes.”

 

“Jesus, what are you doing?” John’s voice cut through the haze and Sherlock lolled toward him as he re-entered the room. Irene slipped around him and backed toward the door as John knelt down and examined the discarded syringe on the floor. “What is this? What have you given him?”

 

“He’ll be fine,” she said smoothly. “I’ve used it on a few of my… friends .”

 

John ignored her and went to his knees, leaning over Sherlock and feeling for a pulse with his gentle, practiced hands. “Sherlock, can you hear me?”

 

“You know, I was wrong about him,” Irene said, pausing near the door. “He did know where to look.”

 

What are you talking about?” John hissed, barely sparing her a glance as he ran a hand over Sherlock’s forehead.

 

“The code to my safe.”

 

“What was it?”

 

She gave John a smug little grin. “My measurements.” Then she was gone. Sherlock blinked and the world faded to darkness.

 

‒‒

 

The silk of his suit slipped languidly against his satin sheets. The faint odour of cigarette smoke wafted into the room and he could hear the telly squawking mindlessly in the sitting room. Home. He was home.

 

“I’ve got it!” Irene Adler’s face suddenly swam before him and he jumped, but she put a slim finger to his lips and shush -ed him. What is she doing here? She can’t be here…. “The man who built it doesn’t need it and neither does the man who bought it. The man who needs it doesn’t know.” Her grin grew to until she resembled the Cheshire Cat. “A coffin.”

 

‒‒

 

With a jolt, Sherlock sat bolt upright in his bed. His scratchy, uncomfortable, woolen bed. The coverlet clung to the thick fabric of his waistcoat and static sparked across his body at the friction. John… “John!”

 

He attempted to get up, but was stymied by the bedclothes and went toppling into the floor just as John appeared in the doorway. “Are you alright?”

 

Sherlock managed to get his feet under him, but swayed with every step. “Where is she?”

 

“Who?”

 

“The woman!” At John’s blank expression, Sherlock threw his arms out in frustration and said, “The Woman woman!”

 

“Oh! Irene Adler? She got away. No one saw her.” With criss-crossing steps, Sherlock went to the window and fell against the sill, staring out through the warped glass. “She wasn’t here, Sherlock.” He ignored John and whipped around until he fell to the floor. Deliberately, absolutely deliberately. She wasn’t under the bed or the wardrobe. “What are you…? No… no ‒” John grabbed Sherlock under the arms and hauled him bodily back up to the bed where he flopped unceremoniously onto his front. “Back to bed. You’ll be fine in the morning. Just sleep.”

 

His voice little more than a blur, Sherlock said into his pillow, “Of course I’ll be fine. I am fine. I’m absolutely fine….”

 

“I’m sure. I’ll be in the parlour if you need me.” John gave Sherlock’s hip a comforting little tap before making toward the door.

 

“John?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I need you.” Sherlock was nearly asleep again, but he stayed awake long enough to feel John slide into the bed behind him and wrap his arm around that same hip.

Chapter Text

Sherlock’s eyes opened slowly and the soft grey light of early morning greeted him. With a sleepy sigh, he shifted against John’s warm, sturdy form and relaxed further into his embrace. How… pleasant. That in itself was unique ‒ that another person’s presence could be not merely unobjectionable, but wanted . Comforting. John’s gently masculine smell pervaded Sherlock’s senses and the firm coils of muscle, calm in sleep yet so latently powerful, were almost reassuring to the detective. He wondered if he mightn’t get used to the feeling of waking up with John.

 

Almost instantly, his mood shifted. Of course he would get used to it. And then he would return home. The time would come for him to go back to his own century and resume his life and John would remain in his own parallel past 221B. Unless he came with me . He shook his head.

 

Don’t be absurd. You don’t even know if he can come with you.

 

Perhaps I should stay here…

 

John let out a little snore and Sherlock was pulled from his thoughts. Dangerous, damaging thoughts. Don’t get attached.

 

Too late .

 

The muscles in his upper arms ached with a sudden need to move, an anxious energy that felt almost like being squeezed. It was terribly like coming down…. He needed to get up, to do something, anything. So he slipped silkily from beneath John’s arm and shook out his overwrought muscles. He desperately wanted a smoke, but settled for changing into a fresh suit.

 

Sherlock stopped short when he saw his Belstaff coat hanging on the back of the door. She was here! I knew it! Quick as a viper, he snatched up the coat and examined it. Inside the left-hand pocket was a small, folded slice of paper.

 

Till the next time, Mr. Holmes.

 

Punctuating Irene’s elegantly-scrawled note was a perfect blood-red lip print. God, that woman is unbearably brazen. How fascinating. His admiration faded when he saw what was hidden beneath his coat. Hanging almost innocently on the peg was a black leather riding crop. Another note was attached with a bit of twine wrapped around the handle:

 

A little something for Dr. Watson.

 

Truly, Sherlock wished his blood would boil. It was so rare that he wanted to experience an emotion. Indignation, fury, offense, affrontation ‒ any of these would suffice.

 

Instead, the feeling which washed over him was unbridled, unadulterated lust.

 

With a slight shiver and a very controlled breath, Sherlock took up the crop, replaced his coat, and stepped out into the parlour. This was what he needed: an outlet, a way to diffuse his anxious energy. Someone to take control and remove the temptation to think . Oh, what a glorious relief that would be.

 

He gathered a few supplies and waited.

 

‒‒

 

A sharp crack punctuated the air and John jerked out of his sleep. It took a moment for his heart rate to return to normal ‒ loud noises still gave him a real fright from time to time. But he was fine… he was alright….

 

Except that the bed was empty. Sherlock . The detective had undoubtedly been the source of the sound. A little huffing laugh escaped John’s sleepy mouth as he burrowed into the pillow. Breathing deep, John inhaled the impossibly posh scent of Sherlock ‒ sharp, citrus, a little floral.

 

Another crack ‒ like a hand on a wooden surface ‒ and John smiled. He had the feeling that these were the least impressive of the sounds a bored Sherlock Holmes could make when left to his own devices. What other noises and rackets would greet John in the days to come?

 

His grin faded at that. Their days were surely numbered. As clever as Sherlock was, he would no doubt find a way to return to his own time far quicker than John would like. But he couldn’t stay. It would never work.

 

A third crack and John pushed himself up from the bed. “Sherlock?” he called. “Is that you?”

 

“In the sitting room,” came Sherlock’s reply. John nodded sleepily to himself as he went into the powder room to answer the call of nature. He emerged a moment later, relieved and refreshed by a splash of cold water on his face, and suppressed a yawn as he continued on into the parlour. He stopped dead at the sight that greeted him.

 

“Sherlock?” he muttered, his eyes wide and his stomach fluttering.

 

“Captain,” Sherlock acknowledged with a slight tilt of the head. He was remarkably calm for someone who was kneeling, stark naked, on the plush hearth rug. John saw now what had made the cracking sound ‒ resting in Sherlock’s upturned palms was a leather riding crop.

 

John took a deep, steadying breath and let it out through pursed lips, contemplating the scene before him with undeniable arousal. One glance at Sherlock proved that John was not alone ‒ Sherlock’s growing erection stood out slightly from his slim form. John licked his lips at the sight.

 

“I couldn’t quite put my finger on the odd tension that manifested yesterday at Irene Adler’s townhouse,” Sherlock continued, staring unflinchingly up at John. “But it’s occured to me now: arousal.”

 

“Is that so?” John said, proud that his voice remained calm and steady. Almost aloof. Sherlock swallowed at his cool tone.

 

“Yes,” he replied thickly. “I found myself… drawn to you when you got angry with her. For flirting with me.”

 

“You flirted with her, as well,” John answered sternly, seeing for sure where this was going. He tilted his head and gave Sherlock an appraising look, his groin tightening as Sherlock shifted under his gaze. “Just couldn’t help showing off, could you?”

 

Sherlock lowered his eyes until he was staring at the floor in front of him, a slight flush rising on his sharp cheekbones. The small abrasion from where John had struck him the day before was highlighted beautifully by the fresh pink of his anticipation. “Perhaps… you should punish me, Captain?” Sherlock quirked an eyebrow and looked up at John through his lowered lashes. A shiver ran through John at the sound of his rank in that sultry voice.

 

“I think you might be right.” Sherlock folded his lips to keep from smiling smugly. It would not do to appear insubordinate so early in the game. Instead, he slowly raised his arms and proffered the crop to John, who stepped forward and took it in a sure grip. Already, his mind was growing quieter as he surrendered to John’s commanding stature. He started to lower his arms, but John uttered a disappointed tsk . “I don’t remember telling you to put your hands down.”

 

“Sorry, John,” Sherlock answered immediately and raised his hands back to their position of supplication. With unexpected swiftness, John brought the crop down onto the palm of Sherlock’s left hand with a sharp sting and Sherlock hissed.

 

“I prefer ‘Captain’,” he replied smoothly and a shudder ran through Sherlock’s entire body.

 

“Yes, Captain .” Oh, this was going to be good. The next slap landed on Sherlock’s right palm and he fought the impulse to curl his fingers against the pain.

 

“Keep count,” came John’s soft command and Sherlock’s eyes slipped closed.

 

“Yes, Captain.” He swallowed before breathing out, “Two.” John began alternating slaps on Sherlock’s palms, just hard enough to make him flinch. “Three. Four.” Between each stinging crack , John paused only long enough for the pain to set in before striking Sherlock again. “Five. S-six.” Sherlock licked his dry lips. “Seven. Eight.” John let out a soft hum of approval. “Nine. Ah ‒ ten.”

 

Sherlock’s brain stuttered when he felt the tips of John’s fingers graze lightly across his stinging palms. He couldn’t help the tight groan that escaped his throat. His eyes blinked open when John bent forward and planted a firm kiss at the center of each hand before lowering them to the tops of Sherlock’s thighs. The buzzing returned, light and tingling at the base of Sherlock’s skull as he stared at John in adoration. He was perfect. He understood so readily what Sherlock needed and how to give it to him. What a marvel…

 

Sherlock hissed when John whipped the crop around and just grazed the tip of his cock. “Hng… fuck .”

 

“What was that?” John demanded in a sharp tone.

 

Sherlock panted, momentarily having forgotten not only what number they were on, but what numbers were in the first place. “Ah… erm ‒ eleven!” he gasped in relief. Thank God…

 

“That’s better.” John snapped the crop upward and lightly tapped at Sherlock’s balls which tightened in response.

 

“Twelve!”

 

“Beautiful.” Another swat at his testicles and Sherlock nearly sobbed.

 

“Th-thirteen…” John changed tactics and swatted at Sherlock’s left nipple. It rose to a swift peak as Sherlock hissed in a sharp breath. “Fourteen.” Then the right. “Fifteen.” When Sherlock felt the tongue of the crop graze almost lovingly over his already-bruised cheekbone, it was all he could do not to let his brain go completely offline. He had to keep counting. For John. His eyes lolled shut and he leaned into the whip as though it were John’s own hand. Then the crop pulled back and snapped over his cheekbone and Sherlock let out a sinfully decadent moan. “Aah… mmm… Six-sixteen.” He felt a drop of precum pool at the tip of his cock and make its way slowly across his glans.

 

John’s fingers would tightly into his hair and pulled him upright from where he had slumped forward in mindless arousal. “Sherlock? Do you think you can make it to twenty?” His voice was stern, but not without care and Sherlock struggled not to fall forward and worship at John’s feet.

 

“Yes, Captain. Anything,” he exhaled. John’s eyes closed for a brief moment as he sucked in a sharp breath through his nose. Oh, God… Sherlock thought weakly at the sight of John’s obvious arousal. He was still half-dressed from the day before, having slid into bed behind Sherlock without bothering to change, and the front of his trousers was tented obscenely. Sherlock ran his tongue over his lips and delighted to see John doing the same.

 

“Excellent,” John breathed and he brought the crop back down on Sherlock’s right cheek.

 

“Seventeen,” Sherlock hissed, low and deep, his eyes falling shut again. “Eighteen… Nineteen…” There was a long pause while Sherlock struggled to regulate his breathing.

 

“Sherlock, look at me.” He forced his eyes to meet John’s, so dark with lust they were almost black. He moved until the crop rested feather-light on Sherlock’s plush lips. Silently, John raised one eyebrow as asked. Almost imperceptibly, Sherlock nodded.

 

The crop flicked over his slightly-open mouth just hard enough to leave his lips tingling. With a tight, high groan in the back of his throat, Sherlock whispered, “Twenty.”

 

With a dull clatter, the crop fell to the floor as John surged forward and took Sherlock’s face in both hands. Their lips met with a delicious sting and Sherlock whined into John’s mouth. “Jesus, Sherlock,” he muttered against Sherlock’s lips. “You are so gorgeous.” Another deep kiss and John’s tongue swirled into Sherlock’s mouth. “So good…”

 

Sherlock’s knees were beginning to ache from having been on the floor for so long, but John was not done with him yet. Sensing his discomfort ‒ genius, marvelous, miracle man ‒ John pulled back from their kiss and swiftly grabbed a pillow from his armchair. Sherlock shifted until his knees were resting more comfortably on the plush Union Jack and sighed as John started to undo his trousers.

 

With all due haste, John shoved his trousers down to the floor and replaced his hands in Sherlock’s hair. He was magnificent and Sherlock had to fight to keep his hands to himself. John pulled him forward and Sherlock happily took his considerable erection into his mouth. He lapped along the length of his cock and moaned as he sucked him down. John’s head lolled back on his neck and he let out a decadent groan.

 

Despite his outward appearance of calm, almost soft gentility, John was made almost entirely of muscle. His body was compact and filled with a latent strength that hummed just below the surface of his skin. Sherlock dared to let his palms trail up the rounds of John’s quadriceps, firm and twitching beneath Sherlock’s hands. His hands ghosted over John’s hips and came to rest at the top of his arse. Sherlock breathed almost desperately through his nose, taking John’s length deep into his throat and burying his nose against John’s pubic bone. He gagged a little around John’s cock and the man above him folded forward, one hand sliding down Sherlock’s shoulders as he forced Sherlock to keep him in his mouth. John’s hips thrust almost violently into Sherlock’s willing throat and Sherlock’s groin began to tighten.

 

“Christ, Sherlock… so good…” John slurred, his fingers tightening in Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock thought that John might cum, but instead he tore Sherlock backward by the roots of his curls. He let out a disappointed groan and his tongue stretched forward, desperate to have John’s cock back in his mouth. At the sight of him, John clenched his eyes shut and murmured, “Fuck… ” He got himself under control and shoved Sherlock away until he sat back precariously on his heels. “Elbows on the floor.”

 

Sherlock moaned and barely managed a strangled, “Yes, Captain,” as he bent forward. He folded his forearms on the hardwoods beneath him and arched his back as delectibly as possible, swirling his hips in a way he hoped was inviting. His cock hung heavily between his legs and his knees slipped from the pillow as he spread his legs. The subtle rocking of his hips was almost enough for him to get off, just imagining John inside him.

 

A sharp sting rang through the flesh of his arsecheek as John brought the crop back down on him. When did he even grab that? “Stop that,” John commanded, and Sherlock bit his lip with the effort to still his rolling pelvis. He dipped his head even further until he could pull at his own hair, desperately trying to ground himself. John swung the crop back down across his rear again and Sherlock’s every muscle clenched.

 

“Do… do you want me to count, Captain?” The tongue of the crop ran up and back down the length of Sherlock’s spine and he shivered.

 

“No,” John uttered roughly. “I want you to beg.”

 

Sherlock groaned and nearly shook with anticipation. “Please, Captain,” he intoned desperately, “please , punish me.”

 

John obliged; he brought the crop swiftly down over each of Sherlock’s raised cheeks, eliciting a deep moan from Sherlock with each slap. The tongue of the crop caressed his stinging flesh before disappearing, only to fly back down with a crack .

 

“Je-esus , God! Ah ‒ Captain, please! Please!” Sherlock continued to beg, thrusting backward after each slap, hungry for more. John brought the whip down twice more in rapid succession and Sherlock’s mind started to slip into blissful disassociation. There was only this ‒ there had only ever been this. Just him and John and this exquisite torture.

 

John’s fingers teasing at his hole brought him back from oblivion and he groaned helplessly. He pushed his hips backward and John hissed in unfettered arousal. “You’ve already prepared yourself?”

 

“Y-yes, Captain.”

 

“Rather presumptuous of you.” There was a hint of laughter to John’s ragged voice.

 

“Hopeful, Captain,” Sherlock countered. John did laugh then before swiping the crop over Sherlock’s stinging flesh once more. “God, please , Captain. Please… fuck me ‒ I’m begging you…” Another double stripe across his arse and Sherlock rolled his shoulders forward in anticipation.

 

“Well,” John said slowly, his now-empty hands running over the heated flesh of Sherlock’s rear end, “only because you asked so nicely .”

 

The next thing Sherlock knew, John was sinking steadily into him. His thumbs held Sherlock’s cheeks apart and teased at his entrance as his cock stretched him open. Once fully-seated in Sherlock’s impossibly warm body, John rocked against the detective, not really thrusting, just pushing so hard and deep into him that Sherlock thought he might cum on the spot.

 

John’s left hand slid down Sherlock’s spine until his grip locked in his mussed curls again. He was bent at a deliciously harsh angle, arms down, head forced back, hips raised in desperation and John began to slam into him. Sherlock’s breath was forced from his body as John pounded into his hole again and again, his hips meeting Sherlock’s arse with each thrust.

 

A blissful white noise was taking over Sherlock’s brain. The world narrowed down to John’s cock pounding into him, John’s hands in his hair and on his hip, John’s guttural cries as he claimed Sherlock’s body for his own. It was absolute ecstasy.

 

“Up,” John demanded harshly. “Sit up.” He tugged at Sherlock’s hair until he was sitting against John’s folded thighs. One hand slid around Sherlock’s chest to wrap around his throat, gently squeezing until Sherlock could only take in short, gasping breaths. John’s other hand left Sherlock’s hip to take a firm grasp of his leaking erection. He fucked brutally upward into Sherlock’s body, his grip around Sherlock’s neck and cock forcing them impossibly closer, harder together. “Cum for me, Sherlock. Come on,” he growled in Sherlock’s ear. “Now.”

 

Sherlock’s arousal reached its white-hot climax and he stiffened in John’s arms as he came. His orgasm ripped through him and his mind went completely blank. John’s grip tightened infinitesimally, locking him into place against John’s groin. His strong arms flexed beautifully over Sherlock as John came powerfully inside him. “Ah ‒ fuck!”

 

Cradled roughly in John’s grasp, Sherlock floated for an indeterminate amount of time. Thoughts ceased, his mind finally, finally stilled by John’s impeccable touch. He was unreal. He was… perfect. He’s perfect .

 

“Sherlock,” John whispered, his voice rough from shouting. “Sherlock, are you with me?” His hand had left Sherlock’s throat to smooth gently over his forehead, pushing sweat-drenched curls away and caressing his fevered skin.

 

“Mm-hmm,” was all Sherlock could manage. John let out a little self-satisfied chuckle and tilted Sherlock forward until John could slip out of him. His strong grasp around Sherlock’s torso guided him down to the floor to lay on his back and John followed him down, sure to avoid the obscene wet spot on the rug left by Sherlock’s orgasm. John stretched his arm out behind Sherlock’s head and six feet of slim, sated detective wrapped themselves instantly around John’s body.


You’ll never get this lucky again , his mind provided traitorously. Sherlock forced his eyes to stay shut and tossed his one vicious thought into the rubbish bin of his mind

Chapter Text

The sounds of John re-entering the flat barely registered to Sherlock’s ears, so engrossed was he in his task. His warm hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, however, caused him to jump nearly out of his skin. “Good Lord, Sherlock! Couldn’t you hear me calling you?”

 

“No, I could not,” the detective answered, carefully resetting his equipment. With a sigh of relief, he noted that nothing had spilled. He gave John a quick once-over and calmed his breathing. “Have you just come back from someplace?”

 

“Yes,” John answered slowly. “The clinic.” He held his medical bag aloft and a realisation struck Sherlock.

 

“I’ve been talking to you,” he said with furrowed eyebrows.

 

“Have you?” John answered cheekily. “That’s a trick, seeing as I’ve been several miles away since eight this morning.”

 

“And what time is it now?”

 

“Gone six.” With a sympathetic little grin, John set his bag down by the stairs, ready to be returned to his room, and came to look over the dining table with an expression of amusement and confusion. “You’ve turned my kitchen into a laboratory.”

 

He had indeed. Sherlock was perched in one of the kitchen chairs and surrounded almost completely with chemical equipment. All manner of beakers, flasks (both Erlenmeyer and Florence), pipettes, test tubes, and what appeared to be a makeshift distillation system covered nearly every inch of the table. Sherlock grasped an Erlenmeyer flask with a pair of tongs and held it over a low-heat Bunsen burner as he spoke. “I am attempting to recreate the compound with which Miss Adler sedated me two days ago.”

 

“Why?” John took up an empty chair and tapped curiously at a dish laden with what he discerned to be powdered carbon.

 

“I believe that she used Ketamine to subdue me.”

 

“Never heard of it.”

 

“That’s because it won’t be discovered until nineteen-sixty-two,” Sherlock replied solemnly, looking up at John with a weighty expression. He blinked slowly at Sherlock while this information set in.

 

“But that would mean…”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock interjected. “Either Miss Adler or someone in her acquaintance is not from this time.”

 

John’s mouth fell open as he considered speaking, but nothing came to mind, so he shut it again. After a long moment, he asked, “What does that mean?”

 

“I have no idea,” Sherlock answered, his gaze returned to the flask in his grasp. “But it does seem rather unusual that this particular case should fall into our laps while I am attempting to comprehend my own temporal displacement.”

 

“It could be a coincidence,” John proffered. He sounded hopeful. Sherlock did not want to spend time contemplating why he sounded hopeful.

 

“The universe is rarely so lazy,” he replied. Mycroft was an absolute prig, but he was right about that. Never in his life had Sherlock been witness to a true and genuine coincidence.

 

“So… what are you going to do?” John asked slowly. He’s worried , Sherlock noted, still not making eye contact. Worried about what? That I’ll leave? Obviously, I have to ‒

 

Shut. Up.

 

Sherlock pushed his fringe away from his forehead with the palm of his free hand, an anxious gesture which never failed to frustrate him further, as his fringe had a mind of its own and always fell annoyingly back into place. “I am going to track down Miss Adler and determine whether it is she or one of her friends who has traveled through time, and then attempt to discover whether or not they did this on purpose. However, the first step is to conclude whether my hypothesis is correct and that I was, in fact, dosed with Ketamine. Though I am rather confident in that supposition.”

 

“What makes you so sure?”

 

“I’ve experienced the effects before,” Sherlock answered.

 

“Have you?” John asked, surprise evident in his voice. “How often are you set upon by attackers with syringes in your line of work?”

 

“No, it was…” Sherlock swallowed and his hands paused in their work. He had started speaking too quickly and now John was staring at him with innocent concern and curiosity. “It was recreational.”

 

“Oh.” John’s brows lowered minutely, but otherwise he did not react. His face twitched as he parsed this new information. Sherlock watched a myriad of micro-expressions fly across John’s handsome face: surprise, concern, anger, fear, confusion . Finally, he seemed to settle on cautious impassivity. “And do you… do you think it’s a good idea for you to be… erm… testing this hypothesis?”

 

Sherlock sighed. Marvelous. Now he’s going to make all manner of presumptions ‒ how painfully unimaginative. “It was a very small dose, John. Nothing I can’t handle, I assure you.” Sherlock resumed his ministrations with affected casualness. “I’ve endured far more… intense substances in my time.”

 

“Such as?”

 

He asked with swiftness and still no ounce of judgement. But Sherlock had found that people ‒ some people ‒ were capable of pretending to be unaffected by this revelation for exactly as long as it took to form an opinion. He heaved another sigh, a slight headache beginning to form behind his right eye. “Heroin ‒ essentially opium. Morphine. Most preferably, however, cocaine. A seven-per-cent solution of my own devising.” He took a measured sip of his long-cold tea and looked at John with as much indifference as he could muster.

 

It was John’s turn to sigh and he crossed his arms across his broad chest as he did so. “And you do, in fact, intend to inject yourself with this compound to test your results?”

 

“I am more than confident in my abilities as a chemist ‒ I studied chemical engineering at Cambridge ‒ but, yes. The only way to be absolutely certain of the result is to test it on myself. I am most curious to find if it is possible to create Ketamine given the available equipment.” Sherlock gestured to the array of glass instruments covering the table. “Trust me, John, my interest is not in recreating the sensations brought on by the drug.”

 

“Because you would prefer cocaine?” Sherlock’s eyes narrowed sharply, but John’s face still did not bear any judgement. Was it possible that he was merely curious?

 

“I have found the effects of cocaine to be more… conducive to my needs than Ketamine, yes.” John’s expression was almost frustratingly blank. “I do not care for my senses to be heightened in such a manner ‒ in fact, I find that to be a rather nightmarish situation. No ‒ I took to cocaine for a sense of calm and clarity.”

 

“Your senses did not seem to be heightened when Irene Adler drugged you,” John retorted, some skepticism making its way into his voice. “You were barely lucid.”

 

“That is because at lower doses, Ketamine is merely a sedative,” Sherlock reassured him. “The amount I am considering is only enough to bring about a long nap.” John’s gaze was unrelenting. Sherlock fervently wished that if he were going to overreact that he would just do it already. Perhaps things would be easier, in the long run, if John were to become infuriated with Sherlock over the idea of recreational drug use.

 

Which was frankly a laugh in Victorian London ‒ Sherlock had observed no fewer than ten opium dens within a five-mile radius of 221B. The ease with which one might fall into bad habits was unreal ‒ cocaine tablets were up for sale at the chemist’s! It took an awful lot of self-control for Sherlock to remain above the temptation of it all, but he had seen the way John’s round nose wrinkled in distaste each time they passed such a “den of iniquity”, as John was inclined to call them. He had also seen the pained sympathy on John’s face whenever they came into contact with an addict, no doubt from his experiences with his sister. It seemed his refusal to imbibe or even to prescribe (as other doctors of the day were wont to do) was born of an instinctual wariness with regard to the after-effects. John was a man of indescribable moral fortitude and Sherlock found himself desperate not to disappoint him. So far, John had proven a far more potent distraction than anything else ‒ even the Work.

 

At long last, John nodded once and stood from his chair. He stared down at Sherlock for another long moment before saying, “I’ll watch you to be sure you’re alright.” John turned and made for the stairs, collecting his medical bag, then he turned back to give Sherlock a look that was so intense, it bordered on ferocious. It brooked no refusal. “Then this is the last time, Sherlock.” With that, John began his ascent and left a thoroughly bewildered Sherlock sitting at the table, his sample having long since turned over in its flask.

 

‒‒

 

“Well, I am glad that your theory proved correct. But I am more glad that your little experiment is over and done with.” John sat down on the edge of the sofa and handed over a steaming cup of tea. Sherlock took it gratefully and pushed himself into a slight recline against the arm of the couch. His head was still a little foggy, but he could feel the effects of the Ketamine ebbing away.

 

“I must say, I agree,” he mumbled, taking a sip of the perfectly-sweetened beverage in his hand. Much to Sherlock’s surprise, John brushed a gentle hand across his furrowed brow and gave him the smallest flicker of a smile. A strange, but not unwelcome, tightening sensation gripped Sherlock’s chest and he merely blinked up at John before the doctor stood and took his own empty teacup into the kitchen. “How long was I asleep?” Sherlock asked.

 

“About four hours,” John replied. When he re-entered the room, it was with a plate of heavily-buttered toast which he handed over to Sherlock without asking whether he was hungry. Loathe though he was to admit it, toast seemed just the ticket for the swimming feeling in his stomach.

 

“Have you eaten?” Sherlock asked. John looked rather tired. It wasn’t all that late, but the man bore an expression of deep weariness.

 

John shook his head. “I’m not hungry.” He sat down on the other end of the sofa, not touching Sherlock.

 

That was uncharacteristic. Sherlock held out his plate of toast, but John shook his head, a slight frown drawing his thin mouth into a tired curve. Wordlessly, Sherlock gestured with the plate, insisting. With a little huffing breath that clearly said Oh, go on then , John took one slice and bit into it with purpose. Better? his eyes asked.

 

Much , Sherlock nodded. Aloud, he asked, “Nothing happened, then? While I was asleep?”

 

“You didn’t have a fit or anything, if that’s what you’re asking,” John confirmed. Then the crease returned between his brows. “But you cried out an awful lot. You weren’t making much sense ‒ just dreaming, I think, but…” He shook his head minutely. “It must have been rather upsetting.”

 

“I don’t remember anything,” Sherlock replied with a shrug. He sat up a bit more, feeling better. “What did I say?”

 

“Honestly, not much. You sounded a bit like you were in pain.” John looked a little nauseated himself. “You did say ‘Redbeard’ once or twice, though.” He clearly wanted to ask, but Sherlock wasn’t ready to tell him, so they sat in quiet for a moment. Sherlock dropped his gaze and finished eating his toast, though it suddenly felt painfully dry in his mouth. John cleared his throat and pressed on, “I didn’t like seeing you like that, Sherlock.”

 

“I appreciate your need to care for me, John, truly, but I’m not ‒”

 

“Don’t,” John interrupted. “There was no way in Hell I was going to leave you alone. Not even with just a ‘small dose’, as you say.” His eyes were intense as he continued, “Anything could have happened, Sherlock. I know ‒” he put up a hand to silence Sherlock as he opened his mouth to contest him, “I know you’re the cleverest man in this century and yours, but still. You yourself admitted that it was still an experiment, not a sure thing. Any number of miniscule aberrations might have occurred and you could have… you could be…” He scrubbed a nervous hand over his short, sandy hair and sighed again. “No more, you understand? Never again.”

 

“Never again,” Sherlock said with a nod.

 

“Promise me, Sherlock,” John insisted, turning to face him more head-on. “Promise me I won’t ever find you in a worse state than this. At least not by your own doing.”

 

“I promise,” Sherlock answered fiercely, sitting up on his knees to look directly into John’s dark blue irises. “I promise.”

 

He hoped desperately he would be able to stand by that oath.

 

John’s hands reached up to cup his face and Sherlock leaned to one side, his eyes closed at the warm comfort of John’s skin on his own. When their lips met, it was different than before. Gone was the frantic, adrenaline-fueled battle of tongues and teeth and in its place was a gentle, almost chaste press of lips that left Sherlock inexplicably breathless.

 

He dared to open his eyes and his heart nearly stopped. The depth of emotion in John’s eyes was almost enough to swallow him whole. From this close up, it was impossible to deny what Sherlock saw there ‒ John cared for him. Really and truly cared like no one else had ever done before. It terrified him in a way he wished he could qualify.

 

“Take me to bed, John,” he whispered. John nodded and they started up the stairs to the quiet sanctuary of John’s bedchamber.

Chapter Text

John’s hands passed gently over Sherlock’s chest, feeling the steady, electric thrum of his body. Slowly, he undid the buttons of Sherlock’s shirt and placed a reverent kiss on each inch of freshly-exposed skin until John was on his knees. He popped the buttons of Sherlock’s trousers and rolled them down the length of his thighs until the pooled on the floor, taking his pants with them. Sherlock stepped out of them as John stood back up, his hands skimming over miles of pale skin. John swept aside the parted folds of Sherlock’s shirt until it fluttered down to the floor and the detective stood naked before him.

 

Sherlock felt uncharacteristically exposed, but kept his eyes on John ‒ a port in a storm. He sat down on the edge of John’s bed and watched, entranced, as John divested himself of his own clothes. It was easy to see how one might underestimate John’s physical attractiveness ‒ the layers of heavy wool to which he was partial softened all of his edges until he looked completely harmless and unaware. But Sherlock could see him for what he really was: a soldier. Brave and steadfast and strong in every way.

 

The years since John’s active service had not stolen the strength from his muscles or the confidence from his bearing. His body was hard and compact, like a fist, and he made no self-conscious move to cover himself. John’s cock was thick and heavily rising between his thighs and Sherlock’s mouth went dry. Being scrutinised in such a way would likely make Sherlock twitch and fidget with anxiety, but not John. Instead, his intense blue eyes bored into Sherlock’s as he stepped between narrow knees to take Sherlock’s face in his hands once more.

 

Their tongues swept over one another in a heated dance as John kissed him thoroughly. Desperate to have him as close as possible, Sherlock wrapped a hand around John’s neck and pulled him downward. When John was at last reclined against the headboard, Sherlock pulled away from their heady press of lips and kissed his way reverently down John’s torso. His lips ghosted across the ridges of his abdomen until he came to the deep vee of John’s pelvis. Sherlock hummed, low and hungry, before licking one long stripe up the underside of John’s cock. Lips wrapped around the head, Sherlock sucked lightly before taking his time working his way down John’s shaft, now fully-erect.

 

The weight of John’s cock on his tongue left Sherlock almost delirious, but it was John’s soft moans of pleasure that truly drove him out of his mind. His hands fell tentatively to Sherlock’s head, petting his unruly hair as John whispered breathy non-words from above. Sherlock wrapped his hand around the base of John’s shaft and coated his heated flesh with saliva and precum as he pumped slowly up to meet his lips. He swirled his tongue around the head before teasing at the slit. Just as John’s abdomen began to twitch and his fingers curled into Sherlock’s hair, Sherlock pulled away with a long, decadent suck. He could nearly hear his heart pounding as he drank in the sight of John, flushed and panting and looking up at Sherlock with half-lidded eyes.

 

Sherlock crawled over John’s body until he could kiss him, dipping his tongue in and out of John’s mouth in a promise of what was to come. Blindly, he reached out to the nightside table until he felt the tin of Vaseline under his fingers. Sitting back, he opened the tin and dipped two fingers into the contents until they were thoroughly slicked. Sherlock reached behind himself and slipped the tip of his long middle finger inside his hole.

 

“Jesus Christ, Sherlock,” John hissed. They were the first words between them in what felt like an eternity and the sound of John’s husky voice shattering the silence drew a full-body shudder from Sherlock. He groaned as John, eyes wide and hungry, gripped Sherlock’s hips as he rocked back and forth against his own hand.

 

“Oh, God, John.” Sherlock’s left hand flew out and gripped the iron bar of the headboard. “John,” his name fell from Sherlock’s lips as a desperate oath. John’s hand gripped the back of Sherlock’s neck and pulled him down for a searing kiss. With his free hand, he fumbled for the jar of Vaseline and palmed a generous amount before the container fell to the floor with a clatter. John took both of their cocks in a firm grip and canted his hip upward. The slick, hot slide of hard-soft flesh left Sherlock reeling and he broke their kiss with a wanton groan. “Fuck … John!”

 

“Sherlock ‒ ah, God ‒ I need,” he murmured against Sherlock’s lips, “I need to be inside you. I want to cum in you, please….” Sherlock nodded dumbly and made to turn around, but John grabbed his elbow. “No. I want to see you.” His hand ran up Sherlock’s arm to caress his throat and chest. “I want to look at you. Please.”

 

The irregular fluttering in Sherlock’s chest was more than mere arousal ‒ there was something fierce and almost possessive in John’s gaze that caused Sherlock’s heart to leap into his throat. His eyes slipped closed and he could not breathe as he lowered himself slowly onto John’s slick cock.

 

He took his time, sinking down on John’s thick erection with exquisite agony and he finally caught his breath with a dry sob when he was fully-seated. John’s hand was still working gently at the head of Sherlock’s prick, twisting lightly around the head in a way that made his every muscle twitch. After a long, still moment, Sherlock began to move, rocking his hips backward and forward in a slow, sweet rhythm.

 

“Oh, God, you feel so good,” John breathed out and his head rolled back on the pillow. “God… Sherlock… you are… I can’t…” his words fells from his lips in a desperate, nonsensical blur. “Can’t believe… I ‒ ah ‒ fuck!”

 

All of a sudden, John took a firm hold of Sherlock’s waist and sat forward, drawing a gasp from the man in his arms like a punch to the gut. Sherlock wrapped his arms around John’s shoulders and held on for dear life as John rocked up into him. John’s lips were all over Sherlock’s neck and jaw, covering him with eager, open-mouthed kisses as the fingers of one hand curled in Sherlock’s hair. The palm of his free hand spread out across Sherlock’s ribs, his thumb rolling over the exposed ridges as Sherlock gasped for air. With every quick, deep stroke upward, John’s cock sent an electric pulse through Sherlock’s body.

