Trying to coordinate two schedules for a week's holiday was difficult.
Trying to coordinate two schedules and a recalcitrant third party who didn't see the point in a holiday was downright impossible.
"I have handcuffs," said Greg, and he tried to make it sound like a threat.
"No, you don't," said Sherlock from the couch, where he stretched out lazily, bare feet on the armrest and head propped up on a pillow. Greg and John stood over him, arms crossed, like a pair of lions guarding a museum. Or thugs. Perhaps thugs. Neither looked particularly happy, but then, neither did the lions at the British Museum. And anyway, Sherlock couldn’t have cared less about Greg looking happy with him at the moment. John was another matter entirely.
“I’ll hide your laptop,” said John. “And before you say you’d use mine, I’m taking it with me.”
"I’ll borrow Mrs Hudson’s ," said Sherlock, and scratched idly at the nicotine patch on his arm. "I fail to see the attraction in unnecessary and messy complications of driving in unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar hotel accommodation, and not even the anticipation of an unfamiliar murder to solve. What could possibly be there that you can't find here? Unless there are bees. Are there bees?"
"That’s the point, Sherlock," said Greg, in the tone he used when Sherlock was being particularly childish. "We don't know. We'd like to find out."
"I don't see why I should stop you."
"Because," said John, "we'd like you to come with us."
"I will be utterly miserable and you will throw me into the sea."
"Probably," acknowledged John. "But that's what romantic holidays are about, aren't they?"
Sherlock made a face. "Romantic?"
Greg sighed, and leaned over Sherlock; it was clear he had lost his grip on patience. "John and I have rearranged our schedules and taken time off work. We have been looking forward to this trip for weeks – months, really, if you count the fact that we were supposed to take this holiday last spring and had to cancel at the last minute.”
“You could have gone,” said Sherlock, a bit sulkily.
“No, we couldn’t have,” said Greg. “Because it wasn’t just me and John anymore. It was me and John and you. You're coming with us, even if I have to use those handcuffs you don’t think I have in a much less entertaining manner than you'd like and stuff you in the boot of the car myself. Am I making myself clear?"
Sherlock gave Greg a sharp, barely disguised look of annoyance. "Perfectly," he said calmly, though with gritted teeth. "May I ask when we leave?"
John shook his head, and half wished that Greg would teach him that trick. Maybe it would work when it came time to clean out the fridge.
"We leave on Friday afternoon," said Greg.
"You'll do your own packing," warned John.
"I'll be sure to bring the necessary woolly undergarments and appropriate amounts of lube," said Sherlock dryly.
"Fantastic," sighed Greg.
October was not exactly peak tourist season for the Isle of Wight, but it was the only time that both Greg and John could get a week's worth of leave at the same time. The trade-off was that both of them would need to work through the Christmas holidays, but somehow this was tempered by the prospect of a week away from London and everything London brought with it.
Please don't let there be a murder, please don't let there be a murder, please don't let there be a murder, though John desperately all Friday morning. Greg arrived at 221B at noon, the rental car packed to the nines and a cheery expression on his face, and John modified his prayer to include a wish for lack of traffic. It took another hour before Sherlock was ready to leave, mostly because he insisted on giving Mrs. Hudson precise instructions on which of his experiments were not to be touched, and which needed stroking midway through the week.
One look at Sherlock’s scowling face, and John began to regret having Sherlock along, not because he didn’t want his company, but because there was every chance that if they found a murder, it would be because Sherlock had committed it, and Greg was the body in question.
“This is a bad idea,” he told Greg as they loaded the boot.
“I have to bring the vegetables, God knows what we’ll find on the island,” said Greg, completely missing the point.
“This is a bad idea,” John told Sherlock, who was searching under the sofa cushions for something, Christ knew what.
“I’ve been saying that for a week, but no one listens to me,” complained Sherlock, and stormed into the bedroom.
“This is a bad idea,” John told Mrs Hudson, who was still whirling from the litany of instructions from Sherlock.
“Don’t be silly, dear, I can look after a few test tubes for a week,” said Mrs Hudson, and patted John on the cheek. “Have a lovely holiday and don’t worry about a thing.”
By the time they actually left, John was wishing for a lack of murders, traffic, thunderstorms, last-minute telephone calls, epidemics of flu, body parts tucked into the outside pockets of Sherlock's alarmingly small overnight bag, and a plethora of patience.
"John, I need your laptop," said Sherlock, sprawled out in the backseat of the car. It was too small for his legs, but he’d refused to sit in front upon learning that Greg had no intention of letting him drive or navigate.
