The autumn winds blustering into Edinburgh were sharp and brutal, sending fallen leaves in gold and bronze and crimson skittering along the cobblestones of Old Town. The winding medieval streets and Reformation-era stone tenements gathered the growing shadows as the days began to shorten, the sunlight fading as the death of the year approached.
Sherlock thought he’d like Edinburgh if he had the time. Here was a city that wore its history inscripted on its very heart, beating with the blood spilt in times of violence amid the craggy rocks and bandaged with the glories of enlightenment. It was a city built for exploration, for fear and for pride, a city that felt somehow unearthly and out of time, and it called to something wild in Sherlock’s bones.
But Sherlock didn’t have the time. There was a serial killer on the loose in Edinburgh, and he was escalating. Five victims had been claimed in the last month, and two of those in just the last week. All were strangled to death and then left sprawled on a grave in one of the city’s many cemeteries and kirkyards: a macabre offering to the city’s dead.
It was a difficult case. There wasn’t very much information to be had. There were no fingerprints, no unidentified blood samples. The victims had all been females between the ages of eighteen and thirty, highly intoxicated at the time of their deaths, and reported missing by groups of friends who had lost track of them on pub crawls or nighttime haunting tours in and around Old Town.
Nobody had seen anything. Nobody had heard anything. Nobody remembered so much as an overenthusiastic advance by a drunk at a bar.
The only interesting thing about the entire case, other than the killer’s preferred dumping grounds for the bodies, were the fibers found under the first victim's fingernails and in the second and fifth victim’s hair: dyed blue and green wool. All exact matches to one another, all treated with distinctive dyes, worked into distinctive material.
The killer had been wearing a kilt. The same kilt, probably, for all five murders.
Sherlock grinned into the brilliant Scottish afternoon sun and turned up the collar on his coat. He had work to do.
This is pointless, Sherlock thought, surveying the crowded room from his seat at the bar. He had been moving from pub to pub for hours, hoping to see something that might give him a fresh lead, but it was utterly useless. There was no way to know whether the killer was on the hunt on any given night, and even if he were, Sherlock was essentially looking for a needle in a haystack: a faceless, nameless phantom, one kilt among dozens, one man among hundreds.
He’d probably have better luck just picking a cemetery and waiting for the killer to show up.
Sherlock tipped the last swallow of whisky into his mouth, set the glass back on the bar, and gave up for the night. It had been a long two days of fruitless investigation already and he was only wasting his time, running on fumes and getting nowhere.
He emerged from the pub to a cool evening made damp under the threat of rain. Sherlock pulled his coat tight around him and set off up the Royal Mile, planning to walk the length of it up and back before finding his way back to his hotel on Princes Street. He made his way away from the centre of nightlife in Old Town and its swarm of people, toward Edinburgh Castle rising, illuminated, above the city.
The crowd thinned and the streets darkened a little as Sherlock moved farther away from the pubs and parties. There were a few meandering couples and boisterous groups of uni students on their way back to their hotels and hostels, but the further he walked, the quieter everything became.
Then, perhaps only a hundred feet or so in front of him, a lone figure stepped out of an alley. Sherlock immediately went on high alert.
He was wearing a kilt.
Of course, a man walking about Edinburgh while wearing a dark-patterned kilt was not suspicious in and of itself. But a man walking about Edinburgh alone, in the night, so close to the hunting grounds of a serial killer, wearing the costume the killer preferred to hunt in--now that might be worth looking into. Sherlock stepped back into the shadows of the buildings and followed after him.
In the low light of the moon and streetlamps, Sherlock could only just make out the tartan pattern of the kilt: mostly green and blue, possibly some black, picked with yellow. Maybe a Johnstone? or a MacInnes? He also wore a cream aran jumper and cream hose. He’d forgone the traditional ghillie brogues for something a bit more casual.
Something a bit easier to run in.
He held a cane in his left hand, but it was clearly a fake injury. His limp was quite bad when he walked, but he moved with purpose and when he paused to read something on his mobile, he stood evenly on both feet, strong and sturdy. Perhaps that was how he lured his victims in. All he needed to do was to ask some drunk passerby for help getting home, and by the time they realised something was wrong, he already had the upper hand.
It was the perfect ruse.
Sherlock’s mind raced, gathering as many details about the suspect as he could as he followed--older than expected, leather sporran that spoke more of utility than decoration--while trying to remember the layout of the twisting passages around them, which alleys the suspect might escape down, where there were dark nooks and crannies the suspect might attempt to hide in if he caught wind of Sherlock behind him.
Then the suspect stepped into a pool of yellow light from a street-lamp and Sherlock’s breath stopped in his chest: a Watson tartan. Mostly green and blue.
He needed to get closer.
The tartan also had lines of red and yellow, neither of which had appeared among the fibers on the victims, but just because the colours weren’t left behind at the scene didn’t mean they weren’t there. At this point, all Sherlock needed was an excuse to stop and talk to him--to this Watson--to get a better look at him. Maybe he could pretend to be lost and ask for directions?
He opened his mouth to call out for him, preparing to sham at inebriation, but then Watson stopped, looked down at his mobile again, and turned quite suddenly into another alley.
Sherlock caught up and peered down it. The narrow wynd was drenched in darkness, lit only in bits and pieces from the moon and one flickering lamp a few dozen metres ahead, at what looked to be the head of a set of stairs that would lead from the Royal Mile down to the Cowgate. It should have been a dangerous route for a man with a cane, but Watson was already out of sight, probably abandoning his limp for a quicker gait as soon as he was off the main road. He would be halfway down the stairs already.
