Chapter 1. In Which John Watson is Determined (by far the kindest word for stubborn), Dogs are Sometimes Big, and Sherlocks are Sometimes Confounding
John Watson was determined, which meant, of course, that Sherlock Holmes was out of luck.
Nothing would move John to give in, not matter what variety of tantrum his partner decided to throw in front of their potential client, who sat, suspicious, in the red armchair John usually occupied. Beyond her expertise as a psychologist, Dr. Louise Mortimer was clever, and certainly perceptive enough, John thought, to see that the detective and the army doctor were in the midst of an argument. Only minutes before she arrived, Sherlock had been grinding out threats to both John and Mrs. Hudson in his desperation to have John reveal where he had hidden Sherlock’s cigarettes. Now, peevish and agitated, Sherlock drummed his fingertips along the arm of his chair, and John frowned at him from his seat near the desk.
John turned to her and said calmly, “Dr. Mortimer, please take your time.”
As the striking woman with golden skin and earnest brown eyes sat before them and related the situation, John did his best to listen, despite Sherlock’s fidgeting. The case was not to be believed--a sort of canine demon targeting her patient, Henry Baskerville. She clearly didn’t believe it herself, and yet the death of the man’s father was real enough.
“The police haven’t gotten anywhere. Can you help?” she asked, looking at them in turn.
“Can’t possibly get away from London right now,” Sherlock declared, standing and buttoning his jacket.
John only stared up at Sherlock as he paced over in front of the desk at John’s left.
“No, I’ve a very important case of blackmail to attend to and it will take all of my considerable attention for the foreseeable future,” Sherlock continued, his tone appropriately apologetic though John knew without a doubt that he was shamming.
He narrowed his eyes and then glanced over to Louise, who was, understandably, showing signs of irritation.
“You might have said so to begin with, rather than wasting my time, Mr. Holmes,” she said, her jaw tight.
“Oh, but we’ll take the case,” Sherlock said airily.
Ready to throttle his flatmate, John asked, “We will?”
“Of course.” Sherlock reached over and patted John’s shoulder significantly. “Putting my best man on it.”
Coming from anyone else, it would have been a compliment, but since Sherlock had never called John his best anything, it hardly seemed like he was choosing this moment to be sincere. No. This was a bluff--by an overgrown twelve-year-old in a snit.
“Yes, Dr. Mortimer,” John said, standing before Louise and nodding. She stood also, smoothing her dress, and she shook his outstretched hand.
John nodded. “I’ll come out on the first train tomorrow morning.”
Sherlock’s fake smile dropped and his brows drew together so tightly that John nearly grinned.
“Will Mr. Holmes be joining you after, then?” Dr. Mortimer asked, confusion flitting across her angular features.
“Oh, certainly,” John answered. He glanced at Sherlock. “If I need him.”
Sherlock’s mouth popped open.
John steered their client towards the door, helping her into her coat. “We’ll get this sorted; won’t take but a few days,” he promised, his hand giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze as he led her to the landing and down the steps.
When he returned upstairs, Sherlock was still stood in the middle of the sitting room, right where John had left him. Reaching around Sherlock to get to the coffee table, John picked up the large manila envelope there that Dr. Mortimer had given them, carefully placing all the items back inside, down to the last slip of paper. Unable to resist any longer, John took a step in front of Sherlock and looked up at him. The disdainful mask was firmly in place now, and John gazed back politely in return.
“Overplayed your hand a bit there, Dr. Watson,” Sherlock said, voice smooth as he slid his hands into the pockets of his trousers.
John pursed his lips. “Just following orders.”
Icy blue eyes narrowed a fraction, and John smiled tightly.
“So, uh, you can focus now on that urgent case--blackmail, was it?” John pressed, but Sherlock refused to repeat the lie.
John nodded and looked down. “Yeah, well, good luck with that, then.” He met Sherlock’s eyes again, let the anger seep in for a moment. “See you in a few days.”
He clutched the envelope more tightly and turned, making his way out to the landing and up the steps to his room.
