Title: Family by Choice
Characters: Mrs. Hudson, John, Sherlock
Rating: K+
Word Count: 7x221
Warnings/Spoilers: Mentions events of TRF, takes place throughout canon into S3 speculation
Summary: Five times Mrs. Hudson raised the rent, and one time she didn't
A/N: Written for rabidsamfan for the watsons_woes birthday party author offers. Sorry it took so long, this just didn't cooperate at all and I have no real idea why. :[

The first time, she hadn't minded it so much. Granted, she'd never really loved that wallpaper anyway, and she was thankful that Sherlock hadn't taken to shooting something harder to replace like the mantel-piece, but still. Boys will always be boys, and after all Sherlock seemed no more than a rebellious little boy himself more often than not.

But, like all children, chastisement must be meted out, and she lost no time in admonishing him that the cost of the damage he'd inflicted would be added to his rent (not John's, bless him, because the poor dear was forever replacing things about the house and besides, guilt by association was hardly fair).

Sherlock had only smiled as she left, in that bizarre and strange and charming little way of his, which told her that he'd known full well the consequences of his actions and had expected no less from her. It was a familiar, almost domestic conversation, and she'd been more amused than annoyed by the young man's antics.

Now, a second, furious volley of gunshots shatters the deathly stillness which lingers ghostlike in this house. Looking upward sadly, she goes up to check.

She finds five new holes dead between the eyes of Sherlock's bullet-pocked smiley-face, and John sitting on the floor, crying silently over a packing-case of Sherlock's belongings.

The second time, she had been rather annoyed, but then it was a bit too much to expect the dear boy to remain calm during three straight weeks of lovely spring weather and peaceful Londoners. Sherlock was a brilliant young man, and all genius must be entertained. Granted, that Sherlock's entertainment of preference should be the pursuit of a deranged mass murderer was a bit off the beaten track - but then if it worked for him who was she to criticise?

She drew the line, however, when his hobbies such as refrigerating body parts encroached upon her own pristine territory. And while she understood that Sherlock didn't quite see things like the rest of the world, that nonetheless didn't excuse his putting an overflow of human anatomy in her kitchen without so much as a by-your-leave, one day when she was out.

John, bless him, had been very understanding of her hysterics, and had disposed of the saucepan and its gory contents (a liver and a pancreas which were vital evidence, Sherlock had shouted from upstairs when John threatened to upend them over his overcoat in the vestibule).

But now, as she performs her weekly ritual of making sure John remembers to eat regularly, she realises she'd tolerate any amount of unsanitary fridge contents if it meant Sherlock were back.

The third time, it's to teach Sherlock a lesson. Her lodger might be the most brilliant thinker in London, but he could be spectacularly stupid about some things, including the dryness of one's flatmate.

Sherlock had the grace to look thoroughly abashed, much to John's amusement from where he sat, safely cocooned in an electric blanket in the leather chair before the fire. Ten minutes' lecture on the proper care of one's sick friend on a pouring-wet night (she was yet unconvinced that that was all they were, not that it was any business of hers), and the dear boy was practically scuttling out of sight into the kitchen to make John a cuppa.

"I half-expected a swatting tea-towel," John commented hoarsely, grinning at her.

Hands on hips, she sent him a glare which caused hasty attention to his slippers. Sherlock reappeared a moment later, poked his head in long enough to ask where the clean kettle was, and she left, confident that the lesson had taken hold.

Now, as thunder rolls and a deluge drenches the streets of London, she hears John's key turn in the lock as he returns from the cemetery; and she decides to put off her well-deserved sleep for a few more minutes, to take him up a pot of steaming tea and a few biscuits.

The fourth time, was because blood would not come out of carpeting and linoleum as readily as rain-water.

Sherlock was half-oblivious to her tirade, bleeding profusely all over the front hallway, head lolling against the bottom stair-step; but the lad actually had the cheek to roll his eyes and ask her to 'stop the babbling hysterics and go call the police because pursuit was not far behind.'

Seeing that John was long since in full-out battle-mode, eyes small chips of steel and ice as he worked over the gash in Sherlock's neck, she knew better than to interfere. And scarcely had she done as Sherlock had asked, from the kitchen landline, than she'd heard a scuffle and then what sounded rather like a small demon had been unleashed.

She rather thought John was perfectly capable of taking out the three hooligans, judging from the almost business-like ferocity fueling his defense of Sherlock's prone body, but the judicious application of a frying-pan to the last brute's skull did not come amiss. John gave her a jerky nod of gratitude before falling back to his work, and within moments the place was swarming with the chaos of medics and policemen.

But now, weekly mop in hand, she wishes more than anything that the house were not so ghastly quiet, nor their lives so...boring.

The fifth time, her boys had just come off a record-breaking row, and while she was happy they were speaking to one another again she was not about to let such vandalism slide.

"Honestly, boys!" she exclaimed, hands on hips. "The mess! At your age!"

John looked up at her from mopping up a marinara puddle, and shook droplets of pasta sauce from his hair. "I suppose it would be futile to say that he started it?"

Sherlock snorted, trying to comb bits of linguini out of his curls. "If you had not been such an infernal annoyance for the last week -"

"Says the man who kept me up for four nights running, experimenting with reactive chemicals in the lavatory!"

"If you had not thrown away my mold cultures - painstakingly cultivated, might I add, over the course of -"

"Cultivated in my wardrobe, Sherlock! That's just not done!"

Sherlock smirked, and flicked a noodle at him. "And a food fight at our age is, eh?"

John dissolved into a fit of giggles, the sound of which followed her as she left in exasperation.

Now, it's all she can do to get John to cook dinner; not because he's trying to starve himself, but just because, as he says sadly one evening, cooking for one is hardly worth the bother.

The last time, she really should raise the rent - bullet holes in her lounge windows, shattered bits of clay and glass from the desk lamp speckling her hearth, indeed! (not to mention the risk to life and limb, as she and her bad hip were far too old to be crawling about adjusting shop mannequins in front of sniper crosshairs!) - but she cannot really find it in herself to do so.

And who could? Because for the first time in what seems like years, the near-empty house is ringing with the cacophony of voices and creaks and moans and tears and laughs and thuds and clatters that all crescendo into that beautiful symphony which is a Love of Life.

That nice young man from Scotland Yard finally leaves around two in the morning, obviously tipsy and grinning so wide it's a wonder his mouth can fit through the door-frame. She watches to see he's safely picked up by one of Mycroft Holmes's men before she goes upstairs to check and see if John has carried through on his half-sobbed threat to kill Sherlock all over again.

She needn't have worried. The events of the day and night have exhausted the poor dear, and he's fast asleep on the couch, head squashed into the Union Jack pillow and an orange blanket

Tucked 'round his legs. Sherlock perches on the back of the couch like a benevolent vulture, content to watch the news and his sleeping flatmate. New lines of stress frame his striking eyes, but he looks freer than she remembers - as if the world's weight has been lifted from his slender shoulders.

Possibly it has. Her boy has completed a long and painful journey, to bring him here.

When Sherlock looks up, his tired eyes brighten, and she sees one of those very rare, genuine smiles that he's cautious to only show her and John. She opens her arms, and he hops off his perch to give her a tight hug.

Wherever the poor boy has been, he's lost weight that he can't really afford. Her motherly tut causes him to smile again.

"I did not have opportunity earlier to thank you, Mrs. Hudson," he says, sweeping an arm to encompass the chaos of the lounge.

"Yes, well, kindly remember next time, dear, that I'm your landlady, not your stunt-double," she replies archly.

John snuffles in his sleep, twitches and then lies still, and they both glance down at him with a shared smile.

However dysfunctional, they are yet as close to family as is possible to be; and family by choice is no less sacred than family by blood.