 

“John,” he whispered harshly, unable to form any other word. “John…” A choked inhalation was all the warning Sherlock could manage before he was cumming over John’s strong hand. His eyes slammed shut as the sensation overtook him and for a brief moment, all was complete silence.

 

With a deep grunt, John surged forward again until Sherlock was on his back. His legs flew up and around John’s hips, pulling him harder, deeper against his body. John planted his knees and thrust into Sherlock with an almost animalistic power. His hands smoothed over Sherlock’s forehead and cheeks with a gentleness that belied the force of his thrusts and John stared intensely into Sherlock’s eyes as he came. His orgasm bloomed hot inside Sherlock’s channel and left behind a feeling of intense connection that Sherlock could not quite qualify.

 

Still seated deep in Sherlock’s shaking body, John dropped his head and panted against his throat until he gained some measure of control. Sherlock could feel his eyelashes flutter against his skin as John’s eyes flickered closed. Sherlock’s fingers scrabbled weakley at the sweat-slick skin of John’s firm back and he leaned into the sensation of needing to be impossibly closer to him.

 

All too soon, John tilted his hips and slid out of Sherlock, leaving him feeling more than physically empty. Something prickled behind Sherlock’s closed eyes and he fought to keep his breathing steady. Thankfully, John did not seem to notice his internal struggle and he gently smoothed his hand down Sherlock’s torso, palm skimming over the dips and plains of his ribs and abdomen. Sherlock found himself inexplicably terrified that John might say something, but his gentle snores soon eased his anxiety. After a long, quiet moment, Sherlock allowed himself to slip into sleep.

 

‒‒

 

Something heavy and solid jerked against Sherlock’s body and he awoke in a momentary panic before realising that the something was John. But when he saw the crease in John’s still-sleeping brow and saw the sheen of sweat along his temples, Sherlock’s terror intensified.

 

John’s whole body was twitching and his arms tightened around Sherlock’s torso in what could be fear or fight. His jaw clenched and a high, tight whine escaped his throat. When a tear squeezed from under John’s tightly-clenched eyelid, Sherlock jolted into action. He wrapped his arms around John’s shoulders and held him hard against his own body.

 

“John,” he whispered. “John, wake up.” John’s writhing intensified and he let out a fierce sort of growl through gritted teeth. In a louder, firmer tone, Sherlock said, “John ‒ wake. Up.”

 

With a sharp gasp, John’s right hand pulled back in a tight fist, his muscles unnaturally tense. Sherlock caught his wrist and John’s eyes flew open at last, though his gaze was feral and panicked. He stared down at Sherlock in a mixture of terror and anger, his breaths coming in irregular, ragged gasps.

 

“John,” Sherlock said, more gently but still firm and steady, “It’s me. It’s Sherlock.”

 

At once, his fist unfurled and John’s trembling hand came down to Sherlock’s cheek. “Oh, Jesus, Sherlock… I’m sorry, I ‒”

 

“Don’t.” Sherlock covered John’s hand with his own and shook his head so that John could feel the intensity of his denial. “Don’t apologise.” John took a deep breath and blew it out through pursed lips, his forehead falling to Sherlock’s bare chest as he collected himself.

 

After a quiet moment, John sat up and leaned against the wall. He seemed unable to look at Sherlock as he scrubbed a hand over his bearded jaw. Instead, he stared out the window to where the sun was rising over Regent’s Park. Sherlock, rising to his elbows at the foot of the bed where they had slept the wrong direction, wished he could stop staring at John. Surely, he wanted to be left unobserved. But he found he was unable to look away; he wanted to be positive ‒ beyond a shadow of a doubt ‒ that John was alright.

 

“I’ll just go down and put the kettle on, shall I?” John said, voice rough with some emotion Sherlock could not quite put his finger on. Exhaustion? Sadness? Resignation, perhaps? In reply, he could only nod and they both stood from the bed to move about the flat in silence.

 

John went wordlessly into the kitchen and Sherlock watched him, dressed only in his trousers, as he filled the kettle. His shoulders, somehow still golden and warm, were rolled tightly inward. Sherlock’s brow furrowed as he fully observed John’s scar unimpeded for the first time.

 

It was a cinched, puckering of the skin on John’s left shoulder that pulled nearby flesh into a taut sort of starburst. The scar was a deep, almost burgundy red that faded outward into softer ridges of pink. Jezail bullet, most likely. Clean exit, but improperly sterilised. Infection, fever ‒ weeks of recovery . Sherlock’s chest tightened at the thought of John lying, alone and unconscious, in some hospital for an indeterminate amount of time.

 

“Stop staring at me and go get dressed.” John’s voice gave him a start, but a small smile pulled at Sherlock’s lips when he noticed that John had not even turned around. “Tea’s almost on and I’m making a scramble. You’re eating today, whether you like it or not.” He seemed to have shaken the worst of the dark cloud from his mind and Sherlock sighed in relief.

 

“Yes, Captain.” John rewarded him with a sly over-the-shoulder glance and Sherlock pushed into his bedroom. What he saw there stopped him short and he stood, uncharacteristically shocked, for a long moment before stepped quietly back into the kitchen. “John, I come bearing news which I never thought to deliver in all my life.”

 

“Oh? And what’s that?”

 

“There is a woman in my bed.” John whipped around at that, surprise and disbelief written all over his face.

 

“A woman?”

 

“The Woman.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock drummed his fingers against the arm of his chair and stared at Irene Adler with narrowed eyes. John placed a tray of tea and biscuits on the coffee table and took up his own place in the red armchair across from Sherlock’s with two cups in hand. He passed one wordlessly over to Sherlock, who took a measured sip. Irene took up a teacup for herself and arranged herself more comfortably on the sofa, determinedly not returning the men’s stares.

 

She was dressed considerably more casually than she was clearly used to; Sherlock could see her lip twitch unhappily as her hands ran over the coarse cloth of her skirt. Still, she held herself with an almost regal air which belied her simple travel garments. It was clear to Sherlock that she had been attempting to “blend in.”

 

Sherlock waited until he was certain that the silence had made Irene uncomfortable before finally speaking. “So. Who’s after you?”

 

“People who want to kill me.” She took a long sip of her tea and reached for a biscuit.

 

“Who’s that?”

 

“Killers,” she replied smartly before taking a sharp bite. John let out an annoyed sigh.

 

“It would help if you were a wee bit more specific,” he put in sarcastically.

 

“I make my way in the world. I misbehave. Not everyone takes kindly to the way I live my life,” Irene smoothly, as if this were all the explanation John required. “I acquire information from clients and friends which assures my continued protection.”

 

“So how do you acquire this information?” Sherlock asked.

 

“I told you — I misbehave.” She gave Sherlock a sly little wink over her teacup and John cleared his throat threateningly. The corner of her mouth lifted in a manner that Sherlock unfortunately identified as knowing .

 

“You can’t make your way by misbehaving ,” John said, his tone terse and thoroughly annoyed.

 

“Can’t I?” Irene replied with a suggestive look. “I left you a present ‒ a little taste of what it is I do.” John clenched his jaw and narrowed his eyes, but said nothing. “Perhaps you can imagine what some people will offer up for more than just a riding crop.” She let the last p pop from her lips like a kiss. A dark red flush was making its way up John’s neck as he stared at her from under lowered brows and Sherlock knew it was fury rather than embarrassment. John did not like to be scrutinised. Sherlock cleared his throat and redirected the conversation.

 

“But you have acquired something that’s more trouble than protection.” Irene nodded in confirmation, her gaze sliding back to the detective, and Sherlock continued, “Do you know what it is?”

 

“Yes, but I don’t understand it.”

 

“I assumed.” Her eyebrow lifted at his condescending tone, but she allowed him to continue. “Show me.”

 

After a moment’s pause, Irene replaced her cup and saucer on the table in front of her before reaching into the neckline of her dress and extracting an envelope from within the depths of her bosom. She unfolded the plain brown paper and Sherlock could see it was the same envelope she had kept in her safe. Deft fingers flitted over the various bits of paper within and finally pulled out one thin sheaf of note paper. She handed it over to Sherlock and said as he examined it, “There was a man from the War Office. I knew what he liked.”

 

“I’ll bet you did,” John muttered. Irene ignored him, rising to stand over Sherlock’s shoulder and read the note in his hand.

 

“One of the things he liked was showing off. He told me this information could save the world. He didn’t know it, but I copied it down. He was a bit tied up at the moment.” She said this last with a self-satisfied smile and a shrug. Sherlock did his best to tune her out and focus on the letters and numbers in his hand.

 

6F6R12S8R15T15R4F1R10S6R10T8R3F3R8S6R10T10R

 

It looked like utter madness, but she clearly would not have taken the trouble to copy it down if the War Office official had not made it plain that the information hidden within this string of letters and numbers was important. Sherlock barely heard her voice as she continued to speak.

 

“A code, obviously. I had one of the best cryptographers in the country take a look at it ‒ though he was mostly upside down, as I recall. Couldn’t figure it out.” A pattern began to emerge.

 

6F6R12S8R15T15R

 

4F1R10S6R10T8R

 

3F3R8S6R10T10R

 

“What can you do, Mister Holmes?” Sherlock felt Irene’s clothes brush against his shoulder, but he paid her no mind.

 

6F6R 12S8R 15T15R

 

4F1R 10S6R 10T8R

 

3F3R 8S6R 10T10R

 

“Go on. Impress a girl.”

 

6F‒6R; 12S‒8R; 15T‒15R....

 

Irene’s lips pressed soft and wet against Sherlock’s cheek nearly caused him to grin. He had expected as much ‒ Irene Adler was nothing if not an unprecedented flirt, but there was something else, too. Something conniving and clever and undeniably intriguing.

 

He let his words fly from his mouth like a symphony of deductions, “There’s a margin for error but I’m pretty sure there’s a train leaving King’s Cross tomorrow at six-thirty in the morning for Cambridge. Apparently it’s going to save the world. Not sure how that can be true but give me a moment; I’ve only been on the case for eight seconds.” Sherlock dared not look at John ‒ he could feel the other man’s shocked and angered expression. So he continued to watch Irene’s face make the journey from self-satisfaction to brief confusion and then settle on awe. “Oh, come on,” he said, cocking his head. “It’s not code. These are ticket purchases on a passenger train.” Without turning his head, Sherlock handed the paper over to John, who took it rather quicker than was necessary. “Three days’ worth of ticket sales recorded by class ‒ first, second, third ‒ and how many return tickets were purchased in each class. Fewer tickets each day, more returns in second and third class as it’s cheaper to purchase a return for the same day. More people in first class can afford to stay in Cambridge for an indeterminate amount of time. Going by the number of sales, there’s only one car for each class and no sleeper on the train, which eliminates the longer journeys. Considering the urgency with which you seek to have this information decoded, the train must be leaving tomorrow or the next day at the latest. The only journey that matches all the criteria and leaves in the next forty-eight hours is the six-thirty from King’s Cross.”

 

Sherlock stood from his armchair so that Irene was forced to look up at him. She ran her tongue over her lips and said huskily, “I would have you right here on this chair until you begged for mercy twice.”

 

He only allowed his eyes to narrow slightly. “I’ve never begged for mercy in my life.”

 

“Twice,” she repeated emphatically. There was a second of charged silence and Sherlock felt his distaste begin to mingle with something akin to admiration.

 

“Hamish.” John’s biting tone finally drew Sherlock’s eyes away from Irene’s and he turned to look at the doctor with surprise. “John Hamish Watson. Just… if you were looking for baby names.” With a disdainful shrug and a curl of his lip, John stood and gathered the tea tray. He set the whole thing in the kitchen sink with a dangerous clatter and pulled in a deep breath through his nose. Sherlock felt his chest tighten with chagrin.

 

“Well, gentlemen,” Irene broke the silence with a little clap of her hands, but it did nothing to diffuse the tension in the room. “I can’t thank you enough for your hospitality. But I have an errand I really must run.” Irene plucked the paper from the table where John had dropped it and replaced the note and the envelope into the neckline of her dress. Sherlock remained stock still as The Woman shrugged back into her coat and went calmly to the door. “I promise to return before someone succeeds in killing me. Ta!” With an infuriating little wave, she slipped through the door and left them to it.

 

‒‒

 

Irene pulled the fur collar of her coat closer to her neck as she made her way briskly down Baker Street. A few blocks and she was slipping into the nearest post office, smiling her way to the front of the queue, and jotting down two quick missives to be delivered by messenger boys.

 

One went south to the War Office.

 

The other went eastward to someplace far more dangerous.

 

‒‒

 

“John‒”

 

“You just can’t help yourself, can you?” John turned swiftly to stare at Sherlock from across the kitchen, his ire rolling off him in waves.

 

“No,” Sherlock answered, his voice small. “No, I can’t.”

 

What looked like a smile crossed John’s face, but it held no trace of humour. His eyes darted to the ceiling and his tongue pressed hard against his perfect teeth as though he were sending a silent prayer upward, begging for self-restraint. “Just because you admit it, that doesn’t make it alright.”

 

“I know, I…” Sherlock sputtered. “I know,” he finished lamely. The high of solving a puzzle was dissolving like sand through a sieve as he stood in the shadow of John’s upset. There had never been someone in Sherlock’s life that he had needed to consider . No one who would be there later to experience the repercussions of his actions and his harsh behaviour. He had to look at the floor, to sever the terrible string of tension and anger that linked their gazes. “I don’t… I don’t know how…” His voice trailed off and his heart thumped painfully in his chest. Sherlock’s fingers slid into his own hair in frustration and he pulled, a grimace taking over his face.

 

“Sherlock, what is it?” John’s tone was still angry, but his gaze had softened the tiniest bit.

 

“I don’t know how to… how to be around people, John,” he spat. “I know how to get what I need from them and then I walk away. I don’t like to be around people ‒ they’re so needy ! They have so much to hide and they never say what they mean. Every little thing is a puzzle ‒ what are they thinking; why don’t they just say it; what do they mean by ‘I’m fine’?” He threw his hands up in a sarcastic little wave. “I can solve any puzzle, but it is exhausting, John, truly.” Sherlock let out a low groan and ran his hands over his skull, trying to soothe the itch in his mind that ‘normal people’ brought on. It was a terrible sort of pressure between the back of his brain and his cranium and he would never be able to reach it.

 

“Sherlock, stop it.” Warm, strong fingers pulled his own away from his head and he realised that he had been pulling at his hair again. He opened his eyes to see John staring intently up at him. John was breathing heavily, clearly still frustrated with Sherlock’s earlier behaviour, but his eyes held none of the sadness and sympathy other people usually reserved for him. They looked at him as though he were a child ‒ a simple child with no control over his emotions. It was the look they gave to people with canes and service dogs and prosthetic limbs. And Sherlock. At least, when he had an outburst , as Mycroft called them. When he was sussing out the sordid details of their lives, people gave him a look of mingled disgust and fear.

 

But John did not look at him like that. He looked at Sherlock as though he were angry with him. As though Sherlock were a regular person with whom one could become angry, but eventually move on. As if he knew there were nothing wrong with him.

 

“I want to do better,” Sherlock said, almost too quietly to hear. “You…” Dare he say it? You make me want to do better. You, John Watson, make me want to be better. Voice stuck firmly in his throat, Sherlock swallowed thickly and cast his eyes back down.

 

John sighed. “I don’t know what’s going on in that mad brain of yours, Sherlock. I know you’re doing incredible things in there ‒ I’ve seen it.” Horrifyingly, Sherlock felt his neck begin to flush. “But you can’t just…” John shook his head a little before pulling Sherlock forward by the back of his neck and touching their foreheads together. “Sherlock, are you mine?”

 

Sherlock blinked stupidly at that. “What?”

 

“You heard me ‒ are you mine ?” There was a low-burning ferocity in John’s eyes that made Sherlock shiver.

 

“Yes,” he breathed out, barely a word.

 

“And I’m yours?”

 

Sherlock sucked in a shaking breath. “Yes.” His own hand came up to cup the back of John’s skull in a mirror gesture and there was suddenly nothing else in the room. In the world.

 

“Then be. Mine .” John pressed their foreheads together until it almost hurt, but Sherlock revelled in it. It was grounding him. It eased the itch.

 

“I’m yours.” John’s eyes raked over his face before he kissed Sherlock once, almost chastely. Still, it tugged at the weight in Sherlock’s chest until it began to lessen.

 

“Good.” With that, he stepped out of Sherlock’s personal space and started toward the stairs.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“I’m going to make a bed for myself on the sofa,” he explained, voice still a little terse, but generally much more relaxed. “If people are still trying to kill her, she can’t be left alone. She’ll take my room.”

 

“Why can’t we just share?” Sherlock asked, desperate for John to agree that yes, they should share a bed. All the time. Every night. Regardless of Irene Adler or any other damned person. “She was here last night ‒ she knows we’re together. She must have heard ‒”

 

“Just ‒” John put up a hand in a tired gesture and cut Sherlock off. “Just allow me some semblance of privacy with this woman, will you? Let me pretend there is something that she doesn’t know, alright?”

 

Oh. This was about John’s need for privacy, not necessarily secrecy. It was a fine line, but Sherlock was learning to appreciate the distinction. A faint smile flickered over John’s face and Sherlock returned it, relieved.

 

“You might want to stash the riding crop, then.”

 

He ducked as one of the sofa pillows flew past his head.

Chapter Text

“I don’t like it.”

 

“Jee-sus, Sherlock!” John hissed and jerked awake. His hand, which automatically wrapped into a fist, eased as he stared into Sherlock’s shrewd, jade eyes, mere inches from his own. “What in God’s name are you doing?”

 

“I don’t like it,” he repeated. Sherlock was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the sofa, his face absurdly close to John’s where he had been sleeping rather soundly. The detective tilted his head and observed John like some sort of long, thin owl.

 

“So you’ve said,” John muttered, rolling onto his back and throwing an arm across his eyes, attempting to lower his heart rate. “What don’t you like?”

 

“I don’t like The Woman sleeping in your bed.”

 

“Well, I don’t particularly care for it, either, but it is what it is.” John sat forward with a stiff groan and rubbed at his eyes. “We can’t let her roam about the city unaccompanied while people are trying to kill her.”

 

“But…” Sherlock sputtered childishly. “But your… it’s your bed, John!” He pushed to his feet with a huff and began pacing about the parlour. “And she’s in it and it won’t smell like you anymore. She’ll disrupt the indentation in the mattress. She’ll touch your things on your bedside table. I can’t stand it.”

 

“Sherlock, keep your voice down,” John said, waving his hands in a lowering sort of gesture. Looking out the window to the darkened street, John continued, “What time is it, anyway?”

 

“Four-twenty-five.” Sherlock gave an imperious wave over his shoulder at such trivialities as the time.

 

“Good God,” John groaned, flopping back onto the sofa. “Sherlock, please try to go back to sleep.”

 

“Not tired.”

 

“Then at least go to bed so I can sleep,” he pleaded. “Or go for a walk ‒ clear your mind.”

 

“I don’t want to clear my mind ‒ too much to think about.”

 

“Miss Adler’s case?”

 

“The train should be leaving in two hours, but I still have no idea what is the importance of this particular journey. ‘Save the world’, indeed,” he scoffed.

 

John ran a hand over his tired eyes, resigned to wakefulness. “Sherlock, I know how you like the four o’clock hour, but we mere mortals do not.” Sherlock immediately stopped pacing and spun around to stare at John with an unreadable expression.

 

“What did you say?”

 

“Go lie in your bed and think or take a walk ‒”

 

“No. No, you said, ‘I know how you like the four o’clock hour.’” Sherlock took a step closer and his eyebrows lowered fractionally. He towered over John, but his demeanor was quiet and curious.

 

“Yeah,” John muttered, pulling himself reluctantly to a sit. “You said so the first day we met.” Sherlock swallowed.

 

“And you remembered?”

 

“Well…” John gave Sherlock an uncomprehending look, “of course I did.” Sherlock took another step forward until his shins were brushing John’s knees.

 

“What else do you remember?”

 

John shifted on the sofa, almost uncomfortable under Sherlock’s odd scrutiny. He cleared his throat before saying, “Erm… I know you’ve got a brother, and going by the way you talk about him ‒ which isn’t much ‒ I’d say you don’t care for him at all.” Sherlock scoffed and the corner of John’s mouth lifted in a small smile. He went on, “Your birthday is January sixth ‒”

 

“Now, I never told you that,” Sherlock said with an accusatory finger pointed in John’s direction. “I never tell anybody.”

 

“It was on that ‒ that card with your photograph on it in your billfold,” John replied. “January sixth, nineteen-hundred and seventy-seven.”

 

“Very observant of you,” Sherlock admitted reluctantly, lowering his finger. “Continue.”

 

John’s grin grew and he stretched out his arms to run his fingers lightly down the sides of Sherlock’s thighs. “I know you’ve got a terrible sweet tooth, and that if I can’t get you to eat anything of substance, I can always get you to eat cake and biscuits.” John swept up Sherlock’s left hand and brought it to his lips in a swift kiss. “I know you take your coffee with no milk and two sugars and you take your tea with milk and four sugars.” He placed a second kiss on the knuckles of Sherlock’s other hand. “I know that you studied chemical engineering ‒ whatever that is ‒ at Cambridge; you sneeze more than anyone I’ve ever met around books and dust; you sleep like the dead; you always‒”

 

Sherlock swooped down and took John’s mouth in a searing kiss. Long legs folded onto the sofa on either side of John and Sherlock buried his fingers in his short blond hair. John let out a little mmph of laughter against Sherlock’s mouth, but slid his arms up Sherlock’s sides to wrap around his back and deepened their kiss. Tongues swirling and teeth clashing, the two of them surged closer to one another, breathing heavily through their noses. John ran his left hand down over Sherlock’s hip to grip his buttock and leaned them to the side, pressing Sherlock onto his back on the sofa.

 

There was a soft thump from outside, but John chose to ignore it. Sherlock was making far more interesting sounds as he struggled to keep his voice down, huffing through his nose and groaning in the back of his throat. John grinned against Sherlock’s mouth.

 

The thump sounded again and John stilled, the hair on the back of his neck standing on edge. Long, eerily still nights in Afghanistan had taught him to heed that sensation. Something was amiss.

 

“John,” Sherlock sighed, but John ssh-ed him. A creak in the foyer. Intruders. John’s entire body tensed as he listened. Sherlock’s eyes widened slightly as he observed John before their gazes met in the pale silver light of the moon.

 

“Vatican cameos,” John whispered harshly. Sherlock inhaled sharply through his nose and nodded. Silent as the night, John reached under the pillow beneath Sherlock’s head and retrieved his service revolver from where he had stashed it earlier in the evening. John jerked his head and Sherlock slipped off of the sofa and padded over to stand against the wall beside the front door. John went to stand on the other side of the entryway and he grabbed Sherlock’s gaze with his own.

 

They listened for another moment. Footsteps, creaking stairs, harsh whispering . John held up two fingers and Sherlock nodded in agreement. John put up one finger, made a pausing motion, then pointed to Sherlock before holding up two fingers again and gestured to himself. Wait until the first one gets inside, you take him, and I’ll take the second one. Sherlock nodded in understanding just as the doorknob began to jostle.

 

The first man entered with a pistol in his hand, but his manner was relaxed ‒ he clearly was not expecting an ambush. Once he was a few paces inside the flat, his partner breached the threshold and John and Sherlock pounced. Sherlock’s left hand shot out and caught the first intruder square between the shoulders with the heel of his hand before grabbing the man’s right wrist and twisting his arm around. He turned the man’s wrist sharply toward his own forearm and kicked the back of his knee. The man hit the floor and his pistol clattered to the hardwood behind him.

 

Both of John’s hands were clasped in a fist around the handle of his revolver and he brought them down swiftly over the second man’s extended forearm. The man grunted in pain and John punched him in the side of the head with his left hand. Spinning against the wall, the man dropped his own gun from his unprepared hand and John dragged him to the ground by his collar.

 

In the five seconds that had passed, John and Sherlock had successfully incapacitated two armed intruders. John smirked, proud of them both. He wasn’t slowing down too much, after all.

 

“Who are you?” Sherlock demanded. His knee was pressed into the small of his captive’s back and he gripped both of the intruder’s hands in his own. “What are you doing here?”

 

“Get off of me, you bastard,” the man grunted, but Sherlock leaned harder into his back.

 

John tried his own captive. “Tell us who you are,” he panted, adrenaline coursing through his veins. “We don’t want to hurt you.”

 

“Speak for yourself,” Sherlock quipped.

 

“We’re from the War Office,” the second man ground out, his cheek pressed against the floor and John’s revolver pressed against the back of his head. “We’re looking for Irene Adler.”

 

John and Sherlock locked eyes again, silently discussing the situation. Do you believe them? John’s eyes asked.

 

Sherlock looked the men over as best he could in the thin moonlight before nodding. Yes. But I don’t trust them.

 

“Up,” John commanded, pulling at his prisoner’s shirt. Reluctantly ‒ and none-too-gently ‒ Sherlock jerked his own captive upward and the intruders were forced onto the sofa. “Hands behind your heads.” They complied, John’s revolver trained on them, and Sherlock quickly collected the fallen pistols. He slipped one into the band of his trousers and turned the other on the supposed War Officials. “I’ll check on Miss Adler,” John said. “You… do whatever it is you do with these two.” Sherlock nodded and John went quickly up the stairs to his own bedroom door.

 

“Miss Adler,” he called out, shouldering his way into the room. “I’m coming in. We’ve got a situation‒” His voice trailed off as he took in his empty bedroom. She was gone.

 

John heaved a heavy sigh and turned back toward the stairs. “I wish she’d stop doing that,” he muttered.

Chapter Text

“She’s gone.” It wasn’t really a question, but John nodded in affirmation. Sherlock sighed. “I expected as much.” He turned back to the War Officials on their sofa and contemplated them as John moved quickly around the room, turning on lights before returning to stand beside Sherlock with his own gun trained. “I suppose this is to do with the train leaving for Cambridge this morning?”

 

The first man gave Sherlock a disgusted scoff. “It’s not leaving now, is it?”

 

“What do you mean?” John demanded. The man rolled his eyes, but his partner gave him a swift kick in the shin.

 

“Don’t say anything, Boggs,” he hissed. “It’s none of their business.”

 

“It’s their fault, innit, Powell?” Boggs returned. “Why shouldn’t they know what they’ve done?”

 

“Now, wait just a moment,” John put in, indignant. “We haven’t done anything. We haven’t left this flat since we learned about the train.”

 

“But she did, didn’t she?” Powell bit out.

 

Their voices faded as Sherlock’s mind retreated inward. Irene had left the flat at mid-morning and returned before tea. She could have been anywhere, but the soil on her shoes and the mud on her skirts had suggested that she had traveled slightly downhill where the recent rain would still be standing in puddles. A small smudge of ink on the pinky of her right glove indicated that she had been writing ‒ the post office, then. So she had left the flat, sent a message from the post office, and now two men from the War Office were in heated pursuit of her.

 

“A terror attack,” he concluded aloud. “Intercepted by the War Office and also by Miss Adler.”

 

“Bang on,” confirmed Boggs with an expression of utmost irritation.

 

“I don’t…” John started, looking at Sherlock in confusion.

 

“Oh, John, do try to keep up,” the detective replied, missing John’s indignantly raised eyebrow entirely. “A terror group plans an attack on a train leaving for Cambridge, but the War Office intercepts their communications. Rather than let the terrorists know that the government knows about the attack, they let it go off as planned so that they can continue to pursue this line of communication in the hopes of eventually tracing it to the center of the organisation.” Comprehension dawned on John’s handsome face.

 

“Ah. And now Miss Adler has informed the terror group of the government’s interception, and the mission is compromised.”

 

“Along with the life of the agent who managed to get the information in the first place,” Sherlock finished.

 

“If you’d have kept that posh nose of yours out of all this, that officer would still be alive,” Powell said disdainfully to Sherlock. “As it is, it only took a few hours for Miss Adler to destroy our entire line of communication.”

 

“But the people on that train would have died,” John replied, his eyebrows lowering.

 

“You’re a soldier, John,” Sherlock said softly. “Surely you recognise the necessity of sacrificing a few lives in favour of saving many more.” John cleared his throat and shifted off of his right leg, but did not reply.

 

“You’re supposed to be some sort of detective,” Boggs said, jerking his chin at Sherlock. “Tell us where she’s gone.”

 

“I’ve no idea,” he replied with a shrug. “There’s no way of knowing.” Sherlock finally lowered his weapon, but John did not. He began to pace about the room. “She brought nothing with her and left nothing behind.”

 

Even as he spoke, his eyes landed on a small envelope on the mantle, tucked inconspicuously behind a small stack of books. He ignored it for the moment.

 

“Then find her, Mister Holmes,” Powell demanded. “It is a matter of national security.”

 

“I’m sure‒”

 

“Mister Holmes!” Powell snapped, taking Sherlock by surprise. “This is your fault. That information was harmless in Miss Adler’s hands until you interpreted it. Now we have no other link to this… this Brook’s crime organisation.”

 

Sherlock rounded on the man. “What did you say?”

 

“The man at the top,” Boggs put in. “Our information tells us his name is Brook.”

 

John turned swiftly and made eye contact with Sherlock. The cabbie’s voice rang out in Sherlock’s mind, strained and thin with the pain from John’s fatal gunshot. “Brook!”

 

“I’ll find him, then,” Sherlock said slowly, still not looking away from John. “I’ll find Brook and probably Miss Adler and I’ll put a stop to the whole thing.”

 

Boggs laughed humorlessly. “You can try. We’ve been after him for months.”

 

“Well, you’ve been working without me,” Sherlock said with the confidence of a man who knew he was correct. He drummed his long fingers against his chin for a moment before pointing sharply toward the door. “Get out. Both of you. I need to work.”

 

Boggs and Powell were wide-eyed with indignance. “You can’t just‒”

 

“He can ‘just,’” John insisted. “This is private property and unless you’re planning to arrest us, I’ll have to ask you to leave.” The War Officials sighed and shared a look, but John continued. “We’ll be in touch as soon as we know something.” With John’s revolver finally lowered, Boggs and Powell stood and collected their weapons from where they had been deposited on the coffee table before leaving with their tails between their legs.

 

As soon as the door closed behind them, Sherlock snatched up the envelope from the mantle and John said, “Sherlock ‒ do you suppose it's the same Brook person who‒”

 

“Yes, I do,” Sherlock replied instantly. He turned over the envelope and saw a small, perfect lip print in place of a wax seal. Pulling open the flap, his long fingers gently extracted a photograph of Irene Adler, elegantly dressed and with a coy expression on her sharp face. Enclosed were two notes: one addressed to Sherlock and the other for His Majesty the Grand Duke of Bohemia. Sherlock read aloud from the first letter:

 

“Dear Mister Holmes and Darling Doctor Watson,

 

Your hospitality was most appreciated, but I am afraid that I must take my leave. Best not to remain in one place for too long. Tell that posh thing that the photographs are safe ‒ although I will be keeping them. Just in case. And be the lovely dears I know you to be and pass along this letter, won't you?

 

From now on, I'll be under the protection of a better man. Mister Brook has need of my particular skills, though I do regret that I won't be able to spend more time with you two lovely gentlemen.

 

Remember, Doctor Watson: firm but gentle.

 

Irene.”

 

John looked very much as if he were trying not to roll his eyes, but he maintained his composure as he said, “I suppose we ought to get in touch with His Majesty.”

 

“So it would seem.” John took the note from Sherlock's unmoving hand and folded it and the photograph away.

 

“So this Brook is likely the one who gave her the…the ketamine, yes?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Meaning that he is not from this time.”

 

“Almost certainly.”

 

John nodded slowly, his lips pursed, as he placed his revolver on the coffee table along with Irene’s parcel.

 

Feeling uncharacteristically awkward, Sherlock swallowed and continued speaking lowly. “Once I've tracked down Brook, I can determine how he managed to travel here and whether or not‒”

 

“Don't,” John said, dragging his gaze up to Sherlock's with some apparent difficulty. “Don't.” He closed the distance between them with a fierce expression and took Sherlock's face in both hands before kissing him brutally.

 

Sherlock let out an embarrassing little umpf as John claimed his mouth, but threw his arms around John’s shoulders and held him tight. Sherlock needed this. They needed this. Desperately.

 

He couldn’t stand to think about leaving for one more moment. This Brook, whoever he was, was nothing but a thorn in Sherlock’s side. An unsolved puzzle. A grit in the mechanism. A terrible, hateful threat of losing John.

 

John, who was pulling at Sherlock’s suit jacket; John, who was sucking on Sherlock’s lower lip until they both moaned; John, who was holding Sherlock against him as if there was nothing else in the world. How dare Brook threaten to tear them apart?

 

Hands pulled frantically at shirts and trousers and braces and pants until they were both stark naked and panting in the sitting room. John backed Sherlock against his armchair and kissed him one more time before pushing him gently down into the seat. His lips kissed all along Sherlock’s jaw to his neck and down to his chest. John licked at Sherlock’s left nipple before taking it into his mouth, sucking and teasing with his teeth. His hands roamed all over Sherlock’s panting torso, twitching with restrained pleasure, before switching to the other nipple. Sherlock moaned quietly and carded his fingers through John’s silky soft hair.

 

John’s tongue flicked down Sherlock’s chest and stomach, rolling over the firm ridges of his abdominal muscles before nipping at the sensitive flesh of his hip bone. With an almost heartbreaking sweetness, John placed a kiss on the tip of Sherlock’s cock before swallowing it down. Sherlock bit back a deep groan, not wanting to shatter the quiet, and settled for a low rumble deep in his chest. His eyes rolled back as John’s tongue danced along his shaft, drawing his cock to full hardness.

 

After one good, hard pull, John’s mouth left Sherlock’s erection to kiss at the tender place where his shaft met his balls. He kissed and lipped at Sherlock’s sac, teasing at the seam, until his mouth moved down to Sherlock’s hole. Sherlock could not help the moan that escaped him then ‒ two of John’s fingers circled his hole as his tongue worked absolute miracles. Before long, Sherlock was wet and aching and John finally plunged those fingers inside of him. Sherlock wrapped his hands in John’s hair and his feet rose from the floor of their own volition as John made his tongue into a point and fucked him. Between John’s tongue and his pistoning fingers, Sherlock’s orgasm was rapidly spiraling through his abdomen.

 

But John pulled away all too soon, drawing a sharp shout of protest from the writhing man above him. “Fuck! John ‒ don’t stop, please.” His head lolled back against the armchair as he struggled to keep himself under control.

 

“Sherlock,” John started, his voice rough and almost unsure. He cleared his throat and tried again, “I want you to fuck me.”

 

Sherlock sat forward and stared down at John as if he had grown a second head. “What?” he panted.

 

“I want you to fuck me.” John’s eyes were dark and intense, but he appeared to have made up his mind. Sherlock though his brain might short-circuit.

 

“I‒” he blinked down at John in awe and finally found his voice. “Yes. God, yes.”

 

John sat back on his heels and Sherlock gripped the armrests for a brief moment before he swooped down and kissed John with all he had. His body nearly ached with arousal, but he wanted to give this to John, to make it good for him. “Bed,” he murmured, their lips brushing. John nodded and pushed himself to his feet.

 

He had only taken a few steps before Sherlock reached out and wrapped a hand around John’s neck, pulling him in for another kiss. God, but he was almost too amazing to believe. Sherlock had to be sure he was real. The hot, wet swoop of his tongue against Sherlock’s was almost enough to convince him.

 

They stumbled into Sherlock’s bedroom and onto the bed. Sherlock threw a leg around John’s waist and flipped them over so that John was on his back before he reached out to his nightside table and produced a small tin of Vaseline. Sherlock slicked his fingers and sat back on his heels, staring down at John from between his spread knees.

 

The weight of what they were about to do washed over Sherlock like a bucket of ice water. Unbidden, his mind flashed back to the first time a man had ever penetrated him. It had been rough and callous and rushed and Sherlock absolutely should not have engaged with the man in the first place. But he paid well, knowing that it was Sherlock’s first time, and even gave him a much-needed bump of questionable cocaine to “ease his nerves”. Twenty minutes later, Sherlock was practically pushed from a moving towncar miles away from his dingy flat, the feel of the smooth leather seats still pressed into his cheek.

