"You come highly recommended, I will expect nothing less than perfection." His voice is clipped and dismissive and he doesn't bother looking up from his papers. She notices the effect this has on her (a flare of irritation, lessened self-confidence) and memorizes the technique for future use. Then she allows a wry smile to touch her lips.
"Naturally." And she never falters. Not even when she discovers just what the post of ‘minor government official’ really entails.
"My brother will be arriving at Heathrow at about four. I need you to pick him up." It's her fifth day of working for Mycroft Holmes and he still hasn't so much as spared her a glance.
As she waits in the sedan for the younger sibling, she feels a spark of anticipation and instantly quenches it. It wouldn't do to show weakness - especially not in front of someone related to her employer. The arrogant young man who climbs into the backseat of the car is nothing like his brother, and yet the resemblance is uncanny. He doesn't acknowledge her during the ride, preferring instead to stare sullenly out the window - as if he can see the very soul of the city and finds it wanting.
The second time she's sent to pick Sherlock up, he shouts at her; his pupills black and impossibly wide. The driver watches the scene nervously before starting the car and she makes a mental note to tell her employer to replace him. As Sherlock insults, spits, and gesticulates wildly, she carefully focuses her thoughts on the budding leaves, the pale spring sun, and breakfast in the garden.
In the evening, Mycroft brings her a cup of tea and finally looks at her. His eyes are intelligent (no surprise there), but warm and understanding, unlike his brother's. She understands why he needs to hide them.
No one would suspect it when seeing her now, but she was born and grew up in the countryside. Like so many others she moved to London in her late teens, looking for career and indepedence. She stumbled into her vocation quite by accident - getting a job as a PA for a conference - and found that she excelled at it. In the years that followed she moved rapidly up the ranks (earning a great many favours from a great many important people along the way).
She still has tea with her sister every second sunday and sometimes, while taking a walk through the village, encounters old school mates. They never fail to be astounded that: "an intelligent girl like you is only a PA". This never ceases to amuse her.
The jobs Mycroft delegates to her are as varied as they come: deliver this parcel, escort this person, have tea with that ambassador's wife and find out these things… discretly. Despite this, nothing could have prepared her for: "Be at the metropolitan police morgue tomorrow at 11.30. You will identify the body as Enid Johnston". At first, she wonders if it's some kind of test to try her loyalty, but she quickly discards the idea. A less important, less intelligent man might have deviced such a test, but not Mycroft Holmes. No, she had been weighed and found appropriate for her purpose before even meeting the man - of that she is sure by now.
So the next day she embarks on her mission to the morgue and dutifully does her job. And the inquiry into the disappearance of one Enid Johnston, who's body might (or might not) have been found down at the docks, is closed soon after.
She takes a liking to Sigerson Holmes almost immediatelly. Mycroft has - possibly in an attempt to prepare his younger brother for a future career in politics - brought him along to a business lunch. Nothing secretive, just networking with the executive of a consulting company who’s been deemed worthy of taking up their time. The man soon proves to be what her father would have called ‘a right smarmy git’. Of course, he'd have said a lot more had he heard the insinuating tone used towards her whenever Mycroft’s attention seems to be elsewhere. Mycroft, judging from his disapproving frown, has obviously noticed, but is powerless to do anything about it. He can hardly risk a public falling out with the executive, she appreciates that.
However, as the man leans over and squeezes her knee, it seems even Mycroft has had enough. But before he can say something, there’s a loud "Oops!", and the executive suddenly finds himself with a lap full of London’s finest gazpacho soup.
"Are you all right there? I'm dreadfully sorry..." Sigerson drawls, not looking very sorry at all. The meeting is quickly adjourned. Mycroft apologizes profoundly for his brother‘s clumsiness and offers to pay for the dry cleaning. On the way back, they stop to buy Sigerson ice-cream.
"Sherlock is moving to London." Mycroft announces during one of their regular morning meetings. "I've found him an apartment..." He hesitates (which shocks her because Mycroft never hesitates). Sensing that he needs it, she offers up a genuine smile in reassurance.
"Do you want me to pick him up?" She can't say she relishes the idea of crossing paths with Sherlock again, but she is a professional. Mycroft's eyes widens in surprise.
"Would you? After last time... I wouldn't presume..." Now Mycroft is visibly flustered. Knowing how embarrassed he'll be over such a display later on, she decides to spare him.
"Of course. When will he arrive?"
Just like the first time she picked him up, Sherlock never speaks a word to her. In fact, he hardly even moves until they're nearing the center of the city. Then, suddenly, he leans forward and instructs the driver:
"West Smithfield Campus." Later on, she blames her slip on too little sleep and too much pent up irritation from their last encounter.
