Chapter Eight: The Art, Or Lack Thereof, of Seduction

It seemed the entirety of third class was hung over the next morning. John got out of bed to find the three men he shared his cabin with in various stages of unconsciousness and distress. The two Swedes were grimacing in their sleep and Mike was moaning as he stirred. There would be very few people not in a similar state, and for this reason John got dressed hurriedly and exited the cabin before any of them had a chance to fully wake up. He ran the risk of being drowned in their misery.

John wasn't in the mood to drown in anything.

The decks above were mostly deserted, only a few milling bodies. Mostly women with small children, for whom it would have been unwise to indulge in drink the night before. John sat down on his typical bench—the one on which he'd been sitting the night he met Sherlock—and took out his sketchpad and commenced distracting himself. He did not smoke. The action, he found, would have reminded him too much of Sherlock. At the moment, he didn't want to be reminded.

It was best to put Sherlock Holmes behind him. Out of sight, out of mind. He would never see the man again, so there was literally no point in occupying his every thought with him.

Telling himself this did not stop the thoughts from coming. After a few minutes (And realizing that the ribbon-tied hair he was drawing resembled more a certain first class gentleman's than the little girl's a few feet from him) he grunted in frustration and slammed the book shut. He looked out over the railing, but the ocean offered no answers. Hadn't really expected it to, to be honest.

At around ten o'clock, most of third class was stirring. Need for water, food, or toilet brought them wandering out of their cabins, unsteady on their feet. Mike found his way to the deck, met up with John, and they ventured to the dining room to breakfast together. It was obvious from continuous looks that Mike, even through his own pain and lethargy, could tell there was something wrong with his friend. He did not, however, ask anything. They were British, and men at that. Even mates kept to themselves.

After breakfast, they went their separate ways—Mike most likely to sleep off more of his hangover, and John back to his bench, where he sat for over an hour and did not move except to uncross his legs when one of them fell asleep.

Then, quite suddenly, a throat cleared behind him. It had a distinctly Holmesian tone to it.

John whipped around quick enough to crack his neck, only to find that it was the wrong Holmes standing behind him. Mycroft, Sherlock's brother, was stood there in all of his more than slightly threatening glory, leaning on his umbrella-cum-walking stick, smiling in a way that John could only describe as sinister.

"Hello," John muttered warily.

"Good morning, Doctor Watson," Mycroft said through lips drawn tight over his teeth. Smiling, John realized, was not an action familiar to Mycroft. "I trust that you slept well after the activities last night?"

For a moment, John thought Mycroft knew about the below-decks party, but then realized that he was referring to the first-class dinner the night before. He relaxed—only marginally, because he still had no idea why Mycroft was there—and said, "Oh, uh, yes. It was…it was nice, thank you."

"I was curious, Doctor Watson," Mycroft remarked, winding around the bench and gingerly sitting himself next to John. He hung his brolly off the arm of the bench and crossed his legs. "You see, my brother got in quite late last night. Of course, there are any number of reasons why that could have been; after all, my brother is soon to be married. I assumed he had spent the night with his fiancé. You I'm sure realize why I made that particular logical leap."

Unfortunately, John did.

"However, as I found out this morning from an incredibly cross James Moriarty…my brother never arrived in his cabin last night, despite being requested to." Mycroft stared pensively out over the ocean, as if trying to consider the answer to the question, although John felt he knew where this was going. "Then, our maid mentioned something strange to me—that my brother's evening suit from last night smelled like beer had been spilled on it. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you Doctor?"

"No," John muttered through tight lips.

Inclining his head, Mycroft raised an eyebrow and said, "I should tell you, Doctor, that it's not wise to lie to me. Because if you are, I will find out…and there will be consequences."

John shifted uncomfortably and jiggled his dangling foot, then muttered, "It wasn't my intention to upset Mister Moriarty."

"To be fair, it isn't hard to upset Mister Moriarty," Mycroft remarked, and for the first time John realized that Sherlock might not be the only one holding a large amount of disdain for James Moriarty. "However, when Mister Moriarty is upset, people suffer; namely, my brother." Mycroft's face turns dark. "The only person who is allowed to make my brother suffer is me, Doctor Watson. I don't take kindly to others who do…even those who are indirectly causing it."

