morganstuart: (I Wonder)
[personal profile] morganstuart
I've never written a Christmastime story before, and now I see why. I'm much more at home with the Halloween atmosphere! That said, I hope you'll accept this in the seasonal spirit as the humble gift it's intended to be.

Happy holidays, my brilliant friends!


Title: I Wonder As I Wander
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandoms: Sherlock and The Professionals
Disclaimer: These universes do not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: It's Christmas Eve, 2005. As a very private drama plays out between two men, secret eyes are watching.
Historian's Note: This is a direct sequel to "Father and Farther," and knowledge of that story would be most helpful for reading this one.
Author's Note: If I've done my job properly, familiarity with one of these two programmes is all you need in order for the story to work. This fits in the same universe as my Sherlock story "The Distance Getting Close," but prior knowledge of that story is not necessary for reading this one.
Warnings (Highlight to Read): Mild language and violence, discussion of drug addiction.



Bodie felt the cold this season.

It awoke the complaints of his old wounds. It added weight to the burdens he shouldered. It burrowed into his bones, reminding him of his years and his mortality.

Melancholy was Doyle's department, not his. Yet as one new field report followed another to glow expectantly on his computer monitor, Bodie found himself staring out of his study window, unable to focus, troubled by something he couldn't identify. On the other side of the chilled glass, the rain had ended, and flurries threatened a coming snowfall.

The bare limbs of trees appeared dead and brittle beneath their shrouds of ice. He imagined London, blanketed in white…

You're turning maudlin in your old age, he told himself. Grow a pair, yeah?

With a sigh of self-disgust he pushed back from his desk and wandered out of his study in the general direction of Ray Doyle. He found the man in their room. As he knew it would, the sight kindled fresh warmth inside of him, easing his unnamed aches.

"Wish you could come with." Doyle frowned at his own reflection in the mirror as he smoothed the lapels of his tuxedo jacket.

"I don't, sunshine. Politicians and bureaucrats drinking eggnog, making small talk, and kissing each others' arses?" Bodie shuddered theatrically before donning a cheeky grin. "Rather be washing my hair."

Doyle shook his head, but his lips quirked as he fought an answering smile. "You're rubbish as a trophy wife, you know."

Leaning against the wall, arms folded, Bodie assumed an injured air. "Fine. Be that way, Raymond. Just don't come crying to me the next time a military junta needs thwarting or a terrorist cell wants identifying at the very last minute. I might've made other plans: a manicure, perhaps, or a mud bath."

Their gazes met in the mirror, wry and fond, and nothing else needed to be said.

It was a very small price to pay, all things considered, for Doyle to assume the social responsibilities that came with the directorship of CI-5 on his own, sans any "plus one." They'd always had to be discreet, hadn't they? It was second nature to both of them, to keep the personal well behind locked and bolted doors.

At least the reasons made sense now. Just as Doyle's position had pushed him onto the national stage, Bodie's had pulled him into the shadows. If it had been otherwise, no doubt a public cry would've been raised at two men, so close, holding such combined power.

How the Cow would've laughed at that.

After all, they still were chalk and cheese, weren't they? Even now. Each fiercely protective of his own domain, his own expertise, his own raison d'être.

Doyle could debate and wrestle with fine points of policy that would put Bodie to sleep; Bodie could accomplish certain delicate and necessary tasks that would leave Doyle sleepless. Doyle crafted broad strategies with years, even decades in mind, on the scale of an entire agency; Bodie's precise efforts were defined by minutes and seconds, executed by a personally-chosen handful of special agents. Doyle provided Her Majesty's Government with national security; Bodie, plausible deniability.

If they sometimes felt that the two of them were pitted against the world as well as each other, well, that was nothing new, either. Then again, that world was a far different place now than it had been when they were simply 3.7 and 4.5. Four bombs in fifty minutes mere months ago gave proof enough of that.

At the end of the day, it was enough that they could share their closely-guarded secret of a home. Bodie gave Doyle perspective and received compassion in return. As a result, Doyle brooded far less these days, and Bodie failed to grow callous. Both were better professionals, better persons, for it.

