Five months later
"Your majesty, if it please you," the elegantly garbed earl began. The luxurious palace salon felt tiny and hot, though it was a wintry night in London.
"It does not, Derby. Account for the dis-dis-discrepancies," the king sputtered, "In the rents and revenue reported by you to our Royal personage, and what our men have learned in their visit to Lancaster. Hmmm?" He gasped, and coughed into a gnarled fist, suddenly breathless.
"Your majesty, my men of affairs handle these matters, surely you understand I haven't the time to visit all the estates personally. My obligations in town-"
"Excuses. Theft. Lies," George growled, squinting at the earl from his cushioned seat. His skin was jaundiced, and he scratched irritably at the wig draped on his skull over the few hairs he had remaining. "You give me a bellyache with your squirming, you pillock."
Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby, stared in shock, unable to respond to the illogical claims. He glanced at the man standing beside the mad king, hoping for assistance. The man avoided Lord Stanley's eyes, strolling to the window and gazing out as though he hadn't heard the conversation.
"I will investigate this matter immediately, majesty. If there has been an error, I will of course penalize those responsible-" Sweat formed on the courtier's brow and his voice held a note of desperation. He rubbed at his chest through his coat.
"Oh but there has been an error. It's too late for investigations," he spat. "Stealing from your king is treason. A fine will be exacted; shall you pay it with your head or your pocketbook?" A mischievous gleam lit in the king's dim eyes. The real purpose of the private meeting became apparent; the king's little games were notorious in his court, and every aristo knew that an audience with the king could end in unearned glories heaped on you, or unfounded accusations sending you to ruin.
The elderly earl was savvy; he sighed in resignation and bowed in apology. "Your majesty, I beg you the opportunity to make restitution in whatever manner you choose. Your grace and generosity are well known amongst your loyal followers, and I kneel to your superior wisdom." For added effect, Derby dropped to one knee and sniffled as though he was holding back regretful tears.
"Ten thousand pounds would cover it. Wouldn't you agree?" George said brightly, turning toward the man at the window.
"Your judgment is fair and just as always, your majesty," he responded, his eyes still on the sprawling view of London.
The earl began to relax, and the tightness in his chest lessened; once the king involved his pet the games were usually over.
"Rise, Derby, rise!" George said gaily. "One more thing before you go, however." He turned back to his companion. "Do your…trick…on Lord Stanley here. Is he planning any more treason? What is he hiding? They're all hiding something, the disloyal weevils chewing away at the throne's fortune with their ambitions."
The calm the earl had recovered slipped away again as ice-cold blue eyes fell on him and cut him to the quick with their lack of mercy.
"The money is nothing to him; he could afford twice as much without blinking an eye, judging by the quantity of Spanish lace in his sleeves. Next time, ask for more gold. Then again, he'll most likely be dead by then. He uses snuff to excess which may be contributing the obvious heart ailment. Poor circulation, excessive body weight, terrible pallor without any powder, breathes 22 times per minute, and his left arm was shaking as he attempted to kneel. Heart will give out within a year." He paused and smiled bitterly. The moonlight on his face drained him of color.
"And it's not a trick."
The panic-stricken earl of Derby rushed from the salon, past the guards, down the grand stairs and into the ball room where several hundred of the aristocracy were gathered. Being invited to a gala at the palace was considered quite the coup by most, but Lord Stanley knew he might well end up penniless whenever George admitted him to his presence. The earl rushed through the ball room, bowed to his lady wife, and demanded the largest portion of wine possible from a passing servant.
The king and his companion stepped out of the salon and descended the stairs, trailed by the three guards. Every eye turned to them, and it wasn't merely the presence of royalty that commanded stares. That a notorious former pirate walked among the lords and ladies stunned the aristocracy, the men mortified at being judged by his brilliant observations that amused the king and the women thrilled that such a dangerous man stalked their halls.
Sherlock Holmes strolled down the stairs as though he hadn't been returned to England in chains. Stripped of all titles, he was still noble to the core. He was styled in the height of the Brummell fashion, from the high collar framing a discreet Gordian knot-tied cravat, to the tailored midnight blue coat that displayed his lean body, to the snug ivory trousers that ended in knee-high black boots. If his sideburns and black curls were a touch too ungoverned for the current trend, no one minded; who wanted a completely tamed pirate, after all?
He walked a half pace behind the king, who shuffled down the stairs unevenly. His leg muscles cramped often, and Sherlock knew that if the king should fall and break his neck, he would be back in chains and readied for the gallows within a day. His safety and that of his mother depended on King George remaining in fair health until Mycroft and the Crown Prince were able to finally convince Parliament that a regency was required. The madness of King George the Third was no longer only whispered about in the palace, but becoming a commonly accepted fact throughout England. How long before America and the rest of Europe realized that Britain was ripe for conquering with a lunatic raising havoc among his own people?
