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Penumbra-Beyond the Palings 4

Title: Penumbra (Chapter Four: Beyond the Palings)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] saki101
Characters/Pairings: John Watson/Sherlock Holmes, Mrs Hudson, Mike Stamford, Bill Wiggins, Mrs Turner, Mr Chatterjee, Bill Murray
Rating: NC-17 (for the series)
Genre: slash
Word Count: ~6.8K (Chapter Four)
Disclaimer: Neither Sherlock nor Dark Shadows is mine and no money is being made.
Preview: The month is drawing to a close. John must decide.
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 (all chapters).
Chapter One: Meet Me at Moonrise may be read on LJ here.
Chapter Two: Sequestration may be read on LJ here.
Chapter Three: Transfusions may be read on LJ here.

Excerpt: Sherlock stood in shirtsleeves before the piano in the corner, swaying as he played his violin, his back to me. Sunlight slanted through the southern windows, throwing blues and violets over him, greens and golds at his feet.

“You have questions,” he said and raised his bow. His tone was cool; he did not turn around.




Penumbra


Chapter Four: Beyond the Palings



There was a draft.

I pulled the covers up to my chin and wiggled deeper into the soft comfort of the bed.

There was a ruffling of feathers.

I opened an eye.

Perched upon the top rail of the footboard of my bed was the peregrine. She turned her head and studied me.

I opened my other eye and studied her back.

In the daylight, I could distinguish her colours: the blue-grey of her upper feathers, the blush on the pale breast feathers and the intense yellow about her eyes, at the root of her beak and the full length of her clawed feet. She sidled along the rail, the curl of her talons grasping it securely.

“Thank you for telling Sherlock where I was last night, Siròc,” I said, feeling only mildly ridiculous.

Politeness is never amiss.

She opened her wings briefly at the sound of her name or perhaps just at the sound of my voice.

“I might have been impaled on a tree branch this morning rather than comfortable in my bed,” I added.

May as well go all out.

She turned her head and considered me afresh.

The door opened.

“I thought I heard you talking in here,” Mrs Hudson said, setting down a tea tray on the desk.

From the kitchen?

She placed a cup of tea and a small vase with a flower on my night table. “That’s the first daffodil from the courtyard,” she said. “Very early for them.”

I eased into a sitting position. I seemed not the worse for wear.

Siròc spread her wings again.

“Tell Sherlock John’s up,” Mrs Hudson said to the bird as she returned to the desk. She held out a tiny bowl.

The falcon plucked the strip of meat from the dish and flew to the end of the curtain rail above the balcony doors to eat it. Snack consumed, she darted out the tilted pane of stained glass over the doors.

“That must be too cold for you,” Mrs Hudson said and pulled something behind the curtains. The pane of glass rotated back into place.

“You must be famished,” she declared, turning back to me. She brought a plate of fruit and another of biscuits from the tray. “This should tide you over until you’re ready to come down to the study. You can have a proper breakfast there, unless you’d prefer luncheon.”

I glanced out the doors again. The sky was a bright white and gave no clue as to the slant of the sun. “Slept late, have I?” I asked, setting the tea cup aside and taking the plate of biscuits. A few days and I was already addicted to her baking.

“Slept round the clock and half-way round again. It’s Thursday,” she said with a laugh. “Breakfast or luncheon?”

I was amazed. And starving.

“Breakfast,” I replied, “with everything!” Usually it took two, three days of being on-call or being shot to knock me out like that.

Mrs Hudson beamed. “Mrs Turner will be so pleased. She’s been wanting to show off her crêpes for you…but a good fry-up first, I think,” she said, tapping a finger against her cheek and considering me.

Seems to be the order of the day.

I nodded. Mrs Hudson took it as a confirmation of the breakfast menu.

“You still look peaky, dear. Stepping through will do that when you’re not used to it,” she concluded and exited briskly.

Clearly, a woman on a mission.

I finished the biscuits, plate carefully under my chin then the tea then the fruit almost without pausing for breath. I got up and made myself another cup of tea, wished there was more food and wondered if “stepping through” was what I thought it was.

