Chapter 1: Cover Images
Cover art by Hiyami on FF.net:
Cover art by Doctor's Other Companion on FF.net:
OH MY GAWD GUYS, I HAVE ART! LOOK AT IT. Could this mean... I'M A REAL FIC AUTHOR NOW?
Chapter 2: Cover Images
Sherlock Holmes was born to greatness. He, like his elder half-sibling, Mycroft, had the blood from the finest racing stock coursing through his veins. Their sire was part of the Darley Arabian's line and had won more races and been awarded more prestigious trophies than nearly any other horse in British racing history. The other half of Mycroft's stock was a well-accomplished quarter horse from America, and from the moment he could stand up, it was obvious that Mycroft would become a great racehorse as well. Sherlock's dam, oddly enough though, was a performing Lipizzaner from Austria, but the owners of the Diogenes Racing Stable had seen her and immediately taken such a liking to the way she moved that they had immediately approached the show's owner and bargained for stud rights. A few months, and quite a few thousands of pounds, later Sherlock was born. Like most Lipizzaner foals, his coat was jet black. He had a strange marking, though. Much like some humans who are born with a place on their head in which there is no pigment, so Sherlock had a place between his ears where his mane was pure white.
Unlike Mycroft, and most every other foal, Sherlock showed no interest in running, jumping or even eating. In fact, when he could be bothered to move at all, it was at a stately pace, a meander as some called it. As he made his way toward his mother, he showed no interest in eating and ate for a much shorter time than the rest.
There were a few times when he did bother himself to run, though, and when he did, everyone who saw him was enchanted.
It is a well-known fact that in New York City, there is a division of mounted police. The policemen and women in that unit rely on their mounts to be steady and calm, and no horse personified that more than John Watson, a well-seasoned mixture of Barb and Percheron descent. Be it a bomb, an armed robbery or a fleeing terrorist, nothing could get under the short horse's skin, which was why, one bright and sunny day in the city, when John started to trembled and flick his ears back and forth, everyone paid attention. When he sniffed at a passing tourist, his nostrils flaring and ears flicking backward and forward, every officer subtly began to surround and follow the tourist. John and his officer were the closest, slowly walking behind the man, and when the man began to draw a gun from inside his pants, the first to react were John and the man on his back.
In the end, no civilians or officers were hurt, but there was a heavy atmosphere in the mounted police department as they were told that John's shoulder was ruined and one of his legs would never move correctly again; the veterinarian's recommendation was that he be euthanized. There was no hope of him recovering, and there was no room for a horse in New York City. Instead of death, though, John was met by a friend of his officer's, a man who owned a racing stable and was in need of a calm companion for a fretful racehorse.
I worked/rode at a stable for six years, so my basic horse-care bits have some fact behind them, but I'm going to take artistic liberties, so not all conduct will be appropriate or correct.
Sherlock stood in his box stall with his head hung between his front hooves. He'd had a race earlier in the day and finished first, just as he always did, and just like always, he felt completely unfulfilled. Jim, his jockey, had been thrilled by the attention heaped upon him and immediately sneaked off with one of the many girls who were nearly hanging off him. The job of brushing down and checking over the winning horse had been left to the large son of the stable owners who doubled as a modern day stable boy-hostler. Sebastian was always thorough, at least, if not as gentle as Molly, Sherlock's official, yet incredibly timid, groomer who was also Sebastian's on-again-off-again girlfriend. Molly and Sebastian had had a (yet another) row, though, so owners had given her, or demanded that she take, the week off. (In their eyes, any woman who could deal with their son's manic depression was worth any efforts they could make.) The sudden lack of companionship had taken its toll on the man, and his hands had moved more from muscle-memory than any attention actively given. Sherlock knew better than to try anything with him, though; everyone, animal and human, knew about Sebastian's rages, and Sherlock had been in no mood for a beating.
The usual post-race apathy was just washing over him when he heard a furious flapping of wings and the odd cadence of an American accent.
"You alive in there, Sherlock? I've got knew for you- big news, too- if you haven't died yet."
He huffed his reply, knowing that even if he had died the big crow would still pass on any gossip he heard.
"Yes, yes, hello to you, too, Sherlock. Friendly as usual, eh?" came the amused response from the window in the door of Sherlock's stall. "You might want to reflect on that a bit, since you're getting a new mate soon. A matter of minutes, actually."
That was enough to rouse Sherlock.
"What?" he demanded, finally raising his head.
"You've got a stallmate, now. Small guy, he is, fiftteen hands if he's a-one. Odd coloring, nearly mangled body, but he's calm. The truck blew a tire, and he didn't do so much as blink."
"What makes you think he's here for me?"
The crow cast a weary look at Sherlock, clearly unimpressed.
"What other use has he got? He's got no racing body, even if he weren't a cripple- too short and stocky. He's got stamina in that little body, though; he can keep up with Sebastian even with a bum leg. And again, he's calm, the opposite of you. You're a good runner, but off the track you're scary, Sherlock. You're either moping or you're throwing a fit. It was only a matter of time before you got given one. At least this one doesn't seem like too much trouble, if you don't mind-"
Sherlock never heard the rest of the sentence because at that moment, Sebastian came striding into the barn, his mood even blacker than earlier, the lead line clutched tightly in his nearly trembling hands, despite the calm way the horse (Or was he a pony?) was walking next to him. Wordlessly (Sebastian was never one to talk, particularly to animals who couldn't understand or reply to him) he opened Sherlock's stall door and unhooked the line, watching with silent approval as the new horse automatically continued into the stall. He paid no attention to the one-legged crow hopping around on the floor as he closed the door and slid the lock across before jogging away, his black mood returning.
The two horses eyed each other appraisingly for a moment, Sherlock feigning uninterest and the new horse openly admiring.
"Well," said a soft voice, "I suppose you're Sherlock, huh?"
Chapter 5: Inspection
If Sherlock had been a man, he would have raised an eyebrow at the other horse's statement. As it was, he simply cocked his head and continued to study his new stablemate.
He was nearly as different from Sherlock as possible. Where Sherlock was tall and sleek, the epitome of a healthy racer, the horse in front of him was the incarnation of a worker. His coat was an inconspicuous flea-bitten grey, though on the dark side, and he was short, barely tall enough to qualify of a horse. Then there was the mess of a shoulder and front leg to be noticed; Sherlock had never seen anything so torn apart. It was truly miraculous, however much Sherlock did not believe in miracles, that the other horse could walk at all, let alone had not been put down. When he finally bothered to look away from the scars and mangled flesh, his gaze was met by a pair of the bluest eyes he had ever seen. While blue eyes were not an anomaly in horses, ones that were as bright and obviously blue as this one's were rare. So, too, was the way the grey was seemingly unaffected by Sherlock's presence; he was neither intimidated nor impatient. Most workers were diffident, rarely displaying any temperament beyond the desire to please, but there was a no trace of deference in those strange eyes. If anything, they were contentedly returning Sherlock's, admittedly rude, inspection.
'Intriguing,' he thought, but kept that to himself.
"I am," he said instead, affecting an air of unconcern. "And who are you?"
John smiled in the way that horses did. It was not his usual bright smile, but one that conveyed his rather darkly amused reaction to the horse whose stall he had just invaded.
He was certainly handsome, so far as other males went. There was speed written all over the lean, almost whip-cord thin body, and John had always been a good judge of type. No part of his instinct wasn't saying anything other than, 'Racer', and his head was inclined to agree. That wasn't to say that the horse in front of him was the usual type, though. No, just as every part of him was telling him that this wasn't another worker, they were also nodding in approval. Most of the racers John had met were full of themselves without much justification; they were flighty and unable to concentrate on much beyond their own inability to be still. This one, though, he was different. There was intelligence behind his strange grey eyes, and he seemed unaware of his good looks, which was another level of curiosity. John had heard that he was going to live with a Lipizzaner, so surely he ought to be looking at a white horse, yet he wasn't. He was looking at the truest example of a black coat he had ever seen, ignoring the strange pigment-less place in his mane between those two swiveling ears.
"Watson," he replied, not forgetting the question, "John Watson."
Chapter 6: Relax
Sherlock continued to eye John as the shorter horse walked farther into the box stall before turning around in a circle and moving to lean against the wall. It was amusing to note that John was barely tall enough for his head to come up high enough to see out the barred window, not that it seemed to bother the former police horse. No, John simply closed his eyes and promptly... fell asleep. That was unexpected, beyond unexpected actually. Most humans (and animals) were too uncomfortable with Sherlock's gaze on them and the way he fidgeted to relax enough to stand near him, let alone fall asleep.
"Congratulations, by the way."
The soft voice interrupted Sherlock's thoughts.
"On winning, you git. It was all I could hear the entire time I was coming here- how the great racing horse Sherlock Holmes was going to be the one I'm going to... do whatever it is I'm supposed to do to. Those crows really like you, you know- talked about you like you were the fastest thing on four legs?"
Sherlock huffed in amusement.
"Git? And is that really all- that I run well?"
"Hmm, no. I think they said something about you being a pain in the arse, as well?"
It seemed that there really was another level to the broken police horse.
"You aren't as slow as the others, are you, John? And you aren't just some worn-out police horse, either. They missed something in you, those officers."
John snorted, but Sherlock couldn't tell if it was derisive or amused.
"Did they? No, I don't think so."
If he'd had eyebrows, Sherlock would've raised one.
"Let it be, Sherlock. Why don't you go to sleep, maybe try to recover from all that running, yeah? I have a feeling that you aren't going to let me sleep much."
The small horse's eyes were already closed and his muscles relaxed by the time Sherlock's lips twisted into a wry smile.
Chapter 7: Duty
It didn't take long for John to slip himself into Sherlock's life, and it took even less effort. There weren't any races scheduled for the three weeks after Sherlock's victory, so he was free to pass them immersed in his study of John- excepting, of course, the time he spent in training. The mindless warm-up exercises circling the hot wire didn't require his attention, so he used those to contemplate the strange horse who lived with him. Even the beginning of his time on the track didn't keep his mind occupied, so those, too, went by in a mental blur of a grey tail and white hooves. The moment Sebastian replaced the retired-jockey-turned-warm-up-rider on Sherlock's back, though, all thoughts save those focused on the man on his back and the awareness of any possible competitors flew away, and Sherlock became, once more, a creature of instinct and flight, a student of reactions and motives no longer.
By the end of the first week, John had made a habit of escaping from the stall (He steadfastly refused to reveal how he could do so) and waiting for Sherlock at the exit gate. The first time he had done it- the second day in- Sherlock had been so surprised, he'd stopped just in front of the gate; Sebastian must have been, as well, because in stead of demanding that Sherlock walk forward, he had silently leaned forward in the saddle and stayed there. For his part, John had simply stood just outside the gate with his head held up and cocked to the side, an amused look on his face, until one of the stable workers had crept up on him and grabbed his halter. John had huffed but resolutely stood still, resisting every time the baffled teenager tugged on the leather halter. Even after such a short period of time with the stable, he had gotten a reputation as being affable and pleasant, so it was surprising for him to be so rebellious. When Sherlock had managed to shake off his surprise and step through the gate, though, slowly making his way to and past the little grey, John had suddenly become willing to move and slowly followed behind his stall-mate, nearly dragging the poleaxed boy with him.
John had stood off to the side all through the process of Sherlock being unsaddled, brushed, then put on a hot wire to cool down. (Sebastian hadn't been willing to do it himself. Molly was coming home early, and he wanted to pick her up himself. Life without sex didn't agree with him, nor life without someone to reign him in, either.) By that point, Sebastian and the boy, Earl, had decided that John wasn't a flight risk and had allowed him to continue standing off to the side unhindered- an act of trust that, wisely, would never have been given to Sherlock. After they left, sure that John wasn't going anywhere but that Sherlock was, the two people left the horses in peace. Well, they left John at peace. Sherlock, on the other hand, was far from peaceful; in fact, he was distressed. Every time he saw John during his slow walk around, he would cast him a curious glance, and each time, without fail, John would give him an innocent look that sent frustration through his entire self as he, too, was unable to understand what his companion was doing. This silent pondering had lasted for about fifteen minutes before Sherlock had no longer been able to keep his wonder inside.
"What are you doing?" earned him a twitch of soft lips.
"John?" a small snort.
"Mm, yes, Sherlock?"
"What are you doing?"
"Just standing here, really."
"You know what I-"
"Yes, yes, I do know. I just thought I'd tease you a bit." The look on Sherlock's face brought a huff of laughter from his companion. "Ah, how cruel of me. I was being your companion, Sherlock- you know, watching you run about, waiting for you, keeping you company, that sort of thing."
That had been unexpected. It seemed that John possessed a strong sense of duty which, in hindsight, Sherlock really ought to have anticipated.
"I see... And what am I to do, then?"
"Keep running about, I suppose. Winning races would be a good thing, too."
It had been Sherlock's turn to snort that time.
"Of course I'll win. What else would I do?"
"Lose, maybe? Oh, no, I know. The great Sherlock Holmes, the horse of a thousand wins could never lose to anything short of the wind!"
Sherlock had decided not to respond to that, deciding instead to favor John with one of his few genuine smiles. It was rare to find anyone who would challenge him, let alone who'd even suggest that Sherlock wouldn't win. John was proving to be special in more ways than one.
Perhaps that was the reason why, after the next race, it was in John that Sherlock found a rare glint of goodness.
Chapter 8: Eyes Open
Forgive me for forgetting to do this earlier, but here are pictures to help with John and Sherlock's horsey appearances:
John: http://www.horsemart.co.uk/img/album/24/4624_lovely_flea_bitten_grey_mare_img.jpg (But male, aha)
Sherlock: https://encrypted-tbn0.google.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRelaZFeuE3iZH8ULSi2LJUVn1nju15zMKYsMJmHcd0aJbPDjiHkQ (Minus the sock & plus the white spot)
Sherlock stood with his side pressed hard against the locked doors and trembled. Because his coat was so dark, it was hard to tell where the dark horse ended and the shadows around him began. His head was flung back, his strange grey eyes rolling- the whites stark in the midnight darkness that lie within the stable. John stood a few lengths away, whuffling at the ground and occasionally nipping at stray pieces of hay, but even as he shifted slightly and feigned nonchalance, his entire attention was trained on the Sherlock. His blue eyes never moved from Sherlock's face, never risked the chance of Sherlock seeing him with his eyes closed.
With a final breath, John took his first step forward.
Chapter 9: Breathless
To help clear up any difficulties with the concepts of this story that might be unfamiliar to those who haven't spent time studying horses et al, I'll be including links to pictures to help out. Feel free to ask about anything that seems odd!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock awoke early the morning of the first race after John's arrival. The stall was still mostly in shadow, but John's coat was light enough that Sherlock could see where he was. Despite their relocation to the racetrack's stable- which had even larger box stalls- there hadn't been a change in Sherlock and John's sleeping arrangements. Just like in their own stable, Sherlock stood away from the door, his rump pressed into the corner, while John leaned against the wall closest to the door, his face a few inches from the bars. Unlike most everyone else, John didn't relax when he slept; his muscles were tensed, as though he were about to run, and there was a grimace on his face that only disappeared if one of the muscles in his face twitched.
He was the most wonderful creature Sherlock had ever seen. For the first time in his life, his mind was completely full of something outside the coming race and all that came with it. There was a glorious emptiness in his near-perpetually spinning mind. There wasn't any room for his doubts or self-loathing because he was too preoccupied with his study of John Watson: ex-police horse, wounded veteran, current stable-mate and... something more, something that kept him from sleeping.
"Sherlock?" came John's sleepy voice, followed immediately by a yawn. "What're you doing awake?"
"I was thinking."
"Liar." The accusation was said with a small smile, more audible than visible.
"John, I-" He was cut off by a small noise of discomfort, much like a repressed groan. "John? John!"
Despite the worried tone and pitch of Sherlock's voice, John remained silent- a sure sign that something was wrong, because always answered. Always. His silence was causing Sherlock's body to tense and his mind to start whirling. Before he realized what he was doing, Sherlock had squealed so loudly that he had managed to summon a half-dressed Sebastian into the stall. Large human hands wandered over Sherock's body, but it was John who was unhealthy, John who needed someone to watch over him, so Sherlock finally moved himself from the corner until he had Sebastian between them. Far smarter than he was usually given for being, the man quickly noticed John's unresponsive state and turned his attention to the smaller horse before running from the stable.
Fifteen minutes later (thirteen minutes, seventeen seconds and seventy seven milliseconds later, to be accurate) Sebastian returned, a sleepy looking veterinarian in tow. They ignored Sherlock, instead attaching a lead line to John's leather halter and managing to half-coax, half-shove him off the wall and out the the stable.
Sherlock was suddenly assaulted by the silent darkness, every part of his body and mind aware of John's absence.
Lead Line (The one in the middle):
Chapter 10: Preparation
Sherlock spent the next seven hours standing where John had been, his head tucked between his legs as he navigated the twisted maze of his thoughts. The stall was uncomfortably large without John, and Sherlock found that he couldn't fall back asleep without the odd noises John tended to make in his sleep. For someone who tended to keep his thoughts to himself during the day, John was extraordinarily vocal; Sherlock often found his dreams invaded by whuffles and huffs, sometimes a soft whinny or once- and John denied this strenuously- a squeal. He also snorted a fair amount, usually when he went to sleep after arguing with Sherlock- something he tended to do quite often. When they woke the next day, though, John would give Sherlock a look then shake his head and walk up to the door, bumping it for a reason he kept to himself- not that anyone was around to hear it since the two of them often woke an hour or so before the others.
For all his social ineptitude, Sherlock was full aware that he was fond of John; he recognized the warmth in his chest whenever John elected to spend time with him over smooth talking the mares as happiness, even affection, odd as they felt. Still, affection was not enough of a reason for him to suddenly act the way he had earlier. He had felt strangely responsible for John, had felt that the health of the little horse was important to his own. The feeling wasn't one he recognized, but Sherlock's curiosity was curtailed by worry. Was John changing him? He had no desire to be different, particularly if it meant suddenly caring about everyone around him.
It would be best not to jump to conclusions, though. It was possible that it was just the surprise of seeing John, who hadn't been displaying any signs of illness, suddenly fall sick that had made him act so out of character. John would be able to tell him what was happening. Sherlock had discovered that the police horse had worked with the Red Cross as well as the military before winding up in New York City; during his travels, the grey had seen a great many things and made sure not to forget them, including symptoms of physical and mental illnesses. If anyone would be able to shed light on Sherlock's mental state, it was John. Sherlock would have to speak to him about it when-
When he saw him again. When would that be, though? The look on John's face as Sebastian and the veterinarian had nearly shoved him along hadn't been anything Sherlock had recognized. John's heart had been racing, his breathing fast but shallow, as his body moved almost mechanically. Something had happened during the night, something that Sherlock hadn't seen but John had. That sort of thing, what could it-
His thoughts were disrupted as a much wider awake (as well as showered and dressed) Sebastian came into the stable, Sherlock's tack* in his arms. Sebastian set them down gently, then picked up a set of brushes and entered the stall. He looked in Sherlock's bucket and noticed that the horse hadn't eaten anything (Sherlock hadn't known it had been filled; he was too caught up in his thoughts) but only shook his head and got to work currying* and brushing Sherlock to a sheen. He then took a hoof pick* and gently cleaned the inside of Sherlock's hooves. Once he was done, he took Sherlock by the halter and lead him from the stall and to the cross ties. There, he tacked Sherlock up, except the bridle which he left for Jim to do.
Satisfied he'd done what needed to be done, Sebastian started to walk away, but a few steps away, he paused. With a sigh, he walked back to Sherlock and softly ran his hand over the horse's velvety nose. It was an odd gesture; Sebastian wasn't sentimental and had a military-like obsession with efficiency and a seemingly inability to understand gentility.
"Sherlock," he whispered softly, his fingers never stopping, "you need to win, all right? John'll be back in a bit; he just needs... He'll be back and waiting for you at the gate like usual, yeah?" The man's eyes suddenly closed, and his other hand- the one not gently stroking Sherlock- came up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Christ, Molly must've gotten to me. I'm talking to a horse..."
With a final downward stroke and a shake of his head, Sebastian sauntered away, hands shoved deep in his pockets and head bowed.
*Tack: equipment used in horse riding, including the saddle and bridle (also, a saddle blanket and, if necessary, a bounce pad)
As a racehorse, Sherlock would have a racing saddle-
But there are also Western and English saddles-
Saddle Blanket & Racing Saddle-
Bounce Pad (There are a bunch of styles and thicknesses, but this is the one Sherlock would probably wear)-
*Curry Brush (The first brush used on a horse's coat, used in a circular motion, then followed by a regular straight brush)-
Regular Straight Brush-
Basic Hoof Pick-
Chapter 11: Deal
To clear up any confusion, all these chapters with John being ill are happening earlier in the day of the one with Sherlock's freak out. Speaking of which, the next chapter will explain and bring an end to the question of what happened to him and how John's going to sort it out.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
If Jim noticed Sherlock's strangely mellow appearance, he didn't react to it. He entered the stable whistling under his breath and with a bounce in his stride. He nearly danced his way to his mount, cheerily checking over Sebastian's job.
"Flawless, as always," he muttered, his good mood disappearing. It was replaced with his usual dark, pre-race unease.
Jim's hands were gentle, though, as he slid the bit* into Sherlock's mouth and slid the bridle into place.
He then led Sherlock down to the track's entrance where the Morans were waiting, stopping a few feet away from them. Sebastian wordlessly moved from his parents' side to stand behind Jim. He then squatted a bit and made a cup with his hands. The tiny jockey put a foot in the other man's hands and used them to jump atop Sherlock. Sebastian walked over to Sherlock's head and began to rub at the warm black cheek.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered darkly. "Molly's been messing with my head with all her psychology..." Heaving a sigh, the man turned his head and whispered into Sherlock's ear. "John's all right, but he won't be down here when you're done. Molly's been begging me to keep him near you, even though the vet said he ought to keep an eye on John for a while. So here's the deal, Sherlock. If you win this, I'll put John in one of the empty standing stalls next to you. If you lose, he stays with the vet." One of the mounted officials waved a hand to indicate that it was Sherlock and Jim's turn to go into the starting gate. "Go on, then." With a slightly less-than-friendly smack on the rump, Sebastian walked over to join his parents on their way to the stands.
Sherlock didn't pay much attention to what was said, but he did hear that John would be back if he won, and if that made his inside burn in a way he couldn't identity, he wasn't bothered. He had already known that he was going to win the race; now he had a reason to.
*Bit- the part of the bridle that goes into the horse's mouth (Not all bridles have them, though); used to indicate desired direction through pressure on the mouth; comes in a variety of styles, depending on the sensitivity of the horse's mouth, etc.; generally made of [Many horses don't like them and will put up a fight]
Jim gently squeezed Sherlock's sides, reminding him of the present. Before he could win the race, he to get into the starting gate*. The official pointed to a stall, and Sherlock entered it without any direction from Jim; he had done this enough times to know what he had to do. Minutes passed by, and eventually the gates closed, locking jockeys and horses inside their white-barred jails. Some of the other horses began to shift and neigh in distress, uncomfortable being confined in such a small place, but it didn't bother Sherlock. He and Jim were both fixated on the finish line; everything else was just a distraction and unworthy of their time.
The starting bell went off; the gates flew open; twenty horses rushed forward and twenty jockeys leaned down, all with one thing on their minds: winning.
Sherlock took an early lead, his legs stretching out and pulling him to the front of the pack. Adrenaline pounded through him, and he could feel Jim's hands tighten on his reins*. Bits and pieces of the track flew up around them as Sherlock's hooves pounded against the ground.
It was then that everything began to blur, the ground lurching from beneath his feet and the cheers from the crowd deepening until they no longer sounded human. One of the other horses began to catch up, drawing even with Sherlock and Jim, his stride lengthening until he pulled forward and passed them. Sherlock watched him go, saw the way the horse's bay coat shimmered beneath the afternoon sun, and smiled to himself. Despite the way Jim was keeping pressure on his mouth, Sherlock knew that in just a few moments it would disappear.
Five... Four... Three... Two... One...
The bay had grown complacent, his jockey not keeping an eye out for a challenge, and Sherlock and Jim took advantage of that. Though the world was spinning and his body was screaming at him to stop, the moment the pressure eased off his mouth, Sherlock thundered forward, overtaking the bay with ease and continuing his near-blind charge to the end of the track. The finish line was in sight, and he could feel the way Jim's legs were clenched around his belly in anticipation, could see the crop* rising and falling- though it never touched him. It was strange, though, how the world was suddenly silent and turning black. It was all slightly too still, too calm...
It wasn't a photo-finish; it wasn't even close. Sherlock crossed the finish line at least twenty strides before his closest competitor. The first thing he felt, though, was that the moment he won, the world came roaring back into focus, the black around his vision disappearing and the strange deafness vanishing in the face of the crowd's fanatic cheering.
Jim kept him galloping, of course, slowly easing Sherlock down to a canter, then a trot and finally to a prancing walk* which he kept as he was led to the Winner's Circle. He stood patiently as a blanket of flowers was laid over his neck and a thousand photographs were taken. He even managed to keep still as Jim and the Morans were interviewed, despite the now-shouting part of his mind demanding that he go find John.
His patience was nearly gone when he felt a small tug on the reins and saw Sebastian take hold of them. The man's face was a mask of joy, but Sherlock could see that he was on the verge of one of his manic stages. It was always best to offer as little resistance as possible when he was like that, which was fine with Sherlock; he wanted to get back to his stall as quickly as possible anyway.
The walk back was over nearly the moment it began, or so it seemed to him, and he was soon back in his stall. Sebastian was quickly removing all the tack- bridle thrown over his shoulder and saddle resting on his forearm. He then slid Sherlock's halter on and began to walk away, needing to get brushes and to find a quiet place where he could leave the the tack so he could go back to clean it in solitude.
When he returned, Sebastian had a curry brush and a regular brush in his hands, as well as his usual hoof pick. He was quick but thorough, making sure that Sherlock was well brushed and clean after the race. Having to take care of fungus because he hadn't taken enough care to brush down properly wasn't something Sebastian wanted to do.
Finished, he stood back and looked Sherlock over.
"Well, a deal's a deal. I'll put John in the next stall."
He then strode away, hands deep in his pockets, completely unaware of the way Sherlock's ears had flicked forward and his entire body had begun to tremble.
John was tired, so very tired, but he was willing to let Sebastian lead him back to the stable. He made no move to show his displeasure at being put in a standing stall, merely plodded in. He felt the man's oddly affectionate pat on the rump and heard the sound of his retreating steps.
His descent into sleep was halted by an inquiring whinny from the stall next to his.
"Sherlock? Is that you?" he asked softly, too tired to mask his weariness.
"John? John, are... Are you all right?" cam the muffled reply.
"Yeah, I'm fine, just... tired." He didn't have to be able to see into Sherlock's mind to know that that wasn't going to satisfy his pushy stall mate. "Really, I'm fine. I just didn't get enough sleep."
"It's nothing, Sherlock."
"I don't like that you're lying to me."
