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Indented version Penumbra - Sequestration for text


Title: Penumbra (Chapter Two: Sequestration)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] saki101
Characters/Pairings: John Watson/Sherlock Holmes, Mrs Hudson, Mike Stamford, Bill Wiggins
Rating: NC-17 (for series)
Genre: slash
Word Count: ~7.3K (Chapter Two)
Disclaimer: Neither Sherlock nor Dark Shadows is mine and no money is being made.
Preview: John learns that one of the terms of employment is that he must remain at the Manor, unless accompanying Sherlock elsewhere, for the entire month of his probation.
A/N: A gothic AU of the Sherlock universe inspired by the universe of Dark Shadows (the television series), presented in four episodes, and written for the Miniseries March Challenge at Fall TV Season Sherlock.

Also posted on AO3.
Chapter One: Meet Me at Moonrise may be read on LJ here.

Excerpt: “I can come back in the morning,” I called.

“No!” He shouted, striding back through the door. He took a deep breath when he stood before me again and regarded me from beneath lowered brows. “We have begun,” he said quietly.




Penumbra


Chapter Two: Sequestration




Peering into the dark, I saw no movement, heard no footfall. The air was cooler though and there was a whiff of damp.

I rested my left hand on the exposed side of the book shelves and slid it along the wood, over a strip of moulding past which the ambient light of the library did not follow. I could feel more wood, more panelling if the regular indentations were anything to go by, but not see the hand with which I explored. I glanced over my shoulder. Bands of moonlight frosted the library’s carpets and furniture, the hearth glowed ruddily in the distance. I turned back to the doorway. If I did not have tactile evidence to the contrary, I would assert that a curtain hung over the opening. I took a step forward and then another, testing the floor with the toe of my shoe before I put my weight down. Nothing brushed against my face neither did the floor give way. I kept my fingertips gliding along the left wall. To my right, there was a draught. I leaned closer to the left.

There was a click, the slightest creak of a hinge, and faint light filled a doorway ahead of me. The gloom about me lessened. My eyes darted in all directions, hungry for the information they had been denied.

The passage between the two rooms was longer than I would have expected. The streetward side was panelled in wood that matched the library shelves and the wall opposite held a narrow door which was ajar. Through it, I glimpsed a corridor running perpendicular to the passage, between the library and the next room. What I could see of its wall was timber and brickwork, the former forked and blackened, the latter thin and yellow.

“The house has evolved over the centuries,” Mr Holmes said.

I turned my gaze in the direction of his voice, not even attempting to disguise my curiosity.

Mr Holmes leaned against the side of the doorway, the lighted corner of his mouth twitching upwards. “In turbulent times, secret rooms and passageways have their uses,” he said, “although some were simply for the servants.” He shrugged and slipped from view.

I did not dawdle. The notion of getting lost was appearing less than fanciful.

The room I entered was smaller than the library and illuminated by the lights that shone through four tall stained glass windows. I felt sure there must be brighter lighting available in the room and that these had been lit first to enhance their effect. I stood and admired them unabashedly. If Mr Holmes was showing off his house to me, I was not going to hide my appreciation.

You probably couldn’t anyway.

Probably not.

The colours in the window before me were mostly shades of blue and violet and grey. Beneath a stormy sky, a naked youth sat on a rocky outcropping overlooking a lake. He cradled a lute in his lap. The glass of his skin was opalescent, that of his wind-tossed curls a nearly-opaque black. Ravens’ wings sprouted from his sandals, a winged cap rested near to hand. He was half turned away as though searching the water behind him for something or perhaps waiting for an answering song.

I felt a blush creeping over me. Mr Holmes could have been the model for the figure in the window, although the style suggested its creation dated from a century or more before his birth. Examining it made me feel a voyeur; it was an exceptional piece of art, but I knew my interest was held by the strength of the resemblance.

Wish the lute wasn’t there?

Behave.

I turned aside for modesty’s sake and found the next window nearly as unsettling. Its nude played pipes in a glade, his furry legs and hooves tucked against the fallen tree trunk upon which he sat. Above and behind him brilliant flowers and fruit teemed amidst shadowy foliage, while the piper was awash in sunshine, his tawny hair and fur glittering with streaks of golden and silvery glass. The set of his shoulders, the tilt of his head were images I have often seen in my mirror.

