And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
-excerpt from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot
The first time he sees old man Watson, he doesn’t think much of him.
The other boys are quick to assure him that they do this all the time as they lead him up the winding path through the trees after school lets out. “It’s not illegal, Michael, it’s just a game,” they say. “And we’ve done it plenty. Don’t be a baby—it’s worth it!”
He keeps telling himself that it must be okay if they’ve done it before, but it doesn’t stop the thrill of excitement-dread-anxiety that races up his spine once the cottage comes into the view. Immediately, the others lead him into the trees around back, careful to avoid being seen from the windows.
He can already hear the humming, and the others exchange glances and wide Cheshire grins as Colin pulls out a handful of gloves. Each boy takes one, and Michael feels trepidation rise as he dons his, a ratty leather thing that has likely seen more than a few excursions such as this. “Are you sure this is safe?” he asks, and Brady offers him a toothy grin.
“Just go fast.”
And then they’re moving, darting from the cover of the trees and across the back lawn, towards the blocky white boxes littering the grass. The humming reaches a fever pitch as they near, and Michael feels his stomach flutter in fear as he sees large specks darting around the hives. But the other boys don’t stop; he sees Brady dive toward the nearest hive, his gloved hand already tearing off the top and reaching in, emerging seconds later with a large chunk of yellow honeycomb clutched in his fist and a triumphant shout on his lips. The others are already ravaging the other hives, a cloud of buzzing black-and-yellow bees rising forebodingly over the group. Michael, feeling his heart beat frantically in his chest, reaches Brady’s hive and reaches in himself, trying not to flinch as he feels wriggling little insects through the glove while he scrabbles for a bit of purchase. Finally, a bit of honeycomb gives way, and he’s running back the way he came, hot on Dennis’ heels.
The shout nearly stops his heart.
“I’d best not see you at the market tomorrow, boys!”
He chances a glance over his shoulder to see a stooped figure on the back porch of the cottage, just standing there watching them. Before he can get a better glimpse, Colin is behind him, shoving him between the shoulder blades until they’re a good long way under the cover of the trees. Finally, they stop as a group, panting and victorious. Dennis raises his hand over his head and crows, honeycomb clutched in his glove.
“Lucky it was just old man Watson there,” Brady pants with a grin.
Michael frowns. “Why?”
Colin chuckles. “’Cos he just lets us at it, s’long as his bees aren’t too agitated. It’s Holmes you have to watch out for; he likes to booby trap the hives.”
Michael’s eyebrows come together in consternation. “He doesn’t mind stealing from him?”
“S’not stealing,” Dennis assures him, taking a bite of the fresh honeycomb. “He gives it out free at Saturday market anyway.”
Michael rolls his eyes. “Sounds like a bit of a patsy to me.” Taking a bite of his own prize, he grins. “But he does make good honey.”
The second time he sees old man Watson, it’s on an errand for his mother.
“Two jars of honey, dear,” she says with a wide smile as she hands him a ten-pound note. “And make sure to thank Dr. Watson politely. Don’t be a bother!” With that, she sends him on his way.
His feet kick up dust on the path as he makes his way up to the old cottage, and he can almost feel the dread building up on the soles of his trainers, making each step that little bit harder to take. What if Dr. Watson remembers him from the honey heist? What if Colin was wrong about the man? His mind conjures up clouds of bees that chase him down through the trees and sting him to death, directed by an angry old man with fire in his eyes, and he’s about ready to turn on his heel and face his mum’s wrath when he realises he’s on the porch and the door is looming up as though it’s about to fall from its hinges and crush him. And he can’t really turn back now, because someone’s probably seen him through the window and he’s just going to look like a ninny if he leaves now. But he can’t quite rouse himself enough to actually make his presence known—he ends up scuffing his trainers relentlessly into the bare wood of the porch, thumbing the tenner in his pocket and debating what would be the lesser of two evils.
“Quit muckin’ about,” he finally mutters to himself, raising his fist and knocking twice. He tells himself it’s not as hesitant as it sounds.