"Stop staring at yourself and go on, then," Bodie said. "And don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Doyle chuckled. "Hardly narrows my options, does it?" They walked together as far as Bodie's study. "Go easy on your agents, yeah? Wherever the hell they are, it's still Christmas Eve."

"Bah, humbug," Bodie said. At Doyle's glare, he added a "Yes, mum" with obviously mock contrition.

A pause. Then, tentatively, Doyle said, "You know, it's not too late. 'Tis the season, and all that—"

"Ray."

Here it was, the heart of the matter, the epicentre of Bodie's recent mood. It lay naked and tender before them, just as it had ever since the night Bodie learned he was a father. Doyle studied him, as if calculating how much weight to throw against an immoveable object. After several moments he signalled his surrender with a nod.

"Yeah, well, these people – politicians and bureaucrats, as you say – they don't have families; they have staff." The regret was clear in Doyle's tone. "I expect I'll be late."

Bodie shrugged. "I expect I'll wait up."

A gentle expression softened the lines engraved on Doyle's face, reminding Bodie of a much younger man with dark curls instead of gray bristles, faded jeans instead of formal wear. "Ta, mate."

Doyle's fingers brushed Bodie's arm, and then he was gone.

Bodie's eyes once again strayed to the window. He reminded himself that he should examine the incoming reports. Instead, despite his best efforts, he wondered what Christmas meant to an overworked and widowed detective inspector.

Less than two hours later, as Bodie's various channels of surveillance sang out in emergency alert, he headed for his car at a run to find out.

***

The security team at the house balked at the idea of Bodie driving into the night unescorted. He made it clear in no uncertain terms that he didn't require anyone's permission to do anything. Apparently his glower had not lost its power to move, if not mountains, then at least the muscled men who did a passable job of impersonating them.

He knew some of the agents would follow him, but from a discreet distance, and with a healthy degree of fear and trembling. He wouldn't arrive on the scene with a bloody entourage, thank God.

The location in question wasn't in the belly of gang territory, but it wasn't far from it. Seedy, one might say. Disreputable. Not altogether safe.

Just like the old days.

Bodie parked a couple of blocks from the address. He wondered idly if his car would still be there, in one piece, when he returned.

He walked at a casual pace, gloved hands thrust deep in the pockets of his wool coat, alert eyes sweeping his surroundings. The various weapons he wore fit naturally against his body, familiar and reassuring.

The streets were all but deserted, no doubt because of the weather, but from the windows rising up on either side of him Bodie caught glimpses of cheap tinsel and fairy lights, green trees and silver angels, festive bows and shining ornaments. A thick, frozen silence enveloped the space immediately around him, but distant echoes of traditional carols and contemporary party music ricocheted above his head, an incongruous blend of human voices, piano chords, and heavy bass tracks.

Perhaps the holiday season itself was getting to him. Bodie might've spent every single Christmas of the last forty-two years without his son, but this was the first Christmas that he was aware of that fact, the first that he realised what he had missed and what he was missing.

Sentimental fool.

He swallowed the bitter thought and frowned into the folds of his scarf. The matter at hand was what the hell he intended to do once he reached his destination.

Good question, that.

As he rounded a corner, shifting layers of darkness took shape and moved forward from the entrance of a narrow alleyway. A string of curses and street slang carried to him, with a few words repeated by various teenaged voices like a chorus: "wallet" and "watch" and "phone."

He had no time for it, no time at all.

"You don't want to do this," he told the world at large.

One youth stepped closer. Bodie registered the glittering of his eyes and his flick knife. "Fuck you, old man."

This one wasn't worth arming himself.

"Son," Bodie said, "go home."

The blade rose higher. "I said, fu—"

With one blow Bodie put the boy on the pavement. The knife clattered into the night, unclaimed. The youth blinked and groaned feebly, but he made no effort to rise.

"Anyone else?" The sound of running feet was his only answer.

