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Histories (Part 11/17)

BC Sherlock
Rating 15 (alcoholism, drug-taking, explicit femslash and slash, homophobia, swearing, vomiting)

Sequel to Birthday Surprise and Launch Off in which Molly gets together with Dr Harriet Watson, historian of eighteenth-century women and recovering alcoholic

Huge thanks to my beta Blooms84 for tackling this monster and making extremely helpful suggestions

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Parts 5 & 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 & 10, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17

Summary: John's facing a different sort of battleground in Northumbria this weekend...

11) Saturday: John

The question was, John thought, once he'd woken up from a refreshing sleep - because Grace Holmes might be a bigot, but she had a very comfortable guestroom - at what point did he phone Mycroft and telling him he was bailing out? Before or after breakfast? And why had Mycroft been such a grade A shit getting him into this mess, anyhow?

It was odd about that, he finally realised. Because Mycroft might be a shit, but he was also a very clever man. He knew what his mother was like, and he wouldn't have brought John all the way up here for the hell of it. He'd practically told him what was going to happen, now he came to think about it clearly. Grace Holmes was prejudiced, but Mycroft thought John could win her over.

Why should I have to, rather than just walking away?  Because he wanted to help Sherlock, and he knew how much Sherlock cared about his mother, for all their current estrangement. People could change, did change: his mother had come to Harry and Clara's wedding. And more than that, he did not walk away from challenges. This might not have the same danger as the Pink Lady case, but it wasn't going to be easy either. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to convince an elderly homophobe to respect you. Well, a lot of other people had underestimated him in the past.

OK, that was the strategy, now for the tactics. And start from last night, because there'd also been something odd about that. If Mrs Holmes really couldn't stand gays, surely she wouldn't have been willing to have him visit? And she'd seemed perfectly friendly at the start. Her comment about him being a poof hadn't been the start of an argument, or even the end of it, it had come completely out of the blue. So was it just social awkwardness, blurting out feelings she'd been trying to conceal? No, because she hadn't apologised. She'd sounded...she'd sounded almost triumphant, hadn't she? He knew that note in someone's voice, and he suddenly realised from where: Sherlock, when he was being deliberately offensive, outrageous. Mrs Holmes probably was prejudiced – a lot of people her age were – but she was also looking for trouble. So what he had to decide was how to respond to her provocation.

***

He went downstairs, following the alluring smell of bacon, and found his way to the kitchen. Mrs Holmes – Grace – was there, armed with a frying pan.

"I take it you're not a vegetarian," she said, as he came in, "or dieting."

"A full English breakfast would be lovely," he said, "Do you need me to do anything?"

"No thank you. Did you sleep well?"

This was surreal, he thought. So you're trying to pretend you didn't say what you said last night. Very weird. Very...Sherlock.

"Fine," he muttered, and waited for the next conversational bullet.

"I thought we should go up on the moors today," Grace said, as she put a plateful of fried breakfast in front of him. "Work off all this."

"Sounds lovely. I didn't get to see any of the countryside last night. What did you have in mind?"

"I was planning to take you up to Edlingham. There's a good walk up there, Caller Crag, Shiel Dykes and the Black Lough. It's ten miles or so, beautiful views."

She hadn't asked if he wanted a ten-mile hike across Northumbria, any more than she'd asked what he wanted for breakfast, John realised. It was all take it or leave it stuff, wasn't it? And then it dawned on him what this was, and he was hard put not to start giggling. Officer selection weekend. Was he presentable enough, tough enough, good enough for Sherlock? He'd had it from Mycroft in the warehouse last year, and now he was getting it from Grace Holmes. Well, he wasn't intimidated this time, either.

"The walk sounds lovely, but I'll need some decent footwear," he said calmly. "I didn't bring my army boots, and I could do with some decent walking boots anyhow. Is there somewhere in Alnwick I can buy some?"

"There's a clothing shop on Fenkle Street. Or I might be able to find a spare pair."

"Second-hand boots are never a good move. I've seen too many blisters and sprained ankles after training exercises not to take care of my feet."

"Did you train up here?" Grace asked, and there was a hint of warmth in her voice now.

"I was over at Otterburn before I got deployed. Eaten alive by the mosquitos. If it was summer, I'd want to buy insect repellent as well."

"We'll get you some boots this morning," Grace said, smiling. "Since we're taking the dogs, I'm afraid it'll have to be the Range Rover rather than the Lotus. Still, it's a nice drive into Alnwick."

***

He survived the drive, even if his heart rate was up a bit after the hairy moment at the first crossroads. So the next test was not wincing too much at the price of the boots. Extra shifts next month, he thought.

"Anything else I need?" he enquired. "Map, compass, emergency rations, whistle?"

"I'm not planning to abandon you in the middle of nowhere, if that's what's worrying you," Grace said, smiling in a slightly menacing way.

Another bloody Holmes mind-reader, of course, thought John.

"I thought today was the initiative test," he said, smiling blandly at her.

"And so far you're doing well," she said smiling back. Her eyes were a darker grey than Sherlock's, but there was the same concentration in them sometimes. "But what should we do next?"

Logistics exercise now, is it?

"It's just after eleven," he said cautiously. "The walk will take us three hours or more, because  you...I don't want to rush and miss the scenery. So, you could show me around Alnwick briefly, and then we have an early lunch. Find a pub that won't object to Amber and Barney. Then we get on with the walk so we're off the moor before dark. Rough walking in poor light isn't my idea of fun."

