Grand-mère is buried on the summer solstice.
The funeral begins at precisely 1:30 in the afternoon under a cornflower sky dotted with clouds. There is a whisper of shifting bodies and rustling clothes, punctuated by the dauntless chirping of a lone sparrow among the tree-shadowed graves.
Mummy holds tight to Sherlock's hand while the gentle town priest prays over the casket. She's been extra nice to Sherlock ever since Grand-mère's last stay in hospital. Everyone has. Even Mycroft is being less insufferable than usual; he straightens Sherlock's tie before the service without a single taunt. Sherlock isn't so young that he doesn't realize his family is worried how he will react.
Grand-mère is his favorite person, after all.
He tries explaining to Auntie Iris that he's not sad because Grand-mère isn't really gone, and she hugs and coos over him in response. Uncle Erasmus asks Daddy if he's sure Sherlock understands what death is.
Sherlock pouts thinking about it and kicks at the grass with his new shoes. He's five, not a baby. Of course he understands what death is! Death is gone, not moving, never to be seen again. A spider is dead when you step on it. The rabbit Daddy's driver hit was dead when he didn't stop the car fast enough. Grand-mère is not dead because she is not gone, because Sherlock talked to her just this morning. She smelled like cake and gave him a hug and told him not to tell Mummy about her because she'd be upset.
The house smells like lilies. Every room is bursting with them, orchestras of perfect white trumpets. No one notices when Sherlock takes a vase up to the attic to show them to his grandmother. He steps lightly on the old stairs, not wanting to rouse the bats taking refuge under the west-facing eaves; they're no doubt restless after the long hours of daylight.
Sherlock stands tiptoe to flick on the buzzing old lightbulb. His grandmother is seated in an old chair next to the boxes she was going through before she got sick.
He holds out the flowers. "Everyone brought these for you."
Grand-mère smiles at the vase and touches a blossom with a thin, wrinkled finger. She had a bouquet of white lilies at her wedding; the photograph of her in a long and lacy dress was prominently displayed at the wake.
Sherlock curls up with his grandmother on the dusty attic floor, nestled between crates of china. He rests his head against her and tries not to feel cold. "Did you die?" he asks.
Her arms tighten around him. "Yes, dear," she says, kissing the top of his head. "But that doesn't have to mean I can't still be here."
Sherlock is baking. John had expected to come home to a mess in the kitchen, but he had imagined something more like acid burns on the table and scorches on the ceiling. There's still time for fires, he supposes, but Sherlock looks rather peaceful with his whisk and coating of flour on his pale arms.
"Special occasion?" he asks, moving stacked bowls to the side in pursuit of the teapot.
"Mm. Not particularly."
"Experiment?" John raises his eyebrows. "Taste of poison in chocolate cake versus vanilla?"
This merits a little half-smile. "No. And I'm not making a cake."
"Oh? What is it then?" He finds the teapot behind a bag of sugar. There's still a bit of water in it from the morning; he plugs it in and flicks it on.
"Tarte au fromageblanc. And take the madeleines out of the stove before you make tea; they're about to burn."
Gamely, John finds the mitt and slips the scalloped pan out of the oven.
"Turn it to 180 while you're there," Sherlock says, folding two mixtures together with a spatula.
"I didn't know we had all these pans," John says. His flatmate's orders are less grating when there's a chance they might result in dessert.
"Some are Mrs. Hudson's."
"I'm surprised she lent them to you after what you did to her teacups."
Sherlock shrugs. "I bought her better ones. And I promised I wasn't using these for an experiment."
"Hm." John sits the pan down on the stovetop.
"Hand me the pie crust, would you? I think it's over there."
The crust is in a ceramic dish on the counter. The dish is certainly Mrs. Hudson's judging by the cheerful bluebirds painted on the sides.
"Did you make this yourself?"
"Yes." Sherlock scrapes his mixture out of the bowl and into the dish.
John pauses. "Did you wash your hands first?"
Sherlock slides the tart in the oven and slams it shut. "Where did I put the icing sugar?" he asks as he turns the madeleines pan over and begins popping the little cakes out onto a plate.
"By the teapot, I'll get it." John hands him the sugar and picks up the bubbling kettle. "Did you want any?"
"No milk in mine."
He pours the steaming water into mugs of earl grey and pulls up a chair at the table, content in the unexpectedly domestic scene in which he's found himself. The kitchen is warm, infusing the flat with the scent of cake and vanilla and tea. Sherlock dusts the little shells with sugar with the flair of a TV cooking host.