“Just a mo’!” a voice calls from inside, and Michael hears shuffling and a muffled thump before the door finally cracks open and a face appears, expectant eyes set in a kindly face and a smile that screams polite interest. “What d’you need, lad?”
Michael scuffs his trainers one last time before forcing himself to stand still. “My mum sent me for some honey, sir. Two jars.” He congratulates himself that his voice doesn’t crack.
Dr. Watson’s smile widens as he pulls the door back further. “Well then...?"
“Michael,” he says hastily at the leading tone.
The man nods his head sharply. “Michael. Come in, no use waiting outside.”
He hesitates for a moment before finally stepping over the threshold. He can’t honestly think of any polite way to turn down the man’s request. Maybe Dr. Watson doesn’t recognise him from the heist.
The cottage is relatively small; a short hallway stretches from the sitting room that Dr. Watson leads him into, with two doors leading off it. The kitchen bleeds seamlessly from the foyer, distinguished only by the presence of a small round dining table and the edge of the rug spread over the middle of the sitting room.
“Tea?” Dr. Watson enquires from his place by the cooker. “Just finished making some for myself, there’s plenty.” He lifts the kettle invitingly, and Michael knows he can’t turn it down politely, so he nods. “Don’t be shy, lad. Take a seat!”
Michael sinks into the middle of the ratty-looking sofa, feeling the cushion dip beneath him like it’s ready to simply let him fall all the way through to the floor. But, thankfully, it holds, and he feels himself relax into it as Dr. Watson hands him a steaming cup. Something about the sofa simply doesn’t let him sit as ramrod-straight as he originally desired, but he can’t say he minds much.
He takes a hesitant sip of the tea before looking up, unsure what to expect. Dr. Watson is simply sitting in the overstuffed armchair to his right, a small smile on his face and eyes closed in enjoyment as he sips his tea.
Five minutes pass in silence.
Michael clears his throat slightly as he puts down his finished teacup. “Sir?”
Dr. Watson’s eyes blink open. “Yes, Michael?”
He shifts slightly, uncomfortably. “Mum’s probably expecting me back soon...” He scratches at the back of his head nervously.
“Oh, of course!” Dr. Watson sets down his tea and heaves himself out of the chair, wandering into the kitchen and opening a cupboard. He comes back a moment later with two large jars of golden honey, and one smaller fist-sized jar. He sets them on the coffee table in front of Michael and goes back for a bag, slipping the three jars inside of it.
The boy bites his lip. “I... only need the two jars, sir,” he says quietly, pulling out the tenner from his pocket. “It’s all she gave me enough for.”
Dr. Watson simply flaps his hand nonchalantly. “Consider it a gift,” he replies with an easy smile. As Michael hesitates, the man holds out the bag and gently takes the note from his hand. “If you insist on paying, just come and visit every once in awhile. It’s nice to see some local boys around here.” And there’s a shrewd little gleam in his eye that tells Michael he knows exactly who was involved in the honey heist, and Michael can’t help but flush slightly and stare at his shoes, thanking the man and taking the bag.
As Dr. Watson shows him out the door with a guileless smile and a warm farewell, Michael finds himself agreeing to stop by again next week.
The first time he encounters Mr. Holmes is an experience he’ll likely never forget.
He’s already heard plenty about the man—after all, the very first conversation he ever has with Dr. Watson over tea the week after his first true meeting with the man is initiated by his inquiry after the simple gold band on the doctor’s finger.
“This? It’s my wedding ring,” he replies easily. Michael frowns. “And before you ask where the good Mrs. Watson is, she doesn’t exist, though I would love to see the look on Sherlock’s face if you called him that. No, it’s just John Watson and Sherlock Holmes.” At Michael’s confused look, Dr. Watson elaborates. “Sherlock never really agreed with the whole ‘name-mashing’ thing, as he calls it. He always insists that no one needs two last names. And to change it entirely is outrageous, he says! Why would you trade your name—it’s not like a wedding ring changes who you are!” He leans forward conspiratorially. “If you ask me, ‘John Holmes’ and ‘Sherlock Watson’ are rather silly sounding anyway, wouldn’t you agree?”