Sherlock tried to stay light on his feet as he followed, not wanting the click of his shoes on the pavement to give him away. Out of the winds, the alley was dank and musty and grim, as though the city held its breath in the tight spaces.
Then a body catapulted out of the darkness.
It happened so fast Sherlock didn’t even manage to raise his hands to fight back before Watson had him pressed flush against the wall, one strong hand driving his shoulder into the stone, the delicate scrape of a knife across Sherlock’s throat: the sgian dubh.
At the other end of the dagger, Watson stared at him, daring him, with a certain ferocity around his dark eyes. He looked tired, the way men look after a long convalescence, but he had a strong jaw and conviction set around his mouth. His hair, mostly a dark blond but run through with grey, would’ve been a strict military cut if it had not been two or three weeks overgrown. Not a fake limp, then: psychosomatic. Wounded in action.
“That’s a ceremonial blade,” Sherlock rasped, hoping to distract him before he could make any decisions about what to do next. “It won’t actually hurt me.”
Watson shifted his grip on the handle of the dagger, twisting it so instead of its edge lying across Sherlock’s throat, the point of it dug in just below Sherlock’s adams apple. He smiled, terrifying and cold. “Are you sure?”
The cadence of his voice hit Sherlock’s ear and the press of the blade only delayed the deduction by a second. “Oh, for god’s sake, you’re a Londoner,” Sherlock huffed, rolling his eyes, momentarily forgetting the knife at his neck. Not the killer. “In town for the weekend, I bet? Afghanistan or Iraq?”
Watson stared at him, thrown off his guard. The point of the blade pressed closer to Sherlock’s neck, reminding him of its presence.
“Afghanistan,” he said after a moment. “What the hell are you--”
“Stag do, is that it?” Sherlock interrupted daringly. If he hadn’t struck already, Sherlock had room to work, and if he had room to work, Sherlock could distract, and maybe get a hand between them to disarm him. “With kilts for a bit of good-natured fun. An old army mate must be getting married or you wouldn’t have made the trip, but you’re calling it an early night. You were invalided out, I’d guess, and none of them wanted to mention it, which is more awkward than if they did, but it was fairly recent so no one protested when you said you were done in. That limp is psychosomatic, though, I’m afraid. I’m sure your therapist would agree with me.”
The knife eased off a little bit. Watson’s eyes flickered over Sherlock, finally taking in who it was that he’d caught.
Sherlock swallowed in the extra space he’d earned and went on. “But you do have some Scottish heritage. That kilt’s not rented, after all, and you wear it comfortably enough. A close grandparent, most likely, this sgian dubh is older than the rest of your accessories, so probably it was passed down from an earlier generation, but they weren’t from Edinburgh itself because you were checking a map on your mobile. So, Mr Watson--” Sherlock’s eyes lit on Watson's kilt pin as the sgian dubh pulled even farther back, shaped into a rod of Asclepius-- “Medical man, aren’t you? Then yes, Dr Watson, yes. I’m sure.”
The sgian dubh dropped back away from Sherlock’s neck entirely. “Sure? Of what?”
Sherlock couldn’t quite control the corner of his mouth from quirking up. “Sure that that blade isn’t going to hurt me.”
There is a long pause as Dr Watson looked at him, evaluating, then he sheathed the sgian dubh back into his hose. “That was amazing.”
“Amazing?” Sherlock repeated, surprised. “You think so?”
“Of course it was, it was extraordinary.” Dr Watson smiled, and it made his tired face look boyish and open, and just a little rugged on the edges. His posture eased into something more comfortable; he clearly wasn’t worried about Sherlock as a threat any longer.
“That’s not what they normally say,” Sherlock said, grinning back cautiously. He did just have a knife to his throat, after all. “Did I get anything wrong, then?”
Dr Watson chuckled. “No, actually, got it in one. What do they normally say?”
“‘Why are you following me’ would’ve been the usual thing.”
And Dr Watson laughed, really laughed, low and full-bodied, and the adrenaline still singing through Sherlock’s veins tripped over itself and sent a spark down his spine. “What were you following me for, then?”
“I’m a detective,” Sherlock explained, straightening his lapels. “I’m investigating a serial killer. You were the only man I’ve seen tonight that fits the description, but he’s statistically likely to be an Edinburgher, so unfortunately, you are not him.”
“Ah. No, I’m not, I’m--sorry,” Dr Watson said, awkwardly, but still smiling. He stuck out his hand. “John Watson.”
Sherlock took it; it was warm and dry and small. “Sherlock Holmes.”
“Well, then,” Dr Watson said. “Why don’t you buy me a drink to make up for stalking me, and I’ll buy you a drink to make up for almost killing you, and then you can tell me about that serial killer?”
Sherlock hesitated, but only for a moment. John Watson might not be a murderer, but he was an ex-army doctor whose hands didn’t shake when he needed them to be steady and whose cane lay forgotten on the alley paverstones as he turned to head down the stairs, and that was interesting enough.
“A kilt? A kilt, really?”
“Shush, John, keep your voice down,” Sherlock chastised, but he was grinning, pleased at John’s reaction. They’d found a much quieter pub down a side-street off the Cowgate, with a collection of worn chairs and threadbare cushions and the tellies playing reruns of old footy matches on mute. Sherlock had been explaining the case over a few fingers of whisky. “The police haven’t released that detail yet. It’s the only identifying feature we’ve got, so we’re keeping it under wraps.”
