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Title: This Man's Heart - Chapter 17
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None.
Pairing: Sherlock/John.
Word count: 2470
Summary: In the latter part of the 19th century, a peculiar solitary man and an ex-army doctor disfigured at war live in a small village, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. When they first meet, they have no idea their lives are about to change forever and, over the months, they will form an unusual friendship, discover more about each other and themselves, and maybe fall a little in love along the way.
Disclaimer: See first chapter.

Back to the first chapter
Previous chapter


I'm sorry for the delay; I was away from home for a few days, and while I hoped I would be able to edit this chapter and post it yesterday, I was distracted by this compelling AU that you should all read immediately. All complaints regarding my tardiness should be addressed to Random Nexus' muse.

It was a busy week, so I didn't have enough time to respond to all your lovely comments, but please know that I truly appreciate your feedback and your kind words. I'm quite a bit baffled that you're still reading and enjoying this story, so thank you so, so much.

Chapter 17

On Christmas Eve, Sherlock accompanied his aunt to church as per their agreement, which stipulated that she didn’t bother him with religion and church during the year as long as he came with her on Christmas Eve. Sherlock was bored out of his mind, but for once, he wasn’t bothered by it; the feeling was numbing, and he welcomed the unfeelingness with open arms. At least, when he wasn’t thinking, nothing hurt.

The priest was incessantly talking about the importance of preparing their hearts to welcome the mystery of baby Jesus’ birth. He was also saying that on this day of festivities, everyone had to stay vigilant, especially when faced with young people spreading sin.

“How many of you knew that someone here was secretly seeing another man?” he said while glaring pitilessly at the parishioners. “A stranger, a man with a face marked by the Devil. But we must wonder, who’s the guilty one? The Beast acting upon his urges, or the man who ignites them, leading the way to a path filled with lust, flesh, and sins?”

A terrible silence fell upon the church, soon followed by a procession of murmurs of approval. Then, inevitably, heads turned to look at Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson. A few benches away from them, Sarah was gripping her husband’s hand, encouraging him to stay still and not make a scene. At some point, Martha had grabbed Sherlock’s arm, but she let it go and stood up, tearing oohs and aahs from the villagers. With her back straight, she walked towards the central aisle, genuflected in front of the altar, and left the church without a word.

Sherlock didn’t move. He had endured the priest’s words without letting anything show, but his body was stiff, and his eyes were vague. When his aunt left, he didn’t follow. It was her way of protesting and denying the sins, but Sherlock’s stillness looked a lot like a confession in the eyes of the parishioners.

Gregory knew better: his friend was broken.

Later that night, Sebastian Moran and Jim Moriarty held a Christmas reception for their little group. Sherlock hadn’t been seen since after Mass, but it wasn’t that unusual for him to disappear for short amounts of times, so no one was worried yet. Martha and the Lestrades – now including Sarah – were gathered in the two men’s living room, enjoying drinks while Mrs. Turner was busy in the kitchen. She had cooked all day, and she was now setting up plates filled with some of her specialties: very spicy head cheese, fragrant meat pies flavoured with savory, biscotti dipped in sugar with raspberry syrup, and blueberry wine.

Everyone who had heard the priest’s reprimands seemed to have put them at the back of their minds, and the festivities were well on their way when Sherlock surprised them all by entering the room with a flourish. He had clearly run to get there; he was short of breath and looked as though he had been through a tornado. Martha got up from where she had been sitting with Mrs. Lestrade, and she hurried to hug him tightly.

“My poor boy, where were you? And why won’t you wear a coat? You’ll catch your death!”

She fussed, simultaneously running a hand down his lapels while trying to smooth down his curls in which snow was melting. Sherlock tried to slap her hands away, but she was persistent.

“I don’t have a coat anymore, but I do have some news,” he said.

He paused for a moment, making sure he had everyone’s attention.

“I’m getting married,” he announced with a smile that really didn’t reach his eyes.

After church, he had taken a long walk and had thought about his life since the incident in the manor. From an outsider’s point of view, not much had changed; after all, friends fought and separated all the time. He still had Mrs. Hudson and their nice house, as well as Gregory Lestrade’s friendship and their chess games. He didn’t have his coat and his violin anymore, but those were material possessions, and weren’t supposed to matter that much. He also had Sunday night dinners with a group of friendly people whose company he enjoyed and who seemed to like him, so anyone looking at his life would have deemed it pretty decent.

