Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing
Authors Notes: Strong tones of Holmes/Watson friendship/brotherhood.
Warnings – I discuss the vile practice of men preying on young boys for unsavoury purposes in this one – and Holmes comes to the wrong conclusion (I can't say anything else cos it'll ruin the suspense). Just thought that you should know that topic comes up later on; nothing graphic is described though.
Medals Not Worn In Public
Prologue – part one – Holmes
The gallery was quiet, peaceful and smelt of oil paint. Light and space combined to give it a majestic, reverent atmosphere, seeking to humble the patrons that graced its stately halls. There was a weight to the silence that forbade a carelessly loud footfall or a voice raised above a murmur; in fact the very air seemed to demand a worshipful reverence for its contents.
Sherlock Holmes was well aware that places like this brought out the worst in him – he'd certainly skirted ejection from several of them in the company of his dearest and most long suffering friend. He viewed it almost as a sport – just how far could he go to scandalise the guards, the other patrons and his Watson before the dear man pulled Holmes out of the gallery by his elbow, scolding under his breath like a beleaguered elder brother the whole way. Today the desire to be noisy and uncouth was even more attractive than ever before; temptation presented in the dual forms of several high level members of the Palace staff and his other brother – the one related to him by blood.
The gallery was hosting a collection of paintings; modern and old, themed around the subject of War. The exhibition had attracted more than the usual notice in the press, as one of the modern paintings had a quite singular effect upon several of the patrons that had come to view them. Set in the Afghanistan region, more than one man had fallen, paralysed with fear, anxiety or some other nervous condition in this section of the gallery and speculation was rife as to why. One had even knocked his hapless escort to the ground, pulling her violently away from the painting and needing restraints applied before he calmed. Some accused the artist of doctoring his oils with hallucinogenic agents, some of consorting with demons and other such unsavoury and non-existent beings. Scotland Yard had been called in – which was absurd as there was no crime being committed that the Yarder's could possibly detect – and there had been several factions of the public that had called for the removal of the artists work. Apparently this was not possible as the gallery had signed an agreement with the artist that his work would be on public display for as long as the rest of the exhibition ran.
Of course the gallery had enjoyed the immense notoriety of the paintings to their fullest, holding several high society functions in the gallery and stirring up something of a froth over the whole matter; indeed the night was considered incomplete if someone didn't have hysterics or a nervous attack before a painting. The artist refused to speak in public about the painting in question, possibly at the galleries demand, and the prices of those pieces that were for sale had been raised to exploit the entire situation.
Watson had followed the stories in the press, reading several of the more amusing articles to Holmes at the breakfast or dinner table. Holmes had asked if his friend intended to go visit the exhibit: the answer had been a firm no.
"I'm far too busy to go gawping at landscapes and battlefields, Holmes," Watson had said with a tight smile that had not touched his usually warm eyes. That warmth had been absent in the wake of the sleuth's question – Holmes regretted asking it and spoiling the camaraderie of their breakfast table. On reflection it had been a tactless thing to ask a veteran whose sleep was still marred by the ghosts of men he could not save. Holmes had let the subject drop and was relieved to find that Watson's mood had settled to its usual even level by dinnertime. He'd made an especial effort to play Watson's favourites after dinner than night, an oblique apology that his dear friend had complimented by falling serenely to sleep in his armchair by the fire.
"Sherlock, do pay attention," Mycroft sighed heavily and the younger brother folded his arms crossly, glancing from his older brother to the Palace official and back with impatience.
"The Palace is concerned about the affect of the painting in question upon Her Majesty when she comes for a private viewing of the exhibition next week," Holmes repeated back rapidly, his voice echoing strongly back to him, "Though what on earth you think I can do about the painting…"
"Mr Holmes assured me that…" the man from the Palace spoke up and Sherlock waved his hand in dismissal. The official was one of those 'royal by association' chaps, who expected all sorts of deference and fawning simply because of their service to their Queen. Holmes detested such pretence and as far as he was concerned, pompous egos were made to be deflated: something else he delighted in scandalising Watson with.
"I really cannot help you Mycroft," Holmes informed his brother, who heaved a sigh. It was a sound Sherlock had heard all through his childhood – one that almost shouted 'you're-being-quite-obtuse-and-I-can't-believe-I-have-to-explain-this-to-you'. He hated that sigh.
"Your artistic knowledge…"
"Mycroft," Holmes interrupted in a tone that all younger siblings used when the elder Hadn't Paid Attention To A Fundamental Fact, "I am a musician, not a painter."
"As I was saying," Mycroft fixed him with a portentous glare, and the little functionary from the palace had finally worked out that he was in the cross-fire, deflated his ego and started to back away, "Your artistic knowledge is not the reason that you are here. All of the men affected shared a single common trait with each other that makes for quite a compelling argument regarding the cause of this situation. I have summoned an expert to the scene; you are here to support him."
"You wish me to support an expert in paintings?" Holmes scoffed, wondering if his brother had reached his years of forgetfulness earlier than one would have expected.
"Not at all," Mycroft glanced behind Holmes with a satisfied gleam to his eye, which was taken as a warning by the younger sibling that he would not like whatever was about to unfold. Footsteps sounded in the gallery, distorted by the echoes and the rapid pace of the walker, however it was not enough to mask the identity of the man coming towards them as quickly as his war injuries would allow. Holmes sent his brother such a scathing glare that the man actually stepped back in surprise, before turning to greet the victim of Mycroft's blind sense of duty to the Crown.
"I got your telegram Holmes," Watson looked him over briefly, the dear chap assessing him for potential injury or illness, something that was so second nature that both men barely paid attention to the little ritual now.
Experts in art and chemistry had examined the painting to no avail, so Mycroft had called in an expert in the battlefields of Afghanistan.