"And I don't like that you're being a pain in my arse. Just let it be, Sherlock."
"...What if I don't?"
John sighed, wishing he weren't stuck with someone so inquisitive.
"Please? We can talk about it later, but right now... Right now, I just want to sleep."
There was a brief shuffling, then the sound of something bumping into the wall he shared with the box stall next to him. It brought a small sense of relief to him, hearing Sherlock knock against the wall.
"Good night, Sherlock."
"...Good night, John."
John was woken up by the sound of a crack like a gunshot. He was immediately at full attention, his muscles tensed and ears pricked forward. A second later, there was more rumbling- a roll of thunder that reminded him that he was no longer in New York City, was no longer a police horse. These weren't gunshots; there weren't any people he had to cover. Relief flooded through him, and a slightly desperate giggle made its way through his throat.
Another noise, however, got his attention. It was a dull thud, like the sound his human partner had often made when he punched a wall after someone got hurt, only this time it was much heavier. Curious, John backed out of his stall. (There was a band at the back end of the stall, but it was too high to be able to block him in, and his reputation as an obedient horse meant that no one had tied him in.) When he was free, he saw Sherlock in such a state his mind shot back to his days in New York; one of the strongest calming techniques flashed across his mind: feign nonchalance.
Sherlock stood with his side pressed hard against the locked doors and trembled. Because his coat was so dark, it was hard to tell where the dark horse ended and the shadows around him began. His head was flung back, his strange grey eyes rolling- the whites stark in the midnight darkness that lie within the stable. John stood a few lengths away, whuffling at the ground and occasionally nipping at stray pieces of hay, but even as he shifted slightly and feigned nonchalance, his entire attention was trained on the Sherlock. His blue eyes never moved from Sherlock's face, never risked the chance of Sherlock seeing him with his eyes closed.
With a final breath, John took his first step forward.
Sherlock looked at him and snorted but didn't do anything threatening, so John took another. Then another... and another... until they were standing at right angles and would have been nearly nose-to-nose, had their heads been in their usual positions. Carefully, John lifted his head and nosed at Sherlock's neck. The muscles there were trembling and tense, so he slowly rubbed his face along Sherlock's impossibly long neck. When Sherlock didn't become more upset, John carefully began to walk. He kept the side of his face pressed against Sherlock's body and continued taking slow steps until the two were side-to-side, only facing opposite directions.
Again, thunder called out in the distance, and Sherlock began to tremble.
In return, John pressed closer and did something he hadn't done since he was a foal; he turned his neck and rested his head on the top of Sherlock's rump. Another, stronger, tremor passed through the taller horse's body, but the trembling stopped.
John soon fell asleep and didn't wake until morning when a slightly baffled stable worker found them in nearly the same position, but by then, Sherlock's head had come to rest on John.
Because I live somewhere where horse racing is big, I'm not sure how much people who don't live around it know about it, so if some of my explanations or pictures seem patronizing, I want to tell you that that's not my intention. I just want to cover all the bases. (If you haven't seen it, I'd suggest watching "Seabiscuit" which is a movie about the famous race horse- and it's pretty entertaining, not just for horse enthusiasts.)
Also, the track is in the shape of an oval, in case that part wasn't making sense.
*Reins: the part of the bridle that the rider holds in his/her hands, or, in some cases, feet-
*Crop: a stick used to discipline a communicate with a horse; shorter than a whip and used when a person is mounted as opposed to on foot; comes in different colors, sizes and shapes; used primarily in English riding; in racing, it is often used more because the horse can see it than as a way to hit the horse-
*Gallop, canter, trot, walk: the four gaits of a horse in the English discipline, from fastest to slowest; in Western riding, it's gallop, lope, jog, walk.
Sherlock and John were woken up by the sound of hesitant footsteps on the stable floor, but neither felt the need to lift his head, nor even open his eyes. Even when the steps faltered and came to a stop, both were too content where they were to bother looking up. The sound of the intruding person's feet did, however, bring small smiles to their faces.
A few minutes passed by in comfortable silence, neither particularly eager to discuss the events of the previous twenty four hours. John didn't want to relive the shame of his weakness or remember what had sent him into such a state. It was embarrassing to be found that way, so helpless and weak, and he knew that companion would want to know everything about it, whether or not John felt ready to discuss it. For his part, Sherlock had no desire for his pride to yield to John's (admittedly somewhat flattering) attentions. He wasn't a fool; retired or not, John would always think with the part of his mind that needed to protect and to nurture. It still remained to be seen, however, if Sherlock was willing to let him.
So instead of opening their eyes and facing the morning, they stayed still and wrapped around each other until the footsteps returned- and with company this time.
Judging from their gaits, the returning person was Stanislaus, a young Polish man who had worked on for the Morans since early adolescence, and the second person was Sebastian. (Stanislaus was generally quite timid around other people and had an intense fear of making a mistake, so his footsteps were always soft. He made up for his phobia by being quite useful and good with horses. On the other hand, Sebastian had a clipped, measured gait that spoke of his time in the military. Like the rest of him, it was no-nonsense as well as confident, the very opposite of the man walking next to him. Despite that, however, Sebastian and Stanislaus got along well; besides Molly, Stan, as Sebastian called him, was the only friend that the young Moran had.)
As the men approached, Stan began to talk under his breath, murmuring his usual mixture of heavily-accented words that made no sense and Polish words that rolled off his tongue and made his voice drop an octave. Sebastian simply walked up and clipped the lead line to John's halter, watching Stan from the corner of his eye as the short Pole did the same to Sherlock. With a look and a nod, Sebastian began to walk away, John walking meekly at his side while Stan lead- or, more accurately, was nearly dragged by- Sherlock, who seemed to have no desire whatsoever to take his head off John's rump.
Chapter 14: Falling Asleep
I've been thinking about this for a while, and I've decided that I'd really like to hear if any of you have prompt suggestions? I have an ending and something to get there, but I'm really enjoying this story and don't want to end it so quickly. Plus, you've all been wonderful and I thought that maybe you have some ideas you'd like me to write? Just leave me a comment!
The trailer rolled along behind the truck, the two horses inside it standing peacefully. It had been three hours since leaving the track, and both had been glad to be on their way home. Within the first ten minutes, John had fallen into a light slumber, but Sherlock was still awake, contemplating the creature a few inches and a metal divider away.
John's presence was soothing for Sherlock, who usually hated riding in the trailer. There was something unsteady about it, something too small and unnatural for him to be comfortable, and it had always set him on edge. With John, however, he found himself relaxing, his muscles easily adjusting to the swaying of the metal beneath his hooves. There was also John's habit of talking in his sleep that, oddly, lulled Sherlock into feeling, if not safe exactly, then at least that he wasn't in immediate danger. With every muttered curse (John had an endearing habit of being vulgar in his sleep) and every slightly irate huff from the stocky grey, came a wordless reassurance that Sherlock was going to be fine. It didn't end there, though; Sherlock had found that the idea of resting wasn't so repugnant when he was falling asleep with John a few feet away, or curled around him...
Though he had no knowledge of it, Sherlock's presence was just as calming for John as John's was for him. John was a sociable creature, his habits and lifestyle ones that caused him to be constantly surrounded by others, and when left alone for too long, he would start to slip into a depression. He craved companionship, the presence of someone else. His time with the Red Cross and as a mount for the police had solidified this need for for others. That Sherlock was taking comfort in him but also concerning himself with John's well-being cast a warmth through his body. Sherlock was straight-forward and assuming- often blunt to the point of offense- but that was what made him good. Sherlock was honest, his motives clear, and that allowed John to sink into contented sleep each night, secure in his faith that Sherlock would be there when he awoke.
As they eased around a turn, John was jostled slightly and swore under his breath. The lazy, unconscious stream of expletives brought a small smile to Sherlock's face. The lack of vehemence was something Sherlock had grown used to seeing in John; his tone was often more important the words he said. With a small huff, Sherlock closed his eyes and let his mind wander, allowing John's snuffling and occasional mumbled complaint to lull him to sleep.
Chapter 15: Mycroft
Smoochynose's prompt from FF: Mycroft's visit confuses John
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Nearly a month had gone by, and John and Sherlock still hadn't spoken about their respective nighttime terrors. They were spending nearly every moment of every day together, though, even the time Sherlock spent in the ring*. John would stand by the gate and rest his head on the top rung, seemingly content to watch Sherlock gallop or, if Jim was getting bored, jump over the low cross rails* set up. When he was done, Sherlock would trot over to the gate and wait a few paces back while John fiddled with the gate before knocking it open. (The first time he'd done it, everyone had been in the ring discussing Sherlock's last race. They'd heard the creak of wood and turned to see John standing in the open gateway, the picture of innocence. They hadn't bothered to shoo him out, so the next day he'd done it again, this time looking at the people with his head cocked to the side. Stan had nearly fallen over he was laughing so hard, and a rare smile graced Sebastian's dour face. With an amused snort, Sherlock had trotted over to the grey and followed him from the ring to the stable. Despite the people's initial worry that Sherlock would run away, both horses were standing in the stable waiting for them. John had minded his manners after that and waited until Jim let Sherlock walk over before opening the gate and trotting to the stable where Sebastian was waiting to brush and untack Sherlock.)
Their routine was interrupted one day when one of the mares, a bay quarter horse named Sally, trotted up to John, ignoring Sherlock as usual, and said excitedly,
"Have you heard the news, John? Mycroft's going to be here in an hour!"
John had not heard the news; nor did he know who Mycroft was. Judging by the unhappy look on Sherlock's face, it was probably someone he was glad not to know.
"You don't know Mycroft?" came an indignant snort- undoubtedly Anderson, the stable "mule", dubbed so because of his stubborn personality. "He's the freak's older, more successful, brother- not to mention the fastest horse in England!"
'That would explain it,' thought John. 'If there's one thing Sherlock doesn't talk about, it's himself.'
"Ah, no," he said instead. "There wasn't much time to listen to English racing back in New York, what with patrolling and watching over the city and-"
John was cut off by a sudden bump just against his rump. He turned his head to give Sherlock the evil eye (You don't live in New York without picking up certain habits) but instead of Sherlock's face, he was greeted by one that belonged to a horse he'd never met before. He gave the stranger a quick once-over, taking in the slight resemblance to Sherlock: obviously a thoroughbred- the same line, too, if John were correct- the same knowing air, a quirked eyebrow and pricked ears that broadcast his curiosity. The stallion (John didn't need to check between the newcomer's legs to know he was male) wasn't nearly as dark as Sherlock was, though; his coat was a brindled dark bay* with a single white coronet* on his front right hoof. His eyes were more blue than Sherlock's, but there was definitely a resemblance.
"You must be Mycroft, then?" he asked.
A tiny smile, almost a smirk, twisted the horse's lips.
"Oh, you already know me. Wonderful! You must be John." Slightly put off by the strained tone of cordiality, John nodded slowly. "Well, we'd best be off, then. I'll see you later, Sherlock." With that, Mycroft began to bodily shove John forward- pointedly moving him away from Sherlock, not that he was able to do it for long. Tall though he may have been, nineteen hands* at least, Mycroft didn't have the strength in his body to force John to move, so once John recovered from his surprise at being pushed, he dug in his heels.
Not one to fight a losing battle, Mycroft immediately backed off; he had managed to get John out of Sherlock's hearing range, anyway.
"I wish I could take more time with this, John, but unfortunately, my brother is undoubtedly using this time to hide himself from me, overgrown child that he is, so I'll be brief." The tall horse drew in a breath but rushed on when he noticed John drawing himself up. "I'm sure that this will be difficult for you to believe, particularly if Sherlock has ever mentioned me- though I strongly doubt that he has- but I do genuinely care for him. I don't know what your intentions are regarding Sherlock, but so far you've proved yourself to be good for him. If, however, you are pretending or do anything to harm him," Mycroft's voice dropped as he spoke, becoming soft and menacing, his oddly colored eyes looking at John in a similar way a judge looks at a guilty man, "I will not hesitate to rid this place of you. I will erase your very existence from the earth; it will be as though neither you, nor anyone related to you ever existed. But you will continue to exist, John Watson. You will be quite alive." He then heaved a sigh. "That's all, then. Do return to your stall; perhaps Sherlock will come out of hiding if you're there."
With that, Mycroft whirled around and began to walk away, leaving behind one completely baffled John Watson.
*Riding Ring: where a person or people exercise a horses/horses; can be indoor or outdoor- at this point, since it's warm, Sherlock's in an outdoor ring
Outdoor (mostly for warm weather)- http://www.kilkellyfarm.com/Kilkelly%20Riding%20Ring.jpg (The Morans' isn't on a hill)
Indoor (mostly used in cold weather)- http://www.cogifarm.com/images/Equestrian/hunter-jumper-indoor-1-lg.jpg
*Cross Rails: jumps for equestrians with two poles that cross to make an "x" shape-
http://www.cantewindsfarm.com/CrossRails1.jpg (And look! I even found one with a male rider. I'm so proud, aha)
*Brindle: an extremely rare coloring, possibly from a genetic defect, causing slight striations in coloring
*Coronet: the shortest white (or black) marking on a horse's leg
Leg Markings- http://www.equines4us.com/Members/2312/A20106414720.jpg
^from left to right: coronet, pastern, sock, stocking
And yes, I ship Mystrade. My head canon demanded it.
Even though he hasn't appeared yet, here's Lestrade-
No, um, here's the real picture of him. (I couldn't resist claiming it was the other one.) Oh, and breed wise, he's a French Saddlebred.
Chapter 16: Investigation
mrv3000 (AO3)'s prompt: For a prompt, do racing horses ever get any pasture time? Or free time in a large area? Maybe Sherlock and John investigate something like a rabbit.
I apologize in advance... I wound up deviating a bit since I'm completely and utterly disastrous at writing mysteries...! I could give it another go once I've gotten my other prompts, if you'd like.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a day off for Sherlock (Jim had called in sick, fooling absolutely no one; everyone had seen him sneaking off with a girl after the race) so he and John were allowed to spend the entire day in the pasture. It was the first time John had seen Sherlock somewhere other than in the ring or the stall, and he had been pleasantly surprised to find that the moment friend- for they'd surely become friends- had had the lead line unclipped, he had begun to act like a colt again- frolicking and bucking in delight. John's entrance had been far more sedate- a simply neigh of pleasure at all the soft grass and the things he could see- but Sherlock hadn't been content with it. The tall horse had begun to prance, kicking up his hooves as he circled the amused grey until they'd both become dizzy.
A few hours passed, and by that time, John had flopped to the ground and rolled about, at one point getting caught in an awkward and uncomfortable position on his back. Sherlock had merely sighed at him, not deigning to offer help or commiserations over something so silly, so John had had to figure out how to get his body back in the correct position on his own. It took him a while- and no small amount of curiously original blasphemous statements about the Queen's undergarments- but he did manage it. The triumphant look on his face was somewhat dimmed by the condescending look on Sherlock's; it was much like the way an indulgent parents looked at a child who'd been complaining about a simple task being too difficult.
"Well done, John. You've righted yourself quite quickly!"
"Piss off, you ponce," came the half-grumbled reply.
Turning around so he could give John a withering look while explaining that he wasn't faking being cultured- he really was- Sherlock caught sight of something small and grey next to the fence. The moment it made a tiny, wriggling-like movement, he was off, cantering toward the thing, intent on discovering what it was, all thoughts of chastising John gone.
As drew closer, Sherlock saw that it was a furry creature, his mind immediately filling with a list of all the grey and furry animals he knew lived around the area, and, to his delight- his conclusion proved to be true. There, nestled in a dip in the ground against the fence was an old rabbit. When he drew to a stop before it, however, he noticed that it was lying strangely, as though it were trying to protect one of its hips.
He was about to lower his head to give the creature a closer look when he heard John come trotting over. There was a strange look on his face when he saw the rabbit; it was almost sympathetic, but different- as though John himself were in pain. The thought of his John being unwell didn't sit comfortably in Sherlock's gut, though he was unsure why. John was healthy, his leg excluded-
'Ah,' he realized. John was undoubtedly empathizing with the small creature. For all John kept silent about it, Sherlock wasn't fooled. He could see how often it pained his friend, though it was more emotional now, the reality of being crippled finally sinking in as John struggled to keep up with his taller and younger friend. John wouldn't admit it, but he was obviously seeing something of himself in the old rabbit, undoubtedly worrying and thinking he was somehow a burden. That kind of thinking would have to be stopped, of course, and Sherlock was in the middle of pondering how when the rabbit made a pitiful noise that caused John's face to contort in a way that worried Sherlock.
"Come along, John. We haven't all day!" he called, snapping his friend from the trance he'd been entering.
"What? What're you talking about?"
"The rabbits, John, obviously! We need to find out who this one is and where we can return her. She had to come from somewhere."
Sherlock then trotted off, secure in his assumption that John would only be a few steps behind. Normally he would have moved at a faster pace, but he'd noticed that John hadn't been putting any weight on his injured leg earlier. In fact, if he looked back over the last few days, John had had been favoring that leg quite a bit.
That didn't stop him from following Sherlock, though, even as the tall horse moved all through the three acres they had to explore.
First they came to a small outcrop of trees that Sherlock felt sure would contain some sort of clue as to the location of the rabbit warren. After half an hour of sniffing and wandering around the trees aimlessly (not that he told John that) he decided that there weren't any clues to be found there, so with a small nudge to John's flank, he lead the way across the far edge of the enclosure.
When they came upon a small hole in the ground, Sherlock immediately closed his eyes, dipped his head and started sniffing it as John fidgeted uncomfortably at his side.
"Sherlock, what are you doing?" he asked, strangely worried.
"I believe that this is an entrance to the warren. If a rabbit went down here recently- and one has- I'll be able to smell it."
"Yeah, but Sherlock-"
"Sh! I heard something!"
"I'm sure you did, but could you just-"
"John, I need absolute silence if we are to find the warren."
"Not now, John! Can't you see that I'm trying to concentrate?"
"Maybe if you opened your bloody eyes you'd see that the freshest track in the dirt isn't one made by a rabbit. It's a long, slightly squiggly line. What makes that kind of track, Sherlock? Hmm? A snake! A snake makes that kind of track, you massive idiot! Now let's go- before our slithery companion decides to make an appearance."
Without another word, John bumped his chest into the side of Sherlock's belly- though he was careful not to do so with enough force to hurt him.
Somewhat chastened, Sherlock opened his eyes and brought his head up, eyes open and gaze somewhat sheepish as he turned to his friend, allowing John a moment of protective glaring. It only lasted for a moment, but Sherlock understood the rather mixed emotions behind it; he wasn't going to say it, or even attempt to make it known, but John had been genuinely worried about a snake coming up and biting his friend. At the same time, however, there was a part of the grey that thought that Sherlock would deserve it.
It brought a smile to Sherlock's face, seeing John's discomfort at the idea of Sherlock getting hurt. That was a thought for another, less John-centric time. Right now he had to find another rabbit, one that could tell him who the other one was. Thoughts of John and his surprising loyalty and how unflappable he was in the face of danger could wait until nightfall, when John was tucked into sleep and cursing under his breath.
After another moment of John gently jostling him away, Sherlock decided it was time he walked for himself. He trotted forward, veering suddenly and directing their course from the edge of the enclosure, silently rejoicing in the way John followed him without a word- just a slightly wary look. No one did that, letting Sherlock take the lead without a fight or a hundred irritating questions.
John even managed not to call him insane when he walked up to a broken boulder in the middle of their paddock and licked it.
"What... What are you doing?"
"Hmm... just as I thought... This is a false stone. It's actually a salt lick."
"I thought we were looking for a rabbit?" came John's confused query.
"Oh, that. I already know where the rabbits live, but I wanted to be sure- hence the examination of the hole. Then I smelled salt when I hadn't smelled it before, so I wanted to investigate."
Again proving how different he was, John didn't yell at him. He simply gave Sherlock a stern look for a moment, being sure to convey how unimpressed he was, before snorting and shaking his head.
"Aren't you going to lick it?" Sherlock asked, startling the other horse.
"What? Um, I hadn't been planning to...?"
"John, I feel that it would-"
He stopped suddenly and stared off into the distance for a few minutes, his eyes moving but the rest of his body unnaturally still. Without a word, he suddenly bolted toward the far corner of their pasture, black tail streaming behind him. John shook his head but followed without complaint, doggedly ignoring the way his body protested the quick pace. He was rewarded when he finally drew even with Sherlock, though.
Sherlock was standing in front of another hole, his head bent down and nose poking into a rather unimpressed mound of fur. This one was white and black, its eyes taking in John's appearance without comment. The silence grew heavy and uncomfortable, Sherlock busily snuffling at the rabbit and the rabbit manfully ignoring him in favor of casting a critical glance over John.
"What're ya 'ere for, then?" the rabbit asked, his voice gruff.
John blinked, momentarily thrown by how the voice didn't suit the animal.
"Er... there's a rabbit by the fence-"
"That'll be ol' Missus Hudson, that. Got a dodgy hip, she 'as. Prob'ly couldn't get back 'ere."
"So, will someone be getting her or something?"
The rabbit shook his fluffy head.
"She's a nice old bit, but we don't have no place for her. Ever since her husband got thrown out the warren- mean ol' geezer, not like 'is missus- she's been a drain on our supplies. We'd 'ave 'er look after the youngins, but with that hip, she's nigh useless-"
"Any place, you mean," Sherlock piped up, apparently having finished with the rabbit. "You won't be missing her, then? Excellent!" he plowed on before the rabbit could even respond. "I'll save you some time. Mrs. Hudson will be staying with John and me as a sort of... stall watcher. Pleasure talking to you- I'd stay and chat, but John and I really ought to get our new friend accustomed to her new lodgings before night falls."
He then smirked and turned to walk away, only pausing to call a quick "John, don't dawdle," over his shoulder.
"Ah, thank you very much, then," John said to the rabbit, his confusion somewhat dampening the usual excitement that Sherlock sparked in him as he quickly shifted into a canter to catch up with Sherlock, who was no longer smirking. He looked rather worried, which wasn't an expression John was used to seeing on his friend's face. Before he could ask what was wrong, Sherlock asked a question.
"John, do you... mind that I did that?"
"Did what? Adopted a rabbit? Claimed she's ours? Didn't consult me?"
"Yes?" was the uncomfortable reply, which seemed so out of character it made John snort with amusement.
"Honestly, Sherlock, it's fine. It's all fine." He paused for a moment, studying the taller horse before sighing and shaking his head. "Come on, then, you great git. We've got a rabbit to take care of, haven't we?"
Apologies for the late update! Outside life interfered, unfortunately. As a way of saying I'm sorry, here's a quotation I found amusing and vaguely relevant:
"If this were a logical world, men would ride side saddle."
-Rita Mae Brown
A combination of two prompts:
Tipear (FF): Lestrade makes an appearance & W33 (FF): John and Molly meeting
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A/N: A combination of two prompts:
Tipear (FF): Lestrade makes an appearance & W33 (FF): John and Molly meeting
Mrs. Hudson proved to be a lovely addition to their stall. She constantly made sure the chips were dispersed evenly and would get the attention of Stan or one of the other stable workers when it was time for the stall to get mucked out. When they'd first spoken to her, she'd been reluctant, but after a mere three minutes with John and his sad blue eyes begging that she come keep them company, she'd agreed to go with them. After a single look around the stall, she'd sighed and said that she was "company, not your housekeeper," but her affectionate smile had given the words a friendly, rather than scolding, tone.
A few more days passed, as well as another race- one held by another local stable to raise money for a charity to help PMU horses*. John had been his usual self all day long, snarking and calling Sherlock out when the other horse got antsy or made things difficult for Stan. (Sebastian had yet to be seen after bringing John and Sherlock back. John heard Mrs. Moran anxiously talking to Jim about it one day; it seemed that no one knew where he was. He hadn't taken his bottle of lithium, so everyone was slightly on edge.) As Sherlock was exiting the track, he was greeted by a rather too-innocent looking John, whose appearance was ignored by everyone from the Moran stables and a source of confusion for everyone else. Throughout the entire cooling down process, it was impossible to make the short horse move from Sherlock's sight, and once they were back in the stable, nothing could could lure him from his friend's side. This time when night fell, John already had Sherlock pinned to the wall of their stall, his strong body pressed close and showing no signs of leaving. The next morning found them wedged together just as tightly as the night before, Sherlock's head somehow winding up resting on John's neck.
That next day after the race was quiet, everyone going about what they had to do, until four o'clock in the afternoon when a faded red truck with a single horse trailer drove up. Sherlock recognized it instantly and smirked, but he refused to explain to John why he was doing that. It took Mrs. Hudson hopping out, then returning with a tired look on her face and explaining it for John to learn what was going on. He leaned down and gave the old rabbit a small nudge, their usual greeting, while he waited to find out what was going on.
"It's Molly, Sebastian's girlfriend," she began, sounding slightly worried.
"You don't approve of her?" John asked, suspicious. If Mrs. Hudson had taken a disliking to her, she'd be one to watch.
"Oh, heavens no! Molly's a wonderful girl, quite sweet and gentle- very good with animals, though she's a bit like dear Stan when it comes to people, all awkwardness and bumbling and trying ever so hard to please. I'm worried about her, though. Molly's a very delicate girl, and Sebastian... is Sebastian. He wouldn't hurt her, not on purpose, but sometimes he's a bit much to handle, what with those dark moods. The poor girl thinks it's her fault- which it clearly isn't."
"And she knows that Sebastian doesn't feel about her the way she feels about him," Sherlock added. "He does try, which says something, I suppose, but he's interested in Jim-"
"...who's interested in every girl he sees," John finished, feeling slightly ill.
Mrs. Hudson tutted, softly thumping her weak side's foot against the ground in unhappiness.
"Still," she said, "you'll like Molly, though I can't for the life of me figure out who they've got in that trailer..."
She didn't have to wonder for much longer, because a few moments later, Sebastian and woman (Molly, John assumed) entered the stable, a lean, almost gaunt chestnut walking between them. His head didn't hang low, but it certainly wasn't up in the air like Sherlock's often was. A white blaze* ran down his intelligent face, his warm brown eyes taking in Sherlock's feigned disinterest and John's openly curious face- adorned as it was with a smiling (the rabbit equivalent, at least) Mrs. Hudson- as he was lead into the box stall across from them.
Before any of the long-time residents could even think of what to say to him, excepting Sherlock, Sebastian and Molly turned around. There was a wide smile on the man's face, one that John had never seen and Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock had only seen a few times. It was strange to see him so happy, but the smile fit him, brightening his entire face and creasing his eyes. When he picked her up and spun her around, Molly let out a small gasp but was careful not to scream, which won her quite a few esteem points in John's eyes.
The moment her feet were back on the ground, Sebastian put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her forward, saying,
"And of course Sherlock's here, still winning and running well, but we've got a stall mate for him-" he paused suddenly, obviously noticing the rabbit perched on John's grey head. "...Apparently he's got two stall mates. The horse is John Watson, an ex-police mount from New York City; a steadier fellow you'll never meet. If I'm not mistaken, that rabbit... looks a lot like Mrs. Hudson, doesn't it?"