He felt no satisfaction. These were only children; they should be indoors celebrating the season, not preying on anyone unfortunate enough to be out in the weather with them.

Bodie put another block behind him.

At the sound of an approaching car, he edged farther from the street. When a large black sedan drew up beside him and stopped, he halted in his tracks, heaved a sigh, and rolled his eyes.

The back door opened, and a feminine voice said, "You'd be warmer in here."

It was a waste of a perfectly good double entendre, for the elegant brunette spoke without inflection, eyes riveted to the BlackBerry in her hands. She was wrapped in fine fabric and fur like a tastefully understated extra from the set of Doctor Zhivago; Bodie had to move a pace closer to discern her face.

God, he thought, she's just a baby.

As if reading his mind, she glanced up at him. "Yes, I'm new. Yes, I'm young. But I'm highly qualified, in constant contact with Mr Holmes, and fully authorised by him to share information of certain interest to you, if you will return the courtesy."

"Or," she added, when he failed to reply, "you can freeze to death." Her eyes returned to her personal data assistant. "I get paid either way."

Despite the gravity of the situation, Bodie felt the urge to laugh.

As he climbed in, she slid over and settled a laptop computer on the seat between them. The moment Bodie closed the door, the driver pulled away from the kerb.

"I assume you're here for the same reason we are," she began. "What do you know?"

This was no time, Bodie reckoned, to indulge in a pissing contest with Mycroft Holmes or his proxy. "Word of an alleged suicide. Not uncommon during the holiday season, of course. But the identity of the body has yet to be reported, and so-called suicides do, on occasion, turn out to be murder. This area has seen more than its share of violent deaths. I know my—that is, I know Detective Inspector Lestrade was here, but unofficially, off-duty. Seemed unusual. Thought I'd look about, make certain… well."

She nodded. "The detective inspector was here because of Mr Holmes's brother. It seems they are both alive, and they have no connection to the victim."

For several heartbeats, Bodie closed his eyes. The sheer physical force of his relief took him by surprise.

"I should be able to verify that momentarily," she continued.

He considered the screen. "You're monitoring the brother's flat."

"He maintains several 'boltholes,' as he likes to call them, located around London. We don't know the exact number, but fortunately this is one that Mr Holmes discovered and routinely keeps under surveillance." Her slender fingers danced across the keyboard and then returned to her BlackBerry.

Bodie studied the feed. It revealed a dingy, miniscule space nearly devoid of furnishings. Empty at present.

He'd seen Greg Lestrade in a few televised clips from press conferences, but never in a candid situation, never when speaking solely for himself rather than the whole of Scotland Yard. An unspecified yearning welled up inside of him.

He loosened his scarf. The young lady continued typing.

The seat was spacious as far as luxury automobiles went, but Bodie was a rather broad-shouldered man bundled in many layers. He shifted to see the small monitor better, extending an arm behind the woman's shoulder to brace himself.

"Excuse me. May I, Miss…?" he asked.

Arching an eyebrow, she gave him a look that would've put any of Hitchcock's ice queens to shame.

"If you've read my file, then you know I'm harmless," he said.

"I've read portions of your file," she replied. "And 'harmless' is the very last word I'd use to describe you." Nevertheless, she leaned forward just a fraction, making room for his arm. "You may call me 'A.' Shall I call you 'B'?"

"Yes. Thank you, A."

Had he ever been that youthful, that keen to prove himself? Of course he had. He felt full almost to overflowing with advice he wanted to impart to her, insights about loyalty and commitment, discipline and realism that he wished he'd known decades ago as principles rather than mere gut instincts.

But who was he, really, in the final analysis? A man who hoped to catch sight of his son in someone else's surveillance footage. He held his tongue.

"I can show you a muted image of DI Lestrade, to prove that he's well," she said. "Then we'll take you back to your car, or wherever you wish."

"I'd like to stay and watch, if it's all the same to you," he said, perhaps a beat too quickly.

"Mr Holmes prefers that his brother not be seen in—"

"I don't give a toss about Sherlock Holmes or whatever state he's in." He wasn't a pleading man, but he dredged up a single, quiet word from a place that felt raw and, God help him, desperate: "Please."