 

Obviously, Sherlock would never do such a thing to John. He was going to take his time and do his best to show John how unbelievably grateful he was. And John would have nothing to regret for the rest of his life.

 

Sherlock slid down the bed until he was lying between John’s magnificent thighs, his erection standing thick and throbbing before Sherlock’s face. He could not keep himself from giving John a few licks, desperate to taste him. Sherlock sucked John’s length into his mouth as he gently pressed his fingers against his hole, trying to replace any possible discomfort with pleasure. He swirled his tongue around the head as he spread the thick lotion around John’s puckered opening and waited for John to sigh with arousal before pressing one fingertip inside.

 

He took an achingly long time sinking his finger inside John ‒ he was so hot and tight that Sherlock groaned loudly around John’s cock. John’s knees drew inward, a mix of pain and pleasure on his face, and his erection flagged ever-so-slightly. But his fingers fell to Sherlock’s hair and pressed against his head, so Sherlock figured it couldn’t be all that bad. He curled his fingertip upward experimentally and pressed against John’s prostate.

 

It was as though John had been electrocuted. He shouted nonsensically as his every muscle tensed, tendons straining in his thighs as he closed them around Sherlock’s ears. Sherlock sighed through his nose in relief to note that John’s erection had swollen to full hardness once again. He gave John’s prostate one more gentle press, eliciting a loud, “God ‒ dammit!” before removing his finger altogether.

 

He wasted little time in sinking back in with a second digit, scissoring them open once fully inserted. Sherlock gently stretched John open, easing off of his erection to better focus his attention on John’s hole. He still placed tender kisses and sloppy licks along his length at every opportunity, trying to make the entire experience as pleasurable as possible.

 

It seemed to be working. John’s thighs began to shake around Sherlock’s head and shoulders, his fingers tightening in dark curls. Wanton cries fell from John’s lips as Sherlock added a third finger and he began to pant.

 

“Ah! God… Sherlock, please …” John breathed out, his chest heaving. “Please, I ‒ I want you inside me. Jesus …” John’s eyes were clamped shut and his jaw worked attractively; Sherlock moaned at the sight before pressing his forehead into John’s thigh and taking a steadying breath.

 

“Alright,” Sherlock huffed out, giving John’s hole a few more stretching thrusts before withdrawing his hand. “Alright,” he said again and licked his dry lips. Pushing himself up onto his hands, Sherlock crawled over John to kiss him deeply before saying, “Get on top ‒ it’ll be better that way.”

 

John nodded and they rolled together until Sherlock was settled on his back against the pillows. With his legs on either side of Sherlock’s waist, John paused, his eyebrows furrowed. Sherlock swallowed and wrapped his long hands around John’s waist, giving him a light squeeze in reassurance.

 

“We don’t have to ‒ if you’re not sure ‒”

 

“No.” John surged forward and kissed the words out of Sherlock’s mouth. He pulled back far enough for them to share a breath before repeating with determination, “No.” And Sherlock knew he meant “yes.”

 

Sherlock nodded dumbly before spreading more Vaseline over his erection. He knew from experience that there was no such thing as too much, not the first time around. With one hand bracing his cockstand and the other gripping John’s thigh, Sherlock swallowed and waited.

 

He was relieved that John opted to take his time, his right hand pulling aside one arsecheek and his left braced against Sherlock’s chest. It took an almost interminable length of time for John to lower himself completely on Sherlock’s erection and once their bodies finally met, both men were left panting and covered in a thin sheen of sweat.

 

John’s eyes were fluttering as he tried to meet Sherlock’s gaze but struggled to even keep his eyes open. His tongue rolled over his bottom lip and Sherlock grunted in unbelievable arousal. “Don’t…” Sherlock started, “just…. Just move back and forth ‒ get used to it. I won’t move…”

 

“Alright.” John nodded, squeezed his eyes closed, and rolled his hips forward. John was so tight around Sherlock’s cock that it was a struggle not to immediately cum inside him. But he curled his toes in the duvet and bit his lip, determined not to go off so easily. At the second, more confident roll of John’s pelvis, they both moaned loud and long and John’s hand scrabbled desperately across Sherlock’s chest. “Ah, fuck!” he bit out and gave another delicious undulation. “God! Sherlock ‒ move, come on, move…”

 

“Oh, God, yes,” Sherlock sighed, tightening his grip on John’s hips and lifting his own pelvis to thrust gently into John’s body. He planted his feet and ground upwards and John ‒ magnificent, genius John ‒ lifted his own hips and sank back down in time with Sherlock’s movements.

 

It was sublime, feeling John wrapped so wholly around Sherlock, and he felt as though his mind was floating inside his skull. Sherlock was swimming in a sea of pure ecstasy, a sea of John with no horizon in sight. John’s head snapped back and he let out a shameless groan, his voice deep and echoing around the room.

 

Sherlock was going to cum ‒ there was no helping it. John felt too amazing. No, not amazing ‒ impeccable, sublime, perfect . So Sherlock wrapped his long fingers around John’s thick length and pulled, trying not to disrupt their rhythm. John let out an animalistic cry at the sensation and after only three short pumps of Sherlock’s hand on his cock, he spilled his release over Sherlock’s fist and stomach, curling forward with the force of his orgasm.

 

The tight pulsing of John’s channel around Sherlock’s prick was too much. His arousal down from his spine to his groin, hot and tingling, and he came deep inside John with one final thrust.

 

Sherlock felt very much as if he might have blacked out ‒ his vision was fuzzy around the edges and his pulse was pounding in his ears. Small twitches wracked his body as he came down from the rush and Sherlock finally managed to focus his gaze.

 

John looked an absolute wreck: his chest was flushed, his muscles tensing in rhythmic waves, his eyes closed and his face serene. And Sherlock had done that to him. Sherlock had reduced the best man he’d ever met to a quietly sighing ball of pleasure. The thought planted itself firmly in Sherlock’s chest and squeezed. The entire thing was unreal and Sherlock prayed to a deity whose existence he had always doubted that it would never end.

 

After not nearly enough time, John rolled onto his side next to Sherlock, hissing a little as their bodies separated. But it turned into a satisfied sigh as John relaxed into the pillows. He stretched out one arm and without a word between them, Sherlock turned into John’s embrace and waited for his breathing to return to normal.

Chapter Text

With a heavy sigh, the Grand Duke re-folded the letter from Irene Adler and tucked it into his breast pocket. “Well, Mizter Holmes, I appreciate your bringing zis letter to me. And I appreciate your discretion wiz zis… unseemly matter. But it would appear zat Miss Adler had gotten ze better of us both.” He shook his head and stroked at his impressive moustache in disappointment.

 

“I don’t know that I’d say that,” Sherlock replied in childish annoyance. “There is plenty to be gleaned from the letter she left me ‒ it would not be difficult to locate her and bring this matter to ‒”

 

“No,” the Grand Duke interrupted, not unkindly. “Zis is likely ze best course of action. I do not believe zat she wishes me any harm or unhappiness.”

 

That was patently absurd. Irene Adler would do anything to save her own skin and Sherlock intended to tell His Majesty just that. But when he opened his mouth to insist that the Grand Duke was being a fool to put such faith in the affections of a con artist, John cleared his throat and said gently, “Sherlock.” Don’t , he clearly meant. Just let him think it .

 

Sherlock swallowed down his frustration, but did not shatter the Grand Duke’s illusions. “Fine,” he said shortly. “Then I will consider this case closed.”

 

“Very good, Mizter Holmes.” Standing from his chair, the Grand Duke stretched out a hand for Sherlock to shake. But the detective pushed himself from his armchair with a huff and went to stand in front of the window, staring out onto the street with quiet fury boiling in his veins. The case was decidedly not closed.

 

“Forgive him,” he heard John say. “He’s not entirely pleased with the outcome of the past few days’ events.” Sherlock scoffed but did not turn around.

 

“Understandable,” said the Grand Duke. “A perfectionist. Zat is why I engaged him in ze first place.” There was a rustling and Sherlock determined that His Majesty was rummaging through his pockets. “For your trouble.”

 

“Oh, no, Your Majesty, we couldn’t possibly ‒” John started in a fit of absurd British politeness.

 

“I insist.” There was a moment of silence before the Grand Duke cleared his throat and said, “Well ‒ I do hope I am never in need of your particular services again, gentlemen. But if I am, I will surely not hesitate to contact you.” With that, Sherlock heard his steps retreat through the front door and a moment later, he watched the Grand Duke climb into his carriage and his manservant shut the door behind him on the street below.

 

John let out an awed whistle and Sherlock could imagine the look of astonishment on his face. “Blimey…” he muttered. Then, louder, “Sherlock, he’s given us an obscene amount of money.”

 

With a bored sigh, Sherlock drawled, “How much?”

 

“Two-thousand pounds!” John breathed in astonishment. “Can you even believe such a thing? It’d take us both more than a lifetime to earn this much brass!”

 

“Have at it, then.” Sherlock gave John a disdainful wave of his hand over his shoulder and continued to glower down at the streetscape.

 

“You don’t want it?”

 

“What do I need it for?” Sherlock asked with an impatient shrug of his shoulder. “That will more than repay you for the clothes you bought for me ‒ my work with the Yard covers my share of the rent and then some. Keep it. I don’t want it.” Sherlock crossed his arms and there was a long, pregnant silence.

 

“You really don’t want it, do you?” John continued to sound amazed, but his tone had softened somehow. “I thought you might just be angry that you failed, but you truly do not want this ungodly amount of money.” Sherlock still did not move.

 

“Failed…” he whispered, mostly to himself. The very word made his lip curl.

 

“You can’t win them all, Sherlock.” He did his best not to flinch when John’s hand touched his bicep. John took a firm grip on his arm and turned him gently away from the window. With open, honest eyes, John said, “You are still ‒ without a shadow of a doubt ‒ an absolute wonder.” John pulled Sherlock down for a stiff-lipped kiss before looking up at him with a glint in his deep blue eyes. “And if you want to continue handing over outrageous sums of money, I’ll gladly support your decision.”

 

A reluctant grin pulled at Sherlock’s cheek as John turned and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. Sherlock returned to his armchair with a sigh and a thought occurred to him. “John,” he called out, “make that fifteen-hundred. I need to go to the bank.”

 

‒‒

 

“Yes,” John started, his mouth hanging slightly open, “when you said we were going to the bank…”

 

Sherlock suppressed a smirk and led the way into the lobby of C. Hoare & Co. Bank. The premises on Fleet Street looked almost exactly the same as it would in his own time ‒ pale, wide bricks and an imposing Georgian facade that positively reeked of money. Of course, it was Mycroft’s prefered institution.

 

“What are we doing here, Sherlock?” John hissed as they approached the counter. “I feel as if I’ll be arrested for being criminally middle-class at any moment.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous, John,” Sherlock replied in a low tone, “you’ve just come into a ‒ what did you call it? ‘An obscene amount of money.’” Before John could answer, Sherlock gave the woman behind the counter a disarming smile and said, “Good afternoon. I’d like to take out a safe deposit box.”

 

“Very good, sir. Do you have an account with us?” she answered, grabbing up a sheaf of paper and a pen.

 

“Not yet,” he replied cheekily. It would be more than eighty years before his father would open an account on his behalf on the occasion of Sherlock’s birth. “But I have a unique request to make and I was hoping that you would be able to accomodate me.”

 

“We do our best, sir,” the woman said with a charmed smile. “What is this ‘unique request?’”

 

“I would like you to hold the box for one-hundred and twenty-three years, and then deliver a message to the man who will come and retrieve its contents.”

 

The receptionist’s mouth fell open and her eyes grew so large that Sherlock thought they might pop out of her head. “Excuse me?”

 

Of course, the bank director was summoned to handle Sherlock’s bizarre request. But upon learning that Sherlock was prepared to put down £500 for the long-term retention of the bank’s smallest safe deposit box, the man was ready to accommodate just about any demand that Sherlock might supply. In no time, Sherlock and John were left alone in the safe-deposit vault so that they might secure their mystery items in privacy.

 

“What on Earth are we doing?” John insisted once the door was closed.

 

Sherlock was emptying his pockets. Before leaving the flat, he had gathered a few items which had caused John to raise a very curious eyebrow. Onto the shining wooden table between them, Sherlock placed his mobile phone, two small jam jars which had been thoroughly cleaned, a collection of small tools, and a few pieces of paper. “I am sending a message to a friend of mine.”

 

“A friend?”

 

“No need to sound so surprised.”

 

“I only meant…” John started defensively, but trailed off when he saw Sherlock’s cheeky expression. “Who is this friend?”

 

“Gregory Lestrade, Detective Inspector at New Scotland Yard.” John gave a little chuckle.

 

“Of course. A copper.”

 

“My arresting officer,” Sherlock replied with a casual lift of his eyebrow. “Nearly a dozen times, in fact.” He focused his attention on writing a short note, but continued to speak in a low, easy tone. “The truth is, I owe him my life. And my livelihood. But he can never know that, so I make a point of calling him by the wrong name at every available opportunity.” John huffed another little laugh and Sherlock joined him.

 

Sherlock took up the smallest screwdriver, perfect for spectacles and the miniscule screws of his mobile, but paused before taking the thing apart. On a whim which was sailing perilously close to sentiment, Sherlock held down the power button and was relieved to see the device power on. Six per-cent battery remaining. Just enough.

 

“John,” he said softly. The doctor lifted his head from where he had been examining the other tiny instruments in the tool kit with a curious little “hmm” and Sherlock snapped a photograph.

 

Instantly, John’s eyebrows lowered and he said, “What did you just do?” Sherlock turned his phone around so that John could see his own likeness captured. Those sandy eyebrows rose again in wonder as he stared. “It’s so… colourful.” He shook his head in amazement and said, “How extraordinary.”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed, unable to help the soft grin which overtook his cheeks. Previously, he had only used his camera-phone for the convenient recording of clue and details while on a case. He had never take a personal photo in all his life. “I am beginning to appreciate its… allure.” He stared down at the perfectly-captured likeness of John in his hand for a long moment before the battery finally died.

 

Then, he set about his work. Sherlock dismantled his mobile and removed the battery and the SIM card. He placed the small electronic components in one jar and sealed it before placing a deliberate thumbprint across the glass surface of the phone itself. He sealed the empty shell of the mobile in the second jar. Sherlock removed his driving license from his wallet and folded it inside the note he had written. These things he placed inside the small brass safe deposit box, closed and locked it.

 

John pushed the bank paperwork across the table and Sherlock gave the paper a quick skim before signing. “Did you just sign ‘William S. Holmes?’”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock answered with a sigh. “That’s my name. William Sherlock Scott Holmes.” John tilted his head in contemplation, his lips pursing attractively as he put his thoughts in order.

 

“And you chose to go by ‘Sherlock?’”

 

“It’s a long story,” the detective replied, somewhat defensively. “I’m sure I’ll tell you eventually.” Then, ignoring John’s amused expression, he set about writing a second note, this one to be left in the hands of the bank’s manager.

 

‒‒

 

October came and went without even the slightest hint of Sherlock’s whereabouts. Sherlock had never truly been outside of Mycroft’s reach for more than a fortnight, but this time he had been missing for 54 days and Mycroft was no closer to finding his little brother than when he had started. His search had even spread to Europe and beyond. The Holmeses had family in the Loire Valley, though Sherlock would never go there. Mycroft checked anyway. His brother had old university acquaintances in Bruges and Salamanca, but they turned up dead ends.

 

Sherlock had also accumulated contacts through both the commiting and the solving of crimes all over the globe. In order, Mycroft searched in: Amsterdam, Boston, Cairo, Djibouti, Edmonton, and Fez ‒ all the way down the line to Zhangzhou. For a man whose life was so often in shambles, Sherlock had an almost ironic appreciation for lists. But his search remained fruitless. Mycroft had checked on every continent except Antarctica, and he was beginning to consider that Sherlock had truly gone south for the winter.

 

That was when Detective Inspector Lestrade turned up in his office. “Still haven't found him,” he said, plopping down into Mycroft's armchair with a huff of exhaustion.

 

“I'm not surprised.”

 

Lestrade scoffed. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

 

“No disrespect is intended, Detective Inspector. But I have far more resources at my disposal than New Scotland Yard and I have yet to turn up a result.” Mycroft pulled open his desk drawer and produced a large folder, evidence of his thus-far failed attempts to locate his brother.

 

“Well, something turned up outside of the limited resources of New Scotland Yard.” Lestrade pulled an envelope from his coat pocket which was addressed in what Mycroft instantly recognized as Sherlock’s sharp scrawl.

 

“What?” Mycroft tried and failed to hide his obvious surprise.

 

“This arrived at the Yard by messenger this morning.” Lestrade slipped open the envelope and Mycroft sat forward with interest. “It's from C. Hoare & Co. Bank ‒ pretty posh.”

 

“You have no idea,” Mycroft said with a raised brow. He had conducted business there when discretion was of the utmost importance. “What does it say?”

 

Lestrade unfolded the paper in his hand ‒ plain brown, covered in what appear to be age spots, no lines, deeply creased ‒ and began to read aloud, “‘To Detective Inspector G. Lestrade, New Scotland Yard…’”

 

‒‒

 

“I must say, Detective Inspector, I am incredibly excited to meet you.” The young woman who greeted them at the bank had a pretty, open face, and her expression was undeniably thrilled. Miss Davis was the current bank manager and she had personally greeted Lestrade and Mycroft at the front desk. “This is the last remaining safe deposit box in our bank. We stopped offering this service ages ago.”

 

“Really?” Lestrade asked. “Why keep it?”

 

“Oh, well, at the time that the box was taken out, the owner paid a large sum — for the time — for the bank to hold the box until today. The bank’s president even added a provision in the by-laws to ensure its continued protection.” She led the way through the bank, upstairs toward the impossibly posh private offices and Lestrade gave Mycroft a curious expression. The man simply shrugged in reply.

 

“How much did he put down?” Lestrade asked.

 

“That’s the best part,” the woman laughed. “Only five-hundred pounds.” She pushed open the door to a small conference room and led the two men inside. “For more than a hundred years’ hold on a safe deposit box.” She ended with a little titter and shake of her head. “It’s something of a Hoare’s legend, really. The eccentric gentleman with the safe deposit box.” Miss Davis smiled and gestured for the men to sit before retrieving an old, brass-plated box from a cabinet near the window. After placing both it and the antique key on the table, she placed her arms behind her back and took a step backward. “We all wondered whether or not the recipient of the letter was even real, but I saw you on the news a year or two ago, Detective Inspector. After all that business with those decapitations.” She made a scandalised face. “Anyway, I recognised your name and simply could not wait to send the letter out to you.”

 

“And you’ve never wondered what was inside the box?” Lestrade asked, staring curiously down at the object in question.

 

“Oh, certainly I did.”

 

“But not enough to open it?”

 

Her expression nearly became offended, but there was still a veneer of politeness over top. “Oh, no, sir. Our clients’ privacy is of the utmost importance to us.” Miss Davis gave the box a wistful little smile before nodding to the Lestrade and Mycroft and shutting the door behind herself.

 

“Well,” Lestrade said, picking up the key, “here goes nothing.”

 

An ominous creak filled the room as Lestrade lifted the lid. Inside were two small jars and another note. Lestrade grabbed up the paper, but Mycroft took up one of the jars. “A mobile?” he wondered aloud. Picking up the second jar, he saw the slightly-corroded battery and SIM card, their aging slowed by the seal of the jar. Unfolding the thin and age-stiffened paper, Lestrade took a deep breath when Sherlock’s driving license clattered onto the table.

 

“‘Lestrade ‒ and most likely Mycroft,’” Lestrade read out, sharing an uncomfortable look with the government agent. “‘Let me assure you that I have not died of an overdose in some filthy doss house. Despite the impossibility of the prospect, all the evidence suggests that I have traveled backward in time.’” Lestrade stopped reading and stared down at the paper in his hand as though it would come to life and give some sort of explanation. But it did not.

 

“This is lunacy,” Mycroft put forth with an annoyed tone. “Some sort of prank ‒ I never know what my dear brother is thinking ‒”

 

“‘This is not a prank.’” Lestrade barely suppressed his grin. “‘Enclosed in this safe deposit box is all the evidence you will need to prove that what I am saying is true. Test everything, obviously. You will see that I am correct.’”

 

“I can have my team examine the paper, though I suppose it would be possible to acquire antique writing materials and simply place them in this box,” Mycroft said lowly.

 

“But the manager said the box has been here all along,” Lestrade replied.

 

“She’s clearly in on it.”

 

Lestrade shook his head in wonderment. How could this be true? But what was it that Sherlock was always saying? When you’ve eliminated the impossible… “She left the paperwork,” he said, gesturing to the plastic envelope which protected the antique sheaf of paper. “Who does it say took out the box?”

 

Mycroft took it up and his face paled. “William Sherlock Scott Holmes.” There was a brief pause.

 

“Is that his real name?” Lestrade asked, momentarily distracted. Even his driving license only read ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ “Why would he chose to go by Sherlock, of all things?”

 

“My brother is nothing if not an enigma,” Mycroft murmured, staring down at the paper in his hand. “Fifth October, eighteen-ninety-five… Why would he request that the note be delivered today? Why wait? It’s been more than a month since he wrote the note.”

 

“It’s my birthday.” Lestrade offered Mycroft a humourless smile. “Fourteenth November.” He shook his head and returned his gaze to the items before them. “That bastard. He always pretends he doesn’t remember things like that…”

 

“Does he say anything else? In the note?” Mycroft interrupted Lestrade’s musings.

 

“Oh ‒ erm, yes.” He cleared his throat and continued reading, “‘I am forced to admit that even I have not yet determined exactly how it is that I have left my own time and arrived here, but the fact remains that I have done so. I am attempting to find a way to return, but at least, for now, rest assured that I am alive and well. If that sort of thing should occupy your minds. For obvious reasons, I have separated my mobile from its more corrosive components.’” Lestrade paused at that. “Obvious reasons?”

 

“So that the battery would not destroy the internal memory on the phone itself as it aged,” Mycroft answered with surprising patience. “My team should be able to extract the contents.” Lestrade gave a hmm of comprehension and returned to the letter.

 

“‘Delete nothing.’” That was it. No well wish or instruction or clue as to how they might help Sherlock to return. Only his quick, slanted signature at the bottom of the page. Taking quite possibly the deepest breath of his life, Lestrade dropped the letter onto the table and ran his hands over his tired face. Only Sherlock could find himself in a situation like this.

 

“It should go without saying that all this remains between us,” Mycroft said lowly. Lestrade met his gaze and saw, despite the hard veneer and stiff upper lip, that Mycroft was actually concerned for Sherlock. He nodded and repacked the contents into the deposit box, ready to be taken to Mycroft’s mysterious government lab.

 

Only Sherlock...

Chapter Text

Something about the photo on Mycroft’s computer monitor made him inexplicably sad.

 

The man pictured ‒ late thirties, possibly early forties ‒ bore a perfectly pleasant expression. Dark blue eyes which were open and staring boldly into the camera, a square jaw with a well-managed beard, a slightly-large and rounded nose which suited his face rather charmingly. And thin lips which bore the faintest hint of an easy smile.

 

Sherlock had taken the photo. This man, whoever he was, had looked up and seen Sherlock and smiled .

 

Mycroft couldn’t recall anyone who had known Sherlock for more than five minutes actually smiling at his younger brother. Not since all that business with Redbeard. And, to top it all off, Sherlock had never (Mycroft was certain) taken a casual photograph. Every single other picture stored on the internal memory of his mobile was of a dead body, a crime scene, a mould sample. No sunset vistas, no crowds of friends having coffee, no cats sleeping in a sun-soaked window. And certainly no gently smiling men who looked directly at Sherlock and were happy .

 

If Sherlock came back, the number of people who looked at him in that way would once again be reduced to zero.

 

Loathe though he was to admit it, Mycroft knew deep down that the world needed Sherlock Holmes. But for the first time in thirty years, it occurred to Mycroft that Sherlock might have found someone he needed more.

 

His fingers woven together and his elbows resting on the desk, Mycroft heaved a heavy sigh and closed his eyes. He mentally ran through the other evidence which had been sent to him over the secure server just that morning. A few intact fingerprints were able to be lifted from the glass surface of the mobile phone, all confirmed to belong to Sherlock. The SIM card was largely corroded, but Mycroft’s team had been able to corroborate that cellular service had been abruptly cut off on the day of Sherlock’s disappearance, the last ping coming from the beach under Tower Bridge at exactly the time Mycroft had seen Sherlock climbing onto the ramparts.

 

All of the ink and paper had been confirmed as authentic, aged approximately one-hundred-and-twenty years. Though the thought continued to worry at Mycroft’s mind that antique paper could be purchased even in two-thousand-eighteen. But there was little else to suggest that Sherlock was pulling some sort of prank. Why would he do such a thing? Sherlock would never abandon such an intriguing murder.

 

Mycroft set his mind to work and quickly sent a secure email to Detective Inspector Lestrade.

 

‒‒

 

“Did you leave the flat today?” Sherlock’s body tilted listlessly as John sat down on the edge of the sofa cushion and placed a hand on his hip. From where he was curled on the couch ‒ knees drawn up, arms wrapped around himself, face pressed nearly into the backrest ‒ Sherlock gave a noncommittal humf and did not look at John. “Did you move from this sofa?” John’s voice was gentle and Sherlock could practically hear his eyebrows furrow with concern. It was positively hateful .

 

“Not that I recall,” he answered with bland sarcasm. John sighed heavily and his thumb caressed at the sliver of skin peeking out from between Sherlock’s pyjama top and bottom.

 

“Sherlock, I’m concerned about you. You’ve been on this sofa for two days ,” John said, his voice so thick with worry that Sherlock felt nauseated. How can he care so much? Isn’t it exhausting?

 

“I’m fine, John.”

 

“You’re not,” John insisted, pressing his other hand to Sherlock’s forehead ‒ even though he likely knew full well that Sherlock was not physically ill. “Is this about the safety deposit box?”

 

“It’s been two weeks ,” Sherlock groaned, finally flopping over onto his other side to stare dolefully up at John. “Two weeks without a single word from Mycroft and Lestrade. I don’t even know if they’ve gotten my message ‒ I don’t really know if I’ll ever know! I could be long dead by the time they get my message and it will all have been for nothing.” John chewed his lower lip and looked away, clearly trying not to say something. “What?” Sherlock snapped.

 

With another sigh, John replied, “Well, Sherlock, if you don’t know how it’ll all turn out and you have no way of knowing, that pretty much makes you the same as everyone else on Earth.” Sherlock’s face fell even further at the notion. “Don’t you think you should just… live your life?”

 

Sherlock pushed himself into a supine position against the arm of the sofa and stared indignantly at John. “What do you mean?”

 

“I mean,” John was clearly becoming frustrated, “do your work, read books, travel, just ‒ just try and be happy, for Christ’s sake.”

 

Sherlock suddenly realised that he was pouting ‒ actually pouting. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth and took a deep breath through his nose. “I suppose…”

 

“Why don’t we go down to Bart’s tomorrow,” John said, clearly bolstered by Sherlock’s attitudinal shift. “We’ll see if Miss Hooper’s got any interesting corpses in the morgue.” Despite himself, Sherlock was tremendously compelled to smile. But he fought it ‒ best not appear too eager. So he settled for a reluctant nod. John beamed at him.

 

“But I’m bringing the riding crop,” he said, still a little petulant. “I want to conduct some tests regarding post-mortem bruising.”

 

“Fine,” John agreed and leaned forward to give Sherlock a swift kiss. Pulling away, he wrinkled his nose a bit and said, “Now, why don’t you go and have a bath? I can tell you haven’t moved in two days.” Sherlock slid from the sofa and went into the bathroom to fill the tub while John put the kettle on to heat the water.

 

The water was pleasantly hot — enough to bring a bright flush to Sherlock’s skin as he dipped beneath the surface — and he sighed with intense relief. John poured a bit of lavender water into the tub and then surprised Sherlock by quickly stripping his own clothes. “Budge up,” he said, and Sherlock did, sliding forward until there was room for John to sink into the steaming water, his legs bracketing Sherlock’s body. He was equally surprised by his own eagerness to lean back into John’s embrace. Calm hands ran through Sherlock’ curls, dampening and drawing them back from his forehead. Sherlock sighed and rested his head on John’s shoulder, unnaturally at ease in such an intimate pose.

 

After a while, John rubbed a bar of soap between his hands until it formed a thick lather and scrubbed it gently into Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock took up the soap cake and started idly running it over both of their wet limbs, entwined as they were in the tub. It was… peaceful. It almost made his heart hurt. “John?” he enquired softly.

 

“Hmm?” John was preoccupied with ringing out each of Sherlock’s curls with rapt devotion.

 

“Why are you doing this?”

 

“Well, to be frank, you’ve developed a bit of an odour.”

 

“No, I‒” Sherlock bit back a sigh. “Why are you being so kind to me?”

 

“Why shouldn’t I be?” He spoke so casually, but when Sherlock did not reply, John’s hands paused and he shifted until he could see more of Sherlock’s face, which was turned aside. “Sherlock, why shouldn’t I be kind to you?”

 

“People… generally aren’t.” There was a long pause.

 

“Is that because you generally… aren’t?” Another pause.

 

“Perhaps.” John resumed his gentle ministrations in Sherlock’s hair.

 

“But you don’t just mean ‘people’, do you?” he asked with a heavy layer of concern and, Sherlock thought, sadness.

 

“Men,” Sherlock corrected. He ran his soap-covered hand up John’s bent thigh and over his knee and down his shin, watching his own fingers with feigned fascination.

 

“Lovers?”

 

“In a manner of speaking.” Sherlock’s tone switched from light and disinterested to curt and pained in an instant. John’s hands smoothed over Sherlock’s forehead and down the curve of his skull as they sat in quiet contemplation for a moment.

 

“Have you only ever… been with men?” For a moment, Sherlock was unsure of how to proceed. How much truth should he tell?

 

“Yes,” he said simply.

 

“And they weren’t always… good to you?” A curt nod. “Did anyone ever hurt you?” Sherlock switched sides of John’s body and ran his soapy hands over John’s left knee.

 

“Yes.”

 

John drew in a sharp breath through his nose, but his voice was steady. “How?”

 

Again, Sherlock pondered how much to divulge. He bore a few physical scars from his sordid past, but they were faded and insignificant now. Even though John had seen him completely nude, it would be easy for him to assume that Sherlock, like any person, had simply had some scrapes in his life. A few bumps and bruises are to be expected over the course of thirty years, even years far more mundane than Sherlock’s had been. What was not necessarily to be expected were a cluster of cigarette burns on his ribs which looked like one large, faded scar; or a series of razor slices on the bottom of his feet, so thin they faded into the natural creases of his skin; or the almost imperceivably small prick-marks tucked inside his elbows and between his toes.

 

“There has been an… imaginative assortment of methods, I can assure you,” Sherlock finally said lowly. On an impulse, he pressed his cheek against John’s bicep and breathed deep the calming scent of the other man. John stretched out his arm and collected a small tin cup from the edge of the tub and dipped it into the bathwater before pouring it out over Sherlock’s soapy hair. “Nothing to concern yourself with, John.” This conversation really was not helping his mood, which he was sure was not at all John’s intent when he had joined Sherlock in the bath. His hair thoroughly rinsed, Sherlock sat forward and made an awkward spin on his rear end so that he could face John. “Head down, solider,” he commanded, lathering up his hands before scrubbing the soap into John’s soft brown tresses.

 

John was quiet and compliant as Sherlock washed his hair, scratching lightly at John’s scalp as he went. He took his time, not wanting to let John tilt his head back up and ask him more questions. But eventually, Sherlock was forced to rinse the soap from his hair and release him.

 

Sherlock put his hands on the lip of the tub and made to stand up, saying as he went, “That was very pleasant, thank‒”

 

“Sherlock, wait.” John’s hand flew out and grasped at his wrist, compelling him to sit back down in the slowly-cooling water. “Tell me. Tell me everything I ought to know and then the moment we leave this tub, we’ll never speak of it again. I swear it.”

 

His chest was tightening unpleasantly as he drummed his fingers along the porcelain rim of the bathtub. Staring fiercely at John, Sherlock chewed his lip and tried to suss out exactly what it was John was asking of him. “Everything?”

 

“Please.” John sat back and rested his elbows on the lip of the rub, letting his fingers dangle casually in the water. He watched Sherlock with unbelievable patience, his expression mostly passive, but concern still evident in the lines of his face. God, he’s so… He’s so… How can he care so damned much?

 

He’ll stop caring if you tell him, replied that hateful voice in the back of his head.

 

History would suggest otherwise.

 

Wishful thinking? The voice always sounded familiar, but Sherlock had evidently deleted (or at least blocked) the person to whom it belonged.

 

No , Sherlock decided. Fact. He took a deep breath, swallowed the incredible lump in his throat, and started.

 

“You know about the drugs.” John nodded in confirmation. “I started at university ‒ a few random party drugs here and there until I stumbled upon heroin at the end of my first year. And then cocaine. It was as if…” How to describe it? “As if I had become accustomed to moving about my own mind in the dark ‒ I knew where everything was, how to use it, what to expect from myself and the people around me. And then,” God, it sounds so trite, “it was as though I found the light switch. Suddenly I could see everything in bright, loud colour and I could find things in my mind I hardly knew were there. I could anticipate almost anything based on information I had stored away years ago. I didn’t need sleep. I didn’t need food. I only needed to keep moving .” Sherlock swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, and he licked his lips. He would never be able to shake the physical memory of the sensation of the heat in his veins.

 

“Who?” John asked quietly and Sherlock knew exactly what me meant.

 

Don’t say it. Don’t you dare blame this on me, Sherlock. You’ve never done anything you didn’t want to do in all your pathetic life.

 

With a sudden, completely unbidden jerk of his whole body, a face swam to the forefront of Sherlock’s mind, handsome and cruel in equal measure. It left him feeling cold and disgustingly weak as he realised to whom the voice belonged.

 

“Victor Trevor,” he said, his voice dripping with vitriol. It took a moment for Sherlock to even register that John was still looking at him. His expression was odd ‒ he was clearly disgusted by the very sound of the name, though of course, he had no knowledge of the man in question. And he was trying so hard to keep his expression neutral, to let Sherlock say what he needed to say without worrying him. Eventually, John gave a single nod and Sherlock gathered the strength to continue. “My first… boyfriend,” he hated the word ‒ it sounded so juvenile and trivial. “His family had even more money than mine, which is truly saying something, and his parents could have bought him a place at any university in Europe. But to my eventual chagrin, he chose Cambridge.

 

“He wasn’t really there to study, only to fulfill the societal obligation of completing a course at university before moving into the leisurely life of the landed gentry ‒ philanthropy, race-day picnics, fixing public elections ‒ that sort of thing. I, of course, was there to read chemical engineering in a flagrant disregard for my own family’s grand plans. A working-class Holmes ‒ perish the thought!” Sherlock rolled his eyes dramatically. “If anything, I was meant to master business or political science and follow my brother into a government position. But I threw that out the window the moment I decided to attend Cambridge ‒ Holmeses have attended Oxford nearly since the beginning of time and my entire family took this action as the betrayal for which it was intended.” The faintest of smiles pulled at John’s cheek, but he remained silent.

 

“At any rate, V…” Sherlock swallowed with embarrassment. He felt sickeningly unmoored at the moment, thinking over things he had tucked away in the back corner of his mind for so many years. “Victor,” he finally managed, “and I were immediately drawn to one another. Thoroughly disenfranchised youths of the upper class were we, and he introduced me to a spectrum of illicit substances which eventually culminated in my first sojourn into a rehabilitation facility between my second and third years of school.”

 

Sherlock shifted a bit, now-cool water sloshing against the sides of the tub. “When I was determined to return to Cambridge, my family cut off my funds and Victor determined to help me with my financial struggles.” At this, Sherlock bowed his head and stared resolutely down at the milky water between his knees. “He knew people ‒ men ‒ with a particular proclivity for… for…” Oh, fuck it all. “For fucking young men who were strung out and so desperate for their next fix they’d tolerate just about anything. Inhuman men who thought that if they did what they did to people like me behind closed doors, no one would get hurt. They paid ‒ in cash and cocaine ‒ and they took what they wanted.” Sherlock stretched his left arm above his head and gently touched the fingers of his right hand to a long-healed welt which graced the top of his ribcage. John lowered his eyebrows and clenched his jaw but thankfully did not speak. Sherlock lowered his arm and resumed his air of exhausted resignation.