Shower fast, Watson. Need more food.

“Thinking will be clearer after both,” I murmured, rubbing my chin. There was two days’ worth of stubble there. I drained my cup and peeked into the teapot in hopes that there would be enough for another cup. There was not. I replaced the delicate china top and noticed my hand. The scratch from the thorns was nearly gone.

***

My feet barely touched the stairs, so rapid was my descent. I started to smile as I pushed the half open door wide. I could smell the wood burning, hear the fire crackling.

The room was empty. The table was set for one.

Despite the fire and my jumper, I shivered. I rushed to the lab.

The lights were bright, the centrifuge whirred on its own. The desk chairs were gone, the lab table had been tidied. I shoved up my sleeves. The tiny scab at my cubital fossa was reassuring. The centrifuge clicked off, its hum ticking to a stop. I inhaled, checked the supply cupboard. My view of the shelves of shining glass was unobstructed. I blew out the breath I had been holding and returned to the library at a more moderate pace.

He is an elusive one.

“Yes,” I sighed.

A thread of music reached my ears. I looked up, stared at the far wall.

I bounded across the room, hopping over an ottoman or two.

Like a boy, Watson, or a puppy.

My heart thudded, my respiration came fast. I knew this feeling and thought I would never know it again. “Does one get a second chance?” I whispered beside a bookcase that was out of alignment by a centimetre or so. “Drop your clues, play your game as long as you’re inviting me to play, too.” I insinuated my fingers into the crack and widened it. Through the gap, a melody half strange and half familiar issued, trembling along a violin’s highest notes. I eased the bookcase open wider. Blackness greeted me.

It may be more dangerous than a game.

When has danger ever deterred me? As long as I am invited, I do not care.

The air inside the passage was colder than before, the draft coming from my right, damper. Shoulder to the left wall, I hurried along, darkness be damned.

You should have reached the other door by now.

I should have. The number of steps I had taken were far more than had been necessary on my previous journeys.

Did you turn into that other corridor?

Not unless the wall is a Moebius strip. I haven’t taken my shoulder from the wood.

I kept walking.

The music stopped.

I halted, my breathing oddly loud. I looked back. The bookcase had shut. I wet my lips and whistled a fragment of the tune.

The violin resumed. A line of violet light appeared ahead.

I walked faster, eased my fingers into the lavender light and pushed the wall open far enough to peek into the room.

Sherlock stood in shirtsleeves before the grand piano in the corner, swaying as he played, his back to me. Sunlight slanted through the southern windows, throwing blues and violets over him, greens and golds at his feet.

“You have questions,” he said and raised his bow. His tone was cool; he did not turn around.

And yet this room is full.

Oh, yes, it is.

I sighed out a long breath; I have found you. I slipped into the room. I could smell the lavender.

“May I examine your injuries?” I asked.

He faced me then, violin in one hand, bow held high in the other, like a riding crop.

A vision came of him riding a stallion hell-for-leather down a steep slope, reins gathered in one hand, riding crop raised in the other…or was it a sword? What he held high caught the sunlight.

He stared at me.

Can he see what you see?

I don’t know.

I blinked the image away and walked closer to him.

“And when you have assured yourself that I am well?” he enquired.

Then I would like to test the smoothness of your skin with the tip of my tongue. I was grateful that those words did not escape me and hoped he could not see the mental picture that had accompanied them.

“Then I would like to know how you communicate with the falcon,” I said.

He lowered his bow hand and laughed.

It was a lovely sight and a lovelier sound. My shoulders relaxed; I smiled and then I grinned.

“Of all the things you saw last night, that’s the one you want to ask about first?” he said, the lines about his eyes crinkling in mirth.

“If I might,” I said, “but after the examination.”

He held his arms out to his sides. “Yes, Doctor,” he said and moved no further.

“Your shirt will need to be removed,” I remarked, my fingers curling against my palms. The urge to touch him grew stronger the closer I came, but the need to see that he was indeed well-healed was stronger.

