Title: Someone On Your Side
Characters: Sherlock, John, Mary
Warnings/Triggers: someone's death from cancer, a bit of medical humour
Spoilers: The Sign of Three
Summary: When Sherlock attends a funeral reception for an old mentor, John takes the opportunity to further his education in being human.
Author's notes: This is a story I've had in my head for a while, but it seemed appropriate for Series Three Sherlock to be dealing with. It's a chance for me to test out Series Three voices. Spoilers for Series Three.
Despite the summary, it's more bittersweet than angsty.
Because of new canon, a previous story of mine, 'After the Funeral', no longer works for a main verse story, and so Sherlock says something contradictory in this story to something in that story. Just on the off-chance anyone has read both and is confused.
John arrived at Baker Street to find a flurry of wedding magazine strewn about, and a growing wedding-related mind map on the wall. Trust Sherlock to go scientific on wedding planning. At least he was working on an experiment. The last time John had come, he'd found him practising calligraphy for place cards. It was good to see him taking a break.
John slid a pile of magazines off his old chair and sat down, picking a newspaper lying on the coffee table.
"Who's Kendrick Edwards?" he asked.
"What? No one," Sherlock said, a bit too quickly. "Why?"
John held up the newspaper. "You once told me people fold newspapers with their points of interest in the centre," he said. "You've folded this so Kendrick Edwards' obituary is centred in the page. Who is he?"
"No one. I didn't do that," Sherlock said.
"Yes, you did," John said. He brought the paper to the kitchen and showed it to Sherlock. "Look. Its in the second column, but you've folded the paper off-centre, so it's in the middle. You always read the obits first, looking for murder, then you move on to the rest of the paper. You've pulled this section out and put it aside, the rest of the paper is all over the floor. So, it must be important."
"I shouldn't have taught you my methods, you just misapply them," Sherlock grumbled.
John looked over the obit. "So, was he murdered?" he asked.
"No, it says right in the obituary he died of cancer," Sherlock said.
"If it's not important, why did you remember that?" John said.
"I just read it, it hasn't left my short term memory," Sherlock replied. "Shall I tell you the others? Kerry Smith, 49, car accident, James Paddingtion, 95, natural causes, Sangita Signh, 78, complications of diabetes, Ju—"
"Okay, okay," John said. "Point taken. Was he a murderer then? Did he kill someone? Or... it says he was a teacher, was he messing about with students?"
"No," Sherlock said, sharply.
He sounded offended. John had finally found something that offended Sherlock Holmes. It wasn't just the concept of teachers messing about with students, either, that had never bothered him before. It was this teacher.
"Well, who is he, then?" John asked. "Did you know him?"
"Yes, fine, I did," Sherlock said. "He was one of my teachers. I kept the paper out because it mentions the funeral reception hours. I'm likely to forget, otherwise. I can't help reading words put in front of me, if I leave it on the table I'm more likely to be compelled to read it and thus remember it. Please return it."
John backed up slowly under the force of Sherlock's annoyance and put the paper back. "So, you liked him then," he said.
"Yes," Sherlock said. "He was very...good to me. He didn't try to—he was good. He was a good professor."
John felt a bit bad now, pressing him. Although, the chances of accidentally talking crap about the one person Sherlock respected was one in a million at least. "What did he teach?" he asked.
"Philosophy," Sherlock said. "He said I had a good brain. He didn't think I was odd."
John hadn't given much thought to what it must have been like to grow up being Sherlock. Being the odd kid in the class, the smartest one in the room, the freak. John had always been a bit too much part of the crowd. One of his school reports had put it 'John is a very hard-working and conscientious student, but he has a tendency to allow himself to be drawn into bad behaviour by other children'. It hadn't changed a lot since then, really. But he hadn't been bullied in school, and he hadn't been the odd one out. Just a bit ordinary.
"I'm sorry," John said. "I wouldn't have been such a prat if I knew he meant something to you."
Sherlock shrugged. "Your deductions were sound," he said. "That's something."
"So, are you going to go to the reception?" John asked.
"I don't know," Sherlock said. "What's it for? I mean, why do people go?"
"To say goodbye," John said. "Offer condolences to the family, or let them know what the person meant to you. It's a celebration of their life, or a chance to remember them. Just giving respects, really."
"I would like to do that," Sherlock said. "I think it would be...good. Yes. I think so."
"Is this an okay tie for a funeral reception?" John asked, holding it up to his throat. "I didn't realize my ties were all so..."
"Garish?" Mary suggested. "Over-the-top? Whimsical?"
"Not-solemn," John said. "Let's go with not-solemn."
Mary smiled. "That'll do, I think."
John knotted it at his throat. "Sorry to skive off the venue searching," he said. "I know it seems convenient, but I didn't plan it."
