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The Pirate and The Doctor

Chapter Text

The boatswain Brunton convulsed three more times and exhaled his last breath shortly after midnight.

 

The ship's doctor closed the sailor's eyelids, saying a silent prayer for the man who'd suffered so terribly in his last weeks.

 

"Haven't been able to work out the cause of death, John? Not much help are you then."

 

John Watson looked up at the captain, a man he'd called friend for a year but still didn't truly understand.

 

"Piss off," he said amiably. "I was a military surgeon. I can fix bones, I can save your life which I have done- twice, by the way. This is a little out of my expertise. I have tried, but…we need to get a proper post-mortem done since we're in port."

 

"And if we don't, the illness could spread after we've set sail. Dammit." Sherlock Holmes paced around the dead man, ruffling his hair in frustration.

 

"You could ask your brother for help, couldn't you? Surely the bloody Earl of Warwick can find someone." John raised his eyebrows, hoping the captain would set aside his dislike of Mycroft in an emergency.

 

"Suggest that again and you'll be secured to the mast when everyone else gets shore leave in Jamaica," Sherlock hissed. He came to a stop and looked out the tiny window, toward the London skyline. He was calmer when he spoke again.

 

"Do you know where we can find someone who does that sort of work? Someone who can be trusted to come to a ship declared pirate by the Royal Navy, to cut up a body and then go on their way and trust they'll keep shut up?"

 

"Well," John reflected, weariness showing in his warm face. "I wouldn't trust anyone that much. So we may as well get the best anatomist I've read about in London. Specializes in human autopsies, there's been loads about them in the 'sheets every time I come back to London, the last seven or eight years. I don't know where they live though."

 

"Give me a name, I'll shake out the address soon enough."

 

John Watson nodded. He'd learned to roll with the captain's improvised schemes right after signing onto the Hudson. Sherlock's genius mind worked best under pressure.

 

"According to the journals and the 'sheets, the very best is a doctor named Hooper." He frowned, trying to remember more. "Doctor…M. Hooper, I think. Just the initial."

 

Sherlock steepled his hands together, touching his lips that were curling into a smile.

 

"Well then. Welcome to the Hudson, Dr. M. Hooper."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Dr. Hooper, is it? Diana tells me that your analysis of her son's person was nothing short of a miracle. Science is really something!" The matron in lavender silk leaned in as though sharing a confidence with the seated physician. "Pray tell. Is it true that the boy was actually…murdered?"


Dr. Matthias Hooper inclined his silver head graciously, the picture of dignity and service. He was the hero of the hour for determining that the death of Lady Diana Haverhill's eldest child was not a suicide. Though the post-mortem had been performed last year, the case had only just hit the broadsheets with the scandalous trial of the young man's business partner. The older ladies who clustered around the distinguished widower were willing to overlook the small splash of red wine on his neckcloth, and the slightly glazed look in his brown eyes.

 

"It was a simple matter, madames. Happy to be of service to Lady Haverhill, tremen- tremendously honored to be invited tonight. The constables did a superlative job, tracking down the dastardly fellow." Dr. Hooper shifted in his seat, and affectionately patted the knee of the young woman sitting next to him. "Couldn't have done it without my Molly. She's the best assistant a father could ask for."

 

The matrons' razor sharp eyes fell now on the quiet, brown-haired young woman whom they'd ignored the entire evening.

 

Molly Hooper winced. She cared nothing for society, but she had complied with her father's wishes and worn her best dancing gown for the party, the gauzy white muslin dress that made her look like a porcelain doll.

That her best dress was two years' out of date did not escape the assessing gazes of the ton.

 

Molly defensively smoothed her hand over the dress. It may not be new but it was still lovely, and it had been altered to meet the current style, the very high waist resting just below her breasts.

 

They claim to hate Napoleon but they cannot get enough of these French fashions. And the necklines have gotten so low, Molly thought, trying not to glance down at the rounded pale tops of her breasts. She considered herself a practical rather than modest woman. She rather liked the way her bosom looked, but she couldn't tuck a nub of pencil or a handkerchief in a dress cut so low.

 

Growing aware of the cool stares of the ladies, Molly smiled at her father.

 

"You are too kind, Papa. If my small chores help you in your work in any way, I am grateful." The trace of bitterness in her tone went unnoticed by her audience, who were already zeroing back in on her father.

 

Matthias Hooper might be getting on in years, and was wholly unsuitable as a husband for a noblewoman, but that never stopped certain widows from pursuing a fling with the handsome older man. The drink had softened his features a bit, but he was still warm and charming.

 

"Papa, madams, I believe I need to step outside for a moment. Forgive me…The warmth of the salon," Molly trailed off as she hurried away from them.

 

Are these things ever not tedious? Molly wondered as she worked her way through the elegantly dressed crowd. Papa insisted she come in case he needed her support in certain matters, but she always wound up bored and uncomfortable while he grew progressively drunker. He would end up in a gaming salon with the other gentlemen, losing any money that she hadn't hidden from him.

 

Molly had become very good at disappearing into the background at society events. There were always gardens full of lovers at summer parties held outside of London, such as this one.

 

She was headed now toward the portico. She would find a bench there, and watch inebriated couples search for a private place among the gardens and statues to kiss and…do other things that Molly had read about.

 

She'd read rather a lot about it, actually. A helpful bookseller had acquired a number of banned books about bodies for her collection. Some of them were rare anatomy texts and some of them were more…recreational in nature.

 

A rare book of erotic woodblock prints had been especially intriguing.

 

As she wrapped her arms around herself in the cool air, Molly thought about this frantic act, this copulation and wondered why it was so easy for these couples to reach out to someone and so impossible for her. The books didn't explain that very well. They were full of mysterious euphemisms. It seemed much simpler to the pair of lovers whispering against the shed wall, the man's hand moving rhythmically beneath the woman's lifted skirt.

 

Molly often woke up feeling hungry for touch and needing to be…fuller somehow. She would have dreams of lurid touching, kissing, and writhing and the desire to feel someone pressing down on her heavily. She'd wake up sweating and moaning, with the heel of her palm pressed between her legs and the hunger still unfulfilled.

 

Molly wasn't a fool, she understood how pregnancy occurred. She knew that there must be pleasure in the act, despite what some women and priests said. She wasn't sure she wanted a husband, but Molly knew that she wanted a lover.

 

Her father had been determined to keep her at home and off the marriage market and he'd succeeded. Now she was considered on the shelf, too old and awkward and unable to make friendly conversation as a pleasant woman should. There were shadows under her soft brown eyes, and she rarely bothered to do anything with her hair other than pinning it up simply, sometimes with a ribbon. Curls were an elaborate effort she rarely found worth the time.

 

That didn't matter to Molly. Her father needed her, and their work was rewarding. In a city like London, there was never a lack of bodies. Through quiet persistence, she had created an unthrilling but satisfying life. She wished there were more freedom to travel and to learn, but she realized how lucky she was every day when the bodies of battered women from the slums rolled by her in the morgues.

 

The only thing missing from Molly Hooper's life was someone to help her explore the yearning in her belly. The want rose in her belly, and lower now as she watched long, thorough kisses exchanged against trees. She crossed her ankles and flexed her toes, pressing her thighs together. The stone bench was cool under her bottom, but her chest and face felt flushed.

 

I feel so strange this evening, she thought. I should go inside. But I don't want to.


Instead she waited and watched the lovers.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Matthias Hooper was enjoying the flirty attentions of two attractive widowed sisters, when their widening eyes were suddenly pulled toward the left entryway.

 

What the devil is happening? Matthias wondered as he twisted around.

 

Ah. Well, I can't compete with a young buck, can I, he thought ruefully and resumed sipping the potent wine punch as the widowed sisters drifted off toward the door. I don't even know how the young blokes get into their tight trousers these days. Or get out of them.


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock Holmes entered the grand room and immediately located Hooper in the crush of people. The two women he was speaking with (sisters, widows- one abuses whiskey, the other abuses her maid) looked up at Sherlock himself, and Hooper followed suit.

 

Sherlock looked away quickly and crossed the room to engage an elderly stranger in conversation as though they were old acquaintances. The awkward chatter pained him after thirty seconds, and so Sherlock walked away while the elderly man was still speaking.

 

He'd forgotten how bloody uncomfortable society clothes could be. He hadn't worn a cravat in at least a year. He wore knee britches often on the ship simply because they were cooler and the more unfettered by clothing Sherlock was, the better he felt. Catching a glimpse of himself in an ornate gilt-framed mirror as he crossed the floor again, he knew he cut a dashing figure in the party clothes he'd purchased last minute.

 

Tucked into polished knee-high black boots, the smooth tan trousers were so tight, he'd already noted several ladies (and a few gentlemen) taking note of his groin. He wore an ivory-colored shirt under the slim-fitting blue coat, the front of the jacket ending at his waist, the back of it falling almost to his knees. A short double row of gold buttons led up to his cravat, tied in the Mathematical fashion. His dark curls weren't managed but running wild, drifting over his brow and sideburns.

He didn't bother with a hat. It was too much trouble to keep track of one in the middle of a kidnapping.

 

His eyes found Matthias Hooper again, skimming over the physician briefly. Sherlock frowned. He stopped dead in the middle of the room, ignoring those who bumped into him.

 

He gave Hooper's appearance more thought, compared it to the facts he'd acquired about Dr. M. Hooper through research, and came to an inevitable conclusion. Sherlock's furrowed brow cleared and he half-smiled to himself.

 

"Oh. Right."

 

When he eliminated the impossible, all that remained was her.


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Molly watched the lovers come and go from the gardens and wondered if Papa had made his way into the gambling rooms yet. Perhaps I ought to go and check…but I don't feel ready yet.


The wind stirred loose tendrils of hair, tickling Molly's neck. She shivered, feeling gooseflesh rise all over her body.

 

A drunken man stumbled onto the portico, laughing back toward the entryway as though expecting a companion to follow him. He looked around blinking for a moment and then shrugged, staggering over to the bench where Molly sat. For a man undoubtedly soaked with wine, he smelled like soap and and lemons and fresh mint.

 

He sat down beside her and smiled charmingly, his wicked blue eyes gleaming in the dark. They were so strange, almost almond-shaped. She'd never seen anything like them. Just beneath them were impossibly high cheekbones.

 

She was so startled by his face that it took her almost too long to register that his hand had come to rest on her wrist. She felt his fingers curl around, and begin to tighten.

 

She'd been in situations like this countless times at these awful parties.

 

Molly stood up and gave him her haughtiest stare copied from the ton socialites.

 

"You are not welcome to me, sir," she announced before marching down the stairs into the grass.

 

She looked behind her several times to reassure herself he was not following.

 

If these men are the upper crust, why do they behave more rudely than any butcher or urchin? I want to believe that all people can be good, but they're just so rotten here! I just want to be at home in my chair with my books.


Molly walked quickly around the wall, intending to reenter the grand room of the party from the other portico entrance. She clenched her fists, nervous in the dark, and lifted the edge of her delicate dress out of the grass. She looked back again, certain he was not behind her, and picked up her pace.

 

She realized her mistake when her face and chest collided with a warm hard body much taller than her.

 

As she looked up, an arm locked around her like a band of steel. A narrow piece of fabric slipped over her head, and it wasn't until it settled against her mouth that she realized she was being gagged firmly. Then the man bent and scooped Molly up.

 

Shock falling away, Molly panicked and her adrenaline kicked in. She thrashed in the man's arms but he held her as he hurried her across the darkened back lawn. Here, outside of London, it was pitch black as soon as the sun went down.

 

A carriage materialized in front of them out of the darkness. The door swung open and she was shoved onto the floor. The man hopped in after her.

 

A lantern flared, and at last Molly could see the two men inside the carriage with her. The horses began to move.

 

The light illuminated the shocked face of a thirtysomething man with ash blond hair. His eyes sought out the other man.

 

"What the hell is this? You've got the wrong person, you arse! This poor girl! Miss, I am so sor-"

 

"I've got the right person," a deep voice emanated from the man who'd taken her. He turned his face toward the lamp, and Molly saw that it was him. He of the beautiful eyes and drunken demeanor. Only now his eyes were glacially cool and clear as they peered into hers.

 

How on earth did he get ahead of me? She wondered.

 

"Don't panic- they call you Molly, yes? We're not going to hurt you. But we do need your assistance urgently. I'm afraid our circumstances wouldn't allow for a time-consuming and legal negotiation process." He reached out and untied the gag from around her head. He rubbed her cheeks with his thumbs briskly, his fingers brushing softly over her parted lips.

 

Molly was utterly confused. What kind of kidnapping was this?


"There've been two deaths on my ship. I haven't been able to solve the mystery- yet. I need more information. I need an autopsy specialist's assistance at once."

 

Hope bloomed in Molly's chest. "Oh but that's my father, not me! Look, bring me back and I will get him, I promise-"

 

"I've seen your father, Molly," the dark-haired man said. "And he is not the person we need."

 

He took the lantern from his blond friend and lifted it so Molly could see his face. His eyes shone pale blue in the close light.

 

"You're the best at what you do. I need you, the celebrated Dr. M. Hooper."

Chapter Text

The deck of the shipslanted gently side to side in the rocking waters of the Thames, as Molly was led onto the ship in the quiet black of night. It was the smaller sort of schooner that Molly had seen often used by merchants.

 

A warm hand pressed into the small of her back, guiding her across the boards safely. She was very much aware of the imposing man at her side, though he hadn't spoken since they'd exited the carriage after the long ride into town. His face was cast in shadows, and Molly kept finding herself looking back up at his icy profile without realizing it. Her stomach clenched and she shook herself again, wondering if this bizarre adventure was some sort of fever dream.

 

"Mind your step, doctor. There are eight small, narrow stairs in front of you."

 

Molly carefully moved forward, her hands pressed against the boards as she descended. Apprehension came over her. What would she find inside- a group of men waiting to do terrible things to her, or would she find nothing but a puzzling corpse, as the two men had promised in the carriage? Well, the one with shaggy blond hair and an earnest face had promised. The lean, dangerous-looking one had merely nodded and looked bored with the conversation. She'd had no choice but to trust them, and hope.

 

Encountering a fabric barrier, Molly bit her lip and looked up at the dark-haired man fearfully.

 

One pale hand drew the blanket aside, and she again felt the warmth of his long fingers on her back. The hour had very late, and the sultry summer night had grown colder. The thin muslin dress provided no protection from the elements and there was almost nothing between the heat of his hand and her body. She shivered.

 

"Everything you need is here, Dr. Hooper," he spoke softly as he pressed her forward.

 

"Oh- you don't have to call me that. I'm not a physician, not truly. I haven't been to university or certified," Molly said as she ducked her head through the short doorway of the cabin.

 

The blond man hurried down the narrow stairwell after them, holding the lantern and illuminating the center of the room. The electric eyes of the tall dark-haired man bore into hers as they entered the room.

 

"What others say you are is irrelevant. You would do well to remember that." The dark-haired man took the lantern from his fair-haired companion, and raised it toward a corner.

 

A still body lay on a cot, covered by a rough blanket. Molly rushed forward and pulled it off the form, dropping the covering on the floor.

 

"Oh thank the Lord!" Molly shouted in relief and her racing pulse finally began to slow.

 

The two men looked at each other with raised eyebrows. The tall one with the elegant hands looked back at Molly, and one side of his mouth curled up.

 

"That…isn't usually how ladies respond to dead bodies. But under the circumstances…very reasonable. Well then. Let's get on with cutting the body, shall we?"

 

"Wait. Pardon me, sir…but I have a few questions. I can't just…I need to know what I'm looking for."

 

"If we knew what the cause was, we wouldn't need your expertise," he replied sardonically.

 

"Clearly. But…you're in a hurry, and I need to know where I should start. Did he have symptoms before he died or was it sudden?" Molly felt more secure as she fell naturally into her "doctor's assistant" role.

 

The dark-haired man sighed in annoyance. He unbuttoned his coat, tossed it onto the bare table, and began tugging at his cravat.

 

"Brunton was always whining about bellyaches, since he signed on last year, but we paid him no mind. He was an appalling boatswain. The first dead man, Welling, wasn't much better as a rigger. I think they had a wager between the two of them, who could complain the most about the cook's mess making them ill. Both of them, in the last month had become useless, in the head every ten minutes." He frowned as he thought, pulling off the neckcloth and throwing it on top of the blue coat.

 

Molly found herself extremely interested in the anatomy of his exposed throat. Though she'd stripped countless corpses, she'd never watched a living man undress himself. She bit her lip and her eyes widened.

 

The dark-haired man looked into her eyes, and Molly grew pink. A muscle in his cheek flexed, and a ghost of a smile passed through his eyes.

 

"Brunton said his head hurt," the blond man offered. "And then he started to say his hands were burning, like an itch inside he couldn't scratch. Welling didn't mention anything like that, but one morning he started having convulsions. We held him down so's he wouldn't get hurt worse, but he died before nightfall." Genuine sorrow crossed the fair man's lined face. "I couldn't help him. We buried Welling at sea last week."

 

"Yes, yes, very tragic," the other man said impatiently, rolling his eyes. "We were making for London anyway at that point, and Brunton was going to leave the crew. But then he couldn't stand up anymore. He was laying there on the cot raving about monsters with great tentacles rising out of the sea to eat him for days when he began having seizures like Welling. The other crewmen are not ill, John has examined them all."

 

"I did what I could," the blond man said, looking slightly ashamed.

 

Molly nodded, feeling a stab of sympathy for the downtrodden-looking man. A ship's surgeon like this John could hardly be expected to handle a possible epidemic of unusual origin. Most men in his position didn't even have formal training; real physicians would never stoop to work on a small civilian ship such as this.

 

"I have a few ideas, gentlemen," Molly said meekly. "I would like to begin, if that's acceptable to you?" Her hands fidgeted and fluttered around the neckline of her dress.

 

The tall man tapped his cheek as he observed her, his eyes drawn to her fingers where they touched her skin. He nodded.

 

Molly's bag of medical instruments sat on the floor by the cot. She lifted the hem of her gown, knelt down and looked up at John in puzzlement. Understanding her confusion, he laughed, warmth lighting his blue eyes.

 

"We picked up some of your belongings from your house on the way to the party. Your books are in the captain's quarters. I didn't know which ones you might need, so I just grabbed the lot and tossed it in a sack," he said, still smiling as she looked up in alarm.

 

"All my books?" Her brown eyes were huge.

 

He shrugged. "There were only a dozen or so. If you need any help, that's what I'm here for. By the way, I'm John W-"

 

"John is sufficient, don't you think?" The other man said in a pointed fashion. "And you may call me Captain. Those are enough names for this enterprise. Do you have all the tools you need in this bag or will you need anything else? We need to leave by dawn. Do your job quickly, and you won't be coming with us, Dr. Hooper."

 

Molly's heart hammered in her chest, as she knelt to open and explore her bag. The necessary equipment was there.

 

"This should be fine. You…you promise? Truly? That you'll bring me home when I finish? Papa must be missing me already, it's been hours."

 

"We will bring you home once the mystery is solved," the tall man said firmly. "Until then, I'm keeping you."

 

Molly gulped.

 

"And given your father's habitual imbibing of spirits and his constant need for female attention, your father is very likely still in the bed of the two widows I saw him with last intoxicated. Your father is a drunkard. With a very noticeable tremor in his dominant hand, I might add. How is it that no one has been suspicious about a supposedly genius post-mortem man performing surgical cuts with poor hands?"

 

Molly donned her apron and leather gloves from the bag, extracted her favorite knives, and began cutting open the clothing of the deceased man before explaining. The ritual soothed her in the unfamiliar situation.

 

"No one knows what proper procedure is for an autopsy examination, them being so rare, or what assistants are supposed to do. We do most of the work behind closed doors. That helps. And his shakes aren't so bad yet. You must have very sharp eyes, Captain." Molly's voice grew absent as she studied the dead man's body.

 

You are brilliant at this, you know you are, she told herself. I don't know why I believe they'll bring me home, but I think I do, so forget where you are, and get it done, Molly.


She took a deep breath, and raised the knife.

 

"Bring the light closer. Hold it above his midsection."

 

The Captain quirked his left eyebrow up at the command issued from the young woman.

 

"Aye aye, doctor," the dark-haired man murmured as he stepped closer and raised the lantern.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


She worked efficiently, the setting falling away as she focused her entire being on the corpse in front of her. Age, sex, station- none of it mattered when one was reduced to a stripped cold body. Molly found that creating incisions and pushing through tough tissues while on a ship was no different than examining bodies in hospitals, other than the light. If anything, it smelled better here than at a hospital, with fresh air blowing into the room. The Thames always smelled strong, but anything was better than the stifling stench of the basement morgues of London.

 

Molly explored the stomach and intestines, paying particular attention to the duodenum. She found almost right away what she was looking for in that area. She moved through the torso carefully, with neat incisions. The Captain stood rigidly over her with the lantern, not speaking.

 

She had expected him to pull back when the cutting began. Even the bravest men grew queasy when they saw guts spilled open. This man, though, tilted his head to get a better view as Molly worked her way toward the heart. She turned her head toward his, and as their eyes met, for some reason Molly could not name, she smiled.

 

Showing no expression, his blue eyes held hers for a few seconds and then his deep voice broke the silence. "You're good, very good. Far more expedient and knowledgeable than other post-mortems I've observed."

 

"You've…seen a lot of these?" Molly's eyebrows rose.

 

"Yes," he responded without further explanation, still looking into her eyes.

 

"Oh." Molly realized she'd forgotten all about the bloody knife in her hand for a moment. How ridiculous, she chided herself. The night airs are getting to me.


The strange tension was disrupted by footsteps pounding down the stairs.

 

A dirty young face popped through the makeshift curtain, and a skinny arm followed, thrusting out a piece of paper.

 

The Captain's head whipped toward the entryway. He took the note from the boy's hand without unfolding it.

 

"What is- oh, I see. How unfortunate. Thank you, Basil. And do tell Chase in the galley that if he strikes you again, he'll be swimming back to Bristol."


"Ha! Told him you'd know!" said the boy, who couldn't have been more than ten years old. He smiled and waved at Molly, and ran back up the stairs.

 

"John, I need to be above." The Captain handed the lantern back to the other man and exited to the deck above, the unread note in his pale hands.

 

"How did he know, sir? He didn't even read the note," Molly said, puzzled. She turned back to the body, and began probing an inflamed-looking section of tissue in the abdominal wall.

 

"It's just something he does. He didn't read the note, he read the boy. The same way he read your father and probably you, and everyone else. Pay him no mind." John hunkered down on the floor and ran a hand through his hair. He had to be growing weary after this long night.

 

"Um… John? Did either of the deceased men have trouble seeing at night?"

 

His brow wrinkled for a minute. "I don't think so. They both had shifts after dark, never heard any complaints about their work from them or others. Does that mean something?"

 

"It was just a thought. Trying to eliminate possibilities." Molly felt pressure building behind her eyes. The night was wearing on her as well. A thought occurred to her.

 

"I don't know how to say this, exactly. Why are you…why do you speak to him like that? I mean…not…like a captain."

 

John grinned and leaned his head against the wall. "Because he wants me to. It took me a month to stop calling him "sir" in private. Goes against everything I was taught."

 

"Taught?" Molly switched knives and began to examine the inferior vena cava as John spoke.

 

"In the Royal Navy. I was a medical officer for five years before I signed on with the Hudson."


Molly's mouth dropped open. "Why would you go from there to here? I mean, sorry, not that this isn't lovely. I just…I mean, a merchant ship like this, it can't…pay…what a medical position in the navy does."

 

"It's a long story, miss." John's eyes closed and he crossed his arms over his brown waistcoat. Molly noted the stiffness in his left arm as he shifted uncomfortably.

 

Molly waited for him to speak again, but the ship's surgeon remained quiet and closed off. She shrugged and turned back to the body.

 

"I think I'm almost done here, actually. The symptoms are indicative of a few types of accidental poisoning. I suspect fungal. If we take a look at your supplies we should be able to identify-"

 

A sudden flurry of footsteps exploded above. John and Molly looked up, startled. This wasn't the approach of a few sailors; it sounded as though three dozen men were running across the decks. Shouting could be heard dimly.

 

John leapt to his feet.

 

"Stay here," he commanded her, and when he gazed at her briefly she saw his warm blue eyes had turned to steel. The surgeon with the mild demeanor had been replaced with a soldier in a flash.

 

Leaving the lantern on the table, he disappeared up the stairs, and Molly stripped off her soiled gloves. She had a bucket and a cleaning process at home she used for her hospital and private post-mortem, but they hadn't brought those supplies here. She frowned and dropped the gloves onto the floor by the cot.

 

The noise above grew louder, with the sounds of hatches opening and closing rapidly.

 

Molly walked close to the blanket covering the doorway, debating on whether or not to go above.

 

Did someone see them take me? Has someone summoned the sheriff? Strangely, Molly didn't want that to be the case. Once she'd realized they truly had brought her here for her medical expertise, she felt flattered instead of frightened.

 

Molly giggled. She couldn't react to anything normally, could she- not even a kidnapping. She shook her head. I must be hysterical. But they like my work. The one with the eyes and the cheekbones and the hands, he's the one with a surgeon's hands. He said I was good…very good. They don't seem to think I'm odd at all.


Molly remained stuck in her indecision for another minute until the Captain ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. His shirt had come completely untucked from his snug trousers, and his black curls were in disarray. The cabin boy Basil followed right behind, eyes sparkling with excitement.

 

"Change of plans, Dr. Hooper," the Captain said with a bright smile. "You're done with the process, I see, good, that's superb. Unfortunately, your return is going to be slightly delayed. It seems that the Royal Navy caught wind of our visit to the city, despite the precautions we took in disguising the ship and painting over the name. The ever-annoying Captain Lestrade and Her Majesty's Ship Edinburgh are on their way now to intercept our departure. So sit tight, and try not to stick your head above." He turned back to the stairs and then paused.

 

"There probably won't be any shooting. Well, perhaps." He shrugged. "Stay down here with the boy. Basil, tell her about my ship. She may as well learn a bit while we're making our way down the Thames to the North Sea."

 

"The North Sea?" Molly shouted in alarm.

 

"Correct. East of here. You've probably heard of it. Do cover the body. Basil looks as though he might vomit."

 

It was true. The young boy had turned greenish when he spotted the sliced up corpse. Molly scolded herself for her thoughtlessness and threw the blanket over the body.

 

"What do we do?" she said in a panic.

 

"Same as most people do. Nothing. Sit. The Edinburgh is a large slow cow of a ship, we'll be fine. Nothing can match the speed of the Hudson." As he finished speaking, Molly felt the schooner lurch out of its gentle rocking and into steady movement.

 

Molly was completely lost. There was no way out now. She stared open-mouthed at the Captain, who appeared to be enjoying this madness.

 

"Oh come on now, Molly, the fun's just starting." And he winked, his blue eyes shining with energy. He actually winked at her, like some crass…well, some sailor.

 

"But…You want me to stay on this ship and run from the Royal Navy with you, and I don't even know your name!"

 

"Oh, is that the problem?" he asked as he crossed the small room and rummaged through a crate on the floor. "Easy enough to fix." He pulled two pistols out of the crate and began loading them expertly.

 

"The name's Sherlock Holmes, and you are aboard the good ship Hudson, declared pirate by His Royal Madness George III in the year of our Lord 1806. And it has been a busy fourteen months since then." The guns loaded, he turned to Molly and bowed smartly at the waist. "Pleasure to meet you, Molly Hooper. Behave yourself, and there won't be any need for shackles. Eh, Basil?"

 

He smirked at the boy, who nodded enthusiastically in agreement. "It's true, miss. Never any shackles 'round here, 'cept for when Mister Anderson puts off the Cap'n with his face."

 

"Smart lad. My sailing master Anderson doesn't have half his brains. You'll meet him tomorrow, unless Lestrade and the Navy do me a favor and shoot him tonight. Sit tight." And with that, Captain Sherlock Holmes ran up the stairs to see to his men as they made their escape from London port, and Captain Lestrade of the Royal Navy.

 

Molly stood still as a statue for a minute, reality setting in. Every logical corner of her mind told her she ought to scream and try to get off the ship, but the deeper, hungrier part of her self that liked to observe secret lovers in gardens knew she wouldn't go anywhere. Something in her life was finally happening.

 

Chapter Text

"What sort of name is Sherlock? It's as though he's a cross between a sheriff and hemlock." Molly found herself chattering without aim as she usually did when trapped in an awkward moment.

 

The cabin boy Basil shrugged and plopped down on the floor, as far away from the corpse-occupied cot as he could manage.

 

"Ain't that some kind of poison, that?"

 

"Hemlock, yes, though it has medicinal properties as well. The Greeks used to treat inflammation of the joints and muscle spasms with it. Of course they killed their patients half the time with overdosing… but still," Molly continued cheerily, "It worked wonders if you survived the treatment!"

 

"That sounds like the Cap'n alright," Basil said as he adjusted the grimy cap on his head. They both jumped as the sudden sound of a gunshot cracked on the decks above.

 

Molly and the boy held their breaths for a moment, and then relaxed as no shouts of pain or additional gunfire were heard.

 

"Prob'ly just one of the swabby lads, miss, showin' off a bit. Hudson's outrun every ship the bloody navy's got," Basil declared with pride.

 

Molly frowned at the boy's use of curse words in front of a lady, but bit her lip and refrained from scolding him. No doubt the other sailors used the same language. She had best get used to it if she was remaining aboard for a few days. Molly's stomach flipped as she considered what this adventure would cost her and her father's hard-won professional reputation if word got out.

 

She pushed practical considerations from her mind, and strained to hear anything from above.

 

Running footsteps could be heard as the ship moved smoothly down the river Thames, but the frenzy had calmed as minutes passed.

 

"At a good clip now, ma'am; we're off. No problems at all," the boy said with a grin that exposed teeth needing a fierce cleaning.

 

Molly removed her bloody apron and dropped it on the floor besides her discarded gloves. She had no idea how she'd clean them here. They may have to be burned, she realized. The stink from the dead man's opened bowels had already begun soaking into the fabric.

 

Basil was doing his best to not make awful faces at the growing stench in the room. He gave up on his valiant attempt after fifteen minutes and resorted to pressing his cap over his nose and mouth.

 

"Brunton never smelt good when he was livin'. Honestly this ain't much worse."

 

Molly laughed. If there was anything she appreciated in a person, it was a morbid sense of humor. The Captain was right, Basil was a smart lad. If only he had a chance to be something other than this, Molly thought wistfully.

 

"Do…Are your ma and pa- do they know you're on a pirate ship?"

 

"They're dead, long time now. Don't remember them at all," Basil explained bluntly.

 

"Oh. I'm so sorry. I didn't- I shouldn't have said anything." Molly's face burned. She always said the wrong thing, even with children.

 

"Never fear, miss. Like I said, I don't remember 'em. Was livin' roundabouts Baker Street, in an alley when I met the Cap'n. Only he weren't a captain then, just some odd fellow. Used to give me coins to tell him what people were on about." He gagged from the smell of Brunton's body again, and pressed his cap back over his mouth.

 

"That does sound odd. Why would he do that?"

 

The boy tilted his head and squinted. "What you so curious about him for? Not a navy spy are you?"

 

Molly was taken aback. "Oh, I- I mean, I'm not. I just, I mean. I was just curious. I apologise, Basil."

 

He looked mollified by her formal manners. "They try all sorts of tricks, that lot. Wouldn't put it past them to use a pretty lady to get the Cap'n. But he ain't like that, he ain't a fool for a skirt, you understand?"

 

"Yes, of course," Molly said, face burning again. She didn't know if she wanted to scold him or ruffle his rough brown hair.

 

"Basil, may I ask," she began, hoping politeness would charm him again, "When will we be returning to London?"

 

He shrugged and started picking dirt out of his fingernails. "Dunno. We're off to Scilly for a bit. After that, only he knows."

 

"Scilly? Do you mean the Isles of Scilly?

 

"Them the ones near Cornwall?"

 

"Yes." She winced as he dug into his cuticles for more grit.

 

"That's 'em. Do a bit of trading with the locals, and get samples."

 

Molly's puzzlement showed on her face. "Samples? Samples of what?"

 

"Some bugs. Flowers mostly, this time."

 

"Are those some kind of…pirate code words? Is it gold?"

 

It was Basil's turn to look confused.

 

"No, mum. It's flowers."


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


After an hour, Molly gave up pacing and waiting, and sat down beside Basil on the floor. She leaned her head against the wall, and was startled to find herself being woken up by the boy several hours later. When he hopped up and drew back the blanket, bright sunlight poured through the entryway.

 

"Didn't you hear the bells? You'll learn 'em soon enough. Come on up, miss, it's all clear!"

 

Her stomach rumbled with hunger in response. Molly shook the stiffness from her arms and legs and stood cautiously. She readjusted her balance for the slight rock of the ship as she climbed up the narrow stairwell and stepped onto the deck of the Hudson.

 

The coastline had vanished while she slept. They must be somewhere in the North Sea now, though they couldn't be too far out yet.

 

When she was hustled onto the ship the night before, she hadn't been able to see a thing. In the light of the day, Molly saw two tall masts and sails billowing as the Hudson moved along the water at a comfortable pace.

 

Strong breezes whipped Molly's hair around her head. The pins had come undone as she worked and slept last night, and fell now in uneven waves around her face and shoulders. Molly brushed strands away from her mouth as she looked around with trepidation.

 

The decks were spotless, and every sailor she saw was busy, tying off ropes or mopping. The men glanced up as her presence became noticed, but no one approached her.

 

Basil grabbed Molly's hand and pulled her forward. "Come on now, won't be any bread left if we don't hurry."

 

She walked hesitantly, searching the ship for a familiar face. Eventually on the left, in the open space around the first mast, Molly spotted John sitting on a bench with a saw and what looked like remnants of a shattered chair.

 

"Dr. Hooper! Good morning," the genial blond man called as Basil led her through the sailors to join the ship's surgeon.

 

The cabin boy dragged a bench over, and gestured for Molly to sit.

 

"Thank you, Basil. You've been very good company." Molly beamed at the boy who in turn bowed deeply at the waist, and straightened back up with a dramatic flourish and a smile. He scampered off down the deck toward the entryway where the smell of bread was emanating from.

 

John laughed as he picked up a broken piece of wood and examined it. "He must have learned that from the Captain. Sherlock's quite the actor when he has a desire to be. If he ever gets tired of sailing, he ought to set up a theater in Drury Lane."

 

Molly giggled. "And what do you know of Drury Lane?"

 

John picked up an awl and bore holes into the long slat. "I know a few things. Spent a year in London, between Norfolk and the navy, and shore visits." A trace of smile showed on his lips as he looked down and blew wood dust out of the fresh holes. "A friend of mine, they liked the theatricals. We used to spend time there…anyway, I haven't been in a couple years. But the Captain would be right at home on the boards."

 

"I shall keep that suggestion in mind if our old friend Captain Lestrade ends my current endeavors."

 

Goosebumps rose on the back of Molly's neck as the deep voice carried over her shoulder. She swung around to find herself facing a bare throat, and a lean chest still clad in the dress shirt he wore the previous evening. The fabric gaped open in the upper quarter, where he'd yanked the cravat out.

 

Molly stared at the fine dark hairs that peeked out, and tried to close her mouth. She failed miserably.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

Sherlock Holmes's eyes took in Molly's mouth, her pink lips parted and her breathing a hair faster than usual. Unconsciously, she stood taller and tilted her shoulders toward his. Her white dress was wrinkled and spotted with blood around the hem but she showed no awareness of the fact. There was a three-centimeters-long tear in the hem near the tip of her right slipper. The pupils in her brown eyes were dilated as her gaze rose to meet his. He noted these details and filed them away into a cabin in his mind to be examined later, without distraction. Something about her confused his focus.

 

"Come. It's time for you to meet the crew. The notable members, anyway. Don't bother with the common sailors, they're idiots."

 

One of the pirates standing at the starboard railing grumbled to the man next to him.

 

"Oh, don't whinge, you know it's true," Sherlock barked. "Go aft, I'm tired of looking at your dull faces. NO- wait. Line up the men. Now, or I'll tell Tenner what you've done with his best pair of socks."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Kirwan. He's bosun since Brunton fell ill." A balding man with deep frown lines and a sizable pot belly nodded at Molly.

 

"Forrester. Downey. McAffee. Latimer. Melas. Riggers when they aren't drunk and stealing from one another." The five men laughed. Melas, a small Greek fellow, doffed his hat and smiled at Molly, charming despite the two missing front teeth. The men were surprisingly tidy and not dressed in rags, contrary to everything she'd ever read or heard about pirates.

 

"You already know Basil, my cabin boy, and he assists John Watson in the surgery as well." Basil gave Molly a big wink, similar to the Captain's from the night before. Sherlock's lips twisted in such a way that she could've sworn he was hiding a grin.

 

"He also helps out our cook of indifferent quality, Mister Chase." Molly thought he was making a joke of sorts, until he saw the pasty-faced, greasy-haired cook's eyes narrow as he crossed his arms.

 

"Oh," Molly said as a thought occurred to her. "Actually that's perfect, I need to see the food stor-"

 

"And this is Donovan. Master gunner."

 

Donovan was a slender young man with pale brown skin and close-cropped curly hair and a streak of dirt across his jawline. As Molly studied his features, the master gunner lifted his chin in defiance and turned his face away.

 

"You shouldn't need anything from Donovan. He's unpleasant but he's mostly competent. Which is more than I can say for my sailing master. Good morning, Anderson."

 

"Pleasant day, Captain Holmes," responded the sour, rat-faced man called Anderson. A scraggly beard did little to hide his weak chin. He held up a scrap of paper, and explained, "I've made the calculations."

 

Sherlock skimmed the paper and rolled his eyes. "And as usual, they're wrong. Close isn't good enough if you navigate the Hudson into a bloody cliff instead of the harbor."

 

"Now just a minute," the sailing master responded hotly. "I checked the numbers and the charts, they are sound-"

 

"Please cease uttering incorrect information out loud, Anderson. You're reducing the working capacity of this entire crew."

 

Anderson stood mouth agape as his sallow face turned purplish.

 

John Watson covered his mouth and turned a laugh into a cough unconvincingly.

 

There was an uncomfortable titter through the crowd of nameless sailors who crowded around the central crew.

 

Sherlock stepped forward and put his hands on his hips. Molly noticed he was wearing the same trousers from last night as well. Without the long jacket covered the outfit, she realized now snug everything was, the way the soft fabric clung to his-

 

"Doctor Hooper," he boomed, his voice startling her from her distracted reverie, "Is going to be spending a few weeks aboard the Hudson as my guest. If she is touched or molested in any way, the man responsible will be flogged and castrated before he is thrown overboard. You would not get away with any such action- I would see, you all know that by now. Treat her as you would your own mother. Only better. Is that clear?" The line-up nodded.

 

"I said, IS. THAT. CLEAR." Sherlock's voice rose to address all the men in entire crew, and every sailor was forced to look their captain in the eyes before his icy gaze moved onto the next man.

 

A few weeks? Molly wondered as she shifted her feet to regain her balance on the moving ship. Hmm. I guess that's why they call them sea legs. Will I be here long enough to develop them? And will he let me write my father at least? Surely that wouldn't endanger the ship. I don't think I'm a prisoner.


Her father was unreliable and selfish but he did care for her, she believed. Once upon a time when Mama and Anne were alive we were a real family. She needed to get word to him somehow.

 

Captain Holmes dismissed the crew and they dispersed back to their usual areas.

 

"Basil, bring Molly to my quarters." He rubbed his hands together. "It's time we heard a diagnosis, yes? John, you too."

 

Molly followed the cabin boy back toward the living areas of the ship, climbing down another tiny stairwell, through a narrow doorway, and winding their way through the Hudson.

 

She wondered if Sherlock would accept her diagnosis, or if he would challenge it as Papa always did when he didn't come up with the idea first.

 

Molly also wondered idly, how a man as incredibly observant and clever as Sherlock Holmes could not be aware that his master gunner was a woman.

 

No matter the skin color, the anatomy of the throat was the same. The contours of Donovan's throat were smooth and entirely without the visible thyroid cartilage that formed an Adam's apple.

 

Once you noticed that, it was easy to see the slim body, the subtle hips with the wider female pelvis, and the jaw hairless beneath the dirt. All could be ignored separately, but put together, Molly was certain that Donovan was more properly a mistress gunner.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Oh, the noontime meal." Sherlock shrugged. "I'm not hungry."

 

Basil dropped the tray laden with plates of chicken, bread and roasted potatoes on the small table with a clatter. John jumped back as a few drops of lumpy brown gravy splattered onto his lap. He hissed as the hot liquid scorched his thighs.

 

The boy looked at him, eyes huge as he backed away from the table quickly.

 

"Sorry- it's fine," John reassured him. "It's all fine, I'm not going to box your ears. Just…be more careful in the future, lad." He forced a smile toward the boy, who nonetheless darted out of the captain's quarters as fast his feet would take him.

 

"He's probably been beaten for doing things a lot less worse than this," Molly said quietly. She cast her eyes down at the plate of warm food and tried not to think about the children who had wound up in London morgues, waiting for her knife. Even more, she didn't want to think about the ones whose bodies never were found, because no one cared enough to look for them.

 

"No one will hurt him here, Dr. Hooper, unless you count Chase giving him a swat on the arse for swiping a handful of sugar again." Sherlock's eyes were bluer than usual in the warm lamplight of the cabin.

 

"Sherlock!" John scolded as he reached for the salt cellar. "The cursing."

 

"You swore in front of her last night in the carriage."

 

"I did not!" The surgeon's cheeks were pink as he glanced at Molly.

 

"'You've got the wrong person, you arse!' How many bells does that ring, John? Molly?"

 

She looked at John to her right, bit her lip, and nodded, a smile tugging one side of her mouth up.

 

He threw his hands in the air, and sat back. "That was a situation, it's not the same…oh goodness." He breathed and addressed Molly. "I am sorry. I shall do my best to remember my manners. Sherlock may not think it matters, but my mum did teach me better than that."

 

She smiled in acceptance of his apology and eyed the chicken leg on the plate in front of her. She wondered if it would be rude if she tore into it with bare hands.

 

Sherlock wrinkled his nose in annoyance and glared at his friend. "She's not a delicate child, John. I warrant she's seen as much butchery as you ever did in the Navy. A few rough words aren't going to break her. Are they, Molly?" His left eyebrow rose with the challenge.

 

She sat up straight and lifted her chin firmly. "No, they will not." She paused. "Dammit." Her eyes glowed and she sucked her lower lip into her mouth.

 

Crinkles appeared around the captain's eyes. He picked up the mug of beer, and then reached for a piece of rough rye bread. Molly suddenly remembered her need to see the food stores.

 

"No!" she shrieked and slapped the bread out of his hand, also knocking over John's cup of beer in the process. The liquid drenched John's plate and his trousers.

 

"Oh bloody hell, not again!" he shouted as he jumped to his feet and then froze. He swiveled toward Molly and spoke precisely. "I am so sorry, Molly."

 

"Why?" Sherlock queried coolly. "She ruined your meal, dumped your drink and struck me."

 

Molly turned scarlet. "Oh, oh, I'm, I apologise, sir, truly. I only meant to-"

 

"To save me from eating tainted bread? I assume that was the purpose. There are any number of grains that have been connected with disease but there's been no outbreak on the ship beyond the two members. With a crew of forty-two, others would've begun sickening by now. We eat all the same food, Dr. Hooper. I hope that wasn't your only theory, or else you have congratulated yourself far too soon."

 

She noticed he made no move to pick up another slice of bread. John stuck his head out the cabin door and shouted for some rags to clean up the pools of beer on the table and floor.

 

"Ulcers," Molly squeaked.

 

"Did you say ulcers?" John asked as he walked back to the table. "Ulcers wouldn't have killed them that way."

 

"Ergot. Ergot and ulcers. That-that's why they got sick and died sooner. Because they had ulcers. Well, um Brunton did and from what you said about the first man complaining about the food making him sick? It sounded like they both had stomach problems long before they got truly ill. So I checked Brunton."

 

A light of understanding flickered in Sherlock's eyes. The sequence of events was beginning to take form in his mind as Molly continued.

 

"Great holes in his duodenum- the first part of the small intestine, you see? He would've had terrible stomach pain for months or maybe years. They would've killed him eventually if he hadn't developed ergotism."

 

Her voice grew more confident and excited with momentum. "The ergot usually gets into the system by ingesting rye or some other grain grown together with rye. A few months ago, a doctor named Stearns in the States published a report discussing the medicinal benefits of ergot sclerotia. But he also discussed how he was able to identify the ergot in a specific part of the plant. The long brown pieces, that we think are simply sunbaked parts of rye grain are in fact large growths of fungus."

 

"A fungus." Sherlock's eyes gleamed.

 

"We took on a fresh load of rye when we were in-" A sharp glance from the Captain cut off John's comment.

 

"Yes, rye. We had some milled for the bread, and the rest stored in the hull for trading. And we've all been eating bread made with it." Sherlock steepled his hands in thought, and Molly could've sworn there was a glimmer of anticipation in his eyes.

 

"I suspected something like ergotism because it causes the gastrointestinal problems early on- the increased visits to the- erm, head, vomiting and other issues. The fungus affects the central nervous system afterward causing nerve pain, which would feel like a deep burning pain or tingling, an itch some describe it. Arsenic has similar effects actually, but the men didn't have any issues with their night vision, according to Mister Watson."

 

"Oh yes, of course!" The surgeon nodded. "I do have a small amount of arsenic set aside for syphilis treatments, but it's such a small amount that I would notice if it went missing."

 

"The simplest answer is usually best. Ergotism causes the hallucinations you described in Brunton, and the convulsions near the end. The condition generally takes a while to develop but whole towns have been driven into madness by outbreaks. I read a journal article a year or so ago that postulated that the madness and convulsions of the "witch" victims in Salem, in America, may have been caused by ergotism. Anyway, I believe the rest of the crew should be fine if we get rid of the tainted grain at once."

 

"If there is any. Aren't we rushing to judgment? We need to check the unmilled rye before tossing the grain and the flour overboard."

 

Without a word, the Captain jumped from his chair and ran from the cabin.

 

"Oh." Molly looked at the ship's surgeon.

 

"I'm supposed to follow. It's understood. And I suppose you too." John offered his arm, and she accepted with a light sigh.

 

"I am dreadfully hungry," she said mournfully. "Do you think he'd mind if I brought that chicken leg with me?"

 

John reached over, plucked the chicken off the table and handed it to her. "Molly, if we only ate when Sherlock Holmes thought it was time to eat, then we would all starve to death."

Chapter Text

John Watson led Molly quickly through the ship, from Sherlock's cabin to the sweltering galley and the small storage area connected to it. As they approached the alcove, a burlap sack half-filled with rye flour flew out and landed on the floor, spraying ivory-colored powder across their shoes. Molly sneezed as the air was suddenly filled with particles.

 

She looked down at the chicken leg in her hand. Rye flour had drifted onto it, soaking up the grease as she stared.

 

Another bag of flour flew out of the alcove, falling with a thump on Chase's foot.

 

A string of profanity issued from the resentful cook.

 

"Oi! What's this? Yer ruining a month's supply of bread! What's the captain on about?" Chase asked John.

 

Before he could reply, Sherlock sat back on his heels and stuck his head out of the storage area, holding a fistful of raw, unmilled grain.

 

"Solving a mystery! It is supremely lucky that you are devoid of the culinary gift, and have not used as much of this supply as scheduled."

 

"What?" Chase frowned and scratched his stomach.

 

Sherlock ignored him, diving back into the piles of bags and boxes in the alcove.

 

John explained. "Chase, we're going to be without fresh bread until we can get a fresh stock of rye, hopefully in Scilly in a few days. It's hardtack for the boys 'til then. At least try to pick the worms out this go-around, yeah?"

 

The cook glared at the surgeon out of the corner of his eye. "This ain't the bloody king's palace. And keep that blasting little thief out; he's been pinching my sugar again. If the captain ain't got sugar for his coffee and tea, it won't be my fault." Chase paused in his rant, and eyeballed Molly's food. "You going to eat that or jus' look at it?"

 

She wordlessly handed him the chicken leg dusted with rye flour. Chase stormed back into the galley proper, eating the chicken and banging a pot on the stove to make his feelings known.

 

John smirked at her.

 

"What?" Molly said defensively. "It's not like one more piece will make him ill." She looked down at the floor, cheeks red.

 

When she looked back up, bright blue eyes were peering at her from the alcove. A half-smile lingered on his lips, and Molly got the feeling that he had seen and heard everything even when he had seemed to be focused on searching the sacks.

 

Sherlock hopped to his feet, hands full of grain. He pulled two long brown pieces from the lot and dropped the rest on the floor.

 

"We're in luck!" he said, eyes gleaming. "Fungus."

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The cramped space of the captain's quarters seemed luxurious compared to the converted closet where Molly now stood, squeezing her shoulders inward.

 

The storage space was only as wide as the unusual cabinet that occupied most of it. The captain hands flew over various doors and trays, picking through the assorted contents for the right tools to examine the ergot fungus.

 

John Watson shifted and sighed. "I don't suppose you'll be needing me any more for this, Sherlock? Downey's got a splinter that needs seeing to."

 

The captain ignored him.

 

"Right. I'll be in the surgery." The ship's surgeon exited with a nod at Molly, leaving her in the dim quiet space with the strange man.

 

She thought it was interesting that he viewed the question of the ergot as 'solving a mystery' when she found everything about him a mystery, a rather enjoyable puzzle for her to pore over. To begin with, why would any ship captain have what appeared to be a large cabinet filled with more scientific equipment than Molly herself possessed?

 

Sherlock pulled a small, narrow blade and a case of some kind out of a drawer. Pulling on a tiny knob, a flat surface withdrew from a wide and narrow slot in the cabinet, creating a makeshift desk. He laid the knife and the case down on it.

 

"Oooh that's clever!" Molly exclaimed. "Never seen one of those before. Make it yourself?"

 

He swung around, his arm brushing hers as he turned to stare down at her with startled eyes. "Yes. Stay out of the way."

 

Molly's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh, I can- I can go. I don't…know where to go actually, but I can, I can go." There wasn't enough room in this tiny area. He was too tall, and burned with too much energy. There was no air and her cheeks were flushed.

 

"No, I want you stay. I'm suffering from a lack of data about the sample. You've read about it. I need to know everything." He flipped open the case, revealing a collection of shining brass pieces which he began to assemble. A long tube with a conical tapering toward the bottom was attached to a clip and a wafer-thin metal disc. He inserted delicate curved circles of glass into the tubing. The contraption was then screwed to a brass arm with a large knob.

 

As the device took shape, Molly realized it was one she'd seen many times, but only rarely been permitted to touch.

 

"Is that…a microscope?" It clearly was, but Molly couldn't fathom why a pirate would require one.

 

Sherlock leaned in to squint through the eyepiece. Without lifting his face, he spoke. "You know precisely what it is. And yes, Dr. Hooper…the Hudson isn't like other pirate ships. Our purpose is…somewhat broader." His right hand worked the knob to test its tightness.

 

"Are you going to get rid of the grain, sir?" Molly asked.

 

"What? Oh that. Yes, John's probably telling Chase to pitch it overboard even now. He's better at that sort of thing. People." He waved a hand dismissively.

 

Sherlock's head rose and he dug through the cabinet drawers once more. Molly noticed an assortment of small glass vials and stray stoppers rolling around inside.

 

He withdrew an empty specimen slide and placed it carefully on the desk. Pulling a thick piece of ergot from his pocket, he sliced the fungus open, his long hands as graceful and precise as Molly's when she began work on a body.

 

He extracted a thin sliver of brown ergot and also set aside one of the spores.

 

"I…can I ask?" Molly said. "If you accept the cause of the deaths, why are you doing this?"

 

"To learn, obviously. Isn't that why you study all your books? Stupid question. Honestly, I expected better."

 

Sherlock slid the prepared specimen onto the little stage of the compound microscope, and adjusted the focusing knob.

 

"About my books…" Molly bit her lip, trying to keep from showing embarrassment. He'd mentioned her books, but not which ones. John said he had grabbed all of them. "May I have them, please?"

 

"Of course, they're yours. Later. I didn't think you'd need them, but John insisted." Sherlock looked into the microscope.

 

"Have you…did you read any of them?" She asked nervously, fidgeting with the muslin of her dress.

 

"The Seats and Causes of Disease Investigated by Anatomy is an excellent tome. Could use updating, but generally accurate." His brow wrinkled as Sherlock moved the slide around on the stage.

 

"Oh yes, that's my favorite! I used to read it when my father was working when I was a child, back when he saw living patients…I think he didn't know what sort of books little girls should be reading. Which worked out well for me," she tittered and then sighed.

 

"Fabrica is ancient, didn't bother with that one."

 

"Oh, but you should!" Molly smiled. Discussing books was one of her deepest pleasures, one that she couldn't usually indulge in. "The importance of Andreas Vesalius's work cannot be understated. The very foundation of modern anatomy. It's a wonderful book."

