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Penumbra - Chapter 3 indented

Title: Penumbra (Chapter Three: Transfusions - second part)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] saki101
Characters/Pairings: John Watson/Sherlock Holmes, Mrs Hudson, Mike Stamford, Bill Wiggins, Mrs Turner
Rating: NC-17 (for this chapter and the series)
Genre: slash
Word Count: ~11K (Chapter Three in two parts on LJ due to length)
Disclaimer: Neither Sherlock nor Dark Shadows is mine and no money is being made.
Preview: Sherlock’s life is endangered and John is ready to do whatever is necessary to save him.
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.

(After some revision, the chapter went over the LJ word limit so it is now posted in two sections.)

Also posted On AO3.
Chapter One on LJ
Chapter Two on LJ
Chapter Three - part 1 on LJ

Excerpt: A glint of white streaked across the sky, a fleck of fallen moonbeam.
Fanciful, Watson.
I may have crossed into the land of poets and madmen; I should use their language.




Penumbra


Chapter Three: Transfusions


Second Part



I stayed up late in the library, loathe to abandon my work until the words started to run together on my laptop screen and my weary eyes sought relief in the gentle shift of the shadows along the walls and in the far corners of the room.

I had copied a concise version of my notes into Sherlock's lab book and typed the rough text, complete with the many questions my observations had raised, into a document on my laptop. A number of books and journals surrounded my seat at the same table where I had had lunch. I had found most of the reference works I had needed in the library, books and journals on zoology and haematology and infectious diseases, and additional sources in the online databases whose passwords had been added to the lab book along with the directions. Both had clearly been written in haste. Despite the records of past results and the directions for the procedures to follow in his absence, there had been no explanation of the objectives of the research. Their absence intrigued me. It suggested that he had not expected to need to explain his purpose to anyone at this stage. I began to entertain the flattering notion that the role of research assistant had been added to the job description during our interview. I worked all the more assiduously because of it.

There had been further blood samples in the lab refrigerator and the pathogens I had found on the slides I prepared had become rarer and rarer. For hours, I had been saying to myself just one more as I clipped another slide to the platform of the microscope.

The only touring that had been accomplished had been directly after lunch. When I had explained what time I had to be back to attend to the experiments, Mrs Hudson had decided it would be best to go straight up to the roof and leave the labyrinth of rooms for another day.

I leaned back in my chair, stretched my arms out to my sides and over my head.

If I had not had a deadline, I could have happily spent the rest of the day up there in the outdoor gardens or in one of the conservatories that maintained different climates for non-native plants. There had even been an apiary and a pigeon roost. Mrs Hudson had proudly explained that it was inhabited by carrier pigeons some of whose forebears had delivered messages during both the world wars and earlier conflicts as well. I had noted the bands the birds wore about their feet and as we walked away had mentioned that I thought war pigeons had been made obsolete by modern communications. Mrs Hudson had gravely advised me not to repeat that within earshot of the birds.

In our meanderings, we passed several stairways leading down from the roof, but I would not venture to use any but the one we had employed to ascend or the other we had taken down when the time to return to the library had approached. I had been thinking to go up again before bed, but I persisted with the research too long and the likelihood of getting lost would have been rather high. I had a desire to see the moon from up there, but resigned myself to leaving it for another night.

***

Despite my fatigue, I took a shower before sleeping. I did not bother with my toiletries, instead making use of the hand-labelled bottles ranged along the stone counter between the two copper basins in the bathroom. They were, as I suspected they might be, scented with lavender.

I was damp and fragrant as I stared out the balcony doors and rubbed the towel over my hair. The moon was high enough to brighten the upper half of the courtyard’s eastern side. The bare branches of the climbing vines cast gnarled shadows on the wall. The garden below was dark except for the glitter of the fountain’s spray and a few gleams on the wet curves of the statues surrounding the central pillar.

I stepped closer to the window. The fountain in the courtyard I had visited was not so tall nor did it have statues; it had been a modest feature with a column about my height ringed with carved ivy and a gentle spout burbling at the top. The distraction of Lestrade’s arrival had followed and although I had now seen from the roof that the Manor’s buildings enclosed several courtyards, I had forgotten to ask which one my room overlooked. Perhaps the upwards hand-waving while we had been in the courtyard had been a general indication of a room on the upper floors.

Draping the towel around my neck, I wrapped my dressing gown more tightly about me and opened the balcony doors. The chill air raised goose flesh on my warm skin and would have driven me back inside, but for the rhythmic shimmer of light about the fountain. I pulled the curtains closed behind me and moved to the railing, leaning over.

Slowly, my eyes adjusted to the dark. The outlines of pairs of figures took shape, clasped together back to front, ringing most of the way around the tree-like centre sculpture. The inner statue of the nearest pair seemed to cling to the tree, the statue behind pressing close, its nearer arm disappearing around its mate’s waist, the forearm of the other leaning against the tree above its partner’s head. A couple shallow steps bridged the fountain’s pool at the point on the tree trunk without figures.

I narrowed my eyes in the faint light. Water poured down the backs of the outer statues, splashed over the little bridge. It was this movement of the water that was catching the light and making the figures seem to undulate. I scanned the other balconies looking for sources of light other than the moon. There was nothing but deeper shadows, almost human in shape, against the dark windows as though others looked out on the scene from their balconies with the same interest as I. The plash of the fountain reverberated from the courtyard walls, sounding like sighs in the confined space. The shapes on the balconies seemed to merge, shifting with a rhythm that matched the fall of the water.

I shivered.