"Oh, you're right!" Molly replied, somewhat startled.
Sebastian was about to say something, but his mobile went off and upon seeing the name on the screen, knew he had to go.
"Ah, sorry, dear. Dad's in the mood for a chat, so I've got to go see him. He's in the indoor ring, so I'll be there if you need me!"
He then turned and started to walk away, only to come back, place a kiss on Molly's cheek and turn away again.
The smile on her face said more about Molly than she probably realized, and it made John's heart ache to see it, particularly when she walked over to the bars and held out her hand for him to sniff, which he did happily- only to be shoved by Sherlock who whickered* and nudged at her hand, making her laugh.
"I haven't forgotten you, Sherlock! You're far too handsome, even though I know you're just being nice to me because I bribe you with treats." The sudden look of greed on Sherlock's face confirmed John's secret theory- the big black had a sweet tooth.
Molly stuck her hand into one of the pockets of her jeans, fished around a bit, then, with a triumphant smile, held her hand out flat, a sugarcube placed in the middle. She then carefully moved it closer so Sherlock could take it, his lips tickling her palm and making her laugh. She did the same for John, whose broad cheeks she even stroked, drawing out contented sighs and making him rub against her hand- though he was careful not to tilt too much and put Mrs. Hudson in danger (who was also getting some kind strokes from Molly).
"Well, I better be off. Goodness knows what Sebastian and his father are arguing about now. Honestly."
So with a pat for Sherlock, a tickle for Mrs. Hudson, a kiss for John and a, "Be a good boy, Greg!" presumably for their new companion, she walked out the barn, in search of her wandering boyfriend.
The stable was quiet for a few moments before Mrs. Hudson broke the silence.
"Greg? As in... Greg Lestrade? Is that you, Lestrade?"
"Mrs. Hudson? Christ, it is you! I didn't think I'd get to see you again!" came a jubilant voice. It was soft and, despite the French name, had a distinctly English accent. "How are you? I heard about Jack- bad business, that. I'm terribly sorry."
"Oh, it's all in the past, and I'm well enough- just this damn hip of mine. How on earth are you, though? Last I heard, you'd broken your leg and had to have an operation. When I didn't hear anything else, I feared the worst, but here you are...!"
"Yeah, here I am, not that I know why. First I heard I was gonna be put down, then after who knows how long, suddenly Sebastian appeared and took me out. I was in some other stable in Ireland until a few days ago, when Sebastian and Molly came and brought me to the other stable his family owns, then here."
"How long will you be here, do you think?"
"Haven't a clue."
Silence fell, then, heavy and uncomfortable. Lestrade shifted in his stall and sighed to himself.
"Well," the rabbit said, "why don't I come over and we can talk a bit, just like when you were a knobby-kneed colt."
Sherlock and John watched, lost, as the old rabbit jumped from John's head, through the bars and onto the floor. She then raced over to Lestrade's door, hopped up and swung a front paw to unlock it, then slid the door open enough to hop inside.
After a few moments of stunned silence, John looked at Sherlock.
"I don't know about you," he said, a sneaky grin covering his face, "but I'd like to get out and stretch."
*PMU stands for Pregnant Mare Urine. In some places, the urine of pregnant mares is used as medicine. The horses are often victims of abuse, impregnated for the sole purpose of gathering their urine.
For more information, you can go here (Keep in mind that it will be biased a bit and that it certainly won't be pleasant)-
Oh, I've just remembered something I forgot to mention earlier. I think that I mentioned that John is about fifteen hands high (around five feet from head to the top of his shoulder) as fourteen point two hands is the official height a horse must exceed not to be considered a pony.
*Blaze: a type of marking found on a horse's face-
*Whicker: a contented noise, like a low neigh, sometimes a bit breathy
Chapter 18: It'll Kill Your Heart
A/N: The wonderful Tipear (FF)'s prompt: Jim is up to something bad
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John wasn't an idiot. He had spent his life, from the moment he could stand and move on his own, winding up in dangerous situations. He had been born on a ranch in Nevada so he could be a companion for the rancher's little daughter who had recently returned from New York where she'd been undergoing treatment for an illness. From the moment he'd first met her, John had been smitten, doing absolutely anything and everything for her. When they'd been on a little-traveled trail and gotten ambushed by a rabid mountain lion, he had carried her to safety without being told. That was only the first time he'd needed to prove himself. By the time he was seven, he'd saved her life more times than years he'd been alive. The rancher himself had taken notice of how his short foal had become the most dependable horse he owned, so when his daughter finally lost her battle with cancer, he elected to give John to an acquaintance who worked with a federal agency to keep the mustangs safe*. There, too, John had shown, though he was only there for a year and a half before being passed on to a woman with the Red Cross who was going to underprivileged areas with supplies and needed a way to travel other than an automobile. Just like he had done in every other place he'd been, John served her faithfully, not only steadfastly guarding what she brought but chasing away the doubts that often plagued her. Even after their last journey together, the one in which she was shot by a militant group, John made his way to the village that needed what they'd been bringing. There, a man from the New York City mounted police took notice of him and brought him back to the United States. Despite his advanced age, John went through the training to be a police mount and proved to be even easier to train than many younger horses. Through his time there and with the other people and places he'd been, John learned a great many things, though he rarely spoke about them.
One thing he knew- knew damn well, thank you very much- from his time in New York (not just the city, as he'd occasionally been brought to racetracks upstate) was drugs. Specifically, he knew when a horse was on one and what he'd been given. So when Sherlock came off the track at another small, local race practically prancing and his pupils wide John had a very good idea of what was going on, but he waited until they were back in the stall before launching his investigation.
"Where is it, then?" he asked, nosing around one of Sherlock's legs.
"Where is what, John?" Sherlock responded, sounded much more magnanimous than usual.
"The place you got jabbed!"
"Jabbed? What are you-"
"I'm not blind, Sherlock! Christ's sake, you're off your face on meth! Now, why don't you tell me where you got the injection?"
Sherlock sighed dramatically and shook his head, as though he couldn't believe how thick John was being.
"Really, there's nothing to be done."
"Nothing to be- You know what, Sherlock? There's a hell of a lot to be done. And do you know why? Because amphetamines can kill you, Sherlock, just like they can kill anyone else! Then there's the fact that it's wrong. You don't always take this stuff- I'd have noticed if you did- so why now? What about this race made it so imperative that you win?"
"Oh... one of the other jockeys was saying something about how poor a jockey Jim is, and it upset him."
"And you're happy to let him put your life at risk, just so he can prove some other jockey wrong. You'll let him kill you."
"In fairness to Jim, it was his broth-"
"I don't care!" John screamed, his voice louder than Sherlock had ever heard it.
Even through the pleasant fog of methamphetamine, he could see that pushing John was a bad idea. It was more instinctive than Sherlock would have liked to admit, but he could see how emotions were pouring his normally placid friend and felt an odd desire to comfort him. Seeing John so worked up and almost crying (not that either of them was going to mention that) caused some rarely used part of him to become uncomfortable. It was imperative that John not be in such a state, but could Sherlock do to-
The sound of the stall door slamming shut, followed rapidly by the lock sliding closed, drew Sherlock from his thoughts. He looked through the bars just in time to see John's head swing away. There was something in the way the grey legs were moving and the way every muscle in the short body was tensed that told Sherlock not to say anything more. He simply watched his friend walk away from him.
If Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson happened to see a tear or two roll down his face, neither broke the silence John left.
*This falls under the jurisdiction of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).
I'm sorry for not following the prompt exactly, but what could be more bad than getting in between John and Sherlock? (I did consider cocaine and/or morphine instead of meth, but I felt that meth was more appropriate.)
Oh, and I walked Reichenbach last night. No spoilers here; don't worry. I'll tell you what, though. My mom came in about two or three minutes after I'd finished watching it, and she was worried by the amount of tears and snuffling. I need season three.
Chapter 19: Getting Back
A continuation of the previous chapter
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock's head remained pressed against the bars of the stall for hours as he stood there, blindly looking at the place where John had been standing. He lost himself inside his mind while Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson looked on worriedly. There was a desperation in the way his lips moved, silently speaking his thoughts. The horse and rabbit looked away; though neither could read lips, they felt it an intrusion on Sherlock to watch him.
The sun was just setting, the day coming to an end, with Sherlock still in his stupor and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade quietly conversing about the past when suddenly there was a man's shout of anger- or perhaps pain- followed by more shouting and the sound of people running. The shouting continued, growing in desperation but also becoming more distant until it disappeared completely. There was a tension in the air, and everyone in the stable could feel it.
It grew and grew, getting to the point that the air was almost too think to breathe, and the moment it seemed as though they might suffocate, the air was pierced by the sound of hooves clip-clopping on their way to the stable. The wide doors swung open, and John returned- or, more accurately, was lead back into the stable by a rather shaken Stan. There was a fierce look on his face as Stan slipped him into the standing stall next to Sherlock, the man's face drawn tight and creased with worry as he turned and made his way to Sherlock.
He stood just outside the door and looked at Sherlock, whose only response to the man was a slow blink. Stan extended a hand and gently smoothed it over Sherlock's velvety nose, seemingly as lost in thought as the horse beneath his hand. He began to speak in Polish beneath his breath, a habit he'd had for as long as he could remember. Whenever he'd been unhappy or sick when he was very young, his mother and brother had spoken to him that way. On the few occasions his father had been home, he, too, would sit down, pull his son into his lap and hold his son, murmuring to him in their native tongue. Just as his family had done with him, Stan spoke to the horses (and other animals) in Polish.
"Well," he said, changing to English, "there's a bit of a problem, koniku*. Your friend here, our grey John, has caused a bit of a stir." He chucked then, low and dark. "He bit Jim on the arm as he was picking up his bag. And what should fall out? He had many needles and tiny bottles of drugs. What has he done, hm? He's been injecting you, breaking you, yes? Is that why you're so odd after races? You can feel the drugs in you and can no longer run as you did. Then you withdraw and get sick. How long has this been happening, koniku? If only you could tell me... Now Sebastian is upset and has thrown Jim out the stable, but... you know how he is. Molly's with him now. Perhaps she will take his mind off things..." Stan sighed and shook his head, slowly taking his hand off Sherlock. "I need to do some tests on you, but they will have to wait for tomorrow. For now... Things will be hard, Sherlock. We won't be able to let you race for the rest of the season, even after you've gotten it all out your system." He paused, then, as though suddenly remembering something. "Dear John gave Jim a nasty bite for his troubles. Even from afar I could see that he broke the skin. Maybe if he hadn't just ignored John as he usually does, Jim might not have gotten such a bite?"
With those last words, Stan hunched his back and ducked his head as he walked away, his gait reluctant and weary.
Once he was out of sight, Sherlock seemed to spring to life. His ears pricked forward, and his eyes lit up.
"John," he called, voice high and worried.
He was greeted with silence.
"John," he called again.
"Leave me be, Sherlock. I'm tired, and I can't get the taste of blood out my mouth. Worst of all, I know you don't care. You're probably angry that now you're going to have to go through some form of detox. Plus, you can't race any more this year."
"John, I'm not angry. You are."
"Of course I am!" came the impassioned response. "I just found out that my friend, someone who's important to me, is being doped, and he doesn't even care! You're acting as though it doesn't matter."
"That's because it doesn't!"
"Yes, it does! It matters a lot, Sherlock! It could kill you, or cripple you, or-... or it doesn't matter what else it could do, because it's all bad."
"I don't understand. Why are you so upset? It isn't something that happens often, so why are you so concerned?"
"Why am I- I'm concerned because it could make your temperature rise and cook you from the inside, you daft bastard! I'm concerned because if that happens, or you burn yourself out mentally, or if your heart stops, or for some other reason, you die, you'll be gone, and I don't want you to be gone, dammit."
"Don't interrupt! You've gotten me this upset, so you're going to let me finish the job. I like you, Sherlock. You're one of my few friends, and if you- if you die, I'll be alone. I don't want to be alone anymore, Sherlock. It's lonely and depressing, and I like this. I like riding in the trailer with you and running about in the field and waiting at the gate for you and even the time's when you're a complete prat and pretend that I don't exist. So I do have a reason to be concerned, thank you very much."
Finished, John sighed heavily and shifted his weight, worried that he might have upset his friend with his outburst- not that he was intending to take it back, oh no. He'd meant what he'd said, and there was no way that he would take it back.
"John," Sherlock's plaintive voice called. "John, I didn't mean it like that."
"How did you mean-"
"I let you speak, so I'd appreciate it if you'd allow me the same privilege." When John didn't interrupt, he continued. "I am not... good with others. That you would be so invested in my well-being... it was not something that I had anticipated, and I can't say that I understand why you feel so strongly about this."
"Of course I feel strongly about it! You're important, you plonk!"
"No, it- That's what I'm trying to say. I'm sorry, John. I'm sorry for upsetting you and making you feel that I did not appreciate you. That's the opposite of how I... feel."
The two lapsed into a momentary silence, but it was soon broken by the sound of John backing out the stall and moving over to the box stall he usually occupied, the one out of which Sherlock's head was poking. The moment he saw John's short rump emerging, his heart began to speed up, and when John's entire body was out and his head turned towards Sherlock, the tall horse felt his entire body tense in a way that was completely unrelated to drugs. His body began to tremble and quake as his friend made his way to the stall, a crooked smile on his face.
"Mind if I come in?" John asked, obviously trying to resist laughing.
"It would be an honor."
Sherlock watched fondly as John nosed at the lock until it flipped up, then slid it open. With a grin, Sherlock opened the stall door by pushing his head against one of the bars, causing it to slide open wide enough for John to walk in.
They stood awkwardly for a moment or two, but Sherlock was determined to let John know that he felt true affection for him, so he stepped forward and lowered his head so he could nuzzle at John's cheek, and if he breathed in more deeply than he usually did, there was no one to say anything, since John never would. Besides, John was happily nuzzling at Sherlock's own face, some of the newer lines of worry leaving his eyes as he did so.
Blowing contentedly through his lips, Sherlock brought his head to rest atop John's. Though there was a momentary flash of suspicion in those blue eyes, his head was allowed to stay without comment or complain. That was something Sherlock liked about John. He was quick to forgive; though he had been close to furious a few moments ago, he wasn't holding it against Sherlock, which brought Sherlock's mind to something he'd nearly forgotten to say.
"Thank you... for what you did."
"That's what friends do, isn't it? We protect each other."
"...Would it be all right to stay like this, John?"
"I suppose. Just don't drool on me, all right?"
"I never drool."
John snorted, quietly amused at his friend's indignation.
"Go to sleep, you."
"I won't be able to sleep any time soon, as you well know."
"Hmm... I might have an idea about that."
Something in John's tone caused Sherlock's ears to prick forward. There was a game afoot.
*koniku: Polish for "my horse". Thanks very much to everyone who gave me input about this!
If I'm wrong, please correct me! Much as I wish I could speak Polish, I can't.
Chapter 20: Thundering
A continuation of the previous chapter combined with a prompt from Tipear (FF): Can you also involve part of John's constitution being psychosomathic and that he can race around with Sherlock?
Yes, yes, I can.
John flashed his too-innocent smile just a moment before a he sent back leg crashing into the sliding door, sending it flying open. He then backed out, his smile only growing.
"Aren't you coming, Sherlock?" he called just before he turned and trotted away, his tail held high and swishing at his heels.
With a short snort of amusement, Sherlock trotted after him.
Twenty Five Minutes Later
"John," Sherlock puffed, breathing heavily and gasping, "you're... a genius."
Said horse simply threw back his head and laughed, trumpeting his joy.
"Thank... you, Sherlock. Aren't you.... ready... for a break yet? You... seem to be... having trouble... breathing," came the sly reply.
"Oh, no... I... was about to ask... how you were... managing to move... with that leg of yours... Ruined... wasn't it?"
"Damn... my leg!"
"Admittedly... I am... going easy... on you."
"You are... are you?... Ha!... It's all about... concen...trating... on something else."
"What... are you con... centrating on?"
If there had been any people to see them, and enough light to illuminate more than a few feet before their faces, they would have seen a sleek, black shadow and a short, grey blur surging in the fading dust light. Maybe they would have heard the exultant whinnies of the horses as they streaked across the the last stretch on their way to the edge of the estate's land. Their own ears were too full of their throbbing hearts and thumping hooves to notice anything else- not even the way there were slight flutters mixed with the throbbing.
Chapter 21: Anthea
A/N: Seyshira (FF)'s prompt: Mycroft's plans
The evening sun beat down softly, casting a pale golden aura around the brindled horse as he walked back to his stable. Waiting for him in his stall was a small but well-groomed crow, her black feathers shining and healthy.
"Welcome back, sir, and congratulations on another victory," she said, her voice much smoother than most crows'.
"Thank you, Anthea," Mycroft replied. "It's unusual for you to be here over something so trivial, so I expect that something has happened?"
"Yes, sir. I've received confirmation that Lestrade's been sent back to the Diogenes Stable," she replied, studiously ignoring the look on her superior's face. "His relationship with Sherlock is amicable, though not overly friendly. John Watson continues to be a positive influence on Sherlock. The night-terrors have completely disappeared. Though there hasn't been another large storm, the were a few peals of thunder last night, but they didn't affect him. He has also begun to show signs of empathy, as well as concern for another's well-being. Sherlock is fond of John and certainly the reverse is true."
Mycroft nodded distractedly.
"I see... That still isn't enough for you to come here, though."
The crow immediately grew uncomfortable, shifting from side to side.
"Jim Moriarty, the jockey who had been the one entrusted with Sherlock, was found to have been doping him."
"What?" The distraction faded from Mycroft so quickly, it was as though someone had waved it away. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and calm. "This wasn't a one time thing, then. How did we not know?"
Anthea shook her head, wishing to be anywhere else. Even a pissy Sherlock was preferable to an enraged Mycroft.
"I'm not sure, but I've placed our most reliable scouts on it."
Mycroft began to paw at the ground, suddenly feeling hungry- which only served to fan his anger.
"No, Anthea, I want you to see to it personally. I take it the Morans caught Moriarty?"
"Actually, sir, they only found out because of John Watson. He took hold of Jim's arm and refused to release him despite the obvious pain he was inflicting. It seems that there's more to him than his history as the 'Doctor Horse', but he did recognize that something was wrong with Sherlock- and has kept him continuous company since- so he can't have forgotten. I'm told that he has refused to leave Sherlock's side after returning from his confrontation with Moriarty." She paused then, unsure. "Are there... any other orders for the moment, sir?"
The tall horse shook his head.
"No, Anthea, that's all. Just go watch over my brother, as well as his... acquaintance."
"Of course, sir."
Relieved, the crow hopped to the window in the back of the stall and prepared to fly away, only to be stopped by a sound from her superior. In someone less dignified (and confident) she would have called it a nervous cough, but that isn't something that Mycroft Holmes knows how to do. He barely knows the word nervous.
"When you arrive... do give my regards to Lestrade."
"Yes, sir," she replied, then took off as quickly as possible. As much as she admired Mycroft, she knew very well that his moods were by no means absolute, particularly when he felt threatened.
Back on the ground, Mycroft watched her go, his mind whirling with ways of punishing Jim Moriarty- mice in his flat, foxes at his bins, perhaps an attack by some belligerent swans... Though the majority of his mind was filled with thoughts of vengeance and processing Sherlock and John's relationship, a tiny part of it thrilled at the idea of seeing Greg again, and that traitorous part of his mind was the part that wondered- hoped- that Lestrade had missed him, as well. He would have to plan another visit...
Chapter 22: Standing the Pain
Lanshannarra (FF): Sherlock and John watching lightening bugs? And talking about whether it would be more interesting or less interesting of they where human instead of horses?
I'm going a bit out of order with the prompts because of the way they're fitting with the story, but I promise that they'll all be done.
John's dream ended in a world-crushing earthquake, and when he woke up, nearly blind in the darkness of the night and disorientated, he discovered that the cause of the earthquake was the shuddering running through Sherlock's body. The withdrawal had been hitting Sherlock hard, so John had taken to sleeping with his head flung over Sherlock's neck with his body pressed flush against the taller, darker one; were he any closer, John would have been inside Sherlock's body, too.
The only reply was a chattering of teeth. It was disturbing, how taciturn his usually smart-mouthed friend had become. There was something about it that put him in mind of the way the girl from Nevada, the one he'd loved and watched fade away, but John had no intentions of letting Sherlock do the same thing. One can only take so much so much loss, and John had had more than enough for a lifetime. As he was pondering how he could lessen his friend's pain, there was a flash of light in front of him, and with a start, he realized that it was a firefly- actually, make it two.
The fireflies flew around a bit, almost dancing around each other, until they came to land on John and Sherlock's water bucket, where they stayed, though the faint luminescence still flashed every few moments. Something about them sent an idea flashing through John.
"Would you like to be a human, Sherlock?"
"A... human?" The racehorse's voice was raw from disuse; John ignored the way it set his nerves on edge, screaming about the wrongness of the sound.
"Yeah, like... Sebastian or Molly. It would be interesting, wouldn't it?"
Sherlock pondered the question, and John could see how Sherlock's mind was whirling, considering the question on a thousand levels- each one taking him further and further away from the pain.
When he finally answered, Sherlock spoke with something close to his usual vigor.
"I don't think so. Humans are... more structured than even we are and less accepting to those who move outside their circles of thought. I knew Sebastian as a teenager, and that isn't something I'd care to experience. Humans are far too closed-minded and foolish, their minds so strange and unused. To be so limited, to have only two legs that are so unsteady... That isn't something I would like."
The response brought a tiny smile of victory to John's face. It seemed that even in pain, Sherlock be contemptuous.
"You really wouldn't want to? Not at all? I think it'd be interesting- seeing things from other places, being able to walk around when I please-"
"Don't you already do that?"
"Shut up, Sherlock. I was saying something important. It'd be nice to be the one doing the riding instead having to carry someone else, too."
Sherlock snorted derisively.
"When was the last time you had a person on your back?"
"Last time a bomb nearly blew up New York City."
They stood in an awkward silence for a time, John contemplating the moment he'd thought he'd die and Sherlock eventually realizing he'd said something wrong, that the silence was his doing but not knowing how to break it, so they stood without speaking and watched the fireflies take off from the bucket and fly away.
It was oddly peaceful, watching the fireflies disappear.
Maybe it was the mood, or perhaps it was the way John's presence was like an off button for the screeching speakers in his head, but Sherlock found himself talking again.
"I suppose that being a human... wouldn't be that bad... if I had someone else, someone upon whom I could rely, expressively."
"Good thing you've got me then."
Chapter 23: Lonely
Hiyami (FF)'s prompt: Would be nice to see some back story to Sally and Anderson and what their relationship to each other is in this instance.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
How Sally* had managed to sneak up on them, John didn't really care to contemplate. The lack of Anderson* was a clue, however; for all he was a walking horse*, Anderson had the delicate gate of a draft horse*.
John yawned and slowly took his head off Sherlock's neck, happy to notice that there was no evidence of the tremors of the previous night. Sherlock was still quite weak, though, and would be for a while yet, so John was careful not to wake him while shifting and returning Sally's salutations. While everyone else had been tiptoeing around them, Sally had refused to be anything other than her usual vitriolic self, and John was grateful to her for that, which was why he felt a tug in his chest at the way she greeted them. There was none of her usual sharp-tongued disdain.
"Good morning, Sally. Where's Anderson?" he asked, ignoring the nickname Sally and Anderson had given him and concentrating instead on the lack of stallion's presence; it was rare to find one without the other.
He watched her fidget for a moment, obviously uncomfortable.
"I... Someone picked him up yesterday to be a stud for a mare in Manchester."
"So you're lonely?"
"I understand. You feel strange without him with you, don't you?" John asked kindly, watching the mare nod morosely. "When I was first parted from a good friend of mine, I didn't really know what to do with myself. I wasn't sad, not really, just... confused; it felt as though I'd left a part of myself with her."
"What do I do about it? I don't like not being all here!"
John gave his mane a shake- the equine equivalent of a shrug.
"You don't do anything, not that I know. When he comes back you'll feel like you normally do. Eventually, if you're separated a lot, the feeling with grow more dull, even to the point you can ignore it- or maybe you'll pass through the feeling and no longer feel attached to Anderson. Either way, it's something emotional, and there isn't anything I know that can stop it."
Sally sighed, and John saw how weary she must have been.
"Jonathan- Anderson, I mean- he and I have known each other for nearly our entire lives. We grew up on the same farm, and the Morans picked us out together. We're a team, John. I just don't know what to do without him, even if he is a thick-skulled moron most of the time."
"I think you might want to talk to Lestrade."
"Lestrade? Why him?"
"Oh, just a hunch. Something tells me he knows exactly what you're feeling; plus, he's a good horse- someone who'll listen to you."
"Right. And you've got Sherlock..."
John grinned, his face appearing much younger than he actually was.
"And I've got Sherlock."
"Well... I suppose I ought to go look for Lestrade, then. He's probably in the middle pasture, come to think of it. Thank you, John" she called over her shoulder as she trotted away, her tail held high and her hooves no longer dragging.
A deep voice interrupted John's satisfied musings.
"Two heart-broken fools in one go, well done, John. But might get back to sleep, now?"
*Sally is a barb horse, which is bred for a strength and stamina and has a fiery temperament.
http://horsebreedslist. com/ horse_breed_images/ 107/ big/ moroccan-barb-picture-1. jpg
*From Wikipedia, the love of my life:
"The Tennessee Walking Horse has a reputation for having a calm disposition and naturally smooth riding gaits."
*Draft Horse, again from Wiki:
"Draft horses and draft crossbreds are versatile breeds used today for a multitude of purposes, including farming, show, logging, recreation, and other uses... Draft horses are recognizable by their tall stature and extremely muscular build. In general, they tend to have a more upright shoulder, producing more upright movement and conformation that is well-suited for pulling."
Comparison image (draft on the left, lighter horse on the right)-
Chapter 24: Listless
A double prompt chapter!
One from Kariout (FF): BAMF John. Like a rapid dog breaks into the barn or someone tries to steal Sherlock and John goes crazy all over them. That would be cool to see everyones reaction.
& one from charliebrown123 (FF): I need some wierdness from Sherlock, like talking to a skull wierdness in horsey form.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock knew he was hallucinating, but sometimes details like that are irrelevant. Of course this was a hallucination, because how else would he wind up able to converse with an old horseshoe? That it was John's wasn't enough to make it supernatural; if anything, being John's ought to make it plain and unassuming- not something that was staring at him and vibrating with... fury? annoyance? derision? Ah. Amusement. He smiled, his eyes falling closed. There was a strangely warm feeling in his gut that was making its way through his head, and he was finding it difficult to stay awake. His eyes were too heavy, his body too comfortable, to do anything but sleep. There was shouting just beyond the haze, though, that wouldn't leave him alone. The voice was familiar but oddly distorted, almost as if he were listening to it through a wall of water. It was louder, too, almost crazed. Still, he recognized it and allowed it to wash over him as he was lulled to sleep.
