|sherlockfest Bi-Weekly Challenge Entry:
||[Oct. 12th, 2010|11:40 pm]
Title: Two's Company
Prompt: Folkloric stories of ghost soldiers / encounter with John Watson as witness
Medium: Fic, as I'm useless at everything else.
Setting: Sherlock (BBC 1)
Genre/Warnings: Paranormal with a side of wry humor. No warnings.
Summary/Notes: After a case, out in the wilds (i.e. somewhere that's emphatically not London), our heroes take a walk after dark.
Of all the places they could've been stuck on a Saturday night, John wouldn't have picked York. He hadn't been there in years, and hardly anything had changed.
"Charming," said Sherlock, pocketing his phone. "We've missed the last train."
"Everything closed up around five," John sighed. "Do you even know where we are?"
"It's a small city. If I'm not mistaken, we're still in front of the Minster."
John rolled his eyes. Right. Sarcasm was the answer to everything.
That and the sheer obviousness of the gothic monstrosity looming at his back.
"No, I meant more along the lines of...where should we go from here?"
Sherlock shrugged. "Not a clue. How about that way?"
That way involved stepping out from under the tree they'd been huddled under for roughly twenty minutes, as it had begun to rain no sooner than they'd departed the Minster Close with profuse thanks from the Dean and Chapter for having recovered an irreplaceable piece of masonry. A large portion of the building was in bits out back, behind high chain-link fences, as part of the ongoing restorations project. Someone had seen something they liked and gotten greedy. Sherlock had not only been able to track down that someone, but had also earned him a hefty fine and a spell in prison.
They were now standing in front of a columned building, next to a fountain.
"Sherlock, this is the Art Gallery. It's not open."
"King's Manor over there," Sherlock said, pointing to a complex of historic-looking buildings off to their left. "The gate's open, probably to let students come and go."
"Thank you, that's all very interesting, but what are we going to do about this?"
"About what?" Sherlock asked, smiling ever so slightly. "We're stuck in the middle of nowhere, but at least it's the scenic middle of nowhere." And there was the spark, that glint of mischief that Sherlock normally reserved for crowing about murders and Scotland Yard's misery. "Do you want to see something? Might be dangerous."
John sighed. "I don't see how anything out here could possibly be dangerous."
"Involves some breaking and entering," Sherlock said, already on his way through the Manor's open gates. He stopped mid-stride and looked back at John expectantly.
"Am I going this one alone?"
"No," John said, rushing to catch up as Sherlock started walking again, damn those long strides of his. "Of course not, just...explain what you mean."
"By what?" asked Sherlock, innocently. He was leading them back a dark paved walkway lined by some very old-looking sections of wall. Roman? Norman? John couldn't tell, but Sherlock probably could have based on a mere scraping.
"Breaking and entering," replied John, severely. "This building here has got a porter, by the look of it. Couldn't we just bluff our way in?"
"What I'm going to show you isn't in the courtyard," Sherlock said. They had passed through another gate and were now standing in a sort of tiny parking area under some low-hanging trees. They cast eerie shadows against the broader stretch of light-polluted darkness. Another gate beyond that, shut and locked.
"I'm sure I needn't remind you, but you're mad," John said. "I can't climb that."
"Nor can I," said Sherlock, frowning. "We've gone around the wrong building."
No use in asking questions as they backtracked, crossed in front of the larger building and cut around the back of the smaller one. Copse of trees, stretch of grass. Something that looked like a broken-down wagon. A stone barrier that looked...well, promising. If Sherlock gave him a leg up, he might just make it over.
"What's over there? More elaborately-carved rocks?"
"After a manner of speaking," Sherlock said, stepping up to the vine-covered sandstone. He took John's hand and kissed it—how easy he was with such gestures; it made John's cheeks burn—and knelt down. "Up you get."