Despite the temporary refreshment of my shower, my fatigue had obviously reached the stage where my senses were not to be trusted. I retreated inside, shut the door gently as though it might be thought rude to withdraw before...

By whom and before what?

I don't know.

I did know, felt it in the clench of my stomach and the tension in my thighs.

I latched the doors firmly. I could go down to the courtyard in the daylight and examine the fountain to my heart’s content.

I hurried to the bed, dropped my towel and dressing gown over its foot, slipped out of my slippers and between the sheets, burrowing under the heavy covers.

I was surrounded by the scent of lavender.

***

Perhaps I slept.


My eyes perceived only shadows above me, but my muscles felt his weight, the lesser or greater give of bone or sinew. Lips suckled at my neck, teeth nipped at my ear and a rampant cock rutted between my thighs.

“Two can play at this,” I said aloud and my arms wrapped about him. I thrust upward with one hip and rolled us over.

I heard him gasp. It was a sweet, surprised sound.

“My aim is true,” I said. “Let me show you.” I thrust with vigour against his smooth skin, perceived the muscles rippling beneath it with the most sensitive part of me. My lips sought the warm join of his neck and shoulder, found it and bit down there.

Oh, he tasted like lavender.

“Something different tonight, then,” he whispered, arm curving behind my neck, muscles taut as he rolled me onto my back once more.

My breathing came more quickly.

He clamped his legs about my thighs and reared up over me. Without the veil of his shadow, the stars blazed and I saw that the moon was touching the treetops. Our kisses had taken more time than I had thought.

Dread that he would disappear when it set filled me. I dug my fingers into his hips and strained upwards. The sky dimmed.

His lips were at my ear. I wanted them on my mouth.

“Do not despair. You will know the feel of me when only the stars remain in the sky to watch." The tip of his tongue traced the edge of my ear. "Even in utter darkness you could feel me, if your desire proves strong enough."

I clasped him to me with arms and legs and teeth.

Like a wreath of smoke, he eluded my grasp and rose.

I stretched after him.

His hands closed about my forearms, pulling me to my feet with such force I collided with him. It knocked the wind out of me. He held me long enough for me to feel his cock firm against my stomach. “We must take cover," he whispered, "if I am to keep my promise to you. There are others abroad tonight who might like to have you, too.”

With that, he pulled away, his fingertips gliding across my chest and down my arm, and then he was gone.

Like an arrow, I sped down the moonlit slope after a shifting shadow and into the dark beneath the trees.

There was a stream curving through the wood. Over the rush of the water, I fancied I could hear the plash of his footsteps. I followed over the rounded rocks below the cold current, shivering and intent.

The brook spilled into a glade, smaller than the meadow and flat. At its centre, a massive oak tree grew. The moon shone through its bare branches. The stream disappeared beneath its roots.

I saw nothing but the shadows of the branches, heard naught but the murmur of the stream. I slumped against a tree, rubbed my forehead against the rough bark.

Chasing phantoms again, Watson?

Leave me in peace.

You don’t seem at peace.

A bird trilled. A twig snapped. I took a step further behind the tree upon which I leaned.

There were voices, a laugh. The bird whistled and warbled.

I peered around the trunk of my shielding tree.

High in the oak, a small shape hopped from branch to branch, singing as though its heart would burst.

The voices grew louder; I did not detect his. The laughter rose higher; I could not hear his. There was the jingle and thump of a tambourine.

A woman glided out of the trees. Her dark hair was piled high on her head, her cloak was picked with silvery threads. She swirled about the tree, shrugged the cape from her shoulders and tossed her head until her tresses fell, her hair pins flying into the grass glittering with captured moonbeams. She paused an instant, facing towards me.

I hunched my shoulders, squinted my eyes nearly shut least their gleam betray me.

She clicked her fingers together and twirled away.

Another woman ran from the woods, her hair already loose, her cloak streaming behind her. She caught the first lady by the waist and spun her round, then pressed her against the oak tree with a passionate kiss. Her cape fell. The moonlight shone on the swell of her arse.

The tambourine player arrived with a jangle. He had garters of bells below his knees and above his elbows and naught else I could see. He thumped his drum near the women’s heads.

An arm waved him away and returned to its caressing.

He capered about the tree, jingling and laughing up into its branches or peering into the surrounding woods by turn, his cock bouncing to the rhythm to which he beat his drum.

A pair of lovers tumbled from the shadows, their arms entwined, their cocks so full against their stomachs they hardly shifted as the men stumbled towards the tree. They leaned upon it heavily, facing one another, kissing and stroking, each lifting one leg to caress the other, as though two hands were inadequate to the task.

Their touches echoed on my skin. They fired my blood and enhanced my disappointment.

I did not think the one I sought would be part of this parade.

A tall woman joined the group. She undid the knot of cloth at her shoulder and let her garment fall. She caught the musician on his next circuit, hooking a finger in one of the bands about his arms. He looked up at her, his hand poised above his tambourine. She plucked it from his grasp, tossed it onto the cloth at her feet and pulled him round to the far side of the oak. I could not see them at all, but I heard him jingle.

The youngest branches of the oak trembled with the activities of the lovers about its bore. The bird sang, full-throated, in its branches.

I sighed.

Strong arms closed about me from behind. A long finger pressed against my lips, a long cock nestled in the ridge of my back. His voice at my ear was no louder than the rustle of a dried leaf. “Do you want to join them?” he asked and one of his hands stroked the proof of my interest. “There’s still a place around the oak.” He dropped his hand from my mouth, to spread it below my heart. He held me firmly against him, his spine flexing in time to the jingling of the bells.