She never looked once in his direction, but she went still as he spoke. Her brow furrowed, and then she redoubled her efforts on the BlackBerry.

Some moments later, an intercom buzzed. "We're being followed," the driver said.

They both peered over their shoulders.

"Four back, that's my team," Bodie said.

"That's fine," A confirmed to the driver. "They're with our guest."

Just then movement showed on the laptop. A shadow first. Then a gaunt young man stalked into the frame, one hand scrubbing through his dark curls. He appeared to vibrate with unspent energy, his motions jerky and unceasing.

Bodie looked to A, wordlessly asking permission.

She consulted the BlackBerry once more. "All right," she said. "If you continue to watch DI Lestrade, you may see Sherlock Holmes in this… temper... anyway. Needless to say, Mr Holmes relies on your discretion." As an aside of her own, she added, "I expect you'll owe him a favour."

"Of course." Bodie swallowed. "Thanks."

She met his eyes for a brief moment, her expression unreadable, and then she turned her attention to the film footage.

"—just what it looked like, a suicide," the young man was saying in a cultured voice, deeper than Bodie would've expected from that slender body. "Dull, dull, dull."

Gravelly words came from off-screen, thick with weariness and no little sarcasm. "Yeah, it's a shame that people aren't killing each other fast enough this holiday season to keep you entertained."

"You never understood," the young man – Sherlock, Bodie reminded himself – sneered as he rounded on the unseen speaker. "You and your microscopic mind, content to bleat out Christmas carols with the rest of the assembled sheep. That's all you're—"

"Never claimed that I know how you feel, did I?" Greg Lestrade interrupted. He moved into view with measured steps, wearing a nondescript suit, rumpled coat, and healthy five-o-clock shadow. His tone deepened into a placating rumble. "But I do recognise that your brain needs something to work on, or it chews itself to bits. I'm here to help, if I can."

"Oh, Saint Lestrade of the Perpetually Overactive Sense of Duty," Sherlock intoned, pacing around the other man like an erratic satellite. His designer shirt and trousers looked slept in, even though he appeared not to have slept for quite some time. "I'm surprised you're not volunteering for more hours now, to let your comrades with families spend extra time during this 'special season' with their wretched spawn."

"Already have." The answer was matter-of-fact. "Been at the office, then on call for as many hours as I'm allowed. I was headed home… but I got to thinking how long it's been since you had a case, how many parties would be going on tonight, how easy it would be…"

"Don't make this about me!" Sherlock was winding himself to a manic pitch, a wounded animal that in turn sought to wound. "You're just looking for an excuse not to crawl into a bottle and stay there 'til the holiday's over, to try to forget your life's not some sickeningly-sweet greeting-card advert." Then the young man blinked and nearly stumbled backward, as though he realised he had crossed some unmarked boundary between them.

They stared at each other.

At last Greg spread his arms, offering himself up to the vitriol of Sherlock's attack. His answer came without heat. "Yeah, all right. I should have a family of my own to celebrate with. That's hard to forget, this time of year." He shrugged. "Is that what you want to hear?"

The man's lack of artifice, of any kind of self-defence, appeared to drain the hostility from Sherlock. The young man crumpled and then curled in on himself. "I don't want to hear anything from you tonight. I'm not your responsibility… and you're not mine."

"No, I'm not yours. I'm just another supplier, aren't I? Another way for you to get a fix. Of interest only as long as I've got the goods." The composure with which Greg spoke the words only increased their impact. He rubbed his hand across his face and gave a humourless laugh. "Jesus, I'm too bloody tired for this."

Bodie frowned at the screen, at sea in the storm of emotions the scene provoked. He thought, quite distinctly, Doyle would be better at this than I am.

For several moments neither of the men in the flat spoke a word. Then Greg took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Listen. You have four options, Sherlock. First: go home with me now. I'll get takeaway, feed you up, and you can have the guest room. When you've slept off whatever this is" – he waved his arm in the young man's general direction – "we can find something for you to do. Cold case files. Pending reports. Maybe I can pull strings, get you access to the morgue for some experiments, yeah?"

