Title: Take the Long Way Home
Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: 1534
Disclaimer: Sherlock belongs to way more powerful and wealthy people than me.
Warnings: Passing reference to drug use
Take the Long Way Home
Somewhat nervously, I took out my phone, checked that nobody was within earshot, and then dialled the number on the card I had been given some months ago.
“Mr. Holmes, it’s Mike Stamford,” I said. “I think it might be time.”
“It’s convenient that it was you to whom Sherlock spoke,” Mycroft Holmes said to me about half an hour later. “I’m almost inclined to see this as a good sign.”
I looked across to the man sitting beside me. I had last met him several months previously when he had joined me during a coffee break at a medical conference. Initially he had engaged me in idle conversation, but after several minutes he introduced himself and explained that he was Sherlock Holmes’ brother.
Many people who worked at Bart’s Hospital were familiar with Sherlock, and a few of us knew that he sometimes worked for the police on their more complicated cases. It wasn’t clear who had arranged for him to have unlimited access to the labs and to the morgue, but he would arrive on irregular occasions and make free use of the equipment, bossing the technicians around and making unreasonable demands of them. Somehow, despite his attitude, he almost always got what he wanted.
We had got used to seeing him at the hospital but then he suddenly stopped coming. He was missing for several months and when he finally returned he looked thinner and unwell, and although his physical appearance improved over the following weeks he was quieter and even less willing than usual to engage in conversation. Molly Hooper confided to me that he had been showing increasingly erratic behaviour prior to his disappearance which made her fearful that he had had some kind of drugs crisis, and I reluctantly had to agree with her diagnosis. She fretted to me that she desperately wanted to talk to him about it but didn’t dare. Nobody did. Sherlock wasn’t someone you could talk to in that way and I’m sure that if anyone had tried, they would have received short shrift from him.
But despite his reticence to talk with anyone, and his often sharp way of addressing us when he did speak, many of us at the hospital felt an inexplicable sense of affection towards the man and wanted to help if we could. Nevertheless, I felt rather nervous as I sat in the cafeteria after everyone else had returned to the conference. Mycroft Holmes had an imposing demeanour and I got the impression that he wasn’t exactly asking as he told me that he needed my assistance.
“Is this to do with his recent illness?” I asked.
Mr. Holmes gave me a stern look. “I have no intention of discussing my brother’s circumstances, Doctor Stamford,” he told me. “Are you willing to assist me without asking personal questions?”
“It depends what you want,” I said. He seemed to approve of this response because he nodded and went on to tell me that he hoped there might come a time when Sherlock would indicate that he was seeking someone with whom he could share a flat. If Sherlock should express such an interest to me, Mr. Holmes wished me to call him. He gave me a business card which had nothing on it but a telephone number, stressed the importance of me never telling Sherlock anything about this, then shook my hand and nonchalantly walked away as if he recruited people like this every day. He probably did. I somehow had the feeling that I wasn’t the only person keeping an eye on Sherlock on Mr. Holmes’ behalf.
And now we were sitting together again. A few minutes after I had made the phone call, I had received a text asking me to go to the front entrance of the hospital where a car would collect me. The car had brought me to where Mr. Holmes was waiting.
“Sherlock has lived alone for some time,” he told me after we shook hands and sat down, “and I feel that he might benefit from company. Several previous flatmates left after sharing with him for a while, and eventually he stopped trying to find anybody suitable and moved to a smaller residence. Now he has found somewhere larger into which he would like to move, but in order to do so he knows that he will need to share the rent with someone else. I am glad that he has already begun to seek such a person.”
“So are you saying you’ve got someone lined up to introduce to him?” I asked.
“Good grief, no,” he said, uttering a short laugh. “My brother and I have a ... difficult relationship, and if I sent him someone I know, Sherlock would realise it instantly – and he would equally instantly reject that man. No, in order for this to work the potential new flatmate must have no idea who he is about to meet, nor must he know anything about him. Their meeting must seem to be pure happenstance if there is to be any chance of Sherlock accepting him.”
“How can you possibly arrange something like that?” I asked incredulously.
“I have had someone in mind for a while,” he replied. “Sherlock needs a flatmate with a very specific disposition, and I have found the ideal person – a man who has rather lost his way in life and needs a purpose again. I am fairly convinced that he and Sherlock would make ideal companions, and this is where you come in.”
