"Family is all we have left in the end, Mycroft Holmes!" –Mrs. Hudson
Sherlock Holmes had never been particularly fond of children; he ignored and avoided them mostly. In his line of work, there were almost never children around and if there were, he left John or Lestrade to do deal with them. He wasn't about to try and lower his mind and defenses for the sake of making a child feel better about itself. His own, painful childhood, full of bullying and quickly growing up seemed to put him off from any sort of activity or person that could remind him of his adolescence. As a child, Sherlock had been wildly brilliant, too excited and carried away with his own sense of utter creation and exploration of the world to worry about acting normal or doing normal childish activities such as fighting, throwing sticks, playing with others, etc. While the neighborhood boys played, he sat inside reading his father's giant chemistry textbooks. When Sherlock went to primary school, he stayed inside and studied world languages while the boys on the playground played tag. His behavior didn't worry his parents until Sherlock started turning his attention to other people, copying Mycroft. As his older brother, it was Mycroft's responsibility to get Sherlock home from school every day. On their daily walks, Mycroft would tell Sherlock stories about the people they passed. Sherlock thought Mycroft was making it up until he began to see for himself how it worked.
Soon, Sherlock was on the playground, giving unflinching accounts of his classmates lives from how their parents got along, if they were wealthy or poor, what they'd eaten the night before and which girl they'd kissed behind the swings. As you can imagine, that didn't go over very well and a short time later Sherlock was being taunted, beaten up, and laughed at. Sherlock, being the young genius that he was, tried to take it all in stride. As much as he wanted his classmates to understand him, they never did; so he studied harder, his remarks got sharper, and he started to bury his hurt and that yearning to be understood. Sherlock replaced his childhood with knowledge. By the time he was ten and off to a private primary school for children more like him, Sherlock had created the first version of his mind-palace. It was more of a mind-library, but it was a start. The private school was very different from the public school he had been attending. For one thing, the children were smarter, more civilized, and would rather recite Shakespeare with each other than run around and get dirty. On the other hand, the children there weren't nearly as observant and downright brilliant as Sherlock. He once again didn't fit in. To make things worse, these smarter, more elitist children's sneers were more at par with Sherlock's abilities, making the wounds they inflicted all the more harmful. Sherlock stayed in private schools until he was fifteen, skipping grades like wildfire in an effort to get out of schools all together. His lack of human-connection made those years awful and pushed him to claim that he was a sociopath.
Sherlock earned himself a handful of college degrees, including a smattering of doctorates by the time he was eighteen. He was cold, brilliant, and downright unfriendly. The torture had not stopped as he had expected it to at university and so he'd worked even harder, replacing friends with textbooks and a skull named Mortimer. The skull became his one 'friend'. Even though Sherlock could have gotten any job he practically desired, he instead traveled the world. He drabbled in Europe, Africa, and Russia. He only returned home when Mycroft fetched him from an opium den in India. When opium was no longer available to him, his solution was cocaine. Jobs bored him, people bored him, and drugs were the escape from that. They pushed his mind past the limits he had set up for himself. The limits were there for a reason; they were the farthest he deemed he could go so that he could still regularly function. When the drugs pushed him into his own mind, it was like he was lost in the universe with no map. After spending a few more years getting clean again (minus cigarettes), Sherlock settled in London. He soon fell in love with the place, even though Mycroft's presence was annoying. Sherlock learned the streets, the alleys, the nooks and crannies, until it was as if he had a whole world at his disposal. The inspiration to become a detective came to him when he was on the streets of London. He was insanely intelligent, he had the power of deduction on his side, and he was young, sprightly. Sherlock could handle the physical and mental qualifications of being the world's only consulting detective.
Sherlock set up a reputation for himself and began ripping through all sorts of cases like mad. At first, he didn't charge a fee. However, when it became clear to him that flats and food cost money, he amassed a small fortune for himself just by doing what he did best. It set his mind ablaze- he was doing what he loved every second of every day. When he didn't have a case, that fire went out, leaving him back in the boring clutches of everyday misery. Sherlock was consulting with the police department by the time he was twenty three, and he met John not long after. John brought human contact back into his life, reminded him and helped him learn that he could balance his intellect with the means of society.
