Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: 7500ish
Warnings/Tags: Although there is no character death, part of the story takes place in a hospice, with its inherent implications. Friendship. Sherlock’s childhood. Sherlock’s adolescence. Sherlock’s adulthood. Brief reference to drug taking. Potential romance. Everyone but the boys knows how they feel about each other.
Summary: In sad circumstances, Sherlock meets an old friend from his childhood. Realising the strength of feeling between Sherlock and John, can she persuade them to admit how they really feel about each other?
Not directly associated with the Simon and Garfunkel song of the same title. Only the title itself inspired the story.
“Good morning, Mycroft. Has The Scandinavian Kitchen run out of your favourite cinnamon buns again?”
John suppressed a sigh and tried to concentrate on his newspaper while bracing himself for a long snarking session between his flatmate and the British government, made more frustrating by the fact that he would only be able to hear half of the bickering due to Mycroft being on the other end of the phone.
Several seconds passed and John frowned and raised his head, surprised that Sherlock was allowing Mycroft to talk for so long without interruption. His eyes widened and he lowered his paper when he realised that Sherlock’s face was pale and he looked shocked. John sat forward and Sherlock’s eyes flickered briefly towards him but then he stared off into the distance while he concentrated on his brother’s voice.
“Where?” he asked eventually, then said, “I’m on my way,” before hanging up and getting to his feet.
“What’s happening?” John asked, standing up and turning as Sherlock walked briskly to the door and took his coat from the hook.
“I have to go out,” Sherlock said, heading for the stairs with the coat over his arm.
“Want me to come with you?” John called after him.
“No,” came the clipped reply.
John frowned at his departing back. Something was seriously wrong. It was bitterly cold outside but Sherlock hadn’t bothered to pick up his scarf and gloves from the coffee table.
When Sherlock returned home several hours later, John stood near the window and listened worriedly to the unusually slow and heavy tread of his friend’s feet as they ascended the staircase. Sherlock finally reached the living room door and stopped there, still looking troubled and apparently not making much effort to hide it. His eyes flickered around the room before settling on John.
“Clearly Mycroft contacted you,” he said after a moment.
John didn’t bother trying to pretend. Mycroft’s text had arrived shortly after Sherlock left.
Tonight may be a danger night. Are you able to stay with him?
John had texted Of course in response, surprised that for once Mycroft had made the effort of asking rather than simply instructing him, but knowing better than to ask questions.
“He asked me to keep an eye on you tonight,” he confirmed, “but I wasn’t planning on going out anyway. Are you okay?”
Sherlock nodded, taking off his coat and hanging it on the back of the door. He turned and looked around the room again, seeming uncertain what to do next. Eventually he wandered over to the coffee table, picked up his scarf and gloves and returned to the doorway to stuff the latter into his coat pockets and hang the scarf over the top of the coat. He stood there for several long seconds, absently smoothing the coat down for no apparent reason, then turned towards his armchair before grimacing and turning back to face the kitchen. John suspected what he might do next.
“Don’t shut yourself in your room,” he pleaded. “Stay out here. You know I’m not going to push, so I’ll say it just the once: I’m here if you want to talk.”
Sherlock remained motionless for a while but eventually nodded and went to sit in his chair. John picked up a book, sat on the sofa and tried not to glance up too frequently to watch his friend as he sat with his hands steepled in front of his mouth, apparently lost in thought. They didn’t speak for the rest of the evening.
The following morning Sherlock was still quiet and pensive, although he frequently looked across to where John sat reading or typing responses to comments on his blog. Occasionally he lowered his hands as if he was about to say something but then raised them and covered his mouth again. John didn’t try to encourage him to talk, just flicked a glance across at him to acknowledge the movement.
Not long after Sherlock had nibbled at a sandwich which John made for lunch, he stood up and took his coat and scarf from the back of the door. “I’m going out,” he said, then glanced across at John. “Will you come with me?”
“Sure,” John said, getting to his feet and collecting his jacket. “Where are we going?”
“Whyteleafe,” Sherlock said as they made their way downstairs.
“That’s way out in Surrey!” John exclaimed.
“Yes,” Sherlock confirmed quietly, leaving John a little startled at the lack of sarcasm.
A black car was parked at the kerb and the driver got out and held open the back door for them. John assumed that Mycroft had sent the car and so they weren’t going to a police case but Sherlock didn’t provide any explanation. It was a long journey south through London and into Surrey and Sherlock didn’t speak for the trip, occasionally checking his phone but mostly staring out of the window.
