She'd given the skull to him. That was when it all started, perhaps. And it hadn't really been hers to give. It had been evidence, had been Henry's, had been a victim's. But Sherlock Holmes was a boy who wasn't getting any gifts, at least not ones he liked, and he was lonely, and it wasn't her fault the police had missed it, was it? And she'd cleaned it off for him.
She'd seen Henry clean off bones before.
She was good at cleaning too.
Sherlock thought she was brave for having Henry executed. Even though she felt ashamed she'd not brought who he was to light earlier, Sherlock didn't judge her for it, which was nice, especially for Sherlock, as it turned out. He'd sat there, looked at her, read deep into her soul, and smiled. A bit of a creepy smile, and too wide, but she knew that came from lack of social skills and not from ill-intent.
He never declined her invitation to tea. When she mentioned she wasn't sure what adjusting to life back in London was going to be like, he reminded her she had his number. He'd quirked his lip a little, like he knew he could lead a poor old woman on if he wanted to, if she'd have been stupid enough to let him. And she wasn't. He deserved a good swatting for that lip quirk of his, and for the shape of his lips in the first place.
When she did get back to London, he was true to his word, keeping her company, being more dependable than he'd perhaps ever been to any other friends. It was just tea at first, of course. He rambled on about his cases, but it wasn't so bad. She became intrigued by his deductions, celebrating his triumphs with him and consoling him when he got something wrong.
This was how things were between them for years.
Mr Harrison, Sherlock's landlord, was one catalyst in bringing them closer. Mrs Hudson had been repelled by Sherlock's weird old experiments with body parts and chemicals for years. Of course she had! But when Mr Harrison yelled at her Sherlock about them, she couldn't help but want to defend Sherlock's right to be...well, a freak, but her freak anyway. He was a bit like Henry, if Henry had been a moral man.
"You're going to poison us all!" sputtered Mr Harrison. "Or else, you're going to snap and pick us off one by one. Probably stab us," he muttered, gesturing to the penknife stuck into the wall through a singed wall calendar.
Mrs Hudson looked hard at Mr Harrison. The way his eyes darted made it clear how uncomfortable he was to even be in Sherlock's flat.
"I'll be starting with you," Sherlock snapped, obviously hurt. She frowned at Sherlock for that, but she frowned at Mr Harrison for hurting Sherlock too. When the landlord glanced at her in turn, his quick flash of embarrassment upon seeing the frown became resolve.
"Are you threatening me?" he demanded of Sherlock.
"It's called sarcasm, Mr Harrison. Is sarcasm also not allowed under your roof?"
"Oi!" he pointed a finger at Sherlock. "You think you've got everyone under your thumb. Or, to be more precise, under your brother's thumb." Sherlock shifted uncomfortably at that. It was the first Mrs Hudson had heard of him having a brother. "But if you won't pay attention to my rules, I'm having you out of here by next rent day."
"That's in a twelve days!" Sherlock said, indignant.
"Enjoy your twelve days, then. Cause you'll probably be out on the streets from now on. Good luck finding another flat, with all this," he gestured to the damage Sherlock had done to the room which was, to be fair, glaringly noticeable.
Sherlock crossed his arms and stared at the table in front of him.
Mr Harrison turned to Mrs Hudson. "Pardon me, ma'am," he said. "I'm sorry to say this in front of you."
Mrs Hudson chuckled. She bet he was, for her sake. "Oh, don't be," she said with a deceptive lightness. He should have been embarrassed for Sherlock's sake, not hers. "I know he's trouble. He's trouble all over, him." A sting of hurt spread across Sherlock's distinctive features, pinking his cheeks in a way she'd never seen them color before. She quickly rested her hand on his arm. "The kind of trouble I'm fond of, though."
Sherlock frowned in deep confusion, looking over at her with depths of untold hope in his eyes. It was a hope that could so easily be extinguished. She'd never do that.
"You can come live in 221B," she assured Sherlock. "Nicer than here anyway."
Sherlock's face lit up, his eyes starting to gleam. He was plotting, she realized. Already, he was mapping out new experiments. And she would let him get away with more than Mr Harrison would; it couldn't be helped.
"One condition, though," she said firmly, grasping to a bit of control. After having physically sagged with relief turned excitement, Sherlock suddenly tensed up again.
"Oh?" Sherlock's lip twitched. "And what's that?"
She smirked. "You need to get yourself a flatmate." His eyebrows rose. "You deserve one," she said gently.
Sherlock and Mr Harrison both looked at Mrs Hudson as if she'd lost her mind. Likely, she had. Actually, she'd probably lost it back when she was with Henry.