Generally speaking, John was quiet- so far as horses go. He didn't scream about plastic bags fluttering or a dog watching him. Another horse neighing wouldn't make him make a sound, unless it was directed to him. Even when it was, he was more of a whickering, softly responding type. The few times he had made a commotion, something had been wrong. That was what called Sebastian from his home away from home in his truck- the sound of John fairly ripping his vocal cords with the force of a single scream. The eerie silence that followed it was broken only by the sound of a man running and a horse's hooves clattering. Nothing could have prepared the youngest Moran for what he saw: John Watson chasing after one of the new stable workers, head low and snaking, his teeth clicking as he tore after the obviously panicked worker. There was a malicious glint in the horse's eyes and a murderous intent in the way his ears were pinned back*. The man tripped over himself and fell to the ground, but John showed no sign of slowing or stopping. He continued to charge ahead, blind to everything that wasn't his prey, ironic though their positions were. It wasn't until his legs were about to step on the cowering human on the ground that John spread his legs and came to halt, dirt flying and muscles protesting. He ignored it all in favor of putting his face a few inches above his captive and snapping at him. By the time Sebastian managed to shake his head and clear away the daze, John was in the process of deciding which he wanted to break: the man's femur or booth his feet. So absorbed was he by the question, that he didn't notice Sebastian's presence until he felt him tug on his halter. They eyed each other for a moment- John cold and annoyed at the disturbance, Sebastian stunned by the vehemence in the usually placid horse. Shaking his head, John gave in and walked away, keeping his gaze trained on the body he'd nearly trampled. "What's this, then, John?" he heard Sebastian ask, not missing the wary tone in which it was spoken. In response, he looked to the stable and waited for the human to hear. Fortunately, his years in the military- as well as having been born with keen senses- let Sebastian to pick up on the noises Sherlock was making. Odd as the sounds a drugged human will make might be, a drugged horse will be louder and stranger. He didn't say anything, but Sebastian seemed to get the message since he picked the other man up by his shirt and dragged him along while he made his way to his parents' house, trusting John to go back to his stall on his own. -which John didn't really mind doing, actually. He was sure Sebastian would take care of the would-be abductor, and he was more concerned about leaving Sherlock alone than what happened to the man, which was why that man ought to be thanking the man who was dragging him away. If left to his own devices John definitely would have done more than break a bone or two. He'd been to war-torn areas; one doesn't go there and not pick up a few things.
Sherlock was angry, incensed nearly to the point of blind rage. The horseshoe was silently berating him, insulting him without saying anything. For his part, the black horse was talking furiously- not caring if he was making sense or not. He had two reasons to do so (One was never enough). The first was to attempt to get the horseshoe to speak back- or at least vent his frustration towards it. So far, that wasn't particularly effective on either front. The second reason, however, was quite often fulfilled. Whenever he shifted angrily or started muttering, that familiar voice would start speaking again, and he was slowly able to piece together what was being said. Usually it was just something to placate him, something along the lines of, "It's all right," or "Easy there, yeah?" but sometimes the voice would just say his name. Those were the times he liked the most; it was as though he were something previous that the voice wanted to keep safe. Yes, he liked that very much. If only he could remember why that voice was so familiar...
Yes, more drugged!Sherlock, the poor lamb.
*Along with the noises they make, horses use a lot of silent clues you can see in their body language. This sight sheds a bit of light on the topic of what ear positions in horses means-
Chapter 25: Mrs. Hudson
Another double prompt chapter!
Two from Hiyami (FF): how Mrs. Hudson alert the stable workers and what they all though of her XD And how does Molly and Sebastian know Mrs. Hudson
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
She had been quite vibrant in her youth, her coat glowing with health and her legs always helping her hop about jauntily. When she finally managed to settle down, it was with a rabbit who was white to the point he was nearly albino. She didn't mind his odd looks since he was active and smiled often, and she'd never been one to judge someone by his appearance or the way he acted. They had more babies than either managed to count and had a great time together for a few years, so when she lost him, her mourning was genuine, no matter what the other "ladies" might have said. When her hip slipped and broke on her way back to the warren one day, she was surprised at the cold disregard she was given. It had never occurred to her that her years of prosperity with Mr. Hudson had engendered a fair amount of envy and contempt, so she was at a complete loss. For the next few years, she did what she could to survive, but each year her hip got worse and it became harder to survive. During this difficult time, she found an unlikely ally in the son of family who owned the farm on which she lived. He was a troubled boy, often given to long spells of depression which were quickly cut off by fleeting hours of ecstasy. It was during one of the dark moods that he found her sprawled out in the summer grass, her hip having given out. She was terrified by him at first, but when he stroked along her belly, he was incredibly gentle. Before she knew it, Mrs. Hudson had fallen asleep, only to be woken up by the boy's return, a shovel and a flake* of hay in his hands. She watched as he set about determinedly digging some sort of hole for her, part of which he filled with hay. When he picked her up, she was too moved by his kindness (something that wasn't often demonstrated) to struggle, and when he put her down as softly as if she were made of marzipan, she gave him her most thankful look. As the summer progressed, Sebastian continued to bring her hay, until one day he didn't come. Instead, a girl a few years younger than he came by. Her too-skinny arms were trembling as she carried the flake, and she tripped over herself quite often. Mrs. Hudson immediately took a liking to her; she could see how the girl, Molly as she self-consciously introduced herself, would be good for dear Sebastian. She had, after all, just introduced herself to a rabbit at his behest. After that, the two often came together, and it was really quite painful how obviously good Molly was for him, with her awkward demeanor and desire to please. It wasn't one-sided, though; no, Mrs. Hudson could see that Sebastian treasured his friend. When it came time for the rabbits to go underground, Mrs. Hudson disappeared, but she heard her two humans crunching about. It brought a smile to her frozen face. Only once did she show herself. It was the day Molly received word that Sebastian was going to go fight in Afghanistan, the day Molly spent in the stable crying. In her hands was a letter from him (He was quite old fashioned) that was covered in tear drops to the point that it was going to rip, so Mrs. Hudson took pity on the poor girl. She hopped through the stable, peeking into stalls until she found Molly. The rest of the day passed in tears and stroking.
Somehow, she'd managed to get another in her care- not that they knew they were. Still, she was quite fond of the two of them- Sherlock with his ego (not that it had been appearing much of late) and John with his insistent mothering, which Sherlock couldn't resist.
It was only fair that she take care of them.
For the most part, that meant that she alerted people that it was necessary to muck out their stall, since it seemed that they didn't take into account the presence of two horses instead of one. In their defense, though, they weren't used to it, so she tried not to hold it against them.
The amount of time it took for them to figure out that she needed them to muck out the stall the first time, though? That was something she held against them.
First she'd tried to lure someone to the stall. After three separate people ignored her, she abandoned that plan.
The second time she tried to get someone's attention, she took a page from the dogs' book. She tried to bite and tug at the hem of various people's trousers. That had resulted in a few choice curses and nearly getting kicked in the ribs. For her own safety, that idea was scrapped.
Attempt number three... well, that one's best forgotten.
By the fourth time she was getting desperate- but not foolish. Instead, she waited for Sebastian to come by, knowing he'd recognize her. It took an hour and a half for him to make his way from the far field to the stable, but once he was there, he ran to her immediately. That she was lying on the ground and grunting feebly probably encouraged that reaction. By the time he was close enough to pick her up, though, she was up and running like a shot. Surprised, and more than a little curious, he followed her into the stable, expecting to have to hunt for her, only to discover her already perched on John's head. Both horse and rabbit looked at him sorrowfully and were soon joined by a rather exasperated Sherlock. It took him a moment, but Sebastian figured out that he was wanted over there. The animals then moved their heads into the stall, and Sebastian saw the mess.
After that, it was just a matter of training people to recognize that a rabbit outside the stable meant a mess inside the stall.
I can't believe I forgot to include a picture of Mrs. Hudson!
*A flake of hay weighs around three pounds; flakes are sold in packs tied together called bales.
A bale of hay separated into flakes- http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-r84GrdL0OoI/TahKeATs3_I/AAAAAAAAABM/QTiQYImMqQ4/s1600/hay+in+flakes.jpg
Chapter 26: Jealousy
Another double prompt chapter.
Anitina4 (FF): Sherlock's training
Autumn's Crow (FF): I would love to see some friend-ship building between John and Lestrade in the pasture while Sherlock has to train or something (because even though he may be out and stuff due to the drugs, they want to keep him active and ready or something) and Sherlock gets jealous, or something.
Are we getting to the end? I think we are, guys. We're getting close to the point when I'll be done with prompts and getting down to plot-making and wrapping up the story. There's still plenty of time to submit, though, and you can give more than one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock woke early, surprised to discover that John hadn't woken up yet. Usually the grey was wide awake and already butting his head against the stall door to announce his hunger, so it was strange for Sherlock to discover his friend still lost in sleep, muttering happy curses. It was yet another example of the strange way John handled living with him- one that Sherlock found as endearing as the steadfast belief John had in his ability to win. The second surprise, again coming from John, was that they weren't in their usual tangle; for once, John was the one pressed to the The third surprise of the day was that Sebastian was already coming by with their food and fresh water. There was a stiffness in his gait and dark circles beneath his eyes that suggested that something important was underway. (He never slept well when something big was happening or about to happen, which was why he'd never made a good jockey- that, and his much above-average height*.) Sebastian heaved a sigh as he stepped into the stall. He placed the buckets in their holders, then put his hand on Sherlock's halter. More curious than surprised, he followed the man's lead and soon found himself cross-tied in the middle of the stable. When he felt something flutter onto his back, he was happy to discover that it was his saddle blanket. The bounce pad followed immediately after that, and Sherlock was nearly quivering in anticipation when Sebastian slipped a saddle- a racing saddle but not the one he used for races- on top. When the girth* slipped around his belly, he was barely able to contain himself. The moment his halter was slipped off and his bridle slipped on, he was walking forward, half-dragging the man behind him. There was a twenty mile long dirt road that looped around the estate and was often used for breezing*, Sherlock's favorite exercise. Even in the beginning when he had to walk slowly, his heart was already thrumming in anticipation. He could already feel the adrenaline in veins, making its sweet way through him and setting him alight. When Sebastian finally let the reins go slack, permitted Sherlock to have his head, there was nothing to hold him back, and for two hours or so, he was lost to the beating of his hooves and the ecstasy of being free.
John hadn't been asleep when Sherlock woke up. The fear of the drugs' effects interacting and causing some horrific reaction had kept him on high alert through the entire night. At dawn, though, he'd finally allowed himself to doze off- not completely, just enough to rest while also being fully aware of Sherlock. When Sebastian came and took Sherlock off to train, it was the perfect excuse for John to go out to the pasture. There was something he'd been meaning to do.
"Oi, Lestrade!" John called, nonchalantly nosing the top two rails of the field's fence over, then walking smartly over the lowest.
"John? What're you doing out here? And where's Sherlock?" Lestrade replied, amused by John's blasé attitude.
"Hm? Oh, Sherlock's off training. Sebastian's breezing him, no doubt. It's about time, too; he was starting to fidget."
The chestnut laughed softly, shaking his head with amusement. Lestrade was one of the few horses who didn't shy at nothing or over-dramatize things that were simple; though they'd only spoken a few times, John found himself glad for the other horse's presence. It was nice to talk to someone whose hooves were firmly planted on the ground. Their shared experience of having a limb become useless was an unspoken point of understanding, and John found that he could take comfort in having conversations with someone whose sight wasn't trained on his weak leg.
Lestrade jerked the grey from his ruminations by telling what was quite possibly the wildest, most over-embellished true story John had ever heard, and they soon fell into a friendly back-and-forth, trading story for story and joke for joke. His time spent competing in steeplechases* had left Lestrade with a plethora of incredible memories- some frightening and some abso-bloody-lutely hilarious, and John found that it was impossible to keep track of time, not that he wanted to. Spending time with Lestrade was like spending time with an old friend, and John wasn't in a hurry for it to end.
He was so caught up in a fit of uncontrollable laughter that he didn't notice when Sherlock walked past, his eyes narrowed and nostrils flared.
The look on Sherlock's face squashed all trace of good humor that John had been enjoying. It was more than just the dark, sulky look Sherlock often wore when he was deep in thought, and it wasn't the outright anger or impatience he wore when something wasn't going his way. There was something else to it, something uncomfortable but distinctly unhappy that caught John's attention.
"You left early today. How'd things go?" he asked, feigning nonchalance.
"Well," came the terse answer.
"And...?" John prompted when no more information was forthcoming. His friend was usually full of thoughts and insane things he'd noticed, so the one word answer (combined with the way he refused to look at John) had alarm bells ringing.
"'And'? There is no and, John. It went well," Sherlock nearly spat. That wasn't right. He got snarky and a bit snippy when he was frustrated, but never before had Sherlock sounded cruel.
"What's going on, Sherlock? Don't give me some lie about how nothing is when you and I know full well that something is. I want to know what, and I want you to tell me. Now."
"Really, John, there isn't anything-"
"Think very carefully before you finish that sentence, Sherlock Holmes."
Sherlock sighed, then shook his head.
"I'm telling you the truth-"
"No, you aren't. I can't do anything if I don't know what's wrong."
"There isn't anything wrong!"
"Stop lying to me, Sherlock!"
"I'm not lying!"
"Yes, you are!" John huffed and glared at his friend, his entire body tensed for a fight, but after another breath, the anger left him and all he was, was weary. "Fine. Don't tell me. I'm going off for a walk. Don't bother waiting."
With that, he stalked out the stall, not even bothering to try to re-lock it after him.
Sherlock watched him go and felt the unease clench inside his gut. There was no way he could have told John that he didn't want him to spend time with Lestrade, that he was secretly worried he'd leave him because Lestrade was like John. He was simple and straightforward and didn't make John so angry he had to walk away. Sherlock wasn't an idiot; demanding that John not spend time with Lestrade would only make him angry. Friends didn't do things like that. A part of him, the part that always spoke for the devil, whispered that a good friend wouldn't have made John so upset that he had to leave. Besides, what could he possibly know about friends? He'd never had one before, and if John's face was any reliable indicator (It almost always mirrored his emotions perfectly) he'd just lost the only one he'd ever had.
*Jockeys are typically short and light, while their mounts tend to be tall.
*Girth: A strap encircling an animal's body in order to secure a load or saddle on its back; a cinch; they come in different sizes and shapes, as well as colors and materials
Image- http:/ / www. succeed-equine. com/ wp-content/ uploads/ 2010/ 12/ horse-jumping-girth. jpg
*Breezing- http:/ / www. ehow. com/ how_2286512_breeze-horse. html
*Steeplechase: a horse race run on a racecourse having ditches and hedges as jumps; a race in which runners must clear hurdles and water jumps. Basically, it's like an equestrian (relating to horse riding) version of a human cross country race.
Chapter 27: On the Edge
Capturing_Essence (AO3): Now can we see some pretty mare chatting up John and Sherlock being Sherlock and chasing her away with his horsey deductions,please?
general zargon (FF): I kind of want to see some worried!Sherlock, maybe John goes missing for a day or so, then turns up again to smooth things over?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John didn't return that night, and Sherlock couldn't sleep. He found that his stall was too big and too open, his body too cold and too vulnerable. The lack of John's presence was obvious, and it disturbed him. The few times he managed to snare a moment or two of sleep, his dreams were the same- him, alone in blizzard, freezing to death and crying out for John, all while someone- something- else looked on. By the time the sun rose, Sherlock had worked himself into a sweat-lather from worry. His dreams were usually dull, focusing on races or trailer rides, but the nightmares were potent. His body was trembling so hard he could barely stand. His only thought was asking where John was. Stan brought two buckets of feed and was stunned to find Sherlock alone and in such a frightened state. He took a moment to consider the situation, then entered the stall and took the horse out, clipping a lead line to the wet halter. There wasn't enough energy in Sherlock's entire body to put up a fight; it was all trained on trying to find out where John was and why he hadn't come back. Things outside that, outside John, weren't worthy of his focus.
Someone was walking around him, a deep voice muttering about stress and a race. A hand ran down his face, stroking the sensitive skin between his nostrils, while the voice grew unhappier and deeper. It asked where John was, if anyone had seen him. The stroking grew faster, other voices joining the first one, all expressing their concern, but Sherlock couldn't focus on them. It meant nothing, because what did anything mean when he was so alone?
One of the older stable workers turned jockey, a man Stan had trained himself, saddled Sherlock and got him prepared for the small, unofficial race the stable was hosting, claiming it was to scope out the competition when it was really a test to see how Sherlock was doing. The jockey was beyond nervous, knowing that he was being entrusted with one of the most expensive horses in all of England. The idea of how responsive Sherlock would be, how fast he would carry him, was frightening, almost as much as the things his imagination was telling him Sebastian would do if anything happened to the horse he was now leading to the track. To anyone who'd never seen Sherlock before, and even some who had, it looked like he was leading a half-dead nag* instead.
The race was disastrous, at as far as the Morans and Sherlock were concerned. Sherlock barely made it out the gate, and while he was trapped inside, waiting to run forward, he'd been impossibly restless. The unfamiliar weight had frightened him, but his new jockey calmly did all he could to settle him, caressing Sherlock's already sweat-slick coat and speaking quiet reassurances. No matter where he looked, though, Sherlock's vision was flooded with flashes of grey that never became John. He managed to take four stumbling steps out the gate before he fell to his knees, his back legs locked and swaying. It was all the veterinarian and stable staff could do to get him off the track. As they started to lead him away, the other horses long forgotten, Sherlock caught sight of a short flash of grey, this one short and stocky. It wasn't looking at him, though. It was concentrating on the blur of white and brown. Everything inside him demanded that Sherlock break away and go to them. He let his instincts guide him as he broke out of the vet's too-loose hold and skittered away.
Unfortunately for the skewbald* mare trying to chat John up, Sherlock hadn't lost all his energy. More unfortunate, however, was that he was competitive and fiercely jealous. The moment he saw the way her ears were pointed towards John, her tail swishing lightly, and how far into the ex-police horse's space she was (on the side not ruined, of course) the despair that had been stuck in his gut was shattered by the need to highlight his possession of John.
"John!" he called, his chest heaving as he stood on the edge of hyperventilation.
That his friend's attention was on him the moment he spoke was a good sign- so, too, was the concern written across his brow.
"Sherlock! What are you doing?"
"Who is this?" Sherlock asked, pretending not to notice the worried tone John was using.
"What? Oh! Sherlock, this is Juanita. Juanita, meet Sherlock. Juanita's a show jumper the stable just bought."
"No, she isn't, though she could have been in the past."
Juanita gasped, and John gritted his teeth.
"Sherlock," he warned.
"Please. If someone new was coming here or had been brought over, I would have already known. Humans are unreliable, but I have other sources of information. The Morans are also very careful about overwhelming or overpopulating their stables. Lestrade arrived only a short time ago. There is no possible way that they would have felt it a good idea to bring another one over- particularly not a mare, as they don't earn as much, and definitely not a show jumper. Sebastian in particular looks down on jumping events, and his father is in agreement with him about them. And look at her teeth! They're completely wrong for someone the age of a show jumper. She's way too old, John- practically ancient! She's probably older than you are, John."
"Sherlock, that's enough..."
"Ah, but there's more!"
"No, there isn't. No more, Sherlock."
The soft, almost sad tone made Sherlock look up. He saw that John was shaking his head, his ears hanging down as though chastised, which was confusing at first. Why John would be looking guilty, Sherlock had no idea.
Then he saw the mare (Didn't she have a name? Irrelevant) and her expression, and it all fell into place. She didn't like what she'd heard (true though it was). John was unhappy that she was upset; he was also glaring at Sherlock, clearly blaming him, which was silly. If John had actually paid attention to the mare's appearance, he would have seen everything for himself. He still wasn't done, however.
"Finally, John, she is a kept horse; her use in life at this point is to be a companion for some over-anxious horse who can't control himself; that chestnut* who ran well enough seems like a worthy candidate. If you're looking for talent and potential, she isn't worth your time, and while I can see that I've angered you, I felt that you needed to know."
At some point during his finale, the mare had sneaked off, leaving just Sherlock and John- who was wearing a now-thunderous expression.
"A 'kept horse', you say?" he said too quietly for Sherlock not to see that something was quite wrong. "What do you think I am, Sherlock?" John bellowed, his fury causing his entire body to stretch out- elongating and puffing up unconsciously. "I'm the most kept horse there is! My life is just about watching over you because I'm too weak and old for anything else!" The bluster suddenly left him, and Sherlock was faced with an almost two dimensional version of his friend. "I'm only here because some people thought that I'd keep you- a very "over-anxious" horse- relatively calm, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't say anything against the occupation."
Sherlock shook his head, exasperated. John had completely missed the important bits.
"John, you listened, but you didn't understand. I'm not some horse. I have a future, and if you're with me, then you have a future as well. Those two, the chestnut and the coloured? They aren't going anywhere." Seeing that John was wavering, Sherlock struck again. "Besides... I hardly keep you. If I did, would I have spent last night in the stall by myself?"
That made John duck his head, seemingly ashamed.
"I'm sorry, Sherlock. It's just... I needed some space to think, and I couldn't get that around you. You always demand things from me, yet I know next to nothing about you. When you got so angry but refused to tell me anything, it got under my skin- mostly because I can't help if I don't know what's going on- so I thought that instead of fighting with you, I'd spend the night on my own."
"You didn't go to Lestrade, then?"
John looked up at him curiously.
"No, I didn't. Why would I-... Sherlock, look at me." He waited until Sherlock did so. "Sherlock, were you... jealous? Did you think I'd just leave you like that?"
"I... hadn't thought that far ahead. It was just upsetting that you would be so happy when I wasn't there."
"Everyone needs a break sometimes. Red Rum* himself would falter at an eternity exclusively with you, you know that?"
"It's fine, Sherlock. It's all fine."
"John, I'm tired."
The short grey huffed, not at all put off by Sherlock's childlike tone.
"Come on, then. Off to bed."
As they walked back to their stall, Sherlock leaned against John's solid body. The heat inside it was warm and pleasant, John's gait rolling and gentle. Perhaps it was the comfort and safety he felt he could find in John that made him decide that he needed to tell his friend something, something to alleviate the imbalance of knowledge.
"I didn't sleep last night. I couldn't... not without you."
John didn't say anything, merely continued his slow walk to the stall.
Once there, he nudged Sherlock against the wall before taking his usual place at his friend's side, his weight something solid to which Sherlock could cling, and just before they drifted off, he whispered something quietly.
"I couldn't sleep without you, either."
*Nag: a horse, esp. one that is old or in poor health.
*Skewbald: a color pattern of horses; a skewbald horse has a coat made up of white patches on a non-black base coat, such as chestnut, bay, or any color besides black coat (black is known as piebald); in British English usage, skewbald and piebald (black and white) are together known as coloured, and the white markings are called "patches." In North American English, the term for all large spotted colouring is pinto, the and the markings are called "spots."
*Chestnut: a hair coat color of horses consisting of a reddish-to-brown coat with a mane and tail the same or lighter in color than the coat; also goes by the name sorrel
*Red Rum: a champion Thoroughbred racehorse who achieved an unmatched historic treble when he won the Grand National in 1973, 1974 and 1977, and also came second in the two intervening years. As well as his unprecedented record in the world-famous steeplechase, a notoriously difficult race that has been referred to as being "the ultimate test of a horse’s courage", Red Rum was also renowned for his remarkable jumping ability (he fell only once in over 100 races).
Instead of saying "Jesus Christ", I figured John would use a horse's name.
Chapter 28: Dirt & Water
Kariout (FF): John got really dirty, maybe rolled in some mud or something. Then Sherlock is aghast. ... maybe he pushes Mycroft in.
And another prompt that I couldn't find but know someone mentioned: Sherlock and John frolicking about in the pasture together.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After enduring a week of rain, John decided that it was time for Sherlock and him to spend some time relaxing outside the stall to make up for the gravity of the past few days. The sun was shining down warmly, and the grass was soft and lush from the rain. It felt perfect beneath their tired hooves, and both allowed the fever of late spring to take over them as they pranced about, bucking and whinnying happily. Sherlock threw his head back and cantered circles around John, who couldn't keep his giggles to himself- which only encouraged Sherlock to show off even more.
The sluggish, lost look from the drugs disappeared from Sherlock's eyes as he played about in the field; instead, they were alight with joy and coltish* delight.
John in turn gave chase when his friend began to tease him about being slow and perhaps getting on in age- a bit like that mare chatting him up, hm?
He was too busy laughing and trying to ignore the way his leg was telling him he really shouldn't be galloping about to notice the massive mud puddle ahead, let alone swerve away from it the way Sherlock managed to do. He found himself nearly halfway through before he managed to get his body under control.
As he surveyed his location and took note of the futility of trying to stay clean, he muttered a low curse on Sherlock Holmes and the rain, before plunging ahead and making his way to the other side, emerging with brown legs instead of grey and large streaks like claw marks on his flanks. A gasp from the side drew his attention.
Sherlock was looking at him with a scandalized expression.
"John, you... you're dirty!"
"I did just go through a puddle, Sherlock; of course I'm not immaculate."
"What?" Sherlock was acting even more strange than usual, and it was confusing John to no end. "Why are you so... so scared?"
"I'm not scared! I just don't want to get dirty."
There was really only one answer to that.
"Stop! John! What- what are you doing?" came Sherlock's hysterical, high-pitched squeal a few moments later.
"I'm getting clean, Sherlock. Isn't that what you wanted?" he answered with a touch too much innocence.
"I didn't mean you should wipe yourself on me!"
"Yet here we are... both covered in mud..."
With a defiant snort, Sherlock walked over to the puddle and, with a heavy sigh and a muttered, "You've forced me to do this," reared up for a moment, only to come crashing down into the mud, sending it flying. One large blob hit John squarely between the eyes, then slid down his face.
"Sherlock Holmes! This is war!" he cried while whirling around to face his wickedly grinning friend.
When Stan came to get them half an hour later, he didn't find a black horse and a flea-bitten grey one. Instead, he found two horses who were so muddy, it was impossible to tell what color coats they had. He didn't complain about needing to give them baths, though; the loose-limbed way Sherlock walked to him, so different from his previous agitated skitter, was enough to make it worth ten thousand baths.
He didn't miss the way John's tail was held aloft, proudly swinging about like a dirt-matted flag.
*Colt- a young male horse; females are known as fillies; when referring to both, or baby horses in general, the term used is foal.
Chapter 29: Gifting
Hiyami (FF): Something Mystrade. Like maybe how they knew each other or maybe how they're going to interact with each other when Mycroft turns up again at the stables for whatever reasons
Capturing_Essence (AO3):Gifting: Someone Sherlock or Mycroft gifting their significant other some gift. (I'm going to go with Mycroft/Mystrade)
Aaaaand prompt requests are going to be closed for now. I've reached the bottom of my list, so it's time for the final few prompts to meld with what I've got going on in my head. I might take more once I've finished the upcoming bit, though. Now that leads me to my next thing: I'll be updating less frequently since I'm going to have to go off my brain rather than yours, and I have a collab in the works as well as two other multi-part stories. As a way of making it up to you, as well as for the coming angst, here's a nice, big chapter!