I took a deep breath of lavender and my muscles went slack. “You could have me there,” he whispered. His palm rubbed against my chest. “But then the rest of them would, too.”

I tensed in his arms.

“It is a sharing tree, you see.”

I covered his hand with mine, pressed it hard against my heart.

“Can you be silent, John?” he asked and his hand stilled on my cock.

I nodded. He smiled against my ear, kissed it once, then twice beneath it, then lower still. He sucked hard at the flesh at that juncture and his hand tightened on me.

I held in every sound, did not allow even a hum to vibrate in my throat. I felt his smile again. Oh, to please him was a pleasure.

His hand caressed my balls, nudged my thighs apart. His fingers stroked the skin between my legs, behind my balls; his tongue flicked over the skin of my throat.

How he played me. I was trembling with the effort to utter no sound and make no sudden movements. For him, silence seemed second nature.

He brought his hand up to my mouth.

I touched it lightly with my tongue and was rewarded with a smile once more. I licked more liberally, drawing his fingers into my mouth.

Slowly, he drew them away, slipped them back between my legs.

It took resolve to remain silent.

I felt his cock slide into place. I tensed the muscles of my thighs, released them and contracted them again, falling, without meaning to, into the rhythm of the bells.

He sucked at my neck and his hand returned to my cock more intent in its motions that it had been before.

Everything was tightening inside me. I pressed my lips together, my balls drew up.

He grasped my cock near the head, a flick, a twist, the touch of a maestro.

I spilled and spilled; his other hand rubbing it over my belly then down between my thighs. I tried to hold them tightly together for him, but my muscles were relaxing, my mind beginning to drift. I tried harder.

I gripped his forearm with one hand, braced my other arm against the tree and shoved my hand against my mouth. I was as still as the tree trunk upon which I leaned.

Around us, not a twig stirred with his motion, as though he were no more than a whiff of smoke.

From the glade, the jingling rose to a crescendo and ceased.

Wet warmth trickled down my thighs. He dragged his cock back and up between my buttocks, pressed it against the tender spot and spent his last against me there.


The arch of my back eased. I stretched and rolled onto my side and slept.

***

I conducted a self-examination before my shower. That I had ejaculated was an understatement. It almost seemed as though I had done so twice. I even used a hand mirror. There was dry semen everywhere, but my muscle was unstretched. Perhaps it was an odd thing to do, but the dream had been powerful in its sensations. It appeared that lavender had a hallucinogenic effect on me and an aphrodisiacal one as well. I lathered and shampooed in the fragrance.

Indulging a bit?

I plan to indulge much more.

***

I left the bath with an expectation of tea and I was not disappointed. Accompanying it were several pieces of lemon shortbread and a dish of peeled blood orange sections. My appetite reared its head at the first whiff of them and there was nothing but rosy juice left on the plate by the time I poured myself a second cup of tea.

Outside my windows, the day shone brighter than its predecessor and the slant of its beams told me that I had slept even later. I dressed and went out on the balcony to examine the courtyard by the sunshine that poured down on it. Baskerville was snuffling along the periphery of the flowerbeds in a leisurely manner, the sunlight bringing out highlights of auburn in his dark coat. At the nexus of the courtyard’s walkways the fountain played gently, its details clearly visible from my vantage. They were of the modest proportions and design I recalled from my stroll through the garden, rather than the images I thought I had observed before sleeping. As I finished my tea, I concluded that the view of it from my windows had been part of my dream rather than something I had actually seen before sleeping.

But last night wasn't the first time you saw them.

I paused, cup in mid-air.

I was very tired that first time. There was little light.

Your vision is superb, Watson. Your night vision as well. You wouldn't be the marksman you are otherwise.

One place by day and another at night? But I first saw this version of it at night. What am I supposed to conclude from this?

He said the house had quirks. It has more floors than it should.

Weren't you arguing for architectural tricks, set-back from the façade and so forth?

Don't you think we're past that now, Watson? Why the resistance on this point?

Lust does strange things to perception. I don't want to act on my own wishful thinking and offend him.

Cowardice.

Caution.

Don't be too cautious for too long, Watson.

Fine.

I expelled a long breath and set the cup down.

***

I had recorded my next set of observations on the experiment in the laboratory when I heard Mrs Hudson in the library. I hung up the extra lab coat I had found the day before behind the door, the one that fit me as though it had been tailored to my measurements.

“Good morning, John,” Mrs Hudson said as I joined her, shutting the laboratory door behind me. I had noticed that I did not care for its light shining into the library, as though the two aesthetics should not intrude on one another.

“I hope you slept well,” she said. “You’re as bad as Sherlock for staying up to the wee hours or beyond, but at least you take some rest afterwards.” She was uncovering dishes as she spoke and fine fragrances were calling me to my seat at table.

“He doesn’t?” I enquired, unfolding my serviette and surveying what she had set out. “It looks as beautiful as it smells.”

She smiled. “Oh, from time to time he sleeps a whole day and night through, but many’s the day he only catnaps on that sofa for an hour or two or even not at all if he has a particularly interesting case.” She poured some water from a jug and motioned for me to eat. “I always worry when he goes away on his consultations that he won’t bother to sleep or eat. He comes back so pale and drawn.”

“Does he travel far? Jet lag really afflicts some people,” I said and spread my serviette on my lap.

“Go on, then,” she urged with a shooing motion.

I took up my fork.

“He doesn’t often say where he’s been, but occasionally he’ll bring something back and it could be from Singapore or Southampton. If the case is interesting he doesn’t care how far, but he won’t even go to Mayfair if he doesn’t find it interesting,” she said, sitting down and taking up her tea cup.

