Molly Hooper clambered over the low rocky wall, into the green field that stretched to the shore. Britches make everything so much easier, she thought as she bent down to study a wildflower that grew against the wall. She stroked the soft yellow petal.
"It's lovely," she breathed.
"It's useless." Sherlock hopped over the wall and Basil passed him, by the handle, a sizable, leather-covered case that appeared to have several tiny drawers and countless straps. She'd never seen anything quite like it. "They're too common, and I sampled those on our last trip through the Isles."
"Even so," Molly said, "A bit of beauty, it's nice to have." She plucked the tiny flower and tucked it behind her ear, the yellow shining bright against her brown hair. Molly wandered away from the wall, peering down into the overgrown grass as she roamed the field. Sherlock and Basil carefully explored the ground, the cabin boy occasionally pointing out something interesting.
"Sherlock!" John called from the wall. "Wait!" He joined his captain in the field, slightly out of breath from the fifteen-minute walk from the shore near where they'd anchored the Hudson.
"Are you certain about this? The garrison on the hill isn't deserted, I don't like-"
"Two dozen lazy, incompetent men who never leave the fort? We've taken every precaution, same as before. Nothing has changed."
The surgeon swallowed and his blue eyes bore into his captain's. He wordlessly nodded toward Molly, who was kicking over a large rock to see the ants scurrying away.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed and he spoke precisely. "Nothing has changed. Given the sprinkling of flour on your thumb, I take it that the supplies issue has been taken care of and the crew's on their way back to the ship." He paused. "You tried to help them carry it."
John Watson stopped rubbing his shoulder and nodded curtly. Though the wound was healed, his muscles tended to tighten damnably fast and the memory of how he'd been shot was one he pushed away whenever it surfaced. He'd never explained to his friend what had happened, and he never intended to. There were some hurts that cut too deep, beyond bone and cartilage and muscle. Sherlock Holmes was a brilliant man, and remarkably understanding for one so ruthless, but there were limits. Some things just weren't done. He couldn't afford to lose the only true friend he had in the world.
As far as John was concerned now, his life began again the day a gaunt, determined man strode into the tavern by the docks where the former medical officer had been doing his best to drink himself to death the way his sister had. He didn't have Harriet's taste for spirits though, and so his attempts were half-hearted, usually culminating in him vomiting in an alley before finding his way back to the crowded common-lodging house. Even the retching was better than spending another day facing the boredom and futility that had become his life since leaving the navy a few months before.
John had been staring moodily out the door at the moored navy ships when he noticed the tall man with the long black coat lean across the counter to speak privately to Nicholas, the tavern owner.
Even in low tones, John discerned the urgency in the man's voice. Nicholas nodded, set down his cup, and hurried into the back room.
The man placed his hands in his pockets and casually turned to John. "Do you have the time?"
John fumbled in his pocket, pulled out his watch and tried to make out the numbers. "Four. I think."
"Thank you. Ulster or Edinburgh?"
"Pardon?" The blond man tilted his head, certain he'd heard wrong in his inebriated state. He winced as the twisting motion yanked at his tender shoulder.
"HMS Ulster or Edinburgh? Which ship were you with?" The fellow in the expensive coat had a posh voice to match his look, completely out of place in the filthy pub full of sailors.
"Edinburgh- how did you know that?" In his astonishment, John forgot to be miserable.
"It's obvious, isn't it? A man with medical training, who's lost his brother to drink. Poor but you didn't start out that way. Not gentry, no. A merchant's son, then. He died when you were at university. That's why you didn't finish. And here you are now, drinking up to drown a broken heart," the dark-haired man added with sarcasm. His blue eyes were sharp and unforgiving.
"Emotion is a pointless affliction. Whoever it is has done you a good turn."
John Watson stood, mouth gaping open foolishly. Anger and curiosity were at war with one another. "Who are you? Who told you all that?"
"Nobody told me it, I deduced it. I detected the signs on your person and understood what they indicated. I'm a detective. I invented the job," he explained brightly, with a wide grin that was didn't quite reach his eyes.