Free from Sherlock’s observant gaze, John tossed the envelope on the bed, not caring that the contents slid out in a jumble over the quilt. He dropped into the chair by the window and fumed, yanking off his shoes and tossing them aside. Picking at the welting along the arm of the chair, he told himself that he was not listening for signs of Sherlock stewing, Sherlock throwing his own shoes across the floor, Sherlock climbing the stairs to apologize. He snorted aloud at that particularly fantastical notion.
“Yeah. Like that’s ever gonna happen.”
Wonderful. He’d devolved to muttering to himself. His stomach rumbled in response, and he regretted not having dinner before making his dramatic exit. But then he heard the sounds he was not listening for, the very deliberate sounds of Sherlock leaving the flat--heavy, quick steps, a door shut soundly--deliberate because Sherlock could move with absolute silence when he wished to, and John knew it. Pushing up from the chair, he walked two paces to the window and peered out to see Sherlock crossing Baker Street, shoving his gloved hands into the pockets of his great coat as he strode away. John watched him until the back of his head of black curls disappeared around the corner--he hadn’t spared one glance back.
“Angry, then?” John sniffed. “Good.”
Once he’d inhaled some dinner, John brought a full pot of tea upstairs with him, as, in between gulps of reheated stew, it had hit him he’d just agreed to take on a fairly serious case--by himself--and would now have to study the materials Dr. Mortimer had left for them.
The night was warm, and he stripped down to only his pants and his pajama bottoms, collapsing down prone across the bed. For a moment, he hung his head over the edge of the mattress, clasping his hands over the back of his neck.
Perhaps he had overplayed it. Perhaps a battle of wills with Sherlock Holmes was not the best way to go about things. There was a real client, a real case, and John’s confidence wavered. He knew he was smart and clever in his own right, but Sherlock . . .
Sherlock was the genius.
The sulky, tantrum-throwing genius, but still.
Exhaling a long breath, John pushed himself up to sitting and dragged the envelope towards him. He would do his best, and then if genius was required, John would find a way to get Sherlock there.
Grabbing a pen from the nightstand, John gathered the contents of the envelope and pulled the first piece of paper into his lap. He continued, diligently reading, marking up the documents, taking notes, until he had finished the last of the tea, stretched his neck until it cracked, and reached the last item--a leather-bound book.
It was small, its dimensions no taller or wider than a postcard. The dark brown leather felt buttery smooth as his fingers slid over it, the weight and shape of the book satisfying in his hand. The gilding along the edges of the pages was mostly worn away, but remnants of gold still glinted up at him in the low light. It had clearly been a well-used, well-loved book, moving supplely as he fanned the pages. A curious item slipped from between the leaves, and he lifted it to look at it more closely. At first glance it resembled a heavy pen, its case engraved and made of silver, but upon closer inspection, John found the barrel twisted to reveal a bit of graphite. John gave a half-smile at what must have been an early version of the mechanical pencil.
Returning his attention to the journal, John intended to start the the beginning, but as he reached for the open book, the words written there in a confident scrawl caught his attention.
Of the origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles there have been many statements, yet as I come in a direct line from Hugo Baskerville, and as I had the story from my father, who also had it from his, I have set it down with all belief that it occurred even as is here set forth.
Ah, so here, finally, was something about the legend of the hound; John settled in to read. The journal entry told the tale of a horrible brute of a man, Hugo Baskerville, who in 1730 had kidnapped a young woman and held her hostage at Baskerville Hall. One night, she escaped, and John read with fascination and disgust how the man chased after her upon a great black horse with a pack of hunting dogs, his twelve drunken companions following with loaded pistols. The companions, a bit behind their crazed leader, stopped to ask a shepherd if he had seen the young woman.
And the man, as the story goes, was so crazed with fear that he could scarce speak, but at last he said that he had indeed seen the unhappy maiden, with the hounds upon her track. 'But I have seen more than that,' said he, 'for Hugo Baskerville passed me upon his black mare, and there ran mute behind him such a hound of hell as God forbid should ever be at my heels.' So the drunken squires cursed the shepherd and rode onward. But soon their skins turned cold, for there came a galloping across the moor, and the black mare, dabbled with white froth, went past with trailing bridle and empty saddle.