John smoothed his own kilt along his thighs under the table. “So that was your plan? Just wander around looking for suspicious men in kilts? Sherlock, it’s Scotland. And it’s Old Town. Everyone’s wearing a kilt.”
“I know,” Sherlock sighed, nudging his glass around absently. “Short of just posting up on a grave and hoping a body lands on it, though, I’m at a dead end.”
John was shockingly easy to talk to. He listened with his eyes, furrowing his brow in question and lifting in understanding. He didn’t balk at any of Sherlock’s deductions about him, some of which Sherlock knew were impolite as soon as he’d said them--you’re unemployed but not looking for work, you hate your bedsit but won’t go to your brother (sister!) for help because you don’t approve of the drinking--and he didn’t seem at all put off by the discussion of violent crimes.
No, in fact, John seemed really very interested in Sherlock’s work. It made Sherlock want to puff his chest up like a proud bird. He struggled to tamp down the instinct.
“Got to wait for him to make a mistake,” John agreed, sipping at his whisky, and Sherlock fought to reign in his smile. Not only was John interested, he understood. “How long have you been working with the police?”
“About three days. It’s been slow going.”
“Wait--three days? But you’re a detective?”
Sherlock smirked. “Consulting detective. I’m not on the force. I run a private business in London and when the police are out of their depths, which is always, they consult me.”
“In London? Just in town for the weekend, then?” John teased. “Not the usual sort of holiday.”
“What’s the usual sort of holiday? A stag do that you leave early only to end up in some pub sharing drinks with a stranger you nearly offed?”
John laughed. His laugh was addicting; as soon as he started, Sherlock was already thinking about how to get him to do it again. “That’s fair,” John said. “‘Usual holidays,’ let’s see. Usually they’re things you do with . . . people you like. Friends, girlfriends, boyfriends.”
There was a pause as John looked at him questioningly. Sherlock stared back, unblinking, suddenly uncertain; he had the uncomfortable sensation that John was trying to mean something more than what he’d actually said.
“You don’t have a girlfriend, then?”
Sherlock cleared his throat. Girlfriends, boyfriends. Surely he'd understand . . . ? “Girlfriend, no. Not really my area.”
John leaned in ever-so-slightly. He probably didn’t even realise he was doing it. “D’you have a boyfriend, then? Which is fine, by the way.”
“I know it’s fine,” Sherlock said, trying not to sound defensive. John’s posture was open, unassuming. It really was fine. But it was also something else. The answer to this question clearly mattered to him, the way he was leaning toward Sherlock, looking him directly in the eye, pupils--oh!
“No,” Sherlock blurted. “Um. No, I haven’t. Got one.”
John bobbed his head a little as he smiled, not dropping his gaze. “Good. I mean. That’s fine. You’re an unattached Londoner in town for the weekend.” He licked his lips. “Like me.”
Goodness. It had been a long time since Sherlock had tried to navigate a conversation like this one; it had been a long time since anyone had merited that kind of interest. But John, well. John wasn’t a genius, no, but he wasn’t a complete idiot either. And he was fascinating, a walking contradiction, a Londoner dressed in an aran jumper and a family tartan kilt, a doctor and a soldier, obviously depressed since he was invalided, yet bright and comfortable across the table.
John also had well-formed calves in cream hose and a bit of a wry smile and hips that looked sturdy and compact under the waist of his kilt, like Sherlock’s hands could fit around them to hang on and goodness, it had definitely been a long time.
“Yes. Like you,” Sherlock said when he found his voice, and John's answering smile made Sherlock’s belly tighten with the old, now-unfamiliar sensation of potential and anticipation.
Then John asked about the kinds of cases he worked in London, and Sherlock launched into an explanation of how tobacco ash solved a gruesome triple murder made to look like a double-murder-suicide. John listened intently and asked the all right questions, and told him stories about his army mates, and laughed some more. Sherlock laughed with him, unable to remember the last time he’d talked to someone that made him feel so relaxed, and for a few moments, there in some dusty, run-down pub on a side-street in Edinburgh, he forgot all about the dead-end case of the kilted kirkyard killer.
At closing time, the barkeep gruffly shooed John and Sherlock out of the pub while they giggled into their coat collars at John’s whispered impression of his thick Scottish brogue, both of them pleasantly not quite tipsy, but close. “Where are you staying?” Sherlock asked, trying to sort out the map in his mind for the walk home. Then he realised the potential implication of the question and, thanks to the alcohol, blushed.
But John grinned up at him, eyes lingering on the flush in Sherlock’s cheekbones. “Apex International. It’s not far, just up Grassmarket.”
He did not ask Sherlock where he was staying.
They set off together, occasionally brushing shoulders as they headed west toward Grassmarket. The night was chilly and damp; the clouds overhead had thickened and a fog was setting in around the tops of the buildings. It had rained, briefly, while they were in the pub, and the pavement glittered wetly in the faint moonlight, and with the heat of John by his side, the walk felt dreamlike, otherworldly.
Sherlock narrated the history of the buildings and street corners they passed as they walked, punctuating the lesson with snorts of laughter as John told off-colour jokes about Scots under his breath so only Sherlock could hear them. The streets became busy again as the pubs and late night restaurants closed, pushing them closer together, and for a while they just walked with the flow.