 

“Victor left Cambridge early, having surely paid an obscene sum to obtain his diploma ahead of schedule. He married some little blonde thing from Stockholm or Monaco or some such place, sired the obligatory child, and promptly sent them to live separately in the country somewhere. I never heard from him again. Just as swiftly as he had come into my life, he was gone from it again. But the… activities to which he had introduced me had taken their hold. I was…” Heartbroken , his mind supplied traitorously. But he tamped it down and soldiered on.

 

“I dropped out of Cambridge, spent four years sleeping rough, went to rehab three more times, got arrested for charges of criminal drug posession and prostitution, and finally met Detective Inspector Lestrade. I helped him close in on a man who was selling homeless youths into sexual slavery and have been solving crimes on the behalf of New Scotland Yard ever since.”

 

There was an unbearably long silence during which John stared unflinchingly at Sherlock and Sherlock stared uncomfortably at a cracked tile just above John’s shoulder. The water had long gone cold and the shiver which overtook Sherlock was violent enough to shake them out of their reverie. Finally, John sat forward and cupped Sherlock’s face with his water-shrivelled hands and forced their gazes to meet.

 

“Sherlock,” he said solemnly, “I am unbelievably sorry for everything that has happened to you.” Sherlock tried to roll his eyes and look away, but John have his jaw a little shake and kept his eyes forward. “No, listen. I am sorry about your past. And I have absolutely no idea how things between us will work out. But I do know, and I promise you now, that I will never ‒ never ‒ hurt you like that. Do you hear me?”

 

Sherlock was nearly angry with the struggle to keep his eyes from tearing. A muscle in his jaw twitched as he worried his lips between his teeth. He couldn’t breathe. His heart was pounding furiously. And goddammit , his eyes prickled with emotion he was normally able to repress. But not this time.

 

“I hear you,” he barely managed to whisper.

 

John’s thumb swept over the arch of his cheekbone, clearing away the wetness there before he said, “Good.” Finally releasing Sherlock’s face, John reached around the detective’s slim body and pulled the plunger. As the water started to drain with a startlingly loud gurgle, John stood and pulled Sherlock onto his feet. “Let’s get dried off and warmed up, then, eh? And say no more of it.”

 

Sherlock nodded and together they let Sherlock’s words swirl down the drain with the soapy water.

 

Chapter Text

Something about the way in which John had listened to Sherlock without interruption or apparent judgement made Sherlock want to crawl inside the other man and never escape the warmth within. But he settled for wrapping his long limbs around a fresh, clean John Watson, still smelling of soap and lying naked and pink in Sherlock’s bed. John pressed a gentle kiss to his still-damp curls and Sherlock rested his hand over John’s steadily-beating heart and thought — perhaps for the first time in his life — Is this what people are always going on about? Affection?

 

He absolutely would not allow his mind to conjure any more powerful word for the sensation. That would be too much. 

 

John’s soft lips moved from Sherlock’s hair to his forehead, then to the high planes of his cheekbones and across his nose. When their mouths finally met, Sherlock greeted John with the most contented sigh he had possibly ever uttered. His hands made their way into John’s soft blonde-grey hair as their tongues danced slowly around one another. How could this be so utterly blissful, simply holding one another and kissing?

 

But John ‒ impossibly perfect John ‒ made it even better. John pulled away from Sherlock’s mouth to brush his lips over the line of Sherlock’s jaw and down the side of his neck, gently sucking and lapping at that place below his ear that made Sherlock moan. Warm hands traced across the humid skin of Sherlock’s ribs as John kissed his way down the expanse of collarbone and chest laid out before him. 

 

John found the old-healed welt Sherlock had shown him earlier and placed his lips gently over the scar. He kissed his way across Sherlock’s abdomen to the other marks on his skin ‒ some long, some faded, some perpetually pink and raised ‒ and John’s lips gently burned away all traces of the pain Sherlock had endured. It was so… reverent, Sherlock barely remembered to breathe. John’s lips and teeth made new marks, small sucking bruises and gentle bites in a trail from Sherlock’s neck to his hips until, at long last, he placed a gentle kiss to the tip of Sherlock’s erection.

 

Sherlock’s breath left him in a long, stuttering sigh as John ran his tongue up Sherlock’s length. He licked up and down Sherlock’s erection, sucking lightly along the sensitive skin of his shaft until he made his way down past his balls and to his hole. In perfect, unspoken tandem, John reached out his left hand and Sherlock grabbed up the tin of Vaseline from the bedside table, passing it over eagerly. John licked a few times at Sherlock’s puckered rim before slicking up his fingers and pressing them gently inside. He finally ceased his teasing and closed his mouth around Sherlock’s cock, sucking lightly as he stretched Sherlock open. 

 

Sherlock’s hands flew back to the headboard, scrabbling for purchase against the polished wood as John’s mouth and hands worked him over. When the tip of John’s tongue slipped beneath his foreskin and circled Sherlock’s shaft, Sherlock let out a deep, helpless moan and his eyes rolled back in his head. 

 

John took an agonisingly long time working Sherlock open, pressing in with two and then three fingers until Sherlock was certain he was going to come apart at the seams. He wriggled his hips as enticingly as possible, desperate for more of John’s touch, and gasped helplessly at the increased sensation. Finally ‒ finally ‒ John withdrew his fingers and sat up. He stretched out over Sherlock’s prone and writhing form and kissed him deeply, pressing his tongue into Sherlock’s mouth as he gently pressed his cock into Sherlock’s eager body.

 

God , it was intense. John was so close to him, their chests touching and their lips locked, and Sherlock’s hands finally decided what they wanted. They wanted to touch John, touch him everywhere, hold him close and never let him go. His fingers pressed desperately into the backs of John’s shoulders, pulling him ever deeper into his own body and Sherlock threw back his head and moaned when John was fully-seated within him. 

 

“Jesus, Sherlock,” he rasped, his lips brushing against Sherlock’s collarbone, “you’re absolutely amazing. God, you feel so incredible, I could just…” John’s voice broke as he pulled almost completely out of Sherlock and thrust slowly back in. “...forever, ah ‒ God.” John pressed his lips against the lower corner of Sherlock’s jaw and growled low in his throat as he pressed even deeper into him. 

 

For his own part, all Sherlock could manage to do was tilt his hips upward to meet John’s every movement and wrap his arms even tighter around the strong shoulders above him. John’s hand smoothed down Sherlock’s ribs and hip until he could get a grip under Sherlock’s knee. He drew Sherlock’s leg up and back until his knee hooked over John’s shoulder, deepening the already incredible angle of his penetration and Sherlock cried out in desperation. The fingers of one hand swept up the back of John’s neck to tangle in his hair as they undulated together and Sherlock slipped the other hand between them to wrap around his own painfully-hard erection. 

 

He was close, so close . John was brushing past his prostate on every tortuous drive of his hips and Sherlock whined high in the back of his throat as he felt his orgasm begin to build within him. “John,” he breathed, “John ‒ cum. Cum in me. Cum with me, please.” 

 

“Oh, God, Sherlock ‒ yes,” John hissed. His thrusts picked up pace and he pressed harder, deeper, into Sherlock, murmuring words of praise against the skin of Sherlock’s neck in a nonsensical litany that made him shiver. “Beautiful… amazing… unbelievable…”

 

Sherlock’s skin prickled with gooseflesh and his heart was beating almost painfully in his chest. His arousal raced through his veins, warm and tingling, until the sensation pooled in his gut. No high could compare to the fire that lit in his blood as he came. With a strangled shout, John followed suit, and they moved together in slowly-ebbing waves of unrivaled pleasure until their breathing evened out and their heart rates slowed and their eyes met again.

 

Blinking slowly up at John, Sherlock would swear that he was surrounded by a haze ‒ a soft, white light that encircled John’s beatific face and made him look positively ethereal. He shook with a final wave of pleasure and pressed a sloppy kiss to John’s bearded jaw before saying softly, “John?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“My leg’s starting to hurt.”

 

“Oh!” With a small, embarrassed chuckle, John released Sherlock’s knee and pulled away long enough to fall gracelessly onto his side next to Sherlock. “Sorry.”

 

“I’m hardly complaining,” Sherlock replied and turned onto his stomach to be that much closer to John. He rested his head on his folded forearms and stretched luxuriously against the rough wool sheets, revelling in the millions of tiny scratches that tickled his over-sensitive skin. He was unspeakably comfortable, floating on a wave of pure serenity and Sherlock decided to lean into it.

 

A calm quiet overtook them, disturbed only by their slowly-calming breathing. John’s fingers danced lightly down the length of Sherlock’s spine and after a long while, he said contemplatively, “You’re the first ‒ the first man ‒ I’ve ever… felt this way about.” Sherlock peeked over his own bicep and gave John a quick once-over. Eyes downcast, heart rate minutely elevated; but jaw relaxed. Nervous, then. Not necessarily upset. “You’re the first man I’ve ever… been with like this.”

 

“What?” Sherlock teased gently. “Not even in the Army?” John gave him a lopsided grin.

 

“Nope.” His eyes clouded over for a moment. “There was one lad. He was… sweet.” John averted his gaze but continued his light touch on Sherlock’s back, using the other man’s body as a ground wire. “Thomas.” Sherlock did not ask if that was his first or last name. “I’m no fool ‒ I know what men get up to when there’s no women for miles and any one of us might die in the next breath. And I won’t say I wasn’t tempted. But I was their commanding officer. It wouldn’t have been right.” He was quiet for a long moment, staring into the middle distance. 

 

“What happened to Thomas?” Sherlock asked, sensing that John needed to keep talking.

 

“He died, right in front of me. I couldn’t help him.” He said it so matter-of-factly that for a moment, Sherlock wondered if he’d heard him correctly. “But that’s war for you.”

 

Sherlock allowed a long pause to take them over and cleanse the air. Finally, he nudged John’s hip with his elbow and said, considerably lighter, “So, no men, then?” A faint smile graced John’s lips so Sherlock continued. “But… women, surely?” He well and truly smiled then.

 

“One doesn’t earn the name Three-Continents Watson for stamping one’s passport.”

 

‒‒

 

The following morning, Sherlock and John moved through their morning routines in companionable quiet. It was as though something had been lifted between them, allowing them to finally move around one another unencumbered. Sherlock felt… peaceful. That persistent, damnable thrum which raced through his every synapse throughout his frustratingly numerous waking hours had finally dulled. 

 

They had a pleasant breakfast at a place called Dolly’s on Paternoster Row (John had suggested they eat at The Cock on Fleet Street, but Sherlock hadn’t been able to stop laughing over the perfection of the name) and walked from the restaurant to Bart’s. Sherlock’s mood was already much improved and the prospect of new bodies and experiments bolstered his spirits even further. The riding crop bounced cheerfully against his side where it was hidden inside his coat, ready to get to work.

 

In the cellar of the hospital, Miss Hooper was hard at work, bent over a corpse with her surgical tools and an expression of extreme concentration. She heard them approach and glanced up from the unfortunate dead woman before her and her cheeks reddened ever-so-slightly when her eyes landed on Sherlock. It seemed that the awkwardness of their first meeting had been forgiven, making room for the awkwardness of her obvious attraction towards the detective. Sherlock supposed he might have felt sorry for her ‒ barking up the wrong tree, and all that ‒ if he weren’t so annoyingly happy for himself.

 

“Good morning, gentlemen,” she said, her voice wavering only a bit. Sherlock respected her dedication to her work ‒ it appeared that no matter how attractive she found Sherlock, Miss Hooper was determined to do her job and do it well. “I haven’t got another one of yours, have I?”

 

“Not today, Miss Hooper,” John answered with a gentle smile. “No, Mister Holmes has come to see if you have any unclaimed bodies.”

 

She straightened at that and fixed Sherlock with a curious and unforgiving gaze. Actually, he thought that if she were a cat, her ears would have folded backward. “Whatever for?”

 

“A few experiments I’d like to perform,” Sherlock replied, as casually as possible. “Nothing untoward, I assure you.” Lie .

 

“Experiments?” Her tone was incredulous ‒ all traces of her little crush momentarily set aside. “They’re people , Mister Holmes. Even the unclaimed ones.”

 

Indignant. A little angry. Better get her back on your side. “I know that,” he said placatorilly, stepping closer so that she had to look up at him from across the slab. “But you know as well as I do that the families would never consent to their loved ones being used for the advancement of mortuary science.” Sherlock lowered his voice and his chin, drawing her minutely closer with his manner. “These people could serve a higher purpose, even in death. You’re a scientist, Miss Hooper. Surely you understand?” Sherlock schooled his face into an expression which had never failed to produce a result from any man or woman (children rarely fell for his tricks); he lifted his eyebrows, pursed his lips in the slightest pout, and widened his eyes.

 

A tiny flush rose in Miss Hooper’s cheeks. Bingo . She blinked rapidly and finally looked away with a fluttering little sigh. “Fine. There are two in the back room,” Miss Hooper gestured over her shoulder to a door in the back corner. “Just… leave them intact, will you?”

 

“I’m only interested in surficial bruising today, Miss Hooper,” Sherlock assured her, trying to reign in his growing excitement. He failed. “John? Shall we?” He bounced on the balls of his feet for a brief moment before John gave him a soft smile and gestured for Sherlock to lead the way.

 

With the door closed firmly behind them, Sherlock whipped the riding crop from its hiding place inside his coat and began circling the two bodies laid out like a shark intimidating its prey, giving each body a quick but thorough once-over for any features which might ruin his experiment. To his utter delight, he found none.

 

“You shouldn’t flirt with her like that, Sherlock,” John chided gently, pulling a stool closer to the center of the room so that he might be near Sherlock without disrupting the Work. “It’s not kind.”

 

“Not jealous, are we, John?” Sherlock replied cheekily, drawing back the muslin sheets which covered the two cadavers. John gave a little snort.

 

“Perhaps if I thought for a minute that you were interested in her.”

 

“You were jealous of Irene Adler.” Sherlock instantly regretted saying it. But it was true. He shifted awkwardly where he stood, staring down at the two bodies before him as though they might chime in to the conversation. They did not. 

 

John did. “That was different, and you know it.” His voice was low, but not necessarily angry. Sherlock was still at a loss as to how to respond. It wasn’t different to him. It was just play-acting to get what he wanted. A means to an end. He respected Miss Adler and Miss Hooper both, but in very different ways. Their personalities required slight differences in his approach, but they were both attracted to Sherlock, so flirting was the easiest way to break down their defenses. Sherlock had seen all he needed to see about both women within seconds of seeing them, but it would take ages to explain every infinitesimal detail to John. It was just playing .

 

A thought struck him. Straightening his shoulders, Sherlock tossed the riding crop in the air until the tongue-end landed in his hand and he extended the grip to John with a raised eyebrow. “Perhaps you’d like to give me another lesson in good behaviour,” he dropped his voice to a register he knew aroused John to no end and ran his tongue over his bottom lip.

 

John’s eyes rolled slowly from the handle of the crop up to meet Sherlock’s gaze, his expression serious and a little heated. But finally, he huffed out the tiniest of laughs and blinked and a reluctant grin overtook him. Got you. John swatted the crop away with a shake of his head. He crossed his arms as he took up his seat on the stool and gestured toward the near-forgotten corpses with his chin, indicating that Sherlock should get to work. “Don’t think you can manipulate me with your shameless flirting, Sherlock Holmes.”

 

“Can’t I?” Sherlock shrugged out of his coat and gave John an over-the-top wink. A real laugh fell from John’s lips.

 

“Probably.”

 

More than an hour passed while Sherlock was at work. He rained blows down onto the first cadaver, as hard and fast as he was able, for the duration of about two minutes. Then, he waited for nearly a half-hour, observing any and all minute changes to the skin until the data seemed to reach a plateau. So he repeated the process on the other body, making mental adjustment for differences such as age, weight, time of death, and such. Given that it was incredibly difficult to find a pair of identical twins who died in the same way at the very same moment, some minor standardisation of data was bound to occur. Sherlock was unperturbed by the mental exercise of balancing one body against the other ‒ in fact, the extra work was rather a welcome effort.

 

He was poking and prodding at the incredibly faint marks made by his crop, cataloguing each bruise within the library of his Mind Palace and comparing them against the lividity pooled against the slab when the door creaked open. “Go away,” he demanded without looking up. “I haven’t finished.”

 

“Sherlock,” John hissed. Sherlock clucked his tongue against his teeth ‒ wasn’t John supposed to be his lover , or something? Not his mother? All the same, Sherlock sighed and straightened, greeting Miss Hooper with an altogether strained smile.

 

“Apologies, Miss Hooper,” he said tightly.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, Mister Holmes,” she replied, an expression of anxious anticipation on her face, “but I’m afraid I must ask you to finish up. Professor Moriarty is on his way down and if he finds you in here… experimenting , it’ll be my head.”

 

“Of course, Miss Hooper,” John cut across the deep intake of breath which indicated a Sherlockian diatribe. The detective swallowed his unspoken words and tried not to scowl. “We were just finishing up.” With an expression which brooked no refusal, John nodded toward the door and Sherlock felt he had no choice but to obey.

 

“Thank you, Doctor Watson,” Miss Hooper breathed a sigh of relief as they made their way back toward the front of the morgue. “It’s not that I really mind you being here, truly, it's just that the professor is very… particular.” She seemed unduly nervous to Sherlock’s observation. Who was this Moriarty, anyway?

 

As though in answer to Sherlock’s unspoken thoughts, the heavy door swung open and Miss Hooper’s little gasp of surprise and recognition was enough to confirm the appearance of Professor Moriarty himself. “Ah! Good morning, Miss Hooper.”

 

He was dressed as one might expect: three-piece wool suit in the common brown tweed, with the sort of very thin bowtie Sherlock had seen in photographs of the time. His hair was nearly black, slicked back from his face revealing the beginnings of typical caucasian male-patterned baldness which gave his forehead a widened appearance. A very straight nose, a sharp mouth, and thin, well-groomed eyebrows. Not unattractive, but unremarkable in Sherlock’s book. 

 

Early thirties; five-foot-eight, thin; Irish accent, but every indication that he had not been back to Ireland in at least ten years; single, never married, lives alone, no pets; teaches maths and… psychology? An odd combination. Especially for someone who frequents a morgue…

 

“It is an absolute pleasure to see you again, Mademoiselle,” Moriarty swept Miss Hooper’s hand up in his own and gave it a swift kiss, followed by an awkward laugh and a faint flush to his cheeks.

 

Ah. I see. 

 

“Oh! Um…” Miss Hooper blushed and glanced uncomfortably at Sherlock and John, but was unable to keep from smiling shyly at the professor. “Good ‒ good to see you, too, Professor.”

 

“And who are your guests?” Moriarty fussed with the pockets of his waistcoat in a fit of nervous energy and met Sherlock’s gaze. There was something… odd in his dark eyes. They twinkled with something akin to mischief, but it put Sherlock slightly ill-at-ease.

 

“This is Doctor Watson and his friend ‒” Miss Hooper started, but Sherlock cut her off.

 

“Sherlock Holmes,” he said, stretching out his hand. “Detective.”

 

“Oh!” Moriarty took his hand and his thin eyebrows shot up in nervous curiosity. “A detective? How fascinating. Perhaps you’d ‒ you wouldn’t mind having tea sometime? I teach psychology with a-a focus on the criminal mind and I would be delighted to hear your expertise. If you’d be willing, of course,” Moriarty blurted.

 

“Perhaps,” Sherlock said slowly, still trying to suss out what it was about this fidgety little professor that set the hair on the back of his neck on end. He really was not threatening in any way. “As it is, Doctor Watson and I were just on our way out. We stopped in to visit briefly with Miss Hooper.”

 

“Nothing macabre , I hope?” Moriarty asked as though he hoped very much that it was something macabre.

 

“Oh, no, nothing of the sort,” John assured the professor casually. “Just two colleagues stopping in for a chat.”

 

“Ah.” A trace of disappointment . “Well ‒ I have come down to have a look at this very lady.” Moriarty indicated the corpse to his right. “She recently murdered her husband before taking her own life,” he said in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, as though relishing in the novelty of it all. “I’m interested to see if there is any correlation between the physiology of her brain and-and the facts I have gathered about her life experiences.”

 

“Well, then, we’ll leave you to it,” John replied. Turning to Miss Hooper, he doffed his cap and said, “Until next time.” She gave them a little wave and turned her attention to the professor, who seemed to have already forgotten their presence, and was bent over the cadaver in question. On their way out of the morgue, Sherlock distinctly heard the man singing absently under his breath.

 

“Che gelida manina, se la lasci riscaldar. Cercar che giova? Al buio non si trova..."

Chapter Text

Nearly a month passed before anything happened. Then, a few days before Christmas, Lestrade was sorting through case file when there was a knock at his door. It nearly startled him into spilling his coffee. “Greg,” Donovan poked her head into the Detective Inspector’s office and said, “we’ve got another one of those weird Victorian bodies.”

 

Lestrade leapt to his feet, coffee and other cases forgotten. “Where?”

 

“North Gower Street,” she said, stepping swiftly out of the way as Lestrade barrelled through the door. Pulling on his coat and digging out his mobile. Lestrade dialed the number listed as M ‒ very James Bond, all of it ‒ and waited for the call to pick up.

 

“Detective Inspector.”

 

“Mister Holmes,” Lestrade said breathlessly as he rushed through the building, “we’ve got another one. North Gower Street. You coming?”

 

“Obviously.” Mycroft Holmes hung up the phone without so much as a “by your leave” and Lestrade shook his head at the man’s brusque manner. He flagged down a uniformed officer and they hopped into a patrol car and took off.

 

187 North Gower Street was awash with policemen and nosy lookers-on. Inspector Hopkins was directing people hither and dither and nodded at Lestrade in lieu of greeting. “Anderson’s chomping at the bit to get a look at the body ‒ says he’s got some theories ‒”

 

“I’m sure he does,” Lestrade sighed. Hopkins continued.

 

“But I told him we had to wait for you. After that last body with missing along with Holmes, I didn’t want to take any chances.”

 

“Too right, Hopkins. Good work.” Lestrade ducked under the crime tape and pulled a pair of nitrile gloves from his pocket. The deceased was male, early twenties, and going by his clothes and the thick layer of soot which covered his skin, he was a chimney sweep. His shoes were worn thin and his jacket was two sizes too small and not nearly heavy enough for the late December weather. Lestrade tried to see what Sherlock saw, but he was reluctant to touch the body. What if this man disappeared, too? What if he took Lestrade with him?

 

Alright, focus. What would Sherlock notice? He’d mentioned the stitching on the last costume, something about the machine being old and skipping or something. The man might have money on him that would give a hint as to his ‒ no, too poor to be carrying cash. Look at his jacket. No jewelry ‒ probably still single, then. Unless… did Victorian men even wear wedding bands? “Ah, sod it all…” Lestrade sighed and shook his head.

 

He was a good cop. He was. Sherlock might have his inhuman observational abilities, but Lestrade had closed his fair share of cases. He wasn’t an idiot. He just didn’t see things that way . There was no way around it ‒ he’d have to take a closer look.

 

“Don’t touch anything,” an oily voice snapped and Lestrade quickly withdrew his hand. Turning, he saw Mycroft Holmes approaching with swift, smooth steps, a dark towncar parked a few paces away.

 

“You know, you can’t actually tell me what to do,” Lestrade said testily.

 

“Yes, actually, I can,” Mycroft replied smartly. “But in this case, I don’t mean to bark orders. I simply did not want you to do anything unnecessarily risky until I was able to observe.” Lestrade calmed a bit at that, but his hackles were raised again when Mycroft turned to a large man in a black suit and commanded, “Clear the area. Civilians, police ‒ I want them all gone. I want this entire block secured. Make use of the uniformed officers to patrol the outer borders. Make the necessary excuses about government intervention and get that discreet undertaker over here.”

 

“Now wait just a mo‒”

 

“I don’t want us disturbed, Detective Inspector,” Mycroft said, as smooth as ever. Despite Lestrade’s annoyance, he silently agreed that this case needed to be kept as hush-hush as possible. In a matter of minutes, Lestrade’s men were out of sight, guarding the perimeter, and only a few of Mycroft’s goons remained close enough to see or hear anything. 

 

“May I?” Lestrade gestured back to the body on the ground with a sarcastic expression which Mycroft patently ignored.

 

“Be my guest.” Shaking his head, the detective bent at the knees again, grimacing against their inevitable pop , and cautiously reached out to pull aside the man’s lapel. He paused, as still as he was able, but nothing around him changed. Mycroft was still there, the sound of London traffic still blared in his ears, and the body was still before him. He breathed a sigh of relief and commenced his investigation.

 

No cash on hand but a single coin in the breast pocket. Lestrade examined it as closely as he was able without his specs and murmured, “One florin…” before handing it over to Mycroft.

 

“Minted 1853,” Mycroft read, holding the coin up to his eye.

 

“You can read that?” Lestrade asked in astonishment as he searched the rest of the man’s pockets.

 

“Lasik.”

 

“Cheater.”

 

Mycroft actually let out an amused hmm before continuing on, “These were only in circulation from 1849 to 1967.”

 

“Yeah, my mum had a few with Queen Elizabeth on ‘em, but I’ve never seen one with Victoria,” Lestrade said, his fingers closing around a thin sheaf of paper. He unfolded it and read, “‘License to Practice as Chimney Sweep’ made out to a Lewis Tompkins, dated fifth June eighteen-ninety-three.” Lestrade sat back on his heels and held the paper up for Mycroft’s inspection. “Well, there you have it, I guess. Proof he’s not from this time.”

 

“It could all be replicated, of course,” Mycroft said sourly, handing the coin back down to the detective.

 

“Oh, come off it,” Lestrade huffed, grimacing as he stood and his knees popped again. “No one could recreate that smell.” That was true ‒ the complete and total reek of Tompkins’ body had nothing to do with his being dead. What Lestrade was detecting was the odour of the abject poor.

 

“One could pay a homeless person to dress up in this costume, carry around these old things‒”

 

“Why are you so reluctant to just admit what’s going on here?” Lestrade demanded. “You’ve got eyes, you’ve got a brain like your brother’s ‒”

 

“Incorrect. Sherlock has a brain like mine .”

 

“Whatever. Point is,” he said, rolling his eyes, “the facts are right in front of you. And what is it Sherlock’s always saying? ‘When you’ve eliminated the impossible‒’” 

 

“I do not need to be reminded of what my brother is always saying, thank you,” Mycroft snapped and Lestrade raised an eyebrow in a well-worn parental gesture. “The thing is, Detective Inspector, that we have not ‘eliminated the impossible’ because the impossible lies before us now.” He gestured down to the body with his ever-present umbrella and sighed heavily. “I simply cannot wrap my mind around something so ludicrous.”

 

“Well, you don’t need to wrap your mind around it,” Lestrade said crisply. “We need to try our plan and hope to God that it works. Have you got it?”

 

Another sigh, but Mycroft reached into his breast pocket and handed over a carefully-folded note. Taking it, Lestrade bent back down (at the waist, not the knees, this time) and placed the coin, the license, and the note inside the dead man’s waistcoat pocket.

 

“Mister Holmes, sir?” They both turned to see one of Mycroft’s Men in Black gesturing over his shoulder at a black work van. “The undertaker you asked for is here. Where should I send him?”

 

“Well here, obviously,” Mycroft’s voice died in his throat when he glanced back at the body. Lestrade watched as his face paled almost cartoonishly fast before he turned back around himself. The body was gone.

 

‒‒

 

Snow was piling on the window ledge. Approximately three inches had accumulated overnight and a light dusting was slowly adding to the drift in the early morning light. Sherlock stood, staring but not really seeing, facing the window which looked out over Baker Street. His left hand was raised absentmindedly to about shoulder height and his fingers twitched to the rhythm of an unheard tune, tracing the notes along frets and strings which existed only in his mind.

 

“What are you doing?” John . His voice came as though from a hundred miles away and it took a great effort for Sherlock to pull his thoughts back to the present and turn to face the other man.

 

“What?” Sherlock felt as though he had been pulled unceremoniously from a pool; his thoughts were slowly swirling around his mind trying to reorder themselves as he stared at John. 

 

“What are you doing? With your fingers?” John stepped closer and Sherlock could see a hint of a smile in his dark blue eyes. “Counting something?”

 

A deep breath flooded Sherlock’s lungs and he finally reached the surface of his mind. “Oh, no,” he said, dropping his hand to his side. “I play the violin when I’m thinking.”

 

“But you haven’t a violin.” John’s eyebrow went down but his lips went up. Amused, then

 

“Not at present, no,” Sherlock agreed, determined not to feel foolish. It was a perfectly respectable habit. And besides, he was rather good.

 

“What were you playing?” Dammit, but he always manages to ask exactly what I don’t want to say.

 

“I was… composing,” he drawled with an air of casuality. Don’t ask. Don’t ask. Because it’s for you and you may never hear it.

 

Thankfully, John simply made an impressed sort of expression and moved on. “Oh. I thought it might have been something a bit more seasonal.” Again, Sherlock was at a loss.

 

“Seasonal.”

 

“Yes, you know. Something like O Come All Ye Faithful or We Wish You a Merry Christmas . Something like that.” John had two cups of tea in his hands and he offered one to Sherlock, who gladly took it. They sank into their respective armchairs and John shook out the day’s newspaper while Sherlock stared at him in confusion for a moment.

 

“Is it Christmas?” John looked at him over the paper with an odd look.

 

“It’s the twenty-first,” he answered.

 

“Oh.” Sherlock took a sip of his tea. Exactly as he liked it. “I hadn’t noticed.”

 

“Well, then, perhaps now’s as good a time as any to let you know that Mrs. Turner and Billy will be joining us on Wednesday for Christmas dinner.” John offered Sherlock a small smile and returned to his paper. Sherlock was quiet for a long moment, occasionally sipping his tea and thinking.

 

“But…” he finally started, “you haven’t got a… a tree, or anything.”

 

“Well, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one,” John said offhandedly. But then he glanced up to see Sherlock staring at him and he said, more seriously, “Unless… you’d like to get a tree?”

 

“Isn’t it… traditional?”

 

“I suppose,” John said, finally folding his paper down and looking at Sherlock with more purpose. “Although, no one really did it until after the Prince brought the idea over from Germany. And then that Christmas Carol book all those years ago and everyone’s gone mad for them.” He took a deep pull of his tea and set his cup aside. Sherlock held onto his, unsure of what else to do with his hands. “In fact, in our house we were always rather more partial to Hogmanay.”

 

“Oh. Oh, of course.” Sherlock nodded and lifted his cup to his lips only to find it empty. He set it on the side table and drummed his fingers absently against the wooden surface. When he lifted his gaze, he saw John staring back at him, his face open and welcoming as always.

 

“Sherlock? Would you like to get a Christmas tree?” As so many times before, Sherlock marveled at the way that John could ask him a question with the clear motive of only wanting to know the answer. No judgement. No interrogation. Just asking.

 

“Well,” he started, tracing his fingers along the rim of the teacup, “I don’t want to put you out.”

 

“No, it’s no problem‒”

 

“I mean, if it’s not something‒”

 

“Sherlock, really, do you want to‒”

 

“Yes.” That’s surprising . Christmas with the Holmses had always been a rather burdensome event, a season packed with social obligations Sherlock had absolutely no wish to fulfill. Seeing people he hated, all drunk and ruddy-faced, asking him if he was still ‘playing detective’ and why he wasn’t seeing anyone these days. Hateful, the lot of it.

 

But Mrs. Hudson, that was a different story. She started in November, baking biscuits and mince pies, constantly plying Sherlock with all his favourite treats. She wore the most ridiculous jumpers, but they made her so happy, he could tell. She loved to sing carols and actually had a surprisingly pleasant voice. Sometimes she sang along with Sherlock when he played and she always hugged him, long and warm and… loving on Christmas morning. She never got him gifts because he could always deduce what they were and he never got her anything because she didn’t like to receive gifts at all. She only liked to give them. And Sherlock had rather taken to helping her choose the perfect item based on the information she gave him about the recipient. It was such a pleasant time at 221 Baker Street, just him and Hudders. He always pretended as though he hated it, but he knew that she saw right through him. And when she decorated the house, it was as though he could actually see her arms around him at every turn.

 

Sherlock tried not to think about Mrs. Hudson very much lately. He wasn’t used to missing people.

 

“Then we’ll go get one today.” John’s eyes twinkled and Sherlock could not help the warm, tight feeling in his chest. “It will be nice, actually. To have a bit more Christmas spirit in the house.” Sherlock suppressed a grin and the waltz he had been composing grew a lilting refrain and a few leaping scales.

 

A knock sounded at the door and, before either of them could call out, Billy pushed in, still brushing snow from his hair onto the rug. “Morning, gents.”

 

“Billy, it is customary to wait to be asked inside before entering someone’s home,” John said in exasperation.

 

“Yeah, but I gotta get back down to breakfast,” he said impatiently. “Mrs. T’s got hot cross buns this mornin’.”

 

“Have you given up all pretense of living anywhere else, then?” Sherlock inquired. Billy shrugged.

 

“I reckon. She’s nice enough, ain’t she?” Billy strolled into the room with the air of a grown man being held back from some important business and handed Sherlock a telegram. “Until we meet again.” He doffed his imaginary cap and went right back out the door.

 

“What is it?” John asked, rising to take their teacups back into the kitchen. Sherlock’s face split into an eager grin.

 

“A case,” he said excitedly. “Oh, Christmas has come early!”

Chapter Text

The crime scene was located on North Gower Street and it was all John could do to keep Sherlock from skipping all the way down the walkway. “Not good, Sherlock,” he muttered, but the detective paid him no mind. 

 

“Dimmock! Where’s Dimmock?” he demanded loudly, and at last the man in question was summoned. “What do we know so far?” Sherlock was absolutely giddy and John had to bite his cheek to keep from grinning. 

 

With a belaboured sigh, Dimmock recited the facts of the case: “Lewis Tompkins, age approximately twenty-three years old, found dead early this morning by the homeowner. She hired him to clean the chimney and says he finished up shortly before sundown ‒ she was his last stop of the day.”

 

“And he’s been lying here dead all night?” John inquired, kneeling down to take a better look at the body. Poor sod.

 

“Apparently,” Dimmock confirmed. Sherlock squatted down next to John and tilted his head like a curious bird, taking in dozens of unseen details. His long, dextrous fingers danced over the young man’s filthy clothes and face.

 

“Well, that’s a bit odd ‒ these chaps are usually pretty sure on their feet,” John pondered aloud. Sherlock was poking and prodding at the dead man, testing the feel of his skin and the movement of his joints. The man had clearly not been moved since he had fallen, as the thin dusting of snow on the ground was undisturbed in the area closest to the body save for a few sets of footprints.

 

“I’d say younger than twenty-three,” Sherlock muttered and gestured toward Tompkins’s slightly-open mouth, now stiff with rigor mortis. John gently pulled aside his soot-covered cheeks to peek at his teeth and instantly concurred. Final molars just starting to cut through, only two other missing teeth.

 

“I think you’re right,” John replied somewhat sadly. “Maybe eighteen or nineteen. Any older and he’d likely already have those back few teeth and probably be missing a few more, to boot.”

 

“Can’t be,” Dimmock said impatiently, “not if he’s got a sweep’s license ‒ got to be twenty-one to get one in the first place.”

 

“People lie, Dimmock,” came Sherlock’s exhausted retort. “It’s not exactly as if he’s got a birth certificate.”

 

“A what?”

 

“He’s probably got people to support, Dimmock,” John said and comprehension finally dawned on the Detective Inspector’s face. “Seems pretty cut and dry, though. Got tired, sun going down, snow on the roof. He slipped.” John gave a little shrug, but the movement was cut short when he saw the look on Sherlock’s face. His already pale countenance drained of all colour as he pulled a few folded bits of paper from Tompkins’s waistcoat pocket. “Sherlock? It can’t be that bad of a theory, can it?”

 

Sherlock rose to a standing as slowly as if he were trying not to startle the dead body. With growing concern, John reached out and grasped the detective’s elbow. Sherlock merely stared down at the papers in his hand until John gave him a little shake. Finally, he seemed to snap to and he looked at John with an absolutely manic expression.

 

“Sherlock?”

 

“John ‒ I need a moment.”