 

"Mmm yes." His voice was detached. "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure was a bit florid for my taste- rather unrealistic, I thought."

 

Molly froze, and all she could hear was the pounding of her heart. Oh heavens. She'd never felt so exposed in all her life.

 

Sherlock craned his neck around and his sparkling eyes caught her shocked brown ones.

 

"As far as heroines go, Fanny Hill is not a well-drawn one, but her adventures do provide an interesting visual, don't you think?" His left eyebrow rose, and she saw laughter now in his eyes and the cynical turn of his mouth. "The anatomy descriptions are useless. So many euphemisms one hardly knows which part is being inserted where."

 

Molly's face was bright red. "I…why would…that is…Oh!" She pivoted, intending to flee the closet, but felt warm hands descend firmly on her shoulders.

 

"Such a theatrical response to a mention of a normal bodily function and act. Are you a doctor or are you a society mouse? Turn around." The command in his voice couldn't be ignored.

 

Facing the floor, Molly allowed herself to be rotated back around. Sherlock further guided her, switching places with her so that she was now standing in front of the microscope. His hands slid off her shoulders and down her arms as he stepped back.

 

The relief at not having to actually face the infuriating captain allowed Molly to breathe slower, the flush fading from her face gradually.

 

"Look," he ordered.

 

She leaned in to peer through the brass tube. After a moment of confusion, her eyes adjusted to the lens and she saw the cells of the fungus displayed.

 

"Oh," she whispered.

 

"Yes." Satisfaction was apparent in his voice. "That. That is why I asked for the Hudson to be built."

 

She lifted her head slightly and her eyes met his. "I don't understand. Do you mean fungus, or…?"

 

He sighed impatiently. "No. The cells. Finding, and learning. I wanted to search…it doesn't matter. When you deal with George the Third, things often do not go according to plan."

 

"The king? "

 

"No, George the Third the local baker. Of course I mean the king."

 

"I- sorry, but even with the aristocracy that Papa and I have worked for, I don't believe any of them have mentioned meeting the king. I'd heard that he was rather ill again."

 

"He is, and it's destroyed his mind. If my brother has his way, the power will be turned over to the Prince Regent shortly, but until then, we must remain as far from that madman George as possible."

 

"What does he have to do with all this?" Molly gestured toward the cabinet and back to the rest of the ship.

 

Sherlock opened his mouth, and then wrinkled his face in annoyance. "It doesn't matter. What matters are cells. Now, you must tell me everything you recall from the articles about ergot. Don't leave a single word out."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


After a thorough questioning on ergot and other fungi, Molly stumbled onto the deck an hour later. The sun was shining on her face as the wind whipped her hair around, and for a moment, the little doctor looked almost happy.

 

Pleased with the day's discoveries, Sherlock watched her from the top of the stairwell, observing as she cautiously stepped closer to the railing. Her white dress rippled with the breezes, marred with wrinkles and spots of blood. He made a note to himself to find her something else to wear before nightfall. Her slippers were also too delicate, she needed footwear with grip for walking the decks.

 

Molly Hooper wrapped one hand around the rail, keeping both feet planted on the deck as she gazed out at the ocean. The waves crashed against the sides of the ship as the Hudson cruised along, slicing through the North Sea. She giggled as spray from the sea dotted her cheeks. She looked back at the stairs, her dark eyes capturing his as she smiled hesitantly.

 

She took her hand from the rail and turned her body toward him.

 

Sherlock frowned. "Molly-"

 

The Hudson dipped sharply with the waves, and the decks slanted. Off-balance, Molly stumbled and fell backward.

 

The small of her back slammed into the rail and Molly's arms flailed in sudden terror.

 

Sherlock raced from the stairs to the rail, his long legs covering the distance in three seconds.

 

His arm lashed out and wrapped around her waist, dragging her away from the railing. At once, his hands were on her shoulders, shaking her.

 

"You idiot, never EVER stand that close without one hand on the rail. Never turn your back on the sea like that. So stupid! You would have drowned before anyone could have gotten to you in those waves."

 

He stopped shaking her, seeing how frightened she was. He quickly pulled his hands away from her body, digging them into his curls in frustration.

 

Tears filled her eyes and she bit her lip hard, trying to hold back. "I didn't know, I've never been on a ship before. Little boats in the river, but not a-not a real ship. I didn't know!"

 

"Obviously." His voice was cold as ice, and his eyes were instantly calm. The veil of control had dropped over his entire body. "Do try to not get killed while aboard. Save your lapses in common sense for when you're on dry land and not my problem."

 

Molly nodded, shaking as she rubbed her arms.

 

Basil ran up to the pair. "You alright, ma'am? Looked like a spill there."

 

"Yes, I'm perfectly fine, Basil, thank you for asking." Molly put on a cheerful smile for the cabin boy. "Basil, do you think you might help me find something to eat?"

 

He grinned. "I can always find some grub."

 

Sherlock gave a clipped nod. "Feed her, and then find her something else to wear until we can purchase something in the Isles of Scilly. Ask John for assistance if you need to. I'm going below, I don't wish to be disturbed for several hours at least."

 

The cabin boy agreed, eyeballing the small splatters of blood on Molly's dress.

 

"The crew want to know what to do with Brunton, Cap'n."

 

"I'll take some samples from him now, and then dispose of his corpse." He paused for a few seconds in thought. "Return her to my cabin by nightfall. She can't be wandering the decks then, regardless of my warnings to the crew." Sherlock turned and hurried down the stairs, vanishing into the dark ship.

 

Molly resisted the urge to reach out for him as he walked away. She sensed something turbulent inside him that didn't match the calm, detached exterior. She had startled him, maybe even scared him by almost falling off the ship. What sort of pirate is this man, who would concern himself with me at all now? I don't have anything he needs anymore, do I?


Molly didn't really believe that.

 

"C'mon to the galley, miss. I made up a song I can sing ya. It's about Anderson's beard."

 

Molly glanced down at the boy and giggled. "I'm starting to feel sorry for that man. He can't be that terrible, can he?"

 

"Well, he tries," Basil said as he led Molly to the galley.

 

"Basil, what did he mean, exactly, about- after dark?" she asked hesitantly.

 

He looked sideways. "Bad people about, ma'am. Best to be careful. Cap'n's quarters is the only sleeping cabin with a lock on the door. You'll be safe there." He smiled and reached into a sack next to the stove.

 

"OI!" the cook bellowed. "I said, NO. SUGAR!"

 

Basil quickly crammed the fistful of white stuff in his mouth and groaned blissfully. Molly wrinkled her nose and laughed.

 

The cabin boy crunched on the grains and wiped a few stray bits of sugar from his lips. "Captain says you've got to feed this one," he said, pointing a thumb at Molly. "So stuff it."

 

Chase threw together a cold platter of leftover meats and hard potatoes. To Molly's empty stomach, it looked like a feast.

 

Thanking the grumpy man gratefully, she hurried out of the galley and sat down on the deck outside. Basil looked surprised to see a proper young woman sitting on the floor again, but shrugged and joined her.

 

She offered him a piece of chicken, and they ate peacefully.

 

Molly mused on the last day, the strangest, most exhilarating one of her life, and wondered about the night to come, sleeping in the captain's quarters with Sherlock Holmes.

 

What exactly would the arrangements be?

Chapter Text

"Oh dear. Is it that awful?" Molly's hand covered her mouth as Sherlock turned and stared at her as she entered his cabin just after nightfall.

 

Awful, he thought. Yes, it…was a bit not good. He had finally changed out of the formalwear from the party, and put on a loose white shirt with an old pair of trousers blotchy from acid experiments.

 

Molly stood awkwardly in the man's clothing Basil had borrowed for her from John Watson. The captain's cold eyes danced over her, from head to toe.

 

The ship's surgeon was only a few inches taller than her, and so the hems of his worn-out knee britches (worn by John while setting a broken bone, within the last two weeks, he saw in the wear) reached mid-calf on her. The swell of her hips filled out the upper portion more though, the fabric hugging her bottom. The thin shirt did nothing to disguise her shape, the rough cotton clinging to the britches, all the way down to her thighs (all the navy cargoes we've helped ourselves to and yet he refuses to wear the finer clothes from them, suggesting ambivalent feelings about his military service remain) and secured at the waist with a piece of rope (fresh and clean-looking, not frayed or moldy but the cuts are sloppy and uneven- Basil's just cut this off a line we're using- must check that later). Her hair was tied back at the neck with a small piece of leather, and her feet were naked, her blood-spattered slippers held in her hands.

 

The high Empire waistline of her muslin gown had hidden (not from him) from people a figure that was very fashionable, indeed. She had chosen to hide, with her simple dresses (not entirely poor, she's spending money on rare and banned books instead of lace and colorful ribbons) and mousy hairstyles. And her father, instead of encouraging her to befriend rich young men of the ton to find a husband, had permitted this while he wore a fine maroon coat covered with thick embellishment to the party the previous evening.

 

Wouldn't want his source of financial support to marry and move away, now would we, Sherlock thought cynically. Keep her close, keep her busy, and she'll be grateful for every corpse you let her cut in your name.


For a few seconds, Sherlock considered how pleasant it would be to plant his fist in Matthias Hooper's face.

 

"This will do. You're sufficiently covered for tonight. We'll purchase two dresses and shoes in Hugh Town, on St. Mary's in the Isles of Scilly." His voice was light and casual.

 

Molly smiled nervously and nodded. "That would be lovely, thank you. I can pay you for your purchases when we get back to London-"

 

He waved her off and knelt to open a large chest against the wall. "Consider it partial payment for your services."

 

"I've worn trousers before, you know," Molly chattered on. "Once, a few years back, we were examining a mutilated woman from Spitalfields, and a morgue attendant knocked her body off the table. Such a mess!" She wrinkled her nose and laughed. "Papa was furious, his best gloves were ruined. And my skirt was hopeless. They lent me trousers to return home in, and I must say it was extremely comfortable! These are too." Molly put her hands on her waist, shifting her legs to reacquaint herself with the feeling of wearing britches. She looked down at her exposed ankles and giggled.

 

Sherlock raised an eyebrow and shook his head in annoyance.

 

"Irrelevant. Clothing, so much fuss over it. It's all….external. The clothes, our bodies, it's all just transport for what matters."

 

She smiled gently. "I don't disagree with that. It is nice to be clean though."

 

Molly walked further into Sherlock's quarters and looked around. She had been in the room earlier, but hadn't been able to see much from her seat at the table. She was admittedly curious about the strange captain. The picture pinned to the wall above the small desk, for instance. She had only seen a few of them in the salons of some clients, but she believed that was a real lithograph portrait.

 

I'd love a closer look, she thought wistfully. Would it be rude to ask? Molly's eyes darted around the room, and found herself contemplating the bunk tucked in the corner. It was unusually long, but she supposed that would be needed for a man as tall as the captain. She swallowed.

 

"My mother."

 

"What?" She said, startled out of her thoughts. She blushed, wondering what he had planned.

 

"It's my mother, in the lithograph. Look if you like." Sherlock rummaged through the wooden chest, setting aside some items on the floor as he worked his way through the lot.

 

"Oh!" Molly said. How on earth did he know with his face turned away? "Yes, I was just…alright." She studied the portrait of the woman, scanning for any resemblance to the handsome man by her knees. The shape of the eyes was the same, catlike and cunning, but beyond that, there was little similarity. Molly looked down at him, and her eyes narrowed as she noticed a larger item he'd dropped on the floor.

 

"Is that a Pascaline?" Molly's mouth dropped. "I've only ever read about them. My father said a professor of his at the University of Edinburgh possessed one."

 

"Mmmm yes," Sherlock nodded absently, dark curls falling over his brow. "Monsieur Pascal's adding machine is somewhat clever. But I don't need it right now." The captain pulled a long, narrow, black case from the chest and set it down with care on his bunk. Sherlock returned to the chest and began throwing the tossed-aside bits back in.

 

He hopped up and Molly suddenly found herself standing too close to his warm body and looking up into piercing blue eyes. He looked disoriented for a second before frowning and reaching out to clasp her arms.

 

Molly opened her mouth to say- something- but lost her focus and simply waited, lips parted as she breathed.

 

His hands moved her toward the desk, and Sherlock's long fingers pressed down on her shoulders.

 

"Sit." His light eyes skimmed her face. "You need to write your father. You will not tell him where we are, simply that you are safe and will return in due time. That is all."

 

Molly beamed as she sat down at the desk. "Thank you, Captain. May I have paper?"

 

Sherlock bent over and reached across Molly briskly to open a drawer. A bottle of ink, a pen, and paper were within.

 

"Write. I know a man in Hugh Town who makes regular runs to Cornwall, he'll pass the message on for a few coins."

 

Molly quickly scribbled a note for her father, and blew on the ink to dry it. Sherlock watched her chew on her lips as she composed the letter. She signed it with a neat and simple "Molly" at the bottom, and handed it to him.

 

He laid it back on the desk without reading it, and his eyes captured hers.

 

"Time for sleep. Bed."

 

Molly's eyes flew to the bunk and back to Sherlock. "I don't…where…" She stood and looked around. "The other men- Basil said they sleep in, in hammocks. Do…you have a hammock?"

 

One side of Sherlock's mouth curled up. "Yes, I do. When it storms, you can't stay on the bunk, hammock's the only thing for it." He reached down and opened the drawer built into the bottom of the bunk itself.

 

Molly saw a thick tangle of rope that she recognized as a hammock, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

 

"Worried, were you?" His smirk dropped. "I have no intention of touching you. Go to bed, Doctor Hooper." He scooped the black case off the bunk and laid it on the table where they'd attempted to have lunch earlier.

 

Molly dove onto the bed and pulled the covers up to her nose, huddling close to the wall. The blankets were surprisingly soft as she rubbed them against her cheeks. His bed smelled like him- lemons and salty, fresh air and something utterly male. Another long day had worn Molly down, and she felt herself start to relax with the scent of him close to her.

 

The mattress shifted, and Molly felt herself dip toward the center suddenly. Her eyes opened wide at the sight of Sherlock Holmes standing over her in the dim lamplight, with one hand on the bed.

 

"I said I had a hammock. I didn't say I had any intention of using it. Do make some room. It is my bed after all."

 

Molly rolled back to face the wall, trying to melt into the cold boards. She felt the mattress bend toward him as he laid down next to her, still clothed atop the blanket.

 

Her eyes were huge in the dark, and she held her breath, waiting. Waiting for what, she didn't know, but every time he were close, her heart hammered and she felt like something was finally beginning.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock was performing an experiment. Yes, that's what it is, he reassured himself. An experiment. Similar to his experiment to determine the toxicity levels of arsenic trisulfide, only this was more dangerous.

 

He sunk into his bed, keeping an inviolable wedge of space between his body and Molly's. He rolled over to face the back of her head, observing as her body rose and fell with an increased rate of respiration. He inhaled the scent of her and listened to her breathing.

 

She was awake, and not likely to fall asleep anytime soon, with the waves of tension flowing from her. His hand flexed as he considered running his fingers through her hair to test the texture, to see how she would respond.

 

She smelled like the coarse soap John used in the surgery. He realized she must have used it to clean what she could when she and Basil went to borrow the clothes. The scent was faint, and overlaid with the saltiness of the ocean water she'd used to rinse off. Underneath that was yet another smell, one that was simply sweet and Molly and female.

 

The shape of her body was indeterminate under the covers, but no matter; the curves of her legs and arse were burned into his mind the moment she stepped into his cabin that night. The subtle muscles in her arms from her taxing work, and the calluses on her hands from the constant pressing of the knife. All he could see now was a mess of light brown hair, reflecting the soft light from the lamp on his desk. He'd left it lit on purpose, as he had no intention of sleeping. Not when there was the problem of Molly Hooper to solve.

 

No. Not a problem. There was no problem. There was just her. And one woman was not a problem for him.

 

It was merely chemistry. He understood chemistry. And biology. (Though not as well as her, he would admit. She was brilliant at it.) It would go away, and in time, so would she.

 

It's all transport, all this body nonsense. Transport isn't important.


The Hudson is transport, something inside him responded, The Hudson is important.


The Hudson has value beyond aesthetics, he countered himself. It's more than pretty. It's full of fascinating things I've collected.


You collected her.


Shut up.


Sherlock bolted upright in the bed, surprising Molly to where she couldn't even pretend to be sleeping. She pulled the blanket up to her chin, and resisted the urge to roll over and speak to him.

 

She felt Sherlock swing his legs off the bunk and stand, and heard him padding across the floor in bare feet.

 

He picked the long black case off the table and snuffed the light from the lantern on the table. As the cabin fell into total darkness, Sherlock slipped out the door.

 

A few minutes later, Molly heard what sounded like the plaintive sounds of a violin being played in the distance.

 

The faint sound varied between sad and frenzied, with most notes lost to the ocean winds. In time, the rhythmic crashing of waves against the hull of the boat drowned out the ghostly violin, and Molly drifted off to the fading music.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


In the morning, Molly woke alone with her nose cold and her belly rumbling. She stumbled out of the bed, put on her ruined slippers and crawled up to the deck.

 

The blazing sun warmed her face and the stiffness of the strange night melted away from Molly. The Hudson rolled through the sea, cutting through waves as a mass of land began to form in the distance.

 

Three sailors hurried past Molly, only casting cursory glances at the woman wearing men's britches.

 

"Good morning, Doctor Hooper."

 

He'd snuck up behind her again. She whirled around.

 

Sherlock looked down at her with a cool, polite smile. The shadows under his eyes hinted that he'd hadn't gone and slept in the crew's quarters. He was pale as always, remarkable for a man who lived on a ship.

 

He'd changed again, this time into a white shirt with tight black trousers, and a long black coat covering the ensemble. It wasn't formal, but she liked it. It suited him, and she found herself overly interested again in the way he left his shirt always gaping open at the top.

 

It's really an appalling habit, she thought as she bit her lip. Just awful.

 

"Silly."

 

"Pardon?" Molly looked affronted.

 

Sherlock pointed toward the distant land. "Silly. The isles of Scilly, we'll be arriving within a few hours. Be prepared. We're here for supplies and samples, there ought not to be any trouble."

 

"Are you certain there are no other ships about? Nothing of the law?"

 

"No, the Royal Navy avoid this port. About a hundred years ago, they lost a half dozen ships here. Over fourteen-hundred men died, because they don't know how to navigate the shallow waters and the cliffs. The locals are…sympathetic, as long as we are generous. The Navy is not generous. We'll purchase clothing and flour, but our purpose is to carry out the Hudson's main mission, which is to acquire specimens for further study. The flora of the islands, in particular."

 

"Purchase…" Molly was completely confused. "Purchase things…and study and gather? Why, you're not really a pirate ship at all, are you! Are you?"

 

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Of course we are. Good old George said I was a pirate, and so I oblige him. But it would be rather boring if we restricted ourselves to one purpose or the other. No fun in doing exactly what people expect, is it, Molly." He strolled away from her as she stood staring open-mouthed at his retreating form.

 

"No fun at all," she agreed as she gazed out at the sea and the approaching land, wondering what she could expect from the coming day. She was quickly learning that a normal day spent with Sherlock involved dead bodies, a great deal of adventure and a bare minimum of food. With that thought in mind, Molly spun around and sought out the galley.

Chapter Text

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.

 

"Dammit!"


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.

 

"What's that?"

 

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."

Chapter Text

London


Dr. Matthias Hooper hurried away from the pub he'd headed straight for after arriving back in town the next afternoon after the party. He lost track of much he'd spent and yet still, he could not forget that he had misplaced his daughter.

 

He had woken in the bed of one of the widowed sisters- he did not recall which one was which. He did not suppose the lady would mind as she could not summon his name either as they stumbled awkwardly out of bed and into their wine-stained clothing.

 

No one who had attended the party recalled seeing Molly leave. In fact, no one recalled Molly at all. That wasn't unusual. She had a gift for fading into the walls when she wanted to.

 

The physician had noticed she was spending a long time in the garden, but he assumed she was merely in one of her fits of pique. She was such a sulky girl sometimes, not charming as her big sister Anne had been. Her mother Maria, while no great beauty, had been daring and witty, and while she lived, Matthias had tried to keep the drink from having a hold on him. When typhoid fever had taken laughing, saucy Maria and their sweet Annie, he had given up. It was too difficult to stay clear-headed all the time when he faced his somber living child, the one who had inherited his intelligence and who saw all his flaws. Her understanding of her father's weakness showed in her knowing eyes, even as a child. She alone could see through Matthias's jovial smiles.

 

When he stepped out the pub door, he was surprised to not be assaulted with sunlight. The moon was high in the sky over London. How long had he been in there? His head felt as though it might cave in from all the ale.

 

The summer evening simmered with nervous energy and potential. Two prostitutes leaning against the wall outside the pub approached Matthias as he resolved to begin his search. As he turned away from the women in annoyance, an elegant black carriage drawn by a pair of horses came to a stop in front of the drunken physician. The vehicle gleamed, freshly-painted and richly appointed, though it lacked a family crest or any true distinguishing features.

 

Have I finally had one too many? Surely his eyes were playing tricks. An imported landau had no business in a neighborhood a stone's throw from the docks, a place teeming with sailors and prostitutes.

 

As he stood staring dumbly, the half-door opened, and a lovely young face leaned forward and peered out.

 

Her dark eyes captured his, and a mysterious smile curled on her full lips. She crooked a finger toward Matthias, and he found himself moving closer.

 

"Good evening, Dr. Hooper. Join us, please," she purred. Her voice was honeyed but there was an underlying sharpness.

 

He frowned in thought. "Forgive me, my lady, are we acquainted? I do not think I would forget such charms as yours," he added, falling back on his instinctive smoothness even when intoxicated.

 

She shook her head. "No, you would not. Please, come for a ride. You're needed."

 

"Oh, I see." Some of Matthias's confusion cleared. "What are the signs of the illness?" He would not attempt a post-mortem without Molly's assistance anymore, but he could still handle sickbeds. His Molly problem could wait an hour or two while he saw to this. The money would be helpful in his cause as well, since his pockets were empty after the lengthy bout of drinking.

 

The young woman sat back and the physician climbed into the carriage.

 

It did not occur to Matthias to wonder why they would seek out a doctor who was clearly inebriated and stumbling through one of the worst parts of London.

 

As he lifted his face, he realized there was another occupant of the carriage, as expensively adorned as the landau.

 

"How kind of you to join us, Dr. Hooper," the man said pleasantly. He shifted in his seat, and idly tapped a silver-tipped cane on his foot as his eyes skimmed over Matthias. "I apologize for interrupting your evening, but we have a…mutual concern."

 

"A mutual…? Do you mean the patient?" Matthias's eyes flickered back and forth between the cold-voiced stranger, and the dark-haired young woman who looked on in mild amusement.

 

"There is no patient, Dr. Hooper. And if there were, you would be unfit to examine them." The well-dressed man mentioned this casually. "Without your daughter, you are nothing. Sherlock must have noted that as well, I think we can assume. The signs are visible on your clothing, your skin and the intermittent tremor in your hands."

 

Matthias's face turned red and he sputtered. "Well that is…you, sir! Untruth. Unkind words. Yes…" he trailed off. "Who are you, sir?"

 

The man rapped on the floor loudly with his cane, and the carriage began moving. "This is my ward, Anthea Mikos."

 

Matthias attempted to smile at Anthea, but she had already lost interest in the conversation and was gazing out the window at a pub brawl that had spilled onto the street.

 

The stranger continued. "I am Mycroft Holmes. Warwick." He graciously tipped his head toward Matthias.

 

The doctor sat up straight on the seat, attempting to compose himself in the presence of one of the most powerful men in England. There were rumors that the Prince valued the Earl of Warwick's opinion above all others, that he was the true heart of the throne. And he was drunk in the man's bloody carriage.

 

"As I said, we have a shared situation. My brother has kidnapped your daughter, presumably for her medical knowledge. Sherlock is not in the habit of running away with young ladies. He was seen boarding his ship yesterday with your daughter- unharmed- in tow. This was three hours after he was seen, along with a friend of his, robbing your home of some inconsequential items."

 

Shock, relief, confusion and then rage flew across Matthias's reddening face. "Someone saw her-and saw them housebreaking- and they didn't stop them? If he's hurt her, I'll bring him up on charges, I don't care if his bloody brother's an earl, you hear? What sort of mess is he mixed up in?"

 

Mycroft pursed his lips and tilted his head. "Sherlock's circumstances at the moment are complicated. As usual, he said something unwise, and to a most unforgiving man. The details do not concern you. However, your daughter does."

 

He held out his hand toward the young woman without looking over, and Anthea extracted a thin stack of papers from within the folds of her beautiful silk gown.

 

"How did you…?" Matthias's forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. The night was growing more maddening, yet there was a thin sliver of relief again, that someone knew where Molly was.

 

Anthea shrugged and smiled like a cat before looking away again.

 

Mycroft flipped the papers for a minute in silence. His scholarly focus seemed at odds with the luxury of his foppish velvet coat and elaborate cravat. The physician's head began to pound anew, and he wished the carriage's rhythmic bouncing through the city would stop. The cheap ale churned in his belly as he waited.

 

"They have not returned. I will confess, I am somewhat…thrown. When they saw him bring Miss Hooper on board, I believed he would behave logically and return her home shortly. He has not done that, and I don't believe the half-hearted pursuit from the Royal Navy is to blame. In a previous instance, he merely doubled-back and slipped into port. The dockmasters are easily bribed to look away. Instead of returning, he has…gone somewhere else, and taken Molly with him. I am…" he tapped his cheek, searching for the correct word.

 

"Worried?" Matthias supplied. He certainly was. He also suspected his last several drinks would reappear soon if this infernal vehicle did not stop moving so quickly.

 

Mycroft smiled, showing teeth. "Intrigued."

 

He leaned forward, resting his overlapped hands on the walking stick.

 

"Tell me about your Molly, Dr. Hooper. Leave nothing out."

 

Matthias hesitated and then began to speak. This powerful man was his best hope of finding Molly. He had failed her too many times- when her mother died, when he let the drink take over, when he let that lying apprentice in their lives- and he could not fail again.

 

Mycroft listened, and nodded, and smiled.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Isles of Scilly


John Watson stood stock still, looking his past in the face. The inevitability of the moment weighed on him; he knew that it would come to this the day that Sherlock named the ship that had been diverted from its war assignment in order to chase him down. He had thrived in the pirate ship life, but always known that he would eventually pay for that freedom.

 

Well…it was a good run, he told himself. Be brave.


Gregory Lestrade may not have realized yet that John wasn't a Scilly Isles local, but he would soon. John prayed that Sherlock and Molly had gotten to the Hudson safely. Then he cursed himself for not telling Basil to tell them to leave if he didn't come back right away. Of course the captain was going to come looking for him the way he had for Sherlock.

 

Friendship, what a pain in the arse, he thought as he struggled to keep his face passive and relaxed.

 

"This isn't a usual stop for you boys. Fancy a local girl, do you then? What's her name?" John ribbed him, hoping for distraction.

 

"No," Lestrade said firmly. "Still married, though I haven't seen her in almost a year. She's gone off to her mum's in the country, she never could abide London...Not that it…" He waved a hand. "Never mind that." He grinned and his deep brown eyes sparkled. The smile took five years off his tanned and lined face.

 

He picked the parcel off the counter and bid farewell to the clerk. The man at the counter was no fool; he watched warily but did not speak, and was visibly relieved when Lestrade and John headed for the door.

 

"They've got us chasing some fool ship, though to be honest I don't know why they're bothering. We're in a damn war and we're wasting time on a pirate that only hits the French or other pirates? I can't be arsed." He paused. "Probably…don't mention that to the lads if you run into any of 'em here."

 

John grinned in spite of himself. It was really good to see him.

 

The naval officer poked through the small wrapped packages and pulled out two pieces of candy, offering one to John, who accepted. He'd forgotten how the older man loved sweets. It was a miracle his teeth were so strong and white.

 

"We've just stopped off for a few hours for some supplies. Not much. We were supposed to restock in London, and stay for two weeks, but we weren't there half a day when we were ordered out again. By the king himself, they said." Lestrade shrugged and sucked on the candy in his mouth. "Sorry for talking your ear off, John. The officers in this lot- well, the medics don't have your talents for listening and stitching. You didn't have to leave, you know. They're a bunch of chatty hens on the ship, but the gossip would've…" The sentence died in Lestrade's throat when he saw the forbidding look on John's face. Ah. Still a sore subject. "What have you been up to since then?" His warm eyes searched the other man's face.

 

He was unprepared for this, and scrambled for an answer. "Got home, went to see my sister. Turned out she'd died two months before. It was a long time coming. And then, uh-" John pictured Sherlock striding into the tavern and recruiting him for the Hudson. He smiled, and couldn't think of how to continue. He shrugged and then laughed. "I dunno. It's been a strange year, Gregory."

 

John looked around, wondering which way to walk. He couldn't lead Lestrade back to the Hudson, obviously, but he had to go somewhere or he'd be suspicious.

 

"What were you looking for, anyway?" Lestrade asked. "When you came in?"

 

John was saved from having to come up with an answer by the sight of Sherlock running down the road toward them. His tall, lanky form in the long black coat stood out dramatically on the summery green landscape.

Lestrade squinted in the distance. "Who's that bloke?"

 

"Um, he's a…fisherman." John said, hoping desperately that Lestrade wouldn't notice that no local fisherman looked anything like Sherlock Holmes in his snug trousers and white shirt. If he kept looking in that direction as well, he would eventually notice the ships in the other harbor, including the Hudson.


"Say, how's the Edinburgh holding up?" John asked in an overly bright tone. "Let's go have a look, yeah? Old times's sake and all. I miss the ol' boat."

 

Lestrade smiled, but his gaze was still on Sherlock. "I've seen him somewhere before." He wrinkled his nose in thought.

 

Sherlock Holmes slowed down a dozen paces from the two men. He took in the unspoken message in John's urgent eyes, and he assessed the uniformed officer.

 

Oh. That is unfortunate.


The naval officer was vaguely familiar. He took in the details of the man's clothing, his obvious leadership, John's degree of comfort speaking and standing closely to the officer, and came to the conclusion that this was the man who was hunting him. He had seen Lestrade from a distance, hence the familiarity. And if he was here, then so was the whole damned HMS Edinburgh. Sherlock broke down the situation and formulated a new plan, all in approximately five seconds.

 

Sherlock plastered a frantic grin on his face and continued jogging. "Hullo, Johnny! Martha's having the babe, got to fetch the midwife, pints on me tomorrow, ta!" He carried on, building up to a run.

 

Lestrade frowned as the odd man passed them. He turned around, his back to John.

 

"Halt."

 

Sherlock stopped. He turned his head only. "Yes? Bit of a hurry, man!"

 

Lestrade reached for the sword at his side, a plain deadly blade at odds with his ornate uniform. "They gave us a sketch, some drawings. Been looking at 'em for months. Never saw a face like that before or since. Until now." His eyes grew wide, as he drew the sword up.

 

"Captain Holmes. You've been a right pain. Turn around and get on your knees."

 

Sherlock obeyed, his cool eyes gazing just over Lestrade's shoulder as the older man began to look around for something he might use to secure the pirate.

 

"You must think we're thick, Holmes. John, pop into the shop and see if they've got some rope, yeah?" Amazement was clear in Lestrade's voice. All that chasing and the man simply dropped into his path? But he would recognize those unusual eyes anywhere, after staring at his nemesis's drawn portrait for so long. The man was supposed to be utterly brilliant; stopping in Scilly was so foolish, it was almost admirable. The Edinburgh had almost skipped the stopover there themselves.

 

Fisherman, my arse. As that thought flashed through his mind, he realized who it was that had claimed Sherlock Holmes was merely a fisherman.

 

As Lestrade whipped his head around to John, a swinging fist crashed into his jaw, and the naval captain hit the ground. The world rolled across his vision, and then vanished into blackness as the fist came down again.

 

John Watson looked at the unconscious man, and rubbed his own tender shoulder.

 

"A bit much, don't you think?" Sherlock asked, eyebrow quirked up.

 

"He was still awake. He may not care about your piracy, but he still would've brought you back in chains. He's a good man, he'd have done his job." John's voice was grim as he bent to check Lestrade's pulse. "Now what?"

 

"It's touching you think so much of the man who is willing to hang me, and now you, undoubtedly."

 

"Shut up. I said, now what?"


Sherlock only smiled in response.

 

"Oh hell. I don't like it when you smile and don't talk. It's off-putting. What?"

 

The pirate captain's grin grew wider.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Molly sat nervously in the rowboat at the waterline, the incoming tide slapping at the bottom of the little vessel. What was taking them so long to return?

 

Basil stood with one foot on the boat and one in the sand, craning his neck scanning for his captain and the ship's surgeon.

 

The boy suddenly smiled, and then confusion covered his face.

 

"What is it? Can you see them?" Molly asked.

 

"Yes! But they…they've got something, I think." He scratched his belly and spat in the seawater nipping at his feet.

 

Molly spied two men coming over the dune, carting awkwardly between a large shape, that as they drew closer, appeared to be an unconscious-dead?- man.

 

In a blue coat, his wrists bound together…gold epaulets at the shoulders, polished boots now scuffed from dragging, and nasty bruises forming on the man's face.

 

Molly's mouth dropped open as John and Sherlock hurried to the rowboat and tossed the man's body into the small boat.

 

"Is he? Is that- I mean, what? Why?" Molly leaned forward and felt the man's wrists for signs of life. She lifted his chin, and breathed a sigh of relief as his eyelids fluttered and he groaned. She lightly touched the facial contusions, and looked quizzically up at John.

 

Sherlock's eyes narrowed as she fussed over the handsome naval officer. "Oh, he's fine. We couldn't leave him there, they can't know we've been here. Not so soon anyway."

 

John and Sherlock pushed the rowboat away from the shore, and hopped in quickly. The captain shook off his coat, took the oars and began rowing furiously.

 

Molly bit her lip and wished she had a bandage to at least wipe away some of the blood from the man's face. One look at John's haunted eyes told her he was similarly troubled by the man's condition.

 

One look at John's knuckles told her he was responsible for it.

 

"Is that what you always do? Just…take people?" Molly asked.

 

Sherlock rolled his eyes and carried on rowing, the lean muscles in his arms flexing as he worked. "Well, it worked so wonderfully with you, we thought we'd give it another go! Look, it was either this or we cut his throat. And Watson objected when I suggested that."

 

They neared the Hudson and called up for more ropes. Molly and Basil climbed up the ladder and boarded the ship, while Sherlock cleverly rigged the unconscious man with the ropes so he could be hauled up quickly.

 

"Bring him to the surgery, to the cot in the back," John ordered. Three nameless sailors hurried over and carried the navy officer off. Molly bit her lip, wondering what would happen to the poor man.

 

"My cabin's just connected to the surgery, I'll look after him. You can't expect this lot to not throw him overboard first chance they get," John added tensely.

 

Sherlock shrugged, unconcerned. He gave orders to the crew to set sail immediately.

 

"Donovan, make yourself useful, bring the woman below to my quarters." The master gunner raised his- her, Molly reminded herself- eyebrows and exchange a knowing look with Anderson, who sneered.

 

Molly blushed, realizing they must have assumed the worst with her sleeping in Sherlock's bed.

 

She could hardly blame them after the scorching kisses he'd given her behind the shop in town.

 

"I don't want to go below," Molly said hesitantly. "I want to stay up here. I won't be in the way. I could just read…or something. Please."

 

Sherlock turned to her, his messy curls blowing in the breeze as he considered her. His piercing blue eyes locked onto her, and Molly felt trapped by his gaze. Her cheeks warmed, but she refused to look away.

 

"Stay out of the crew's way. I'll bring one of your books up for you. If you interfere with the ship or wreak havoc in any way, you'll be in shackles instead of Captain Lestrade. Is that clear?"

 

Molly nodded, glad she'd found the courage to ask.

 

Sherlock strode toward the narrow stairwell nearest his quarters. Basil called out just as he began to descend.

 

"Sir! Cap'n! Is it alright if I get us some grub? Worked up a hunger, we did, yeah?"

 

Sherlock looked back at the cabin boy, and nodded. "Tell Chase to give you and the doctor whatever you need." The boy grinned, and ran off toward the galley.

 

His icy gaze fell on Molly now, as she bent down to pull the wrapped candies from the parcel. She couldn't wait to see what he thought of the treats.

 

"Worked up a hunger indeed. The most exciting day we've had in months, I'd say."

 

Molly looked up, and swallowed as she saw his eyes focus on her as they had when his lips found hers. She remembered the clumsy way in which she'd kissed him, and how he'd stroked her in places only she had ever touched in the dark. She thought of how the hardness in his trousers had ground against her, and how she'd had the strangest desire to kneel down and explore with her hands and lips. As she considered what could have happened, her eyes blazed, the pupils dilated fully.

 

Something sparked in Sherlock, the ice of his eyes cracking for a moment. She didn't look like the innocent doctor he'd taken from the party anymore, he realized.

 

She wants me inside her. And there is nothing to stop us from having each other here and now if we desire it.


The sheer possibility of it knocked the breath out of him and his whole body tensed, tight and painfully aware.

 

Molly tilted her head, a question in her eyes as she stood waiting.

 

The captain swiftly turned about face and bounded down the stairs, out of sight.

 

He was running away, he knew that. He just wasn't sure why.

Chapter Text

"How did your daughter become proficient in the medical sciences, Dr. Hooper?" Mycroft Holmes lounged on the soft red seat in the carriage as they traveled through the city. Anthea, bored with their chatter, abandoned politeness and ignored the men, instead staring dreamily out the window.

 

"She was a natural, watched everything I did for years. I had to bring her with me after Maria…after my wife passed. I tried leaving her with a neighbor who looked after children, for a price, of course, but Molly was terrified she wouldn't see me again. Seemed easier to just let her come. She was my little helper." Matthias smiled fondly, remembering the serious eight-year-old who insisted on carrying his doctor's bag for him.

 

"She started asking questions, looking at my books. Started copying the dissection drawings out of Fabrica when she was…oh, not more than ten I'd say. Beautiful copy of the circulatory system, still have it…somewhere. I think." The ale had loosened his tongue, and the memories flowed easily.

 

"The patients, their families, thought it was a neat little trick, the way she could recite the parts of the body. Very entertaining. The wasting away children made her sad, but she stuck a cheery grin on her face, as good as ever. She's not a charming one by nature, my Molly, but she can't bear to see someone sad. She's a helper."

 

Matthias's mood turned morose suddenly, not uncommon when he was deep in his cups. He paused and thought back to his growing daughter reciting artery paths in a singsong voice, and how he would applaud heartily as he watched and sipped from his flask.

 

"Doctor? When did this assistance of hers become more active?"

 

"I'm not certain. There were…some bad years. Harder to keep track of appointments, and money, there was never enough." Matthias had already glossed over those terrible times in his mind. Only ghosts of memories remained of him not leaving the house for days except for more wine, more ale. Just getting by because Molly would drag him out of bed to wash and seek out people needing treatment.

 

The fog lifted momentarily. "She was sixteen. I was summoned to Saint Bartholomew's Hospital to examine the body of a woman who was murdered. Terrible butchery, one in a string of deaths. Their usual physician Stamford was ill, and he recommended me; we were acquainted at the University of Edinburgh you see. They were severaly lacking in doctors willing to work there. He knew I had fine hands, and a strong stomach." Matthias held out his shaking palms in front of himself, and tried to will them to stop shaking.

 

He failed. Mycroft watched him struggle and said nothing.

 

"I should've said no. We went, and the body was…I'd never seen anything like it. To this day, I have not seen such horrible disregard for human life and dignity. The woman, she'd been a washerwoman, who worked nights- she lived in Spitalfields. Her…innards were torn out, and her-" Matthias stopped and glanced at Anthea.

 

"Pay me no mind, Dr. Hooper. I shall not be offended by plain speech." Her disinterested gaze roamed back to the window and the night sky.

 

"Her…her nether regions were cut in such ways. They left us with that corpse. And then I embarrassed myself retching at the sight." His haunted eyes rose and met Mycroft's cool blue stare.

 

"But not my Molly, no not my girl. She took my bag, and she said, 'Papa, let me examine her. I can do this. Let me help you, let me help her.' And God help me, I let her."

 

Tears swam in his eyes as he recalled that savaged body and the way his brilliant child analyzed the remains fearlessly. She compiled the information into a tidy report and silently handed it to her father, who presented the pages to the lead physician.

 

"Stamford said it was my best work in years," he laughed bitterly.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Several hours after Sherlock had disappeared into his quarters, he reappeared on deck, just after seven bells, holding a book and an armful of chains with attached shackles.

 

He tossed the book toward Molly who caught it with surprising deftness. John approached him and relieved him of the chains.

 

"Is he awake yet?" the captain asked.

 

"He's stirring. Swelling's not bad, he'll be fine. I best get to it before he's ready to fight. Oh, and Chase's made fresh bread, now that we've got flour again. Please eat something, Sherlock."

 

John returned to the surgery, prepared now to secure Captain Lestrade until they figured out what to do with the Royal Navy man.

 

Ignoring his friend's request to eat, Sherlock threw himself down onto a rough bench casually, across from Molly.

 

Going to pretend nothing happened then, I see, Molly thought as she examined the book's cover. I can play that too.


But she was terrible at deception, and even now couldn't help but watch the way the wind blew his hair over his face. Twilight cast his face in shadow, the sharpness of his cheekbones and nose visible only in profile. He dug into his pockets for something, and Molly observed as he withdraw a pouch and what looked like a small piece of paper.

 

He scooped out a small amount of tobacco from the pouch with his fingertips, onto the paper and rolled it up neatly. Molly realized that it was a small cigar, as he walked over to a hanging lantern and stuck the tip of the cigar in the flame to light it.

 

Sherlock put his lips to the end of the little cigar and inhaled, relaxation visibly spreading over his body as smoke curled out between his lips.

 

He repeated the process a few more times, and the scent of smoke drifted over to Molly, who sat holding the book. She squinted and made out that he had handed her Juliette, one of her own purchases.

 

"I can't read this."

 

"What? Of course you can read, don't be absurd. Though I will admit, even I was shocked to find de Sade's work in your collection. I'm impressed with your bookseller's resources. You must give me his name."

 

"No, I mean I can't read this in the dark, sir."

 

Sherlock looked around, and over at Molly sitting primly.

 

"So it is." His gaze dropped to her shirt, and the visibly peaked outlines of her nipples. His fingers tightened around the little cigar. "And you've grown chilled. Why didn't you go below?"

 

"I didn't think I was wanted," she said quietly.

 

Sherlock whipped his head toward her, so fast she was startled. "It wasn't that- " He cut himself off and drew on the pale cylinder again.

 

Curiosity got the better of Molly. "May I try it?"

 

Sherlock raised his left eyebrow. He inhaled, and blew out smoke as he stalked across the boards to sit next to Molly, his thigh pressing against hers lightly. The warmth of him made her shiver.

 

In the dark, she felt his fingertips brush her lips and the strange length of the cigar probe between her lips, his thumb brushing her chin.

 

Molly opened up her mouth more, and breathed in experimentally, sucking in as she had watched other smokers do.

 

She coughed hard, her diaphragm muscle spasming. She made a grotesque face, having accidentally swallowed some of the blasted smoke.

 

"That's disgusting! Why do men do that? And stop smiling," she added crossly.

 

"You can't know if I am or not, your vision is not as good as mine."

 

"I can hear you smiling," Molly said.

 

"Once the shape of the mouth is altered, then the sound will also be altered, so I will accept your logic in this case." He took the cigar to his mouth, and Molly realized his lips were exactly where hers rested a moment ago.

 

"You see everything, don't you. Sometimes I wonder if you can read minds, if you're some kind of wizard," Molly confessed. It was easier to admit to such things at night. Surely he had some kind of magic; the way he always pushed himself into her mind, no matter how much she tried to think of other matters, was remarkable. She was spellbound.

 

"I see the same things you see; however I understand what I am seeing. I do not discard what others consider inconsequential information until I have ascertained that that is truly the case. And then I deduce the cause, how it all fits together."

 

Molly smiled briefly, not entirely understanding yet. "So, it's…merely an unusual scientific method? You can read people the way others read books?"

 

"Precisely, it's science, not magic." The cigar had nearly disappeared, leaving only a singed nub. Sherlock went to the railing and pitched it overboard. He watched the flame die in the sea before returning to sit close to Molly.

 

He pointed further down the deck, on the starboard side, where Donovan, Anderson and a handful of sailors sat laughing with a cup of dice.

 

"Anderson keeps a beard because, aside from being convenient, he has a fungus growing on the skin of his chin that can't be cured. It causes his skin to flake off almost constantly, and he can't stop scratching it." Sherlock's nose wrinkled heavily. "He also has two wives that he has not mentioned, not to us or to each other. And not to Donovan either."

 

"Two wives!" Molly's mouth dropped open in shock. "A bigamist! A horrible deception. Imagine if he were killed-"

 

"I do that often, in fact," Sherlock cut in.

 

She giggled. "But imagine if he were killed, and both women turned up at his funeral! The scandal of it. What else?"

 

"He is confused by his friendship with our master gunner. A small portion of Anderson's unfortunate demeanor is caused by his self-loathing for being sexually attracted to Donovan, whom he believes to be male."

 

"Whom he believes- you know!" Molly exclaimed. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "About her being a woman. When did you realize? Will she be released from her position?"

 

"Of course I know. The signs are obvious, aren't they. No Adam's apple, the span of her hips, her habit of streaking dirt around her chin- an attempt to mimic a shadow of a beard. She has forgotten to bind her breasts twice this month alone, or she chose to forego because it was during her menses and she was too sensitive to wear the binding. Only briefly but-"

 

"But it was enough for you to notice her breasts. That's amazing- and a little perverse." Molly smothered a laugh with her palm. "And Anderson really doesn't know? You haven't told him?"

 

She heard displeasure in his tone. "Why would I? I don't care if she has female genitals instead of male. Most people are idiots regardless of their gender. And given that Donovan is in charge of our guns and ammunition, I am confident she can care for herself."

 

"You're a very strange man, Sherlock Holmes. I don't think I've ever known anyone quite like you."

 

She saw his head turn toward her, though she could not see his eyes in the dark. "You have known very few men truly, Molly. You've never even been engaged or seriously enamored of anyone, that's obvious."

 

"That's not true," she protested. "I was nearly engaged to someone once. A medical student who came to study under my father, for a summer when I was seventeen." She pushed away the memory. "It didn't work out."

 

"He left you." It was a firm statement, not a question.

 

Molly's cheeks burned with the reminder of her almost-fiance's rejection.

 

"He just didn't turn up one day. And Papa said it was for the best, as he hadn't been a very good student, and would not make a fine physician, certainly not a surgeon. Papa wanted better for me. And to tell it truly, I was not in love with him. I never even think of him. He wasn't..." He wasn't like you, she thought. "He wasn't tall," she finished weakly.

 

"I see," Sherlock said, some of the tension dissolving from his voice. "You liked him, but you were not passionate for the boy. Not a reader, I take it?"

 

There was a sly undercurrent to the question. Molly smoothed her hands over Juliette in her lap and she grew pink, imagining Sherlock picking out the de Sade novel for her to read. She cleared her throat and tried to focus.

 

"He was brilliant, but he didn't want to touch the bodies. He understood the anatomy flawlessly, all the concepts. And he was very charming with well, everyone. But there was something missing from him. Sometimes when I looked in his eyes, it felt as though his mind was somewhere else. But he was kind, and he did make me laugh. He bought me ribbons." She shrugged.

 

"The only time I felt he was interested in me, was when I wielded the knife on the bodies. That summer, we were so busy in Spitalfields, and I really honed my skills then. Papa was so proud of me."

 

"It's cold," Sherlock said as he stood abruptly. He was caught between his desire to pummel Matthias Hooper and the mysterious lost suitor.

 

Bloody father of hers. I'm sure he was very proud. The Spitalfields murders were the biggest story of that year, and I'll wager Dr. Hooper made piles of money off Molly's work. And then pissed it away on whist and wine. The medical student…there's something there. Find out more tomorrow, he noted to himself.

 

He extended his arm to Molly, and she rose to slip her cold hand into his. His long fingers slid over her palm to nearly tickle her sensitive wrist. Molly's heart raced as he tugged her toward the stairwell and guided her down to the captain's quarters. The black of night had fallen, and she had to trust him to lead her safely through the dark.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"And when did this apprentice, as you call him, come on the scene?" The Earl of Warwick stroked the head of his walking stick as he listened politely.

 

"Not long after that. The work was pouring in that summer and he came recommended from some fellows I knew from the universities in Edinburgh and Dublin. Thought he could help a bit with my regular patients, but he wasn't interested. Just wanted to follow Molly around. I thought that was good at first." Matthias shook his silver head, cursing his foolishness.

 

"I never wanted to lose Molly, but I thought perhaps, a future physician might understand her. A poor student now, yes, but a man of science- he might not crush her spirit, her learning. And we could be in business together, a proper partnership someday. I just wanted to protect her, you see?" He pleaded with Mycroft, who raised his chin.

 

"Yes, I see." He did indeed. The less he spoke, the more Matthias spilled his secrets in anxiety. Anthea looked over only occasionally to smile like the Sphinx, in appreciation of Mycroft's subtle manipulations.

 

"He went with me and Molly over to St. Barts whenever a new body turned up, and there were a lot of odd deaths that needed looking into, that summer. There was talk of setting up a proper police force, though nothing ever came of that, no funds, you see."

 

"Yes, my brother lamented that fact himself several times, though he also thought that anyone who actually wanted to be a constable would likely be a terrible fool," Mycroft commented drily. "As you were saying?"

 

"The lad was superlative in his knowledge of anatomy and physiology but he had no desire to work directly with unclean corpses. It became a nuisance, to tell the truth. But Molly enjoyed his company to a degree, and she had no other friends, so I looked the other way."

 

"And you were, shall we say, not entirely sober during this time," Mycroft stated with cold eyes.

 

"No, not so much, sir. In, I think it was September, in September I popped into a tavern, not one of my usual haunts, but I was thirsty one late night after visiting an acquaintance of the ahem- female- persuasion, and I chanced to see a glimpse of the boy, only he wasn't dressed like a poor student. His duds were nearly as fine as yours, m'lord."

 

Mycroft nodded, apparently unsurprised by the turns of the tale. "And you followed him."

 

"Of course! Taking pity on him and teaching him and here he's not poor at all. If he's some lordling slumming, he couldn't have honorable intentions toward my daughter, that's for certain. So I followed him on foot, and he went to a private establishment of sorts. I waited outside, as it was a place that appeared beyond my means.

 

An hour later, by my guess, he came out arm and arm with a man I did not recognize, and they had had a few drinks. They were smiling, he and this fine-looking blond fellow at one another, like…" He paused.

 

"We are both men of the world, yes?"

 

Mycroft tilted his head and smiled. "Naturally, Dr. Hooper."

 

"We are aware that there are some men who in the evening…prefer the company…not of females. You understand?" Matthias's face was flushed with the embarrassment of broaching such a subject with a high-ranking member of the peerage.

 

"I believe I do." The earl smirked slightly.

 

"I had not thought that the boy was one such as this, with his romantic attentions to Molly, but as he and his pale-haired friend slipped out of the club, they ducked into an alley. When I pursued them, intending to confront him, I saw them…kissing…in the manner of lovers."

 

Mycroft's face showed no surprise. Matthias foretold his own tale with his stuttering and unconscious hints. The only hard part was in waiting for his speech to catch up with the story he'd already unwittingly told.

 

"I shouted at him, and I'm afraid I was dreadfully crude, having been in my cups. I told him to stay away from my daughter."

 

"Did he explain himself or make any threats in return?"

 

"He said he didn't need Molly anymore anyway, that he had seen the bodies she cut, and found what- or who- he was looking for, and that the real fun would begin now. Said he'd only stuck around for a few days more so as to duck out quietly. And he thanked me for saving him the trouble. He laughed. He bloody laughed at me, and his friend joined in." The physician's voice shook in rage.

 

"I still don't understand why he bothered with the subterfuge. What was the point? Some sick game, looking at the dead? It doesn't make any sense. I contacted his references, and found out he had forged all the letters." Matthias rubbed his face. "It's my fault for not writing to check the references, but the handwriting, the words, they were all utterly convincing! Eventually, every single person wrote back to confirm to me that they had never met or heard of Jamie."

 

"Jamie?" Mycroft's eyes showed a spark for the first time. "That was the name he used then?"

 

"Yes, Jamie Moriarty. I thought perhaps the Dublin reference might be legitimate, since he was Irish, but even that one turned out to be false. As far as I know, nothing about him was real."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock opened the door to his cabin, and guided Molly inside with his hand on the small of her back. They had no lantern, as Basil had nodded off in the galley before bringing the captain a light as usual.

 

Moonlight streamed through the one small window onto the bed and floor. Molly walked forward cautiously and laid her book on the table. She turned to face Sherlock, whose face she could only vaguely make out.

 

His face was carved in stone, grey in the dimness, and his eyes were unreadable as Molly reached for the rope tied around her waist.

 

"I wish to go to bed now," she said, untying the makeshift belt and dropping it on the floor by the bunk.