Michael can’t help but nod, somewhat dumbfounded.
But it’s nothing compared to his actual meeting with the man.
It’s a sunny August afternoon nearly three weeks after his first voluntary visit to the cottage, and Dr. Watson—please just call me John, Michael. I’m not a doctor anymore, and certainly not quite old enough that my first name isn’t on record!—is just stirring a bit of honey into his tea as the man ponders where to continue the story they left off with three days previous.
Suddenly, the cups rattle in their saucers as what sounds like an explosion tears through the trees behind the house. Michael dives to the side, sure that something is about to rip through the cottage. It’s only when silence reigns that he peeks out from under his arm.
John is sitting in his chair, serenely sipping his tea as though nothing happened. When Michael looks at him incredulously, he merely blinks and glances toward the window. “Sherlock’s home.”
A moment after that pronouncement, the back door opens, and a gangly figure steps inside. Michael sits up straighter as he tries to get a better look, only to freeze as the tall man’s bright eyes lock onto his. The man freezes as well, and both stare at each other as though it’s the strangest thing they’ve ever seen.
John continues to sip his tea.
“John. There’s a child in my house.”
“Yes, Sherlock,” he answers serenely, flipping through the newspaper on the coffee table. “His name is Michael.”
“...Why is he in my house?”
“If you had bothered to come home earlier, you would know.”
Sherlock snorts, breaking eye contact and stepping further into the cottage. Michael blinks and lets his gaze wander, only for his eyes to widen as he takes in the state of the tall man. He is dressed in what appears to be a simple shirt and black pants, but he can’t quite tell—both are spattered with large red streaks and small oblong bits, of which Michael really doesn’t want to know the origin. The man’s hair is standing nearly on end, and his face bears streaks of both the previous red and blotches of what appears to be ash. “I was home earlier,” he’s saying primly. “You were out, so I went to test something.”
John finally looks up from his newspaper, grimacing as he sees the state of his husband. “What were you testing?”
“The blast radius of an explosive device in a stomach.”
John’s tone is long-suffering. “Sherlock, please tell me you didn’t—”
“Just a dog. Got it from the Gartlands. An old mutt they found dead behind their shed last Friday and didn’t know what to do with.”
He sighs. “Go get cleaned up, then. And if you disturbed the hives this time, so help me—”
Sherlock flaps a hand disdainfully. “The bees are fine.” With that, he steps into the bathroom and closes the door.
John glances over at Michael with a smile. “He’s always like that,” he says in response to the boy’s stare. “Now where were we...?”
Michael tries not to be too obtrusive as he sits in the middle of the sofa, wringing his hands every now and again, eyes trying to look anywhere but the strange man puttering around the kitchen area. He would have preferred to simply turn and walk back down the path when it appeared that John wasn’t at home, but a sigh and oh you might as well come in, he’ll just be irritable if I turn you away, he’ll be back soon enough brought him straight into the cottage and onto the sofa.
“Are you going to tell her?”
Michael jumps at the unexpected question, staring confusedly at Sherlock, who hasn’t stopped working on whatever it is he’s cutting into progressively smaller pieces. Eventually, the man looks up.
“The test. Are you going to tell your mother?”
Michael’s eyes widen in shock. “How do you...?”
Sherlock snorts and fixes him with a sharp stare. “You’re right-handed—obvious from the calluses on your fingers and your general favouring of it. You have a nervous twitch in the middle finger of that hand; possibly due to discomfort, more likely due to a repetitive, stressful action, such as writing under a time limit. There’s a smudge of blue ink on your forehead; not transferred from your fingers—there’s nothing on them—and too distinct to be from another’s hands. Probably caused by resting your head on something with damp ink on it. So, a document that was recently written upon. That suggests something being written while stressed. There’s also a piece of paper in your pocket; standard blank printer paper, not something a child would be using to scribble on, and slightly crumpled, as though you have been handling it frequently in the past few hours. Possibly something from school for your mother—but it’s still in your pocket and you obviously haven’t forgotten it, so it must be something you don’t particularly want to give her. Typically that would be a failed assignment, but given the damp ink when you received it, more likely a test, one that was completed and marked quickly this past afternoon—either multiplication tables or spelling; both are incredibly simple to grade. So, are you planning on telling her, or are you going to hide it until your final grades?”
