You are viewing saathi1013

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Dying.Biscuits.
Title: The Adventure of the Six Painted Virgins (Part 1/2)
Author: saathi1013
Summary: Sherlock dons an unusual disguise for a case. John is…conflicted. Character study, casefic, & smut (in that order).
Spoilers: The whole of BBC’s Sherlock (series/season 1), plus various references to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes canon, and a subtle nod or two towards the Granada series.
Pairing: John/Sherlock, first-time.
Rating: NC-17 for sexual content
Warnings: Violence, sexual content, heresy and blasphemy on many, many levels, and fucked-up dream sequences.
Word Count: ~14.5k
A/N: Eternal gratitude to mazarin221b & carolyn_claire for their patience, encouragement, and occasionally-frustrating thoroughness (which is the best possible thing to have in a beta, honestly). Much <3 to Marielikestodraw for the stunning header image that you'll find under the cut - her talent and enthusiasm for my work will never cease to astonish me. Special thanks to accioayla, because she's known about this plot bunny longer than anyone else (and as a result, has had to wait longer than anyone should have for the finished story).
** Now available in Russian, thanks to 82al07il!  [ Part 1 ]  [ Part 2 ]

*****


(header art by MarieLikestoDraw)


When John Watson was a child, he had been, for a very short time, an altar boy at his family's Catholic church. This fact rarely fails to elicit amusement in those who learn it. Very few do; he considers his past faith inconsequential to those around him, of as much interest as the phase he went through when he was twelve, absolutely obsessed with Doctor Who. Some respond with remarks along the lines of, "Of course you were, it all makes sense now," (those relationships never last long) or, "Oh, I'm sorry …?"

"It was ages ago," he will reply, or, with a shrug, "What can I say? I was young." The latter is only partially true–nothing compares to the innocent piety of youth–but the more honest response is, "I was a different person, then."

In fact, John Watson considers his life a progression of selves. Not literally–he hasn't got multiple personalities sharing his head space–but pragmatically, like a scientist who recognizes several states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, and so on). Each state may be made up of the same atoms, but they behave very differently under different kinds of stress, of volume and temperature and pressure. So it is with his life: child, adolescent, university student, medical man, soldier … and now, doctor again, but more importantly: blogger and companion to the world's only consulting detective.

John wonders, occasionally and idly, how healthy it is to define himself by his connections to those around him, how he has been shaped by them, instead of as a singular entity. Then he looks at Sherlock and thinks that it could be worse, really. And it's probably for the best that there is someone like him, willing to forge connections under (and despite, and perhaps because of) remarkable circumstances, in Sherlock's life.

John Watson stopped practising Catholicism long ago, a fact clearly evident to even those lacking Sherlock's deductive skills. He does not observe the regular Sacraments, neither Communion nor Penance. He does not observe holidays in any but secular, familial, and habitual ways. He has broken more of the Commandments than he's entirely comfortable admitting and is not up-to-date on his Catechism.

Despite all of this, it can be argued that, once one has been baptised into Roman Catholicism, it is impossible to escape the Church entirely. In the end, it is always possible to 'return to the fold'–something his grandmother often reminded him of before her death, in her hopeful and passively-insistent way–and some traces of Sunday-schooling in the faith during one's formative years occasionally surface, in both good ways and bad. For instance, John's appreciation of and facility for Latin comes from these years and helped him immensely in learning medicine.

On the other hand, he has vestiges of what is commonly termed 'Catholic guilt,' all the more poignant at times due to the circumstances surrounding his decision to leave the embrace of the Holy Mother Church.

Of all those who have learned of his religious upbringing, no one has ever asked him this; no one has questioned why he left. It seems self-explanatory, in modern times, that John would no longer adhere to what seems from the outside to be a remarkably dated and trouble-plagued religious institution. The closest anyone has come was his roommate in uni, who asked tentatively, "Was … was there something …. Are the scandals true?"

At which, John stammered, "No–no! Well, there have been cases, but I was never one of them. No." His parish priest had been a pleasant if remote old man, someone whom John had adored for holding all the wisdom of God locked in his mind.

Well. It had seemed so, at the time.

What John remembers is this–and it's all a bit hazy with all the intervening years, but this is the best account he would give of his last days in the Church if anyone bothers to ask:

He remembers his sister, fourteen and gawky and suddenly remote, their childhood bond strained to near breaking by the changes her body imposed on her (and the whole family by association). He remembers the long silences, the sulks, the rages. And, most startling of anything, he remembers her crawling into his bed late one night, as if she were suddenly John's age again–as if the intervening years had not happened and they were taking comfort against the monsters in the dark with a flickering torch and a book under the shield of blankets.

He remembers Harry crying, her awkward limbs clutching and twining against his, his pyjamas getting damp with tears and snot. And when her sobs had calmed she had said, in a tiny, hoarse voice, "Freddy called me a lesbo last week."

"I'll feed him his teeth," John replied immediately, fierce and protective, anger overwriting the reality that Freddy Spenson was twice his size.

"No, don't," Harry said. "'Cos I think he's right."

"Oh," John said, and wrapped his arms tight round his sister's bird-fragile shoulders. "D'you still love me, even though I'm a boy?"

Harry had choked a sound that was as close to laughter as she could manage and hugged him tightly back and said, yes, of course, and cried some more until they were both asleep.

And a couple of Sundays later he heard a sermon by Father Michael–the Man Who Knew Everything–about the evils of homosexuality and the diseases that God had inflicted upon mankind for their sins. It was gently put–no fire and brimstone and shouting–but it was pointed and clear. John listened with a sinking stomach the whole way through, and when it was all over he went through the rest of his duties by rote.

It hadn't even been the first sermon on the topic, John realized. It was just that he hadn't really thought about it, all those other times. But now …

That's my sister he's talking about, John thought. He's talking about Harry.

When Mass was finished and they were in the tiny room at the back of the church, John hung up his robes and turned to Father Michael and asked, "Did you really mean all that, what you said about sodomites?" (It was only later that he sorted out the whole 'Sodomites' / 'act of sodomy' / 'what girls actually do in bed together' thing, and was that ever a surprise.)