 

Sherlock didn't respond with words, but she saw the cords in his neck standing out as he swallowed.

 

Unsure of herself but pressing forward anyway, Molly reached under the long shirt to push her trousers down to her ankles. She kicked them to the side, staring at him, daring him to speak.

 

The man's shirt was long on her, almost to her knees. Standing in the moonlight, she may as well have been nude, the light showing the true shape of her hips and breasts beneath the cotton.

 

Sherlock took in everything, seeing nothing but honest desire in her lips, her limbs, the tilt of her head. Her pupils were dilated; because of the darkness or because of him, he wasn't certain. It didn't matter, because what she wanted was apparent.

 

Her mouth parted and she licked her lips nervously.

 

The sight of her pink tongue swiping her mouth was his undoing.

 

Sherlock's feet moved of their own volition.

 

He abruptly turned himself around and stormed out of the cabin, slamming the door behind him.

 

Molly stood there shocked, only distantly aware of the sound of a key turning in the lock.

 

Doesn't want to be followed, the coward! She raged inwardly. What was I thinking? Stupid, stupid. She had let the intimacy of their conversations and the silent tension mislead her.


Molly threw herself on the bunk, and burrowed under the blankets. She bit her lip hard, refusing to cry. She considered putting her trousers back on, but she thought, defiantly, Let him see me like this. I am not ashamed. It's just bodies, just human need. Didn't he say something like that?


Molly fumed for a solid half hour. She contemplated emptying out his wooden chest and breaking some things in revenge, but she was ashamed of that childish urge after a few minutes. And she couldn't possibly bring herself to destroy the beautiful Pascaline and sextant and other instruments she'd spied in there. If she had a lamp, she would take out those implements and test them out.

 

Don't suppose he'd like me playing with his bloody toys, Molly thought. Cares more about things than people. He's just a-


And as Molly was working herself into another internal rant, the door opened. Sherlock Holmes stood there, his face calm and cold in the moonlight. He closed the door behind him and swiftly approached the bed.

 

He loomed over her, finally in the light enough for her to see his eyes. They gleamed a liquid green-blue color, like the shallow waters of the sea by the sand. His hair was unruly, looking as though he'd run his hands through it repeatedly.

 

"Tell me to leave."

 

She thought she'd misheard him. "What?"

 

"Tell. Me. To. Leave," he said, each word a precise pistol shot.

 

Oh.


She understood.

 

Molly shook her head silently, her loose hair moving around her face.

 

She pulled her legs out from under the covers, and pushed herself onto to her knees, her hands dropping to her shirt's hemline. With one movement, she lifted the garment over her head and tossed it on the floor.

 

She lifted her chin high, and her brown eyes looked almost black in the night. A knowing smile crept onto her face and a playful light into her gaze as she placed her hands on her hips.

 

This wasn't the sweet doctor he'd stolen away, no. This was a woman who would take what she wanted.

 

She's a bloody pirate, he realized. She'll take everything if I let her.


In that moment, he didn't care if she did.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


As Sherlock had paced outside his cabin for that stormy half hour, he had been caught between berating himself for his physical weakness, and cursing himself for not remembering more of the sexual experiences he had in the past.

 

As Sherlock stripped off his clothes and pushed Molly down onto her back, he found his body instinctively remembered everything it needed to.

 

He straddled her thighs and leaned forward slightly, taking in the sight of her pale body half in moonlight, half in shadow. He stroked over her abdomen, noting the way she tensed and bit her lip when he skimmed over her sides and under the curves of her breasts.

 

Her breasts were lovely and her nipples tightened into sensitive nubs with only feathery caresses.

 

He studied her anatomy and she observed him in return, her hands tentatively tracing circles on his thighs as he explored her form with his long, clever fingers. Her fingertips wandered over his legs and up to his hips, not ready yet to examine the most interesting unknown. She did look, though, and her face grew red as he saw her interest in his groin. He grinned in an arrogant, masculine fashion she hadn't yet seen in him.

 

He raised an eyebrow as if to ask if his body was acceptable to her.

 

She smiled, and then moaned as he experimentally squeezed one dark pink nipple and leaned in to suck it into his mouth.

 

Molly felt as though she were in a dream, attempting to grasp that she was finally experiencing what she'd hungered for, for so long. She felt as though she'd known Sherlock forever. She knew she ought to feel guilt over him being so new to her life, but she didn't. She wouldn't. He was beautiful and she was free to touch and taste him.

 

He sucked hard on the nipple until Molly found herself digging her nails into Sherlock's shoulders and arching up against him.

 

Pleased with her response, he lifted his head and shifted his body up so he could claim her mouth.

 

There was no clumsiness this time, and no defensive critiques, just tasting and giving and taking. Molly learned the rhythm of kissing, following his lead in stroking her tongue against his. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and draped one leg around his waist, pressing his groin into hers. The hardness of his cock against her warmth was shocking and thrilling. It was alien to her softness, but it felt natural too.

 

Sherlock found himself realizing that his early explorations into sex had been flawed.

 

If they had tasted and squirmed like Molly, I never would have stopped.


Following that train of thought, he tilted his head and nipped at her neck, dipping his tongue into the interesting hollows. She was gratifyingly vocal in her appreciation, her hands scrabbling at his back and head, trying to find a hold. He pushed her hair back and to the side, sank his hand in the strands and tugged so that her neck was even more exposed in the light. The more he sucked and licked, the more she bucked against him, and whispered his name.

 

Molly well and truly now understood the madness that overtook the lovers she used to watch in the gardens. All sorts of new wants flashed through her mind as Sherlock melted her down with his tongue. She wrapped both legs around his waist now and begged, though she wasn't certain for what.

 

She had read a dozen books that touched upon eroticism and could explain the act of sex in another dozen ways courtesy of her medical education. None of them came close to showing Molly what it was like to feel a man, the only man she'd ever wanted, nudging between her legs and grinding as he kissed around her neck and back to her mouth.

 

"I need…I need you in me," she managed to groan out as he continued tormenting her with teasing kisses.

 

His eyes sparkled with mischief. "But I like this, Molly. You have a remarkable neck," he said, dragging his lips across her flesh again.

 

"And these." He moved down her body and gently bit one nipple. "These are intriguing as well." She grabbed hold of his curls and wiggled as he made her breasts even more sensitive with playful nibbling.

 

"And for a soft-spoken woman, you certainly are…" He moved further down and slid one hand through the brown hair between her thighs. He dipped two fingers between the folds, searching and was rewarded with her high-pitched noises as he rubbed the bundle of nerves he found there.

 

"…Expressive, yes that's the word. You're very articulate, after a fashion." His grin was almost smug as he moved his hand rhythmically and watched her grit her teeth in pain and ecstatic pleasure.

 

She closed her eyes and grabbed hold of the thin pillow beneath her head. Molly arched her hips, lifting her entire pelvis off the bunk, trying to get more pressure.

 

That endless ache she used to wake with after erotic dreams, when she'd stroke herself without ever reaching satisfaction- this was what she'd been aiming for.

 

Sherlock's mind moved at lightning speed, uncovering knowledge he'd filed away years ago as only minimally useful. He found that information valuable now, cataloguing every reaction from the woman in his arms, and comparing it to the faceless women of the past who had claimed to be satisfied with his sexual ministrations. He searched his mind to recall what worked, and was pleased to note the increasing tension in Molly's belly and thighs, and the deepening flush over her face, breasts and groin.

 

She's ready, he thought. He had to make this part flawless, or all she would remember tomorrow would be the hard part that comes after this.

 

He continued working her clitoris, until she started shaking and breathing rapidly. He moved back up her body, his hand still grinding against her, and kissed her hard.

 

She grabbed his shoulders and kissed him back desperately, only to yank away as she reached her peak with a throaty shout.

 

Her eyes widened as the waves ripped through her lower body and she pumped against his fingers, milking every bit of pleasure from him she could handle.

 

As the ripples slowed, Molly collapsed fully back onto the mattress and pulled Sherlock's mouth back down to hers.

 

He kissed her lightly, and brought his hand up to brush the mad tangle of hair away from her overheated face.

 

As he shifted his body, he moved himself entirely back between her legs, subtly guiding her legs apart further.

 

"You know this will hurt," he murmured against her lips, "But that goes away. "

 

She nodded. She had heard all the stories, same as every woman, but she also knew that it wouldn't always hurt. She smiled softly and kissed Sherlock's cheek.

 

He reached back down to open her folds again, slipping one finger and then two into her.

 

He'd been worried she wouldn't be ready for him, but… God, so wet. I don't know how slow I can go.


She moved her hips, getting used to the curious sensation of something actually inside her.

 

 

So odd, she thought. It's not like losing anything, losing virginity. It feels like taking.


She spread her legs further apart and stroked Sherlock's face. "It's fine. Don't worry," she reassured him.

 

"Please."


And with her whisper, he replaced his fingers with the head of his hard cock. It was only with an incredible effort that he didn't plunge into her with one thrust.

 

He flexed his hips, pressing into her slightly.

 

She winced and shifted her lower body. Adjusting to the tightness, she nodded and held onto his shoulders.

 

Sherlock kissed Molly breathless, and slid into her completely as their tongues tangled. He felt her body freeze as she processed the sensation of him breaking her hymen, his hardness being completely sheathed in her wetness now.

 

Her first thought was, Oh damn that hurts. That really hurts. But Sherlock continued kissing her, keeping his hips still, and the sudden burning pain faded to a slight ache.

 

She gently disengaged their tongues, and kissed his lips.

 

"I think, I think I'm alright. It's strange. So strange. You're in me."

 

"Yes," he growled, and she saw the hunger in his eyes. She realized the amount of control he must be exerting right at that moment.

 

"Molly…can I?" he asked, barely able to form the words.

 

She forced her lower body to relax, rolling her hips upward.

 

He groaned as her movement caused him to slide out of her channel. With a careful push, he reentered her and watched her face.

 

She bit her lips, but she didn't grimace in pain. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and nodded.

 

Molly watched his face as he finally let go, with her permission.

 

He looked almost in pain as he moved his pelvis and found a rhythm, his cock filling her over and over. His eyes squeezed shut, his teeth gritted, she wasn't sure if he was in heaven or hell. He adjusted their bodies, and lifted her legs under her knees and pressed her legs up, so he could slide in her deeper, and more controlled.

 

Molly felt more exposed, tilted and open for him. There was some discomfort, some lingering burn from the newness of sex, but it wasn't unbearable. She relished the secret privilege of seeing the icy Captain Sherlock Holmes lose his reserve as he sunk into her. He was brilliant and strong and handsome, and he wanted her, wanted to pleasure her in turn.

 

If this never happens again, Molly thought, I will always have this; one time, a first time, with someone who was everything I ever wanted in a lover.


He opened his eyes as he continued to rock within her, the wetness of them together stroking him and bringing him to the edge.

 

Feeling the tightness in his sac, Sherlock hiked up one of Molly's legs again and built up now to a frenzied thrusting pace. The sounds of their flesh slapping together was the most sexual thing she'd ever heard.

 

Is that filthy? She thought. I don't care. I want it.


Understanding that he was close to orgasm, Molly dug her fingernails into his shoulders, and licked the half-moon shapes. He groaned as she nibbled and kissed him, and plunged ruthlessly now, forgetting to be careful.

 

He rode her hard, and finally came inside her with an agonized groan. He collapsed on top of her briefly, his damp curls tickling her face as he breathed heavy gasps onto her neck.

 

She winced again, as he drew himself out of her. She hated to imagine what a state the blankets must be in now. She pushed the care away, promising herself she'd deal with it later.

 

Now was the time for glorying in it.

 

Sherlock kissed her neck tenderly and rolled off her. The narrow mattress kept them close together still, and she snuggled against the side of his chest.

 

I'm not a virgin anymore, she thought, smiling in the dark. I think I understand what the fuss is all about. And I've only just begun.


Sherlock lay beside her, contemplating less joyful thoughts, at war with himself again.

 

You could get used to this. You're a creature of habit, after all. And she feels right.


Well that's acceptable. I pleased her. She asked for it.


You can't keep her. It's dangerous here. And she isn't a gillyflower or a butterfly you can keep in a bottle or pinned to a wall. She has a father, and a job she loves. She has to go home.


Not yet.


But she will in time. And what then?


Sherlock Holmes had no answer.

Chapter Text

Molly Hooper wakened slowly, sunlight pushing its way through her eyelids. She stretched her arms and legs out, and was alarmed by the aches that came to life in all her limbs. She relaxed her body on the bed, and waited for the throbbing in her thighs to die down.

 

As her sleepiness faded, the evening's activities came rushing back into Molly's brain. She sat bolt upright, the blankets pooling around her waist. Looking around, she saw she was alone in Sherlock's cabin, with the sounds of normal ship life carrying on, just beyond the door.

 

Molly felt herself blush and she looked down at her lap. She pushed the covers down to her knees and gingerly opened her legs.

 

Blood smeared across the insides of her thighs, and there was a sizable damp spot just underneath. She touched it tentatively, realizing that the wetness must've been caused by her hymen breaking, her juices and Sherlock's ejaculate.

 

Molly wrinkled her nose, but was curious.

 

So this is the 'bleeding like a pig in a slaughterhouse' Lady Caswell jested about? It's not so bad at all. And it wasn't disgusting at all when he…


Molly smiled remembering the new sensation of her lover climaxing inside of her. Sherlock had never seemed as raw and honest as when he pumped inside of her and groaned with pleasure. In fact, she couldn't wait to do it again.

 

Feeling a building excitement for the day's possibilities, Molly hopped off the bunk and promptly fell on the floor as her leg muscles turned to jelly.

 

"Ooof!" Molly exclaimed as she massaged her sore muscles. She was aware of tenderness between her legs as well, but she didn't know what she could do about that. Collecting herself, Molly pushed onto her knees and pulled herself to standing again. She began donning her discarded clothing from the night before, wishing she had water to wash up. She could ask for some, she supposed.

 

The cabin door flew open, and Sherlock Holmes strode in, shoving the door closed behind him.

 

Molly jumped, startled by the noise, with her trousers only halfway up her thighs.

 

"Are you well, Dr. Hooper?" His eyes were a clear sky blue in the light. She saw uncertainty in his gaze for the first time. While she was a ragged, tangled-hair mess, he looked lovely, in a fresh pair of dark brown trousers, and a cream-colored casual shirt, with the neck ties undone. Molly lost herself for a few seconds in the vee of pale exposed skin.

 

"What? Oh. Um, yes. I'm well…I think." Molly smiled with her mouth closed, and lifted both her shoulders into a shrug. Remembering her situation, she reached down and hauled the trousers up to her waist.

 

"You fell. Are you- did I-if you are injured in some way, do not think to spare my feelings by denying it. I assure you I would be untroubled by it, but if you require medical attention-" The words shot out rapid-fire.

 

"NO!" She nearly shouted. "No, I don't need medical- I, actually, I would rather like some water, for cleaning." She stepped closer to him, looking for some overt signal that he was pleased about the previous night. She reached out and brushed her fingertips across his dangling hand. He caught her fingers, and his other hand wrapped around the wrist of the same hand, suddenly tugging her close to him.

 

Wayward black curls hung over Sherlock's forehead and sideburns, and as always, she had to urge to kiss and stroke them back. As she contemplated doing just that, he bent his head and said, "You are well then," as he nuzzled her ear.

 

Molly swallowed. "How- how can you tell?"

 

"I can feel it." He pressed his fingers harder on her wrist's pulse point briefly for emphasis and Molly realized what he had done.

 

"Oh, that's clever. I'll have to remember that trick. I'll wager you aren't interested in my hands at all really," she mock-pouted.

 

"Oh I wouldn't say that. Your hands tell more stories than most people's." He flipped her hand over and drew a fingertip across the calluses and tiny nicks on her fingers and palm.

 

"There was a post-mortem six weeks ago where the saw slipped, his skull was atypically large, I see, lots of pressure needed to crack him open. This one is smaller, with a skip in it, and it's older- you miscut and skimmed over a rib, lost control. A long time ago when you were much less experienced." He rubbed his thumb over the calloused pad on her palm just below her index finger. "And this is from your favorite knife, the one you use in almost every autopsy. You keep it razor sharp."

 

She laughed. "You see everything. You're amazing."

 

He raised an eyebrow. "You think so?"

 

"Yes. Yes, absolutely." His thumb continued stroking her palm.

 

"That's not what most people say." One side of his mouth drew up in a sardonic smile.

 

"What do most people say?" she asked.

 

He dropped her hand and dug his fingers deep into her hair, and kissed her hard.

 

Molly squeaked in surprise, which turned to a moan as he sucked her lower lip between his teeth. She stood on her tiptoes, grabbing at his shoulders, needing more of him. He tasted as divine as he had last night. She gasped for air quickly between slashing kisses.

 

"Is that really what they say?" she giggled, as he kissed his way to her neck. She cradled the back of his head as he examined a fascinating little hollow with his tongue.

 

"No, they tell me to piss off but I like your way much better." His hands slid down to cup her breasts and toy with her nipples sensitive after last night's onslaught. Molly saw his nostrils flaring and his eyes darkening as he moved to push up the shirt she'd only just put back on.

 

Two insistent knocks on the door broke through the growing haze, and Sherlock cursed.

 

"GO. AWAY. Or I will bloody keel-haul you!" he barked.

 

"They don't really do that, Sherlock. At least not anymore, I don't think," John responded calmly from the other side of the door.

 

"I'll bring it back," Sherlock retorted as he stormed to the door and flung it open.

 

The ship's surgeon scanned the cabin, noted Molly's presence, and said quietly, "We need to talk about our other guest."

 

"What? Oh yes, Lestrade. The whispering isn't necessary. It's not like she doesn't know he's on board." Sherlock stood with his arms crossed, the thwarted sexual energy turning to testiness.

 

John pushed past the captain, and approached Molly near the bunk against the wall.

 

"Are you alright? Do you need anything, miss?"

 

"I am well, thank you for asking, Mister Watson."

 

"John, please." His warm blue eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled winningly.

 

"Of course, yes, John." Molly looked down and shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

 

"Sherlock, outside for a minute." John's eyes as they turned to his friend were stern.

 

"Can't. Busy. Talk later. Lovely chatting," Sherlock rushed out as he held the door open for John.

 

"Holmes. Outside. Now."


Sherlock frowned, but followed the other man out, shutting the door behind them.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"What gave it away, I'm curious- the blanket? Her hair?" the captain asked without preamble as they stepped away from his cabin.

 

"No. Well, they helped, I suppose. What the hell are you thinking? She's a good girl, Sherlock. You can't just…I don't know even what to say. I didn't even know if you liked women, to be honest. Which is fine, by the way."

 

"I know it's fine."

 

"Yes, it's all fine," John nodded. "It was the smell, actually."

 

"The smell?"

 

"It smelled like a damn brothel when I walked in there. Near the bed. You need a window that actually opens. You really didn't notice?"

 

"I should've thought of that. Always something I miss. Scent is the most powerful trigger of memory, you know."

 

"Oh is it? That's fantastic," John responded. "What the fuck were you thinking?


"A brothel. Really, John? You don't think that's a bit rude? And when have you been to a brothel? Didn't think that was your sort of place."

 

John stopped fuming, and stared at his friend. Sherlock stared back without flinching.

 

After several cold seconds, John looked away and rubbed his face tiredly.

 

"I thought you were married to your work."

 

"I still am. I'm merely…having an affair."

 

"Right. Does she know that?" John challenged the captain.

 

"I'll remind her of it," Sherlock said, shifting side to side impatiently. "Tell Captain Lestrade he's being treated to an exotic holiday journey to the island of Jamaica. If he behaves, his corpse will not be deposited on the beach at Port Royal before we continue on to Kingston. Instead he'll be deposited in in civilized Kingston before we depart with an oh-so-exciting tale to share with his future grandchildren."

 

"That's insane."

 

"Obviously. Do you have a better plan that doesn't involve executing him immediately?"

 

John's shoulders slumped in defeat. "I don't want to keep him here in the surgery. He hasn't spoken a word since he regained consciousness an hour ago. Just stares at me like he wants to shoot me."

 

"Well you can't really blame him for that."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock went off in search of Basil, saying something about needing water for washing.

 

John headed in the other direction, swinging by the galley to pester Chase for some bread, cheese and beer. The cook begrudged handing over food to any crewman between set meal times, but had standing orders from the captain to give John and Basil whatever they wanted, since they were often bringing the food to Sherlock.

 

When John walked back into the surgery, he almost could not see the man sitting in the corner, with his face against his knees. The surgeon saw that while he'd been gone, Lestrade had dislodged the bandage that had been wound around his head in order to keep the cold rag on his cheek in place.

 

"Heads up. Grub." He held out the hunk of bread.

 

"I'm not hungry." The words were muffled against his knees.

 

"You must be. That's the first time you've spoken. Don't be an idiot. You're going to be here a while. Eat."

 

"Piss off." The Royal Navy captain lifted his head and pressed a palm to his nearly purple cheek. The metal bracelets clanked as the chains that connected them to one another tangled up. The links led down from the wrist shackles, and joined with a matching set attached to his ankles. The restraints were secured to the wall by the threading of the chain through a thick iron loop.

 

The chafed skin on Lestrade's wrists told him the man had been active while he was talking to Sherlock.

 

"Wouldn't bother trying to pull away from the wall. Those are in deep and you'll break a bone before you break free."

 

"So I'll break a bone, and then I'll be free."

 

"You'll be stranded in the middle of the ocean. I know you're smarter than that, Gregory."

 

"Traitors don't get to call me by my Christian name."

 

"Traitor! I'm not a bloody traitor. I nearly died for my country. Saved more Englishmen than I can count. We've never gone after English ships."

 

"So you say. You've kidnapped an English officer. For what, ransom?"

 

"I don't think they'd pay much for a Frenchman," John said with a smirk, extending his hand with the bread again.

 

It was Lestrade's turn to be indignant. "I'm not French. Not my fault my father was born there. I'm English. Don't you bloody forget it, ya goddamn pirate." He swiped the bread from John's hand and crammed it in his mouth angrily.

 

As he chewed, a fresh trickle of blood fell from the cut in his cheek. John reached for the basin of water on the table and a clean bandage.

 

"Hold." Lestrade made a resistant face, but followed the order as John dabbed at the cut.

 

"Good, I missed the nose. Your cheek'll heal nicely but you have to leave the bandages in place, I haven't got a huge supply here. This isn't the Royal Navy, as you've noted."


Lestrade rubbed his chin. "Thought my jaw might be broken at first, but it's just sore as hell. Never saw you box on the Edinburgh"


John passed him the cup of beer, which the man gulped down greedily.

 

"Look I'm sorry. I did what I had to do. You would've done what you had to do. I couldn't let you take the Hudson."


"You were a good man, Watson. How did you fall in with pirates?" Disgust was clear in his voice.

 

"Funny thing, the sailors here aren't much different than the ones on any other ship. Half of them served on merchant ships before this and they could go back to it after this run is done. It doesn't make any difference to them, so long's they get paid."

 

"How did this happen, John?" Lestrade asked, this time with less harshly.

 

"Sherlock found me. Pulled me out of the dark where I was living, and gave me a life. I owe him so much. Everything. Sometimes I think he knows everything that happened before I met him- I'm sure of it actually. But he's never said anything or judged me. He gave me purpose again and accepted me. I didn't know how badly I needed it until I had that."

 

John stopped, surprised by what had come out of his mouth. Old habits die hard, he supposed.

 

He'd become comfortable about Gregory Lestrade as he was the least formal captain he'd known until he met Sherlock Holmes. Lestrade used to arrange card games amongst officers, and he never showed favoritism. He was immensely popular with his men, despite his French blood. John had become on first name terms with him after the Navy captain took a shot in the leg during a mild skirmish with the French in '04. During John's daily visits to care for the wound, the two men had found that they'd grown up in the same county, and that some of his wife's family lived in John's village. After John was shot in the shoulder trying-and failing-to save an injured friend during a battle, it had been Lestrade's turn to visit him. There'd been no joking banter then, just John staring hollow-eyed and not speaking for days. The last time the captain went to see him, he'd found that the man had left the ship with the blessing of the Royal Navy, as his contracted time had run out while he was in his sickbed.

 

Feeling like the traitor Lestrade had named him, John gritted his teeth and spoke.

 

"You'll be left in Jamaica if you cooperate. If you attack anyone or attempt to divert the ship in any way, you'll be executed. The captain's not interested in ransom. Please, for the love of all that's holy, do nothing. You'll stay here with me in the surgery, it's not safe for you in the crew's quarters."

 

Lestrade had paled under his tan, but he squared his shoulders and nodded. "Don't suppose they fancy the navy much on pirate ships."

 

"No, they do not. Some of them were navy sailors, and were flogged by men like you. I expect it's been a while since you had to sleep in a hammock every night." John smiled slightly.

 

"A bit," he smirked. "My back's not what it used to be, it should be interesting." He sighed and ran a hand through his silver hair. The chains clanked with the movement.

 

"Any chance of getting these off? I can't go anywhere, like you said."

 

"I can take you off the wall, but you've got to keep the wrist shackles on to slow you down for now. I want to believe you won't be stupid enough to hurt someone, but…Well let's take it day by day, yeah?"

 

He nodded. "I still can't believe this has happened. Keep thinking I'll wake up in my quarters with a bottle of brandy in my hand and a terrible headache."

 

"I know the feeling. Nothing's ever normal when you run with Sherlock Holmes, but it's never dull."

 

"This ship is damnably fast. How long does the Hudson take to get to Jamaica usually?"

 

"Last time, with fair weather most of the way, nine weeks, with a stop in- never mind where."

 

"Nine weeks." He nodded with resignation. "I can handle nine weeks. And I have his word, for what it's worth, that he'll release me in Jamaica?"

 

"Yes. You may not trust Sherlock's word, but I trust him with my life. You'll get home to your ship; I give you my own word, sir."

 

Lestrade studied John's face intently. Apparently satisfied with the earnestness he saw there, he stood and dusted off his trousers as best he could manage.

 

"I'll hold you to that promise, John Watson."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Molly tired of waiting for Sherlock to return, and so she ventured out above alone. It was a cool late morning, and the waters were choppy. She found she walked easily over the decks after several days' practice. She found herself getting dizzy when she looked up at the intricate crisscrosses of ropes that connected the sails and controlled their speed. Watching the riggers do their work on the spars high above made her nervous, but it was amazing to watch the small Greek man, Melas, dart around fearlessly while shouting out crude jokes to Latimer and Forrester.

 

Molly craned her neck up to watch and laughed at one of the more off-color remarks.

 

"Not much of a lady then, are ya?"

 

Molly jumped at the voice that came from behind her. She spun around and found Donovan leaning against a wall and smoking a cigar. She was impressed again by the master gunner's body movements that perfectly mimicked a man's style. If she didn't know anatomy, she would have been totally fooled.

 

"I never claimed to be a lady. My father's a physician, not a lord."

 

"He's got a job then, yeah, so that makes you no different than us, does it." Dislike showed clearly Donovan's face.

 

"I didn't say that." Molly stepped back. "I didn't, I didn't say anything at all."

 

Donovan flicked the cigar stub over the railing. "What are you doing here with him?"

 

"What do you mean? I didn't have a choice, you know that. I want to go home."

 

"Oh do you? You look rather comfortable, if I do say so m'self. That's not wise."

 

Molly grew irritated. "It's none of your concern, Donovan."

 

"Stay away from Sherlock Holmes, miss. Next port, find another ship, get on it and go anywhere else. He's nothing but trouble for ya."

 

Anger rose up in her now. "How dare you. You don't know me at all. And I dare say I would not be safer on another ship full of strange men, alone. I'd think you would understand that better than anyone else here."

 

Donovan's eyes widened slightly and her throat moved as she swallowed repeatedly. She stared at Molly suspiciously for a moment, and then turned to leave.

 

"Wait, stop!" Molly reached out and grabbed Donovan's shoulder. The master gunner flinched and looked around to see if any of her crewmates had observed the exchange.

 

"Please, I'm sorry. I lost my temper. I shouldn't have- it's alright. I'm not going to tell anyone. I can understand why you would…hide. It can't be easy."

 

Donovan turned to face Molly, and resentment radiated from her expressive dark eyes. "You don't know anything about me or my life."

 

"No, I don't." She hesitated. "Why would you do this? There have to be easier ways to earn a living. You're obviously clever. And I saw you reading an inventory list, so you can read at least a little."

 

"Yeah I can read. It's not your business to know why I'm…like this, but…I'm trying to get back to where I belong. My captain, my real captain- not this rude freak who thinks he's better than everyone- got taken by the English, clapped in irons and sentenced to hang in London." Donovan's mouth twisted in remembered anger. "I thought that was the end, but then there was a delay with the hanging, and my captain escaped, caught a ship back to the Caribbean they say. So I need to get there. I'm doing my job, earning my way; it ain't nobody's business but mine. So keep your gob shut." There was a note of pleading in the master gunner's demand.

 

"Oh I will!" Molly said. "I'm sorry I said anything, I just got upset. It was stupid of me."

 

"Suppose I could have…been a bit less, you know." Donovan shrugged. "I get used to being like this all the time. It's easier to keep people away so they don't look at me too hard."

 

"I hope you get to where you want to be," Molly said, smiling tentatively. "Lucky there was a delay with the execution. The fates smiled on your captain, it seems."

 

"Pffft fates," Donovan waved it away. "We make our own luck. Fates had nothin' to do with the delay. My captain is right clever. They had to put off hanging her, you see, because she told them she was pregnant. And they believed her because they didn't have no choice, and she got away afore the doctors could tell for sure." Donovan laughed, a happy smile breaking out on her face.

 

Why I think she might actually be lovely under the dirt and roughness and anger, Molly thought.

 

"You think Sherlock Holmes is so brilliant, I know," Donovan said. "But there's no one as tricky as my captain." The master gunner laughed again, and lit another cigar as she strolled away from Molly.

Chapter Text

Molly watched the master gunner, Donovan, stroll away after casually mentioning that her previous captain had been female. Too stunned to respond properly, she stood staring at the retreating woman for a moment, before deciding to return the captain's quarters. She felt sticky all over from the summer heat, the salty air and the vigorous sexual activity the night before. She wondered if it was ship life or just having sex that Molly feel like she walking differently. Before she had taken cautious steps as she traveled through London on foot with her father. Now, she strode across shifting decks and found herself skipping the bottom two steps of the stairs and jumping to the floor.

 

Seeing the cabin boy up ahead hauling two heavy buckets, she called out his name.

 

"Basil! Did you like the candy?"

 

He beamed. "Ohhh yes, miss. Tastes like sunshine. Captain said you wanted to wash, so I made it good and warm for ya." He nudged open the door to Sherlock's cabin further and dropped the buckets onto the floor by the bunk. "Haven't got enough water for a proper tub, sorry. We'll take on more water at our next stop, so ya can have it then." He rubbed his damp hands on his britches.

 

"Oh, um," Molly stammered, following him into the room. "I don't think I'll be here that long? I don't really know boat traveling times, but if I'm heading back to London soon, then…"

 

Basil frowned. He dug a bar of soap out of his pocket and tossed it on the bed. "Can't be that soon, mum. Not going back to England now. We're headin' the other way, since early this morn." He shrugged and jogged out the door, closing it behind him.

 

"The other…way?" Molly said blankly, her mouth dropped open in shock.

 

Her stomach churned in sudden realization. Would her father receive her letter soon? How long could he carry on his medical duties without her? Had the captain really promised he would bring her home immediately or did she just assume that?

 

Molly slowly turned to the buckets and picked up the bar of soap. Making sure the door was securely closed, she stripped out of her clothes and begin washing herself, using pieces torn from her muslin party dress as rags.

 

She wiped away the lingering traces on blood on her thighs and freshened herself all over as best she could manage. The buckets were used up quickly as she scrubbed efficiently and rinsed off.

 

Molly felt calmer as she worked. She would ask Sherlock when he returned to the cabin. He would answer her truly, she was sure of it. After what had happened between them, and him so tender with her in the morning, he had to care at least a little, didn't he?

 

He'll tell me, Molly repeated to herself. He'll tell me.


She felt a conflict growing again, a seed of thought planted the night Sherlock had taken her to the Hudson.

 

When Basil said they were going the other way, and not to England, Molly should have been horrified, and frightened, and angry.

 

Instead, elation had bloomed in her belly. I don't have to go home, the sensation whispered. It was only after the flash of happiness quieted that she thought of her father lost, falling apart without her.

 

I'm not a very good daughter if I am so glad to free of him, she supposed. It's the child's duty to take care of the parent when they are unwell. And he is ill, God. But please just give me a few weeks, she prayed. I'll go home when it's time.


Molly finished her washing, and dried herself best as she could with the remnants of her white dress.

 

Feeling out of sorts with her conflicting emotions and exhausted by the last few days, she crawled nude into the bed with her copy of Juliette. Ignoring the rumblings of hunger in her stomach, she read the strange, scandalous novel until she grew sleepy.

 

He'll be here when I wake up, and he'll kiss me and it'll all be sorted out, she told herself as she drifted off.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


It wasn't until the late afternoon that John's duties were completed enough that he went above with the prisoner, Captain Lestrade. He removed the ankle cuffs so only a pair of wrist shackles bound the man.

 

"Thought you'd never fix that bench. Still a shit carpenter, I see," Lestrade said mildly as he stretched his legs and rolled his shoulders, working out the kinks from sleeping in chains.

 

"Yeah well I can fix your face, that's right good enough, yeah?" John replied, handing the Royal Navy officer a cup of beer. "They're not going to be happy to see you, so keep quiet. Be smart, don't pay no mind. The captain's not real keen on you being here. Don't give him an excuse to toss you overboard."

 

Lestrade chugged the drink, licking his lips afterward. Silvery brown scruff dotted his cheeks, and his jacket and waistcoat were undone. Purple bruises decorated his left cheek and jawline. A day on the ship had already chipped away at the smooth, civilized demeanor of the captain.

 

The sunlight beat down on the hardworking crew as the two men arrived on deck. The sailors eyed Lestrade suspiciously and one swabbed his filthy mop over the navy man's boots, leaving wet brown streaks.

 

He gritted his teeth and smiled at the snickering sailors who took in his restraints and gossiped amongst themselves.

 

"Oi! You! Found this. This yours?" McAffee hollered down from the fo'c'sle, waving Lestrade's bicorne hat.

 

Lestrade nodded warily, squinting up at the squat Irishman. McAffee grinned and dropped the hat on the deck. He reached down to tug at the knotted rope that served as his belt.

 

The navy captain wrinkled his nose as he craned his neck to see. "Is he…?"

 

John pursed his lips, looked sideways at Lestrade and nodded. "Yes. He is…pissing in your hat."

 

Gregory Lestrade stood quietly for a minute while McAffee and the other nearby sailors roared with laughter. He twisted his mouth slightly before letting a small smile appear on his battered face.

 

"I never did care for those hats."

 

John shrugged and grinned at the other man. "Pirates."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock Holmes watched from further down on the decks as John and the prisoner began to laugh. He had been hidden away in his closet laboratory for hours, working on a test that would determine if arsenic was present in a substance or a body. He had been mulling over the idea since the mention of arsenic came up during Brunton's autopsy. Now that he'd given into his desire for the cheery-faced doctor living in his cabin, he found he was able to refocus on his scientific explorations and develop a working hypothesis.

 

He had been mixing substances carefully and testing ideas, and realized he was choking on fumes only after developing a terrible headache. After nearly dropping a vial of hydrochloric acid on his trousers, Sherlock had been forced to acknowledge he should take a break to clear his head.

 

Lounging against the wall, he breathed in the clean air and rolled a cigar with the tobacco stuffed in his pocket.

 

The captain took in the companionable exchanges between the two men and filed some of it into the cabin in his mind labeled John Watson that contained information he'd deduced or outright learned over the past year about the man's medical history (shoulder wound from French carbine rifle), education (interrupted; practical navy training came from another officer who'd undoubtedly been educated in Scotland), family (all dead, never close), romantic attachments (few, secretive and painful) and general habits. His habits were few and predictable. The ship's surgeon was like a clock, with the ticking regularity of navy life drilled into him. He rose and went to bed at the same time every night, took his tea in the same manner every morning, and even went to the head at nearly standard intervals.

 

The reliability of John reassured Sherlock; he valued the constancy of the man's friendship and loyalty, something he never knew he needed until the inebriated surgeon dove into the fray of piracy with him almost on a whim. It was good to have someone to laugh with and talks about his experiments with, even if John was thick in the head sometimes. He couldn't hold that against the man too much, as most people were appallingly stupid. Occasional thickness was forgivable.

 

Until Molly Hooper and her bag of knives came aboard, John was the only person he'd met in years who didn't absolutely drain Sherlock with their stupidity.

 

John and Lestrade turned around, and spotted the captain observing them as he smoked. The blond man hurried over and their prisoner followed.

 

"Monsieur Lestrade, so good of you to join us today!" Sherlock said brightly, earning a glare from the other man.

 

His eyes skimmed over the older man, noting the previously mended places on his clothing and the crispness of his recently trimmed hair.

 

"I understand you're going to be accompanying us to Jamaica. We could always use another hand in a fight. How are you with a blunderbuss? And the sword?"

 

"What? I'm not going to bloody help you," Lestrade said with disgust. "Are you mad?"

 

"It was merely a suggestion." Sherlock smiled and John understood he was playing with the officer.

 

He's such a child sometimes, John thought.

 

"I simply thought that since you have no real reason to go back to London, with your wife sleeping with another man and you've no children- and you're not likely to ever, am I right?" he winked knowingly at Lestrade.

 

"He- what? How did he know- that's none of his concern." Lestrade's face was flushed and angry. He shot a look at John. "Did you tell him?"

 

"I didn't know, Gregory, how could I have told him?"

 

"Yes, Gregory, how could he have known. He'd have to have noted the cheap brass ring you wear, the lamentable state of it, the shoddy repair job on your clothing- a high-ranking officer with a wife who can't be bothered to look after him, send his things out for repair or even see him when he's in London. You've clearly just been to a barber in London, that's no rough ship's barber crop. You were in port- what, a few hours? Instead of bothering to see your wife, you get your hair done. Clearly neither of you are interested in one another. She's got someone else, and you," Sherlock smiled slyly. "You just…aren't that interested."


Lestrade's redness had faded, and he was paler now under his bruising. His lips curled inward and his nose wrinkled as he fought to keep from responding to Sherlock's jibes.

 

John watched uncomfortably.

 

"How do you know how long we were in port? You can't know that."

 

"I had word from someone. I loathe him, but it's important to him that I don't hang and so he made certain I was aware of your presence."

 

"I knew it," Lestrade spat out. "I knew it. You were too damn fast, always getting away no matter what we planned. We were bloody close so often."

 

"The only way a secret can be kept between two men is if one of them is dead. Keeping a secret when a large naval staff is aware of it is ridiculous. You were never close. You will never capture me. And if you did, you imbeciles wouldn't be able to keep me."

 

"Sherlock, that's enough," John said quietly.

 

"They managed to snare Adler after she relieved them of ships and coin for years. They lost her within a week. See, she knew what the turnkeys liked. And Adler isn't even a genius, just an overgrown adventuress. She's probably halfway to Louisiana by now. I'm tempted to let myself be caught just for the laugh. You're all so simple."


"That is ENOUGH," John shouted.

 

Startled, Sherlock narrowed his eyes at his friend. John held his stare for several seconds, and then his eyes darted over to Lestrade.

 

Stop talking, was the unspoken message. Sherlock analyzed what he'd said, and realized that in his vicious enjoyment, he had probably said too much. He had no love for Adler and her plots, but the seas were more interesting with her sailing them.

"What's in Lousiana?" Lestrade asked, eyebrows raised.

 

"Frenchmen. You'd love it there," Sherlock said pointedly. "But as it happens, we're not going there. John, get this navy dog out of my sight. Chase's made stew for your supper, by the smell of things. Perhaps your old friend here can get a bowl with only a small amount of piss in it."

 

He turned to John. "I'll be in the lab if any situations arise."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


In the darkest hours of the night, Sherlock finally set aside the vials and his microscope. The candles burned too low for him to see results anymore, and his eyes burned from the effort. He had left the door open to keep fresh air circulating and so his headache cleared. With his mind sharp and excited by the encouraging results using hydrochloric acid, he pressed onward with the experiments, losing track of time. Only the total absence of light in the windowless room could force Sherlock Holmes to stop working.

 

He located a barrel of water, and scooped out a bucketful, swallowed a large quantity, before using the rest to scrub down his arms and face. The emptiness of his stomach made itself known with an unhappy grumble, but he pushed aside that feeling, as he couldn't be bothered with waking the grumpy Chase. He'd have something tomorrow. Later, he amended, realizing dawn wasn't far off.

 

As the water revived him, Molly found her way back into his mind. When he worked and explored the microscopic world, everything else receded into the distance. All the annoying complications of life, all the people who failed to understand and to challenge, they all vanished in those times.

 

Content with ceasing his work for the night, he allowed the warmth of her eyes and the memory of her scent to return to him. Sherlock smiled as he remembered that this night there was something worth coming back for. He set the bucket aside and headed for his cabin.

 

He could barely see her, her nude body curled into a fetal ball. She had to have left the cabin at some point, as her new simple dress hung from a hook on the wall with the buttons halfway undone. When he'd seen the dress last, it was neatly folded on his table. An empty bowl sat there now, with a few scrapings of greasy stew and an empty cup that held a trace of water.

 

Two large round wet spots were visible on the floor- remnants of overflowing buckets. So she had washed then. Basil had a habit of forgetting to carry out his requests. He was pleased the boy had followed through with this one.

 

What else did she do today, he wondered as he watched her eyelids flutter in her deep sleep. The thin blanket was pulled up to her chin, but her back was exposed, the cover resting just above the cleft of her bum. On his side of the bunk laid a book.

 

Ah, he thought, flipping it over. You read and you ate and you stayed here…waiting? Juliette, or Vice Amply Rewarded. Not just erotic, but a truly depraved book. You aren't the sort of woman who loves fairy stories, are you, Molly. Dark and a little bit dangerous is what you're after, he thought, setting aside the book.

 

Sherlock stripped off his clothes and threw them carelessly on a chair. He slid under the covers, his long form wrapping around Molly's small body. He contemplated actually sleeping, but the results of his experiments of the day raced through his mind. They had been mostly failures, but eliminating chemicals helped narrow down possible solutions. His hand settled on Molly's abdomen, his hand moving back and forth as his mind work on the arsenic testing hypotheses.

 

Molly had been sleeping dreamlessly when the peace was broken by Sherlock's long fingers tracing circles on the sensitive skin under her breasts. As she awoke, she gradually became aware of quiet murmuring. As he stroked her skin, he was speaking softly.

 

"…the copper was utterly useless…wasted the mercury, no, not that. Metals, no, wrong tack altogether…"

 

"Sherlock?" she whispered. Her hand covered his on her torso, her fingers tucked into the spaces between his.

 

"Shhh I'm thinking. The precipitate formed with the carbon disulfide, intriguing, but not right either…" His hand moved up as he spoke absently, grazing the underside of her left breast. He squeezed closer, his lips brushing over the back of her neck as he cupped her, his palm tickling her nipple into hardness.

 

"Sherlock, where were you?" Molly asked. As she woke, she remembered she had been rather annoyed with him for not turning up even at supper time. She'd taken the bowl back to the cabin in a huff, even as Chase glared at her and Anderson smirked.

 

Her irritation over missing the damnable man didn't keep her from sighing and leaning into the increasing pressure of his hand. He continued to think out loud, rattling off chemicals and solutions, and his hand reached around to stroke her right breast.

 

Unable to lay passively any longer, Molly rolled onto her back.

 

"Sherlock, I have some quest-"

 

"Mmm thank you," he said, bending his head to roll her hard nipples between his lips in turn.

 

"Ohhh," she breathed, her anxieties melting away. He tugged gently with his teeth and she arched into his mouth, the wetness and stroking of his tongue becoming her world in that moment.

 

"I have some new ideas how to proceed with the experiment," he said lifting his head briefly. "But I need more supplies so it'll have to wait. You've been most helpful."

 

"I what?" Molly's brow furrowed. She reached for Sherlock's head and drew him close.

 

"You smell good," he said against her mouth. Molly's messy, enthusiastic kisses met his precise ones, building with intensity until neither one of them was leading, but their tongues danced together with equal want. She was breathless and giggling as he climbed on top of her to bury his face against her neck.

 

"You have these places on your throat…that are positively inspirational, Molly."

 

He tasted the skin of her neck, enjoying the natural saltiness of her flesh. Each new spot on her was intriguing and she wriggled in new ways with the explorations. There was a new room in his mind designated solely for her various moans and squeals and sighs. Sherlock moved down her body, stopping to nuzzle the underside of her breasts, stroking her sides before drawing his nails lightly over her hips and squeezing.

 

Molly looked down at him, his black curls draped over her as he kissed her belly and dipped a hand between her legs. She felt she must be embarrassingly wet already. He slipped two fingers into her easily, testing her reaction.

 

"Does it hurt? Are you well?" he asked.

 

Realizing what he meant, Molly smiled and nodded happily. "It hurt this morning, but it's alright now."

 

He moved his fingers slowly, stroking her from within as he kissed his way across the softness of her stomach. He pushed her legs further apart and licked her inner thigh, smiling arrogantly as she groaned and lifted her hips as he had thought she would. He withdrew his fingers from her, and she arched to offer herself to him as she felt the emptiness.

 

Settling comfortably between her legs, he lifted her thighs and spread them further apart. Leaning in to study her in the moonlight, he traced the lines of her lips framed by the curly brown hair. He delved in further, thumbing over her clitoris until she wiggled and groaned his name.

 

"Sherlock, please, I need." The plea died on Molly's tongue as Sherlock spread her open and dipped his tongue into the wetness, finding the bundle of nerves again. He had never tasted anything so wild and intense as her. He had idly sucked her juices off his fingers the night before, but that couldn't compare to having his face pressed against her and her bucking against him. This was…interesting.


Molly's face was aflame, never having considered that he would kiss her like that. She had seen drawings, but people didn't really do all those things- and his tongue wiggled against her clitoris and all coherent thought was lost. Molly forgot to be embarrassed and she threw her head back and let him take her that way.

 

Sherlock felt her relax and give in to the pleasure. He grinned as he slipped two fingers back inside her, and continued exploring her sex with this tongue. The folds, with their secretive design, were provocative and logical and clever. She was sensitive everywhere, not just her bud, and she released the most satisfying string of moans, capped with a desperate curse word that made him smile.

 

He was aware of his own growing hardness, but he ignored it, determined to learn everything while she allowed him. The widowed countess had introduced him to this act those many years but she had pushed him off her the moment she reached her pleasure and not allowed him to really look. He had subsequently tried to explore the act further with another woman whose name and face were long deleted- but he recalled her being horrified by the suggestion, saying it was unclean.


How ridiculous. There was nothing unclean about Molly, and he was content to lick and nuzzle and suck until dawn if she would let him, but her shaking and begging told him she wouldn't last much longer.

 

With concentrated effort, Molly lifted her head and looked down at the oddly beautiful man between her thighs. His indescribable eyes peered up at her as he stroked her harder with his tongue. Her pleasure last night had been sharp and jagged and shattering and incredible. What he was doing to her now was a different sensation, thrilling in its slow build. She felt boneless, like she was floating on waves. She rode that feeling, rocking her hips against his face, gasping with the variety of strokes as they moved together rhythmically.

 

Sherlock felt Molly reach her peak, her sex pulsing against his tongue a second before she threw her hips in the air and keened with pleasure. He maintained the pressure with his tongue and fingers until she abruptly dragged herself to sitting and yanked his head up.

 

Realizing she was pulling his hair, Molly gasped, "Sorry!" before collapsing back onto the pillow. "Too sensitive…" she said, gulping for air and smiling foolishly.

 

Sherlock pulled himself on his elbows and then on his knees, his face wet with her, his hair sticking up madly. His mouth pulled to one side with a smile that could only be called smug.

 

"We have to do that in the daytime. I can't see enough," he said calmly.

 

Molly laughed, shaking. "If you say so." She cast her eyes downward to his groin. "Come now."

 

"Hmm?" His eyebrows rose.

 

"I want you, I want you to be in me," she explained.

 

"You're still tender inside," he said.

 

"Not that much. And I don't care. Please," she said, reaching to tug him down to her.

 

He kissed her, and she tasted herself for the first time. The intimacy of it made Molly blush again, but she didn't pull away. She opened her legs and wrapped them around his waist.

 

Sherlock sank into her. Knowing she was still sore from the night before, he didn't try to control his climax. He sheathed himself in her incredible heat, rocking into her and building friction until he came with a hoarse groan within two minutes.

 

"You didn't have to hurry," Molly said with a giggle.

 

"I'm not complaining, Dr. Hooper," he said, kissing her neck.

 

"Sherlock…I have a question." Her voice was tentative, as she stroked his back and shoulders.

 

"Mmm yes?" he felt sleepiness creeping into him. He was amazed, as it was a rare thing for him.

 

"We're not headed back to England right now."

 

"That's not a question."

 

"Are you keeping me here…for longer?"

 

There was silence for several seconds. "Yes."

 

"Where is the Hudson going?"

 

"Ultimately, Jamaica. In a couple weeks, the Azores."

 

"I don't know that place."

 

"Islands in the Atlantic. Portuguese at the moment. Great place for samples."

 

"Oh. That sounds lovely. Do you…do you want me…to come with you?" She grabbed the blanket and pulled it over them now, as their bodies cooled.

 

"Yes." He paused, and when he spoke again, there was a note of uncertainty. "Do you want to come with me?"

 

"Yes." Even in the dark, he knew she was smiling as she responded.

 

"Well then. That's settled." He kissed her hard on the mouth, briefly, and turned Molly back over so he was spooning her again. His arm wrapped around her waist possessively, she fell back asleep with the sound of his even breathing in her ears.

Chapter Text

Over the next three weeks, Molly's qualms about her prolonged stay aboard the Hudson resurfaced from time to time, but she would tuck those guilty thoughts about her father away in the back of her mind. Her life up until then had been rather grim, she realized now in retrospect. It was only her habitual dreaming and reading that kept her from drowning under the weight of her work and her father's condition. She adored human anatomy and physiology, but the bitterness of never being recognized for her passionate dedication was draining, and her natural gift for dissection and analysis of the body had been turned into another burden.

 

She felt light and young here, for this brief time, and Molly relished the gift of these three weeks.

 

How strange that in capturing me, Sherlock has freed me. At least for a little while, Molly thought as she gazed at the waves the ship sliced through. The winds were warm this morning, as they whipped the light dress around her ankles. She had risen early, awakened when Sherlock climbed out of bed, robbing her of his warmth curled around her back. She suspected he had barely slept, but he was full of energy regardless.

 

He stood now on the forecastle of the ship, arguing enthusiastically with Anderson about the accuracy of the sailing master's calculations for navigating the Hudson. He grew angrier and angrier as the captain ridiculed his results, but turned utterly purple when he glanced at his scrap of paper again and was forced to admit that he had in fact made an error.

 

Molly shook her head, feeling a pinch of empathy for Anderson, but she had seen him snap at the sailors beneath him on the Hudson many times now and she understood more so why Sherlock disliked the man so much. His small eyes, prominent teeth, and scraggly beard reminded her uncomfortably of the rodents who scurried in the London gutters.

 

Donovan stood a few paces behind him, her arms crossed and her eyes squinting as the captain berated her friend.

 

She didn't understand why Donovan liked the man, when the master gunner appeared to be a spirited and clever young woman. She didn't go out of her way to be nasty to anyone but Sherlock and the prisoner Lestrade. There was no accounting for taste, Molly supposed.

 

In the past three weeks since they had set sail for the Azores, she had seen this scene play out half a dozen times. If she didn't know any better, she'd think that Sherlock and Anderson enjoyed it, that this was their version of ship entertainment when cards and dice grew stale.

 

The weather was fair and the sea mild.

 

What a relief, she thought as she sat down to practice numbers with Basil. He had no interest in reading but John had been teaching him basic arithmetic so that he might keep better track of his money. Molly took up the teaching now to pass the time. The boy was quick and grasped numbers faster than she remembered doing, as a child.

 

For two days the previous week, the seas were wild as rain and wind tossed the Hudson to and fro. Molly found herself heaving up her dinner twice that evening, much to her humiliation. Sherlock had been forced to hang up the hammock in his quarters so that Molly could sleep, as she kept rolling off the bunk. She kept her chin up most of the time, but in the early hours of the morning as the ship lurched to the side, she broke and started crying softly in fear as she sat in the corner of the cabin, giving up on rest.

 

Sherlock had stared in dumb surprise, uncertain of how to handle a crying woman.

 

Molly had expected him to mock her as he ruthlessly did everyone, but he knelt down on the floor and gathered her up in his arms.

 

She whispered, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," trying to choke back tears, feeling like a fool. Ignoring her apologies, Sherlock briskly handed Molly a small polished board from his trunk, with several dried and colorful specimens pinned to it. He then launched into a lecture on the mating habits and life cycle of the remarkable milkweed butterfly he was studying in detail at the moment.