Hesitantly, I glanced at the other two windows. In each, a woman danced among meadow flowers, purple mountains in the background, a chord of fiery sun between their slopes staining the blue sky above with bands of orange and lavender. One held a beribboned tambourine aloft, her light brown hair falling in waves past her waist. The other held castanets in her open fingers, her long, dark hair swirling out about her, a scarlet cloak by her feet. I was relieved to see that neither resembled anyone I knew.

Yet.

Quiet.

My guess was that I was in a music room.

A floor lamp like a harvest moon lit up and the function of the room was confirmed. Sherlock was turned away from me searching in one of the many glass-fronted cupboards that stood between the windows. On their shelves, more instruments sat, their metal and wood gleaming.

I took a few steps further into the room. I could almost hear the music waiting to be played. I pivoted slowly, cataloguing details. I was not assessing or doing anything practical like seeing if I could identify the panel through which we had gained access to the room. It had closed without my noticing it, as camouflaged now as it had been in the library, as if leaving was not an option.

There it is.

I paused in my turning, thought I saw the place, but not what one must touch to open it, some shadow no doubt obscuring it. There were wooden columns carved into the semblance of various young trees framing each panel of the wall. Some braced cushioned benches between them. Perhaps the door’s lever was hidden beneath a cushion or in the grain of a tree trunk.

Or higher where the branches begin?

I followed their grain upwards to where branches spread out onto the ceiling. I guessed that the green and gilt leaves that sprouted from the wooden arches were painted plasterwork. Between them, the ceiling was a patchwork of blue glass lit from above.

My eye roved as I continued to turn, lowering my gaze slightly when my neck complained of the angle. There was a minstrels’ gallery along the wall facing the dancers’ windows. The columns supporting it were mature trees, whose girth I could not have encompassed in my outstretched arms. The gallery’s railing was carved with leaves and flowers, something at their centres catching the coloured light. There was no visible access to the gallery; my assumption was that it was concealed in one of the tree trunks. I took a firm step towards the right one, the impulse to uncover the hidden staircase strong. Perhaps the whole house was to be a series of puzzle boxes.

My footfall echoed loudly on the parquet floor. Bloody dress shoes.

I glanced behind me. Mr Holmes was crouched now on the opposite side of the room, sliding shallow drawers in and out.

Closer inspection of the gallery’s supports left me no wiser and the diminished light underneath it was hindering my investigation. I resorted to touch again, sensitive fingers being an important diagnostic tool. I ran my hands over the contours of the tree and felt a spot smoother than the rest of the surface. I pressed and smiled when I heard the snick of a latch. The door popped open a centimetre or two. I eased it the rest of the way open and huffed in disappointment at the folded music stands and chairs I found inside.

I darted to the other side, hands ready to explore. This time it was a knot that depressed when my forefinger slid over it. I stared into the cavity revealed, stretched my hand into the darkness. Cool metal met it. I felt cautiously with my foot and found the first step.

I had to turn sideways to slip out of the narrow doorway ajar at the top. I was thinking that no large instrument could be brought up those stairs, when I saw a harp glittering from the shadows of the opposite corner of the gallery.

“They must have put you up here when this was built,” I murmured, moving towards it. I touched my palm lightly to the strings and ran my eyes over the gilt wood. “What a beauty, you are,” I whispered and plucked a string.

“Do you play?” Sherlock asked.

I looked down, thinking he was just below the gallery. He was still at the other end of the room. The acoustics were impressive.

“Not really,” I said. “I used to listen to a neighbour when I was doing schoolwork. One day she was in her garden and I told her how beautiful I found the music and asked if she could teach me. I’d only had a few lessons when we moved away.”

“Inborn charm,” he said as though classifying a specimen, “always the most effective. After that?”

I was not sure his pronouncement was a compliment, but my capillaries seemed to think it was. “The clarinet at school,” I answered, “and a bit of noodling on my own on a tin whistle someone gave me.”

Sherlock crossed the floor, lifted a cushion on a bench near where we had entered the room.

“What about this?” he asked, holding up a small harp.

“Sorry, my beauty,” I whispered and clattered down the stairs. What Mr Holmes held in his hands was like something from a story...or a song.

The minstrel boy to the war has gone…

“Ah,” I said as I took the harp in my arms. Its shoulder fit against mine. I plucked a string, the rest of the lyrics following fast upon the sound. I searched for a higher note, then another. I let the echoes fade away before I plucked a fourth. I winced and pressed my hand lightly against the strings.