It took a lot more effort than John had been expecting If there hadn't been enough flora and weathered edges to hang onto, he might've fallen the whole way down. As it was, he fell the final third and hit his tailbone, hard. Sherlock was beside him in an instant, all flying coattails and wide pale eyes, crouched low and light as a cat.
"Are you all right? Did you hurt yourself? John, tell me—"
"I'm fine," John said as Sherlock helped him to his feet. "Shaken."
And that was when he looked around, saw the ruins everywhere.
Fragments lying haphazard in the grass. Lonely, shadowed columns at intervals (Remnants of a church, he thought, or perhaps he was remembering something he'd read). Explanatory plaques, very easy to trip over (Sherlock caught him), and useless given the time of night. Two imposing walls still intact and standing, complete with high, arched windows and more columns. Sherlock was right about the scenic part.
John tightened his grip on Sherlock's hand as they approached. The damp chill and unnatural silence made the place seem sentient. He paused beside the ruin of a column, refusing to let Sherlock go any further.
"It's more impressive by daylight," Sherlock said, allowing himself to be reined in. "This was an abbey. Saint Mary's. Done in during the same spree as Rievaulx and all the others, courtesy of everyone's favorite sycophantic, syphilitic bastard of a king."
"Best thing he left us was Bess, but that's just me," John said under his breath.
"Agreed," Sherlock said, and John experienced a moment of faint amusement at that, because who would've guessed that Sherlock had favorites amongst the royalty, much less the country's most famous queen? "I don't see why you find it so funny. She was a brilliant and imposing woman. It's a pity that her father was so foul."
John shivered and stepped closer to Sherlock as the moment passed. The wind had picked up again, and he could feel the slightest prick of raindrops against his cheeks. Neither of them had an umbrella. Fleetingly, he thought of Mycroft.
"How do we get out of here?" John asked. "I'd rather see it by day. Seeing as we've got to stay the night, we might as well just have a kick-about tomorrow."
"Same way we came," Sherlock told him, idly trailing his thumb across the back of John's hand. "The main gate is off that way," Sherlock said, pointing, "but it's the street entrance, and any attempts to slip through would be noticed."
John turned to lead the way, and just then, a flash of movement off in the middle of the would-be church caught his eye. A man in a long cloak stood fifty yards off, regarding John with startled eyes. He was nondescript enough, dark-haired, no longer young. And just as John raised his hand to wave, or to ask what the man was doing—
"Stop!" Sherlock called, but the words died on his lips, because—
"Sherlock," John said. "He's gone."
"I'm aware of that," said Sherlock, irritated, but the tremor in his voice was palpable.
"No, I mean," John managed, pointing at the spot, "he..."
Vanished. How was he supposed to say it and not sound like an idiot?
Sherlock was muttering to himself about having to revise his opinion of Martindale.
"What's that?" John asked.
"Harry Martindale," Sherlock said. "The man who claimed to have seen those Roman soldiers in a cellar not far from here, back in the early 1950s. Or was it the 1940s? Not important, anyway, but I'm hard-pressed to deny that we both saw something, and that something disappeared while we were looking at it."
John blinked at him. And then kissed him, because, really, what else was there to do given the circumstances? Sherlock had just confessed to something completely irrational, and that, like everything else about him, was amazing.
"Didn't know ghosts did it for you," Sherlock murmured. "We could just stay here."
"No," John said, tugging at him impatiently. "Dead or alive, a voyeur's still a voyeur."
"Next time you say that, make sure Molly is present," said Sherlock, chuckling as he helped John climb back up the way they'd come. "I'd like to see the look on her face."
"Maybe you'll think twice now about bringing bits of her friends home."
"Not a chance," Sherlock said, leaning halfway over the wall, somehow, still grasping John's hand as his feet hit the grass. "Look out," he said, and gracefully leapt down.
For as long as it took them to find a hotel with vacancies, John couldn't help but track every fleeting shadow out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps he'd have to visit now and again. Soldiering was hard and lonely, but at least he didn't have to go it alone.
He didn't see why the ghosts should have to, either.