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Stars Above a Wine-Dark Sea

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"Victor?" Sherlock mumbled, his vision hazy. Was he awake, or dreaming? The problem of Chinese tobacco in a nutshell. Either way, there did appear to be three people standing in front of him, and none them looked like Victor.

He didn't think. The room was dim and he was very, very, very relaxed.

"No, Mr. Holmes, it's the press," one of the men said, the other two repeating his words, albeit more staggered.

"Oh," he said, watching the first man come closer. He was still sharp enough to defend himself, of course. Nonetheless, it was ever so much easier to lie back and watch the man rifle through his few belongings. Wouldn't find much in there, because despite what Mycroft said, Sherlock wasn't stupid. He had brought enough coin for a few hours relief of tension, and a cab home. No more, no less. The first man took him by the wrist and urged him upright, and from there, onto his feet. Wait, did he mean to stand? Why was he standing? Was he going somewhere? "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather stay here. This pallet is very comfortable."

It really was. It was a thin, soft pad covered with pink silk that was absolutely delightful on bare skin. The room was calming, too. The lighting was soft from oil lamps in wall sconces, and best of all, there wasn't a crowd of fellow dreamers. No, Miss Adler's was a wonderful establishment for the discerning gentleman, and the few ladies who had succumbed to the vice of smoking. Admittedly, those ladies also came here for other reasons that only Miss Adler could supply without fear of recrimination.

"Sorry, Mr. Holmes," said the man, who had abruptly coalesced into one person. He brought a pair of handcuffs from somewhere about his person and put them around Sherlock's wrists. "I've been paid good money to bring you aboard."

"Am I going on a trip?" asked Sherlock, stumbling over a gentleman who hadn't quite been able to make it to wherever he was going.

"You could say that."

The man's tone was gruff, but Sherlock could hear competing strains of annoyance and distaste as well as pity. Pity? Pssh. He was Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective. Only one in the world. He didn't need anyone's pity, never mind from some random stranger. The world tilted to one side, then righted itself as the man grasped his arm and pulled, giving Sherlock the full view of his clothing from sole to hat. "You're a sailor, or you would be but you get sea sick. Your wife hates you, your children detest you, and you would leave them except the money she brings as a laundress keeps you in beer and mistresses," he blinked, his thoughts slowing like cold treacle. "You…enjoy private hire. You like kidnapping people. Oh, am I being kidnapped? What fun!"

With a shake of his head, the man helped Sherlock manage going down the stairs. The front stairs, not the back, which meant he was comfortable being seen with a man wavering on his feet, which also meant Sherlock was in a world of trouble, because he didn't have all his faculties at full strength. He refused to believe Mycroft would ever be right on this matter. The very thought of it, that Mycroft could be correct - !

"I've heard all about you, Mr. Holmes. You and your tricks. The gent who paid me, he told me to ignore your nonsense."

"Except that it's all true - " Sherlock was forced to stop, the man's grip on his jaw shockingly strong. Yes, he was definitely going to have a bruise there in the morning.

"Shut up. Now get in the coach."

The adventure of it was getting to him now. Sherlock had to find out the whys and wherefores and whatnots of what was happening. Apart from the moment before, he had suffered no violence. Besides, the opium was beginning to clear from his system much more quickly than he had anticipated. Or perhaps the surprise of being kidnapped was doing the job. Judging from how he felt, in another hour he would be himself again. With this in mind he climbed into the hackney, settling himself against the back. Surprisingly, the man didn't get into the cab, instead rather pounding twice on the door. The coach jolted into a forward roll and the man disappeared from sight.

Interesting.

There was a sound in front of him - a match flared to life, the flame sucked into the bowl of a pipe.

For a moment Sherlock didn't know what to say. Then, "Victor!"

"Hallo, Sherlock."

"What are you doing here? Where are we going?"

Victor tossed the match out of the open window. He pulled the curtain closed without rolling the window back up. He took one puff, then two.

Sherlock wished he had a lamp or a candle, anything to highlight Victor's face beyond the glowing coal of his pipe's bowl.

"Don't you want to deduce it?"