Michael’s eyes are impossibly wide and he knows his mouth is hanging open. Almost unconsciously, his hand reaches down and pulls the oft-handled piece of paper from his pocket, unfolding it and letting his eyes trail over the simple arithmetic—the answers on the upper half are slightly smudged from where he’d rested his head in hopelessness after writing answers that he knew were wrong—and to the bright red 3/10 scribbled in the upper right corner. Slowly, he raises his gaze to Sherlock, who is silently watching him like a hawk, an oddly smug look on his face.
It takes a moment to form words. “How... did you just...?” He looks down at the test and then back up a few more times, before a wide grin abruptly splits his face. “That was... that was brilliant!” Sherlock blinks and and a strange look crosses his face, but before he can say anything, Michael is already up and off the sofa, moving to stand on the other side of the table across from the man. “How did you do that? That was so amazing; did you really know all that just by looking at me? I can’t believe it! Can you teach me? Please?”
Sherlock looks utterly taken aback, his eyebrows drawn together and a perplexed look in his eyes. Slowly, he lowers his hands to the tabletop and cocks his head to one side. Michael shifts from foot to foot, suddenly growing uncomfortable under the gaze that feels like it’s dissecting him—and it probably is, now that he thinks about it. But he remains resolute, clutching the test in his hand and staring up through his bangs at the man, because that was an absolutely brilliant trick and he can’t even begin to think of how many people he could impress, being able to do something like that.
“...You are a peculiar child,” Sherlock finally decides, before his nose crinkles in the oddest way. “Maybe that’s why John likes you so much.” With that, he moves back to sifting through the pile of debris he’s finished creating. A minute passes before he looks up again. Michael hasn’t moved; it’s a trick he learned to use on his mother. The longer he waits without moving, the more likely he is to get an answer to his questions. Finally, Sherlock makes a strange huffing sound, and the smallest of smiles—barely even there, and if Michael hadn’t been watching closely he would have missed it—twitches the corners of his lips upwards.
“It’s all a matter of simple observation...”
He finds John in the yard late one afternoon, humming to himself as he works carefully around the hives littering the back lawn. Sherlock is leaning casually against the porch banister, a book in his long-fingered hands. He offers Michael a nod of greeting before returning to his perusal of the pages—though how much he is actually reading, Michael isn’t sure, as he seems to spare a great many glances towards his husband.
John catches sight of him a moment later, and a large smile crosses his face as he raises the hand that isn’t occupied with the bee smoker. “Just a moment!” he calls. He slides the frames he’s been inspecting back into its slot and replaces the lid of the hive before lifting the smoker one last time and making his way over to the cottage. With a contented sigh, he removes the gloves from his hands and the bee veil on his head.
“Perfect timing, lad,” John says with a toothy grin. “I was just getting to the point where I’ll need an extra set of hands.”
Michael blinks and looks uncertainly between Sherlock and John. “Extra hands for what?”
John gestures toward the bee hives, and Michael’s eyebrows come together, glancing over at Sherlock again. The man’s mouth is drawn down in what could almost pass as a pout. “Don’t mind him,” says John, flapping his gloves toward his husband. “He’s just being a nark because he can’t help today. Did an experiment with ammonia and mercaptans yesterday that blew up rather spectacularly. The smell won’t come off his skin for a few days.” The tone is annoyed, but the look the older man is giving Sherlock is more fond exasperation than anything else. “The bees don’t like that sort of thing, so I was hoping you would pop in today.”