 

“Oh,” John stuttered, dropping his hand from Sherlock’s arm in surprise. “I’ll just… leave you to it then.”

 

“No, you idiot, you stay,” Sherlock spat, but his eyes were soft. “Dimmock, go away.”

 

“But I‒”

 

“Go!” His expression brooked no refusal, so Dimmock sighed and turned and rejoined his team, leaving Sherlock and John standing next to the corpse of poor Mr. Tompkins. Sherlock stepped rather closer to John than was strictly appropriate, but so frantic was his demeanour that John could not bring himself to correct him.

 

“Sherlock, what is it? What’s the matter?”

 

“Look!” he hissed and thrust the papers into John’s gloved hands. A worn chimney sweep’s license made out to the victim and a white envelope. The fold was sealed with a coat of arms which featured a shield and a knight’s helmet pressed into a deep burgundy wax. John turned the envelope over and saw, in a neat, looping penmanship, W.S.S. Holmes. “It’s from my brother!”

 

“You’re sure?” John was instantly breathless. Staring down at the envelope in his hand, he saw proof that Sherlock could eventually return to his own time. He had made contact with his brother, more than one hundred years in the future, and Sherlock’s eyes danced with the revelation. 

 

“Positive,” the detective replied, snatching the envelope from John’s hand with excitement. “That’s our family crest. And I’d recognise Mycroft’s handwriting anywhere ‒ I’ve gotten my fair share of condescending notes from him over the course of thirty years. Oh, John! Do you know what this means?” Sherlock clenched the note tightly in his hands and practically bounced on the pavement. John did know what it meant. But he was reluctant to verbalise it.

 

“All that can wait,” he said firmly. “For right now, we have a dead body to consider.” John nodded down to Tompkins’s corpse and Sherlock seemed to blink awake.

 

“You’re right, of course,” Sherlock answered, his demeanour completely changed. Tucking the note into the breast pocket of his waistcoat, Sherlock straightened his back and shoulders, smoothed his expression and resumed his air of intelligent aloofness. “The real question here is: why would Tompkins’s body have travelled forward and back in time? Like our first case ‒ Ms. Mayer. For some reason, she was propelled forward to twenty-eighteen, but returned with me when I fell from Tower Bridge.”

 

“It appears that Mister Tompkins here also fell from a decent height,” John put forth, glad to have something to focus his mind toward. The prospect of Sherlock returning to his own time was suddenly incredibly possible and it made John tremendously sad. “Perhaps that has something to do with it?”

 

“Perhaps…” Sherlock agreed, clearly mulling the situation over. He chewed his lower lip and furrowed his brow and John’s heart constricted at the sight of him. Sherlock knelt down and resumed his closer examination of the body. He pressed his long fingers into the sides of Tompkins’s neck and gave a deep hmm of contemplation. “John?”

 

In an instant, John was kneeling next to Sherlock and his hands were also gently prodding at the dead man’s throat. “Neck broken,” he confirmed. “But…” He pressed a little harder and his own eyebrows knitted together in confusion and concentration. “It feels like it was twisted, rather than broken on impact.” John removed his hands and gave Sherlock a thoughtful look. “Do you think his neck was snapped before he fell?”

 

“That’s exactly what I think.” Sherlock rooted around the dead man’s person for a moment more, finally indicating to John what looked like a handprint in the soot which covered Tompkins’s forearm. A second look at his throat indicated that another’s fingers had also dragged through the dirt on his neck. “Yes… he wasn’t alone.”

 

“Am I allowed back yet?” came Dimmock’s annoyed voice from above. Sherlock leapt to his feet and John stood as well, albeit more slowly.

 

“Do what you like with him,” Sherlock said imperiously. “Just make sure the body goes to Bart’s in case I need to examine him again later. I’m going up to the roof.”

 

“The roof?” Dimmock exclaimed.

 

“The roof?” John echoed.

 

“Why must people always parrot that which confuses them?” Sherlock sighed, throwing his hands up before turning on his heel and looking around the narrow alley.

 

“How do you propose to get up there?” asked Dimmock smartly.

 

“Look at him,” Sherlock said impatiently, waving a hand at Tompkins. “What’s he missing?” Dimmock was obviously stumped, but John caught on after a moment and let out an excited oh .

 

“A ladder!” he said and was rewarded with a genuine smile from Sherlock.

 

“Exactly, John. Well done.” Sherlock started off toward the far end of the alley and called over his shoulder, “A ladder! How else does a chimney sweep do his job?” Chuckling at Dimmock’s blank face, John jogged after Sherlock. Sure enough, when they rounded the corner of the building, there was a tall wooden ladder leaning against the brick wall. Sherlock flew up the rungs as if he were born to it, but John took his time. Heights had always made him uneasy, but he’d be damned if he let Sherlock go up there alone.

 

The view was actually pretty impressive. It was as though an entirely new level of London had opened up and the city looked remarkably foreign and undiscovered. The flat rooftops stretched out before them like acres of plainsland with chimneys for trees and John was momentarily amazed by the bizarre view. But Sherlock was a man on a mission. He dashed across the slate surface, not caring a trice for the snow underfoot, until he came to the row of chimneys which separated two of the residences. “Sherlock, be careful,” John chided, slipping uneasily across to the other man. “I don’t want another body down there on the pavement ‒”

 

“John, look!” He was obviously ignoring the doctor’s concerned orders and he pointed down to the surface of the roof. “Two sets of footprints! Just as I suspected.”

 

“Yes,” John said, letting out a sigh. “Well done. Now, can we ‒”

 

“John? Do you hear that?”

 

“Would you stop interrupting ‒”

 

“The buzzing. It’s back.”

 

That stopped John dead in his tracks. He took a slow step closer, listening hard, and his heart flew to his throat. Yes, he heard it. The buzzing, the infernal buzzing he had felt on the beach that first day they had met. Another small step and the feeling intensified, rumbling up through John’s feet and into his spine. Panic set in. Sherlock was still several steps away and he was staring down at his own hands as if they were somehow responsible for the sensation. John could have sworn that his heart actually stopped ‒ what would happen if the buzzing got louder? Sherlock was in danger.

 

Throwing caution to the wind, John practically leapt forward and grasped Sherlock by the wrist. He dragged the man back toward the rear end of the roof, not caring that his feet were slipping in the wet snow, not caring that Sherlock was crying out in confusion and alarm. Only caring that his hand was wrapped around Sherlock’s arm, that he could still feel his pulse against his palm, that he was still there.

 

John caught Sherlock by the elbows and righted them before they toppled over the edge of the roof. “Sherlock,” he breathed, wide eyes staring up at the man before him as if he had nearly lost him forever. John wasn’t so sure he hadn’t nearly lost Sherlock forever. From this end of the roof, the buzzing was barely noticeable and John squeezed Sherlock’s biceps hard, seeking reassurance. He was still there.

 

“John…” the detective murmured, his eyes as wide as John’s and full of terror. “You… you felt it, too.”

 

“Yes.” John swallowed, his mouth dry and his heart racing. “Yes, I did, and I didn’t like it one bit.”

 

“No…” Sherlock seemed painfully uncertain, his eyes darting from John’s face to the buzzing spot and back again.

 

Finally regaining some sense of control, John released Sherlock’s arms and said, “Let’s get off this bloody roof before…” Before what , he wasn’t sure. But he didn’t want it to happen.

 

‒‒

 

John found himself staring at Sherlock. He couldn’t help it. The man was beautiful. And somehow both so strong and so delicate. His features, like fine china or sculpted marble, usually hid his innermost thoughts. But when it was just the two of them, he let the mask drop and John could see his every feeling and fleeting notion dance across his face. 

 

And to think, he’d almost slipped away.

 

Sherlock was standing with his back to the roaring fire, staring down at the letter in his hands. From his seat in his chair, John said at long last, “Well, don’t just stare at it, Sherlock. What does it say?” His voice sounded remarkably light for someone who absolutely did not want to know what the letter said.

 

With a resolved nod, Sherlock slipped a finger under the wax seal and popped the letter open. There was only one sheet of paper contained within, neatly folded and covered with the same looping script.

 

“‘Sherlock,’” he recited, “‘if, in fact, you do receive this letter. I am, as you can imagine, incredibly sceptical about this entire situation. The very notion that you have travelled through time on the heels of a now-missing corpse is absolutely absurd. And yet, the evidence would suggest that is precisely what has happened. I do hope you solved the murder which started all this in the first place. Really, if you haven’t, it would be extremely disappointing, given the amount of time you’ve been on the case.’” At this, Sherlock pursed his lips and sneered.

 

“No need to make that face,” John placated him. “You did solve it, remember?”

 

“Obviously,” Sherlock snapped. “That’s not the point ‒ he’s an absolute tosser . Besides, I still haven’t figured out why it’s all happened in the first place.”

 

“Don’t worry about that right now ‒ what else does Mycroft say?”

 

Sherlock cleared his throat and continued, “‘If you really are in the past, go to The Club on 6th January and sign your name beneath the Cynic at noon. Detective Inspector Lestrade and I will await your sign and, in the meantime, attempt to find a way to retrieve you. Have a happy Christmas, little brother.’” Sherlock’s lip curled at the sentiment.

 

“What’s all that mean? The Club, the Cynic?” John asked, reaching up to take the letter from Sherlock and read over it himself.

 

“The Diogenes Club on Pall Mall,” Sherlock replied, his mind obviously miles away. “Diogenes the Cynic is the namesake of the organization ‒ a group of unbearably-wealthy misanthropes who gather in their elaborate clubhouse and refuse to speak to one another. A tiresome place, filled with tiresome people. Like Mycroft.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Truly ironic, given the life of virtue and poverty chosen by Diogenes.”

 

“Why wait so long to have you make contact?”

 

“Presumably to give enough time for the letter to reach me,” Sherlock answered. “Although, it is rather like Mycroft to plan something like this on my birthday.”

 

“At least we’ll have something interesting to do that day,” John replied, trying to remain casual and unaffected. But really, his heart was screaming in his chest.

 

“In the meantime, I suppose I must find some sort of connection between these two murders ‒ that of Hanna Mayer and Lewis Tompkins.” Sherlock spun around and began pacing the length of the sitting room, his steepled fingers propped under his chin. “Different genders, ages, nationalities, methods of death. And yet, for some reason, both have travelled forward and back in time.”

 

“Odd that the dates should line up as they do,” John muttered, still examining Mycroft’s letter. After a moment, he realised that Sherlock had stopped moving and was staring rather intently at him. “What?”

 

“What do you mean, the dates have lined up?” He tilted his head and took a slow step towards John.

 

“Well…” he started cautiously, “the first one ‒ Ms. Mayer ‒ was the twenty-second of September and Tompkins is on the twenty-first of December.” Sherlock did not respond. “The-the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice,” John explained. Sherlock was behaving oddly, as though he had never seen John before in his life.

 

“The what?” he demanded.

 

“The equinox and solstice,” John repeated. “Didn’t you notice?” Sherlock merely shook his head, his eyebrows still furrowed in almost-angry confusion. “Really?” The detective gave a frustrated shrug and so John explained. “The Winter and Summer Solstices are the shortest and longest days of the year, respectively. When the Earth is farthest and closest to the sun in its revolution. The Autumnal and Vernal Equinoxes are half-way between the solstices.” Sherlock took a step backward as if he had been slapped in the face by John’s words. “Didn’t you know that?”

 

“Obviously not,” Sherlock replied irritably. A thought occurred to John and it pulled at his cheek, threatening to make him smile despite Sherlock’s obvious discomfort.

 

“Did ‒  did you know that the Earth goes ‘round the sun?” he asked, doing his best not to laugh.

 

Another imperious shrug. “What difference does that make?”

 

“You didn’t, did you?” John barely managed to cut off the chuckle that escaped him, but Sherlock heard it nonetheless and turned his most threatening expression on John. It failed to intimidate. “Sherlock, I swear, for an absolute genius , you can be really thick sometimes.”

 

“John, my mind is a delicate instrument,” Sherlock started condescendingly. “I cannot possibly retain every bit of useless trivia that passes through my brain ‒ some things have to go.”

 

“Oh, please,” John replied smartly. “Don’t pretend like this isn’t silly, because it is. Children know this stuff, Sherlock.” He gave John a pfft and a rude wave of his hand. “Admit it ‒ if you’d known just a little bit of ‘useless trivia’, as you call it, you might have made this connection much sooner.”

 

“Well, it didn’t help you figure it out any sooner, did it?”

 

“I’m not the world’s only consulting detective.” John smirked and Sherlock scowled and, for a moment, everything was back to normal. Then, Sherlock stalked back to the door and grabbed his heavy coat from the peg. “Where are you going?”

 

“The library,” he said stiffly. “Obviously, I have a lot of useless trivia to learn.” John laughed again as the door slammed behind Sherlock.

Chapter Text

When Sherlock returned from the library, his Mind Palace now full of facts about space and the solar system and heliocentricity, he was fully prepared to continue his discourse with John over the uselessness of such knowledge. But his words evaporated on his tongue as he entered the flat and his mouth fell open in absolute awe.

 

The space was completely transformed ‒ no more were the rooms dim and dusty, crowded with the detritus of their life. The books had been stacked neatly on the shelves, the loose papers were sorted and piled on the desk, the half-empty teacups and crumb-covered plates were cleaned and drying beside the sink. In the place of all these items were the paraphernalia of a perfect Victorian Christmas. Large swags of evergreen hung from the mantle and each of the windows and even the bannister. Rich, red ribbon and strands of painted wooden beads were draped over all of the doorways, bells hung from each handle. Here and there small trays full of candles and cinnamon sticks and poinsettia leaves brought a warm glow to the whole flat. And then, there was the tree.

 

A tall, narrow fir was tucked into the corner behind Sherlock’s armchair, the large bow at the top barely brushing the ceiling. It was covered with small, white candles which gave the entire tree a feeling of twinkling movement. The light refracted off of the dozens of colourful baubles and ornaments which were interspersed with strands of beads and dried fruit. It was… magnificent

 

Sherlock moved through the flat in a state of wonder. Everything was red and green and twinkling and it smelled so wonderful and John had done it. All for him. He could hardly take it all in. Approaching his armchair as if in a daze, Sherlock gently took his violin from the seat and dropped onto the cushion, finally remembering to take a full breath.

 

That was when it hit him ‒ he didn’t have a violin. Not here, not in 1895, not… But there it was, resting in his hands as if it had always been there. Unlike the instrument he had left behind in 2018, this violin was brand new; the wood still smelled of varnish and the ebony pegs were stiff in their holes. Looking around, Sherlock saw a matching wooden case on the floor, propped against his chair. Inside was a sleek ebony bow and a fresh cake of rosin.  The sweet, earthy smell of it instantly gave Sherlock chills ‒ it was all so familiar. The feel of the bow in his hand, the weight of the violin against his shoulder, the press of the strings into his fingertips. He let out a deep sigh and plucked each string in turn, made a few adjustments to the pegs, and held the bow up in his right hand. Delicately stamped into the wooden shaft was the name W.E. Hill & Sons. Expensive , he thought, but so beautiful. How did he…

 

And then he caught a glimpse of something in the corner of his eye. Turning the violin in his grasp, Sherlock saw two letters embossed in gold ink along the rib ‒ S.H. It was overwhelming. It was too much.

 

It was perfect. 

 

Sherlock stretched his neck and placed his jaw on the chinrest and took a deep breath to steady himself. When he drew the bow across the strings, he closed his eyes and felt his entire body break into gooseflesh. His fingers slid and danced over the frets of their own accord, his inexpressible joy and contentment suddenly made clear in the notes of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64. Each movement spilled out of him like his own blood from his veins and his mind was filled with images of John.

 

When at last his hands stilled and the last strains faded away and his eyes flickered open, the man himself was staring back. John was leaning against the door of the flat, his cheeks lifted in a gentle smile and his eyes practically twinkling in the warm candlelight. For a long moment, they merely looked at each other, Sherlock’s chest heaving with so much feeling he thought he might burst.

 

“I hadn’t quite finished yet,” John said at last, lifting his hand to show a bundle of mistletoe. “But you got home sooner than I expected.”

 

Still silent, Sherlock stood and placed the violin reverently back into its case before crossing the room to stand in front of John. His eyes roved over John’s face, so open and expressive and… caring . “You did all this? For me?”

 

“Well,” John started casually, but Sherlock could see the faint flush to his cheeks, “you said you wanted a proper Christmas. So I thought I’d‒” Sherlock’s lips on his cut John’s speech short. His fingers brushed over John’s bearded jaw and held him close.

 

“You did all this for me,” he said again, their lips brushing as he spoke. He was in utter disbelief. John leaned back only enough to meet Sherlock’s gaze.

 

“I’d do anything for you.” It was so matter-of-fact, so sure and so confident that Sherlock felt certain that his heart would shatter. How do people function like this? Feeling so much, all the time? He didn’t question it, at least not aloud. Instead, he pressed his lips against John’s again and tried to tell him the only way he knew how exactly how much John meant to him. Sherlock slid his palms over John’s jaw and neck until his hands came to rest at the base of John’s skull. He held the other man close, pressed his body against him, and sighed into his delicious mouth.

 

John dropped his bundle of mistletoe onto the floor and wrapped his arms around Sherlock’s waist. His gloved hands slipped beneath Sherlock’s suit jacket to twist his fingers in the fabric of his waistcoat. They kissed for ages, pressing back and forth against one another in a gentle battle for dominance, until Sherlock finally tore his mouth away from John’s and nuzzled into his neck. John moaned as Sherlock’s tongue swept over his throat and below his ear and Sherlock knew that he had won. 

 

Pulling backward, Sherlock urged John to follow him through the flat, their hands pulling slowly at one another’s clothing. They stumbled through the kitchen and down the corridor before finally making it into Sherlock’s bedroom. Reaching around Sherlock, who was thoroughly wrapped around John’s body, the doctor gave the door a little push and it closed with a soft snick . They were encased in the warm, early-evening darkness and Sherlock revelled in the peaceful feeling that washed over him.

 

John pressed Sherlock against the closed door, his lips falling to the detective’s long, pale neck as his fingers pulled at Sherlock’s lapels. The buttons of Sherlock’s shirt proved too much for the thick leather of John’s gloves, so he stepped back with a frustrated growl. Taking the tip of one finger between his teeth, John ripped one glove from his hand and quickly tore the other one off. Sherlock wasted no time in throwing his jacket and waistcoat to the floor and John followed suit. Soon, they were both naked and surging towards the bed and John was repressing a chuckle at the sight of Sherlock struggling out of his socks.

 

Sherlock silenced his laughter with an urgent kiss and pulled John backward onto the mattress. Their tongues swirled and their teeth nipped as John threw one leg over Sherlock’s hips. When their hardening cocks brushed against one another, they broke apart with a shared hiss of pleasure and Sherlock felt his heart pounding in his chest. 

 

With what was by now practiced ease, Sherlock blindly stretched out a hand and his fingers landed on the tin of Vaseline. They would have to get more soon. No matter. Sherlock slicked his fingers and swiftly set about preparing John’s entrance. In no time, John was panting and rocking backward on Sherlock’s hand, his eyes slipping closed as Sherlock tugged gently at his erection. “Oh, Jesus, Sherlock…” John breathed out, “You are ‒ ah ‒ God, you’re magnificent.”

 

Sherlock was at a loss for words; watching John’s face go through its dance of sensation and arousal was unbearably erotic. His eyebrows furrowed and unfurrowed; a muscle in his jaw worked as he took steadying breaths through his nose; he chewed at his lower lip and let out the most incredible grunts and huffs of pleasure. Sherlock thought that if he didn’t take John now, he would cum untouched just from the sight of him.

 

Planting his feet on the mattress, Sherlock withdrew his fingers and used his newfound leverage to flip John onto his back. With an obscene groan, he surged forward and sank his pulsing cock into John’s willing body. 

 

John let out a stuttering sigh as Sherlock moaned, “Oh, fuck…” and took a moment to acclimate himself. The heat and pressure of John’s body was almost overwhelming and his hard drive was in danger of going offline completely. But in that moment, John dropped his hand to the back of Sherlock’s neck and wound his fingers in the wild curls there and Sherlock’s mind slammed back to reality. John was here, grounding him, feeling him, adoring him…

 

Loving him. 

 

Oh, God. The thought barreled into him and took Sherlock so off guard that his thrusts momentarily lost their rhythm. But that was it — John loved him, didn’t he? 

 

Impossible. 

 

Shut. Up!

 

Sherlock shook his head and tried to focus on the incredible man beneath him. John’s head was pressed back hard into the pillow, his fingers still tangled in Sherlock’s hair, his free hand wrapped around his erection. It was clear that he was about to cum — his breathing was becoming erratic, his chest was beautifully flushed. The sight of him sent a massive jolt of arousal through Sherlock’s entire body. 

 

“Oh, God, Sherlock — please,” John huffed. His eyes flew open and Sherlock could see himself reflected in his perfect, blue gaze. Gripping the headboard with one hand, Sherlock upped the ante and angled his hips so that he struck John’s prostate on every thrust. He desperately wanted to give John his pleasure, to make John  feel as good as Sherlock did. Heat pooled in his abdomen and Sherlock dipped his head to kiss John as he came deep within him. John moaned into his mouth as his own orgasm took him over and they rode out the waves of pleasure together. 

 

Sherlock just kept kissing him. He couldn’t stop. Even when the last pulses of his release faded away, Sherlock could not bear to pull away from John, not just yet. They might have spent years entwined in that embrace if John did not eventually give Sherlock’s hair a gentle tug. Sherlock compromised by placing gentle kisses along John’s jaw and neck as he pulled out of his wet passage. 

 

“Sherlock,” John whispered, his hands smoothing over the mass of black curls tucked against his neck, “I’m here.”

 

How does he know? How did he know that was exactly what Sherlock was seeking — reassurance of John’s very existence? But he was. He was right there, warm flesh and blood and steady muscle beneath Sherlock’s touch. “I’d do anything for you, too.”

 

“I know.”

 

They were quiet for a long time, their laboured breathing slowly evening out as Sherlock lay draped across John’s chest. He could feel John’s heartbeat pounding gently beneath his ear, steady and deep, and it soothed Sherlock beyond measure. John loved him, he was sure of it. The thought was both elating and unbearably heavy. How could Sherlock ever prove himself worthy of that affection?

 

“I ought to write a book about you,” John murmured at last, his voice light with a repressed chuckle. It was clear that his mind was unburdened by concerns of his own worthiness. Of course not. He’s perfect. How could he ever think he would let me down? “The Time-Traveling Detective or something.” Sherlock compartmentalised his thoughts on John for the moment, setting them in the For Later tray in his Mind Palace, and tried to focus on the conversation at hand.

 

“I’d rather think there are some bits of the story that might get you arrested,” he joked, dancing his fingers over John’s naked chest. 

 

John huffed out a laugh. “Those chapters are for my eyes only.”

 

——

 

The morning of 25 December dawned bright and shining white, the sun glinting off a fresh layer of snow that served to soften 221B as if it were inside a photographer’s light box. It was perfect. 

 

Everything was closed, except church, and Sherlock adamantly refused that one Christmas tradition. So they had quite the lie-in before finally getting up to ready the flat for the evening’s festivities. Sherlock and John brought the kitchen table out into the center of the parlour and set up the four mis-matched dining chairs. John cooked, for the sake of everyone’s safety, so Sherlock laid the table using the best of his mother’s decorating techniques — those which he had been forced to remember for Holmes family events. It did have quite the attractive effect, though, and the smile his table brought to John’s face was worth every tedious dinner he had ever endured. 

 

Before Mrs. Turner and Billy arrived, John and Sherlock carried their rather impressive meal to the table. John had candied fruit, roasted chestnuts, baked mince pies, and roasted an absolutely magnificent-smelling goose. Normally, Sherlock would not be tempted by such plebeian urges as hunger , but in the time he had spent with John, he had developed quite the appreciation for well-prepared food. It was a simple pleasure in which he had never before indulged.

 

“Oh, boys!” cooed Mrs. Turner, clapping her hands together as she looked around the parlour. “Everything looks so wonderful.”

 

“And it smells proper tasty,” Billy said with wide eyes as he reached for a mince pie. Mrs. Turner slapped at his hand and gave him a sharp look.

 

“Billy,” she chastised, “not until we all sit down and say ‘grace.’” He very nearly pouted, but put his hand back in his pocket with a small sigh of impatience.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” he mumbled. Sherlock barely suppressed a grin at Billy’s reformed behaviour. John bid everyone to take their seats, said a quick blessing over the meal, and they all promptly tucked in. Every bite was delicious ‒ John had already proven himself to be a decent cook, but he truly outdid himself with the Christmas feast. In short order, Sherlock was more stuffed than any holiday turkey and his table-fellows were all patting their stomachs and holding back satisfied belches.

 

“If only we had a piano,” Mrs. Turner lamented, leaning back in her chair. “I do love singing carols.”

 

“Sherlock has his violin,” offered John. Sherlock tried to give him a look of put-upon annoyance, but he failed miserably in the wake of John’s mischievous grin. Dropping his napkin onto the table, Sherlock stood and retrieved the instrument from its place by the window. He often stood there while playing or composing, staring out at the framed snapshot of London life. Now, however, he rolled his shoulders and made a bit of a show of getting into position.

 

With abrupt enthusiasm, Sherlock began with Ding Dong Merrily on High , then God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and finally, O Holy Night . As he drew his bow across the strings and the last verse rang out, Sherlock could hear clearly in his mind how Mrs. Hudson’s high-pitched voice would warble out her favourite carol. It made his chest hurt and his hand faltered, but thankfully no one noticed. They all clapped when he finished the song with a flourish and took a modest bow.

 

“Marvelous,” John said, and the tightness in Sherlock’s chest loosened considerably under the other man’s praise. Placing his violin back in its case, Sherlock turned to the tree and took up the parcels resting on the plaid blanket beneath.

 

“For you, Mrs. Turner,” he said lowly, handing her a small box with a simple red ribbon. Then he passed the second gift to Billy, whose eyes went wide with excitement. The third package, he held discreetly behind his back for the time.

 

“Oh my… boys,” Mrs. Turner exclaimed, one hand to her ample bosom as she laid eyes on the set of gold knitting needles in the box. “These are… these are too much, really.”

 

“Of course they’re not,” Sherlock rejoined, unable to see further similarities between the woman before him and his own dear Mrs. hudon. “You are a crucial part of our lives, Mrs. Turner. You deserve the best.”

 

“You deserve far more for getting this urchin off the streets,” John joked, nodding toward Billy. The boy, though still rather rough in his manner, was undoubtedly far better cared-for since coming to stay with Mrs. Turner. His cheeks were healthily plump and rosy and his hands and clothes were fastidiously clean.

 

“I ain’t all that bad,” Billy insisted indignantly.

 

“Not anymore, you’re not,” John agreed with a teasing expression. “Go on then, Billy, open yours.” He did so, and his face instantly clouded with a hint of confusion.

 

“Books and a slate?” he asked, clearly torn between being polite and wanting to know precisely what was going on. “But I can’t‒”

 

“We know,” John cut him off, not unkindly. He couldn’t read. “But your new tutor will teach you. Mister Wilkerson will meet with you three times a week until you’re brought up to snuff to go to school.

 

Billy’s face went through a range of emotions in a rather short amount of time ‒ he started with dawning comprehension, then moved on to excitement before his eyebrows furrowed and his chin twitched with the sudden onset of tears. Overwhelmed, he slid from his seat on the sofa and practically fell against John’s chest, wrapping his arms around the doctor’s neck and heaving with suppressed sobs. After a moment, he pulled back and ran his small fist over his crumpled face, wiping away his tears and trying to stiffen his upper lip. His eyes were still downcast as he turned and threw his arms around Sherlock’s waist, hugging him tight. Sherlock blinked in surprise and was shocked to find that he, too, was nearly overcome with emotion. “Thank you,” Billy whispered into Sherlock’s waistcoat. All he could do was awkwardly pat the boy’s shoulder, but the motion was infused with all the care Sherlock could muster.

 

“Now,” he began, clearing his throat of the lump of emotion that had formed there, “don’t think this means you’ll be out of a job. I still need you out there gathering information.” With all due severity, Sherlock produced the third package from behind his back and handed it down to Billy. He took one final sniff and tore off the gift paper.

 

“A lockpicking kit!” His eyes flew wide and Sherlock could not help but smile.

 

“Sherlock!” John and Mrs. Turner chastised in unison.

 

“Oh, please, the two of you,” Sherlock waved off their admonition and turned to drop into his armchair. “Billy is an integral part of my investigative team and I will not have him confined to a life of leisure. There is no better education than the streets.” Billy grinned and nodded. “Except, perhaps, Cambridge.”

 

“You are a menace,” John muttered.

 

“Not ten minutes ago I was a marvel,” Sherlock replied.

 

“Astonishingly, you manage to be both at nearly every moment of the day.” Another smile pulled at Sherlock’s cheek, but he managed not to send John the salacious wink that was waiting in the corner of his eye. Not appropriate , as John was always insisting.

 

“I believe there is one final gift to be opened,” said Sherlock after a moment. “Under your chair, John.”

 

With brows furrowed in confusion and curiosity, John sat forward and reached between his feet. He withdrew a parcel of medium size, broad and about two inches thick, wrapped in simple brown paper. Tearing open the top of the package, John slowly revealed a burgundy leather-bound notebook and a gold fountain pen. His mouth fell open just a bit and he looked up at Sherlock with an expression of complete wonder. It made his stomach flip to see it.

 

“For that book you’re planning to write,” he said, trying to infuse his words with a little cheek. All that came out was affection, appropriate be damned.

 

John smiled and ducked his gaze in that unbearably-charming way of his before saying, “I take it back. You are a marvel.”

Chapter Text

John had been humming for more than a week ‒ it started somewhere around the twenty-third and had not stopped for a single moment that Sherlock could recall. It was bordering on annoying. But of course, being that it was coming from John, Sherlock found that his usually-low tolerance for unbridled joy had risen considerably.

 

The doctor was in rather a state, dashing about the flat and darting out to run errands with a broad grin on his face that Sherlock absolutely could not identify. He cleaned the house from top to bottom, even going so far as to remove all the ash from the chimney, before going out to the bank and settling every last debt on his and Sherlock’s accounts. As he sat down to the table by the window to do a final check of his balance book, Sherlock finally asked what had gotten into him.

 

“Hogmanay,” he replied with a shrug, as if that were not a completely ridiculous word.

 

“Excuse me?” Sherlock drawled. John put down his pen and looked up at Sherlock with a patient smile.

 

“New Year’s,” he clarified. Comprehension dawned.

 

“Ah,” Sherlock said with a slow nod, “of course. Your Scottish mother.”

 

John grinned and returned to his sums. “We spent a Yule with my mother’s family once,” he said, smiling fondly over the cheque ledger as he wrote. “They got all dressed up in cattle hides and ran around the village whacking each other with sticks. But then, me and the other lads got to go ‘round to all the houses and collect bannocks in a big sack, so that was enjoyable.” Closing the book and dropping his pencil casually onto the table, John leaned back and looked up at Sherlock where he stood across the room. His face practically glowed in the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the window and Sherlock absolutely could not help but smile softly in return. 

 

He took a step closer and his grin grew slightly mischievous. “Does that mean you’ll be donning your kilt and drowning in whisky in a few days’ time?” John threw his head back and barked out a laugh.

 

“No kilt, sorry to disappoint.” Sherlock drew closer and John sat forward slightly, his elbows resting on his spread knees as he watched Sherlock approach with slowly darkening eyes. When Sherlock had nearly reached him, the good doctor stretched out his arms and pulled Sherlock to him by the hips. “But I was thinking of some good whisky and some good company.” His hands squeezed suggestively at Sherlock’s slim waist.

 

“Oh?”

 

“Indeed. I’ve invited a few people over to ring in the new year tomorrow night.”

 

“Oh.” Sherlock’s smile slipped away like oil on glass. Parties were most certainly not his thing

 

“What’s wrong?” John asked, his manner completely changed in the wake of Sherlock’s shift in mood. “Don’t you like New Year’s?”

 

“I don’t really have an opinion on the holiday itself, most occasions such as this are completely arbitrary to begin with,” he said with a sigh. “I just… don’t care for people .”

 

“You enjoyed having Mrs. Turner and Billy for Christmas.”

 

“That’s different.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I like Christmas.”

 

John closed his eyes briefly and gave a small sigh that was a clear mixture of exasperation and amusement. “Do you like me?”

 

“Don’t ask stupid questions.” John quirked an eyebrow at Sherlock’s reply and the detective heaved a far more dramatic sigh than John had done. “Yes, I like you. Obviously.”

 

“Then would you do this for me ?” Well, he had walked right into that one, hadn’t he? Sherlock swallowed down the uncomfortable feeling that was already swimming in his chest at the prospect of a crowd of boisterous people in the flat.

 

“On two conditions.” John’s smile started to return. “First: that there not be too many people.”

 

“Ten at most,” John acquiesced. “It’s a small flat, so no worries. And the second condition?”

 

“Get the kilt.”

 

‒‒

 

True to his word, John kept the party small; he invited Mrs. Turner and Billy, of course, as well as Mike Stamford, Detectives Gregson and Dimmock (to Sherlock’s absolute annoyance), and Miss Hooper and Professor Moriarty. Though he had not yet produced a kilt, so Sherlock determined he was permitted to scowl throughout the entire event. It was only fair.

 

People had been filtering in and out of the small flat for hours. Detective Gregson came around at the same time as Dimmock, but much to Sherlock’s disappointment, Gregson was only able to stay a short while as he had a case on. That left the lesser-preferred of the detectives hovering awkwardly by the fireplace, obviously trying to suss out the precise nature of Mrs. Turner and Billy’s relationship. The lady was clearly too old to be his mother and he spoke rather casually to her ‒ more like a peer than a parent ‒ and their interaction seemed to baffle outsiders to their little world of 221 Baker Street. Dimmock’s discomfort eased Sherlock’s own.

 

Sometime around ten o’clock, Mrs. Turner insisted that Billy go downstairs to bed, despite his protestations that New Year’s Day was a bank holiday and he had ample opportunity for a lie-in the following morning.

 

“I don’t care a trice for the calendar, young man,” Mrs. Turner rejoined. “I’ll not have you taking to the unhealthy hours these gentlemen keep.” She said this last with a little wave toward Sherlock and John. John looked suitably affronted by this accusation. Sherlock merely shrugged. 

 

On their way out, Mrs. Turner and Billy almost bowled over Professor Moriarty as he made his mousy way up the stairs. “Oh! I ‒ I am sorry, madam,” he stammered, his hand over his heart as though an attack were imminent. “I’m look-looking for Messers Holmes and Watson.”

 

“Of course, dear,” she replied in her typical matronly tone, waving them inside. “You’re in the right place.”

 

“Professor!” Miss Hooper perked up from her place near the hearth, her face flushed with more than mere warmth. “Happy New Year!” The professor blushed right down to his collar and made his way nervously around Mrs. Turner, bumping gently against Billy as he passed.

 

“Pardon me ‒ Miss Hooper! Good evening!” He pressed into the flat and all his attention was clearly focussed on the young mortician in the corner. Billy emitted a small gasp and flinched away from Moriarty to avoid being gently trampled in the professor’s haste to meet with Miss Hooper. Sherlock watched curiously as Billy was ushered down the stairs, craning his neck to stare at Moriarty’s back as he and Mrs. Turner descended. Odd , Sherlock thought, but he was quickly distracted by John tipping more whisky into the tumbler in his hand.

 

John’s face was aglow with joy and drink, flushed from the combined warmth of the fire and moving bodies. He seemed to absolutely thrive in social situations ‒ Sherlock was almost disappointed in his own inability to enjoy the increased company. But it truly was difficult to feel anything but blooming contentment in the face of John’s contagious smile. God, what has become of me?

 

Sláinte,” John said, gently touching the rims of their in a “cheers” before downing half of his own drink. Sherlock continued to nurse his own, whisky being a bit dry for his taste, and smiled knowingly down at John.

 

“You’re drunk.”

 

“Am not,” came John’s indignant reply. “I’ll have you know I can hold my whisky better than a pitch-dipped barrel.” A chuckled threatened to bubble out of Sherlock’s throat as John emitted an almost-imperceptible hiccup.

