Note – Technically, this is a crossover with the 2011 film "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." However, I'm posting this here for two reasons: one, there is no forum for TTSS, and two, you really don't need to know anything about TTSS in order to read this because it's quite self-explanatory. I don't own anything. The character of Peter Guillam in this fic is based on the 2011 film, not the books by John le Carre, and so his storyline wildly deviates from that in the books. Without further ado:
When Sherlock Holmes is five, his Uncle Peter shows him how to magically retrieve a coin – in his case, an American nickel – from behind someone's ear. It doesn't take Sherlock long to work out the complicated mechanics required to do such a trick, but even though he is just a child he can still sense that look, that gleam in his uncle's eye that says 'the game is on.' For the first time he feels that all encompassing thrill of the chase, that insatiable desire to know 'how' and 'why,' and it enthrals him to the core of his five-year-old being. He works out the puzzle in less than ten seconds, but when Uncle Peter ruffles his hair and says "Well done," he knows there and then that he will live for that feeling for the rest of his life.
Uncle Peter is his uncle on his mother's side. His mother is half-French, so that means Sherlock is a quarter-French (Sherlock is glad his mother took his father's name when they got married, because being called Sherlock Guillam would have just been cruel.) At five, Uncle Peter is that enigmatic figure who holds small children in thrall. He doesn't visit very often because he works for a top-secret organisation, but when he does he drives a battered old Porsche and tells Sherlock stories about spies and secret agents. He's a quiet, unassuming man with a sad smile and endless patience for the little boy who looks at him with complete adoration. Mummy always says that he and Sherlock are 'the spitting image' of each other, but Sherlock won't believe it because how can he possibly be compared to such a great man?
When Sherlock is six, Uncle Peter comes unexpectedly for Sunday lunch. His Dad isn't particularly happy about this sudden uprooting of a weekend tradition – Sherlock can tell by the way he presses his lips together and hums disapprovingly – but Mummy just sets out an extra seat and tries to get her youngest to brush his hair. Mycroft, thirteen and awkwardly tall for his age, is curled up on the paisley sofa reading a book that's far too advanced for his age with intellectual ease, his brows furrowed in concentration. Sherlock hides behind the white curtains and presses his face to the glass, quivering with excitement. His hair still isn't brushed.
When his uncle does arrive, Sherlock misses it because he's been sent to lay the table by his father, and the pulling up of the car is so silent and nondescript that it's like a droplet of water running off the gutter after a storm. Peter is just suddenly there, leant against the car and pretending not to smoke a cigarette as if he's been there all his life. He sees Sherlock through the window, and winks.
Sherlock's father lets his uncle in. There's a very grown-up handshake, and a mumble of greeting. Then his mother comes down and hugs her brother. She's wearing the lilac perfume that she always wears when Peter comes to visit. It makes her smell sad.
Uncle Peter is carrying a well-sized box wrapped in brown paper with a blue ribbon tied around it. He says, "For you," in his quiet voice and hands the box to Sherlock.
"Oh, no, Peter, you shouldn't have!" Mummy protests.
"I missed his birthday."
"That was four months ago!"
Mummy rests a hand on his shoulder. "Well…that's very sweet. What do you say, Sherlock?"
Sherlock looks up at his uncle. Peter is his favourite uncle, much nicer than fat uncle Jack who never buys him presents even when it is his birthday. "Thank you."
"Are you going to open it?"
Sherlock sits down on the bottom step of the stairs and tears the wrapping off the parcel. Before long the paper is in shreds on the floor and he finds himself staring back at the most wonderful thing he has ever seen in his life.
"Peter, we can't accept this, it's too much," says Mummy.
"It cost less than what I bought Mycroft. A friend owes me a favour," replies Uncle Peter shortly. Sherlock thinks it might be the most words he's ever heard his uncle speak at any one time, but he's so absorbed by his new present that he can't be sure.
Peter bends down so that they're the same height, and looks into Sherlock's eyes. "You've the wonders of the world to unlock, there."