 

"We may arrive in time in the Azores to catch them before they move on. They're much more common in the States and Mexico, but I found one last time I was on Corvo. I haven't worked out yet- though I will eventually- if they fly the entire distance or if some actually arrive on ships without people realizing it. Their wings are orange and black with white dots. They migrate almost constantly and their eggs…" And so he went on for almost an hour, growing more animated in his description of the insect and his research that Molly forgot to be terrified. She wasn't overly interested in butterflies beyond their beauty, but the way Sherlock spoke about them, she felt as though she'd done them a grave disservice all these years of merely thinking they were pretty.


In time, the ship stopped its drastic rocking, and the sailors above slowed their frantic work. The rains had passed.

 

"Heard you puking," Donovan observed uncharitably later on, mid-day. "Weren't even that bad a storm, just a little rain. Wait until we hit hurricane season in the Caribbean. You'll really be losing your supper then, doc." She had walked away laughing, but the light in her eyes wasn't malicious and Molly thought she saw a wink on the young woman's face before she turned away.

 

Having survived her first storm, Molly felt bolder and stronger as she stood at the railing of the ship. It became her favorite place, other than in Sherlock's bed with his long limbs wrapped around her, of course. Their creative explorations and his passionate worship of her body made Molly blush to think of it in the light of day, and secretive smiles found their way to her face often without her realizing it, as she sat on the deck reading her books.

 

Molly would often bring her meals outside and sit down on a box next to Basil, and they would eat without chatter, and take in the shifting waters, the tiny islands they passed, and the distant horizon. Each day the view was different and Molly felt every aspect of her world expanding.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Of course, the growing ease of daily life on the ship had to be disrupted by something practical. She had been so wrapped up in the adventure, Molly hadn't even remembered her menses were due until she felt the familiar cramping in her lower abdomen.

 

Uttering a string of creative new curses (learned courtesy of Basil), she ran off to the cabin just in time to see the first drop of blood in her knickers. Molly dug in a drawer for the pile of rags made from her old dress that she had set aside for her washing. Tucking two clean strips of fabric inside her knickers, she straightened up and sighed with relief.

 

"Can't believe I didn't think of this before," she muttered to herself.

 

"Think of what?"

 

She looked to see Sherlock leaning against the door frame, observing her as she stuffed the remaining clean rags back into the drawer.

 

"Nothing." Her face burned. He would have to learn of her problem as they made love almost every day. She cursed herself for being a ninny about it.

 

"I, um, I just have… my women's time, it's nothing, alright, it's fine," she rushed out. "I'll need more water later to clean- um, to rinse out things." Her cheeks grew pinker and she bit her lip, almost smiling. The absurdity always got to her eventually. She should've known it would turn in that sneaking laughter that plagued her in nervous moments.

 

"Oh. Yes." His face was cool and still. "Well that's good. One would suppose. Yes, washing. Don't throw anything overboard."

 

"Yes, that would probably not work…very well," Molly stammered out, having a hard time believing she was having this conversation. And then a thought occurred to her. "What does Donovan do?"

 

Sherlock understood her question immediately. "For a few days each month, our master gunner is suddenly plagued by pity for Chase, and she helps out in the galley 'when she's bored.' She knows how to cook, it seems, takes turns at the stove. Mister Chase is happy to oblige 'his' whim and let Donovan take over whilst our cook naps."

 

"Oh, she burns whatever she's using for her, erm, time," Molly laughed. "That's really clever. And no one notices anything odd?"

 

Sherlock set down the rolled-up map under his arm, and took Molly in his arms. "People see what they expect to see, what they wish to see, and disregard that which does not fit. I of course do not make that mistake."

 

She snuggled against his chest, and felt her awkwardness melt away. For the strangest man she'd ever known, he was so wonderfully practical sometimes. Even though he did have the habit of disappearing for a day at a time when buried in his latest studies and experiments. The first time Molly approached him in his lab closet, after she'd grown bored with rereading Fanny Hill, he stared at her as though she were an unfamiliar intruder.

 

"Left the door open this time, that's good. I don't fancy tasting chemicals again, though the sulfur incident was amusing!" Molly tittered.

 

Sherlock wrinkled his nose. "Don't make jokes, Molly." He resumed his careful measuring of an unlabeled substance, and ignored her completely until she gave up and wandered off.

 

But when he came above four hours later to join her, John and Lestrade on a bench, he behaved as though nothing had happened. He treated Molly with cool respect in front of others, but her continued presence in his cabin told the entire crew what they needed to know. Molly's happy shrieks and moans late at night carried on the wind easily, and the bored sailors loved to gossip about their unusual captain's even odder woman, a doctor who wore trousers and happily offered to gut the fish they sometimes pulled in for meals. They declined politely, uncertain how their captain would feel about his woman serving them in a fashion.

 

Their prisoner, the navy's Captain Lestrade, maintained his wariness and rarely strayed from John's side. He was without shackles now, having behaved for the three days he wore wrist cuffs around the ship. The officer was smart enough to not antagonize the crew, but the sight of his blue coat with military-style epaulets drew the sailors' ire instinctively. They were itching for a fight, and orders from their captain might not keep them from throwing Lestrade's arse overboard when they were in their cups.

 

The old friendship between the ship's surgeon and their prisoner was apparent, though it had been damaged by broken trust. John's loyalty was clearly to Sherlock Holmes, as much as he liked Gregory Lestrade.

 

Every moment of unthinking laughter between the men was followed by a glance of uneasiness, as they tried to remind themselves that they were supposed to be enemies. Sherlock noted these reactions with interest. He couldn't claim to understand friendship. He only had the one friend, after all, not a good sampling size for analysis.

 

He briefly stopped to consider whether or not he would class Molly as a friend. Would she be angry and not wish to have intercourse with him if he categorized her as such? He wasn't clear on the rules surrounding people you had sex with. He made a mental note to ask John about that later.

 

The Hudson adapted to its new additions, and their journey to the Azores was uneventful, except for the stormy two days, and the fistfight that nearly began when Kirwan tripped Lestrade, and John had to hold the officer back from reflexively throwing himself at the snickering bosun.

 

The ship's surgeon found himself thinking that escorting Lestrade around was almost as eventful as chasing after Sherlock Holmes, these days. He had contemplated letting the navy man trounce Kirwan for a heartbeat. He loved a good fight, and they hadn't engaged another ship since before they were in London.

 

After the almost-brawl, John caved in and let Lestrade start helping him his carpentry work to keep the man busy and out of trouble.

 

Lestrade had been jokingly mocking his woodworking for weeks. He was surprised but willing when John shoved a splintered spar into his hands and told him to fix the damned thing himself.

 

When there was no carpentry to be done, John would borrow Sherlock's chess set. He'd discovered that Gregory was a fine player, though a bit obvious sometimes in his strategies. He was tenacious however, and their games would last for hours. Occasionally, Sherlock and Molly watched them play, with the captain commenting on what he took to be particularly stupid moves.

 

Molly was thinking about asking Sherlock to teach her how to play, but she was a bit intimidated by his shrewd analysis of the gameplay. I will ask eventually, she promised herself. She was trying to keep up this new bravery she'd discovered within herself.

 

Life aboard the Hudson had never been normal, as Molly Hooper and Captain Lestrade discovered. The three weeks as they traveled the Atlantic Ocean were unusually peaceful.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


It was a clear Sunday when the Hudson neared Corvo, the outermost of the Azores archipelago. They could have arrived a day earlier, but Sherlock insisted on traveling around the surrounding islands to confirm that the Royal Navy hadn't put in another surprise appearance. Only civilian Portuguese ships were visible, and few at that. The waters around Corvo were empty and so the crew navigated the ship into shallow waters.

 

In the distance, a thin column of smoke rose from what Sherlock explained to Molly was the area of the small village.

 

"Several dozen families live there now, with a priest. They're open to negotiating for goods, and there's a local healer who procures an interesting array of herbs. The wildlife is varied, some of it unique. We'll drop anchor and stay for at least a day. Ideally more but we can't risk too much." His eyes slid over to Lestrade. "We could leave you on the island. But there's no ships that make long journeys to England. So you'd most likely remain here for years. Your choice."

 

Lestrade's chin rose in defiance. His skin was even browner after weeks of sailing, and his hair had grown out so a thick lock of it curled on his forehead. "I'll take my odds with the ship. You lot aren't much to worry about."

 

John smirked, and a few sailors hissed before breaking into laughter. Several broke away from the crowd to prepare the rowboat.

 

Sherlock eyed Molly's dress. She'd slipped it on quickly to go fetch tea and breakfast for the two of them. He considered telling her to go change into her trousers, but he had a flash of inspiration. It would be remarkably easier to take Molly if she wore a skirt instead of britches, and time was really of the essence. He had been thinking about the possibility of her being astride him while he lay in the soft green grass, with blue sky and sunlight and trees behind Molly as she writhed atop him. That would be far easier if he could simply push up her dress.

 

His mouth pulled slightly to the side in thought, and it quirked upward in a ghost of a smile. "John, stay here, you're in charge. Molly's coming with me. Donovan, you've got the items we discussed for trade?"

 

The master gunner nodded toward the box at her side.

 

Sherlock pointed at two brawny sailors and they picked up the large wooden box gingerly. Donovan oversaw its loading on the boat, and the three people climbed down.

 

"You too," he said to Molly.

 

"Oh, um, alright," she said cheerily. She lifted her dress to mid-shin (earning a wolf whistle from an unseen crewman) and joined the others on the rowboat. Sherlock climbed down after her.

 

He slipped the strap of his apothecary case off his shoulder and set it down next to her. His thin coat today over his white shirt was such a rich blue it was almost purple, and she found herself staring hungrily at the contrast of the rich color against the pale skin of his neck.

 

Will I ever get used to his face? she wondered. It seemed unreal that she was allowed to touch and kiss such a man.

 

His almond-shaped eyes found hers, sensing her scrutiny. He looked away, toward the sleepy island of Corvo and she thought he had dismissed her from his mind as he did when he was working.

 

After a moment, his arm snaked around her waist and tugged her against him on the seat. Molly giggled and smiled up at his face. His eyes slid sideways to her briefly, warmth in the blue-green depths, before returning to observe the shoreline.

Donovan rolled her eyes and continued rowing them to shore.

 

It wasn't until they had arrived on the island and walked three-quarters of the way up the path to the village that Sherlock sensed anything was wrong.

Chapter Text

Molly carefully made her way up the worn path from the rocky shore, trailing behind Sherlock's long strides. Donovan and two sailors whose names she did not know followed, hauling a good-sized box of items for trade.

 

Pistols for herbs, ferns and beetles, Molly thought with a near-giggle. I have fallen in with the oddest pirates perhaps ever.


The tiny island, formed from the remnants of an ancient volcano, rose from the sea. As they'd landed, the village was mostly invisible, only the tops of a few small homes peeking over the landscape. Fields stretched lushly green around the path, with very few tall growths. Molly inhaled deeply, smiling. The air was warm and sweet, with traces of smoke. The only sounds were those of birds she could not name, their cries alien and exotic to her.

 

Molly was lost in appreciating the natural beauty of the island and did not realize Sherlock had come to a dead stop in front of her. Her face planted against his back, and they both stumbled.

 

He swiveled around, his lips pinched in irritation. His frown did not appear to be directed at her, however, as his eyes dismissed her and scanned the horizons. Molly watched in fascination as his face shifted, his bright eyes flashed, and she could actually see the great wheels of his mind turning.

 

"What? What is it now? We going to stop and lose time for a bloody tick or something?" Donovan crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows.

 

"Weapons out," Sherlock responded, ignoring her insolence. He rotated, taking in the territory around them, his whole body tensed.

 

Donovan drew the guns from her belt and readied them. The two nameless sailors set down the heavy box, one drawing a crude sword, the other a battered pistol.

 

Molly's stomach dropped, and she looked around for any sign of an intruder, or angry locals. She saw nothing.

 

"Sherlock, what is it? Where – or what?"

 

He held up his hand for silence, and she obeyed, the anxiety churning her belly.

 

He breathed, sniffed the air, and cocked his head to the side, listening.

 

"Wait here." He set his apothecary case for samples down on the ground and took off at a run toward the village.

 

"Is this how it usually goes?" Molly asked the master gunner.

 

"Yes. No. He's always running off, leaving people behind. Even you, it seems. Don't suppose he's that worried about us." Donovan looked across the fields and up the path as she spoke, searching for the threat the captain seemed to have sensed.

Her pistols remained in the air, ready to fire if anyone attacked.

 

After a few minutes, Sherlock came jogging back down the path. His eyes were lit up with the fire of discovery, but he didn't appear to be pursued.

 

Donovan lowered her weapons, and the sailors followed suit.

 

"Good news! No navy here, or law. The smoke was lingering from a hut burning down and there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for the suspicious quiet."

 

Molly released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Oh that's wonderful, thank you. I was a bit worried there for a minute!"

 

"There is a bit of bad news, you see," Sherlock continued.

 

Donovan's eyes narrowed. "What's that then?"

 

"It appears that everyone in the village has been murdered. Butchered, some would say. Let's go have a look, shall we?"

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Why the 'ell are we still here?" One sailor whispered the other.

 

"There's no danger. Whoever has done this has obviously gone." Sherlock strode into the village and pointed to the remains of a small building on the outer edge of the row of rough houses.

 

"Probably just a storage area for grain. It didn't smell like a normal hearth fire, though it took me a minute to recognize it." He bent down and touched a piece of blackened wood. "The fire began last night, was put out by a brief rain a few hours ago." He poked a damp splinter. "Only a few wisps of smoke left."

 

"Are you sure? Did you…look?" Molly swallowed and looked around. She saw no bodies on the ground. The village was eerily silent, but for the sounds their small group made as they shifted nervously. The two common sailors appeared ready to bolt back to the shore any moment.

 

Without speaking, Sherlock opened the door to the nearest home. He nodded his head toward the inside, and Molly approached warily. As she neared the door, the overwhelming stench of death hit her nostrils.

 

Peering into the small house, her brain couldn't make the pile inside the room make sense. She saw limbs, and blood, and faces, but it didn't add up right. They weren't people anymore; they were parts.


Molly backed out quickly and knelt on the ground, burying her face into her hands. She focused on a pebble on the ground, afraid to look up, afraid to see anymore.

 

"Bit of a mess. Problem, Doctor Hooper?" Sherlock's voice sounded puzzled. "Given your experience with the dead, I must say I'm a bit surprised by your reaction. Have you yourself not removed parts of the human body in your post-mortems?"

 

"Yes, but it's not the same as…as that." Nausea rolled through her. She tried very hard to not think about how small some of the body parts were.

 

"Not all the bodies resemble those." Sherlock closed the door and headed for the next nearest home.

 

"We need to leave, captain," Donovan yelled. The gunner had planted her feet near the edge of the village and refused to budge. "Sick bastard," she grumbled under her breath.

 

The braver of the two sailors opened the door to the first home, peeked inside, and then ran to vomit in the nearest bushes.

 

Sherlock opened several doors, jogging from home to home, scanning the contents before moving on.

 

"At least forty men came through, I'd say, judging by the vast amount of footprints trampling through here. Boots of British, Spanish, French, American, Turkish and Mexican origin. Quite the variety of pirates. Oh yes, they were pirates for sure. Who else would have such a varied crew- and clearly they had a large ship at their disposal. Not afraid of running into the Portuguese, but they did choose the smaller island. Predators. And they came up and left via the other path, ah yes of course. Obvious now." The captain spoke as he wandered, and it wasn't until he returned to stand by Molly's bent head that she realized he was speaking to her.

 

"Can we leave? Please?" Molly's voice was barely more than a whisper.

 

"I think that would be best. Woudn't like to chance the arrival of someone from Flores or elsewhere, finding us here. Take a look at this one before we go, though. It's interesting." Sherlock pointed toward a neat cottage a few dozen paces from where they stood. Realizing Molly was shaking, he knelt and lifted her up gently. "I need you to take a look, doctor."

 

Molly nodded. She brushed the hair off her face, and her lips tightened with resolve.

 

He opened the door to the home, which appeared to be two small rooms, a common living area with a stove and a table, and a bedroom at the back. A dead man in his forties was slumped on the floor.

 

On the bed, a woman's body was laid out. She hadn't been carelessly slashed apart and executed in the manner of the other villagers.

 

No, Molly thought. Someone took their time with her.


The cuts disturbed her with their precision; it was as though a surgeon had begun an operation and then abandoned it in favor of simply rummaging through the poor woman's organs. What horrified Molly was the bleeding around the initial wounds, indicating she'd been alive when the 'surgery' was begun.

 

The final terrifying aspect of the sight was how familiar it all was.

 

"The fiend of Spitalfields."

 

Sherlock's voice startled her out of her sickened shock.

 

"What- yes, that's what I was thinking," Molly replied, her own voice distant to herself. "What did you know of him? Most of the details were kept out of the scandal sheets."

 

"I was a detective before I- well, before. They wouldn't let me assist with the Spitalfields murders; they didn't know me then, what I could do for them. Said they had their best men on the case; I presume you were their best man, though they didn't realize it. My brother Mycroft located information about the bodies, but the murders stopped and I never made any progress."

 

"What's a detective?" Molly frowned, and turned to Sherlock.

 

"I'll explain when we're back on the ship. Take in every detail you can, right now with your eyes. We can analyze the data back on the ship. There's no time for an examination, I'm afraid. Now, doctor."

 

Crackling energy emanated from the captain. His eyes moved over the woman's body, and Molly did the same, automatically.

 

After a moment's staring, Molly turned away again. "I think I've seen everything I can without- without cutting."

 

"Excellent." Sherlock took her hand, and led Molly out of the home, which had become stifling hot and unpleasant smelling in the summer humidity.

 

The two brawny men paced anxiously on the path, one of them spitting out the sour taste of vomit.

 

"Oi! Captain!" Donovan's voice called. "Come 'ere! You need to see this."

 

Sherlock followed the sound of his master gunner's shout. He found her standing behind a row of houses, on the edge of a ravine that led down to the ocean. The houses faced outward toward the water.

 

Molly walked after the captain quickly, hands shaking and head swimming with the details she'd memorized hastily.

 

Sherlock stood staring at the back side of the house, surprised into silence for once.

 

His blue eyes widened and Molly noticed his throat swallowing several times.

 

Across the half-dozen clustered houses facing the sea, written in dark brown "paint" that could only be blood, were the huge words:

 

TELL THEM SHERLOCK HOLMES WAS HERE.


The pleasant whitewashed walls of the warm family homes had been turned into a message that could be seen for miles.

 

"Don't suppose anyone's got some flint for starting a fire?" the captain asked mildly.

 

"No. And there's no spark left in the hut fire. It's dead." Donovan shrugged. "Maybe we could shoot it until the buildings catch fire?"

 

"A stupid idea even for you, Donovan," Sherlock responded.

 

"Do people from the other islands come here often?" Molly asked, hoping the isolation of the area would buy them time.

 

"Every day," he said.

 

Donovan glared at him and stormed back to the path. "We're getting' the fuck out of here. I'll not stay and wait to get nabbed for no one, not even the captain."

 

Molly slipped her hand back into Sherlock's. "We need to leave here," she said softly. "We can't help anyone and there's no way to paint over it or destroy this many buildings quickly. I don't know what's going on. But please. This is a bad place now. We need to go."

 

He nodded briskly, and clasped Molly's hand tighter. They joined the three on the path, grabbing Sherlock's sample case on their way back to the shore.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock ordered Donovan and the two nameless sailors to say nothing of what occurred on the island, but he had little faith in their ability to keep a secret for long.

 

As they entered his quarters in grim silence, Sherlock handed Molly a sheet of coarse paper from his desk. Even as the Hudson had moved away from the waters around Corvo, they had observed two small fishing vessels in the distance. It was only a matter of time before someone saw the message. They had left in the nick of time.

 

"Write down everything you can remember right now before you forget. The average human memory on visual matters is only 62% accurate. You must maximize our data." Sherlock sat down on the bunk heavily, his hands steepled in thought.

 

Molly scribbled down every detail she had noted on the woman's corpse. She began with the woman's face and worked her way down to the feet, the least damaged part of the victim. Feeling utterly drained, she threw down the pencil after a half hour.

 

"That's it, that's everything." She rubbed her eyes and stood.

 

"I'll add my memories as well and we'll analyze it after we eat."

 

"Eat?" Her stomach revolted at the thought.

 

"I'm hungry."

 

She looked at Sherlock with incredulity. "Now you're hungry?"

 

He shrugged and smiled slightly. "I don't eat much when I work, it slows me down, but I'm forced to admit, since you and I have…well, my need for substantial meals has increased."

 

"Sherlock, why would it say that on the houses? That message?"

 

He stood and laid his hands on her shoulders. "I don't know. Yet. I think it's safe to say, someone wanted to get my attention. And they have succeeded."

 

"But who? Another pirate, you said? Do they normally do this sort of thing?" Molly's nose wrinkled. The defenses she'd developed over the years in morgues were finally functioning, now that she was away from the terribly mutilated forms in the village. She could breathe, at least, and she started to think. "And can there be another person out there who kills like the Spitalfields butcher?"

 

"Statistically, yes, I suspect that sort of murderer is more common than we realize. But we can't ignore the similarity either. The killer was never caught. They stopped, so I believed they were either imprisoned for a different crime, or killed. But if they simply sailed away and found new hunting grounds… That is an intriguing possibility. I have not endeared myself to the pirate brotherhood," Sherlock said with an eyeroll, "I would be more surprised to find a single friend in their numbers than to find a dozen enemies."

 

He drummed his fingers in agitation, and his eyes were steely even as he was deep in thought.

 

Basil knocked the cabin door. "Sir?"

 

"Ah! Bring it in."

 

The cabin boy kicked the door open lightly and carried in a tray of food that he dropped unceremoniously on the table. He grinned at Molly, and darted out.

 

"Now sit down and eat," Sherlock ordered. He held a chair out, and she obeyed, smoothing the dress out as she sat. It was a miracle she'd kept it from getting dirty on their trip ashore.

 

"There has to be something that will help me deduce the source of the message. Even the message itself was painted by several different hands, so the writing style is no help," Sherlock said before biting into a chunk of bread.

 

Molly played with her fork and felt more calmness return with the normalcy of a meal. As normal as could be found on the Hudson, anyway. Sitting down to dine on dried out beef with lumpy gravy while discussing a massacre didn't feel nearly as strange as it should. She was relieved to see Sherlock eating without nagging from John on the matter.

 

She forced herself to eat, understanding now why Sherlock found eating so distracting and annoying to deal with, when presented with a case.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


After poring over their collaborative efforts on the bodies information for hours, Molly gave up. The candles burned low and she hadn't made any progress on the analysis.

 

"Sherlock, my eyes are too tired. You need to rest, too," she said firmly, squeezing his shoulder. He lifted his head to snap at her, she saw, but he clamped his mouth shut.

 

He paused and tilted his face away from her.

 

"I can't. There has to be something. I'm missing something."

 

"There may be, but it's dark and you'll do better with sleep." Molly placed her hands on her hips and tried to look taller. "It's science and you know it. You need to sleep. At least lay down with me and keep me warm."

 

She smiled hopefully. She really could use the feel of him around her. The bodies in the village would join the haunting images she'd been unable to shake off over the years of the savaged dead who'd found their way beneath her own knives.

Sherlock looked down into Molly's warm brown eyes, and felt the pull of her.

 

It's weak, he thought. To give in. You need to fix the problem. Solve it. If you sleep, you'll lose visual accuracy.


But everything was written down. He would lose nothing, and therefore his logic was flawed.

 

Sherlock realized he didn't care if it was weak. At the moment, he just wanted to feel her, even though he wasn't particularly aroused.

 

Molly slipped off her dress, hung it up on the hook, and crawled into their bed. He watched her hips move gently as she climbed onto the bunk and snuggled under the blankets.

 

Sherlock stripped off his clothing and shoes, and laid beside her, wrapping one arm around her back as she faced him. His hand moved over her skin without purpose, tracing vague shapes over the soft flesh as she sighed and snuggled against his chest. He held her until she fell asleep, her mouth parted and her face relaxed into innocence.

 

He gazed down at her, and pressed a kiss to her forehead. He extricated himself carefully from the covers, and tucked the blanket tightly over her body.

 

Sherlock dressed quietly, and picked up his violin case and the sheath of papers they had written on. He slipped out the door, lit a lamp outside, and found his way up to the forecastle in the dim light.

 

He couldn't sleep. He just couldn't. He had tried, for a minute or two. He'd held Molly tight and made her happy and safe, and she fell asleep. And that was something.


There was a case to solve, an unknown enemy waiting for him. As long as the invisible threat was out there, committing atrocities under his name, everyone on the Hudson wasn't safe and that included Molly Hooper.

 

Sherlock stroked the neck of his violin and positioned the bow. The crewmen trying to rest down below would complain about the wailing of his instrument in the morning, but he had a lot of thinking to do this night.

Chapter Text

Molly awoke to the sounds of a mop slapping the deck noisily just outside their small window. She groaned and rolled over, resisting the daylight.

 

A crisp masculine voice interrupted her dreamy state.

 

"I let you sleep late. Are you aware that you take an average of eleven breaths per minute when you're sleeping?"

 

Molly peeped one eye open to take in the sight of Sherlock's face hovering just over hers, his dark curls almost brushing her forehead.

 

"Good morning, captain. Are you experimenting on me?" She smiled.

 

"No. Would you like me to?" His left eyebrow quirked up.

 

"Not presently." She giggled and cupped his cheek with her palm. "You didn't sleep." The shadows under his eyes were darker.

 

"Yes I did," he said, hiding his face by dropping a kiss on her neck. "Look! I'm still in bed." He pressed his nude body against hers to emphasize his point.

 

"Your clothes aren't where you left them last night, Sherlock," she admonished him. "You aren't the only one who notices things."

 

He forced himself to look ashamed for a few seconds, before shrugging. "I can't turn my brain off so easily. I wasn't tired. There was work to be done, and sleep wastes time. And I did make progress. For instance, I know there were two men in the room with the woman's corpse, and that one of them is the dominant, but he isn't the one slicing-"

 

Molly cut him off with a finger against his lips. "Please, not yet. I can't…I can't think about that right now, it's too early." She was silent for a moment. "I haven't dreamed about the gruesome ones in years. But last night…Later, please."

 

She put her cheeriest smile on. "It's a beautiful day, I can see, and we're away from that place, and you're here and I do feel something hard against my hip. What do you suppose we can do about that?"

 

"Well I wasn't going to mention it," Sherlock said, his hand stroking across her belly and thighs. "But since you did…"

 

Molly brushed his hands off and rolled on top of him, bringing her to sitting on his supine form. His eyebrows went up. He controlled his face well with a cool expression, but she saw his eyes glitter with anticipation and the black centers dilated as she adjusted on his lap, their centers pressed together.

 

He tucked his arms behind his head, and waited. Molly had discovered the benefits of being on top of him a couple weeks before and since then, he'd found himself in this position several times. Sherlock was the first to admit he could be extraordinarily lazy. Lying back, stretching out his legs, and letting her ride him until she came screaming suited him splendidly.

 

Molly's hands explored the geography of his body, her physician's fingers tracing the contours of lean muscle. The sprinkling of gingery brown hair across his chest fascinated her. She was tempted to ask him to grow out his beard once just to see if it would come out the same surprisingly light color.

 

She giggled with the thought, and he smiled drily in return. He didn't remember the other women he'd had sexual relations laughing and grinning so much during the act, but perhaps he'd deleted that.

 

Or maybe it was just Molly.

 

Watching her eyes and hands survey his form was interesting, because she took the same care with his body that he did with experiments and mysteries. It occurred to Sherlock that she did view him as a mystery.

 

"What is a detective? You never did explain," Molly wondered, as she leaned forward to flick her tongue over his chest. She lightly nibbled on his nipples and wiggled her hips when he groaned and moved in response.

 

His eyes closed as he gave in to the sensations. She felt him growing harder and she pushed down with more pressure, though she didn't let him slip into her.

 

"It's…very simple," he said, gritting his teeth with the effort of speaking. "I detect. I see what others do not, and I know what it means. Or I find out, anyway. It's what I do here, only more focused on the scientific aspect. I helped solve crimes for several members of the aristocracy, friends of my brother's. And I realized I could…make a career of it. I invented a name for the job."

 

His eyes opened, blazing green-blue as Molly reached down to stroke his cock and tease the head of it with her warmth.

 

"If you don't stop doing that, you'll get no more answers." He gave up the relaxed pose and his hands grabbed onto her waist. He lifted his pelvis up toward her, but she responded in kind, lifting herself up so he was denied the pleasure of sinking into her wetness.

 

Molly giggled again, her brown eyes glowing warmly for him.

 

"Thank you for explaining. But I'm still wondering…how did you become a pirate? You're not violent, I don't believe that. You're the most brilliant man I've ever known, and you're good."

 

"Later," he said, frustration apparent in his voice. "I can't…it's too...I can't bloody talk." One of his hands grasped her breast, toying with the nipple until Molly was writhing on his lap.

 

Sherlock dragged himself up to sitting, startling Molly for a moment. He wrapped his arms around her body and dragged her tightly down to his groin. She shifted her knees forward to sit more comfortably and spread her thighs apart, allowing him finally to sink into her.

 

She mashed her mouth against his roughly, growing clumsy in her want. He responded with enthusiasm, their tongues tangling as her body rose and fell on his, finding a rhythm together.

 

Molly dug her nails into his shoulders, fascinated by the look of furious arousal and focus in his eyes as she rode him. He burned with energy, the muscles of his arms flexing as he tugged on her hips to push himself deeper into her. She felt entranced by him, but at the same time she was in control, drawing more groans out of him by clenching her inner muscles whenever she pleased.

 

He quickened the pace, their flesh slapping together as she bounced happily. She never could have imagined what it was would feel like, truly, but now that she had this man between her thighs, she couldn't imagine not having this always.

 

The speed of her climax surprised both of them, her squeals muffled as she plastered her mouth against his. She loved kissing him whenever she came, best of all.

 

He obliged her, taking her mouth firmly as he gave her the last thrusts she needed to peak.

 

Molly collapsed on his lap, shaking and holding onto him for dear life. She buried her face against his neck, inhaling their combined musky scent as her heart hammered and eventually, slowed to normal.

 

Sherlock flipped them over, and resettled himself between her legs. Slipping back inside her, he watched as she smiled again and lifted her hands to stroke his chest as he pumped into her. Her deft fingers ticked the hair on his body, and she bit her lip. She gazed up at him with such honest wanting and appreciation, he could barely stand the intensity of it.

 

He abandoned the smooth and controlled thrusting, and rode her hard. The pleased sighs and plaintive moans he drew from her were as melodic as anything heard from his violin. And when she peaked again, he gave in, adding his groans to hers, before kissing her into silence.

 

They lay together, breath heavily and grinning for minutes before Molly's mind cleared enough to construct a sentence.

 

"Tell me why you're a pirate, before you forget and run off to your lab closet for days at a time. Please." She nestled under his arm, against the side of his chest.

 

He squeezed her, and stroked her arm lazily. "Not a very interesting tale. Sometimes I don't say the things people want to hear." He shrugged.

 

"I've noticed," Molly replied with a gentle smile. He rolled his eyes in response.

 

"I was engaged on behalf of a royal client, with my brother acting as liaison. That should have told me it was a bad idea. A matter of some papers that had gone missing during a visit from a Spanish ambassador. The compartment they'd been removed from was secure and guarded twenty-four hours a day. They said it was impenetrable. Naturally some thief took that as a challenge. There was no evidence, and their 'best people' made no progress. Mycroft could have solved it himself, I'm sure, but he's gone to great lengths to appear very average to the peerage. His Highness had heard of my adventures and asked the Earl of Warwick to summon his brother, and so there I was."

 

"Wait- I'm sorry, just to be clear. Your brother is an earl?" Molly's mouth had dropped open as she turned her head to stare at Sherlock.

 

"Yes."

 

"Does that mean you- are you some kind of lord?"

 

"I used to have a string of words they would announce after my name when I entered a room, but it was tedious. Rubbish I'd inherited from my mother's side. Titles, no real income. Mycroft has the moneyed titles. Useless. I'm much happier without them, as George helpfully removed those titles when he declared me pirate."

 

Molly didn't know what to say about Sherlock being from a high-ranking aristocratic family. She felt much smaller, all of a sudden.

 

"What happened?"

 

"I solved the mystery- clearly the theft was carried out with help from one of the guards. The papers had no plain monetary value but they had the potential to destroy the royal family's claim on the throne, as they called into question the legitimacy of the current heirs and offered proof."

 

"Why on earth would someone keep papers like that? Burn them."

 

"Smart thinking, yes," Sherlock observed. "But he wanted to keep his heirs in line. The prince has been very vocal about his father's failing health and mental faculties. They attempted to turn ruling over to him several years ago, but George recovered in time to stop the Regency from going into effect."

 

"I had heard about that, yes, but I thought it was just party gossip."

 

"King George is suffering from a physical condition that has robbed him of his sanity."

 

"That is terribly sad," Molly said. "He can't be cured?"

 

"No, terribly tragic. And inconvenient. For me. I solved the case. I brought him the papers back- they'd never actually left the palace, you see, but were secreted in the kitchens- and he was most grateful. He offered me anything I wanted, and I asked for this." Sherlock gestured around the cabin.

 

"The Hudson was your reward?"

 

"Yes. I was tired of London, I couldn't learn any more there. I was bored, always. But with a ship, I could go anywhere I wanted, never at the mercy of the captains my brother employed. This ship and everything on it is mine."


Molly shivered at the fierceness in his tone.

 

Sherlock continued his story. "George was delighted with my idea, and commissioned the ship to be built with the specifications I requested. I visited the shipyards in Plymouth to check on its progress, and as soon as it arrived in London, I began preparing it to leave for an extended journey to the coast of Africa and the northern coast of South America. I hired a crew with what was left of my funds. I was ready."

 

And the king summoned me to the palace. He wanted to make a proper party of presenting the ship to me. I told Mycroft to piss off, but he insisted. It would make Mummy so proud to see me celebrated by the king. And so she was…for about an hour. It was an intimate gathering of a hundred people."

 

Sherlock wore a crooked grin. He spoke absently.

 

"Mycroft presented me to the king. His deterioration was evident. When he began to speak, he rambled on about my journey and the Americas, and then began making statements that were ridiculously inaccurate. He referred to John Adams as the current American president, and then began lecturing me on how Adams carried on affairs with my cousin Aubrey when he was the minister to France."

 

Sherlock kissed Molly's forehead and hopped out of bed. He scooped his clothes off the floor and dressed.

 

"I confess I have not retained a great deal of information about John Adams or my cousin, but I am certain that Mister Jefferson holds that auspicious American title, and that he spent many years in France. And that Aubrey, while promiscuous in his relations, has never left England due to his morbid fear of the sea. The king is mad. Or remarkably stupid."

 

Sherlock paused. "I…may have said as much to Mycroft. Within George's hearing."

 

"Oh Sherlock," Molly tsked.

 

"How was I to know the old man was so stealthy? Needless to say, he was displeased. Said that I was unworthy of his gifts and so he tried to take my ship back. I told him to what I thought of that idea, and I left very quickly."

 

Sherlock sat at the table and began rolling loose tobacco into a paper. "When I got to the Hudson, there were already king's men there, attempting to evacuate the crew I'd hired. We had a bit of a tussle, but the law was no match for brawling sailors. They've no love for the law.

 

I returned about a month later to assess the damage. I attempted to contact my brother but he was out of town. His ward Anthea- a terrifying young beauty- told me he'd left a note for me in the pub nearest to where we'd docked. I visited my mother, and then went to pick up the message. I'd thought, stupid of me, that maybe Mycroft would've made the situation disappear. His resources are formidable."

 

"For someone you seem to dislike, you have absolute faith in your brother," Molly observed as she stepped out of bed to don her trousers and shirt.

 

"Shut up," Sherlock said affectionately.

 

"The visit wasn't an entire waste of my time, as I picked up a rather inebriated ship's surgeon on the way back to the Hudson." He smiled with the memory. "And so that is the not-very-exciting tale of how I became a pirate. George believes I stole the ship, since he 'took it back,' and he wasn't terribly happy when we raided the stores of the next navy ship that attempted to interfere with the Hudson, off the coast of Scotland."

 

"What a strange story," Molly mused. "Why did you name it the Hudson anyway? The name of a friend, or an old lover?" she asked lightly.

 

"Sentiment. I have no use for it." He sat quietly and lit the cigar off the lamp's flame. "We needed a name for the ship when we visited New York, or it would've looked odd, suspicious. The Hudson is the river there so it's what I told the dockmaster it was called when we arrived. It was an efficient choice."

 

"Oh I see. Well that makes sense." Molly wrinkled her nose. "That makes me sneeze. Would you mind?"

 

Sherlock looked down at the smoke drifting from his fingers. "Ah." He stubbed it out on a saucer.

 

"In a way, it may be an unexpected help to have Captain Lestrade on board. He could confirm that we were nowhere near the Azores when the massacre happened."

 

Molly's face lit up. "Oh good! I'd hate to think people would believe your crew could do such a thing. I know, I know, they're pirates, but some of them are…" She paused thinking of Basil eating candy, Donovan bragging about her lady captain, John prying splinters from Lestrade's fingers after repairing a boom. "I wouldn't want them to be hung."

 

"Hanged," he corrected."I don't care what people think of me, but if we are ever apprehended, there will be no chance of escaping death if that slaughter is blamed on my crew."

 

Bells rang in the distance. He stood and took Molly in his arms.

 

"I have to go. I've read the information you wrote down, but you need to go over it again, look for medical details. Things you may recall from the Spitalfields case. Anything. Find me when you're done." He bent and nuzzled her neck, kissing the sweet spot that made her bite her lip.

 

"Don't, I smell like sweat," she said with a laugh.

 

"You smell like mine." He bit her neck gently for emphasis, kissed her on the lips and strode out the door.

 

Molly turned to the stack of papers on the desk, and began to work.

Chapter Text

Molly picked at the stringy bit of pork the cook was calling their meal, and waited for the other two expected men. Sherlock sat beside her, sipping tea and deducing her morning activities after he had left her in the cabin.

 

"There wasn't enough water in the basin, I see- I shall have to speak with Basil about that."

 

"How did you know that? I poured it out already. I mean, it was fine, I made do. No need to scold the boy, honestly."

 

Sherlock brushed away her objection. "It will be taken care of. Never mind that, John's arrived."

 

There was a brief rapping on the door.

 

"Come in, and do tell Monsieur Lestrade to quit pacing. I don't intend to hang him yet, as he's been so useful."

 

The door swung open and John walked, the navy captain trailing after him. He'd left off his original uniform lately and was wearing an old pair of britches, a loose shirt, and a faded green waistcoat donated by the ship's surgeon.

 

He gave Sherlock a look of withering dislike. "Don't call me monsieur, I'm English, same as you."

 

"Suuure you are." The captain smirked. "Congratulations, Gregory!"

 

Lestrade squinted suspiciously. "For what?"

 

"You've been promoted! You're no longer just a prisoner. Now you're a witness, and have some function other than hammering nails and eating our food."

 

"Witness to what?"

 

"I know John's told you what occurred on Corvo-" The surgeon glanced away from Sherlock, guilt written on his face. "You haven't said a word about it, and you haven't been shy about asking questions in general. Have a seat, both of you. Molly was about to tell us what she determined with her medical expertise."

 

Molly jumped at the mention of her name. "Oh! Yes." She set down the sad piece of pork.

 

"The Spitalfields murders were almost ten years ago, but um, they're impossible to forget. There was a series of mutilations- the Bow Street Runners had never seen anything like it. Neither had I, or Papa, and we've seen all kinds of interesting murders. Like there was this one fellow, whose mad wife locked him in the attic and he had started eating his own fingers. It was actually impressive how he managed to tear through sinew with this tee-"

 

"Molly. Spitalfields?" Sherlock said, rapping his fingers impatiently on the table.

 

"Right, sorry." She blushed and shook her head. "The murders were not identical, but the pattern was the same. They were ages sixteen through forty-five. Various hair colors and weights, too. But they were all women who worked some nighttime profession- a washerwoman, a lay-in nurse who was assisting at the hospital, and several erm-" Molly stuttered. "Several women who were employed as, as prostitutes. They were alone, on their way home or working on the streets, and no one saw them taken. Their bodies were found in Spitalfields, in alleys and one of them in a yard behind a lodging house. Some had their throats cut before they were disemboweled. Some didn't. Some had organs removed, but not all. I do not believe that the women had been-" She paused and finished delicately, "tampered with in a sexual sense."

 

Molly took a long drink from her cup of ale on the table. "The common factor was the butchery of their innards and being from the same area. The cuts were not precisely surgical but they were confident. I would say that the man responsible was using common kitchen knives, but had studied a medical text since they did remove a kidney in the dark without destroying surrounding organs. The runners had hoped they could develop an understanding of the criminal, to see if it was some sort of physician or butcher responsible, but they couldn't find anything and I'm afraid I didn't help much. The murders simply stopped in the fall."

 

Lestrade looked paler under his tan. "I had heard something of the murders, the Spitalfiend they called him? But I wasn't in London much then. I had no idea it was that…how can any person do such a thing?"

 

"I don't know," Molly said quietly. "I used to say that every time a new body came in. They always brought Papa- and I- in, because the other anatomists refused to subject themselves to such monstrosity. Jamie once said that the perpetrator must have uncommon courage, in a ghastly fashion, to snatch women off public streets and work without shaking hands. Awful as it sounds, I think Jamie was correct. He was rather observant and brilliant when it came to people." She stopped, and fiddled with her fork. "You know, when I saw the bodies in the Corvo village, it was like looking into the past. The more I think on it, the more sure I am there is some connection."

 

"Jamie?" John asked. The surgeon had helped himself Sherlock's untouched plate of food.

 

"Oh he was a medical student who studied under my father. For a time, a good friend." Molly smiled briefly, and Sherlock's eyes narrowed.

 

"Yes, brilliant Jamie was the picture of helpfulness until he abandoned you." Sherlock sniffed, and his eyes were cold. "Do you know where observant Jamie was during the murders? After all, a mysterious medical student would be an ideal candidate for the Spitalfiend, as the scandal sheets so creatively dubbed him."

 

"Oh Sherlock, don't be silly." Molly wrinkled her nose. "For the first few weeks Jamie studied under Papa, until he had the funds to be independent, he slept in our study. We certainly would've heard him coming and going, the walls were as thin as paper."

 

"Ah. So Jamie's reputation is untarnished. You must be relieved. One wouldn't like to know that their first love liked to rummage about in women's intestines."

 

"He wasn't my first love, I told you I didn't have those feelings for him," Molly said softly. "Though he seemed to value my opinions about the Spitalfields killings, which was…unique. Well, whatever he was, he was an enjoyable companion."

 

John and Lestrade's eyes darted between the other two. The onlookers' eyes met and they began to laugh simultaneously.

 

"What is so bloody amusing?" Sherlock snapped at them.

 

Lestrade smirked, and John's laughter grew until he was wiping away tears. "You. Some bloke in the distant past, and you're all out of sorts and jealous. A bit nice Sherlock Holmes can be a great fool like the rest of us when it comes to love."

 

The captain's face went icy and still. The only movement was the slight tightening of his jaw.

 

Molly looked down at her hands, cheeks aflame. She had no idea how Sherlock felt about her, beyond the enjoyment he had for her body and her medical expertise.

 

I don't need forever or red ribbons or poems, she thought. Everything he is is so logical. Desire is a physical response to stimuli, external and hormonal. Is he even capable of feeling more than that?


Molly lifted her head, forcing herself to smile politely as though her chest weren't aching. "I had no thought you were such a man of romantic notions, John. Are there hordes of adoring women in Europe and America and Africa, all fondly remembering your blue eyes and sweet words?"

 

"None, doctor." John's face looked weary. "Forgive me if I offended you. I've spent so many years on boats with rough men that I forget my manners on occasion." He smiled warmly, and Molly relaxed. John had no idea of the turmoil he'd inflicted on her with his humor. It was easy to forgive him.

 

Lestrade's eyes were still filled with confusion. He shrugged, and sipped his mug. Women had always confounded him and continued to do so.

 

"There were two men in the room," Sherlock said suddenly.

 

"Pardon?"

 

"In the village. The woman's corpse. There were two sets of footprints- one man standing by the bed, doing the obscene surgery, and the other man stood just behind him, watching. Following the footsteps, it's apparent the watcher actually led the way, and the larger cutting man followed him. There were cups on the table by the bed as well that were fresh. They helped themselves to the woman's beer and had a lovely time while the taller man- roughly my height- butchered her. Going off the marks on the cup used by the smaller watching man, he's left-handed. There were also some blond hairs on the blanket that, judging from the position, most likely came from the tall man."

 

"Where does this get us?" John frowned. "We still have no idea who these men are, as impressive as your deductions are."

 

"It's more than we knew when we walked into the village, isn't it. I have an experiment I need to work on that may give me more insight into the blood splatter patterns from the massacre. John, do we still have that pig carcass? And where's my harpoon gotten off to?"

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Weeks passed, the anxieties from the Corvo excursion faded, and ship life carried on as usual. Molly began helping John with his surgeon duties occasionally, and lent him her anatomy texts for further study. A deeper friendship formed between the two of them, as they bonded over gruesome injuries.

 

Molly noted the easiness between John and Lestrade as well. The navy man was remarkably adaptable, good-humored, and unbothered by Sherlock's oddities and tantrums. Most of the crewmen left off harassing him after a few weeks when they understood that he simply didn't care what they thought, and that he wasn't a posh high-handed sort like most officers they'd encountered.

 

She often saw him and John exchanging hidden smiles when the captain would deduce an insolent sailor to near-tears. They didn't seem to converse much, working in companionable silence on whatever carpentry John had invariably put off for too long.

 

No new information regarding the shocking deaths on Corvo surfaced, and Sherlock channeled his frustration about the mystery into a series of experiments involving scorched eels and flesh decay that drove the crew mad with the stench.

 

"This is vital research, John," Sherlock protested as the surgeon wrestled the burnt dead things away from the captain.

 

"You don't need to keep them, you've already studied 'em, and this is disgusting. And why are they in the goddamned galley? We eat food cooked here. Probably growing plague now." John's temper was heightened as well from weeks of living with the constant tension of having another person sharing his room.

 

Molly watched silently, trying not to smile, as the men went back and forth over the merits of keeping the eels versus the likelihood of the crew mutinying because of the smell.

 

It amazed her to consider how much time had passed. She'd been on the Hudson over five weeks now. She thought of her father sometimes, and hoped he was doing well, but she had to admit she didn't truly miss seeing him every day. She didn't miss having to worry about hiding their earnings from him, or cleaning up when he didn't make it to the chamber pot in time to vomit. Everything was simpler without him.

 

And then there was Sherlock, and this thing that had developed between them. They never spoke of it, or the future, but he was the first thing she thought of when she woke up and the last before she slept. The sex was brilliant, and his curiosity and hunger for new ideas extended to bedplay. Even the simplest intimate acts of kissing and stroking took on a questing tone with them. Exploring his shape with her fingers and tongue gave Molly a renewed appreciation for the genius of anatomy, the way everything fit. He was beautifully made, the lean muscle tight under his smooth skin. His strange cat's eyes still fascinated her, and the elegant feline way he'd stride around the ship, commanding his crew.

 

In the early weeks, she found herself watching him and wondering when he would wake up and realize that she was ordinary. Lately, when she would catch him studying her face intently, she began to think that perhaps she was not so ordinary.

 

Now, standing on the deck and watching the captain attempt to keep his best friend from throwing his half-melted experiments overboard, Molly wondered how much time they had left together in this dreamlike in-between world where their problems were so easy to sail away from.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The next day they arrived in Bermuda, anchoring near further out than usual, near a rarely used old dock. There were several British ships in the main port, as expected, and so Sherlock decided to steer clear. They'd had too many close calls on the journey. They wouldn't have stopped at all, but they needed more fresh water and news.

 

They decided to send John in with Donovan and a few men, but the majority of the crew stayed behind with their captain.

 

John returned at nightfall, and they sailed away from Bermuda as quickly as possible, the waters blessedly calm and the winds even. The news that John brought back was less fair.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Three weeks ago. Canary Islands. Same thing, message that couldn't be missed apparently. Everyone in the village slaughtered, ungodly acts. And your name, written in blood on the side of a cliff near the houses. 'Tell them Sherlock Holmes was here' in three languages. Don't suppose they'll believe there's anyone else in the world with that name." John explained in hushed tones after getting the captain alone in the surgery.

 

Sherlock pressed his fingers together in thought. "Witnesses?"

 

"As it turns out, yes. Two people, though one died of his injuries a few hours after they found him. Fellow at the market couldn't gossip enough about it. Every ship that's been in port lately carries the same tale, or passes it on once they hear it."

 

"Yes, that's what people do. Talk. Don't suppose anyone's actually looking for the perpetrator."

 

"Of course they are, Sherlock. They're looking for you. What the hell are we going to do?" The bags under John's eyes were pronounced as he fretted.

 

"Idiots!" Sherlock cursed under his breath. "If I led the massacres, why would I paint my name sky-high on the walls?"

 

"People believe whatever's easiest. They think you're bragging, which actually makes sense to anyone who knows you. Who did you piss off this badly?"

 

The captain shrugged. "I seldom notice. People are so sensitive."

 

John threw his hands up in exasperation. "Well if you can't be bothered to even think-"

 

The surgeon's rant was cut off as the window behind his head shattered into a spray of glass that sent both men to the floor on instinct.

 

"Jesus!" John shouted. "What the-" And the remainder of his swearing was lost as the ship shook with the unmistakable force from a canon blast. He covered his head until the glass stopped raining down on him. When he looked up, he saw Sherlock had vanished.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Outside it was chaos. Whoever it was had made a risky move, in attacking after nightfall. Both sides were impaired by the darkness, but it had permitted them to sneak up on the Hudson.


Sherlock assessed the situation as he ran across the ship, his peripheral vision taking in the vague shape of another schooner approaching, still firing, and his own crew desperately returning fire, while attempting to position larger guns.

 

He reached the stairs and jumped down, landing on only one step before flying the rest of the way down and reaching his cabin in three long strides. Flinging open the door, he located Molly cowering in the corner by the bunk, and pulled out the pistol jammed in his belt.

 

"What's happening?" she shouted over the blasts of noise. Her eyes were huge with fear and her hands trembled as she reached out to grab Sherlock's arm. "Is it the navy?"

 

"Ship's too fast and too small. I believe we're encountering real pirates, my dear." He sunk one hand into her hair and kissed Molly hard and fast before pulling away and shoving the pistol into her palm. "It's loaded and ready. Point it at the door. If anyone enters and you can't see right away that it's me, John or Basil, shoot. Don't stop to ask questions."

 

Molly nodded, still shocked at the sudden turn of the night. Singular gunshots rang out now as the two ships were close enough to exchange small gunfire. She sank back down to the floor clutching the weapon, and watched the captain turn to run out.

 

"Sherlock!" she said.

 

He turned impatiently, his hands pulling out more guns already.

 

"I...Just…come back. I need you to come back when this is done." Her eyes sparkled and she bit her down hard on her bottom lip.

 

His blue eyes, clear and unafraid, bore deep into hers and one corner of his mouth curled up. "Wouldn't dream of celebrating the victory with anyone else." He winked and ran out.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Donovan!" His irritatingly smug voice ran out as she bent over the chest, hauling out supplies to arm the crew. "Have you got the catapult packets ready?"

 

Chaos reigned on deck as the crew continued to fire on the unnamed enemy, the ships now so close they ran the risk of crashing into one another.

 

"Yes. A waste of bloody gunpowder though. If this doesn't work, we're all going to goddamn explode." Sally Donovan, once first mate of pirate ship Regina, cursed her luck again at falling in with the least profitable and most annoying sea captain she could have found. She had only needed to find transport to the Caribbean, and six months later, she was still not back where she belonged. And now, he wanted her to deploy these ridiculous weapons he'd invented.

 

"I got a perfectly good blunderbuss right here, and you want me to throw things instead?" she said while loading up the small catapults Sherlock had constructed. "Stupidest thing I've ever heard."

 

"O ye of little faith, Donovan," the captain said with a short laugh. "The ship is close enough. Be ready to light the wicks."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The pirate ship lurched frighteningly close now to the Hudson. A black flag flapped in the night winds. Craning his neck up briefly, Sherlock made out a white skull-and-crossbones, and beneath it the words, "ABANDON HOPE."

 

Smirking, Sherlock called out to the men visible on the opposing ship. "Surrender now and you get to keep your ship!"

 

Hysterical laughter broke out amongst the pirates, who were shabbier looking than Sherlock's tidy crew.

 

A polite voice sounded from their deck, heard a moment before the man's face could be made out in the darkness.

 

"Seems to me that you are not in the position to be offering those terms, Captain Holmes."

 

Sherlock tilted his head and narrowed his eyes.