"I know," Mary said. "And don't worry, Sherlock's given me a list, with pros and cons, price ranges, and the likelihood of one or more guests being mugged as they go to or from their transportation. I think I can handle it on my own. He needs you more than I do, today."
"I just think I should be there to...guide him," John said. "He seemed to really like this bloke, so I don't want him to inadvertently ruin things while he's trying to do the right thing. He gets really weird when he has emotions."
"I know, I've met him," Mary said, with a quirk of her lips. She straightened his tie. "There, very solemn. Though, for the record, your not-solemn ties were the first thing I liked about you."
John smiled. "Yeah? Not the fact that I was holding a urine sample and talking about infected genital piercings?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, I'm sorry, the third thing I liked about you," Mary corrected herself. She gave him a kiss. "Look after him. For the bereaved's sake, as well as his."
"Do I need a tie?" Sherlock asked, pacing into the living room and out of it again. "The Internet said I did, but I don't like ties; they make me feel chokey. Is this one okay? It's the only one I have in a sombre colour, so if it isn't, I'll have to go without." He paced back into the living room, having accomplished nothing.
"You're fine," John said. He really wished Sherlock wouldn't let the Internet tell him how to be human, but he supposed it was good he was consulting someone about it. "It's fine."
Sherlock went over to the mirror to put it on. "It's my school tie," he said. "I didn't know I still had it."
"Probably appropriate then," John said.
"I suppose so," Sherlock said. "I've donated to the charity listed in the obituary, was that right?"
"Yep, spot on," John said. "People do that now instead of getting a shed-load of flowers thrown at them."
"Do I tell them that I did that?" Sherlock asked.
"No, they should get a notification from the charity, or you could send a card later on," John said. "We had people donate to the British Heart Foundation for my dad, and we were notified when someone donated in his name. You're good."
"Have you ever been to a funeral or reception before?" John asked.
"Yes, when my grandmother died," Sherlock said. "But I was very young. I only remember that my father cried, and I'd never seen him do that before. I told Mummy he was malfunctioning. And Mycroft folded me a boat out of the order of service, and let me sail it in the font when no one was looking. I think I spent the reception under a table."
"Well, not exactly the same etiquette for adults," John said. "But I suppose we could use that as a back-up plan. I don't know how to fold a boat, though."
"Don't worry," Sherlock said. "I'm an adult now. I know how to fold one myself."
Sherlock's fingers bounced on his knee from the moment they got into the taxi to the moment they arrived at the hotel where the reception was being held. John paid the cabbie; Sherlock was too distracted, and they went into the lobby. There was a sign directing them to a small ballroom. Sherlock froze at the door.
"You don't have to do this," John said.
"I'm fine," Sherlock said. "It's fine."
He stepped through into the ballroom. The obituary had said the funeral would be private, but the reception was open to well-wishers. It was a good turn out, and John could see why they'd chosen such a big venue. Most of the people milling about were men, ranging from late teens to early forties. Former students, John imagined. He seemed to have been well-liked.
"There's a register book," John said. "You should sign it. The family will get it afterwards, and see who attended."
Sherlock went over and picked up the pen, putting his swirling signature on the next free line. John followed suit.
The ballroom had pictures of the deceased set up around it, and a table of food and tea. Sherlock stood awkwardly near the register, until John herded him further into the room. There seemed to be a loose queue waiting to speak to the bereaved on the left side of the room. People were milling in groups that drifted toward the family as people spoke to them and moved to the right side of the room. John and Sherlock joined the queue. Sherlock's eyes moved around constantly, and his mouth did not close for the next several minutes. He was deducing frantically, as though he couldn't stop. John couldn't tell if it was nerves, or the number of people present. Sherlock in a crowd was a bit like a computer with too many programmes trying to run at once—thinking so hard that nothing really finished properly. He evened buffered, getting stuck on 'ermmmmm' before his mouth caught up to his brain and he started again.
John did get a good idea of Kendrick Edwards by the students who came to pay respect to him, though. Sherlock's deductions about them tripped off his tongue, and John realized Edwards had been a man who collected misfits. The overly bright, the socially awkward, artists, nerds—people who didn't belong to the In Crowd. There were actors, and poets, and inventors, and businessmen. All very successful, it seemed.
"'Live your life, do your work, then take your hat'," John said, reading off a sort of sign nearby.
"Thoreau," Sherlock said, confidently. He turned to follow John's gaze. "He had that on the wall of his classroom. He used to quote it when one of us was getting long-winded. Usually me. 'Take your hat, Holmes, you're defeating yourself'. Not a lesson I ever learned."
John grinned. "Who's that?" he asked, as Sherlock exchanged nods with a posh-looking man passing by.
"Friend of Mycroft's from school," Sherlock said.
"Mycroft had friends at school?" John said.