I sampled a bit of salad. “Oh, that is lovely,” I murmured as the flavour of the dressing on the greens suffused my mouth.

“I am glad, dear,” Mrs Hudson said, watching me keenly.

I had a feeling she was checking me for allergic reactions.

“I’m not allergic to any foods I know of,” I said.

“Well,” she replied, “while we’re getting to know what agrees with you, I thought it might be best to sit with you. “That dressing has wine from the Vernet chateau in France.”

“I enjoy the company,” I said.

She smiled again.

“Vernet? I’m not familiar with that label,” I said simply to say something. I am not a connoisseur of wine, but the hand-written labels on the wines we had had with our first dinner came to mind.

Your only dinner.

Fine.

“Oh, it’s a private vineyard. Vernet was Sherlock’s grandmother’s maiden name,” Mrs Hudson said.

“Does he go to France often, then?” I asked. It was hard to concentrate with the different sensations that were going on in my mouth.

“Not like he used to when he was a child,” she said. “When I was a girl, we would go for the whole summer. It was glorious.”

I looked up at that. “When did you start working here?” I asked.

She tilted her head. “Close to ten years now since I came back from Florida. It took me a while to sort everything out after Frank’s execution.” She shook her head. “Time does fly.”

My eyebrows shot up, but I brought them down fast. “Oh,” I said as neutrally as possible.

“Sherlock helped me with that. Came all the way to Florida and I don’t think the case was that interesting. He’s such a good boy,” she said.

“But he wasn’t able to prevent the execution?” I asked and immediately regretted it. “Oh, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”

She reached across the table and patted my hand. “That wasn’t what I asked him to help with,” she said.

I was puzzled, but forbore asking another intrusive question.

“I was nearly forty when I met Frank in New York, definitely old enough to have known better, but I didn’t. He was a handsome devil,” she said, carrying on without further prodding from me. “A real charmer and we, well, we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. It was years before I realised he was involved in drug dealing. So when he got arrested for killing a few of his competitors and it looked like he was going to get off the charges because of a lack of solid evidence, I called Sherlock. He’s always helping the police out. He helped the Florida police out and practically walked the prosecutor through the evidence. So Frank didn’t charm his way out of that one,” she concluded and took a long drink of tea.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Charm can be a dangerous thing,” she said, “but you look like you are more level-headed than to be taken in by it.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I said.

I had checked my neck for bruises in the morning. That was how vivid the dream had been. I had only spent a few hours with him and his charm had certainly taken hold.

Time for a new topic of conversation.

“So you started work here and then moved to the States?” I asked.

She took my empty salad dish away, set a covered dish before me and lifted the dome off.

I laughed.

“We thought we’d be traditional today,” she said and put a cruet of vinegar near me before she sat back down.

“I didn’t work here when I was young, but all my grandparents did. Da, my mother’s father, was the head gardener and Nan did what I do now, the undergardener was Papa’s father and his mother was the pastry cook. Mrs Turner’s mother was the cook,” she said, smiling again. “We were all born at the Manor.”

I looked up from the battered cod I was cutting. “Was there a doctor in residence then, too?”

She nodded. “Old Doctor Hooper. He got me through measles when I was a wee one. He only died a couple months ago. In his nineties, at least, he was. Kind man, always smiling. His daughter’s a doctor, too. Been working at St Bartholomew’s in the morgue for a few years now.”

“Her father always hoped she would carry on after him here. He asked her about it when he was dying, but her mother thought it would be better if she stayed in the job she had where she was already established and where it was ‘more social’,” Mrs Hudson said and took a sip of tea. “We all knew Molly was sweet on Sherlock; he was her first crush. She never grew out of it, but that was never going to happen. She still gives him blood and body parts when he wants them for experiments though, poor dear.”

I wondered if Mike knew Dr Hooper, the younger. “Does her mother live here?” I asked. The list of residents I had not yet met was growing.

“Meredith boxed everything up and went to Australia to visit a cousin shortly after the funeral. I have a feeling she won’t be coming back, but she could. Her old rooms are empty. She was the last of the musicians, you see. She’d give me pointers on my playing. She plays like an angel, although it was Dr Hooper’s first wife who taught me how to play the harp. She died in a motor accident down on Marylebone Road, but that was after we had moved away. I still hear her voice if I pluck a wrong note,” Mrs Hudson added.

“But your parents didn’t want to work here?” I asked. She seemed inclined to talk and I was finding every bit of background information interesting.

Mrs Hudson poured herself another cup of tea and gazed over my shoulder for a moment. “It’s hard to say what might have happened if Papa hadn’t inherited the florist’s shop in Bath from his great uncle Angus.”

I hummed attentively and took a forkful of peas.

“But he did, just after he came back from his time in the Army. I remember being confused when Mama and Papa told me over dinner one night that we were going to live in Bath because I thought it strange that we would leave our nice rooms off the courtyard to live in the hammam.”

“Hammam?” I repeated.

“Oh, you haven’t seen them yet. I am way behind in showing you the house, but that experiment Sherlock left you with is taking up so much of your time. There are proper Turkish baths under the courtyard your room looks onto.”

“I noticed the glass bricks in the walkways,” I said. “I thought they were for decoration.”

“They are pretty, aren’t they? But they also let light down into the hammam. Anytime you want a proper steaming and scrubbing, just say, and we’ll get the boilers going and tell Billy. Sherlock says he gives an excellent massage…”

The image caused a twist in my stomach that was not conducive to digestion at all.