He had no idea what was going to happen when they got to John’s hotel. It was sort of thrilling.
At the very least, Sherlock thought they’d exchange numbers. Maybe Sherlock would call it; maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe John would call him, or maybe not; maybe it was all just a drink under strange circumstances in a strange city with a strange man.
Maybe John would invite him up.
Maybe they would have a cup of coffee, or maybe John would show Sherlock how to undo the complicated clasps and ties of the kilt. Maybe John would answer the question that had been burning at the back of Sherlock’s mind for at least an hour: what did a Londoner in town for a stag do wear underneath?
“There,” John said, suddenly, as they paused, pressed against a building to let a group of ridiculously drunk uni students pass by. “Look. That bloke across the street.”
Sherlock followed his gaze. There was indeed a man, with his hand wrapped tightly around a young woman’s wrist, leading her in the opposite direction that John and Sherlock had been headed. The woman looked frightened and confused, stumbling a little as the man pulled ahead, but she didn’t cry out.
The man was wearing a dark-coloured kilt. Blue and green, perhaps a little black, with thin cross-lines of yellow.
“You were a soldier,” Sherlock said to John, conversationally, tracking the man and woman with his eyes.
“Yeah,” John responded, and he didn’t look away from the couple as they moved down the pavement either.
“Saw a bit of trouble, then?”
“Enough for a lifetime.”
Sherlock turned and looked at him--was that hesitance? John was still staring intently at the couple as they moved farther away, his hands at his sides were perfectly steady, and underneath the line of his kilt, his (perfect, golden-hair-dusted) knees were slightly bent as though he meant to take off running at any second.
“Want to see some more?” Sherlock asked.
“Oh, god, yes,” John answered, and together they launched themselves down the pavement, back the way they’d come, running after the pair. Sherlock’s long legs took him out front, but John was close behind him, his gait even and steady, the steady thud of his leather sporran against his thighs a reassuring beat as they ran.
Sherlock wondered what it was like to run in a kilt. It probably depended on what was underneath.
Do not think about that right now!
The man dragged the woman along through the dissipating crowds, cutting a hard path through the late-night stragglers. The woman still did not cry out, although it did look like she was beginning to struggle against him. Still, the man in the blue and green kilt marched on, taking a turn onto Candlemaker Row.
“Come on, John!” Sherlock shouted, and he darted between a few cabs to cross the road. Behind him, John swore, but followed.
Candlemaker Row was darker than the Cowgate, with fewer people, and the man and woman were easy to spot as they moved along. John and Sherlock had almost caught up to them when Sherlock noticed the tall stone wall looming ahead of them, and he stopped in his tracks. John sidled up beside him, breathing heavy. “What, what is it?”
“Greyfriars Kirk, that’s this wall,” Sherlock said, pointing. “It should be locked this time of night. John, it’s him, it’s really him. Come on, we can’t afford for him to get away.”
They crossed over again to the other side of the street and walked at a fast pace, trying not to draw the murderer’s attention to themselves as they tried to catch back up to him and his chosen victim. “You mean like Greyfriars Bobby? The haunted graveyard?”
“Daring, isn’t it?” Sherlock answered, unable to keep some of the admiration out of his voice. “The most famous churchyard in Edinburgh. Said to be haunted by a good couple of malicious spirits. Earlier on in the night there would’ve been haunting tours, all tourist nonsense for a cheap scare, but by now it should all be locked up. How is he going to get in? Does he have a key to all these cemeteries? That would be quite a turn-up.”
“Christ, Sherlock, we should call the police. This is dangerous.”
“He’s got his victim right now, John. Besides, you nearly killed me earlier with nothing but a ceremonial knife. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
John said something underneath his breath that sounded an awful lot like he was wishing for a firearm. The thought of John in his soft cream jumper, knees visible under his kilt, calves tense in their cream hose, and feet spread hip-width apart for balance as he aimed a Browning L9A1 at a serial killer, was far, far too much to focus on just at the moment.
Sherlock put it in a very nice velvet box in his mind palace and vowed to examine it later, in great detail, for a very long time.
The murderer dragged his victim along the stone wall of the kirkyard to the gate, but she still didn’t scream. There was some fumbling with the padlock, but eventually the gate opened and the two slipped inside.
Why didn’t she scream? Why didn’t she yell for help? What did he say to them, do to them, to prevent them from crying out?
Sherlock dashed off across the street as soon as they were out of sight, John hot on his heels. The padlock had been jimmied into place so that it looked like it were still locked, but it actually wasn’t. It would be hard to unlock the gate from the inside, of course, key or no key.
Beyond the gate, the kirkyard was near-black in the dark and the fog that had previously been hovering around the tops of the buildings had begun settling in closer to the cold ground. The killer and his soon-to-be-victim weren’t visible; they probably were already moving through the kirkyard, behind the church, toward the monuments lining the walls.
“Come on, John,” Sherlock whispered, deftly removing the padlock and chain with as little noise as possible and sneaking in through the gate. John made a noise like he thought it was an extremely bad idea, but he followed.
There was no way of knowing for sure where the killer had taken his victim, but the previous five victims had all been found laid out on slab graves. Sherlock slipped off toward the north side of the church, where he would be able to see the majority of the kirkyard, including the west yard, where most of the slab graves were situated. It was quiet and eerie, the blackened monuments rising from the earth and out of the walls like the outstretched hands of the dead themselves.
“Bit spooky,” John muttered.
“Shhh,” Sherlock hissed, but he was grateful for the reminder that he wasn’t doing this alone.
They made their way around the church, both of them walking more in the grass than on the pavement so as to muffle the sound of their shoes. There was still no sign on the murderer, no sounds, no indications of where they might’ve gone, and Sherlock’s heart began to pound in his chest. The murderer was a strangler; if he took the girl by surprise, they might not hear much of a struggle. They needed to find them two minutes ago.
Then there was the sound of a cracking stone, like a piece of a monument breaking off, and Sherlock took off toward it like a shot.
The figure of the kilted killer rose out of the fog long before Sherlock spotted the victim, who was cowering at the base of a sculpted column of a huge Italianate tomb, trying to fight off the killer with her hands but shockingly, still not screaming out for help.
“Stop right there!” Sherlock shouted, running toward them. The killer twisted around to look, a vicious sneer on his lip; he was a bland-looking man, pale hair, pale skin, small features, somewhat weedy physique, but the scowl marring his features made him look like Mackenzie’s poltergeist himself.
John was right in stride beside him. “Sherlock, watch out, there’s something in his hand--”
They were nearly to the pair. John bent his legs, obviously intending to duck past the killer and get to the victim. Sherlock instead drew his fist back, preparing to strike, finding his centre and--
There was a great whack, and Sherlock’s vision flashed black, then white, and then black again, then he found himself on the ground, watching the killer as he sprinted away. John, though, wonderful, competent, army-trained John, had already changed course, and it was only a matter of seconds before he caught up to the killer.
John took two great steps, planted his foot, and then sprung, taking the killer down with an incredible flying tackle in a flurry of tartan and limbs.
Sherlock had focused his vision just in time to see it and he knew, now, the answer to the question that had been burning at his mind not fifteen minutes ago: John Watson did not wear anything under his kilt.
The police arrived mere moments later--Sherlock had, of course, texted the detective inspector from his pocket as soon as John had spotted the murderer, but John hadn’t needed to know that. The near-victim, a twenty-year-old American called Megan, finally found her voice once John had the murderer on the ground and used it to scream longer than was really warranted, even after the police got there. When she was done screaming, she cried, and she was still crying when they loaded her into an ambulance and took her away.
The killer had apparently had the much the same idea John had had and threatened to carve out Megan’s voice box with his sgian dubh if she made so much as a peep. Unlike Sherlock, Megan did not know the sgian dubh was a ceremonial accessory and probably not sharp enough to cut a brie. Unlike John, Robert Campbell (of Louden, if Sherlock was right about the tartan pattern, and he was) did not know how to use a ceremonial blade as a dangerous weapon anyway.
Not that that would have stopped Megan from becoming victim number six--Campbell had already proved he was plenty capable with his hands.
Sherlock, for his part, had been hit in the face with a piece of stone Campbell had managed to break off of a precarious looking monument on the eastern wall and had, embarrassingly, been no help at all in the apprehension of the murderer. He was still on the ground, reeling from the sudden pain in his head and bleeding profusely, when police and paramedics arrived.
“Budge up, let me see,” John said, finally finding his way back to Sherlock after seeing Megan off with the paramedics.
Sherlock frowned. “It’s fine,” he insisted, but at John’s stern look he gingerly removed the bandage had pressed to the cut on his temple, which he had wrangled away from the paramedics before stalking off to sit on a bench, away from where anyone could make a fuss over him. He detested unnecessary medical attention and he’d only allowed them to clean up the blood and check him for a concussion before shaking them off.
John, though. He wouldn’t mind John having a look at it. He tipped his chin up.
John took his face his both of his hands, tilting his head to get a better look at the wound, which was probably not standard medical procedure. Sherlock found he didn’t really mind.
“They’ve told me no concussion,” John said, distracted in his inspection of the wound. “You need to have that cut looked at, though. Cleaned properly, at least.”
Sherlock opened his mouth to protest again, but then thought better of it. John wanted him to have that cut looked at, and the paramedics had just left.
Oh, oh, oh.
No, Sherlock didn’t mind that either.
“You’re right,” he agreed. “Let’s go.”
He stood, and John helped him find the best angle at which to hold the bandage to his head. Most of the bleeding had stopped, but head wounds were particularly bloody affairs and there was no need for anyone to see a dark figure with a pale face dripping with blood coming out of Greyfriars Kirk at this late hour.
“Shouldn’t we give statements?” John asked as they slipped by the police cars and out of the gate.
“I hate giving statements. Do you want to give a statement?”
“Good, we agree.”
The night in Edinburgh was as quiet as it ever gets as they left behind the circus of police lights. The fog had deepened, lying thick and heavy over the city, and the street lamps struggled to pierce the murky veil.
John walked along quietly by Sherlock’s side, occasionally nudging their shoulders together, occasionally looking over at the place where Sherlock held the bandage to his face. His cream jumper was a ruin of dirt and leaves and grass clippings and there was a harsh red scrape across his left knee.
Still, he didn’t limp.
The silence between them was tense, but not in a bad way. It was tense in a way that coiled low in Sherlock’s belly, and made his cheeks flush, and made his palms a little sweaty even though the night was cold. John looked over at him, smiling in a way Sherlock didn’t quite recognize. He thought it might have been the sort of look a person had when they were fond. It made his chest feel like his organs were too big for his ribcage.