Sherlock remained unmoving, his long limbs tightened into a miserable knot.

"Second: let me take you somewhere else: a hotel, another flat, whatever, as long as it's clean in every sense of the word. Then tomorrow you can come by mine, or see your brother, or anything you fancy, as long as you stay away from the drugs.

"Third: I have you arrested right now." Sherlock's head jerked up at this, eyes wide, mouth open. "Don't play the outraged innocent; I know a search of this room will turn up more than enough cause. You spend the next hours in a cell – isolated, if you like, I can arrange it – well away from temptation. And I can get some sleep without imagining you overdosed in a gutter somewhere on Christmas morning."

Sherlock's mouth closed, and his lips compressed into a pale, thin line.

"Fourth: I walk away, leave you here, and we're done. No more consulting. I told you before, and I meant it: I won't have you at my crime scenes when you're using. Up 'til now, that's worked for both of us. Well, in fact."

"I'm not high, Lestrade. I'm bored." Small and tremulous.

"If I'd arrived later tonight, would the story be different?" No answer. "That's what I thought."

Long fingers tangled in dark curls. "You can't walk away from this. You need me." A threat, or a plea, or possibly both.

"I've lost more than one thing in my life that I needed, and I'm still here, Sherlock." Greg sounded tired, and older than Bodie felt, which was saying something, but remarkably steady for all of that. "I've solved cases without you. I made DI without you. Your work's important, but not more so than you are." He shook his head. "We could go 'round and 'round 'til the sun comes up, but I don't have the stomach for it. Make your decision. I'll be at the front door."

He moved to a dark drape of fabric on the threadbare sofa – a long coat, Bodie realised – and liberated a single cigarette from one of its pockets.

"Thought you were quitting," Sherlock mumbled.

"Yeah, thought you were, too," Greg replied.

As the detective inspector disappeared from view, A reached forward and tapped a key, pausing the feed.

"I trust that's" – she seemed at a loss for the proper term – "satisfactory?"

Bodie nodded and cleared his throat. Unsure what to do with himself, he reached for the flask in his breast pocket. He took a swallow and then offered it to the young woman.

"I'm on duty," she said, once more studying her BlackBerry.

"Did I say otherwise?" he asked.

Her lips quirked. She extended a delicately-gloved hand, accepted the flask, and brought it to her lips with easy grace. It was very fine brandy. She took one sip, then another.

"Thank you." When she handed it back to him, she looked him squarely in the eye once more for a fleeting second.

The car deposited him back on the very same patch of pavement where Bodie had been standing earlier. A was consumed with her personal data assistant. Preoccupied by what he'd witnessed, Bodie took his leave with a silent nod and half-bow – not that his hostess noticed.

Panda cars and an ambulance passed them and turned toward the rear of the building ahead, presumably on their way to claim the unfortunate suicide victim.

Before Mycroft Holmes's black sedan could pull away, the back door opened again. The young woman emerged and crossed the distance to Bodie in several swift steps, still clutching her BlackBerry.

"Happy Christmas, B," she murmured, and her free hand pressed something into his grip. Then she disappeared into the automobile, and it sped off, leaving Bodie to contemplate her unexpected gift.

He uncurled his fingers. She'd given him a lighter.

***

Bodie was following the pavement that led to the main entrance door as Detective Inspector Greg Lestrade emerged from the building.

It was a colossally stupid thing to do, Bodie knew, but he could no more deny himself this than his next lungful of air.

An automatic part of Bodie's mind catalogued the most apparent surface details: they were the same height, and roughly the same wide-shouldered, athletic build. Their eyes and chins were somewhat different. Their lips were quite similar, as was their hair.

Greg patted his pockets and swore softly under his breath, the cigarette dangling loosely between two fingers.

Bodie, the man of action who had fought – and, when necessary, killed – for decades across multiple continents, was seized by the overpowering urge to run. Instead he came to a halt and stood his ground, shamed by the trembling in his knees.