 

“You are. I can tell because you always sound a bit more Scottish when you’ve had too much to drink.” A twinkle entered John’s eye and he tipped his head forward conspiratorially.

 

“Then I reckon you ought to be happy, oughtn’t you?” He gave Sherlock a sly little wink and Sherlock finally gave in to the urge to laugh. “See? I told you parties aren’t s’bad.”

 

“Parties are intolerable,” Sherlock insisted. “I’m only laughing at your absurd drunkenness.” John waggled his eyebrows, which only made the situation worse. In the corner, Miss Hooper let out a surprisingly-loud and feminine sounding laugh at something Professor Moriarty had said. The man looked completely surprised that she would find him funny in the least and his face flushed nearly as red as his burgundy waistcoat.

 

“They look rather cosy,” John noted. “Think there’s a courtship blooming?”

 

“Perhaps,” Sherlock answered, “if Miss Hooper proves herself to be far bolder than is typically acceptable of women in this day and age. The professor appears almost incapable of broaching the subject himself.” They watched for another moment before Sherlock turned his gaze back to John. “If memory serves ‒ and it always does ‒ I believe the tradition of kissing at midnight has long been established.”

 

“Sherlock Holmes, you insatiable flirt,” John muttered, shaking his head and fighting a grin.

 

“I’m asking for their benefit, John,” Sherlock lied smoothly, nodding in the direction of the awkward couple in the corner. “Really, everything isn’t about you .”

 

“And here I thought you were prop‒” small hiccup “‒ positioning me.”

 

Sherlock took one small step closer, almost dangerous given the number of people nearby, and lowered his voice. “When I proposition you, John Watson, you’ll know it.”

 

‒‒

 

Midnight came and went, with no kissing at the party, but with significantly more than kissing after everyone else had left. John, still tipsy and full of salacious giggles, had descended on Sherlock’s throat with an almost previously unseen fervour. He had pressed Sherlock against the kitchen counter in lieu of cleaning up after the revelry and opened his clothes only enough to get both their naked cocks in his hand. It was messy and loud and completely glorious. They tumbled into bed, determined to have the lie-in that Billy had been so cruelly denied.

 

By the morning of the sixth, the flat had not only been cleaned but completely divested of Christmas cheer. Sherlock felt the annual birthday sulk coming on, but had difficulty fully committing to it as John had decided to wake him that morning by sucking his cock until Sherlock was a writhing, begging mess and then fucking him nearly through the mattress. All in all, the sulk didn’t seem quite worth the effort any more.

 

They dressed and Sherlock led the way to Pall Mall, an unusual spring in his step and a particularly-smug John at his side. “So, what’s this club like?” John asked once they were settled comfortably in the back of a hansom cab. “Incredibly posh, I reckon.”

 

“Unbearably so.” As they approached a surprisingly-large Georgian building which occupied a corner on Pall Mall, Sherlock said over his shoulder, “Now, John, it is crucial to remember that talking ‒ and in fact almost any noise ‒ is not allowed in the common areas of the Diogenes Club.”

 

“Alright, I’ll be quiet as a church mouse,” John replied, but Sherlock shot him a devious grin.

 

“Quite the contrary, John,” he said, hopping up the steps to the tall black doors. “You will be unbearably loud.” His hand on the knob, Sherlock said, “On my signal,” and darted inside, John close behind. The interior of the Diogenes Club was, impossibly, even more pretentious than the outside. Dark wood paneling swathed the walls, separating thick red carpets from ceilings of bright, white plaster decorated with intricate medallions. They entered into a cavernous foyer, but could see a large library to the right, protected by an impressive desk and an ancient-looking concierge. 

 

Sherlock approached the man behind the desk with a stiff salute and began making wild hand gestures which baffled John completely, but were obviously understood by the old man, as he soon began returning Sherlock’s bizarre motions.

 

Good morning, sir. How can I be of assistance? The man signed politely, if a little stiffly. It amazed Sherlock that, even without the use of his words, this man conveyed very clearly how large was the stick up his arse.

 

I recently visited the Club with a friend and I’m afraid I’ve left my pocket book of sonnets on one of your shelves. Sherlock made an apologetic face, twisting his eyebrows until he looked positively desperate. Rather foolish of me, I know, but I was perusing your collection and set my own aside to have a closer look at one of your books of Shakespeare. If I could just pop back and have a look for it, I’m sure I’d find it in no time.

 

Are you a member, sir? Sherlock resisted the urge to roll his eyes. 

 

Unfortunately not. I don’t live in the city. I am leaving this afternoon, and if I don’t get that book back, I’m afraid my wife is going to be unbearably cross with me. It was a gift from her, you see. Again, Sherlock made the sympathetic face and, after a long moment of contemplation, the concierge seemed to decide there was no harm in Sherlock’s entry. He heaved an exaggerated sigh of relief as the desk-man waved him into the library. Motioning for John to stay put, Sherlock stepped quickly and lightly over the plush carpet to make rather a show of looking through the packed bookshelves there. Once the stodgy old men in their impeccable suits and moustaches all turned back to their books and newspapers, Sherlock sidled nonchalantly over to a large marble bust which stood at the center of a large archway. The nameplate read DIOGENES THE CYNIC . Sherlock checked his pocket watch. 11:59. He found John’s eyes from across the cavernous room and he nodded slowly and very deliberately.

 

John took the hint. “Excuse me?” he said, rather louder than was necessary. All eyes turned to him and Sherlock suppressed a grin. “Have you got a toilet I could use?”

 

The man at the desk was frantically trying to shush John with wild flapping gestures, but to no avail.

 

“I’m sorry?” John practically bellowed. “Have you got one? A toilet?” He was doing a remarkable job of playing deaf himself. Sherlock did a quick survey of the room and found that he was entirely forgotten. He pulled his penknife from his coat pocket and flicked it open.

 

“No need to be so rude about it,” came John’s next exclamation. “I’m only asking after the loo. Is Mycroft Holmes here?”

 

Sherlock bit back a chuckle and pushed the bust forward on its base before pressing the tip of the knife into the porous surface of the smooth, white marble.

 

“My-croft Holmes!” John said, slowly, as though the man were daft. “You must know him ‒ find him, he’ll let me use the toilet, I’m sure of it.” As quick as he was able, Sherlock sliced his initials into the bottom of the bust ‒ a crude W.S.S.H. John’s voice was echoing off the walls of the otherwise-silent chamber and large men who were obviously security of some sort were closing in on him.

 

Dashing across the room, Sherlock clapped a hand over John’s mouth and gave his most horrified and apologetic look to the man behind the desk. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered, unable to sign as he attempted to force a struggling John back through the door. “He’s simple ‒ means well, but can’t help himself. Thank you for your time.” He all but dragged John out onto the street before the goons inside could throw them out on their ears and no sooner than they were around the corner, both men dissolved into a joined fit of absurd giggles. They fell back against the wall of the Diogenes Club building and laughed until their sides hurt.

 

“Brilliant, John,” Sherlock panted between chuckles. “Absolutely brilliant.”

 

“Did you manage it?” John asked, finally catching his own breath.

 

“I did. That statue will still be there in Mycroft’s time. As long as he’s there, I’m certain he’ll…” Sherlock trailed off, the hand which had been clasping the stitch in his side falling to rest beside his hips.

 

“Sherlock? You alright?” Seeing the odd expression on Sherlock’s face, John was suddenly serious. He followed Sherlock’s gaze and his sights landed on a large paper advertisement which was plastered to the wall of the building opposite them. “‘La Boheme,’” he read, his confusion evident. When John turned back to Sherlock, the detective looked as though he had seen a most unwelcome ghost.

 

LA BOHEME: a new opera by Puccini coming to England in April of 1897.

Chapter Text

“What in the name of Davy Jones is this place?” Lestrade asked gruffly as he and Mycroft approached a large white-brick building in Pall Mall.

 

“The Diogenes Club,” Mycroft answered in that smooth, oily tone of his, “is a unique place where businessmen and government agents, among others, are able to share resources without the burden of over-socialisation.” Lestrade frowned in confusion.

 

“It’s a networking group?”

 

Mycroft looked almost ready to hit Lestrade at this, apparently, vast oversimplification. “Hardly. For one thing, no noise of any kind is allowed in the common areas.” He sniffed with intense grandiosity. “Including networking conversations.”

 

“So you all just… sit around and don’t talk to one another?” Mycroft did not reply, merely titled his chin up and took the short stairs up to the doors. Lestrade took this as confirmation. “What sort of bizarre social club is this?”

 

“The best sort.” With that, Mycroft pushed open the door, waited for Lestrade to enter, and followed smartly behind. A wizened old man who may well have been standing there for a century or more was hunched patiently behind a large desk, reminiscent of a hotel lobby. He looked up when Mycroft entered, his head shaking with a bit of palsy, and gave him a jerky sort of wave in greeting. “Good morning, Wilder.”

 

Wilder looked instantly affronted. He put a gnarled finger to his lips and gave Mycroft a look of strict admonition.

 

“Not today, Wilder. I require the room. Please clear the library for the next ten minutes.” Mycroft drummed his fingers along the curved handle of his umbrella and waited, but Wilder made no move to follow his instructions. Lestrade peeked around a large column to see about a dozen rather poncy-looking men with bristly moustaches and fine suits glaring at Mycroft from their overstuffed chairs. When Wilder continued to try and communicate via sign language, Mycroft took a threatening step forward and lowered his gaze and his voice. “Wilder,” he intimidated, “you know full well that I have not only the authority, but the power to clear this room. It is a right I have never before exercised, but it is one which I will not hesitate to exact. Am I making myself clear?”

 

Wilder chewed his lip and narrowed his eyes, clearly not appreciating Mycroft’s tone. However, he eventually nodded before turning to the library and giving two uncomfortably-loud claps which echoed throughout the cavernous chamber. In an oddly strong voice, he called out, “Clear the room,” and all the men within stood slowly from their chairs. They abandoned their teacups and books and newspapers (some of which, Lestrade noticed, were in other languages) and shuffled from the room with obvious disdain for the whole situation. Wilder was the last to leave, offering one last withering stare to Mycroft, and they were alone.

 

“Well,” Lestrade started sarcastically, “aren’t you just the most powerful man in the room?” Mycroft surprised him by sending him a smooth smile.

 

“You have no idea.” With that, Mycroft tucked his umbrella under his arm and marched swiftly toward the back of the room, checking his pocket watch as he went. “Two minutes.”

 

“This what we’re looking for, then?” Lestrade gestured toward a marble bust situated prominently beneath an archway. At Mycroft’s silent nod, Lestrade tilted the statue forward and looked intently at the bottom of the base. Nothing. One minute to go.

 

“And if it’s there ‒ his signature ‒ will you believe it then?”

 

There was a heavy pause, during which Mycroft inhaled a deep, slow breath through his nose.

 

“I suppose I will be forced to.” Before Lestrade could reply, a loud clang sounded in the corridor behind them and the two men both jumped. A young woman in a black uniform was staring up at them with an incredibly red and embarrassed face, clearly having just dropped a metal bucket full of cleaning supplies. Lestrade started to stoop, intending to aid her in the retrieval of her spilled items, but Mycroft stopped the movement with a sharp, “Get out.”

 

“I’m s-so sorry, sir, I‒”

 

“Don’t speak. Get out.”

 

The girl straightened and looked on the verge of tears as she shuffled away down the corridor. Lestrade clicked his tongue in disappointment ‒ there was no need to be rude ‒ but all thoughts of giving Mycroft a piece of his mind disappeared when he saw the other man check his watch again.

 

“Time?”

 

“Twelve-oh-two.” They exchanged a weighty look before Lestrade gently tilted the bust forward until the bottom was visible.

 

W.S.S.H. There it was. Where just minutes ago there had been nothing, now Sherlock’s roughly-carved initials stared triumphantly back at them. A grin spread across Lestrade’s face and he fought the urge to cry, “Ha!”

 

Instead, he said with awe, “He did it, the clever bastard.” 

 

“Yes,” Mycroft said quietly. “I believe he did.”

 

‒‒

 

“I can’t believe I didn’t notice ‒ how could I not realise?” Sherlock was practically pulling his own hair out as he paced the already-worn rug in the sitting room.

 

“Sherlock, slow down.” John tried to put a hand on Sherlock’s elbow, but the man was moving and speaking so fast that John actually worries he might bring on some sort of fit. 

 

“The bastard!” 

 

“Who, Sherlock?”

 

“Moriarty!” He rounded on John as if he had caused Sherlock personal injury, his face contorted in fury and (John supposed) internalized frustration. “The absolute bastard!”

 

Well that wasn’t what John was expecting. “Moriarty?” He asked in confusion. “What on Earth has he got to do with anything?”

 

“He’s from the future, John!” The words hung in the air between them like a fog, heavy and cold. 

 

“What?” John murmured at long last. “How—”

 

La Bohème,” Sherlock growled, his hands now clenched into fists at his sides. “I heard him, that first day in the morgue, singing under his breath,” he spat with disgust. “‘ Che gelida manina, se la lasci riscaldar…’”

 

“I… I don’t‒”

 

“The opera doesn’t arrive in England until April of this year!” Sherlock grabbed a pillow from the sofa, threw it onto the floor with as much vitriol as he was able, but found this action to be wildly insufficient. “It’s the only way he could know the libretto so well ‒ he’s heard it before. Likely more than once. And what are the odds he’s been to Italy since the show premiered? Infinitesimal!”

 

“Sherlock‒”

 

“How did he do it? How did he go back in time? How did he get here?”

 

“Sherlock‒”

 

“Has he ever gone back? Has he realised that I’m from the future, as well?”

 

“Sherlock!”

 

“What year did he come from? He’s very good ‒ how long has he been here?”

 

“HOLMES!” Finally, Sherlock came to a halt with a sort of full-body skitter, his eyes widening in confusion and alarm at John’s raised voice. John rolled his shoulders back and widened his stance. With all the considerable authority he could muster, John snapped the fingers of his left hand and pointed to the floor.

 

To his admitted astonishment, Sherlock immediately fell to his knees. Sherlock appeared to be astonished, too. He stared up at John with wide eyes and furrowed brows, confusion over his own behavior written all over his face. With a hesitant, halting sort of motion, Sherlock reached out with his right hand and John immediately stepped forward. Sherlock’s fingers wound into the fabric of John’s trousers and he pressed his forehead against John’s stomach with a sigh of immense relief. He pulled at the cloth at John’s hip and his left hand wound into the creases near his other knee until Sherlock was pressing his head so hard into John’s abdomen that he might as well have been trying to crawl inside him. A deep, shuddering breath wracked Sherlock’s shoulders as John dropped his right hand to the curve of Sherlock’s skull and carded his fingers through the unruly curls there. What wonders lie just beneath, rattling uncontrollably in that unbelievable brain? What horrors? John wished so intently that he could see them, hear them, take them from Sherlock’s riotous mind and quiet the poor man.

 

“Sherlock, I‒”

 

“No,” he whispered harshly, “just… let me.”

 

Let him what , who knew? But John nodded and Sherlock nuzzled against this hipbone. Long fingers gently tugged at the hem of John’s shirt, untucking it from his trousers but leaving his waistcoat in place. It seemed Sherlock only wanted to make skin-to-skin contact. His fingertips skated over the warm flesh of John’s abdomen, teasing and unsure, seeking some comfort that John could barely understand. Eventually, both palms slid up and under the fabric of the shirt and gripped firmly at John’s waist. Sherlock’s warm breath ghosted over the bulge of John’s groin in a slowly-relaxing sigh. John hummed softly and Sherlock stilled, his muscles tensing all over again and he suddenly pushed John away.

 

“What?” John breathed, reeling in his heady thoughts. Sherlock’s face was almost accusatory.

 

“This is why I didn’t see it before.”

 

“What?” was all John could think to say and he felt incredibly simple. “What do you mean?”

 

“You!” Sherlock pushed himself backward along the smooth hardwood floor until his feet hit those of the sofa, scrambling like a frightened cat in front of a snake. “You’re the reason I’m not thinking clearly!”

 

“I don’t understand…” Sherlock pushed himself to his feet and pointed a finger at John from across the sitting room.

 

“You’re in my mind ‒ taking up space. So much space!” His voice broke and he was obviously beginning to panic again. “You’re all I think about ‒ all I care about. It’s why I didn’t make the connection before ‒ about Moriarty! It’s your fault!”

 

“My fault?” John rejoined incredulously. “I haven’t done anything but help you, Sherlock! Nothing but care for you and try to solve this thing with you ‒ you’re being ridiculous!” His own voice had climbed to an indignant shout, but he felt wildly unable to control his tone.

 

Sherlock raised his shaking hands to his hair and ran them through his curls, disrupting all the soothing John had done only a moment ago. “It’s too much. You’re too much. I…” he hesitated, “care too much…” He was rambling now, running his palms over his face and casting wild eyes about the room in an effort to look at anything but John.

 

“Care too ‒ this is ludicrous,” John said with an exasperated wave of his arms. “Sherlock ‒ you can’t care too much‒”

 

“Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side,” Sherlock spat, his lip curling as he turned away and stalked toward the window. He straightened his shoulders and took a deep breath, seeming to finally calm himself. It was a frankly frightening transformation. One moment, he had been a nervous wreck; the next, he was calm and calculating and cold.

 

Well, if cold was what he wanted, John could give it right back. He clenched his jaw and assumed a militaristic pose, hands behind his back and feet shoulder-width apart. “If that’s how you feel about it.” Sherlock did not move a muscle; something in John’s chest clenched rather violently. “Good luck getting back to your own time without any help from your sentimental friends.”

 

“I don’t have friends.” Sherlock said this last as though it were the most disgusting swear he could conjure, his nose wrinkled unattractively at the feeling of the words in his mouth.

 

“Not anymore, you don’t.” With that, John turned on his heel and stalked right out of the flat.

Chapter Text

John hadn’t expressly told him to leave, so Sherlock stayed. After all, he had no where else to go. For a few hours, Sherlock stalked around the flat, stomping to and fro as he thought furiously about his situation ‒ their situation. Obviously, there was nothing for it but to move forward. He had known this was going to happen all along ‒ it was inevitable. They couldn’t be together forever. Eventually Sherlock would have to go back to his own time and John would stay here and that would be that. Better to have it out now and make a clean break. If that’s what this was.

 

He had to talk to Moriarty. Grabbing his coat from the peg by the door, Sherlock flew from the flat and dashed out onto the street, not even entirely sure that he locked the door behind himself. He must have taken a cab because he arrived at Bart’s far too quickly to have walked, though so submerged was he in his own thoughts that days might have passed without his notice. It had happened before, when on a particularly good case or a particularly good high. God, what wouldn’t I give… Nearly leaping from the carriage with a shake of his head, Sherlock flew across the pavement and through the doors of the hospital. Down the corridors he went, nearly blind with his racing thoughts, until he burst into the morgue with a loud clatter.

 

“Mister Holmes!” Miss Hooper cried out and thankfully dropped the scalpel in her grasp before clutching her hand to her bosom in fright. “What on Earth ‒”

 

“Moriarty,” Sherlock cut across. “I need to speak to him. Where is he?”

 

“What?” she gasped out, rather stupidly, Sherlock thought. He had been very plain, if abrupt.

 

“Moriarty!” he shouted and Miss Hooper flinched. “Where is he?”

 

“He-he’s gone,” stuttered the terrified mortician. Cold terror shot through Sherlock’s spine like a jolt of ice water.

 

“Gone?” Gone back? To his own time? Gone where? Gone when?

 

“He’s in Ireland,” she clarified, her eyebrows still knitted together in fright and confusion. Immediately, Sherlock’s mind began swirling, trying to formulate a plan. He could take a train today ‒ accent’s a little muddled, but sounds most like Dublin. Why not? Why not go to Ireland and track him down and ‒ “Mister Holmes, is everything alright? You seem awfully worked up.”

 

“Oh, do I?” Sherlock replied with blatant sarcasm. “Do I seem awfully worked up, Miss Hooper? Perhaps that is because I am currently in the middle of a situation which could not possibly be comprehended by the likes of you, and yet, I am being forced to communicate with you out of necessity. Perhaps it is because there are forces at play beyond your meagre ken and I find myself stranded in this backward, stifling moment in time with nary a soul with which to converse who might approach my intellectual equal!”

 

“Get out.”

 

Sherlock’s voice was still ringing in the stone chamber when Miss Hooper spoke, so softly he nearly missed it. Her expression was fiercely stoic, unmoved by his tirade to either fury or sympathy. Instantly, Sherlock felt his chest deflate with burning shame, but he could not bring himself to lose face by sounding surprised or disappointed in her reaction. He hesitated for a moment, but that turned out to be a mistake.

 

“Get out of my morgue. You are a guest in my place of work ‒ a civilian, mind ‒ and I have allowed you to traipse back and forth through this space which I consider sacred, conducting your experiments and making your ludicrous observations, but no more.” Miss Hooper took a deep breath through her nose and Sherlock had to force himself not to visibly shrink away. “I will not be spoken to in such a manner by a man who cannot appreciate my friendship and concern. Get. Out.”

 

It was with a heavy heart that Sherlock turned and stalked from the morgue in false ire. Friendship and concern . There is was again.

 

Sherlock was, as was becoming his new norm, out of his depth. He was swimming through a myre of confusion and blasted emotion that he had no idea how to navigate, and steadily falling further under. John would know‒

 

Stop. He wouldn’t help you now if you were on fire.

 

He had just turned the shining brass knob on the door of 221 Baker Street when it happened.

 

‒‒

 

The Barley Mow was not John’s favourite pub ‒ that would be the Criterion, to be certain. But when he was anxious for a pint and anxious to have one quickly, the Mow was more than merely suitable. The place suddenly became an absolute haven, full of working-class people like himself all jostling into one another and blurring into a haze of warm beer. It was exactly the place he needed to be at this particular moment.

 

Damn Sherlock. We’ll see how far he gets on his own. John threw back the dregs of his first pint and signalled for a second. He was going to post up here for awhile ‒ just long enough for that remarkably smug, remarkably churlish, remarkable…

 

John swallowed painfully around an over-large swig of beer and muttered, “Arsehole,” to no one in particular.

 

“Watch it, mate,” came the chastising reprimand of the barkeep as he lowered a brow and nodded to something over John’s shoulder. Turning around on his stool, John saw two women sitting at a table nearby, obviously within earshot as one of them had pursed her lips with disapproval. The other one, however, was trying to suppress a smile and was eyeing John with interest. 

 

Perfect.

 

John slid smoothly from his stool and smiled, feeling suddenly more calm than he had all morning. This was something he knew, something he could do without thinking. Straightening his shoulders, John casually approached the table with his pint in hand. “Good afternoon, ladies.”

 

The one on the right, the brunette, sniffed haughtily and did not answer. That was just as well ‒ he’d had his fill of brunettes at the moment. But the blonde on the left returned John’s smile and said silkily, “Good afternoon.” Without waiting to be asked, John grabbed an empty chair from a nearby table and spun it around to sit across from the pretty young woman.

 

“I do hope you’ll forgive my little…” he leaned forward with playful sheepishness and was pleased when the woman leaned right back, “outburst a moment ago.” He glanced down at the table, folding his arms and closing a bit more distance between himself and the woman, before looking back up with dangerous eyes. Her cheeks flushed a little. Gotcha.

 

“Rough morning, then?” she asked, her friend all but forgotten. 

 

“Unfortunately,” John answered, his hand sliding forward ‒ just a bit ‒ along the surface of the table. “But my afternoon is looking much better.” The woman chewed her lip in an effort to keep from grinning. John let his tongue roll over his bottom lip in a way he knew from experience would set her all a-flutter. He was not disappointed. “Doctor John Watson,” he said, extending a hand toward her.

 

Taking it gently, she replied, “Miss Sarah Sawyer.” With all his considerable charm, John bent down to kiss the back of her hand, never breaking their shared eye contact. Sarah’s cheeks flushed an even deeper shade of pink that John found positively fetching. Demure, that’s the word. Sweet. Nothing like‒ 

 

“Anne MacCreary,” said the brunette, effectively cutting John’s thoughts off at the knees. She clearly had no patience for their flirting ‒ her eyebrow was raised in a reproachful expression. John turned his smile on the other woman, though it held none of the same heat he had directed at Sarah.

 

“My apologies, Miss MacCreary,” he said endearingly. “I meant no offense.”

 

“Regardless,” Anne said shortly, “we really should be getting back to the hospital.”

 

“Hospital?” John turned his attention back to Sarah.

 

“We’re nurses at Queen Charlotte’s,” Sarah explained with a bit of endearing pride.

 

“Midwives?” John asked, intrigued.

 

“In training,” came Anne’s curt answer. “And soon to be late for our shift if we don’t leave soon.” Anne stood and smoothed her skirts imperiously, looking down her nose at John. He ignored her.

 

“Allow me to walk you back, then,” he said to Sarah. “The least I can do for upsetting your lunch.” He gestured to the empty plates on the table in apology. Clearly, their lunch had been anything but upset, but it was as good an excuse as any. 

 

“A cab would be faster,” Anne said insistently.

 

“But a walk would be so much pleasanter,” John ran the fingers of his left hand over Sarah’s right, still clutched in his own in a gentle, over-long handshake. 

 

There was movement through the window of the pub and John could not help but turn his gaze away for a brief moment as he watched a frantic man come bursting through the door, clutching his hat to his head as he barely slowed from his running. “There’s been an explosion!” he cried, his cheeks pulled up in a grin that was equal parts excited and nervous ‒ the most exciting thing he’d seen in a while, obviously. “In Baker Street!”

 

A cold stone sank to the pit of John’s stomach as people around him started surging toward the door, curiosity and excitement taking over the crowd within the pub. Sarah had said something ‒ said, “Alright, then,” but John could hardly hear her over the roaring in his ears.

 

Sherlock.

 

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, probably too low to be heard. “I’ve got to go.” He left her there, staring transfixed and confused with her hand still hovering over the table as he grabbed his coat from the peg by the door and took off at a sprint. The bells of Chiltern Firehouse’s only lorry were ringing in his ears, sounding an alarm that shook his very bones.

 

His feet pounded the pavement, so hard he was surely leaving divots in his wake. How could the world not be crumbling behind him? His pulse pounded so loudly in his ears that he was afraid he had gone completely deaf ‒ people were shouting, he could see their red faces stretched with the effort of screaming at one another, but John heard nothing. Sherlock was in danger, he knew it. He felt it prickling all along his skin. Sherlock!

 

The far corner of Baker Street came into view and John felt his breath fly from his lungs. The once-white stone facade was covered in soot and ash and debris were fluttering down to join the grey snow along the kerb. Glass from the shattered windows littered the street below, crunching beneath the feet of the dozens of onlookers. Their heads were all turned to stare at the building across the street.

 

Across the street!

 

221 was… well, not fine. It was definitely shaken and scorched. But the explosion seemed to have come from the building across the street. Fire was still furling around the open windows and doors, smoke billowing out into the street and causing a general commotion. John shoved his way forward just as the fire brigade arrived.

 

“Back away!” they were shouting, pushing people away as they hauled buckets of water from the back of the wagon. “Get back! It’s not safe!”

 

“I live here!” John cried out. “I live there!” He pointed to the ash-dulled door of 221 and pressed back against a fireman’s sturdy arm. “Please ‒ I have to see‒”

 

“Go!” the fireman said with a dismissive jerk of his thumb over his shoulder, clearly deciding that he had no more time for John. He darted around the fire wagon, holding his sleeve over his mouth and nose as he passed through the street, and flew through the open door of 221 Baker Street.

 

Up the stairs he went, shouting hoarsely all the while, “Sherlock! Sherlock are you here? Answer me, dammit!” When John threw open the door of the flat, he let out a sigh of intense relief.

 

There sat Sherlock, as placid as a cat, his violin resting casually in his grasp as he plucked the strings with no real musical intent. John was instantly incensed.

 

“You bastard,” he huffed, trying to catch his breath. “Did you hear me calling you?”

 

Sherlock shrugged. “Obviously, you were about to burst through the door. Why bother raising my voice?”

 

“You‒”

 

“Bastard, yes, I know,” Sherlock cut across him. Leaning forward, Sherlock grasped a small parchment envelope from the side table and held it out for John to take, so calm he might as well have been sitting in a tea room rather than a flat destroyed by an explosion. “We’ve had a visitor, John.”

Chapter Text

“What in God’s name‒”

 

“Don’t make me repeat myself, John. It’s quite tedious,” Sherlock interrupted, rising smoothly to his feet and pressing the envelope into John’s hand. “A visitor ‒ though that is perhaps too kind a word. Someone came into the flat, uninvited, while we were out and left this note.”

 

Still furious at Sherlock’s forcibly-calm tone, haughty even in the face of near-death, John snatched the letter from the other man’s grasp. He chewed his lip, breathing heavily, trying to reel in his anger and trying not to rip the note into shreds. This is Sherlock in a nutshell , he told himself bitterly. Cold. Detached. Focussed only on the work. No sense getting worked up about it. John turned the letter over to examine it more closely and paused in confusion. Across the front of the envelope was drawn a simple smiling face, two dots and a curved smile surrounded by a slightly-lopsided circle. It made John’s skin crawl.

 

John stared down at the slim, scratching penmanship for nearly a minute before his ire abated enough for him to actually read. “‘Mister Holmes’,” he recited as Sherlock turned toward the window, shattered glass crunching under his shoes, “‘Allow me first to congratulate you on your immeasurable abilities as a detective.’ Well, that’s kind, isn’t it?” The sarcasm was dripping from John’s tone. “‘Second, if you will permit me, I will offer a challenge ‒ an opportunity to display the full range of your abilities.’” John’s face fell as he re-read this last bit. Looking up, he saw that Sherlock was apparently unmoved by this. “A challenge?”

 

“A case.”

 

“What case?”

 

That case.” Sherlock nodded almost imperceptibly across the street at the blown-out refuse of the building. “In a few minutes, Gregson will undoubtedly be here with his investigative team to confirm that there is a mystery across the street ‒ likely a murder.” His voice went up a bit at the end as though he were telling an exciting story to a small child. John took a deep breath through his nose; Sherlock’s unbridled sarcasm really could be incredibly insensitive. “Go on, then.” Looking back down at the letter in his hand, John continued reading.

 

“‘You have three days. Show me what you can do, Mister Holmes.’” John folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope, re-examining the missive without actually expecting to find anything. “It’s signed by a Richard Brook. Do you know anyone by that name?”

 

“We both do.” Turning from the window, Sherlock met John with that expression, the one that clearly said Look at how smart I am, John. John just let out a long-suffering sigh and waited for Sherlock to drop the other penny. “Our ‒ my first case. The one with the cabbie. He said he had a sponsor, a man called Brook.”

 

Right. John remembered now. Some of the details of that night had been overshadowed by his shooting the cabbie to save Sherlock’s life. How long had they known each other at that point and John was already willing to do anything to protect him? Not long enough . “And now he’s killing people just to see what you’re capable of? To play a game?”

 

“So it would seem,” Sherlock said in a low rumble, turning back to the shattered window. How could he be so nonplussed? John felt something curdle within his chest at the sight of Sherlock being so incredibly cold, but a knock at the already-open door drew him from his darkened thoughts.

 

“Gents?” Just as Sherlock had predicted, it was Gregson, a worried look on his face as he stepped cautiously into the sitting room. “Everything alright? No one hurt?”

 

“We’re fine, Gregson, thanks,” John replied, swallowing his discomfort and putting on his most professional face. “All’s well in 221.” He gave a false smile that Gregson thankfully did not recognize and slipped the mysterious letter into his pocket.

 

“Who’s dead?” They both turned to stare at the back of Sherlock’s head. Had he really just said that?

 

“Sherlock,” John admonished, but Gregson waved a hand, already dismissing Sherlock’s casual tone in favour of moving on.

 

“He’s been identified as Neville St. Clair,” Gregson said. “Seems pretty run-of-the-mill, but…”

 

“But?” Finally, Sherlock turned and looked at Gregson with a tilted head and the expression of a mischievous cat.

 

“Bit odd that it should be directly across from your flat, don’t you think?” Sherlock very nearly grinned.

 

“Good, Gregson. Very good.” He strode toward the door and grabbed his coat from the peg, swirling into it as he made his way down the stairs. “You aren’t nearly as stupid as some of your colleagues.”

 

“Why, thank you,” came Gregson’s sarcastic reply as he and John followed Sherlock out of the building and across the street. Gregson’s credentials got them through the police blockade and up to the first floor, where the explosion had originated. The fire had been put out, but smoke and ash continued to billow around them as they ascended.

 

In the center of the large, open room was a dead body, scorched beyond all recognition. John had to take a cleansing breath through his mouth to acclimate to the stench. The body was a little taller than John and dressed in a fine suit that was surprisingly in-tact given the circumstances. Eyebrows furrowing, John noticed that all parts of the body which were not dressed ‒ face, neck, hands ‒ were burned to the point of skeletal remains. But beneath the patchily-burnt clothes was a surprising amount of flesh.

 

Sherlock was already knelt over the body, poking and prodding with one gloved hand. John joined him there, lifting gently at the smoldering remains of the clothing. “Notice something, doctor?”

 

He wanted so badly to roll his eyes, but he swallowed the impulse and answered, “Strange about the clothes. I’m surprised they’re not burnt more.”

 

“The fact that they’re burnt at all tells us a great deal,” Sherlock said, his eyes roving rapidly across the corpse between them. “Wool hardly burns at all, except under extremely high temperatures. It’s actually rather good for smothering fires.” He stood so suddenly that John nearly toppled backward onto the soot-covered floor. “Gregson, was this building being fitted for gas?”

 

“It was,” the detective confirmed, a hint of the usual awe returning to his voice. “The building was recently purchased by a company called Janus Enterprises, intending to let out individual flats. They’ve bought a couple of buildings in the area, actually.”

 

“So what’s this St. Clair fellow have to do with it all?” John asked. “Bit odd for him to just be roaming about in this empty building by himself, isn’t it?”

 

“I thought so, too,” Gregson areed, “but apparently he’s a shareholder in Janus Enterprises. Neville St. Clair lives in Kent, but comes into the city almost every day by train to check on his various investments. His wife came into Scotland Yard this morning to report him missing ‒ said he came into the city yesterday but never came home.”

 

“Rather suspicious timing,” John said, looking back over at Sherlock, who nodded slowly.

 

“Yes, especially when you consider that this is not Neville St. Clair.” Gregson’s eyebrows flew up but John had been expecting a revelation of this sort; Sherlock had been far too subdued for things to be as they appeared. He was clearly waiting for the most dramatic moment to reveal his theory.

 

“We’ve confirmed it,” Gregson insisted. “Mrs. St. Clair described his clothing and it matched what’s seen here. Furthermore, she said her husband had planned to buy a set of toy blocks for their son’s birthday and look!” He pointed to the corner of the room, not far from the outstretched hand of the body, and there was a singed box sitting on the floor. John recognized it as a set of toy bricks, though the label was very nearly burned off the box. Being closer than Sherlock, John bent and collected the wooden box. The ceramic bricks, different shapes and colours within, were still in fine shape, though a few had cracked from being dropped.

 

“Perhaps my earlier assessment of your intelligence was premature,” Sherlock condescended and John gave him a look , one which said, Stop being such a prick or I will end you . “Oh, please, don’t give me that look,” he said in reply. “You can tell something is off, John, I know you can.”

 

He let out a long breath through his nose but finally said, “Yes, but I can’t put my finger on it. But that doesn’t mean you have to be such a know-it-all.”

 

“It does if I know it all.” With a sarcastic expression and a little shrug, Sherlock snatched the box from John’s hand and held it at eye-level for all to view. “This box is made of wood, the bricks of cheap ceramic. Wood burns, ceramic cracks under high temperatures, and yet this man’s suit remains largely intact.” He waited, but neither John nor Gregson had anything to add. “His wool suit , John.”

 

Then it clicked. “And you said wool only burns under extreme heat, so the box couldn’t have been here during the explosion, otherwise it would have been destroyed.”

 

“Precisely.” Sherlock’s voice was clipped, efficient, and a little smug. “This man, whoever he is, was likely already dead when he was dressed in St. Clair’s clothing and placed here before the explosion. Someone set the fire, left quickly, then returned to plant the evidence before the fire was extinguished.”

 

“Clever,” John permitted, a grim expression on his face.

 

“But not quite clever enough,” Sherlock murmured. “There must be more to it.”