"I feel a bit as if I've fallen down the rabbit hole," John says.
"I'm a bit more used to, you know, heads in the fridge than actual edible food in the oven."
Sherlock just snorts and shoves the plate in his face. "They're best when they're hot."
The madeleine is fluffy and sweet, with a hint of lemon. "Not bad," John says. "I think my sister made these once. She wanted to be a chef when she was a teenager." He takes another.
Sherlock perches on the edge of the table and tastes one of his little cakes thoughtfully. He mutters something in what sounds like French.
"What was that?" John tries not to spit crumbs.
"'La vue de la petite madeleine ne m'avait rien rappelé avant que je n'y eusse goûté.'" Sherlock repeats. "Proust."
"Yeah, well. 'To be or not to be'. Shakespeare." John contemplates whether taking a third madeleine would make him look greedy. "Wouldn't have thought you'd have room for literature on your hard drive."
"It was a favorite of my grandmother's." He catches John eyeing the plate and waves a hand. "Have as many as you like."
"Don't know why you don't bake more when you're bored, Sherlock," John says through a mouthful. "This is quite good."
"Grand-mère's recipes," Sherlock murmurs.
"Did she teach you to cook?" John always likes hearing about his flatmate's childhood – it's entertaining to think of him as a child with wild curls and a petulant expression.
Sherlock is quiet for a moment, opening the oven to check his tart. He closes the door and turns to look at John, eyes very pale. "Yes," he says. "She did."
The skull is buried beneath an ancient rosebush on the grounds of Mayfair Hall.
Sherlock has spent the winter immersing himself in his newest obsession, archaeology. As soon as the earth thaws he heads outside with a spade, a brush, and a very serious expression. By April he's discovered several curiously shaped rocks, a lizard, and that his mother does not like him digging up her garden.
For several months he's always coming in for dinner with dirt under his fingernails and grass stains on his good trousers. Mycroft, Sherlock is reminded far too frequently, never made such a mess or showed up in front of guests with a spider in his hair.
The rosebushes are very old, planted in the nineteenth century and meticulously cared-for since. Mycroft sits on a blanket nearby, enlisted by Mummy to make sure Sherlock doesn't destroy too many of her flowers.
"Don't end up with a thorn in your eye," Mycroft says, idly turning the pages of a thick book.
Sherlock ignores him and brushes soil off of a glittery stone. He holds it up against the afternoon sun, watching the play of light on its facets.
"And you're not digging up the roots?"
The stone is nothing special, he decides. It can be put to much better use being tossed at annoying older brothers.
Mycroft rolls his eyes and mutters "Childish," at him, but they both manage to sit quietly for some time.
"Does this look like bone?" Sherlock asks eventually, pulling his head out from beneath the greenery. There are leaves and red petals sticking out of his curls.
"Find a lost king of Egypt, did you?"
"Really, Mycroft. Come look!"
His brother sighs exaggeratedly and snaps closed his book. "It's probably a rabbit skull."
"Too big for that," Sherlock says.
Mycroft pokes his head under the leaves and inspects the hole Sherlock has dug. "Perhaps it was someone's pet," he says.
"I think it's a human skull."
"You think everything's a human skull." Regardless, Mycroft is intrigued, and helps Sherlock extract the object. It doesn't take long for them to reveal an eye socket, then another, then a gaping jaw filled with dirt.
"I hate to admit it, Sherlock," Mycroft says, holding it carefully with his fingertips. "But it does look like you were right."
Katherine Price is seventeen years old when she's killed walking home along Crookes Lane. It's the most gruesome murder the village has ever seen - the body hacked to pieces, her head never found. After the girl's death, rumors spread that she had been having an affair with (the very married) Sir Phillip Mersey of Blackmore Manor. She had been working there as a maid. One of the cooks tells his cousin, a notorious village gossip, that Katherine had been very suddenly sacked by a furious Lady Mersey on the morning of her death. Hearing this, a local smith recalls seeing Sir Phillip's carriage heading towards Crookes Lane that day. A workman discovers an axe missing from his tools.
The local constabulary poke at the accusations, but are unwilling to accuse someone of Sir Phillip's social standing. Eventually, the missing axe is discovered near the sleeping place of a drifter. Due to a lack of other suspects and people willing to vouch for the man's innocence, he is convicted of the murder and hanged.
Katherine's family attends the hanging and watches with haunted eyes. No one says aloud that the real murderer is standing a few feet away with his lady wife and brood of daughters. Mrs. Price does not weep or rail at him, just stands and watches a scapegoat die in the place of a man who has proven himself to be above the law. She is resigned. This the only justice the Prices are likely to receive.