Though the arsenic he'd been dosed with for years, courtesy of Moriarty, had been stopped, the damage was done. By the time Sherlock was permitted close enough to observe the king's personal quarters, he was dying. His internal organs were saturated with the deadly element. Cosmetics, food, even his medications had been laced with it. Sherlock found ways to turn George's paranoia toward the guilty servants until the palace was staffed with all new people. The worsening of his condition slowed, but Sherlock doubted the king had more than six months left.
When he was locked in a ship's hold and chained to a wall instead of immediately hanged, Sherlock had been lost for an explanation as to why. He had failed to escape the clutches of the Royal Navy, underestimating just how well Moriarty had warned them about his abilities. He was stripped naked, made to put on simple burlap clothing, and given no tools, no utensils, nothing remotely useful. Two men guarded his door at all times as they crossed the Atlantic, returning him to London. A Royal Navy surgeon popped his humerus back into the shoulder socket and set his broken arm, but the man lacked John Watson's skills. The break healed, but it ached like the devil whenever it rained, and Sherlock suspected it would for the remainder of his life.
He thought he would go mad from the boredom of the brig, and from not knowing the fate of Molly and his crew. He took to singing aloud the melodies he used to play on his violin, until he was hoarse and the guards were throwing refuse at him to make him stop. He deduced scenes of his life from memory, and he would dream of Molly stroking his hair and kissing his cheek and wrapping her warmth around him as he fell asleep on the cold hard floor damp with sea spray. The long months gave him much time to reflect. He remembered his arrogance in deciding that she would marry him, so that they could continue on as they had been, so very convenient for him, avoiding the idea that she might not want to give up life with her father and their physician's practice.
That was foolish, he thought. Selfish, and too cowardly to admit what I felt because it was inconvenient. I wanted to marry her because I love her and I want her to be my wife. I want everyone to know she's my wife. Why couldn't I just admit that before Arroyo Rico…
As the lumbering navy ship carted him back to England, he fed on images from the past few months, drawing strength from their light and intensity.
…feigning drunkenness at the party where he stole Molly, where the mousy girl surprised him with her haughty "You are not welcome to me, sir" when his hand grazed hers.
…berating Anderson while John looked on exasperated, but also holding back laughter.
…informing his crew that Molly would be staying aboard, threatening them for her safety, even then claiming her in a way he hadn't understood.
…discovering the tantalizing variety of her choice in books, from de Sade's Juliette to her well-used copy of Fabrica that spoke of years of dedicated study.
…Basil running from Chase, while stuffing his mouth full of sugar and cackling as the cook stumbled.
…playing his violin on the forecastle alone at night, contemplating his growing feelings for the woman and realizing how rarely he was bored when she was present.
…the first time he kissed her, in the Isles of Scilly, her body fitting perfectly into his as he broke his long fast from touch.
….holding her strong hands, deducing the nicks and cuts of her trade the morning after they first had sex.
…discovering the bodies on Corvo, the work of the Spitalfields Butcher, and realizing that he and Molly's fates had been intertwined for years before they ever met.
…watching the bond between John and Lestrade grow, deducing the other captain's intentions long before John ever did.
…dragging the name of his ultimate foe from the pirate Hope, and suspecting that Moriarty was another tie he shared with Molly.
…the aching loss he'd felt when Anderson revealed his deception to Molly about the letter to her father, sick with the fear that she would abandon him, never look at him again with her adoring brown eyes, so full of joy and trust.
…Donovan reuniting with her captain Irene Adler, on the shore of Mayaguana, the brittle defenses of the master gunner falling away in her lover's arms.
…observing Lestrade try to guide Basil, and realizing when John intervened that his surgeon had given in to his desire and that his battered and weary best friend was finally happy.
…watching Moriarty sail away with the only woman he ever wanted to love, and finding her again atop a waterfall in a lush green paradise filled with death. That memory hurt, but Sherlock held onto it and used the rage it inspired in him to persevere, and to survive.
He would dive into waterfalls and scale a hundred stone walls if that's what it took to escape the damned navy and find Molly. To return to his life, and the people he'd grown accustomed to, his ship and his sea. He would never bow or scrape to another bloody king again, or play the games of the spoiled aristos as he was forced to, now.
Jamie Moriarty understood that for Sherlock, anything, even execution, was preferable to living trapped and not being in control of his destiny and his gifts. Jamie defeated him from the grave, always one step ahead. The king, though enraged by Sherlock's insolence, was intrigued by the detective's brilliant deductions. It was the perfect solution- a way to deal with his nobles whom he was convinced were going to depose him. Sherlock's handling of the affair of the Spanish Papers years ago confirmed his genius, and Moriarty's final suggestion, that the king make a pet of the rebellious nobleman, was made after he closed in on Sherlock in the Caribbean.
Sherlock had no intention of cooperating, of course. Until they arranged a sumptuous private dinner, and Sherlock arrived to find his mother the scholar sitting at the table, bespectacled and bored, chatting uncomfortably with King George. The king insisted she stay as his guest, and his personal guards looked after her well-being in the palace suite she was assigned.
That the guards could harm as well as protect was made very clear to Sherlock the first time he tested George's resolve in the matter. The morning after he'd tried to free his mother from her suite so they could both escape, the king delighted in showing him the fresh bruises someone had made on his mother's face.
Sherlock had no choice but to acquiesce, and remain by the king's side, entertaining him by showing off his skills while silently raging inside. They permitted him to visit his mother once a week for ten minutes.
During his one visit, Mycroft swore he could take of the situation in time, but begged for Sherlock's patience, since George had threatened again to strip the Holmes family of their entailed fortunes, estates and titles. All would be bankrupted if Sherlock failed to obey.
He didn't care one whit for the money and the large houses, beautiful, cold and empty, scattered around England. Damn the fortunes of the Holmeses, and damn Mycroft to perdition for failing to protect their mother. He would never trust Mycroft to look after her again.
And so Sherlock lived in his gilded cage, and plotted and waited.
The king ambled to his cushioned bench and waved to the musicians to play another tune. He was immediately surrounded by fawning sycophants.
Sherlock felt the noose of boredom slip around his neck as the music swelled anew in the ballroom.
The violinist is appalling. He should be keelhauled for torturing that piece. He worked himself into a temper, contemplating how many hours he would be subjected to subpar musicianship while the aristocracy mingled and snickered and made assignations behind their spouses' backs. Sherlock entertained himself by deducing the secrets of anyone who caught his attention.
He had just finished deducing the Countess of Bloomsbury's marital state, venereal disease, and what she had for supper when a flash of olive green silk swishing past the widow caught his eye.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. He took a step forward.
The bottom few inches of a white dress and the female's slippers were visible beneath the hem of the olive green pelisse. The wearer's back was turned, and their upper half was obscured by the countess and a pair of columns in the Gothic Revival style. The expensive pelisse was knee-length, and the woman no doubt still wore it since she had just arrived at the gala. Nothing interesting there.
What caught Sherlock's attention were the worn shoes. Below the dress, the slippers peeking out from under the dress were far too plain for a royal ball, and they were wonderfully, gloriously familiar.
A mirage, he thought. A wish, an illusion, a dream. You have finally gone as mad as they say you are.
He glanced back at the king, still happily surrounded by kneeling lords, and plied well with red wine. He caught the old man's eye, and gestured toward the throng of dancers, growing more chaotic as the spirits flowed. Sherlock winked at George, and tilted his head toward a pack of young females. Understanding, the king snickered, and waved him on.
Sherlock swallowed hard. What if he was wrong?
He hopped off the elevated seating area by the king, and strolled across the floor. He ignored sultry lingering looks from passing women and men, and wove through the crowd, searching. He had circled the large room twice, and was beginning to believe he had fooled his own eyes, when he saw the small figure exiting a side door, covered in a hooded olive green pelisse.
His heart began to pound in earnest as he hurried through the sweating bodies of the aristocracy, avoiding coming too near to George's guards.
He ducked out the side door that led to a hall running parallel to the ballroom. He darted around the hall, spying no one but a giggling drunken couple groping each other as they staggered out onto a portico. A half dozen small chambers and alcoves led off the passage. It was an ideal place for an assignation, if that was what the woman had intended. Perhaps she was simply off to meet a lover, and the out-of-place footwear was a coincidence.
He yanked at his ornate cravat in frustration, cursing and opening doors. Every room was empty and silent as he stormed up and down the hallway.
He stuck his head into the last room, a rarely used study, and found no signs of life. Sherlock backed out of the room-
And into a warm body, connected to soft arms that slid around his waist.
He spun around, his heart in his throat, and looked into smiling brown eyes peering out from under the pelisse hood, her brown hair neatly tucked back underneath. She opened up her mouth to speak, and hadn't uttered a single syllable before she was in his arms.
With a near sob, he swept her into a tight embrace and covered her mouth with his.
"Molly, Molly." Between kisses, all he could say was her name, the reality of her scent and her softness enveloping him, knocking him senseless.
She laughed against his mouth. "Sherlock, into the room now, before someone sees!" Without a word, he dragged her into the darkened study, kissing her breathless again, his hands tugging at the clasps of her pelisse.
Molly swatted away his hands impatiently, and then reached for the clasp herself. "I know, I know," she whispered, and tears shone in her eyes. "But we have to go. There will be time for that later- and some explanations. We've got to hurry, John and Melas are waiting upstairs-"
Sherlock ripped the neckcloth off entirely, throwing it on the floor. He ran his hands through his wild curls in frustration.
My god, how I've missed that gesture, Molly thought. And was he always this pale? He'd always been light-skinned, but his time as a prisoner had sapped the hue from his skin, leaving him white and hollow-cheeked.
