People never gave Sherlock Holmes any credit when it came to the opposite sex. And it was true Sherlock had no time for romance or flirtation. He was, well and truly, married to his work. But just because he had no interest in bringing prospective mates to his bed from time to time didn't mean that he couldn't, or didn't, actually love a woman with all his atypical heart.
People, who are often wrong, also tend to credit John Watson with Sherlock's salvation. They tend to believe that John was the first and only human being to infiltrate Sherlock's affections. And it was true that Sherlock and John shared a bond far beyond anything Sherlock had ever experienced before, and probably anything he would ever experience after. But John didn't find Sherlock until the latter end of his youth, and without her there would have been nothing left of him for John to save.
In Sherlock's life, there were two people who conspired to make him a better man. Two people dared to see past his callous, aloof demeanor and find the man trapped underneath. The second of them was Dr. John H. Watson, formerly of Afghanistan, the soldier and the healer and the truest friend Sherlock would ever have. The first was someone few people bothered to notice, or even remember. But Sherlock noticed her. He noticed her every day. He thanked a god he didn't believe in for bringing her to him. He even thanked his brother, albeit reluctantly and with a slight mental stammer. Regardless of who deserved the credit, Sherlock was grateful, and he was careful not to do anything that might cause him to lose her.
Her name: Margaret Eunice Hudson. She was just approaching her late fifties when they met. He was twenty-nine, and he was dying. Mrs. Hudson had not gone through medical school, but she was a medical professional. She was a live-in nurse living in Florida while her truly horrid husband sat in prison, waiting for his sentencing to be reviewed. She had been hired by a mysterious Englishman named Mycroft Holmes to look after his ailing brother, recently flown across from London in an effort to "sort him out".
She first saw Sherlock Holmes while he slept fitfully on the hospital bed, just after the doctors had pumped his stomach. They had no idea where or how he'd gotten hold of the drugs so soon after coming to the States, but he'd managed to acquire a sufficient quantity to render him near-comatose.
Sherlock first saw her standing at the foot of his bed when he woke to the incessant beep of the heart monitor. He hated her on sight. He called her warden, slave-driver, executioner, and any number of unpleasant epithets. In the months to come, he would learn to call her madam, mum, Mrs. Hudson, and, in the quiet and lonely hours when they were completely alone, he would call her Maggie.
She was firm with him, but gentle. She mopped his brow when he woke in cold sweats, she held him to her breast when he thrashed and screamed in his sleep, she stroked his hair when his entire body heaved with the force of his weeping. She watched him intently, curbing his every illicit effort, fouling his intricate plans of escape, both physical and chemical. She stayed up with him on sleepless nights, when the burning in his blood was too much for him to bear and the shadows in his mind whispered too loudly to ignore. She watched television long past the point where story gave way to fake-smiles attempting to sell things, all the while letting Sherlock rest his head on her lap and stroking his unruly mop of black curls.
He thanked her almost every night. It would be years before she would come to understand just how incredible that was. He sat quietly and listened to her talk about her friends, her home back in London, the flats she hoped to rent out when she finally got the chance to return. He asked her about her husband, and she unburdened all of her woes and her worries and her fears that he might somehow be set free. She told him of her fear that he might one day come after her, and Sherlock's face became something demonic and terrifying.
Sherlock changed after that. Mrs. Hudson watched his symptoms recede into the background, as though he had forgotten them, as he poured over thick books on Florida state law, legal procedures, everything he could think of that might pertain to the Hudson case. Over the next few weeks, Sherlock would demand repeatedly to be taken to the police station where her husband had been processed. He would bully and cajole and manipulate his way into the offices of police, commissioners, judges, lawyers and prison guards. Soon, he was referring to himself as a "Consulting Detective", claiming he was working for an interested third party. He deflected questions, demanded answers, and built up enough reputation that the officials involved actually listened to him and took his advice.
Sherlock began to move about more autonomously, leaving Mrs. Hudson on her own for long stretches of time. She worried and fretted, but she reminded herself that Sherlock needed a chance to grow and heal, and all this work seemed to be doing him a power of good. So she was startled, but not completely surprised the day he swept into the kitchen, his face flush with the sun from outside, his breath quick and excited, and planted a joyous kiss on her cheek. He took obvious delight in telling her he'd built enough of a case against her husband to guarantee the death penalty. Later that night he played his violin for her, and she cooked his favourite meal and they watched TV until the sun began to creep over the horizon.
He told her he loved her the day his brother came to put him on the plane for England. He wrapped her in his arms and held her for nearly two minutes before his brother's insistent throat-clearing finally coaxed him away. There were tears in his eyes, but that was okay. They matched the ones in hers.