Finally, on the outskirts of Whyteleafe village they arrived at the entrance to what appeared to be a large estate. Sherlock asked the driver to stop at the open gates, telling him that he and John would walk the rest of the way. They began to walk up the long drive, and John whistled when they came in sight of a large country house. Three storeys high with huge windows, ornate chimney pots and walls covered with ivy, the building was clearly several hundred years old; in John’s opinion it was a typical example of a posh mansion.
“Very nice,” he commented. “Who lives in a palace like this?”
Sherlock winced. “Someone I’ve known for a very long time,” he said quietly.
John was about to attempt a teasing query about the Holmes family’s connections but he faltered to a stop when he saw a metal sign post set at the edge of the grass near the front porch. Sherlock stopped too, his shoulders drooping slightly while John read the sign before turning to him in shock.
“It’s a private hospice,” he said softly. “Jesus, Sherlock, is it one of your parents ...?”
Sherlock was already shaking his head and he resumed his approach to the front entrance, John following with his mind racing. ‘Oh, dear god,’ he thought to himself in horror. ‘If it’s Mycroft ...’ He couldn’t even finish the thought. Despite their behaviour towards each other, he knew that the brothers’ public display of bickering hid a much deeper affection and if Sherlock were to lose Mycroft, John wasn’t sure how he would cope.
“Stop it,” Sherlock said tightly over his shoulder. “I can hear what you’re thinking from here. Stop making assumptions, please.”
He led John through the front door to a reception area where he signed the two of them into the register and then continued into the building, passing an open ward and going to one of the private rooms. The door was ajar and sitting up in the only bed in the room was an elderly woman who, John realised just by looking at her, was frail and very ill. However, her face lit up with delight at the sight of Sherlock and he walked over to her bedside, rested his hand gently on her head and kissed her on the forehead before turning to his flatmate. With his face full of sad affection he told him, “John, I would like you to meet Emily.”
“You come highly recommended, Mrs Cleary. These references from your previous placements are superb.”
“Actually, I’m Miss Cleary,” Emily told her prospective new employer. “I reverted to my maiden name when my husband and I separated recently.”
“I see.” Mrs Holmes kept her face neutral. “May I ask: do you have children?”
“I have a little boy,” Emily told her. “He’s four years old. My husband and I agreed that he would be better off with his dad.” She smiled sadly. “He’s very much his father’s son and the two of them have always been inseparable. I miss him a lot, but I knew he would be happier there than with me. I see him every few weeks, but only at the weekend, so our visits won’t interfere with my work here.”
Mrs Holmes nodded her understanding and looked down at her notes before raising her head again. “You understand that we’d need you to come in every week day afternoon during school term time, from three o’clock until seven thirty?” she asked.
“Yes,” Emily confirmed. “Do you mind me asking why you and your husband are away from home until so late?”
“My husband lost his job a year ago when the company closed down,” Mrs Holmes told her. She grimaced. “So far he’s only been able to find employment with a firm which requires evening work. It’s not very well paid; and now that Sherlock’s at primary school I’ve decided to go back to work part time at the university. I used to be a professor of physics and mathematics there before I had the children, and I’ll be lecturing there again. I’ll be doing afternoon classes, but then they offered me regular one-to-one coaching sessions in the late afternoon. It pays too well to turn down, but it does mean that neither of us will be home in time for the boys when they get back from school.”
“And so you need a nanny for your sons,” Emily confirmed.
“That’s a rather old-fashioned term,” Mrs Holmes smiled, “but yes.”
“I think I’m a little too old to be referred to as an au pair,” Emily said, returning her smile, “especially as I won’t be living in.”
“And we need someone who’ll do more than just keep an eye on them and give them their tea,” Mrs Holmes continued. “I’m not exaggerating or boasting when I say that our boys are extremely intelligent for their ages and need special attention from someone who’ll interact with them, keep their minds busy, listen to Mycroft if he wants to talk about what he’s doing with his homework, and keep Sherlock busy and stop him getting bored and pestering his brother.”
Emily smiled. “I hope you don’t mind me saying,” she said, “but when I phoned you after seeing your advertisement, one of the reasons the job interested me was because of the names of your sons. They are so delightful and fascinating.”
“Thank you!” Mrs Holmes said. “Not everyone appreciates them.”
“Tell me about the boys, if you wouldn’t mind,” Emily asked.
Mrs Holmes took off her reading glasses and settled back in her chair. “Mycroft is twelve,” she began. “If we could afford it, we’d send him to a private school but he’s at the grammar school and he’s totally outshining every other pupil in his year. That means that he’s finding it hard to make friends but it doesn’t seem to bother him.” She looked reflective. “He’s always been the solitary type. He doesn’t enjoy the company of other children – lord knows we tried when he was younger but he simply wasn’t interested in playing with any of the local kids, and just alienated them if we forced him to. He devotes most of his attention to his school work, loves reading – and not storybooks either; he prefers anything factual. He’s read practically every history book we own, even if he doesn’t understand everything, and then he comes and asks us all sorts of complicated questions that we can’t answer. With your background as a political history graduate, I’m hoping you might be able to help him better than we can.”