He drew gloves from his coat and donned them as Nicholas returned to the counter with a letter. The tall man handed the tavern owner a few coins, and turned back to John.
"As it happens, I'm in need of a medical man in my ship's crew. The pay is good, and you'll never be bored."
"I don't even know your name, and you want me to get on a ship?" John's head was swimming, but he was intrigued. "And how did you know about…about Harry?"
"The pocket watch. His initials are engraved on it. It's scratched and been dropped often by a drunkard- who else would drop an expensive watch that much- but in reasonable shape and valuable. Yet you haven't sold it, despite your obvious need for funds. Sentimental, then. Someone close to you once. The style is modern, a young man's watch. A brother you've lost but you kept his watch." The man explained blithely, and then added, "The name's Sherlock Holmes."
"John Watson," he responded automatically. "That was amazing."
The strange man shrugged and looked away, with a slight smile forming on his lips. "Well then, John Watson. You have medical training. In fact, you were a naval medical officer."
"Yes. How did you know that?"
Sherlock ignored his question.
"Any good?" he asked, tucking the letter into his pocket as he looked out toward the busy street. Uniformed men hurried by the open door several times.
Thinking back to the countless bodies he'd patched up without panicking, John lifted his head proudly. "Very good."
"Seen a lot of injuries, then? Violent deaths?"
"Yes." That went without saying, on a navy ship during this war with France.
"Bit of trouble, too, I bet."
"Of course, yes. Enough for a lifetime. Far too much." Shattered bones and severed limbs flashed through his mind.
"Want to see some more?"
"Oh God yes." And for the first time in three months, John Watson felt that he actually wanted to be clear-headed and alive.
"Right. We best be off. Run."
The blond man's eyes darted side to side in confusion. "What?"
"I'm avoiding the King's men. Had to stop off and get something quick from Nick here, and couldn't pass up the chance to snag a ship's surgeon. But we really ought to be going…" Sherlock's eyes took in the shape of a familiar young man wearing a pistol on his hip just across the road from the tavern. "Now. Run."
John Watson barely had time to grab his threadbare jacket and cheap sack of his meager worldly possessions before being dragged out of his seat by the mad sea captain.
Sherlock and John ran across the docks and climbed aboard the Hudson. The ship's crew was already ready to leave, and pulled away from the quay. A small group of men, led by the pleasant-looking young fellow with the pistol, shouted in anger toward the departing vessel.
From his safe place on the deck, Sherlock saluted the young man, calling out, "Apologies! I cannot oblige you today, Mister Dimmock!"
The speedy ship disappeared down the Thames, and its captain and its new surgeon collapsed laughing on benches midship.
"This is mad. This is bloody madness. I don't know what I'm doing here." John's head was spinning and for some reason, he found himself smiling.
"I told you, you wouldn't be bored."
"How did you know all those things about me, Captain Holmes?"
"Call me Sherlock, and I will tell you."
John nodded. And Sherlock kept up his end of the bargain, explaining rapidly how he'd deduced John's past from his trouser hems and his last shirt left from his navy uniform (both showing bloodstains in various shades of brightness, indicating constant exposure to fresh injuries), his wounded shoulder (obviously within the last four months), his Norfolk accent which was educated but not posh, and John's frequent looks of longing at the Royal Navy ships docked.
His system saturated with alcohol, John fell asleep lying on the bench while Sherlock was elaborating on how he'd worked out that John belonged to one of the larger navy ships who'd been docked in London in the last four months. Two large ships had frequent bloody encounters with the French, indicating he was on either the Ulster or the Edinburgh. Sherlock was well into his showing-off mode, discussing John's father's death, before he noticed the new ship's surgeon was peacefully snoring away.
It wasn't until the next day, when John was nursing his hangover that he remembered to inform Sherlock that Harriet was a sister, not a brother. The captain cursed, and admonished himself.
"There's always something I miss."
He never found the courage to ask the captain how he'd known that John had a broken heart.
A year after their first time escaping London, the men found themselves back in a similar situation, this time with a mousy young woman in tow.