"Thank you," Sherlock replies, because he doesn't really know what else to say.
Uncle Peter smiles, and then Mummy leads him through to the dining room.
Sherlock doesn't leave his new chemistry set alone for the whole afternoon.
When Sherlock is seven, he accidentally hears his mother talking to someone on the phone. He's rummaging around in the kitchen to try and find some baking soda for his latest experiment when he hears the soft breathing that adults do when they're trying to be quiet. Naturally, he decides to find out what's going on.
Mum (she's not Mummy anymore; he's not five) is in the living room, turned away from the door with the phone pressed tightly against her ear. Sherlock slips into the shadows between the doorframe and the wall, and listens to the one-sided conversation.
"I know," she says. "I know."
There's a pause while the other person speaks. Sherlock wonders who it is. When Mum usually talks on the phone she talks to Lydia or Alice or one of the other silly women she's friends with, and those conversations are always loud and irritating.
"Yes. I'm…I'm sorry."
It's not an I'm sorry like she's done something wrong, more like an I'm sorry in a sympathetic way. Mycroft taught him the word 'sympathy' on Monday, and it's Sherlock's word for the week. This is a good case study. Sherlock leans forward until his body is pressed right up against the wall.
"I know. But…you can't keep going on like this. Somebody's going to find out eventually – someone at the Circus."
Sherlock frowns. Why would it be a bad thing if the Circus found out the secret? The Circus was dull: when he went with Dad and Mycroft he worked out how they did all the tricks in the first five minutes.
"Don't say that. You've always got a home here. Why don't you come and stay here for a bit? You're always welcome, you know.
There's another long pause. Sherlock picks a peeling bit of paint off the wall.
"I can sway him."
"Well, it's your choice. But if you change your mind…the boys adore you. Especially Sherlock."
Sherlock nearly leaps a foot in the air at the mention of his name. This is getting better by the second. Now there's intrigue!
"No, don't you damn well say that!" Mum suddenly shouts, and then she takes a deep breath like she didn't mean to be heard. "Jesus, you're family," she hisses. "They love you because you're a kind, brilliant man. Now I understand your predicament, I do, but you cannot shut yourself off from us because of it."
Now there's a long pause, a really long one.
"Well, it's your choice."
Doesn't she know she's already said that once?
"It's fine. It's all fine."
"I'll speak to you soon."
Then she puts the phone down, and she crosses the room before Sherlock even has time to contemplate making an escape. She puts her hands on her hips and stares down at him.
"Were you listening in to my conversation, Sherlock?"
"Don't lie. I could hear you breathing. Were you using the phone upstairs?"
Sherlock frowns. "No. I was listening out here."
His mother mimics his expression. "Oh. Then who…never mind. It's not nice to spy on people. Why aren't you doing your homework?"
"Dull. Who were you talking to?"
"That's none of your business."
"It is my business. It's my house."
His mother sighs deeply. "Just don't do it again."
Sherlock's already near the top of the stairs, just in time to see Mycroft slinking back into his room, away from the upstairs telephone. The door shuts, and from downstairs Mum calls: "Sherlock! Is that my baking soda?"
When Sherlock is eight, he overhears another conversation, this time between his parents. They're shut up together in his father's study, talking quietly, and he doesn't like it when people have conversations that he's not allowed to hear. So he gets a glass from the kitchen, and places it against the plaster wall so that the sound is amplified a hundred times over.
"It's not that I don't like the man, Jacqueline, it's just that…"
"Just that what?"
"I just don't feel comfortable around him sometimes."
"Really? I hadn't noticed."
"Oh, don't be like that –"
"Don't be like what? Every time he comes over you go out of your way to make things awkward between you."
"That isn't true."
"Isn't it? And you know, he never complains about it."
"I'm sorry; I forgot your family was perfect."
"Hartley, you're being incorrigible."
Sherlock doesn't know what 'incorrigible' means but he resolves to ask Mycroft later.
