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A Little Night Reading (Sherlock)

Title: A Little Night Reading: Five Vignettes
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandom: Sherlock
Disclaimer: This universe does not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: We are what we read, aren't we?


Sprawled bonelessly on the sofa, he's not quite comfortable, but he's far too exhausted to move. Exhausted and fascinated by the tatty paperback in his hands.

London. His London, his beat, his responsibility. It hardly matters that the Autumn of Terror happened more than a century ago. The unsolved case throbs like an open wound in the body of Scotland Yard, even now.

DI Lestrade aches for the city, for the victims, and for the policemen who remained baffled and eluded by that mad bastard Jack the Ripper.

He sympathises with Inspector Frederick Abberline, the driven copper with a burden for the people and for the truth, ultimately left with nothing but empty hands.

He doubts Sir Melville Macnaghten's judgments, which often appear unsupported by careful research. In particular, he questions the accuracy of the so-called canonical "Macnaghten five"; to Lestrade, at least one of those poor women seems an unlikely Ripper victim, and at least one other who didn't make the list seems a likely one. How many investigations over the years have been undermined by potentially false assumptions about which of the murders were Jack's?

He bristles at the hubris of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren. He knows it's coming – he's read the book before, after all – but when Warren orders the erasure of the mysterious chalked message on the wall on Ghoulston Street, discovered the morning of the Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes double-murder, Lestrade groans aloud.

The few contemporary accounts of the message, hurriedly scribbled before officials washed the words away, don't agree. Destroyed evidence. A potentially vital clue, lost forever.

All thanks to higher-ups who had no idea what dogged, painstaking police work truly is about.

Lestrade sighs.

Then, abruptly, he chuckles at himself and scrubs a hand through his greying hair.

Why am I reading this? This is my life, he thinks. No need to borrow frustration. Got plenty of my own, don't I? Sherlock's right: I'm an idiot.

He sets the book aside with more care than its battered condition warrants. He makes an effort to shrug off the stress of men long dead so that he can shoulder his own substantial load for another night.

As he reaches for the remote for the telly, however, Lestrade sighs again. He can't help himself.

If only Sherlock Holmes had been around in 1888, he thinks. Maybe some tired, desperate copper would've had the good sense to consult the genius before it was too late.


The e-reader is state-of-the-art, sleek and compact and complete with the latest features to enhance one's interactivity with a text. He sets it aside on the table, next to his snifter of brandy. Sometimes, even Mycroft Holmes yearns for a hands-on experience.

He reaches for a thick volume that is leather-bound and gilt-edged, and he settles it on his silk pyjama-clad thighs. It's been a hellish nightmare of a day, weeks of negotiations culminating in a fourteen-hour showdown that threatened to leave blood on the priceless antique rugs.

In the end, however, resolution came, and the destiny of continents was determined with a few nods and handshakes – no signed names, no paper trails. One must always maintain plausible deniability, after all.

Mycroft feels every moment of those tense fourteen hours knotted in the cramping muscles of his shoulders and neck. But he also feels a deeper, slower burn of primal satisfaction.

The day is his. For now, he's won.

He glances down at the book. Herodotus has his charms, as any connoisseur of human nature must admit, but Mycroft Holmes is a Thucydides man at his core. At his coaxing touch The Peloponnesian War falls open, as he knew it would, to a familiar passage in the Melian Dialogue.

If pages wore down beneath eyes as tiles and floorboards do beneath feet, Mycroft would have trampled these pages into dust with his frequent visitations.

After a sip of brandy, Mycroft ghosts long fingers over specific lines. The unfortunate Melians, "just men fighting against unjust," were putting their case to the powerful Athenians, one-time champions of democratic justice now turned imperial expansionists.

The Athenians' reply predated Niccolò Machiavelli and realpolitik by more than a thousand years:

"Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule whenever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it when made: we found it existing before us, and shall leave it to exist forever after us…"

Mycroft nods. Wearily. If he's tired of this day, no one possibly could blame him. But if he's tired of the game as a whole, he dares not admit it, not ever, not even to himself.

"To exist forever after us," he murmurs to the empty room. Forever is a crushingly long time. Then again, how much has changed since 416 BCE? Very little indeed.

Easing back into the overstuffed armchair, Mycroft stretches his neck and rolls his shoulders. With single-minded focus, he savours the warmth of another swallow of brandy as it slides down his throat and into his belly, joining that deeper, slower burn, encouraging it, heightening it.

"I won." He says the words out loud, the e-reader and books and history itself his silent audience.


The night is chilly. Mrs Hudson's bad hip frets and complains. At last she abandons the evening, avails herself of her herbal soothers, and props herself up in her cosy bed.

Goodness knows she should be ashamed of reading picture books at her age. Well, she should be ashamed of many things, shouldn't she?

She's not.

Perhaps Sherlock's morbid sense of humour is rubbing off on her. Or is it the other way around? She'd loan her lodger the book, if she didn't fear she'd never see it again.

As she opens the pages, she's already grinning.

Really, it's positively indecent. No book about little children dying in all sorts of ghastly ways should be so amusing.

By the time she reaches "N is for Neville, who died of ennui," she's giggling aloud.

It's the illustrations, she tells herself. That's it.

Or maybe it's the herbal soothers.

Then it's "Z is for Zillian, who drank too much gin," and one last laugh, and time for sleep.

"Edward Gorey, dear man," Mrs Hudson murmurs to herself as she turns out the light.

As she drifts into slumber, she feels no pain.

An unrepentant grin plays across her lips.


It's late. It's dark. It's still.

Sherlock is on fire.

He darts back and forth beside the kitchen table, where stacks of files and dog-eared books, a laptop open to a split-screen view, and his mobile phone lie scattered. His pacing feet, his gesturing hands, his whispering lips – none can keep up with his mind as it races between inspiration and insight and back again with quicksilver speed.

Everything began with his unexpected discovery of an obscure scholarly article: "Prophesies and Politics: Millenarians, Rabbis, and the Jewish Indian Theory."

Of course the rabbis and the Native ambassadors of the seventeenth century both had clear, practical reasons to support the idea that the North American peoples were the Lost Tribes of Israel. But the Christian millenarians…

The Hebrew language. And Tsalagi.

The old Poole case.

Yes, he thought, as puzzle pieces fell together. Yes.

He unearthed the files and books without missing a beat.

This means Oklahoma, doesn't it? he asks himself now.

He reaches for his laptop and types in a Google search.

Tahlequah. The Cherokee Nation.

The stains on those boxes. Surely they're a fruitful clue.

Which leads him to the International Journal of Climatology. Four distinct quadrants of rainfall in the state… no. No, five.

But wait. Something doesn't fit.

Somewhere those unfamiliar words that the witness overheard must be replicated.

He grabs his mobile and consults YouTube.

No. Different sounds altogether. What has he missed?

He picks up a textbook. Flips through it. Chews his lip.

Of course! Tsalagi became a written language in 1821, but after the forced division of the Cherokee Nation via the Trail of Tears in 1838-1839, the dialects developed separately. One syllabary, two pronunciations.

Not Oklahoma. North Carolina.

His fingers fly across the laptop's keys. So close. So very close. His eyes scan the screen.

Aha! Direct flights from Charlotte, North Carolina to Gatwick Airport. There's the London connection.

What year did the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act take effect? The few moments it takes to verify the date feel like a lifetime.

Of course.

The timing explains the smuggling. And thus the murder.

His ever-evolving list of suspects instantly dwindles to one name.

The killer's.

"Yes!" Sherlock shouts.

Another forgotten cold case, put to bed. Simple, really. Elementary, even.

He spins in a circle, arms thrown open wide, and laughs to himself.

He'll text Lestrade soon. Not just now.

It's not that late, is it? No, the night is young, and so is he.

And he's on fire.


There were times when John Watson believed he'd never know such innocent, profound pleasures again: the softness of a well-worn tee-shirt and pyjama pants against his skin, the warmth of a bedtime cup of tea, the comfort of a good book in his hands.

And it's precisely because of such times – once, as he bled into the desert sand in Afghanistan; most recently, as he crouched by the pool before Moriarty and his explosives – that these joys seem all the dearer now.

The short story he's reading is a simple one, on its surface.

John takes it seriously.

He thrills with Smith as the villager encounters the dangers and wonders of the Perilous Realm. He pities Nokes when the cook refuses to recognise Faery, to be transformed by it, even when its king stands before his eyes.

At the end, John's heart rejoices when Smith chooses the unassuming little lad Tim, so easily overlooked or overshadowed, as the one to be his heir. It's unremarkable Tim alone who inherits the fay star and thus a future of adventure beyond his wildest imaginings.

He'll take nothing for granted, John thinks. He'll try his best to do right.

A shout sounds from the floor below John, and moments later, a peal of Sherlock's mad laughter.

John wipes his eyes on the corner of his shirt, even as he smiles to himself. He knows all about facing the Perilous Realm, doesn't he? He knows all about recognising the deep magic that's right in front of him.

He holds the book to his chest for a moment. Feeling for little Tim. Feeling for J.R.R. Tolkien, who created him. Feeling for the genius downstairs.

One more story, he decides, and he reopens the collection. He leans toward its pages, like green life bends toward the sun.


Bibliographic Note: The works referenced above are as follows:

For Lestrade: The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sudgen

For Mycroft: The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, translated by Richard Crawley

For Mrs Hudson: The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

For Sherlock: Too numerous to count! The article "Prophesies and Politics: Millenarians, Rabbis, and the Jewish Indian Theory" appears in Seventeenth Century, vol. 14, no. 1 (April 1999). The article "Spatial Coherence of Rainfall Variations Using the Oklahoma Mesonet" appears in the International Journal of Climatology, DOI: 10.1002 (2011).

For John: "Smith of Wootton Major" in A Tolkien Miscellany by J.R.R. Tolkien

Vital Stats: Originally written in October 2011.


( 65 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 14th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is wonderful, as usual. I especially liked the first vignette, and Lestrade musing about what would have happened if Sherlock had been around then. Well done!
Oct. 15th, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad you liked this! Thank you so much, my friend. I'm particularly tickled that you liked Lestrade's vignette. I've been reading a ton of Holmes-meets-the-Ripper pastiches lately, so I couldn't resist Lestrade imagining if "our" BBC! Sherlock had been around then. I'm glad it seemed fitting.
Oct. 14th, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! Your Sherlock was so true to life I could just see him! It's great you can convey so much in so few words. It's a gift!
Oct. 15th, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, this makes me very happy! I'm so glad Sherlock's characterization seemed right. Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate them!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 15th, 2011 03:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so tickled the vignette format worked for you! As always, thank you for your kindness. I really appreciate it.
Oct. 14th, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
OMG I love you. The Gashlycrumb Tinies!!!!! One of my absolute most-adored cannot-live-without books, for more years than I care to admit. And the idea that Mrs. Hudson giggles herself to sleep reading it...priceless.

Have I mentioned I love you? :-D

Brilliant work, as always!
Oct. 15th, 2011 03:27 pm (UTC)
Bwahaha! This makes my day! I'm so tickled that you liked these vignettes, and that pairing Mrs Hudson with The Gashlycrumb Tinies worked for you, in particular! I couldn't resist that mental picture of her giggling in her bed as she read it.

Thank you so much for your kind words. I love you, too, you know! *hugs*
Oct. 14th, 2011 10:28 pm (UTC)
By the time she reaches "N is for Neville, who died of ennui," she's giggling aloud.

Oct. 15th, 2011 03:32 pm (UTC)
Bwahaha! I love that one, too. Great minds think alike, eh? And hey - I love you, too! :)
Oct. 14th, 2011 10:29 pm (UTC)
oh this is gorgeous! Mycroft reading Thucydides and Mrs Hudson curling up with Gorey!!!

Oct. 15th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked this! I'm particularly tickled that Mycroft's and Mrs Hudson's choices of reading material seemed fitting to you. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting. It puts a big smile on my face! :)
Oct. 14th, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
It's not that late, is it? No, the night is young, and so is he.

And he's on fire.

I love that line - Sherlock seems so gloriously alive in this. The entire section just vibrates with his energy. Well done.
Oct. 15th, 2011 07:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, this makes me so happy, that Sherlock's energy and action here seem fitting and in character. Thank you so much for your kind feedback. You've put a big smile on my face!
Oct. 14th, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC)
Marvelous! I like the idea of tying each character to a book... clever. Is that Ripper book a good source of info on the subject? Re Mrs. Hudson - hah - what a fun choice. It's my daughter's favorite Gorey piece. And it was one of the pieces I wrote about that M and I saw performed last weekend.... excellent job although they mispronounced "ennui" by giving it three syllables. And of course I loved the John story... and most of all the last line, so very beautiful and heartening.
Oct. 15th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC)
I am so tickled that you liked this! Thank you so much. Sudgen's book (the latest revised edition) is, I think, considered to be the best single-volume work on the Ripper. It's very good. It's great to hear you liked Mrs Hudson's choice (and that it's your daughter's favorite!). That performance sounds like so much fun.

I'm especially pleased that you enjoyed John's vignette. "Smith of Wootton Major" is one of the Tolkien works nearest and dearest to my heart, and I just knew that John would get something deeply personal from it. I'm delighted that the ending worked for you.

As always, your kind and thoughtful words mean the world to me. Thank you so much!
Oct. 14th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
Lestrade reading Sudgen and Mycroft reading Thucydides! Just perfect.
Oct. 15th, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm delighted that you found these choices to be fitting! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.
Oct. 15th, 2011 01:13 am (UTC)
So lately I've come to realize that the best was to start writing again is to start reading again. For a while I trampled through my old territory; Stargate and the like.

Today I thought, well why not, time to take the plunge, so I opened up my friend's list. 'Lucky me,' I thought to find you first on the list, and proceed to read about reading.

My dear god. How do you exist so profoundly?

In any case!

Ever snippet catches the essence of each character so very well, both by their chosen literature and by the very way they read it, by their reasons for it. (I also enjoyed very much how everyone's reading their favourites except Sherlock, who is instead solving as many cases as possible. And how couldn't he be?)

Fantastic as always.

Oct. 15th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
It's so wonderful to see you on LJ again! Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate it so much.

And goodness, did your kind words ever make my day! I'm just delighted that the characterizations here worked for you, including what each read, why he/she read it, and how the reading affected each of them. It's fantastic to hear these choices seemed fitting. You just can't imagine. :)

Thank you, my friend!
Oct. 15th, 2011 01:16 am (UTC)
I love this! I especially liked the beginning with what Lestrade was reading and the details on what he was feeling during certain parts.

I want to read what Mrs Hudson was reading.
(no subject) - morganstuart - Oct. 15th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morganstuart - Oct. 15th, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 15th, 2011 01:17 am (UTC)
All wonderful! I thought maybe Mrs. Hudson would be reading a cozy mystery like Mrs. Marple, but I love your choice! So much better.
Oct. 15th, 2011 08:22 pm (UTC)
I'm delighted that you enjoyed this - especially Mrs Hudson's choice of reading material. ;) I really appreciate your reading and commenting. Thanks so much!
Oct. 15th, 2011 02:52 am (UTC)
Just lovely, and so in character, I think, for all of them. Dear John's made me a bit melancholic; it was so perfect for him. Thank you.
Oct. 15th, 2011 08:25 pm (UTC)
I'm so delighted that you liked this, and that you found each of them to be in character. That's wonderful to hear. I'm especially pleased you liked John's vignette. I appreciate your kind words so much. Thank you for reading and commenting!
Oct. 15th, 2011 04:27 am (UTC)
A fic about BOOKS! I'm in love. Deeply in love. Thank you for portraying this love that all of us feel, in such lovely and different, though familiar, ways.

> If pages wore down beneath eyes as tiles and floorboards do beneath feet, Mycroft would have trampled these pages into dust with his frequent visitations.

You are describing me with my favorite volumes. Well told!
Oct. 15th, 2011 08:28 pm (UTC)
Oh, you've made my day! I'm so glad you like this, and that the love of books and of reading comes through in these vignettes.

I'm especially tickled that you liked that line about "frequent visitations" to beloved favorites.

Thank you so much for reading and for leaving such kind feedback. I have a huge grin on my face now, thanks to you!

Oct. 15th, 2011 05:03 am (UTC)
I really like these glimpses into their lives, and none of their choices surprises me even a little.

Thank you for including the bibliography at the end; I was curious what they all were reading. I'm especially curious about Tolkien's story and shall go looking for it at the library tomorrow. Now I'm going to change into my pyjamas, make a cuppa tea, and settle down with the Hobbit. (I'd love to say ACD's Sherlock stories, but I left them at work.)
Oct. 15th, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked these vignettes, and you found each of their choices for reading to be in character!

I hope you find "Smith of Wootton Major" easily. There's a new, expanded version that's available as a standalone book. It's really a marvelous story. Of course, you can't go wrong with The Hobbit, either! ;) Ah, Tolkien. What an amazing mind and imagination.

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate it tremendously.
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