“You may,” he said, but did not move.

Steady, Watson.

It was good advice.

I reached out for the bow, held it carefully in both my hands and set it in its niche in the violin case atop the piano.

He remained still.

I walked to his other side and placed my hands so they would support the violin as I might an infant. He loosened his fingers and I eased the instrument away, laid it to rest in the case as well.

I turned to look at him. The position of his arms expanded his chest. It strained at the buttons of his tapered shirt, cut to fit his fine lines. He was like a piece of art, a dancer holding an elegant pose before a leap or a spin. I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to touch him, so perfect he seemed in himself, as he was.

“Doctor,” he said, looking straight ahead.

I cleared my throat. “Yes,” I said and raised my hands to undo the cuff of the wrist nearest me. He was holding his arms palm up and the sleeve drooped from his forearm revealing the tender skin of the underside and the blue tracery of his veins. I could see no wounds there.

I retraced my steps to his other side and undid that cuff. The skin I could see was likewise unmarred.

And then I stood before him and finished undoing the shirt’s buttons, tugging the soft cloth from the confines of his trousers waistband and opening the buttons on the tails. I took a steadying breath and spread the halves of the shirt apart. I saw not a scratch. I shifted to allow the coloured light to fall directly on his skin; it was not ideal for a medical exam, but the wounds I had glimpsed would not have required strong light to observe.

Perhaps nothing I recalled from the laboratory had actually occurred.

The memory of the pain came back to me.

I lifted the shirt higher, searching for the bite at the side. I had seen the faint outline of it on myself when I showered. On him, it was a ruddier pink.

I stepped back. “I need to see your back,” I said.

He remained gazing into the distance, but he lowered his arms partway and bent them backwards.

It was an odd response, dropping his arms to his sides was what I had expected him to do so that I could remove the shirt completely. The position reminded me of a bird shaking water from its wings and I found myself waiting for him to waggle his fingers to cast off the final drops.

“And now do you wish to leave?” he asked. “You will have fine tales to dine out on.”

As if you do much of that.

“I have no wish to leave unless you want me to,” I replied.

His arms dropped to his sides then and I saw the knots of muscles in his shoulders smooth out. The extra bones were less obvious in that position and I realised that his unusual stance had been to help me see them.

“Do you want me to leave?” I asked.

The room grew darker and a pain ran up my leg that I had not felt in a week. My hand shot out for balance and my palm met his back. A wave of displeasure for having asked that question washed over me. I wondered what particular thing I had done that had caused me to fail or if it was the aggregate of everything. Perhaps he desired a more compliant doctor or a less inquisitive one. I had not wished to fail, but I was not going to let him go uncared for either.

“I wish for you to stay, John Watson,” he said, “and I should like to examine how you have healed as well. If you would kindly remove your shirt.”

I did not move; it seemed I could not. I simply closed my eyes and inhaled the fragrance of him.

He turned, his hands out to catch my elbows.

I opened my eyes and looked up at him, grateful for his grip on my arms.

“Shall I remove it for you?” he asked and I nodded.

His fingers were fast and once I was disrobed, he prowled around me with narrowed eyes, then he moved nearer and explored me with his fingertips, leaning so close I could feel his breath on my skin. He paused at my side, his hand pressed to the pink outline of the bite.

“Hydra prefer to bite their prey here,” he said and curved his other hand around the back of my neck. “In the right place, their long fangs will paralyse the creature they have caught, then they shake it to snap the spine. They hunt quarry smaller than me and usually in salt water. It was strange to find one so far upriver and on the shore. Perhaps I took him by surprise as well.” He rubbed over the tender skin on my flank. “Before I lopped off the last of his heads, he took quite a chunk out of me and by extension, out of you. You’ve healed quickly, considering.”

“Seven against one,” I said. “I wish I had been there to help.”

"Yes," he said, tilting his head and squinting at me. “We must practice with the swords, but we need to feed you first. Your blood sugar is dropping.”