He straightened up on the seat. “The man is someone you already know. You have not seen him for many years, but I am about to bring the two of you together. He will think that it is a chance meeting, and you must maintain that assumption.”
“I’m not a very good actor ...” I began.
“You are not required to act, Doctor Stamford,” he told me. “Simply greet your old friend just as you would if you really had bumped into him. Talk about old times, what he is doing now, and whatever else friends talk about when they meet. Then, some time during the conversation introduce the topic of where he is living. I am confident that he will indicate that his current living conditions are less than ideal and then you can tell him that you know someone in a similar situation. If all goes as I have planned, Sherlock will be working at the hospital all afternoon, so you should offer to introduce them and take your friend to meet him.”
I looked at him anxiously. “I’m not sure I’m willing to manipulate a friend like this,” I told him.
He gave me a smile which was presumably meant to be reassuring. It really wasn’t. “Doctor Stamford, if my brother doesn’t find an ideal flatmate on the first attempt, he may give up looking,” he told me. “Believe me when I say that I would not have chosen this particular person if I didn’t feel that Sherlock will suit him just as much as he will suit Sherlock – otherwise your friend will simply move out again and all this effort will have been for naught.”
“But if this friend of mine doesn’t know anything about this, how are we going to ‘bump into’ each other?” I asked.
“He has been provided with regular physiotherapy as part of his invalidity retirement,” Mr. Holmes said. “At my request, his physiotherapist has called him in for an additional session, claiming to have had a late cancellation. The offices are very near here. After his treatment, the physiotherapist will recommend that he walks home to work off the effects of the manipulation. If he follows his instructions to take the long way home rather than getting on a bus, his route will bring him here. You merely have to wait until he arrives.
“Help me to make this happen, Doctor Stamford,” he told me with a stern look. “Take your friend to St Bartholomew’s and introduce him to Sherlock, then step aside and take no further action. If you try to encourage them in any way, my brother may become suspicious. I do not like leaving matters in the hands of fate, but only Sherlock can decide if he likes your friend or not.”
He smiled very briefly. “If he starts to flaunt... I mean, to demonstrate his deductive skills to your friend, that will be a good start. The rest will be up to them.”
He glanced to my right and his expression sharpened. He stood up from the park bench and looked down at me. “But for goodness’ sake, Doctor Stamford, if it does look like things are going well, try not to give the game away by looking smug.”
Nodding politely to me, he turned and walked away, twirling his umbrella as he went. I watched him go for a moment, then turned and stared ahead of myself, trying not to feel nervous as, to my right, footsteps and the sound of a metal cane began to draw closer.
Looking back, I don’t think I was very successful at not looking smug. Thankfully, neither of them seemed to notice.
Author’s Note: This has been sitting in my head for a while. It inspired me enough to actually jot some thoughts in my notebook, but it wouldn’t come out onto the screen for ages. Some time after I’d had the idea, I watched the park scene in A Study in Pink and nearly fell off the sofa with excitement as I looked at the way that Mike behaved, because it really did seem to tie in with the story idea that he was leading the conversation towards getting John to talk about where he was living. And I had always been aware of how smug Mike looks all through the scene in the lab after he has introduced the boys. But still the story wouldn’t write itself, which was getting increasingly irritating.
Thankfully, I just spent a long weekend with verityburns, and thrashed out the storyline with her. Her enthusiasm got the plotbunny inspired – after the bunny had been too busy flirting with one of my teddy bears (I think there might be a wedding soon, but I have left strict instructions that I have no wish to be a grandmother any time soon) – and while Verity was out for the day, the bunny and I managed to put the story together and presented it to her on her return. Despite being busy with her own work, she did a beta run on it before she even went home, bless her.
I’m chuffed that the story has finally worked its way out of my dusty head, because I had got really excited a couple of weeks ago while listening to a Supertramp album and getting to the track Take the Long Way Home, which had me bouncing on my chair and yelping, “Title! That’s the title!” but it still didn’t get the story going. With two weeks’ holiday just starting, I was determined to try and get some writing done, but didn’t expect to be inspired quite so quickly. Thanks, Verity x
Now, where’s that Cabin Pressure story that’s also been rattling around in my brain ...?