"I just don't feel like he's a particularly good influence on the boys, that's all."
"What on Earth are you talking about? The boys love him, and you know full well he would do anything for them."
"But that's the problem. They're not his children, love, it's not healthy."
"Are you jealous?"
"Of course I'm not jealous, I'm –"
"I'll tell you what's not healthy; it's not healthy that they're only allowed to see their uncle once a bloody year! They mean the world to him, Hartley. You know he can't afford to have children of his own: not with his job."
"Yes, well, that's not the only thing stopping him, is it?"
"Oh, God, is that what this is about?"
"You know full well what he is, Jacqueline."
"Christ almighty, he's not going to corrupt the boys, if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm not worried about it; I just think we should take precaution."
"You know what your problem is? You need to stop reading The Daily Mail."
It's at this point that they just start bickering about other things, and so Sherlock puts the glass back in the kitchen and wanders off to find his brother. Mycroft is in his room, hunched over his desk, annotating a copy of Hamlet for all he's worth, even though it isn't even a part of his curriculum yet. Mycroft likes to read. Sherlock likes to read too, but he prefers it when he can see things for himself. There's no point reading about explosions if you can't make one happen.
Mycroft sighs, and spins around in his chair. "Yes?"
"What does incorrigible mean?"
"Use a dictionary, Sherlock, I'm busy."
"Yes, but what does it mean?"
Mycroft sighs again. He's been doing that a lot, since he turned fifteen. "It means unable to be changed or reformed. Why do you ask?"
"Mum called Dad incorrigible. They're arguing in the study again."
Mycroft shakes his head and turns back to Shakespeare. "They're talking about Uncle Peter."
"I know! I'm not an idiot!" Sherlock replies, because even though he didn't really know he doesn't want Mycroft to think he's stupid. "Why are they arguing about Uncle Peter?"
"Because they always argue about Uncle Peter."
"Yes, but why."
"You're being a particular nuisance today, you know," says Mycroft, and he slams the book shut. "They're arguing about him because he's different, and some people don't like people who are different. Dad is one of those people."
Sherlock muses on this. "But Dad likes us, and we're different."
"Yes, but we're family. He has to like us."
"I suppose so. Why is Uncle Peter different?"
Mycroft sighs. "You'll understand when you're older."
"Oh, for God's sake," Mycroft huffs. "Look, just go and…dissect a cat or whatever it is you do to keep yourself amused – I am busy."
Sherlock folds his arms. "I hate you."
"Well, I'm not overwhelmed with positive feelings for you at this precise moment in time either, brother dear," his brother replies lightly. "Go away now."
Grudgingly, Sherlock obliges. When he goes back downstairs, the study is quiet.
When Sherlock is nine, his uncle Peter hangs himself in his home in Kensington. The body is there for a few hours before it is found by the landlady, dangling hopelessly over the stairs like Tantalus caught forever between desperation and despair.
Sherlock's whole family attend the funeral. It takes place on a day that is neither damp nor dry, neither warm nor cold. There aren't many people there. In the front row sit the four of them – his mother's side of the family had never been particularly close. Behind them is a man with a pinched face who keeps on violently sniffing back ragged breaths as the sermon progresses. Behind him is an older man, who looks to be nearly seventy, with thick-rimmed glasses and an impassive expression. The landlady who found him is in the back row in a plum two-piece suit, and then there's the vicar. There are eight people in the world that cared if Peter Guillam lived or died.
It's a closed-casket ceremony, and so Sherlock isn't allowed to see the body. He thinks this is a little bit of a shame because he wants to know if he could tell what kind of rope his uncle used from the size and shape of the bruises, but he doesn't say this to his mother because he's pretty sure it's not a good thing. Then again, he's not sure he wants to see Uncle Peter in that sort of state, because it might hurt more than he can bear, but he doesn't say this to himself because caring is not an advantage.
At the end of the service he points to the man with the pinched face, who is rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand like there's dust caught in there. "Mum, who's that?"