 

"Oh yes, I know who you are. Heard all about you, I did." The man stepped forward through the throng of pirates. He was short and surprisingly aged, about sixty years old. He carried no weapon, his hands clasped in front of him as he spoke calmly.

 

"To be honest, I had expected a bit more cleverness from you, Holmes. Snuck up on you right fast. He said that you were a genius, the smartest pirate he'd ever heard of. After hearing about the job you done on Corvo, I was hoping he'd be right. I do enjoy the challenge. Gets a bit dull out here with this lot of ruffians and thieves. Oh but where are my manners? I didn't introduce myself. The name is Hope." He looked up at his flag.

 

"A play on words, I couldn't resist. People like us can never resist a bit of cleverness. Can we, Mister Holmes." He doffed his hat and bowed toward Sherlock.

 

"Oh I see. You're a genius too." Sherlock smiled slowly. Donovan held her breath, her hand ready to light wicks when ready.

 

"That's right, I am. I'm disappointed though. You're not hard to defeat at all. Ah well." Hope smiled in his off-kilter fashion and put his hat back on.

 

"Well I can hardly disappoint you- and whoever spoke well of me. What was their name? Since you've defeated me, there's no harm in saying."

 

"Ohhh but that would be cheating, giving names up so easily. You haven't earned it." He shook his head.

 

"I shall endeavor to do better then," Sherlock said. His eyes slid over to Donovan. He nodded slightly.

 

She dragged a torch across the row of wicks dangling from the melon-sized lumpy packets. As soon as she was certain the wicks were all lit, she nodded back up at the captain. Keeping her arm out of eyesight from the other ship, she grabbed the cutlass lying on the deck.

 

He grinned now across the water, at Hope. The other captain frowned.

 

"You've lost. Why are you happy?"

 

"Because I'm going to say one word, Mister Hope. And then you're all going to be very dead."


The other captain laughed. "Oh you're a spirited man, I'll grant ya. He was right about that as well."

 

Sherlock rolled his eyes and without looking away from Hope, he said, "Cut."


Donovan brought her arm across in a smooth slice, chopping through the catapult ropes all at once. A dozen packets flew through the air, their kerosene-soaked wicks burning strongly as they landed on the other pirate ship.

 

Hope laughed. "You realize how long it takes for this kind of wood to catch fire? I'm starting to th-"

 

And the first nail-and-gunpowder bomb exploded, cutting through half of the wooden beam it laid next to and spraying deadly shards of metal across the crew.

 

The shrieks of agony and dying reached a fever pitch right away as the other bombs began to go off. As the Hope crew scrambled to get away from the deadly packages, the Hudson rained more hell on them, firing into the wild scattered group.

 

After that, the fight died quickly. The Hudson steered up next to the ship, and a plank created a bridge for her crew to board the Hope vessel. Those not killed in the initial blasts of nails and gunfire were chased down, where they fought rather than surrender.

 

Sherlock strode onto the decks of the half-destroyed ship, and nudged the bodies with his feet until he found the one he needed.

 

He kicked the body of Captain Hope over. The older man was miraculously alive, despite the dozen nails punched deep into his torso and neck. He breathed raggedly, his wounds clearly mortal.

 

Sherlock placed a foot lightly on his chest, and gritted out, "The name, Mister Hope. What was his name, the man who told you about me?"

 

A strange cackle fell from the dying man's lips, along with blood. His eyes glazed over, he shook his head and refused to speak.

 

Sherlock pressed his foot down on Hope's shoulder. Blood oozed from the ragged wound, and the man screamed.

 

"I want. THE. NAME!" Sherlock's eyes were ablaze as he jammed his foot hard into the wound.

 

Hope stuttered out, "M-m-m-mor…" but trailed off in a daze.

 

A pointed boot-toe crammed into the wound drew another shriek of agony from the man, followed by sobbing as he broke.

 

"It's…it's M-m-MORIARTY." He bawled, shattered and weeping as the blood trickled from his wounds. He wept softly until he fell into unconsciousness.

 

A moment later, Sherlock reached down and felt Hope's wrist. Not finding a pulse, he dropped the arm and joined his crew as they surveyed the contents of the ship, taking what they needed, and letting the rest sink into the ocean with its murderous crew.

 

They returned to the Hudson and the repairs began immediately. The canon ball had damaged the forecastle but nothing serious, and only two sailors had perished in the fighting.

 

As Sherlock made his way back to his quarters, he came upon John working on Lestrade's arm, which was wrapped in a bloody bandage.

 

"Does our witness have a scratch? Hmm?"

 

"It's a bloody hole in my arm, you tosser." Lestrade took a swig of the bottle by his side and winced as the surgeon examined his wound.

 

Sherlock laughed, and headed for his cabin. Basil swore Molly was unharmed, but he couldn't continue with assessing the Hudson's condition until he had checked on her.

 

He looked down at the book clasped in his hands. He had found a leather-bound collection of legends and fairy tales in the piles of booty from the other ship. He thought Molly might like it, if only for the elaborate woodcut drawings of monsters eating people.

Chapter Text

Most men froze up for a moment when they realized they were under attack, in John's experience. There were a few heartbeats of time when your brain convinced you that staying still would lead the danger to pass you over. John Watson, however, was most alive when the ship became a battleground.

 

After Sherlock darted out of the surgery, John pulled out his tools and every bandage he could find. He made sure his space was completely prepared for the inevitable influx of patients. He scrubbed his bullet extractor while listening to pistol shots outside. He knew Sherlock had a plan involving his catapulted weaponry but there would be losses before they were close enough to use the gunpowder bombs.

 

John loaded his own pistol, looking up only when Basil ran into the room. The boy had standing orders from the captain to stay below decks whenever they engaged an enemy. He resented being treated as a child when he was a full member of the crew, but Sherlock refused to budge on the matter. Having seen too many young lads lying in pieces on navy ships, John privately agreed with the decision.

 

"The navy bloke's on deck, Mister Watson. But that ain't no navy ship across the way, no sir. What's he doin' up there when I can't be?" The boy looked cross.

 

John swore under his breath. "Stay here and look after anyone who comes in. Press the bandages tight against a wound, you remember. Don't try to dig anything out. I need you to stay inside, Basil. Your help is needed here."


Looking slightly mollified, Basil nodded and plopped down on the cot to wait. John ran outside, still clutching the pistol.

 

John saw the captain and the master gunner further down on the decks, shouting to the opposing ship which had neared the Hudson. Spotting the line of catapults, John smiled and thought, This fight will not last much longer.


Scanning the decks, and ducking as shots landed in the walls behind him, John ran starboard. Looking down, he found what he was seeking.

 

Gregory Lestrade was slumped against a wall, nearly on the deck. A sailor was sprawled facedown on the ground beside him. The sailing master Anderson stood over him, saying something. John couldn't make out the words over the din of battle.

 

John's heart raced as he ran, forgetting to stay low. As he reached Lestrade, he could see even in the darkness the thick red stain growing on Gregory's sleeve. The older man was pale, the bags under his eyes prominent as he winced in pain.

 

Anderson shouted over the noise. "This one snuck up on him." He pointed with his thumb toward the body on the floor. "Guess he thought no one would notice in the fighting if he took a shot. The swabby was always whinging about the bloody navy."

 

"He saved me," Lestrade mumbled. "Thank..." His eyes drifted up to Anderson, who looked uncomfortable with the gratitude. Lestrade's then closed. Panic rose in John, and he grabbed the man's wrist. His pulse was steady. After a minute, Lestrade's eyes opened again and he slurred, "S'alright. Just tired."

 

"You're losing blood." John ripped the sleeve away from the navy man's arm and took quick stock of the pistol wound. "I don't think it hit an artery but we need to get this closed. Anderson, can you-" But as John looked up, he saw the sailing master had already wandered off. In the distance, John heard a string of short, powerful explosions.

 

"Nails are damned expensive. Here's hoping Sherlock's mad idea works," John said, attempting to keep Lestrade conscious. "Can you walk?"

 

He shook his head. "I don't think so, John." His brown eyes were unfocused and he smiled weakly.

 

"Shit," the surgeon said. He held Lestrade's face and forced the man to look up at him. "Stay here. Don't try to move, I'll be right back."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


As John grabbed his tools from the surgery, he tried to calm himself but his hands shook regardless. The wound was small and had missed arteries and bone; Lestrade would be fine as long as he closed the wound and kept it free of infection.

 

After the gunpowder explosions, John knew the other ship was finished and that Sherlock would be boarding it. He should relax. Everything would be alright.

 

But finding Lestrade covered in blood had triggered a host of memories that choked the air out of John Watson. The face of another man kept popping up, the one he had failed to save.

 

His name was Tommy. Thomas Denham, from Yorkshire. The first time John had seen him on the HMS Edinburgh, the young man had been searching for the medic to help with a cut on his leg that wouldn't close. John had turned the corner as he walked into the surgery, saw him sitting on a chair waiting, and felt his chest squeeze as a pair of bright, emerald green eyes met his.

 

Tommy's hair was a gingery light brown, and he jokingly cursed his freckles as John stitched the cut in his calf. He had never been to school but was naturally clever and he regaled the surgeon with a story about pranking the quartermaster.

 

"Didn't think it would work, to tell ya the truth," he said, wincing as the needle passed through his skin. "Picked at the threads when he was too drunk to notice, one by one, and snipped the waist so when he stood up at the card table, his bloody trousers hit the floor. Right in front of the captain, too. Weren't wearing a stitch underneath 'em. It was bloody fantastic."

 

John laughed in spite of himself. "How do you know I won't tell him who did it? It's insubordination, after all."

 

Tommy's green eyes sparkled. "I've seen you around. You're not like them, the officers, the ones who think they're posh." He gave John a sunny grin. "Will you tell them, sir?"

 

John bit his lip to keep himself from laughing. A warmth he hadn't felt in years bloomed inside him. "They won't hear it from me. But do be careful. I wouldn't like to see you in the brig."

 

"Where would you like to see me?" Tommy raised one gingery eyebrow.

 

"Um, I, um, I don't know," John stammered. He flushed and swallowed, searching for the right words. "Your leg is- it's done, it's all fine now. Keep it clean. Come find me if the stitches tear."

 

"I will," the younger man promised. "Thank you, Doctor Watson." He extended his hand.

 

"Oh I'm not a doctor, I'm just a medic." He shook Tommy's hand and quickly stepped back. John looked around the room, suddenly aware that they were alone.

 

"You should be a proper doctor. You've got great hands." The young man put his hat back on, and nodded at John. Without another word, he strode out of the surgery.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


There was an unspoken understanding among the men of the Royal Navy. They often spent months at sea, with only the briefest shore leaves and little to no contact with women. If some males occasionally sought release with one another, it was written off as a result of the close quarters and basic need for sex. If caught, the consequences were dire, but most of the sailors would pretend to notice nothing if they walked into a room and found two men hastily adjusting their clothing.

 

It meant nothing. It was just bodies; it had nothing to do with their real lives, they told themselves.

 

John knew the unwritten rules as well as any man aboard. He had had experiences with other men, and tried not to think about the fact that he couldn't remember the last time he had touched a woman. Or even wanted to.

 

Tommy Denham walked out of his surgery, and he had crossed paths with the auburn-haired young man almost every day after that. With John as a medical officer and Tommy as a common sailor, there was little reason for it, but John found himself taking a second look whenever auburn hair crept into his peripheral vision. He tried to ignore the disappointment he felt when it was some other fellow with gingery sideburns. When it was Tommy passing by, his green eyes would flash toward the blond man with a mysterious smile on his lips as he continued with his work.

 

Three weeks after he stitched Tommy's leg, while working alone at night taking inventory, John Watson found himself dragged into a tiny storage closet without a word. The door had barely shut before he found his hands buried in soft, gingery curls and Tommy's full lips pressing against his.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


They stole moments whenever they could. Tommy was playful, and John found himself laughing as much as kissing when they were together. After the years of dealing with his father's illness and his sister's drinking, the simple pleasure of being with a happy, healthy person infused John with new energy. Despite being the younger one, Tommy was more experienced, having been in love with a boy back home for a few years before losing him to typhoid. He worshiped every inch of John and the older man understood why he'd never been intrigued by the girls who giggled and pursued him when he was growing up in Norfolk.

 

They talked about the future, and whether or not they intended to stay on the ship. John was content as an officer, and intended to sign on for more when his time was up, but Tommy's time in the navy was due up soon and he dreamed about opening up a business in America.

 

"You could come with me. I could open a shop, and you could go back to school. They have universities there…" Tommy and John snuggled under a blanket in the surgery, with the door locked and a heavy chair pushed up against it for good measure.

 

"I like living on the sea," John responded between kisses. "I wish I'd finished medical studies, but I don't know if I need to do that anymore. It almost feels like going backward."

 

Tommy hopped out of bed and got dressed quickly. John groaned, wishing they could actually sleep together. Reluctantly, he followed suit, donning his uniform.

 

"We don't have to decide now. We have a few months. All the time in the world." Tommy gave him a lingering goodbye kiss, and hurried back to the sailors' sleeping quarters.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Six weeks later, the Edinburgh engaged a French warship off the coast of Madagascar.

 

The injuries were immediate and widespread, and the surgery was filled with patients. John worked frantically, and his apron was soaked with blood within minutes.

 

Tommy had been assigned to assist with the surgery, along with a half dozen others, for carrying bodies and holding men down while limbs were sawed off. They didn't speak as they worked, but him being present reassured John. He wasn't distracted with worry when his man was just a room away.

 

With help from another sailor, the younger man dragged one of his friends into the surgery, his eyes wild as he placed the doomed patient on a cot. It was obvious from the severe abdominal wounds, nothing could be done, but John tried anyway, for his lover's sake.

 

Someone hollered from the stairwell that they needed a hand and Tommy ran upstairs to assist. A brutal cannon blast shook the ship, and John realized that the Edinburgh must be frighteningly close to the French ship for the cannonball to be so effective.

 

The ships exchanged broadsides, and John lost track of time in the chaos. Adrenaline coursed through him, driving the surgeon to ruthless efficiency and an eerie coolness when it came to dealing with the destroyed people in front of him. He sawed and he bandaged and he did his best to salvage body parts.

 

After his table cleared and there were no more men waiting to take the place, John trotted up the stairs to see if he could bring any more patients in. The sight outside took his breath away.

 

He had seen many battles over the years of this struggle with Napoleon, but he'd never seen a French warship within kissing distance. The massive frigate, loaded with guns still aiming and firing at the Edinburgh was powerful and far less damaged than his ship was at the moment. The frigate was close enough that John could actually see armed men swarming over the decks.

 

For the first time, John realized they might lose.

 

Fighting off panic, he looked left and right for anyone he could help. He saw Tommy ten feet away, running back to the surgery with a bleeding officer's arm wrapped around his shoulder. The injured man was staggering, but the sailor was determined and he half-dragged the blue-coated man to the stairs.

 

"Thank God! I was-" A volley of gunfire burst through John's exclamation. Rounds punched into the wall above their heads. John glanced over and saw the French were close enough now to use their personal weapons. Their men stood just behind the large guns, aiming rifles at the scattered men on the decks of the Edinburgh.


John watched in horror as he saw a French soldier raise his carbine rifle and point it precisely in the direction of Tommy and the wounded officer in his bright blue coat.

 

The surgeon didn't think; he simply threw himself in front of the young man and the bleeding lieutenant. As the rifle round burned through his shoulder, John thought, Better me than him. He's so young. Please God let him live.


John kept his head down, dizzy from the shock. He heard the lieutenant groaning under the weight of their bodies, as Tommy and John had both collapsed on him.

 

"Sir? Can you speak? Have you been shot again?" John asked. He grabbed his shoulder and realized that it was the only place he'd been shot. He tried to hold still while putting pressure on the wound, hoping the Frenchmen would assume they were dead from a distance. "Tommy? Tommy, are you alright?" he whispered.

 

The younger man coughed in response. Relieved, John smiled and reached for his arm. "Tommy, I'm hit. We've got to get below fast."

 

Tommy raised his head slightly and smiled weakly at John. He coughed again and blood sprayed from his mouth. His hand shook as he clasped John's and tried to speak. His green eyes were watery and unbearably sad.

 

"Sorry-" He croaked out before coughing again, more blood pouring from his mouth. John saw now the huge blood stain spreading across his chest, and the ragged holes in his flesh showing through Tommy's torn shirt.

 

Tommy collapsed on the deck, his breath gone. He fought for air, but his punctured lungs were useless. Shoving the injured lieutenant toward the stairwell, John gathered the sailor in his arms, uncaring about the blood pouring from his shoulder.

 

"Tommy, Tommy, stay awake, stay awake, I can fix this, I can, I can do this," John babbled.

 

Tommy shook his head and his body trembled violently. His hand cupped John's cheek, and his emerald eyes held tight to his lover's face until the light behind them faded and his hand fell to the deck. And then Tommy Denham was gone.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Weeks later, when he was recovering, John's fellow medics told him how they'd found him passed out from blood loss, still holding onto the dead sailor. They carried him down below and patched up his shoulder. Infection set in a few days later, and John didn't care. It was only right that he should die too.

 

But he didn't. Inside he was hollow, but his body healed and refused to let go of life.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Months later, he wandered the streets of London, drunk and getting into fights as much as possible. He only felt alive in those adrenaline-fueled moments when death was near.

 

It was only after several weeks of living on the Hudson with Sherlock Holmes and his unusual crew that John began to find himself looking forward to life again. It started with small things. A good cup of tea in the morning. A strong breeze for making excellent time. The pleasure of watching Sherlock get the best of their sour sailing master. Seeing the cook chase Basil out of the galley with the boy cackling and gobbling handfuls of sugar. He had no grand plans, no long-term ambitions, but there came a day when John realized he wanted to live again.

 

He knew that Sherlock understood more than he verbalized. For a man who claimed to not care or want anything to do with emotion, he knew without asking what John needed and wanted. Sherlock left him alone, didn't ask questions about the past, and brought him on adventures. He found himself wishing sometimes he could tell Tommy about his new best friend.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


At first, Gregory Lestrade was a ghost from the past, a painful reminder of grief he had begun to set aside. But as the man adjusted to the ship and left off his naval uniform, he became his own person, a man that John grew to consider a true friend. He had always liked the captain but there had been distance between them because of their roles.

 

There was no distance now with them living in the same room, together almost night and day. At first, it was merely inconvenient, but he had wanted nothing bad to the happen to the man. It was his responsibility to protect him, and so he did it.

 

They found an easier rhythm over the weeks, sharing the woodwork Watson had always lamented as being part of the ship's surgeon's duties. Lestrade teased him for his rough carpentry, light shining in his warm brown eyes, and John laughed and challenged him to do better.

 

Gregory Lestrade remained confident even without his captain's position, and was intelligent, with a deep love of the sea. He was gutsy, facing down every rude sailor with strength and grace. Hell, even Anderson grew to like him, and John would've said the sailing master hated almost everyone a few months ago.

 

A week before the pirate Hope attacked the Hudson, as they sat down for a meal, John asked Gregory something he'd been thinking about for weeks.

 

"What will you tell them in Jamaica, after we release you?"

 

Lestrade shrugged and ate a spoonful of stew. "A load of bollocks, I suppose. And then I'll go somewhere else from there. America, maybe. Always wanted to do a bit of overland traveling."

 

"Really?" John tilted his head.

 

"They saw me go into town, to the shops and then I bloody disappeared. They'll either believe I deserted or they'll believe I was kidnapped. Would you believe pirates took me without bothering to ransom me or slit my throat, if you were the Navy?"

 

The reality of Lestrade's situation was shaping in John's mind. "No. Shit."


"Yeah. I'm fairly well done for. Pirates don't go ferrying people about out of consideration. If I go back, they'll arrest me and probably hang me as a deserter. And I haven't got anything worth going back for in England. Your captain was right about that." Lestrade smiled wryly. "Truth is, I knew about the wife having other men and I didn't care. I was gone for years. Can't really blame her. " He dug into the meal without further comment.

 

John sat, astounded by the man's revelations. Captain Lestrade had always been such an excellent officer and leader, he couldn't picture him being anywhere other than at the helm of a great ship, commanding men. When Sherlock and John kidnapped him, they had destroyed his life, even though they let him live.

 

Noting John's tense silence, Lestrade spoke again. "Don't pay it no mind, John. I was bored anyway." He smiled winningly at the other man.

 

John couldn't help but smile back. "Cards then?" He smirked and took the piss out of Lestrade to lighten the mood. "Or were you planning on sneaking off to the head for a wank again?"

 

The former captain roared with laughter. John had walked in on him having a go a few days before. He'd blushed furiously, but Lestrade had only laughed.

 

"You can't spend most of your life on a bloody ship and not learn to make do with close quarters," Lestrade said now, his dimples showing. "But I'm thinking cards tonight."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Lestrade lay on the deck, conscious and swearing when John returned a bottle of spirits and his medical kit.

 

"Drink." John ordered him as he set to work. His hands were still shaking slightly from nerves, but he'd taken a few slugs from the bottle before returning. He reminded himself again that this was a completely different person and that the enemies were all dead.

 

He pressed a bandage on the wound and cleaned the area around it, attempting to stop the heavier flow before proceeding.

 

Sherlock walked by, carrying a book. For someone who 'd just been in a battle, he looked incredibly cheerful.

 

Spotting Lestrade's bloody bandage, the captain taunted, "Does our witness have a scratch? Hmm?"

 

"It's a bloody hole in my arm, you tosser."

 

John smothered a grin as he worked. Sherlock needed more people in his life who weren't terrified of him. It was good for him.

 

The captain ignored his response and continued on his way. Off to see Molly, no doubt. The pathologist had him wrapped around her finger, though John doubted she realized it.

 

"You'll be fine. Clean exit wound, nothing lodged inside, and it should heal into a tidy scar. Not a gnarled mess like my shoulder," John said lightly.

 

"You'll have to show me sometime," Lestrade said, exhaustion clear in his voice. "Nothing like a good scar story."

 

"Someday," John said noncommittally. He wasn't ready yet to flash his shoulder and divulge the details of his injury for entertainment's sake like most sailors did at the drop of a hat. He focused on the bleeding arm, and picked up his needle to sew the wound shut.

 

A warm hand wrapped around John's wrist. Startled, his blue eyes rose to meet Lestrade's dark gaze.

 

"Thank you, John. I owe you a lot." He fingers tightened on John's arm briefly before he let go.

 

John nodded and got to work.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


An hour later, Lestrade was sleeping on John's cot, and the surgeon had climbed into the hammock next to it. The older man was resting well, his belly full of liquor and his arm snugly wrapped in clean bandages.

 

John shifted uncomfortably in the hammock. He was agitated from the long day, and wrestling with anxiety and guilt. Tommy had been dead for more than a year, but the heated memories of their affair keeping him company on lonely nights. But lately, something had changed, and John fought against it.

 

Lestrade had made a joke of the surgeon walking in on him with his trousers undone, and he appreciated the friendly way that the former navy man tried to make it not awkward. But the fact was, it bothered John very much, what had happened.

 

He'd blushed not because there was anything wrong with the act- the sailors made near constant use of the head for that purpose- but because of how hard it was to keep his eyes on Lestrade's face when it happened.

 

He'd blushed because lately, when he found privacy and had his own trousers undone, instead of laughing green eyes flashing through his mind, he saw warm and steady brown ones.

Chapter Text

England


"How much longer do I need to stay here?"

 

"It's your choice, Doctor Hooper." The elegant man leaned on his silver-tipped cane and cocked an eyebrow. "Do you believe you are able to maintain your current state of sobriety in your old haunts?"

 

Matthias pressed his lips together in annoyance. The scorn and skepticism in the Earl of Warwick's voice was unmistakable. The doctor ran a hand through his hair (considerably whiter than it had been six weeks before), and sighed. With resignation, he sat down on the brocade-covered chair.

 

"I suppose another few weeks of imposing on your hospitality would be…beneficial. If it's not too much trouble."

 

Mycroft inclined his head graciously. "Not at all. A wise decision. I've received word of another sighting. If you'd be so kind as to pour, I'd be happy to share the report with you over tea."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The night that a luxurious carriage had swept Matthias Hooper out of London, it had carried him to the earl's estate in Warwickshire. He had been a guest there since then, though an unwilling one the first few weeks.

 

Instead of returning the inebriated physician to his cramped home, Matthias had been transported to a locked room in the earl's mansion. It wasn't until he woke up twelve hours later with a splitting hangover that he realized he couldn't open the door to exit. After several minutes of hollering and kicking the door, Matthias realized that the windows of the room had been covered with boards. The bedroom was comfortable but lacked any sort of decoration, and the walls were bare of paintings and mirrors.

 

A small metal cup of water sat on the bedside table. Matthias took a sip, wishing it were ale. As he stood glaring at the clear liquid, the door opened and two muscular footmen entered. They were followed immediately by the Earl of Warwick, who gestured to someone behind him.

 

A maid rolled in a cart laden with warm food, and a shelf below holding a stack of clean clothing. Matthias eyed the silver pitcher beside the tray of food, but was disappointed to find, when he lifted the lid that it only held more water.

 

"There will be no wine," the earl said coolly. "Or ale, or spirits of any kind while you stay here. Changes need to be made." Mycroft sat down on the richly appointed sofa, and dismissed the maid with a wave of his hand. The young girl curtsied and left, closing the door behind her.

 

"Changes? What changes? Wait just a damned minute" Matthias advanced on the earl, but was blocked by the footmen who formed a wall between him and Mycroft.

 

"Please do sit down, Doctor Hooper. I should not like to begin our new association with violence…but I will." His lips curled, showing teeth in a cold smile.

 

Matthias's face turned purple as he fought with himself to keep from lunging at the other man again. After a moment of struggle, he threw himself down on the chair across from the sofa.

 

"As I said, there will be no spirits while you are here. What happens after you leave here is your affair, but I am offering you a chance. A chance to break free of the thing that has dragged you down since your wife passed away, according to the reports. Dragged you and your daughter down, both. Two weeks initially should do it. After that, we'll reassess your condition."

 

"My condition? Are you a physician now? What are you on about?"

 

"The drink, Doctor Hooper. Do not pretend; your affliction is obvious. My personal physician will attend to you during your stay here. It will not be easy. Do not reject his examinations. Anthea will keep me informed of your progress. Please enjoy my hospitality…in this room. If you need anything at all, ask and it will be yours, as long as it safe and will not promote drunkenness."

 

The earl drew a gold watch from his pocket and frowned at the time. "I must be off. Take advantage of this opportunity. Free yourself from the habit. Improve your life and your daughter will be able to live her own life."

 

Head swimming with shock, Matthias blurted out, "Why do you give a damn about Molly?"

 

"I don't," Mycroft responded mildly. "But I care about my brother's happiness. He hasn't shown interest in any female for more than a decade, and I have come to suspect that your daughter the anatomist may be able to make him happy. He chose to keep her with him on board. I worry about him constantly, doctor. I will not have you ruin a future because her heart and generosity are too great to abandon you."

 

Matthias felt his face flush. He had tried to stop drinking so much many times over the years, but it was impossible. He couldn't describe the hold it had on him. The way his skin crawled when he went without wine for too long. Even now, he felt the need creeping up on him.

 

"Two weeks for a start, doctor, and then we shall see."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


From the beginning, Matthias suffered.

 

He'd thought that his body wouldn't begin to crumple from the lack of alcohol for a few days, but by suppertime, he was restless and queasy.

 

By the next morning, he was shaking and sweating. He knew he must have dark circles under his eyes from waking up throughout the night. His stomach churned, and his heart raced.

 

Three nights after his last drink, Matthias woke from a vivid dream to find ants chewing on his skin. He began to scream for help, and none came. After what felt like hours of torment, and the feeling of bugs burrowing into his skin, the weeping man looked down at his arms and legs and saw nothing unusual. His skin was smooth and unmarked.

 

In the morning, the burning tingle in his limbs remained, but much faded. He understood that his mind had created the sensation of the ants, and Matthias realized that he was suffering more effects from not imbibing spirits. He had heard of such hallucinatory attacks but never treated a patient suffering from one.

 

Nights were the worst, with terrible dreams and sweating and his intestines twisting themselves inside out. His body struggled to rid itself of the toxins long accumulating in his system.

 

One night, he dreamt of Maria and Annie, and watched them die all over again, little Molly almost forgotten as she wept in the corner.

 

Other nights, scenes from over the years came alive in his dreams, and regret filled Matthias as he was forced to acknowledge how very much Molly had been hurt. He had lost his wife and his charming Annie, but Molly had lost them, and then him too when he sank himself into the bottle.

 

Oh God please, please let me make it up to her.


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


After two weeks, the beautiful ward, Anthea, visited him and they took a very civilized tea in a sitting room close to his bedroom.

 

Garbed in a rich green gown, with a daringly low neckline, she politely asked after his condition.

 

"I feel much, much better!" Matthias said brightly. He had bathed and shaved, and felt like a new man. "The shakes have gone, and the dreams, and I feel in top shape. I think I'm ready to go home. If it please you, miss- has there been word from my daughter Molly and the earl's brother?"

 

The lovely woman tilted her head to the side and smiled. "Tell me, doctor, would you like a drink? A proper one, I mean?"

 

"I, I um, well, I don't think, I ought not to." Matthias's eyes gleamed as she produced a heavy flask from within the folds.

 

"A little nip won't hurt, will it," she said in a bored tone of voice as she extended her arm. Waiting for him to take the flask, she reached with her other hand to pick up a book from the table. She extended her arm further with the flask, and sighed impatiently as she gazed down and flipped through the small book.

 

Matthias's eyes welled up, and he bit his lip. He breathed deeply. For a moment, he stared, transfixed by the sight in front of him.

 

A minute later, he jumped to his feet and stormed back to the bedroom, locking the door behind him.

 

Anthea smiled to herself and tucked the flask back into her secret dress pocket. It was empty, of course, but the cruel test had been effective. She went to the study and composed a brief note to send to Mycroft, notifying him of the doctor's condition. He looked terrible and drawn, and his silvery hair had gotten much whiter. But he was sober, his eyes clear and sharper than she'd seen yet.

 

After handing the note off to be posted, she knocked on the door of the doctor's room.

 

"Come to torment me more, young lady?" she heard him hiss.

 

"We've had word of your daughter, Doctor Hooper. I thought you might like…" He opened the door before she had finished the sentence.

 

"Yes? Have they been found?" he asked hopefully.

 

"They haven't returned but your daughter and Sherlock Holmes were spotted in the Isles of Scilly, in town. Behind a store." She leaned forward. "Snogging."


Anthea winked at him and strode away, skirts flaring behind her.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Six weeks after he was brought to the Earl's estate, Matthias Hooper took tea with Mycroft Holmes to discuss the latest report. After his initial withdrawal from alcohol, he'd reached a point where he felt full of energy and excited about the future. But for a few weeks after that, he'd crashed and been tempted a great deal to relapse. Mycroft's physician kept a close eye on him, and all the reports the earl received were encouraging again.

 

Matthias looked worn-out and resigned as he poured tea for the earl. There were never any servants present for these discussions. Mycroft referred to it as "family business" and dismissed anyone from the room but for them and Anthea.

 

"My man on the Hudson left a message in the Azores, pinned to a tree. Encoded, of course. It would've been posted along the usual methods, but apparently everyone in the town they'd visited previously was dead. He didn't believe the message would get to us, but promised any man who brought it to me a thousand pounds. People are so generous with my money," the earl added sarcastically. "But it worked, so I suppose I should not complain. It may have taken a few weeks but the message did get here."

 

He sipped his tea patiently for a moment.

 

"Well?" Matthias urged him on.

 

"According to ship gossip, my brother and your daughter have been sharing a cabin since she came aboard."

 

Matthias slammed his teacup down and felt the blood drain from his face. "They…that bastard! My Molly is innocent. Bloody lords, always taking advantage of the people what work for their coin. So help me God, Warwick, I'll-"

 

Mycroft waved off his shouting. "Rest assured, Doctor Hooper, my brother will do right by your daughter. I will make certain of it. And though my brother likes to claim he is a man free of sentiment, he is passionate and loyal. If he has broken his long fast of female companionship, he must have affection for the girl."

 

"He is a cold man like you, I'll warrant," Matthias commented testily. "My poor girl. The heartless man will break her. She is not strong."

 

"I sincerely doubt that." Mycroft smiled and continued to sip from the delicate china cup. "And though my brother is not a demonstrative sort of fellow, I have no doubt he has a heart. His ways of showing it may be unusual, but…" The earl shrugged.

 

"How so?" Matthias picked up his tea and tried to keep calm. Molly was the smartest person he knew. Surely she would not become enamored of a fool.

 

Mycroft's eyes grew thoughtful. "When we were young- Sherlock was nine years old- there was a governess who came to educate us. Our parents, while loving, were often busy with their scholarly studies and much of our shaping fell to the staff.

 

Most of them grew weary of Sherlock's constant questioning and tricks within a month, and would leave cursing the boy, considering him a lost cause. One governess even referred to him as a future criminal to his face. I dismissed her myself though I was but sixteen at the time.

 

And then she came to us. I suppose after having gone through a dozen governesses in a year, my parents had given up on the usual sort. She was in her thirties, and had been married to an accountant who worked for Father in London. The man embezzled a large sum of money from Father and then attempted to shoot him when confronted about it. He was thwarted by my father's driver, and the man was transported to Botany Bay. He died a year later. The wife was left without funds, and without hope, though she had committed no crime.

 

And so Martha Hudson came to us, her last hope to make a decent living, our last hope of Sherlock being guided by anyone at all. And oh, she took to Sherlock right away. She had rather a tart tongue on her, I must say. Utterly unconcerned with our stations but...warm. Yes, a very warm sort of female." Mycroft smiled, lost in remembrance.

 

"Sherlock would come in from the pond, covered in mud, and carrying jars of spiders and toads. After shrieking and then collecting herself, she'd admire his jar and ask him how he went about gathering specimens. He was so proud of himself and she never criticized him for his experiments. Reprimanded him for attempting to store them in the food pantries, of course, but she directed the groundskeeper to find a place in a shed for him to store his little explorations. She encouraged his curiosity and wrote to our parents to request certain books be purchased for him to study.

 

So much of my brother's confidence and interests were born with her, and she was his touchstone for the next few years. When he was twelve, Mrs. Hudson received a proposal from a baker she'd known for years in London, which she accepted.

 

Sherlock was so angry with her for leaving us. I tried to explain, as did she, that all governesses must move on eventually, but he abhors change in any form. He refused to say a proper goodbye, said he would never even say her name again after she left us. I thought perhaps he had succeeded in willfully forgetting her- deleting, he calls it.

 

But when I saw the ship sail into London, christened with her name, I knew he'd never forgotten her, and that though he'd been angry as a child, he did love her. He connected her with the vessel for exploration and learning, clearly. And so you see, Doctor Hooper, though my brother is prone to selfishness and childish tempers, he is capable of recognizing- eventually- when he's wrong. And he never stops caring when someone has wormed their way inside his hard heart."

 

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Somewhere south of Bermuda



Molly ran her hand across Sherlock's chest, threading her fingers through the gingery hair and giggling when he squeezed her bottom in response.

 

"You like it then? The book?" His baritone voice was soft and sleepy. The sun had just risen but they'd barely slept. The excitement of battle had gotten his blood up and Molly lost count of how many times they'd made love since he returned to her with the gift of the book.

 

"It's lovely. Such delightfully gruesome tales. You do know my tastes," Molly said with a giggle. "I like the one where the witch cooks the children. It serves them right for eating her beautiful home." She pulled him down to her, offering her mouth to his. He accepted, kissing her deeply as he rolled over on top of her once more. Their mouths melded together for several minutes, Molly wrapping her legs around his waist, needing to feel him all around her.

 

It's never enough. I'll never get enough, she thought, digging her nails into his back. I'm mad for him.


He pressed harder with his whole body as she dug into him, his teeth nipping at her lips as he ground his hardness against her hot center. The weight of him crushed her, and she loved it, feeling pinned and helpless beneath his mouth and cock.

And then he was inside her, and she was rocking her hips and crying out his name once more.

 

I would never recognize myself, if the me from two months ago saw me now, she thought absurdly, watching Sherlock hop out of bed to pour them cups of water from the cold pitcher. Sprawled on their bunk, his seed inside her and her heart pounding. Hair tangled and her breasts aching from his constant attentions.

 

I'm someone else now, she thought. Only it's more me than I was before. And then she laughed with the strange logic of her mental wanderings. She was infected with the wildness of the sea. It was in her blood and her belly now.

 

She noticed then that Sherlock wasn't returning to bed. He handed her the cup, but then walked away, pacing nude around the cabin. His mind was running again, she saw.

 

She sat up in the bed, and sipped the water, waiting for him to speak. She finished the cup and he still hadn't spoken, so she got up and poured more. He noticed her then.

 

"I got a name from the pirate Hope, but I know no one of that name and why they would bother with me. It's extremely unlikely that a pirate would target me and send other pirates after me, and have it be unconnected with the slaughters in the Azores and the Canary Islands. But I can't see the damned connection." He shook his hands in his hair, making it stand on end. "I know no one named Moriarty, and why they would be interested in me. This is one of those rare times when I could actually use my meddling brother's resources."

 

It was only after he finished pacing and had turned around that he realized Molly was staring in shock, her mouth wide open. The cup handle hung limply in her hand, the last traces of water spilling on the floor.

 

"What?" He asked, irritated with her foolish expression. He stopped and analyzed it.

 

Shock. True shock. What did I say that she didn't already know?Hope- no I mentioned Hope earlier and his stupid flag. She knows about the other murders, and that my brother has resources. The connections and the- Moriarty?Moriarty? She knows the name. How? Why? A former patient? But she's worked almost entirely on the dead. Small circle of acquaintances. Met him at one of those awkward society soirees like where I stole her from? Possible, but what's a pirate doing there? Well, you were there, Sherlock.


His analysis took two seconds, and he took an additional two to phrase it properly. "So you encountered Moriarty in London then."

 

Her mouth closed briefly. "Yes, I knew someone with that name. Is it possible? I mean I only knew him that summer when we worked the Spitalfield murders- oh god."

 

Sherlock's mind raced again and came to the conclusion he should've found the first time.

 

"The false medical student. Jamie…Moriarty? Of course. Not so certain he was really in the study all those nights anymore, are we. Ahhh…" He steepled his hands together.

 

"No, I'm certain he was, Sherlock. Maybe it's just a coincidence. Our windows were painted shut, he would've had to leave by the door, and he didn't." She was shaking, despite her protests. "I don't believe Jamie could have committed those murders during those weeks. And he really didn't want to touch the corpses that we worked on. It seems unlikely-"

 

Sherlock burst out laughing. "OF COURSE! The one who didn't touch. Your Jamie is the observer, the dominant one. And the other man cuts. Maybe he became a fan of the cutter while shadowing you in your post-mortems. Hmm…or before that? Yes, thus the deception with you and your father. He was looking for him. Oh that's nasty, isn't it. And of course it was so easy for him to get close to the drunken doctor and his lonely daughter. You must tell me everything you remember now, Molly. I need data."

 

Wounded by his comment about her and her papa, she turned her face away from him. "I don't want to. I've told you everything I can remember."

 

"Impossible. You must start over and tell me everything. Your Mister Moriarty was a fan of the Spitalfields killer and now it appears he is interested in me." He paced around the room, working himself into a state.

 

"That's a very large leap of logic, Sherlock. We don't know if it's the same Moriarty and the same person who kills exactly like…" She trailed off, unconvinced by her own argument.

 

"Do you believe I'm wrong, Molly?" His pure blue eyes were heart-stoppingly beautiful as he peered into her face, and held her shoulders.

 

She held his gaze and reluctantly shook her head.

 

"Then you must give me everything."

 

"Haven't I always?" she asked.

 

He smiled. "Yes, and you must continue to do so. I need you now." He kissed her forehead, and though she was confused and frightened by the implication of brilliant Jamie Moriarty and the Spitalfiend teaming up, she relaxed against Sherlock. She reached back through the past, and recounted every moment of every day she could recall that Jamie the medical student had been in her life.

 

After hours of thorough questioning, Sherlock concluded he had everything from her mind and he allowed Molly to return to bed. She collapsed in exhaustion, holding the book of fairy tales and legends as she fell asleep.


Chapter Text

Bored.


Everyone was just so boring. It was depressing how little they even understood that their little lives were mindlessly repetitive and uninteresting.

 

Dressed in black head to toe, Moriarty reclined in the huge chair he'd insisted they haul onto the ship Thanatos. It was a long and punishing walk from the Canary Islands village they'd raided with the heavy piece of furniture. The crew was uncomfortable carrying such a large, heavy piece of wood, but the captain was almost skipping in delight as they headed back to the ship. His quarters on the ship were decorated with countless fascinating items from around the world, but it was seriously lacking in a great chair. Red velvet cushions piled onto the Canarian pinewood seat made for a grand throne. If only the entertainment was as satisfying.

 

He hummed, one leg thrown over the arm of the chair, the other tapping the floor restlessly.

 

"Boring, Bastian. I've seen this one before. Are you running out of ideas?" Jamie affected a pout, but the man kneeling on the floor in front of him didn't miss the dangerous glint in the captain's eyes.

 

Bastian lifted the small dagger away from the midsection of the bound young man he was about to torture. The tall blond frowned, but pushed the expression away quickly, knowing that Jamie Moriarty liked him best when he grinned and whistled as he worked on a body.

 

"He didn't lose his mind or try to kill himself after our first two sessions, like the others all did. Isn't it more boring when they break so nice and easy, captain?" His sharp blue eyes shone as he opened up on the wooden box by his knees to display the dizzying array of surgical tools. Bastian reached in and withdrew a long thin metal instrument with a pointed hook attached.

 

"A clockmaker in Sicily used to use this to repair delicate instruments without tearing them apart. Shall we open him up and take a look at how this fellow works?" Bastian chuckled, and a slow smile spread over Moriarty's face.

 

He raised his glass to toast his first mate. "Tick tock."

 

The afternoon was turning out to be more intriguing than it seemed at first. Jamie Moriarty relaxed in his throne, sipping a goblet of wine with a ghost of a smile on his lips as the blond began to strip away every trace of sanity from the young man on the floor.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"We'll arrive in Mayaguana tomorrow, for more water. It's fairly unoccupied, not likely to see any English popping over unannounced," John reassured Molly.

 

"Will the captain be going off the ship to take samples?" she inquired. "He's been, well, his mood has been tense and perhaps a bit of exploration would improve his manner."

 

"Yes, he's been a right bastard, I believe is what you mean," Lestrade said bluntly. He was crouched on the deck, hammering a peg into place. It appeared to be the beginnings of a simple crate. "Your captain is a right shit when he doesn't know all the answers."

 

"Oh I didn't mean to say that he was unbearable," Molly rushed out. "Only that he's much happier with intelligent stimulation and since encountering the other pirate ship and learning about Moriarty, we haven't made any progress this week. And I should like to sleep again. The violin playing at night has become a bit much."

 

"Oh is that a violin being played? I thought he was skinning alley cats in there." Lestrade grinned as he grabbed another handful of pegs. " How do you lot not bash him in the head when he's in these moods?"

 

"I used to want to," John responded. "But you get used to it, and eventually it's normal. And normal becomes strange. Up is down, down is up. Welcome to the Hudson." He grinned and bit into a rough chunk of bread.

 

"Well if he don't cut it out, I'm going to pitch his arse overboard and I won't be waiting until we're in shallow waters," Donovan called from the rail where she stood disposing of gunpowder that had gotten wet and useless.

 

She threw a dry smile toward Molly, and shrugged to show she wasn't seriously angry. The master gunner was no stranger to unusual pirate captains herself, Molly remembered. What must it have been like to serve under a woman commander? And did Donovan wear woman's clothing back then? She thought it might be rude to ask, but she was insatiably curious. They were the most fascinating group of people she'd ever known.

 

Most of all, the man who had captured her heart. He was pacing about their quarters at the moment, after his latest experiment resulted in nothing but a scorched hand. It had been a week since the pirate Hope and his crew were sent to the bottom of the sea. She had thought that his mood would improve with the new information about "Moriarty"- perhaps her Jamie Moriarty- and the past murders, but he had only grown testier as this lethal enemy took shape somewhere unseen.

 

Sherlock's mood was sour, but he came to her bed every night, though later and later as his frustrations grew. His touch was less tender, more urgent and demanding. His eyes burned fiercely when he took her, and last night, when he reached his climax inside her, he growled "All mine" against her ear. The roughness of his wanting excited her, but she missed the warm chatter he'd indulge her with after they came together. His entire being was focused on preparing for Moriarty's next maneuver, and it seemed that sweetness had been left behind for the time being.

 

Molly resolved to give him space to study and think without pestering him; she'd realized quickly that it was better for her to occupy herself when Sherlock got into that sort of mood. Today she'd decided to work on Basil's numbers out on deck, as the weather was mild, and John and Lestrade were around to keep her company.

 

The ship's surgeon and the former prisoner were sitting together comfortably as usual, with John occasionally criticizing the woodwork in progress. Lestrade would look at Molly, pinch his lips and roll his eyes. Molly saw how John's eyes would crinkle when he got a reaction of the other man.

 

"I can't do this," Basil complained, scratching out mid-added numbers on his paper. He was using scraps Molly had torn out of Juliette. She didn't care for the book too much, and saw this as a better use. She was immensely relieved that the boy couldn't read and had no idea what was happening in the words he was painfully writing numbers around.

 

"Yes, you can, Basil. You're doing just fine; it takes a great deal of practice." She peered at the simple math problems on the page. "These aren't etirely correct, but I'll do them with you."

 

The boy heaved a huge sigh, and cast his eyes longingly at the port side where Anderson was leading a game of dice among the off-duty men.

 

"Why can't I play that? I can if I want, you know." He pasted an unconvincing glare on his face.

 

"Because when you win, you won't be able to add it up right to see how much money you've won!" Molly said cheerily.

 

"Well isn't this cozy." The dry, cold voice cut through the relaxing moment.

 

"Sherlock!" Molly handed the pencil nub back to Basil and stood to greet the captain. She shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other, not sure how to greet him in front of people. He didn't seem to welcome open affection above decks.

 

His face was impassive. "Basil, fetch me ale and a plate of grub from the galley."

 

"Oh but we're almost done-"Basil ran off before Molly could complete the thought.

 

She sighed. Young boys, they'll take any excuse to avoid lessons.


Sherlock sat down beside Molly on the bench, one strong arm snaking around her back to squeeze her waist. She ducked her head blushing and hiding a pleased smile. Anderson and the gathered sailors elbowed each other, and snickered.

 

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at them, and the men all looked away, eyes suddenly innocent and blank.

 

Molly took the opportunity to ask a favor. "I'd been hoping that at the next port I could mail another letter to Papa."

 

The frown-wrinkle between Sherlock's eyes appeared. Anderson broke into a guffaw.

 

"Another letter? Please. What sort of prisoner gets to post letters? Letter, my arse."

 

Sherlock glared at the sailing master, and Molly joined him. "We sent my papa a letter from Scilly. Sherlock had the man at the shop do it for us. It is none of your concern though."

 

"Are we supposed to believe he really posted a letter from the female he kidnapped?" Anderson's voice rang with scorn and doubt was written in his ratlike face.

 

"Of course he did. Right, Sherlock?" Molly turned to the captain, and a flash of guilt showed on his face before his smooth, unreadable expression returned.

 

"Yes, that's right." He smiled tightly.

 

But it was too late. She'd seen the surprise and something almost like fear run through his eyes before he'd covered it with his usual mask.

 

"Sherlock. Did you post the letter to Papa? Please, don't lie." Her eyes were huge and full of hope.

 

Lie, everything inside him said. She won't like you anymore. God knows why she did in the first place. It's for the best. Let her go.


He controlled every muscle in his body into stillness.

 

"You forgot what I was, Molly."

 

Her mouth opened but no words came out.

 

"Your drunken father doesn't deserve your consideration anyway. It probably took him days to even notice you were missing and only then because he needed money or a job came up."

 

Molly bit down on her lips and backed away. She began to shake her head, and tears welled up in her eyes.

 

"I didn't forget who you were. Maybe I forgot who I was. Oh heavens, I am so stupid. Why do I trust people?" She fled down the stairs.

 

"Sherlock, you arse, follow her!" John urged him.

 

"Why? I know where she's going- obviously to our quarters. Can't be bothered at the moment anyway."

 

He strode across the deck to grab Anderson by the arms and haul him to standing. Without preamble, he laid into the sailing master with his fist. He got in three heavy punches to the man's face before John, Lestrade and a muscular deckhand dragged him away from Anderson.

 

Sherlock pulled himself from their grasp, and stared in incredulous surprise at them. His eyes flashed for a moment before he lifted his chin and strode away, out of sight.

 

Lestrade and the sailor looked at each other nervously. They had no standing on the Hudson. The consequences could be considerable or they could be nonexistent; Sherlock's moods were mercurial that way.

 

Basil turned up a minute later, holding a platter of food and drink. Spotting John tending to Anderson's bleeding nose and mouth, the cabin boy groaned.

 

"Oh bollocks, I missed a brawl! This day is right foul. Where the bloody cap'n get off to now?"

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock knocked on the door to his cabin politely, the soft sound contrasting the angry energy visible in the rest of his movements.

 

"No! Piss off! You tosser! You liar!" Molly shouted from within.

 

"Excellent cursing, but open the door. I designed the locks, I can open them easily. I'd rather you unlocked it though, and spare me the annoyance of putting the mechanisms back together again tonight."

 

"Go away. I'm…I'm in bed."

 

"No, you aren't, you're clearly standing to the right of the table. I can hear the creak as you lean on it, probably to take off your shoes. Were you going to throw them at me?"

 

"No, but thank you for the idea." Her footsteps landed heavily as she stormed to the door, unlocked it and threw it open.

 

"Are you-"She was cut off for the second time that day as Sherlock swooped in and covered her mouth with his.

 

I thought you were going to let her go, his mind whispered at him.

 

Shut up, you prat, he responded to his self.

 

Molly yanked herself away from him, her eyes glazed over and dilated, her lips wet. "I don't want you to do that. You lied, and I was dumb enough to trust you, and I want to go home."

 

"I don't want you to go home. You need to stay here with me." Sherlock surprised himself with the response, but he pushed ahead regardless. It made no sense, but it felt right to say what he had said.

 

"He doesn't deserve you- your father. You save him every day and he doesn't appreciate it, and your gifts are used to keep him in spirits. You go to parties and in rooms full of hundreds of people, you're still alone. You read and learn in secret. It's stupid and it's boring and you shouldn't do it. You should…not be there," he finished clumsily. His customary, rapid-fire, intelligent stream of words had vanished. He was terrible at feelings. He just knew he wanted her to stay on his ship where they could study things and have sex and have her scent in his nose every day. Moriarty and danger be damned.


"Additionally, Basil lacks skill with mathematics. He needs you to stay." Sherlock looked embarrassed by his rambling outpouring.

 

Molly stared at Sherlock, noticing the pinkness in his cheeks, the frequent movement of his throat as he swallowed nervously, and the way his eyes darted more. Living with him had taught her to see the world and people in a new way. He was nervous. And scared.

 

She felt some of her rage fade away. It hurt but he hadn't said anything about her father or her life that was untrue. The only lie was the letter.

 

She tugged on her braid and stared at his chest as she spoke. "Sherlock, you're so different than anyone I've ever known. Papa is very flawed. I know. But I can't desert him and let him believe I'm dead. I have to go back. After that…I don't know. I just don't know. You don't understand about having loved ones."

 

He pulled her close, wrapping his arms tightly around her and burying his nose in her hair. She allowed herself to relax and enjoy the embrace, though she was unhappy with the deception.

 

He smelled like salty sea air and lemons and the mint paste concoction he'd created to clean his mouth. Molly couldn't imagine living back in London and not having his body and scent rubbing against hers every day.

 

He murmured something against her hair, and Molly cocked an ear up. "What's that?"

 

"Nothing, I said nothing." He put an end to questions by pressing his lips to hers, and kissing her until she didn't care about anything but the way they fit together, bodies humming with potential.

 

She could've sworn that what he'd said so softly against her hair sounded like, "I do understand."

Chapter Text

A black mood had overtaken Jamie Moriarty.

 

That was not unusual. His emotions raced from high to low and back again almost constantly. Bastian knew that he need only be patient and say the right words, and Jamie would be right as rain within minutes.

 

But today was different. The man in black stood at the bow of the Thanatos, a brass spyglass extended in his hands. His mouth had been frozen into an ugly smile for several minutes as he peered through the telescope at something on the horizon. He stood stock-still, fascinated by the mere tip of a sail visible in the far distance.

 

Bastian stood quietly, watching and waiting. He was content to stand guard by his captain, his partner, his lover, while the smaller man came to a decision regarding the other ship. He didn't care a whit about Sherlock Holmes, but he was suspicious about Jamie's interest in the man. The rival pirate was handsome, they said, though odd-looking. They said he was fearless and had never lost a fight, that he wasn't above cheating to win. Well, Bastian could respect that. Rules were for lesser beings; obeying rules made you prey.