"Of course," Father Michael replied. "My words during Mass are a reflection of God's will."

"Oh," John said. He gathered up his things and left.

He never returned to another service, to the consternation of his parents. He never explained why, as some part of him already knew that he was the sole keeper of his sister's secret–and when she came out to their parents, years later, it was no longer an issue. Harry never said a word to him about it, but he thinks she understood more than she let on.

Much later, he was grateful for that early decision, as it spared him a lot of internal conflict later on. Not that he couldn't have tried to deny his own sexuality–to be fair, it would have been easier for him than Harry, as his primary inclination was towards women, anyway–but he wouldn't have been entirely happy, either. Just because he can pass as wholly heterosexual doesn't mean that he wants to. Years in the military taught him that distinction.

Not to say that he never looked back, never wondered … In later years, when public opinion on homosexuality had changed–though not entirely, it had perhaps become more tolerant in a resigned and exhausted way–he’d considered looking up churches with more welcoming and progressive views. But there were always more urgent things to do with his time, exams or girls (and the occasional bloke) or, eventually, a war.

It was most difficult for him immediately after the initial split. He’d found himself with whole swathes of suddenly-free time on Sunday mornings, his polished shoes and pressed Sunday best hanging on the back of his bedroom door in silent accusation. "Just in case," his mother said, setting it all out every week with bustling practicality. She never scolded or pleaded with him to join the rest of the family, which was almost worse–his parents had their hands too full with Harry's antics by that time to fret over their solemn, sensible, responsible son.

Instead, they’d left him in the care of their neighbour, an older gentleman with a pack of small scruffy dogs that swarmed over the garden every time John went to visit. He watched war films with John and taught him checkers and told stories about his time in the Royal Navy, sinking U-boats (it also took John a while to realize that these were not actually boats curved in the shape of the letter 'U').

The closest John came to a 'relapse,' for lack of a better term, were the handful of times he went back to the church–usually in the middle of a week, just after school. In the quiet, empty building with no sermons or parishioners or hymns filling up the space he felt a faint echo of the old comfort he had experienced in his faith. Occasionally he prayed, but only silence answered. He realized that there were reasons that people came together to worship, but he could not bring himself to return to a community led by men so obviously flawed and petty and wrong.

The most puzzling thing about it all was that Harry continued to attend church. Still does, from what he can tell.

He wonders if that's why she drinks. Maybe the struggle between the duties to one's faith and to one's identity are easier to ignore when one is often either intoxicated or hungover … But that is, perhaps, an uncharitable and over-simplistic thought, so he tries not to think it too often.

***

John keeps expecting Sherlock to comment on his religious upbringing, some acerbic remark about his conflicted morals, about Catholic guilt and all of that rubbish, but it never comes. And then he realizes that Sherlock doesn't know. The man who can tell everything about a stranger with a quick glance at their shoes does not know this bit of John's history.

It seems impossible.

But the stark reality of it hits him in the face one morning when he comes downstairs on his day off to find Sherlock straightening his collar. Straightening the collar of his black dress shirt, to be precise, with the signature white notch in the front.

John simply cannot speak.

Sherlock flicks him an irritated glance. "About time, I was about to leave without you." Then he takes in John's reaction and rolls his eyes. "Oh, don't get all fussed about disrespect, technically I am working for the Church … albeit temporarily."

"What …" John manages, then rallies. "A case, then?"

"Yes, John, a case," Sherlock responds. "You received an email this morning from a man named Owen Byrne–am I correct in assuming by his sign-off as 'Padre' that he was a military chaplain with whom you associated during your time as a soldier? Never mind, of course I'm correct. His parish seems to be having a problem with vandals. Usually I would ignore such a trifle, but the pattern is strikingly specific, and yet–"

"I received an email?" John interjects.

"Well, yes, but the message was intended as a request to me via the connection to you, so I didn't think you would mind if I answered for you–and, by extension myself–in the affirmative."

John puts up with this kind of behaviour far too often. On the other hand, it seems that Sherlock will be engaged in a case instead of running appalling experiments or worse, sulking about the flat on John's day off. Not to mention, it will be nice to have something to distract from his lack of a date this evening.

It's been weeks since Sarah kindly but firmly shut the door on that particular possibility, and John's still smarting. Not that she hadn't been perfectly reasonable; there are only so many times a girl can get stood up or imperilled, after all. But still, she's lovely, and seeing her every day reminds John of the pleasant normalcy he's given up in favour of adventure.

"–all right," John says finally. "But let me get some breakfast before we go. You can fill me in on the details while I eat."

"I could fill you in on the cab ride over," Sherlock grumbles, but collapses onto one of the kitchen chairs in acquiescence, his legs sprawling under the spread of an honest-to-god cassock. The trailing silk fringe of the fascia carelessly drags across the floor in a way that makes John want to wince.

He puts the question of 'How on earth did you get an accurate cassock on such short notice?' on hold for later. The answer will probably be ridiculous, and this certainly isn't the first time Sherlock has used a disguise for a case. At least this time he's foregone anything else, like that awful wig, or the teeth, or the nose

***

The case, as it stands, is this:

Father Owen Byrne is currently the pastor of a small parish whose congregation is mostly made up of elderly men and women with modest pensions but generous souls and families with enough money to send their children to the affiliated public school. Fund-raising and charity drives are common, from regular collections of tinned goods for the food bank to a yearly raffle of two round-trip tickets to Rome to see the Pope.

The latest fund-raiser involved the peddling (Sherlock's word, John thinks, certainly not the Padre's) of small plaster statues of the Virgin Mary for the purposes of sponsoring the school's upcoming term. Most are plain white with a clear glaze, but six were hand-painted by members of each classroom (elected by a democratic vote among the children in each class) and given to the top five highest-donating members of the parish. One was retained for display in the pastor's office.