Holding up his hands, John shook his head and said, "Look, I didn't…I thought it was relatively harmless to show him what it was like in third class, because he'd shown me first class."

"Showing you first class was a kindness and a privilege," Mycroft snapped. "You showing him third class was…practically a punishment."

"He didn't seem to think so," John countered, and Mycroft fell silent—disconcertingly silent and unmoving—for several minutes.

"My point," John said, growing terribly uncomfortable with the silence, "is that I didn't intend…to make Sherlock suffer. I'll apologize to him, if that's what you want. If that's what you came here for."

Shaking his head, Mycroft said, "No. No, I don't want you anywhere near my brother, or him near you, again."

"You know what?" John muttered. "I saved your brother's life. He's the one who came and saw me, who insisted that I dine with you last night. None of this was my intention." No sooner had he finished this sentence than Mycroft slapped his hand on the bench, and leaned quite close to John—some kind of intimidation tactic, surely, that was working.

"My brother is but a child," Mycroft snarled. "He doesn't know what he wants, or what's good for him! That…that Adler woman put it in his head that if he got the attentions of another man, that James Moriarty wouldn't want him anymore. He had to make the decision between listening to the advice of a strange woman, or staying safe but miserable. He's never had to make a decision like that before. You should have guided him in the proper direction, rather than taking advantage of that."

"I don't think there is a proper direction, in a situation like that," John muttered, and looked away from Mycroft's angry eyes to the sea. "Are you saying your brother was trying to seduce me?"

"Not in so many words," Mycroft said. "I don't think my brother quite thought of it as a seduction. But even if it was, are you saying you wouldn't have let him?"

John couldn't say anything without incriminating himself, but Mycroft could tell. He hummed deep in his throat and with that, stood up, took his walking stick, and started towards the stairs up to the first class promenade deck. Halfway there, he paused and turned around. "Doctor Watson…you must understand. I don't think you're a bad man, by any means. You're not a dumb man either, so you have to realize that I need to take steps in protecting my family. There are very few ways I can protect Sherlock now, but I can still ensure that there are less things I have to protect him from. You see?"

John thought about Harriet, and put himself in Mycroft's shoes and nodded solemnly. "Yes."

That didn't mean he had to be happy about it.

Violet Holmes swept into the room as Sherlock opened his closet, selected a charcoal grey suit, and thrust it towards him. In French, she snapped, "Wear this. No complaining," and Mrs. Hudson, whom was standing at the ready to assist Sherlock in dressing, hurried out of the room. Most likely she could tell by Mrs. Holmes' body language, and the usage of a different language that she did not want to be intruded upon at that very moment.

"This?" Sherlock said with disgust, holding the suit and its hanger at arm's length. "I'll look like a funeral-goer."

"Well perhaps that's precisely what you need to look like, after what you pulled last night," his mother snapped. Seeing that he wasn't going to do it on his own, she began unbuttoning his nightshirt, as if he was once again a child whom couldn't dress himself. "Traipsing around like some…some tart all dressed in red. What the…what the hell were you thinking?" Her voice raised on the last part—it was a question she wanted answered—and gestured to his pajama bottoms. "Are you going to do them yourself or shall I treat you like the infant you seem determined to act like?"

Grudgingly, Sherlock's hands went to the button on his bottoms, and his mother turned her back.

"I don't know what's gotten into you, Sherlock," she muttered. "You've always been disobedient and reckless, but lately it's as though you have no sense of self-preservation at all!"

"Consider the situation you've pushed me into, Mummy, and answer that question for yourself," he snapped, removing the ugly grey suit from its hanger. His collection of day suits was much more extensive than that of evening suits, and this was one he avoided wearing.

"You don't think I agonized over what I was doing when I did it?" Violet Holmes snapped back. She spun around, heedless of her son's nudity—after all, she'd seen him on his birthing day, fresh from her womb; it wasn't as though it fazed her—and took the other two pieces of the suit off the hanger, needing something to do with her hands so she might not lose herself and slap Sherlock. "You don't think I treated it as a last resort? Do you think I wanted this to happen?"