“I’ll do my best,” Emily said. “And Sherlock?”
“His first name is actually William,” Mrs Holmes told her, “but after we registered his birth certificate I realised that I preferred his second name and we’ve called him that ever since. He’s five and started at primary school in September. He’s also ludicrously smart, but he’s more sociable than his brother. He likes company and will chat to anybody, and it’s a shame that he scares people off by being so astute. I mean, he is only five and so he has no idea how to be diplomatic, but he upsets people with his observations.” She half-smiled, half-cringed at the memory. “We went out shopping on Saturday and met one of the neighbours in the supermarket. She and I were just passing the time of day and Sherlock suddenly asked her why she’d been crying last night. He was really hurt when she got angry and shouted at him. I still have no idea why or how he knew it, and when I asked him later he could only say that it was obvious.
“He tries to be like his big brother,” she continued, “and pretends that he doesn’t care about what other people think about him, but I know it’s not true. The neighbours’ kids don’t like him and won’t play with him unless they’re made to, and it almost always ends with them running away from him or telling their parents that he’s said something horrible to them. Most of the time he avoids them, but I can tell that he’d like the company. Like Mycroft, he needs to have his mind kept busy, and so I’ll need you to keep him occupied and not bothering his brother, particularly when he’s doing his homework.”
Emily nodded. “I’ll do what I can to keep him busy,” she said, “but it sounds to me like he needs something specific to concentrate on all the time, day and night.”
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled across to her new employer.
“Have you considered getting him a dog?”
“Sherlock, please don’t crack your knuckles like that.”
“Why not? I like it, Emily.”
“It’s a horrible sound, dear. When did you start doing that, anyway?”
“Andrew at school learned me how to do it.”
“Andrew ‘taught’ you how to do it. And it’s ‘Pardon?’ not ‘What?’”
“I know.” Sherlock kicked petulantly at the carpet. “But that’s how he says it.”
“Oh, and Andrew is so wonderful that you’ll do anything he does, is that right? If Andrew put his hand in boiling water, would you do so as well?”
“Exactly. Crack your knuckles and murder the English language when you’re with him, thank you very much, not in this residence.”
“You don’t even live here!” Sherlock burst out.
Emily looked at him over the top of her reading glasses. “I beg your pardon?”
The eleven year old boy cringed a little, then raised his head defiantly. “You don’t live here,” he told her again. “This is my house.”
“And yet here I am,” Emily said serenely. “And why is that?”
Sherlock pouted and Emily lowered her book. “Sherlock, dear,” she told him gently. “If you don’t want me here any more, you can make me go away. You only have to tell me to go, and I’ll leave.”
“Don’twantyouto,” Sherlock mumbled.
“Speak clearly and precisely, or don’t speak at all,” Emily said sternly.
“I don’t want you to leave,” Sherlock said a little louder, then sniffled and swiped the back of his hand under his nose.
“Then I shall stay, dear,” she replied. She smiled at him, then added, “... provided you get yourself a tissue and blow your nose.”
“I hate you!”
“I hate you, I hate you! Get out of my home!”
Emily looked at him sternly. “Stop this behaviour right now, young man.”
“It’s all your fault! You made Mummy get him and now he’s dead and it’s all your fault I’m sad.”
“Oh, Sherlock,” Emily said sadly. “Redbeard was very ill and in a lot of pain. You know that. It would have been cruel to keep him alive.”
She knelt down beside the sobbing boy and tried to put her arms around him but he shook her off.
“I want him back!” he yelled.
“I know you do,” she said sympathetically. “We all do, and we all miss him terribly, but you know he can’t come back.”
“You should never have got him for me,” Sherlock said angrily. “I hate being this sad. And I hate you.”
“Right now, you’re justified in hating me,” she said, “and I’m sorry you’re so sad. But in time you’ll remember the happy times you had with him, and you’ll be glad that you had him for all those years. I promise you won’t be sad forever.”
“Go away.” Sherlock glared at her venomously. She stood up and looked down at him.
“I’ll be in the sitting room if you need me,” she told him. “And remember that I love you.”
Sherlock glared at her. “I don’t care. I don’t need you. I won’t ever need you. And I don’t love you. I’ll never love anyone ever again.”
“I’ve never felt so alive.”