"My laptop is in the boot."
"Why did you put it there? I have work to do."
“Why didn’t you bring yours?”
“I did. I’d like to use yours instead.”
"It's a holiday, Sherlock," said Greg, eyes on the road. His shoulders were hunched and tense; John half wanted to reach over and rub them. "You're not meant to be doing work, you're meant to be relaxing. Christ, stay in your own lane!"
"I thought holidays were meant to be enjoyable."
"They are, generally," said John, trying not to watch Greg drive. He added car crashes to the list of things he was praying about and kept his eyes firmly on the road ahead. Not that it helped.
"Listening to Greg curse at the traffic is not enjoyable."
"Was that to me, or the motorcycle which just cut you up?"
"In that case, I can't speak for the motorcyclist, but John would be happy to oblige. I would be quite willing to drive in your place whilst we accomplish your objective."
"Sherlock," groaned John.
"Oh, all right. Pull over, I’ll join in as well."
"Shut up, Sherlock."
“Christ, did that tosspot even look before he nearly sideswiped me?”
Sherlock huffed and crossed his arms.
"John, I require your laptop."
"I told you, it's in the boot."
"Then I require your mobile."
"You call that indicating a turn?" shouted Greg.
"Did you pack anything to eat?"
John turned around in his seat to stare at Sherlock. "Wait. Are you saying you're hungry?"
"Are you saying you packed food?"
"It's a three-hour drive and we only just had lunch, of course not," said John.
"Pity," said Sherlock. "I might have wanted to eat something."
Greg snorted, and John glared at him.
"I changed my mind," said John. "Let's drop him in the nearest ditch and go on without him."
"Please. No. Don't," said Sherlock.
"He's only doing this to annoy you, love," said Greg. "He wants us to drop him in the nearest ditch so he can crawl back to Baker Street."
"It's working," snapped John.
"I bet he didn't even pack any clothes in that sack of his," continued Greg.
"Well, one," said Sherlock, in the very low tone guaranteed to do lovely twisty things to both Greg and John's insides.
It worked. The two men glanced at each other, and then quickly glanced back at the road.
"Just to let you know," said John evenly. "Right now, I don't like either of you very much."
"What did I do?" asked Greg.
"Suggested we bring him."
"You'd like me better if you'd given me your laptop," said Sherlock.
"Because then I would have been quiet all this time."
"Pulling over now," said Greg.
Sherlock spent the next hour typing, chuckling madly to himself, and asking John pointed questions about various files saved in his documents. After the hour, John's laptop ran out of power, and he slammed it shut.
“Bored,” he announced. The only reaction was a grunt from Greg, and an eyeroll from John.
“Did you know,” began Sherlock, “there are 244 types of tobacco ash?”
Silence. And then: “I thought it was 243,” said John.
Greg groaned. “John. Why.”
“I’ve found a new one,” said Sherlock, rising to the bait, and started in on a lengthy and chemically detailed explanation of what made the 244th type of tobacco ash distinct from the first 243.
"Sherlock," said Greg near the two-hour mark, "if you don't shut your gob, I'm going to leave you by the side of the road, and it's a very long, very cold walk back to London from here."
Sherlock sighed loudly and looked out the window.
"Are we there yet?"
John stifled a laugh.
"Laugh, go on," said Greg. "This is your fault."
"How is it my fault?"
"You didn't charge your laptop."
"I did. I don't know why it didn't last more than an hour."
"Logging onto the internet takes up a great deal of battery power," explained Sherlock.
"Sherlock, we're in the middle of nowhere, there's no internet here."
"If you don't know Mycroft's passwords to the government system, perhaps."
"Is the government going to be tracking my laptop now?"
"What do you mean, now?" quipped Greg.
There was silence from the backseat.
"I was joking," said Greg.
"I wasn't," said Sherlock.
"Greg, pull over."
John groaned and banged his head against the dashboard.
“A headache is no way to start a holiday, John.”
“Sherlock? Shut up.”
It was an hour-long wait to drive onto the ferry to the Isle of Wight, during which time Greg and John hunkered in the car with cups of coffee and tea respectively. Sherlock fetched their drinks, but elected to remain outside despite the light rain. He paced up and down the road, shoulders slightly hunched over, deep in thought. As the line of cars was barely moving, his pacing was not much of a problem.
Well, he called it pacing. John called it a welcome relief.
"Remind me why this was a good idea," he said to Greg while they watched Sherlock stride to the far end of the cars, his coat billowing out behind him. Between the rain and the fog and the grey light, he looked like something out of a film noir Hollywood tale.