She glances over at the stranger. "Him? He was your Uncle Peter's partner."
"Jacqueline…" his Dad warns, but she pointedly ignores him.
"What sort of partner?"
"Well, you know how your father and I love each other because we're married? Well, Uncle Peter loved that man in the same way even though they weren't married."
"Oh." Sherlock had been hoping that the man was another secret agent. "Alright."
His mother purses her lips. "Even though they hadn't spoken for twelve years."
"Oh, for God's sake, Hartley," she snaps. "I'm going outside. I can't stand it in here."
She marches off towards the exit, and presently Mycroft follows in her wake. Sherlock's father places a hand on his son's back.
"Are you alright, Sherlock?"
"Can I go and look at the coffin?"
His father sighs. "Yes, alright. I'll go and try to calm your mother down."
Sherlock turns and wanders over to the coffin as his father's footsteps echo out of the empty church. The casket is a thick, beige wood – birch, he thinks, but he can't be sure. He looks at it for a few moments, not entirely sure what to do. Then he hears a small cough behind him, and he turns around to see the old man with the glasses standing there, looking at him with a pleasant smile on his lips.
"Hello," the man says. "You must be…are you Sherlock or Mycroft?"
"Sherlock," Sherlock replies.
"Ah. Yes, your uncle told me about you."
Sherlock doesn't know what to say to that, so he just says, "Oh."
The man holds out his hand. "My name is George Smiley," he says.
Sherlock takes the hand, and tentatively shakes it. "Hello."
"I worked with your uncle. He was an employee of mine, and a good friend."
"Are you a spy as well?"
Smiley's brows pucker. "Your uncle shouldn't have told you that."
"It doesn't matter. I can already see from your right index finger that you are."
Smiley smiles good-naturedly. "I was. I'm retired now."
Sherlock turns back to the coffin, and nibbles a piece of dry skin off his lip.
"You know, your uncle talked about you…incessantly. He told me all about your escapades, showed me photographs, everything. He even mentioned you in his note."
Sherlock frowns. "Uncle Peter didn't leave a note."
Smiley's eyes gleam. "No. Of course he didn't." The man coughs twice before continuing. "But he really did love you very, very much. He was one of the bravest, kindest men I have ever known, and absurdly good at his job."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because kindness – basic, moral, human kindness – is a trait often overlooked in people, and deeply underrated. Kindness is always rewarded, Sherlock. Your uncle would have wanted you to know that."
Sherlock considers the implications of this statement as Smiley walks away. It sounds to him like Uncle Peter has left some sort of note, and that he himself was a prominent part of this note. It is possible that, at some point in the near future, he will receive some kind of memento from his late relative of questionable content. Maybe, in some way, his Uncle is rewarding him for his blind faith from beyond the grave. It seems sentimental, but it's the only possibility Sherlock can think of, and he's immensely moved by such a gesture. He stares at the coffin for a long time before leaving.
When they're all sitting around the dinner table that night, Mycroft coughs with the air of a politician, wipes his mouth delicately with a napkin and says: "I've been offered some work experience. The man at the funeral – Smiley – he said he would arrange for me to do a week's internship with MI5."
Their mother beams and deliberately lays down her cutlery. "Oh, Mycroft! That's fantastic! Well done."
Their father nods too, smiling reservedly. "Yes, well done, Myc," he says. Mycroft flinches at the undesired nickname but forces his mouth into a smile anyway. He's ridiculously, sickeningly pleased with himself. Sherlock nods in agreement with his parents and doesn't tell them that his Uncle is going to give him something much, much better.
He goes upstairs that night and looks at the Chemistry set on the table in his room. It's three years old now, and some of the vials are cracked and chipped, but they all still work. Sherlock looks at it for a long time before turning out the light.