“Alive? Sherlock, you’re going to kill yourself.”
“No, you don’t understand. Emily, this is magnificent.”
“Young man, there is nothing magnificent about taking drugs. You of all people know what they’ll do to your brain long-term. Good lord, you only studied the effects of hard drugs last term. What possessed you to think of taking some?”
Sherlock squinted at her. “What are you even doing here?”
“Where else would I be when you’re in trouble?” Emily asked.
“I’m not in trouble.”
“You’re taking hard drugs! And look at where you are! This is about as much trouble as you could possibly be in!”
“I don’t need you. I’m in complete control. Go away.”
“You’re not in control and I’m not going anywhere, not until I’ve talked some sense into you.” Emily sat down next to him. “Sherlock, you are rapidly in danger of becoming an addict. You should call Mycroft.”
Sherlock snorted. “Why would I do that?” he asked. “He won’t care.”
“You know that’s not true. He worries about you all the time. Call Mycroft. I guarantee that he’ll come.”
She stood up as he began to writhe on the filthy mattress. “You’re already starting to come down,” she told him. “You know it’s going to get bad. Call Mycroft before you’re incapable of using a phone.”
“I will if you call him. And when he gets here, he’ll need to know exactly what you’ve taken. While you’re still able to, you should make a list.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“You called me, Sherlock.”
“I did not.”
“Whatever you say, dear. Now, tell me all about your great idea.”
“I’m going to set up in business as a detective.”
“Why don’t you join the police and train as one?” Emily asked.
“I don’t want to be a police detective,” Sherlock said derisively. “I’ll only investigate cases which interest me. And if the police have cases which they can’t solve, I’ll make myself available to them if they want to call me in.”
“The police don’t use private detectives.”
“Not officially, no, but I’m sure once I’ve proven myself to them they’ll make an exception for me.”
“You’ll have to get clean first,” Emily told him. He scowled at her but she returned his look resolutely and made her voice stern. “You can’t go reeling into crime scenes while you’re under the influence of drugs. They’ll just arrest you rather than the perpetrators.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“You’d be better off being clean.”
“Yes, dear. So you’ll think about it? If you want to make a career of this detecting lark, you need to make a good impression, both to the police and to your private clients.”
She looked thoughtful, then smiled.
“The term ‘private detective’ always sounds a bit sleazy. What about calling yourself a consulting detective?”
“Ohhh, look at that!”
“Emily, will you stop following me around?”
“But look at it! It’s beautiful! It was made for you!”
Sherlock looked at the coat on display in the shop window. “It would suit me,” he admitted, “but the price is ridiculous.”
“Sherlock, dear, you can think of far worse ways of spending your money. And now that you’re starting to make a name for yourself, Mr Consulting Detective, and that nice detective inspector is starting to trust you, you need a look to go with it. And if you buy that coat, you won’t be able to afford bad things for a very long time.”
Sherlock snorted. “‘Afford bad things’? You sound like a child.”
“Is it my fault that your behaviour has upset me so many times that I can barely bring myself to talk about it? Very well, then: you won’t be able to afford drugs, all right? I don’t want you buying drugs. Buy the pretty coat instead.”
“Buy the pretty coat!”
“I can’t ...”
“Buy the pretty coat!”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Sherlock snapped. “Will you just be quiet?”
“I will if you buy the pretty coat,” Emily told him. “Imagine how you’d look with the collar popped and the wind whipping the tail out. Buy the pretty coat!”
“I will think about buying the pr... about buying the coat,” Sherlock said tetchily. “But shut up and stop pestering me. I’ll let you know when I’ve decided what to do. Until then, just be quiet.”
Emily was silent for all of two minutes before she piped up again.
“Do you know what would make it look even better? If the buttonholes were outlined in red.”
“Sherlock, you know that Martha Hudson bought herself a big property in Baker Street a couple of years ago, using the money she inherited from that maniac of a husband of hers? She told you about it in one of her nice letters that you never take proper notice of, and to which you never reply.”
Sherlock scowled and tried to ignore her, but Emily persisted.
“She said that she’s been renting out some of the rooms and now there’s a vacancy. Why don’t you see if they’re suitable for you?”
“Did I ask your opinion?”
“You can’t live in this flat for much longer. If the damp doesn’t kill you, the landlord probably will. He’s quite cross with you about the damage you’ve done to his kitchen.”
“I can’t afford a flat in Baker Street.”
“She rather owes you a favour, don’t you think? Talk to her and maybe she’ll give you a discount. You still might need to try and find someone to share the flat and the rent with you, but we can sort that out later.”
“Stop organising my life for me.”