Michael bites his lip, but the offer is too tempting to pass up. Just as he’s nodding in agreement, he feels something drop onto his head. Blinking through the mesh now falling in front of his face, he turns to see Sherlock leaning back against the porch, his hand dropping back to his side and snatching up a pair of gloves. Michael just barely manages to catch them as they’re tossed his way.
“Well, get on with it,” Sherlock grouses a moment later, nose once more buried in his book. “The sun won’t be up forever.”
“As if you pay attention to when the sun sets,” John parries, earning himself a warm glare that speaks of a long-standing joke between the two. With that rejoinder, John dons his own bee veil, puts a firm hand on Michael’s shoulder, and steers him out towards the bee hives.
Four hours later, as the sun sets, Michael makes his way back down the path to town, his belly full of Sherlock’s (rather sub-par but still edible, and it’s the thought that counts, really) food and his mind full of the strange and fascinating particulars of beekeeping.
Sometimes he wonders how two married men can be so entirely non-demonstrative. In fact, sometime he wonders if the wedding rings are just for show, so no one will figure out that they’re really just two blokes who like spending time together, or as an excuse to be able to live and work together without having people talk. One time he even entertains the thought that maybe it’s just some kind of scam to get that married couples’ allowance that his parents are always whinging about during tax season.
But then one day he’ll catch some small gesture that he almost misses—a fleeting brush of Sherlock’s hand on John’s shoulder; a quick nudging of elbows while passing in the kitchen; an impossibly fast meeting of eyes that seem to communicate an entire conversation in milliseconds. Sometimes he even gets the impression that the two are only speaking out loud for his benefit; if he weren’t there, nothing would be said and yet they would still communicate as clearly as if they had spoken aloud.
And he realises that love doesn’t have to be noticeable or showy, like his own parents or that teenage couple across the street. Because if what Sherlock and John have isn’t love, then he doesn’t know what is.
“Are... are you sure it works?”
“Of course. It’s simple, and you don’t have to be there when it goes off. Even you can’t get it wrong.”
“But what if—”
The sound of the front door opening interrupts them, and they both turn to see John stepping through it, his arms laden with two large market bags. He pauses in the doorway when he sees them, taking in the array of bottles and beakers set on the kitchen table.
“Sherlock... what are you doing?”
“Experimenting,” Sherlock says quickly. John’s eyes narrow and his gaze moves to Michael as he’s surreptitiously trying to wipe the last traces of tears from his face. The man’s eyes widen and he sets his bags down on the couch, moving to kneel in front of the boy and take in his flushed face and forlorn eyes.
“What on earth did you do?” John demands of his husband, who immediately takes a step back and opens his mouth to deny the accusation.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Michael interrupts, scrubbing roughly at his cheeks in an effort to erase the evidence of his weakness.
John looks between the two of them for a moment before standing once more. “What happened?”
“The boys at the comprehensive aren’t particularly fond of him,” Sherlock says mildly. John looks sharply at him before returning his gaze to Michael.
“Are they bullying you?” Michael scuffs his trainer on the floor and looks away before finally nodding. John sighs. “Do your teachers know?” Michael shakes his head. John runs a hand over his face.
“I’ve already found a solution, John,” Sherlock cuts in. The man looks up at his husband with a frown, to see him pointing at an array of ingredients lined up next to one another, ready to be poured into what looks like a plastic ball. John moves closer, his eyebrows drawing together as he studies them.
“Are you making... stink bombs?” he asks incredulously. Sherlock nods regally, while Michael averts his eyes and scuffs his feet again. “Are you honestly going to use stink bombs against a group of seventh years?” When no reply is forthcoming, John sighs loudly. “No. No, absolutely not.”
Michael’s face crumples, and Sherlock’s glare is flat. “You’re going to just let them—”
“You’re going about this entirely wrong,” John interrupts. “Stink bombs aren’t the way to go. Too noticeable.” Michael’s eyes widen, and he looks up to see a wicked gleam suddenly enter the normally placid old doctor’s eyes. “Now, the old Mentos-and-cola trick, that’s a real gem. All you need is a bit of twine...”