“…of course, Mrs Turner and I can do for each other. All of us used to go once a week when I was little, Mama and Nan and Margaret, that’s Mrs Turner, and her mother. Margaret and I would comb out each other’s hair when we got old enough to do that on our own. These days I find the heat helps my hip. Are you all right, John.”

“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” I assured her. “It’s been a long while since I’ve had a proper massage.”

As opposed to physiotherapy.

Indeed.

“Are you certain you’re okay?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I said and scooped some mashed potatoes onto my fork. “So what happened in Bath?”

“My parents ran the shop; my mother handled the bookkeeping and the ordering. My father made up the bouquets and did some cross-breeding in the little greenhouse out back of the shop and my sister was born,” she said. “That’s when I started coming back to spend the summers with my grandparents here or in France. Nan said it gave Mama some time alone with Lily, like she had had with me. I did that every year until Papa got a very good offer for the shop and decided he would take it and we would emigrate to Canada. After that it was too far to visit every year. In fact, I didn’t until I came for Da’s funeral. I had already moved to New York by then. I had dreams of dancing on Broadway, you see.” She sighed. “Life does take some unexpected twists and turns.”

“Yes, it does,” I said, setting down my silverware.

“Oh,” she said, “here I am going on about twists and turns to you with all the changes you’ve just had.”

“It’s all right,” I said. “I may be getting used to them.”

“Well, your leg’s got better; that’s a fine thing,” she said.

“It is,” I agreed and mixed the last of the peas with the final bit of potato on my fork.

She checked my plate. “Look how well you’ve done. It is a pleasure feeding someone who has a good appetite,” she said. “I’ll just bring these things down and get our dessert. It’s something I learned in America. I hope you like it.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’ll be a surprise,” she said, stacking everything up on the tray and whisking it out the door much faster than I would have thought someone with a bad hip could have managed. “Won’t be two ticks.”

I pulled an open journal on haematology closer and scanned the article for the place where I had left off.

“John! Doctor Watson!”

I was out of my chair and looking over the banister from the landing in an instant. Mrs Hudson was at the foot of the stairs. “Mrs Turner’s cut her hand. There’s blood everywhere.”

“Wrap it in a clean tea towel,” I called as I bounded up the stairs to my room. “Just getting my medical kit.” I grabbed my bag from the wardrobe and ran down again. The glass door at the back of the hall was open and I followed the smell of baking to the kitchen.

***

I closed the lab notebook, rose from my seat and stretched, vertebrae crackling. There was more research I wanted to do, but my head felt heavy and I thought some fresh air would clear it. Since out was not an option, I decided to go up.

Chafing at the restrictions a bit?

Oddly, no.

Our day’s explorations had been curtailed once more what with disinfecting Mrs Turner’s wound, stitching her up and calming her down. It had been a deep cut and it had bled a lot, but I assured her it would heal well if it was kept clean and dry. I gave her a mild analgesic and recommended she put her feet up for an hour or two and not put any pressure on the base of her thumb until I had taken the stitches out. My tableside manner had apparently been successful, because with a hand well-bandaged, she insisted on sitting at the table with her feet up on another chair while I tried Mrs Hudson’s apple pie American style.

It seemed that feeding me had become both a competitive and a spectator sport.
I obliged, two servings worth, while we all shared a pot of coffee. I decided I was going to need to start running up and down the staircases several times a day, if I wasn’t going to roll out the door at the end of the month.

Instead of embarking on my exercise regime immediately, I went back to my tasks in the laboratory and the library. I explored more fully the databases to which Mr Holmes subscribed, some of which I had not thought were open to outside researchers and others of which I was certain were not, in between the timed observations in the lab.
In the late afternoon, Mrs Hudson arrived with plates of sandwiches and fresh fruit and a pot of tea, advising me that Mrs Turner was much refreshed and enjoying having Mrs Hudson be her sous-chef for the time being.

When I had nourished myself to her satisfaction, she insisted I at least see the conservatories that we had not had time for the day before and so we did.

In my view, they were worthy of Kew Gardens, although I have not been there since I was a child so my memories were little more than vague impressions of lush foliage and towering glass roofs. The Manor’s conservatories, as distinguished from a couple small nurseries I saw tucked into nooks by chimney pots and filled mostly with seedlings or pots yet to sprout, were more than two storeys high and complete with trees. One, which Mrs Hudson identified as the tropical one, was very humid and the other pleasantly warm one catered to the sub-tropical plants. There were white spiral staircases to viewing galleries and lower areas with wide half walls where one could sit and marvel without falling over when one had craned one’s neck back too far.

That these were perched above the traffic of Baker Street, set back just far enough that they were invisible to the passers-by below, was amazing. I exclaimed freely in that vein as we walked around and Mrs Hudson glowed with filial pride as she pointed out trees and vines and large shrubs that had been the nurslings of her grandfather and in some cases, his father before him. The gardens outside the conservatories were remarkable enough and I understood that I was seeing them at their least impressive season, but the conservatories were in a different category. After some more expressions of astonishment on my part, Mrs Hudson started pointing out the plants that had medicinal purposes or were poisonous and I realised that those two, sometimes overlapping, categories covered most of them.

We descended via a third route that led to a small corridor outside the kitchen. I checked on Mrs Turner, who was perusing a very thick, very old book of what appeared to be hand-written recipes and managed to escape the kitchen without being fed anything else. I did take a cup of coffee with me though.