“A meal would not be amiss,” I replied and nearly smiled. “Wouldn’t a gun have been more efficient?”

He snatched up our shirts and, keeping a hand on one of my elbows, led me to the panel that opened into the passageway.

“Firearms do not work all the time,” he said as the panel swung open. “More than six hundred years back and it has to be a bow or a blade or a pike.” After a few steps, he stopped. There was a sharp click and the wall gave way to a view of the library. It felt like returning home.

***

One of the laboratory doors slammed into the side of a bookcase.

I looked up from my research.

Sherlock stood in the doorway. “Get your harp,” he said, “I’m going to show you something else music can do.” He strode towards the far side of the room without another glance at me.

What had brought on this change in activity, I did not know. I pushed back my chair and secured the harp from my room with all due speed.

The library wall looked closed when I returned, but I was confident now that I could find the correct book even in the dark if needs be.

The bookcase unlocked. My harp, in its case, was slung behind me. I slipped into the darkness, left shoulder to the wall as had become my habit, my right hand on the hilt of the dagger Sherlock had given me after our first fencing lesson.

A week had passed since that afternoon when he had said he wanted me to stay and no call for assistance had taken either him alone or the pair of us from the Manor. There had finally been time for him to show me much more of the Manor in between our fencing and music lessons, the long hours in the laboratory and library and one very satisfying target practice session deep below the house. I had hit the bull’s eye on the first shot and every one thereafter, no matter how distant he had made it until the limit of the range had been reached. He had been impressed and I had been delighted. I smiled to think of it.

My shoulder bumped into a door frame in the dark and I knew I had reached the music room wall. It always took me longer to cross the passageway when I was alone, just as there were always more flights of stairs to the roof when I went by myself.

It is his home.

Exactly.

I located the latch and found him leafing through a large volume open on the music rack of the piano.

“Try this one,” he said, tapping the page in front of him. “It is simple and useful.”

Simple was good. Daily lessons with Mrs Hudson and an hour or so of practice in the music room or up on the roof had brought back most of the rudimentary skills I had once possessed for making a pleasant sound on the strings of a harp, but it would take much more time for me to be able to tackle anything more than a simple tune.

I looked at the page which Sherlock indicated and whistled softly. “That is a beautiful thing,” I said.

There was a thick border of flowering vines painted in brilliant reds, blues and greens outlined in gold inside which a large, blue capital O framed a miniature painting of an open window in a castle tower. “What’s it the opening to?” I asked, for such was the title over the few bars of square notes on the page. I was afraid even to turn the page and see what followed because of the obvious age of the book.

Sherlock turned to me and smiled. “Did you close the panel when you came in?” he asked.

“I did,” I replied.

“Excellent,” he said and sat himself with his violin case on the seat beneath the window of one of the dancing ladies. He kicked off his shoes, put his feet up and began rosining his bow.

“Take your time,” he said, ignoring my question.

I took out the tuning key and unwrapped my harp. I had taken to thinking of it as mine, although, of course, it was not. I lay the cover aside and tested the keys. Mostly, they were in tune. I settled on the piano bench and stared intently at the widely-spaced notes and began to pluck. When I reached the final note, I heard a distinct click. My head snapped about. I peered at all the exits of which I knew, but saw nothing amiss.

“Play it a couple more times,” Sherlock said.

I did.

When I looked around again, the panel to the passageway was wide open. I glanced behind me. Sherlock did not appear to have moved, but I had been concentrating hard on plucking the right notes, so he could have walked across the room and back again without my noticing, I supposed.

“Bit chilly,” he said. “Why don’t you close that.”

I carried the harp with me across the room and pushed the panel flush with the wall.

“Make sure it latches. The draft through there is strong,” he said.

That was certainly true. I listened for the snick of the latch. Satisfied that a draft could not push the panel open again, I returned to the piano bench.

“Play it through again,” Sherlock said, “a little faster this time.”

I set to plucking. I could not go much faster than I had before, but the melody flowed more pleasantly. I heard a definite click at the end of the tune.