"Sometimes I wonder," Sherlock said under his breath. He pulled on a crisp white shirt and began to button it, and almost as soon as he was done, his mother was there with the padded waistcoat that belonged to the suit. She shoved it onto him with more force than necessary, buttoned it, and went around back to tighten the laces. Sherlock didn't need a corset, but he hadn't been entirely truthful in telling John that the waistcoat was completely unlike one. In the front, it looked like the typical waistcoat, but in the back it had ties to help the pads in the coat conform to him and give the appearance of some sort of hourglass figure.

Hateful, utterly hateful. And his mother was pulling the thing much too tight.

"Mummy!" he snapped, flinching away from his mother's hands. "Do you want me to be able to move or breathe at all today?"

For a moment, it looked as though his mother might just continue and let him walk around like that all day. Then her features relaxed—Sherlock saw it in the mirror—and she went back and loosened them. Still not as loose as Sherlock would have liked, but loose enough so that walking might be a tolerable activity.

"James told me what you did last night," Mummy muttered, as she continued to pull the ties tight.

Sherlock stayed silent, knowing that if he tried to defend himself, he would only incriminate himself further.

"Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"

Slowly, Sherlock shrugged and mumbled, "Nothing, I suppose. I did go into Third Class with Doctor Watson. Why that's such a bad thing, however, I don't know. A first class man in third class stands out no more than a third class man in first class."

"Yes it does, Sherlock," his mother snapped. "It does and you know it does. Nobody in our class will remember that man in a few days time, but everyone in his will remember you. They'll remember the day a strange man came and danced with them, someone who wore clothes they'd never seen before and someone who was obviously an outsider. They'll remember you, and they'll be able to pick you out. If word starts that you've been fraternizing with third-class ruffians, following a man who is not your fiancé…your reputation will be ruined."

Sherlock rolled his eyes and snarled, "Oh for God's sake, I don't care about my reputation! I am a grown man, I should be allowed to do what I want, say what I want, go where I want but I can't." He tilted his head to the side as all of his anger and resentment welled into a ball at the nape of his neck, and propelled itself forward out of his mouth. "Do you know why I can't, Mummy? Because you've put me into this situation and sometimes, I think…sometimes I think it's because you wanted to pull me down to your level. To punish me for being the son you never wanted. You never wanted to let me be who I wanted to be. You wanted me to stay under your eye, hanging off your skirt until you weren't around anymore. So you made sure I would, didn't you Mummy?"

Violet Holmes' eyes narrowed. "What are you accusing me of?"

Shaking his head, Sherlock laughed lowly and cruelly. "You know exactly what."

Very suddenly, Sherlock found himself spun around to face his mother. She said, "Don't think for a single moment, Sherlock Holmes, that I did this just so you would be obedient. I may not be the best mother; I may not even be a good one. But I would never do something like this to a son of mine unless I absolutely had to."

"Mycroft tells me you had it planned for a long time," Sherlock muttered.

"Your father's company has been failing for a long time," Mummy replied. "We have been trying to save it for a long time. Last resorts are not often sudden epiphanies, Sherlock; else they wouldn't be last resorts." She turned away from him, rubbed her chin. "It was always a possibility. But I never thought we would have to do it. Never in my worst nightmares did I think that we would actually have to resort to it." Sighing, she walked over to the bed and sat on the corner of it, and dropped her hands into her lap. "Mycroft once threatened to take you from me, you know. I think he knew. I think he knew that he wouldn't be able to take on his father's job. I think he knew that there was no saving of the Holmes Corporation to be done without outside help. That we couldn't keep the company to ourselves and that in order to keep it in the family, we'd…"

"Have to sell me," Sherlock mutters. Because that's what they had done, wasn't it? Ultimately, they had sold him for the money required to bring his father's company back from the brink of death.

"Don't say it like that," Mummy sighed, but less than halfheartedly. She watched Sherlock pick up his jacket and swing it onto his body, and when he turned back to the mirror said, "You have no idea how hard it is to be a mother."