When Sherlock is eighteen, he starts living in a student accommodation house in Cambridge. He shares it with Victor Trevor, a pleasant enough but nondescript young English student, and Sebastian Wilkes, an arrogant arsehole with too much money and not enough brains to rub together. Wilkes doesn't take kindly when one of Sherlock's experiments nearly blows a hole in the bathroom wall in the middle of the night, so Sherlock retaliates by laying out his family history on a platter. Victor tries to keep the peace, but ultimately fails. Thus are Sherlock Holmes' university years; an endless cycle of tit-for-tat and endless, endless study while the others go out 'on the pull.'
Sherlock tries not to feel it, but he is incomparably lonely during those years. Sometimes he tries to phone Mycroft, but his older brother always sounds tired and irritated and tells him to go away because he is busy. He's working for the Secret Service now, already the head of Scalphunters and he's not even 25: a prodigy of British Intelligence. Eventually, Sherlock stops calling.
There's never been any parcel, and now he knows there will never be one. Whatever Smiley said at the funeral was a lie, because his life has doubled since then and he knows that nothing was coming. It was all a lie, and now his Uncle Peter is dead and his brother doesn't care. George Smiley has robbed Sherlock of the only two people he's ever looked up to in his whole life, and in return those people have let him down. The way his uncle died was sly and shadowy - if Sherlock ever finds himself in a similar position, he'll make sure to leave a note that everyone can hear – and the way Mycroft lives now is just the same. They're all dancing under the shadow of one man.
Sherlock swears he'll never let anyone down like that.
He manages to hold on until he's completed his Criminology course, but as soon as he's out of University he tests the boundaries of his existence to see how far he can go and still bring himself back from the edge. Eventually it becomes a game, and it's fine because he's got it all under control.
By the time Mycroft notices it's not under control anymore. After that his brother becomes like his shadow, overprotective and twitchy. Sherlock knows that Mycroft blames himself. But their relationship has been fractured beyond compare, and he just can't bring himself to care any more.
When Sherlock is thirty four, he meets John Watson. There's something about John that interests him: he is strong, and determined – a quiet, unassuming man with a sad smile and endless patience – and yet there's still a gleam in his eye that mirrors Sherlock's exactly; the gleam that says 'the game is on.' When John shoots Hope through two buildings with the utmost loyalty to a man he's only just met, Sherlock feels for the first time in forever that insatiable feeling that this, this is a man to look up to. Sherlock Holmes may not be a hero, but John Watson most certainly is.
Uncle Peter would have liked this, Sherlock thinks over dinner at Angelo's one night. He would have liked the idea that two men could go out for a meal with a candle, regardless of whether there was any genuine sexual interest or not, and people wouldn't bat an eyelid. It was a shame he didn't live long enough to see what the future was like, and it still makes Sherlock a little angry that he didn't even want to try. Every so often, he remembers an old man promising everything to him, and remembers the naïve little boy that believed every word, and it's only a small comfort that the man is probably dead by now.
When he is thirty four, Sherlock spray-paints a Smiley face on the wall of his flat and shoots holes in it until John tells him to stop.
When Sherlock is thirty five, Moriarty tells him that everyone he loves will die if he continues living. As he looks down at the mish-mash of grey streets below him, Sherlock pictures a struggling body dangling over a banister, connected to the world only by a thin piece of rope, and for the first time he wonders, really wonders why his uncle committed suicide. Was there somebody standing there with a gun to Peter's head, threatening Mum, threatening Mycroft, threatening Sherlock? No, probably not. But, Sherlock now realises, one doesn't need a gun to the head to know they need to protect the people they love, whatever the cost may be.
There are no more heroes left in this world, so he calls John. But there are too many voices whirling in his brain, and eventually the solidity of his friends' blurs into the others, so he drops his phone and watches it fall to the ground. He tries to clear his mind, just for a second, and picks out one memory from a catalogue of thousands to focus on. He thinks of his Uncle Peter producing a coin from behind his ear with a gleam in his eyes, and Sherlock knows that he can work, if not magic, then the complicated mechanics required to do such a trick as this.
Sherlock Holmes takes a deep breath, spreads his arms, and falls.