I stared at the wall. I could not perceive any change and did not feel like getting up to check.

“Twice again,” Sherlock said, “without pausing.”

I complied. As simple as the tune was, it was a pretty little air that sounded sweet as I repeated it with more assurance. I was smiling at the end of it, then I shivered a bit and turned to the wall. The panel was wide open again.

“Play it in reverse,” Sherlock said, “three times through.”

Reversing the order was not easy for me, but at a distinctly more stately pace, I managed it three times. I heard a click and shifted my eyes to the side. The wall was smoothly closed.

I swivelled around on the bench and stared at Sherlock. He lifted his violin to his shoulder and played the melody with some variations. The music flowed like a stream as he played. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. The panel in the wall opened a little, then more, then all the way, after which it closed a bit, opened again, closed more and more and then the latch clicked.

I gaped at the door and then at Sherlock. He smiled at me. “Want to try it again?” he asked.

***

Mrs Hudson tapped on the half-closed library door. “Woo-hoo,” she called as she came in. “Sherlock, what have you done with your phone?”

“I left it in the lab, I think,” he said from where he leaned over my shoulder, reading the notes I was typing up on my research.

He had taken to doing that, never asking for my laptop or my notebook, always leaning over me smelling like a garden and radiating warmth by my cheek.

“I’m busy with John,” he said, “I don’t want to be disturbed.”

“Well, Inspector Lestrade is downstairs again. He said it’s a special case,” Mrs Hudson said.

“Oh,” Sherlock said, standing up behind me. “Ask him to come up then.”

Mrs Hudson tutted and went down the stairs.

“John,” he said.

I could hear the excitement in his voice.

“This may prove very interesting. Are you ready for an outing?”

“Yes,” I replied, thrilled that I was going to be asked to come along. Considering what had happened the last time he had gone off on his own, I was not keen to have him do so again and I had become accustomed to his presence. Even an hour awake without him was an unpleasant prospect. The nights were bad enough, but I was not really without him then as there had not been a night when I had not dreamt of him.

I twisted about to ask for more detail, but he had already twirled away. I watched him dash into the laboratory and return with his mobile, apparently reading the messages Lestrade had been sending him that he had missed.

“Oh, this is likely to be instructional,” he said, just as Lestrade came in the door.

***

The sky was growing pale in the east when we returned to Baker Street.

“What did you think?” Sherlock asked once we had closed the door behind us.

I stopped half-way up the stairs as though I could not walk and consider my answer at the same time.

Sherlock tugged at my sleeve and I took another step.

“I had no idea,” I said.

“Well, you wouldn’t,” he said from the landing.

I suppose I looked hurt when I glanced up at him.

“Don’t look like that,” he said. “Who would?” He came down a couple steps and grabbed my arm. “Actually, you might have,” he said, “but I think you would have doubted your senses at the time or convinced yourself you had not remembered it aright later.” He tugged me up the stairs and into the library. “Have you ever done that?”

I thought of walking along the locked iron fence of Hyde Park one night and understanding the wind as it swept through the branches. It had told me my father had died and I had taken out my mobile. Half a block later the screen had lit up and my mother was telling me the police had been. The motor accident my father’s drunk driving had been courting for years had finally happened. “No one else was hurt,” she had said quietly. “He hit a tree.”

“I see you have,” Sherlock said, giving me a gentle push into my chair by the hearth. He lit the fire without even bending over.

There had been other times when the dark was too dark. Like the night I made Harry stay at my hall of residence because everything felt wrong when I had walked her down to the door. Harry had looked at my face and had not argued, which was quite unlike Harry.

There was the scorching afternoon I had hunched over the wounded soldier I was tending and the bullet had hit my shoulder rather than my head.

“Yes,” I said. “There have been times.”

Sherlock was lifting lids and revealing plates of cold beef and cheese, tomatoes and onions and small loaves of bread. “Eat, John,” he said. “I don’t think tonight’s case was an isolated incident. We saved Ms Dunbar, but I believe there will be others.” He tapped the top bookshelf next to the fireplace. “Tomorrow, I should like you to begin reviewing these. Skim until you find the deviations from the familiar medical symptoms. It may prove useful to us in the coming weeks.”