"I can't go, they have my mother. But you're alive." He cupped her face with his large hands, and for a few silent seconds, his eyes drifted over her face. She had the sense that he was memorizing every detail, as though they would be parted for months again.
Sherlock pushed her hood back and wrapped his hand around her head, holding her close for another kiss.
As he dipped his mouth to hers, Molly surprised him by pushing back against his chest. She wanted to sink into him, run her hands over every inch of him, to be certain he was really there, but she couldn't. The plan depended on precise timing.
"Sherlock, I told you there's no time! We've a carriage ready and we can get to the Hudson quickly. The diversion is in place, and the chase out of London will be minimal. And we can get your mother."
He straightened up, and she saw a spark of hope in his eyes. "The guards have standing orders to shoot her if someone tried to break her out again. How have you circumvented that? There can be no room for error."
Molly stepped back and turned around. She withdrew a small satchel from her coat, pushed the pelisse off her shoulders and let it drop to the floor. She reached for the hem of her white dress, and tugged it over her head. Underneath the dress, she wore britches that hugged her bottom and a very loose man's shirt. She pulled a pair of leather shoes from the satchel, and stuffed her old slippers into the sack.
"What do you think we've been doing for the past two months we were back in London? Melas led us to Mycroft, and he told us what happened to you. Finding ways to get you out was easy, it seems like they barely watch you, but your mother, well that took work." She rambled as she adjusted the legs of her trousers. "One of the guards were easily bribed. John and I figured out that he has a gambling problem and is easily bribed. He'll absent himself at the correct moment, but not before drugging the fellow he stands with on the outer door with a concoction we whipped up. Don't worry, it won't kill him," Molly reassured him, inwardly praying that her calculations for the formula were correct. The tests had been successful, but reality didn't have laboratory conditions.
"Oh I wasn't worried about a guard being killed," he replied with a shrug.
Molly scooped up the pelisse, wrapped it around her again and secured the clasp. She stuffed the dress into her sack. "We bribed a maid for the layout of the chambers in that wing. John is waiting upstairs for us, with our Greek friend. Getting in and out was easy with the grand gala, so we waited for the event to happen."
She gathered up the satchel. "As for the third guard…when I was exploring your lab closet on the Hudson, looking for something we could use, I found a colorless, odorless organic compound labeled 'sweet oil of vitriol.' I read your notes, and experimented with it, and found that in very small doses it creates unconsciousness in a human with little to no side effects."
Sherlock's eyes widened, but she also saw interest there. "That is a dangerous substance. You shouldn't be in my lab. I was testing oil of vitriol to see if it would serve as a new kind of anesthetic for surgeries."
"I have studied some chemistry, Sherlock," she reminded him. "And I was quite careful. I had two months to plot ways to save you, not to mention we had almost no defenses when we ran from Jamaica. The vitriol works as a sort of gas vapor. We've contained three vials worth- throw them to the floor near the guard, wait for him to breathe the fumes, and he'll pass out quickly. It works. We're going to save your mother, and never come back to this damned place!"
Molly stuck two guns from the satchel into her belt and then turned around to face Sherlock.
He looked down at himself, in his elegant aristocratic clothing. With a grin, he reached up and tore the high collar off, tossing it on top of the neckcloth on the floor. He clasped Molly's hand, and she gripped his in turn.
Now it begins, she thought, anxiety churning in her belly.
They exited the study, wincing as the bright light of the hall hit their eyes.
Sherlock glanced left and right, confirming the area was deserted. He slipped his arm around her, and said softly in her ear, "I trust you, Molly, but if something happens, let me be taken, you get my mother out of-"
As he leaned into her, he encountered a firmness between their bodies. He frowned and looked down.
"Right. I was wondering when you would notice that." Molly's cheeks turned pink, and under her pelisse, she smoothed her hands over the slight swell of her belly that the loose shirt and her overcoat had hidden from view.
"It was dark in there," Sherlock said blankly, staring. She could practically feel the racing circuits of his mind come to a standstill as he reached forward and cupped her stomach.
Her belly was surprisingly hard, and her waist had thickened noticeably since he'd held her last. She was still adjusting to the changes in her body, the fascinating shifts in her shape, the way her equilibrium had been affected and how the simplest tasks were now complex. She and Sherlock had never discussed children, and she waited in trepidation for his reaction.
Maybe he doesn't want a baby to hamper his freedom…
Molly chewed her lip. "I'm not very big yet. I think in the next month is when I'll be…" She mimed a large mound over her abdomen. "I don't think we have time to talk about this now. But I couldn't leave you in here while I had our baby, we need you."
Sherlock shook himself out of his shock. He stroked the smooth roundness of her abdomen as he kissed her softly.
"This is…a surprise. Though it does seem like an interesting process worth observing."
"It really is. I'll tell you all about it later."
"Good. Now, isn't it about time for you to save me, Dr. Hooper?"
They flew through the halls of the palace, dodging the guards who were woefully predictable in their patrolling patterns and stations. Sherlock had memorized them all before his first escape attempt.