His heart is pounding in his ears and his vision is swimming as he frantically rolls onto the grass. The world is a haze of black -yellow bodies and impossibly loud buzzing and startling red pain. It feels as if something is clawing away at his skin, and he shouts and flails, throwing his hands wide in an attempt to throw off the burning pain. Suddenly it’s hard to breathe and there’s smoke everywhere and pressure on his arms and he throws his head back and kicks out, sobbing his panic and desperation to the sky as his vision swims in and out, black to green to blue and he can’t breathe—
And then there’s two firm hands cupping his chin, and a voice is shouting LOOK AT ME and he finds his gaze captured by impossibly vibrant eyes. He can’t look away, captivated, his mind latching onto the one thing to the exclusion of all else. Slowly, laboriously, his heart begins to calm, and his head stops spinning quite so sickeningly, even though adrenaline and fear still pump through his veins like acid.
Finally, it’s like a spell is broken, and he looks away from those eyes—Sherlock’s eyes—to find that he’s somehow been moved to the back porch and set on the stoop. John has his arm in hand, already studiously scraping off the stingers lodged near his elbow. White hot pain is radiating from the cluster of three stings, and when John moves to the one on his wrist, Michael cries out, feeling more tears push their way out of his eyes and down his cheeks. John is hissing through clenched teeth as he pulls out a tube of cream and bandages from the first aid kit he seems to have materialised from somewhere, muttering—not sure what set them off and it’s been years, they know him by now and panic attack, thank god it’s not anaphylactic shock—while inspecting the inflamed wounds. Michael tries to ignore the large hands holding him steadily from behind. He tries to ignore the flares of pain from his arm that race white-hot up to his brain. But most of all, he tries to ignore the low hum from the yard that suddenly fills him with such an unfathomable dread and sets his heart to racing at such a pace that he nearly vomits from the force of it.
He knows he can’t go back out there. And he doesn’t want to.
He barely manages to hold in his scream the first time he’s making a sandwich and finds a pair of eyeballs floating in the jar that had previously held the pickles. As it is, the sound that escapes his mouth is somewhere between a choked cough and a garbled “John!”
John glances up from The Guardian at the sound, and his eyebrows come together. “Sherlock?” he calls out.
“Yes?” comes the response from the back room.
“I would have thought Donovan was done asking you for help.”
“Ha! His mother never stopped until she signed her resignation.”
“That was seven years ago.”
“That’s beside the point. Her son got the job, he gets what comes with it.”
“What, a crotchety old man in Sussex solving his cases for him?”
John returns his gaze to Michael. “Just put them back where you found them, son. It’s for a case.”
Michael silently returns the jar to the refrigerator and doesn’t comment.
He ends up sleeping on the sofa one evening after helping pasteurise honey in the back room late into the afternoon and sharing a delicious pot roast John put together to celebrate his graduation from sixth form the week before. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and he sleeps deeply.
Sometime in the middle of the night, he wakes. Blinking into the darkness, he isn’t sure what woke him until he hears it again—a low note coming from somewhere else in the cottage. Eyebrows coming together in a frown, he sits up in time to hear another pitch join the first. As he stands, the notes begin to move, weaving a slow, soft counterpoint through the darkness. Curious, Michael follows the music down the hallway and opens the door to John and Sherlock’s bedroom just a crack, peering cautiously inside.
Sherlock is standing at the foot of the bed, his stance balanced perfectly on the balls of his feet and his arms raised. Tucked under his chin is a violin, russet wood gleaming in the light of the bedside lamp. Slender fingers dance smoothly over the fingerboard as the bow teases sounds from the strings. Both violin and bow are extensions of his arms that just happen to produce music when brought together. His eyes are closed in pure enjoyment, more relaxed than Michael has ever seen him.
Beside on the bed sits John, legs crossed at the ankle, one knee just brushing the side of Sherlock’s leg. In his hands is a clarinet, and as he breathes through the instrument, it’s turned into a being of sound indistinguishable from the player. The melody flows through the violin’s song, weaving a flawless harmony.