Mr Holmes dangled a tuning key on a length of black ribbon before me.

I closed my hand around it and heard my neighbour’s voice - turn it gently, the tiniest bit at a time.

I fitted the key around the errant string’s peg and applied the slightest pressure, tried the string again and smiled. I tried the next string, my fingers careful, my head cocked. I plucked the first bar of the song again. I was humming, but I couldn’t find the right strings fast enough. And then the music began.

I had not seen him take the violin up, didn’t know if it had been in a case or lying out somewhere, but now it was against his shoulder and he swayed with the song he called forth from it, the song I had been humming. I sat on the bench, embracing the harp in my lap and closed my eyes to listen. Images rose before my mind’s eye, landscapes traversed by soldiers in uniforms unknown mixed with flashes of faces from my own past. I started to sing softly.

“The minstrel boy to the war has gone,
“In the ranks of death you will find him.
“His father’s sword he has girded on and his wild harp slung behind him.
“‘Land of Song!’” said the warrior bard,
“‘Tho’ all the world betrays thee,
“One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
“One faithful harp shall praise thee.”

I took a deep breath and hesitated to continue, less sure of the second verse. The violin wove the melody into another shape; mist rolled over green hills, sandstorms scoured rocky crags. The familiar tune returned and the words came to me.

“The Minstrel fell, but the foeman’s chains could not bring his proud soul under.
“The harp he loved ne’er spoke again, for he tore its chords asunder.
“And said, ‘No chains shall sully thee, thy soul of love and bravery.
“‘Thy songs were made for the pure and free,
“‘They shall never sound in slavery.’”

I halted then and listened to Mr Holmes improvise.

It is not a cheery song and yet the words had appealed to me the first time I heard them sung as a boy. I had found the poem in the library and committed it to heart. I think I amended my plan to be a doctor to being an army doctor then. I had healed my comrades instead of singing to them, except when I was very drunk or sometimes in the shower, until the army had sent me away, my chords torn asunder.

The music ceased.

I opened my eyes. He was putting his violin away.

“Shall we continue our tour?” he asked.

I stood, balancing the harp on my hip and lifted the top of the bench to put it away.

“Take it with you,” he said. “I usually keep my violin nearby. If you’re going to play, you should have it to hand.”

Was I going to play?

I looked at the harp. The dark wood of the sound box was inlaid with stylised knots in lighter wood, the pillar carved with more complicated snarls, a few of which ended in open-mouthed snakes. The designs were highlighted with gilt, except for the snakes’ mouths and tongues, which were enamelled red.

I did not argue about taking it along.

“We can have its cover fitted with a strap so that you can carry it slung behind you,” he said.

There was no hint of humour in his words. He looked pensive.

It is a sad song.

He picked up his violin case. “How do you think we can get to the next room?” he asked in an almost playful tone, but the look in his eye remained thoughtful.

***

We were stood on another minstrels’ gallery, having stepped through a panel in the middle of the gallery in the music room.

This route had not been my solution. I had suggested we follow the corridor west that I had seen between the walls of the library and the music room. I was pretty confident that I had spied the way to re-open the door to the library and it seemed logical that there would be doors to other rooms along the brick-walled hallway I had glimpsed. My answer had gained an approving nod and Mr Holmes had confirmed that it would have worked.

His approach would not be an easy one for me to use alone as Mr Holmes had had to stretch onto his toes to press a brass point at the tip of the longest sunbeam carved into a scene of a sun setting behind wooded hills. His route would provide a more scenic view, he had said.

I was not able to see much beyond the railing of the balcony, but I could sense the size of the room from the way it swallowed the sounds of our entry.

Even that limited view vanished when Mr Holmes shut the panel that had swivelled to allow us to enter. The darkness was silent and my eyes and ears were adjusting to both when the room exploded into light and there was a loud noise of astonishment which had come from me.

I drew in a sharp breath at the size of the space and the dazzle of rainbow prisms bouncing back and forth between the mirrors that stood in place of windowpanes along both sides of the room. I would not be surprised to learn that the vast hall went all the way to the parallel road as there were four windows on the distant opposite wall, if the closed curtains were not disguising something other than windows.

“Interested in fencing?” he asked.

“Never learned,” I replied, quelling the urge to mention that I could throw a knife very accurately.