Only she wasn't as mousy as John had thought she was when Sherlock first hauled her into the carriage. The loose dress had made her seem awkward and uncomfortable, her features almost elfin.
In her trousers and belted shirt, she was lithe and more confident. She bloomed under the sun, and sang when she thought no one was listening as she poked through the grass, smelling flowers.
When she smiled, John believed she was almost lovely. He had a growing suspicion that his friend had noticed that as well. A year aboard with Sherlock Holmes had taught him to read the man's face, and his eyes. The captain had excellent peripheral vision, so his watching wasn't blatant, but John recognized the subtle movements of his shoulders and his chin as he stole glances toward the woman in the field.
"I'm heading back to the Hudson," John said, pulling out his pocket watch. "We've got a good hour before we need to set sail, I'd say. Do you need me here?"
"No, go back and have a nap as you plan to," Sherlock said, rolling his eyes. "Take Basil and the case with you, I'll bring Molly to the shop."
"Right." The surgeon hopped over the low wall, and the cabin boy climbed over it after him, lugging the awkward sample case. They walked down the small dirt road, as Sherlock collected Molly from the field and headed in the other direction down the path.
"I don't really need more than one dress. I like the britches. Of course I'll need something to wear when I'm off the ship and going home, but I can keep wearing these on board, can't I?" Molly asked hopefully.
The clerk in the small shop frowned and eyed Molly's legs. Dresses weren't their usual trade, they kept simple supplies, but he was more than willing to part with some of his eldest daughter's dresses for the high price Sherlock offered. A woman flaunting herself in trousers like a fellow, it's not right, he thought. It's not natural. But he kept his mouth closed, hoping for a large sale. He'd encountered Captain Holmes twice before; he was good for money and didn't make any trouble, unlike the garrison boys.
"I don't see why not," Sherlock responded.
Molly smiled. Her eyes roamed over one of the tidy shelves, filled with an odd assortment of candy, buttons, needles, and knives. She set her letter to her father down on a barrel, and lifted up the bowl of sweets.
She thought about it for a minute and turned to Sherlock. "Do you think…you said that I was being paid…do you think we could purchase some of these?"
"You don't eat sweets," the captain said as he picked up the letter. "Your teeth are excellent."
"I do eat them sometimes, but not that much, yes. I thought Basil might like them. Watching him eat handfuls of sugar is…" She wrinkled her nose and giggled.
"Fine." He tossed a handful of the candies onto the counter, along with the clerk's daughter's dress and a rough pair of very worn leather shoes for Molly. The man at the counter wrapped the sweets up in paper, handed it to Molly and put the rest of the items together in a large parcel tied with string.
Sherlock laid the letter on top of the package with several coins. "This will cover it, I think you'll agree." The clerk nodded.
Molly peeked out the door, wondering when they would set sail again. The center of "town" was almost a sandbar, a narrow stretch of land with harbors on both sides. In the distance, she saw the masts of the Hudson. Would they turn back toward London now? Molly was surprised to recognize her own disappointment at the thought.
With the woman's attention diverted, Sherlock acted fast. He leaned over the counter, startling the clerk, and dropped the letter into the rubbish bin tucked under there. Straightening up, he smiled winningly, and tapped the coins.
The man understood. He glanced at Molly's back, and then pocketed the coins.
"Pleasure seeing you, Captain. Good voyage to you and the…lady."
Sherlock grabbed the tied-up bundle and strode to the door. Molly followed him out, enjoying the fresh surge of salty wind blowing across her face. He took only a few steps when he stopped abruptly, Molly almost crashing into him.
Up ahead, a pair of uniformed men making their way quickly down the dirt road in their direction.
Sherlock's eyebrow rose as Molly continued cursing fluently.
He grabbed her wrist, and pulled Molly around the small building. He dropped the bundle, and pressed her against the side wall, his torso snug against hers.
Startled, Molly dropped the packet of candy as Sherlock's hand snaked around to touch her back while his other hand cupped her cheek. She instinctively wrapped her arms around his waist and looked up into his face, wide-eyed. She tried to control her breathing, but the surge of energy from fear and excitement was rushing through her. Her cheeks flushed and her lips parted as his thumb stroked her cheek.
