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A Boy's Best Friend

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When Sherlock was six-and-a-half years old, the world around him suddenly became a much less scary place--a place he wanted to explore and embrace and consume, not run away from. A place where he had a friend.

Mr. Holmes got the pup from a family a few miles away who advertised in the local paper for a "good home for lively, loving Irish Setter." He considered getting Mycroft one of the other puppies in the litter, but his older son usually sniffed and grumbled when asked to help take care of the wounded rabbits and birds that Mr. Holmes sometimes brought home after a ramble in the woods. Sherlock always helped his father nurse the animals, fascinated by their anatomies and behaviors--at the age of four, even taking it upon himself to make a splint for the broken leg of a baby hedgehog. Sherlock named the pup Redbeard after a fierce and noble pirate he saw in a book Mycroft brought home from school.

Furry creatures weren't really Mycroft's cup of tea--nor his mother's. They both lived deskbound, cerebral lives--sometimes not leaving the little library at the back of the cottage for days on end during Mycroft's school vacations. They fussed and debated and argued over mathematics, politics, and precisely the best blend of lapsang souchong.

But Mr. Holmes couldn't be asked to sit still. He liked to dance and run and march about the house playing his clarinet. And most of all he liked to stretch his long legs and go out into the world to see what sort of shocking nonsense people were getting up to. 

Soon after the arrival of Sherlock's canine friend, Saturday and Sunday afternoons became times for adventuring together. "Come, come, Sherlock! The game is on! Put on your coat and let's go!" Mr. Holmes took Sherlock by the hand, whistled for the pup to follow, and off they went to the churchyard or the riverside or up and down the alleys of the town.

Frequently, after investigating an apothecary shop or searching for bugs and worms in a pond, Sherlock's father needed a little rest, so the three of them galloped to the park. There Mr. Holmes sat quietly on a bench while his son had some precious time alone with his friend.

In the park, Mr. Holmes often took out his notebook and pencil and composed a little tune, inspired by the music of his son's laughter and the staccato notes of the pup's high-pitched bark. He was careful not to chuckle too loudly as boy and dog rolled and jumped and tripped over each other in the grass, careful not to disturb Sherlock's imagination at work. Mr. Holmes watched as they played pirates and cowboys and Nazi hunters and conquistadores and travelers in outer space.

Early on, the sight of Sherlock smiling and chattering to the dog, just like any other "normal" boy, brought tears to his father's eyes. Sherlock was still "different," still thoroughly unique, to be sure. Still brutally taunted by other children. And he still spent many hours each day isolated in the labyrinth of his own mind, where teachers, his parents, and even his clever brother could not follow.

But now, at last, there was a creature who could always communicate with him. A protector who could defend against the boys who bullied him along the path to school. And now Sherlock had an advocate who could chase Mycroft round and round the garden and nip at his ankles when he tried to be a bossy git or steal Sherlock's army of origami dragons. Now he had Redbeard.

Whenever the town clock struck five, signaling that it was time to go home for supper, all three of the members of the Holmes Family Expeditionary Force were reluctant. But Mr. Holmes knew the consequences of tardiness and wasn't willing to risk his wife's frown of disapproval very often. He would stand up--giving Sherlock a five-minute warning to allow time to catch the Nazi commander or engage the thrusters and make it to the next galaxy. Then he'd put his notebook in his satchel and clap his hands with a laugh. "Come on now, come on lads! Setting sail for home!"

Running to the edge of the grassy oasis together, father and son would crouch down in an awkward embrace of each other and the pup, expressing their truest feelings, feelings they never said aloud when Mummy and Mycroft might hear and have cause to tease them. "Good boy, Redbeard! Good dog! I'll be your best friend forever and always take care of you!" Sherlock would laugh and kiss his father's cheek. "It's been the most brilliant day, Father!" And Redbeard would join the chorus with a yip, yip, yip, drowning out the final little catch in Mr. Holmes's voice. "And you're my brilliant boy, my dearest, dearest boy!"