Why resist?

It’s not what he asked.

I looked about the room. There were long, cushioned seats running the length of the outer wall. I wondered if they contained equipment as the bench in the music room had concealed the harp.

“Interested in learning?”

Who was his usual fencing partner? A dim form appeared in my mind’s eye and it displeased me.

You should be encouraging regular exercise, Doctor.

Letting him instruct me would be good exercise. I pictured us fencing in this splendid, spacious room. It was a much more satisfactory image.

But you couldn’t attempt it with your leg, Watson.

My shoulders slumped. I reached for my cane. It was not to hand and I realised that I did not know where it was. I grabbed the railing instead.

“You left it in the laboratory,” Mr Holmes said. “You don’t need it. The limp is psychosomatic, as your therapist has told you. About this, she is right.”

That certainly had not been on my resume, but if he could access my bank account, why not my medical history?

“How did you get my medical records?” I asked, my voice level and low.

Where’s your outrage?

I gazed out over the hall. Misplaced it as well.

“I didn’t need to,” Mr Holmes replied.

“Then how could you know?”

“I observed. While we spoke and toured, you forgot about your leg injury, despite the walking and stair climbing we have been doing. If you can forget it when your attention is elsewhere, it’s not a physical injury.”

I glanced towards him, my grip on the bannister lessening.

I saw that he observed that, too.

I lifted my hand from the railing. No pain shot up my spine. I did not fall.

I stared at this man I had known for an hour. He had not said I was uninjured; he’d said the injury was not physical. That is pretty much the definition of a psychosomatic condition, which is what my therapist had been telling me for weeks and it had not made a bit of difference. She did not see me. He did.

I almost asked whether he was a psychiatrist, but his engagement was too intense, as though he were reading my mind.

That doesn’t exist.

Hypnotists, mesmerists had figured in the stories.

Nearly everything has.

I exhaled and turned back to the hall. I still was not sure I could attempt to fence with him, but I could join this mind game of his.

I scanned the ceiling where griffins and dragons and winged horses swooped and soared between gold-tinted clouds then dropped my eyes to the walls. Unlit crystal sconces in oval plaster wreaths filled the spaces between the windows on the north and south walls; dropping my eyes lower I took note of the plain wooden bar that ran along the north wall in front of the mirrored windows, ending with the flooring which clearly wasn’t original either and looked as though it might be cushioned. There was a long stick leaning against one of the benches. Other than it, I saw no equipment of any kind. Martial arts came to mind again as well as dance, perhaps gymnastics, and then there was the fencing…

“Biophysicist?” I asked, returning my gaze to my host.

“An interesting deduction,” he replied, tapping his lower lip, “but no. I find singlestick, baritsu, fencing and dance all have their uses. The last not as frequently as I would like. The old ballroom was easy enough to adapt once my parents started spending most of their time abroad and it was no longer required for its original purpose.”

I focussed once more on the hall. It seemed my diagnostic skills were being tested to see how broadly I could apply them.

What else is here for you to see, Watson? What could it tell you about him?

I leaned forward, squinting against the sparkle of the chandeliers.

At the end of the room, a target was positioned between the curtained windows. It was too large for darts. There were no pockmarks in the adjacent walls that I could see and the curtains did not appear torn. Either Sherlock was an excellent archer or archery was not practiced here at all. I was still judging the distance from where we stood when Sherlock eased the harp away from my grasp and placed an unstrung bow in my hand.

I looked down at it. Back to the mind-reading, apparently.

From whence he had plucked it I did not know, but it was a beautiful long curve of wood that felt good in my grip. It took the strength of both my hands to slip the knot into the nock. My shoulder ached in protest at the effort. I ignored it.

He set the harp in a corner. When he stood again, he held out an arrow, source likewise unknown.

I accepted it.

He narrowed his eyes at my hand. “You prefer a gun, but you are not unfamiliar with a bow.

I pinched the arrow between my thumb and forefinger and flexed my other fingers. I understood muscles and their functions. What in my hand could have told him that?

“There is a practice range for firearms in the sub-basement. Soundproofed, of course. It’s best not to alarm the neighbours unnecessarily, although I do occasionally,” he said.

I would show him what John Watson could do with a firearm when we made our way there.

In the meantime, I tested the tension of the string and finding it satisfactory nocked the arrow. My shoulder complained again, but I held steady and let the arrow fly.