“We needed to get out of London,” said Greg.
“No, I meant—“ John sighed and held tight to the tea. “I don’t know. You’ve done this before. Greg. Is this…I mean, are we doing all of this the right way? Maybe we’re trying to do too much together, too fast. Maybe we should be moving slower—”
“Stop,” said Greg quickly. “I haven’t done a relationship like this before. And you’re acting as if there’s a list of rules to follow. There’s no rulebook, John. I’m not a triad expert.”
“You’re more the expert than either of us.”
“That doesn’t make me the authority.”
Greg put down the coffee cup and shifted in his seat to look at John. “Is that how you see me? I’m the leader and you and Sherlock just follow along?”
“No. No. John – I’m not the one who pulled us here.”
“So this is all my fault?” asked John bitterly.
“It’s no one’s fault, John,” said Greg firmly. “There’s no fault at all. We came into this with eyes wide open. You included. Don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts.”
John closed his eyes. “No. No. Never. No.”
John’s eyes sprang open. “Just…it was a shite week. And I’m tired.”
“That’s why this holiday is a good idea,” said Greg. “We need to learn to lean on each other again.”
John nodded, and looked for Sherlock, out on the pier. “Wish he wasn’t being such a wanker about it.”
“He didn’t take it well,” said Greg, following John’s gaze.
“The holiday or last week?” snorted John.
John drummed his fingers against his leg. “Have you talked to him? Since last week?”
“No,” said Greg shortly.
“I know that. I’ve tried. He tunes me out, every time I bring it up. You saw him, he won’t say a civil word to me.”
John’s head fell back against the headrest. “I should have stayed at home, let the two of you have some time together.”
“No,” said Greg harshly, and then he sighed. “Sherlock would never have agreed to come if you stayed at home. I need you here. We both do, or we’re going to kill each other.”
John chuckled. “Talk to him. Please. I don’t want to spend the entire week between you two.”
Greg nodded, and stared out the window, eyes searching for Sherlock. “He’s not even angry. He’s just…cold.”
“Oh, he’s angry,” said John. “But I don’t think he knows if he’s angry at you or himself.”
“Angry at me?” asked Greg, and frowned. Sherlock appeared through the mist, on the far end of the line of cars.
John swallowed the last of his tea. “Remind me why we’re letting him take it out on us.”
"He's really good in bed."
Sherlock stopped, knocked on a car window, and when the window rolled down, a plume of cigarette smoke billowed out. He breathed in deeply, straightened, and kept moving on.
"He's mildly entertaining," Greg tried again.
Sherlock reached the end of the cars, turned abruptly, glared at the rain as if it was a personal attack, and began stalking back toward them. John could picture small children and animals fleeing before him.
"He would have burned down Baker Street if we'd left him behind."
"That's the ticket," said John.
With a quick flick of his wrist, Sherlock turned his coat collar up around his ears.
"Oh," said John faintly. "Right."
"You were saying about a ticket?" asked Greg, amused.
"As if you weren't thinking the same thing."
Greg grinned and took a sip of his coffee. "Yeah."
"It's the English Channel," said Sherlock, his voice dripping with disgust.
"Oh, he's clever," said Greg.
"It's October. Isn't one meant to go somewhere warm in October?"
"Greg and I will be warm enough," said John. "Seeing as how we brought clothes."
"I have a coat."
"Congratulations," said John dryly.
"We're driving south. Why are we driving south?"
"Because that's where we're staying," said Greg patiently. "On the south of the island. In a house. On a beach."
"You need to look at the calendar more often. This is not beach weather."
"You wear your coat in July, you wouldn't know beach weather if it bit you on the arse," said John.
"All right then, Beach Weather," said Sherlock, addressing John, "tell me what we're meant to do at a beach house in October? Other than not go to the beach?"
"Slow, isn't he?" said Greg.
Sherlock snorted, and slumped further down in the back seat, so that he didn't see as Greg turned off the main road and onto the narrow gravel access road leading to what he assumed was their place of residence for the next week. He bounced around on the back seat, hoping it wasn't going to be a long way on the gravel. It wasn't; within minutes, the car rolled to a stop.
"We're here," said Greg, switching off the car. "And it's even stopped raining, how's that for luck?"
Sherlock waited as Greg and John got out of the car and started unloading the boot. He kept his arms crossed, determined not to show one tiny bit of interest in wherever Greg had brought them. Logically, he knew he’d have to get out of the car at some time. But he’d rather it not be on Greg’s schedule.