He watched as Greg took in his surroundings with a trained eye. When that dark gaze fell on him, it struck Bodie like a blow to the chest. It was all he could do not to gasp aloud.

Words failed him. Mutely, he held out the lighter. To his relief, his hand was steady, even if nothing else about him was.

"Ta, mate," Greg said, his throaty voice almost hoarse in the cold. He lit the cigarette and returned the lighter to Bodie's gloved palm. "Sounds like we may have a wet Christmas instead of a white one." He didn't act like a man who'd just had his life trampled upon by an ungrateful brat of a genius. Despite his visible exhaustion, he seemed admirably even-keeled.

"More rain, is it?" Bodie's question formed white clouds in the air.

"So they say." Calm and congenial. "You from around here?"

Bodie opted for something in the general neighbourhood of the truth. "No, haven't been in the area in years. Just needed to clear my head a bit. Park and walk a while, somewhere different. This time of year makes a man think."

"Truer words," Greg agreed. Then, with apparent concern, "Not the safest place for a late-night stroll these days."

"So I've gathered. I've had smarter ideas." Bodie shrugged. "About to call it a night, I think."

At that moment Sherlock Holmes exited the building, complete with coat and gloves and scarf. His long-legged strides brought him to Greg's far side where he stopped, shifting his weight and looking everywhere but at the detective inspector.

He hugged a rigid case to his breast.

"The first." It was hardly more than a whisper.

"Sorry?" That from Greg.

"The first option." Only slightly louder, still hesitant. "You meant what you said? About the morgue?"

Greg inspected the concrete between his feet. "'Course I did, you daft sod."

"Right. Well." Then, presented like an awkward apology, "I brought my violin."

Greg's response was quiet. "Thank you. Been ages since I heard you play." He straightened and rolled his neck and shoulders, stretching as if he'd just released a heavy burden, and took a long drag on the cigarette.

Sherlock gave a short, curt nod.

Just like that, the two seemed to regain some kind of balanced footing. Bodie didn't have to understand every nuance of the dynamic between them; it was clear enough that Greg, without any personal model to follow, had somehow divined the finer points of being a father. And for this night, at least, crisis had been averted.

"Well, I'm off," Bodie said, before his presence could become any more suspicious. "G'night."

"Think you'll be all right?" Greg asked. "We could walk you to your car, if..."

Dear God, Greg was trying to protect him, a stranger. At best the detective inspector carried a truncheon; Bodie was a walking arsenal.

The kindness in Greg's face was something Bodie fought to memorise on the spot.

"I'm fine," Bodie said. "Just around the corner. But thanks." Acting purely on instinct, he held out his hand.

Greg took it without hesitation. His grip was strong, forthright. "Right. Happy Christmas."

Bodie bound up all of the words of apology and praise and affection that he would never be able to speak, and he fed their meaning into far humbler phrases: "You, too. And happy new year."

Without a backward glance, Bodie retraced his steps. Only when he was well away did he wipe his eyes.

The ache that had been gnawing at his insides for too long grew quieter on the trek back to his car. Before Bodie climbed inside, he stood with his head thrown back, inviting the last of the errant snowflakes to land on his brow and cheeks and chin.

His son was safe. Wounded in some ways, to be sure, and tired and resigned, but far stronger than the injustices that fate had dealt him. Greg was a good man, truly, and with his patient influence, perhaps that mad younger Holmes might someday become one, as well.

Bodie had never been the sort who believed in fairytale happy endings; this imperfect and all-too-human one would do for tonight.

It was Christmas Eve. He'd received a gift he never expected. And he was going home to the man who could make him feel warm and young once more.


THE END

Note: This story takes its title from the bittersweet Christmas carol "I Wonder As I Wander" by John Jacob Niles.

Vital Stats: Originally written in December 2011.

Originally written for the "Discovered in the Christmas Tree" fest at [livejournal.com profile] discoveredinalj.
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"To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty."
- H.P. Lovecraft, 1921

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