As they neared his mother's suite, Molly pulled him toward a room, pointing at a blue door. "That's the one," she whispered, tapping on the door twice and then three more times in rapid succession.
One blue eye peered out cautiously from the crack between the door and the jamb, and then the door swung open.
"Bloody hell, it's good to see you." John beamed and clapped his friend on the back. He looked back and said, "It's them."
Melas popped out of the room and stuffed two pistols in Sherlock's hands. "Your lady mother waits, yes? Reunions will come later. Lead the way, doctor."
They turned the corner and approached his mother's suite. The guard outside paced nervously and jumped when he saw them near.
"He's out," he whispered, tilted his head toward the door. "Plopped right on the ground like you said, still breathing. Once you pass through this room, the inner chamber's the next door straight in." The guard's eyes darted frantically up and down the hallway. He straightened his jacket and hurried off, out of sight.
"He'll sound the cry for help after he comes back from- erm, relieving himself. That's our window of time," Molly explained. She opened the outer door, and all four noted the drooling uniformed man passed out on the carpet.
That left only one more guard inside, the one with the standing orders to kill his mother should Sherlock escape. Everything rode on the perfect execution of Molly's plan.
"I have it all worked out," she said in low tones as she drew the three vials of vitriol from her satchel. "First, we'll create a small distraction to draw him away from your mother. We can't have her knocked out by the vapors, carrying her would slow us down a lot. Then carefully we'll-"
Sherlock snatched the vials from her hand and strode to the door. He pounded on it, and waited for a response from the guard within.
"Need you to watch the front, gotta have a slash," Sherlock barked in an accent completely unlike his own, an uncanny imitation of the first guard they had encountered. The sound of footsteps neared the door.
"What the hell you on about, we've got our orders-" The man began as the door opened. He never finished the sentence, as Sherlock smashed the vials of vitriol directly against his face. The guard dropped to the floor, coughing and dropping his weapon. The potent vapors began to rise, knocking the man out completely mere seconds after he hit the floor. Molly and Melas backed away from the area.
"That wasn't the plan!" Molly shouted.
Sherlock leaped over the guard and into the room. "Your plan was taking too long to explain. This one is working superbly." He smiled at something within the room out of Molly's sight and then extended a hand.
"Fetch your spectacles, Mummy. It's time to go home."
The carriage bounced madly through the streets of London, overcrowded with Molly, Melas and John on the seats, and Sherlock and his mother crouched on the tiny floor space. It was still dark outside but they didn't want to take any chances of being spotted.
Molly was struck, as she was when she first saw the lithograph of Mummy, how different she was from her son. The almond-shaped green-blue eyes were there, and she saw a suggestion of Sherlock's defined upper lip in his mother's face as well. But the woman was short, with mellow bone structure and fair hair touched with grey around the temples. Her face was round and sweet, and her eyes swam behind spectacles. She hadn't said a word since being shoved into the carriage by the group as they fled the palace. Molly smiled at her, and the older woman returned it shyly.
John grinned as the carriage lurched violently around a corner, speeding toward the docks. "Hardly any problems at all, yeah?"
"Not so far. Kept my ship in one piece while I was occupied elsewhere?"
"More or less. Bad patch of storms when we crossed the Atlantic again, but we came through alright. Didn't keep Molly from being ill most of the time."
"You try being with child when you're on a ship for months at a time! The swaying, oh my heavens, my stomach was a trial in the first few months. The sickness stopped not long after we made port in London. I'm sure you don't want to hear about this," Molly said, hoping Sherlock's mother wasn't offended by the frank discussion of her pregnancy.
Lady Holmes patted her son's hand, and smiled. "Mycroft was delightful to carry, but this one made me ill the entire nine months. He was always difficult." She squeezed his hand, and Sherlock sighed. He feigned annoyance, but Molly saw the upward curl of his lips when his mother spoke.
"Yes, Mummy?" Sherlock winced as another sudden turn threw him into the edge of the seat.
"This is the young lady you told me of during your visits to my suite?"
"Yes, she's mine." His eyes met Molly's, and then wandered down to her belly.
"You will be marrying her, will you not? We are modern-minded, the Holmeses, but the child should have your name."
"Yes, I'm going to marry her, Mummy." He paused. "I meant to do it properly, and ask. " He turned around from his crouching place on the floor. "Molly, will you be my wife? I know you have a life with your father and your role in his medical practice, but that doesn't mean you can't marry me. I know I said some things about him before, but if it's important to you, we could-"
"Oh stuff it, you silly man," Molly said with a laugh. She leaned down and pressed her mouth to his. "Do you think I'd plot this escape and steal you out from under a king's power if I didn't plan on keeping you?" She curled her hand around his neck. "My father is with your brother, of all places. He hasn't had wine or ale in months." Her eyes sparkled with tears.
"With my brother? Why on earth didn't he mention it?"