"Your brother thought you'd like to see where you will be staying..." Even to herself, her voice sounds sharp. Sherlock fixes her with an icy glare.
"Which is precisely what I'm doing. Mycroft can keep his apartment, I've arranged for accommodations elsewhere." With that, he leans back in his seat and ignores her once again. For a brief second she wants to strangle him.
After his return to the London, she comes into contact with Sherlock on a more or less regular basis - whether it is by picking him up to have lunch with his brother or by bringing his new landlady (a nice older woman whom she takes care not to scare too much) in for an "interview". Which is why she's one of the first to realise that he's returning to old habits. Mycroft may have his spies and cameras to keep track of his brother, but his primary attention is on the riots, and Sherlock is nothing if not stealthy. Still, not even he can hide the physical symptoms forever.
She's debating with herself whether or not to tell Mycroft, when she realises that he already knows. It's there in the brittleness of his smile, the second portions of food and his increased ruthlessness towards his staff. And as Sherlock fights his boredom with needles with Mycroft helpless to prevent it, she worries about them both.
Sigerson returns to London, bringing with him autumn and rain and neverending conversations. He's doing an internship at the house of parliament and, being as headstrong as his brothers, manages to talk Mycroft into letting him lose in London during the evenings. She supposes that she should feel affronted when asked to chaperon the youngest Holmes for the fourth time in as many days - "glorified nanny" was certainly not in the job description. In all honesty though, she doesn't mind. She likes the teenager and, on some level, pities him. This is very likely one of his last chanses to experience youth and happiness, before being shuffled into whatever political position Mycroft has intended for him. And so she pretends to listen when Sigerson talks about studies and experiments (most of which she doesn't understand) and smiles and nods in all the appropriate places.
It’s not until later, when she reflects on all the things he should have mentioned, but didn't (friends, parents, plans for the future) that she realises he never once asked about Sherlock.
"Your brother wanted you to have this." She’s cold, but unfailingly polite, as always when dealing with Sherlock. Surprisingly, he accepts the umbrella and the tea, before refocusing on the policemen gathered by the river bank.
"What do you think? Isn't it brilliant? Strangled with his own earphones!" Now, if I could just get a closer look at the-"
"One inch closer and I'll have you arrested for trespassing.", a gruff voice intercedes. They turn around simultaneously, finding themselves face to face with a weary-looking, grey-haired police inspector.
"That goes for you as well, miss. This is a crime scene, not a playground for amateurs." She gets the distinct impression that it isn't the first time he's had to order Sherlock away.
"But I was right, wasn't I? You did find blood on the horse's hooves, I know you did." Sherlock counters triumphantly. The inspector rakes a hand through his hair in evident frustration.
"Being right about that is the only reason you're not being prosecuted right now. Breaking and entering - at a crime scene - for christ's sake, Sherlock!" He hisses, shooting a nervous glance at the other policemen. He obviously hasn't reported Sherlock's actions to his superiors, she surmises, and files it under: 'things to report to Mycroft'.
It's another two weeks before she's told to pick DI Gregory Lestrade up for a little chat.
There's been a noticeable difference in Mycroft lately. He walks more lightly and even favours her with that thin, pale smile of his every so often. She assumes this means that the situation with Sherlock has been resolved, one way or another.
It's about this time that her parents are killed. A car accident on an icy bridge; an every day occurence with no one to blame. She doesn't request time off. A visit to her sister on a chilly sunday afternoon is enough to make the necessary arrangements for the funeral. They haven't seen each other for months at this point (a consequence of her fluid working hours) and both Emily and her husband are more reserved than she expected. As she leaves them, she’s relieved that they have each other for support.
She allows herself a moment to grieve, driving back to London, but makes sure that her normal indifferent mask is back in place when she steps into the office the next morning. It's the second time Mycroft brings her tea.
Winter descends on the city overnight and the newspapers predict snow in time for christmas. The Holmes family is planning a gathering at their country estate and Emily will be visiting her husband's parents in Norwich. A weekend with nothing to do. This is the first time she realises how isolated she’s become. Like Mycroft and Sherlock and poor Sigerson, she’s standing on the outside, watching as society goes about it’s merry dance.
She goes to the staff party in an effort to break the monotony, but few of her co-workers recognize her and those who do are afraid. They may not know exactly what she does, but they know enough not to get involved. She leaves early and drives around for a while, losing herself in the traffic and the night. Upon returning home, she makes a cup of tea and goes to bed. While she drifts off, she's already counting down the hours, minutes and seconds to Monday.
“I will expect nothing less than perfection.” He'd said. And she'd never faltered. But sometimes, lying awake late at night, listening to the sounds of the city, she wonders if she should.