"No," Sherlock said. "More...serfs." They were nearly at the front of the queue now. "What do I do?"
"Say hello, shake hands, introduce yourself, say how you knew him," John said. "Tell them you're sorry for their loss. If they talk, talk back, if not, leave. Doing this is exhausting when you're the family, so be brief."
"Do I have to do the two hand thing?" Sherlock asked. "Everyone is doing two hands. One holding and the other cradling over top."
"Er, no," John said. "That's just a comfort thing. You don't have to do it. Okay. Here we go."
They stepped forward to meet the family. There was a widow, John assumed; a woman in her sixties who reminded him of Dame Judi Dench. There was a daughter and son, too, probably around Sherlock's age or a bit older. The daughter was looking down at her feet for a moment, and she made a peep when she looked up to take Sherlock's outstretched hand.
"Hello, I'm Sh—"
"Sherlock Holmes," she said, bursting into a smile. "Mum, it's Sherlock Holmes."
The widow smiled as well, as did the son. Sherlock looked confused, and shot an urgent look to John. John didn't have any answers for him.
"I'm sorry," the daughter said. "We all know you very well. Dad talked about you a lot. Near the end, in the hospital, he had your blog open all the time."
"He loved reading about you," the son agreed. "He was furious when you died. He said it was such a waste. And then you came back...he was thrilled. He laughed for about five minutes straight, he was just so gobsmacked. It was brilliant."
Sherlock was frozen, his face blank. No social skills appeared to be coming to the surface. He was just stuck, buffering.
"Hello," John said, stepping forward. The daughter still had Sherlock's hand, so he offered his to the son and widow. "John Watson, I'm Sherlock's friend, and colleague. He's told me about Mr Edwards, er, before. I'm very sorry for your loss."
"Me too," Sherlock said, recovering himself. "I'm also sor—he read about me?"
"Oh yes," the widow said. "He was very proud. He followed all his students, of course, but he said you were the most unpredictable. He said, what was it...'I always knew Holmes could do great things...'"
"If you channel all that energy towards something good," Sherlock finished. "Yes. I heard that myself, once or twice."
"I'm very glad you came," the widow said. "He would have been so pleased. Really. Reading about you, it kept him distracted. It helped." She touched John's arm. "Thank you for writing it."
John smiled, and nodded.
Sherlock cleared his throat, and tugged his hand away from the daughter, clasping it behind his back with the other. "He was a good teacher," he said, a bit rehearsed sounding, but genuine. "He was... a good teacher."
The widow smiled. "I think you were a good student," she said.
"No," Sherlock said. "I was awful. Impossible."
"Yes," she said. "But Ken always loved a challenge."
They didn't stay after speaking to the family. Sherlock went right for the door, and stood in the middle of the lobby, taking deep breaths as though he hadn't been able to breathe properly in the room. His tie was off and in his pocket in seconds.
"I don't like that," he said to John. "That wasn't pleasant."
"It's a funeral, it's not supposed to be," John said. "You did fine."
"He remembered me," Sherlock said.
"Yeah," John said. "Seems like."
"Why would he do that?" Sherlock asked.
"You remembered him, why did you do that?" John said.
"Because it...mattered," Sherlock said.
"Maybe it mattered to him, too," John said. "I'm always glad to see patients up and about after I've worked on them. I don't remember them day to day, but when they recognize me, or I see a name in a paper and it rings a bell, it means something. It means something when you've succeeded. And to be fair, you were a bit everywhere for awhile, what with the whole dead-not-dead thing. Sort of hard to ignore you."
Sherlock nodded. "Am I done now?" he asked. "Did I do everything?"
"Yeah," John said. "Yep. Nothing else you need to do. Are you glad you came? Or, do you feel better for coming, maybe that's a better way to put it."
Sherlock shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I...believe so. Yes. But I don't know why. It doesn't make sense. I didn't do anything."
"Take your hat, Holmes," John advised. "Don't overthink it. You're just having an appropriate emotional response. You'll get used to it."
Sherlock let out a huffed laugh. "Don't bet on it," he said. "Thank you for coming with me. That was good."
"You've learned how to flower arrange for my wedding, I think could take an hour to do this for you," John said. "Got me out of venue seeking, too."
"Is that today?" Sherlock said, grabbing his mobile from his pocket. "The app should have told me that..."
"It's okay, Mary will handle it," John assured him. "Take a day off. It's just a wedding."
Sherlock frowned down at his mobile, and scanned the app. "She shouldn't choose the waterside one, it will smell of fish by the date of the wedding," he murmured.
John grinned to himself. "Er, Sherlock," he said. "I'm glad that you had an ally. At school. I'm glad there was someone on your side."
Sherlock nodded. "Me too," he said. "And I'm lucky to have someone now, as well."