Three of these have been destroyed. First, Father Byrne returned from his duties at the local homeless shelter to find his door ajar and plaster shards all over his office rug. He assumed that this was merely a childish fit of pique on the part of a student who felt slighted when their artwork was not chosen for use in the fund-raiser.

However, in both of the subsequent cases, the home of a wealthy donor was burgled somewhat clumsily, their statue removed and broken on the pavement outside, with no other disturbance or theft from the house. The police, of course, gave these incidents a low priority, but the very strangeness of it all sent Father Byrne to look for alternate sources of help.

He recalled spotting John's name in a newspaper article, linked to the name of a private detective–Sherlock sniffs at the designation in the retelling, saying, "–and the rest was a lot of him playing on your sympathies. You can read it some other time."

***

"Come on, John," Sherlock says with impatience. It is not merely the chill in the air that causes him to stamp his feet and flex his hands inside his gloves as John pays the cab driver but his preternatural delight at having a new puzzle before him, ripe for the solving. John rolls his eyes.

"Never thought I'd see you so excited to go to a church," he comments dryly, and Sherlock grins at him.

"Not one word about being struck by lightning as I cross the threshold, John," Sherlock says in falsely-stern tones.

John suppresses his own answering smile. "Best keep your gloves on, though," he responds. Sherlock arches an eyebrow. "You could get contact burns from consecrated objects if you're not careful."

It is perhaps not entirely accidental that Sherlock jostles him into the door frame as they enter the building.

The vestibule is hushed and dim, long stripes of variegated colour falling across the stone floors from the strips of abstractly-stained windows. John blinks to let his eyes adjust from the piercing cool winter light outside to the subdued warmth of the church. There is something familiar about the air, hushed as it is. It smells of stone and of wood polish and of candle-smoke, but there are also the faint remnants of canonically-prescribed incenses and oils and flowers from years of Easters and Christmases and marriages and baptisms.

Above it all is the familiar feel of the place, unlike anything else John has experienced, barring a few notable exceptions. Were he more fanciful, he would describe it as a presence, but the pragmatic side of him simply thinks that it's his own awareness of the significance of the place, of decades, if not centuries, of ritual, thousands of people from bygone ages coming to this place, over and over again, speaking much the same words, confessing the same sins of the flesh, each feeling small and alone but seeking a connection with something greater than themselves. He inhales deeply and feels it settle about his shoulders, an unexpected pang of wistfulness threading through his lungs.

He shakes it off and looks around for Sherlock. The detective is still beside him, and John realizes that Sherlock is waiting for him, watching with that ever-clear gaze. Ah, John thinks ruefully, Well, there are those secrets gone, then. He wonders how many he has left and if he should be more worried about the exponentially-dwindling reserve.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" John asks aloud, summoning an enthusiastic expression as he leads the way to the pastor's office. Thankfully, Sherlock follows without any comment.

***

Afghanistan is not Iraq. It is shocking how many people mistake the geography of the two. There are deserts to the west, but all John saw were mountains and crevasses, plateaus and valleys that folded and crumpled the green landscape all the way to the horizon, where the creeping shoulders of the Himalayas cast smudgy shadows on the sky.

What shocked John most about it was the cold. He remembers the shivers that wracked his body one night as he ducked out of a field hospital set up in a low building on the outskirts of Kabul. The doorway through which he exited had a heavy canvas panel instead of a door, as it had once been an entrance to another room, but before he'd arrived that part of the building had been abruptly removed, sawed irregularly off by an explosion, only soot and bricks and cleared pathways through the rubble and broken glass remaining as testament to its former whole.

John stood there, his exhalations hanging opaque and pale in the air as he blindly surveyed the panorama around him, too numb to appreciate the view. He let his shoulders slump and just breathed.

There was still blood on his jacket.

It shouldn't have been as difficult as it was–the kid (nineteen if he'd been a day) hadn't been the first patient he'd lost since his tour began, certainly not the first since he started practising medicine, and yet it had rattled him to the core. He couldn't remember the point of it all. Years of marvelling at the intricacy and startling resiliency of the human form, all of the well-intentioned reasons that had brought him there, to make a difference, to bring a light, however small, into a dark place … all of it had fled from him.

John took another shaky breath, tipping his head back against the wall.

The sky above him was vast and dark and remote, save for a few tenacious stars fighting through the glare of the military floodlights. He'd always been rubbish at remembering their names, even on a clear night at the right latitude, the right longitude. But then, they were askew slightly, even more unrecognisable.

He remembered that Harry had a telescope, a brief surge of interest in astronomy before her life turned to shit. Something about a crush on her physics professor at uni. He remembered her saying, one night during winter holidays, Some of these stars are probably dead. We just don't know it yet. All we're seeing are echoes of life, memories the universe stores of their time alive, their light travelling on into infinity.

He remembered the Sergeant's face, placid under anaesthesia, and the slight shift, the barest fraction of a change under his skin as the alarms went off. There was a lassitude that took root in the underlying structure, no matter what John or his team did to change it.

And John had thought, out under the Afghani sky, God, Harry's going to kill me if I die out here.

Somehow that had been enough for him to square his shoulders, to walk back inside past the nurses on sterilisation duty. He went down the hall and into the small, dark, cool room where the bodies were kept, prepared for shipping and eventual burial. Locals went elsewhere, had their own rituals, but foreigners had to wait to make the long return to their families.

John remembers thinking how unfortunate it was for those still-devout soldiers to die so far removed from their faith. He hadn't known why he'd wanted to seek out the late Sergeant again, but he'd known at least that he couldn't face the sympathetic and resigned faces of his medical team.

Then he'd spotted the kneeling figure among the small handful of horizontal ones, laid out on the floor. And that was how he'd met Owen Byrne.

***

All John had done, that first time, was apologise for the intrusion, but the padre had invited him to stay.

"It's not so bad, to think that I am not alone in shepherding their spirits to their final reward," Owen said with a brief, welcoming smile.

"Ah," John said, "I'm not …" And then he'd stopped, not knowing how to finish the sentence. 'Religious' would've been a mostly a lie, because even after all he'd seen, he still believed in the Divine. 'Catholic' would've been true, but he would have had to add 'any more,' because that would've been more accurate, and he'd still had that old instinct of complete and utter honesty towards clergymen.