It hit just outside the bull’s-eye.

Mr Holmes held out another arrow.

It hit slightly inside the circle of the bull’s-eye.

He shifted closer and handed me a third.

An instant later, it quivered at the heart of the bull’s-eye.

“Could you do that again?” he asked and a fourth arrow appeared in his hand.

That faint fragrance was wafting off him again. I took a deep breath of it and sighted along the arrow. I had taken the measure of the bow and the hall. It was too soon to make other judgements. I released the string.

The wood of the third arrow parted with a sharp crack.

I smiled.

Sherlock plunged down the stairs and strode down the length of the room.

I watched him study the target.

I unstrung the bow, leaned it in the corner, collected the harp and followed.

“You’re even better with a gun,” he remarked when I reached him.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“The way you held the bow. It’s been a while since you’ve used one.” He reached for my left hand, held it palm up by the wrist and traced a fingertip along my trigger finger. “The callouses are fading, but you practiced regularly for years.” He paused. “Not always firing. Just holding and sighting. Hm.” He let go.

“Ammunition is expensive,” I said.

“You make each shot count,” he replied. “And you still have the gun.”

I neither confirmed nor denied, my expression studiously neutral.

“We have many secrets here,” he said. “That can be one more. I’ll order ammunition for a SIG-Sauer P226R.”

I may have let the merest hint of a smile escape me. The benefits of the job were mounting.

“And since you no longer require your cane, we can begin fencing lessons tomorrow.”

I pictured him in fencing gear and nodded.

The little, argumentative voice inside my head snorted.

“Good,” he said and led me out another door.

It went on like that for another quarter of an hour. He passed the entrances to a few formal reception rooms and a huge dining room with a wave. “My parents use those occasionally when they’re in London, which is mercifully rare.” And then we were in a courtyard.

Does this qualify as a back garden?

Not sure.

Any werewolves about?

Haven’t had a chance to look yet.

It was arranged formally with pebbled paths edged with glass bricks between the flower beds that converged on a fountain whose central column spouted a gentle fall of water over its stone garlands. There was a smell of herbs in the air. The high walls must provide shelter from the cold and the wind, because only the rose bushes, a vine running up the wall and a few small trees in the corners were leafless. The moon was directly above us by then and it silvered the foliage of the sturdier plants and shrubs. I ran my hand along the top of one and it came away smelling of rosemary. There were other aromatic plants obscured by the dark whose scents I could not separate from the heady whole.

“Kitchen herbs there, botanical poisons there,” Sherlock said, gesturing to the left and right.

“Ah,” was all I could think to say. It would give meal times an extra dimension.

“The more delicate specimens are in the conservatories and some of the frost-hardy ones that need more sun are up in the roof gardens,” he added.

I nodded and gazed upwards, saw the shadowy outline of vines hanging from the roof. I was running out of new adjectives to express my surprise and amazement. It was going to take me weeks to learn basic navigation of the house’s eccentricities, which I suspected had been designed with an intent to thwart interlopers.

“Woohoo, Sherlock.” Mrs Hudson appeared on the other side of the garden. “I’m glad I found you. Detective Inspector Lestrade said you weren’t answering your phone, so he came over. He’s in the foyer. He wouldn’t even go up to the study to sit, he’s so anxious to speak with you.”

“Bring Lestrade out…” Sherlock began. “No, never mind, I’ll go to him. Can you show Doctor Watson his rooms, we haven’t made it up there.” He waved a hand at one of the walls of the courtyard. "And leave this in the study." He handed her his violin case.

“Oh, no worries. Doctor Watson, I can take you out this way,” she said, taking the case and pointing with it into the gloom.

“John, please,” I said.

“I’m so pleased you’ll be staying...John. I knew Doctor Stamford would have a good recommendation for us. I could feel it in my bones.” She smiled and looked around the garden. “You know, we do have lights we could turn on out here. They’re rather pretty…”

“We’ll have to postpone the grand tour until tomorrow, just his rooms will do for tonight,” Sherlock interrupted from the doorway. “John, I may have to go off with Lestrade to see whatever crime has stymied the combined intellect of New Scotland Yard this time. Hopefully, whatever it is will be worth the interruption and won’t take too long.”

He motioned towards the upper floors. “Mrs Hudson, the rooms are prepared?”

“I got them sorted this afternoon,” she said. “The Detective Inspector seems awfully anxious, Sherlock.”

“Yes, yes, I’m going,” he replied and stepped through the door Mrs Hudson had left open."

“I can come back in the morning,” I called.

“No!” He shouted, striding back through the door. He took a deep breath when he stood before me again and regarded me from beneath lowered brows. “We have begun,” he said quietly.

I had the oddest impression that I could see the dial of a clock reflected in one of his eyes, the one that was not completely hidden by the shadows. I glanced about the courtyard; I could not see a clock embedded in its walls.

He turned from me and made a rapid circuit of the fountain, gesturing to himself.

“You should sleep here. There are important details we have not discussed,” he said on the first turn.

We had barely discussed any.

“If I’m not too long, we can go over some of them later this evening, if I am, we can begin at breakfast tomorrow. You must be here.”

I loathed my bedsit and was enthralled by the Manor, the sooner I could transfer from the one to the other, the better, although I could certainly wait another day.

It’s not the house that has enthralled you.

I shall not deny it.

I watched him circle the fountain, feeling uneasy each time he was out of sight on the other side of it.

If he had asked you to wait for his return in his bed, you would probably have asked with or without pyjamas.

My temperature shot up and I stared at my feet. Given a choice, I would have preferred the latter.

This was not a good frame of mind. Some time alone to gather my wits was probably a good idea.

“Actually, this is a brilliant opportunity,” he said and hopped across the corner of a flowerbed.

“It is?” I asked.

“Lestrade consults me on a fairly regular basis. It’s best for you to meet him immediately and see what my work with him entails,” he continued.

He grabbed my sleeve. “Come, Doctor Watson,” he said.

“Well, I…”

“Why don’t I put that up in your room for you, Doctor…John?” Mrs Hudson said and tapped my other arm.

Sherlock glanced at her and nodded.

“All right,” I said to both of them.

Mrs Hudson took the harp away with a smile. Mr Holmes rushed towards the house and I followed.

***

I was slumped in the corner of a cab, my eyes closed, my limbs incredibly glad to be at rest and the muscles of my face stretched into a grin that did not feel as though it would abate any time soon.

“So this is what you do?” I asked, without opening my eyes.

“It’s part of I do. It’s not always so athletic; there’s usually more lab work,” he replied.

“The pig blood and so on,” I said.

“Exactly,” Sherlock said.

Sometime during the preceding few hours I had surmounted my difficulty with calling him that. It had probably been the roof jumping that did it, although it may have been when I got the suspect we were pursuing in a choke hold and pinched a nerve in his arm before he could aim his gun at my new employer.

You were tempted to paralyse him.

If he hadn’t dropped the gun at the first wave of pain, I would have.

A bit not good.

He was more than a bit not good.

“For the best my limp got sorted out earlier. Who knows where I might have left my cane with all of that going on,” I said and chuckled. I had reached that stage of fatigue.

“Just here,” Sherlock said. “Wait for us.”

“Right-o,” the cabbie replied.

“Where are we?” I asked and opened my eyes. “Oh.”

The façade of the building wasn’t any more inspiring than the tiny section of it that was my bedsit. I had forgotten about coming back here. In my mind, I was already a resident of Baker Street.

I sat up. Sherlock must have changed his mind. It made sense, we were in this part of town and it was very late. I might as well sleep here.

“Come on, John. It won’t take long with the two of us,” he said and was off.

The house door was open when I made it up the walkway. I could hear Sherlock’s steps on the stairs. It sounded like he was taking them two at a time. I closed the door and trudged up. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.
The door to my bedsit was open when I caught up. I shut it and felt in my pocket for my keys. They were not there.

You imagined him doing that earlier.

I had.

Sherlock held them up and jingled them. He was in the middle of my dreary, little room turning slowly. He grabbed my laptop from the side of the desk and tossed it on the bed. “You handle that,” he said and dropped my keys next to it.

He stepped to the wardrobe, pulled the two cases down from on top of it and flung its doors open.

“Wait,” I said. “I can just grab what I need for tonight. Get the rest tomorrow.”

The tightness in my chest eased when I realised he was not suggesting I stay behind.

“Why? We’re here now. This way you don’t ever have to come back. You can post them the keys or I can send Wiggins with them.”

I didn’t know who Wiggins was. It was very late and I was very tired, but the idea that Sherlock might slip down the stairs and into the taxi if I talked about deposits and check-out lists set me to emptying the nightstand and desk drawers. I didn’t want to spend an extra minute in the place.