"Because you had already decided he was the villain of this piece, my love. He gave us the money for the bribes. He was planning to wait to help you and your mother escape, yes, but once he saw we were resolute, he agreed to help finance it. When we last saw him, he was taking action to protect your family's finances and position. I'm still not sure why he's helped Papa, but he's…" Molly bit her lip. "He's almost like the man I remember from when I was child, before Mama died. He's been treating poor families in the village near Mycroft's summer estate, for the past four months. And he's not coming back to London. No more practice here, though I will miss it. Terribly so. But we're living our own lives now. I do still want you to meet him someday soon."
Sherlock's mouth dropped open and a deep wrinkle appeared between his eyes.
Mummy laughed softly. "You never can be certain of Mycroft's motivations. He's like his late father that way. A brilliant man, quite cunning with people and finances. Sherlock is more like me, an explorer and a learner."
Lady Holmes reached for Molly's hand, and clasped it to Sherlock's. "I'm not quite certain what transpired in the last six months, but you must tell me one day soon. I've the feeling that this has been a grand adventure."
John threw a handful of coins at their driver and they ran across the docks, searching out the Hudson's simple sails. The ship's name had been painted over, and the smoky sky over the Thames was starless and black.
"Oi!" a voice called as they neared the end the wharf. Sherlock pulled up short when he spotted the source of the sound.
The rat-faced sailing master deployed the gangplank, and John and Melas escorted the women aboard. Sherlock swore and pointed accusingly. "Completely different knot-tying styles on the ropes- meaning you've hired a mostly new crew since Jamaica- and yet you kept Anderson?"
John rolled his eyes as they tugged on the ropes to pull the plank back up. "You might think he's the biggest arsehole to sail the Atlantic, but we needed him. You may not want to believe it, but he's actually quite a good navigator. Complain later, Sherlock, now is when we escape."
"Where's the bloody navy and the king's men and the local law? This is much less exciting than our usual getaways, John." Sherlock frowned at the calm city streets around the docks. His mother stepped carefully around the clear deck, taking in the details of the pirate ship with a bemused expression.
"I told you we had a diversion. The pirate Adler was sighted a few hours ago in English waters. Every able ship was sent after her." Molly giggled and slid an arm around his waist. He draped his around her shoulder, hugging her to him tightly. "She still has a soft spot for you, I think. She was more than happy to help. They'll never catch her. Donovan sends her regards to the crew."
Anderson huffed in disgust and tromped back to the crew's quarters.
"You thought of everything, didn't you." As the Hudson pulled out, drawing them safely away from London, Sherlock turned to face Molly and pulled her into an embrace. "If I'm not careful, you'll be captain of this ship soon instead of me."
"Eh actually…" John smirked.
"You're back!" Basil shouted, running down the deck. The boy threw himself at Sherlock and Molly, wrapping his arms around them both.
"Yes, we are," Sherlock said, ruffling the boy's hair. "And you are…startlingly clean. Did you fall into the sea? My god, I think you actually smell like soap."
Basil grinned. "I've been reading too. A bit. My sums are excellent, the captain says."
"The captain?" Sherlock's left eyebrow rose and he pursed his lips. "I see." And he did. The logical progression of events after his capture fitted together and he came to the only possible conclusion.
"Good to see you, Holmes." Greg came down from the forecastle, and offered his hand to Sherlock.
"Yes, delightful to see you as well, Captain Lestrade. You're responsible for…this?" He waved at Basil's clean hair. The boy's mischievous eyes bounced between the two men.
Greg's stubborn jaw jutted out. "Yeah I am. Told you, boys need discipline. And John agrees with me."
Sherlock's gaze slid to his friend. John nodded reluctantly and took his place beside Greg. Lady Holmes tilted her head to the side, contemplating the tense exchange with a faint air of amusement.
"Well there's only one thing to say then, is there." Sherlock gritted his teeth, stepped forward, and squinted at the former navy man.
Lestrade froze. "What?"
Sherlock extended his hand now to Greg, who shook it automatically in his daze. "The Hudson is safe. You brought Molly back across the ocean to me, took care of Basil, and…" He caught John's eyes. "If you did for John only a tenth of what Molly has done for me, then I would still be grateful." He cleared his throat, looking slightly embarrassed.
John broke into a wide smile, and slipped his hand into Greg's strong grasp.
Sherlock stepped back, and pulled Molly close again with one arm, afraid to let her stray too far from him yet. He had a great deal of lost time to make up for, and they had a future together to prepare for.
"Are you sure you want to marry me, Molly Hooper? I promise I will try my best, but I'll never be easy."
Molly smiled. "I expect you'll keep me quite entertained then. Are you sure you want to marry me, Sherlock Holmes?"
"Don't be absurd. Where on earth would I find another woman who was both doctor and pirate in one lovely package?" He touched his lips to hers, and they leaned into one another, their foreheads pressed together and their breathing in sync. After a moment of blissful quiet, Sherlock tilted his head to the side and glanced back at his ship's surgeon and the new captain.