Yet, it was still incredibly, torturously painful. Whenever he was thinking, there was always a part of him thinking of John and his treasures, of his blue eyes, and of his gentle hands. It hurt so much, he felt like screaming. His only escape from the pain was boredom. Boredom numbed his mind and dulled his senses until he couldn’t think or feel. What he had spent most of his life running away from, he was now addicted to. He craved boredom and the release it brought him, he needed it to survive the stretching days.

The days were bad, but the nights were worse; every night he was haunted by dreams of John. There were two kinds of dreams, both horrifying and haunting. In the first one, Harry Watson was tearing off the mask as John shouted for Sherlock to look at him, to see him for who he really was, and as Sherlock looked, John’s face started to melt, blood gushing out of holes in his face. When he had those dreams, Sherlock woke up terrified and sometimes screaming. In the second kind of dream, he and John were kissing passionately while stroking eager skin and rubbing against each other. It felt like heaven, but there were never enough sensations, and he always woke up panting, covered in sweat, and excruciatingly hard. Yet, he felt so guilty that he could never bring himself release and end the agony. He deserved the agony.

At first, he had thought staying at work and doing nothing would successfully bore him out of his skull, but it was too quiet, too easy to think, and once he started thinking, the pain returned. He had tried walking around town and listening to vapid conversations, and for a while it had been enough; his brain had gotten cluttered with so much futile information that it hadn’t left much space for anything else. It had been extremely refreshing, but soon it hadn’t been enough. He needed someone always to be there with him, someone who would talk incessantly, his very own boredom deliverer. His plan was straightforward enough, and it was time to take action.

So he had gone to the Hoopers’ house where they had been celebrating Christmas. He hadn’t doubted Molly would accept his proposal, but to respect the properties, he needed to ask for her father’s blessing. He had knocked on their door and had requested a meeting with Mr. Hooper who hadn’t been hard to persuade. Sherlock didn’t have a good reputation, but Mr. Hooper knew his daughter had been infatuated with him since their first meeting. Also, Molly was getting older, and he wanted her future to be assured before his death. Sherlock was not a rich man, but he could provide his daughter with a nice house, and Mrs. Hudson would be there to make sure Sherlock was the best possible husband. It wasn’t the best of scenarios, yet it was far from being the worst.

Molly had screamed, jumped, and cried with joy when Sherlock had asked. So had her mother; it was such a relief to know her daughter would not end up poor and alone. Sherlock hadn’t stayed long, he had his own Christmas gathering to attend, but he had promised to be back two days later to start discussing wedding plans. He had never planned a wedding before, but the numbing possibilities seemed endless, and he was already craving them.

When Sherlock announced his engagement to the small group of people gathered in Moran and Moriarty’s house, no one believed him until they remembered that he was not a prankster. Everyone was gobsmacked by the announcement, and for a while, they all stared at Sherlock with wide eyes and agape mouths. Sarah was first to recover from the shock, and she quickly got up to hug Sherlock, soon followed by Mrs. Lestrade and Mrs. Turner. It wasn’t long before he was surrounded by a few people who were almost pushing each other to offer their congratulations. However, Gregory, Martha, and her two tenants seemed reluctant. For everyone else, the engagement was a sign Sherlock was moving on, that he was forgetting about his friend, was finally maturing and choosing a grown up life, but those closest to him suspected he had chosen a truly horrible way to deal with his pain. Moran and Moriarty, who were not easily fooled, spoke with Sherlock at the first opportunity.

“Sherlock, don’t do this,” Jim said almost pleadingly.

“We saw you when you came back from the manor. You didn’t tell us what happened, and it’s fine, but we saw you, we saw how sick you were. You don’t belong in a marriage like this, you don’t love her,” Sebastian added.

“I know exactly what I’m doing, this is none of your business,” Sherlock said as he turned to leave, but Sebastian grabbed his forearm.

“Time fixes everything, just give him time, he will come around,” Jim said.

“He won’t. Let me go,” Sherlock said in a harsh tone, but Sebastian didn’t loosen his grip.

“Sherlock, this is serious. It’s a marriage, not atonement. You will be miserable, and you will break Miss Hooper’s heart,” Sebastian said while looking deep into Sherlock’s eyes.

“I just need… this,” Sherlock whispered, and he sounded so exhausted and broken that Sebastian finally let go of his arm and walked away, leaving his husband alone with Sherlock.

“We worry about you, and our offer still stands; if you need anything, or if you need to talk, please come to us,” Jim said, and with those last words he was gone, Sherlock following a few seconds later to re-join the party.

Gregory tried to have a word with him, but Sherlock, anticipating his friend’s concern, waved him off. Gregory couldn’t help but wonder whether Molly was aware of her fiancé’s grief, that he was trying to survive the loss of a wonderful friend, that he was ravaged by guilt and fear, petrified by the thought that he could be like his mother. Every sun John had lit up within him had been switched off.

Martha waited until they were back home after the party to speak with her nephew. Like Gregory, Moran, and Moriarty, she feared Sherlock was marrying for all the wrong reasons, and she urged him to put a stop to the whole masquerade before things got too far. After being ambushed by Moran and Moriarty, Sherlock was prepared; he had composed a clever speech in which he explained how the incident had made him realize it was time to settle down and act like an adult. Martha still seemed doubtful, though, so Sherlock promised himself he would try convincing her in the following weeks.

:::

On the day after Christmas, Sherlock sat with Mrs. Hooper and her daughter to start planning the wedding. They decided to do it in the spring, when the flowers would be blooming and they could hold the reception outside. Molly had dreamed about her ideal wedding since she was a girl, and she knew exactly what she wanted. She talked endlessly about dresses, ribbons, flowers, and candles; Sherlock had never been that bored in his whole life, and it felt exquisite. He stayed with them for dinner, and that night when he went to bed, he enjoyed a dreamless night for the first time since he had been thrown out of the manor.

Shrove Tuesday wasn’t really celebrated that year; the mild spell of February had been one of the worst season demolisher anyone had ever seen, and most villagers were feeling quite dejected. During the four weeks of lent, Sainte-Cécile was beaten up pretty violently by horrible weather. Snow, rain, and black ice relayed each other to make everyone’s life miserable. The tree branches were covered in a thick coat of clear ice, and although the forests looked lovely, walking outside was almost a safety hazard.

Harry Watson hadn’t been seen in a while, but some maritime pilots had told Mr. Lestrade that her brother was sick. She had summoned the best doctor in Rimouski who hadn’t found anything wrong with John’s toned and strong body, so the illness still remained a mystery. Apparently, the doctor had asked him to remove the mask, fearing some kind of infection under the leather, but Harry had refused so vehemently that he had promised himself not to bring the subject up again. It wasn’t long before the Beast’s strange malady became one of the most discussed subjects around town.

Molly had a lot to do before the wedding, among others she had to work on her trousseau, so she and Sherlock didn’t spend that much time together. However, she knew he visited Gregory in the store often, so she started leaving short notes for him there. The last one read:

I often think of you,
Molly xxx


“Molly is a nice girl,” Gregory said with a triumphant grin as his knight took one of Sherlock’s pawns.

Sherlock nodded and made a noncommittal noise as me moved his bishop. Gregory was holding his breath, he was rarely alone with his friend these days, and when they were together, he was sparing of words. He truly wished Sherlock would open up more, and he believed the key to Sherlock becoming his old self again was to liberate himself from all he was holding back.

“I took a walk with her the other day, I convinced her to go to the edge of Moose Cape to see the sunset. The air was nice, it smelled like snow.”

Sherlock was staring intently at Gregory, as if trying to deduce whether he had ever noticed how snow smelled. It seemed terribly significant to him, so Gregory smiled and nodded, and Sherlock continued.

“I was thinking about John, of course, because the last time I had watched a sunset with someone, it had been with him, and he’s the one who taught me how to be still.”

For a moment, it seemed as though his voice had trembled, but Gregory wasn’t sure, so he waited for the rest, he knew Sherlock hadn’t told him everything. However, his friend remained silent, and eventually he decided to break the silence.

“Did you and Molly stay out long?”

Sherlock didn’t react, it seemed as though he hadn’t heard the question, but after a while, he finally answered.

“Molly was cold, and she was tired. We didn’t stay long enough to watch the sun set completely.”

Next chapter.

:::

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Ellie L.

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