Then their hands brushed together, and that little touch sent shivers across Sherlock’s nerve endings. Before he could really think it through, he turned his hand and circled John’s wrist with his fingers. Beneath his touch, John’s pulse beat strong and steady, maybe a little fast, but gorgeously alive.
John shook his wrist free of Sherlock’s grip and then immediately took his hand again, lacing their fingers together. He squeezed. Sherlock squeezed back.
“Okay,” John said, as if he had just made a decision, and then he strode ahead, tugging Sherlock behind him. About ten feet ahead there was an alley, and John pulled him into it, pulled him another four or five feet into the shadows, and pushed him back into the stonework.
“Second time tonight you’ve put me up against a wall,” Sherlock observed, the corners of his mouth drawing up in a sly smile.
John stepped forward into Sherlock’s personal space, his expression serious. He reached up, brushing his fingertips over Sherlock’s jaw above the rise of his scarf. His voice was soft, different than it had been all evening. “This time’s better, though. This time I’m going to kiss you.”
And he did.
John’s lips were chapped and dry and warm and perfect and it had been a long time since Sherlock had been kissed. John did it gently, without shying away from the gravity of it, without denying that it felt important, somehow, like a long-awaited alignment.
“I would have killed him,” John said when he pulled back, his voice weighted with awe. “I’ve just met you and I think I would’ve killed him to protect you.”
Sherlock’s bones and blood crackled with electricity. His whole body burned to be closer to John’s. “I don’t need protecting,” he murmured, “but I think I’d let you.”
“Of course you will, you’re bloody ridiculous,” John shot back, and then he pulled their lips back together and this time their mouths parted against each other’s, and the kiss was harder than the last, rough and deep, wet tongue and nibbling teeth. John kissed him like he had to, like he needed to, like he was running out of time, and it was all Sherlock could do to reach for him and pull him closer with his hands on his hips--sturdy and compact and good for hanging on--and to give him all that urgency back, yes, I feel it too.
They pressed together, shrouded in the fog and the dark, breathing into one another, tasting each other, hands on hips and shoulders and stealing under Sherlock’s scarf to feel the skin of his neck. The wool of the kilt burned at Sherlock’s fingers where he scrabbled to pull John closer.
Not close enough. There were too many layers between them, jumper and kilt and coat and suit. The clasp on John’s leather sporran was digging into Sherlock’s thigh and he didn’t even care. He was aching, his cock hard and trapped inside his trousers, and John was nipping at the corner of his jaw, and they’d only just met but it still felt good and right and lovely when John rolled his hips against him.
“Jesus,” John finally said, pulling back and pressing his forehead into Sherlock’s shoulder, clearly trying to regain some control over himself. “God. Sherlock.”
Sherlock cleared his throat, trying to find his voice. “John.”
He didn’t raise his head, speaking into the folds of Sherlock’s coat. “Just so we’re clear about where this is going--my hotel room is just around the corner.”
“And does your hotel room have a bed?” Sherlock dared to ask.
“Mm. It does. A pretty big bed, actually.”
“Big enough for two?”
“D’you know what, it is.”
John kissed him again, reaching up with both hands to cup Sherlock’s jaw with one and curl around the base of his skull with the other. Even though the kiss itself was intense and fervent, John’s hands on him made it almost unbearably tender.
When they broke apart again, the solemnity of John’s eyes prickled up the back of Sherlock’s neck. It had been such, such a long time since he was on the same page with someone like this, since he had wanted someone like this, since someone had wanted him like this.
“Come on,” John said as he stepped back and pulled Sherlock toward the mouth of the alley. “I want to do this properly.”
Sherlock followed, his fingers caught between John’s, steadfast and warm.
They stumbled into John’s hotel room, immediately reaching for one another as soon as the door closed behind them. Sherlock fumbled with his scarf, trying to undo it at the same time he attempted to devour John’s mouth.
“Mmf. Okay, okay, Sherlock, hold--we need to clean you up.”
“It’s not bleeding, it can wait,” Sherlock mumbled, nosing around John’s ear, but John dodged him easily and went into the bathroom.
“Come on, you. I’m not getting blood on my sheets.”
Sherlock went, a little petulantly, and allowed John to bully him down to sit on toilet seat. John very carefully cleaned the wound, using a tiny travel kit he’d brought with him, ever the medic, and affixed a bandage. It crinkled when Sherlock smiled, or when he wrinkled his nose, or when he raised a brow questioningly, and John chuckled and scolded at him to stop messing with it as he double-checked Sherlock’s pupil responses for signs of a concussion.
Finally John stripped off his latex gloves and washed his hands. “All right, you’re clear,” he said.
Sherlock stood and leaned over John’s shoulder to kiss his cheek. “Thank you.”
John turned and kissed his cheek as well, then his mouth, lingering and slow. “Let’s go see about this bed.”
The room was dark, lit only by the strain of streetlamps outside and the light from the bathroom. John was a shadow himself, made a ghost by his cream jumper and hose even though they were both covered in dirt from the kirkyard. The earlier passion had been soothed by the care John had taken with Sherlock’s wound, slipping down into intimacy and warmth instead of fire.
John took both of his hands in his and kissed him again, standing at the foot of the hotel bed. John kissed him until some of the nervousness had dissipated out of the line of Sherlock’s shoulders, until some of the tension in his stomach had melted into a different sort entirely. “All right?”
“Yeah,” Sherlock said, “Help me get this coat off.”