When they got a case regarding a young soldier who had been duped and his house broken into and robbed, he and John set out for a smaller suburb of Sussex. It was there were Sherlock was thrown back into his childhood.
"Charley Muller, twenty. His parents died when he was eighteen. He enlisted to earn money to support himself and his younger sister. No criminal record. His house was broken into four days ago and almost everything was stolen." John said to himself as he read the tiny file Sherlock had given him. They were crossing a weedy parking lot and heading around the back of a primary school. Muller was to be picking up his sister and he said that he would meet the detective there. Sherlock had tried to insist on a more business like setting, but Muller wasn't free at any other time. He was working a second job to try and make up for their recent losses and didn't have a spare moment to give the detective. Normally that would offend Sherlock, but the man's case had sounded delightfully interesting.
"How often is Felicity on her own, Mr. Muller?" A voice as they approached, however, seemed to be starting the interrogation without them. As John and Sherlock turned the corner, they took in a small playground. The school day was over and children whose parents hadn't come yet to retrieve them were playing, screaming, and generally being children. The sound put Sherlock on edge. Standing at the edge of the sandy playground were two people. One was an older woman, who was asking about a Felicity. She was clearly in charge of the school. The other person was Charley Muller. He was young, with a shock of dark red hair that was cut in a military style. He was dressed casually and he was rubbing his face, looking exhausted.
"Fee? I pick her up from school and put in a shift at the bar so…I guess it's more than it probably should be." He admitted, looking ashamed of himself. "Even if I were to stay with her, Mrs. Unden, it wouldn't make a difference. When we do have free time she's usually wrapped up in her own little world. I try to hide the really dangerous stuff, but I'll come home and she'll be using it for one of her experiments. My neighbors won't watch her- I'm at my wits end. If I get deployed…" He cut himself off, rubbing at his face again, looking worried. The woman's face softened.
"You do an extraordinary job, young man, and you should be proud of that. I was just wondering if a bit of time with her family wouldn't keep Fee from getting into the situations she often finds herself in." She said, reaching out and patting the young man's shoulder comfortingly. Her words struck a sudden thought into Charley, judging by his sudden flinch.
"Speaking of Fee…" The younger man looked beyond the Principal, scanning the playground. He looked slightly panicked as he turned to check behind him, coming up short when he spotted the detective and John. "Oh! Hello, Detective Holmes, right? Charley Muller, nice to meet you. You must be Dr. Watson, a pleasure," He shook their hands hurriedly. "If you'd excuse me for just a moment…Fee?" He yelled, striding into the sandy playground. John followed him along with the Principal, leaving Sherlock no choice but to follow. He repressed painful childhood memories as he moved swiftly through the play equipment, scowling when sand threatened to get on his coat.
"It's ok that your parent's are never home; mine are dead and my brother is always working. It really isn't a wonder that you can't read. I'll tutor you though." A bright, flowing voice of a young girl reached their ears as Charley made it through the playground and started off towards an empty corner of the school yard. Off in the distance they could clearly see a group of boys. One stepped forward, the instigator, bearing down on a little girl with vibrant red hair.
"Right," the boy spluttered, his face red. He pulled back his fist and punched her right in the face with all his might, almost knocking the little girl flat on her back.
"HEY!" Charley yelled, breaking into a jog. To everyone's surprise, including the bully's, Felicity Muller turned without batting an eyelid and socked him right in the nose just as her brother ran up. The boys scrambled away in a pack, the bully just ducking under Charley's arm to race away with his group. "I want their names, all of them." Charley said furiously to Mrs. Unden as she came to a stop, a matronly scowl on her face.
"Charley," she warned and he sighed, kneeling down to get on his sister's level, his anger momentarily forgotten.
"Let me see, Fee," He said, and the little girl huffed. Her hair was just as shockingly red as her brother's and she wore it in a single French-braid down her back. Her uniform was as neat as a pin. The only thing out of place was her rapidly bruising eye. She turned her face away from her Charley and crossed her arms, drawing herself up as if nothing was wrong, as if she hadn't just been punched in the face.