If the writings of his physician are to be believed, Phillip Mersey suffers from night terrors for the rest of his life. His carriages have a history of losing wheels or suffering other misfortunes – but only when traveling on Crookes Lane. All members of the Mersey family die young – from accident and illness and suicide. Phillip dies last, only once he has lived to see his wife and daughters buried before him.
The Price family quietly pack up all their belongings and move to London.
Blackmore Manor passes to a distant relative of Phillip's, one Cornelius Holmes, who renames it Mayfair Hall.
Mummy takes Sherlock to the psychologist for the first time not long after the incident with the skull. He's tormented by nightmares, barely sleeping through the night and spending each day exhausted, irritable, and afraid. She blames the police for telling him the story of the murder and claiming that the skull was Katherine Price's lost head. Mycroft and Daddy quietly disagree; Sherlock has always had an enormous appetite for all things bloody and gruesome.
Even at age eight Sherlock is aware of the uncomfortable aura in the psychologist's waiting room. There's an awkwardness he's never noticed at the dentist or the doctor. Everyone sits very still and avoids making eye contact as aggressively calming music plays over a speaker. His mother is straight and tall in her seat, turning the pages of a magazine. Her back is tense, her eyes flicking to the other people in the room and sometimes over at the door.
She's worried someone she knows will see them there, he deduces.
Dr. Julius Atwater is both a confidante and the bane of Sherlock's existence from this day until he finally stops seeing him at age eighteen. For now, Sherlock is grateful to have someone to whom he can explain his daily nightmares of a headless figure standing at the edge of his bed. He can talk about the raised voices he heard shouting in old-fashioned phrases in the front hall on a day when he knew he and his brother were home alone. Dr. Atwater agrees with Mummy, that he simply has an overactive imagination and was unduly excited by an old ghost story being resurrected in his backyard. He teaches Sherlock techniques for calming himself down and rationalizing away frightening phenomena.
The next time he sees headless Katherine at night he pinches his arm and repeats over and over that she's not real and can't hurt him until he can close his eyes and slowly fall back asleep. He stops his ears against Lady Mersey railing against her husband's lover and tells himself that someone has simply left a television or a radio on.
He can't convince himself of an explanation for why the scarlet roses grow back white the year Katherine's remains are finally buried whole.
Sherlock is in the kitchen again when John comes downstairs the next morning. "I don't suppose you're making breakfast for everyone?" he says, rubbing his eyes.
The mess from baking yesterday has been half-heartedly cleaned up. There are still little smears of flour here and there. Sherlock has cleared a space for himself and is quite engrossed in inspecting a curved black pod.
"Is that a vanilla bean?" John asks, going to look for the coffee.
"Yes, Mrs. Hudson wants me to make her vanilla extract in exchange for borrowing her things."
"I didn't know you could make that yourself."
Sherlock shrugs. "Vanilla beans and alcohol. It's hardly difficult." He picks up a knife and casually slices the pod lengthwise, and repeats the motion to two others. "Hand me the vodka."
"Bit early for that, isn't it?" The drink in question is in an expensive-looking bottle next to the sink. Sherlock takes it from him and dumps the beans into a mason jar, pouring the liquor after it liberally. "Anything else on the menu, today, Chef Holmes?" John says, sitting down to watch his flatmate work.
Sherlock rolls his eyes. Deftly, he screws the lid on and shakes the jar.
"I said it was simple. Now it has to sit for a few weeks." Sherlock gets ups and wraps his robe around himself, disappearing into the other room. Presumably he's gone off to get dressed.
Sure enough, not long after John has settled down with his coffee and aper Sherlock returns, casually straightening the cuffs of his jacket. "Did I leave my book in here?" he asks, fiddling with a button.
"We have a cookbook in the flat?" John probably shouldn't be so surprised, Sherlock has tomes on every other topic in existence.
Sherlock swoops down on a counter, picking up some bottles filled with suspicious liquids and removing the book underneath. "Of a sort. Look"
It's a journal with handwritten recipes inside; John recognizes his friend's messy writing. "Oh yeah, you said your grandmother taught you these?"
"I wrote them down, yes."
John flips through the slightly yellowed pages. "You shouldn't have shown me this. Now I'm going to expect you to cook me dinner every night."
The pool where Carl Powers drowns is not closed for long. Sherlock is finally allowed to go see it after his parents have several long conversations with Dr. Atwater. His mother and father stay in the lobby; Sherlock doesn't want them hovering over his shoulder.