Sherlock remained perfectly still, peering into Molly's eyes, his mouth hovering just above her lips. He noted with interest the rapid pace at which her pupils expanded, the black center nearly blotting out the rich brown iris.
The sound of four boots crunching on gravel drew closer. The soldiers' idle chatter grew louder until Sherlock could see a flash of blue coat out of the corner of his eyes. While ostensibly gazing at Molly, he observed the soldiers' poorly shined boots, filthy trousers, and shirts half-untucked that would've earned them whippings if the old garrison wasn't so understaffed and ignored.
He waited for the two men to move on as, based on their clothing, their small money pouches, and their lack of quick access to a weapon, they were not searching for him but merely out for a walk, probably to the same shop.
Sensing they could still see some of his face, Sherlock tilted his head so that his nose was brushing the tip of hers, their breath mingling. Molly's body was tense in his arms.
He wondered if it had even occurred to her to scream.
She trusts me, he thought. How foolish. And I'm not a good enough man to not take advantage of it.
Rough laughter was heard from the soldiers as they nudged each other and spied the apparently trysting lovers.
Molly shifted her hands on his hips, and rose on her tiptoes to whisper in Sherlock's ear. "They aren't leaving. What do we do? Won't they wonder…?
He sighed. She was right. But this was dangerous and who knew how long the two men would stay and ogle them even if they believed they were harmless lovers grabbing a private moment?
Molly saw the indecision in his blue eyes and in his furrowed brow so close to her face. She bit her lip and dove in.
A very enthusiastic and clumsy face was suddenly pushed against Sherlock's, her small pink mouth mashed against his lips with the subtlety of a hammer. He winced and pulled back, frowning openly now. Molly turned scarlet and cringed.
"Did not a single one of those books explain kissing? Oh for God's sake," he hissed under his breath.
Impatiently, he wrapped his hand around the back of her head and took control, tugging to tilt her chin up, bringing his lips to rest against hers gently. His other hand began stroking the small of her back as he nudged her legs apart with one knee. As he placed a series of soft little kisses on her lips and cheeks, he murmured, "Put your hand on my shoulders."
Molly felt the blazing heat of her face lessen into a steady pink warmth as his pale, angular face brushed against hers, his full lips opening her mouth now. She was only dimly aware of obeying him and draping her arms over his shoulders. His lower body stood between her legs, and the kiss grew deeper.
A low whistle was heard from the men, and a crude comment about Molly's trousers.
She didn't care. She opened her mouth and felt Sherlock's tongue touch hers tentatively, as though he were trying to remember how this all worked.
Which was in fact the case, as it had been several years since he'd given in to the admission that his body was the same as other males, with similar needs.
He was supposed to be better than this, not a rutting animal. He should be glad that kissing the vicar's curious daughter at sixteen was a distant and untreasured memory. He should be happy that he barely remembered when it was like to bury his cock in a clever, widowed countess after one of his brother's drunken town parties, ten years ago. There were other youthful experiences; the faces and names all deleted, only the substance of the incidents remaining.
None of that mattered, it was all experimentation to prove he didn't need it. And it was all being undone by this simple gillyflower of a doctor, who moaned and wiggled against the growing bulge in his trousers.
Without thinking about it, he hitched one of her legs up around his waist and pushed harder against her warm center. His body was tilted away from the road, shielding most of Molly from the leering men. He nibbled on her lips, and his fingers skimmed across her belly and up to cup one small breast.
Oh yes, I remember this, he thought, as a fingertip traced the hardening peak of her nipple.
Molly gasped and kissed him harder, learning his mouth, how to use her tongue with his. She was hungry, wanting to swallow down of all the moment, uncaring who was watching. She finally understood what had overtaken the lovers in the garden.
She dragged a hand through his hair, glorying in the feel of his springy curls in her fingers. She rubbed his head experimentally, and was rewarded by a groan followed by his mouth drifting down to her neck to suck lightly on the pale exposed skin there. His right hand gripped her bottom, mashing them together even tighter as he worked the sensitive skin of her neck.