“Yes, dear. So, get in touch with her very soon, please. Make it your new year resolution and give her a call. If you haven’t been in contact with her before the end of January, I shall be very disappointed in you.”
“Of course, dear. So you’ll make that phone call, then?”
Sherlock sighed. “Yes, Emily.”
“You like him.”
Sherlock grimaced. “How many more times do I have to tell you? Stop following me around, Emily.”
“You like him.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” Sherlock grumbled. “You suggested that I talk to Mrs Hudson, I did so, and she offered to rent me the rooms at a reduced rate. Despite that, I still need someone to help pay the rent. Thankfully Stamford was paying attention for once, and his friend clearly needs somewhere to live.”
“John Watson. You like him.”
“I’ve only just met him, and the fact that he requires a flatmate is useful to me. That doesn’t mean that I like him.”
“Of course you like him. When did you last wink at anybody? Look at you – you left the laboratory three minutes ago and you haven’t stopped smiling since. You’re scaring people in the corridors.”
“Yes, dear. Don’t be late meeting him tomorrow.”
“Don’t do this.”
“Not now, Emily.”
“You’ll kill him.”
“I’ll be the cause of his death if I don’t do this.”
“You can’t do this to John. If you make him believe that you’ve killed yourself, how do you think he’s going to cope?”
“He’ll be all right. He’ll get over it.”
“Find another way.”
“Find another way, Sherlock.”
Emily paused. “I ... can’t think of anything,” she finally admitted.
Sherlock grimaced. “And that’s why I have to do this,” he said unhappily.
“Are you going to tell John about Mary?”
Sherlock winced against the pain in his chest and tried to settle more comfortably on the hospital bed.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“Sherlock, you’ve been shot, and by someone who you thought was a friend. You died on the operating table. Where else would I be?”
“I’m fine, Emily. As you can see, I’m definitely not dead.”
“More by luck than judgement, I’d say. Are you going to tell John?”
“I’m not sure he’d forgive me. I’ve only just got him back in my life; how can I tell him that his wife’s a killer?”
“If you don’t tell him and he finds out later that you knew, do you think he would forgive that? He’s having enough trouble trusting you already. You have to tell him. He won’t thank you for it, but he has to know.”
Sherlock sighed. “God, Emily, how did I not see what Mary was before now?”
“Oh, that’s pretty obvious. You’re hopeless when it comes to women. Irene and now Mary, and of course that nice Janine who could have been your friend if you had trusted her.”
“Why am I so bad at judging women?”
“Because they’re not really your area. Your interest lies in a different direction.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I think you know.”
“I really don’t.”
She smiled. “Of course not, dear.”
“Invite him to move back in with you.”
“Yes, yes, why am I here, why do I keep following you around, why am I pestering you, et cetera. Never mind that. Invite him to move back in with you.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Why ...? Good lord, Sherlock, he’s your best friend. He recently found out that his wife’s baby isn’t his, and now she and the baby have left him. He’s living on his own in his flat and he’s lonely. That sounds just like somebody else I know.”
“If he wanted to come back here, he could ask.”
“He’s waiting for you to ask him. You know how proud he is.”
“Yes, I know you’re proud too, but someone has to make the first move.”
Sherlock jutted his lower lip out. “Why does it have to be me?”
Emily raised her eyes to the heavens. “Are you twelve? All right, look at it in practical terms. Mrs Hudson has been very patient with you, charging you a lower rent while you’re living alone, but she can’t really afford it. You’re spoiling her lifestyle, and there’s an obvious solution.”
Sherlock looked at her thoughtfully. She smiled at him.
“You don’t have to beg,” she told him. “Take him out on your next case and just casually mention it. See what he says.”
Sherlock sat in silence for a minute, then raised his eyes to hers. “I will consider it,” he said.
“You were Sherlock’s nanny?” John looked at Emily in surprise and sat down at the side of her bed.
She smiled. “We never did come up with a proper description of my role. I was a sort of part-time housekeeper and cook to the boys, helped with homework, talked with them and generally looked after them while their parents were at work.”
She glanced across to where Sherlock had sat down at the other side of the bed. “I would never have admitted it at the time but I had a much better relationship with Sherlock than with Mycroft. He was too independent to need much support from me, but Sherlock and I were good friends and I became his sort of confidante. We spent a lot of time together, talking about everything under the sun. We’d take his dog outside and chase him round the garden while Sherlock told me everything about his day, or I’d help him make pirate costumes for him and for Redbeard, and if we were feeling particularly silly, we’d sneak back into the house and capture Mycroft and hold him for ransom.”
She giggled at Sherlock’s wide grin. “Mycroft would get really exasperated with us,” she continued, “but he never complained to his parents. I think he secretly enjoyed being included in the fun.”