"Felicity, Charley. My eye is perfectly fine, thank you for your concern." Even though her voice carried the immaturity of youth, her drive and vocabulary made John's eyebrows shoot to his hairline. She sounded like a mini-Sherlock.
"Fee," Charley groaned, smoothing her hair and turning her face to look at him. "What am I going to do with you? Why did you say that to that poor bloke?" He asked. A flitter of affection and then annoyance crossed the little-girl's face and her frosty attitude instantly fell away.
"He started it, Charley. He started making fun of me for recitation and then I told him to please act his age and stop his nominal taunting. Then, he said I was 'a cheeky little freak' and that he'd get his Dad to fix me. I told him what is painfully obvious, that his Dad is never home cause he's always fishing and his Mum wouldn't do something like that and that if they were home he'd be a better reader and that he wouldn't feel so jealous about the fact that I recite and he can't. I did the polite thing and offered to tutor him, the logical solution to his problem, and he punched me." She let out in a rant, her lip threatening to fall into a pout.
"Oh, Fee. It was nice of you to offer, but can't you see that your words might have hurt him just a little?" Charley asked, and Felicity shrugged. "Fine then, let me look at your eye. It's blackening up and it'll swell if I don't have a look."
"It'll swell regardless," she said daintily, backing away when he tried to touch it. Sherlock instantly noticed that even though she seemed very graceful, her body was very stiff and drawn up- she was hiding behind her intelligent shell, she was putting on a show. Sherlock noticed it because he was used to doing it all the time. It made his heart clench uncomfortably.
"Actually, I'm a doctor; I'll have a look at it. If the Lady doesn't mind, of course." John said, offering Felicity a wink. She looked shyly away for a moment, seemed to look to her brother for permission (or protection, depending on how you read a child's psychology) and then nodded. John knelt down to her level. "That's a zinger, to be sure." He noted to himself, lightly reaching up and touching her face. She didn't flinch; in fact, she was looking at John as closely as he was looking at her.
"You're a soldier, aren't you?" She asked with all the curiosity of a child as he examined her eye. "You were deployed somewhere recently too." She added, unintentionally cocking her head to the side as she scrutinized John. He blinked at her dead-on assumptions and then shot a grin behind him at Sherlock before nodding to Felicity.
"Yes, I am. Capitan John Hamish Watson of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers." John rattled off. Charley leapt into a subconscious salute, making Felicity giggle quietly. John gave him a nod and a smile before standing up from Felicity. "You took quite a punch, m'lady, but you should be just fine." He told her, and she offered him a sweet smile in return. She couldn't be more than seven years old, and yet she seemed to have an air of maturity about her that clashed with her sunny, childlike voice and when she couldn't help it, mannerisms.
"It looks like this situation is in very capable hands. Felicity, I'll see you tomorrow at school." Mrs. Unden said warmly before turning and walking away. Her action woke Sherlock up a bit from the memories he thought he'd purposefully deleted from his mind-palace. They hadn't been deleted- just buried, and that would pose a great problem for Sherlock. He'd buried those memories for a reason. His childhood had helped to make him into the cold and imposing man he was today. He wanted to bury his past as far away as possible. At the same time, the idea of not saying anything to this little girl who was obviously going through the same thing he was felt wrong to Sherlock.
"Are we going home? I have a test going that I need to check on soon," Felicity said, sounding hopeful and anxious at the same time as she looked up at her brother.
"Not quite yet. I have to talk with these two first. Do you think you can keep yourself out of trouble for a few moments?" Charley asked in a bit sterner of a voice as Felicity's face quickly became as innocent as possible to deflect his accusation of her getting into trouble.
"I'd actually like to have a talk with Ms. Felicity, if she wouldn't mind. John, you can question Mr. Muller, correct?" Sherlock made a split second decision. He'd already gotten the gist of the case just by looking at Charley and he was more interested in Felicity Muller at the moment rather than her brother. As much as children put him off and, although he would never admit it, frightened him, Sherlock's interest was piqued by this little girl. He could see himself in her, and that was a new experience for him.
"Uh, sure," Charley said, looking taken aback. "You'll be ok, Felicity, if Detective Holmes watches you for a second?" He checked with his sister, ever the big-brother and father all in one. Felicity huffed, crossing her arms again.
