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Title: This Man's Heart - Chapter 16
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None.
Pairing: Sherlock/John.
Word count: 2527
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

Chapter 16

Humming softly to herself, Marie Turner was doing the dishes while distractedly looking at the storm still raging outside. It was part of her evening routine; next she would bring tea to Sebastian and Jim in the living room, and after that, she would start getting ready for bed. She was surprised when someone knocked on the door; they rarely got visitors, and when they did, they never came that late. Dropping her dishtowel on the counter, she wiped her hands on her apron and walked to the door.

She gasped upon opening it. Sherlock was standing on the porch, his clothes were covered in snow, his eyes were wild, and his lips were blue from the cold. He looked as though he had been dropped there by a whirlwind of snow.

“Mr. Holmes!” she exclaimed. “You’re not even wearing a coat, what happened to you?”

He didn’t answer. The walk from the Watsons’ manor had been a long one, but he hadn’t even felt the fierce wind piercing his clothes and the frozen snow whipping his face relentlessly. He had walked as if in a bad dream, isolated from the rest of the world, entirely focused on moving forward despite the pain. He had put one foot before the other while ignoring the fact that all the murderous beasts of all the forests in the world had crawled under his skin, and were now fighting for his entrails.

Unsure of what to do, Mrs. Turner decided to lead the young man to the living room where a fire had been lit earlier. Jim or Sebastian would probably know how to handle the situation. She opened the door, and the two men looked up. They were both sitting on the couch, Sebastian was leaning against the armrest, and he had his arms around Jim who was sitting between his legs, a book in one hand while he stroked his husband’s leg with the other. Upon seeing them, Sherlock let out a small cry akin to a sob, and he fell to the floor.

Sebastian, the strongest of the two, picked him up and brought him up the stairs to the spare bedroom where he gently laid him down, stripped him of his wet clothes so he wouldn’t get sick, and piled several blankets on his trembling body.

Sherlock spent several days in the small bedroom, fighting against a violent fever and invisible assailants. Sometimes, he screamed as though a flock of gulls were trying to eat him alive. On those occasions, when he woke up, he sat up straight, driven by energy only anguish seemed to fuel.

“Look at him, look at him!” he repeated, panicked.

He refused to eat. Gregory, who had been informed of his friend’s condition by Moriarty, came every day with some of Sherlock’s favourite food, cooked just for him by Sarah, but to no avail. On the third day, Moran got the doctor to come, and he suggested mustard and camphor poultices, but they had already applied some multiples times, without any visible results.

On the fourth day, he still looked weak and spiritless. Martha, who had come back from Rimouski in the afternoon, sat alone with her nephew for a long time. She understood that something had been ripped away from him, that he was wasting away in some cold and gloomy den; all the light had left his body. At one point, she got up, walked to the window, and looked out at the night sky.

“The Pole Star is paler tonight, it’s been like that for a few nights. I think, somewhere on Spruce Cape, something happened that was so terrible that even the stars lost some of their light.”

Gregory, Jim, and Sebastian had tried appeasing Sherlock by telling him everything was well, and hoping he would come back to them. Martha understood that she had to go to him and meet him in the dark place in which he had taken refuge. She had to find the prison in which he was hiding and dig a tunnel back to the light. There wasn’t any other way.

“For the sky to make such a big deal out of it, it must have been something atrocious, right dear? The kind of thing that takes your breath away and robs you of all strength. I have lived this before; I know how much it hurts. You wake up with a smashed ribcage, crushed lungs, and a twisted heart. I know.”

Sherlock was looking up at his aunt, all ears. He was drinking up her words like a castaway in the desert drinks offered water.

“It seems as though nothing can sooth away the pain, it feels as if you’re condemned to endure day after day, and the prospect is horrible.”

She paused for a moment, but Sherlock’s eyes never left her kind face.

“For some people, it ends there. Yet, some turn their heads towards the sky. Miraculously or by mistake, it doesn’t matter. They feel as though they are sinking into mud, half buried already, and they pray, they hope for the other half to be buried soon. Then, suddenly, they look up, and they see that the sky, as dark as a wolf’s mouth, is freckled with stars. Hundreds, thousands of small silvery eyes, winking and twinkling.”

Slowly, she tore herself away from the window, but she didn’t sit beside Sherlock again. Before leaving, she looked at him and offered a smile filled with hope.

“Only you can decide, dear. You can stay in your hole, or you can look up. While you make up your mind, I will be waiting for you at home, but I do hope you’ll choose to look up and come back home.”

On that night, Sherlock wasn’t as restless as he had been the nights before. The next day, he drank some of the vegetable stock Moriarty offered, and he took a few bites of bread. Then, he slept again for several hours during which his fever subsided.