She looked at Sherlock. “He was here this morning,” she told him. “He seemed surprisingly upset about all this.” She turned to John. “He found out about me and had me moved here from the local hospital. He said he wanted me to have the best treatment, which is very kind of him.”
“He may have ignored you when you were with us, but he did like you,” Sherlock told her. “Or rather, he liked that you kept me out of his hair. When you left, I was a nuisance to him, constantly pestering him with questions about why you’d gone away.”
“I had to go,” she told him. “My son was getting into a lot of trouble and his father couldn’t handle him. I had to spend more time with my boy, and it meant that I wouldn’t be able to carry on with my job. Besides, Mycroft was sixteen and responsible enough to look after you before your parents got home from work.”
She put her hand on Sherlock’s arm. “I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t have any choice. I know you were upset, but I had to put my own child first. I told you at the time how sorry I was.”
“I was so angry at you,” Sherlock admitted quietly.
“I know you were, my darling,” she said.
“I was particularly angry because you’d almost left several months earlier, and I stopped it.”
“You stopped it?” she asked, surprised.
Sherlock nodded and Emily looked at John. “The boys’ parents and I had a conversation when Mycroft turned sixteen,” she explained, “and we discussed whether I was really needed any more. Anyway, the topic never came up again. I always wondered why.”
“They talked to me and Mycroft about it,” Sherlock admitted. “He didn’t care, but I didn’t want you to go.” He smiled tightly. “I threw quite the hissy fit, and they dropped the whole idea. I thought it was done with, and then five months later you left anyway.”
“I didn’t want to go,” she said. “I really had no choice.”
They looked at each other sadly for a long moment, then John carefully cleared his throat.
“But you kept in touch all these years,” he said.
“Oh, no,” Emily said. “Sherlock refused to have anything to do with me after I left in 1984; never replied to any of my letters to him, wouldn’t take my phone calls. We haven’t seen each other since Sherlock was ten.”
“You’d be surprised,” Sherlock murmured. She looked at him enquiringly and he smiled ruefully and tapped his right temple with his finger. “I’ve spent over thirty years trying to get you to move out,” he told her, “but you’ve been rather stubborn.”
She smiled, her face lighting up. “You put me in there?” she asked with a delighted laugh.
“It wasn’t my idea,” he grumbled. “I simply found you in there.”
Emily looked across at John, noticing his bewildered look. “When he was eight years old, I taught him how to build a Mind Palace,” she explained.
“You ...” John looked startled. “You taught him the Mind Palace? I always assumed it was Mycroft.”
“I tried to teach Mycroft not long after I started working for the family, but he wasn’t interested,” she said. “He thought the whole concept was ridiculous, but he was almost thirteen when I arrived and he had already organised his mind in a way that would help him retain information, so he considered the Mind Palace to be pointless. Personally I’ve always found it useful, so once Sherlock was old enough I introduced him to the idea and he lapped it up.”
She smiled at Sherlock. “I never knew that you included me in there, though!”
Sherlock grimaced. “Like I said, it wasn’t my idea,” he said. “You taught me how to build the various rooms, and one day I found you in one of the sitting rooms, telling me you liked it so much that you were going to stay there.” He rolled his eyes. “Then again, you didn’t stay in there much; you kept popping up all over the place and annoying me with your suggestions and comments.”
Emily chuckled delightedly. “And was I helpful to you?”
Sherlock’s mouth twisted. “Maybe, a bit,” he admitted.
“Just a bit?” she pressed. Sherlock looked back at her stubbornly and she grinned at him, then turned to John.
“I’ve been reading your blog,” she told him. She smiled at his surprised look. “I may be seventy-five but I can work a computer. I’ve been keeping an eye on young William Sherlock here for most of his life. It was nice to see him getting a new friend, and someone who genuinely likes him.” She looked sad for a moment. “It made a change from only finding police reports about him being arrested for drug abuse.”
Sherlock lowered his head with a guilty look on his face. Emily squeezed his hand, then looked across to John again.
“I’ve enjoyed reading your blog entries,” she told him, “but it would be even better to hear about the things you didn’t include. Come on, you two, tell me everything you’ve not been able to publish – all the secrets, all the gossip, all the confidential information.”
John shuffled awkwardly on his chair. “Um, Emily, I left out the confidential stuff because it’s confidential.”
Emily looked over the top of her glasses at him. “Who am I going to tell?” she asked with a small smile.
“Don’t,” Sherlock said, his voice choked.