What was worrying Sebastian Moran was that this Sherlock Holmes was supposedly brilliant, with an intellect that no one had ever seen the likes of before. In the Caribbean ports the Hudson had visited, locals and pirates alike whispered stories about the cunning captain who could almost read minds, the way he understood everyone's secrets just by looking at their faces and their clothing.

 

Bastian knew that he was clever in his way, and an unbeatable hunter; he had conquered the art of hunting man- the ultimate prey- after all. But there was something untouchable in Jamie that always hungered for more than Bastian could give him. Jamie was growing bored with him, he could tell. Emptiness was obvious in his eyes, more often than not, even as Bastian tried his most inventive tortures and murders for the captain's enjoyment.

 

He wanted nothing more than to make Moriarty happy; he owed the man everything, as Jamie had discovered him in an abandoned Spitalfields flophouse, enjoying himself with a girl who had wandered too far from home at night. He had been so involved in savoring the female's pain that he didn't realize he was about to be caught by a Bow Street Runner. Jamie found him first, and they ran off together, laughing in the night. Jamie never got lost in the beautiful moments the way Bastian did, but that was good; someone had to be more in control.

 

Jamie respected his work, the effort he put into exploring every aspect of human suffering. His eyes lit up as they bonded over cups of ale at a pub, sharing stories of Jamie's manipulations and schemes and Bastian's more curious murders. Jamie questioned him on his techniques, whistling in admiration at the creativity.

 

It was lovely to be appreciated.

 

It wasn't enough for Moriarty anymore though, and Bastian would do whatever the man wanted to make him happy. If hunting Holmes pleased his love, he would do it, even though the spectre of the rival's massive intellect threatened him.

 

It's only a passing fancy, Bastian assured himself.

 

We'll track him, gut their ship, bathe in their blood and come home to our bed. Everything will be as perfect as it has been, these years together. I belong with him.


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock checked with Anderson to verify their navigation was correct, as they should be arriving in Mayaguana within a few hours.

 

The sailing master confirmed his calculations without looking at the captain directly. Anderson's left eye was ringed with purple bruises, and his mouth was set in a sullen pout.

 

"Solid work, Anderson! You've managed to not direct us into a cliff." Sherlock clapped the other man on the back, his voice bright and jolly. "We may all live to make it to Jamaica yet." He strolled away, ignoring the hissed intake of breath from the annoyed sailing master.

 

Sod him, Sherlock thought. He's lucky I didn't run him through with a sword or shoot his mouthy arse.


Waking up with Molly curled against his body, her leg thrown across his thighs, had done much to assure a good mood this morning. He had found himself staring at her as she slept, half his mind on her physical reactions (respiratory rate steady slight movement in her eyelids) and the other half on the day ahead. He had been worried she'd be a distraction, but she was a distraction from only bad things like boredom, he found. His mind worked as well as it ever had, his intelligence and logic not impaired by the presence of her in his bed every night. He did have the problem now of convincing her to leave behind her life in London for good, but he looked forward to the challenge.

 

"I can feel you watching me, you know," she murmured as she stirred to waking. She slipped a hand across his naked chest, and sighed. "I'm angry you lied. Don't think a bit of kissing will change that. I do know why you did it though. But I don't want you to hate my father. I want you to meet him."

 

He pretended he hadn't heard her, and kissed her to fully awake.

 

"Come ashore with me today. There's a freshwater stream on the island we can bathe in."

 

"Together?" she asked, and laughed. "I don't know how much washing would be accomplished."

 

He bit her neck lightly, noted the pinkness of her tender skin, and licked at the spot. She shivered and pulled him closer.

 

"You would be," he commented as he kissed his way down her body, "Very clean. A very thorough washing, yes." He nuzzled the softness of her belly, and she impatiently pushed his head further down.

 

"Demanding sort of female, aren't you," he mused, before pressing his tongue into her wetness and settling on his elbows between her thighs. As her agreement turned to pleased yelps, Sherlock thought to himself, Why would anyone ever want to wake up without someone like Molly Hooper in their bed?


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"It's time, Bastian. I'm getting weary of the game. Not that our trips to the Azores and the Canary Islands weren't enjoyable. And sending that pretentious pest Hope after him was a bit entertaining, I must admit. It's all too easy though. But this, this is a good place. To die, to kill. Let's finish it."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The black flag was unmistakable, flapping just above the sails billowing in the strong winds. The ship cut through the water like a hot knife through butter, and the shapes of cannons were visible even from a good distance.

 

Melas shouted down from the riggings.

 

"Get the bloody captain, no messin' about, lads! Got a problem coming right fast!"

 

Sherlock looked up from his place on the deck where he stood smoking, when he heard a sailor running (flatfooted tobacco-user Cuban origins just drank beer), and found the man who matched what he'd heard.

 

The sailor came to a stop before the captain, coughing and short of breath from his sprint.

 

"Sir, captain, sir, there's a black flag coming."

 

Sherlock's left eyebrow raised, and his instinctive iciness took over. "Describe it."

 

"White horned man holding a red heart with red flames around it. On a black field."

 

Sherlock ran in the direction the sailor had come from. He climbed up the ropes himself to get a look. The description was unfamiliar, but the distant sight of the flag, and the heart engulfed in fire, unnerved him. This was a new foe…or was it?

 

He assessed the ship, taking in the considerable arsenal it was displaying. This was not a pirate parley. This was an attack.

 

"Get ready, you sons of bastards!" Sherlock bellowed. The scattered sailors on deck craned up to see their captain above hanging onto the ropes. "Guns now, for your life!"

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Molly heard the mad pounding of what sounded like every man on the ship suddenly rushing overhead. Basil came running into the cabin without knocking, looking wild-eyed.

 

"Pirates, ma'am, real pirates! Cap'n says it's best if you stay in the surgery, John'll look after ya."

 

"I'll look after myself, I should think," Molly said, pulling on one of Sherlock's shirts over her plain dress. She was suddenly chilled. "Are these not friends on the Hudson's then?"

 

"I think not," the boy replied. He grabbed her hand and dragged her through the ship to the surgery, where John was preparing his supplies to handle any injuries. Lestrade stood in the doorway, arms crossed as he listened to the ruckus outside. He seemed uncertain as to what he should be doing.

 

"Sit tight, Molly, I'm sure everything will be just fine by supper time," John said with false good cheer.

 

"It's hard to believe that when everyone's panicking," she responded. She bit her fingernail nervously, and sniffed the sleeve, comforted by Sherlock's scent clinging to it.

 

"It may be nothing." John paused. "It may be something. But Sherlock's the cleverest man we've all ever met, and no one's got tricks to call on like our captain. Trust him."

 

"That's true," Lestrade agreed. "The Royal Navy's thrown everything they could at him under orders, and he dodged it all. Bloody waste of time this is, with the war on. Should be out there fighting the French."

 

John tilted his head, his eyes stony as they appraised the other man. He opened a chest and dug through it for clean bandages. "Well if you loathe being on the Hudson so much, you can run right back to England when we leave you off, and see if they'll take you back without a hanging. If you're looking for a fight, go ask Donovan for a pistol and jump in the bloody fray." He slammed the lid of the chest shut and turned his back on Lestrade.

 

Gregory's jaw worked for a moment, and his brown eyes focused on John with some confusion. The surgeon kept his back turned, and so the former navy man bolted up the stairs out of sight.

 

Molly and Basil exchanged looks, unsure of what sparked the awkward angry moment. Without warning, the boy wrapped his arms around Molly's midsection and he smiled up at her.

 

"It's going to be alright, miss, I promise."

 

She bit her lip. "I'm going to hold you to that promise, Basil." She patted his head and then winced at the greasiness. "And when this is over, I'll give you more candy if you take a bath."

 

They both giggled nervously, ignoring the moody surgeon in their midst.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Raise the flag, Mister Melas," Sherlock ordered.

 

Their own black fabric rose to the heights quickly, answering the menacing sigil of the approaching pirate ship.

 

Pirates fashioned their design with various elements, intended to impose or distinguish themselves. Some of them were a bit ornate with colors and bodies and messages spelled out. But Sherlock Holmes simply could not be bothered with that fuss.

 

"Say hello, friend," Sherlock muttered as his flag flapped in the wind. The plain black field was decorated only with a white skull. The grinning skeletal face was all the message he needed to convey.

 

We're ready for you.


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Moriarty shouted with glee as the Thanatos picked up speed, driving through the sea ruthlessly. They drew daringly close to the Hudson, guns at the ready.

 

He could see the men on the other ship, scampering about. They stank of fear. Jamie rolled his head around, closing his eyes and taking in the scent of their terror. Without opening his head, he spoke.

 

"Bastian. Wait five minutes. Tell everyone to hold. Give them time to get at least a bit ready. Otherwise it'll be painfully dull. I want them to fight. I want them to dare to hope before they burn."


The tall blond man nodded, though he thought it was foolish to give their prey a chance. Best to kill them when they're weak, when their necks were exposed and their bellies ripe for slicing. But Jamie liked to savor the moment, and Bastian had to admit they never lost a battle. It was tasty when they had that spice of anger and fighting.

 

He gave the order to the men, and they stood still for several minutes, impatient to cut loose. The ragged band of pirates was tense and ready to rain hellfire on the enemy.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"What the hell are they doing?" Donovan barked out as she prepared the large guns. The gunpowder would work fine, she had just checked it, but they'd used all their nail-bombs on Hope's ship. Sherlock's tricks had been exhausted and there'd been no time to refill their stores.

 

There was no response. The master gunner looked up at her captain and damn it all if the son of a bitch wasn't grinning.


"He's playing a game, Mister Donovan. Are we ready?"

 

"No, but we haven't gotten time or supplies to be proper ready, do we."

 

He ignored the comment. "Tell them to pull around the other ship. Let's not let them get too comfortable."

 

"And then?"

 

"And then we fight."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Oh they're playing. That's nice. That's good. This is a beautiful day, Bastian." Jamie smiled sweetly at his first mate, his only mate, and reached up to cup his cheek. "Let's find out if he's everything I've heard." He stood on his tiptoes to brush a kiss across Bastian's lips.

 

The larger man wrapped his free arm (the other occupied with a huge rifle) around Jamie and kissed his lover with everything in him. It was supposed to be an enthusiastic celebration of battle, but it tasted like goodbye. A just-in-case kiss.

 

Bastian and Jamie rested their foreheads against one another's for a moment, and then pulled away simultaneously.

 

"Alright, gents," Jamie called. "We're done dancing. It's time to burn."

 

Bastian's face broke into a wide grin, and the pirates roared with approval.

 

"Fire when ready."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Molly sat on the floor, unconsciously rocking back and forth. Waiting.

 

"Why hasn't anything happened yet?"

 

John's face was clouded. "I don't know, Molly." He threw himself down on the cot and put his head in his hands. "Gregory hasn't come back yet."

 

"Well, no," Molly said. "Does it matter?"

 

"No, of course not. I'm sure he can take care of himself."

 

The ship's surgeon downed the last of his cup of ale, eyes locked on the doorway.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The enemy's row of large guns was pointed at the Hudson. The captain stood at the rail, in front of his men, almost daring the other ship to attack. Every nerve in Sherlock stood on end as he waited for the foe to make a move. He might be moments from death, but his eyes gleamed and his body was lit up with awareness.

 

"Sir, there's another one! Shit!" Melas cursed, and then shimmied down the ropes in his amazingly agile way. The small rigger hopped down to the deck. "Can't make out the flag, but it's black, and the ship is bloody fast."

 

Sherlock frowned, and glared in the direction of the third ship. "A latecomer to the pirate's party? Hmm. But the positioning of the other ship…" Sherlock took in the name of the ship visible now near the bow. "Oh, the Thanatos, how very clever." He rolled his eyes. "The Thanatos's position doesn't indicate they were planning on a two-ship formation."

 

Even as Sherlock spoke, half the Thanatos's guns were diverted toward the new ship.

 

All the men on deck on both ships turned to face the new threat, uncertain of how to proceed beyond aiming their guns and their smaller weapons and waiting for their captain's orders.

 

The ship skimmed over the surface of the water, like a pebble skipping over a pond, light and fast. The sails were striped black and white, impossible to ignore, and her flag featured a heart as well. But instead of flames, their black flag featured two ivory daggers crisscrossed, cutting through a red heart perched over a smaller bone-white skull.

 

As the flag took form in his eyes, Sherlock began to smile.

 

"What? What is it?" Donovan asked, standing up and dropping the crate of pistols she'd been handing out.

 

The captain nodded in the direction of the new arrival. "I don't think this is a coincidence."

 

Donovan ran to the rail, and whooped with happiness. "Look!" she screamed, pointing toward the ship's bow where the name was proudly displayed in elegant lettering.

 

NOVA REGINA


"Regina!" Donovan shouted, nearly clapping in delight. Her shipmates around her looked askance at the strange reaction of their master gunner. Even as she called the name of the ship out, she had resumed a higher pitched tone of voice, her disguise slipping.

 

She glanced at Sherlock, who gave her a begrudging smile. "We won't be firing on them, naturally."

 

He had realized that a pirate ship allied to neither of the two others would steer clear of an impending battle, unless there was something they valued on board, something worth risking their lives for.

Or someone.

 

It makes sense, he realized. She can't hide her gender forever, she must've been serving on a ship that welcomed females.


"You weren't with Adler last time I encountered her," Sherlock mentioned.

 

Donovan looked at him in alarm, and then narrowed her eyes. She scratched the back of her head. "Maybe I was. Maybe you didn't meet me. Or maybe you didn't even notice me because you're Sherlock bloody Holmes and you don't give a damn about anything that hasn't to do with you or your research or your ship."

 

Unoffended, he nodded.

 

As the Nova Regina pulled closer, the Thanatos began to fall back. They could overpower the Hudson but the combined gun power of the two ships was too much to risk alone.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

"Sorry, love. Wrong day to die. I call the dance. And there's no room for three," Moriarty murmured as the ships receded into the distance.

 

"That's it?" Bastian asked. "We could've taken them."

 

"Maybe, maybe not. We'll get them near Jamaica. And then we'll rout out Irene Adler and flay her crew alive and stitch their skin together to use for sails."


Bastian relaxed and smiled. "Well that's alright then. More time to plan. Got some new ideas, as it happens. Females would be good for it. They're soft."


"I thought you'd like that," Jamie said, wrapping his arm around Bastian's waist. He watched the black flags in the distance until they disappeared completely.

 

It was not the day he had planned, no; but it was so much better. It was interesting.

Chapter Text

The crews of the Hudson and the Nova Regina met on the shore of Mayaguana. The enemy pirate ship had vanished into the horizon, and the sleek schooner of the mysterious Captain Adler followed Sherlock's signals to gather near the oft-used pirate's well on the island.

 

Basil and a skeleton crew stayed behind, but Lestrade came along at John's insistence.

 

"There's nothing like fresh springwater for a wound. His arm needs another cleaning and some work. Tosser pulled three stitches in the fracas." John glanced at the other man, and half-smiled to soften the remark. "Serve you right if you'd gotten bloody shot, running out there with only one good arm."

 

"Been doing this longer than you, Watson," Lestrade replied. "I don't need mothering; save it for the lad."

 

John nodded, and the two men continued across the beach in companionable silence.

 

"They're coming, right? That's them, isn't it?" Donovan was all jitters, unusual for the master gunner. She had washed her face thoroughly, checking even her teeth, and changed into a clean set of clothes. There was something different about her that Molly couldn't quite put her finger on at first, beyond the simple shininess that came from a good scrubbing.

 

After a minute of inspecting Donovan from a distance, as they marched across the sands, Molly realized what the change was.

 

"Yes," Sherlock murmured as he walked alongside her.

 

"Pardon? Did I say something? I didn't mean to." She slipped her hand into Sherlock's free one, the other occupied with his sample case.

 

"Your eyes said something. You see the change in our gunner. Took you long enough. The bindings. I noticed as soon as she stepped out of the crew's quarters, of course."

 

When she had changed out of her dirty clothes, Donovan had left behind the strips of fabric that she'd used to disguise her figure which while slim, was female in shape. Molly saw now that her waist was narrow and that while not very large, a definite pair of breasts disrupted the unwrinkled straightness of Donovan's shirt.

 

"She's forgotten to cover herself!" Molly whispered. "Why didn't you say something?"

 

"Because it's time, Molly," Sherlock said, as his eyes scanned the treeline, searching for any surprises. "She's found her captain. I'll have to find a new master gunner in Kingston. Should be no trouble, though I'd rather we hadn't lost the least inept gunner when this Thanatos is about."

 

"I hadn't thought…how strange, I almost wish she were not going. Oh, there they are!" Molly shouted as a dozen bodies came into view, strolling down the sand.

 

Donovan whooped and hollered a greeting, waving her hands. Anderson side-eyed his friend, confusion apparent in his squint.

 

It was only when they were two dozen paces away that the doctor realized that the new band of pirates was composed entirely of women.


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The crew of the Hudson had always dressed in plain clothes that were clean and mended, but mostly brown and yellow and off-white. The crew of the enemy ship Thanatos had dressed in similar clothes, except their garments were torn and soiled.

The apparel of the Nova Regina pirates was cut from a different cloth, literally.

 

The woman leading the pack was as tall as Sherlock, and broader, with muscles rippling in her arms and thighs. The Amazonian female was clad in a royal purple tunic over snug black trousers and knee high boots. Gold braided rope with tassled ends served as her belt. Three guns were stuffed into her belt, along with a cutlass. Her hair hung in wild brown waves around her tanned face, and her eyes were a sparkling black.

 

The crew around her were no less fascinating, with every color of the rainbow in their dress. Molly saw silk and satin and gold and silver. The sun glinting off them was blinding.

 

"Oh my," Molly breathed. "Captain Adler, I presume. She's amazing!" She had never seen anyone like the powerful woman nearing them.

 

"Actually…no." Sherlock let go of Molly's hand and set his case down. The Hudson sailors shifted nervously, unsure of what to make of females being pirates.

 

"Ain't right. Unnatural sluts," Anderson muttered to Donovan next to him. Donovan, instead of snickering in agreement as usual, responded by smacking the rat-faced sailing master in the back of his head.

 

"Oi! That was uncalled for. What's the matter, is that your mum?" Anderson snarked. Donovan glowered at him, and turned her attention back to the other crew.

 

"I don't know you," she called to the broad woman in front. "You're new to Adler's bunch."

 

"That's Marisol," a warm voice from the back of the small crowd replied. The group parted in deference, and at last, Captain Adler stepped forward. "Mind your manners, Sally dear. I found Marisol in a tavern in New Orleans, emasculating the three men who had just tried to rape her. Obviously I hired her on the spot. You're going to get on famously, darling." Adler winked, and blood-red lips curled in a gleeful smile.

 

The petite captain wore an elegant silk waistcoat of mint-green and white stripes over a pristine white blouse. Her trousers were ivory and sinfully tight on her slim body. Surprisingly, she carried no guns; her only weapon in hand was a leather cat o' nine tails whip. Her rakish hat was tilted, and a single emerald feather was tucked into the band. Molly spied artful brown curls peeping out from under the hat. Her blue eyes were piercing in an unnerving way that was familiar.

 

She's like Sherlock, Molly realized. One of the unique people, the beautiful ones. She's not ordinary like me. She's like him.


Molly felt rather small. Thinking on Sherlock's "Actually…no" remark, another painful thought took over her mind.

 

He knows her. He knows this beautiful pirate. How?


Sherlock frowned as Molly unconsciously stepped back and shrank into herself. She was turning inward in the way he remembered from the party where he'd found her. But why?

 

He shook off the distraction and turned to the other captain. "Why do all your stories end up with someone being emasculated, Adler? Take her back and be done with it."

 

She smiled. "I knew you'd work it out when I tracked her down and heard she was on the Hudson. Be honest, how long did it take you? She's very good at passing as a man."

 

Adler avoided looking at Donovan as she stepped closer to Sherlock, her face inches from his chest as she look up at Sherlock's impassive face. Waves of nervous energy radiated from the master gunner, who crossed and uncrossed her arms repeatedly.

 

Sherlock ignored Irene's question. "How did you escape from prison? Claiming to be with child was inspired, but that won't open the jail door. Did you convince the guard you were in love with him again?"

 

"Why? Jealous?" Adler bit her lip, and brushed an imaginary bit of lint off Sherlock's shirt.

 

He raised an eyebrow. "Why would I be jealous?"

 

That wasn't an actual denial, Molly noticed, feeling as though she might throw up.

 

John watched the reactions with interest, wondering what game Adler was playing at. There was always an angle with her.

 

"No reason at all." Captain Adler's eyes shone with mischief. "Their guards were simpletons. It wasn't hard to figure out what they liked. You know me too well, Sherlock Holmes."

 

"Obviously." He sneered, but Molly saw haughty pride in his gaze focused on the lady pirate.

 

"Though perhaps not as well as you think. We did only meet the one time." She placed a palm flat on his chest, and leaned in until her breasts were almost brushing his body.

 

Molly's eyes narrowed and she clenched her fist, resisting the urge to smack Adler. Attacking her seemed like a bad idea with her crew at the ready. But another touch and she wouldn't care about anything except that bloody woman was groping her man.


Irene's icy blue eyes warmed as she contemplated Sherlock's face. "I've always had a soft spot for tall, dark and gorgeous. And great lips." She reached her fingers up as if to stroke his lips, and Molly's breath froze in a strangled gasp.

 

Irene's eyes slid over to Molly, and a grin tickled the corners of her mouth. "Yes, indeed, a great soft spot. Thank you for returning her to me." And with that, Irene turned and extended a hand to Donovan.

 

The Hudson sailors stared in confusion as their master gunner broke into a huge smile and threw herself into Captain Adler's arms.

 

"Bloody gorgeous," Irene murmured before pressing her red lips against Donovan's in a heated, claiming kiss. The gunner sighed in happiness and knocked Adler's hat off with her enthusiastic returned kiss.

 

"Did she say 'thank you for returning her'?" Anderson whispered to the man beside him. The sailor nodded dumbly, his mouth gaping as the two women held each other, the captain and her first mate laughing in relief at finally being reunited.

 

"I am so confused right now," Lestrade commented to the ship's surgeon. "Are they…"

 

"Looks like it. Problem?" John avoided the other man's eyes.

 

"No! Not at all. So…he's a she. It's a bit brilliant. Fancy that! I've never seen two women but it's fine." He grinned.

 

John felt his something in his chest loosen, and he relaxed. He forced himself to meet Lestrade's brown eyes, and he smiled. "It's all fine."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The two groups of sailors mingled, some individuals taking the opportunity to engage in flirting while others were content to compare weapons and exchange stories of raids gone awry as they trekked to the well in the trees. A few bottles of rum were already being passed around.

 

Sherlock was oddly quiet as he and Molly made their way to a grassy clearing not far into the trees.

 

Resolved to be brave, she touched his arm and spoke. "Did you…do you want her?"

 

He looked at her with genuine surprise. "Why ever would I be interested in the woman?"

 

"I don't know. You were friendly, and…you seem to have met before. She touched you." Molly's voice turned dark with her last statement. "I didn't like that."

 

"I encountered her nine months ago in the Bahamas. On her old Regina, the one that was destroyed when she was captured later. She fired on a British ship that had spotted the Hudson and tried to take us in for the bounty. We met her on the shore, a brief parley where she regaled us with her many misdeeds. Adler is unusual, beyond her gender. She makes her own rules and her own way in the world. She saved us not for profit, but for fun and because we would then owe her. She deals in power." Sherlock watched the lady captain walk hand in hand with Donovan up the beach. "I would rather she were alive than dead. But until I stole you, I hadn't felt desire for any specific woman in a decade."

 

Molly's cheeks burned. "Oh. Well that's nice then. Good. But you seem a bit out of sorts?"

 

Sherlock ran a hand through his dark curls, which had been blown wild by the island breezes. He had spent far too much time constructing plots to keep Molly on board and yet she was worried that he was interested in a woman whom didn't even merit her own trunk, let alone her own room in his mind palace. Blasted women.

 

"I had deduced that Donovan was a member of her crew and she was there to fetch her. But I did not realize she had a predilection for her own sex and that they were romantically involved."

 

"Does it matter? I've read about that." Molly giggled. "I confess, I did not think I should ever meet a follower of Sappho in my life."

 

"It doesn't matter. The point is, I should have known. I loathe missing details. But there's always something. I must improve."

 

"Oh I see. So it's not about her, it's about you."

 

"Clearly! What else would it be about?"

 

Molly swatted his arm.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


John shouted at Sherlock and Molly's retreating figures. "Two hours, we agreed! Don't make me come find you."

 

"Where they off to?" Lestrade shielded his eyes from the blazing afternoon sun. He unlaced his shirt, and shrugged it off gingerly. Naked above the waist, he poked a fingertip under the bandage wrapped tightly around his upper arm. The muscles in his chest played under his sun-warmed brown skin, and John found himself staring. Lestrade repeated the question, snapping the surgeon out of his reverie.

 

John glanced away, and began rambling. "Sherlock's been doing a series of studies about the flora of Mayaguana for the last year, coming back each time to see the difference. Takes more samples, the usual sort. Bloody boring, if I'm being honest. I'm glad he's got Molly to lecture about it to now. We should get you to the well, clean about the torn stitches, get you covered again. Heh. Wouldn't want you catching cold."

 

"Cold? It's the bloody summer and we're almost in the Caribbean." Lestrade picked his discarded shirt off the ground. "Fine, where's this legendary fresh water?"

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"We'll meet up with Irene Adler and her people before we leave. I've a feeling she knows a lot more about the mysterious Moriarty fellow. She's been sailing these parts far longer than I have, and she knows everyone's secrets though I dare say she acquires those secrets with a different method than my own."

 

"What now then?" Molly asked, lifting her skirt up to mid-calf and stepping carefully through the knee-high grass behind Sherlock. "Oh, that's a lovely flower." She plucked the pink-petaled specimen and held it up to her nostrils. "This one's stinky. But pretty." She tucked it into her hair and caught up with the captain.

 

"Not exactly a scientific description, but not inaccurate. There." He pointed in the distance, where a thin stream weaved in and out of clusters of palm trees. "There's something I've been thinking about for weeks."

 

"A bath? I didn't bring anything to dry myself with, though."

 

Sherlock held up the satchel, and Molly opened it. Inside was a clean blanket and a bar of soap.

 

"Oh, delightful! I'd love a good dip. Is it private?" she asked as they climbed down the small hill and neared the stream.

 

"Private enough. I had a word with John this morning, he'll keep the boys away. I can't guarantee Adler's crew will abide by it, but I don't care." They dropped the case and satchel under a tree and looked around. The green hills around them were free of people, the only sound the cries of gulls and the gentle flow of water bubbling along.

 

"Not getting shy on me, are you," Sherlock said as he stroked her arms. He lifted the hem of the shirt she'd thrown on top of her dress and pulled it over her head. Her arms got caught in the shirt momentarily and she laughed.

 

"Going to tie me up with your shirt, is that the plan?"

 

"I hadn't considered the option, but now that you suggest it…" He reinforced the trapping of her arms behind her with his strong hands, and her giggles turned to sighs and moans as his lips attacked her neck. He pushed her back against a palm tree and tickled her skin with his tongue and teeth, until she writhed against him.

 

"Never going to get clean this way, love," she managed to gasp out before his lips covered hers and ate her words.

 

Triumph ran through him; he shut her mouth with his quickly to prevent her from taking back the endearment.

 

It's a start, he thought, before she ground her sex against his muscled thigh, demanding more attention. After that, he lost track of time. One moment he was tasting her pink lips and her tender neck, and the next, she was nude and on her knees before him, tugging down his trousers.

 

"Careful," he hissed as she dragged the fabric over his growing erection. When did that happen? he wondered idly. Perhaps his awareness was being negatively affected by her presence, but he found it impossible to care when she sucked the head of his cock into her mouth and worked him to full hardness.

 

Sherlock sank his hands into Molly's loose waves of hair and guided her as she slid him over her curious tongue. She peered up at him, her big brown eyes glowing as she took him in hand and throat and made him groan. Growing braver, she dug her fingernails into the cheeks of his arse, and nearly pushed him over the edge.

 

Abruptly he yanked himself out of her mouth and lay down in the grass. He grabbed Molly's hands and pulled her down on top of him, with one knee on either side of his hips.

 

"The sodding pirates kept me from this on Corvo, they're not going to win this time," he muttered confusingly.

 

"Sorry?" Molly asked, leaning forward to kiss him.

 

"Mmm nothing," he said against her lips. Without prelude, he reached between their bodies, and angled himself into Molly's wetness.

 

"Ohhhh," she breathed , her nails digging into his shoulders as she arched back, letting him sink into her. The rough ground under the grass was hard on her knees but she didn't care, tuning out the ache as she began to rock.

 

Sherlock reached up and spread her hair around her shoulders, the warm color showing strong against the pale blueness of the summer sky. The tips of her brown locks just grazed her nipples, as he cupped her breasts.

 

"Perfect."

 

"I'm not perfect." Molly closed her eyes and rode hard, tightening her abdomen and leaning back.

 

"We are," Sherlock corrected, expecting Molly to protest.

 

But she didn't. She was too far gone in the moment, not caring who heard or saw her. Feeling the sharp rippling begin in her belly, she cast her eyes down to her lover and he met her gaze evenly.

 

"I need, oh god, I need it," she gasped out.

 

Tension in abdomen and thighs, pupils dilated 100%, shaking in lower extremities, nipples erect even without contact, respiratory rate increased.


"Come for me, doctor," he demanded, pushing down on her hips and shoving into her hard in return as she rode him. She leaned forward to keep from falling, and came with a scream that would've been his name if she could form any words.

Her eyes welled up with the force of her climax, and she shook as she collapsed on his chest.

 

He stroked her back, keeping his cock within her as her heart returned to normal speed. "Ready?" he murmured in her ear. She nodded and kissed him quickly on the lips.

 

Sherlock sat up, bringing her with him, and rolled Molly over onto her knees. He nudged her forward into a thicker patch of grass, softer on their bodies.

 

Molly bent forward onto her elbows and looked back at Sherlock as he pushed into her again. Messy curls hung over his forehead, as he pushed her thighs further apart with determination and sunk deeper into her heat. His hand slid over the small of her back and up her spine, the shivers driving her to bend her head down further while pressing her bottom back against him.

 

The primal pose and rhythm forced Molly's body into a submissive pose, lifting her hips up for him to take again and again. He drove into her relentlessly, all traces of her logical, infuriating captain gone. When she craned her neck and stole a glance at him again, Molly saw that his mouth was gritted and his jaw tense with effort. Everything he had was focused on her, for her, and in that moment, Molly understood that she was the one in control, that she had the power.

 

"Come for me, love. Come in me," Molly demanded with a wicked smile.

 

Sherlock looked up, only a hint of intelligence in his eyes, and could do nothing but obey her. Another half-dozen thrusts was all it took for him to pump everything in her and then fall onto the grass beside his woman.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"JESUS CHRIST, John!"

 

"Oh shut it, you didn't whine this much when you got shot."

 

"What is that? I thought you were just using water?"

 

"There was a speck of dirt, had to pick it out before closing it up again." John prepared the needle for restitching the reopened portion of Lestrade's wound. "Infection is the real killer, you know that."

 

"Yeah I know it," Lestrade said with a wince. He took another swig from the bottle of whiskey and snuck a peek at John as he worked. "It's not, is it? Infected I mean."

 

John held his arm tighter as he began to sew. "No, you're fine. It's healing well but you musn't be an idiot again and try to fight before you're ready."

 

"I just hate feeling useless," Lestrade responded. "Used to being busy every day, there was always so much to be done on the Edinburgh. I don't mind banging boards together here, mind you, but I need more to do."

 

John resisted the urge to offer him more work to keep him happy. "We're nearly in Jamaica. You won't have to worry about being bored for much longer." He added another stitch to tighten up the arrangement, and cut the thread. "We're all set. Be careful. You can put your shirt back on now."

 

Lestrade shrugged. "Don't feel like it. It's nice, being free to laze. I didn't know how much I needed a break 'til you lads forced me to take one. Though I am bloody bored most of the time." He took another swig, and wiped the wetness from his lips. He sat in the grass, and then rested back on his elbows, squinting up at the sky as the sun beat down on him.

 

"Right." John swallowed. "Gimme the bottle. I need a drink."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


An hour later, John and Lestrade walked slowly up the hill, calling Sherlock's name.

 

"Can't we go faster?" the older man asked.

 

"I don't want to eh, interrupt anything," John said with a wry grin. "Sherlock was pretty specific about wanting to be alone for a long while with his doctor."

 

"Is he going to marry her? She ain't the sort to play about."

 

"I don't know. She's a good girl. Maybe too good for him. No place for a wife on a ship, you know that better than I do, Greg." John paused. "Not to pry, but marriages with one of them out at sea, they don't work out too well."

 

"That isn't why I have a bad marriage, John. I should never have married her. We were young, she took me behind the barn, showed me a few things. I was curious, so I let her. She said she was with child. Only she lost the babe a few weeks after we went before the priest, and she didn't have much use for me anymore. And I didn't…have much use for her. It was a muck-up from the word go," Lestrade said ruefully.

 

"Sherlock!" John called as a dark curly head became visible just over the crest of the hill. A few seconds later, Molly came into sight. They were both fully dressed, looking fresh-washed from the stream.

 

"They looked very happy together though," Lestrade said thoughtfully.

 

"They look thoroughly shagged, is what you mean," John replied.

 

"Close enough."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"You know the Thanatos, clearly. And you know Moriarty, I believe. Tell us what you know, all of it, and your debt to me is repaid." Sherlock sat on the tree stump a few feet from the beach. Molly knelt in the sand, letting grains sift through her fingers as she observed the captains' meeting.

 

"My debt?" Captain Adler's sculpted eyebrow rose. She lounged against a palm trunk, as though she were resting on a chaise rather than hard wood. Donovan crouched beside her. The former master gunner looked more relaxed and happy than they had ever seen her.

 

"Crews have been known to mutiny over having a female on board. I took a great risk in bringing your- Sally, is it? – back to you."

 

Adler pursed her red lips and idly stroked Sally's wrist as she thought. "Alright, it's no harm to me. I don't know much. I've met the man, but he's not forthcoming with information that can be used against him. He's bloody mad, that I can tell you."

 

"You can tell us more than that," he retorted. "For starters, you can tell us all what the bastard looks like."

 

Captain Irene Adler slowly nodded, and began to speak.

Chapter Text

"I've never seen anyone with eyes like his. Not the shape or the color…it's the way he looks at you. As though you're already dead. It's like no one is real but him. Maybe his first mate, Moran. They're never apart. Moran worships him. They're real and the rest of us are just corpses waiting to happen."

 

Irene's seductive smile fell away as she spoke, and her casual pose became forced. The pirate queen who thwarted the hardened Newgate jailers and the Royal Navy was unnerved by Moriarty.

 

Interesting, Sherlock thought. Aloud, he said, "Very poetic, Captain Adler. Any chance of an actual description?"

 

"I'm getting there, sweetie. Never rush a woman. Spoils the pleasure of a slow build…for the story's sake, I mean." Irene winked at Molly, as the doctor looked up startled by Irene's seductive tone.

 

Molly bent her head back down and drew circles in the sand with her fingers and toes. She still wasn't sure what to make of the glamorous pirate. She tipped pebbles out of her shoes and waited.

 

"His hair is black, and his eyes are brown, but they seem black. His eyes look almost sleepy, heavy lidded I suppose. His face is common, you wouldn't pick him out on the streets of London as anyone special. In his late twenties, I'd say. Slim. About the same height as your surgeon there." Irene nodded toward John as her fingers danced across Sally's wrist. "The first time I saw him in Havana, he was masquerading as a local constable in an alehouse. A group of local youths were there, drinking to celebrate a man's wedding the next day. Moriarty seemed a charming young fool, dancing with wenches and buying rounds for everyone. He swaggered about the place and I saw no danger until he bounced right up to the groom, and slashed his throat from ear to ear. He sang and danced right out the door while everyone screamed."

 

Sherlock was unsurprised by the tale, but he took note of Molly's reaction to the description. As Irene continued on, horror grew on his lover's face.

 

It is him. Her bloody Jamie, he thought darkly. He watched her work and he bought her ribbons, this monster. The first mate Irene had mentioned- Moran- had to be the Spitalfiend, the butcher.

 

"Is he blond and tall? The first mate?"

 

Irene nodded. "You are good. You inferred that from what I said?"

 

He rolled his eyes. "Don't be an idiot. I deduced it from the murder site in the Azores. I do need something to go on. It's science, not magic."

 

"I've heard you're a proper pirate now, murdering whole villages up and down Atlantic shores. But that's not quite true, is it?"

 

One eyebrow quirked up. "You have such faith in me, Captain Adler?"

 

Her bloodred lips curled. "No. I have faith in my Sally. She would've left your crew ages ago if it were true." She hesitated. "It's him then. Moriarty? I saw him six months after the first time, you know. He wandered into my favorite haunt in New Orleans. I thought there was no way he'd recall me, but he knew my name, what I'd been up to in Havana and the details of my ship. 'Bloody mess that was, Captain Adler,' he said. 'I do hate getting my hands dirty. But once in a while, it's fun to remember why. A sugar trader wasn't being nice to me, and his son's sorry end was just the motivation he needed to be a good daddy.' I thought he was going to kill me right there. But Moriarty…giggled. Like a naughty child. And said that if I ever needed his advice, as a fellow pirate, he would happy to provide support for a cut of my ship's take."

 

Irene's hand unconsciously tightened around Sally's wrist. "I smiled, told him I was much obliged, and let him kiss my hand. I flirted, bought him and his men a round of ale, and then slipped out the back. Ran for my damned life back to my ship."

 

Donovan winced, and her captain relinquished her arm. "I love a good fight as much as I love a good woman, but I never want to dance with that one. He's filth to the core. And that is all I have to say about James Moriarty. Happy tides, Captain Holmes." Irene stood, brushed off her trousers, and Sally followed.

 

Sherlock's mind raced with the information given. He broke it down into pieces, stripping away extraneous words and details. After a moment, he became aware of Molly's hand on his shoulder.

 

"They're leaving, love. As we should." Her warm familiar scent pulled him from his glacial mind palace. Irene and her crew had begun trekking back to their boats, and his crew had gathered on the beach, watching the sun set.

 

"Sherlock?"

 

"He touched you." Sherlock gazed at the deep pink sky, with the setting sun blazing above the waves. "He had your friendship and he lived in your home, and he could have gutted you before I ever knew you."

 

Molly cupped his cheeks, her fingers tracing the outline of his cheekbones and jawline. "But he didn't. And we will stop him, somehow. You're brilliant. We're brilliant together. We'll find a way. And then we'll go home together. Wherever that is."

 

Sherlock's green-blue eyes captured hers and he cradled her head with one hand. "I brought you to this. I apologize for placing you in danger, Molly Hooper. You would have been better off with your drunken father and lonely nights and your books. But I cannot be sorry for knowing you. I am a selfish man." He smiled drily. "I should send you far away from me, but instead I can only hold you to me tighter."

 

Molly beamed, and her brown eyes sparkled. "I am not sorry for it, either. I would not be sent away like a child. This is my fight now too. They're my friends, some of them anyway. And you're my man. I love you, Sherlock. I'm not going anywhere that you aren't."

 

Molly wrapped her hands around his neck and pulled Sherlock down to her lips. He took what she offered hungrily for several minutes before drawing away to stare directly at her questioning eyes for a moment. Molly saw fear and guilt flash through eyes, before acceptance settled in his gaze. He nuzzled her ear and whispered, "I love you too."

 

"Oh!" Molly exclaimed. "I didn't say it so you would. That is, it's alright, you don't have to-"

 

"I know what I want. What I feel. So do shut up, Doctor Hooper," Sherlock murmured before covering her mouth again with his, his tongue twisting with hers in ways that made her toes curl in the sand.

 

"Um right." John's voice cut into the romantic mood. "Sorry to interrupt a good snog, but the tide is going out and we ought to be too. Murderous pirates about, you understand."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"We're close to Jamaica. Not sure we'll make it there in one piece anymore, but if we do, you're a free man, Gregory." John shrugged out of his dusty shirt, and washed his hands and face in the basin of clean water. "Have you decided yet what you'll do? You…don't have to go, you know. I know Sherlock gives you shit sometimes, but he does that to everyone."

 

"Dunno, John. Have I got a reason to stay? I suspect most of the sailors are never going to forget that I was a prisoner, a navy man. The enemy. I don't fancy having a fistfight every week over it." Lestrade sat down on the surgeon's creaky bed and tugged off his boots. He looked up at John, and the change in his expression made the surgeon freeze.

 

"What?"

 

"Oh nothing, just…your scar. You've not changed your shirt in front of me all this time. Thought it would be worse actually, the way you hid it." Lestrade smiled, and his teeth glowed white against his tanned skin even in the twilight. "Mind if I have a closer look? Get an idea of what my arm will look like in a year or two."

 

"Your bullet wound was much cleaner, actually. It should look better. I'm a better surgeon that the ones that worked on me," John bragged. He shrugged and affected an air of nonchalance. "Don't see why you can't have a look." John lit the lamp on the small table by the cot, shifting cautiously around the other man to avoid bumping his wounded arm. His room behind the surgery was tiny but he'd gotten used to sharing the space with Gregory over the last two months.

 

Lestrade untied the neck of his shirt and gingerly pulled it over his head. He tossed it onto the floor on top of his boots and rolled his head around to work out the kinks in his neck. The thin mattress sank as he moved.

 

"Hope the bastard doesn't attack for at least twelve hours. I need a good sleep."

 

"Mmm yes that would be nice," John replied. "Shove over. "

 

Lestrade moved further down the bed, and John took up his spot near the lamp. His lips tightened as his nerves grew.

 

"Go on, have a look. It's ugly," he warned. He was surprised when Lestrade touched his scarred shoulder, tilting John's body toward his.

 

"Can't see that way," Lestrade explained with a slight smile. His dark brown eyes peered down at the gnarled skin beneath his fingers. His fingertips moved around the irregular tissue, finding grooves and bumps where the stitching left distinct marks.

John swallowed, and one foot bounced against the floorboard. This was not what he'd expected. He wished he'd left his shirt on and just pushed the fabric over his shoulder. He felt far too exposed, and he flushed as he felt his nipples tighten in response to the other man's curious touching.

 

Please God don't let him notice, don't let him see, I haven't got many friends. Make the feeling go away.


Only the arousal didn't fade, despite John's attempt to think more about the post-mortem on Brunton and less about the way Gregory's head leaned over his shoulder, his breath brushing his skin now.

 

"I think that's good enough, yeah? Your scar won't look like mine. Not unless you get shot again, which- hey- maybe Moriarty will take care of that." John's weak joke inspired a grin on the other man's face.

 

"John," Lestrade said gently. His palm remained resting on the surgeon's shoulder.

 

"Yes?" He bent his head, hoping the flickering lamp light wouldn't be bright enough to show the pink flushing in his cheeks and the sweat forming on his forehead.

 

"You're not ugly."

 

"Piss off. My scars are. I know it. I don't mind."

 

"They're not ugly. You were brave. The other men told me what you did. You saved an officer and you tried to save the lad. Denham, that was his name, I think?"

 

A lump formed in John's throat, and guilt chipped away at the slow burn that had been growing inside him.

 

"Yes, Tommy. Tommy Denham. He was…a good man. Very good." John looked away.

 

"The medical officers said you deserted your surgery post to fetch him back. He was important to you."

 

"We were friends. Not proper, I suppose, but…he wanted to be my friend. He never took no for an answer. Tommy was like that. Bullheaded."

 

"Like you," Lestrade remarked. He squeezed John's shoulder lightly. "I know, John."

 

"You know what?" He turned his head back to him, frowning.

 

"I understand. About Tommy. He was special to you. It's fine."

 

Comprehension began to form in John's mind. "You…understand."

 

Greg nodded. "Yes."

 

The single word hovered in the air, speaking volumes.

 

"Oh."

 

A half-smile formed on Lestrade's face. "I've lived on ships a lot longer than you, John. You think you're the only bloke who fell in love?"

 

A noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob slipped from John's throat. "I never really thought about it. Shit. The lads have it off with each other, but I didn't think…it was all a secret and we had plans, we were going to travel. And then the fucking French blew it all to hell."

A warm hand stroked John's scarred shoulder and then across his back.

 

"You?"

 

His face serious now, Greg nodded again. "Now and then. Nothing that lasted. I fancied someone once for a long time, but was too much of a coward to do anything about it. And then it was too late. I thought."

 

Intrigued, John's embarrassment over his sudden spill of emotion faded. "What happened?"

 

Lestrade laughed. His hand dropped from John's shoulder to rest on the cot. "You tosser. Are you really so thick-headed?"

 

John's brow wrinkled in confusion. "Sherlock says so all the time. But I don't pay him much mind. Why are you calling me an idiot now?"

 

"Honestly, a man my age laying about, half-naked. It's a bit foolish. But the island was beautiful and I thought, well it's bloody stupid, but there's something about this place that turns sailors into romantics. But you didn't notice me at all."

 

The redness on John's face returned with a vengeance now as he remembered Gregory stretched out on the sands, his shirt thrown off, his chest brown and taut and glistening in the sunlight.

 

"But I did!" he blurted out. He cleared his throat, and his blush deepened until his ears were pink. John rubbed his sandy blond head, trying to form words.

 

He gave up after a minute and abruptly turned toward the other man. Lestrade was startled, his shoulders tensed, but he held himself still, waiting for John to commit to a course of action.

 

After a moment of opening his mouth and closing it again helplessly, he took pity on John. Lestrade's hands stroked his shoulders, drifting over the scarred and unbroken sides evenly.

 

His brown eyes reflected the lamplight and the distant noises of night time ship life disappeared from John's awareness.

 

"I won't demand, John," he said softly. "Do you want me?"

 

John's face relaxed into the smile that had first won Gregory's attention on the Edinburgh, all those years ago.

 

"Yes." He shook his head, amazed at his own admission. "But- are you going to leave? I can't- I don't want to just have it off. And if that's all you want, I won't be angry but I can't do that-"

 

Lestrade pressed his thumb against John's parted lips, his index finger tracing the jawline. "I didn't think you liked that me that way. Thought I was being a fool over you all over again. But if you want me, you can have me."

 

John exhaled a great breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. "I'd like that. Yes, very much. Right. Good." He laughed nervously.

 

Lestrade slid over closer to John. The surgeon swallowed and tried to quell the butterflies in his stomach.

 

"Lay down, Johnny. Relax. Breathe." Greg grinned and guided John down onto his back. His strong fingers lightly scraped across John's chest and lower to his abdomen. The surgeon hissed inward as the older man's calloused hands wandered over his sensitive skin.

 

"God, it's been so long. I think, I think I'd like you to kiss me. Right now."

 

"Demanding, aren't you, Mister Watson," Lestrade teased as he bent down. He wetted his lips with his tongue and hovered just above John's mouth.

 

"Aye aye, captain," the surgeon replied, his blue eyes crinkling with humor.

 

The former Captain Lestrade of the HMS Edinburgh reached across his pirate to snuff the lamp. The light vanished, the past dimmed, and then it was only their lips and bodies straining against one another in the night.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Jamie Moriarty stood toward the bow, taking in the sunrise. The red sun rose from the horizon, the fiery center of a bloody sky.

 

"It's coming, Bastian. I was wrong before. That was only a test…an experiment. Learning each other, my enemy and I. My Sherlock. He's waiting for me to come back. But it's not time yet. Is it?"

 

"No," Bastian responded darkly. His Sherlock would be a broken bag of bones when the man next crossed his path. He wouldn't end it quickly for his rival, no. It would be slow, a death of a thousand nicks and a slow bleed that would leave him begging for death. Jamie would be so proud of him.

 

"Almost time. Red sky in morning, sailor's warning, my dear. Storm's coming," Moriarty reflected to the waves. "This is just the calm before the storm. Before the fall."

 

"What sort of fall?" Bastian didn't like it when his captain was vague.

 

Jamie whipped around and clapped joyously, his quiet mood replaced by a burst of energetic movement. "Oh! It'll be such fun, Bastian! Tell them to set the course for Santa Clarita, that darling little isle south of Cuba. There's one last stop we need to make before we're on to Jamaica. I think there needs to be another 'Sherlock Holmes' sighting, don't you think?" Moriarty smothered his laugh with his fist and drew his lover into a sudden hug.

 

Bastian felt his body relax. Jamie wanted him to play for him. He felt like a musician when there was a body before him, ready for his hands, his instruments, that would draw such sounds from their tortured throats.

 

He would always play for Jamie. That was the one safe constant of Sebastian Moran's life.

Chapter Text

John awoke to the sensation of fingers trailing across his scar, soothing the muscles that bunched up painfully every night. He hummed approval, and the hand pressed deeper into his flesh, working out the knots.

 

"That's nice," he mumbled, his voice thick with sleep. He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut tighter to keep out the dawn. "Early riser?"

 

"Can't lose the habit, too many years with too much to do on my ship." A warm pair of lips ghosted over John's shoulder. "Downey's already been banging at the door, he's gashed his foot. I told him to shove off for a while longer."

 

"Thanks, Greg." Unable to hold onto the morning haze any longer, John sat up in bed, the blanket pooling around his waist. Lestrade had already been up and donned his trousers. A shame, he thought.

 

He smiled as Greg continued kissing across John's scar. "Have a liking for it, do you?"

 

"I have a liking for all of you," he replied, wrapping his arms around John for a brief kiss. His concerned brown eyes searched his lover's face. "Regrets?"

 

John responded with a long kiss of his own that had Lestrade nudging him back down onto his back.

 

"I can't believe I fell for that 'Show me your scar' angle," John said with a laugh as Lestrade knelt between his thighs, clad only in trousers. He's so different from Tommy, John thought with a touch of guilt. His first love had been pale and freckled, lanky with youth and exuberance.

 

Greg was broader, thicker, with heavier muscles in his legs and arms. Silver mixed with his brown hair all over and John found he didn't mind. He'd developed a few grey patches himself, since getting shot. He was older now, marked by the years, and so was Lestrade.

 

Greg was sturdy and kind, but when he bent his head to nip at John's neck and take his mouth, he had no doubt that the man was genuine in his passion. He was as alive as Tommy had been, with the same optimism and impetuous pursuit of John.

 

John felt the haunting slip away a bit more. Tommy would always have some piece of him, that first memory of love, but he found that his heart was not divided. Instead his love grew larger, with new parts that were slowly belonging to Greg.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Basil banged the door open unannounced, hauling in a tray and dropping it on the table. He whistled a sea shanty tune while pouring a cup of water.

 

Molly groaned and pulled the blanket over her head. "Knock, Basil! Females require privacy." Her thighs ached from the prolonged time she'd spent the night before riding Sherlock. She had wrung countless love words from him with her flexing and wetness before she'd been content to let him come inside her. She giggled with the memory of her cheerful teasing.

 

Basil shrugged at Molly's modesty and moved around the room, scooping dirty clothes off the floor and putting a book back in the trunk.

 

Molly rubbed her eyes, realizing how roomy the bed was. She drew the covers down to her neck.

 

"Is Sherlock in his lab, or above deck?"

 

"Lots to do, miss. Bad times comin', they say." Basil frowned, and slammed the trunk shut. He brushed his hands on his britches and ran out of the room before Molly could question him further.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Did you sleep at all?"

 

"Three hours. More than enough. Too much, there's too much to be done. I shouldn't have wasted that time." Sherlock's face was grim as he mixed together gunpowder with an unnamed solution. "I should have sent you away. Bermuda, yes Bermuda would have worked. Stupid, stupid of me." He banged together vials of fluid, cursing when one shattered. He sniffed it, and then his shoulders relaxed as the liquid appeared to be safe.

 

He whipped around. "Go. Back to quarters. Or above. Quarters are better. I can't think with you here. I need to work. Go."


Sherlock's eyes never met hers; his world was his lab now. Molly stepped back, trying to not feel wounded by his disregard. She was learning. He would be like this for a day or two, and then he would come back to her. Unless he really did want to send her away...

 

"Sherlock? Do you-"

 

"I said, GO. Why do people not listen to me? Bloody damned hell. Leave me alone."

 

Molly stared at his back for a few seconds before spinning around and walking stiffly up the stairs.

 

Fifty-five minutes later, Sherlock lifted his head from his mixtures and considered that he may have been more abrupt than he intended with Molly. Perhaps. It was so hard to tell. He couldn't be bothered to deduce the nuances of people's feelings when Moriarty was coming for them any hour. He brushed away the thought of Molly and his hand flew between the glass containers and measuring implements. If I could infuse more sulfur with the powder, then it would take less fire to ignite, quicker, more dangerous but more useful in an attack…Sherlock's mind raced with scenarios that might help compensate for the Hudson's reduced stores and weaker firepower. There was just too much to be done, no competent master gunner to help deploy his inventions, and no way of knowing when time was up. The crew had no idea how close they were to perdition.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The tension rippled through the crew, who slowly became aware that they were vulnerable. They'd only had to worry about the slow navy ships until encountering Captain Hope. Now they had to worry about proper pirates, who took rich hauls and didn't waste time and money on research when they could be plundering.