And so I had returned once more to the library, with an expanded pharmacological aspect to my informal research objectives. It was from these labours I had finally risen, stiff of neck and numb of buttocks, and decided I could make my way up to the roof and back without getting lost and having to summon Mrs Hudson from her slumbers. It was approaching midnight and out the window I could see that the moon was just cresting the housetops. The sky was clear and as far as I could hear, there was no wind. All seemed auspicious for my journey.

I went to my room for a jacket and came back to the library. I considered going down to the kitchen and up the way I had most recently used, but I was not sure the various inner doors I would need to pass through would be unlocked at this time of night and thought I could remember the route we had taken from the ballroom equally well. It took me three tries to find the correct volume to pull down to open the bookcase and reach the music room, but after that delay, my progress was smooth. I did have to stand on a stool to open the panel between the minstrel galleries though.

It was brisk when I emerged into the air, a faint breeze stirring the evergreen leaves about me. I grinned at my achievement and took my bearings, hedge of rosemary along the half-wall to my left, holly tree in the corner to my right. Satisfied that I could locate the door to the stairs again, I turned east towards the gibbous moon.

Somewhere in the dark, hyacinths bloomed. I took a deep breath. I had not seen or smelled them in the day, but the rooftop was a maze around the courtyards and skylights. There were few straight lines of sight and doubtless many nooks that we had not needed to cross to reach the conservatories.

A fox yapped. I grinned. They are handsome, but unmelodious, creatures.

Unlike someone else.

Shh.

As well as the paths and shrubs allowed, I was fairly sure I was meandering roughly parallel to Melcombe Street. The light grew brighter as the moon rose higher and I spied a gate in the perimeter wall. A jasmine vine climbed over the rounded arch above the gate and three small steps led up to it. I wondered if there was a terrace outside the walls or a fire escape. I had no detailed memories of the buildings around the corner, my journeys in the area usually starting from the station and heading towards the park. I was on the top step in a moment, more than a little surprised at the intensity of my curiosity. The door possessed an oval peephole, but the mesh covering it was so closely woven that it yielded nothing to my enquiring eye. I tried the handle and smiled as a latch gave way. I pushed against the swollen wood and the door swung open.

The air was colder on the other side, the moon brighter. Its light revealed a narrow ledge ending in a single course of rough-hewn stones that did not rise above my shin, which appeared to mark the edge of the roof. I stepped over the threshold.

I smelled the trees, the damp bark, the leaf mould and the moss. There was water running somewhere below me. An owl hooted. A wolf howled. The breeze grew stronger.

I shuffled closer, knelt by the parapet and peered over it into the night.

My eyes searched for the landmarks they knew so well in vain. None of the coloured lights that garland a city street lent their glow to the view below me. No headlamps reflected in shop windows. No well-lit buses growled by. Only the moon outlined the bare crowns of innumerable trees and elicited a faint glimmer from a waterway that wound beneath them and out of sight.

Something in the food?

The meal was hours behind me. I had read and written and observed through the microscope for the entire evening after it. Anything that could produce this result, would have noticeably interfered with those tasks.

Are you asleep in the library?

I doubt my fatigue before I decided on an evening stroll was that extreme, although I cannot discount a dream completely, as vivid as my recent dreams have been.

In some effort towards external verification, I extended my hand past the parapet, snagged my flesh on something sharp. I swore under my breath. The moonlight showed the jagged scratch clearly. I touched the ridges of torn flesh, felt the sting at the contact, the wetness of the single bead of blood.

And if you are neither hallucinating nor dreaming, Watson, what then? Can the stories be true?

Never heard of one like this.

Not a whole story no, but mention of a vast wooded estate upon which the Manor sat between the heath and the river.

I craned my neck over the rim of the stone and tried to see as much of the wall as I could in the moonlight. Looking straight down yielded little data. The wall appeared to be covered in vines, some of which still bore leaves. Close to my perch, a specimen reached up into the air without any support but its own thorn-studded stoutness, which was easily as thick as my wrist. Climbing up or down that wall would be a dangerous enterprise indeed.

Defensive flowers.

They would smell sweet in their season.

The distance down was considerably farther than the height of the building I had studied from the pavement of Baker Street. It was the equivalent of several storeys before the outer branches of the surrounding trees brushed against it and obscured where its stones rose from the ground.

I raised my eyes and beheld a sea of trees that rolled away from the wall until their canopy merged with the clouds on the horizon.

A glint of white streaked across the sky, a fleck of fallen moonbeam.

Fanciful, Watson.

I may have crossed into the land of poets and madmen; I should use their language.

The streak grew larger as it glided towards me. With a flutter, a bird alit on the parapet a metre from my face and presented its sharp-beaked head in profile to regard me. Its dark, gold-rimmed eye gleamed.

I drew back, still crouched, my hand on the low wall to steady me.
The bird sidled closer, the white of its barred breast feathers reflecting the moonlight. It spread and refolded its wings repeatedly as though ambivalent about remaining or taking its leave. A silver band twinkled above the talons of one yellow leg. When it took flight, a feather fell onto the stone.

I grabbed it before it could blow away and tucked it in my pocket. I wanted proof.

About me, shadows wavered as clouds hurried past the moon. Below me, branches clattered. The air grew chill.

I glanced at the open doorway and the urge to be on the other side of it seized me.

As though things are ordinary there.

“More ordinary than this,” I said aloud and stood.

My head spun. I stumbled towards the threshold, reaching for the gate. Through the doorway, I could see the moon high and clear in the sky above the roof gardens. It raced away from me.

My stomach roiled.

Heights do not trouble me. Open-bayed helicopters and jumps from aeroplanes have not been a problem.