 

“So who set the fire, then?” came Gregson’s astonished question.

 

“Isn’t it obvious?” replied Sherlock with an expression that was almost tired in its condescension. Gregson tossed up his hands in frustration. Sherlock opened his mouth to answer, but John beat him to it.

 

“One of the firemen,” he said and it was Sherlock’s turn to look astonished.

 

“Good, John. Excellent!” John just shook his head and looked away.

 

“Don’t talk to me as if I’m a dog who’s learned not to mess in the house.” Sherlock looked appropriately chagrined for one before quickly straightening his back as well as his expression. 

 

“Find out who was first on the scene,” Sherlock said to Gregson, finally turning away from John’s steely eyes. “I’ll need to talk to him straight away.”

 

“What for?”

 

Sherlock let out what could only be described as a growl. “For God’s sake, Gregson, wake up! Whoever was first to the fire was likely the one to set it and I’ll need to speak with them in order to find out what’s happened to the real Neville St. Clair. Now! Time is of the essence.” Obviously swallowing his annoyance, Gregson turned and left the scene, leaving Sherlock and John to follow a few paces behind. 

 

“Three days, right?” John asked as they carefully descended the burned-out stairs. 

 

“And counting,” Sherlock confirmed. “I need to find out all I can about this Janus Enterprises. This was all too easy ‒ Brook’s issued a challenge, remember? It’s going to get a lot more complicated before we reach the real end of this case.”

Chapter Text

"D'you think there's any way to get in touch with him?" Greg's right leg was jumping with anxious energy. "I mean, to send a message backward?"

 

"To be perfectly frank, Detective Inspector, I can't see how," Mycroft replied, his fingers drumming against the surface of his desk as he thought. Greg sighed in frustration. There had to be some way, hadn’t there?

 

“Well, I mean,” he started, “an open door goes both ways, dunnit? If he can go back , then he must be able to come forward. And if he can go back, why not you or me?”

 

“You are speaking of travelling backward in time?” Mycroft raised a patronizing eyebrow.

 

“Don’t give me that look, we’ve already come to the bizarre conclusion that that’s exactly what Sherlock’s done.” Greg shifted in the slick leather chair, trying to regain some of the authority he usually carried as a D.I. of New Scotland Yard. This pompous bugger wasn't going to condescend to him. Not when the man’s own brother was stuck almost two-hundred years in the past. “What are you doing to get him back, exactly?”

 

Mycroft heaved a put-upon sigh before saying, “Believe you me, Detective Insp‒”

 

“Greg,” he interrupted. That put the self-important prig off his game. Mycroft sat back in his chair and regarded Greg with an expression of irritated surprise. “Just… put all that Detective Inspector business away, alright? Greg will do.”

 

It seemed to take Mycroft some effort to start again. He pursed his lips and took a long breath through his nose before finally continuing. “Believe you me, Greg, I have some of the best minds in the world parsing through this predicament and they have made no progress. Scientists, philosophers, engineers, anyone you can imagine might have some input has been consulted and we have gotten no closer to finding my brother than to discovering another universe.” Something tingled in the back of Greg’s mind at that and a thought occurred to him.



“You haven’t been asking the right people,” he said in a low tone.

 

“Excuse me?” Incredulity claimed Mycroft’s face and Greg was secretly a little satisfied. He’d thought of something this smarmy bastard hadn’t.

 

“I said,” he stood from his chair and made for the door, “that you haven’t been asking the right people.”

 

‒‒

 

Greg jogged up the stoop of the slightly-ramshackle flat and pressed the buzzer. Silence. Another long press and a knock. Finally, the door swung open and a kid in his mid-twenties who was obviously stoned pulled the door open.

 

“You the Chinese?”

 

“Excuse me?” Greg asked, trying not to cough at the cloud of noxious smoke that smacked him.

 

“The takeaway?”

 

“Nah, mate, sorry.” He held out his empty hands in illustration. “I need to speak with Chris Melas.”

 

“Wha’bout?” The kid looked ready to fall asleep against the door frame. Rolling his eyes, Greg produced his badge and the young man’s eyes grew to the size of saucers as he flung himself back from the door. “Listen, man ‒ sir ‒ I haven’t got anything. I mean, I’ve got a prescription, I just don’t know where it is at the mo’.” He looked ready to piss himself and it was all Greg could do not to laugh.

 

“Tell you what, I don’t see or smell anything if I get to talk to Chris,” he said as though proposing a compromise.

 

“Sure! O’course! C’mon in, just let me…” he backed away from the door, tripping over shoes and a dead potted ficus in his effort to put some space between them. “Chris!” he cried out desperately, turning toward a staircase near the door. “Chris, someone to see you, mate!”

 

“Who is it?” But without waiting for a reply, Chris appeared at the top of the stairs and set eyes on Greg. “I remember you ‒ you’re that copper friend of Sherlock Holmes.” The flatmate disappeared into the kitchen, closing the door over his own panicked face.

 

“That’s right.” Greg stepped forward and shook Chris’s hand from where he paused a few steps above the ground floor. “Greg Lestrade, New Scotland Yard.”

 

“Listen, sir, if you’re here about the weed, I really haven’t got anything to do with it. I’m not into all that.”

 

“No, no, that’s not it at all,” he said, waiving a calming hand between them. Besides, he could tell Chris was straight ‒ no sign of redness around the eyes, no tobacco stains on the fingers. And he was calm, if obviously curious. “I’m here because I remember that you were a bit of a… well… a geek, if you don’t mind my saying.”

 

Chris laughed at that. “Mind? ‘Course not. C’mon up, we’ll get out of Jimmy’s smoke cloud.” He rolled his eyes as he led Greg up the stairs and into his little bedroom. It was much neater than the rest of the house and held hardly any odour of pot. When Chris shut the door and signalled for Greg to sit in a little armchair by the window, he noticed a foam sock that fitted under the door to keep the smell out. And at least four scented candles. “Sorry about Jimmy. His dad owns the place, so rent is cheap.”

 

“No worries, son,” Greg said, making himself comfortable in the chair. Much preferable to Mycroft’s stiff office chairs. “I’d been lying if I said I’d never partaken.” Chris smiled at that and sat down in a rolling desk chair in front of an impressive computer setup. His room was packed full-to-bursting with books and DVDs, crates of comics, action figures and posters, and several small potted plants that added a homey sort of feel to the otherwise cramped space. Greg liked it. 

 

“So what can I do for you, Detective?” Chris twiddled his thumbs casually in his lap while he turned slowly left and right in his chair. 

 

“Well, I’ve got a bit of an… interesting situation and I need an expert.” Greg crossed and re-crossed his legs, not sure how to broach the subject of time travel now that he was here.

 

“A crime?” Chris’s eyes lit up and Greg was suddenly reminded that he was practically still a kid.

 

“No, nothing like that,” he said. “Just a… a friend that’s gone missing and I think…” he trailed off.

 

“Is it Mister Holmes?” Greg’s head shot up at that and he stopped fidgeting. “Is he alright?”

 

“Well he… it’s just…” Greg swallowed and cleared his throat. Then he opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. Nothing.

 

“Whatever it is, Detective, I’d like to help,” said Chris sincerely. “Mister Holmes is a good man. He helped me when no one else believed.” Greg ahem -ed again and finally just let it out.

 

“You believe in… supernatural stuff, right? Ghosts and aliens and all that?”

 

“I think it’s a little presumptuous to assume that humans are the only intelligent creatures in the entire universe.” He said it so matter-of-factly.

 

“Time travel?” Greg met his eye with a calculated glance. 

 

“Sure,” Chris returned with a shrug, “why not? There’s been loads of anecdotal evidence that…” he trailed off as comprehension dawned on his young face. “Oh my God, is that what’s happened? Has Mister Holmes travelled in time?” Greg ran his hands over his face and gave a resigned sigh.

 

“So it would seem.” God, he sounded like a nutter. And Chris was a nutter to believe him. Except he knew it was true.

 

“Tell me everything !”

 

‒‒

 

“Tell me everything,” Sherlock demanded in that haughty tone of his. The fireman, a large and burly sort with a Neanderthal forehead, laughed harshly in his face.

 

“Fire,” he said in a gruff voice that was like gravel. John rolled his eyes. Sherlock did the same.

 

“Yes, astoundingly, that much was obvious to me.” Sherlock met John’s eye and gave him a long-suffering expression. “Why did you set the fire?”

 

“I didn’t set no fire!” the man answered, indignation giving way to swift anger.

 

“Any.”

 

“What?”

 

“Any fire, you didn’t set any fire,” Sherlock corrected. “But, of course, you did, so that’s rather a moot point. You were first on the scene, were you not?”

 

“Yeah, what of it?”

 

“Why did you not arrive with the rest of the fire brigade? Why weren’t you at the firehouse?” The man’s beady eyes darted back and forth for a moment. “Because you were rather conveniently just outside of the explosion radius, correct?”

 

“The what?”

 

“Good Lord, do keep up.”

 

“Sherlock,” John sighed out a warning. Sherlock let out a rather childish groan of frustration.

 

“Alright, let’s not beat around the bush. This man was already dead when you came in and set the fire, correct?” The fireman’s gaze landed on Detective Gregson and obvious fear entered his eyes. “I don’t care about that, I care about why. Who asked you to do this?”

 

“I… I,” the man stuttered, but then seemed to regain some of his intimidating ire. His chest swelled and he drew himself up a bit to tower over Sherlock. “That man was one of the investors! One of the money men. They was always pokin’ about the building ‒ this one and the other ones they own. Not my fault if Fat Cat lit a cigar or somethin’ and burnt the whole place down.”

 

“Detective Gregson, is there any reason to suspect that Mister St. Clair did not know that the building was being fitted for gas?” Sherlock rounded on the detective to his right. 

 

“Erm, no,” Gregson said with a little shrug. “Apparently they had a walk-through a couple of days ago.”

 

“So,” Sherlock continued, turning back to the fireman, whose name he still had not bothered to ascertain, “why would a man who was paying a tremendous sum of money to have a building fitted with gas be so careless as to light a cigar? He would surely know the dangers, which was why the building was otherwise empty when workers were not in. No ‒ all the evidence confirms that whoever that person is, he was not Neville St. Clair and he was not in the building at the time of the explosion. So, kindly stop wasting my time and tell me who hired you to stage this death ?” He hissed the last few words of his diatribe and the large fireman actually took a step back, surprised by Sherlock’s ferocity.

 

“Name of Brook,” he said. “Never seen ‘im before, but he paid me fifty quid to drag that dead man up there and set the building to blazes.”

 

“And the toy bricks?”

 

“Them, too. Told me to drop ‘em as evi… edivent...”

 

“Evidence,” Sherlock supplied impatiently. “Detective Gregson, I believe this man needs to be placed under arrest?”

 

“Too right, he does.” The detective stepped forward to put a hand over the fireman’s elbow, but he put up his own hands in a gesture of defeat.

 

“Wait, wait! I needed the money. My boy’s ill ‒ got that scarlet fever ‒ and I can’t pay the doctor otherwise. The missus and I got three other littluns to feed and before long they’ll all ‘ave it, you know ‘ow it is.” His expression had turned to one of pleading and John felt a surge of sympathy for him. Without a doctor, his son would likely die and take his siblings with him. The man’s desperation was understandable.

 

“Come with me, we’ll get it sorted out,” Gregson said, not unsympathetically. As they started to walk away, John tapped Gregson on the arm.

 

“Get me his details when you’re done, will you? I’ll go see the boy and make sure he gets taken care of.” Gregson nodded and John turned back to Sherlock, who was watching him with an odd look on his face. “What?”

 

“Will you ever cease being so painfully good all the time?” Before John could answer, Sherlock let out a little tut of annoyance and stalked away in a swirl of coat.

 

“So what now?” John finally asked as they marched back across the street to 221. 

 

“We have to find Mister St. Clair. That’s the challenge in all this.”

 

“Wait.” John grabbed Sherlock by the elbow and forced him to a stop. “I don’t understand‒”

 

“Hardly surprising.”

 

“Watch it, Sherlock,” John said sternly, assuming his Captain Watson posture. The taller man was the first to break eye contact, so John proceeded. “I don’t understand why Brook would go through all the trouble to pretend that St. Clair is dead if he wants you to find him. It’d be one thing if someone else set all this up and Brook knew the answer, but he did all this, right?”

 

Sherlock’s gaze flitted to where John’s hand was still gripping his bicep and John instantly dropped his hold. Clearing his throat, Sherlock said, “Think of it as a test. An exam. The teacher has to create the test and know the answer before administering it to the student.”

 

“You’re his student now?” John asked warily.

 

“He certainly seems to think so,” answered Sherlock. “But, no, John. I have no plans to blow up empty buildings just to please Brook. I intend to solve this case like any other and use it as a means to locate Brook himself.”

 

“And what about Moriarty?”

 

“What about him?”

 

“Just this morning you were desperate to find him and go back to your own time. Now there’s a case on, you’re not so worried about it?”

 

“The Work comes first, John.” His eyes floated over John’s face and for the briefest of moments, John thought he looked sad. “You know that.” Sherlock turned and went through the black door of the house, leaving John alone on the street.

Chapter Text

John’s eyes flew open with the sudden, intense feeling that he was being watched. He hissed in a sharp breath and held back his instinctively curled fist. “Sherlock,” he said with a stressed huff. “What in God’s name‒”

 

“John,” Sherlock breathed out softly. He was unbearably close, leaning over John where he had apparently fallen asleep on the sofa. The bright blue-green of his eyes was dancing with some emotion John was reluctant to name. It was too much. He was too close. He smelled too good.

 

“Sherlock, I think you need some rest,” he said lamely. “You’re not thinking clearly.”

 

“But that’s just it.” His voice was still little more than a whisper and the long fingers of his right hand splayed out over John’s chest, rising and falling with his rapid breath. “I thought you were clouding my mind ‒ distracting me, keeping me from the Work.” Sherlock swallowed, licked his lips, closed his eyes for a moment. When he reopened them, minuscule tears rimmed his unearthly gaze. “As it would turn out, I can’t think without you.”

 

John swallowed thickly. Sherlock looked absolutely shattered, clearly unable to handle the notion of a clouded mind. And, John acknowledged hesitantly, he looked sad. He looked like he missed John

 

“God, Sherlock, I…” John started, his heart absolutely breaking at the sight before him.

 

“Don’t,” he cut John off. “Just… I need you.” His voice was so plaintiff and John felt a rush through his chest, a burning need to protect and be near so powerful that he wasn’t surprised to feel the backs of his own eyes prickling. He barely had time to nod before Sherlock was crushing his mouth in a desperate kiss, pulling the breath from his lungs as though all either of them needed to live was the other.

 

Sherlock climbed onto the sofa, his legs sliding to either side of John’s hips and his hands holding on to John’s face for dear life. God , but he had missed this. The solid weight of Sherlock on top of him, the feel of his ungodly mouth against his own, the breathy moans that slipped between their frantic lips. It was glorious and John resolved to never let Sherlock be such an idiot again.

 

He brought his own hands up to grasp Sherlock about the ribs, revelling in the feeling of his naked skin, warm and smooth. Had he been naked all the time? John put the thought away and focussed on the little grinding motions Sherlock was making with his hips. Their cocks brushed against one another, John’s still in his trousers, and the delicious friction was enough for them to break the kiss in a chorused moan.

 

Their motions grew more frantic after that. Sherlock released John’s face to start on his shirt buttons with nimble fingers. He made his way swiftly down John’s torso until he was able to pull his undone shirt and vest from the waistband of his trousers. Sherlock sat back and let John undo his own flies and lift his hips to pull them off with practiced efficiency. 

 

When Sherlock sank down onto John’s erection, it took everything in him not to orgasm instantly. The feel of Sherlock around him, so hot and tight and absolutely unbelievable would have been enough to put a much stronger man than John over the edge. But he bit his lip and held on to Sherlock’s hips as the man above him began to move. The light from the fire caught in those wild curls and softened the angles of Sherlock’s face. He looked like some sort of fallen angel as his eyes slipped closed and his head tipped backward and he sighed, long and loud, into the quiet of the flat.

 

John groaned and planted his feet, the better to thrust upward, and breathed out, “Ah, Sherlock. I need you, too. So much. I just ‒ ah! God…

 

With a gasp as though bursting through water, John woke. His erection twitched in his trousers, on the verge of orgasm, and a strangled grunt forced its way out of his throat. He made to take hold of himself, but stopped abruptly as reality slammed back into his mind.

 

He was still on the sofa, fully-clothed, where he had indeed fallen asleep. But Sherlock was not writhing naked atop him, breathing soft sighs and murmuring affection. Instead, he was still as a statue in his armchair across the sitting room. A dream. It had all been a dream.

 

John scrunched his face in embarrassment ‒ there was absolutely no way that Sherlock didn’t know exactly what had been going through his mind. Sleep was no excuse. Clearing his throat, John pushed himself to a sitting, adjusting his cock in his trousers as he did so.

 

But Sherlock did not move. His fingers were steepled before his chin in that familiar attitude of prayer and he scarcely breathed. With an immense sigh of relief, John deduced that Sherlock had entered his Mind Palace and had likely been there for quite some time, if the nearly-extinguished fire was any indication. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed anything untoward at all. John could only hope.

 

He stood and stretched his neck and shoulders, cramped from falling asleep at an awkward angle against the arm of the sofa. Deciding it best to let sleeping ‒ or thinking ‒ dogs lie, John trudged upstairs without a word to get some sleep. He paused on the stair to check that Sherlock would be alright overnight and told himself that, no, Sherlock absolutely did not shift minutely in his chair. More pathetic tricks of his over-tired mind.

 

‒‒ 

 

It took an entire day for Mrs. St. Clair to come back into the city to be interviewed. By the time Sherlock stepped into Gregson’s office at New Scotland Yard that evening, he was practically vibrating with impatience.

 

“Calm down, will you. You look about ready to commit your own murder,” John said quietly. He rubbed at his tired eyes as Sherlock continued to pace.

 

“I keep telling you, there hasn’t been a murder,” Sherlock hissed back. “And there’s a ticking clock on this case, as you have apparently forgotten.”

 

“How could I be expected to remember? I’m an idiot,” John said without an ounce of inflection. Sherlock merely scoffed and did not argue. Finally, Gregson opened the door to his office and ushered a red-faced woman inside who had clearly just been crying. Sherlock practically pounced on her.

 

“Mrs. St. Clair,” he said without so much as offering the woman a chair, “I need to know all of your husband’s whereabouts for the past week.”

 

“I ‒ I don’t,” she stuttered, eyes wide with alarm. “Who are you?”

 

“Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective. I’m attempting to locate your husband, but I warn you that I do not tolerate time-wasting very well.”

 

“Give it a moment, Mister Holmes,” Gregson said firmly, guiding Mrs. St. Clair into a chair in front of his desk. “The lady’s had a shock, hasn’t she?” He offered the woman a warm smile, but she continued to stare shakily at Sherlock.

 

“Thank you, Detective,” she said in a watery voice. “Yes, I have had a shock. My husband is dead and my poor son has no idea.” She pressed a handkerchief to her quivering lips and said, “He’s only six. I haven’t had the heart to tell him.” A round of hiccups interrupted her speech and Gregson gave her arm a comforting pat.

 

Sherlock gave a frustrated sigh and John tried very hard not to think of his vision from the night before. He started when Sherlock appeared at his side with wraith-like stealth. “She’s faking,” he whispered.

 

“What?”

 

“I don’t know why, but I intend to find out. She’s only pretending to be upset about her husband’s death.”

 

“What on Earth would make you say such a thing?” John could still barely stand to look at Sherlock, despite his rising anger.

 

“She’s wearing her travelling clothes,” he hissed shortly. “Shouldn’t she be decked out in mourning black? Refusing to leave the house or have visitors or any of that ridiculous Victorian nonsense?” John’s brow furrowed. That was odd. “Go out and see if she’s brought anything with her from home.”

 

“And what did your last servant die of?” John retorted, his voice rising. He didn’t care. He was tired and irritable and absolutely not in the mood to deal with this particular side of Sherlock today.

 

“I have to interrogate the witness.” Sherlock’s volume rose to match his own. “Unless you think you’d be better suited for this particular task.”

 

“Oh, and you’re the only one capable of asking a few simple questions, are you?” Sherlock opened his mouth to respond, but Gregson cut them off.

 

“Gents!” They turned to stare at him, both having forgotten momentarily that anyone else was there. “A little decorum, if you please.” He nodded discreetly toward Mrs. St. Clair and bid them with a glance not to embarrass him. John was instantly chagrined, but Sherlock, of course, was not.

 

“Detective Gregson, perhaps you can help Doctor Watson in his endeavour while I speak with Mrs. St. Clair.” He practically shoved them through the door and slammed it behind them. There was a heavy pause.

 

“What’s going on with you two, then?” Gregson asked under his breath. “Didn’t seem quite right in there.” He nodded back toward his office and gave John a questioning look.

 

“He’s gone and… switched off whatever it is that makes him even slightly normal.” John tried not to sound too bitter, too betrayed. “He’s back to being a total dick.”

 

“I thought you two were mates?”

 

“Yeah… so did I. But it seems that friendship stands no chance in the face of a good case. I doubt he’d even look over if I were on fire.” Never mind that I came running the second I thought he was in danger. I always do. 

 

“Well, we’ve all got bad days, I suppose. What did he ask you to do?” John sighed and tried to clear his mind of Sherlock and his ill-mannered tendencies.

 

“Did she bring anything with her to the station?” Gregson seemed surprised by that.

 

“Yes, actually. She brought a small valise and a suitcase for her son. Says he’s waiting for her at her sister’s house in Covent Garden.” John chewed his lower lip in thought.

 

“Show me?”

 

The cases were waiting near the reception desk and Gregson nodded indulgently when John asked to investigate them further. The boy’s suitcase was a little smaller than Mrs. St Clair’s, a miniature of an adult’s suitcase, and contained very little in the way of clothing. One extra tunic and a fresh waistcoat were the only items aside from a few toys and books, as well as a box of sweets. Odd , John thought, if they’re going to stay with the sister.

 

He moved on to Mrs. St. Clair’s travel bag and found a similar cache of items. The only clothing was a simple apron, suitable for wearing about the house, and a spare set of stockings and gloves. There was some jewelry and make-up, a hair brush, a teeth-cleaning kit, and a surprisingly-salacious novel that John promptly put back where he had found it. Tucked inside the pouch sewn into the lid of the case, John was surprised to find two passports and a little stack of tickets.

 

“Find anything interesting?” Gregson asked, looking curiously over John’s shoulder.

 

Standing and sifting through the papers in his hand, John gave a slow nod. “Passports ‒ hers and her son’s. As well as tickets from Euston Station to Lime Street Station in Liverpool, and then another pair of tickets for the White Star Line to New York. That’s odd…”

 

“Is it?”

 

“Well, sure,” John said, and for a brief moment, he understood Sherlock’s frustration with people. “Why would Mrs. St. Clair be travelling to New York before her husband is even buried?”

 

“Maybe they already had plans and he’s died just before leaving?” Gregson suggested, but John shook his head.

 

“No, look, there’s only two tickets ‒ one for her and one for the son. And they were purchased just yesterday. The day he supposedly died. But she’s got them, that means she was the one to buy them, as he’s been missing for two days.” He paused again, thinking. “And she was supposed to be at home when he came into the city, but these tickets were bought at Euston Station.” Something wasn’t adding up. Sherlock would have had it already. You’re smart enough to suss this out, Watson. Don’t be so reliant on that prat. “There’s not nearly enough luggage for them to travel to America ‒ this is more like something to keep the boy occupied on the train and for Mrs. St. Clair to keep her valuables close at hand. So there must be more luggage… at the sister’s house?” Gregson had no answer. “And she couldn’t have brought it all into town today, not on her own. So she must have brought it earlier. Or he could have brought it, bit by bit, as he came into town regularly.” He ran a thoughtful hand over his bearded jaw ‒ he was so close , he could tell. He was almost there. “And there’s no ticket for him…”

 

That gnawed at John. If Mr. St. Clair had been slowly bringing luggage from the country, that would likely mean he was going on the trip, too. But there was no ticket for him. Why would Mrs. St. Clair and their son be going to New York without Mr. St. Clair? It didn’t make sense. A trip like that was long and likely permanent. And if their marriage had been an unhappy one, surely Mrs. St. Clair would have moved in with her sister ages ago.

 

With a frustrated sigh, John realised he was unlikely to crack it. Close though he may be, this required Sherlock’s unmatched ability to see through the unnecessary details and straight to the point. It chapped at John to no end to know that he had to go back into Gregson’s office and tell Sherlock he’d found something he knew was useful, but hadn’t any idea what to make of it. He actually stamped his foot on the hard marble floor before turning back down the corridor.

 

“So what do you make of all of it?” Gregson asked, following John up the stairs.

 

“I don’t know,” John huffed. “But hopefully Sherlock will.” They exited out onto the first floor and turned toward Gregson’s office. Sherlock and Mrs. St. Clair were still inside, but the mood had shifted greatly. Sherlock was leaning over the woman where she cowered in her chair, his hands on either side of her, trapping her beneath his intense gaze and forceful voice.

 

“Where is your husband, Mrs. St. Clair?” he nearly bellowed in her face.

 

“He-he’s dead, Mister Holmes, I-I swear it!”

 

“Don’t lie to me, woman! There is much more at stake than whatever pathetic scheme you and your husband are up to!”

 

“Sherlock!” John cut across just as Gregson chided, “Mister Holmes!”

 

“She insists on telling the same ridiculous lie ‒ we all know it wasn’t his body in the house, so where is he?” Sherlock’s hands were flying all over the place with wild frustration.

 

“He’s on his way to New York!” John shouted with sudden clarity. He brandished the tickets he found in Sherlock’s face as Gregson attempted to calm the woman. “I don’t know why, but it looks like he’s faked his death and Mrs. St. Clair and their son are following behind him on the way to New York!” In that moment, trying to wrangle Sherlock, it all started to fall into place. There really were very few possibilities given all the facts.

 

Sherlock fixed John with an absolutely stunned expression. Then he snatched the papers from John’s hand and rifled through them, his eyes dancing rapidly as he parsed the new information. “Only two tickets?”

 

“Only two.”

 

“Purchased yesterday.”

 

“Looks like.”

 

“Luggage?”

 

“Not enough. I think the rest is probably at her sister’s house,” said John, his voice returning to a normal register as Sherlock slowly began to nod. “I just don’t know why‒”

 

“Money,” Sherlock said with unwavering certainty. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. If he’d taken a lover, she wouldn’t be going with him. If he were ill, they wouldn’t be leaving the country so suddenly. It's got to be money. Debts, most likely.” That made sense. John nodded his assent and caught Sherlock’s eye. There was a spark there, something bright and excited and probably not good

 

“John,” he said, a smile creeping onto his long face, “you are amazing.” John was seriously taken aback. One minute, Sherlock was yelling at a woman whose husband had just faked his death and now he was calling John amazing? “You are fantastic !”

 

“Yes, alright. You don’t have to overdo it,” John said, putting up a hand to keep some space between them. Sherlock had taken a step forward, apparently intent on grabbing John by the shoulders. He stopped awkwardly and blinked down at John almost apologetically. 

 

“You’ve never been the most luminous of people, but as a conductor of light, you are unbeatable.” Sherlock clapped his hands in excitement and spun around to speak to Gregson. “I’ll need to see their bank records.”

Chapter Text

He was right. He was always right eventually. And, Sherlock begrudgingly admitted to himself, he was right with John’s help.

“Here it is,” he said without trying to hide the smugness in his voice. Sherlock flicked the bank record in John’s direction and he took it without looking up. John had been behaving strangely. For the past fourteen hours, ever since he had awoken so suddenly from his accidental nap on the couch, John had barely made eye-contact with Sherlock. He had been curt and quick to anger and his brow had gained an extra furrow. Odd, Sherlock thought, glancing at the other man from the corner of his eye. Perhaps it has something to do with the obviously erotic dream he was having. Sherlock had the presence of mind to pretend to be deep inside his Mind Palace when John went up to his own bedroom, presumably to take care of his obvious erection and sleep some more. Sherlock fastidiously ignored the pang in his chest at the thought of John alone upstairs.

“So Janus Enterprises is completely false,” John’s voice pulled Sherlock out of his thoughts. Blinking rapidly as he came back to the present, Sherlock listened as John continued to think aloud. “It looks as if it didn’t even exist until about a month ago.” Papers were shifted and stacked as John confirmed the theory for himself.

“Yes, in my time it’s referred to as a shell corporation,” he confirmed. “It only exists on paper ‒ no employees, no office ‒ used only to move money from one person or enterprise to another without any direct contact between the two. The name Janus should have been a dead giveaway, honestly.”

“Roman god with two faces,” came John’s nonplussed reply. Sherlock drew his head back in wonderment.

“Quite right.” A constant surprise. “God of beginnings, endings, and transitions. Appropriate, given that it seems that Mr. St. Clair is moving on to a new life in America.” John nodded and continued to sift through the paperwork in front of them.

“About a year ago, St. Clair lost most of his money in what seems to be a railroad scheme and had to mortgage the family home in Essex.” He paused and looked down at the papers in confusion. “But how did Janus Enterprises come into it? He didn’t start it up, did he?”

“I suppose that’s when our friend Brook got involved,” Sherlock said. “The fireman said it was Brook who paid him to move the dead body and ‒” he paused for dramatic effect as he reached across the table to grab an official-looking packet of papers, “Brook is on the list of founding members of Janus Enterprises.” He plopped the business formation paperwork in front of John with a satisfied grin.”

“So… what? People need crime doing and they drop a line to Brook to see if he’s available?”

“So it would seem.”

“A consulting criminal.” John finally met Sherlock’s eye with a wry expression.

“The only one in the world.”

‒‒

Detective Gregson was all too happy to see the back of Sherlock and John and graciously offered to do away with the mess they had made of the interview room. They had made a bit of a nest at the Yard to sift through evidence that Gregson insisted was not to leave the station. Finally, after thirty-nine hours on the case, Sherlock was ready to announce his result. They got into a cab and Sherlock instructed the driver to take them to the Times office.

“What are we going there for?” John asked.

“It’s the only way I have of getting in touch with Brook,” Sherlock replied. “His letter didn’t exactly include a return address.”

“No, that would have been a bit convenient, wouldn’t it?” Sherlock tried to suppress his grin at John’s sardonic tone and only failed a little.

The offices were busier than usual, so Sherlock went in alone and left John waiting on the pavement. He took out a short advertisement which read, “Bon voyage to N.S.C. en route to N.Y.C.” The notice would run with a little illustration of a boat to catch Brook’s attention, given that it would otherwise be minuscule in the packed lines of newsprint. Sherlock paid for his advert and made his way back out to the courtyard with a bit of a proud swagger.

He stopped short when he saw John standing with a woman who was pretty, if a bit plain. She was blushing as she handed over a small card. He returned her expression with a warm, flirtatious smile and winked as she waved goodbye. Winked!

Sherlock was instantly incensed, but heard only a blank sort of static in his mind as he attempted to determine why. He and John weren’t… anything. Not anymore. Not ever, really. Just friends with benefits, wasn’t that what young people in his time called it?

Got to be friends first, came that snide inner voice that he had not heard in several weeks. Sherlock realised he was sneering at the woman’s back and swallowed his expression, affecting an air of curious nonchalance as John looked up and saw him.

“All taken care of?” John asked affably, his face relaxed and smiling for the first time in days. And that woman had done it. He tapped the card jovially against the fingers of his right hand.

“Who was that?” Sherlock asked, ignoring John’s question altogether.

“Oh ‒ her name’s Sarah Sawyer.” Plain. Simple. Boring. “She’s training as a midwife. I actually met her the day of the explosion down at the Barley Mow. She was having lunch with a friend, who I am glad not to have run into again, I have to say.”

“And she left you her calling card?” Glancing down, Sherlock saw the woman’s name and address printed on the paper in John’s hand.

“Yes she has.” John rocked back on his heels with obvious satisfaction before tucking the card into the breast pocket of his tweed jacket. “Wants to have dinner.”

“Rather brazen of her,” Sherlock said distastefully.

“Isn’t it, just?” The look on John’s face clearly indicated that he hoped she would be far more brazen in the future. “I told her I’d call on her this evening, actually. There’s a dancehall in Clerkenwell that’s meant to be a great time ‒ I wonder if she’d like that…”

“Aren’t there rather a lot of painfully strict rules about courtship and etiquette in this time?”

“Oh, sure, but we’re both a bit older than all that. It’s not as if she’s a fresh deb,” John laughed off Sherlock’s attempt to dampen his spirits. “And neither of us is the heir to anything important. No one with an obscene amount of money is checking to see that nothing untoward has happened.” Damn. The one time Sherlock was relying on this blasted time period’s restrictive rules of order and John felt fit to let it all slide. “Back to Baker Street?”

“Er…” Sherlock floundered and refused to let his cheeks flush, “wouldn’t you like to get some lunch or something?”

“Your appetite back now the case is over, then?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, jumping on the thought, “yes it is. What sort of ethnic food is available around here?”

“You can likely find an Indian restaurant or two. French, to be sure.”

“God, I could murder a Chinese right about now,” Sherlock murmured with honest enthusiasm. “Join me?” John pulled his watch from the pocket of his waistcoat and gave it a little frown.

“Actually, it’s a bit late for me. I think I’ll skip this one ‒ head home and get ready for this evening. I’ll eat with Miss Sawyer.” With an annoying amount of casual companionability, John clapped Sherlock on the shoulder and said by way of goodbye, “I’ll see you back at the flat later.”

Sherlock’s appetite disappeared with John’s vanishing form.

‒‒

He walked for hours, reacquainting himself with the city in it’s antiquated form. Previously, Sherlock had not taken much time to traverse the streets and alleyways to update his mental map. He’d preferred to remain in John’s company than wander the city alone. That impulse was gone now.

He’s got better things to do now, anyway.

Looking up from the pavement, Sherlock realised that it was dark. The deep shade of purple in the sky indicated that it was long past sunset. John was surely gone by now, out to dinner and possibly even dancing with that Sawyer woman. Sherlock could just picture it: the two of them, laughing and spinning around a crowded dance hall. Their faces would be flushed, John would be panting as he wrapped his arm around her waist and led her into another opening step. Sherlock loved to dance.

He didn’t know how, but he made it back to Baker Street. Damn it. He hadn’t been paying attention to his route, hadn’t been taking note of the nuances of the streets. All of his walking had been for naught. And now the sole of his right shoe was beginning to wear through.

The mantle clock read 12:37 AM. John was still not home. What is he doing? Isn’t it obscenely late? Where are all the overbearing morality watchdogs I was led to believe ruled this wretched time?

A faint click sounded from downstairs and Sherlock darted to his chair, the better to appear uninterested in John’s whereabouts. He placed his feet flat on the floor, then changed his mind and crossed one leg, steepled his fingertips, then gave that up in favour of a discarded newspaper. That was better. Utterly casual.

Jovial whistling preceded John through the door and Sherlock tried not to swallow his tongue in a fit of loathing. “Oh!” he started when he saw Sherlock perched in his chair. “Sherlock ‒ what are you doing up so late?” His surprise faded into a wide grin as he dropped his coat on the peg and Sherlock’s blood nearly boiled.

“Just reading. Lost track of time.” He shook the paper vaguely in John’s direction as the other man took off his shoes. “The question is: what are you doing up so late?”

“I’ve kept stranger hours in your company,” John didn’t answer, still smiling gently.

“But you weren’t in my company, were you?” Sherlock muttered under his breath. Not quietly enough, it seemed, as John stopped on his path toward the stairs and turned slowly back.

“Excuse me?” The smile was dangerous now, John’s eyebrows a little lower, his eyes slightly narrowed, his head tilted just so.

Sherlock did not back down. “You were out unseemly late with a strange woman, one who obviously has less-than-honourable intentions with you, given her shameless enthusiasm to be alone with you.”

John laughed. Laughed, a sharp, rude bark of a laugh that bore little humour. “‘Less-than-honourable intentions’?” With another little huff, John dropped his shoes unceremoniously by the door and put his hands on his waist. “You’re concerned for my honour now? Wouldn’t it be a bit more traditional to worry about Miss Sawyer’s honour?”

“She clearly has little left. No need to be concerned.”