 

John noticed the discomfort and worried faces as he strolled to the galley to grab a bite between patients. Chase always accommodated his off eating hours because of his position, but he would be unpleasant about it. Gearing up for the usual gruff food negotiation with the cook, he was distracted by the sight of a glum Anderson sitting at the long meal table, drinking ale. The sailing master had apparently tried to shave his beard and made a right mess of it, with small cuts dotting his newly shorn cheeks.

 

The man's rodent-like appearance was not improved by the revealing of his weak chin and the patches of rashy, scaled skin on his face.

 

"Good morning, Anderson. Interesting time for a new look. It…suits you." The lie stuck in John's throat.

 

"Do you think so?" His voice was so forlorn John had to fight the urge to laugh. "Got tired of m'beard. Never grew in full, anyhow. Though Dono- that woman said different."

 

"Ah." So he was shaving his beard in defiance of his friend who's abandoned them. He'd seen stranger behavior in men. "You know, she fooled everyone. She's cunning."

 

"She fooled even the captain then?" Anderson looked up hopefully.

 

"Well…no." Sherlock had confirmed his longtime knowledge of Donovan's gender after they'd returned to the Hudson. John felt a flash of pity for the downtrodden sailing master. "But he sees more than we do. She was bloody good at dressing and walking like a man. And hey, she was your friend, from what I saw. Seems like she did what she had to do. No harm done. Except us being without a master gunner now when Moriarty's wanting to kill us all…"

 

"Yeah, that's ill luck. She ain't natural, is she. Passing herself off as a man, living amongst men, kissing on other females in an intimate way. That's an abomination. Thank the Lord I've got a proper wife back in London." He wrinkled his nose, and his beady dark eyes shone with disgust.

 

You've got two of them, you shit, John thought. His temporary good will toward the man evaporated. "Don't drink any more. We've got a lot of work to do today, and you need to be sober. Sherlock may think he doesn't need you, but the rest of the crew does."

 

"Oh are you first mate, now? Here I thought the lightskirt in his quarters took your place in his confidence."

 

"Shut up, Anderson," Chase roared as he stormed into the galley. "Swear to God, the damned room fills with gas and bile whenever ya open yer gob."

 

For once, John was appreciative of the cook's demeanor.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Two men held the boards together under Lestrade's direction as he hammered the pegs into place. The sailors were sometimes wary of working with the navy man, but more catapults were needed, bigger ones. Anything that helped the coming fight was worth tolerating his company.

 

Basil sat on the deck, legs crossed as he rolled a cigarette in the fashion of the French. One of the Caribbean men had instructed him in the method, explaining how the captain's method was inferior, only fit for the weak English.

 

The cabin boy smoked and watched the building, calling out his opinion of the progress which mostly amounted to insults.

 

"I could smooth a board better than that with my arse." He blew smoke at Lestrade.

 

"Watch your mouth, lad, or you'll get a tanning on that arse," he responded sternly. "And snuff that cigar. It'll give you a cough."

 

"No, it won't. See? I ain't coughing." The boy inhaled and breathed out dramatically and bowed toward the former navy captain.

 

"The blokes that use tobacco are shit for running, boy. Didn't your mum and dad teach it's a nasty habit, anyway."

 

"My mum and dad are dead, long time." Basil stuck his chin out. "I don't care none either. I take care of m'self."

 

"And making a muck of it. You're not a good cabin boy. Why hasn't Holmes taken him in hand yet?" he asked the sailors.

 

An icy voice from behind Lestrade answered him. "Basil's survived a long time relying on his own wits. Would you prefer I discipline his native intelligence out of him with rules?"

 

Lestrade whipped around. "Like a cat, you are, with the sneaking. And yeah, he could use some discipline. It doesn't do him any favors, growing up wild."

 

Sherlock's lip curled. "Navy- you think regulations solve everything."

 

He hammered the boards together and checked the fit. "They help. He's got to learn. He'll never be anything but a thief or a pirate if he can't behave. At least make him wash once a week. I swear, he's got flies."

 

Sherlock's face remained impassive. "We've given you some freedom. It seems it was a mistake."

 

Lestrade dropped the hammer and stood, crossing his arms. "Sure, toss me in the brig for a bit of criticism. Then you'll have one less experienced man to fight Moriarty, not to mention less help building your contraptions."

 

John's mild voice cut through the tension. "Sherlock, is there a problem here?" The smaller blond man hurried across the deck.

 

The captain took in his best friend, assessing him from head to toe in a shrewd, stripping-to-the-bone way that John hadn't seen for a year. It was as though Sherlock were seeing him for the first time, all over again.

 

His electric eyes skipped over to Lestrade and performed the same rapid scrutiny.

 

"Huh."

 

"What?" John stepped between the two men and stared down his captain.

 

"Interesting. Irrelevant and terrible timing, but interesting."

 

One of Sherlock's eyebrows rose, but John was unmoved, his blue eyes stony and his jaw firm as he held his friend's stare.

 

After a moment, the captain broke the eye contact and his voice piped up, addressing the sailors.

 

"Well then. I've got some new toys to play with. If Monsieur Lestrade has finished with this mangled bundle of wood, we'll see if this batch I've whipped up is functional."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


A great frightening bang startled Molly out of her reverie, as she sat on a crate, trying to read. She dropped the book and ran to the source of the sound. Not spotting any enemy ships around, she asked Melas what was happening.

 

"Just tests, ma'am. Not to worry. You know how the captain is."

 

"Oh I see. Thank you." She smiled, and the Greek grinned in return before hurrying back to checking the riggings.

 

She came upon the cluster of men, gossiping about the captain's latest invention. "Going to blow the bejeezing lot o' us into bits," she heard one swabby whisper to another.

 

Sherlock was hunkered down on the deck. Molly took a moment to admire the way the dark blue trousers clung to his legs, and how his white shirt gaped at the throat as always. His neck was so sensitive; her captain could be reduced to a gasping mess when she paid it enough attention. She lost herself for a moment, contemplating the cords of his neck.

 

The hem of her plain white dress appeared in the far left periphery of his vision, and her faint scent of soap carried on the breeze. Sherlock turned to her, and saw her bright face beaming at him, her soft brown eyes almost black with the dilation of her pupils.

 

How can she still be hungry for me, after last night? he wondered. But it wasn't just wanting in her eyes, he saw, but affection and curiosity and excitement. Everything she was to him. He stood and extended a hand to Molly, which she accepted. He pulled her over to his modified packets of gunpowder and began to explain the process. Her chemistry background was not as strong as her anatomy, but she understood the weapons' capabilities after a few careful questions. She contemplated the assortment on the deck before her, as Sherlock's gaze lifted up to the water.

 

"Everything is looking fantastic," she said enthusiastically. "With these and the added catapults, those big guns loaded up, we're in superb shape. Right? Nothing to fear?"

 

"I think we're almost ready, yeah. At this rate, Sherlock just needs a few more hours to finish this work, and we'll be able to take on Moriarty." John nodded at Molly, and then turned his attention to the captain whose eyes were locked on the ocean.

 

"We haven't got it. We haven't got a few more hours." Sherlock raised his finger and pointed.

 

There on the horizon was the clear outline of three sails and with them, a black flag flew.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"We were so close. So bloody close to being ready." John swore and rubbed his forehead. Sherlock continued to stare at the Thanatos as it approached. The enemy had doubled their guns since their last meeting. The Hudson would surely sink, riddled with massive holes, before their guns and gunpowder bombs could do any notable damage to the other ship.

 

"What now, Captain? What next? You've thought of something, right?" John hoped that the panic wouldn't show in his voice.

 

"Molly, go back to the cabin. There's only one thing. John…get the white flag."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Molly protested and fought with Sherlock as the men fetched the flag and sent it up the ropes.

 

"I'm not leaving you here. I'm not a child. I decide. I am not leaving." She punctuated her last statement by stamping her foot with every syllable.

 

"Moriarty wants me. He's made that clear, I'm his target. We're going to negotiate. Stay out of sight, do not interfere, and perhaps we can all walk away from this. Well, sail away." Sherlock kissed her fiercely, and then tugged her arm toward the stairwell.

 

She refused to move, her feet dragging on the deck as he yanked. "No."


"You are an idiot. An idiot. Stop this." Sherlock ran a hand through his dark curls, ruffling his hair with frustration.

 

"You can't hide or send me away every time there is a problem." Molly pulled her arm free, and placed her hands on her hips. "So sod off," she added for good measure, looking proud.

 

Basil giggled.

 

"Go downstairs!" Sherlock bellowed at him. The boy saluted, stuffed a loaf of bread inside his shirt and ran into the ship as ordered.

 

"This is your decision, then." Sherlock's voice had turned chilly, to match his eyes.

 

"Yes it is."

 

He paused.

 

"Please stand behind the men at least. And someone give her a gun."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"I was going to wait, you know, but I was simply too excited. I'm so changeable that way. You can hardly blame me. This is a special day." Moriarty was exactly as Irene had described him, from his deceptively sleepy and bland face at first glance, to the dagger-sharp blackness of his eyes. His body was unimpressive, but the bulk of his tall companion made up for that. Sebastian Moran stood guard beside his captain, assessing their defenses and taking in the weak firepower of the Hudson. Their voices easily carried back and forth.

 

The Spitalfiend, Sherlock saw. A former military man, an expert with all his weapons. Frequent murderous raids. Dominantly right-handed, though nearly as able with his left. Spent considerable time in Africa and Asia. A hunter. Some education, ended early by his violent tendencies.


"What the hell is he looking at?" Bastian was uncomfortable under the studying stare of Holmes. The man was not scary-looking, he was sure he could take him in a fight, but the man was unnerving.

 

"He's learning you, Sebastian. He sees you, sees right through you." Moriarty was amused. The two ships pulled closer together.

 

"I must say, I'm a bit disappointed, though this is the more intelligent maneuver. Surrender, hope I'll spare a few lives, rather than slaughter you all and tear you to pieces and blech, I'm boring myself. A fight would've been unwise, but exciting. And it's all so predictable, isn't it, Sherlock. Every day, dull, uninspired people clogging this world. Tolerating it is more than I can bear, sometimes."

 

"How do you know about me?" Sherlock stepped closer to the railing, further aft and away from Molly.

 

"Oh I've known about you for a long, long time. Before you set sail, even."

 

Sherlock's eyes narrowed.

 

"Oh yes, you caught my eye almost ten years ago. I was looking for something in London. Someone special." Moriarty smiled. "I heard about a young man who understood crime so well he must be a criminal master himself. I watched him for days from afar, watched him wallow in the underbelly of the city. Deducing people, helping people. Such brilliance wasted on toads. I thought he might be the one who would understand, want to come and play with me. But the laudanum. Drowning his intelligence in the tincture of opium. Boring. Stupid. Just like all the other fools. Someone who helps people for free and dulls his razor mind on purpose? I thought I was wrong and I moved on. I found my hunter." Bastian grinned, and it was ugly.

 

Moriarty shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "You never forget a name like Sherlock Holmes. When you took to the seas, a pirate, a free man, I realized I wasn't wrong. Your brilliance is legend everywhere you've been, and you're no longer bound by petty laws. You're ready now."

 

The blond man by his side shifted his weight, looking confused by the direction of his captain's speech.

 

 

"And so I've come to offer you…everything. Join me. No longer are pirates the kings of the sea, free to operate independently of each other. The stranglehold of the Royal Navy and the trading companies grows. Tortuga, Port Royal, the great buccaneer forts are overrun or fallen into the sea. The pirates report to me now, Sherlock. We're stronger together, an armada if you will. We must stand together or we will every one of us fall."

 

"Tell me, Moriarty, how many ships has that recruitment speech worked on? I've heard more convincing arguments from the press-gangs." Scorn rang in Sherlock's voice. "An armada? All under you, naturally."

 

"You would enjoy being under me, I assure you." Moriarty smiled lazily. "And you would never be bored again. Imagine an ocean where you could study at will, welcome on any island, free to take what you wanted always, when you're at my side."

 

Sherlock cocked his head to the side and pretended to consider the offer.

 

"I've no wish to force my men to join you. What if it was just me? Would you accept those terms?"

 

Moriarty was suspicious, but he was interested, Sherlock could see. John whispered beside him, "What the hell are you playing at?"

 

"You, come to my ship now, and we let them go? And you'll swear yourself to me?"

 

Sherlock nodded.

 

"Very well. I accept. We don't really need your ragtag crew and your little boat." Moriarty made a face, and laughed. "Bastian, get the plank." His first mate threw Sherlock a dark glance and trudged off to follow the order.

 

"NO! You can't take him!" The high-pitched voice rang out over the grumbles of the crew.

 

Molly pushed her way through the crowd, a pistol clutched loosely in her hand. She shook with anger. Moriarty squinted at the small, brown-haired female as she came into view.

 

"You stop this right now, Jamie. You can't have him."

 

He burst out laughing, clutching his belly and working himself into a state of cackling glee. "Oh my…oh MY." He righted himself and sighed. "Molly Hooper? Can that really be you? I thought surely you would be chained to a slab in the morgue for life. What's a nice, morbid girl like you doing on a pirate ship? I am truly delighted."

 

"I said, he's mine." Molly slipped one arm through the captain's, holding him tight.

 

"Shut up," Sherlock bit out between gritted teeth. "He doesn't want you lot, just me. So shut up and let me go."

 

"Oh…oh I see. Well this is sweet," Jamie said thoughtfully. "You're in love, Sherlock. Is that even possible? I hadn't anticipated that." He tilted his head in thought. "Bastian, get the plank set."

 

The imposing blond obeyed, connecting the two ships with a wide board. Moriarty nodded at him. "Go on."

 

Bastian climbed over the board to the Hudson, his pistol and cutlass in hands, ready for an attack. The crew stood back, wary and uncertain. The long row of guns of the Thanatos was ready and aimed.

 

Molly glared at the pirate as he approached and reached out a hand toward the captain.

 

No, not him," Moriarty called out from the other ship. "Take her."


Chapter Text

"Take her." Both ships' crews fell silent in shock. The only sound that could be heard was the strong wind blowing and the choppy waves slapping at the hulls.

 

Angry surprise was written large on Sherlock's face. "No. That was not the arrangement."

 

Before he could move, Moran's rifle swung out. The hunter used his weapon like a club, landing on Sherlock's skull with a sickening thud. The captain collapsed onto the deck, blood seeping from a nasty forehead gash and a cut on his left cheekbone.

 

The pistol shook in Molly's hand. With her attention diverted by her fallen lover, Moran knocked the gun from her grasp and lifted his cutlass to touch the point to her throat. In less than five seconds, he had disarmed his wary opponents and taken control. Moriarty smiled proudly at his first mate.

 

Moran tossed his rifle across the gap between the ships to a grungy sailor. He grabbed Molly's arm and dragged her across the plank, cutlass tip poking into her neck, ready to puncture.

 

Molly moved with him, afraid to struggle lest she cut her own throat on accident. Heart hammering in her chest, she tried to catch a glimpse of Sherlock as Moran shoved her onto the dark decks of the Thanatos.


She saw John push through the crowd and kneel, and then heard him roar, "Get my kit, NOW!"


"Sherlock!" she screamed. She cursed her stupidity in allowing herself to be seen. She had thought for a mad moment that Jamie would hesitate when he recognized her, an old friend. And she simply couldn't do nothing and let Sherlock hand himself over to the enemy. She needed him to be with her, and to be well, and now he was bleeding on the decks. Molly stood shaking, surrounded by Moriarty's pirates and prayed that the rifle butt hadn't cracked her love's skull. That kind of damage couldn't be fixed.

 

"I am useless to you, Jamie. Let me go help him. Isn't he the one you want? Do you want him to die?"

 

While his crew was ragged and filthy, Jamie was neat and dapper in his head-to-toe black clothes. He tilted his head to the side in mock-thought, and pursed his lips. "Hmmm. Not yet. Not like that. He was only playing along to get his people away from me. He would've been no fun at all. I had such high hopes when he went pirate. Falling in love… so sentimental, so traditional." He wrinkled his nose. "He's as weak as everyone else." He sighed with regret.

 

Moran's iron grip around her upper arms tightened and Molly winced. She turned her head to glare at him, and movement on the Hudson caught her eye.

 

Sherlock staggered to his feet with assistance from John, pressing a bandage to his head as his men clustered around him. The guns of the Thanatos were primed to fire on them. Molly saw frantic gesturing and men scattering across the Hudson. He walked to the rail slowly, and John followed close behind with a worried look on his face.

 

As he came closer, Molly could see blood streaking down his face, obscuring his pale skin almost entirely. She smothered a gasp, and tried to keep calm, knowing that head wounds bled easily and often looked worse than they were.

 

"I wouldn't worry about that, Molly Hooper. Bastian is an artist; he knows how to render someone unconscious without causing permanent damage. Unless he chooses to, of course. Would you like him to demonstrate the difference in techniques on one of the swabbies?" Jamie smiled brightly. "No? Perhaps later, after we've taken tea."

 

He turned and called out across the gap, his Irish lilt strong. "Sherlock, dear! I would like to cordially invite you to my place on Jamaica, Arroyo Rico. Just east of Negril. I'm sure you know the bay. You were there last year, I heard from my man on your crew." A wicked smile curved on his lips, and he winked. "Have fun determining which man that is. If it takes you more than an hour, I'll be deeply disappointed. I'll give you three days to get to Negril. My men will be waiting to guide you to the meeting place. If you aren't there by sunset, three days from now, if you're late…" He playfully bumped his hip against Molly's, and she cringed away. "Then we'll use her limbs to leave a trail for you to follow."

 

As he turned to stroll down the deck of his ship, Moriarty called over his shoulder, "I'll wager your heart's in the game now."


~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock punched the wooden box he was seated on, next to his thigh, and the rotting board gave way, forming a splintered hole.

 

"Get up or you'll be on the deck in a minute, in worse shape than ever." John continued washing his friend's face as he jumped to standing. "Keep it together, Sherlock. Look at me. No, in the eyes. I need to see your pupils. How many fingers am I holding up?"

 

Half his mask of blood washed away, Sherlock gave the surgeon a withering look. "Twelve." He snatched the wet cloth from John and rubbed it briskly over his eyes. He tossed the reddened rag on the floor and held two fingers up to his friend in an unmistakable gesture. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

 

John smirked. "Alright, you seem coherent enough, behaving normally for you. Shall I have the men raise the sails and set course for Negril?"

 

The captain nodded. "We can't waste time. God knows what they're doing to her even now. Why did I let her stay above? I should've dragged her to my quarters and locked her up." He took a clean cloth from John's emergency kit, and began washing away the rest of the blood on his chin and neck. He knew without asking that he would require several stitches to close the wound.

 

"Sit on the bench and try not to punch any holes in it," John ordered as he dug for his stitching materials. "You can't lock her away all the time. She's an adult, and an intelligent woman. For all her kindness and sweetness, she's strong-headed. Isn't that why you love her?"

 

Sherlock stilled. "Is it rather that obvious?" He looked down at his hands, twisting the pink-smeared fabric between his fingers. "It's inconvenient. I didn't know…that that could happen."

 

John tilted his head up and lightly grasped the back of his head to peer closely at the forehead gash. "It'll probably leave a small scar, it's messy, but it's not a deep wound. Cheek's fine, doesn't even need stitches I think." He dabbed around the forehead cut with another wet cloth, and Sherlock hissed inward from the stinging pain. John prepared the needle and thread, and set to work. The captain fumed silently.

 

"If he was going to kill her, he would've done it then when you had to watch. She will survive." The surgeon looked unconvinced by his own reassuring comments. "We'll get Molly back, and kill Moriarty, and then we'll double-back to Kingston like we planned."

 

"Of course," Sherlock said suddenly. "There's a magistrate in Kingston! Why didn't I think of him before? There's got to be. They can be bought off easily."

 

"You're going to arrest Moriarty? Honestly Sherlock I think we're better off just killing the bastard. Do the seas a favor and all." The remaining crew members gathered around the captain nodded in agreement.

 

"No, you half-wit!" Sherlock said testily as John snipped off the thread. "Moriarty is a walking corpse. He's not leaving his Arroyo Rico alive. I'll bring Molly to the magistrate after I save her. If we're wed, she can't leave me. Isn't that important to females, being married? If a moron like Anderson can handle two wives, I certainly can live with one."

 

"For Christ's sake, Holmes, I'm standing right here." Anderson crossed his arms and stomped off. Sherlock stared blankly at his retreating figure.

 

John wrapped a fresh long bandage around Sherlock's head. "Keep this on at least a day, keep your forehead out of the sun. For the love of all that is holy, you must eat and sleep. If we're to take on this foe, we must be prepared."

 

"Yes, I agree. First things first: let's sort out this business with Moriarty's mole."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The Thanatos stank of putrefaction and unrest. No matter that Molly couldn't see any dead bodies as she was led through the ship. She could smell death in every dark wall. Unwashed men brushed against her as Moran dragged her down the hall, past shadowy alcoves stuffed with booty. From one, a pile of delicate china plates spilled, shattered further by every uncaring man that stamped by.

 

"Clean that shit up!" Moran bellowed at a small man, who then scampered off to fetch the broom.

 

The Thanatos was a larger schooner than the Hudson, and with a much larger crew. Molly appreciated now how clean and pleasant the other ship was, even though it had seemed simple and crude when she first boarded months ago. She thought of it as home now, she realized with a pang of longing.

 

The hallways were larger than the Hudson's, but she felt trapped by the oppressive darkness and dank air. They reached the end, and the tall blond knocked on the door.

 

The door swung open to reveal Jamie Moriarty, grinning at her with a sickening gleeful expression. Gazing into his black eyes, she saw no trace of the boy she thought she'd known a decade ago in London. His grinning mouth stretched, and his face became a laughing skull.

 

Moran shoved Molly forward into the room, and she wondered if she had fallen into Hell itself.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"More tea, love? It's a delightful brew I discovered in Ceylon. The locals have this mixing technique, well it's simply brilliant. I told them, 'I must have this recipe!' They accepted my compliments and declined with regret. I told them I really did have to insist. And they were very helpful once Bastian convinced them." Jamie's dark eyes sparkled as he sipped from the bone-white china teacup. Seated on the massive wooden chair across from the sofa, Jamie appeared to be nothing more than a benevolent monarch greeting an honored guest.

 

Molly gulped her tea down, burning her throat. She barely felt the pain as she set her cup down on the saucer. She crossed and uncrossed her ankles several times, restraining herself from fleeing the cabin.

 

"You know, I realize the circumstances are terribly awkward but I must thank you, Molly Hooper."

 

Molly's startled eyes met his.

 

"Yes, thank you. You were of great assistance to me in London. You helped me find Bastian." The hulking blond stirred from his post by the door when his name was mentioned. "When I heard of his work, well I knew he was a great hunter, unbound by the boring rules that hamper others. But I couldn't quite find him. I wanted someone to play with. I needed more information to determine his personal details, patterns and methods, and that was where you came in. You and your father. How is dear old Papa anyway? Still drunk and having it off with plump widows?" Jamie teased.

 

"I am sure he is well," Molly replied stiffly. "I have not seen him in some months. As I'm sure you have guessed."

 

"I don't guess, Molly sweets. I see, and I know. Freed yourself of his shackles. That's good. You had potential but you were weak and sniveling and spineless then. Sherlock Holmes had made you a better woman. How did you meet?"

 

"He didn't make me anything," Molly responded hotly, in spite of herself. "He needed me to do a post-mortem examination on board, so he kidnapped me. He knew it was me he needed and not Papa, right away. He saw more than you did. He's smarter than you. But he did help free me. You're right about that."

 

Anger flashed across Moriarty's face for a second and was covered with a gentle smile. Somehow his softer voice was more frightening than his sharper tone.

 

"Do you know what the flaw is with modern medical studies, Molly? I did study anatomy for some time, it wasn't a complete lie. After all, math and crime bore me on occasion and I require variety. But there was a distinct flaw in the physician's training that I couldn't see a way around. Bastian understands it too. The weakness in your medical studies, is that you only examine the insides of the dead."


Dread filled Molly. Surely he wasn't implying…?


Jamie watched comprehension dawn on her face. "Bring him in, Bastian. We've ample time to kill before we arrive in Jamaica, and I'm feeling nostalgic for the old days." Moran exited and returned a moment later, a bound man tossed over his shoulder.

Molly stared at the struggling man whose crazed eyes pled with her. He was gagged and filthier than the rest of his shipmates, and covered with bruises.

 

Jamie bounced off his seat and joined Molly on the sofa, sitting so close their thighs rubbed up against each other. She instinctively pulled away, but he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and snuggled against her.

 

"It'll be just like the old days, Molly. Me, you, a body, learning. Only this time it'll be true, complete study. Physiology is function, it is motion and change. It's life." He drew a bag out from under the sofa, and opened it, displaying the razor sharp contents. He extracted one long scalpel, set the bag down and displayed the lethal instrument to Molly.

 

"The first time I saw you perform a human autopsy- in secret, your papa passed out on a chair- I watched you take in that corpse, assessing, stripping and determining the best approach. Cold, intelligent logic with no fear and no squeamishness. For a minute there, do you know, I wondered if you were connected to the Spitalfields killings. You're beautiful with a knife in your hand, Molly Hooper." He placed the handle of the scalpel in her palm.

 

"I really do love to watch you cut."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"It can't be him, Sherlock. He's a good man, not a spy." John's voice was filled with doubt as they stood on the forecastle, peering down at the sailors at work.

 

"Good for a pirate, you mean. Different set of moral standards in effect. I've suspected that some of the men were not entirely mine for months. May as well sort it out before we finish it with Moriarty."

 

Sherlock strode down the stairs and grasped the arm of the rigger gathering ropes. The small man started to shake off his hand before realizing it belonged to his captain. "Sir?"

 

"Mister Melas, would you join us for supper in my quarters? I have some details I need to address about our visit to Negril."

 

The Greek sailor scratched his head and shrugged. "A'course, captain. Anything you say."

 

"Lovely. Now would be superb, Melas. On with it, your other duties can wait."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Basil set plates down on the table, and Melas dug into the leg of lamb. It was much fancier than the crew's general fare and he smacked his lips in open appreciation. He belched and smiled happily.

 

"Sherlock, are you certain…?" John trailed off. Melas liked him and Molly and Basil. He even appeared to like the captain, not an easy thing to do. Was it all a façade? John nibbled at his lamb anxiously, wishing Greg were at dinner with them.

 

"Right then. Melas, I'm afraid we need to talk about your intentions on my ship. Specifically your duties assigned by your employer that have nothing to do with sailing."

 

Melas squinted at Sherlock over a chunk of crusty bread. "What are you saying, Captain? The word 'employer,' maybe I misunderstand but this means you, yes?" His accent seemed to thicken without a mouthful of food.

 

"The man who engaged you to report on my activities, Melas. He is insufferable and intolerable and altogether the bane of my very existence. I do hope my nemesis pays you well for your services. Your options are to confess to your deception and live, or continue the ruse and spend the foreseeable future cuffed to a wall. The choice is yours."

 

Melas chewed thoughtfully on his food, and washed it down with a great gulp of ale. "Put that way, it is not much of a choice. You do realize, his intentions are not to harm. Only to observe. To be aware."

 

"You ARE a spy? Bloody hell, Melas. How the hell can you work for that shit Moriarty? He's a monster. Not to harm, my arse!" John's face was flushed with anger.

 

Sherlock shocked John by joining in laughter with the rigger.

 

"No no no, Mister Watson. This Moriarty, I do not work for him. He is a terrible man. He must be stopped. Occasionally I help my niece and look after people or things, for a bit of coin. I was a sailor in my youth, you know. Long ago. This has been an enjoyable voyage and Melas will retire a wealthy man very soon." He grinned, showing the gap where his two front teeth had long been missing.

 

"Your niece…I am so confused. Sherlock?"

 

"Melas was with the initial crew hired for the Hudson, John. There are few of those men left, once they realized how unprofitable this ship is. I realized almost right away that Mycroft would install men of his own on my ship. He's always inserting himself into my life. I spotted Melas reading over Donovan's shoulder one day as she worked on inventory. A sailor who can read? That put him at the top of my list. That, and the fact that his hands had no calluses when I first met him. What man who has been on a ship constantly for the past thirty years, as he claimed, would have smooth hands?"

 

"Like a baby's bum for the first few weeks," Melas agreed. "They became tough again fast. I believe I will request a bonus from Anthea for the damage done to my hands. My late sister's daughter," he explained. "Her father Andreas Mikos was in business with the elder Mister Holmes. After he died, Mycroft Holmes took in my niece. I was too poor back then, and too far from England to collect her. She has had a good life." He nodded and poured another cup of ale.

 

"The Earl of Warwick is in business?" Being in trade was considered coarse and vulgar by the nobility, John had always been taught.

 

"Yes, though he hides it well. Half the aristocracy in England owes large sums of money to my brother. He pulls all the strings, and they dance for him. Power resides not with the Crown, but with the gold, John."

 

The surgeon shook his head, overloaded with new information. "So Melas isn't really a threat? Why did we bother routing him out then?"

 

"Because there is a spy on board, and I thought Melas might know. I'll inspect the men but he knows them all, I'll bet, and more personally than I've bothered. Also, he can tell me who Mycroft's second mole is. Mycroft always has a backup plan."

 

Melas frowned and shook his head. "I will help in any way I can, captain, but I was not told of the other's identity. As a measure of protection."

 

"He had you in the upper ranks; the other was undoubtedly one of the lower sailors. He is of little concern, but I will toss his arse out in Kingston for toadying for my brother." Sherlock sipped at his tea, and ignored the plate of hot food in front of him. "As for Moriarty's mole, should be simple enough. John, line the men up at six bells, on deck."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"It's a simple mechanical matter. Tighten fingers, lift the hand, bend the elbow. One action leads to another. The result of the action is almost inconsequential. Lift, lower, cut."


The scalpel shook in Molly's trembling fingers. She knelt on the floor, hovering over the grimy sailor bound at the ankles and wrists. His eyes bugged out and poured tears as Moriarty urged her on.

 

"Damper is a thief. Sure, we all are, but where's the honor in trying to steal from your own captain? Hoarding prizes from the takes, swiping other people's loot. He's the worst of the worst. Thinking he could get away it, on my ship, as if I could be fooled. He is a bad man, Molly. He's killed countless innocents. When we were in the Canary Islands, I watched him gut an old man, piss on his corpse, and laugh. Use his worthless life for something valuable. Learning, science, exploration. Make art out of his pitiful form."

 

The crewman Damper shook his head in denial at Moriarty's comments, but Molly could see the truth in his eyes. He was everything Jamie said he was, a murderer who wouldn't survive the night regardless of her actions. Cut him and she might survive the night. Refuse and they would both perish shortly. No. Everything in Molly rebelled at the ruthless logic and she found herself dropping the blade.

 

Moran chuckled and Molly found herself glaring at the large man. He was the bogey who had haunted her since the Spitalfields murders, yet now she could ignore him. He wasn't even the most dangerous man in the room.

 

Jamie covered her hand with his, and stroked her fingers. "I understand; it's difficult at first. I haven't gotten my hands dirty in a long time, Molly. Why don't we do this together?" He smiled, placed the scalpel back into her palm and tightened his grip around her fingers.

 

Moran's eyes narrowed and he stepped forward to grab his captain's shoulder. "Why her?"


Jamie frowned at his first mate. "It's not your place to question, Bastian. I don't like being interrupted."

 

"I'm your hunter. I kill for you. But now you kill with her? You're mine, Jamie. Gut him, kill the bitch and let's finish this fucking game with Holmes."

 

Moriarty stood and rushed at Moran, shoving the big man until his back hit the wall. He didn't resist; his eyes blazed but he didn't raise a hand to his lover. He could crush his throat with one hand, but Bastian simply stood and let the slender dark-haired man hiss at him in rage.

 

"This is the game we play, and you will perform your part. I found you once; I can find another like you again. It may take years but you aren't as unique as you think you are, hunter." He exhaled a great sigh, and let go of Moran's shirt bunched in his fists. He stepped back, smoothed out his clothing, and an abashed smile slid onto his face.

 

"Bastian. Forgive me. You know I have a temper, love." He cupped Bastian's cheek, rubbing it with the pad of his thumb.

 

The hunter was shaken, and his blue eyes were hot with unnameable emotion. He breathed heavily for a minute, eyes locked with Jamie's, before turning on his heel and slamming the door shut behind him.

 

"Well. He really knows how to ruin a nice tea party. Somewhat uncouth, my hunter." Jamie shrugged and extended a hand to Molly on the floor. She warily accepted.

 

Damper grunted and moaned beneath his gag, lying terrified on the floor. His whimpers caught Jamie's attention.

 

"Oh right, that." He stuck his head out the door and summoned two muscular pirates in. "Boys, I've some rubbish to get rid of. Throw him overboard. Thanks so much." He smiled winningly at the men as they carted off Damper. The bound man's stifled shrieks carried through the halls onto the deck, until Molly heard a large splash in the distance.

 

Jamie looked at her and giggled when he heard the sailor hit the water.

 

"The next few days are going to be very entertaining, Molly girl."

Chapter Text

At six bells, with strong winds driving the ship toward Jamaica, the crew of the Hudson was lined up as commanded. The men shifted nervously on the rolling deck, the men of the lower ranks used to being left alone by their unusual captain. Melas was among them, picking at his nails with a small knife and making off-color jests to his fellow riggers in his normal fashion. Aware of the lineup's purpose, he did nothing to relax his cohorts but encouraged the paranoia with his jokes. Nervous men were talkative men.

 

The captain stepped onto the deck, his surgeon and the navy prisoner a few paces behind him. A hush fell over the crowd of jittery men. None dared to speak and upset their mercurial leader.

 

His eyes resembled chips of ice as he scanned every crewman, his shrewd gaze taking them in entirely. He was hunting for something, that much was clear. Whispers began in the back of the group, speculation growing that there had been some sort of theft or perhaps even mutinous rumors going around.

 

Sherlock sneered as the last sailor in line's legs shook under his stare. John and Lestrade exchanged anxious glances; the captain hadn't focused on any one man more than the other, and hadn't given any indication that he'd found Moriarty's mole in the bunch. What if there wasn't really a spy, and he'd simply said that to toy with Sherlock?

 

"Well!" Sherlock said brightly, cutting through the silence. He plastered a wide grin on his face, and clasped his hands together behind his back as he began to pace. "This has been helpful. You're all dismissed, carry on with your duties." He came to a stop in front of the riggers.

 

Amid confused rumblings, the crowd began to disperse.

 

"Except for you, Melas," Sherlock called. "I've another special request. You'll need two extra hands though. Bring Downey with you to my quarters."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"He knows that something is not right, captain. Downey has told me he cannot assist me, but this is not something he has ever said to me." Melas frowned as he stuck his head into the captain's quarters.

 

Sherlock looked up from spot on the floor by his trunk, where he was hastily loading a small pistol. "Insubordination. Unwise. Not one of Moriarty's more clever pirates, it would seem. Let Downey be, as though we are not suspicious. We'll take care of it very shortly." Melas ducked out and scampered up the nearest stairwell.

 

"Well you didn't suspect anything for months, so he must be good." Sherlock glared at Lestrade as he commented from his seat at the table. He and John were eating the food the captain had ignored in his impatience to get the mole business take care of. They didn't speak the thought aloud, but it was plain that he was directing his rage over the kidnapping of his woman and his powerlessness into this hunt for spies. Even if they got her back from Moriarty in a few days, that was plenty of time for her to suffer numerous indecencies and hardships.

 

"I should have seen. His boots of Caribbean origin though he claimed to have come straight from Ireland when he signed on with us. Assumed he must've bought or traded for them with another sailor. Never assume or guess. Downey was always around, always volunteering for things. Being nice. How disgusting." Sherlock swore at himself. "I have let my brain turn to a stew of idiocy, I must have, to not have put it together sooner. This is what love does. Stupid stupid stupid."


"But I thought you said you were going to marry her. Assuming she wants that- did you actually ask her, now that I think of it? If she marries you, do you think you'll be less intelligent? Because that's especially mad, even coming from you." John stared off in space, lost in thought. "Downey visited the surgery a lot. Hanging around to hear us talk, you think? And he stopped by with another foot cut, just after Greg and I…woke up." John cleared his throat and stuffed another piece of beef in his mouth.

 

Sherlock stood and stuffed the pistol in his belt by his hip. He left off his coat, as it would be immediately suspicious in the heat. "I might be slower with the distraction, but she also makes me…happier." He wrinkled his nose. "I'll sort it out after we get Molly back. Are you done pillaging my dinner table?"

 

John and Lestrade wiped their mouths, and checked their own weapons. "Let's do this."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


They cornered Downey on the forecastle, where he was chatting with Forrester as he uncoiled a length of rope and checked it for fraying and rot. His back, facing the stairs, visibly tensed as footsteps pounded up the stairs and he heard his name called in the captain's inimitable cold commanding voice. As Downey spun around, he dropped the rope and pulled the pistol from his belt. Forrester stepped back in surprise as Downey raised the weapon and aimed it at the captain.

 

His threat was answered with three, as Sherlock, John and Lestrade lifted their own pistols in response. The disgraced sail rigger's eyes were wild, darting around the forecastle and finding no help. His arm shook but he kept it high as Sherlock spoke

.

"I'd hoped we would be in for challenging interrogation but I see you prefer the shortcut. Very well. You seem a reasonable enough fellow, Downey. What did Moriarty hope to even accomplish by spying on me? And why would anyone work for such a madman?" His tone was curiously nonjudgmental, as though he were conducting an experiment and not an arrest.

 

"You don't know what he's like," Downey replied. His voice dropped low, and the young sailor's face fell. "I needed help getting' out of a situation with the law and there he was. He fixed it proper. I owed him. I didn't know, I didn't know…" His voice trailed off and his eyes drifted to the cold dark waves.

 

"Put your weapon down, and you may educate me about him, Mister Downey. Ending this does not require your death, though you may be detained for a time." Sherlock took one cautious step toward the agitated sailor.

 

Downey's gun hand wavered but didn't fall. "There ain't nothin' you can to do me that would be worse than what he'd do to me and my kin once he found out I talked. And he'd know. He knows everything. And the things he does, him and his hunter…No, there's nothin' you can do, Holmes. Honest to God, he is the Devil." A look of resolve formed on his face. Without another word, he simply swung his weapon around, jammed the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


When Molly Hooper woke in the captain's quarters of the Thanatos, she was confused as to her location, though she'd been on Jamie Moriarty's floating hell for three days. She remained locked in the cabin the entire time, and was spared the presence of the raggedy crew of pirates.

 

But there was Jamie and Bastian to face every day. Every time the first mate looked at her, she saw murder and the desire to tear her apart. Only the intervention of his captain kept the butcher from having his way with her, with his knives and ropes.

 

Moriarty's cabin was comfortable, luxurious even, but it was smothered in red and black, and sleeping there was like being trapped in a bloody hell. Like the inside of an infected wound, she thought. Flaring scarlet with dark edges, swelling to gross fullness. Overstuffed, silk-encased pillows covered the bed and seats, and Molly found herself contemplating how many wounds she could close if the silk wasted in this elegant nightmare were converted back to thread.

 

Someone knocked on the door, a light musical rapping she knew must belong to Jamie. Without waiting for permission, he entered the room and hopped up next to Molly on the bed. He looked fresh and clean, garbed in a simple combination of snug black trousers, polished knee-high boots, and a crisp white shirt with an elaborately tied cravat.

 

"Good morning, sweetness! Big day today. We're pulling into port now in Negril- can you tell from the motions of the ship? No? Well, we'll make a sailor of you yet." He winked cheekily and patted her thigh under the blanket. "How did you sleep? I hope you're rested. We'll be walking from Negril a few miles to Arroyo Rico. You need to be at your best," he admonished her with a wagging finger.

 

Bouncing off the bed, he crossed the room and flung himself onto his throne, draping his leg over the arm.

 

"Bastian has been dreadful, I know. He doesn't appreciate having to give up his bed to a lovely female. And I don't think he cares for how you won't play with us. It is rather rude, Molly girl." His tone darkened as mentioned playing.

 

Moriarty had repeated his game twice with Molly, presenting her with a prisoner to cut into, and her refusing every time. The consequences for refusing increased each time, but he didn't actually make her cut. It seemed important to him that she make a choice to do something awful.

 

Molly cradled her cheek that ached from the brutal backhand the first mate had delivered the night before when she again turned away from a presented- and live- body. She would have a nasty bruise, she knew, but she could live with that. The grotesque dreams would never end if she gave in to his threats and dissected a living man as Moriarty encouraged her to do.

 

It's like he wants to ruin it for me, she realized. If she participated in his sick game, she would never be able to return to medical work, never be able to happily hold a scalpel again. It would ruin me.


In the bottomless pits of Jamie's black eyes, she saw nothing but the hunger for corruption and the inexplicable desire to have others join him on his ring of hell.

 

Moriarty's leg swung as he drank from a goblet and rambled about his plans for them, for the day. For the end. Molly wanted to ignore him, to let nothing of his insanity creep into her verbally, but she paid attention, hoping for some clue, some hint that would help her prepare for the final battle.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"We're dropping anchor, Captain Holmes."

 

"So I hear, thank you for that unnecessary update. You're dismissed."

 

"Sherlock," John said warningly as the sailor bolted from the cabin.

 

"What?" He glared back at his friend. He reached into a drawer and pulled out a fresh shirt.

 

"Wanting to look handsome when we rescue your fair lady?" John teased, though worry was still written in the bags under his eyes. He hadn't slept well, despite having Greg curled around him.

 

Sherlock ignored the question and pulled on the new shirt, adjusted the wrists and fussing with the neck. His face looked cool and controlled but his fidgeting fingers gave away his anxiousness.

 

"We will save her, Sherlock. And she will survive. Whatever has happened- she's strong. Have faith in her." He squeezed his captain's shoulder.

 

Sherlock looked John in the eyes, and the surgeon felt chills. "I do. I don't have faith in Moriarty doing what is logical. And if he hurt her, I'll prove Downey wrong about who the damned devil is. I'll hang him high in the harbor as a message to anyone who ever thinks twice about coming near me, my ship and my woman ever again."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"Welcome to Negril, Holmes. My captain awaits you." The filthy pirate grinned at Sherlock as they met on the soft warm sands. The harbor was crowded with small ships but no vessels of note beyond the Hudson. "Your crew may wait here. Only you are invited to Arroyo Rico to retrieve the woman." He gestured toward the trees and the narrow path that opened onto the beach.

 

"That hardly seems sporting. I turn up and a dozen men will put holes in me before I open my mouth."

 

"That may be so," the pirate agreed. "But those are the terms. Mayhap I'll return this message to Captain Moriarty, and then come back to greet you with her head."

 

Sherlock swallowed, and his hands flexed. He forced his face into an uncaring smile, and held his hand out to John at his side. "The sack. The flask. I'll need to carry my own water if you're to stay here."

 

John silently passed the satchel to his captain, his gaze locked on Moriarty's messenger. "Be careful. We'll be waiting." He nodded and stepped back.

 

Sherlock adjusted the satchel strap over his shoulder and followed the pirate up the rocky path. He had anticipated Moriarty would not allow him to bring his men; he had to hope that his tricks would be enough to save Molly and get off the island before the few locals that Moriarty didn't own decided to notify the law and the Navy that the infamous pirate, Sherlock Holmes, had arrived on their shore.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock had planned for several possible venues when designing strategies. Knowing nothing about Arroyo Rico, he developed multiple contingencies for sites.

 

As he climbed up the hilly land, downwind of the stinking pirate, Sherlock heard a dull roar grow louder and louder until he realized that he might have to improvise.

 

He hadn't planned on the confrontation occurring by a waterfall.

 

"Arroyo Rico," Sherlock commented, straining to hear beyond the crashing sound of water pounding its way down the small mountain. "Rich stream or brook." Ought to have suspected something based on the name, he berated himself.

 

"Yes, right pretty place he got here. Some local bunch used to live here. Not no more," the pirate cackled as he kicked aside fallen branches. "No one bothers Moriarty. He owns 'em or he kills them, that's his rule." He squinted into the distance, and then pointed. "Right. We're told to leave you lot to it and not come back. Too many Navy uniforms around lately for my taste. You'll be meeting your maker right soon, I reckon." The nameless pirate turned around and headed back down the path as Sherlock crested the steep path. Before his eyes, a shockingly white and flawless country manor-style home sprouted amid the lush growth.

 

Sherlock took two seconds to marvel at the engineering involved in creating such a home atop in a high place with no easy transportation. Then his eyes skimmed around the landscape until he found what he came for.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Molly and Jamie sat on the grass beside the waterfall, her face misted with spray and her wrists bound together. His knife was sheathed at his side, and he held a loaded pistol pointed at Molly's temple. He hadn't bothered gagging her because nothing could be heard over the thunderous sound of the water rolling off the projection of rock and landing fifty feet below in the small river flowing down the mountain. It was beautiful, clear water, the flow surrounded on both sides by mossy stone and vibrant green flora. If she hadn't been seated alongside the devil, Molly would've believed she'd been dropped into Paradise.

 

Her cheek ached from the bruises, but her hair was smooth and lovely. He had provided her with a new pink dress, cap-sleeved with the waistline high under her breasts in the most current fashion. He'd even given her matching slippers to wear with it. Jamie had made certain she looked every inch a young lady from a genteel family. Moriarty wanted her to be pretty when he killed her.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"So here we are. It's exciting." Jamie giggled as Sherlock approached them, pistol in hand. Molly saw how her love's eyes noted everything, calculating and shifting information even as he appeared to be casually strolling toward them. He looked so handsome in his deep blue trousers and coat, Molly thought, the cuts on his face only emphasizing the sharp beauty of his bone structure. If I die, I want him to be the last thing I see. Nothing in the heavens could be as beautiful as his eyes. But I don't want to die. Where are the others? She tried to breathe calmly and quash the panic in her belly.

 

"I'm here. Alone, as ordered. What's the next step in this game?" Molly felt his eyes take in the mild damage to her face, and she saw a muscle in his jaw flex.

 

Moriarty saw it, too.

 

"Oooh yes, sorry about that." He grimaced and then smiled. "Bastian got a wee bit annoyed with her. He really doesn't like her. I like her, but then, that never stopped me from having someone killed." Jamie shrugged. "What's she worth to you, Sherlock? Is she worth more than the world? I offered you the world, and you declined. So rude!"

 

"I have the world, Moriarty. I have the ship and I have Molly and I may even have a friend or two. There is nothing you can give me that I can't make or do for myself."

 

"Is that so? Stay where you are, and place your weapon on the ground. The satchel as well. Please, captain. Yes, you've had some fun and adventure and you took your little samples, but you're limited. You're weighed down, in between the law and the chaos. Not really part of either world, wasting energy on maintaining your freedom, running from the King's Royal Navy. Running from other pirates. How much research do you get done? I can fix that, Sherlock. I can make your problem go away."

 

Sherlock's head tilted in thought as he crouched to set down his belongings. "How is that, hmm? My brother has not been able to secure me a royal pardon and his power is second only to the Prince and the King himself. And the King is a madman, anyway."

 

Moriarty grinned. "Yes he is, isn't he. Lunacy makes him suggestible. I found it convenient."

 

Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "Surely you're not suggesting that you have some control over King George. That you've taken advantage of his mental sickness to-" Sherlock's mouth froze. Moriarty broke into laughter and nodded. Molly's eyes danced between the two men.

 

Realization lit in Sherlock's eyes. "You made him ill. To control him. Poisoning of course. How? Scientific curiosity."

 

"Isn't it obvious?" Moriarty asked. "Recurring episodes of the sickness, confusion, insanity, headache, bowel upset, tiredness. If you'd seen him more often, you'd have realized how much hair he's lost. Don't suppose your brother would have mentioned the king pisses blood."

 

Sherlock's eyes rolled back and he groaned. "Arsenic. Of course."

 

Jamie smiled gently. "The simplest ways are the most effective. It's in his white makeup that they lovingly apply every day. My wants find their way to Georgie's ears, and England is mine. But I do love the freedom of the ocean, being a safe distance from it all. I'm surprised you never worked it out, I must say. I'd heard you were experimenting with arsenic level testing some time ago. I almost had my man on your ship poison someone to give you a body to play with. But it turned out you already had an ergotism epidemic beginning. That one wasn't me, I should mention. That's what you get for trading with the French this year; their grain is riddled with it. And that wasn't very loyal of you, dealing with the country England's at war with. Tsk tsk, Sherlock." Jamie's face was a mask of mock horror.

 

"I was always one step ahead of you. It was a grand beginning, finding you. Turning the King against you. I had such plans, but then she happened. If she were as boring as every other woman, I'd have probably killed her right off. Knowing you fell in love with a morbid little thing like Molly Hooper was somewhat interesting. You're both in love with death. The greatest mystery of all."

 

"It is not," Molly protested. "You are mad. Let me go, Jamie. I'm not in love with death. I just wanted to know how life worked." Molly realized that it was the truth. There was nothing wrong with her; she wasn't a freak or an abnormal female.

 

Moriarty nudged Molly's temple with the pistol again. "That's nice, sweetness, but you existing doesn't work anymore for me. You may as well have a seat here, Sherlock. Bastian has had you in his sights since you were halfway up the mountain. He could've killed you before you ever clapped eyes on me."

 

Sherlock spun around, this time looking up into the trees. He frowned.

 

"Yes, in the trees somewhere but you won't see him, not even a glint of sunlight off his rifle, until you're dead. I have some more backup as well, should my primary plan not function as well as I'd like. Contingency planning is a must. My other friends should be here within ten minutes. They have their orders. They're good people."

 

Moriarty glanced at his pocket watch and smiled again. He hoisted himself up off the ground gracefully, and lifted Molly up by her bound wrists. Her legs were free to move, but she thought it was unwise to kick him when they were a foot from the slippery rocks at the edge of the waterfall and he could easily take her over with him. The added threat of invisible Bastian and his rifle was a nasty problem, as well. The barrel touching her forehead had slid off as Jamie rambled, and for that one small mercy, she was grateful.

 

"Fine. Make your play," Sherlock called over the roar of the water. "A trade for what? Me again?"

 

"Oh!" Moriarty said. "No, not interested. We're playing a new game. You're so cold, Sherlock. So unfeeling, you pretend. No more pretending anymore. If I kill her, I splatter her brains on the grass, will you hunt me to the ends of the earth, curse my name every moment of the day and see me in your dreams every night?"

 

Sherlock's eyes were narrowed to slits, his nostrils flared, and his knuckles squeezed lightly on his pistol. "You know I would."

 

Jamie smiled serenely. "That's exactly what I wanted to hear."

 

Noticing the pistol had moved down, he swiftly lifted his arm up straight, curled his finger around the trigger and pulled it.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The crack of the pistol shot echoed even over the crashing din of the waterfall. The shot went wild as Molly panicked and threw her bound arms up to divert the barrel. There was no thought in that moment, only screaming instinct to get away. Throwing her weight toward him sent her to the ground in a clumsy heap, her equilibrium lost. As Jamie flailed, off-balance as well, he threw a leg down firmly into the muddy ground, and took aim again as Sherlock hurled himself in long strides across the ten feet between him and Molly.

 

As Sherlock's body crashed into Jamie's, another much louder gunshot rang out, followed in quick succession by several more shots.

 

Bastian was in the game.

 

Sherlock and Moriarty rolled on the ground, fighting for the small weapon. The rifle shots paused, the sniper clearly afraid he would hit his captain.

 

The pistol fell to the ground and Jamie kicked it away. His eyes blazed madly and he gripped the front of Sherlock's coat. Sherlock replied by head-butting him, and Jamie's grip fell away as blood poured from his nose. The men continued tussling in the muddy grass on the edge of the waterfall, with the smaller Irishmen surprisingly unfazed by Sherlock's brutal right-hooks and responding with pointed jabs of his own.

 

"Molly- you've got to-urgggh," Sherlock called as Jamie twisted his ear and landed a punch on his cheekbone. "The shooter- Get to the trees, take cover!"

 

A booming shot shattered the tree trunk approximately six inches from Molly's right side. Eyes wide, and conflicted, she took a step toward Sherlock, eyeing the gun in the grass.

 

Another shot tore up the dirt and grass by her toes and Molly dove for the cover of the trees five feet behind her. She crawled through the bushes, cursing her bright pink dress, longing for the dark trousers she'd spent half her time on the ship wearing. "Sherlock!" she cried out as she hid behind a very old and thick tree trunk. Her attempt to dart her head around and look was rewarded with a chunk of the tree being shot away above her.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock kneed Moriarty in the groin, and rolled the man over as he yelped in agony. In between spitting out blood and trying to dig at Sherlock's eyes, Moriarty seemed to almost be laughing.


"This never had to happen, any of it!" Sherlock barked as he grabbed Jamie by the neck and pushed it down hard on the damp, mossy rocks. The waterfall thundered around them, wetness splashing them as Jamie's head pushed out past the boulder, hovering over a steep plunge.