It's autumn in London, and there aren't many people going swimming for pleasure. A swim team's practice is ending as Sherlock wanders by. Boys and girls in matching bathing suits climb out of the pool and head for a locker room, feet slapping on the tile. Their voices echo strangely through the open spaces. He knows that any real clues must be long gone by now, but it still gives Sherlock a thrill to be at the crime scene, after all this time.
He finds the right pool and walks around its margins, careful not to coach hovers in a doorway, watching him with some suspicion. Sherlock sits down on a bench on the far side of the room and the man leaves.
His parents and Dr. Atwater hope that coming here will finally cure his obsession with the Carl Powers case. The place isn't much to look at, he admits. There's no crime scene tape or looming policemen. No grieving family members drawn to the place of their son's untimely death.
Sherlock catches a flutter out of the corner of his eye. One of the curtains covering the changing booths moves and a boy stumbles out, tossing his shoes behind him. He glances to Sherlock and smirks before hopping into the pool. The boy's head disappears below the water.
He doesn't come back up.
Sherlock spends a shocked moment on the bench, watching the ripples where the boy had sunk. He staggers to his feet and over to the edge, where he drops painfully to his knees.
There's no one in the pool. The water is still.
Cold, Sherlock turns around to the changing booth. His fingers start to tremble as he flings the curtain aside.
There are no shoes.
He can't breathe. He's paralyzed and water is filling his nose and mouth and lungs with the sterile taste of chlorine. He's drowning.
He – is standing in a public pool in London, white and shaking.
"I tried to tell them about the shoes," Sherlock says, unsteady. "I'm sorry."
A summer storm over London keeps John from his sleep. The booming thunder invades his dreams and wakes memories of blood and bombs and gunfire that chase him from his bed. He winces at the time on his clock and heads downstairs. Sherlock is awake, legs folded under him on the couch as he taps away at his laptop. His eyes, oddly flat in the computer's glow, flicker up at John as he trudges into the room.
"I never like storms at night," John admits, his voice hoarse from just having woken up. He flops down into his usual chair.
Sherlock clicks at something. "So I gathered."
John crosses his arms over his chest and leans back, closing his eyes. They fly open seconds later as a particularly loud crash of thunder makes his jump. He laughs to himself a little and rubs his face. "Oh god," he says, half to himself. "This reminds me of the night with the ghost."
His flatmate's fingers still on the keys. "The night with the ghost?"
"When I was in the Army, these two blokes were supposed to be on patrol and came back white as a sheet, claiming they'd seen a ghost. There was a storm that night, you see. We mostly thought they were just making excuses for being afraid of the lightning."
(When John is in Afghanistan, he learns a little of the country's culture and varied beliefs. One Afghan soldier tells a story in broken English to a group of enthralled British and American troops. He talks about his grandfather, who is well known in his town for being able to cast out evil spirits. And some people, John learns, believe in the djinn. One young soldier - who later dies under his hands - claims to see one in a fire burning on the horizon. )
Sherlock touches his fingers together under his chin. "What kind of ghost did they see?"
John is a little surprised that his friend didn't scoff outright. "A girl, I think. Walking a goat. They'd been using their night-vision goggles, and went to take them off to talk with her."
"But when they took the goggles off she was gone?"
"Interesting," Sherlock says. "Did you believe them?"
John has to think about it. He's never considered himself to be terribly superstitious, but - the men's fear had been real. In the Afghan night, surrounded by hostiles and woken by a midnight storm, the story had seemed quite plausible.
"At the time I did, yeah," he says.
Sherlock turns his attention back to his laptop. "Interesting."
On his first nights in Florida, Sherlock spends his time curled up in a cheap motel, sick and exhausted from yet another attempt at withdrawal. Every other thought is about cocaine. The others tend to center around how badly he wants to lay in a corner and die.
After a few evenings, he drags himself out into the town in search of a distraction. The August heat is stifling, the air dense and heavy. There are more insects flying around his head than he's ever seen in his life.
He pauses to rest by an old-looking church, leaning on a fence railing. Christ the Redeemer Baptist, reads the church sign. Potluck Supper Tuesday - 5 PM. A few cars whiz behind him on the faded asphalt, lending a thick smell of exhaust to the air.
The church has a little cemetery to its side. The graves are sparse, and most of them look to be more than a century old. A birch tree with a pale cracked trunk shades a crumbling stone angel. Sherlock closes his eyes against the deafening rattle of cicadas and the croon of a mourning dove on a telephone wire.