Owen had smiled again. "That's all right. It's the company, not assistance, I'm after." So John had stayed and let the familiar rhythm of the words settle the awful jangling of his nerves.

After that, somehow John and Owen had become friends. John ran into him more often than either of them would've preferred, one a doctor and one a priest, both in an active war zone. Almost every other time they'd seen each other it had been under unfortunate circumstances.

John would stay late after shifts, just to stand vigil as Owen performed his duties.

"We share the same role, if you think about it," Owen said once over watery bottles of beer they'd been gifted by a couple of Marines, generous after a recent victory. "Looking after the health of the troops. You do the physical, I'll handle the spiritual."

John had grinned at this and tipped his head back to finish his bottle. It might have been terrible American beer, but it had been his first since deployment, and it tasted better than anything he could remember. "I used to be Catholic, you know," he found himself saying.

Owen had eyed him. "Ah," he replied, finally, with a faint huff of a laugh. "That would do it."

"Do what?" John asked.

"Nothing," Owen said, and then, at John's narrowed stare, he shrugged. "When I say the Rites, John, you look … quiet. Quiet all the way down, past skin and blood and bone. Quieter than most men who come to it late, or without questioning before coming back."

"I haven't come back," John protested.

"No?" Owen asked. "Well, maybe I'm wrong–"

"Well, you are," John said quickly. "I'm not looking to be lured back or–"

"I'm not looking to lure you back," Owen assured him. "I'm not the evangelical type. Couldn't run a mission to save my life. But if you're not trying the Church back on, John, then maybe the quiet I see is patience. Maybe you're waiting."

"Waiting for what?" John asked.

"Answers you never got before you left."

***

There's a second familiar face in Father Owen's office. Both rise to their feet when Sherlock and John enter after knocking, Lestrade looking flummoxed. "Please tell me you can't actually read minds, and you've just got a scanner hidden in your flat," he says by way of weary greeting.

"The case has escalated, then," Sherlock replies.

"Yeah, it has, and if it weren't a puzzle before, the dead body would have sealed it," Lestrade says.

"Hullo again, Padre," John says, before Sherlock can start firing off questions. "Sorry to see you, under the circumstances. This is Sherlock, of course. Don't mind him, he's always like this." It's become habit to add that last bit to introductions; it saves a lot of time and explanations later on.

Owen takes John's outstretched hand and pulls him in for a rough clap on the back. "Good to see you, John, especially now. I really haven't the faintest clue what to make of all this. I thought I was being silly when I wrote, but now …"

"You called them in?" Lestrade looks relieved and approving as he sits down again. "I'd've done the same if Dimmock had bothered to tell me about it. Something off about all of it, but I can’t quite figure out why."

"Tell me everything," Sherlock says, shucking off scarf and gloves and unbuttoning his coat while settling into a regal sprawl over the second guest chair in front of the desk. There is absolute, stunned silence for a moment from the other men, and John presses thumb and forefinger against the bridge of his nose.

"He intends to go undercover," John informs the room at large.

Sherlock glances down at his attire. "Oh, that. Yes, as John says. I thought keeping a low profile–"

"You call that keeping a low profile?" Lestrade interjects, while at the same time, Owen is spluttering.

"Really, Mr. Holmes, I can't–"

"A man is dead," Sherlock says above their protests, somehow containing his glee at this twist of the mystery. "Do we really want both a gaggle of policemen and a private detective traipsing all round the parish, asking questions? Or, perhaps, do we think that a 'friend and colleague' of Father Byrne, helping him 'bear the weight of this tragic disruption to his flock,' will do better to gather information discreetly?"

There is a small quiet, and then Owen says, "You intend to pose as a member of the clergy."

"I intend to wear this ridiculous get-up and be as unobtrusive as I can–" Sherlock shoots a glare at Lestrade when the other man snorts incredulously. "–while your parishioners assume the rest. Don't worry, this shouldn't take long, and I have no plans to involve myself in your silly rituals."

"Sacraments," John corrects.

"Yes, those," Sherlock says, waving a hand. Owen is still frowning darkly at him.

Then he turns to John. "Do you vouch for this man?" John opens his mouth to reply, but Owen continues, "Do you swear that his presence will be of more benefit than harm, that you will ensure that his actions–beside the obvious–will not violate any of our laws, and that this matter will be resolved as swiftly and with as much discretion as is humanly possible?"

John swallows, and when he hears Sherlock take in a breath for an indignant reply, he makes a warning gesture at his flatmate without breaking Owen's gaze. "Yes, Padre," he says. "I do."

Owen stares at him a moment longer. "All right, then." He transfers his attention to Sherlock. "Mr. Holmes, I hope you realize that if you make a liar of our friend, here, you'll both be in more trouble than just tangling with a murderer." Sherlock rolls his eyes, but Owen just stares him down. "Don't start that with me, I was trained by Jesuits. If you want to argue matters of faith, come back when this mess is over, and I'll give your clever mind a run for its money."

There is something that might be a smothered laugh from Lestrade's chair. It turns into him clearing his throat. "So. About the actual case …"

***

Owen starts from the beginning, and it is much as Sherlock related from their previous email exchange. One vandalism at the parish and now three of parishioners' homes; the first three sets of plaster shards are provided for Sherlock's perusal in separate shoe boxes before they are remanded into Lestrade's care. They were all commissioned, created, and purchased at a local shop named Gelder & Sons' Ceramics and Fine Art.

"Ah," Sherlock says, looking it up on his phone. "One of those places that calls itself 'fine art' but rarely sells any item for over a hundred pounds and runs pottery workshops for the local housewives and their bored children."

"The Gelder family has been attending this church for decades," Owen informs him. "And they did the work at cost out of the generosity of their hearts."

"We'll see," Sherlock says dourly. "Tell me about the murder, Lestrade, as I'm sure Anderson has destroyed any evidence I'll find at the crime scene."