They breathe as one, eyes closed, a being of two parts, improvising through nothing more than instinct and intimacy born of years spent as an inseparable whole. And the music soars through the cottage, seeping into its very foundations and turning the night into a velvet dream.
Michael backs away from the door, feeling an inexplicable sense of intrusion, but he leaves it open just a crack as he makes his way back to the sofa, and the music weaves its way into his dreams as he falls back into slumber.
The wedding isn’t particularly spectacular, and it feels like it’s over in the blink of an eye. Before he knows it, he and his bride are in the midst of a well-wishing mob that gradually spills out between the rows and onto the street.
Two figures are leaning side-by-side next to the entrance of the small church, and he immediately turns toward them, giving Anna a gentle shoulder squeeze and promising he’ll be right back. He catches a number of people whispering—first time in ages; haven’t seen them outside their cottage; just for the market, really—but he ignores them in favour of grinning at the two men before him.
“Very nice service,” John says with a wide smile, shaking Michael’s hand firmly before pulling him into a one-armed hug. Michael hugs him back gently, but warmly. Sherlock offers him a nod over John’s shoulder, the lines on either side of his mouth pulled up slightly in what amounts to a grin on the tall man’s face. “Congratulations,” John continues as he pulls back. “We’re happy for you.”
Michael grins, feeling his heart soar. “Thank you for coming.”
Sherlock purses his lips. “It’s not as though John would have let me stay home,” he grumbles, but there is a certain warmth to his voice that says it wasn’t necessarily only John who was excited for the event, though he’d never admit to feeling such a mundane, trite emotion, feeling vicariously happy for someone else; nonsense. Michael simply rolls his eyes at the man.
“Well, I’m grateful nonetheless,” he says. “Are you coming to the reception?”
John and Sherlock share a strange look before the shorter man shakes his head. “No, we’d best get back to the cottage. Don’t want to be walking in the dark.”
“Well, if you’re sure.” Michael gives them both a firm handshake and a smile before they disappear into the crowd with a speed that seems almost impossible for men of their years.
Later, as they are listening to the toasts of family and friends, Anna puts a hand on his arm. “Do you hear that?” she asks. He turns his head slightly and listens for a moment, and there it is. “It’s a Suite Hebraïque,” she breathes quietly, letting her eyes fall half-shut in enjoyment. “My mother used to listen to those all the time. I wonder who’s playing it.”
Michael feels a swell of contentment as the sounds of the violin and clarinet drift quietly from the street below.
“John, I can’t. I just... can’t.”
“Come now, lad. I can use the help. These old hands just don’t work as quickly as they used to.”
His heart is pounding in his ears in a familiar way as John places a veil and a pair of gloves in his hands. “You don’t understand, I’m not—”
“You know how. You did it for years.” Michael turns his head to see Sherlock coming up behind him, cane thumping on the wood of the porch and bee veil already donned. The old man fixes him with a hard stare as he leans the cane against the stoop. “It’s about time you got back to it.”
He feels a hand on his shoulder, and turns back to meet John’s kind gaze. “What he’s saying is we’d enjoy your company again.” A warm smile crinkles the deep crows’ feet at the corners of his eyes. “Besides, there’s only so much we can do in our advancing years. Even we won’t be around forever, and then it’ll be your job.” The casual wink makes the comment almost comical, and Michael can already feel his neck muscles relaxing.
Finally, he nods. “Alright.”
Sherlock snatches the bee veil out of Michael’s hands and unceremoniously plops it on the young man’s head. Michael offers him a short glare before donning the gloves. John’s hand is still warm on his shoulder as he takes a deep breath and steps toward the hives. The humming that used to be a comfort as a child sends chills of fear down his spine.