He's tired. He's tired of everything. Sherlock cracks his eyes open to see a pale woman in a white dress drifting through the graveyard. She picks her way toward the cracked angel and fades into the birch tree's shadow. She's gone as quickly as a mirage.
Sherlock dreams about the white lady every night until he leaves the town. He embroils himself in an intricate murder case and tries to wipe the last few years from his memory.
When the case is over, Mrs. Hudson's homemade vanilla ice cream melts on his tongue, and he thinks of a graveyard a thousand miles away.
John has a busy week at his job. Sherlock spends his time attempting to involve himself in a missing person case. He's unsuccessful. At the end of the week, John comes home to an empty flat.
"Sherlock?" Mrs. Hudson says. "He's doing a favor for me, dear. A friend of mine has had someone lurking about her flat. Can you imagine?"
John stays for tea and biscuits, chatting about nothing in particular and enjoying, for once, an uneventful afternoon. It's well after dark when Sherlock finally sweeps back into 221b, shouting for John.
"Finally got a case?" he asks.
"Of a sort," Sherlock says. "I have a theory about Mrs. Taylor's prowler and I thought you might be interested in helping me prove it."
Mrs. Taylor flicks the light switch several time but the bulb refuses to turn on. "It's been doing that all week," she says. "I am sorry about that."
"No matter," Sherlock says. "We aren't going to need the light for this." Mrs. Taylor thanks him and hurries away.
Sherlock had insisted that John needn't bring his gun. The prowler, he said, was not going to be any danger to them.
"What did Mrs. Taylor say the man looked like?" John asks as he takes a seat where he can face the window. Streetlights filter dimly through the venetian blinds.
"Short," Sherlock says. "Light hair. Dark hooded sweatshirt." He perches on a chair. "Lestrade really ought to lock his case files somewhere safer," he murmurs.
John looks at him. Sherlock looks like a specter in his dark coat, skin faintly lit by the yellow hall light. "What does Lestrade have to do with this?" He's starting to wonder if maybe he should have brought the gun after all.
"We'll find out," Sherlock says ominously. He closes his eyes. "Tell me if you see anything move outside."
Five minutes before midnight, John looks away from the window. When he turns back, there's a figure silhouetted against the blinds. "Sherlock!"
His flatmate opens his eyes, quickly focusing on the figure with a smile. "Excellent." He stands. "John. I need you to open the blinds and tell me what you see."
They stare at one another in the darkness.
"Fine." John moves to the window practically on tiptoe. He hesitates for a moment, then opens the blinds.
Mrs. Taylor's prowler is a young woman with short blonde hair and a black hooded sweatshirt worn over pajamas. The streetlights illuminate her oddly; her hair looks nearly transparent. Her face is in shadow.
"Olivia Batts," Sherlock says, satisfied. "I told Lestrade he needed my help on his missing person case."
"Is she...sleepwalking?" John asks. The girl is staring blankly into the room.
Sherlock rests his fingertips against the glass. "I'm afraid not." Olivia shifts backwards into the light. With a sinking stomach, John sees the blood running down her face. Sherlock pulls his coat around himself. "Come, John. Let's see where she leads us."
Olivia's body is found in the basement of the flat across the street. Her killer, an ex-boyfriend surrenders almost disappointingly quickly. Lestrade doesn't comment on the smug look on Sherlock's face. He doesn't even bother asking how they knew she was in there. "You didn't do anything illegal, right? I don't want anything knocking the murder trial off the rails." is all he says on the matter.
"Nothing of the sort," Sherlock says, and steers John into a cab.
John is quiet for the ride home. When he turns the key in the lock to 221b he finally gathers his thoughts enough to speak. "I wouldn't have pinned you as the one to believe in ghosts."
"There are more things in heaven and earth, John." Sherlock glides into their flat. "Do you know? I think I might bake a cake tomorrow." He slams the door to his room behind him.
John heads to the kitchen to make himself some tea. It will be some time before he sleeps tonight. Wandering through the living room, he picks up Sherlock's skull thoughtfully, turning it this way and that before placing it carefully back on the mantel.
Sherlock is asleep.
He becomes aware of this gradually as he watches his grandmother decorate a cake in the kitchen of the Baker Street flat. His view of her is a child's view, low and a little vague.
"Le soldat," she is saying, piping little rosettes onto the cake. "Est persuadé qu'un certain délai indéfiniment prolongeable lui sera accordé avant qu'il soit tué-"
"Le voleur avant qu'il soit pris, les hommes en général avant qu'ils aient à mourir." he finishes, to himself.
She sets the cake before him, round and white, icing freckled with real vanilla beans.