"I do want to be clear though, Captain Lestrade… if you have tampered with any of my experiments while I was away, forget everything I said… I'm going to bloody keelhaul you."
A quiet two months' voyage brought the Hudson back through the Caribbean. After a quick negotiation with the previous owner, Sherlock purchased a tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico with the remains of the funds that Mycroft had set aside for their mother's relocation. It was in American waters, not far from Louisiana territory, and the Americans didn't care about a pirate that only the English wanted.
Sherlock was still enraged that his brother had left Mummy in the king's hands for months, but he understood that the money was in part an apology. He swore at the mention of Mycroft's name for months, but that habit faded after a very sober and optimistic Matthias Hooper joined them on their island a year later. Mycroft was still a git, but he had made Molly happy by helping her father save himself.
Only a week after they arrived at their new home, Molly found herself being loaded onto the ship again. They docked in Kingston just long enough for Sherlock to pay an English magistrate to marry them and to not mention the marriage to anyone. In a rare fit of awareness, Sherlock apologized for the lack of festivities surrounding their nuptials.
"Oh Sherlock, I'm big as a house now," Molly said, cradling her belly. "And besides, I've always hated parties. I was so lonely at those affairs. The only decent one I ever attended, some bloody pirate stole me from it." She gave him a cheeky grin, and asked her husband to bring her back to their island. She would always love sailing and the sea that Sherlock had introduced her to, but their baby needed a permanent place to be born and call home.
After installing their friends on their island in a small but sturdily built house, John and Lestrade chose to remain on board the Hudson, refitting the ship for legal trading enterprise and splitting the profits with the Holmeses. Basil decided to stay with them and continue his education with the help of the captain, the surgeon, and some of the interesting books Molly had left behind on board. The day Basil picked up Fanny Hill and actually understood its contents was the day that John and Lestrade decided that the boy had progressed enough to consider university in a few years.
Basil refused. The ship was his home, the only place he'd ever been happy after his rough upbringing in the streets of London. He insisted on staying with John and Lestrade, stating that they were the only parents he actually remembered, and he'd be damned if he abandoned them.
John and Lestrade were what Sherlock referred to as "disgustingly, boringly content" with their life on the Hudson. The only serious argument occurred when, at fifteen, Basil decided it was time to take a last name and they couldn't decide whose he should use.
They resolved the disagreement when Basil said he would simply take both names. Then naturally, there was an argument over whose name came first, but they settled that far more amicably- with a coin toss.
Molly gave birth a month later to a healthy baby girl named Nora Marianne Holmes, delivered by her father's best friend and his mother, and a midwife that Sherlock had hired from New Orleans. The second child, born a year and a half later, was much easier to deliver as his grandfather Matthias was there to catch the boy as his mother labored and pushed him into the world.
"What's this little one to be named?" Matthias crooned as he washed the blood off the baby and wrapped him in a soft blanket. He bounced the bundle gently. Lady Holmes had chosen to remain with Nora on the beach of their island while Molly screamed in labor.
"I- I don't know," Sherlock stuttered, in awe that his indomitable wife had once again produced a perfect tiny human being with minimal help from himself. He sat in the rocking chair by his and Molly's bed, and Matthias laid the babe on his chest. His long arms cradled the boy anxiously.
"You choose the name, darling. I named Nora, it's your turn." Molly's voice was sleepy. The maid brought a bowl of soup from the kitchen, and began to feed her.
"I'm not creative, Molly. I never know what to name things." He shrugged and his eyes widened as his son whimpered from the movement. Sherlock gingerly touched the tuft of black hair on the newborn's head.
"Don't be creative. Be honest."
Sherlock nodded, unable to move his gaze from the little boy, whose eyes were distinctly catlike in shape. "Fine. Hudson. Hudson Matthias Holmes."
Molly smiled and swallowed another spoonful of soup dutifully.
"Oh." Her father stood up, suddenly abashed. "I…oh." He sat back down. "You don't have to. I know I wasn't…I wasn't a proper father most of the time."
"Molly forgave you. She loves you, and you brought our son safely into the world. Now please stop weeping, Dr. Hooper."
The physician nodded, and did a poor job of drying his face. "Hudson after your ship. A strong name."
"It's where we fell in love. And the name of someone who was important to me when I was a child." He smoothed his thumb across his son's cheek, noting how the child's mouth puckered up and began to root for milk. "Is that…is that choice suitable, Molly?"
"Yes, love. It's perfect. You understand, we will have to purchase another ship now and name it 'Nora' so that his big sister is not jealous when she's old enough to sail."
Late in 1810, King George III of England fell gravely ill. His body wracked in pain, his vision gone and his sanity in tatters, the need for a regency was accepted. In 1811, George III stepped aside and his son ruled in his stead. The king would live another nine years, but his reign of madness had come to an end.