I stood to have a look at the titles and he waved me back down. “Leave it for tomorrow. Refresh yourself now. You may need your strength.”

***

He was gone in the morning.

It was just as well that Mrs Hudson was not in the room when I saw the note leaning against the stack of books on the table in the library because I swore more than a little. There was reading to do, songs to learn, archery to practice and a promise that he would be back in four days with more information for us to sift through.

He came back in two with a dead speckled snake in a box. He dissected it and analysed the venom. Then he synthesised and concentrated it.

He listened to the song I had learned that shrouded me in shadow. I had not realised what it did until Mrs Hudson came into the music room calling for me and went back out again without speaking to me. I whistled it in front of the mirror in my bedroom and understood. Sherlock was amused when I showed him that it worked equally well when I whistled it.

“Good,” he said and smiled. He looked tired and said he was going to sleep.

I was not surprised when I found another note the next afternoon. Three days this time. I growled.

***

I had not been sleeping well. When I started to dream, I would awaken. I was mad that he had left me behind again. Perhaps I was not ready to go along, but I was still angry and so I deprived myself of the feeling of his arms around me at night. Wherever he was, he was thinking of me. At least that was what I thought the dreams meant. Maybe they only meant that I was thinking of him.

Mike had texted. He had no classes in the afternoon and suggested lunch.

I stared out the front door. The sun was bright. Cars and buses motored by. People passed along the pavement; a few glanced my way. I stood on the threshold; I could feel it pressing against my arches through the soles of my shoes. There were people eating at the tables outside Speedy’s. Whatever they were having smelled good. I held the phone in my hand and wondered if I whistled whether people would stop seeing me. Could that work out here in the sunshine?

“Oh, John, there you are,” Mrs Hudson said. She came and stood next to me, leaning up against the door. “Lovely day for a walk.”

My eyes went wide. I turned to stare at her.

A test?

My heart started to pound.

I don’t know.

“Mike…Doctor Stamford wanted to get together for lunch. He’s free this afternoon,” I said.

“Speedy’s does a nice lunch,” she said. “Nothing fancy, but nice. You could probably reserve one of the outside tables if you asked Mr Chatterjee now.”

“Who?”

She shook her head. “I can’t believe I haven’t introduced you yet. He runs Speedy’s. He’s our tenant, you know.”

It was my turn to shake my head. “I didn’t know,” I replied.

“Yes, Speedy’s is part of the Manor,” she said.

She knows you’re not to leave.

Maybe.

She pointed to the iron palings by the steps. “You see where the fence is? That’s the edge of the Manor land these days. On the surface anyway. The cellars go out under the road and below the basement level of the buildings on the other side. They’re quite the labyrinth, they are. Best not to try exploring those on your own.”

“What about the Tube?” I asked.

“Oh, there was some arrangement when they built that,” Mrs Hudson said. “When it was new, there was a private platform under the house. That was part of the agreement, but that hasn’t been used in an hundred years, I think. The tunnel and the tracks are still there though.”

If I had not seen the things I had, I might have thought she was taking the piss, but since I had, nothing struck me as impossible.

“Mention it to Sherlock when he’s back,” she said. “He used to get up to all sorts of mischief down there when he was a boy and come back covered head to toe with soot. My grandmother used to write to complain of it, but she didn't really mind. She rather doted on him.”

I had to smile picturing that.

“So, let me take you over to meet Mr Chatterjee,” she said and slipped past me.

My smile disappeared. I imagined walking forward a few paces and turning back to find Mrs Hudson gone, the door closed and locked, and no answer when I knocked.

“I’d rather not,” I said.

She looked at me for a moment and tapped her cheek. “You know there’s another way in through the kitchen courtyard. Mr Chatterjee won’t mind. I often go round that way if I want a few pastries when Mrs Turner’s on holiday and I haven’t had time to bake.” She slipped by me again, back into the hall, and motioned me to follow. “Come along. After you’ve reserved the table, you can text Doctor Stamford and have a good chat over lunch.”