She barely understood computers, but Sherlock had taught her all about e-mail. She realized why the day after he went home. It was the first of the twice-weekly missives, some stretching on and on for pages, that she would receive with machine-like regularity. For three years he never missed a Monday or a Friday. There were occasional extra installments, usually on a Saturday but sometimes on Thursday or Tuesday. She enjoyed reading them. He told her all about a nice Detective Inspector who had agreed to let him look at old cases, provided he passed a drugs screening. Eventually he told her about new cases, ones he was allowed to investigate in person. He was jubilant, and he always made a point of telling her that it was all because she'd made him better. He thanked her in every single e-mail, and he always ended them the same way.
All my love,
Three years and hundreds of e-mails after Sherlock went home, Mrs. Hudson's husband was executed by the state, and she was a widow and free to go back to London. She found on her return trip that she'd been mysteriously upgraded to first class, and upon reaching Baker Street she found her flats all in immaculate condition. Well, apart from 221c but there wasn't really much you could do with basements. 221a and 221b were both pristine, both in better condition than when she'd left them. There was a note pinned to the door of 221a, where she had intended to set up house.
Consider it compensation, I'm told you performed well beyond the scope of your responsibilities. You have my gratitude, and my appreciation.
She phoned Sherlock immediately after settling in, asking him to pass on her thanks to his brother and wondering if he might pop round for a cuppa sometime.
Sherlock came for tea every Wednesday. Without fail. Sometimes he would be on a case, and he would only be able to stay for a few minutes. Despite his protests, he always ate at least one biscuit before he left, and he always hugged her at the door. Sometimes he would have no case, and he'd stay for hours, complaining of his boredom and devouring whatever food she put in front of him. On those days, his hug would come with a peck to her cheek before he left. She always made a point of inviting him to rent one of her flats, but he couldn't afford the rent on his own, and he refused to go to Mycroft for help. She tried once to convince him to charge the police for his services, but he refused. He said it was beneath him, and that they'd try and force him to take the boring cases if he became in any way employed. But she suspected he was more worried that they'd cut him loose if he started demanding money.
Two years went by this way. Sherlock grew more and more dissatisfied with his place on Montague Street, and he asked for tours of the flats at 221. He dismissed 221c out of hand, not that she blamed him, but he seemed to take a shine to 221b almost instantly. Their weekly teas became sort of brains trusts, trying to come up with some way that Sherlock could afford the flat without compromising his principles. Eventually he set up a website to try and attract cases he could charge for. If he worked as a private agent, he could still pick and choose which ones were worth investigating. But the added funds never seemed to be enough, and Sherlock wasn't exactly adept at enticing new people.
Finally, Sherlock decided the only way to get what he wanted was to have a flatmate. Mrs. Hudson agreed, but she was concerned that he'd have trouble finding one they could both tolerate. Sherlock spent weeks searching, meeting, interviewing, reading and dismissing prospective applicants. He was the most critical of the ones he thought Mrs. Hudson would disapprove of. He automatically disqualified any drugs users or smokers, both because he was proudly sober and trying to quit smoking and because he didn't want to remind her of her old job. Although, she suspected he might be jealous of someone else receiving the same care she gave him. She was quick to point out that this arrangement was not to be like the one they'd had in Florida, where she had taken care of him and the tiny house where he stayed while he recovered.
"I'm to be your landlady, dear, not your housekeeper." She admonished him. He nodded, but didn't really listen. She was beginning to doubt she'd be either, though. Sherlock seemed to turn away half of London in his search for the perfect flatmate.
Then came the day everything changed. Sherlock turned up in the early evening, burdened with boxes and trunks and suitcases, trailing a queue of street types in similar condition. She watched him fret about the place, unpacking and adjusting and assembling things at the rate of an agitated wasp. To her amusement, he kept babbling on about a man he'd met at St. Bartholomew's Hospital that afternoon.
"A doctor, Mrs. Hudson, I know you'll like that. An army doctor, too. Queen and Country, all that sort of thing. Never even been to America, I'll wager." He seemed convinced that her experiences in Florida had soured her on the place. She hadn't the heart to tell him how much she missed it sometimes, particularly in winter when her hip played up.
Sherlock placed his skull reverently on the mantle and turned to her, his face flushed. "I've got a feeling about this one, Maggie. I just...it could work this time. He's clearly acclimatized to a high-risk environment, and if I could do something about his leg he'd have to take the offer. And he's so...unflappable. You should've seen him. Mike Stamford was obviously playing him, or us. He didn't even flinch. He could work, Maggie, he really could!"
"Well I hope so, dear, but don't get your hopes up. He might not like it."