Mrs. Hudson had a headache. Actually, she had five, and they all had names: Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Greg Lestrade, Sebastian Moran and John Watson. Sherlock and John were so well-fitted, it was driving her absolutely mental to watch them dodge about but continue to ignore the way their relationship had developed. Honestly, it was nearly sinful how foolish they were being, not that Sherlock's elder brother was much better. Mycroft had noticed in himself the way his thoughts tended to be much more tender where the Trotter was concerned but wasn't doing anything, and Lestrade, bless his reluctant heart, was too worried that Mycroft was offended by his weakened state and that he'd never been much glorified on the track. It was ridiculous, and no matter the number of times she dropped hints (and not subtle ones anymore) neither seemed to pick up on them, which was growing disheartening. The worst offender, though, was Sebastian. Mrs. Hudson had known him for a long time, had seen the way he looked at Jim and the way he looked at Molly, and she was tired of his indecision; even after Jim had been caught drugging Sherlock, some part of Sebastian still remained loyal to him. It was ludicrous and insane; not every man was lucky to have someone so tolerant! Fortunately, though, he, at least, was beginning to recognize what he had, and it was about time, too! The others, though- Lestrade and Mycroft in particular, as they still weren't speaking face to face- needed a shove in the right direction, and Mrs. Hudson knew just who could help.
"Really, Mrs. Hudson, I can understand what you're saying, but-"
"But nothing, Anthea! I'm sure Mycroft's been completely miserable lately, just as unhappy as Lestrade's been. I think it's time we give them a reunion, don't you?"
Mrs. Hudson's cheerful tone did nothing to disguise her anxiety. Her intentions were good, but Mycroft tended to react quite strangely when it came to Lestrade. As logical and thoughtful as he usually was, it was difficult to predict how he would react, which was a reason why she needed Anthea, though it wasn't the only one.
"You still have that parrot friend who can plants ideas of things in Mr. Moran's mind while he sleeps, right?" Anthea sighed, worried about the outcome of their endeavor but knowing she wouldn't refuse.
"I do. We should get started composing what he'll say right away. The sooner this is over, the sooner I can sleep in peace."
A few days later, Mycroft arrived at the stable, Anthea perched on his long spine.
He backed out of the trailer slowly, his wide hips swaying slightly with each step. Despite how awkward and uncomfortable it must have been, he was strangely graceful, and everyone- human and animal- who could see him was engrossed in the sight.
Well, almost everyone.
"Hello, Mycroft. Have your hips gotten wider of late, or is it just the angle?" came a low drawl once he had been lead inside the stable by one of the many nameless workers and put into an empty box stall.
"They're the same as ever, brother. I heard about your last race- a shame, really, losing to a bunch of unknown horses- though I suppose it's understandable as you were... rather distracted," he replied, unruffled and well-used to Sherlock's jibes. "If you don't mind, there's someone I'd like to see, and it isn't you."
Sherlock was immediately pressed against the front of his stall, his long face poking out between the bars.
"Stay away from John, Mycroft," he said, his voice carrying a greater weight than his words, and if Mycroft's mind hadn't been so preoccupied with thoughts of another horse, one who was neither grey nor black, he might have been intrigued by the protective look on his brother's face.
As it stood, however, he was busily pondering a certain ex-racehorse, so Sherlock's behaviour went unremarked.
During the entire exchange, Anthea had sat on Mycroft's back without comment, but she could no longer stay silent.
"Sir, perhaps it would be beneficial to, ah, go see... him...?" she asked, still fretting over a possible break in her boss's somewhat foggy demeanor.
"Hmm? Oh, yes, I suppose it would. If you'd be so kind?"
He indicated the locked door with his nose, and Anthea quickly flew over to unlock it.
When Mycroft went through, she didn't follow him, not physically, but her worries were a tangle in his long tail that she watched until she could see it no more.
Lestrade was kept in the farthest field when he wasn't in his stall, and it took all of Mycroft's hard-earned self control not to break into a gallop immediately to get there as soon as possible- or at least limit the amount of time his mind had to imagine the multitude of ways this could go wrong.
In the end, he only lasted eight minutes until he couldn't hold back any more and wound up running.
Lestrade was leaning against the front gate, his head up and nose pointing into the sky, nostrils flared as he breathed in a familiar scent. It wasn't one he'd smelt in years, but it was one he instantly recognized, despite the voice in his head telling him it couldn't be, that there was no way that he was about to see-
"Mycroft?" He'd meant for it to come out strong and welcoming, but instead, it came out as a half-strangled whisper- just a few notes shy of a whimper. He coughed, then tried again, "Mycoft?" with a much more pleasing result.
"Ah, Lestrade. It's a pleasure to see you again; it's been a long time, after all." Was he imagining it, or did Mycroft sound worried?
"It has, hasn't it? Over four years, now." Was that a flinch? It couldn't be. "Anthea passed on your regards a while ago. I hope you got mine in return?"
"Yes, I did, actually. Since it seems that Mr. Moran wants me here for the time being, I thought that I'd be remiss if I weren't to make a visit with an old friend. I do hope you're doing well, Lestrade. Your leg seems much better than before...?"
Lestrade nodded, though he felt uncomfortable under Mycroft's heavy gaze. He'd forgotten how disconcerting it was. "Much better, thanks. I hardly ever notice it, and it doesn't give out like it used to."
"That's good. That's... very good..." Mycroft trailed off, suddenly looking nervous and shifting his weight back and forth. "Erm... I wonder, Lestrade... Would you mind going on a small walk with me?"
Curious, Lestrade shook his head. "I don't mind at all, but I'm in here while you're... out... there..." he finished weakly, watching enviously as Mycroft trotted away, then cantered up to the gate before smoothly jumping over it. There had been a time when Lestrade could have cleared it without a fuss, too...
"Are you ready?" Mycroft interrupted.
"What? Oh, yeah. Lead the way."
Their walk was quiet, uncomfortably so. Lestrade was reminded of the walks they used to take when they were younger, when Mycroft was struggling with his weight and Lestrade had been just beginning his career in steeplechasing. They'd always been the high point of his day, wandering around the pasture with the taller horse at his side, laughing and pushing each other. It had all disappeared after his fall, though. He had been alone for almost a year, his only company doctors and physical therapists- people who were really just legal torturers.
Mycroft seemed to be lost to his thoughts, though, and Lestrade wasn't eager to disturb him, especially not when he was wearing such an angry expression.
Eventually they came to a stop in front of an old tree that had been their favorite place to play as colts. It was even older now, its branches drooping beneath some unseen burden. It was a fitting symbol of their friendship- once so strong, now barely alive- yet Lestrade couldn't ignore the pull on his heart as Mycroft stood next to it and looked up, and for a moment, they were healthy and young again, self-assured and glorying in each other's company. Lestrade felt more empty once the moment died than he had before, and he didn't care that it was showing on his face. If Mycroft Holmes cared to make an issue, well... there was nothing to keep Lestrade from giving that long, silky tale a right trample.
Mycroft spoke suddenly, sounding distracted and worried. "Buried beneath this tree is something very important to me, something I miss sorely." He paused, then shook his head. "No, that's not quite right. I miss what represents more than I miss it itself. Do you know what it is, Lestrade?"
Of course he didn't. How could he? What could Mycroft possibly miss? What could be buried-
"You don't mean....?"
"Oh, but I do. You loved that stone, Lestrade, loved more than anything ought to be loved. Honestly, it was frustrating to me, having to share you with it, having to make sure you didn't leave it somewhere then become upset because you couldn't find it... The day you gave it to me, however, I found that I was no longer able to look at it the same way. It was no longer a burden, or some rock that could easily be replaced. No, it was suddenly the most precious thing in the world, so I did the only thing I could think that would keep it safe; I buried it here, where I'd always be able to find it."
"I didn't forget about you, Lestrade. I could never do that, and I... I wanted you to know that you aren't someone I could just bury and forget. You are much more than that, sentimental fool that you tend to be. I have to know something, Lestrade, and I need you to tell me the truth. Have I waited too long? Did I worry and take too much time to be able to-to-"
One thing Lestrade always did better than Mycroft was mercy, so when he saw the way Mycroft had worried himself into a near panic-attack, he swiftly walked over to him and pressed his face against Mycroft's, softly nuzzling the soft skin above his lips and smiling at the way Mycroft's whiskers tickled.
"Of course you didn't, and you never could."
Chapter 30: Problematic
Sorry about the delay! My dear mini was incapacitated, so I had to use my father's computer, but now it's back in my hands which are delirious with joy.
This is yet another double dose of prompts, though this time it's part of my plot.
Kariout (FF): Where is the officer that was assigned to John. I think he would be someone who is constantly visiting John when he had a chance. (I'll be continuing this in the next chapter.)
Smoochynose (FF): the humans talk about sherlocks unusual reaction and friendship and decide they have a gay horse. John tries to deny it but unfortunately the humans cant understand him (Again, continuing this)
AND OH MY HELL, MY PAGE OF PROMPTS IS GONE! I cannot say I'm sorry or express my anguish enough.
I remember that I had ones for John's officer, fond memories, Stan's chapter, separation like the penguins by their handlers. If I'm missing any (and I have a feeling that I might be) and/or any of those was your prompt, please tell me so I can credit you! Thanks very much for your time[:
The summer's mid-afternoon sun was wearing on everyone- horses and rabbits included. Mycroft was still at the stable and spending every moment with Lestrade- over whom he sometimes lorded quite jealously, occasionally snapping at mares who got too close, which the trotter endured with only a few stamped hooves and careful nips to the side of Mycroft's mane. When the elder Holmes' ears pressed back against his skull during one of Lestrade's friendly conversations with John, however, he put his foot down- preferably before Sherlock found out and did something... Sherlocky. For all the little grey showed no signs of being particularly offended or even surprised, Lestrade knew that anything that seemed even remotely threatening towards his friend would be greeted with teeth, and the last thing John and he needed was to have to break up a Holmes versus Holmes pride match.
Lestrade wasn't the only one to pick up on the uncharacteristic way Sherlock had taken to the older horse. When he wasn't too busy warning off mares or making a general menace of himself, Mycroft tended to remark on his brother's strange behavior. It was a rare thing for Sherlock to find someone who didn't want to kill him and far rarer to find someone he tolerated. With John, however, Sherlock was more than tolerant; he openly displayed affection for his companion and greedily basked in John's compliments.
The humans even noticed it, despite their usual obliviousness.
Sebastian lay on the floor of the stable, his arms outstretched as though he were examining his nails or trying to hold up the ceiling. Molly lay next to him, her hands folded just above the top of her jeans. Neither spoke for a long time, and both seemed to be unaware of the two horses standing a few meters away, studying the two of them with faintly curious expressions. They didn't notice the rabbit hopping down the aisle until she nearly kicked Molly in the head, drawing a startled laugh from Sebastian.
"Hello, Mrs. Hudson," he said affectionately. "Come to say good afternoon?"
Molly giggled softly as she picked Mrs. Hudson up and carefully deposited the rabbit on her belly. "Really, Seb. You're sweeter to her than you are to me."
The man laughed in response, letting out one of his rare, truly happy laughs, before turning on his side and placing a kiss on Molly's cheek. "Hardly. I just see her less often."
"You spoil her, you know."
Sebastian laughed softly and shook his head, but Molly could see the tension in his shoulders.
"You're worried, aren't you- about the man coming this afternoon?"
"Seb, I've known you for a long time. I can see when you're lying, and I can see when you're worried and trying to pretend that you aren't." She affectionately hit his knee before laying her hand back over it. "Come on, then. This guy, he isn't just coming to look, is he? Something else is happening, and it's bothering you to be so quiet about it. You can tell me, you know. Even if there isn't anything else I can do... I'll listen."
"You don't have to. Just... remember that I'm here, all right?"
The former soldier sighed, his breath tickling Mrs. Hudson's face and making her fur sway. "The man who's coming... He's an old friend of my father's, and that worries me, I guess. Most of my father's friends are from the military, so they wouldn't be very interested in the stable or the horses, but this guy... there's something off about him. I asked my father why he was coming, and do you know what he said? 'Leave the important decisions to the real men.'" The hand on his knee suddenly held it with a much tighter grip than he'd known she possessed. "Moll?"
"Your father's a right plonker."
"Well, he is, and he's worse."
"He's just being-"
"A right tosser. A wanker. Vindictive. The world's largest arse."
In the face of his oldest friend's protective fury, Sebastian couldn't help but laugh. Seeing Molly upset over something wasn't an uncommon occurrence, but seeing her angry was. She was normally too timid and self-deprecating to become anything more than slightly ruffled.
"All right, all right. I don't want you to blow a blood vessel."
"Perhaps if he weren't-"
"Right. Sorry. Um, so... do you not have any ideas why your father's friend is here?"
"I just said that."
"No, you said that he refused to tell you. They're different."
"Fine... I think it's got to do with Sherlock. You've seen the change in him. He refuses to leave John's side; if he got any closer, he'd practically be inside the poor old man. Whenever they're separated, he becomes irritable and nearly uncontrollable. If John isn't waiting for him at the end of the track, he won't stop till he's found him. Then there's the fact that John, too, isn't acting the way he used to. He's been escaping more than usual- and always to go to Sherlock. If I try to put him in a stall while Sherlock's in the paddock, he'll just find a way to get out and join him- knocking down everything in his way."
"Is that such a bad thing?"
"Probably, but like I said... I don't really know."
Chapter 31: Appreciation for the Unappreciated
A/N: Nobody harm me, please.
Kariout (FF): Where is the officer that was assigned to John. I think he would be someone who is constantly visiting John when he had a chance. (Once again, this prompt is carrying into the next chapter)
Smoochynose (FF): the humans talk about sherlocks unusual reaction and friendship and decide they have a gay horse. John tries to deny it but unfortunately the humans cant understand him. (Admittedly, this doesn't come into play this chapter, but it's part of my mini-arc and will be present in the coming segment)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next day was cooler than the previous one but still quite warm. Sherlock was pawing at the floor of the stall, impatient because he was going to have a race today. It was unofficial, of course, but still, to Sherlock, a race was a race. This one was particularly of note because it wasn't the usual type of race; it was one-on-one and against a filly. Sherlock had, through various snide comments and overall ignorance of mares, more or less shown himself to have a rather low opinion of females. They were too easily overcome by emotion, too unreliable, too reliant on their opinions.
He wasn't going to get a chance to show off, though, if he didn't stop pawing at the floor.
"Sherlock Holmes, if you don't stop messing with the wood chips*, I'm going to knock you so hard, your massive head's going to get stuck between the bars," John declared.
Wordlessly, Sherlock stopped pawing, only to walk to the door and start hitting it with a front hoof.
"Oh, for the love of- Would you act your age, for once in your damn life?"
John was a patient horse, far more patient than most any other, but even he had his limits. Having a stall mate banging about since before three o'clock in the morning was something that was guaranteed to get under his skin. Add to that the fact that the past four nights he'd been having nightmares which transported him back to his time as an aid carrier, and he was about ready to do some real damage.
Sherlock looked at him for a moment, raised a hoof and, in the most deliberate way he could, knocked on the door.
In fairness to John, it wasn't the knocking itself that was bothering him. After all, he, too, would hit the door when the situation called for such action. The difference was, John was inside his own head and could tell when the knocking began to sound like gunshots and knew to stop before they became peppered with screams. Sherlock, however, was neither inside John's mind nor able to hear the people dying.
John's next memory was of standing by the racetrack at the stable, panting as though he'd been running. The pain racing through his shoulder confirmed that idea, as did the taste of bile at the back of his throat. For all he used to enjoy running, his age and illness were beginning to take their toll; the price of speed was tasting acid in the back of his throat.*
Part of him said that he ought to go back, to make sure that Sherlock was all right, but a larger, more self-preservation concerned part of him demanded that he stay where he was. When his knees started to tremble so violently he had to lie down before he fell down, he decided that perhaps that part had the right of things.
Sherlock was not happy. He had wanted to see John during a blackout (see 2nd *) and he had, but it hadn't gone at all how he'd planned. John was supposed to have come to him and allowed Sherlock to help- and examine in the process. Instead, Sherlock had been the one to set him off, and John's reaction had not been to come to Sherlock. His grey head had dropped between his knees, his ears pressed flat against his skull and snapped his teeth at the tall horse until Sherlock eventually got the message and backed away from the door. John had then bodily thrown himself at it hard enough to splinter the wood by the lock and open the door.
He'd then nosed the door open and rushed through the opening- but not before Sherlock had gotten a good look at his eyes and seen them rolling so much, John's eyes had nearly been completely white.
It was a difficult decision not to leave the stall and go after John, and he spent the rest of the morning wondering whether perhaps he ought to go have a look around, ignoring the way Sebastian swore at the wreckage and the grim set of Stan's features as he led Sherlock to the stall usually occupied by Lestrade. He didn't pay attention to the sound of an unknown truck rolling up, nor the new voice with a jarring American accent that stepped from it. Mr. Moran's genial welcome and Sebastian's pointed absence went unnoticed as well.
Were it not for the race, the day would have been a complete waste: no John, only the silent ghost of his unprecedented rage.
He knew he should've gone back and apologized, or at least explained what had happened, because it wasn't Sherlock's fault, not really. John knew that Sherlock was high-strung and couldn't tolerate boredom or stillness, particularly when he was anticipating something, and that the other horse wasn't being an arse just to be an arse, but sometimes... Sometimes John liked to pretend that he wasn't broken and that he didn't have to be responsible or explain himself. There were times when he just wanted to forget whatever mistake he'd made and let the world work around him for once.
That was why he stayed where he was, of course, not because he wanted Sherlock to come find him for once; he knew that there was no way that Sherlock would do that. He didn't stay there because he was afraid to see the damage he'd undoubtedly done or whatever self-satisfied look Sherlock would be wearing because he'd finally gotten to see what he'd wanted: John losing control. Just because Sherlock kept quiet about that desire didn't mean that John hadn't seen it written all across that massive head- not that he was particularly upset about how thick Sherlock seemed to think he was.
Why he walked to the gate, he had no idea. Why his heart was heavy in his throat as the filly charged ahead of Sherlock, the gap only getting wider as they raced around the final bed, he couldn't say, and why, when Sherlock suddenly opened up his stride and tore forward, running over the finish line a full neck ahead of the filly, he was so filled with pride that he actually neighed with delight along with the cheering humans... He was just caught in the heat of the moment, really.
It had nothing to do with the look of happiness on Sherlock's face, nothing to do with that at all.
The American lounged against the racetrack's fence, seemingly torn between listening to his old friend's explanation of his horse's heritage- Sherlock, wasn't it, a half-bred Lipizzaner and thoroughbred?- and watching the horse tear up the track, vying for the lead against a filly- Irene, hadn't he overheard her called?- whose height nearly rivaled the big black's, but in reality, he was studying a completely different horse. This one was short and often had trouble walking, let alone galloping around a track. His coat wasn't glossy, and he wasn't filled with youthful vigor. Instead, he was getting old, had a damaged shoulder and was easily worth ten thousand of the two creatures in whom everyone else was engrossed.
No, the man from New York knew dependability and goodness when he saw it. After sitting astride the nearly-pony-sized horse at the gate for as long as he had, he knew that John deserved better than second fiddle.
It was time to bring the hero home.
*Wood chips/shavings are often placed on the floor of stalls as absorbents to soak up urine, though there are other things that can be used. There can also be mats beneath the wood chips for more absorbency and as padding.
*As most people familiar with horses will know, they are unable to vomit, which can be quite a health concern. I decided that feeling that pre-vomit feeling- without actually getting sick- would mirror a PTSD post-blackout feeling. (For any unfamiliar with that, people with PTSD can suffer "blackouts" which are times when they feel threatened or worried and go somewhere else in their minds while their bodies do things. They can fight and even kill people without realizing they've done anything.)
Kariout (FF): Where is the officer that was assigned to John. I think he would be someone who is constantly visiting John when he had a chance. (Once again, this prompt is carrying into the next chapter)
Smoochynose (FF): the humans talk about sherlocks unusual reaction and friendship and decide they have a gay horse. John tries to deny it but unfortunately the humans cant understand him.
Also! I keep forgetting to actually say this, but I'm super duper excited to announce that ongreenergrasses (my dear twinsie) and I are working on a collab and that it will undoubtedly blow. everyone's. minds.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John stood by the gate, expecting to follow Sherlock back to the stable as usual, but instead, he watched as Sherlock trotted over to his opponent, who had been momentarily ground tied* by her jockey, an interested look on his face. The two sniffed each other for a moment before Sherlock started slowly circling her as the mare*- Irene*, he'd heard her called- watched him, an identical look of interest on her elegant face.
They danced around each other for a time, ears flickering back and forth, nostrils flaring and tails held high. Sherlock's face was pure joy, excitement at finding a rival- particularly one who belonged to a group he had previously disdained. Irene had run a strong race, regardless of the fact that Sherlock had ultimately won. He could see something in her, though, and John could see that his friend was entranced by her.
He began to make his way back to the stable as Sherlock and Irene continued to size each other up.
That Sherlock was taken in by her was as obvious as if the tall black were holding a sign in his mouth that shouted, INTRIGUED.
Of course, that was how it ought to be. Sherlock was a young stallion, and Irene was an attractive mare. Not even someone as distinctly off-kilter as Sherlock Holmes could resist biology. Every drop of blood in his body would be humming with excitement.
Who was he, this old, worn out gelding*, to question that?
The sky was turning dark by the time Sherlock returned to the newly repaired stall, his head held high as he nearly pranced in. John was already there, of course, leaning against the far wall. Sherlock gave no indication of noticing his companion's listless state, or that he wasn't greeted at all, and John made no effort to call him on it.
Instead, he stood in silence, mindlessly watching the way a group of bats was circling in the sky, their chittering voices crashing into his head and relaying back that he was there. For a brief moment, he wondered if the old stories were true, if bats' calls could tell them what others were thinking. What would he say if they could? He mentally shrugged. He wouldn't say anything because there wasn't anything to say.
As the group split up, he saw two fly away together but one continue its awkward flight in small circles where the others had been. John steadfastly refused to allow his mind to remind him that he was that bat- obviously older and weaker, stuck somewhere that held no meaning but not going anywhere.
His body gave an involuntary shudder as he suddenly felt his age.
"You'll have to room with Lestrade after now, I suppose."
Lost in his thoughts- and the silence- Sherlock's voice startled him.
"Lestrade, a former racehorse, broke his leg, disappeared for a time, has a woefully strange desire for my brother. You've met him a few times."
"Yes, I got that part, but what's this about me rooming with him?"
He turned to his companion- or at least, who was supposed to be his companion- and found that Sherlock wasn't even looking at him. He was looking at the water bucket and trough.
"The water bucket will have to be raised, of course. It takes quite a bit of effort and strain for a tall horse to bend in such a way. With the two of us being so tall, it won't have to be so low. The trough will be fine, however, not that- Hmm? Were saying something, John? Some sort of dull question I assume. What was it...? Oh, yes. Lestrade. You'll be staying with him, of course. There won't be room for you when Irene comes to join me."
"Join you? What are you-? Sherlock, there's no way they're going to let you share a stall with a mare. You're a stallion, and it doesn't take a genius to- oh." The realization didn't hit him, didn't strike him hard. It merely washed over him, licking at his hooves and whispering, 'Aw, bless,' in the same tone people use when discussing the efforts of something pitiful. "Oh, I see. And is Lestrade okay with this? Is Mycroft all right with this?"
Sherlock snorted, obviously unimpressed with John's questions.
"It doesn't matter, though I'm sure you can work something out if they aren't. Everything's already been settled. Irene will be coming here in two days, so tomorrow you'll be moving in with Lestrade."
John smiled the smile one has for times when one isn't happy but must pretend to be. He would not be moving in with Lestrade the next day. He'd thought he'd hallucinated the face in the crowd, but it seemed that that blunt Irish face had truly been in the crowd.
He lapsed into a silence that slowly became the light sleep of the prisoner the night before his execution. It went unnoticed by his companion who was too engrossed by the coming presence of a challenge to bother snuggling up to his small friend.
Sherlock awoke to the sound of unfamiliar feet making their way through the stable hall. He opened his eyes to the sight of John standing before the stall door, his head a few centimeters away from it. Confused, Sherlock was about to remark on it when the face belonging to the unfamiliar feet appeared.
Its features were rounded and almost ape-like, though there was intelligence in the set of the man's green eyes. His mop of auburn curls was close-cropped but still managed to flop against his wide forehead.
'Threat' was written all over him even before he slid the lock across, opened the door and slipped a leather halter over John's head. Sherlock's mind was still processing the strange sight as the man clipped a lead line onto the halter and lead the grey from the stall, sliding the door closed behind the swishing tail before Sherlock could even contemplate following.
It wasn't until John and the man were halfway out the stable and Lestrade, with an agitated Mrs. Hudson on his head, as well as Mycroft were peering between the bars in their stall window that his brain caught up and began to put the pieces together and realize what was happening, where John was going.
A stranger- obviously a policeman from his gait and the way he kept trying to rest his hand on a baton that wasn't there- who wasn't actually a stranger as he had been sitting with the Morans the day before, watching him race against Irene.
Sherlock himself and his fascination with Irene.
The quick way the matter of John's "rooming with Lestrade" had been resolved, as he wouldn't be.
Mycroft's presence as a way to encourage Lestrade to attempt racing again, therefore making John unnecessary- impractical, even.
It all equaled John leaving.
But why wasn't he putting up a fight? Surely he couldn't want to leave?
"John!" he screamed, confused by the situation and feeling adrenaline crash through him, demanding that he choose between fight or flight despite the irrelevance of the choices. "John! John!"
He continued calling long after John and the man had disappeared, long after he'd realized that John wasn't going to answer him. He didn't stop making noise even after he heard the distant crunch of tires on the ground or the metallic grinding of a trailer poorly attached to a lorry.
That he was making Lestrade uncomfortable, worrying Mrs. Hudson and frustrating his brother were all things he noticed but to which he refused to respond.
It wasn't until Stan crept up to him, oddly silent as one of his hands slowly stroked Sherlock's cheek, calming him until all he could do was stand and let the syringe delve through his skin that he realized that he was cold.
*Ground-tying is a technique used in the Western riding style that I borrowed, even though it's something that is never done in English and certainly wouldn't be used with a valuable racehorse. The rider will pull the reins over the horse's head so they dangle, reaching the ground. The horse is trained to understand that that means that he/she is to stay put.
*I know that in the previous chapter, I called Irene a filly, but that was because that's what female racehorses are called, even though they aren't babies. I'm referring to her as another horse, not as a horse in a race, which is why I changed words. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused!
If you're curious about her breeding, I checked what the actual horse (Rusleema)'s breeding is, and she's 75% Crabbet Arabian (meaning she's descended from the Crabbet Arabian/Park Stud, one of the first Arabians brought over to England). What the other 25% is, I'm not sure.