“Stop it,” she told him softly. “Stop thinking about it. Concentrate on now, not the future. Come on, I want to hear everything: all the juicy bits, all the stuff that happened behind the scenes. I’m not asking for state secrets, though I’m sure you know a few of them. I just want to know what you really got up to.”
John looked across to Sherlock, who eventually shrugged in agreement. John cleared his throat. “All right,” he said. “What about The Aluminium Crutch?”
The two of them settled into their seats and began recalling some of their cases, taking it in turns to tell her some of the events which John hadn’t been able to make public. Emily listened with delight, giggling as they talked about some of the more outrageous moments, and smiling at the many occasions when they cracked up laughing at the memories. Even when a nurse came in to bring them a tray of tea, Sherlock didn’t stop his current story, just leaning in close and murmuring into Emily’s ear until the nurse had gone again.
It was shortly after that that she had a coughing fit when they told her about their visit to Buckingham Palace, choking on a mouthful of tea as John revealed that Sherlock had been wearing only a sheet. The boys sprang into action, Sherlock instantly raising the top of the bed while John helped her to sit higher while firmly rubbing her back, his eyes on her as he held one hand out towards Sherlock who immediately slapped a handful of paper tissues into it so that John could wipe her mouth. When she had recovered and caught her breath, she looked back and forth between the two sets of concerned eyes gazing at her, and sighed.
“Oh, you two,” she said with affectionate exasperation. “What’s going on with you? Why won’t you just admit it?”
She rolled her eyes at the matching looks of confusion. “Seriously, I’ve never seen two people who are more suited. You’re clearly utterly in love with each other; why won’t you just admit it?”
“Emily!” Sherlock said, shocked.
“Don’t interrupt the poorly old lady,” she told him sternly. “I’m talking now, and you’re both going to listen to me. Life is short: stop wasting time pretending that you don’t have strong feelings. Look at you! You’re so in tune with each other, you’re almost joined at the hip. You’ve been finishing each other’s sentences ever since you started telling me about your cases; you know what the other one’s going to say before he even begins talking; you can practically read each other’s minds. And the looks you give each other! I simply don’t understand why you’re not in a proper relationship. What are you hiding from?”
“Emily,” John finally managed to interrupt. “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. The fact is, I’m not actually gay.”
“Why do you need to be gay to be in love with him?” Emily demanded. “You don’t have to ‘turn gay’ or ‘turn bisexual’ to have feelings for another man. Your feelings for him are irrelevant to how you identify your sexuality. Admitting that you’re in love with Sherlock doesn’t mean that you have to start looking at other men and thinking, ‘Ooh, he’s dishy.’ You’re allowed to still only think that women are attractive, if that’s how you feel.” She sighed. “Oh, John, dear, stop being so closed-minded. You can be in love with one man – one particular man – and it doesn’t have to change your whole outlook. I’m not even saying that the two of you have to start going at it like rabbits from now on.”
Sherlock’s shocked inhale was drowned out by John’s embarrassed exclamation of “Jesus!” Emily sighed heavily.
“Good grief,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re like a couple of Victorian ladies clutching at your crinolines! Stop being so prim and proper. I’m old, not brain-dead, and I’m still allowed to talk about sex, you know. Stop cringing and listen to me.”
John glanced across the bed at Sherlock, whose face was somewhat flushed. John suspected that his own was a similar colour, and he silently willed his friend to do something to end this awkward conversation. Sherlock got the message and he looked at Emily with determination on his face.
“It can’t happen,” he told her. “Even if I wanted to – and I’m not saying that I do – my priority is my work, and I can’t allow any personal feelings to get in the way. Emotions would only distract me. Allowing myself to feel any kind of romantic attachment to John or anybody else would be a dangerous disadvantage.”
“Oh, I see. I understand now,” Emily nodded in apparent agreement.
John gritted his teeth and braced himself. He had only known her for a couple of hours but he had no doubt that this was not the end of the argument.
“So tomorrow night you two go off hunting for some villain,” she said, “and you find him ... in his lair surrounded by a moat full of crocodiles and with a thirty foot wall with barbed wire on the top and trap doors all along the ramparts ...”
She waved off Sherlock’s scowl and winked at John when he couldn’t help but smile. Then her face became serious. “You’re chasing him through the streets and end up in some godforsaken back alley. He turns and fires a gun towards you, and your friend goes down. The man’s running off again and you know that if he gets away he’ll almost definitely kill more people. But you look back and see that your partner is on the ground, covered with blood. There are no police officers around and you’re not even sure whether he can manage to use his phone. But that man will kill more people if you let him go. Are you going to stop, or are you going to leave your partner to his fate and possibly let him die?”