Molly shivered. "Sherlock." Right then and there, she would have done anything for him, let him do anything to her.
Which is why it was shocking and cold when he pulled himself away entirely from her, stepping back and calling to the soldiers, "Haven't ya got some other place to be, lads, eh?" with a theatrical, knowing wink.
The soldiers laughed, good-naturedly, and waved at Sherlock as they turned and walked on, out of sight. Molly heard their voices disappear suddenly, which she took to mean they had entered a building.
She looked down at the ground, and saw the yellow flower from the field had fallen into the dirt. She bent over to retrieve the candy and the flower, brushing off the dust before tucking it back into her hair.
Sherlock cleared his throat and crossed his arms, gazing off into the distance. "Nothing to worry about, then. They aren't suspicious." He ran a hand through his hair, and straightened his clothing.
"Yes," Molly said softly. "You were very convincing."
"Yes, well yes." He nodded and looked around. Anywhere but at her glowing face. "We ought to be getting back. No use tempting chance." He picked the parcel off the ground and walked two steps before noticing Molly wasn't moving. After a few steps, he stopped and looked back. "Problem?"
Molly hesitated, and searched Sherlock's face for any sign of the heated man who'd been tasting her like she was a sweet only a minute before.
He was gone, and replaced by this cold creature of logic and efficiency. He looked unruffled and beautiful and in control, in stark contrast to Molly with her rumpled hair and a love bite peeking out from just below her shirt collar.
She couldn't figure him out altogether. She was enjoying the adventure of learning him, though.
The sound of a slamming door from somewhere nearby shook Molly out of her reverie. She caught up with Sherlock, and they walked together back to the rowboat at the shore, to find Basil waiting alone for them.
As John and Basil neared the shore, the boy pointed across to the narrow strip of land to the harbor on the other side of town.
John, occupied with lugging the heavy case, had only been focused on getting to the rowboat. His eyes followed Basil's outstretched hand, and landed on the sight of a large naval ship anchored in the other harbor, on the opposite side of the island. The ship was obscured a bit by buildings and other ships in port, but he would know it anywhere.
The goddamned bloody HMS Edinburgh.
"Get in the boat, be ready." He handed Basil the case, and ran like the devil toward the center of town.
John ran toward the shop, eyes constantly scanning for navy men. The road was deserted so far, except for an old fisherman carting a wagon brimming with the day's catch.
As he approached the shop, he slowed down, not wanting to draw attention. His heart lurched when he saw two uniformed men strolling and laughing, but he exhaled when he realized they were common boys from the garrison and not Edinburgh officers.
He shoved the door open, startling the clerk and the lone customer, who swiveled around at the noise of the door slamming the wall.
Even before the man finished turning around, John Watson knew he was in very bad trouble. He felt as though a surgeon had cut him open, reached in and clenched his heart with their fist.
The man was crisp and clean from head to toe. His boots were polished to perfection, and his cream-colored trousers were tucked in the boots snugly. A light waistcoat was worn under his long, dark blue overcoat. A dozen buttons gleamed, and the gold epaulets on his shoulders made the man seem even broader. The high pale collar emphasized the tan of his face, uncommon amongst his fellow officers. A tan probably acquired from his habit of not staying out of the sun altogether as the higher ranking men usually did. Not to mention carrying his hat under his arm, as he did now, instead of donning it over his unfashionably cropped silver-brown hair.
What would Sherlock Holmes deduce from that rule-breaking habit? John wondered. Some need to rebel against the navy, or just a practical man who loves the sea and the sun? And that was the last coherent thought he had before the man's chocolate-colored eyes met his and crinkled happily.
"Well, I'll be damned! There's a sight for sore eyes."
He put his purchases down on the counter and hurried forward to extend a hand to the ship's surgeon.
"It's really good to see you, John. Is there where you ran off to then? Hasn't been the same without you on board." His smile was warm and genuine, with a touch of sadness, and John felt himself pulled in by the familiar energy.
Without even thinking, he clasped the proffered hand of the Royal Navy officer and breathed as calmly as he could.
"It's good to see you too, Gregory."