*A gelding is a castrated horse, the horse equivalent to a eunuch. There won't be any little John Watsons running around, unfortunately, but Sherlock's a stallion, so there could be little Holmes foals.
Chapter 33: From the Author
To the lovely readers of this fic,
Unfortunately, because of some things going on (illness) I'm going to have to take a rather long break.
Hopefully I'll be ship shape soon, but I felt it best to warn you that it could be months before I can continue this, or any of my other fics.
You've all been wonderful, so thank you!
Actually, that's not quite right. I'm going to be putting up one more chapter of this particular fic before I take my leave.
Chapter 34: The Backstretch
Your author has returned- if only for the moment! I'd like to thank every one of you who sent me get well wishes and were so sweet about my hiatus. I love you all for it and dedicate this entire fic to you. Thank you!
I'm not sure who prompted this, but it's time for Stan's chapter! I'd like to give massive thanks to Pondera 2.0 for all her help with Polish; this chapter wouldn't exist without all her help. Seriously, she's brilliant.
During the race scene, I suggest listening to this song: Spirit
It was recommended to me by the lovely Pondera as a Polish song about horses, and it's Disney, which makes it excellent.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Stan and Sebastian stood by the ring and watched Sherlock streak past, yet another prospective jockey barely managing to keep his seat as the massive horse powered forward. To the casual observer, were there any to be found, Sherlock would look grand with his head held high and his tail streaming behind him, but Stan and Sebastian weren't casual observers. They had seen Sherlock grow from a spindly-legged colt into the champion he currently was, and both could see that there was none of Sherlock's usual determination in this run. It was the ninth jockey today, the twenty second that week, who couldn't handle him, and the Morans- as well as Stan and Molly- were beginning to worry about Sherlock.
Though always more inclined to overreacting than being sensible, Sherlock been barely controllable since John's departure. The senior Morans had yet to make the link, but the younger generation could see it clearly.
Shaking his head, Stan looked to his friend.
"Another one who can't handle Sherlock, huh?"
Sebastian nodded, though his gaze remained trained on the half-crazed horse and nigh useless jockey. After a moment, he looked down at his Polish companion.
"Do you think it was a mistake, returning Irene?"
Stan shook his head vehemently.
"No, no. She and Sherlock were not... What's the word- halves? They did not work to complete each other. If she had stayed more than two days, dear Sherlock might have broken."
"Mm. He's delicate, is Sherlock. He's fast and smart, yes, but his temperament?" The Pole tapped the side of his head. "Hot, too hot. He needs to be kept and cooled. Irene was not cold; she was as hot as he."
"You think he should have John back."
It wasn't a question, so Stan remained quiet. He watched, silent, as the younger Moran seethed beside him. Stan knew that Sebastian had violently protested his father's decision to remove John, just as he knew that Old Moran wouldn't listen to his son. Seb's parents steadily refused to acknowledge that there son had outgrown the follies of his youth, and it was driving Seb mad.
"Damn it, Stan. He needs a jockey, and there's only one person I know who can handle him."
"It's the only choice! Father entered Sherlock in another one of those charity races next week, and as of right now, there's no one else who can handle him."
Stan simply shook his head.
"I understand, but I do not have to like it or think it right."
"Neither you, nor I," Seb answered quietly, turning back to watch the unfortunate jockey's continued attempts to stop his mount from running about unrestrained.
Stan, too, looked out into the ring but found the sight of Sherlock running himself into the ground too sickening to watch. He turned away and made his way back to the stable, whispering a silent petition to a tiny grey horse too far away to hear.
Wspieraj go John. On cię potrzebuje.
The days until the race counted down, and Stan's worries only grew. Each day was came with another fight with Sherlock, the Thoroughbred growing more and more uncontrollable; it became commonplace for the whites of his eyes to be visible, for his large eyes to roll in their sockets as he tore around the track. Then there was Sebastian and the tension he was carrying on his shoulders. As much as he didn't want to give in and make the call, there wasn't anyone else good enough to ride Sherlock and his father wouldn't tolerate a loss, particularly because Seb didn't like the jockey. The elder Moran had always liked this particular jockey and his drive to win; ethics was a minor problem for him, unlike with his son.
It was eleven o'clock at night, two days before the coming race, when Seb gave in and made the call, his parents at his side.
Stan didn't want to see the man the Morans had invited back; he didn't want to give precious Sherlock over to what he, at least, could see as the final straw.
He didn't have a choice in the matter, though, so when the time came, he saddled Sherlock, slid the bridle over his head, lead the twitching and skittering horse down to the track's entrance and waited for the jockey to come take over.
It wasn't a long wait at all.
"Hello, dearest!" came a familiar, lilting voice.
Jim gave Stan his usual, slightly unhinged smile when the younger man turned around to give him the reins.
"Do widzenia, Sherlock. Run well," Stan said, passing the leather straps over and running a hand over Sherlock's quivering neck, his gut
The sight of the short Irishman climbing aboard Sherlock made Stan's stomach turn, and he couldn't escape quickly enough, trembling from anger and the protests his heart was pushing into his throat.
From his place at the exit gate, Stan could see most of what went on, though from a distance.
As soon as the bell rang and the horses swept forward, a sense of familiarity swept through him and an old poem his father had told him came to his mind.
Krople na czole, bat przy mym boku
The competitors settled into a general formation, Sherlock towards the front.
przyspieszam jeszcze, wydłużam kroku.
Jim held him back, but Sherlock was fighting him.
Mam dobre nogi, lecz już zmęczone,
Stan's heart ripped as his gut dropped.
nie wygram biegu, on mnie pokona.
Jim couldn't keep Sherlock in check, was confusing him by sawing on the reins*.
Dżokej wciąż bije, strachem napawa,
The pack raced around the turn and started down the backstretch.
przyspieszam jeszcze, bólu obawa,
Sherlock tore through his competitors, his great head thrashing.
meta przede mną, koniec cierpienia
Jim clung to the reins, but Stan watched in horror as the one horse ahead's jockey's crop flew back and struck Sherlock on the shoulder.
wygrałem wyścig - strachu to cena.
Letting loose a wild scream of pain, Sherlock ducked his head, pulling Jim over his neck, and again burst forward.
Ból -znaczy człowiek, trybuny-strach.
Jim tumbled to the ground, left to the mercy of the pack rushing around him as Sherlock continued forward.
Nie śniłem o tym, nie śniłem w snach.
Riderless, Sherlock crossed the finish line a full four strides ahead of his nearest competitor, slowly changing from his heedless gallop to a choppy chanter, then a too-quick trot, a weary walk and ultimately stopping nearly halfway down the first side again.
Stan was the first person to reach him, and he pressed his hands to the horse's warm cheeks, pressing Sherlock's head against his own as he heard people shouting and rushing onto track, most likely to Jim's side. The other competitors gave the two of them a wide berth as walked their horses around them, giving the winded animals a chance to cool down and catch their breaths.
Stan supposed he and Sherlock ought to do the same, but the idea of moving away and leaving Sherlock without something directly in front of him, something to distract him from the mess on the other side, was unappealing.
Instead, the two of them stood on the track and waited- Sherlock's body twitching, his breath still heaving and Stan clinging to him, steadfastly refusing to consider what would happen next- as Stan murmured quiet things to the horse, absently mixing Polish and English in the way common among bilinguals.
"Mój załamany przyjacielu, it wounds me to see you so; you are too young to be so lost," he whispered into Sherlock's velvety nose.
They may have waited for minutes, or they may have waited for hours, but when Seb came and rested his hand on Stan's shoulder, it hadn't been long enough.
"Come," the man said, his voice raw and tired. "It's time for us to go."
*sawing on the reins- This is a term that means that you're fighting with the horse for control, usually because it wants to go too quickly, so you wind in a tug-of-war kind of situation, which most definitely is not a good thing, particularly for an experienced rider who should know other, better techniques for regaining control.
Again, the poem came from my dear Polish guide!
Drops on the forehead, bat* by my side
I still accelerate, step increases.
I have good legs, but tired,
if I don't win the race, he'll beat me.
Jockey still hits, fills me with fear,
I still accelerate, fear of the pain.
Finish line before me, the end of suffering
I won the race - fear is the price.
Pain - means human, tribune - fear
I haven't dreamed about it, dreamed in a dream.
*Note within a note (Noteception! Sorry, I finally watched Inception for the first time the other day...)- A bat is another term for a crop.
Chapter 35: Taking a Turn
I'd like to dedicate this chapter to my dear friend and twinsie, ongreenergrasses,who has done more for me than I can ever thank her. The fact that I'm still writing as much as I am is all due to her and all the loveliness that comprises her.
In other news, my hiatus on this story is officially over. I'll be finishing up the plot and the final two prompts that I have and giving this an ending. After that, when I have time, I'm hoping to start taking prompts again. First, however, I have to finish up my other three or four stories, so it'll be a while.
The short horse picked his way through the last stretch of the mountain trail as he made his way back to Windless Shoal Stables. The muscles in his strong legs bulged and stretched with each step he took, carefully trying to avoid stepping on anything that would cause him to stumble. He was a smart horse who always paid attention to where he was going, but today he was carrying someone special, so he wanted to be sure of his footing. The stable owners hadn't even needed to discuss which horse would carry the sick child; John had been the first and only one considered.
John rather liked his tiny rider. The boy was gentle on the reins- barely even held them, really- let John have his head, and he sat easily, letting his body move the way John's was, instead of fighting against him the way most of his riders tended to do. It was a rare treat to have someone so good-natured on his back, so John did everything he could to make the ride go well- even went so far as to nicker at a small band of mustangs, entreating them to trot by so the little boy could see them. They'd been agreeable, as mustangs tend to be towards those who ask politely, and the gasp from above had been so genuine and full of awe, that for one beautiful moment, John hadn't felt the ache in chest.
Eventually, however, the stable came back into sight and the ride came to an end.
When they put him back in the wheelchair, the boy looked so small and frail, so lonely and broken, that John felt a sudden urge to shield him from the pain the boy was feeling. He wanted to lie down around his small body and comfort him. That would never be permitted, though, but still, the sadness was so deep in the young man that John knew he had to do something.
In the end, that something was nosing at the patch of blonde hair on his head and rubbing his cheek against the boy's. For a crazed moment, he smelled familiar, like the rush of adrenalin and a mask of indifference; there was a wildness in the face of a creature who ought to be innocent and awed, rather than jaded and cold. Just as quickly as it came, it was gone, and the boy was petting John's nose with cold fingers and a look of barely reined-in hope.
For someone who loved to be touched as much as John did, who reveled in the connection, the contact of human skin on his face after months of the absence of any was ecstasy; he shivered and sighed at the sensation of a heartbeat thrumming against his skin. It sent him into a state of being nearly hypnotized, lost as he was in the sheer, overwhelming life in the touches.
He was glad to wake up and see that the boy was gone. Such kindness was uncommon, and it would have hurt more than John could have borne to watch him go. He'd already lost two loves of his life, and as they say in America, "Three strikes, you're out."
Chapter 36: Side: Mor/Mor
Gah, sorry about the delay in my updates. Things have been crazy (and I'm lazy...) so this hasn't been getting the attention it deserves. That being said, I did finally get myself in gear!
The prompt for this was more Mor/Mor. (As a firm supporter of Mor/Mor, I can seriously get behind this. It's crazy how Sherlock is essentially all set up for slash- if you have the right ships. For me: Mor/Mor, John/Sherlock, Lestrade/Mycroft = BOOM! Everyone's all set up for smex.)
Also, for anyone who's reading "You Remind Me of a Man" as well as this, have no fears that I'm putting it on permanent hiatus or abandoning it. I'm working on it now, but I'd like to get this as well as the two H50 fics I have going, through the last chapter.
Thank you all again, my beautiful, lovely, sweet readers- and I do mean that in a genuine way, not just as something to say.
Sebastian sat beside the hospital bed, his face firmly set in an expression of deep consternation. He just couldn't wrap his head around what had happened at the race. Jim was competent, dammit; he should've been fine, even with Sherlock out of it. Instead, he'd been thrown, nearly trampled to death and now, three months later, slowly being eased from his medically-induced coma.
Hospital rules stated that only immediate family members were to be allowed to be in the room with Jim, but Seb had never much cared for rules- military life be damned- so he'd sneaked into the room, taken hold of a number of tubes and wires that were keeping Jim alive and steadfastly refused to to be taken from him. One of the nurses had been about to call 112, but that potential fiasco had been stopped by another nurse, one who'd known Sebastian- and about his... relationship with Jim- long enough to understand that trying to force him away from Jim would only result in unnecessary hassle.
It had been years since Sebastian had seen her- a woman who'd been a greater mother to him while growing up than his actual mother- but he recognized her immediately. Admittedly, Alicia MacBrádaigh did have a tendency to stand out in a crowd, with her prematurely white hair and body that was more suited to high fashion than mothering: tall and slender, almost two hundred centimeters, with a graceful gait and fine features. Seeing her brought back memories, both pleasant and not, as well as the feeling of coming home.
One by one, the hospital's staff left- or was pushed- from the area around Jim's room, leaving only the still-comatose jockey, Sebastian and the nurse.
"Well, then. I hadn't thought I'd be seeing you again, Seb, and certainly not with Jimmy," said Alicia, her tone teasing through her thick Dublin accent.
Sebastian simply shook his head. The sight of Jim, so pale ordinarily yet so much more so then, had left him without much humor. Even feeling the welcome of the woman he loved as a mother could not shake the sickly feeling of dread that was clenching in his gut.
"Humph, as talkative as ever, I see." When the young man still remained mute, the nurse's face its humorous set and moved to stand behind Sebastian. Though she had her own son, and one she loved dearly, she had always considered Sebastian to be hers, too, particularly since he was so different from her own boy- quietly dark and restrained, the opposite of her lad's whirling swings.
When she put her hands on his shoulders, however, he flinched. Seemingly unaffected, she leaned close, her lips next to his ear.
"He'll be fine," she said quietly, her voice smoothing over the sounds, changing them from the sophistication Sebastian's accent would have given them and replacing it with a slightly off-kilter cadence. It was an accent Seb had always loved, but at that moment, it merely brought him sadness. Jim spoke the same way, and right then, it didn't seem that he was ever going to talk again.
"Sebastian Moran, you listen to me, and you listen well. I love Jim, too, and he's going to recover. He's had worse spills before, not to mention some of the injuries from all the times the two of you got into scraps."
"How can you be so sure?" he asked, turning his head to look at the mother of his closest friend.
"I know because Jim's a stubborn git who won't be going away, not until he's made a name for himself-"
"Which he has."
"-and won the little game he's got going."
"Game? What game?"
Alicia snorted, more sad than and moved her arms so she was no longer resting her hands on the sitting man's shoulders but had her arms wrapped loosely around his neck.
"The game where he finds a way to convince you that he loves you and gets you to stay with him, you foolish Englishman."
Chapter 37: Side: More Mor/Mor, end
Terribly sorry about the wait. Honestly, between foolishly starting another series (You may boo) and my health being wacky, this and YRM have wound up in the back seat. (Also not helped by the hatred this chapter holds for me)I'm changing that now! ...sort of. Okay, I'm devoting lots of time to this story so everyone can at least have their ending- which is (finally) coming up... eventually...
During the three months Jim was deep in a coma, Seb hadn't left his side, but as the Irishman began to make his way back to wakefulness, Seb found that sitting by Jim was uncomfortable and wound up returning to the stable in the hopes that he could reason with his parents, make them see that Sherlock needed to have his little gelding back and that that would return him to his previous glory.
Instead, he found his father looking up a vet who'd be willing to euthanize the big black stallion. Mr. Moran, senior, had never been a patient or understanding man, with his son or his animals. Failure was not tolerated, and repeated failure meant being thrown to the side. As a child, that had been Seb's greatest fear; as an adolescent, something at which he constantly sneered; as an adult, something he could understand.
That didn't mean he thought his father was doing the correct thing, but he'd found that it did make the usually formidable elder Moran easier to manipulate. If he did as his father asked, if he made sure to accomplish everything perfectly, he could talk his father into doing most anything.
After coming home with the national trophy for coming in first in vaulting, cross-country running and the hurdles, he'd had every whim fulfilled by his father- or mother, if it was more her area- for two months. It had been a glorious time, having the old man praise him whenever he saw him, introducing Seb to the important businessmen his father knew as "our son, Sebastian, of whom we couldn't be prouder." It had come to an end, of course, just as all affection from his father had a tendency to do, but it had given him an idea, one that he knew would result in his father not only keeping Sherlock alive, but also bringing John back.
...unless, of course, it resulted in Seb dying and or at least losing the bet he was about to make. He wasn't particularly concerned, though, since he'd always loved to gamble; the moment of fear that he'd made the wrong choice, the desperation of losing, the thrill of winning and having someone owe him, it was worth any hell he might have to endure.
He was going to convince his father to keep Sherlock and get John back. There was no other option.
Morning breakfast was something Seb's mother insisted the family always do together, so it was the ideal time for him to make his proposal. He took his time getting ready, dressing carefully and making sure his clothing is pressed and sharp. When he looked in the mirror, he supposed it would have to do since he hadn't worn them in years, ignoringthe part of him that belonged in them shouting that he should be ashamed of the way he looked. The previously smart tailoring had gone to waste, enraging that part of his brain. It had almost been enough to convince him not to wear them, but knowledge of his parents had won. He knew that he only had one chance and that it had to get their attention.
As he took the final steps into the kitchen, his clothes returning to him the air of command he'd worn years ago, he took in the expressions on his parents' faces. There was horror twisting his mother's usually calm features and suspicion narrowing his father's, and as he sat down, taking one of the fresh pancakes from the pile and dropping it on his place, Seb decided that he'd made the right decision.
"Morning, Mum. Breakfast looks good," he said, knowing that he had to wait for them to react.
Predictably, it was his mother who broke first.
Seb had just finished buttering his first pancake when her shock-numbed hands dropped her glass of water, pieces of glass colliding with the floor in a massive smash and water flowing around the wreckage. The poetic part of him thought it was rather similar to a body he'd seen on his last mission.
He'd barely been able to repress the urge to clap his hands over his ears at the loud crash- as well as the urge to go to his mother as she stood in the middle of the room, shaking- instead focusing his entire attention on the task of making perfectly even squares of his pancake.
Even as his mother ran from the room, he couldn't let him loosen up. The real test was breaking his father, and as he sat and brought perfect square after perfect square to his lips, he was finally glad of all the times the two had fought in the past. In this mindset, with the focus of the military behind him, he was able to analyze his father and break him into motivations and reactions, little pieces for Seb to manipulate as he pleased.
Still, it was difficult to wait for the elder Moran to speak up.
"What the hell are you doing, Sebastian?" he asked finally, sounding more curious than angry.
"I'm getting reacquainted with my old uniform," he responded.
"And why would you need to be doing that?"
"I was thinking about it," Seb said slowly, "and remembered you mentioning the possibility of selling Sherlock. I figured maybe it was time I returned to active duty. You obviously won't need my help, and I'll be of better use to my country if I-"
"Like you give a toss about 'Queen and country,'" his father snorted. "Don't you lie to me, Sebastian. I've known you since you were a babe; I know ya better than ya know yerself!"
The thickening of his accent gave him away, however, and told Seb that his father was truly upset. In return, Seb remained cold, his words not betraying any of the thick Cork accent he'd had when he was younger.
"Don't you see? That's the problem; I'm too busy thinking of myself. It took seeing Sherlock's decline after John was sent back with that friend of yours to realize that I, too, have grown dependent on others, no matter how much I attempt to exclude myself from them. I'm old enough to make my own decisions, and it's time I started to do so."
"You're old enough, yeah, but that doesn't mean you'll make the right ones," the elder Moran said, hiding his accent again, even as he got to his feet. "You've got a life here. What good will it do for you to leave, huh?"
"For one, I won't have to watch you sell the horse you gave me when I returned from duty the first time," Seb said quietly, looking down at his plate.
"Sherlock's useless the way he is now, and you know it!"
"Well maybe if you hadn't just sold John, he wouldn't be!" Seb shouted back, getting to his feet. "There was no legitimate reason to do that; he was helping Sherlock. When was the last time you saw Sherlock run as well as he did when John was waiting for him? Never!"
"You don't know what you're talking about!" One of his hands struck the table, one of his fingers landing on his plate and sending food toward his son, which Seb barely had time to dodge. "And would you take that off! You're gonna get it dirty!"
There it was, the opening Seb had been waiting for his father to show.
"Is that the problem, then? You're worried about me getting food on my uniform?"
"You know damn well what the problem is! Your grandfather served, just like every man in our line before him, and I won't have you disrespecting it!"
Seb smiled, slowly showing all his teeth.
"I see... So you're worried about our reputation, hm...? I wonder, what kind of reputation will we have if you sell Sherlock? That we're weak, don't care enough to take proper care of our animals, that we're the type to use a horse , then throw it away? It was one thing to make John disappear, but Sherlock? People will notice that, and they won't be happy, now will they?"
A clash of wills followed Seb's question, a staring contest between his father and him. As a child, he'd hated them, since his father had always won, but as an adult, he was more patient than his father and less obsessively aware of his appearance.
It took longer than Seb would have wanted, but his father did back down, his need to blink overcoming his pride.
"Very well, then. You beat your father at a staring contest."
Seb huffed in reply.
"I'm getting tired of this, you know," he drawled, leaning against the table. "This fighting, it's pointless. We both know that I can't do anything with the stable while you're alive and have your sanity; we also know that my reputation will either help or tarnish yours."
"So I'm asking if you want to make a deal."
"What kind of deal?"
"You bring John back and don't sell Sherlock. In exchange, I sign up for active duty and go for another tour."
He felt the weight of his father's gaze on his face as the man ran the scenario through his mind, calculating the potential gain against what he'd have to risk.
"Two tours," he said finally. "You sign up for two tours, and I'll bring John back."
"And you'll keep Sherlock."
"And I"ll keep Sherlock," his father mumbled.
"Good, then I'll just head upstairs and check the state of my things. You'll want to tell Mum soon, in case she hears from me rather than you."
With that, he half ran up the stairs in order to get to his room before the shakes could take over, because if he showed any signs of PTSD, his father would see and call Seb's bluff. Shutting the door and locking it, Seb put his hands on his head, the sound of glass slamming against the floor resonating inside his head.
Angry at himself for giving in to weakness so quickly, he dropped onto the bed, trying to calm his body. He couldn't afford to give the shakes free reign anymore; the military therapists wouldn't clear him if they thought he couldn't handle combat again. Luckily enough, his father hadn't caught on, and it only took three minutes of deep breathing to regain control of himself, time enough for the soldier within him to step to the front.
Two months later, Sebastian Moran, no longer Seb, stood in Jim's bedroom, already greeted, chastised, hugged and given an understanding pat by Alicia.
"Well, you sick bastard," he began, eyes narrowed, "aren't you going to apologize?"
Jim laughed at him, his accent obvious even in his laughter.
"And why would that be, I wonder? For making your horse run faster, run better, by giving it an untraceable drug? For your father sending you away again because you've gotten just a wee bit too smart for him?"
It was Sebastian's turn to laugh, and laugh he did, his body shaking from the force of it. He'd known Jim for a long time and was one of the few people who had seen the other man's ugly nature. Jim Moriarty was far beyond twisted; he raced horses because it was a sport full of cheating and drugged not only his own mount but others' as well- not that that had ever been officially proven. Sebastian didn't need it to be. He knew James and his need to make things more interesting, mainly by putting people's lives in danger.
Sebastian had long envied him that, his ability to do as he pleased and not be weighed down by the ethics that guided Seb's own life. As much as he envied Jim, however, Sebastian had never wanted to be him, and no matter the attraction he held for him, he couldn't see them as anything more, because Jim liked playing straight and making messes. For his part, Seb didn't care what the person had going on where and hated messes.
Dropping on the mattress next to Jim, he gave him a small shove- not enough to knock him off the mattress but enough to make him worry, or hope or whatever reaction the man would have. Sebastian wasn't entirely sure Jim even knew how to worry.
Even as his hands landed on him, Sebastian realized that the tenderness he'd felt for Jim was gone. The fear that the Irishman would die had disappeared and been replaced with a cold viciousness.
It really was, after all, Jim's fault the Sebastian was about to return to active duty, which was reason enough for Seb to be unkind. It didn't have to have anything to do with his anger at himself, or how upset he was about Molly's goodbye. She hadn't been surprised when he'd told her he was leaving, had only looked at him with the same sadness in her face as last time and told him she understood. Then she'd pressed a kiss to his temple and left, long hair swinging behind her with every step, as if it were waving goodbye- or laughing at him. He hadn't been able to tell. That he'd let her down again hadn't been necessary to say. Of everyone Sebastian had ever known, Molly was the only person- Jim included, the rat bastard- who'd been able to look at him and see his every thought, no matter whether he'd accepted it or not. More importantly, though, she was the only person in whose company Sebastian could be calm and stop thinking about the military and the fighting; being around her always made him comfortably sleepy, almost loose, as if he'd never held a gun or found ecstasy in the rush of a machine gun's rat-tat-tat-tat.
He was losing that because Jim was an idiot who didn't care whose lives were ruined, so long as he had his fun, and it made his skin crawl, gooseflesh rising and prickling, responding to his agitation.
"I meant that you should apologize for creating this mess in the first place," he said, voice rising. "Damn it, Jim, you know I hate messes, and all you do is make them!" Sebastian stopped, then, forcing himself to be calm and moderating his voice. "I'm going away now, yeah, but I'm not getting sent away. I decided to go on my own, you selfish ponce, and the last memory you want me to have of you is you being a pain in the arse while I clean up the mess you left. For Christ's sake, you really don't know how not to break the rules, do you?"
He'd no sooner finished than he was thrown off the bed. Sebastian shouldn't have been surprised; Jim didn't like being pushed, which was exactly what had been happening, and always reacted violently to it. Still, Sebastian let out a small "oof!" as he landed and could only look up, momentarily stunned, as Jim rolled off the bed and stood over him, bending at the waist and smirking.
"Oh, Sebby, always so angry! I wonder why that is..." Jim singsonged.
It was all too easy for Sebastian to imagine punching him, maybe bloodying Jim's hateful lips or perhaps breaking his nose.
Never one to pass up such an open invitation, he smashed a fist into Jim's face, causing the shorter man's body to fall back.
Shaking his hand, Sebastian stood up.
"I don't know why I even came here. It's not like you'll even notice I'm gone," he muttered darkly, starting to turn away. He stopped a few steps away, though, and turned back. "Stay the hell away from the stable, Jim; don't think that just because I'm not here means I can't enforce that. And don't go anywhere near Molly, either, or I swear I'll skin you alive."
Satisfied he'd said everything of import, he spun on his heel and truly walked away, swiftly leaving Jim's room and walking out the front door, pretending not to notice the pitying look on Alicia's face as she watched him go.
What he didn't see was the look of fury on Jim's face or the way the walls of the man's room shook when he lashed out at one hard enough to leave a crater in the dark surface.