The fortunes of the Holmes family were restored entirely, and the Crown Prince, who would one day rule as George IV, expressed his gratitude for the long friendship and patience of the Earl of Warwick.
Sherlock Holmes was pardoned of all crimes, and welcomed to return to the British Isles if he so chose to. As far as the Crown was concerned, he had never stepped outside the law when he sailed, and the sordid mess of his exile had been wiped from the records.
"So they're saying you were never a pirate?" Molly asked. She closed the door to her children's bedroom gently, and joined her husband in the parlor.
"Bollocks to that," he replied, dragging his wife down onto his lap.
They did visit England though, and returned Lady Jane Holmes to the Warwick estate. She loved spending time in the gulf studying the native flora, but England was home. Molly and Sherlock discussed the possibility of returning to England permanently, but as long as they would not permit women to study or practice medicine, there was little point in remaining there. She was better off working and studying with her father when he treated people on the surrounding small islands. Ships often anchored by their island, having heard that the best doctors to be found were there, and willing to treat anyone who truly needed help.
The tension between Sherlock and Mycroft remained, despite his pardon and his mother's easy forgiveness of her older son's failure to save her from the king's palace prison.
Tearful goodbyes were said as they departed the Warwick estate, and Mummy slipped a piece of paper in Sherlock's hand as she kissed him on the cheek.
"You've never understood each other, not truly, which is strange because you are so alike. But he does what is best for all, not for his own wishes- even when it hurts him. He loves you." She squeezed his hand again, and waved farewell as the carriage door closed, and Sherlock rode away with his small family.
"What is it?" Molly asked, trying in vain to amuse her cranky toddlers in the bumpy carriage.
Sherlock opened the paper, and frowned at Mycroft's familiar handwriting. "An address."
A ghost of a smile touched his lips. "We have one stop to make in London before we embark on the Nora."
The carriage rolled to a stop in a busy street in the north end of London. Molly climbed out, and her husband passed her their children.
"Mmm, smells lovely here." Molly scanned the row of buildings in front of her.
"It's the bakery," Sherlock responded, pointing.
The shop was closed at the moment, but a glass window displayed rows of fresh-baked cakes, with thick loaves of bread piled on a platter. He pointed at the narrow door next to the bakery, and Molly guided the children to it.
Sherlock took a deep breath, and rapped on the solid wooden door.
After a minute, it opened slightly, and a woman with grey-flecked brown hair peeked out.
"Yes? Who is-Oh." The woman threw the door open and clapped a hand over her mouth. "I would never forget those eyes, not as long as I live."
"You changed your name back?"
"Oh, the baker was atrocious, and he ran off. I always liked my first married name better, anyhow. Got rid of the baker's name and kept the bakery." She winked, and pulled Sherlock into a hug. "How on earth did you find me, Sherlock?"
He smiled briefly, and Molly looked between the two of them in confusion. "Sherlock?"
"Pardon me, ladies. May I present my wife, Molly Hooper Holmes, and our children." He turned to Molly, and she saw a deep well of unspoken emotion in his warm blue-green eyes.
"Molly…it gives me the greatest pleasure to introduce you to an old friend of mine- Martha Hudson."
Thank you to everyone who has been so incredible with supporting this story, with all your reviews, alerts and favoriting. I never expected it when I started the story, but I sure do appreciate it. It's been wicked fun to write.
I wanted to write your basic historical romance novel, embracing all the tropes of that genre, but with the strangeness of Molly and Sherlock and their friends providing the twist on it. I've tried to keep things in the right time period, but sometimes I did have to wander a bit for the sake of the story. Forgive any transgressions, as I just wanted to write something fun. Fun first, science second. Most of the stuff in here does exist, but I simplified it for streamlining's sake or bumped up its invention, date-wise.
There were some references to ACD canon in this story- minor ones I made to amuse myself. "Melas" is the title character of "The Greek Interpreter." Latimer is another character from the same short story. Brunton, the victim of the ergotism in this, is the name of the missing butler in "The Musgrave Ritual." Kirwan, his replacement bo'sun, is the name of the murder victim in "The Adventure of the Reigate Squire," and the rigger Forrester is another name I took from that story. The Downey name, I don't have to explain where I got that one from, right? :)
Basil is just a Baker Street Irregular without the cool title. His name refers to Basil Rathbone, from the early Holmes films and The Great Mouse Detective.
George III died insane in 1820, nine years after handing over the rulership to his son. The source of his illness has been speculated on for two hundred years with no sure answers. Researchers did find high levels of arsenic in samples of his hair, but the source could be accidental and not the cause of his death. Many diseases have been cited as the possible cause of his madness and death, such as porphyria, but no one really knows the truth. So I blamed it on Moriarty, 'cause why not?
The term "detective" didn't exist in 1807, which is why I had Sherlock claim he invented the job. It didn't exist until the 1840's.
Molly's books are all real.
And thanks again, everyone, for reading The Pirate and The Doctor!