John’s eyes remained riveted to the old, yellowing pages as he continued reading. Three of the men came upon a low spot on the moor where there stood two tall stones, and between them was the young woman, dead. The cause of death seemed vague and ridiculous--dead of fear and of fatigue--but the description of what else they saw drew all of John’s attention.
. . . standing over Hugo, and plucking at his throat, there stood a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon. And even as they looked the thing tore the throat out of Hugo Baskerville, on which, as it turned its blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them, the three shrieked with fear and rode for dear life, still screaming, across the moor.
“Jesus Christ,” John swore aloud, his eyes wide. The images playing vividly in his mind, John shuddered--but kept reading. The narrative concluded by saying the curse of the hound had plagued the Baskerville family ever since with a long line of mysterious, bloody deaths, as punishment for Hugo’s actions.
John smiled thinly. Sherlock would have loved this.
Realizing how late it was, John tucked the silver mechanical pencil into the journal to hold his place; he’d read the rest on the train to Dartmoor in the morning. He sorted all the items back into the envelope and then arranged himself under the covers, reaching over to turn off the lamp on the side table.
The moment he closed his eyes, an image of a coal-black hound with glowing red eyes and dripping jowls filled his vision.
He snapped on the light and grabbed for the journal, fingers closing around the silver pencil. In a small blank space near the bottom of the page he scribbled,
He closed the old book, tucking it under his pillow, and turned out the light once more. Flipping to lay on his belly, he buried his cheek against the pillow, one hand instinctively curling around the journal, fingers gripping the comforting worn leather.
The early autumn sun shone strongly enough that John kept his eyes closed against it, reluctant to waken fully just yet. He rolled away from the window, onto his back, and threw his arm over his eyes with a grunt.
He felt warm, comfortable, and when he sensed fingertips trailing down over his bare chest, it seemed the natural extension of a pleasant dream, especially since their movements were smooth and knowledgeable, making a path along John’s favorite places to be touched.
He hummed, or his dream-self hummed--he wasn’t sure--and the hand became bolder, the palm sliding up firmly, over nipple, over scar, to clasp his neck.
John felt a warm exhalation against his chin, and then soft lips were meeting his own. The kiss was gentle yet confident, teasing John’s lips apart, and John complied.
He couldn’t remember having kissed anyone this way, not recently, not so easily, with lazy, familiar movements, a gentle prodding of glowing embers that began to spark. Full lips pulled at his, gently at first, and the fingers at his nape slid up to cradle his head, to bring them closer. The kiss became more urgent, and John moved his arm upward, away from covering his eyes to rest above his head. The shift allowed their kiss to deepen, nose along cheek, tongue against tongue.
John was considering nipping at the lips that assailed him when a deep groan rumbled above him, arousing yet alarming. The half-dream fizzled, and John’s eyes flashed open.
Sherlock Holmes hovered over him, his icy eyes intense with want, his thin face leaning in for another kiss.
John bolted up to sitting in an instant, forcing Sherlock back--only Sherlock’s quick reflexes saved him from being knocked off the bed. John’s eyes went wide, his lips burning with shock and sensation.
Sherlock only perched on the edge of the mattress, casually expectant in his deep burgundy dressing gown. “Ah. Still cross with me, then.”
Cross? Fucking hell. A damn sight more than cross, John thought, unconsciously rubbing at his lips. No coherent response occurred to him; his heart was racing and he was still not entirely sure he was awake.
“Fine. Regrettable, but there’s no time for a leisurely apology, Watson--”
“--and since you’ve apparently decided to express your displeasure with me by shaving off your beautiful moustache, I can see the situation is more dire than I’d imagined.”
John blinked hard.
“Regardless,” Sherlock said, standing abruptly, “our client will be here within the hour.”
Dressing gown swirling around him, Sherlock left, John watching dumbly until the door closed with a click. Heart still thumping violently inside his chest, his fingers tightened unconsciously, and he looked down with surprise at the journal he still clutched in his hand.