Hello, everyone! I don't know if you've heard that FF will be enforcing its guidelines now, or if you, like me, need to be told. In my case, the lovely Hiyami gave me the heads up, and we both feel that it's important to spread the word. Double check your fics, especially ones that are M, and be sure they aren't actually MA, which isn't allowed. Explicit smut and detailed violence are reasons to have fics deleted and accounts suspended.
Chapter 38: Indecision
Thomas Moran hadn't gotten to his place of esteem by breaking his word. He'd moved around it, lied to others about what he'd said, bent the truth and occasionally used his word against someone, but he never broke it. It was something in which he took a great amount of pride and a trait that helped sooth wary potential sponsors.
His word was his greatest asset, and he was about to break it- or, rather, he was currently breaking it.
Sebastian had made a deal with him, had carried out his side of the bargain, but Thomas was hesitating to do his. He had known Aleister Wilder for nearly half his life and been good friends for nearly as long. When Aleister had approached him with a horse who could benefit Sherlock, Thomas had jumped at the opportunity, and when Aleister had been more than willing to take John back, Thomas had been just as eager meet with him. This time, however, they wouldn't be on equal ground. Thomas was going to have to ask for John back, and he had no idea how his old friend will react. It was enough to scare him off the idea and risk breaking his word.
In the end, however, his mind was settled by a factor he hadn't initially included: his wife. Marianne Moran had always been shy and submissive, so it wouldn't really be fair to blame him. She'd never asked for much and always put his desires before her own, but when she discovered that he hadn't called Aleister, his wife's attitude completely changed.
Fourteen hours after she first confronted him, Thomas Moran made the call.
Chapter 39: Promises and Replacements, Getting Older
Darlings! I'm updating quickly lately because I really do want you all to have your happy ending! (And I reaaaaaallly need to post my update for "You Remind Me" and get to work on finishing "One of these days" because I'm a horrible, terrible author. Oh, and don't worry; I am going to respond to your reviews. I'm just a bit behind right now. /: Never mind that, though! I have a request for you, if it's all right?
I'm here to plead for art. If you or someone you know would like to create something artsy for this, I'd be ever so thrilled! Anything and everything will be received with love, especially since yours truly has 0 artistic abilities, as my art teachers have always suggested. Anyway, though, anything you'd like, be it a drawing or gif set, photo (manip or otherwise), the name of the story written in a way you think is cool, or anything else you want will all be heartily enjoyed! (I'm begging you all. I promise some serious fluff if you doooooooooo. -huuuuuge hopeful face here-) You can comment with a link or tell me you're up for it and we'll trade e-mails, because I'm totally envious of authors who have art for their fics.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John was just beginning to doze when he heard the sound of a familiar truck pulling up, followed by the sound of heavy boots clunking their way to him across the grass. He wasn't in the mood to trot over, though, wasn't in the mood to do much beyond standing- or maybe, if he was careful, lying- in the close field where the grass grew lush and more plentiful than it did farther away.
Huffing, he started to make his way down in the hopes that he could just flop onto the grass, but his body protested the movement, reminding him of his age.
"Johnboy!" came the voice that matched the boots- deep and tired, familiar in the way a policeman's siren tends to be, though easier on the ears.
Knowing he'd wind up going to his officer one way or another, John chose to go while he still had his pride. Being summoned to Aleister's side with treats was something for a younger horse, one who hadn't served as long and hard as John had. There was no dignity in bribery, and if there was one thing John had tried to keep, it was his dignity.
That didn't mean he had to prance to the fence, though. There was dignity enough in carefully picking his way across the waves of clover and over exaggeratedly dodging occasional mole holes (He'd rather not break his leg, thanks, and really, someone ought to have done something about them by now). After a minute or so, however, John found his mind drifting and decided he might as well just walk over without any more prevarication.
Aleister's face was drawn and sad when John got close enough to get a proper look at him. It wasn't a pleasant look on the man, and seeing it reminded John of the way the officer had looked at him after he'd been shot. There was regret in the set of his face, as well as discomfort and concern, perhaps even some fear. A change in the wind's direction sent a wave of Aleister's scent into John's nose, and yes, the officer was truly unhappy.
Even after being abandoned in this nearly run down place and receiving almost no care from anyone- excepting the smiles from the sweet ones John carried and the eventual calm from the ones who started out hitting him and screaming in terror, in whom he'd seen a pair of unnaturally blue eyes- John couldn't stomach the sight of someone with whom he'd entrusted his life in so much despair.
As John took the final steps to the fence and the man leaning on it, Aleister reached out with a hand closed but for his index and middle fingers, the pads of which he ran down the velvet skin of John's upper lip. It was an old gesture, one Aleister had done since the very beginning of their time together and had always been soothing. This time, however, it didn't calm the anxious twisting in John's belly. What was coming next wasn't going to be good.
"Hello, Johnny," the New Yorker said, voice as rough as his face. "I'm sorry I haven't visited you much, but they've got me training my next mount since the one I'd been promised turned out to be too old. You'd like him, I think. I mean, he isn't as steady as you, old man, and probably won't ever be, but he's a solid horse. The Captain tole me he's a Quarter Horse, so he'll be a good sprinter. I wish I could take you to meet him, maybe let you tell him a bit of what I can't, huh?"
John snorted. He didn't want to hear about Aleister moving on and being busy with a newer, younger horse, and he definitely didn't want to hear about a horse being rejected on the grounds of being too old. Being old had become just about all John had; he was old and tired and knew he only had a few more years with the kids, then was going to be put to pasture* for the last bit of his life.
Aleister didn't seem to notice John's lack of enthusiasm and continued on, still absentmindedly stroking John's lip.
"Bringing you here was a mistake, wasn't it? I got a call from someone, Johnny, someone who'll take better care of you, and I knew I had to accept the offer." The stroking slowed. "You can't understand me, though, can you? I guess I just don't want to feel like I've totally failed you. You did well, Johnboy, far better than any horse has ever done, and it's time you lived like the hero you really are."
With that, the officer bent over the fence and placed kisses on John's face: between his nostrils, on the whorl of hair on his forehead and on each cheek. Finally, Aleister put his nose in the space between John's eyes, hiding in his blindspot* and whispered,
"I'll be back soon, some time next week, and I promise you, John- I promise that you won't ever have to find a new home again. Just wait a little longer."
When Aleister eventually moved away and began making way to his truck, John let his head hang down. He was so tired, so damn tired, that whether it be another week or another year, it was all the same to him. He wasn't going to be brought to Sherlock, so he'd never be able to say goodbye. He'd never be able to see Sherlock race again, his eyes bright and nostrils flaring with half-amused derision. Never again would John stand next to him and take comfort in the taller horse's heavy presence during a storm.
One home was, after all, very much the same as the last without Sherlock.
*put to pasture: a sort of retirement for old horses in which they get to move about in their pastures and not have to do any work, including being ridden
*blindspot: Because horses' eyes are on the sides of their heads, they have a much wider view, but they can't see directly in front of them or directly behind them, which is why you should always approach them from the side so you don't startle them.
Chapter 40: Strung Out
Huge thanks to Hiyami for the cover she made.
Sherlock's head hung between his legs as he stood in his too-large box stall, his eyes glassy and features uninterested. He hadn't run on his own or been exercised since Sebastian's deployment. Even before that, though, he hadn't been interested in racing, or even leaving his stall at all. Without Seb to make him move, Sherlock had taken to spending all his time looking between the barred window, waiting for something to arrive.
The something was more a someone, of course, someone who wouldn't be showing up, no matter Sherlock's desire.
After a time, however, it had become too painful to continue searching out something wasn't going to show. A trailer wasn't just going to appear one day, and even if one did, John wasn't going to be in it. He was somewhere far away, beyond even the reach of Mycroft- who hadn't been able to find a way to bring the little grey back. He'd found him, though, no matter he'd said he hadn't. Sherlock knew his brother as well as Mycroft knew him, and he knew that if Mycroft hadn't found John, he wouldn't have said that bringing him back was beyond his power.
Mycroft hadn't been alone in his efforts. Lestrade had reached out as well, calling on old racing colleagues, companions from his time in recovery and even some he'd met on the darker side. They'd confirmed whatever Mycroft had found out, though Lestrade had decided to tell Sherlock outright, rather than make him suppose (Sherlock had "accidentally" overheard the former racer talking to Mycroft- if talking was the right word. It had sounded closer to rebuking him, which had brought a reluctant smile to Sherlock's face; Lestrade was one of the few who weren't intimidated by him and had the honor of being the one to whom Mycroft would ever heed).
The one who'd brought him the most comfort, however, was Mrs. Hudson. From the moment Sherlock had mentally dismissed Irene, the old rabbit had appeared and refused to leave his side. She'd mother him a bit, as much as a rabbit could do when the subject was a horse) and constantly sat close to him, often curling up and falling asleep next to one of Sherlock's hooves, though that wasn't to say that she didn't ahve it in her to make her way ato his head and onto his rump. If anything, she'd demonstrated that whatever trouble her hip was giving her, she could still scramble about with rabbits less than half her age.
Behind the actions of his brother, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock could see that they missed John. However less the toll might be, they did miss him. It was... good that they noticed that John wasn't with them. John ought to be noticed more than he tended to be, overlooked as he was by people and even other horses. Comments some of Sherlock's fellow racers had made about the "little pony at the gate" had bothered Sherlock when he'd first heard them, and without the soothing calm of John's unassuming presence, Sherlock found himself haunted by them.
Had he done the same to John? Had he mistaken the plainness of John for a lack of quality? Had he overlooked the extraordinary in John- his valor, dedication, refusal to be cowed and soft understanding- because of the dazzling effect of Irene? Was John's absence his fault?
Other questions plagued him, too, darker ones, ones from the time he'd sent half-mad from the drugs Jim had sent into him system, vague murmurings of things he'd never confess to having pass through his mind, not to Lestrade, certainly not to Mycroft and absolutely never to Mrs. Hudson. John, though, if John were to ask him... There were days Sherlock could admit that if his police horse were to ask him about them- and John would know that dark thoughts were going through Sherlock's mind- he'd answer with the truth. It was an unexpected result of the unfamiliar closeness he'd found in John, and Sherlock found himself missing not only John's presence, but the way he could look at him and know when something was off.
As it was, though, Sherlock didn't have John, and all he was, was cold and lonesome and half-mad with the stagnant world around him. He hungered for something to break the monotony, some single burst of adrenaline to shake him from the stupor into which he'd fallen.
For once, the world smiled upon his desire, and it lit him up with burning hope.
Sherlock was sleeping peacefully, or as close to it as he came, when an indignant squawk woke him. Immediately on guard, he scanned his stall until his gaze came to rest on the source of the unfortunate noise: a crow who was currently flopping on the stall floor. More importantly, it was a crow Sherlock recognized, both from its face- even in pain, wry humor glinting in its eye- and its distinct tone, as it was the only one around whose voice had an American pitch.
"Long time no see, huh, Sherlock?" asked the crow, having recovered from squeezing itself through the bars.
Sherlock wasn't interested in conversing with him, though, and didn't reply.
The crow cawed in amusement.
"Not in the mood to talk, huh? That's too bad, man, 'cause I've got some pretty cool news, my friend."
Sherlock snorted, still not particularly interested, but something about the bird's gleeful tone had him wondering.
"Naw, really, man. I heard something kinda crazy. Apparently, the Morans are importing a horse from the Americas, somewhere deep in New York, I think."
The bird's tone got Sherlock's attention, and he eyed it sharply.
"From New York?" he asked, the tremor in his voice betraying the mounting tension in his gut.
"Oh, yeah, I heard it from these ravens- really pretty ones, you know? Not those half-crazy ones with the dull feathers who think they have visions and can see the future or something. They're no good, though; they're more likely to turn around and try to use you as bait for a hawk or something than-"
Sherlock scowled, which made the crow laugh.
"Okay, okay, right. Sorry for wanting to share a bit of advice with you."
"The likelihood of me ever needing to know about the mating habits of crows is less than unlikely. Now tell me about this horse from New York."
It was the crow's turn to snort, the crow equivalent of it, at least.
"Come now, Sherlock. Isn't it obvious? They're bringing John back."
Chapter 41: Moving Ahead
A/N: Art, guys! Oh my god. Two. I have two pieces. Hiyami and Doctor's Other Companion made me beautiful things, and I cannot thank them enough! You can find see both in 18 Letters' AO3 version- more information at my profile. I feel like Gollum now, just trying to hoard art and fight people, mumbling, "My Precious!" ...I really need to have more contact with other humans.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John had traveled by ship more times than he could remember, and this time was no different. There was waiting, lots and lots of seemingly endless waiting, before a tiny movement forward would spark a flicker of hope, only to have it snuffed out by another interminable wait. What was different about this voyage was that John didn't feel any of the impatience or discomfort. He was well and truly locked in his mind and so far away that he could barely remember that there was some stranger holding his lead line.
He was just shifting into a soft, black and white daydream, the contents of which naturally followed the theme, when he was suddenly jerked back into awareness by a distressed squeal.
Looking ahead, he discovered the source of the fearful sound: a little black colt being pulled into the horse's area. John shook his head, wondering at the pigheadedness of humans. The little thing was obviously terrified about going into a dark room full of strangers and things he couldn't predict, yet his handler- and the others who'd come to help, if it could be so called- was using force to get the baby to move forward, rather than the much more effective urge-softly-and-reward-often strategy. It was foolish, really. The people were so invested in being on time that they were setting themselves back.
There was only one horse separating John from the colt...
Even as he rushed forward, John is aware of the fact that if the colt didn't look like Sherlock, he wouldn't have done anything. He would have quietly stood where he was and stayed in the dark corner of his mind he'd come to call home.
Instead, he navigated around the pretty mare- a palomino with wide brown eyes- and bumped his chest against the colt's rump. When the little horse turned to look at him, John flattened his ears and bared his teeth,* clicking them audibly, and the colt reacted as expected.
The handlers had to run to keep up as the black colt skittered into the boat.
Momentary reminder of Sherlock gone, John retreated to his world of black and white. On his way back to his place in line, he passed a sallow looking cream colored horse with too-large eyes that looked him over with far too much interest.
Shuddering, John turned around and resumed standing by his own gobsmacked* handler. He could already tell that this was going to be a long trip, unless he managed to find something to dull his senses even further.
*Flattened ears and bared teeth are, as you've probably figured out, signs of aggression.
*Yeah, I said it.
Chapter 42: Interlude II, Part One: Making Promises
A/N: Okay, so I was sooooo planning on getting the reunion just about there with this chapter, only to remember that if I don't do this now, the whole Mor/Mor&Sebly, as I have hilariously (not, I know) named Molly/Seb, thing would wind up as a loose end, and I despise those. Also, this takes place before the last chapter. Annoying, I know, but timelines? They are not my friend. We hate each other with all the passion of really smutty Johnlock smex. Yeah, I mentioned smut in a T for Teen story. Bow before my mighty courage!
...Terribly sorry about that. I've no idea what came over me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The moment after Seb's departure, the farm was filled with disorganization, on the parts of both people and animals. Used to Seb's presence, and the threat of his temper, some of the hired hands grew lazy without him watching over them; others, more dependent on Seb's leadership, were lost without the man's explicit directions. The horses picked up on the people's attitudes and responded in kind: frisking about to make life difficult for the lazy ones and taking advantage of the lost ones. It sent the Morans' farm into minor chaos that took nearly three weeks to settle.
In the absence of a direct leader, Molly stepped forward, much to the surprise of everyone around her. She'd always been quiet and shy, too unsure of herself to be firm with anyone but the people she knew best, but without Seb to lead, she'd done what needed to be done: instilled organization. Unwilling to tolerate laziness, she'd issued an ultimatum: be here on time and prepared to work, or leave. Three days into her reign, the farm was down eight hands- sixteen if one is using the word to mean the body part, rather than employees- which had led to a small panic, but once Molly had taken the rest and shown them how to work effectively, the fear had dissipated. There were still some who weren't as sure of themselves as others, and with them, Molly was particularly kind. She took time, just as Seb had, and shown them- multiple times if necessary- what to do and how to do it best; unlike Seb, however, mistakes were treated as learning experiences and never resulted in shouting, familiar with the gut-wrenching remorse of failure as she was.
Her good work earned her the attention of Seb's parents, though they'd rarely deigned to recognize her much in the past. Mrs. Moran had, on occasion, stopped to tell her how lovely her hair looked or what a good influence she was on Seb, but there had always been the intimidating shadow of Mr. Moran, who'd been unsure of whether or not he approved of her relationship with his son. (Molly couldn't know, of course, that the man's cool treatment of her was not from distaste but a subconscious realization that the quiet, unassuming woman his son, who could barely stand most women, treasured was far more than she appeared to be. Thomas Moran could, when he truly looked, see in Molly the type of strength his own dear wife- whom he did love, if in a childlike, occasionally unsophisticated way- possessed. He knew well the kind of force such a woman could exert.) Though nothing changed overnight, Molly did find herself having lunch with Seb's mother, sharing stories and talking about whatever struck them. In Marianne-not-Mrs.-Moran, Molly was gifted with a regal supporter who often whisked her away after work for shopping and time spent being a woman, which soon became a weekly outing.
After Molly bodily stopped a fight between Anderson and Sherlock- though a fight would imply two sides, rather than Anderson nipping cruelly at an unresponsive Sherlock- she suddenly found herself face to face with Thomas, but before she could apologize- for what, she had no clue but thought it wise- the man spoke up.
"That was... quite brave of you, Ms. Hooper, but I'd rather you not do so again. No matter our experience with the animals, that's what they are, and it's best to have someone around who knows what we're doing, just in case."
Molly could do nothing but blink as the man she'd always felt hated her and wouldn't be much bothered if something were to happen to her... praised her, even as he, well, scolded her for being reckless. It was possibly one of the most surreal moments of her entire life.
The man turned to leave, but stopped and continued with an incredibly gentle voice,
"I've... seen the way Sebastian looks at you, and I don't want to have to tell him the woman he cares for was injured here." He looked straight into Molly's eyes, then, and the intensity in his gaze reminded her of his son. "You mean more to him than anyone, Ms. Hooper. Sebastian's never been one to make friends, not ones that last, and love hasn't been easy for him either."
When Molly failed to reply, the man seemed to realize what he'd just said and how out of character it was.* With a few blinks and an abrupt, "That will be all, Ms. Hooper," Thomas left her.
The rest of the day went by in a blur, and it wasn't until a few days later that she got the chance to go out to dinner with Marianne and speak to her that Molly was able to process what had happened.
"Yes, that's Thomas for you. He's a decent man, really, but he oftentimes is drawn in by things and forgets the kind of damage he can cause. It's a bit like being married to a toddler, really, lots of mostly unintentional destruction."
Molly shook her head, still mystified.
"Why what, dear?"
"Why... Why did he say that to me? I mean, I'm still really confused about this- the two of us, sitting here and talking, as if we've known each other and we're good friends- which isn't a complaint, not really, but I'm very confused, because neither of you seemed very interested in me but now... Now you're spending time with me and being so nice, that I can't... I just don't understand!"
"Thomas is horrendous with women."
"What?" Molly asked, startled. That information clashed with the picture she had of Seb's father.
"Oh, yes," the man's wife chortled. "Dear Thomas, the poor man is completely useless around women, so I jokingly told him, years ago now, that he shouldn't speak to any girl Sebastian meets. It seems he took me seriously."
"Mmhmm, and I was worried about my son's reaction. I didn't want to make him uncomfortable by putting myself into his relationships, particularly those doomed to failure."
"Wait. You- You think we're... together?" Molly couldn't help but ask the question, obvious though the answer was, just as she couldn't help the way she squeaked when asking it.
"Aren't you?" Marianne asked, head tilted. "I've never seen him so animated about someone. Sebastian is just like his father when it comes to other people; he doesn't stop to tell them things, just assumes they'll know what he does." She then reached across the table and took Molly's hands in hers. "Believe me, Molly, my Seb cares deeply about you, especially if the way he kept pacing in his room, trying to think of the right way to tell you about putting himself back on active duty is any indication."
Molly couldn't celebrate what she'd heard, though.
"I didn't do it right."
"Didn't do what right, dear?"
"I didn't tell him goodbye like I wanted. I should've done more. I should've hugged him tighter and done more, but now he's gone, so I can't and-"
"Did you kiss him?"
The question surprised Molly, so it took a moment for her to respond.
"Um, no, we... Like I said, we aren't- I mean, I kissed him on the head, but, well... He and I-"
"There, see? Nothing to worry about. Seb's never been able to deal with not knowing things, and I can guarantee you that he'll be coming back for a kiss."
Molly's cell phone, formerly used only for throwing around to relieve stress and calculating tips, rang one day at two in the morning, and despite the number being restricted, she answered. The subsequent call completely rearranged her entire world.
"Molly? Is that you?" A man asked, voice tight.
"Um, yeah, it's me. Is this... Is this Sebastian?"
"Mmm, it's me," came the distracted response.
"Are you all right?" Molly asked, recognizing his tone and immediately on alert.
"Huh? Oh, no, I'm fine. I just... I guess I just wanted something to remind me of home," he replied, sounding more attentive.
"...And that's me? I'm home?"
The line went quiet, uncomfortably and worryingly so, and just as she was about to start calling out for him, Sebastian responded.
"Yeah, you are home, Molly. I don't really know why I didn't see that before."
"Seb, are you drunk?"
"Maybe a bit. This stuff's weak as piss."
"You should probably go to bed, then. You know how sick you get when you don't get enough sleep after drinking."
"Don't go!" The words were nearly screamed, hoarse in the manner of people who've overworked their voices, and it hurt Molly, tore her from heart to hip, that she couldn't reach out and touch him, if only with a single finger- something to give him some sort of comfort. She was well aware of what was happening, that he'd put himself in battle even though he was in no state for it. His PTSD* had never been addressed- mainly because he'd refused to talk to anyone, which meant no therapy and no medication- and hearing his voice, so full of the terror and confusion that accompanied a flashback, wrenched tears from her as soon as she heard it.
"All right, all right, I'll stay, okay? If you don't want me to go, then I won't."
Sebastian's only response was a sniffle, and that alone told Molly how much he was suffering.
"Hey, Sebby?" Molly asked, tentatively using the nickname she'd given him when they were much younger.
"What do you think of me?"
The line went quiet, and she didn't push.
Eventually she heard something mumbled into the phone, but she couldn't understand it.
"What was that?"
"I said... I said I think I love you!"
"You- you what?"
"I don't want you to leave me," Seb whispered. "I don't want to come home and hear that you got engaged to some other man... or that you're marrying someone who isn't me. I called you because I knew you'd answer. You've always been good to me, Moll, and I... I can't lose you. You're all I've got, and you're all I want. I just can't... I can't say what I know you need me to..."
Right then, Molly was prepared to take her entire life's savings so she could go to Seb and bring him home. Nothing was more important than finding him and bringing him home, but before she could get carried away, Seb's voice cut through her thoughts.
"I can't say it- I can't tell you I love you because there's someone else I can't get out of my head. I don't even want him there, though, Moll. He... I just can't think of being with him, not when your face is all I think about. Don't be angry. Please don't be angry. I'll beg for you, Moll. I'll beg and I'll do whatever you want, just please... don't leave me. I promise I'll make it up to you somehow. I'll find a way... I promise..."
Seb's voice, rising with each word, finally broke, and the vehemence that had been filling the line between them died.
Molly could see his face, knew him well enough for her mind to call up the exact expression he was wearing, and with her heart already ripped open, all it took was his final, "I promise," to crush her heart like a crystal beneath a diamond drill.
"It's Jim, isn't it? He's the reason you can't say you love me, right?" The scratch of a stubbled jaw against the phone's mouthpiece told Molly she had it right. "I'm not angry, Seb, not angry at all," she assured him, "and I'll never leave you, not so long as you want me. I'll always be here, and there's no one I could possibly-" She cut herself off, realizing that mentioning love wouldn't sooth the man. "I won't leave you, Seb, and there's nothing you have to do to. There's no need to- to, 'make it up' to me. I'm here because you're important to me; all I want is to know you'll be all right."
The sharp intake of breath on the other side caught her attention, even as she realized the error of what she'd said.
"I mean, I- I know that right now you can't really promise me that, and I really just meant that I want you to come home safe and-"
"Moll?" Seb interrupted, suddenly urgent again.
"I love you."
*That's right. BOOM. Problem of OOC making its way into the story? Make the story fit it.
*PTSD. Normally I do a lot of research about something before I add it to a fic, but I'm working from things I know- from talking to people with it and things I've seen myself- rather than the dispassionate descriptions from a site.
Is it just me, or am I/my notes getting sillier as this goes on? I think it's the late-night typing.
Chapter 43: Resume: Hope is the thing with feathers
It's about time this story comes to an end, isn't it? We're close, dears, so very close. I can taste it, the coming slavery to my other WIPs. Anyway, here, have some (angst and) fluff to make up for the last chapter(; And if there's anyone still interested (*cough*notdesperateatallhere*) there's no such thing as an art deadline. If you read this two years after this is up, I'll still happily take any offered art and fling it in people's faces. It makes me happy(: The art, I mean, not the flinging. That makes me howl with glee, but you know, I'm more in touch with my ape roots than I am with my advanced aesthetics... Oh, look, I've written a minific in the Author's Note part again. I regret nothing, nothing!
Furthermore! Mounds of gracias to everyone who's reviewed or foolishly added this to your alerts/favorites. It's been a while since I thanked you properly, for which I apologize; you mean a great deal to me, as does sitting back and looking at all the beauty you've left me. Now, enough tooting horns. My mother has a headache.
John was old now, his face more white than grey or flea-bitten and his expression tired rather than alert. It had only been a few months, perhaps closer to a year, but in that time, he'd become a worn-out nag whose main desires were comfort and a familiar place to lie down one final time. Being carted from place to place, having to spend hours on end standing up and prepared for whatever danger could arrive had taken their toll on him, and he had no desire to do much more. His actions with the colt had been compassionate, if also driven by a distrust of the open air. Being old and weak, a cripple, left him vulnerable, and it made him uneasy.
Christ, but he was tired; there was no way he could survive another voyage across the Pacific.
This trip would be his last, and whatever place he came to stop would be the place he called his final home.
Waiting for Aleister to pick him up, he looked around. All the other animals- most whom had been horses- had been claimed, including the black colt John had helped. They'd never spoken and the colt was sure to forget him, but John liked to think that he had somehow made his own herd of himself and Sherlock as a foal. It was the type of thinking that would cost him his sanity, but after losing the one creature who'd ever taken notice of him, beyond the base desire for relations, had been Sherlock. A part of John's chest had ached seeing his friend with Irene, their youth and similarities so plain they might as well be instinct, and had yet to stop. John rather thought it wouldn't.
Time passed, John still standing patiently with his handler as the man fiddled with his phone. They stood alone at the barn above the docks, waiting for whomever was coming to claim John. The man took a call, talking to his girlfriend and exasperatedly explaining that he had to wait until John was picked up. It made John smile a little, hearing the man say that they'd arrived late but no, that didn't mean he could just leave, so John rubbed his head against the man's shoulder, and when that got him a snort- which was immediately called into question by the girlfriend- blew on the man's shoulder.
