“Mom, why do you never talk about Daddy?”
I guess I shouldn’t have asked. I knew there was a good reason. I’d found the stacks of boxes in her closet, with yellowed news clippings and short letters, but I didn’t understand the tearstains blurring the lines. I caught her curled in his jacket one day, tears in her eyes as she held the Belstaff’s sleeves up to her nose. After she’d left for work, I remember burying my face in the thick fabric and catching just the faintest whiff of cigarette smoke. I’d cried for a father I’d never known, for a memory I never had. But now was the day before my wedding, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. So much care. So much love. And yet, not a single picture of him anywhere. Not a word spoken of him in all of my twenty years.
Her voice shakes when she answers me and it catches in my own throat to hear the slow tremor of sadness in her words. “I never had the strength to remember him as he was.”
“What do you mean? I need to know… Why isn’t he going to be here to walk me down the aisle? I don’t even know if he’s alive or dead.” I can’t bite back the anger.
“No one does. Not really. But I think he’s got to be gone. He’d have—” She looks down, sniffling. “He’d have come back home, if he was out there.”
“Uncle John said he used to disappear for years at a time. He says… He said dad was some sort of spy.”
“Not quite.” For the first time today, I see my mother’s lips twitch into a smile. “He was the world’s only Consulting Detective.”
Mom shuffles over to her closet and pulls out one of the boxes. It’s the oldest one, covered in thick dust and wrapped in stiff blue ribbon. The cardboard is warped and disintegrating in her hands when she sets it on her desk. Everything she does is careful, from pulling loose the ribbon to sliding the top off the box, careful to jostle everything as little as possible. Inside, resting against every edge, were stacks of papers cut into odd shapes.
“I know you’ve looked at these. I guess it’s hard to grasp without context, but he was truly a remarkable man.” Mom looked at me, and she had that same light in her eyes as when she read my books. “You get your brilliance from him. Luckily, you are much better with the human aspect than he was.”
“Must not have been too bad. He got you.” I try to lighten the somber mood but Mom only looked away again.
“I love everything about your father, Martha. Including his abysmal social skills.”
I decided against pointing out the present tense use of the word love, and instead opted to join her in looking through the letters and articles. There were a couple that were more worn than others, a couple with more blotches on their surface. They mentioned a single name, in bold black print: Moriarty. MORIARTY GOES FREE. MORIARTY RETURNS. Headlines that I could never talk about, never ask about, without seeing Uncle John’s eyes go distant, or having Aunt Mary change the subject, or—the worst—having Mom hastily excuse herself from the room. The last time I’d asked about them I had followed her, determined to get answers. That’s when I had found her wrapped in Daddy’s coat. She hadn’t seen me, and I’d never told her I’d found her that way.
The moment had seemed too intimate to let her know I’d intruded.
She sees my eyes linger on the latest dated one, rereading the tiny script, and she pulls it from my hands.
“This was the last time I ever saw him. He didn’t say goodbye. Well. I guess he did. In a way.” Mom doesn’t explain further, just grips my hand for a moment, the wilted edges of the newspaper clutched in her fingers.
“Did Dad love you?”
“Of course he did, sweet heart. And he loved you too. He wasn’t good at showing it in the traditional ways, but he loved us more than he loved anything.” She’s sifting through the papers now, the article on Moriarty laid to the side. She pulls out a thin, worn letter. It’s ridiculously short, only three words total.
I guess the last one isn’t really even a word. I know the initials. I know what they stand for. Sherlock Holmes. According to Mom, world’s only Consulting Detective. Absentee father.
“How’d you know?” I’m a bit afraid to ask this question, but tomorrow I’m supposed to enter into an eternal agreement that I will remain with someone, and love them, for the rest of my days and I honestly have to know. “How do you know he didn’t just leave us here?”
Mom’s face turns bright red. It’s a habit she has when she’s angry, and she’s trying to hide it. She’s never been good at hiding her feelings, something I didn’t take from her. I wait, coolly, despite the thumping heart in my chest and voice in my head that’s begging her to answer me. After a few minutes her face fades from the bright red into a pale white. I almost regret the question when she collapses into her worn black chair, thin knees drawn into her chest. I always forget how small Mom is. She always seems so much bigger when she speaks, when she’s working.
“I’m goin to tell you a story. It’s about the day your father fell in love with me.”
“Mom, you don’t have to.” I don’t know why I’m saying this. Maybe I do. Mom looks ready to break, until she doesn’t. I watch her settle into this story. The memory fills her up, brightens her. Like warm chocolate on a winter day, the past comforts her. She looks younger than I’ve ever seen her.
“Come on, dear. Sit beside me.” She scoots over, and I squeeze in beside her. “Now, it all starts at 221B Baker Street.”