I came in and shut the door.

She bustled down the hall. “It can get lonely without Sherlock around,” she said, opening the glass door and hurrying through. “He takes some of the air away with him when he goes.”

***

We reserved a table inside.

“So how’s it going?” Mike enquired, as he draped his raincoat over the empty chair next to him.

“Great,” I said, “much better than I thought it would actually.”

“Not too eccentric?” he asked.

I smiled. “I had been worried I would be bored after Afghanistan, you know, but it’s not a problem.”

“Good, good,” Mike said.

Mr Chatterjee brought two bowls of steaming soup to the table.

“I ordered ahead,” I said, “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. My tastes haven’t changed much over the years,” he said and took a taste. “Mm,” he hummed. “I’m happy so far.”

“Have you ever met him?” I asked.

“Who?” Mike replied.

“Sherlock,” I said.

“What does he look like?” Mike enquired.

“Tall, slim, dark curly hair,” I said.

“Well-dressed, piercing eyes?” Mike asked.

“Yes,” I answered and tried not to picture Sherlock because my appreciation would be bound to show on my face.

“I have, then,” Mike replied. “He came with Mrs Hudson on her first visit. Looked me up and down when I came into the consulting room, didn’t introduce himself, just turned to her and said, ‘He’ll do’, and left. I was too amazed to even ask her who he was. I’d assumed he was some relative, her son, maybe. He didn’t come again after that.”

“That’s definitely him,” I replied and could not suppress my smile.

“So do you think it’ll work out?” he asked.

“I won’t know until the end of the month, but I’ll get another month’s salary if either of us decide to call it quits,” I explained.

“That seems fair,” Mike said. “Do you think you’re going to call it quits?”

“I could try to save face and say I haven’t made my mind up yet, but I have. If he wants me to stay on, I am definitely agreeing,” I said, “so no matter how it works out, I wanted to thank you for the opportunity.”

Mike beamed. “That was quite the coincidence that day, wasn’t it?” he said and finished his soup. “So what’s next on the menu?”

***

The wind whistled past the edge of the roof, rattling the bare branches of the moonlit trees that stretched in every direction below us. I shoved my hands deeper in my pockets and looked up. The full moon held court in a sky wild with stars. It was not a sky one could see in a city, not a modern one anyway.

Beside me Sherlock was silent. He seemed to be listening or watching for something. I knew not what, but I felt the tension of it and I listened, too, and scanned the horizon and the dark reaches of the parapet on either side of us. We had been standing on it long enough for my toes to begin feeling numb, but I was not inclined to complain. Sherlock had returned from his latest foray relatively unscathed and he had not disappeared again yet.

I had started learning a melody that generated heat. I was wishing I had worked on it hard enough to have already committed it to memory when Sherlock spoke.

“It’s past midnight,” he said.

I looked up again. The moon was directly above us.

“Your month is over,” he continued.

Ah. How could I have forgotten the date?

February is a changeable month.

Calendars have become less relevant to me than they were in the past. I have undertaken journeys with destinations that have been when as much as where. I have seen a hydra with my own eyes and helped to slay it so that neither of us lost any flesh to the beast. I do not think the date upon which we slew it mattered, but there might be a significance to the time of death I did not yet understand.

The significance of the month of February having ended, however, I did know. This was what he had been waiting for.

I felt colder than before. I was not sure what he would say. I knew what I would say should he ask. I waited, looking out at the stars.

“I should be honoured if you would stay, John Hamish Watson,” he said.

The stone felt somewhat unsteady beneath my feet and I wanted to protest the use of my full name. I have never cared for it. Instead I heard myself saying, “For how long?”

“As long as you wish, John,” he replied.

It was a relief to hear my name, the one that was just me, not linked to who sired me or who sired him. “I can choose my term?” I asked and wondered who this negotiator was that seemed to have taken charge of my tongue.