John poked his head into the car. "Sherlock, are you going to stop acting like a stroppy teenager and get out of the car?"
“Why are you being like this?”
“I have no idea what you mean.”
“Yes, you do. Look, Sherlock, I know last week was – difficult.”
“It had nothing to do with you,” said Sherlock through gritted teeth. “Leave off last week.”
John sighed, and rubbed his face. “Fine, if that’s what you want. But we’ve been planning this holiday for months and maybe we’re lucky that it happened now, because clearly you and Greg need a week to regroup and spend some time together and remember why the hell we’re so committed to making this relationship work. All right? And you behaving like an infant isn’t exactly making me feel like it has any potential.”
Sherlock didn’t say anything.
“Please. You don’t have to talk to Greg if you don’t want to. And there’s bound to be more than one bedroom—“
Sherlock’s stomach knotted at the thought of sleeping alone, while Greg and John were… “No.”
“Just get out of the car.” John’s voice was – broken, nearly. His tone was even, but Sherlock could hear the pleading underneath. Sherlock pressed his fingers together and closed his eyes.
John sighed. "Suit yourself."
John slammed the door shut, and Sherlock listened to Greg and John's footsteps on the gravel. For a moment, it felt like eavesdropping, as if John and Greg were on the holiday they’d planned back when he was dead, a lovers’ retreat to a romantic getaway. Dinners out, rambles on the beach, hand in hand beside a roaring fireplace. All the ridiculous romantic notions that he knew both John and Greg enjoyed. Touching each other shyly, and then increasingly bolder as they grew more confident in each other’s company.
But then, there’d never been a question of confidence, not between Greg and John. Sherlock was the one who’d been tacked on to the holiday, to their relationship, to everything. He half wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier to have never come back at all.
The footsteps faded, and the air in the car turned cold. Sherlock couldn’t wait; he scrambled to sit up and look out the car windows.
The house loomed before him, weathered grey stone with white shutters. Two storeys, rather small for a hotel or bed-and-breakfast, but pleasant enough. It was surrounded by a garden, the grass made all the greener by the recent rain, and a line of trees blocked the view of what surely was the sea on the other side. The gravel path led straight up to the front door, where John and Greg had their heads pressed together as they contemplated the door, fumbling with something.
Interesting. Not a hotel, after all. Sherlock glanced at the house again, and the surrounding grounds, his mind clicking away, cataloguing and fact-checking and for a moment, he slipped into his mind palace and emerged with a smile forming on his face, his hands already pushing to open the car door. He stood and shoved them in his pockets, and went to join his lovers with a casual, unconcerned gait.
"Oh, there he is," said Greg as John finally managed to push the door open. "Back seat not so comfortable?"
"It’s not your house.”
Greg snorted. "Yeah, because the Met pays me well enough to have a summer house on the Isle of Wight."
"Don't look at me," said John. "I can barely afford milk."
Sherlock strode into the house, sniffing. "It smells...clean."
"That's what houses smell like when their occupants don't conduct scientific experiments on the kitchen table," said John patiently. "Nice, isn't it?"
"I like it," said Greg. “Figured it out then, have you?”
"Obvious," said Sherlock. "There are signs of someone living here, but not in some time, and the décor is fairly generic, with few personal possessions in evidence. A holiday rental."
"That's better," said Greg, and he drew Sherlock close and kissed him on the cheek. Sherlock held himself tight and didn’t bat an eye. "Here you are, mate. An entire house of contents and scores of people who have stayed in it to deduce. You've got a week to tell us everything you can about who lives here and when and why. Have at it."
Sherlock's nostrils flared, and his eyes lit up.
"Happy Christmas," John added with a grin. “Bit early, don’t expect much in December.”
"Hmm," said Sherlock, but he didn't even bother to shed his coat before he went into the house, already fast at work.
Greg watched him go. “What’d you say to him?”
John shook his head. “Verbal kicking of the arse. Maybe we should have stayed in Baker Street.”
“None of that,” said Greg, and pulled John in for a kiss. “A change of scenery, remember. Neutral space.”
“Neutral,” agreed John, and rested his head against Greg’s chest for a moment. “He’s still upset.”
“He’ll get over it,” said Greg, but there wasn’t much confidence in the statement. “He just needs a distraction.”
John wasn’t so sure. “We should unpack the car before it starts to rain.”
“Wait,” said Greg, and putting his hand on John’s cheek, moved in for a longer kiss. John sighed into his mouth, but let Greg do the work. When Greg pulled away, John reached up and pressed his lips to the side of Greg’s mouth, and gave him a small smile.