Together they managed, between kisses, to get Sherlock’s Belstaff off, and the suit jacket and John’s sporran, and then both of their shoes, although it was probably much slower-going than it would’ve been had they just separated and done it themselves. By the time John was grabbing at the hem of his jumper to pull it off, the kisses had become longer, deeper, and the pauses between them narrowed and lessened as much as possible.
John’s hose and jumper went, a mess of dirt and leaves and wool on the floor--“You owe me a new one--” “--Absolutely not, it was not my decision to tackle a murderer in a graveyard--” “--Ah, but it was your fault I was even there at all--” --and then John’s hands went to work, rucking up Sherlock’s button-up, smoothing callused palms and rough fingers over the delicate skin of his sides, up over his ribs. Sherlock fussed with the buttons until finally the last one gave, and the pale blue silk blend joined the creamy wool on the floor.
Under John’s jumper, he wore a plain white vest, and Sherlock delved his fingers up under that as well, licking a path down John’s neck. John groaned, but when Sherlock made to pull it up and over his head, John put his hands to Sherlock’s and stopped him.
“Just--just so you’re not surprised, um. There’s a scar.” He was looking somewhere over Sherlock’s shoulder, his face suddenly blank, like he were preparing himself for Sherlock to step away.
“The leg was psychosomatic,” Sherlock breathed, realising, “but you were actually wounded.”
John nodded, still not looking at him. “Shoulder.”
Sherlock studied his face for a moment, the new stiffness in his jaw and in his cheekbones and across his brow. Shoulder. There was an intermittent tremor in his left hand that disappeared with a surge of adrenaline. The leg was psychosomatic, making the circumstances of John’s own injury far more traumatic than an army doctor would usually be exposed to. Only field medics were typically exposed to that kind of firefight.
“Let me,” Sherlock said, and after a moment John’s hands loosened and dropped away, and Sherlock pulled the shirt up and over.
John’s scar was a sprawling mess on his left shoulder, still recent enough to be angrily red and raised. It was an exit wound--there was probably a much neater entrance wound on the opposite side. The thick scar tissue made it clear that he’d had a life-threatening infection afterward. It was probably the infection, more than the wound itself, that had earned John his discharge papers.
Sherlock didn’t study it, sparing the scar only the most cursory of glances before finding John’s mouth with his again and kissing him, spreading his hands over John’s chest and stomach and ribs. He wanted to say, thank you for living, thank you for coming back, thank you for finding me, but those were not the sorts of things one says to a person they met only a few hours before, so he didn’t. Instead he tried to pour it into the kiss, licking into John’s mouth until they were both moaning.
“That wool must be awfully uncomfortable,” Sherlock murmured, smirking, and the faint grimace on John’s face confirmed it. “Sit.”
John did as he was told, going so far as to lean back onto his elbows. He was a beautiful man, with a smattering of gold hair on his chest and belly, disappearing down into the blue and green tartan, his erection pulling at the fabric and disrupting the pattern. He had the sort of frame that looked as though he were still in the process of regaining the muscle mass he would’ve had before he was shot, but even so, he had plenty of raw strength. Stunning. Amazing. John.
“You like the kilt, don’t you?” John asked, his earlier smile returning.
Sherlock didn’t bother hiding it from his face as he kneeled, nudging his torso between John’s knees. “It makes your hips look incredible,” he said, because it was true, “and the colouring suits you. And I can do this.” And he dipped his head under the apron, licking John’s bare thighs.
John laughed, thighs twitching, and fumbled with the corner of the apron to release the elaborate kilt pin. Sherlock nibbled up his thighs a bit, almost to his groin but not quite, that sensitive place only a suggestion under the kilt and in the dark of the room. John smelled musky and earthy, like sweat and fresh air, and Sherlock rubbed his nose along at his skin, trying to breathe it all in.
“Sherlock,” John ground out, calling him back up. He emerged, somewhat reluctantly, and reached for the clasps and belt that secured the kilt around John’s hips. The system was much more complicated than it looked, and eventually John reached down and helped him.
Then, slowly, with a sly grin, Sherlock spread the sides of the kilt around John’s body and uncovered the last secret bit of him.
John’s cock was a wondrous thing: red-flushed and rock-hard, the head already peeking out of his foreskin. Sherlock bent his head, nosing along John’s inner thighs to his groin and breathing the smell of him in. Next to his cheek John’s cock twitched. “
May I?” Sherlock asked, hovering his mouth directly over the head, glancing up to John’s face, where he was biting his lower lip and watching with fire in his eyes. He nodded.
Sherlock kissed his cock, briefly, as a sort of hello, and then closed his mouth around the head. John groaned, his abdomen flexing and his hips shifting. Sherlock suckled the head a little, then slid his lips further down the shaft, undulating his tongue, and John made the most glorious noise Sherlock had ever heard. He licked, and sucked, and lapped, exploring all the different places and folds and textures, drawing out every sound John could make.
It wasn’t long before John was scrambling to sit up and pull Sherlock to his feet, attacking his trousers. “You’re brilliant,” he said, attaching his mouth to one of Sherlock’s hipbones as he worked his trousers down his legs, “you’re fantastic. Come here.”
Sherlock kicked off his trousers and shoved down his pants, freeing his own aching cock, and then crawled onto the bed, one knee between John’s and the other to the side. John laid back again, pulling Sherlock with him, kissing him hard, near bruising, clacking teeth inelegantly. Their bodies rubbed together, chest to chest, cock to hip and to thigh, and Sherlock couldn’t help the roll of his hips or the curve of his spine or the shift of his abdomen, trying to get closer.