There was a note in Victor's words, a tone that made Sherlock uneasy. "Are you alright?"

Victor gave a short bark of bitter laughter. "Am I alright, now he asks."

Sherlock brushed his dry lips with his bound hands. The coach was rattling over broken and uneven cobblestones, swaying in a way that suggested they were on some back road that Sherlock didn't recognise. Which was quite a feat. "Are you going to tell me?"

"Well, I'm tempted to let you sweat it out. You are, you know, sweating. You must be terribly thirsty. Would you like some water? Because you're going to get rather a lot of it rather soon. Of course, it won't be sweet, but I'm not over concerned about that. I'm sure you'll make do. That's your talent, isn't it? Making do? Live in squalor, what does it matter, who does it harm. Sleep your way through University, who cares about reputation or career?"

"Victor…"

"Here's the thing, darling. I can't have you around as a reminder. I'm going to stand for Parliament as my father is dead."

"What! When?"

"This very morning, as it happens."

St.John Trevor had been the very picture of health the last time Sherlock had been to Little Beeton. That had been over a month ago, however. "My condolences, Victor."

The pipe jerked a little, and not from the rough road. Victor had probably shrugged. Sherlock could understand that, he wasn't particularly enamored of his own father, either. Still, St.John had been pleasant enough. And the feeling that this might all be a dream was all but gone. "I don't know why you think I'm going to stand in your way."

"You know what I'm like, Sherlock. I don't like to take risks when it comes to my future."

Which didn't really make sense. "Then why become my lover? Wasn't that the very definition of risk?"

"I was young and impressionable."

Sherlock snorted. "Hardly."

For a few minutes the only sounds were the jingle of harness, the rumble of wheels and axle, the calls of street whores and the shouts of drunken men. The air changed, from close and foetid to fishy and foetid with a damp chill that was beginning to creep under his clothes. He heard faint bells - "Victor. I don't like the sea."

"I know. I'm quite proud of myself for thinking of this one."

Aiming himself at Victor, Sherlock sprang forward reaching for where he assumed Victor's neck would be. Unfortunately Victor was either prepared or lucky, because Sherlock caught a knee to his groin and a shower of sparks against his cheek from the damned pipe. He was cuffed hard on the back of his head, thankfully enough to send the agony in his groin into darkness as he slipped into unconsciousness.

He woke up in the middle of vomiting. Rolling further onto his side, he groaned at the sour taste in his mouth, the residual sharp pains between his thighs as he moved his legs. His stomach kept roiling even though there was nothing to bring up, not even bile. His throat burned -

"Drink this, man, you'll feel better."

A cup waggled in front of his face and he grabbed it in desperation. He sipped - small beer. At least the taste was better, though the choice was poor. He sipped again, said, "Where am I? What ship?!"

"Adder. You're on the Adder. Captain Norman in charge."

Sherlock rolled away, rolled further than he wanted. He had been right, in the coach with Victor. They had taken the backroads to the docklands. Not the proper ones, full of warehouses and fishwives, no. This was the seedier part of London, hence the need for the press. Except there wasn't a war on, so the man who had collected Sherlock had been lying all along, and Sherlock, fool that he was, hadn't even noticed.

"Drink that up before Dr. Field sees. He's likely to drink it himself, if y'get my meaning."

"And you are?" Sherlock mumbled, keeping his eyes closed and pressing one hand to his forehead, feeling sweat burst onto his skin. Oh g-d, this was never going to end.

"Call me Des. I'll give you fair warning, seeing you ain't a sailor til now; y'keep to yourself and not play the little lord, you'll be over the side before y'can blink otherwise. The Captain, he don't like fellas smarter than himself, and I can tell you're a smart one."

Sherlock opened one eye, at the same time felt the ship judder, and said, very weakly, "I don't like being on the ocean."

Des, who stood all of five feet nothing, grinned so wide Sherlock could see where the gaps in his teeth were, said, "You'll learn, you will."

Some weeks later, up in the rigging with the gulls shrieking around his ears, the whole world an endless ocean vista, he realized that Des had been right, he had learned.

And he did love it.