Sherlock's face fell. "Don't you mean he might not like me?"
She glared at him, and he immediately shrunk into himself, mumbling a half-audible apology.
The next evening Sherlock turned up with Dr. John Watson, who was a decent sort. Exceptionally decent. He was calm and sweet and seemed to have the kind of iron will that could stand up even to Sherlock's steam-rolling personality. Mrs. Hudson was astonished, really, at how perfectly the two seemed to fit. She hoped desperately that Sherlock might have actually found someone. She knew she wasn't very cunning about it, "if you'll be needing two bedrooms" indeed, but it broke her heart to think of Sherlock alone for the rest of his life. And Mrs. Turner next door reckoned if they could get a few more married ones about the place they might turn into one of those trendy neighbourhoods with high property values, and Mrs. Hudson was nothing if not practical.
John had a bit of a temper, too. She learned that when she made the innocent mistake of mentioning his leg. But he was quick to apologize, and clearly uncomfortable with his behaviour, and if five years with Sherlock hadn't steeled her for abrasive personalities nothing would. She really shouldn't have been surprised to see John trailing after Sherlock for that suicides case. The two were already inseparable, that was plain from the start. There was a little pang in her chest at the sight of Sherlock connecting so easily with someone else, but she let it go. She'd been watching him come into his own for five years, there was no point in clinging now.
It took a bit of adjusting, this living with Sherlock close by. She'd forgotten how horrid he could be when things went off-kilter. She was reminded quite forcefully the night he moved in, that scene with the cabbie. She'd not seen him on a case since Florida, and he'd always been on his best behaviour for their teas. Of course, Sherlock's best behaviour still left something to be desired, but it would take more than shoddy etiquette to corrode the love she had for him, and it would take more than an enraged shout and that fierce look on his face, the one she called "the demon eyes" in her head, to make her regret bringing him into her life.
She honestly didn't mind the skull. It was one of those things with Sherlock. But she knew all too well how he could be if she didn't keep reinforcing her position. She took it to remind him that she was still an authority, and he would not walk all over her, and because he got that adorable lost puppy look on his face when he realized she'd hidden it. She liked to keep him on his toes. Someone had to.
And, for all he'd grown and changed, Sherlock was still Sherlock. He still needed her, only not as often. And not for very long. There was that time, not long after they'd moved in. Sherlock never told her exactly what happened, but she gathered it had something to do with that yellow spray paint on her windows, and John, and danger. He'd come to her flat late at night, just as she was about to go to bed. He'd knocked tentatively on the door, and when she'd opened it he was holding himself tightly, tears running down his face. She pulled him inside, and he immediately collapsed into one of the kitchen chairs, dropping his head into his folded arms, his shoulders heaving.
"Maggie...Maggie it was my fault." He sobbed. "He'll leave, he's gonna leave. I'll lose the flat and have to move and it's my fault!"
She instantly went to him and ran a soothing hand over his back. "Oh, there dear. He won't leave. He didn't leave after that bit with the cabbie, did he? Now you know this always happens when you try too hard to sleep. You're still stirred up from all that dashing about and you're trying to force yourself to relax. You always over-think things when you do that, Sherlock." She stroked his hair and he sobbed brokenly. The poor thing.
"Come on, I'll make you a cuppa. You sit yourself up and do the breathing thing."
Sherlock obeyed and she set about making the tea, chamomile to help him unwind, and to help her get to sleep after he left. She listened to the steady rhythm of Sherlock's deliberate breathing as he focused on each inhale and exhale individually.
"Sorry." He said miserably when she set the mug down in front of him.
"Oh, nonsense, dear. Even you need a hug sometimes." She sipped at her tea. "You tax yourself too much, you really do. You go full tilt and you don't stop until you hit something harder than you. You're bound to get a bit dizzy after that."
Sherlock frowned over his mug. "You won't...tell him, will you?" He asked, his expression utterly wretched.
She pretended to look affronted. "Now why would you even ask such a thing? It's not my place to be spilling your secrets to your new friend all willy-nilly. I'd go and ruin your whole act."
He scowled at her. "I'm not acting."
She smirked. "Oh, please. I'm old Sherlock, I'm not senile. You think I don't see you trying to impress him all the time? In all the years I've known you I've never seen you work so hard to earn someone's favour before."
Sherlock blushed. She wondered if she was the only person to ever see him do so. "I like him."
"I know you do, dear."
Sherlock's face scrunched up. "Do you know why? I haven't been able to figure it out yet."
She shrugged, but she couldn't suppress a smile. "Oh, probably for the same reason you like me, I expect."
He blinked, uncomprehending.
"Well I don't suspect either of us gave you a choice."