"The victim’s body was found at the latest crime scene. He’s been identified as Peter Venucci," Lestrade says. "No connection with the homeowners. Twenty-four and with a criminal record, some minor gang activity, vandalism and general misconduct, but nothing as severe as burglary." He puts on gloves and pulls an evidence bag from his coat pocket that contains a wallet and some miscellaneous items. "His money was missing, but the credit cards are still here."

"It's also missing the photograph sleeves," Sherlock says, glancing at it.

Lestrade shakes his head. "He could have pitched those when he got the wallet."

"Examine the wear pattern on the leather," Sherlock says.

John takes a look for himself over Sherlock's shoulder. Sure enough, there's an odd smoothness to the exposed pockets of the leather. "Who'd take the photos and the money but not the rest of it?"

"Someone clever or someone stupid," Sherlock replies. "What else did you find?"

"The usual junk, coins, wrappers, that sort of thing," Lestrade says. He hands the bag over with an extra set of gloves. Sherlock sorts through the contents while Lestrade continues, "The really strange bit is the wound pattern."

"What about it?" John asks.

"We haven't been able to identify the weapon. It's got three sides, very sharp, very small. Nothing like I've ever seen."

"I'd like to take a look when we're done here," John offers.

"We are done here," Sherlock announces, stuffing everything back in the evidence bag and handing it to Lestrade. "Father Byrne, I'd like you to accompany me to the homes of the three victims. John, you may go with Lestrade to the morgue–send pictures and any relevant information to my phone, if you please."

John glances at Owen. The padre smiles. "It's fine, John, I can stand him for a bit longer. Besides, it's probably best we two go together and without anyone else, just to keep them at ease. You get a reprieve from your oath while I'm keeping an eye on him."

That is not quite reassuring. John gives Owen a crooked smile and leaves with Lestrade.

***

Photos attached. Add'l wounds on L hand, knuckles. Min. bruising arms, wrists. Med. bruising L shoulder, chest. Likely altercation w/accomplice? John sends to Sherlock.

Perhaps. Meet at Gelder&Sons when finished.

Molly's hovering again. It's a bit unnerving. Lestrade left half an hour ago with the excuse of needing to process the bag of evidence and all the attendant paperwork. "Everything okay?" she asks, and not for the first time.

"Yeah," John says, smiling at her. "Thanks, Molly." She could probably use more kindness, the poor girl, considering how Sherlock treats her regularly. It's only gotten worse since Moriarty.

John's just started wondering how she'd look dressed for a proper night out when his phone chimes.

You will be finished sometime today, I hope? Sherlock's text reads.

"Sorry," John says. "Gotta go. Thanks again–you've been very helpful." Molly practically beams back at him as he leaves.

***

"What did you find out?" John asks, practically the instant he's out of the cab.

"Nothing from the victims, but everything from the crime scenes. As usual. One of these days I'm going to stop talking to the people involved in these cases entirely. I might even solve them more quickly." Sherlock paces back and forth in front of the store, looking at the doors, windows, exits, signage.

"There's an idea," John says with false cheer. "No pesky human interaction, no one to put off with your cleverness."

Sherlock makes a face at him. "It's not about proving to them that I'm clever. I would be perfectly happy if you and the police force handled all the interpersonal messiness for me one day." They enter the store and Sherlock adopts a pleasant mask when the shop girl comes out from behind the counter.

"Can I help you, ah … Father?" she asks him. She's petite and blonde and a little plain, but she's pretty when she smiles. Her tag says 'Lucy' and her eyes are slightly puffy, as if she's been crying.

"I certainly hope so," Sherlock says. "I'm here from St. Teresa's … I'm sure you heard about the burglaries?"

"Oh, yes, terrible business," she says, twisting her fingers together. "How can we help?"

"Well, I was actually wondering if I could speak to one of the owners …"

"Mr. Gelder is out on family business. His brother recently suffered a terrible loss–" Lucy bites her lip. "Not that that should matter to you, Father."

"Every loss diminishes us," Sherlock says loftily. "Please pass on our condolences. Would you mind terribly taking a message?"

"Not at all," she replies. "One second, let me find a pen and paper."

When she bustles off, Sherlock bends low to murmur to John, "I need you to flirt with her."

"What?" John looks at her. "She's at least ten years younger than I am."

"Oh, as if that's stopped you before. You might start by asking what she's studying at university."

"Why don't you ask her? Are you starting the process of using me as your human-to-sociopath interpreter already?" Somehow this question earns John a frown from his flatmate.

"No, the best way to find out about her and the Gelder family is flirting, and I'm wearing this stupid costume. Will you please just–" Sherlock cuts himself off as Lucy returns within earshot.

"What's the message?" she asks.

"You know what?" Sherlock says brightly, "Don't bother, actually. I can just come back some other time. Do pass along our condolences." He turns to John. "I believe you had some other business, John. I'll wait for you outside." And then he's gone, the rat bastard.

Lucy transfers her attention to John. "Are you with the Church, too?" she asks. John mentally finds several more names to call Sherlock in at least two languages.

"No, just … just a friend, visiting," he answers lamely. "I'm looking for a gift for … my mum. He mentioned he was on his way to an art store and … Oh, for heaven's sake." Lucy blinks at him. "I'm rubbish at lying. I think you're lovely, and you're probably still in uni studying something like law, and here I am, fumbling for an excuse to talk to you." He gives her the smile that's gotten him laid on three continents, and Lucy's shoulders relax just enough to let him know he's on the right track.

"It's art, actually. Well, sculpture and printmaking …" she says, looking away and biting her lip. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't. I just got out of a bad relationship, and–"

"No, no, it's fine. I'm sorry to hear that," John says. "Let me give you my number, in case you change your mind." He searches his pockets, finding the battered set of business cards he keeps on hand, just in case. "I'm sorry to hear that you're all going through such a rough time–bad relationship, and your family loss …"

"Oh, I'm not related," she corrects abruptly. "I just work here part-time, but they've always been good to me and … It's just awful, all of it." Her eyes are welling up with tears.