Sherlock tightened the ribbon around his neck—feminized men did not wear ties, and the ribbons he wore to keep his collar closed made him feel like some kind of housecat—and sighed, "I know."

"Maybe someday," she mumbled, "You'll know how hard a parent's job is."

Snorting, Sherlock said, "Not if James has anything to say about it," and sat down at the vanity. He stared at himself, and his despondent mother behind him. "It's not as if I can give him children, anyway." He took a ribbon—a black one, for he had no grey ones, and it wasn't a good idea to put even a small amount of color on, when his mother was in such a mood—and grumbled, "Not as though it won't stop him from fucking me as if I can."


"You act like you don't know it's true," Sherlock chuckled, even though it wasn't funny, and gathered all of his hair into his hand before looping the ribbon around it and tying it.

Standing up, his mother sighed, "It's our duty."

"To lie back and think of England?" Then, wryly, he added, "Or Ireland, as it were?"

Violet Holmes shook her head and whispered, "To do everything our husbands ask of us."

They met eyes in the mirror then, with a shake of his head, Sherlock got up and left.

"I've spoken to Doctor Watson," Mycroft said, when they met at afternoon tea, and Sherlock's head snapped up.


"I have taken care of the issue of the doctor," Mycroft says, slowly and as though Sherlock was an infant just learning to talk. It made Sherlock angry, made him want to punch his brother. But they were in public and his mother would never forgive him. "I told him not to come near you again, and he's a smart man, I think. He'll heed my request. He knows it's in his best interest to, anyway."

Sherlock slammed his cup down onto the table—it was empty, at least, or it probably would have sloshed and stained the tablecloth, as if Sherlock would have cared—and leaned closer to his brother so he could hiss, "Who gave you permission to tell anybody whether they can or can't come near me? Last I checked, I was still allowed to govern with whom I socialize. James Moriarty hasn't taken that right from me yet, and I won't let you take it either, Mycroft."

He wanted to say more—Lord, did he want to say more. His anger was boundless and toxic, filling him up and trying to push itself up through his mouth like vomit. It was surprising that he managed to stifle himself when Gregory Lestrade wandered up to them and said, "Your fiancé was wondering if you'd like to join him and your mother and I. Mister Andrews has given me permission to show you the bridge. He told me that you have a particular interest in nautical gadgetry."

"Sherlock wanted to be a pirate when he was little," chuckled Mycroft, "and ever since, he's had a particular fascination with the sea, and seamanship."

Sherlock clutched his hands into the tablecloth. He'd always hated others revealing secrets that were his to reveal, but it has always seemed like Mycroft's favorite pastime. He wasn't sure how James new that particular fact either. He'd been truthful when he told John that James knew hardly anything about him.

It must have been his mother, he thought.

"So that's a yes?" Lestrade asked genially, and because anything was better than sitting there alone with his brother, Sherlock nodded and they followed Lestrade to the bridge deck, which was the only part of the ship that first class did not typically have access to. Although the wheel of the ship was fascinating to him—it looked much like the illustrations of the pirate ships he looked at when he was little—the rest was of little interest to him, including the inane babble of James, Mycroft, his mother, and the captain.

Greg Lestrade was not much one for talking either. He stood to the side as the captain talked about the ship that he had helped build. Inconspicuously, he wandered over to Lestrade and leaned against the wall with him, and muttered, "You're obviously a more integral part of the building team than I originally thought."

"I'm really not," Lestrade chuckled, shaking his head. "I was just in the right place at the right time."

"How so?"

"There was a…design flaw that went overlooked in the original drafts and, if I hadn't said anything, Titanic would not have been so unsinkable as it is."

"A design flaw…such as there being too little room for enough lifeboats?"

Lestrade looked up, and smirked at him without amusement. "You noticed that, did you?" He sighed and crossed his arms. "That wasn't my decision. Wasn't Mister Andrew's decision either, really. The ship has certain…safeties on it that warrant the need of fewer lifeboats. It's a kind of reward system, I guess. Lifeboats clutter deck space and it looks unsightly. At least, that's what I got from the whole thing."