And he smiled. He left soon after that, and she knew perfectly well that John would wake up in the morning without the slightest clue what had happened. Sherlock would prefer it that way.
A couple of months passed, and she watched them grow ever closer. She took to sitting around with John, watching telly while Sherlock ran around London, looking for something fun to do. The doctor really was a dear. The kind of good man she'd always assumed she'd end up with. Instead she got someone rather more like Sherlock, only without the charm. Or the restraint. If she'd only been born a couple decades later, who knows? Ah, but that was just the wishful thinking of a woman past her prime.
She found she was grateful for John. Even if Sherlock still kept a fierce and jealous hold on his heart, John had managed to open Sherlock to a range of emotion he'd never been terribly at home with before. Each passing day it became more and more obvious how much good John was doing for her manic little man-child. Of course, even he couldn't keep Sherlock from being Sherlock, and she was coming to understand just how infuriating the detective could be when he was bored.
The smells were awful, the noise was intolerable, and the bullet holes, dear Lord. That had pushed her well beyond her patience. Then the building across the road blew up, and suddenly bullet holes in the wall didn't seem so bad.
This case was different. Sherlock had a fixed intensity that frightened even her, even after all this time. She was uneasy with his single-mindedness, and she could see the strain between him and John. She'd thought (hoped) that it was all over when she heard Sherlock yelling at the telly a few nights later. She was so terribly, terribly wrong.
It was all over the news the next day. Unwilling suicide bombers, a series of threats made to the police. There was no mention of Sherlock and his involvement, but then there never was. She waited for the call from Mycroft. He was the only one who reliably remembered her at times like this.
"He's alright. He'll be by shortly for a change of clothes and a shower, then he's going back to the hospital."
A sigh, a pause that lasted lifetimes. "It's bad, Margaret."
She was waiting in 221b when Sherlock showed up. His skin was ashen grey, his arms hung limp at his sides. He had lost his jacket somewhere, his massive coat dangled lifelessly from one hand.
"Sherlock..." She said, her voice strained with unshed tears. She went to him, her arms outstretched. He collapsed to his knees and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He made no move to lift his arms, he just knelt there, motionless and lost. His shoulders began to shake, his breath began to catch, and soon he was sobbing and clutching at her blouse, his knuckles white even against his pale, pale skin.
"Maggie...Maggie...Maggie..." His voice was choked and raw. She was sure he hadn't permitted himself to cry until just that moment.
"He'll be alright, Sherlock, I'm sure of it."
Sherlock's words came out broken, shattering around his closed and hiccuping throat. "He'll never forgive me! I did this to him!" He wailed against her, his body trembling. She wished she knew what to say, how to reassure him, but she had no idea what had happened, and looking back on his behaviour over the past few days...the last thing she wanted to do was lie to him. She never lied to Sherlock.
"I can't lose him, Maggie!" Sherlock moaned. "If he dies...I'll be just like him!"
She didn't ask who he was talking about. She could probably piece it together on her own. "No Sherlock. That won't happen. You're a good man, even if you don't believe it." She tilted his head up to look him in the eye. "Would I have invited a bad man into my home?"
He shook his head wordlessly.
"John's strong, and he's been hurt before. He doesn't take foolish risks, and he knows what he can survive. I'm sure he'll come out of this just fine. Besides," She ran a hand, lined and faded with time and toil, through Sherlock's hair. "Who in their right mind would leave you? That'd be downright irresponsible. I won't be around forever, you know, and you're utter crap at looking after yourself."
Sherlock made a noise halfway between a laugh and a sob. He buried his face in her blouse again. His voice came out muffled. "Don't say that, Maggie. You're no good to me dead."
She laughed. "I love you, too, Sherlock." She gripped his shoulders and brought him to his feet. "Now, you clean up and put on some fresh clothes. I'll just freshen up and meet you at the door. We want to look decent when John wakes up, don't we?"
Sherlock managed a tiny, fragile smile and looked up at her through his eyelashes.
"Yes, mum." He said, and obediently made his weary way to his bedroom. She listened until his heavy footfalls faded away, then hurried downstairs and collapsed onto her sofa to have a good, long cry.
By the time he appeared in the entry way, looking tired and paler than usual, but clean, she had washed away her own tears and seen to her hair and slipped into her best coat. She nodded with approval at the blanket in Sherlock's hands. It was faded and green and must have come from John's own bed.
"Maggie, I..." His voice was hoarse, his face fragile.
She smiled softly and took the blanket from Sherlock's arms. "I'll say it's from me, love." She assured him.
Sherlock gave a smile, weak as a newborn kitten.
"Thank you, Maggie."