***

There was a lanky fellow leaning against the fence in front of 221B. Sherlock handed him some notes and told him to pay the cabbie when everything was unloaded and breezed inside.

I paused on the front step, hand resting on my computer bag, gun tucked in my waistband, holding a slightly damp carrier bag of toiletries and watched Wiggins slide the suitcases out of the back of the taxi. “There’re boxes of books in the boot,” I called. “I could give you a hand.”

He waved me away. “Best not keep him waiting,” he said and followed the taxi driver round to the boot.

***

I stood at the bottom of the stairs, not sure which way to go. I sagged against the newel post.

“John.”

Library it was then.

Sherlock met me on the landing. He had shed his coat and scarf and behind him firelit shadows played.

“Mrs Hudson has left us a cold supper,” he said, motioning towards the doorway. He looked me up and down and took the carrier bag. “One more flight up.”

He was halfway up the stairs when I registered that he had moved. The fatigue I had felt before my flash removal was reasserting itself. I wondered whether I could make it up another flight.

“John.”

Clearly, I could.

He stood near the end of the hall, where three doors met. “This way,” he urged and disappeared into the right-hand room.

It made me want to hurry out of the empty hall.

He was in another doorway. I heard the clatter of the bag being deposited somewhere.

“WC,” he said and stood before me again.

My fatigue was obviously becoming extreme, although hunger may have been contributing to it.

He lifted the computer bag from my shoulder. It was a welcome relief. I didn’t notice where he set it, but he was in motion again. Metal slid along metal; heavy curtains parted. Pale light illuminated the lacy patterns over the glass doors that were revealed.

The cool air was bracing. Sherlock stepped out onto the balcony and I followed.

“Your room overlooking the courtyard,” he said with a sweeping gesture of an arm.

I leaned against the railing and looked up at him.

He was grinning.

I did not think I had been bold enough to express that wish aloud, but I could have been wrong.

I turned back to the garden. Mrs Hudson had been right about the lighting being pretty. Tiny gleams of blue and white and gold twinkled from underneath the foliage and about the fountain, which seemed larger from my new vantage. I leaned further over the edge and squinted. I did not recall the statues surrounding it, pairs of them it seemed, clinging to the central column which looked more like a tree to me now with the water gushing from somewhere amidst its branches and dripping down the backs of the statues.

I blinked. The lights on the wet surfaces lent the appearance of movement to the statues, the muscles of their backs and legs seeming to flex. I shivered. There was an empty space on the tree trunk facing my balcony. I wondered whether I was looking into a different courtyard and whether this fountain had been one of those works of art interrupted by turbulent times.

“Come downstairs by the fire,” Sherlock said. “The air is chilly and you are hungry.”

And then he was gone.

I did not rush after him; my brain and my body were slowing down. I needed to last just a little longer.

I ducked into the WC and found the light switch. It boasted an old-fashioned toilet with the tank mounted on the wall. A basin faced it with a narrow window above it and my toiletries in it. I set them next to the stack of towels and sundry bottles on the narrow shelf that ran the length of the small room and rinsed my face in the icy water the tap provided. Gasping, I grabbed one of the towels and kept the water from dripping down my neck. My pinkened face appeared in the mirror over the shelf as I lowered the towel. Behind me, I could see my dressing gown hanging on a hook on the back of the door. I turned around and felt the cloth. It was definitely there.

I went back into the room. By the light from the water closet, I saw my slippers by the bed. I sat down, pushed off my shoes and slid my feet into the slippers. Assuredly, they were mine.

I turned the bedside lamp on and gave the room a quick inspection. The wardrobe was full of my clothing, my books and a couple photographs were on the bookshelf next to the desk, which had my computer on it, the computer bag slung over the corner of the desk chair. I checked the desk drawers. The papers and pens I had shoved into the computer bag were all arrayed neatly in the various drawers.

How had I not heard Wiggins while we were out on the balcony and how had he managed it so fast?

I must have been moving far slower than I realised. Food and sleep was what I needed, in fairly rapid succession.

***

The library was dim and warm and Sherlock was sat before the fire. “Come sit,” he said and gave me an appraising look from head to foot.

I sat in the chair facing him, distracted somewhat by the array of dishes on the low table between the chairs.