"No ship is truly unsinkable."

Shaking his head, Lestrade said, "You seem to be the only one that thinks so. But you shouldn't worry yourself. She'll get you there, Titanic will. She's as close to unsinkable as a ship will ever get. At least in my lifetime…and probably yours, too." He tilted his head to the side, considering Sherlock. "What did you and that doctor get up to last night?"

"That's a very forward question for a practical stranger."

"It was innocent," Lestrade said, but with a grin that betrayed the intended innuendo.

"The implication was anything but."

Lestrade laughed for a second, and it was almost infectious enough to make Sherlock laugh as well. However, he eventually stopped and sobered, and said, "Seriously, though. You've gotten yourself in some kind of trouble. I know you have. I also know I warned you not to, and you did it anyway."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "For God's sake, don't try to run my life, Lestrade. I have enough people trying to do that already, I don't need a fourth."

"I know," Lestrade said, patting Sherlock's shoulder. "And it's not my place to try, anyway. But if you ask me…well, I'll just say this. There are certain chances that are given to us. Certain…miraculous chances that can save us, or at least make life that much better. They come very rarely, if at all. So you should take them." With a decisive gesture, a kind of 'I said what a needed' self-congratulatory nod, he moved away, towards Mycroft and James.

"Well, gentlemen, I think we should leave the captain to his work…"

Unnoticed, Sherlock slipped out the nearest door.

It was on deck that Sherlock found him, just as he thought he would. Sitting on that bench, staring blankly out at the sea as if it would give him answers. He had the sketchbook in his lap, but it wasn't open and he didn't have a pencil with him, which made Sherlock think he'd only brought it along out of habit. Like a little boy with his blanket, he took comfort in having something familiar in his hands.

He knew immediately that Sherlock was there—it was obvious from his hitched breath. He made no outward sign, however, of engaging, and so they sat there for a few minutes, both staring ahead at the sea, unseeing, looking for an answer.

"Your brother," John started, but stopped when Sherlock made a disgusted noise in his throat.

"I know what my brother did."

"He threatened me with some kind of inexact punishment if I came near you again," John muttered, and Sherlock knew the bitterness in his voice was intended; something John wanted Sherlock to hear, and to feel regretful for. "I'm not sure whether you coming near me counts, but I don't think I have enough luck to push it." He gathered his sketchbook up under his arm, uncrossed his legs, and started to rise. Sherlock, not intending to let this happen without at least trying to get a word in edgewise, grabbed John's wrist.

"Stop." John jerked his arm in an attempt to get Sherlock to release him. "Please stop. It's only fair that you give me a chance to say something, since you obviously listened to so well to my brother." He didn't know why he said 'please'—especially since the rest of the sentence had come out so aggressively—but that was ultimately what made John stop and sit back down. It was obvious, however, from the way he was sitting on the edge of the bench that he did not intend to stay if he didn't like what he heard.

Gesturing towards him, John said, "Fine. Explain yourself."

Sherlock furrowed his brows. "Explain myself?" He'd come to apologize for whatever his brother had said. Not to explain himself like he was the one who had done wrong.

"Yes. Go on. I think I deserve an explanation for your behavior."

"I'm sorry, Doctor Watson, but I don't think I follow. I don't believe I have anything to explain."

Laughing, John shook his head and muttered, "Alright fine. You're telling me that you don't think you should explain why your brother came to me this morning and told me you had me take you around on my arm last night because you wanted to make James Moriarty jealous?"

"What?" Sherlock snapped. He'd never heard a falser accusation in his life, and it was no surprise that it would come from Mycroft. "Make James jealous? You obviously don't realize how jealous of a man James Moriarty is without encouragement, Doctor." Contemptuously, he narrowed his eyes. "Let me tell you a story about a man named Victor Trevor, Doctor Watson. Until very recently, Victor Trevor was my valet, and the closest thing to a friend I've had since my mother pulled me out of school. He was your age, and he had been with me for a year already when James and I became engaged. Victor followed me to France, simply because he was my valet. When James found out, he harassed my mother into having Victor fired and sent back to England that very night."