My hand did not reach the door jamb. It clutched at the air. My toe caught on the raised edge of a stone, my head tilted back. The cloud-shrouded moon seemed remarkably close.

The arm about my waist was strong.

My shoes bumped over the threshold as I was dragged across it.

I heard the gate bang shut. I sagged against a firm chest, closed my eyes and took gulp after gulp of air. I knew that fragrance. Slowly, my stomach settled, my head ceased to spin. I found my legs, opened my eyes and looked up.

His skin was washed in moonlight, the shadows dark beneath his brows and in the hollows of his cheeks. He put the moon to shame.

“My arrival was timely,” he said, loosening his grip upon me.

I moistened my lips with the tip of my tongue. “Vertigo does not usually afflict me,” I said.

His arm rested upon my shoulders. He drew it away and seemed momentarily unsteady.

“The transition can be disorienting,” he said, pulling himself up to full height. “What did you see?”

Was he humouring me or had he offhandedly acknowledged the impossible?

More household quirks?

That would be one way to describe them.

“Things that cannot be,” I replied.

“Such as?” he prompted.

Had he concluded I had been hallucinating and wanted to see how wildly? I sighed. If I had been hallucinating, he should know. It’s not good to have a doctor who sees things that are not there. “A winter forest marching towards the horizon,” I said.

He stepped closer and put a hand on my shoulder.

“Interesting choice of verb,” he said.

“My word choice was what you found notable in what I just said?” I asked.

“It tells me not only what you saw, but what you felt about what you saw,” he answered softly, tilting his head. The moonlight illuminated more of his face.

I saw the dark marks on his cheek then. I reached up without asking leave and felt the blood half-dried along the scratches. The tips of my finger were smeared with it when I pulled them away.

“I should see to that,” I said firmly, the last traces of my dizziness disappearing.

He smiled faintly. “I came to find you to ask for your help, Doctor,” he said.

“How did you know where I was?” I asked.

There was a flurry of wings and the falcon landed on his shoulder.

I gaped wide-eyed, pointed at the gate in the wall then at the bird. My eyes narrowed as I considered the wounds on Sherlock’s cheek.

He stroked the bird and it shifted closer to his head.

Its beak was too near his eyes for my comfort.

“Siròc told me you were here,” he said. “She thought you were in danger.” He patted the falcon and it took wing.

I thought the thickness of his coat must be a distinct advantage with such a pet and noticed the band was gone from her leg.

Adapting are you, Watson?

Falconry’s a lot easier to cope with than what else I saw or thought I saw.

One step at a time.

“We should adjourn to the laboratory,” he said and gestured towards a different direction from the way I would have gone to seek the stairway.

He seemed unbalanced by the motion. He righted himself again, his coat flapping open for a moment in the process.

I glimpsed dark patches on his white shirt. I was at his side, my hand beneath the coat in an instant. His shirt was damp and perhaps of equal concern was how heavily he leaned upon me.

“Where are the nearest stairs exactly?” I asked.

“The arbour behind the oleander,” he said.

Fortunately, I knew what an oleander was. More botanical study was necessary because I did not know the names of more than half the plants in the gardens.

I brought us to the door behind the arbour and six steps down brought us to a storeroom whose open door revealed the laboratory beyond.

You went up several flights of stairs to reach the roof.

I’ll worry about that later.

“Wouldn’t your bedroom be better?” I asked. “I can bring my medical kit there.”

“Lab,” he said and the clipped answer spoke of pain suppressed.

Internal bleeding occurred to me, an analgesic that was wearing off.

I left Sherlock slumped against the lab table while I dragged two chairs from the library for him. A lab stool was not going to provide enough support.

His coat and jacket were sliding down his arms when I returned.

My vision sharpened when I saw the back of his shirt. I let the garments fall to the floor and guided him into one of the desk chairs I had brought. He sat heavily in it and I lifted his feet into the other. I removed his shoes, kicked them under the chair and scooped up his other garments and dropped them over a lab stool.

“What have you taken for the pain?” I asked, from the basin where I was scrubbing my hands.

“Morphine,” he said.

“When?” I asked.

“Nearly three hours ago,” he said, his head resting against the side of the lab table.

I had a thousand questions as to how he had sustained his injuries and why he had not sought more treatment than mere pain relief wherever he had been, but I forestalled them all and brought swabs and disinfectant and clean towels to the table.

He was fumbling with the button of his cuff.

I helped him undo it and roll the shirt sleeve up above his elbow. “Do you have morphine here?” I asked.

He nodded. “Not what I need first,” he said. “I need a transfusion.”

I grew very calm. “Have you lost that much blood?” I asked. His clothes did not reveal that level of bleeding. “Were you unconscious?”

“I don’t need much,” he said and his teeth were clenched as he spoke.

That made no sense.

“It acts as a catalyst,” he explained. His lips had grown pale, his skin faintly grey.

I could hear the effort expended to speak each word. Details could wait.

“Where is the blood?” I asked. All I had seen were the small test tube samples he had been using for his experiments.

He rolled his eyes and I thought he might faint before I realised he was simply exasperated. “You know,” he gritted out.

“I only know where the test samples are,” I said.

“Any of them will do,” he said. He was starting to shake.

I grabbed his jacket and draped it over his shoulders. “They’re not labelled by blood type and they’re contaminated,” I said.

“Blood type doesn’t matter,” he insisted. “Hurry. I can’t wait much longer.”

“How can…” I started. “…AB-positive?”

He nodded again. “There’re control samples at the back of the fridge,” he said.

I froze with my hand on the door of the refrigerator. There had been. I had used them for a side experiment that had occurred to me during my research.

