“William? Are you up here?”
He almost didn’t answer, but then he recognised the voice and realised just who it was quietly climbing the stairs to the attics. “Yes, I’m here,” he mumbled.
A moment later, a tall thin man wearing a bright green shirt under his coat and a canary yellow cravat tied loosely around his neck stepped into the room. He was carrying a narrow box under one arm. Instead of his dark hair being oiled into submission, the dark curls were allowed to spring freely around his head and he was smiling. “Here you are then, William, my bright and shining lad.”
“Sherlock,” he mumbled.
Uncle Rudy came closer and sat cross-legged on the floor next to him. “Beg your pardon?”
“I want to be called Sherlock, not William. Please,” he added belatedly, knowing that Mummy would be pleased by the courtesy.
“Oh, well, that is a rather magnificent decision, especially for an almost five-year-old to make. Sherlock is a much more interesting name than William.”
They sat in silence for a moment, before Uncle Rudy asked, “Why are you hiding up here in the attics?”
“Not hiding,” Sherlock objected. “Thinking.”
“Ah, I see.” Uncle Rudy set the box down. “On a completely different subject, I saw Mycroft skulking about with those cousins of yours. They all seemed to be very pleased with themselves.”
Sherlock really didn’t want to talk about what his cousins had done to him. “Mycroft is a fat idiot,” he said instead. While his brother had not actually participated in the prank, neither did he do anything to stop it. And he had laughed a bit.
Uncle Rudy tried to hide his smile, but could not quite manage it, so Sherlock frowned at him. “Ah, well, never mind that,” the man said. “I’ve brought you a Christmas gift.” Using one finger, he pushed the box closer to Sherlock.
Sherlock reached out a hand, then hesitated. “Mummy said we must wait until tomorrow for gifts,” he said.
“But you and I are pirates, right? We live by the laws of the sea.”
Still the hand hovered. “Do pirates open gifts on the night before?”
Uncle Rudy nodded seriously. “Once they have finished pillaging and burying their treasure, yes, indeed. It’s a well-known fact.”
Finally, Sherlock lifted the lid from the box and pulled aside the brown paper until he uncovered a wooden doll dressed in the uniform of a soldier in Her Majesty’s forces. A pair of bright eyes stared back at him quite cheerfully, despite the serious expression on the soldier’s face. Sherlock lifted the doll out carefully. “Does he have a name?” he asked softly.
“That’s up to you, I think,” Uncle Rudy replied.
Sherlock considered the doll carefully. “I shall call him Captain,” he finally announced.
Uncle Rudy raised a curious brow. “Just Captain?”
“Yes.” Then Sherlock seemed to remember his manners again. “Thank you very much, Uncle Rudy,” he said.
“You are very welcome, favourite nephew of mine. I hope the Captain will be a good friend to you.” There was a faint note of something that Sherlock could not quite understand in his uncle’s voice. It almost sounded as he were sad.
“He is my best friend,” Sherlock said firmly.
Now, Uncle Rudy smiled. “Good. I am very glad. Everyone needs a best friend.” He lifted his hand and touched the doll’s cheek lightly.
“Have you a best friend?” Sherlock asked.
“I did have one once, yes, but he was a soldier, too, and had to go far away.” He poked at Sherlock’s arm. “So now I am stuck with you, Master Sherlock.”
They were both quiet briefly, then Uncle Rudy pushed himself to his feet. “Your mother asked me to tell you that there was freshly baked gingerbread and milky tea waiting if you decide to rejoin the world.”
“I do like gingerbread,” Sherlock admitted.
“Well, then, you best make haste before your plumpish brother gobbles it all up.”
Sherlock giggled. “I’ll be there in a minute,” he promised.
Uncle Rudy nodded and left.
After the sound of footsteps had faded and then disappeared, Sherlock clutched the doll more closely. “I never had a best friend before,” he whispered. “So I might not be very good at it, but I will try. And you will never have to go far away.”
Tucking the Captain under one arm, he headed down stairs for gingerbread and milky tea, feeling less alone than he had ever since his plumpish brother had gone away to school.