“Sorry. For my strop in the car, and being such a prick—”
“We all are,” said Greg. “That’s why we’re here. Come on, let’s unpack the car.”
After the first load, Greg concentrated on unpacking and organizing the boxes of shopping and kitchen supplies, while John continued to hump luggage and boxes into the house. They didn't expect nor ask Sherlock to help, but every time John dropped another box in the hall, he could hear him exclaiming over some sort of clue, or moving furniture from one corner to the other, or tapping against the walls.
John had just brought in the last box, and Greg was halfway through putting the shopping away, when Sherlock appeared in the kitchen doorway, flush with excitement, still wearing his coat.
"This is the perfect house for a holiday," he announced, and Greg looked up from the fridge.
"All right," said Greg slowly. "I don't suppose this has anything to do with the king-size bed in the main bedroom."
"No, it has to do with the crime scene."
Greg stilled. "What crime scene?"
John swallowed. "Sherlock...what are you going on about?"
Sherlock grinned at them both, his earlier concerns set aside, though not forgotten. "There has been a murder. Brilliant holiday, Greg. This makes up for the lack of bees. Now where did you pack the latex gloves?"
It was somewhat anti-climactic, seeing the trunk in the attic, considering that John had visions of blood and hanging bodies and who knew what else. But there Sherlock crouched, latex gloves on his hands to protect the old newspaper clippings from any resident oils on his skin. Dried bits of lavender clung to the items, filling the air with its scent. Watching him unpack the trunk was a bit like watching a small child on Christmas morning.
"Listen to this," said Sherlock, and he began to read. "'Mrs Cecily Kinton was found dead of a bullet wound to her abdomen in her bedroom on Saturday morning. She was discovered by the maid when she did not come down to breakfast.'"
"The husband,” said John. He sat next to Sherlock, too curious about the contents of the trunk to stay away. “It’s always the husband.”
“Not true,” said Greg, who was somewhere in the back of the attic, poking around the cloth-covered bits of furniture. “Sometimes it’s the lover.”
“Married ladies a hundred years ago didn’t have lovers,” said John. “Especially not Victorian ladies.”
“What world do you live in?” asked Greg, amused.
“Burglary,” said Sherlock, scanning the article. “According to this, of course. But nothing was missing, according to the husband, and no one saw the burglar.”
“Is that her?” asked John, picking up a daguerreotype lying on the floor next to Sherlock.
“Yes,” said Sherlock with a quick glance.
The young woman in the daguerreotype wore a hat with a large ostrich feather on top of her bouffant-styled hair. She looked just to the left of the camera, a dreamy expression on her perfectly oval face.
There was a crash from the far end of the attic, and John straightened. "Greg?"
"Fine, I'm fine," Greg called back.
"Botched burglary,” said John. “Can’t be that uncommon, can it?"
"It happened here, in this very house," said Sherlock triumphantly.
"Oh, go on," Greg called. "This house can't be that old, the beams aren't more than thirty years old back here."
"I know you tend to miss the obvious, Greg, but did you happen to see the cornerstone when we pulled up the drive? The house has been standing since 1853. Wood can be replaced. Cornerstones, not quite so much."
"Right, sorry, I'll be sure to check the cornerstones the next time I rent a holiday house, shall I?"
"And anyway," added Sherlock. "There's a photograph of the house with the newspaper clippings, and the caption 'Location of Mysterious Death'."
“Ah, well, if the newspaper says the death is mysterious, clearly it must be so,” said John dryly.
"I need more data," said Sherlock, springing to his feet. "Greg! Is there an internet connection?"
"What, can't use Mycroft's secret network?"
"Never mind, I'll find it myself. Come along, John."
"To watch you surf the internet?"
"No, you're going to examine the rooms and determine which was Cecily's. Off we go."
“Let me know when you’re done, and I’ll have tea ready,” said Greg as he came out from the back of the attic, brushing the dust off his hands.
"Don’t be ridiculous, Greg - you're a detective inspector. Inspect the attic!" retorted Sherlock, and flew down the stairs to the lower levels of the house.
“This was supposed to be a holiday,” said Greg to the attic.
"This is your fault, you know," John said.
"How is it my fault?"
"You said Sherlock needed a distraction. And so you picked a house with a murder." John went down the stairs, stomping a little bit harder than was truly necessary.
"It's not like it was in the brochure!" Greg shouted after him, before ducking back into the depths of the attic. Maybe if he found a written confession, Sherlock would calm down and they could have a pleasant holiday.
He wasn't counting on it.