The next day was a Saturday, and Gregory wasn’t working, so he spent the whole day with his friend who finally told him the edited account of what had happened in the Watsons’ manor. He couldn’t speak of his desire, of the kiss, and of warmth of John’s lips against his own, because he didn’t know what to think of it, and he couldn’t put words on what he had felt. However, he told him everything about Harry’s anger and her devastating words.

“He thought I was disgusted,” Sherlock told his friend, “that his face was terrifying me. It’s not true. I couldn’t move; it was too much. Harry’s incessant screams and all her hateful words had petrified me. There was so much disgust and spite on her face when she tore the mask off, I was shaken.”

“How bad was it?” Gregory asked.

He wasn’t used to his friend’s distress, and therefore felt a little awkward, but he often found that talking about problems helped wrap one’s mind around them, so he tried to be helpful and make Sherlock talk.

“I saw the holes and the lacerations, and it really looked horrible. But at the same time, it wasn’t that bad. Because all I could see were his eyes, it was like watching an awful stormy sky, but with the sun shining through right in the middle. I could only see the sun.”

It wasn’t something Sherlock would have done before, talking in metaphors. It was all because of John and his beautiful treasures. John who had showed him things he had seen before, but who had thought him how to appreciate them with a different set of eyes. John whose heard he had destroyed, Sherlock thought, and he swallowed with difficulty.

On that same day, Sherlock returned home, and for the first few days afterward he didn’t leave the house, but stayed curled up in his bed while the skull shot him accusing glares. A week later, on Sunday, Martha convinced him to accompany her to the weekly dinner at the Lestrades’ house. Sarah was now an official member of their little clan, so was Molly, and for the first time, Moran and Moriarty had been invited seeing as they had been so helpful and kind while taking care of Sherlock.

The meal was delicious; Mrs. Lestrade had cooked Sherlock’s favourite dessert, and Mr. Lestrade had opened one of his best wine bottles. The discussions were pleasant, but Sherlock was keeping to himself, sometimes shooting quizzical glances at Molly who was babbling almost incessantly about things that usually would have made Sherlock want to eat his own head. However, on that night, he seemed to be paying attention. Sarah noticed, of course, and she elbowed her husband excitedly, but Gregory watched the scene with apprehensive eyes. He had seen that expression on Sherlock’s face before, but he had been talking about dissecting animals at the time; his interest in Molly couldn’t end well.


During that week, Sally Donovan hastily left for Québec City. One of her aunts, mother of many children, was said to be terribly sick, and Sally had accepted to lend her a helping hand.

“It could take a few months,” Sally’s mother told anyone who would listen, “my sister was never strong, she’s lucky to have such a devoted and courageous niece; her children are unbearable.”

As soon as Sally was gone, along with her mother who would help her get settled, Jonathan Anderson arrived in the store with a different story.

“Sally is pregnant,” he said in a confidence tone to one of his neighbours, but he was talking loud enough for everyone in the store to hear.

“Her parents don’t want people to see her swell up, so she’s hiding in Québec until she gets her figure back.”

The declaration startled everyone in the store, and people started murmuring hurriedly. Encouraged, Anderson continued his story. He said The Beast had assaulted Sally on a stormy day when her boat had been deported in East Birches Bay. Anderson also claimed he had been the one to find her and accompany her back home.

“Her skirt was torn, her hair a mess, and she had gone spare. The Beast is a real heartless savage without honour. If I were Sally’s father, I would have complained, but he probably didn’t want to ruin his daughter’s reputation.”

Gregory was disgusted. He wanted nothing more than to accuse Anderson of being an inconsiderate liar, but he couldn’t say anything without betraying Sherlock, so he remained calm, but couldn’t resist voicing an opinion.

“What you’re saying is bound to harm Donovan’s reputation.”

Anderson shrugged.

“In the end, the truth always comes out, I’m just accelerating the process. I hope it can prevent other poor girls from getting molested by The Beast, and maybe encourage the men to get rid of him once and for all.”

“You’re right about one thing, Anderson,” Gregory added, “truth always comes out in the end.”

Gregory had promised himself he would inform Sherlock of the rumours Anderson was peddling around town; he was just waiting for the right moment. Ten days later, the right moment hadn’t presented itself yet when Harry Watson entered the store. She was returning from a trip in which she had established new contacts with other seal hunters. More than ever, her brother was hiding, but she still made frequent visits to the busy part of town, and that’s how she had heard what her brother was being accused of.

Upon entering the store, she sat at the chess table where Gregory and Sherlock had played many games along the years. She took a whisky flask out of her pocket and offered it around. It was a few weeks before Christmas, lent was still very far away, so most people accepted a sip. When the flask was back in her hands, Harry took a huge gulp and cleared her throat before talking.