From a platter on his side of the table, Sherlock cut a generous portion of smoked salmon, spooned some capers over it and handed it on a small plate to me. “Help yourself,” he urged, pointing to the assortment of side dishes on the table with the point of the knife.

“Everything in your room arranged to your satisfaction?” he asked.

I hummed my assent around the forkful of fish I had already put in my mouth. “How was Wiggins able to do it so quickly and quietly?” I managed to say after a minute.

Sherlock filled my wineglass from a tall green bottle with a hand-written label in an alphabet with which I was unfamiliar. He set the glass down near me. “He’s become efficient over the years. More salmon?”

A small bowl of beetroot, a little plate of cheese followed the salmon. I had been very hungry and did not decline anything I was offered and in this incremental way, I was more than sated. Between listening to anecdotes of other cases Sherlock had helped Lestrade solve, I sipped the wines slowly, the one from the round, blue bottle and the short amber one having followed the first. I lost track of the number of dishes I sampled along with the meaning of his words and savoured the timbre of his voice as he spoke. The combination of flavours had done something marvellous in my mouth and my brain seemed to shut down other avenues of information to accommodate the unusual abundance of gustatory sensation.

When most of the plates were empty, I sighed. I wasn’t sure I would be able to rise from the chair, so warm and full had I become.

Sherlock held up a small glass bowl with a couple slices of fruit standing up at the rim. I almost shook my head.

“It rounds off the meal,” he said, continuing to hold it aloft when I did not reach for it. The firelight glittered in the deep cuts of the glass. Whatever was inside looked red.

I may have been run around London until I was nearly starved, but now I was certainly being fed. I considered how modest the size of the bowl was and decided I did have a little room left. I took the dish.

There were berries and pieces of fruit small enough that I could not tell what they were at a glance, so I sampled them, one by one. Pear, blood orange, white peach and pomegranate. Their juices mixed together like an elixir. I took sips of wine between bites of fruit and at the end I chased the last pomegranate seed around the bowl until I had caught it and swallowed it.

I sank back in the chair. “That was the most wonderful meal I have ever had,” I said. “Does Mrs Hudson do all of this?”

“Mrs Hudson is fond of baking. She has Mrs Turner to help with much of the cooking,” he replied.

I noted that there was another member of the household whose health might be part of my remit.

“And upon occasion, I compose a menu,” he added.

“Like tonight?” I suggested.

I was not sure why I thought he had orchestrated the meal we had consumed, something about the effect the combined flavours were having on me, perhaps.

“Like tonight,” he affirmed.

“Biochemist?” I guessed.

“You’re getting closer,” he said and looked to say more.

I held up a finger. “Don’t tell me yet. Another day or two and I’m sure to get it.”

He nodded. “There is one thing I should tell you though.”

The tone caused me to straighten up in my chair.

“It’s too late to go through all the details of your position tonight; we can do that tomorrow. However, you should know that there is one crucial prerequisite to a successful completion of the probationary period…” he said and paused.

I set my wine glass aside and hoped that he would name something I could in good conscience do, because I wanted very much to successfully complete that probation.

“And that is, unless you are accompanying me, you do not leave the Manor until the moon is full again.”

The phrasing of the stipulation was unusual, but the import of it was not one that was strange to me. In the military, I certainly had not been free to come and go as I pleased. At times, it had even been a convenient excuse, although there had been occasions when it had been a hardship. Nevertheless, I had worked around such limitations for years, a month should not be a problem for me and only a lunar month at that.

“And afterwards?” I asked.

“After that, you would have paid holidays, sick leave and so on as in any other job.”

I glanced about the room. “And I may use the library?” I asked.

He waved a hand at the room and nodded. “You are to make yourself at home. I only ask that you be mindful of my experiments if you choose to use the laboratory.”

“I agree to remain…” I almost had said ‘on base’. “…for an entire month and to be mindful of your experiments.”

You can always job hunt online, if you aren’t sure this is working out.

I am going to do my damnedest to make this work out.

He raised his glass to me. I reached for mine and returned his salute.

“To what has begun,” he said and drained his glass.

The light caught his eye over the rim of the crystal and I had the impression again of seeing the face of a clock in it.

I was extremely tired and probably somewhat intoxicated. I finished my wine and sought out my new bed a happy man.

~~~~~~oo0oo~~~~~~


Chapter Three may be read here.

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