 

"Yes it did," he managed out of his squeezed throat as he tried to shove Sherlock away. "It was all…so dull. Before you. And if I beat you, the world would be even more boring. Winning," he sighed. "It's not as much fun as you think it will be. Don't you ever get tired of being the best?"

 

Sherlock tightened his grip around Moriarty's throat. "No." He considered reaching for the discarded pistol in the grass, but if he pulled away from Jamie, the sniper would aim for him. Stuck, he held his prisoner firm and prayed Molly hadn't been shot, that she would survive and get back home to her father, that Mycroft would take care of her and that Mummy would know that a woman had loved him and he had loved her in return.

 

Moriarty's eyes reflected the black despair inside as the fight went out of him.

 

"I do, Sherlock. I'm so tired of it. All of it." Jamie stopped pushing Sherlock off him. He breathed heavily into his face. "Let's end it."

 

With that, he wrapped his arms around Sherlock, used his leg as a lever and heaved them both off the edge, into the crushing heart of Arroyo Rico.

Chapter Text

"NOOOOO!" An ungodly bellow issued from somewhere in the trees across Arroyo Rico. As Molly cringed behind the tree and listened, she heard the sound of branches and leaves being thrashed about as someone hurled themselves down to the ground. Over the noise of the roaring waterfall, she distantly heard footsteps pounding across the earth as the unseen person began to make their way down the rocky side of the fall. She heard a male voice shrieking something wordless and agonized as the voice faded.

 

Molly dared to peek her head out, peering through the cover of a bush, and saw no one at all on the edge of Arroyo Rico, where Sherlock and Jamie Moriarty had been wrestling a moment before the horrible screaming started. A sickening fear grew inside her. She crawled slowly out of the copse of trees and the surrounding brush, tense and expecting more rifle shots to crack around her.

 

But everything was silent now. Terribly so.

 

She edged out further, approaching the muddy spot in the grass where Sherlock had lain while shouting at her to retreat from the sniper's shots. As Molly knelt in the marshy ground, she steeled herself and summoned every bit of strength she had in her, every stony support she had acquired in her years of facing death and loss, at home and in the devastating, dank morgues of London.

 

Whatever happens, I can survive. I have to survive. For both of us.


Swallowing down a wave of nausea, Molly sucked in a gulp of air and stretched her neck out over the edge of Arroyo Rico. The falls crashed down mercilessly for fifty feet, ending in a small rocky river. No man could survive landing in such a shallow pool lined by boulders, not even Sherlock Holmes.

 

And not, Molly realized as she frantically scanned the ground below, Jamie Moriarty.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Bastian ran down the hill, foregoing the path to leap from stone to stone along the wet embankment, uncaring as he slid across the mud and moss. He'd abandoned his rifle by the tree. It didn't matter- if Holmes or his woman had survived, he would throttle them with his bare hands and disembowel them with a sharp rock, he didn't care how long it took.

 

Until Arroyo Rico, Bastian would say for certainty that the worst day of his life was the day his mum had caught him coming home bloody-fisted and exhausted after a night of hunting and playing when he was fifteen. He didn't understand why his mum cared so much-it was just a neighborhood slag, a girl his mother had often referred to as a "lazy slut" and "a shame to the Lord." She was supposed to love him for it. But his mum was sad, and then she was angry, and then she hit him, again and again as she cried.

 

Bastian didn't care for being struck. So that was the end of that.

 

Now, as he careened down the hill toward the limp form in the pool, he knew that the unfortunate death of his mother paled in comparison to the terror of seeing his Jamie roll off the edge into oblivion.

 

He jumped into the water, soaking himself to the thigh as he pressed against the current to reach for Jamie, who floated face-down in the river, his foot snagged on a rock in the pool.

 

"You're fine, there's a medical man in Negril, fix you up proper, right," Bastian babbled as he flipped Jamie over, and cradled his head against his chest. The water around bubbled pink, and red soaked Bastian's shirt as he cupped his lover's cheek and tried to close the brutal gash in Jamie's temple with his hand.

 

He dragged Jamie (the body, his mind whispered) out of the water, laying him on the moss and rubbing his chest as he'd seen sailors do with the drowned. "Clever Jamie," he laughed madly. "Nothing can kill you. Nothing." The laughter turned to a choking sob, as he laid his head on Jamie's chest, listened for the heartbeat, and heard only silence.

 

Silence. Alone. The ugly thing that lived at the back of Bastian's mind blossomed and took to the forefront, taunting him. You are lost. Nothing to slow the flurry of bloody thoughts and dark rages, nothing to direct his creativity and give him purpose and light, no one to love your gifts. What good is a message if no one understands it?


The face of Jamie Moriarty was relaxed in death as it never had been in life. The whirring mechanisms of his ever-working mind had imbued him with a frenzied energy, his muscles shifting and tightening and stretching into unpredictable forms. In death, his cheek and jaw were smooth under Bastian's caress, and the awful wounds on his head dripped instead of gushed, his heart lifeless and unable to produce the spray of blood that Bastian so loved observing in others. Such a disappointing death, lacking in any kind of art or grace. I could have done so much better for you, love.


Bastian wailed.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


As the large blond man wept and screamed over his fallen lover's body, Molly leaned out over the falls, searching the perimeter for any sign of Sherlock. The pool far below was empty, and she chewed on her lips, despairing that he had been pushed downstream, his body limp and beyond her help. As she was turning to crawl back into the trees and make her way downhill, away from Bastian Moran, a flash of movement caught her eye and she hurled herself back to the edge of Arroyo Rico.

 

Straight down the sheer drop, halfway down and along the side of the falls, Sherlock Holmes clung with one arm to a tiny outcrop of stone.

 

His legs kicked as he fought to balance himself with nothing for support but the side of the hill itself, slippery from moss and moisture. His left arm hung in a strange angle in his blue coat, Molly saw, with explained why he held on with only his right. Molly clapped a hand over her mouth to smother her shriek of shock and hope, afraid of alerting the monster below that his rival had survived.

 

He had survived the initial fall, anyway. As Sherlock flailed against the side of an almost vertical rock face, Molly knew it was only a matter of time before he plummeted the rest of the way down into an unforgiving landing. She looked around, hoping for a stray piece of rope. In the distance stood the elegant white-painted home, Moriarty's getaway.

 

He must have rope somewhere- for horses, or the wells, or bloody anything. Everyone uses it, don't they?


Molly's eyes darted between Sherlock, Bastian and the house, caught between the need for action and the fear that he would drop at any second.

 

In the longest ten seconds of her life, Molly came to a decision and stood up, resolved. Her fear of the Spitalfields Butcher was nothing compared to the fear of losing the man she loved, of returning home to England knowing what it was like to be at least a little bit happy every day, but never having that with him again.

 

As she went to turn, Bastian Moran's head rose up and she knew the moment she was in his sights. Prey, his eyes said. No escape for you. His dead eyes locked on her, and he carefully set down Jamie's body without looking away from her. Molly shuddered and broke into a run toward the house.

 

A rope, a knife, any weapon, a place to hide, something. Oh god, please, it can't end like this. Sherlock needs me, she prayed, waiting for the sound of the murderer's footsteps.

 

Molly had covered half the distance between the falls and the home when she heard the unmistakable sounds of pistols firing, more than one it sounded like. She craned her neck around as she ran, hoping to not see Bastian pounding the ground behind her.

 

Molly's mouth dropped and she slowed to a halt, befuddled. It wasn't Bastian, or Sherlock, or anyone from either of their crews, but there was a group of men now by the top of the watefall.

 

Where on earth had these ones come from?

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Bastian watched the woman turn and flee, and he roared in grief and pleasure. At last, something he could tear apart, someone could pay for shattering his Jamie. His limbs shook with the tingling that accompanied every new hunt, the anticipation of blood and pleading and tender skin splitting just so.


He jumped across the embankment, climbing onto the path for a clear run to the house. His body surged with power, and the knowledge that she would be his. The silly bitch, he knew this land better than he knew himself. He bolted up the path, his long legs leaping over obstacles easily. He would overtake her within two minutes, he was certain.

 

Did she think she could hide from ME, Bastian Moran, who's slaughtered tigers in India, taken down elephants in Africa, and captured brown bears in America? Her head would join theirs on my wall of-


A pistol shot in the center of his back interrupted the thought.

 

Bastian dropped to his knees in shock. His hands grabbed futilely at the hole in his back, just out of reach. He felt so strange and weak. Weakness is the enemy, the death of everything exciting. Jamie was strong. Weak is prey, I'm not prey...

 

Two more shots fired, almost on top of each other. Bastian cupped the back of his head in wonder, and stared blankly at his hands as he brought them to his eyes, curious as to how they came to be covered in blood and grey matter. It was really all…so…strange…how did…that…

 

Bastian Moran fell to the muddy path, his eyes bugged open even as he bled out and his brain functions ceased. The butcher of the Spitalfields and first mate of the Thanatos was no more.

 

"Is he really dead? With this nasty bastard, I don't want to guess." Lestrade's wary voice was nearly drowned out by the thunder created by the waterfall. His gun was raised, as if expecting Moran to leap at him even in death.

 

John Watson finally lowered his pistol. "Yeah. My first shot would've done it, but it's good we- eh- made certain. I think that was Moriarty's body back there, with the head bashed up, but we've got to go check him and be sure he's dead. Where the hell are Sherlock and Molly? He's going to have a fit we ignored the orders and followed."

 

"It was a bloody trap to kill him and we knew it. He knew it. You're the best goddamned friend that pirate has ever had, and if he gives you any shit for this, I'll beat his arse." Lestrade pulled him close and kissed him briefly. John smiled, but the fear for his captain and friend's fate was written large in his blue eyes.

 

"Let's go find them and get the hell out of here. I don't want to think about what other little traps Moriarty could have come up with." John ran to Moran's body, checked his pulse and nodded. "Thoroughly dead. Good riddance."

 

Lestrade joined him and tugged on his sleeve. "Sherlock and Molly probably went for the higher ground. Let's-"

 

John's hand squeezing his arm tight cut off Greg's words. He tugged his lover into the bushes. "Shit," he whispered, pointing at something in the distance. "When did they get here?"

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Sherlock Holmes considered the predicament he had found himself in. He had been in countless dangerous situations, close to death, and always found a way out. But until today, he had never been actually fallen off a cliff into a waterfall. The novelty of the experience was beginning to wear off.

 

He dangled from the rock face, which was not as sheer as observers would think. There were cracks he could jam his foot in, in order to shift some of his weight from the outcrop he was grasping. It would be better if he had the use of both arms in the endeavor but he appeared to have broken his radius bone, and dislocated the humerus from the shoulder joint as well. Highly unfortunate circumstances, he reflected as he peered down at Moriarty's body on the bank of the river.

 

Sherlock was obscured by Arroyo Rico itself, the cascading water blocking him from easy view from the shore's perspective. He couldn't see much of the ground twenty-five feet above him and when he looked up, it upset his balance and caused him nearly to fall; he could only hope that Molly had stayed hidden or fled back to the beach. Better to be lost in the woods than in Moran's clutches.

 

His arm grew weary fast and the growing pain in his broken arm was making it difficult to focus and hold on. He was only dimly aware when Moran began screaming over his captain's body, and then when he suddenly ran back to the path and disappeared.

 

When he heard three pistol shots, Sherlock's ears perked up. Those weren't rifle shots, they were small hand weapons, crude small balls, of the sort used by the pirate crews. But his or Moriarty's? He knew that John wouldn't stay away. Moriarty's crew would most likely stay away as they had been ordered. His crewman who led Sherlock to Arroyo Rico could have been lying, but he didn't think so.

 

Please, John. I can't hold on much longer, and I can't climb with one arm.


Sherlock focused and breathed and summoned years of self-control to keep his muscles from collapsing. He might survive a twenty-five drop if he avoided landing on the rocks as Moriarty had landed, but with one arm useless, he probably wouldn't be able to propel himself outward from the rock face far enough to avoid that fate.

 

He was calculating the percentages of surviving such a fall when a fray-ended but sturdy length of rope dropped by his face.

 

It was only at the moment that Sherlock allowed himself to hope. Grabbing onto the rope with only one hand, and staying with it long enough to reach the top was still dangerous.

 

But what other choice did he have?

 

Before he could overthink the matter, Sherlock let go of the outcrop and swiped at the rope, curling it around his arm, his body weight dropping and causing the rope to slide through his grasp. The rope sliced and burned his palm, but Sherlock held on, swearing the whole time in a fashion that would've caused his crew to blush.

 

He nearly wept with relief as the rope was quickly pulled up, nearing the top of Arroyo Rico in a minute. He wondered if John had fetched more men from the beach to help.

 

As the rope ascended and Sherlock rose, his arm shook and daggers of pain shot through him, but he was alive. He was whole and whatever happened, he could handle it, as long as he had his friend and his girl and his ship.

 

Sherlock gritted his teeth to withstand the pain as the rope was yanked up quickly and his body tossed onto the grass from the momentum. He thought he might vomit from the agony of landing on his broken arm. After the dizziness passed, Sherlock found himself grinning and he raised his head to thank his crew-

 

And found himself facing the barrels of a dozen muskets.

 

"Oh I see. How foolish of me to assume."

 

"Contingency planning is a must. My other friends should be here within ten minutes. They have their orders. They're good people."


Moriarty's words echoed back to him. Sherlock nodded as graciously as he could manage while sprawled in the mud. "I ought to have anticipated Moriarty would use the Royal Navy against me. After all, no one wants me hung more than the law."

 

"Dunno what you mean, Captain Holmes," the lieutenant, clearly in charge judging by his insignias, softer palms, and rounded belly. "Mr. Richard Brook, a respected member of the community here, said someone was going to do for him, and looks like he was right. Threw him over the fall, did you? One more reason you should hang. He was a fine man, paid for the doctor to come treat my Minnie when she was ill."

 

"Yes, he's good at giving out favors. I don't suppose a bribe would help?" Sherlock smiled brightly. "I don't have much coin, to be honest, but I do have an acid solution that would safely burn the warts off your feet."

 

"How did you know I…" The lieutenant's face purpled and he clamped his mouth shut. "I'd build your gallows myself, but we've our orders. Boys, the irons."

 

Two privates rushed forward and dragged Sherlock to standing. He couldn't help but groan in pain as they squeezed his arm to pull him up.

 

"Sherlock!" The feminine voice cut through the hustle of the soldiers shackling Sherlock at his wrists and ankles.

 

"Who's this?" The lieutenant asked as Molly flew across the ground, her pink gown turned into a muddy, grass-stained mess. "A pirate lass?"

 

"You leave him be! Can't you see he's hurt? Let go of his arms, you stupid, bloody oaf!" Molly's chest heaved as she hurled more colorful invectives at the lieutenant. Her brown eyes were bright with unshed tears and anger. He was alive. They had saved him…only for execution? A soldier clasped her about the upper arms and held her back from Sherlock.

 

"So she's one of your people then," the lieutenant asked, his tone pointed.

 

"Pay her no mind. She's mad. Touched in the head. We kidnapped her. Wouldn't have bothered if we'd known what a trial she would be." Sherlock shrugged and then nearly fainted from the pain rippling down his arm.

 

"You're admitting you kidnapped this female? You want to ensure your death sentence then?"

"That is correct. She's not a pirate, she's a doctor. Strange thing for a woman, but there you have it. Perhaps you might let her jam my arm back into the socket…? No? Ah, well." The intensity in Sherlock's eyes didn't match the casual tone of his voice. "I think it's time you left, Dr. Hooper. I've ruined your life quite enough, I think."

 

The tears in Molly's eyes spilled over. He was pleading with her. Sherlock was begging with his eyes and she couldn't bear it.

 

She nodded, and stepped back. With one last look at her love, Molly turned and fled to the path through the trees.

 

Relief flowed through Sherlock as she departed. He couldn't save them both. He would find a way out of this; the Royal Navy was composed of idiots, after all. The only question was would he come up with an escape plan before they decided to hang him?

Chapter Text

Five months later


"Your majesty, if it please you," the elegantly garbed earl began. The luxurious palace salon felt tiny and hot, though it was a wintry night in London.

 

"It does not, Derby. Account for the dis-dis-discrepancies," the king sputtered, "In the rents and revenue reported by you to our Royal personage, and what our men have learned in their visit to Lancaster. Hmmm?" He gasped, and coughed into a gnarled fist, suddenly breathless.

 

"Your majesty, my men of affairs handle these matters, surely you understand I haven't the time to visit all the estates personally. My obligations in town-"

 

"Excuses. Theft. Lies," George growled, squinting at the earl from his cushioned seat. His skin was jaundiced, and he scratched irritably at the wig draped on his skull over the few hairs he had remaining. "You give me a bellyache with your squirming, you pillock."

 

Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby, stared in shock, unable to respond to the illogical claims. He glanced at the man standing beside the mad king, hoping for assistance. The man avoided Lord Stanley's eyes, strolling to the window and gazing out as though he hadn't heard the conversation.

 

"I will investigate this matter immediately, majesty. If there has been an error, I will of course penalize those responsible-" Sweat formed on the courtier's brow and his voice held a note of desperation. He rubbed at his chest through his coat.

 

"Oh but there has been an error. It's too late for investigations," he spat. "Stealing from your king is treason. A fine will be exacted; shall you pay it with your head or your pocketbook?" A mischievous gleam lit in the king's dim eyes. The real purpose of the private meeting became apparent; the king's little games were notorious in his court, and every aristo knew that an audience with the king could end in unearned glories heaped on you, or unfounded accusations sending you to ruin.

 

The elderly earl was savvy; he sighed in resignation and bowed in apology. "Your majesty, I beg you the opportunity to make restitution in whatever manner you choose. Your grace and generosity are well known amongst your loyal followers, and I kneel to your superior wisdom." For added effect, Derby dropped to one knee and sniffled as though he was holding back regretful tears.

 

"Ten thousand pounds would cover it. Wouldn't you agree?" George said brightly, turning toward the man at the window.

 

"Your judgment is fair and just as always, your majesty," he responded, his eyes on the sprawling view of London.

 

The earl began to relax, and the tightness in his chest lessened; once the king involved his pet the games were usually over.

 

"Rise, Derby, rise!" George said gaily. "One more thing before you go, however." He turned back to his companion. "Do your…trick…on Lord Stanley here. Is he planning any more treason? What is he hiding? They're all hiding something, the disloyal weevils chewing away at the throne's fortune with their ambitions."

 

The calm the earl had recovered slipped away again as ice-cold blue eyes fell on him and cut him to the quick with their lack of mercy.

 

"The money is nothing to him; he could afford twice as much without blinking an eye, judging by the quantity of Spanish lace in his sleeves. Next time, ask for more gold. Then again, he'll most likely be dead by then. He uses snuff to excess which may be contributing the obvious heart ailment. Poor circulation, excessive body weight, terrible pallor without any powder, breathes 22 times per minute, and his left arm was shaking as he attempted to kneel. Heart will give out within a year." He paused and smiled bitterly. The moonlight on his face drained him of color.

 

"And it's not a trick."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The panic-stricken earl of Derby rushed from the salon, past the guards, down the grand stairs and into the ball room where several hundred of the aristocracy were gathered. Being invited to a gala at the palace was considered an impressed coup by most, but Lord Stanley knew he might well end up penniless whenever George admitted him to his presence. The earl rushed through the ball room, bowed to his lady wife, and demanded the largest portion of wine possible from a passing servant.

 

The king and his companion stepped out of the salon and descended the stairs, trailed by the three guards. Every eye turned to them, and it wasn't merely the presence of royalty that commanded stares. That a notorious former pirate walked among the lords and ladies stunned the aristocracy, the men mortified at being judged by his brilliant observations that amused the king and the women thrilled that such a dangerous man stalked their halls.

 

Sherlock Holmes strolled down the stairs as though he hadn't been returned to England in chains. Stripped of all titles, he remained noble to the core. He was styled in the height of the Brummell fashion, from the high collar framing a discreet Gordian knot-tied cravat, to the tailored midnight blue coat that displayed his lean body, to the snug ivory trousers that ended in knee-high black boots. If his sideburns and black curls were a touch too ungoverned for the current trend, no one minded; who wanted a completely tamed pirate, after all?

 

He walked a half pace behind the king, who shuffled down the stairs unevenly. His leg muscles cramped often, and Sherlock knew that if the king should fall and break his neck, he would be back in chains and readied for the gallows within a day. His safety and that of his mother depended on King George remaining in fair health until Mycroft and the Crown Prince were able to finally convince Parliament that a regency was required. The madness of King George the Third was no longer only whispered about in the palace, but becoming a commonly accepted fact throughout England. How long before America and the rest of Europe realized that Britain was ripe for conquering with a lunatic raising havoc among his own people?

 

Though the arsenic he'd been dosed with for years, courtesy of Moriarty, had been stopped, the damage was done. By the time Sherlock was permitted close enough to observe the king's personal quarters, he was dying. His internal organs were saturated with the deadly element. Cosmetics, food, even his medications had been laced with it. Sherlock found ways to turn George's paranoia toward the guilty servants until the palace was staffed with all new people. The worsening of his condition slowed, but Sherlock doubted the king had more than six months left.

 

When he was locked in a ship's hold and chained to a wall instead of immediately hanged, Sherlock had been lost for an explanation as to why. He had failed to escape the clutches of the Royal Navy, underestimating just how well Moriarty had warned them about his abilities. He was stripped naked, made to put on simple burlap clothing, and given no tools, no utensils, nothing remotely useful. Two men guarded his door at all times as they crossed the Atlantic, returning him to London. A Royal Navy surgeon popped his humerus back into the shoulder socket and set his broken arm, but the man lacked John Watson's skills. The break healed, but it ached like the devil whenever it rained, and Sherlock suspected it would for the remainder of his life.

 

He thought he would go mad from the boredom of the brig, and from not knowing the fate of Molly and his crew. He took to singing aloud the melodies he used to play on his violin, until he was hoarse and the guards were throwing refuse at him to make him stop. He deduced scenes of his life from memory, and he would dream of Molly stroking his hair and kissing his cheek and wrapping her warmth around him as he fell asleep on the cold hard floor damp with sea spray. The long months gave him much time to reflect. He remembered his arrogance in deciding that she would marry him, so that they could continue on as they had been, so very convenient for him, avoiding the idea that she might not want to give up life with her father and their physician's practice.

 

That was foolish, he thought. Selfish, and too cowardly to admit what I felt because it was inconvenient. I wanted to marry her because I love her and I want her to be my wife. I want everyone to know she's my wife. Why couldn't I just admit that before Arroyo Rico…


As the lumbering navy ship carted him back to England, he fed on images from the past few months, drawing strength from their light and intensity.

 

…feigning drunkenness at the party where he stole Molly, where the mousy girl surprised him with her haughty "You are not welcome to me, sir" when his hand grazed hers.

 

…berating Anderson while John looked on exasperated, but also holding back laughter.

 

…informing his crew that Molly would be staying aboard, threatening them for her safety, even then claiming her in a way he hadn't understood.

 

…discovering the tantalizing variety of her choice in books, from de Sade's Juliette to her well-used copy of Fabrica that spoke of years of dedicated study.

 

…Basil running from Chase, while stuffing his mouth full of sugar and cackling as the cook stumbled.

 

…playing his violin on the forecastle alone at night, contemplating his growing feelings for the woman and realizing how rarely he was bored when she was present.

 

…the first time he kissed her, in the Isles of Scilly, her body fitting perfectly into his as he broke his long fast from touch.

 

….holding her strong hands, deducing the nicks and cuts of her trade the morning after they first had sex.

 

…discovering the bodies on Corvo, the work of the Spitalfields Butcher, and realizing that he and Molly's fates had been intertwined for years before they ever met.

 

…watching the bond between John and Lestrade grow, deducing the other captain's intentions long before John ever did.

 

…dragging the name of his ultimate foe from the pirate Hope, and suspecting that Moriarty was another tie he shared with Molly.

 

…the aching loss he'd felt when Anderson revealed his deception to Molly about the letter to her father, sick with the fear that she would abandon him, never look at him again with her adoring brown eyes, so full of joy and trust.

 

…Donovan reuniting with her captain Irene Adler, on the shore of Mayaguana, the brittle defenses of the master gunner falling away in her lover's arms.

 

…observing Lestrade try to guide Basil, and realizing when John intervened that his surgeon had given in to his desire and that his battered and weary best friend was finally happy.


…watching Moriarty sail away with the only woman he ever wanted to love, and finding her again atop a waterfall in a lush green paradise filled with death. That memory hurt, but Sherlock held onto it and used the rage it inspired in him to persevere, and to survive.

 

He would dive into waterfalls and scale a hundred stone walls if that's what it took to escape the damned navy and find Molly. To return to his life, and the people he'd grown accustomed to, his ship and his sea. He would never bow or scrape to another bloody king again, or play the games of the spoiled aristos as he was forced to, now.

 

Jamie Moriarty understood that for Sherlock, anything, even execution, was preferable to living trapped and not being in control of his destiny and his gifts. Jamie defeated him from the grave, always one step ahead. The king, though enraged by Sherlock's insolence, was intrigued by the detective's brilliant deductions. It was the perfect solution- a way to deal with his nobles whom he was convinced were going to depose him. Sherlock's handling of the affair of the Spanish Papers years ago confirmed his genius, and Moriarty's final suggestion, that the king make a pet of the rebellious nobleman, was made after he closed in on Sherlock in the Caribbean.

 

Sherlock had no intention of cooperating, of course. Until they arranged a sumptuous private dinner, and Sherlock arrived to find his mother the scholar sitting at the table, bespectacled and bored, chatting uncomfortably with King George. The king insisted she stay as his guest, and his personal guards looked after her well-being in the palace suite she was assigned.

 

That the guards could harm as well as protect was made very clear to Sherlock the first time he tested George's resolve in the matter. The morning after he'd tried to free his mother from her suite so they could both escape, the king delighted in showing him the fresh bruises someone had made on his mother's face.

 

Sherlock had no choice but to acquiesce, and remain by the king's side, entertaining him by showing off his skills while silently raging inside. They permitted him to visit his mother once a week for ten minutes.

 

During his one visit, Mycroft swore he could take of the situation in time, but begged for Sherlock's patience, since George had threatened again to strip the Holmes family of their entailed fortunes, estates and titles. All would be bankrupted if Sherlock failed to obey.

 

He didn't care one whit for the money and the large houses, beautiful, cold and empty, scattered around England. Damn the fortunes of the Holmeses, and damn Mycroft to perdition for failing to protect their mother. He would never trust Mycroft to look after her again.

 

And so Sherlock lived in his gilded cage, and plotted and waited.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The king ambled to his cushioned bench and waved to the musicians to play another tune. He was immediately surrounded by fawning sycophants.

 

Sherlock felt the noose of boredom slip around his neck as the music swelled anew in the ballroom.

 

The violinist is appalling. He should be keelhauled for torturing that piece. He worked himself into a temper, contemplating how many hours he would be subjected to subpar musicianship while the aristocracy mingled and snickered and made assignations behind their spouses' backs. Sherlock entertained himself by deducing the secrets of anyone who caught his attention.

 

He had just finished deducing the Countess of Bloomsbury's marital state, venereal disease, and what she had for supper when a flash of olive green silk swishing past the widow caught his eye.

 

Sherlock's eyes narrowed. He took a step forward.

 

The bottom few inches of a white dress and the female's slippers were visible beneath the hem of the olive green pelisse. The wearer's back was turned, and their upper half was obscured by the countess and a pair of columns in the Gothic Revival style. The expensive pelisse was knee-length, and the woman no doubt wore it since she had just arrived at the gala. Nothing interesting there.

 

What caught Sherlock's attention were the worn shoes. Below the dress, the slippers peeking out from under the dress were far too plain for a royal ball, and they were wonderfully, gloriously familiar.

 

A mirage, he thought. A wish, an illusion, a dream. You have finally gone as mad as they say you are.


He glanced back at the king happily surrounded by kneeling lords, and plied well with red wine. He caught the old man's eye, and gestured toward the throng of dancers, growing more chaotic as the spirits flowed. Sherlock winked at George, and tilted his head toward a pack of young females. Understanding, the king snickered, and waved him on.

 

Sherlock swallowed hard. What if he was wrong?

 

He hopped off the elevated seating area by the king, and strolled across the floor. He ignored sultry lingering looks from passing women and men, and wove through the crowd, searching. He had circled the large room twice, and was beginning to believe he had fooled his own eyes, when he saw the small figure exiting a side door, covered in a hooded olive green pelisse.

 

His heart began to pound in earnest as he hurried through the sweating bodies of the aristocracy, avoiding coming too near to George's guards.

 

He ducked out the side door that led to a hall running parallel to the ballroom. He darted around the hall, spying no one but a giggling drunken couple groping each other as they staggered out onto a portico. A half dozen small chambers and alcoves led off the passage. It was an ideal place for an assignation, if that was what the woman had intended. Perhaps she was simply off to meet a lover, and the out-of-place footwear was a coincidence.

 

He yanked at his ornate cravat in frustration, cursing and opening doors. Every room was empty and silent as he stormed up and down the hallway.

 

He stuck his head into the last room, a rarely used study, and found no signs of life. Sherlock backed out of the room-

 

And into a warm body, connected to soft arms that slid around his waist.

 

He spun around, his heart in his throat, and looked into smiling brown eyes peering out from under the pelisse hood, her brown hair neatly tucked back underneath. She opened up her mouth to speak, and hadn't uttered a single syllable before she was in his arms.

 

With a near sob, he swept her into a tight embrace and covered her mouth with his.

 

"Molly, Molly." Between kisses, all he could say was her name, the reality of her scent and her softness enveloping him, knocking him senseless.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


She laughed against his mouth. "Sherlock, into the room now, before someone sees!" Without a word, he dragged her into the darkened study, kissing her breathless again, his hands tugging at the clasps of her pelisse.

 

Molly swatted away his hands impatiently, and then reached for the clasp herself. "I know, I know," she whispered, and tears shone in her eyes. "But we have to go. There will be time for that later- and some explanations. We've got to hurry, John and Melas are waiting upstairs-"

 

Sherlock ripped the neckcloth off entirely, throwing it on the floor. He ran his hands through his wild curls in frustration.

 

My god, how I've missed that gesture, Molly thought. And was he always this pale? He'd always been light-skinned, but his time as a prisoner had sapped the hue from his skin, leaving him white and hollow-cheeked.

 

"I can't go, they have my mother. But you're alive." He cupped her face with his large hands, and for a few silent seconds, his eyes drifted over her face. She had the sense that he was memorizing every detail, as though they would be parted for months again.

 

Sherlock pushed her hood back and wrapped his hand around her head, holding her close for another kiss.

 

As he dipped his mouth to hers, Molly surprised him by pushing back against his chest. She wanted to sink into him, run her hands over every inch of him, to be certain he was really there, but she couldn't. The plan depended on precise timing.

 

"Sherlock, I told you there's no time! We've a carriage ready and we can get to the Hudson quickly. The diversion is in place, and the chase out of London will be minimal. And we can get your mother."


He straightened up, and she saw a spark of hope in his eyes. "The guards have standing orders to shoot her if someone tried to break her out again. How have you circumvented that? There can be no room for error."

 

Molly stepped back and turned around. She withdrew a small satchel from her coat, pushed the pelisse off her shoulders and let it drop to the floor. She reached for the hem of her white dress, and tugged it over her head. Underneath the dress, she wore britches that hugged her bottom and a very loose man's shirt. She pulled a pair of leather shoes from the satchel, and stuffed her old slippers into the sack.

 

"What do you think we've been doing for the past two months we were back in London? Melas led us to Mycroft, and he told us what happened to you. Finding ways to get you out was easy, it seems like they barely watch you, but your mother, well that took work." She rambled as she adjusted the legs of her trousers. "One of the guards were easily bribed- John and I figured out that he has a gambling problem. He'll absent himself at the correct moment, but not before drugging the fellow he stands with on the outer door with a concoction we whipped up. Don't worry, it won't kill him," Molly reassured him, inwardly praying that her calculations for the formula were correct. The tests had been successful, but reality didn't have laboratory conditions.

 

"Oh I wasn't worried about a guard being killed," he replied with a shrug.

 

Molly scooped up the pelisse, wrapped it around her again and secured the clasp. She stuffed the dress into her sack. "We bribed a maid for the layout of the chambers in that wing. John is waiting upstairs for us, with our Greek friend. Getting in and out was easy with the grand gala, so we waited for the event to happen."

 

She gathered up the satchel. "As for the third guard…when I was exploring your lab closet on the Hudson, looking for something we could use, I found a colorless, odorless organic compound labeled 'sweet oil of vitriol.' I read your notes, and experimented with it, and found that in very small doses it creates unconsciousness in a human with little to no side effects."

 

Sherlock's eyes widened, but she also saw interest there. "That is a dangerous substance. You shouldn't be in my lab. I was testing oil of vitriol to see if it would serve as a new kind of anesthetic for surgeries."

 

"I have studied some chemistry, Sherlock," she reminded him. "And I was careful. I had two months to plot ways to save you, not to mention we had almost no defenses when we ran from Jamaica. The vitriol works as a sort of gas vapor. We've contained three vials worth- throw them to the floor near the guard, wait for him to breathe the fumes, and he'll pass out quickly. It works. We're going to save your mother, and never come back to this damned place!"

 

Molly stuck two guns from the satchel into her belt and then turned around to face Sherlock.

 

He looked down at himself, in his elegant aristocratic clothing. With a grin, he reached up and tore the high collar off, tossing it on top of the neckcloth on the floor. He clasped Molly's hand, and she gripped his in turn.

 

Now it begins, she thought, anxiety churning in her belly.

 

They exited the study, wincing as the bright light of the hall hit their eyes.

 

Sherlock glanced left and right, confirming the area was deserted. He slipped his arm around her, and said softly in her ear, "I trust you, Molly, but if something happens, let me be taken, you get my mother out of-"

 

As he leaned into her, he encountered a firmness between their bodies. He frowned and looked down.

 

"Right. I was wondering when you would notice that." Molly's cheeks turned pink, and under her pelisse, she smoothed her hands over the slight swell of her belly that the loose shirt and her overcoat had hidden from view.

 

"It was dark in there," Sherlock said blankly, staring. She could practically feel the racing circuits of his mind come to a standstill as he reached forward and cupped her stomach.

 

Her belly was surprisingly hard, and her waist had thickened noticeably since he'd held her last. She was adjusting to the changes in her body, the fascinating shifts in her shape, the way her equilibrium had been affected and how the simplest tasks were now complex. She and Sherlock had never discussed children, and she waited in trepidation for his reaction.

 

Maybe he doesn't want a baby to hamper his freedom…


Molly chewed her lip. "I'm not very big yet. I think in the next month is when I'll be…" She mimed a large mound over her abdomen. "I don't think we have time to talk about this now. But I couldn't leave you in here while I had our baby, we need you."

 

Sherlock shook himself out of his shock. He stroked the smooth roundness of her abdomen as he kissed her softly.

 

"This is…a surprise. Though it does seem like an interesting process worth observing."

 

"It really is. I'll tell you all about it later."

 

"Good. Now, isn't it about time for you to save me, Dr. Hooper?"

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


They flew through the halls of the palace, dodging the guards who were woefully predictable in their patrolling patterns and stations. Sherlock had memorized them all before his first escape attempt.

 

As they neared his mother's suite, Molly pulled him toward a room, pointing at a blue door. "That's the one," she whispered, tapping on the door twice and then three more times in rapid succession.

 

One blue eye peered out cautiously from the crack between the door and the jamb, and then the door swung open.

 

"Bloody hell, it's good to see you." John beamed and clapped his friend on the back. He looked back and said, "It's them."

 

Melas popped out of the room and stuffed two pistols in Sherlock's hands. "Your lady mother waits, yes? Reunions will come later. Lead the way, doctor."

 

They turned the corner and approached his mother's suite. The guard outside paced nervously and jumped when he saw them near.

 

"He's out," he whispered, tilted his head toward the door. "Plopped right on the ground like you said. He's breathing. Once you pass through this room, the inner chamber's the next door straight in." The guard's eyes darted frantically up and down the hallway. He straightened his jacket and hurried off, out of sight.

 

"He'll sound the cry for help after he comes back from- erm, relieving himself. That's our window of time," Molly explained. She opened the outer door, and all four noted the drooling uniformed man passed out on the carpet.

 

That left only one more guard inside, the one with the standing orders to kill his mother should Sherlock escape. Everything rode on the perfect execution of Molly's plan.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


"I have it all worked out," she said in low tones as she drew the three vials of vitriol from her satchel. "First, we'll create a small distraction to draw him away from your mother. We can't have her knocked out by the vapors, carrying her would slow us down a lot. Then carefully we'll-"

 

Sherlock snatched the vials from her hand and strode to the door. He pounded on it, and waited for a response from the guard within.

 

"What?"

 

"Need you to watch the front, gotta have a slash," Sherlock barked in an accent completely unlike his own, an uncanny imitation of the first guard they had encountered. The sound of footsteps neared the door.

 

"What the hell you on about, we've got our orders-" The man began as the door opened. He never finished the sentence, as Sherlock smashed the vials of vitriol directly against his face. The guard dropped to the floor, coughing and dropping his weapon. The potent vapors began to rise, knocking the man out completely mere seconds after he hit the floor. Molly and Melas backed away from the area.

 

"That wasn't the plan!" Molly shouted.

 

Sherlock leaped over the guard and into the room. "Your plan was taking too long to explain. This one is working superbly." He smiled at something within the room out of Molly's sight and then extended a hand.

 

"Fetch your spectacles, Mummy. It's time to go home."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The carriage bounced madly through the streets of London, overcrowded with Molly, Melas and John on the seats, and Sherlock and his mother crouched on the tiny floor space. It was dark outside but they didn't want to take any chances of being spotted.

 

Molly was struck, as she was when she first saw the lithograph of Mummy, how different she was from her son. The almond-shaped green-blue eyes were there, and she saw a suggestion of Sherlock's defined upper lip in his mother's face as well. But the woman was short, with mellow bone structure and fair hair touched with grey around the temples. Her face was round and sweet, and her eyes swam behind spectacles. She hadn't said a word since being shoved into the carriage by the group as they fled the palace. Molly smiled at her, and the older woman returned it shyly.

 

John grinned as the carriage lurched violently around a corner, speeding toward the docks. "Hardly any problems at all, yeah?"

 

"Not so far. Kept my ship in one piece while I was occupied elsewhere?"

 

"More or less. Bad patch of storms when we crossed the Atlantic again, but we came through alright. Didn't keep Molly from being ill most of the time."

 

"You try being with child when you're on a ship for months at a time! The swaying, oh my heavens, my stomach was a trial in the first few months. The sickness stopped not long after we made port in London. I'm sure you don't want to hear about this," Molly said, hoping Sherlock's mother wasn't offended by the frank discussion of her pregnancy.

 

Lady Holmes patted her son's hand, and smiled. "Mycroft was delightful to carry, but this one made me ill the entire nine months. He was always difficult." She squeezed his hand, and Sherlock sighed. He feigned annoyance, but Molly saw the upward curl of his lips when his mother spoke.

 

"Sherlock?"

 

"Yes, Mummy?" Sherlock winced as another sudden turn threw him into the edge of the seat.

 

"This is the young lady you told me of during your visits to my suite?"

 

"Yes, she's mine." His eyes met Molly's, and then wandered down to her belly.

 

"You will be marrying her, will you not? We are modern-minded, the Holmeses, but the child should have your name."

 

"Yes, I'm going to marry her, Mummy." He paused. "I meant to do it properly, and ask. " He turned around from his crouching place on the floor. "Molly, will you be my wife? I know you have a life with your father and your role in his medical practice, but that doesn't mean you can't marry me. I know I said some things about him before, but if it's important to you, we could-"

 

"Oh stuff it, you silly man," Molly said with a laugh. She leaned down and pressed her mouth to his. "Do you think I'd plot this escape and steal you out from under a king's power if I didn't plan on keeping you?" She curled her hand around his neck. "My father is with your brother, of all places. He hasn't had wine or ale in months." Her eyes sparkled with tears.

 

"With my brother? Why on earth didn't he mention it?"

 

"Because you had already decided he was the villain of this piece, my love. He gave us the money for the bribes. He was planning to wait to help you and your mother escape, yes, but once he saw we were resolute, he agreed to help finance it. When we last saw him, he was taking action to protect your family's finances and position. I'm not sure why he's helped Papa, but he's…" Molly bit her lip. "He's almost like the man I remember from when I was child, before Mama died. He's been treating poor families in the village near Mycroft's summer estate, for the past four months. And he's not coming back to London. No more practice here, though I will miss it. Terribly so. But we're living our own lives now. I want you to meet him someday soon."

 

Sherlock's mouth dropped open and a deep wrinkle appeared between his eyes.

 

Mummy laughed softly. "You never can be certain of Mycroft's motivations. He's like his late father that way. A brilliant man, cunning with people and finances. Sherlock is more like me, an explorer and a learner."

 

Lady Holmes reached for Molly's hand, and clasped it to Sherlock's. "I'm not quite certain what transpired in the last six months, but you must tell me one day soon. I've the feeling that this has been a grand adventure."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


John threw a handful of coins at their driver and they ran across the docks, searching out the Hudson's simple sails. The ship's name had been painted over, and the smoky sky over the Thames was starless and black.

 

"Oi!" a voice called as they neared the end the wharf. Sherlock pulled up short when he spotted the source of the sound.

 

"Anderson?"

 

The rat-faced sailing master deployed the gangplank, and John and Melas escorted the women aboard. Sherlock swore and pointed accusingly. "Completely different knot-tying styles on the ropes- meaning you've hired a mostly new crew since Jamaica- and yet you kept Anderson?"

 

John rolled his eyes as they tugged on the ropes to pull the plank back up. "You might think he's the biggest arsehole to sail the Atlantic, but we needed him. You may not want to believe it, but he's actually rather a good navigator. Complain later, Sherlock, now is when we escape."

 

"Where's the bloody navy and the king's men and the local law? This is much less exciting than our usual getaways, John." Sherlock frowned at the calm city streets around the docks. His mother stepped carefully around the clear deck, taking in the details of the pirate ship with a bemused expression.

 

"I told you we had a diversion. The pirate Adler was sighted a few hours ago in English waters. Every able ship was sent after her." Molly giggled and slid an arm around his waist. He draped his around her shoulder, hugging her to him tightly. "She really has a soft spot for you, I think. She was more than happy to help. They'll never catch her. Donovan sends her regards to the crew."

 

Anderson huffed in disgust and tromped back to the crew's quarters.

 

"You thought of everything, didn't you." As the Hudson pulled out, drawing them safely away from London, Sherlock turned to face Molly and pulled her into an embrace. "If I'm not careful, you'll be captain of this ship soon instead of me."

 

"Eh actually…" John smirked.

 

"You're back!" Basil shouted, running down the deck. The boy threw himself at Sherlock and Molly, wrapping his arms around them both.

 

"Yes, we are," Sherlock said, ruffling the boy's hair. "And you are…startlingly clean. Did you fall into the sea? My god, I think you actually smell like soap."

 

Basil grinned. "I've been reading too. A bit. My sums are excellent, the captain says."

 

"The captain?" Sherlock's left eyebrow rose and he pursed his lips. "I see." And he did. The logical progression of events after his capture fitted together and he came to the only possible conclusion.

 

"Good to see you, Holmes." Greg came down from the forecastle, and offered his hand to Sherlock.

 

"Yes, delightful to see you as well, Captain Lestrade. You're responsible for…this?" He waved at Basil's clean hair. The boy's mischievous eyes bounced between the two men.

 

Greg's stubborn jaw jutted out. "Yeah I am. Told you, boys need discipline. And John agrees with me."

 

Sherlock's gaze slid to his friend. John nodded reluctantly and took his place beside Greg. Lady Holmes tilted her head to the side, contemplating the tense exchange with a faint air of amusement.

 

"Well there's only one thing to say then, is there." Sherlock gritted his teeth, stepped forward, and squinted at the former navy man.

 

"Thank you."

 

Lestrade froze. "What?"

 

Sherlock extended his hand now to Greg, who shook it automatically in his daze. "The Hudson is safe. You brought Molly back across the ocean to me, took care of Basil, and…" He caught John's eyes. "If you did for John only a tenth of what Molly has done for me, then I would still be grateful." He cleared his throat, looking slightly embarrassed.

 

John broke into a wide smile, and slipped his hand into Greg's strong grasp.

 

Sherlock stepped back, and pulled Molly close again with one arm, afraid to let her stray too far from him yet. He had a great deal of lost time to make up for, and they had a future together to prepare for.

 

"Are you sure you want to marry me, Molly Hooper? I promise I will try my best, but I'll never be easy."

 

Molly smiled. "I expect you'll keep me suitably entertained then. Are you sure you want to marry me, Sherlock Holmes?"

 

"Don't be absurd. Where on earth would I find another woman who was both doctor and pirate in one lovely package?" He touched his lips to hers, and they leaned into one another, their foreheads pressed together and their breathing in sync. After a moment of blissful quiet, Sherlock tilted his head to the side and glanced back at his ship's surgeon and the new captain.

 

"I do want to be clear though, Captain Lestrade… if you have tampered with any of my experiments while I was away, forget everything I said… I'm going to bloody keelhaul you."



EPILOGUE


A quiet two months' voyage brought the Hudson back through the Caribbean. After a quick negotiation with the previous owner, Sherlock purchased a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico with the remains of the funds that Mycroft had set aside for their mother's relocation. It was in American waters, not far from Louisiana territory, and the Americans didn't care about a pirate that only the English wanted.

 

Sherlock was enraged that his brother had left Mummy in the king's hands for months, but he understood that the money was in part an apology. He swore at the mention of Mycroft's name for months, but that habit faded after a very sober and optimistic Matthias Hooper joined them on their island a year later. Mycroft would always be a git, but he had made Molly happy by helping her father save himself.

 

Only a week after they arrived at their new home, Molly found herself being loaded onto the ship again. They docked in Kingston just long enough for Sherlock to pay an English magistrate to marry them and to not mention the marriage to anyone. In a rare fit of awareness, Sherlock apologized for the lack of festivities surrounding their nuptials.

 

"Oh Sherlock, I'm big as a house now," Molly said, cradling her belly. "And besides, I've always hated parties. I was so lonely at those affairs. The only decent one I ever attended, some bloody pirate stole me from it." She gave him a cheeky grin, and asked her husband to bring her back to their island. She would always love sailing and the sea that Sherlock had introduced her to, but their baby needed a permanent place to be born and call home.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


After installing their friends on their island in a small but sturdily built house, John and Lestrade chose to remain on board the Hudson, refitting the ship for legal trading enterprise and splitting the profits with the Holmeses. Basil decided to stay with them and continue his education with the help of the captain, the surgeon, and some of the interesting books Molly had left behind on board. The day Basil picked up Fanny Hill and actually understood its contents was the day that John and Lestrade decided that the boy had progressed enough to consider university in a few years.

 

Basil refused. The ship was his home, the only place he'd ever been happy after his rough upbringing in the streets of London. He insisted on staying with John and Lestrade, stating that they were the only parents he actually remembered, and he'd be damned if he abandoned them.

 

John and Lestrade were what Sherlock referred to as "disgustingly, boringly content" with their life on the Hudson. The only serious argument occurred when, at fifteen, Basil decided it was time to take a last name and they couldn't decide whose he should use.

 

They resolved the disagreement when Basil said he would simply take both names. Then naturally, there was an argument over whose name came first, but they settled that far more amicably- with a coin toss.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Molly gave birth a month later to a healthy baby girl named Nora Marianne Holmes, delivered by her father's best friend and his mother, and a midwife that Sherlock had hired from New Orleans. The second child, born a year and a half later, was much easier to deliver as his grandfather Matthias was there to catch the boy as his mother labored and pushed him into the world.

 

"What's this little one to be named?" Matthias crooned as he washed the blood off the baby and wrapped him in a soft blanket. He bounced the bundle gently. Lady Holmes had chosen to remain with Nora on the beach of their island while Molly screamed in labor.

 

"I- I don't know," Sherlock stuttered, in awe that his indomitable wife had once again produced a perfect tiny human being with minimal help from himself. He sat in the rocking chair by his and Molly's bed, and Matthias laid the babe on his chest. His long arms cradled the boy anxiously.

 

"You choose the name, darling. I named Nora, it's your turn." Molly's voice was sleepy. The maid brought a bowl of soup from the kitchen, and began to feed her.

 

"I'm not creative, Molly. I never know what to name things." He shrugged and his eyes widened as his son whimpered from the movement. Sherlock gingerly touched the tuft of black hair on the newborn's head.

 

"Don't be creative. Be honest."

 

Sherlock nodded, unable to move his gaze from the little boy, whose eyes were distinctly catlike in shape. "Fine. Hudson. Hudson Matthias Holmes."

 

Molly smiled and swallowed another spoonful of soup dutifully.

 

"Oh." Her father stood up, suddenly abashed. "I…oh." He sat back down. "You don't have to. I know I wasn't…I wasn't a proper father most of the time."

 

"Molly forgave you. She loves you, and you brought our son safely into the world. Now please stop weeping, Dr. Hooper."

 

The physician nodded, and did a poor job of drying his face. "Hudson after your ship. A strong name."

 

"It's where we fell in love. And the name of someone who was important to me when I was a child." He smoothed his thumb across his son's cheek, noting how the child's mouth puckered up and began to root for milk. "Is that…is that choice suitable, Molly?"

 

"Yes, love. It's perfect. You understand, we will have to purchase another ship now and name it 'Nora' so that his big sister is not jealous when she's old enough to sail."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


Late in 1810, King George III of England fell gravely ill. His body wracked in pain, his vision gone and his sanity in tatters, the need for a regency was accepted. In 1811, George III stepped aside and his son ruled in his stead. The king would live another nine years, but his reign of madness had come to an end.

 

The fortunes of the Holmes family were restored entirely, and the Crown Prince, who would one day rule as George IV, expressed his gratitude for the long friendship and patience of the Earl of Warwick.

 

Sherlock Holmes was pardoned of all crimes, and welcomed to return to the British Isles if he so chose to. As far as the Crown was concerned, he had never stepped outside the law when he sailed, and the sordid mess of his exile had been wiped from the records.

 

"So they're saying you were never a pirate?" Molly asked. She closed the door to her children's bedroom gently, and joined her husband in the parlor.

 

"Bollocks to that," he replied, dragging his wife down onto his lap.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

They did visit England though, and returned Lady Jane Holmes to the Warwick estate. She loved spending time in the gulf studying the native flora, but England was home. Molly and Sherlock discussed the possibility of returning to England permanently, but as long as they would not permit women to study or practice medicine, there was little point in remaining there. She was better off working and studying with her father when he treated people on the surrounding small islands. Ships often anchored by their island, having heard that the best doctors to be found were there, and willing to treat anyone who truly needed help.

 

The tension between Sherlock and Mycroft remained, despite his pardon and his mother's easy forgiveness of her older son's failure to save her from the king's palace prison.

 

Tearful goodbyes were said as they departed the Warwick estate, and Mummy slipped a piece of paper in Sherlock's hand as she kissed him on the cheek.

 

"You've never understood each other, not truly, which is strange because you are so alike. But he does what is best for all, not for his own wishes- even when it hurts him. He loves you." She squeezed his hand again, and waved farewell as the carriage door closed, and Sherlock rode away with his small family.

 

"What is it?" Molly asked, trying in vain to amuse her cranky toddlers in the bumpy carriage.

 

Sherlock opened the paper, and frowned at Mycroft's familiar handwriting. "An address."

 

"Whose?"

 

A ghost of a smile touched his lips. "We have one stop to make in London before we embark on the Nora."

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~


The carriage rolled to a stop in a busy street in the north end of London. Molly climbed out, and her husband passed her their children.

 

"Mmm, smells lovely here." Molly scanned the row of buildings in front of her.

 

"It's the bakery," Sherlock responded, pointing.

 

The shop was closed at the moment, but a glass window displayed rows of fresh-baked cakes, with thick loaves of bread piled on a platter. He pointed at the narrow door next to the bakery, and Molly guided the children to it.

 

Sherlock took a deep breath, and rapped on the solid wooden door.

 

After a minute, it opened slightly, and a woman with grey-flecked brown hair peeked out.

 

"Yes? Who is-Oh." The woman threw the door open and clapped a hand over her mouth. "I would never forget those eyes, not as long as I live."

 

"You changed your name back?"

 

"Oh, the baker was atrocious, and he ran off. I always liked my first married name better, anyhow. Got rid of the baker's name and kept the bakery." She winked, and pulled Sherlock into a hug. "How on earth did you find me, Sherlock?"

 

He smiled briefly, and Molly looked between the two of them in confusion. "Sherlock?"

 

"Pardon me, ladies. May I present my wife, Molly Hooper Holmes, and our children." He turned to Molly, and she saw a deep well of unspoken emotion in his warm blue-green eyes.

 

"Molly…it gives me the greatest pleasure to introduce you to an old friend of mine- Martha Hudson."


The End