=+= The Story =+=
He slurred her name, the glass in his hand wobbling as he leaned back in his chair. She’d not been invited here very often after John had moved in. Once John moved back out though, and into his home with Mary, she’d been called more often than she’d expected. On more than one occasion she’d opened her door to go to his flat and found him hovering around her doorway, fidgety and irritated. Tonight was not one of those nights, and so she found him drunk off his rocker in his own chair.
“Sherlock, you shouldn’t be drinking.”
“Carl Powers was the first.”
“The first what Sherlock?
“And then a long, long list afterward, it comes down to you.”
“To me?” Molly stepped forward, putting her pack down by the door. He was spouting nonsense this time. It’s not the most common behavior on his danger nights, but then again, neither is the drinking. “I don’t think you know what you’re saying Sherlock. How much have you had to drink?”
“Enough.” The word is supposed to be sharp, but it’s the same soft, round bubble of speech he’d said her name in. “It all comes down to you. I’ve been failing my whole life, but it comes down to you.”
“Sherlock, you’ve not failed—”
“I made you a target.”
“That’s hardly your fault, Sherlock.”
“It is. I said you. I had to drag you into it, instead of letting one of Mycroft’s,” the name was a sneer on his lips, “cronies take it. Just let them handle the problem.”
“Sherlock, I don’t understand? What does all of this have to do with Carl Powers? You solved that case ages ago. The one with the shoes?”
“Yes, yes. I suppose you’ve read John’s blog then?”
“Um, no. You were babbling—” He glared at her through bleary eyes, “I mean talking, about it when you brought the shoes into Bart’s. That was ages ago. What does all this have to do with—”
He shoved a paper at her, harrumphing as he slid back onto his chair. Standing seemed to exhaust him. A quick glance at the paper told her enough.
“He really is back. Mycroft had managed to convince everyone the video was a sham, but he really is back.” If possible, he receded further into the stiff black cushion. “He’s kept me for as long as it takes to capture him. Then I’m back off to exile.”
“Of course.” The paper shook in her hands.
The one who mattered?
Well, well. How interesting.
Shouldn’t have missed that.
She wasn’t sure how Jim had known about that conversation in her stairwell. It was clear now that he would be after her. Somehow she found herself sitting in John’s chair, head cradled in her hands and Sherlock pouring her a glass of wine.
“I’m not drinking that. And you shouldn’t be either.”
“I’m already drunk Molly. I don’t think I can get much worse off.”
She glared at him. He only shrugged and set her glass down, wine sloshing around the glass in his other hand as he flung himself back again. Even smashed and clad in mismatched pyjamas, he remained undeniably handsome. His curls were stuck at odd angles, stubble roughed his chin, and the alcohol had left his cheeks pink. He looked too young for all this, and too old from a life lived to exhausting degrees.
“Sherlock, have you ever thought of just quitting?”
She hadn’t expected the answer so quickly. He watched her, eyes still unfocused. There’s a glint of rebellion in his expression as he finishes his glass in one gulp.
“Why haven’t you?”
“What would I do? Crime is what I’m good at. It’s what people tolerate me for.” His cheeks burned a deeper red, but he didn’t look away.
He’d as good as admitted he was lonely.
“You could do something else. You’re brilliant, Sherlock. Isn’t there anything that interests you?” He quirks an eyebrow at her but says nothing. She glances around the house, trying to pick out any interest of his that didn’t involve danger and crime and death.
“Stop trying to fix me, Molly. It’s not your area.” He turns away from her finally, blue robe slinging dramatically over his legs as he curls around himself.
“Is anything my area, Sherlock?” He doesn’t answer. Finally, she spots a few things with bees on them, and remembers him blogging about the different hives. That post had been ages ago, but she still remembered how impressed she was that he’d managed to find out so much. “You could keep bees. They’re looking for people to start rebuilding the pollinator’s population, and you’ve quite a knack for avoiding the stingers.”
“That’s hardly difficult, Molly.”
“Beekeeping is not easy.” She didn’t really know anything about beekeeping, but she assumed it couldn’t be easy. If it was there would be a lot more, wouldn’t there?
“I’m not going to retire and be a beekeeper, Molly. Where would I even house them?” He threw his arm out to gesture at the flat but only managed to fall on his back.
She moved to take his cup from his hand and he pulled away from her, forcing a game of cat and mouse until she finally managed to snatch it away. Resting on the balls of her feet, she contemplated how to get him out of this mood. It’s a more difficult task than usual, with the weight of her own danger pressing heavily on her. She’s so lost in thought that she didn’t notice him sitting up on his elbows, head tilted to the side as he studied her. She’s so used to the deductions that she didn’t react.
“Don’t you ever wonder why, Molly?”
He’d gotten a lot closer to her, broad shoulders level with hers, face too close for comfort.
“Um, Sherlock, what are you doing?”
“You ask what, but you never wonder why. Well, I don’t know why either.” She could smell the wine on his breath, but she couldn’t make herself move. “I don’t like not knowing.”