"An excellent plan, Dr Watson," Grace said smiling. "Good to know you haven't forgotten all your army training."

***

John let Grace set the pace, literally, on the walk. This wasn't a fitness test, this was proving that he wasn't an ignorant townee and that she wasn't a little old lady. It wasn't hard to admire the dramatic scenery and the ever changing shades of grey in the sky. He found himself wondering how Sherlock would behave on a walk like this. He was normally uncomfortable in a place without a mobile phone signal, and yet he'd strode around Dartmoor that time with infinite confidence.

"Have you lived up here long?" he asked after a while, as they stopped for a snack. "You're not from Northumbria originally, are you?"

"No," she said, "but I came up here as a child and loved it. So when Matthew, my husband, died I abandoned London, never to return. There are several stones round here with prehistoric markings, if I can just find them."

When she did, they looked to John like almost random marks, just holes in the rock, but he was used by now to seeing things he couldn't understand the significance of.

"There have been people living up here for five thousand years or more," Grace said. "Puts being 72 into perspective."  

It's tough growing old on your own, thought John. He'd felt that way when he first got back to London. But expressing sympathy to Mrs Holmes was probably a rash move. He stood in silence instead.

"You can still feel the past round here," she said. "Whereas they've now concreted over most of southern England. You're a southerner, of course?"

"Yes, or maybe an eastener. I grew up in Bury St Edmunds."

"A Suffolk man. What did your parents do?"

Here it came, thought John, should have guessed we'd get the class issue. He was surprised Grace Holmes hadn't worked out his exact social background already, but perhaps she didn't quite have Sherlock's skill.

"My mother was a teacher. Science teacher. She's retired now."

"And your father?"

"He died in 2003. He'd been ill for a long time before that with multiple sclerosis. Couldn't work. It was very hard on Mum having to look after him." It was his test for her, in a way. Could he distract her by sympathy or would he have to tough it out with facts? He wasn't really surprised when she said:

"And before that?"

He smiled, because he wasn't embarrassed about this bit.

"He was a mechanic," he said. "One of his friends told me once he was the best tractor mechanic in Suffolk."

She was staring particularly hard at Barney now, and he could hear her mind logging his reply, analysing it. And then she turned and looked at John and said:

"And you decided to be a doctor?"

"I decided I'd rather fix bodies than machines."

"A good tractor mechanic is hard to find," she said, dryly, and he knew that for some complex reason he had suddenly become acceptable.

"But then I suppose a good doctor is as well. Did you always intend to join the Forces?"

"Didn't occur to me till I was at medical school. I went along to the University of London Rifle Club, wanted to give it a go. Found I had a talent for it, made some good friends. One of them was talking about joining the army, got me interested."

Tom Wickham had not only introduced him to the idea of joining the army, but to poker and his sister Clara. He'd probably made the right choice of which of the three to stick to.

"An excellent move," she said. "The army needs good men, whatever their, erm, tastes. My grandfather and father both served in the Middlesex Regiment. Of course, that's been amalgamated several times: it's the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment now, I think."

Of course, he thought, there'd be a service connection somewhere in the family. Even if one that neither Mycroft nor Sherlock had followed.

"So how long were you in Afghanistan?" Grace asked, and he sighed inwardly and began to answer her questions about the war. Because he might be a poof, but he could at last prove to her that he was a brave poof. 

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
fengirl88
Sep. 30th, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to convince an elderly homophobe to respect you.

impressed with how he's doing so far, though I would expect no less. can I borrow him, or do I just have to channel him?
kalypso_v
Sep. 30th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
Actually, my attitude to walking boots is the opposite to John's; I hate new ones, because they're too stiff and give me blisters. The pair I have now were broken in for me by my niece, a brainwave of my mother's. I'd been wearing a spare pair of hers, which were really a size too big, so she offered to buy me new ones, and I objected to the newness/stiffness. But she realised that my niece, then about twelve but growing fast, had just hit my shoe size, so she bought her a pair with instructions to pass them on to me when she outgrew them, which was about a year later.
marysutherland
Oct. 1st, 2011 06:46 am (UTC)
I must admit to writing from complete ignorance here. I have never worn walking boots, mainly because my feet are such a mess they get rubbed raw even by shoes. So all the walking I do is in trainers.

But the real question is: second-hand boots may be better, but second-hand boots from the Holmes household? Possibly John has secretly decided that whatever the perils of new boots, at least they won't be radioactive or accidentally contaminated with cobra venom.
kalypso_v
Oct. 1st, 2011 09:59 am (UTC)
I noted that she didn't ask his size, but possibly her Holmesian powers of observation enable her to deduce his feet are a good match for those of a late spouse.
marysutherland
Oct. 1st, 2011 01:14 pm (UTC)
I have the sudden realisation that the Holmes family is one in which people would die with their boots on, and their boots would then be kept for use by later generations, because it would be a waste otherwise. So you don't ask what the odd stain is on the right hand boot, because it's the blood from the time Uncle Percy hit his head on a rock in 1936. Grace doubtless moves in circles where it's infra dig to buy one's Barbour, rather than inheriting it.
kalypso_v
Oct. 1st, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
Absolutely.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )