impulsereader: (Pirate1)
[personal profile] impulsereader
Title: Red Sky at Morning
Username: impulsereader
Length/size: 3094 words
Rating: PG for piratey language
Warnings, kinks & contents: Contains John, Sherlock, Mycroft, the skull and off-stage Mrs Hudson. AU with magical realism.
Author's/artist's notes: I neither seek nor expect to collect any booty from the production of this story.
Summary/description: A tale of Pirate!Sherlock told in 221Bs. To set the scene: Pirate!Sherlock’s world is that of a steampunk Pirates of the Caribbean.
A/N: Originally written as a pinch hit for the commfest over at [ profile] bbcsherlock. Read the other entries here I was told that in Britain the saying is in fact, 'Red sky at morning, shepherds warning', but haven't yet come up with another title which I like, so currently I'm just going to let all of you know that this story contains no shepherds, only piratey sailors. I'm very sorry to disappoint on that score. :-)

MYCROFT: My brother has the brain of a scientist or a philosopher, yet he elects to be a detective. What might we deduce about his heart?
JOHN: I don’t know.
MYCROFT: Neither do I ... but initially he wanted to be a pirate.

Mycroft anxiously waits in the aerie, pacing the very edges of the platform, oblivious to the opportunity he is offering the whipping winds to send him plunging to the ground so very far below. He is sheltered from the worst of the driving rain by the Byzantine roof suspended far above his head, but aside from corner supports this structure is open to the elements and the combination of the rain and raging wind has soaked his clothing through despite his overcoat. His umbrella is, for once, useless.

As he stalks along this circuit over and over, he thinks about a little boy with a mop of ash-dark curls and eyes the colour of air, ever changing. Sherlock running through the halls waving a sword; Sherlock refusing to remove his eye patch at the dinner table, and being sent to bed without supper because of it; Sherlock falling from the tree house which he called his crow’s nest, a broken arm the result.

Mycroft had objected to his little brother’s chosen profession automatically. It reeked of the lower classes and was simply much too akin to running away and joining the circus to be acceptable. But what haunts him now is the memory of Sherlock’s pained cry as he gathered him up and accidentally jostled his arm. His baby brother – broken.


It was supposed to be routine; a lark, even. That was why it was just John and Sherlock out on the Cabriolet rather than the whole crew and the sloop. The smaller yacht was easily controlled with just the violin and recorder. In truth Sherlock could handle it by himself; even John could have managed at a pinch.

It was going to be a neat little jaunt during which they would map the newly-discovered whirlpool over Norwich. Whirlpools are dead useful when you are fleeing pursuit, and if you are fleeing pursuit so near London that you find yourself flying over Norwich, then you are in serious (Mycroft-level) trouble indeed. These combined facts make this particular whirlpool extremely attractive to pirates, and that in turn means that John and Sherlock can make a pretty penny off it.

The thing about sky whirlpools is, they’re tricky, but they’re exactly the sort of tricky which Sherlock likes best.

If you have never ridden the surf of a whirlpool, flirting with death; feeling the wind whip through your hair as you play it into submission, binding it to your will; well, my friend, you simply have not lived.

Sherlock is giddy with excitement as he flits from bow to stern and back yet again. John carefully hides the smile caused by his childlike bounces.


“You were right about the weather,” John observes from behind the wheel. Crystalline blue and fluffy white are the hallmarks of the day, and a rising barometer confirms Sherlock’s prediction. The winds are friendly.

“It’s a glorious day, John! Simply glorious!” As he makes this declaration he performs a pirouette; he is a whirl of colour. He then scampers to the side of the ship, leans over and points emphatically. “Look! We’ve picked up a dolphin!”

They are skimming atop a sizeable cloud bank, and the creatures which live within the mist are usually attracted by the waves ships generate. Flying fish are common, dolphins somewhat less so. Sherlock has always been entranced by them.

“That reminds me, I started a new tune last night. I’ll play it for you later.”

“Something for the two of us?” he asks eagerly. His eyes flick to John, return to the sleek iridescent-silver of the leaping dolphin.

“I think so. It doesn’t have lyrics, at least. It should be excellent for gaining altitude with easy leaps, sort of like the dolphins.”

“Splendid! We shall leap like the dolphins!”

He jètes gracefully across the deck to demonstrate, and John can’t help but laugh. “You’re mad, you know that?”

Sherlock whirls round to beam at him. “My dear John, mad is the only way to be.”


A pirate ship looking to make use of a whirlpool in a chase would most likely do so in one of two ways.

The first technique is to carefully sail onto the surface of the pool in the direction it naturally spins; the ship is caught up in the movement and quickly gains speed. Depending on the time available (and the bravery [or foolishness] of the captain) the ship could go round a handful of times, but generally once or twice is wiser. Once the captain judges the speed is right he slingshots his ship out of the whirlpool, using the borrowed speed to (hopefully) put his head down and outrun his pursuer.

The second technique is to descend into the depths of the whirlpool and hide within it, hoping that if you do not actually shake your pursuer, his ship will be too large or the captain too frightened to follow.

The trick to navigating within a sky whirlpool for any length of time is to wrap your sails in a wind which is completely under your control. The safest way to do this is to assign one musician the task of making sure this wind remains under control. Winds are fickle creatures.

John sends a slow, jazzy tune spiralling up the Cabriolet’s mast, and they are ready to begin.


The Norwich whirlpool is large; they’re inside for a long time, sketching and cataloguing everything they will need to create a detailed three-dimensional map.

“That does it.”

John frowns. “I wouldn’t mind another look at that shelf on level H. I’m not sure we got the dimensions exactly right.” He checks his wind spell and plays a little trill to tighten it up.

“Nonsense. Of course I got it right.”

John rolls his eyes and considers arguing. It’s a small point, and arguing will get him exactly nowhere, so he gives it up.

Sherlock is absolutely thrilled to have conquered this whirlpool. It’s a grand day; the wind whips round him, singing in his ears, and he is master of all he surveys. “Take us up!” he commands, anxious for the crowning pleasure – slingshotting them onto their course home.

“Aye, Captain,” answers John wryly. He only calls Sherlock captain in jest or in the presence of those inclined to slight his friend if they think his officers don’t respect him.

John adds some spice to his jazzy tune, encouraging his wind to let the whirlpool’s natural upward spiral influence it. As they ascend, they become aware of some serious turbulence.

They share a glance.

They emerge to find themselves engulfed by Armageddon given form in wind, rain – and lightning.



hell! Where did this come from?” Sherlock shouts to be heard over the howling wind as he hastily picks up his violin to steady the winds around their sails. But John’s tame wind is ripped from his control and Sherlock’s chords are ineffective; it doesn’t take them long to realize there is something more going on than a particularly vicious storm.

The air crackles with magic.

The rain has already soaked them both to the skin, and the colourful plumes in Sherlock’s hat are sadly crushed. The Cabriolet plunges and bucks wildly under their feet, subject to the whim of violently hostile winds and someone else’s magic. An arc of lightning illuminates the scene, and the men exchange an anxious glance. A sharp CRACK of thunder coincides with a gusting wind which spins the yacht around in a full circle and sets it rocking wildly. Both Sherlock and John are knocked violently off their feet.

John’s recorder goes spinning across the deck and he is tossed painfully against the railing. He unhooks a length of rope hanging near where he lands. They’re going to have to tie themselves to something.

He rolls onto his hands and knees and looks round for Sherlock. He doesn’t see him. This is very definitely not good.

He knows it is useless to call out, but…



There is, of course, no answer; at least, nothing audible over the storm.

John lurches to his feet, hastily ties the rope around his waist, then secures it to the mast. He is just in time, because he is then thrown off his feet again and sent sliding toward the stern. He is now battered, bruised, soaking wet, and has lost Sherlock. And, oh yes, visibility is like trying to use a mud puddle as a mirror. Brilliant.

Lying in a heap, John tries to breathe deeply but just gets rain up his nose for his trouble. Hacking and coughing, he reaches up and heaves himself to his feet. He discovers that the visibility is still clear enough to show him exactly what he does not want to see.

Sherlock has been flung overboard and is clinging to a rope, being dragged through the storm-wracked sky by their beleaguered yacht.


He doesn’t waste breath yelling. Advising Sherlock to hold on would be a truly idiotic thing to do. He has no gloves and no time to find a pair. The little ship is taking a beating around him and it is getting ever more difficult to remain on his feet. John grips the rope firmly and begins to pull, hand-over-hand. The wet, slick line jerks, slides, and it burns.


Sherlock clambers back into the ship by grabbing John’s head and using the leverage to somersault over him. His knee collides with John’s nose in the process.

“You are the most annoying git who ever lived!” John shouts at him over the roar of the storm.

His partner shouts back, “Where’s your instrument?”

They are both rocked again by a violent roll of the ship, and John grabs Sherlock around the waist to anchor him.

“Could be anywhere now; if it’s still on board.”

Sherlock pulls a face and jerks out of John’s grasp to lurch drunkenly away. “That’s very irritating, John!”

You’re very irritating, Sherlock! I was a lot more concerned about where the hell you’d disappeared to, and it was a good thing, too!”

“If we have to sing ourselves home, John, it’s down to you!”

The ship rolls yet again and Sherlock goes down hard on the rain-slick deck. John curses and starts toward him; stumbling after a step. He decides crawling is the less humiliating option. He is rewarded when he is able to catch hold of a second coil of rope as it slaloms past.

Sherlock is partially up by the time he reaches him. John slings the rope around his waist. For lack of a better option he secures Sherlock’s rope to himself. A bolt


of lightning suddenly strikes the deck mere yards from them and the air goes electric and fuzzy. A small fire is ignited by the strike but it just as swiftly begins to gutter under the onslaught of the torrential rain.

“Sherlock, we’ve got to get the ship moving or we’re going to be killed!”

“Yes, and your recorder would be ever so helpful as we work toward achieving the former rather than the latter!”

“We need a new plan, Sherlock! Our song wasn’t working before you went overboard!”

“What exactly would you suggest then? It’s not as if we can just get out and push!”

John pulls in breath to shout back something which probably would have been vulgar, but then he pauses. Realizing how they’re going to get out of this alive, he shouts instead, “Sherlock, you’re a genius!”

“Of course I am.”

John waits, but this seems to be the extent of Sherlock’s opinion of his own genius. He rolls his eyes. “Come on.” He uses what has essentially become a leash as well as a safety precaution and tugs Sherlock into motion, still crawling.

They reach the lazarette and John digs out a metal box. “I told Mycroft we’d test it. I didn’t realize we’d actually need it.”

Sherlock says peevishly, “We’re helping Mycroft? Oh, damn and blast.”


It is a very long, wet, and turbulent journey home. The device which propels the Cabriolet as a substitute for their music is essentially a portable tug-boat the size of a dinner plate. Its magic is apparently low-tech enough that it isn’t at all bothered by the interference. It propels them steadily through the storm-weary air but does it at a pace which would have induced the grandfather of all tantrums in a Sherlock who did not distinctly resemble a cat which had been held underwater for a few hours.

They are kept busy steering as best they can through the unquenchable rage of whatever Wizard is behind this storm. They are extraordinarily lucky that their base buoyancy spell remains intact; what’s more, they both know it. With only their singing voices to counter the hostile magic surrounding them, adding gravity to the mix – well, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

They are very lucky, but it is difficult to feel lucky as the normally graceful Cabriolet lurches drunkenly and her hull scrapes harshly against the side of the aerie; they wince, both at the grating noise and the thought of the added repairs they will have to effect. When Mycroft is there to help them guide her into shelter, even Sherlock is, at least initially, glad to see his brother.


An hour later, John and Sherlock have had hot showers and each has drunk a pot of tea. Clad in robe and dressing gown respectively, they have pulled their chairs as close to the roaring fire as they can without setting their toes alight, and are beginning to feel human again.

Mycroft is brooding darkly in the corner; his overcoat abandoned, his clothing still soaked through. He has refused the offer Sherlock has not made of a shower and change of clothes. Instead, he has gone from Mycroftian to Mussed and he looks dangerous because of it. Top button undone, a pale length of throat is exposed; his hair is rakishly dishevelled from its usual sleek lines.

“Mrs Hudson says to open the door.” The voice comes from the mantel; it sounds annoyed. “She’s sending up a fresh pot.”

John looks to Sherlock who is staring moodily into the flames, then to Mycroft who is glaring malevolently at Sherlock. He sighs and wearily pushes himself to his feet, flinching at the pressure this puts on his bandaged palms.

“You really should put a spell on them,” opines the voice from the mantel with a sniff.

John responds tetchily, “Yes, thank you. Being a doctor, I always appreciate unsolicited medical advice from a skull.”

Offended silence radiates from the skull in billows.


The pillar of wrath which comprised the person of Mycroft Holmes that evening has finally left, and the vacuum his departure created had sucked contentment into its place. The fire, which has retreated from its previous roar, is now crackling cheerfully in a friendly way; a benevolent presence suffusing the space with soothing warmth and gentle light.

Each of them is now lazily sipping from a cut-glass tumbler cradling honey-gold liquefied wealth.

“You very nearly died today.”

Sherlock so definitely has no response to this the words are possibly blinked out of existence.

“That’s why Mycroft is so upset with you. In case you were wondering.”

Annoyed, Sherlock snaps, “We very nearly die most days. He should be used to it.”

“Well, he’s used to being upset with you at least.”

“You promised to play your new tune,” Sherlock changes the subject.

“I promised to play what I have,” John corrects. “It’s not finished yet, and I’ve lost my instrument to the grasping clutches of gravity; so have you, by the way.”

“Grid search tomorrow morning.”

John groans inwardly; he’d been looking forward to a nice lie-in and fortifying fry-up. “Can’t we try a locationing spell first?” he asks wistfully.

An offended sniff from the mantel. “Oh, fine, spells are good enough for that but-”

“Shut it,” snaps John. “Absolutely bloody


shut it. In fact…” He stands, picks up the skull, strides over to the writing desk, and closes it into a drawer.

Sherlock conceals his grin by raising antique crystal to his lips with an elegant hand. John and the skull don’t get on, never have.

John sinks back into his chair.

“You have a spare,” Sherlock reminds him.

“Which is upstairs.”

“If you’d let the skull alone it could have asked Mrs Hudson to send it down.”

John glares at him. “It’s been rather a rough day, Sherlock, and I don’t appreciate the skull’s attitude when I’m in a good mood. What’s so bloody urgent about this tune anyway?”

Sherlock shrugs. “Nothing, really. I just thought some music would be nice. I always enjoy your songs.”

John’s music tends toward simplicity. He uses notes sparingly and is always composing little pieces suited to specific tasks on the ship; capriccios to furl a sail or coil a line.

The piece Sherlock composes is dramatic and has fiddly, flourishy bits which twist, twirl, spiral, defying categorization as well as gravity. He has never once claimed to have finished a piece, it is all one long, on-going adventure he puts onto paper in notes and rests.

He’s right, a little music would be nice, John thinks. He sighs wearily. “I’ll be right back.”


John’s spare is in fact an oboe. He likes the sound of it, but as an instrument it’s less straightforward than the recorder which he favours for workaday tunes. So the oboe lives in the flat at Baker Street and he plays it for pleasure; sometimes he uses it to compose.

Returning yet again to his place in the sitting room, he fiddles with his reed until he is satisfied, then he begins to play.

Sherlock’s eyes drift closed and his head falls back as he lets out a soft sigh; sinking further into his chair, his body goes boneless.

John’s song is lilting and lovely, and it is immediately clear those little lilts will do wonders to set the ship leaping like the dolphins, taking her up, up, up into the atmosphere. Sherlock can practically feel a gentle wind ruffle his hair, and it is glorious. It is good to be a god of the sky; most days, anyway.

After a time the tune runs out and he can hear John searching for something else, something new. He trips down the scale and plays with the lower notes; the tone takes a turn toward haunting, as was wont to happen with the oboe, and sometimes with John as well.

Then the song becomes a lullaby, and Sherlock smiles, murmuring, “Beautiful.”

Date: 2012-09-15 03:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What a fun story! It's interesting to see the rules of how this world works through the device of everything going wrong. The characters have to diagnose and fix the problem, and by pointing out what's wrong, the reader learns what's right and normal. That always holds the interest if it's done right.

I'm also intrigued at John being the sort of guy who'd keep an oboe as backup for a recorder. It says a lot about him.

Date: 2012-09-15 06:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am, as always, very flattered by your praise. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

I like the oboe because to me it seems mysterious and fiddly. I am, however, still tempted to switch it to a clarinet in a nod to canon.

And, yes, here I go again getting myself in trouble writing music! :-)

Date: 2012-09-15 03:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
if you are fleeing pursuit so near London that you find yourself flying over Norwich, then you are in serious (Mycroft-level) trouble indeed


Date: 2012-09-15 06:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*curtsies* I like grounding a story by making it mappable. Just imagine the grid search the next day! Poor John...


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