She was positive he was going to kiss her. It’s the only logical conclusion from the position he’d placed himself in and the way his gaze zeroed in on her lips. Maybe it was nerves or maybe it was that he was too far gone to remember this the next day, but she interrupts the moment she’s waited years for.
“Why what? What don’t you know?”
He snapped out of his spell, head turned away from her. “You never ask why it’s always you. It’s always you who saves me, who I need. Always you in here.” He taps his temple.
She openned her mouth to argue, but he lifted a hand to stop her.
“You can’t tell me you didn’t know you were in danger when you agreed to help me. Or that if I failed you wouldn’t be his next target.” He set off again, back thudding against the floor as he fell back. “I always fail. You should never have agreed.”
She didn’t know what to say. She’d seen him in this state before, but it had been years. There was no point arguing with him. The more he countered her points the more convinced he became of his own inability.
“You don’t always fail, Sherlock. You have a very high success rate. That’s why people come to you for whatever stumps Scotland Yard.”
“Everything stumps Scotland Yard.” She bit her lip, a single giggle escaping despite her efforts. A wry smile twitched against his lips. It fades quickly. “I fail when it matters.”
The note caught her eye again, hanging precariously over the edge of the side table.
The one who matters most.
Almost as if he could read her mind, he sat up, intense expression back. He braced himself with his hands clasping her shoulders. “You matter, Molly. You have to know that. If I succeed, you lose me. If I fail…” he faded off, and she could practically see the end of that sentence turning over in his mind. “If I fail, I lose you.”
They were silent for a while, his large fingers still splayed across her shoulders, thumbs pushing hard into her skin. He didn’t move, lips set into a frown. He was in his mind palace, and that’s when he was his most unreadable. She was used to it by then, but she knew how long these trips through his mental hallways could last. She didn’t think she could sit this way for too much longer.
She was just about to shift away from his tight grip when he lurched forward, looking wild at her as if she was an unsolvable puzzle.
“Why? I don’t know, and I don’t like not knowing.”
Molly took a deep breath and moved forward. She knew, finally, what he was asking.
“Sherlock, you aren’t asking an actual question, you know that right? Just saying why isn’t asking me anything I can answer.” But she could, she knew she could. It was important that he ask her. It was important so that he could understand her answer.
“Why is it always you? Why do you always save me?”
She’s not sure why she shushed him, or why this was how she decided to tell him. Years and years of repressing the urge was probably the culprit. He didn’t resist as she leaned into him and placed her lips against his. He didn’t respond at first, arms held in front of him where he’d been holding her. She could sense what he was doing. His never-resting mind was deducing the pressure and the length and the nature of her kiss, careful calculations to see what she was trying to say.
When she pulled away, he had only one word, but she could see everything fall into place behind his eyes.
And that is the day that Sherlock Holmes fell in love with Molly Hooper. He finally understood why, and he agreed.
=+= End Story =+=
It’s the most Mom has ever talked about him, and she’s crying. I don’t know what I was expecting, but my Dad drunk in his bachelor pad is not the romantic story I’d thought it would be. Apparently, my dad was one messed up guy.
But he loved Mom, apparently.
I’m not exactly sure I understand what she meant by “deduced her intentions from the kiss,” but then, Mom always was a bit poetic.
“So, what happened? You said some guy was after you? I’m not going to be walking down the aisle and have some crazy man burst through the doors for my mom am I?” I’ve always had bad timing with my jokes and this is no exception. Mom only gives me a withered expression.
“Dear, he wasn’t a jealous lover.” I notice Mom do the thing where she wiggles her lips, as if she’s considering reassessing that statement. She doesn’t change it, though, and the pause makes me wonder. “Do you remember when Uncle John talked about Jim Moriarty? Remember how Aunt Mary had to calm him down?”
That had been an awkward Christmas. I’m surprised she think I could have forgotten. I only nod.
“He’s the man who was after me.”
“Your father succeeded.”
My throat goes dry, and I’m not sure why. I remember what Mom said in the story, and it’s not difficult to work out what ultimately happened. There was a reason Mom didn’t expect him to return after all. I don’t want to dwell on that outcome, so I pick up another clipping. All the headlines are sensational. This is a box I’d never opened.
SHERLOCK HOLMES TAKES DOWN GANG
CONSULTING DETECTIVE SOLVES 20 YR COLD CASE
FRAUD DETECTIVE COMMITS SUICIDE
SEVEN TIMES IN BAKER STREET
Mom laughs at that one, slipping the thin paper from my fingers.
“You are supposed to be getting married tomorrow dear. Don’t you think you should be resting?”
My stomach turns at the thought and I try to smile, though I know it’s tightlipped. “Mom, in all my life, I’ve never been told the stories of you and my Dad. I want to hear as much as I can. Do you have any more stories?”
I can see the pain in her face, but there’s a selfish hunger in me that wants to know about the man between the lines in the newspaper clippings. She puts on a grim, determined face, and pulls out another letter, this one a bit longer, and reads it over.
“Of course dear. What do you want to know?”