"I don't need watching, I'm not a child." She chided her brother in such a mature way that John nearly burst out laughing at the sight of a child saying such a thing. Once her brother and John had walked to the other side to talk on the benches, Felicity looked at Sherlock curiously, her warm brown eyes scrutinizing him closely. Then she turned and walked to the nearest bench, pulling her school bag out from underneath it. She propped it next to her, as if to watch it and make sure it was still safe, before starting to murmur under her breath. Sherlock instantly realized she was doing a recitation- he'd done them often as a child, an adolescent, and even now sometimes. He'd started with mathematical equations and moved onto the names of all the bones in the human body. He currently recited the periodic table when he felt bored or anxious.
"What are you reciting?" He asked sitting next to her somewhat stiffly. Sherlock felt very odd talking with a child for the first time in a long time. It was quite clear to him that Felicity was very different from most children but he felt nervous all the same. She stopped, looking at him, with bright, happy eyes as she recognized the fact that he recognized what she was doing. It made the black eye on her face look even worse to Sherlock as he knew that her recitation was the reason that put it there.
"I'm reciting numbers in ancient languages up to 1,000. I've already stored it though; I need a new list to work on." She chattered, confident that Sherlock wasn't going to punch her or treat her like adults usually did- like a child.
"Stored, hmm?" Sherlock prompted, and Felicity tapped her temple.
"In my head. I've created the tallest building in the world right in here! Every floor is a different subject." She said proudly. It became instantly obvious to Sherlock that she had already created her own version of his mind-palace but one to suit her own needs. Based off of her description, he could envision a skyscraper with an elevator. Every floor was dedicated to a different thing, person, idea, or place. It was very basic architecture, but if it suited her needs Sherlock was impressed.
"What a novel idea to keep things separated up there. Mine is a palace." Sherlock shared, walking the thin line between not shutting her down with austere adult-talk but not babying her either. Felicity's eyes grew round as she looked at Sherlock.
"You're like me!" She whispered, delight filling up her face. Sherlock felt his lips twitch up into a smile. "It makes sense, I suppose, considering you are a detective. I like that yours is a palace. Do you recite the street names of London?" She fired off, having already figured out that Sherlock was from London just by looking at him.
"No. I recite the periodic table by element and then atomic number and mass," Sherlock said, and Felicity grinned, thrilled with her new friend. "What else do you do besides recite?" He asked, feeling himself slip back into the better parts of his childhood where he felt unparalleled thrill upon discovering something or starting to study a new area of science. The return to his youth was starting to become less unpleasant. Felicity eyed him for a moment before scooting a little bit closer.
"Can you keep a secret?" She asked the age-old childhood question with a tone full of all of the doubt, worry yet anticipation to reveal the secret that all children and even adults sometimes still used. Sherlock gave her a solemn nod. Felicity checked on her brother for a moment before giving Sherlock an excited, slightly guilty smile.
"Sometimes I just look at people. I think you do this all the time- as a detective it would make sense for you to do so. I'll just look at people and find out things about them. Since everyone is different it's usually very good fun." She confessed, and Sherlock felt a prickle on the back of his neck. It was as if history was repeating itself in front of his very eyes.
"I do the same thing. In London, I like to keep track of where the tourists come from when I'm bored and on the tube." He told her, and she laughed. "How about experiments? Do you do any of those?" Sherlock asked, and she nodded briskly.
"I'm currently testing how light and heat can affect different textiles, how air speed wears different types of metals and how electricity can be stored and re-conducted through bodily fluids. That's why I wanted to go home; the experiment with the electricity is currently going in the bathtub and I don't want Charley to find it. He'll get mad." Felicity said with the air of a proud scientist. It took a lot of Sherlock's willpower not to laugh, not because he thought her experiments were stupid, but because he could imagine that her brother quite often found odd experiments going on in the house. With the previous knowledge he'd gathered that Felicity was often by herself, it explained why she'd been able to set up the reaction in the bathtub in the first place. "What about you? You're a chemist." She asked. Her question reminded Sherlock of a time when he would do something similar. He'd be making conversation and unintentionally ask a question that revealed that he knew something about someone that normally no one else would. Felicity seemed to do it mindlessly, and that would explain the Principal's concern for her safety. This couldn't have been her first punch or first 'situation' with bullies. It made Sherlock fond and angry at the same time.