She looked at John. “I don’t remember reading that you chased off after the person who shot Sherlock in Charles Magnussen’s flat. You might be a doctor but you’re also a soldier and you must have been torn between duty and honour. Why did you choose to stay?”
Without waiting for his reply, she looked at her former charge. “Would you leave John to bleed out while you did the right thing and went off to catch the dangerous criminal?” she demanded.
Sherlock looked nauseous but then took a sharp breath through his nose. Emily didn’t give him a chance to speak.
“You wouldn’t leave him now,” she said firmly, turning her head to include both of them, “and don’t you dare tell me that you would let a murderer go purely for the sake of ‘friendship.’ What does it matter whether you admit how you feel? You already love each other; saying it out loud to each other isn’t going to change anything. Just do it and stop wasting time.”
Both of the men looked shaken. She smiled at them fondly.
“The love is already there,” she told them. “You just need to decide to do something about it. You ...” she looked at John, “... don’t have to be gay to be in love with Sherlock, and you ...” she looked across to the other side of the bed, “... are totally capable of multi-tasking and making time for your work and a relationship, especially with John of all people who understands you the way he does. I know that your work is your life, but John’s life is your work. It’s the perfect partnership. As long as you’re honest and open with each other, you can agree how a relationship will work for both of you.”
She lay her head back against the pillows. “I’m only telling you what you already know. You’ve just been too afraid to say it out loud, but life is short and you’re wasting time. Now off you go. Visiting time is nearly over, and you’ve got a lot to think about.”
She put her hand to Sherlock’s cheek as he stood up and bent over to kiss her forehead. “Come back and see me soon,” she told him. She looked across to John and reached out a hand to him. “And you’ll be very welcome too,” she said as he gently squeezed her fingers.
“We’ll come back tomorrow,” Sherlock promised her. He looked across to John and held his gaze while he added, “Whether we’ve got anything to tell you or not.”
“It’s an important decision for both of you, and you shouldn’t rush anything,” she advised them. “You don’t have to make the decision today; take as long as you need to talk seriously about your future together. But oh, Sherlock, John, don’t avoid it; sit down and be truly honest with each other. Only once you’ve told each other everything can you decide what to do next.”
Sherlock and John finished their farewells to her, left the room and made their way outside to walk back down the long driveway towards the road. Both of them felt shocked by everything that had been said to them and they walked in silence, unable to think of anything to say to the other.
But just before they reached the gates, one of them reached out and slid his fingers into the other’s hand. The answering clasp felt like coming home.
“Good boy,” Emily crooned inside Sherlock’s head.
In the hospice, Emily lay back against the pillows, exhausted but pleased with herself that she had managed to hide her pain from her visitors. Well, hopefully she had hidden it – what with Sherlock’s sharp observational skills and John’s medical knowledge, maybe they had started to notice but by the time she had so successfully talked them into thinking about their future together, surely they had been too distracted to concentrate on anything other than their own feelings.
She glanced towards the clock on the wall and grimaced when she realised that there were almost two hours to wait until the nurse brought her more painkillers. She didn’t mind dying but just wished that it could be less uncomfortable. If she could just drift off effortlessly, she would happily go today but she couldn’t help dreading the thought of the impending pain.
Inside her own Mind Palace, the door to the attic bedroom opened and the voice of her long-deceased son drifted down the stairs.
“Pain’s not a such a terrible thing, Mam,” he told her in the soft brogue he had inherited from his father. “You always feel it.”
He paused, then added forcefully, “But you don’t ... have ... to ... fear it.”
Now wait a minute: you don’t think I’m implying that Emily Cleary used to be called Mrs Emily Moriarty, mother of James, do you? Would I do such a terrible thing? Why would I do such a terrible thing?
All right, I’ll admit that long after I’d come up with the idea for this story, my ebil plotbunny – my very own Emily even though she’s called VerityBun, and the creator of every twist I’ve ever written – popped into my head and suggested that although there was already the twist of all those conversations between Emily and Sherlock actually taking place in his Mind Palace, I could put a much twistier twist right at the end.
But my gentle reader should consider that, alternatively, Emily’s dead brogue-accented son wasn’t Jim at all – it’s a line that she has spoken to Sherlock when he was a youngster and hurt himself and she was advising him how to deal with physical pain; and she may have used the advice more than once. And that’s why Sherlock gave those lines to his Mind Palace Jim in his own attempt to control the pain from his gunshot wound.
You see? I’m not as evil as you assume.
Or maybe, just maybe, she was Emily Moriarty and she used to entertain her son during their visits with stories about the bright young boys she was looking after; and when – many years later – she learned what her boy had done with that information, she never had the nerve to tell the Holmes brothers.
All right, so maybe I am as evil as you assume.