“Roll,” John said, pushing on Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock did, turning onto his back and sliding under John’s body as they switched positions, and then John slipped off the bed for a moment to stand between Sherlock’s legs, looking down at him. Sherlock’s knees hit the end of the bed, calves and feet bent down over the edge, and he’d situated himself with the spread of the kilt beneath him. The wool scratched at his sensitive skin, a little more harsh to him than it would’ve been to John, but the feeling of it under his buttocks and thighs was oddly satisfying.
“You look good in my colours,” John said, panting, chest heaving, and then he was on Sherlock again, straddling his hips, finding his mouth, kissing him with the hint of desperation they both felt. Their cocks rubbed together, inexpertly pushed together by bucking, uncontrolled hips. John licked his palm and reached between them and took them both in his one hand.
The feeling of John against him, hot and damp from Sherlock’s mouth, the ridges, the veins, the slickness of pre-come and John’s saliva: it was fantastic, unbelievable, spectacular. Sherlock thrust up against him, groaning; John thrust back, establishing a rhythm, staring down at Sherlock beneath him, lips parted, eyes blazing with an intense, unplaceable expression.
“John,” Sherlock gasped as the coil of heat in his belly tightened, “John.”
John understood, and immediately quickened his pace, releasing his own cock to focus his palm around the head of Sherlock’s, twisting and pulling. The heat rose up in Sherlock like a wave, robbing of him of his breath and sparking down his spine, and he came, trembling tummy and twisting hips, into John’s hand.
“Good,” John encouraged, leaning in to press kisses to Sherlock’s neck and chest and chin as he worked Sherlock through his orgasm. “That’s so good, yes, god.”
He kept stroking Sherlock, gentling his touch, until Sherlock began gasping again with oversensitivity. Then John sat back and took hold of his own cock, hand flying, tipping back his head and exposing the line of his neck as he chased his own release, and before Sherlock could extend a shaky hand to help him he came too, onto Sherlock’s stomach, several hot bursts of fluid that set Sherlock to shaking again, and John collapsed down onto him.
They lay together in a heap, catching their breaths and getting sticky. “Not bad for a post-stag do shag, then?” Sherlock grinned.
John snickered with amusement. “I’m supposed to pull at the stag do, not after I’ve left it.”
“You hated it, there was no chance of it in some pub. Dangerous alleyways are much more your style.”
John kissed his nose. “I’m glad you were in my alleyway, then,” he said, only partially joking. Then he toppled over off Sherlock and shimmied off the bed, disappearing into the bathroom. He came back with a flannel and tidied them both up. “Can I take that kilt now?”
Sherlock wriggled his bum against the wool. His arse and thighs were bound to be pink where the wool had rubbed against him. “Yes, but keep it handy,” he instructed, unable to keep the smile out of his voice as he scooted further up the mattress toward the pillows. “I might want to suck you off in it later.”
John giggled again, picking up the kilt and folding it over the back of a chair. “You’re something else, aren’t you?” he teased. “Mad as a hatter.”
“You like it,” Sherlock volleyed back, and John’s giggle turned into a full-bellied laugh.
“God help me, I do,” he said, disappearing back into the bathroom for a moment. Sherlock flopped over, burying his face into the pillows, and closed his eyes.
He had almost drifted off when the bed beside him dipped and John’s hands smoothed up his bare back, notably avoiding his exposed bum. Soothing, not suggestive. He peppered Sherlock’s shoulders with kisses, soft and gentle. “Tell me when I’ll get to see you again. In London.”
“Mmm. Well, that depends. How do you feel about the violin?”
There was a pause. “The violin?”
“Yes. I play the violin when I’m thinking. Sometimes I don’t talk for days on end. Would that bother you? Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other.”
Behind him, John froze, but he didn’t remove his hands. “Who said anything about flatmates?”
“I did,” Sherlock answered, rolling onto his back so he could look up at John’s face where he was bent over him. “You’re recently invalided, unemployed, and an army pension doesn’t go far in London. No doubt this trip will have drained whatever savings you had, and you’ll have to come back for the wedding in a few weeks on top of it. I’ve got my eye on a nice little place in central London and I could use a flatmate with the skills of an army doctor. Together we ought to be able to afford it.” John’s eyes widened, and he didn’t say anything, so Sherlock added, “There’s um. There’s a second bedroom upstairs, as well.”
There was another pause, and then John seemed to blink himself back into the moment. “All right,” he said, settling down onto the pillows next to Sherlock. “But in that case, I sincerely doubt the violin is the worst of you. I did just tackle a murdering Scotsman under the nose of Greyfriars Bobby.”
They both chuckled and Sherlock didn’t bother trying to deny it. John tossed an arm over Sherlock’s stomach and pulled him close; Sherlock went, rolling into him, tucking his head under John’s chin.
“Problem?” he asked quietly, speaking into John’s breastbone. He nuzzled at the skin there, relishing the feeling of John’s chest hair against his nose.
“Nope. Not at all.”
“Good,” Sherlock said, planting a kiss to his sternum and then one on either side. “I do have one requirement though.”
John kissed his head through his hair. “Oh, do you? And what’s that? I have to do all the shop? Practicality doesn't really seem like your area.”
Sherlock snorted. “All right, two requirements. You do the shop, and . . .” he raised his head to catch John’s eyes, glittering in the dark with something like joy. “You have to wear the kilt at least once a week.”
And John laughed.