Advice from years long past springs to his mind. Don’t show fear. They can smell it. Just relax; think of them like little floating dust motes. They can’t hurt you. Except they can and he can already feel his heart pumping—pushing violent butterflies through his veins, fluttering wings trying to break through capillaries and finding rest in his stomach, where they dart back and forth with enough force to make him want to lose his breakfast. Phantom pains from years ago race up his arm, making him twitch and long to turn back. But still he moves inexorably forward, toward innocuous-seeming boxes laid out across the lawn. Finally, they arrive by the nearest hive, and John is smoking out the bees and Michael can feel a surge of panic, memory running overdrive. Sherlock is pulling off the lid of the hive, and the lazy hum of lethargic honeybees crescendos like the angry cry of a mob. “John, I—”
But the old man shushes him, putting a reassuring hand on his back and leading him through long-unpractised but never-forgotten motions. “You’ll be fine, lad.”
And he is.
He likes to think he knew it would happen before it did—well, not precisely the when, but he certainly anticipated the how, and the why was just common sense from there.
The two caskets lay side by side on the green summer grass as the local pastor recites a small prayer of thanks—he hears snatches of long, happy lives and joy to those who knew them and great reward in heaven—and the sun streams through the rustling summer trees around the back of the old cottage. The hum of the hives a half-acre to the left provides blissful ambiance to the scene. It’s almost improper in its cheeriness; in fact, Michael pauses for a moment and muses that the picture created in the late afternoon is more fitting for a wedding than a funeral. And perhaps it is.
A small crowd of people is gathered on rickety old metal chairs set in haphazard rows. There are more than he expects, but less than he thinks the two deserved. Most of the boys from his youth—those that haven’t moved away by now—are there, sad smiles on their faces, some with spouses and babies in their arms. There are a few other villagers who’ve shown up to pay their respects and share a few happy—or at the very least, chaotic—memories. He can easily pick out the little contingent from London—they all wear suits and black dresses, as if they expected some kind of formal gathering in a church with choirs singing on balconies and somber processions through streets crowded with mourners. He almost laughs when Detective Reagan Donovan introduces himself seriously and says what an honour it was to know them and blathers on about similar things that Michael doesn’t bother to listen to.
A few other official-looking men and women pass by him with handshakes and well-wishes for the chief mourner, but the only one he pays attention to is a little octogenarian at the back of the lineup who steps forward after the others have found their seats. Her hair is tied up in a wispy knot on the back of her head, a silver bob streaked with what might have been hints of auburn if he went back about three decades. Her dress isn’t black or somber in any way; in fact, Michael finds himself smiling at the blatant cheeriness of the flower print curling around the woman’s tiny frame. She leans lightly on a simple wooden cane and stares up at him for a moment before offering him a radiant smile that splits her wrinkled face like the sun through clouds.
“I can see why they liked you,” she says simply, a sparkle in her green eyes. Then she pats his arm with a fond little hum and shuffles to her seat.
The service is short and sweet. They were old enough that most of their peers had passed on long before them, something that the elderly lady—call me Molly, dear—finds great pleasure in extolling as a miracle, given their long and varied careers as death-defying daredevils without a care for their own safety, the great prats. Detective Donovan offers a short speech that is quite obviously practised and rather impersonal, but no one really cares. There are a few letters from others in London who pass on their condolences and regrets—most notable is Alex Lestrade, writing on behalf of his grandfather. A number of villagers step up to say a few words—best honey I’ve ever tasted; always ready to talk, he was; caused a racket, but at least it kept the feral dogs away—and then it’s over, and the caskets are laid to rest in the small graveyard south of the village. It’s the only time he sees Molly cry, and even then she has a smile on her face, telling him that no one expected them to actually pass on naturally, but there they go again, ruining all those lovely expectations everyone had for them.
The wake is lively; more of a joyful affair than a mourning one, celebrating two long lives led in relative peace—at least, as close as the two ever came to peace in the way that everyone else liked to think of it. At the end, Michael stands. He raises his glass in a toast, and watches as everyone—even the hesitant London crowd—raises their own wine with him.
“To Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.” Two men whose lives were so entwined that to die in any way but together would have been a crime against the very fabric of nature.
The humming of the bees sounds almost like a choir as they drink.