"I'm testing how saliva coagulates after death. It gave John quite a fright when he found the severed head in the fridge." Sherlock said, and Felicity giggled, not at all mortified or scared about the idea that Sherlock had a decapitated head in his fridge like any normal person, not to mention a child, would be. "Now, what can you tell me about the break-in at your house?" Sherlock asked, switching topics. If Felicity was home alone by herself for long periods of time, she might have noticed something odd. The burglary itself was carefully planned for when no one was home and so that the thieves had enough time to take almost everything. No team of burglars would simply come at a random time during the day and hope that the house was empty. It was a premeditated crime. Felicity wrinkled her nose.
"Charley got a weird job almost two weeks ago. He said he'd joined a club called The Redhead-League. What a stupid and uncreative name, isn't it? Anyway, all he had to do was show-up and write out copies of classic literature for about three hours and he got paid 40 pounds per day. Considering we aren't the richest family, Charley thought it was a good idea. So, after school, I ran my experiments and such while he went out for this little club. It didn't take me long to notice that a black Fiat would drive past our house everyday at the same time, four o' clock. I dismissed it solely on the basis that the Fiat's plates were registered for our suburb and because the situation could easily be someone returning home from work. I realize now that I made a mistake. I believe that the men that robbed our house were in that Fiat everyday, checking on the house to see what was going on at that time. I should have faked illness to see if the car drove by at any other time during the day, but I didn't." Felicity rattled off instantly. For a child as young as she was, she was just as observant as Sherlock, if not more so. It was mind-boggling.
"So you think that this Redhead-League has something to do with the robbery." Sherlock said. The plan was ingenious. Pay off the guardian, someone they perceived as the real threat, because the total profit made from ransacking the house would easily cover the 40 pounds per day. They wouldn't have suspected that a little girl would notice such things. Once everyone was out of the house and the robbers were familiar with the inhabitants' habits, the men would break in and take everything. Then, The Redhead-League would disappear, leaving Charley Muller to look like a stupid liar. Felicity smiled in that pleased, calm way that Sherlock often did when someone put the pieces of the puzzle together in front of him when he'd already solved it.
"I know that they are. I can prove at least three men broke into our house." Felicity reached into her backpack and pulled out three Ziploc bags. Each one had a square of white cloth, neatly cut. On each piece of fabric were ginger hairs. "Just because I didn't stay home to prove my theory doesn't mean that I didn't take precautions. We keep most of the valuables in the basement, and Charley hardly ever goes down there. To set up a trap I strung up some white cloth in a confusing pattern, like a maze. The men, in their rush, went down and got tangled up in the cloth for awhile; they ripped it all down. However, in their entanglement, each one left hairs behind. I think you'll notice that at the root of the hairs, the color is not red. The men dyed their hair and invented the club to con my brother." Felicity said, handing the bags to Sherlock who took them carefully, holding each one up to the light. He felt like applauding yet he was also very stunned. He had finally found someone else who used their mind that wasn't Mycroft.
"May I safely assume that you knew that I would be arriving?" Sherlock asked, feeling a genuine smile grace his face as he turned to the happy little girl. She was intelligent enough to know (sadly) that if she tried to take her evidence to the police she would be mollycoddled and told not to worry; the adults would take care of it. Felicity must have planned on giving this information to the private detective and planned on letting him finish it up and deliver it to the police.
"I was hoping you would. They wouldn't let me into the forensic lab so I couldn't process the hairs for DNA." Felicity scowled briefly, real frustration showing on her face before it smoothed out. "Considering your reputation, age, and recourses, I was hoping that you could use that evidence to find the men and bring them to justice."
"It's my job. You've made it much easier, and I thank you for that." Sherlock said, tucking the samples into his jacket. He paused for a moment, looking at the odd little girl in front of him. Her black eye was now a deep purple-blue and it had swollen slightly. He almost opened his mouth to give her advice on dealing with the bullies, almost told her that her mind was extraordinary and she shouldn't let others' comments make her feel embarrassed about her gift. However, before he got the chance, John came back over, Charley Muller beside him.