“You may choose your term,” he replied.

I did not know whether he looked at me, for I dared not look at him. “May I choose for as long as you will have me?” I asked.

He laughed. “We do go round and round, don’t we, John?”

“We go round and round one another,” I said and finally turned. Who would not wish to stay with him, I thought as I looked, and his outward form is but a shadow of what is within.

“We do,” he said and held up a key. “For you, so that you may come and go as you please.” He reached for my hand, placed the key in it and closed my fingers over it.

“I should not like to go far,” I said.

He smiled. “Good,” he said, “I like when you are near.”

***

I felt a draft, fumbled for the covers to pull them up. They would not move. One-eyed, I looked over my shoulder. The darkness curling over the foot of the bed was denser than the shadows in the rest of the room. The blankets pulled taut on either side of my legs. The hand on my shoulder was icy.

“Where the hell have you been?” I muttered.

“Rather the opposite,” Sherlock said. Even his breath was frigid by my ear. His weight settled on me.

“Get up and get under the covers, you wild thing,” I hissed.

“I’m very cold,” Sherlock said.

“Yes, that’s why I want you under here,” I replied, shifting my hip to dislodge him.

“I’ll make you cold,” he said, rolling off.

“I’ll make you hot,” I promised, my hand smoothing down his cold chest. “You’ve got nothing on. Get in here.” I sat up and pushed the covers off me. Goosebumps rose on my bare skin.

“Clothes needed to recuperate,” he said, not moving.

“And you?” I asked, my hands taking an exploratory survey of his torso and arms. I didn’t feel any injuries there, got up on my knees and explored lower.

“The clothes took the worst of it,” he said, finally sitting up.

“Did you catch something?” I asked, shifting my attention to his face and scalp.

“It sublimated on the way here,” he replied, pulling up his legs.

“Nothing left?” I asked. There was a scratch on his cheek. I heard him wince.

“Blood on the harpoon and a few brittle hairs on my coat,” he said, “I put them in the freezer and I disinfected that,” he said, brushing his fingertips across my hand, which was still at his cheek. He tugged at the covers and slipped his legs underneath them.

I could feel the cold radiating off him. “Frostbite?” I asked, feeling the tip of his nose and then his fingers. “Tingling?”

“No,” he said, “I don’t need a transfusion.” He slid further under the blankets.

I burrowed beneath them and checked his toes, worked my way up his legs and found some warmth at the groin. I rubbed my cheek against his cock, closed my mouth about its tip. It was cool at first. I released it, crawled up his chest and pulled the covers over our heads.

“I hate it when you go alone,” I said.

“I would have preferred to have you with me,” he said, his limbs closing around my back and legs.

I shivered.

“You would have enjoyed the aurorae, but you couldn’t have withstood the cold,” he explained.

I pressed my forehead against his neck, settling between his arm and his side, one leg across his thighs. Small patches of warmth were forming on him. I rubbed his other shoulder and arm, feeling the extra line of bone beneath his skin.

“Any chance of deposition?” I asked.

“I’m fairly sure it was only a body that I was trying to bring back, but I don’t know,” he said, his hands gliding down my back, over my buttocks and back up again, growing less cold with each pass.

I knew how he hated to admit to not knowing.

“We’ll have to keep an eye on the temperature next winter,” he said. His hands came to rest, one loosely cupping a buttock, the other tucked between my chest and his stomach. His breathing slowed.

I closed my hand around his shoulder, pulled his legs closer with mine, shut my eyes and listened to the echo of the word we.

***

Date: 2016-03-31 12:10 pm (UTC)
ext_9226: (snailbones)
From: [identity profile] snailbones.livejournal.com


Whoohoo!

No time to read, but yay! Later, later! Thank you in advance - I'm enjoying it like crazy.

Date: 2016-04-01 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saki101.livejournal.com
Oh, I'm so glad!

I'm happy that challenge got me to write it! This chapter's posting was a few hours after the deadline, but at least it got done! :-D

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