“Do you have one of them yet?” he said. “One’s enough.”

“I used the uncontaminated blood,” I said.

He drew in a sharp breath. “A contaminated one will do. Any one. Quickly. Please.”

I could hear the mounting tension in his voice.

“One moment,” I said and had wiped the inside of my elbow with alcohol and inserted the needle in a matter of seconds. I was not giving him diseased blood. My blood flowed quickly into the vacutainer tube. I ejected it from the needle and inserted it into a fresh syringe and pulled my sleeve down.

His head had fallen forward, but he curled his fingers when I brushed the alcohol wipe over his skin. His vein was easy to find against his pallid skin. I inserted the needle and depressed the plunger.

He sighed.

I pressed a bit of cotton wool to the small puncture wound.

He reached over with his other hand and held his forefinger against it.

I thought that a good sign.

“Shall I get you the morphine now?” I asked.

His head jerked up, his eyes wide. They flashed over me, stopped at the unbuttoned cuff of my shirt, the dot of blood on my sleeve.

“Oh, John,” he breathed. “The other blood would have been fine.”

“I wasn’t going to inject infected blood into your veins,” I said, glaring at him.

He met my gaze, shaking his head ever so slightly.

“Not so good at following orders,” he said, “surprising in a military man.”

“Not when I have a better solution,” I insisted.

“I am sorry for the pain this will cause you,” he said. “I should have anticipated your response.” He took his feet off the chair. “Sit, John,” he said, reaching inside his jacket. "You’re going to be needing this more than I will.” He extracted a slim, leather case from his jacket; unsnapped its fastenings. Wedged in the blue silk lining was a syringe and two ampules. A space for a third was empty.

I shook my head. “No, I don’t want that,” I said and looked from the case in his hands to his eyes. I winced and my hand flew to my cheek. While I stared, the scratches scoring his face from his cheekbone to his jaw finished fading away.
I inhaled suddenly and began tearing at the buttons of my shirt. My fingers were shaking, but I succeeded in undoing them and pulled the cloth aside.

Regulate your breathing.

My nostrils flared as I watched scratches and gouges appear then vanish from my flesh.

“Your pain threshold is high,” Sherlock said.

The words had not been spoken through clenched teeth.

I glanced at him. The grey cast was leaving his face. His gaze was intent on my skin.

“It is rare for it to work so quickly,” he added.

“Why?” I asked and my voice went up at the end of the syllable. I bent double, rested my jaw on the edge of one knee and tried to breathe through it. My back was aflame. Under one arm, it felt as though a bite had been taken out of the muscle. My bullet wound was the only experience that was remotely analogous. I hoped I would not vomit on Sherlock’s feet.

“Your blood was fresh,” he said, his tone thoughtful, “and you are right here with me...”

I was not sure I could speak, but the curiosity was as bright as the pain. “The others?” I managed to grit out.

“Most of the human samples are from patients who have died,” he said. “The uncontaminated ones were. All of them had been frozen for several months at a minimum and the living donors are scattered around the country. You've seen how rare most of the diseases are. Physical and temporal distance lessens the speed of the effect, but even old blood will work eventually. Someone who had donated blood months ago would have felt some slight discomfort, a twinge, a prickle, if I had used their blood tonight. Nothing remotely like what you are experiencing.”

I released my knees, let my arms hang limply by my legs. Tears were trickling down my cheeks. “And the other bloke?” I managed to enquire. Despite my desire to do so, I could not make any sound that resembled a laugh.

“The serpent is dead,” he stated with a wonderful finality.

The resonance was returning to his voice. I found it heartening even as the waves of pain rolled over me. I blew out a series of short breaths. “Wings?” I gasped.

“It was a serpent, not a dragon, John,” he replied with a hint of a laugh.

That sounded so good.

“They're bites, not scratches," he clarified, "and it did have seven heads.”

“God!” I huffed.

“Nowhere near. Harder to kill than I would have thought though. He ambushed me when I was nearly home. It is disagreeable to confess that I had not detected his presence until he was almost upon me,” Sherlock said.

I felt the weight of his hand on my hair.

I sighed out the words, “Down in the woods.” He had been under those trees needing a good sword hand while I was puzzling out what I was seeing.

“A bit further away than you would have been able to spot from the parapet,” he said.

Had the threat to him been why I could see the woods at all? Had I been meant to climb down somehow? I was pleased I could still think.

His thumb was digging into the base of my skull, his fingers fanning out through my hair. His strength was returning. Whether it was that evidence or the pressure around my ears and over the crown of my head, I was not sure, but one of them was distracting me from the pain.

“Venom,” I said querulously.

“The blood will take care of it all,” he replied.

“But I…”

“You’re not actually injured, you’re feeling my injuries,” he answered, his fingertips rubbing circles at my temple. “Of course, the shock of extreme pain could kill you.”

The pain was ebbing. My shoulders slumped further. I felt his knees against mine. If the chairs had not been positioned so closely, I wondered if I might have slipped onto the floor.

“You have strong blood," he mused.

The pain seemed to recede further at the compliment.

O vanity!

I'm in agony here, cut me some slack.

"We could age some in the freezer, so my using it would not affect you this intensely,” he continued. “If I should need blood again. I usually come away from such encounters with hardly a scratch.”

Pride wounded there.

Mmm.

His fingers pushed beneath my collar, rubbing and squeezing the muscles at the top of my shoulders. He was using both hands now.

Your patient is recovering well, Doctor.

It was the last thought I recalled having.

~~~~~~o0o~~~~~~


The next chapter may be read here.
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