"You need ice, Fee," Charley said instantly, bending down to get a better look at Felicity. "And I think it's about time we got home, don't you think?" He said as she gave him a slightly exasperated look. He backed off and she stood up, putting on her backpack. "Do you think you've gotten everything you needed, Detective?" Charley asked, putting an arm around Felicity. She stood calmly under his touch, leaning slightly against his leg.
"Yes, I believe I have. Did you get through all the questions, John?" Sherlock asked, standing also, his coat swirling slightly from the movement.
"Uh, yep. I took notes, just in case. We should be set. How's the eye, m'lady?" John asked Felicity, and she gave him a smile as if her eye wasn't blackened at all. She was very good at hiding pain, Sherlock noted. She'd already started the process of pretending like it didn't exist; she'd started the process of learning how to shove pain away. The acting practice had begun and she would get plenty of it throughout school and growing up. The idea made his insides squirm slightly. He felt an overwhelming urge to say something and yet his own social awkwardness kept him from doing so. He wouldn't know what to say and how to say it in a way that wouldn't shut her down.
"Blackened, Dr. Watson, but it'll heal. Thank you for looking at it." She said politely.
"You're welcome." John said warmly.
"Thanks for agreeing to the case, Detective, Doctor. I hope you can solve it. You can call anytime if you need any more information." Charley said gratefully.
"I have a feeling this case will clear up within a few days, Mr. Muller." Sherlock said, unable not to smile just a little when Felicity looked down, fighting a grin. There was a pause as Sherlock struggled to find the right words. "Thank you for speaking with me, Ms. Muller." Sherlock said, and she looked up again, the grin firmly in place.
"Thank you for speaking with me, Mr. Holmes. The experience was most enlightening." Felicity said shyly, but her voice was warm, excited.
"We'll be in touch." John said when Sherlock and Felicity just shared a smile. Sherlock's behavior was so unusual to him that he had to try his hardest not to stare. They all shook hands and then the detective and the doctor were walking away.
"This has to be the strangest thing I've ever heard or seen in a long time, and that's saying something." John said as they got into the car. "The Redhead-League? What is that all about?" He asked, and when Sherlock didn't answer, keeping his eyes fixed on the road, John continued. "And then there's Felicity Muller. God, Sherlock, I swear she's related to you. What did you talk about?" John asked and Sherlock barely glanced at him.
"The case," Sherlock supplied unhelpfully, and John sighed. He began to wonder if it was worth prying at Sherlock to get him to spill. "Considering her intellect, I figured she had important information regarding the case." Sherlock added to appease him.
"Did she? She must have, she's just like you," John added to himself, and Sherlock very nearly flinched. That was a deep fear that was starting to steal over him; he wasn't sure if he wanted Felicity Muller to turn out like him; a social outcast, a 'sociopath', a freak, someone so isolated, so odd in the eyes of society that they would never, ever fit in. Sherlock wasn't sure if he wanted to stop it or wanted to encourage it. Felicity had so much potential, so much promise, and at such a young age too. Something that extraordinary shouldn't be crushed or meddled with, at least, that's what Sherlock believed. He also believed that emotion (or, to be more specific, the horrible childhood memories that made Sherlock biased towards the whole situation) had no place in making rational decisions.
"Yes. She almost solved the whole thing by herself. We'll have to go to St. Bart's to process the rest of the evidence before I can conclude the case in her stead." Sherlock answered shortly, forcing his conflicted emotions away. Now was not the time. There was a case to be solved, the game was on and the sooner he solved it, the sooner he'd be able to see Felicity Muller again.
A/N: Sorry for the amount of Sherlock-whumpage in just the first chapter; it shouldn't be that angsty again. What do you think of Felicity? What did you think of my little hint of the original stories? The Redhead-League was one of my favorites, so I decided to throw it into this story.
As usual, I'm not nearly lucky enough to own the rights to ACD's original works or BBC Sherlock.
Stay tuned for more!