"And here I am, trying to pick you up," John says, feeling terrible. "I'm sorry, I'm terribly sorry. You know what, just. Just take my card, and if you ever need anyone to talk to, I promise, I won't try anything."

Lucy gives him a watery smile and takes his card.

***

"You're an absolute bastard," John says, rejoining Sherlock outside.

"What did you find out?" Sherlock asks, hailing a taxi.

"She's studying art, just got dumped, and isn't any relation to the owners, though she's close to the family," John snaps. "So now is probably not the best time to be interrogating her."

"I think it's the perfect time," Sherlock replies breezily. "People are more honest when they're vulnerable and distracted." A cab pulls up and they climb in.

"You just proved my earlier point," John says.

"Not at all. My parents were married when they had both Mycroft and me."

John decides to stop speaking to Sherlock for the duration of the cab ride home. It's probably for the best, because if he says everything he'd like to, they're liable to get kicked out of the vehicle.

***

"I don't think there will be a break-in tonight," Sherlock announces when they return to Baker Street. "The culprit will be too frightened to risk exposure, but Lestrade has put a few men on lookout at the final two targets' homes, just in case."

"Have it all figured out?" John asks, settling into his armchair with a sigh. Sherlock settles into his own chair, still looking strange in the cassock. John can't figure out why the sight is so distracting, but it is.

"Yes, but I haven't any proof." Sherlock tugs at his collar, and somehow that's worse.

"Care to fill me in?"

Sherlock steeples his fingers and stares off into the middle distance. "Gelder and Sons was founded by Francis Gelder, whose grandsons now own the shop. Michael Gelder actually runs the business, while his brother Marcus simply lives off his part of the inheritance. Marcus, by the way, has a violent criminal record and has spent two years in jail. He also has an ex-wife to whom he was married for ten years, until his incarceration. Said ex-wife had a son by a previous marriage, and Marcus served as the boy's de-facto father."

"Go on, I'm sure you'll reach the point eventually," John says, letting his head fall back against the chair cushion and closing his eyes.

"The ex-wife's maiden name was Maria Venucci."

John lifts his head so quickly he might've sprained something. "And her son's name was Peter."

"Obviously." Sherlock smiles at him. "Did you notice that Lucy was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, despite the fact that she frequently works with plaster and a kiln? I'm willing to bet that Peter picked up on his step-father's bad habits and was rough with her."

"Peter is the bad ex-boyfriend," John says.

"Lestrade can't seem to track down Marcus Gelder," Sherlock adds.

"That's interesting."

"Isn't it?"

Sherlock picks up his violin, and John draws in a breath. It's always a risk, when Sherlock plays–it's either exquisite or appalling, and he really can't handle listening to the violin being tortured right now. Fortunately, today has been a good day, and a slow, sweet melody pours forth from the instrument.

John lets his head fall back again, relaxing utterly for a moment. He lets his mind drift. Poor Lucy, he thinks. Went in for a part-time job to make ends meet, starts up with someone who she thinks is a nice bloke, and then everything goes to hell around her. He opens his eyes, staring up at the ceiling. "Sherlock," he says, and the violin stops. "Is Lestrade watching Lucy, in case she's in trouble?"

"I've informed him that there's an outside chance that Marcus Gelder might show up for her, yes," Sherlock says. "But I believe she's past that danger now. Our first priority should be the statues."

"Wait, hold on. The statues. Why-" John stops, sitting up straight again so he can stare at Sherlock. "There's something hidden in one of them, isn't there. Something Peter stole."

Sherlock points the bow at John with an exultant flourish. "Knew you'd get there eventually. I do enjoy watching your mind work. Unlike most people, you actually use it from time to time."

John can feel a delighted grin spreading across his face. "Certainly don't keep me round for my pretty face," he mumbles, trying to defray the moment with a joke. But Sherlock blinks at him, eyebrows knitting as if he's done a poor job of it. "Don't stare at me like that," John says. "It's like I'm back in Sunday school. You should change out of that, it's terribly unnerving."

"It's just a costume, John," Sherlock says irritably, setting the violin aside. "You know I'm not a clergyman, what do my clothes matter?"

"You might as well be," John replies without thinking, realizing as he says it that it's true. That's what's been bothering him about seeing Sherlock in the cassock–it suits him, in a strange way. John continues, musing aloud, "If there were a Church of … of logic, of Reason, you'd be the pope. Or Mycroft would be and you'd be a minor bishop or something who can't be bothered with the politics."

"Is that what you think," Sherlock says flatly, his expression even darker than before. "Then you're right, John, I absolutely should go change." He sweeps out of the room, and John hears the door slam.

Sherlock doesn't come out again for the rest of the night.

***

When John falls asleep, he dreams of dying. Again. There is the sudden blooming pain in his shoulder, the vertiginous sensation of the world tipping and reeling around him, and the grind of gravel under his knees and his clutching hands and then against his face.

The blackness swallows him whole, and the fragment of himself that knows he's dreaming expects to wake, panting and sweating with his heart pounding in his throat.

He wakes, bound in clinging sheets.

Wait. No, John realises. Not bedsheets, but a shroud. His body is cold and heavy. He does not breathe, does not blink, and his body does not move when he tries to wrest free of his bindings. His limbs are weighted down as if made of lead.

A switch in perspective, then. He is still motionless, but he can also see the wider scene: a row of bodies, of which his is only one. Dog-tags glint at the throat of each (he knows all the names, they are forever inscribed in his mind) and crimson blooms against the bleached cerements, marking their mortal wounds.

There is a dark figure among the white, intoning quiet words in an even darker voice.

Sherlock! John wants to shout, but he cannot. Even his lungs will not budge to draw breath. Sherlock moves with unhurried grace among the dead, one by one, murmuring to each in low Latin, passing his hand over them, pressing his palm in benediction to their heads when he is finished.

And then it is John's turn.

Sherlock's hand grazes down John's body, from forehead to abdomen, and the sheet falls away as cleanly as if it were cut. As if it were a body bag with a zipper. John wants to flinch, would welcome even the sensation of horripilation creeping over his exposed skin.