“Excuse me?” It was Captain Watson now, straight-backed and glowering. And if Sherlock were a fool, he would think it laughable that such a small, plain man would be trying to intimidate him. If he were smarter, he would stop.

Instead, he stood up, tossing the paper aside and facing off with John from across the sitting room. “I can’t imagine that the sort of woman who practically begs to go out with a man, especially these days, has much in the way of honour about her.”

“Begs?”

“She threw herself at you!” Sherlock said indignantly. “Asking you to take her out to dinner on the same day that you run into each other.”

“I never would have taken you for such a prude,” John spat. “You don’t know anything about her.”

Now it was Sherlock’s turn to fix John with an intimidating stare. He smiled, slow and sinister, as he brought the details he had taken in about Sarah Sawyer to the front of his mind. Nice clothes, but at least two years old; repaired twice at the hem and once at the elbow. Traces of greying hair at the temple, minimal makeup. Letter in hand stamped from Norwich, likely family.

“Approximately thirty years of age, training as a midwife at a later-than-usual age due to some dissatisfaction with her previous employment. Likely as a governess, given the limited options for women these days. Family in possession of decent money, though she is reluctant to take much, preferring to support herself. One sister, married, with children. Not sure how many, but at least two. Perhaps she chose to enter midwifery after her sister lost a child. Unclear. I have only glimpsed her from several feet away.” Sherlock caught his breath and met John with a raised eyebrow and a level gaze.

“Pfft.” John’s reaction made Sherlock’s lip twitch uncontrollably. “You think your deductions are enough to really know a person? It takes so much more than glancing at someone to‒”

“Maybe for you.”

“Jesus…” John bared his teeth in frustration and rolled his eyes toward the heavens. He stepped back toward the stairs and said over his shoulder, “I thought you were difficult before you were jealous‒”

“Jealous?” Indignation dripped from Sherlock’s voice and his expression twisted into a sneer. He strode forward and came between John and the hallway. “Jealous of you?”

“No, obviously you’re jealous of her.” John’s expression of confident derision stung more than Sherlock would ever admit. “You can’t just decide for both of us how this is going to go. You don’t want to have sex because being too close to people clouds your mind, but you demand that I’m always with you because you can’t think clearly. You’re so contrary. You can’t have it both ways.” He jabbed a finger in Sherlock’s chest as he continued, “You’re the one who insisted that we just be flatmates. I have every right to try and find some happiness with someone else!”

“You know that the Work comes first‒”

“My God, if you say that one more time…”

“I cannot allow the Work to suffer just because‒”

John grabbed Sherlock roughly by the lapels and threw him against the narrow stretch of wall beside the door with a snarl. “I am so tired of hearing about the bloody Work!” He gave the taller man a violent shake and Sherlock shoved him back, but John’s grip was relentless. “The case is over, Sherlock! What’s your excuse now?”

There was an intense pause. The back of Sherlock’s neck prickled as they each breathed as heavily as if they had been running full tilt through the city. And before he could even think of resisting, John pressed his lips violently against Sherlock’s in a brutal kiss.

It was electric. Neurons lit in Sherlock’s mind like fireworks and he met John’s fervour with a rough growl, gripping the hem of John’s waistcoat and pulling him harder against himself. Loathe though he was to admit such a thing, he had missed this. Kissing John was an experience unlike any other; he kissed with such determination and confidence and Sherlock had forgotten the shaky feeling it brought to his knees. It was good, God, it was good.

John’s tongue pressed into Sherlock’s mouth as he asserted his control, fingers gripping Sherlock’s jacket so tightly he thought the fabric would tear. There was a clash of tongues and teeth before Sherlock attempted to take the upper hand by pushing John away, hopefully to the sofa. But John stood his ground and moved his hands to the frames of the door and window on either side of Sherlock, pinning him against the wall a second time. He ground his hips against Sherlock’s with a low growl and then thrust hard.

“F-fuck,” Sherlock hissed, his head lolling back against the wallpaper before he dragged John’s mouth back up to meet his again. He took John’s bottom lip between his teeth, let John’s tongue slide into his mouth before hollowing his cheeks and sucking. Sherlock was rapidly forming a plan: drop to his knees, get John’s cock into his mouth, finger himself while he was down there so John could get inside him as soon as possible. Against the wall, or over the arm of the sofa ‒ yes, that would be better…

“Mmph ‒ no, stop.” John pulled away so quickly that Sherlock nearly bit his tongue.

“What?” Sherlock was beyond confused. John’s arousal was evident; pupils dilated, cheeks flushed, erection pressing insistently into Sherlock’s upper thigh.

“We can’t do this,” he panted, taking another step back and extending a hand to maintain distance between them. “I can’t do this, this back and forth, on and off business.” Sherlock heaved a massively inconvenienced sigh and rolled his eyes.

“Jesus, John, why not?” He flung his hands up and said with exasperation, “You’ve never exactly had a problem before.”

“This isn’t fair, Sherlock. Not to me, or to Sarah‒”

“Don’t say that woman’s name to me.”

“If you’re going to turn off again the next time you get a case, I don’t think I can ‒ I don’t want to just be waiting for you like some pathetic… I don’t know what.”

Sherlock’s chest clenched and all of the heat from the previous moments turned to ice in his veins. “I see. Now that you’ve got Sarah, what do you need to be wasting time with me for? How pleasant for you, to finally have a woman to fawn all over you, someone you can show off in public, even.”

“You think this is easy for me?” John’s expression was vacillating between fury and self-loathing. “I haven’t stopped wanting you, Sherlock, but I can’t have you, so what good is it to just sit around pining after you? Traipsing around like a trained puppy. I deserve better than that!”

“Oh, please. This isn’t about what you deserve. This is about you wanting something warm to stick your cock into. And now that I’m not a sure thing anymore, you’ll go out and find the first cunt that smiles at you.”

“People need people, Sherlock! This isn’t about sex ‒ it’s about something you’ll apparently never be able to comprehend. No matter how smart you think you are, there are some things that you have to be human to understand.”

“What? Love?” Sherlock spat. “You love this woman now, is that it?”

“No, obviously not, I just met her.”

“Then why bring her up? Just to make sure I knew? ‘Look, Sherlock, I don’t need you after all. Women are still willing to sleep with me, what do you think about that?’”

“God! You are an incomparable dick!” John bellowed, his hands flailing with bare-restrained anger.

“Perhaps I should go, then. Leave you free to court as many women as you like without your former lover stalking about the flat.”

“Go where?”

“An hotel, I suppose. I’ve made my own money since coming here, John,” he said defensively. “I’ve paid you back ‒ I’m not reliant on your support any longer.”

“Jesus…” John looked nearly ready to be ill. “I can’t send you packing because then you’ll just be gone, won’t you? You’ll be gone forever soon enough and it is killing me, Sherlock!” He was shouting, but Sherlock suspected that anger was no longer John’s most prevalent emotion.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” Sherlock said with a heavy sigh. He couldn’t look at John anymore, couldn’t stand to be in the same space or breathing the same air.

“Where are you going?” John twitched as though he were about to reach for Sherlock but thought better of it. Sherlock grabbed his coat from the peg and swept it over his shoulders.

“Somewhere else,” he said curtly. “Don’t follow me.” The door slammed violently behind him as he fled the place that had once been such a comfort.

Chapter Text

Greg felt as though his mind had been squeezed through a garlic press. All of this was way beyond his ken, but Chris had the patience of a saint. Time travel and the paranormal had never interested Greg, so the jargon was all new to him. But if Chris was willing to take the time to walk him through the desert, Greg owed it to him and to Sherlock to make it to the Holy Land. As it were.

 

They had relocated their research to the Central Library of Imperial College, where Chris was a student. Thankfully, the library was open twenty-four hours, so even though they had passed into the wee hours and were closer to dawn than dusk, they had the luxury of a full-service library at their disposal. 

 

“Alright,” a heavy sigh preceded Chris’s arrival back at their table and he dropped a large atlas-style book down in front of Greg. “Maps of ley lines around the globe.”

 

“And ley lines are where weird stuff has happened,” Greg confirmed, trying to remember all that he had learned with Chris in the past day.

 

“Right. Points all over the world where supernatural events have occured, connected by straight lines across the map.” He flipped through the pages until he came to a map of London. “This is just a possible theory ‒ I don’t know if any of the points line up.” The map was crossed all over with red indicator lines and a few large red dots that formed triangles over the city. A few of the points were familiar to Greg, spots where stories of weird events had taken place.

 

“The first place is Tower Bridge,” Greg leaned in, cursing himself for having left his readers sitting on his desk back at the Yard, and examined the spot through squinted eyes. “The line doesn’t cross exactly through the tower where Sherlock fell, but one does go through the bridge itself.”

 

“And there are a few lines that surround the area,” Chris said encouragingly.

 

“How exact does it have to be?”

 

“I’m not sure,” he answered. “But I’m sure there’s some room to… wiggle. We’re talking about energy, not guided missiles. I’m sure there’s a possibility for a flow or even a pool .” Greg chewed his lip in thought. “Where else?”

 

“Gower Street,” Greg said, running his finger along the map. “Again, it’s between three lines.” He paused, thinking as hard as he was able.

 

“Has it only been those two places?” Chris pressed.

 

Greg sighed, feeling defeated. “So far. And they were ages apart, so it’s difficult to determine a pattern.”

 

“When were they?” Chris sat down across the table and gave an exhausted stretch, arms over his head, and cracked his back against his chair.

 

“Erm…” Greg flipped through the notebook he kept in his jacket pocket for making case notes on the fly. “Twenty-second September and twenty-first December.” They were both growing tired and Greg could almost feel the drowsiness wafting off of Chris. He fought a yawn as Chris leaned forward again.

 

“Wait…” Every thought and sentence came so slowly. “The equinox and the solstice?”

 

“The what?”

 

“Many civilizations celebrate festivals at the turning of the seasons.” Sitting up straighter, Chris grabbed a book and pulled it forward, flipping through until he came upon an illustration of planets and their movements. Apparently it was some sort of calendar. “The Celts have Lùnastal and Samhain ‒ the first days of fall and winter. Their calendar is a bit earlier than ours, but the idea is the same.”

 

Greg was definitely in over his head. “What idea?”

 

“That at certain times of the year, supernatural events are more likely to occur because of an imbalance in the forces of the universe.” If Chris weren’t so nice and helpful and obviously intelligent, Greg would swear he was a lunatic. “The earth is either closest or farthest from the sun in its revolution.”

 

“What does that have to do with anything?”

 

“No one really knows,” Chris admitted with a shrug. “The earth is made of magnets that are constantly pulling and pushing things. Maybe when the earth is more or less magnetized, something happens.” Jeez, it’s all so vague , Greg thought. “Maybe the veil between this plane and another is made thin. Or even torn.” Chris gave Greg a look that suggested he really didn’t know, but believed it all the same.

 

Why not?

 

Pulling the map of ley lines close again, Greg started looking for places of significance to Sherlock, anything where the lines crossed or converged or even formed a little triangle. He didn’t care for any of the tourist sites ‒ except Big Ben. Greg had had to talk officers out of arresting Sherlock for climbing up behind the clock face twice since he’d known the man. But he only went there to annoy people. To annoy Greg.

 

There was a bridge in Lambeth he liked to skulk under, but there were no ley lines there.

 

He actually loved St. Nicolas church in Deptford. Greg had been stunned to learn that, in addition to giving gifts at Christmas, St. Nicolas was also patron saint of thieves, the falsely accused, students, prostitutes, and pirates. Facts which Sherlock loved to shout at people who were trying to have a quiet prayer or two. The thought made Greg grin because, no matter what the belligerent detective said, Greg knew he actually loved Christmas and felt a very specific kinship to Nicolas and all he protected. 

 

But the church fell wide of any ley lines, so Greg dismissed it.

 

Following that train of thought, Greg started searching for other churches and otherwise peaceful places. Sherlock liked to disrupt his surroundings. Then he spotted it ‒ a cemetery on Old Brompton Road where Sherlock often went to… think. Or, in previous years, get high and hide away from the world. Three lines met up there and Greg knew in an instant that he had found what he needed.

 

Chris offered to come along and help Greg if necessary. But Greg could see the relief on Chris’s face when Greg insisted he go home and get some sleep. With a promise to update the other man as soon as any developments were made, Greg phoned for a taxi.

 

At four in the morning, Greg would have thought that sneaking into an old cemetery would actually have been a lot easier. However, the wrought-iron fence was dastardly tall and a new lock had recently been added to the gate. Looking at the setup, Greg tried to imagine how Sherlock would get in. Probably just slip between the bars, skinny git.  

 

Well, that wasn’t an option for Greg. So after much pacing and cursing, Greg awkwardly climbed a tall tree on the outside of the fence and dropped ungracefully onto the ground inside the cemetery. “A copper breaking into a graveyard at four AM,” he mumbled to himself. “The things I let Sherlock get me into….”

 

‒‒

 

The lock on the gate was laughable. Amazing that even the least-inventive class of criminals would be deterred from breaking in, Sherlock thought as he slipped inside Brompton Cemetery.

 

He couldn’t be sure why he was even there. Sherlock used to sneak into this particular graveyard to be among some of the greatest forgotten minds, thinkers and composers and philosophers who hadn’t managed to earn a place at Highgate. That was how he felt. Great, but bound to be forgotten. The last time he had been here had been after….

 

No. Don’t. Don’t even think it.

 

Sherlock made his way between the overcrowded headstones and effigies until he came to an old Rowan tree. It was exactly where he remembered and even a hundred years younger, it was impressive in size. Seeing it made Sherlock impossibly sad in a way he hadn't expected. He was already sad ‒ wasn't that enough?

 

It was unbearable. All of it. Sherlock wanted to be home, but the word held a different meaning now. Baker Street would never be the same without John in it, but he couldn't stand to go back and face the man, spend what little time they had left in the same room. 

 

He couldn't breathe. His arms itched. His heart was pounding. Something wet touched the back of his hand and he finally realized that he was crying. God, I just want it to end! Sherlock slid down the trunk of the tree until he came to rest on the frozen ground and pounded his curled fists into the hard dirt. It stung but it was good, so he did it again and felt a vague crack in the vicinity of his right-hand exterior metacarpal. Once more and the sting turned into an outright burn and at least it was something.

 

You don’t need that. You need to escape.

 

No ‒ I don’t want to escape. I want to feel .

 

Feeling ‒ dull.

 

It was anything but dull. It was complete and utter anguish and Sherlock wanted to wallow in it. The alternative was floating, disappearing, and it sounded so good but he knew better now. He wanted to be better now.

 

For what? John? He’s gone. 

 

Fuck off!

 

His head was throbbing because he had been banging it against the trunk of the tree. Reaching back, Sherlock felt a knot growing at the back of his parietal bone, but was more astonished to see blood on his fingertips. Not from his head, it would seem, but from the pads of his fingers. He looked down and saw claw marks in the frozen dirt. Not good . He was losing control.

 

Why had he even come here? To this place where he had felt so lost? It certainly wasn’t helping things, but it was the only place that had come to mind. Back pressed against the cold trunk of the Rowan tree, Sherlock reached up with his right hand, seeking blindly at a hollow he knew was there from years of stashing illicit goods. He and Victor would come here sometimes when the world was too much and they would escape…

 

Something thin and papery touched his sore fingertips and Sherlock furrowed his brow. Was someone else using this same place to hide something from prying eyes? Had this always been a place to disappear and Sherlock and Victor had merely been dots in a long line of refugees? He removed a sheaf of folded paper and stared, dumbfounded, at the message scrawled there: Is there anyone there?

 

Cheap, thin paper, torn from a pocket notebook. Blue, ballpoint pen in the familiar harried block script. Ballpoint pen. Impossible.

 

Sherlock scrambled for a pencil and found one in his inside breast pocket. Under the original message, he wrote, I am Nobody! Who are you? Are you ‒ Nobody ‒ too?

 

He folded the paper and placed it back in the hollow. He was on his knees, barely breathing, his steepled fingers pressed against his mouth. He waited.

 

Then he heard it. The softest rustle like leaves though there was no wind. Sherlock reached forward and pulled out the paper again. Beneath his own scratchy penmanship was another message from Lestrade.

 

Sherlock? Is that you?

 
 

Who else would it be?

Can you prove it?

 
 

Please, Graham, don’t waste my time.

That’ll do.

 
 

How did you manage to get in touch with me?

That geeky kid, Chris Melas, from your case a few months back. He gave me some info about something called ley lines and this spot crossed one. Thought you might re-visit.

 
 

Lucky guess.

Sure, let’s go with that. Are you alright?

 
 

Of course I’m alright. Why wouldn’t I be?

Just checking. The last time you came here, you weren’t doing so well.

 
 

I haven’t relapsed, Lestrade.

Had to ask. Have you figured out how to get back, yet?

 
 

It seems you’ve made more progress on that front than I have.

Wow. That was almost a compliment.

 
 

Don’t get used to it.

I guess you’ve figured out about the solstice?

 
 

Obviously.

Spring Equinox coming up. You going to try coming back?

 
 

Unclear.

Unclear?! What does that mean? 

 
 

Need more data.

Jesus, Sherlock. What are you even doing back there? Talk to me.

 
 

Case.

Christ on a cracker ‒ a case?! That’s no reason! Do you even want to come back?

 

 

That gave Sherlock pause. For reasons he absolutely did not want to examine, he thought that, no, perhaps he didn’t want to go back to his own time. But what choice did he have? If he stayed in the past, he’d have nowhere to go. John was only tolerating him in the flat because there was an expiration date on his current stay. And he was so unbearably good, so kind and so generous. It really was infuriating.  

 

I’ll be in touch if I need anything.

 

He shoved the final note into the hollow and stood upright, grimacing at the ache in his knees from kneeling on the cold, hard earth for so long. Sherlock sighed and pressed his forehead against the tree trunk. What was he going to do? Go to a hotel, that’s what he was going to do. Go to a hotel and collect his thoughts and figure out a way to go home. Figure out who was killing the time-traveling bodies and put a stop to them. Find the connection with Moriarty ‒ how had he managed to go back in time and where was he from in the first place? Figure out…

 

“Sherlock?”

 

He flinched, instantly recognising the voice and instantly not wanting to hear it. “I told you not to follow me.”

 

“Yeah, well, I didn’t listen.” John stepped closer and Sherlock could not find the energy to move away. “Sherlock, will you just… come home?”

 

A pathetically sad laugh escaped Sherlock’s throat. “Home?”

 

“Please, Sherlock… I won’t…” John reached out, but quickly let his arm drop back down by his side. “I won’t see… her anymore. I won’t… I want to help you with the case and ‒ and getting back.” Sherlock risked a glance and immediately regretted it. John looked destroyed. Purple shadows marked his tired eyes and two more lines had appeared on either side of his mouth. He swallowed and stared at John in the moonlit night, surrounded by death and darkness and somehow still a shining beacon.

 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, John,” he said, barely more than a whisper. “I think ‒ I think it best if we… take some time apart from‒”

 

“No.” The firmness of John’s voice took Sherlock by surprise. Just an hour or two ago, John had been furious. Now, he was insistent that Sherlock not leave? “I don’t think it would be best for either of us to be apart from one another.”

 

“Oh, John, what good will it do?” Sherlock threw his hands up in frustration.

 

“For starters, I could mend that hand of yours,” John pointed to Sherlock’s right hand, which was held gingerly away from his body and obviously beginning to swell. He extended his own hand, palm up, waiting, and Sherlock reluctantly placed his hand in John’s. “Jesus, Sherlock, what did you do?” John drew his own fingertips over Sherlock’s torn and bloodied ones in a gentle caress.

 

Sherlock swallowed and took a shallow breath, his skin tingling at John’s proximity. “I… hurt my head, as well,” he said lamely. John looked a bit like he wanted to smile with benevolent exhaustion, but he did not.

 

“Come on, then,” he said softly. “Let me fix you up and we’ll talk no more of this, hmm?”

 

God, but that sounded marvelous.

Chapter Text

Things were mostly quiet, though a general malaise hung over the flat, casting every thought and simple action with a tinge of grey. They reached a new sort of balance. Occasionally, while Sherlock was sitting in his chair, John would deliver a cup of tea with the smallest of touches to the back of his wrist. Or he would gently place his hands on Sherlock’s waist to move him aside as John passed close by in the kitchen. It seemed that he was less hesitant to be near to Sherlock, as he had been in weeks past. But the extra wrinkle between his brows did not go away.

 

He slept upstairs.

 

It was an odd sort of torture. No, not torture, because it was bearable. Sherlock could feel somehow that their new normal was less painful. He was less compelled to do something… rash. Dangerous. Harmful.

 

He had to focus. He had to put his mind to use.

 

“I need to speak with Moriarty.”

 

John started a little at Sherlock’s abrupt declaration, looking up from the newspaper in his hand. “Alright…” he said slowly, waiting for Sherlock to elaborate.

 

“Would you… come with me?” Going to Bart’s to try and find Moriarty would be the first activity either of them had proposed in the nine days since returning from the cemetery. Largely, they had remained in the flat, with the exception of John’s clinic shifts. Sherlock had papered the wall above their sofa with notes and sketches, trying to find the connection ‒ any connection ‒ between Moriarty’s time travel and his own. Down the center of the wall, he had tacked a wide red ribbon to divide the space into two sections. The area that was not consumed with notes on the mechanics of time travel was plastered with articles and newspaper etchings of the murders that had occured since he’d come to this time. He was missing a connection there, too. But staring at the wall had produced no result, and so the time had come to try another tactic.

 

“Oh, erm, sure,” John said. “Wasn’t he in Ireland?”

 

“The last I heard, yes,” Sherlock said, his words picking up speed. It was a relief for John to have agreed to go with him. “He was meant to be visiting family. But the only way to know if he’s back is to go and see. I don’t know where he lives ‒ Miss Hooper is the only person I can think of who might have any idea as to his location.”

 

“Alright. Let me just… get my coat.” John’s tone was one of surprise, as though he had absolutely not expected Sherlock to want his company with anything other than moping around the flat. But the doctor stood from his chair and slipped into his winter coat before looking at Sherlock expectantly.

 

And off they went.

 

It was a pleasant day, chilly but not unbearable, so they walked to Bart’s. On their way through the hospital, they intercepted Miss Hooper outside of the Great Hall. She was carrying a small stack of papers and wearing a harried expression and gave a little oh when she saw Sherlock and John.

 

“Doctor Watson! Mister Holmes!” Her face flushed a bit when she said Sherlock’s name ‒ no doubt feeling awkward from their last encounter. But she had been in the right. Not that he would ever admit that outloud.

 

Best just to pretend as though nothing had happened. 

 

“Miss Hooper,” Sherlock greeted cordially. “Good to see you. We come in search of Professor Moriarty ‒ has he returned from Ireland?”

 

For a moment, Miss Hooper looked so taken-aback at Sherlock’s uncharacteristic politeness that he thought she might insist on an explanation. But, ever a surprise herself, she merely swallowed down any awkwardness and plowed on. “Actually, yes. He came back a few days ago.” She shifted the papers in her arms and continued, “He’s in a classroom upstairs, as a matter of fact. Preparing for a lecture later this afternoon.”

 

Excited and anxious, Sherlock looked at John. “I need to talk with him.” John simply nodded and turned back to Miss Hooper.

 

“Why don’t I help you with these, Miss Hooper?” he said, taking the stack of papers from her. “Are you headed back to the morgue?”

 

“Yes, actually, I am. I’ve an interesting case that I wouldn’t mind your input on, Doctor Watson.” And they were off, walking calmly but briskly down the corridor toward the stairwell, Miss Hopper chattering happily about the newly-arrived body in her morgue. John glanced back and gave Sherlock an encouraging little smile before they disappeared through the door.

 

Sherlock flew up the stairs two at a time until he came to a corridor full of classrooms. Only one door was open, and Sherlock knew he had found his quarry. Sure enough, Moriarty was standing with his back to the door, writing on a blackboard on the other side of the room. Sherlock gave a sharp knock on the door and Moriarty nearly jumped out of his skin.

 

“Oh my ‒ M-mister Holmes! You scared me n-nearly to death.”

 

“Apologies, Professor,” Sherlock said, his voice calm and cautious all at once. He had to be delicate ‒ there could be a dozen reasons that Moriarty would not want to be found out as a time traveler. “I’m glad to hear that you arrived safely back from Ireland.”

 

“Thank you,” Moriarty said timidly, dropping his chalk into the tray on the board and brushing his hands over his trousers legs, smearing chalk dust over the thick wool. “There was a-a death in the family.”

 

“My condolences.” Moriarty answered with a tight-lipped smile.

 

“Well, what can I d-do for you, Mister Holmes?”

 

“I’m curious about your lecture, actually,” Sherlock replied smoothly, taking in every detail of Moriarty’s appearance and body language.

 

“Really?” The surprise was evident on the professor’s face. “Based on your success as-as a detective, I would think that it would be I who could learn from you .”

 

“You flatter me, Professor,” Sherlock said with an easy smile. “And underestimate yourself, I’m sure. What time do you begin?”

 

“At three this afternoon,” Moriarty answered. “Should be done in time f-for tea.” Sherlock gave a faux-frustrated click of his tongue and tapped his foot lightly as though disappointed. 

 

“Oh, that is a shame,” he said. “I’ve got tickets for the matinee of La Boheme at two.” Moriarty’s eyes lit up.

 

“I can hardly blame you for missing my lecture. I might miss it myself if I had the chance.” He gave an awkward, snorting sort of laugh and Sherlock smiled placidly. “I do love Puccini.”

 

“As do I,” Sherlock agreed. “Though I have to say, Madama Butterfly is my favourite.”

 

“I couldn’t agree more,” Moriarty said, putting a hand to his chest as though moved by the mere mention of the opera. “A beautiful tragedy, indeed.”

 

“Shame that it won’t be written for another eight years.”

 

A long moment of slowly-growing tension stretched between them. Moriarty blinked once, twice, before opening his mouth and closing it again.

 

“What year did you come from, Professor?” Sherlock asked slowly.

 

“Twenty-fifteen,” he answered immediately. “And you?”

 

“Twenty-eighteen. So you’ve been here for three years, then?”

 

“Y-yes,” Moriarty confirmed. “Four years in June.” He was obviously relieved. Moriarty’s shoulders drooped with released tension and he looked instantly five years younger. “I can’t believe… another person…” His shaking hands came up to press against his temples and Sherlock watched him with unbridled curiosity.

 

“So, you didn’t know that I was from the future?” 

 

“I had no idea!” Moriarty breathed. “You’re good!”

 

“You’re not bad,” Sherlock acquiesced. 

 

“I’ve had longer to practice than you have,” he said with a nervous little laugh. 

 

“Have you made any attempt to get back?” Sherlock asked. Moriarty sighed and pulled a chair away from one of the many desks in the room. He sat down, his eyes still wide with shock and shook his head.

 

“I’ve done research ‒ as much as I can, anyway. But the trouble is, I got here by f-falling from a great height and I’m obviously… reluctant to recreate the experiment.” Sherlock’s interest was piqued.

 

“I had a fall, as well. From Tower Bridge. You?”

 

“I was walking along the ramparts at Caernarfon Castle,” Moriarty answered, embarrassment blooming on his thin face. “Dropped my mobile and overreached.”

 

“And then you came to London?”

 

“Well, Wales is alright, but I know my way about London,” he answered with a shrug. Sherlock nodded. Likely, he would have made every effort to come to London as well, no matter how far afield he might have found himself after the fall.

 

“It must be something about the height,” Sherlock wondered aloud. All of the time-traveling bodies fell, as well. Velocity, perhaps…

 

“I’ve wondered the same thing,” Moriarty said excitedly. “I’ve tried to do r-research on the subject, but I’m honestly not even sure where to start.” He sighed in frustration and Sherlock carefully examined his expressions from where he stood a few feet away. The professor certainly seemed genuine. But Sherlock was nothing if not a sceptic. 

 

“No, nor am I,” he replied vaguely. Except for the solstices and these ley lines that Lestrade mentioned.

 

“I do think there must be something, I dunno, genetic, perhaps?” That was interesting. Sherlock turned sharply and Moriarty continued. “I mean, if there was some sort of… force at play, then surely some other people might be caught up in the effects. But no one else came through when I did ‒ none of the people on the ground below, or anyone around me on the wall. It m-must be something about me.” There was a pause. “And you.”

 

“I think the odds are incredibly slim that we’re related,” Sherlock said.

 

“Oh, I agree, but we must have something in common. Genetically. At-at least, that’s my theory. Same as people with red hair all have the same recessive gene, but don’t necessarily share blood.” Sherlock nodded. That made a certain amount of sense. No one on the shore beneath the bridge had come back in time with him. Except the dead body. But how could the killer know who would have this gene? It would be impossible to know. Why choose these people?

 

“Perhaps,” Sherlock agreed slowly. “It certainly is a lot to consider.” While Sherlock was anxious to find the connection, he was hardly desperate or stupid enough to divulge everything he already knew to Moriarty. Information is a weapon. Or so Mycroft was always saying. “Well, professor, I appreciate your time, but I must be on my way.”

 

“Oh, of-of course.” Moriarty stood and nervously ran his hands down his trouser legs again. “But, I have to say, Mister Holmes, it is a relief to know I’m not the only one.”

 

“Indeed,” Sherlock replied. He gave Moriarty’s outstretched hand a single, firm shake before turning and leaving the classroom. He slowly made his way down the stairs, through the Great Hall and further down to the morgue. His mind was racing, seeking to connect all the dots between his own time travel and the corresponding murders. Genetics, ley lines, velocity, solstices… God, people are so much simpler than the mysteries of the universe.

 

Laughter was spilling out of the women’s morgue and the sound pulled Sherlock from his thoughts. John was chatting happily with Miss Hooper, the covered corpse between them apparently forgotten. A vise clenched somewhere in the vicinity of Sherlock’s sternum. John had not laughed like that at Baker Street for quite some time.

 

“I told him I couldn’t ride to save myself, but he wouldn’t hear it,” John was saying. Miss Hooper laughed again and put a hand on the slab to steady herself. “Long story short, that’s how I broke all my right-hand fingers.”

 

“Good luck that you’re left-handed, then,” Sherlock interrupted. Even he could hear how sullen his voice sounded. John’s wide grin faded to an expression of concern mingled with his leftover mirth.

 

“Mister Holmes,” Miss Hooper greeted him, catching her breath from laughter. “Did you find the professor?”

 

“I did.”

 

“And?” John prompted. Sherlock took a deep breath and fiddled with the buttons on his jacket.

 

“He confirmed my theory,” he finally said pointedly. John swallowed and pursed his lips, obviously containing his reaction. “If you two are finished, John and I have tickets for La Boheme this afternoon.”

 

“Oh, of course, enjoy yourselves,” Miss Hooper said with a casually dismissive wave. “We’re all done here.”

 

“Good afternoon, Miss Hooper,” John said with a warm smile as he grabbed up his coat. Sherlock nodded his goodbye and they went out into the corridor.

 

“Have you really got tickets for La Boheme ?” John asked as they buttoned up and made their way out onto the street. 

 

“No, that’s just the lie I told Moriarty to get him comfortable. I didn’t want him to mention it to Miss Hooper and her unwittingly expose our ruse.”

 

“Oh,” John’s face fell. “Pity. I’d rather like to see that.”

 

“John, focus.”

 

“Sorry.” Clouds were forming overhead, so Sherlock hailed a cab. “You said Moriarty confirmed your theory.”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock said, climbing into the hansom. “He had a fall like mine and travelled back from the year two-thousand and fifteen.”

 

“Where was he when it happened?”

 

“Wales. Caernarfon Castle.”

 

“At a solstice or…”

 

“I assume so. He said June. That’s…”

 

“Summer equinox,” John supplied.

 

“I know,” Sherlock said defensively. John held up his hands as though to say mea culpa . “Moriarty has a theory that there is some genetic component at play. He thinks there is a particular common gene between people who can travel in time and those who can’t.”

 

“So…” John started slowly, “if he’s correct, does that mean I have this gene?” Sherlock looked at him with interest. “I could feel the buzzing under the tower. And again on that rooftop in Brixton.” Well. That was intriguing.

 

“I don’t know,” Sherlock answered. John smiled a little.

 

“That must have been difficult to say.” Sherlock sighed and rolled his eyes.

 

“John, please.” With difficulty, he managed to suppress his own grin at John’s teasing. “Did you hear the buzzing before you met me on the beach? I mean, before you came into my immediate vicinity.”

 

“No, only near you. And only on the solstice or the equinox, so there’s no way to tell.”

 

Sherlock hmm -ed as he thought. “Lestrade, the detective from my time, mentioned something called ley lines in his note. He said the cemetery ‘crossed one.’”

 

“What’s a ley line?”

 

“He didn’t say anything else about it, but it sounds as though there is a line ‒ obviously not visible or everyone would know about it ‒ and certain places along this line are prone to supernatural happenings. Like the cemetery. It would explain why I was able to directly communicate with Lestrade there and nowhere else.”

 

“So you think there’s a line through the Tower and the building on Gower Street.”

 

“He did say ‘lines’ ‒ plural.”

 

John heaved a large sigh and dropped his head against the back wall of the carriage with a thump . “It seems as though a lot of things have to line up just so for this to happen.”

 

He wasn’t wrong. The height of the fall, the particular location, the date, and possibly a specific genetic code. “I suppose that is why it doesn’t that often.” John gave a little hmm of affirmation. By the time the cab pulled up to 221 Baker Street, the gears in Sherlock’s mind were turning once again. If there was a genetic component, he would have to test John. They’d return to the house on Gower Street on the wrong day, and then to an unconfirmed location on the wrong day. And then, when the vernal equinox came around, Sherlock would insist John go up on the roof by himself and see if he could still hear the buzzing‒ 

 

But that was the day Sherlock was planning to go back. He even had a vague sort of plan now: return to the Tower on the day of the equinox and jump. Theoretically, if he headed into the water correctly, he could survive the impact even if he was wrong about time travelling. 

 

“What are you thinking of?” John asked as he dug his key out of his coat pocket.

 

“I was thinking of ways to test your genetic compatibility,” Sherlock replied. They stepped inside the foyer just as a light rain began to sprinkle.

 

“And now?” John led the way up the stairs to the landing of their flat.

 

“I’m thinking how it won’t really matter, because the third and final phase of the experiment will take place on the same day that I go back.” John stopped in his tracks and took a long breath through his nose. The expression he set on Sherlock was purposefully stoic. “Besides, what difference does it make if you can travel in time? There’s no guarantee that you would go forward to my time ‒ in fact, there’s no guarantee that I’ll go back to my time ‒ and even if there were a way to ensure it, you don’t want to go to the future anyway.”

 

“No,” came John’s soft reply. “No, I don’t.”

 

“Although, perhaps there is something to be said for the fact that all of the dead bodies have made their way back to their own time. They came back, like a boomerang, why wouldn’t I return to my‒”

 

“Do you want to go back?” John interrupted his rambling and Sherlock was relieved to see a genuine expression on his face. No longer was he attempting to hide his every thought ‒ John’s visage was gnarled with concern and confusion. Lestrade had asked the same thing in his note. Christ, Sherlock! Do you even want to come back?  

 

“I…” he took a shaky breath. “Well… yes, I have to ‒”

 

“Why?” The sudden intensity of John’s gaze sent a shiver down Sherlock’s spine. “What have you got in your own time that you’ve got to go back to?” Sherlock’s mouth fell open, but he only managed to make a strangled sort of sound. “If you do have something ‒ or some one , I dunno ‒ I’ll understand. Really, I will. But…” John cleared his throat and glanced down at the floor. “I wish you wouldn’t.”

 

What did he have in his own time? The Internet ‒ God, I miss the Internet. And my mobile. The Tube is nowhere near what it one day will be. Aeroplanes. Mycroft’s private jet always makes quick work of traveling for a case. And it is rather inconvenient that takeaway isn’t available yet.

 

But those were just… things, weren’t they? They were the only things in Sherlock’s life. Or, at least, they had been. He supposed Lestrade and, to a lesser extent, Mycroft were something to consider. And Mrs. Hudson. The thought of never seeing her again really did sting.

 

“Sherlock?”

 

John. John was standing in front of him, waiting for a reply. He was real and right here and Sherlock knew, looking at him, that he would give it all up to stop John looking so sad all the time.

 

“No,” Sherlock said at last, his voice little more than a whisper. “I don’t want to go back.”