John shifted uncomfortably. "Well…what happened to him?"

"I don't know." Sherlock bit the inside of his cheek. This was the first he'd allowed himself to think of Victor in over a month, and he could not say that the unease that clenched in his stomach when he thought of the subject had lightened. "One thing you must understand, Doctor, is that servants such as those employed by my family have their own rooms in the home. Victor had nowhere to call home, and no one to call family either."

"That's…" John, clearly attempting to salvage his resolve, cleared his throat. "That's incredibly unfortunate, and I'm sorry it happened, but…"

"But what?" John, Sherlock felt, did not have the right to choose his words carefully at a time like this.

"Your brother…"

Eyes narrowing once more, tilted his head up and said, "Why don't you tell me exactly what my brother said, Doctor?"

John tilted his head back, sighed as he thought for a moment, and then carefully said, "That Irene Adler had put some idea in your head that if you got the attention of another man, James Moriarty wouldn't want you anymore, and that I was the first bloke that came around, and you took your chance."

The blood in Sherlock's veins seemed to stagnate all at once. He opened his mouth, but no words would come out, and finally John said, "It's true, then."

"No. It's not. It's…not in so many words." Why did it seem like nothing ever came out right when it truly needed to? Lord, interpersonal relationships were such tedious things. What had possessed him to even halfheartedly pursue one? "I…I may have been thinking of what she said when I invited you to dinner, but I can assure you that it was the farthest thing from my mind last night."

After a moment of silence, while John tried to muddle through his own twisted feelings, Sherlock decided that it was best not to tell half-truths and continued, "Irene Adler, when she said 'gain the attentions of another man,' was not talking about attentions such as walking around on someone else's arm and dancing with them." He chanced a glance up at John, and was glad to see that he had gotten the full meaning of the statement. The small relief that he would not have to explain the deeper meaning of the statement trickled into his brain.

John's jaw clenched. "Your brother said you weren't trying to seduce me."

"Well at least he got something right."

"Did he?" John glanced at him and, slowly, leaned in and inquired, "Sherlock, be honest with me. Did you or did you not realize, last night, that it would have taken only a small amount of convincing for me to do things to you that I know you've never had done?"

Rearing his head back, Sherlock demanded, "Is that a threat?"

"No! Of course not." John looked scandalized at the very idea, and Sherlock relaxed slightly. John muttered, "I…may not have worded that tactfully. But you know what I mean."

"Yes, I do. And…" the words, unbidden, rose in his throat. "And I realize that I could have seduced you. But I chose not to."

"How do I know that?"

"Oh, believe me, Doctor Watson. If I had chosen to, you would have known it." At this, John cleared his throat and blushed ever so slightly, and Sherlock was perfectly content to let the doctor think it would have been so obvious from Sherlock's expertise at seduction, rather than his awkwardness and overall lack of subtlety.

Still blushing, John looked towards him and said, "Look, I…well, I know that you probably didn't have untoward intentions, but…" He sighed, and tapped his fingers against the bench, and muttered, "I can't allow myself to be pulled in ten different directions without knowing that I won't eventually be abandoned in the middle. And you…well, you'll have somewhere to go, won't you?" He reached out and squeezed Sherlock's knee. "I worry about you, though. I just…he's going to oppress you, and you don't deserve to be oppressed. Yet there's nothing I can do about it. If you won't let me."

"I am letting you!" Sherlock cried, and it felt like he'd finally admitted something, revealed something poignant and something that would matter, but John just smiled sadly and shook his head.

"No, you're not," John sighed. "At this point, you're just letting me watch. And that's crueler than sending me away."

John walked away, and Sherlock had the helpless feeling of having tried so hard, yet accomplished nothing.

Sherlock slipped seamlessly back into the small group led around by Lestrade. They most likely hadn't noticed his absence because he'd been sulking moodily at the back of the group anyway, and the entire conversation with John had taken only ten minutes. It may have been, he also realized, due to clever diversion by Lestrade, but that was only a theory.

A theory that was confirmed when Lestrade looked over James' head and smiled at him expectantly. Sherlock just bowed his head and picked at a nail, pretending he hadn't even seen Lestrade's face. The other man walked away, and Sherlock figured he would never know what was on Lestrade's mind, or even what had possessed him to think that Sherlock was capable of changing his own destiny in the way he'd suggested.

"Time for tea, I think," Mycroft muttered, only a few minutes after Sherlock reappeared. He looked up at Sherlock, and gave a nod in the general direction of the verandah café. "Mummy will be waiting for you. James and I will be along in a short while. I have a few words I wish to exchange with him." With the way Mycroft's eyes gleamed, Sherlock did not feel the need to as what those words were—it was blatantly obvious. With a great heaving sigh, he turned around and headed towards the café.

His mother was, indeed, waiting for him along with Mrs. Turner, the Marquesa of Morella, and a cup of tea already prepared with two biscuits on a plate where he was designated to sit. His mother had taken notice of his lack of appetite as of late, and this was not an unfamiliar sight at teatime. He sat down, greeted, "Hello, Mummy," and unfolded his napkin over his lap. Then, glancing up at the other two women, said, "Good afternoon, ladies."

"Good afternoon, Sherlock," Mrs. Turner said sweetly, in her welsh-accented raspy smoker's voice. "We were just talking about you, my boy." Mrs. Turner was about ten years older than Mummy, which would place her in only her fifties, but her hair had already turned snow white, and her face showed more years than would be expected on a woman of her age. She'd lost weight, as well, and Sherlock didn't need his deductive skill to know it was due to her son's recent death. People had talked of little else when it had first happened, and Sherlock had been at the funeral besides.

Mrs. Turner was accompanying her husband on business, needing a change of scenery. A need no one could fault her for, after her recent trauma.

Not unkindly, Sherlock said, "And what were you talking about, Mrs. Turner?"

"Oh, you know," she said vaguely, smiling genially. "The wedding. Oh, it's such a happy coincidence that George and I will be in the states at the same time as your wedding. I do love a wedding." She smiled down at her tea, probably dwelling on her love of weddings, and Sherlock heaved a sigh and leaned against the table.

"I'm glad someone's looking forward to it," he muttered under his breath, and took his elbows off the table when his mother slapped his elbow with her teaspoon.

"Oh, we all feel that way at first," the Marquesa said, smirking as if she held all the secrets. Sherlock never had liked the woman much. Too haughty. "But it all works out, right Violet?"

"That it does," Mummy replied, nodding absentmindedly. "But, come Hell or highwater, the wedding will happen."

Looking up, Mrs. Turner said, "Oh, I did hear that you were having problems with the planning! What was all of that about?" She and the Marquesa leaned in eagerly—first class women were always eager to hear of the strife of others, for it made them feel more secure—and lent an ear to Mummy for whatever tale of woe she felt like dramatically spinning.

Knowing Violet Holmes, it was sure to be an entertaining one. If nothing else could be said of the woman, she was a good storyteller.

"Well, first of all, you don't even want to know how hard it was so convince Sherlock that the wedding should be held in Boston, instead of on the estate…"

"Why are you having it in Boston?"

"The nature of the event called for neutral territory," sighed Mummy. "There are many people in James' family that are not pleased that he's marrying Sherlock, and we didn't want to invite unsavory guests into our home, nor did we want to deal with the ramifications of holding it in Ireland. Besides, Patrick Moriarty has land in Boston, quite a lovely estate so I'm told, so it's only reasonable that we take advantage of it. Sherlock may as well become acquainted with the properties his husband will one day own." Mummy shook her head and continued, "Anyway, it was like pulling teeth to get Sherlock to agree to anything, much less a transatlantic voyage. He's just like his father—digs his feet in like a bull. He was adamant and, once the venue was finalized, refused to assist in any of the decisions."

Listening to his mother speak about him like he wasn't even there made Sherlock grit his teeth together, but he didn't comment. There would have been no logic behind it. Causing a scene would not be worth it. Besides, his mother did not have the full story, and he comforted himself with that.

The real reason why he had not cooperated was his utter opposition to the marriage. He'd only used objections to the venue as an excuse.

"Then let me tell you what happened with the invitations—my God, it was a disaster. I told Sherlock to mail them and he —I still can't believe he did this—he took half of them and threw them out because he didn't like the people they were being sent to."

"Well," Mrs. Turner reasoned. "It's his day, you know. He shouldn't have people he doesn't like there."

Mummy rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Sherlock couldn't care less about the wedding. He just did it to make my angry." She sighed and glanced at him. "The next stage of his feminization deals heavily with obedience. Maybe then he'll listen to me." Looking back down at her tea, she muttered, "Or at least to James."

This was where the flood of realization became so strong that Sherlock's head finally went under, and he began to drown. The abstractness of 'I will never be free again' finally became a reality.

There would be no way to fix it. There would be no one to help him, only those that pitied him. His life would be a waking nightmare. He would be like a well-trained dog; a mindless minion forced to do everything James Moriarty told him to. He would be a slave.

The phrase 'The wedding will happen come hell or high water' stuck in his mind, like a dizzy spell that refused to pass. For some reason, he'd always allowed himself to think that nothing would come to fruition. What a fool he was.

Panic threatened to overwhelm him, and he stared down at his tea, clenching his fists.

Then his head shot back up, and he said, "May I be excused? I don't feel well."

"For God's sake, Sherlock," Mummy muttered, but then she looked up, and got her first look at her son's genuinely pale face. Her eyes widened. "Perhaps you should."

"Are you ill, dear?" Mrs. Turner asked.

"I believe so," Sherlock whispered. He stood up, and walked out, clutching his head, which refused to stop spinning, refused to be quiet.

He'd intended to find his way to John, but he only made it as far as that bench on which they'd talked earlier before he had to sit. He buried his face in his hands and breathed deeply, attempting to calm down. Willing his head to stop pounding.


Looking up at John, Sherlock muttered, "If I let you help me, will you?"

"Of course," John said, sitting down next to him. He placed his hand on his shoulder, patting it comfortingly. "You're awfully pale, Sherlock. Are you okay?"

"I need your help," Sherlock muttered, irritable in his pain and confusion and panic. "I can't think, John. Or I'm thinking too much. Only I don't know what to think. I thought I was alright, I never thought it would—I can't do it, John. I just can't. I'm not that strong. I'm not. I'd rather die, John. I'd rather die than marry him, John. My head, fuck my head is pounding."

"Shhh," John attempted to pull Sherlock's head down onto his shoulder, but Sherlock resisted, and he ceased the attempt. Instead, he tucked his thumbs against Sherlock's temples and, rubbing, said, "Calm down, now. Deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Shhh." Biting his lip, and cautiously continued, "What can I do for you?"

"I don't know," Sherlock hissed. "I don't…" Impulsively, he took John by the cheeks, and pulled John's face towards his own. He kissed him—only it was more like collision than a kiss—and desperately moved his lips against John's, willing the noise in his head to leave. Though it did not flee entirely, it dimmed to a dull roar and, when he pulled back, he felt he could think again. And now he did slump with his head against John's shoulder, and murmur, "I'd say I don't know what came over me, but it would be a lie."

John didn't say anything, but he wrapped his arms around Sherlock and patted his back. "It's okay."

"Is this okay?"

"Yes," John murmured into his hair. "Yes, it's more than okay."

End Chapter

Notes: Thanks so much for reading, guys! And I'm really sorry that it took so long to update this time around. There were conflicts, mostly life-wise but also internet-availability-wise and contact-with-betas-wise, but I think things have straightened themselves out for the most part! :)

Rating will more likely than not be going up come this next chapter, so prepare yourselves for that and, if you want to get updates, I suggest either following the story now (Because FFN does that thing where it doesn't show M-rated stories without special filters) or following my Tumblr (detective inspector narwhal, no spaces) so you'll know when it's updated.

Thanks so much for reading guys! I hope you all had happy holidays, and that your new years will be filled with joy!