Instead, he has the heat of Sherlock's hands. They are shockingly warm as Sherlock pokes and prods at John's wound, at his scars, at the structure of his bones beneath his skin. And as he goes, he speaks.

"You were shot from above, by a sniper on high ground while you crouched over your patient, a fellow soldier wounded by shrapnel from a roadside bomb. He was a lost cause before you even arrived; he would have died of sepsis within eighteen hours even with the best surgeons in the country. Well, that country." He picks up one of Johns limp hands and turns it over, drawing a fingertip along the creases. "Three people have died under your care due to insufficient skill or training …"

On and on he goes, not proper Last Rites, but a litany of John's sins, of all his failures, both big and small, as if Sherlock is reading the text of John's life in every pore. John has never felt smaller than this, his every flaw magnified beneath Sherlock's scrutiny. And yet, each time Sherlock touches him, he grows a little warmer. Pins and needles prick the edges of his limbs, his diaphragm shifts to pull a thin trickle of air down his throat and into his lungs, and his eyes begin to water, though he still cannot blink.

Sherlock moves away, and when he returns, he brings his hand up to John's face, smearing oil on John's forehead. "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I bear witness to your sins," Sherlock says, "and grant you forgiveness." His hand passes before John's face, and for a moment, like the flicker of a single frame in a film, it is not covered in oil, but in brilliant crimson blood.

And then it is simply oil again, richly perfumed and blessed to purity. Sherlock's fore and middle fingers spread wide in a vee, and he closes John's eyes. Darkness hides him from Sherlock's gaze, a small mercy after so much vulnerability.

This is the part where, again, John expects to wake. But no. Sherlock's hand burns a brand into his skin, rousing him from death. He moves from John's eyelids to his mouth to his throat, murmuring in Latin again. He presses his palm over John's heart, and it begins to beat. Fingertips graze his ribs and they draw in a full breath.

Sherlock continues on, his touch moving inexorably down.

And that is when John wakes, heart in his throat and sheets tangling around his legs. He is, to his eternal mortification, hard as stone.

Oh, fuck, he thinks, and buries his head in his hands, even as the details of his dream fragment and begin to fade away.

Part 2/2

Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
peyton07
Oct. 5th, 2011 03:58 am (UTC)
"Answers you never got before you left."

Wow. So powerful and a wonderful facet of John's personality that makes sense. This... is hitting quite close to home, and your writing is moving me so much.
saathi1013
Oct. 5th, 2011 04:09 am (UTC)
I will admit, I did draw on a lot of personal experiences to write this fic, and stories I've heard told by friends (not saying which are which, of course, and they're all altered/embroidered, but they're there)... So if it manages to *feel* personal to a reader who doesn't know all the background, then I've done my job right. So thank you.
random_nexus
Oct. 5th, 2011 04:32 am (UTC)
I squeed after pt2 (though you may consider that the echoes are still going on), but HAD to offer snaps and ZOMFG gasps for Marie's art. Wow. And WOW!

Ye gawdz, awesome fic and art put together make the world a better place.
saathi1013
Oct. 5th, 2011 06:15 am (UTC)
HOMG I KNOW! Marie's art was a complete shock! I sent her the fic because I thought she'd hyperventilate before I posted (having sent her the first half of it months ago, she was really flatteringly enthusiastic about seeing the finally!finished version)...

And then she was like, "So when will you post this?" I responded, "Well, when my betas finish bombing my egregious overuse of punctuation... so a day or two?" (Yes, they are THAT good, cripes!) And she said, "WELP, BETTER GET PAINTING." I almost DIED.

And then when I SAW it, I was totally going, "I AM NOT WORTHY." Because holy crap, she's incredible and amazing and asdjkldf.
scarsgirl
Oct. 5th, 2011 08:16 am (UTC)
He remembered the Sergeant's face, placid under anaesthesia, and the slight shift, the barest fraction of a change under his skin as the alarms went off. There was a lassitude that took root in the underlying structure, no matter what John or his team did to change it.

"Nothing," Owen said, and then, at John's narrowed stare, he shrugged. "When I say the Rites, John, you look … quiet. Quiet all the way down, past skin and blood and bone. Quieter than most men who come to it late, or without questioning before coming back."

Wow! I just have to compliment your writing style and the way you put words together. Your description of the young soldier's death..I'm just speechless and in awe. The above quotes were just the two that stood out, but there are many more. This story is just so wonderfully evocative I'm completely drawn in. I can't wait to finish part 2 tomorrow!
saathi1013
Oct. 6th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
awh, I'm so glad you like it! I hope the second part live(s/d) up to your expectations. :)
liz_mo
Oct. 5th, 2011 11:13 am (UTC)
Whee! New story from you!
And what an interesting and contradictional topic.
YOu're handling it very, very well. *me being one of those who were an altar-girl, then becoming fedup with the official/institutional church and yet loving going back to service and into churches*

Also the art. Homina! So very evocative and beautiful! It goes so very well with your writing and I can see your John in Afghanistan in my minds eye very well.

Also love the re-write of the canon fic, very clever!
saathi1013
Oct. 6th, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
Hee, thanks! I definitely drew on some personal experiences re: the Church, because for some reason my muse decided that a serious and honest examination of the topic was better than a simple smutty crackfic... *LOL@self*