He was still enjoying his game of getting the man to loosen up when a truck rattled up and made his heart stop. A familiar hand took his lead, and a pair of lips he knew pressed a kiss to his upper lip. A hand he'd thought he'd forgotten stroked up one of his ears, making him shudder.
There was a part of his brain that knew to follow when Molly started walking towards the truck, and there was a part of him that wondered where Sebastian was. Somewhere, one part of his mind asked if he was going to go home or if this was another of his too-real dreams, the ones from which he woke himself because the emotions attached to the idea of "home" would cause him to try to move in his standing stall.
He ignored them all, because he was going home.
The first sign of the coming storm was the flight of birds, flocks of them flying from the area surrounding the stable. The second was the sounds of Lestrade limping to the stall he shared with Mycroft, explaining as he settled in that his leg aching from the weather. Third was the quiet of even the squirrels whose chattering was usually incessant and stopped only long enough for the little creatures to stuff their mouths.
Of course, those were all signs of the physical storm. There was nothing to indicate the storm that would take over Sherlock's mind, save a tiny twist in his gut that said something was coming, something big.
Just as he ignored the other twists in his gut- the ones that told him he'd made a mistake, that he was a fool, the ones telling him John was going to come home that day, the twists that made him flinch because he hadn't eaten, gut-punches from tiny reminders of John's presence- so Sherlock ignored this tiny twist.
He no longer hoped, as the pain had crippled him.
The rattle of Sebastian's old truck, less obvious after Molly took it to be repaired, surprised Sherlock. He hadn't noticed anyone had taken it out, but he was soon distracted by the realization that the truck wasn't alone to analyze his inattention. There was definitely the sound of the trailer swinging behind it- the trailer no one liked to use because it swayed but kept it for times they needed extra padding to keep the occupant comfortable.
Hope- traitorous, cruel hope- told him it was John.
John's hooves didn't drag, and they didn't land heavily. John made noise, whether he meant to or not, and he always neighed happily when he came home.
This horse made no noise; its voice was silent as a thought and, as Sherlock pondered it, probably was a thought- or hallucination. He'd lost interest in his reality once he'd discovered it no longer contained a short grey horse with wide eyes and an impish grin.
Nonetheless, the hallucination's hooves made noise enough. It irritated Sherlock. Things that didn't exist ought to be completely noiseless, or they should be real; to cross the two was nonsensical to a ludicrous degree. Still, he couldn't help but wonder if the hallucination would have a face- and if it did, would it look like John?
Suddenly tired, his head protesting the effort of thought after being deprived of sufficient food, Sherlock's eyes fell closed. His other senses soon followed his sight and were cut off, leaving Sherlock in a state of self-imposed sensory deprivation. If he stayed in such a state long enough, the hallucination would become stronger, instead of disappearing.
If he stayed in complete soundless, tasteless, scentless, touch-less darkness, he could have John. If he let his mind replace his body, he wouldn't be alone anymore. His friend would be at his side once more. He'd been entering this state of non-being for almost as long as John had been gone, and he'd made a great many discoveries, one of which had nearly brought him to tears: If no one interrupted him, Sherlock could hear John calling for him.
"Sherlock," he'd say. "Sherlock..."
There was a script to it, and Sherlock's mental John- false as he was- always followed it, proving itself to be inferior to the warm-bodied original. Glaring flaws- as there were others, though minor- aside, the imaginary John was still comforting. His voice was always soft, as though even as a hallucination, John knew how sensitive Sherlock's ears were. He'd continue infrequently calling to Sherlock, a thousand pleas and questions in the single sound, but Sherlock couldn't answer, or he'd be jolted from John by the sound of his own voice.
"Sherlock," John called again, annoyed.
Curious, Sherlock thought, John's voice is always flat. The hallucinations must be evolving...
John was angry, and it shattered Sherlock's unfeeling state.
Sherlock opened his eyes slowly, unconvinced it was a good idea, but knowing that he couldn't allow himself to become lazy and risk insanity, not when there was still the slimmest of chances he'd get his John back. He blinked a few times, confused about the grey state of the world, only for it to morph into the brown of the stall wall.
A familiar voice disrupted his addled thoughts.
"Sherlock, what the hell are you doing?"
Chapter 44: Fond
Ah, the penultimate chapter, the final one being resolution of the Molly, Seb & Jim relasco (relationship fiasco). The final part of this is from a prompt: fond memories, but the requester's name lost unless you'd like to claim it as yours.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When John entered the stall- Molly having remembered his ability to get in and out of the stall on his own and trusting that John wouldn't run away- he found Sherlock standing in the middle of it. The dark horse's eyes were closed, and he was standing completely still, barely swaying where he stood. It was a stance John with which John had a great deal of familiarity; he'd seen it on countless faces during his time as a medicine carrier.
It was someone hiding from his reality.
Worried for his friend, the reason for the separation forgotten, John moved forward, calling Sherlock's name and immediately nuzzling at Sherlock's face, rubbing his nose against the dark horse forehead. He could feel Sherlock's body shivering against his skin.
"Sherlock, what the hell are you doing?" he asked angrily, shifting to stand directly in front of Sherlock just as his friend's eyes opened. "You daft bugger, what's the matter with you, messing about like that?"
The dark horse frowned at John's head.
John continued, unperturbed.
"I know what you're doing, Sherlock. Don't you think I don't."
Sherlock sighed, his eyes fluttering shut.
"You're a very convincing John, but-"
"But I'm not. I'm not convincing, because I don't need to be."
Sherlock's eyes reopened, and his brow furrowed. He returned his gaze, still unfocused in the way of someone too sick or tired to concentrate well, to John's face. The action obviously made him nauseous from the way his eyes quickly shut again, but the nausea seemed to make something click.
"I don't feel sick when I'm dreaming," he said quietly.
Somewhat relieved, though still adequately upset and angry, John nodded, being sure to continue applying pressure on Sherlock's head.
"Of course you don't; you're depriving yourself of any sensory information and being overloaded by hallucinations, Sherlock. Your brain is too busy being tricked by itself to think to feel ill."
"I see... Will this be reality, then? Or is it another dream?"
"You of everyone ought to know that reality can't be proven. Otherwise people wouldn't go insane so often, would they? If we could prove that we were in a state of illusion, we wouldn't try; we'd just wait for things to return to reality, unless we're talking about you. You'd set out to learn every little thing about every single occurrence and try to understand why you were seeing it- which is the daftest thing possible, because analyzing sensory hallucinations, asking why we have them, wondering why we have the ones we have or finding the root of certain psychoses... It's all mental, Sherlock, and not at all provable or always understandable. Instead, we just have to muddle along and try not to get swept along by anything that seems nonsensical, difficult and sometimes impossible though it is."*
Somewhere in the middle of his lecture, John had noticed that Sherlock had begun to smile, an expression that hadn't left his face through the entirety of John's speech. Now finished, John tilted his head and looked ahead, gathering in the view of Sherlock's bony body. Trying not to have a fit, he closed his eyes and waited for Sherlock's response.
He waited longer than he would have liked, but not so long he began to panic.
"You are John, then, aren't you? I've never heard him speak so much except when he was here in the flesh, which must mean that unless my brain has completely changed its pattern, this must be reality." Sherlock tipped his head to the side. "What are you doing here, though? You're supposed to be in America..."
If he hadn't been listening as closely as he was, John might have missed the whispered, "...not with me."
As things stood, however, John heard Sherlock perfectly well and recognized what he wasn't being asked.
'Have you come to stay?'
"This is my home."
"...You weren't here before..."
John's eyes opened the same moment as Sherlock's, and they wound up wasting time doing nothing but looking at each other. Eventually, though, John's eyes narrowed, and he decided it was best to let the wound he'd been licking feel the air.
"As I recall, you were too busy, happily running about with Irene-"
Sherlock shook his head violently, making John's jaw snap shut nearly dislodging him.
"That was... It was nothing, John. I-"
"You left me for nothing? That's hardly-"
"That's not what I meant, John, and you know that. Don't try to rile me with something so feeble."
It had been a long time since John had smiled, and as his mouth stretched against his will, he realized that he'd missed it a great deal.
"Feeble, hm? I'm not sure that's a word someone as weak as you ought to be throwing around," he replied, deciding to give in and let the smile do its worst, which happened to be making his words softer and voice fonder.
"I'm not the old one here, John!" Sherlock protested, an identical smile stretching his own lips.
Sherlock and Mycroft stood in the field where John and Sherlock had played in the mud nearly a lifetime in the past. Both had the hair on their liberally flecked with white, and both had bodies too thin to be in good condition anymore.
Beneath their feet was freshly tilled ground, a grave for someone small.
"We're not the longest-lived of creatures, brother," Mycroft began, "and I'm sorry. I know you'd been close, much closer than I think even you realized."
Sherlock nodded, his long, grey-streaked mane bobbing.
"I've done that too much to too many in my lifetime, haven't I?"
Mycroft shook his head, looking at his young- as he always had thought and would forever continue to think of Sherlock- brother.
"We make mistakes, Sherlock. Sometimes we're too aggressive with the ones we love; at other times, we're too cautious. I don't think it was unknown, however, how deeply you cared. Anyone who saw you together would know."
"Still, I wonder if I should have said something more..."
"You can't know everyone's time to die, Sherlock, and even if you could, it would be too great a burden. All you can do is think of the love you had- and received, undoubtedly. A memory is best preserved when cherished, Sherlock, but don't torture yourself. There is only so much we with our clumsy hooves can do."
Sherlock sighed, acknowledging his brother's wisdom- if only in this matter.
"Come, then," Mycroft said briskly. "I know you loved her, but John's begun to worry. Lestrade can only give you so much time before he comes out here, and I know you're loath to let him see you weep." He shook his head again. "As though he's never seen you grieve..." He snorted. "John has seen you in far worse shape than- Oh, dear, there he is. I suppose I'd best be off before he yells at me again."
Before Sherlock had the time to think of something to snip at him, Mycroft had already passed John, most likely rushing off to spend time with Lestrade, the only one he would let see him weep.
John had soon taken his place, standing quietly next to Sherlock and looking at the small grave just before their hooves. He didn't speak for a long time, merely gave Sherlock a warm body from which he could take strength.
"I loved her, too, you know." Sherlock's head jerked up. "Not more than you. I'm just... I miss her, Sherlock, and I wish you wouldn't hide it from me, which I know you're doing."
John's voice was quiet, not cold, just soft- soft enough to coax Sherlock's last tears from hiding.
"Can we... Can we not look for another, John?"
"Another Mrs. Hudson," he asked, his voice straining.
John moved closer to Sherlock,* nosing into the salt-and-pepper coloured groove between cheek and neck.
"There's no such thing as another Mrs. Hudson."
For a long time they stood together in silence, their eyes closed as they remembered the old rabbit who'd taken them in and given them all the love she'd had, and Sherlock was just beginning to fall asleep when he heard John chuckle.
"Oh, nothing... I was thinking about the time she bit you."
"That wasn't funny!" Sherlock protested, indignant.
"No, no, of course it wasn't," John soothed. "It was absolutely hilarious."
"Right, I know, touchy subject... It was funny, though..."
They returned to silent contemplation of the rabbit who had been like a mother to them, both in her stern words and the kindness of her willing ears. They soon felt goofy smiles making their way onto their faces, impossible as it was to remember her without calling forth memories of their younger selves- as well as those of Lestrade and Mycroft- and the silliness of those times.
Eventually the silence was broken again, this time by Sherlock.
"Thank you, John. I'm... thankful for remembering Mrs. Hudson with happiness, instead of... well...-"
"It's fine, Sherlock. I know you aren't good at things like this, at knowing how to mourn, which is why I'm here, and I'll still be here when the memories you have won't be focused on her death, no matter how peaceful it was. You've leant on me before, Sherlock, and you can lean on me still."
Sherlock opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by John suddenly taking his head back.
"Come on, then. I know you haven't been sleeping, which I understand, but the time's come for us to let her rest. She deserves it, as do you."
As they made their way back to their stall, still the same one from the first day they'd met, Sherlock was struck by the realization that he wasn't alone and hadn't been so for years.
Once inside, he flopped his head over John's withers* and blew air between his lips. Within moments, he was asleep; he didn't even manage to stay away long enough to say goodnight.
Satisfied that Sherlock wasn't going to regret his position too much the following morning, John closed his eyes, let his head droop and followed barely a minute later.
*Independent study aside, I've no real basis for any of that, but I needed something to thrown in and sound convincing. Hence, my paragraph of bull. Please don't chew me out; I'm not passing it off as truth. ):
*Well... if you change their coat colors, this is them(:
*Back in the stalls, those clingy fools (again, wrong coats, grrr)
*To whuffle, according to Urban Dictionary: To get close to another person's face and breathe on them in a nuzzling, snuffling sort of way
Thank you all so much, and I'm sorry for being so obnoxious and awkward, but as much as I'm happy for this finally to be coming to close, I'm going to miss it and hearing from you guys and all the e-mails I'll get about this will be from people adding it to alerts which honestly really confuses me. Like... the story is Complete. I've labeled it so and written in my comments, "It has been finished," so why...? Ah, well, it's not like i don't do nonsensical things (such as write A/N's longer than the actual content which probably ticks off the people who think they're getting 2k+ words instead of, oh, 1k. Yeah, look at that. K. I'm extraordinarily street. Oomph.
And I played Neopets when I was younger, and there were people in the Trading Post requesting 25k for paintbrushes. Don't judge me. I had fun. Never did wind up able to find a paintbrush, and my pets have probably starved...
...Oh, dear heavens. What have I done? I've become a blathering old fool. Nnnoooooooo)':
Ignoring my little meltdown there, I do have something more important to say. If I haven't yet responded to a review you've left, please tell me! I've gone through the Legacy stats, but sometimes I think I've replied but haven't, so if I haven't said anything to you, do tell me, and I'll give you the love I wish to give you!
Warning for minor character death, a lot (and I'm actually being serious here) of angst and mentions of violence.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A year after Sebastian's call and almost two months after Aleister returned John, Molly was sitting at the small desk in the Morans' study when she heard the phone ring. As she still wasn't comfortable answering the phone, despite Thomas and Marianne urging her to treat their home as theirs, she pretended not to hear it. Marianne answered it after only another two anyway, which was faster than Molly would have been able to leave the study, let alone cross the next room.
Shaking her head, Molly returned to her contemplation of the stable's expenses. John's return, though welcome, could potentially wreak havoc with the Moran's finances, particularly with Sherlock unable to compete. Molly had a few ideas, though, including using Lestrade- her personal favorite- and John, the least finicky horses, to teach people about racing and maybe, if she pitched it right, to get kids interested in horse racing. For all its connections to posh people, Molly wanted to show that any people with an interest could take part in it... provided they didn't name their horses Maximilian or Gustav.
Writing a quick reminder to run her ideas past Thomas and Marianne- and Sebastian, too, she thought with a blush. It had been a long time since she's spoken to him, and Molly couldn't help but wonder if what he'd said was still true or if he'd done what every other man she'd dated had done during time apart: found someone wonderful and moved on.
The door to the study was suddenly thrown open, and in strode Marianne, tears running down her face and the cordless house phone, one of the few concessions to modern life, in her hands. She quickly pressed the phone into Molly's hand, then nearly ran from the room, her husband appearing just outside the doorway in time to follow after her (and, though Molly wouldn't see it, catch her when Marianne fell over).
Blinking from surprise at the abruptness of Sebastian's mother's appearance- as Molly had only ever seen her composed, no matter the circumstance- it was only when she heard a voice leave the phone that she remembered there was someone else on the line.
"Ah, hello?" she asked.
"Is this Molly Hooper?" came a man's tired voice.
"Yes, it is. Can I help you?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I'm calling to inform you, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Moran, that we've lost track of Sebastian Moran."
Molly blinked again.
"You've... lost him?"
"Ah, yes, ma'am."
"What does that mean?"
"It means we can't find him. It means that the tracking device- a newly established standard procedure- he had was either shut off or broken. It means that, as of this moment, we have no way to know if Sebastian Moran is alive or dead or where the hell on David Cameron and Nick Clegg's green earth he and the rest of his squad have gone, excepting one man we found dead... ma'am," said the voice, and though the man's words may have held bite, his tone didn't. Molly could hear the difference between lofty sarcasm and frustration, and the man on the phone was definitely frustrated.
That didn't stop her from dropping the phone, though, nor putting her head in her hands and crying.
In the next room, Sebastian's mother was crying as well, her hand in her husband's as he quickly pressed the numbers on his phone, making call after call, calling upon every contact he had and every favor owed him. For all he and Sebastian hadn't seen eye to eye, Thomas Moran loved his son and would not hesitate do everything in his power, and the power of everyone he could find, to get him home safe.
Four weeks passed with no word from the military, and the inhabitants of the Morans' stable could feel the tension in the air- animals and people, too. Stan had his hands full with a fidgeting Anderson and a snappish Sally. Sherlock started to develop a habit of kicking his stall door, but John stepped in before it became necessary for Stan to interfere. Then John started pawing at the stall floor, but by then Stan's hands were too full of Mycroft's newly acquired habit of crib biting* and Lestrade's unhappy wickering* to stop him.
Six weeks came and went without news, and with the additional two weeks was an extra two weeks of horses acting up, Mrs. Moran crying, Mr. Moran demanding and Molly quietly considering.
There was Jim Moriarty, who lay across his bed and smiled, and his mother who began taking extra shifts and coming home late.
Finally, there was Sebastian Moran who, though missing, was making a choice of his own.
Twenty seven weeks after No News became all they heard, Molly's cell phone rang.
"Hello?" she asked, having answered it after two rings.
"Molly, is that you?"
"Seb? Seb! Yes, it's me. Oh, Christ, you're okay. You are okay, right? Hold on. I have to get your Mum-"
Molly stopped halfway out of bed.
"I just... I'm in trouble, Moll."
"What kind of trouble? What can I do to help? Just tell me and I'll do it."
She heard him sigh.
"It's the kind of trouble where I'm not supposed to contact you because if I do we're all dead."
"...Yet you did."
"Yeah, I did."
"Because... because I need you to do me a favor."
Molly's mind, previously still sleepy, jumped into action.
"What kind of favor? You know you can rely on me, Seb, right? 'Cause I'll-"
"I know I can, which is why I'm calling you."
Molly's face fell. Here was the moment, the one where he'd tell her he'd found a better woman where he was now and that he hoped she wouldn't think badly of him but they'd fallen in love...
"Oh, I see..."
"Stop it," came a stern response.
"I told you to stop it. I know that voice, Molly Hooper, and I'm telling you to stop jumping to conclusions."
"Will you listen to me, then?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Of course."
"Good, because I honestly don't have much time left."
Ten minutes later, Molly was done repeating Seb's instructions for the sixth time.
"Perfect," Sebastian said, voice raw.
"Thanks," she replied, voice just as raw. "Is this really going to work, though?"
Sebastian's line was quiet for a time, and Molly didn't rush him.
"It depends, really, and mostly on you. Don't glare like that," he said before Molly could interrupt. "I'm not doubting your ability to do this, Molly. I just... God, I don't like putting you in this position."
"You aren't putting me in any-"
"I am, and don't you think otherwise."
"Seb, it's not your fault."
"Except it is, which is why I'm going to make things right."
"You couldn't have known about him, Seb."
"Couldn't I, though? Who's known Jim longer than I- his mother? I love Alicia, I really do, but she's never been fit to be a mother, and Jim's father..." Molly heard the scrape of facial hair against Sebastian's mouthpiece. "I should've known this would happen. Jim doesn't let go, not of something he's had."
They fell silent, Molly digesting what she'd just been told and Sebastian preparing himself for what was coming next.
"Hey, Moll?" he asked.
"I, uh, I don't have much time left."
"Promise me something?"
Molly waited, knowing what he was about to ask.
"Don't wait for me. Don't... don't spend your life waiting for a dead man. I'm not Lazarus."
"Seb," she began, already prepared for this, "you know I can't-"
"Promise me or I'm scrapping the plan."
"I will if you don't promise. Don't underestimate me, Molly. You know I'll do it."
"... Yeah, I do, but you know I won't make that promise."
"Don't ask me, Seb," Molly plead softly. "Of all the things you could ask me, I can't promise you that."
"...Then make me a different one. Promise me... Promise me that you won't lock yourself away."
"I'm not Rapunzel, Seb."
"No, but you are incredibly stubborn, if very good at hiding it."
A small laugh escaped before Molly could stop it.
There was an answering dark chuckle from the other end.
"Fare thee well, my knight," she responded, earning herself another chuckle.
"Oh, and, Moll?"
"I love you.
The line fell dead before she could answer it.
Sebastian Moran was declared legally dead. There was a small ceremony with enough angry military personnel to ensure no one from the media was allowed inside. Molly, Marianne and Thomas met the rest of Sebastian's squad, all of whom had been found in a small underground bunker blindfolded, half starved and dying of thirst but otherwise in good health. None had known anything about their comrade beyond hearing him be taken against his will. As the ceremony closed, however, a short man with dark hair came up to Molly and after getting her attention, leaned close and whispered, "I'm to give you two messages. The first is from our captor. 'I don't share.' The second is from Sebastian, the last thing he said before he disappeared. 'I am neither good nor bad but a man.'"*
Molly didn't cry that night for the soldier-shaped hole in her life but for the endless silence that had once been filled with a familiar voice reading familiar lines of her favorite poems.
Still more years passed.
Molly's fortieth birthday came and went, as did two relationships that never went beyond a second date.
Thomas Moran's heart gave out as he walked down the stairs. That night as he lay on what would become his deathbed, he looked at the ceiling and whispered into his wife's waiting ear, "He isn't there." Thirty three minutes later, his heart pumped one final time.
Marianne checked herself into one of the many homes for the elderly but not two weeks went by before she, despite climbing into bed for the night, was found on the home's front steps the next morning with no memories of who she was or where she was. All she told them was a single sentence.
"He's coming home."
Molly took charge once more, Stan by her side.
Sherlock reclaimed his spot in the racing world in a blur of black.
John waited for him after every race.
Lestrade and Mycroft wound up being the ones to take part in Molly's idea to get people interested in racing and the Morans' stable, as she still called it. Their monetary worries were gone within the first month.
Then Mrs. Hudson died, and it was Molly who found her.
She had just finished replacing the dirt over the tiny body, shovel still in hand, when a truck came up.
"I'm sorry, Stan, but I can't-"
"Molly, I'm not Stan."
"Yes, you are. Don't be cruel."
A hand landed on her shoulder.
^"'And because love battles
not only in its burning agricultures
but also in the mouth of men and women,
I will finish off by taking the path away
to those who between my chest and your fragrance
want to interpose their obscure plant,'" came a voice Molly knew didn't belong to Stan.
"'About me, nothing worse
they will tell you, my love,
than what I told you," Molly whispered.
"'I lived in the prairies
before I got to know you
and I did not wait love but I was
laying in wait for and I jumped on the rose.'"
"'What more can they tell you?'"
"'I am neither good nor bad but a man,'"^ came the answer. "Molly..."
"You can't be here."
"No," Molly shook her head.
"Your father's dead-"
"Your mother's- You know?"
Molly finally looked from Mrs. Hudson's tiny grave to the hand on her shoulder. It was darker than it had been years ago, and there were more scars than she cared to count. Beneath the new ones, though, were ones she could remember. There was a burn from the time he'd tried to free her toast from her old toaster and the four dots across the back of his hand from when she'd accidentally stabbed it with a fork. Even the tiny one from accidentally hammering a nail into the front of his index finger was in tact.
"Of course I know. Just because I was hiding doesn't mean I wasn't watching over you guys. Jim... wasn't content just to have me at his side. I had to... make sure nobody could touch you."
"Yet your father's dead."
"My father was dead long before then," came the toneless reply
"How can you say that?" Molly asked, feeling a rush of loyalty to the man she'd come to think of as her father.
"I can say it because saying it was the only way to keep myself from coming back here and making a mess of everything."
"So you don't... You don't believe it? It's just something you had to say?"
The hand on her shoulder squeezed slightly harder- not enough to bruise, but enough to get her attention.
"I don't believe much of anything anymore, Molly. I used to think there was a limit to the things people could do to each other, that there were lines no one could bend. Then I saw those lines broken and forgotten. I'm... not who I used to be. Come to think of it... I'm not sure I can remember him at all."
Molly shook her head.
"No, you haven't changed."
"I haven't- What?"
"You don't think I didn't read the papers, do you?"
"The Sebastian Moran I've always known hated violence, despite his temper."
"Molly, please, I'm-"
"Exactly the same. You haven't changed at all, you stupid prat." Molly looked back at Mrs. Hudson's fresh grave. The sight of it, despite her peaceful death, and all the symbolism Molly didn't want to consider made her tear up again.
"Give the shovel here."
Suddenly bereft of anything to hold, Molly wrapped her arms around herself and ignored the clunk of the metal blade against the soft earth.
"If I look up, will you still be here?" she asked the ground.
"Of course I will."
"If you're lying-"
"You know I'm not."
"That's what you said last time."
Instead of answering, another hand came to rest on Molly's other shoulder. She was then gently turned around and looking, after the longest years of her life, at a face she recognized despite its owner's extra wrinkles, grey hair and age-bleached eyes. The smile beneath them, as tentative as the first time she'd seen it, though, was exactly the same.
Molly was immediately wrapped up in a tight embrace.
"Never again," she whispered into a shoulder.
Seb shook his head.
A few weeks later, every paper in the country ran with the cover story of the soldier who spent nearly ten years infiltrating a terrorist organization and breaking it apart on his own so he could keep the people he loved, and multiple countries, safe. The papers went on to say that despite his father's death and mother's consequential loss of touch with reality, the soldier had finished what he'd started and killed the head of the organization himself.
Neither Molly nor Seb bothered with reading the paper that day. He did what he'd been doing since he'd arrived: sleeping next to her. For her part, Molly was too busy alternating between staring at the man slumbering on the sofa and marveling at the small band on her finger to read about death and sacrifice. Both had had their fill of loss and needed no reminder of their lost years.
It was time to build their home.
*Crib biting (Cribbing if you're an American): a compulsive behavior seen in some horses and considered a stable vice involves the horse grabbing a solid object such as the stall door or fence rail with its incisors, then arching its neck, pulling against the object, and sucking in air (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
*Whicker: a soft, breathy whinny*
*Whinny, in case I didn't define this in the past (Also, yay! Another noteception. No, no. Definception): a gentle, high-pitched neigh
*"I am neither good nor bad but a man," is the second line from the fourth stanza of the English translation of Spanish poet Pablo Neruda's "And because love battles."
^...^ Situational irony of the accidental smiley aside, this passage is the beginning of Neruda's poem.
...It seems we've reached the end, dear readers. Thank you all for your comments, reviews, alerts, favorites, bookmarks and time reading this silly, maybe not so silly fic. It was a joy to write for you, and I can only hope that I'll ever have as much luck with feedback and kindness again. Again, thank you; you made this more fun than I'd thought it would be.