“My brother is ugly, but he’s not blind,” she bitterly said, “he would never be interested in a girl like Sally Donovan. Had he been that desperate, I would have found him someone for a few nights. Someone smarter than that strumpet who has to exile herself to Québec City, because she doesn’t know how to fuck without getting pregnant.”

Had the priest been present, he would have died on the spot. Everyone in the store was dumbfounded, and no one was talking, waiting to see how far Harry Watson would push her outrageous speech. The tension could almost be felt; even the devil would have had less of an impact if he had decided to enter the store at that moment.

“No reproaches can be addressed to my brother, except perhaps his naivety. He almost got caught in the net of a money seeking cockteaser,” Harry continued, anger dripping like venom from her voice.

“There are people a lot more dangerous than Sally Donovan; they smell wealth, and they sneak around until they can sink their teeth into it. That Holmes bastard did everything he could to seduce my brother, but I caught him before it was too late, and if I ever see him sniffing around my brother again, I’ll shoot him faster than a sleeping seal.”

“Calm down, Harry!” a pilot called out. “What you’re saying is serious! If something happens to Sherlock Holmes, you’ll be the first suspect. Also, it’s none of our business if he sneaked around your land, but I would be greatly surprised. Everyone knows Molly Hooper is head over heels for him; all he has to do is snap his fingers, and she’ll come running. Also, if he’s anything like Mrs. Hudson, your wealth won’t interest him.”

“Really?” roared Harry. “So I was hallucinating the day I found him locked in our small library with my brother? And my most faithful servant must be a lunatic too, since he ended up admitting Holmes had been seeing my brother in secret for months, at all hours of the day and night.”

The people in the store were shocked, and Gregory knew it was time for him to tell Sherlock all the terrible things that were being said about John and him around town. He hated that he had to do this, but he still wanted to be the one to tell him. So he walked to Sailboat Bay, and he found him sitting on a small snow mound, wrapped in several heavy woollen blankets of the strangest orange colour. He was looking at the frozen sea without actually seeing it, lost in thoughts. A small smile was playing on his lips, something Gregory hadn’t seen since Sherlock had been thrown out of the Watsons’ manor. He was mostly walking around with a blank expression clouding his grey eyes. Often, Gregory had tried to make him talk, to help him overcome the depression taking hold of him, but his efforts had been fruitless, and most of the time they ended up playing chess in silence. He got closer and sat down silently, careful not to break the charm.

“I saw a big bird of prey that looked a lot like the one John had been feeding,” Sherlock said in a dreamy voice without turning to face his friend. “Have you ever noticed how those birds fly higher than other birds? They seem more confident than all the other birds.”

Gregory wanted nothing more than to talk about birds, sky, and wind. Instead, he told Sherlock about the rumour Anderson had started and how Harry Watson had reacted, accusing him of attempted wealth theft. Sherlock listened, unmoving. At first, Gregory was scared that his friend had retreated to his dark and hidden place, far away from the world surrounding him, but when he looked at him, he noticed the droplet on his mouth. Sherlock hadn’t said a thing, and physically, he looked just as calm as he had been, but he had bitten his lower lip hard enough to draw blood.

“What are you thinking about?” Gregory asked.

“Harry was screaming: Look at him! Look at him! I looked, and I could see it in his eyes. It was true; he loved me. Can you imagine that? He loved me,” Sherlock answered in an even, emotionless tone.

“Before he hated me,” he added as an afterthought.

He stopped for a moment, looking up at the sky. Gregory feared his friend was done talking and that he wouldn’t continue his confidences. However, he spoke again.

“I thought about it a lot. Now I understand why John chooses to obey his sister’s orders, why he prefers to live in hiding, even when the mask hides everything. You see, it must have been so hard to find some kind of balance, to find happiness despite the vivid memories of people’s disgust and screams. Slowly, he learned how not to feel alone in the company of animals, stars, plants, as well as the heroes who inhabit his books. With them, at last, he felt human, alive. He could forget his ravaged face. Before I ruined everything.”

Gregory was about to protest, but Sherlock cut him short.

“When I closed my eyes, I made him believe he was nothing but a repulsive beast, that not even the closest of friendship could win against the horror he was inspiring. I cruelly reminded him of what was under the mask, what he had found many ways to forget before I entered his life and messed everything up.”

Awkwardly, Gregory circled Sherlock’s shoulders with his arm in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. Sherlock didn’t even seem to notice.

“John’s sister compared me to my mother, and she was right; all she did was make a mess of my father’s life. I understand now, I won’t destroy anything else, I’ll make sure of it.”

Something in Sherlock’s tone made Gregory shiver, and his insides churned unpleasantly. His friend seemed to be making some formidable oaths and he wondered what was hiding behind these promises. One thing was sure, it didn’t bode well.

Next chapter.


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Ellie L.

December 2012

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