And YEAH, I don't know what I did to deserve an amazing fanartist/friend like Marie, but I count my blessings every time she tells me she's doing art for one of my fics. She's AMAZING.
gabryell_pride
Oct. 5th, 2011 11:48 am (UTC)
Wow
That was brilliant! The dream was disturbing but it did his job. Aaand, I don't know what to say... The second part is waiting for me! ^^"
saathi1013
Oct. 6th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow
Thank you! I hope the second part lives up to your expectations! ^_^
shefa
Oct. 6th, 2011 04:14 am (UTC)
Ooh, ooh, ooh! This is SO powerful. So much symbolism of fracture and healing, guilt and forgiveness. Fragmentation and wholeness. That it takes connection and honesty and looking at the pain to move through it and past it to wholeness is so very true, and shown here with tremendous subtlety and power. Wow. And now I'm off to part 2.
saathi1013
Oct. 6th, 2011 07:39 pm (UTC)
^_^ Thank you! I seem to have lost the ability to write meaningless smut - but if people enjoy the results regardless, then that's all that matters! Hope you enjoy/ed the rest!
mildly_neurotic
Nov. 6th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC)
This is wonderfully writ. Good characterizations, well set scenes. I love this.
saathi1013
Nov. 7th, 2011 02:06 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)
luthien13
Jan. 11th, 2012 07:11 am (UTC)
This was incredible on so many levels. I can't wait to read the next chapter!
saathi1013
Jan. 13th, 2012 04:19 am (UTC)
*grins* thank you! I hope you enjoy(/ed) the rest! ^_^
disassembly_rsn
Jan. 12th, 2012 03:37 am (UTC)
Re: The Adventure of the Six Painted Virgins (1/2)
This story is very well done - I've hesitated to comment on it because I wanted to put some thought into the comment, but I might as well get on with it and give you some feedback.

(A side comment - the title is a lovely spin on 'The Six Napoleons'. Very well played! Works brilliantly to both get the reader's attention and to show the connection with the ACD story.)

Very well handled, that John's break with the Church wasn't a crisis of faith brought on by war, but much further back due to suddenly seeing the priest's words as an attack on his sister. That's a much less common approach and gives the issue more depth, I think, as it's of much longer standing. Also good that you've shown John being fair about it later (the discussion of priests abusing their trust, and his reaction to that). That sounds like a realistic portrayal of the character, to me.

I like Owen as a character - you've fleshed him out believably, and he's the sort of person I think would command respect in life, whether one agreed with him or not. I like his first take on John - it sounds very plausible for the character - and John's response. Good that he doesn't simply accept Sherlock passing himself off as a priest but objects promptly.

Not one word about being struck by lightning as I cross the threshold, John

I love that exchange. :) Very much in character for both of them. :)

Afghanistan is not Iraq. It is shocking how many people mistake the geography of the two.

Excellent call on this. I remember how shocked people were on learning that the opening minutes of "A Study in Pink" were taken from a BBC documentary about Afghanistan, and were *real*, because it didn't fit the image people expected to see.

Don't start that with me, I was trained by Jesuits. If you want to argue matters of faith, come back when this mess is over, and I'll give your clever mind a run for its money.

I love seeing him stand up to Sherlock - more people should do that. :)

People are more honest when they're vulnerable and distracted.

Very much in concert with the mindset of the man who made that speech about detachment to John in TGG. It's not nice, of course, but very practical.

(Very nice bit of banter that Sherlock contradicted John literally about referring to either of the Holmes brothers as a bastard.)

If there were a Church of ... of logic, of Reason, you'd be the pope. Or Mycroft would be and you'd be a minor bishop or something who can't be bothered with the politics.

Have to say that this comparison works very well, to my mind, especially the bit about the politics. :) And no wonder Sherlock, hearing it, promptly took John's attitude seriously and changed out of the costume. :)

I have a weakness for symbolic dream sequences - the one ending this section was well done.

[edit: Sorry about multiple edits on this - one chunk of text wound up out of place, so the initial version(s) of the comment wouldn't have made sense...]

Edited at 2012-01-12 03:41 am (UTC)
saathi1013
Jan. 23rd, 2012 06:23 am (UTC)
Re: The Adventure of the Six Painted Virgins (1/2)
I really, really appreciate thoughtful comments like this one - even if I don't always know how to respond... =/

Like I mentioned in my other response, I am really glad that you think the OCs are believable. It was just one of several things (like the character study of John) that I fought tooth and nail with my muse over. This fic started as a crackfic PWP idea, but John having a priest!kink didn't sit right with me, so I set out by writing *why* it didn't make sense that he'd have that kink, and suddenly I had to also explain why I had the priest costume as the story's 'hook' to begin with, and then it became a casefic and I was torn between a very 'true' update of the ACD canon or a more 'unexpected' one... which meant rewriting a believable mystery from scratch, surprising 'villain' and all.

And I still had the impending relationship between John & Sherlock to contend with. So it was a tricksy process, but I'm ever so glad you think it turned out all right. :)

As for the dream sequences... this fic was written during a vary stressful time in my life. I have a tendency to 'build' fic in my head as I'm falling asleep to stave off panic attacks (works pretty well, actually, even if half of it never makes it to morning - or past my brilliant betas!) and the dream sequences were conceived during that kind of near-dreaming state. So the dream logic is not entirely invented from scratch, honestly. But again: I'm glad it 'reads' correctly.

Thanks so so much for giving a brilliantly detailed (set of) comment(s) - they are tremendously appreciated.
nogah
Mar. 7th, 2012 05:52 am (UTC)
Just wanted to let you know I've enjoyed your fic very, very much ♥
saathi1013
Mar. 8th, 2012 04:35 am (UTC)
Thank you, I do appreciate it!
the221armada
Sep. 24th, 2012 09:56 pm (UTC)
This is absolutely amazing. Really, you've written something transcendent here and it's almost too much for me to process in one go. Amazing work.
saathi1013
Sep. 25th, 2012 12:52 am (UTC)
...ohmygosh, wow. I will admit, the more time goes by (and the more perspective I get on my own writing), the more I am proud of what I tried to do here. That it is so truly appreciated by a reader means that my efforts were not in vain. Thank you!
i_amsherlocked
Oct. 26th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
I absolutely adore this! I love how you deftly worked cannon, BBC and your own lovely imagination together to produce genius!
saathi1013
Oct. 26th, 2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It was a tricky balance, but I'm glad you think I pulled it off! ^)^
i_amsherlocked
Oct. 26th, 2012 11:02 pm (UTC)
You did pull it off, and quite nicely at that! :)
saathi1013
Oct. 26th, 2012 11:35 pm (UTC)
*curtseys* Thank you!
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )