Title: Courting is Over – part 4
Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: 3860 (this section)
Warnings: Major character deaths (offscreen) (allegedly) (allegedly), angst in this section
Light-touch beta thanks to verityburns. Any glaring errors are all mine.
Back to Part 1
Warning: Much discussion of death and funerals. This part’s rather angsty, but you should go back and have another look at the first section of part 1 if you need any reassurance!
Sarah met Harriet Watson eight days after John and Sherlock had been killed. The nature of the deaths had resulted in a great deal of complicated forensic investigation, most notably detailed DNA testing and attempts to match dental records. Even throwing her medical credentials around, Sarah hadn’t been able to persuade any of the appropriate authorities to tell her anything but Greg had kept her up to date as far as he was permitted and had also reassured her that the police had notified John’s sister and were keeping her apprised of developments. Mycroft, however, had apparently disappeared off the planet and even though Sarah had first started ringing the number on his business card two days after the explosion and every day afterwards, sometimes calling more than once, the phone had only ever been answered on one occasion when a pleasant female voice – it didn’t sound like Chloe’s – had informed her that Mr. Holmes wasn’t currently available to speak to her but would call when he could. Every other time she tried the number, it simply kept ringing until she gave up.
One week after the boys’ deaths, a man was waiting outside the surgery as she left and told her that Mr. Holmes had sent him to ask if she would be good enough to go to the Baker Street flat the following morning to have a conversation with him and with Doctor Watson’s sister. The man – who didn’t bother giving his name – requested that she arrive at eleven o’clock. Numbly she agreed and the man nodded politely before turning and walking away without a further word.
By the following morning she was furious, and deliberately went to the flat over half an hour before the appointed time. She had no intention of arriving later than Mycroft and having to walk into his presence like some kind of petitioner. Her anger was softened by the sadness on Mrs Hudson’s face as she let her in and the women hugged each other for a long while in the hallway. Sarah had spoken with her on the phone the day after the explosion but had been so busy with the surgery – and with her own grieving – that she hadn’t had the opportunity to visit, and now she felt horribly guilty. She comforted her as best as she could and then made her way up to the flat but stopped partway up the second flight of stairs, her throat tightening at the sight of the closed doors ahead of her. They had always been open whenever she visited, even on the occasion when both the boys had been out, and to see the flat closed up like that brought her close to tears. She swallowed them down and opened the door to the living room, gritting her teeth against the pain as the familiar room was revealed, quiet and still and musty after over a week of non-use. Forcing her grief not to overwhelm her again, she sat at the table and tried to make her mind go blank and not relive her times there.
Harry Watson arrived twenty minutes later and was shown up by Mrs Hudson who then scurried back downstairs to make some tea. The familiar face was upsetting: Harry’s short blonde hair, dark blue eyes and even the shape of her nose were far too similar to her brother’s and once again Sarah had to swallow hard to stop herself from crying. Nevertheless, as the two of them shook hands Sarah studied Harriet carefully. After many attempts to stop drinking, each of which had failed after only a few weeks, Harry had been sober for the last four months and it had been her self-enforced struggle towards sobriety which had frequently made her even more irritable than usual with her brother. With this recent tragedy Sarah wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Harry had taken a spectacular swan dive off the wagon again but she saw no sign of the other woman being either drunk or hungover. She was quiet and answered all Sarah’s attempts at conversation with brief replies but it seemed that she was withdrawn only because she was still in shock over her brother’s death.
When the downstairs door knocker sounded at two minutes to eleven, both of them jumped nervously. While Mrs Hudson answered the door and a quiet conversation ensued downstairs, Sarah stood up again and waited in trepidation but Harry, slumped on the sofa, just looked up disinterestedly when Mycroft eventually came up the stairs. He walked straight over to Harry and offered her his hand to shake.
“Ms Watson, I’m Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brother. May I extend my sympathies to you on your loss,” he said politely.
“Likewise,” Harry mumbled, and Mycroft turned to Sarah.
“My dear Sarah, I do apologise for not being able to speak with you before now,” he told her as he clasped her hand. His eyes, she noticed, didn’t quite meet her own and he gently but firmly pulled his hand clear of hers almost immediately and took a step back.
“Tea?” she asked, gesturing towards the tray which Mrs Hudson had brought up earlier.
“Regrettably no,” he said, not looking regretful at all. “I’m afraid I have many appointments which I am unable to avoid today and so I must make this visit brief.”
He looked across to Harry in order to include her in the conversation.
“I have been informed that Sherlock’s and John’s bodies will be released the day after tomorrow and that permission has been granted for their funerals to take place,” he told them.
“There’ll need to be an inquest,” Sarah said tersely. “With the way that they died, it’s bound to be a complicated case.”
“Indeed,” Mycroft agreed, “but I have been ... assured that all the necessary information and evidence has now been obtained and that the funerals do not have to wait until after the inquest.” His implication was clear that he had pulled a few hundred strings to facilitate the release, but Sarah was past caring.
“So how are we going to do this?” she asked. Mycroft raised an enquiring eyebrow at her and she sighed. “I mean, are we having both funerals together, or one after the other, or what?” She grimaced apologetically at Harry. “Do you know whether John wanted to be buried or cremated?”
Mycroft looked uncomfortable as Harry shrugged. “We never talked about it,” she said quietly. “But he’d probably prefer to be cremated.”
Sarah nodded her agreement. “We should at least have the funerals on the same day,” she said. “They had a lot of friends and colleagues in common. What do you think about a joint ceremony if that can be arranged? I know John wasn’t very religious, and I imagine that Sherlock wasn’t ...” she looked at Mycroft for confirmation but he didn’t react, “... so could we think about having a single service which celebrates their lives and where anyone can speak either about just one or both of them? What do you think?”
Harry shrugged again, then raised her eyes to Sarah’s and visibly tried to pull herself together. “It’s a good idea,” she said. “I think John would like that. And then ...” She broke off for a moment, clearly struggling with the thought which had just occurred to her. Eventually she took a sharp breath through her nose and pressed her lips tightly together to bring herself under control before forcing herself to continue. “Afterwards, maybe they could be scattered together, or side by side or something.”
“Oh,” Sarah whispered, tears flooding into her eyes. “Oh my goodness, Harry, that’s a beautiful idea.”
She turned to Mycroft, looking for his approval. His expression was bland but she knew instantly that something wasn’t right and she narrowed her eyes as the realisation hit her. “You’re taking Sherlock away, aren’t you?” she said abruptly.
Mycroft flinched. It was just the tiniest of jolts but clearly he had once again been startled by the speed of her deduction. She took a step towards him. “Tell me,” she said dangerously.
He straightened his spine as he recovered from his surprise. “I shall be taking Sherlock home to the family vault in Gloucestershire,” he told her. “He will be interred alongside our parents, grandparents and several previous generations of the Holmes family.”
Sarah opened her mouth but Mycroft’s expression became stern. “Do not attempt to debate this decision with me, Sarah.”
The vehement response was a shock to both Mycroft and Sarah and they looked across to Harry as she stood up from the sofa and walked over to Sarah’s side before turning to face Sherlock’s brother.
“No,” she repeated. “You can’t have him.”
“Ms Watson ...” Mycroft began but she interrupted him instantly.
“You can’t take him away from John. They meant everything to each other. All that John ever talked about was Sherlock.” She threw an apologetic glance at Sarah. “Almost all. ‘Sherlock did this ... Sherlock said that ... He’s the most annoying person I’ve ever known ... He dragged me out of bed at two in the morning and then we got chased round the warehouse ... We had to fight off four big blokes and then we fell in the river ... It was brilliant.’ I hadn’t seen him that happy in ... ever.”
She gazed at Mycroft intensely. “You didn’t see John when he came back from overseas. He was broken. I don’t mean his shoulder, either. He was broken.” She shivered at the memory. “Even when I was completely bladdered I could see how damaged he was. Actually, he was more than damaged – he was dying. He was going to kill himself any day soon, and it scared me so much because I couldn’t do anything to stop him. And I don’t mean he was going to use that bloody gun that he got hold of.”
Mycroft’s eyebrows lifted in surprise and Harry nodded.
“I knew about the gun – I found it in his desk at the bedsit when I visited him there once. He’d mentioned this blog that his shrink had told him to write, but I didn’t know whether he had actually written anything and if he’d said anything about me ... Well, I was half-drunk and I started looking for his laptop when he went to the bathroom, and that’s when I saw the pistol in the drawer. We shouted at each other for about an hour when I told him I’d seen it, but he wouldn’t give it up.”
She sighed. “In the end I realised that he would never shoot himself – he wasn’t that much of a coward. He would probably go out looking for a gang mugging an old lady, or a group of thugs breaking into a shop or something and then he’d pick a fight with them.” Her voice shook as she continued. “And he wouldn’t fight back as hard as he could, and would let them kick him to death or knife him. At least that way he’d die trying to do something good.”
She drew herself up and stared at Mycroft, tilting her chin forward in a stubborn manner that Sarah recognised. “Sherlock saved his life. He gave him a reason to keep on living. And even though they couldn’t save each other this time, you’re not separating them now. You can’t.”
Mycroft began to open his mouth but Sarah was faster. “They lived and died together, Mycroft,” she said. “I respect your wish to maintain tradition, I honestly do, but if you’re going to take Sherlock to your family’s place, then you’ll have to take John as well, and if your ancestors are annoyed at the invasion of a non-Holmes, then I’m sorry but they’ll have to tolerate it.”
She realised that she hadn’t even sought Harry’s approval of this suggestion but Harriet was already nodding on the edge of her peripheral vision. Again Mycroft tried to speak but again Sarah butted in rapidly. “And if you do take both of them, then you’ll have to give Harry twenty-four hour access to the estate so that she can visit her brother whenever she wants to. And there’ll be others as well as me who’ll want to visit John and Sherlock’s resting place. You can’t just lock them away behind a fence or inside a crypt.”
Her tears were coming now but she ignored them and let them fall as she continued making her point even as Mycroft’s lips began to press together stubbornly.
“I don’t imagine that Sherlock believed in an afterlife or Heaven or anything like that, and I’m sure that John didn’t, so it’s never going to matter to them. But it matters to everyone else, Mycroft. It matters so much. The guys at Scotland Yard didn’t tease the boys about being an item because they actually believed it – they said it because they were hardly ever apart, and because they were more like an old married couple than some real old married couples are. Toby and Greg used to make a big deal of it if John managed to get through a football match without getting at least a text, if not a phone call from Sherlock. They were inseparable when they were alive, and you can’t separate them now.”
Her throat tightened and she stopped to swallow. Harry stepped in again.
“Actually, it is going to matter to John what happens to him now,” she said as she tilted her head up again and met Mycroft’s eyes as they flickered across to her. “He wouldn’t care where he’s buried, or where his ashes are scattered ... but if there is any kind of life or awareness after death, he’s going to come back and haunt the heck out of you if you won’t let him be with Sherlock.”
“They knew each other for less than a year, but they saved each other’s lives all the time,” Sarah continued. “They were each other’s guardians, and they would want to continue to guard each other after death.”
Mycroft’s surly expression was beginning to loosen a little. Harry reached out and put her hand on his arm.
“You can take your brother home if you want to, Mr. Holmes,” she told him, “but you’re not leaving John behind. Sherlock isn’t leaving John behind – and he wouldn’t ever forgive you if you forced him to, would he?”
The brief twitch of Mycroft’s lips had no humour in it whatsoever but Sarah recognised the look of respect which he directed to Harry. He glanced across at Sarah before speaking.
“Did the two of you really only meet each other fifteen minutes ago?” he asked. “It seems as if you have worked together for years.”
“We’re not ganging up on you, Mr. Holmes ...” Harry began.
“Yes we are,” Sarah interrupted her, then looked across at Mycroft again. “I don’t ever forget that you’re powerful and dangerous and could probably make both of us disappear if you were annoyed enough with us. But we’re not budging on this, so go ahead and disappear us if you have to.”
Mycroft grimaced, probably more at her appalling grammar than anything else, but then his face became still again as he looked at the two women in front of him for a long moment. Sarah gazed into his face and tried not to feel sick with nerves as the tension rose in the silence.
“Very well,” he finally said tiredly. “You may have a joint funeral service. Both bodies can be cremated and scattered together. I will select the crematorium and memorial garden at which this will happen, but it will be within the boundaries of Greater London. Do you agree?”
“Yes,” Sarah said numbly as Harry mumbled her own agreement. Sarah felt strange, as if her world had been knocked off balance. Were they really going to win this? She could hear a dry voice in the back of her mind quietly advising her that something was wrong with this entire scenario. The voice sounded very much like Sherlock’s. She was still trying to work out what it was trying to tell her when Mycroft rolled his head on his neck slightly and then straightened up.
“Then I shall contact you again shortly with details of the location,” he told them. “May I leave the arrangements for the service to you?”
“Yes, we’ll deal with everything,” Sarah told him hurriedly before he could change his mind.
“I shall provide you with a number where you can contact me,” he said, then directed a small and completely unconvincing smile at each of them. “Ms Watson,” he added, offering her his hand again. She shook it briefly and then he turned to Sarah, leaning closer to her as she took his hand. “Well done,” he told her flatly, and she had no idea whether his tone was admiring or petulant. Before she had a chance to try and read his expression, he turned away and left the room.
The women stood silently side by side, not moving until they heard the downstairs door open and then slam closed again. Then Harry groaned briefly and wandered back across the room while blowing out a shocked breath. “Bloody hell,” she said as she slumped back down onto the sofa. “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.”
She smiled ruefully at Sarah, who felt a stab of sadness as she realised that the line which Harry had just quoted came from one of John’s favourite films. However, she returned her smile with a quirky one of her own.
“You should worry,” she told her. “I haven’t had a cigarette in twelve years, but I’d kill for one right now.”
She turned to the tray which Mrs Hudson had brought up, then looked over her shoulder at her newly-acquired partner in crime.
“So: tea?” she asked.
Just over twelve weeks later Sarah stood at the gates to the crematorium and memorial gardens, her face full of memories. She had visited three times since the funerals but today the weather was practically identical to how it had been on that sad day, and she couldn’t help but re-visualise the arrival of the cortege and the ensuing scene which was now burned into her mind forever.
Sitting in the lead mourners’ car and following the two hearses containing the coffins, the vehicles had just rounded the corner and were driving along the road towards the gates when Harry had sworn viciously and leaned forward in her seat. Sarah had been gazing blankly out of the side window but turned to follow her gaze. The sight which greeted her tore her heart to pieces.
“Oh my God,” she had whispered as the tears began to flow. Beside her, Harry had been incandescent with fury but Sarah put her hand on her arm. “No, you don’t understand, it’s all right,” she said, but then her voice broke and she let out a sob. Unable to find the words to explain, she squeezed Harry’s arm reassuringly and looked out of the window again at the approaching scene.
On the grass verges on either side of the crematorium gates was a motley assortment of people. Numbering at least twenty-five, most of them were dressed scruffily, a couple of them were very grubby and two had dogs on string leads. Up until now they had been standing around or sitting on the grass talking to each other, but as they saw the approach of the vehicles they all got to their feet, stubbing out cigarettes or brushing their clothes down as they walked over to the crematorium’s gates. Splitting into two roughly equal groups, they formed a line on either side of the entrance and then, as the hearses turned into the drive, they bowed their heads respectfully, apart from three of the men who came to attention and saluted.
“What are they doing?” Harry murmured in awe, her anger abating as the car drove past what could only be described as an honour guard.
“It’s Sherlock’s homeless network,” Sarah said, her voice choked as the tears continued to pour down her face. Suddenly she couldn’t bear to stay in the car and called out, “Please stop!” to the driver.
“I can’t,” he said. “I have to follow ...”
“Just for a moment!” she insisted. “I have to get out!”
The car pulled up and Sarah looked round at Harry. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she promised, then turned back to the driver. “Carry on without me,” she told him as she scrambled out.
The car pulled away again and she looked into the following vehicle as it drove past. Mycroft had declined the girls’ invitation to join them in the lead mourners’ car, opting to travel in the chauffeur driven limousine in which he had arrived. After looking at him for a long moment, Mrs Hudson had walked over to Sarah and whispered that she would ride with him if he would let her. Now, as his car passed by with the rear window wound down, Sarah could see that Mycroft’s head was bowed, his eyes were closed and he appeared to be as moved as she was by the gesture he had just witnessed. Mrs Hudson was quite simply in floods of tears. Sarah smiled sympathetically at them both and then turned and hurried back to the gates where the guard was still standing silently as the rest of the mourners’ cars turned into the grounds. As the last vehicle passed them by, one of the ex-military men turned and tipped a salute to her. She gestured around the group.
“This ... I can’t believe you did this,” she said.
He smiled at her. “We knew the staff wouldn’t like us in the grounds – they’d probably call the police and ’ave us removed and we don’t want to cause a fuss on a day like this. But we decided that we ’ad to pay our respects, so we came anyway.”
“Thank you,” Sarah whispered tearfully.
“Wouldn’t have missed it,” he said simply. “Mr. ’olmes was good to us, so we ’ad to give him a good send-off.” He grimaced and shifted uncomfortably. “Most of us walked ’ere – why did it ’ave to be so bleedin’ far away? More of us would ’ave come if it had been nearer.”
“His brother’s choice, I’m afraid,” Sarah told him. Then she put her arms around him and hugged him for a moment before looking round to include everyone in the group. “Thank you so much – from Sherlock and John. They would be so proud.”
“It’s an honour, miss,” a young woman told her. “Now get yourself back inside.”
Smiling gratefully around the group again, Sarah turned and hurried up the drive to join the other mourners. By the time the funeral service had ended, the honour guard had disappeared.
That had been three months ago, and everything had changed last night. Sarah shook the memories out of her head, turned towards the gates and lifted her chin. She knew what she had to do.