She'd been sad to see Sherlock wither in his shabby flat, wasting away for days without food or sleep before catching up like a blur. He was lonely. He was ashamed of who he was. He was even scared sometimes, scared that he'd become like the men (and, occasionally, women) that he tried to track down and put behind bars. No, not tried; he failed at very little when it came to The Work.
He failed at more than most when it came to socializing, though. He told her things when she wasn't around and made her responsible for not having heard. He carried on without her sometimes when she was around, either by talking to himself or talking to the skull. God, that skull! What a bad idea, really, giving him that. He called it his best friend! He was desperate for human contact.
It'd do him good to have more humans in his life than just a tired, old lady he was most likely humoring. She instantly took a liking to Sherlock's first and only flatmate suggestion, Doctor John Watson. She hoped they'd become something more, even, because Sherlock could use with as much distracting as possible, and in all the time she'd known him he hadn't dated anyone. His hands were best when not kept idle, she knew.
She tried not to think too long about the potential wanderings of his expansive hands.
"You're jealous," she told him over biscuits. He'd been making crumbs out of his, when he'd normally have eaten at least one.
"No," he denied, defiantly taking a bite of the last whole biscuit on his plate.
"You are, Sherlock," she tutted, trying to indicate that it was okay to be jealous, to be human. "Do you want John for yourself?"
Sherlock's eyes snapped up to meet hers. "Of course!" he snarled at her, leaning in. She wasn't swayed by his advance, not one bit. She merely crossed her arms.
"Of course I do," said Sherlock after a moment. "He's my only...my only friend, and...he doesn't...." He sat back in his chair, eyeing her suspiciously. "It's not the same for him as it is for me," he said, exasperated.
She rested a hand on his shoulder. "Poor dear. My poor Sherlock. You know, I think he might be interested if you did ask him. You could try it."
"Ask him what?" he frowned into his mug. "What are you indicating?"
"Don't you want to go on a date with John?" she prodded.
Sherlock's eyebrows rose, and she felt she'd missed something big. "Who I want to date is immaterial, but I can assure you John isn't on that very short list. We're friends. I just...," he sighed heavily, shaking his head, "am very unused to this level of intimacy."
She placed another biscuit on his plate, then curled her hand around one of his. "It's alright, dear," she said, ignoring the incredulous widening of his eyes. "We'll get you some more friends, and then you might meet someone who'll tickle your fancy later on. Lord knows if John doesn't interest you, no one else you know possibly could." She chuckled.
Sherlock stared at her with his piercing eyes, growing very quiet. She couldn't read the expression, but it only confirmed that there was something she was missing. She felt a tingle of unease rise up and looked away to grab another biscuit, this one for herself. "It's impolite to stare," she said. He made her feel very silly sometimes.
"Also impolite to not let go of a man's hand," Sherlock said in a light challenge, gaze still locked on her. She glanced up, slowly removing her hand.
"Sorry, dear. Didn't realize," she said faintly.
"Neither had I," he admitted.
And he noticed nearly everything. She raised an eyebrow.
He started commenting on her clothes. He complimented her on the fit of them, on the shape of her body itself. She figured he thought that's what friends did, and it was at least polite and somewhat appropriate, so she let him keep on with it. She wasn't embarrassed much by it, but she wasn't glad of the attention either because it was so strange.
Eventually, he moved on. Unfortunately, what he moved on to was getting jealous over her love life like he got jealous over John's.
"Well, I'm sorry, Sherlock, I didn't realize I had to clear my dates with you," she said with bite. "It's your fault I'm trying again, you know, with all your compliments. There's a lot about me to compliment." She preened slightly.
Sherlock looked her up and down once before stalking over to his violin case and beginning to quietly play.
"You'll like him, if you give him a chance," she said gently.
He stopped playing with a screech, turning to look at her with blazing eyes. "I won't," he growled. The defiance in every muscle was enough to make her breath stop.
She coughed, brushing at her skirt. "Well, Sherlock, that's your choice. I'd like my boyfriend and my good friend Sherlock to get along, but if you can't give me a reason not to see him, I'll not have you interrupting my dates."
She'd regret her wording later.
Sherlock found a reason, and then he found another, and another. At her age, finding a boyfriend was hard enough. She didn't need Sherlock's manic counter-assistance.
When enough was enough, she came to him with tears in her eyes and demanded of him, "Why are you doing this, Sherlock? Why are you so cruel to me?" He looked away. "No, face me like a man," she pressed. "I need you to answer me, as my friend, as a boy I've come to cherish more than I ought." He did look up at her then.
His eyes were wary. Good that they were, since he'd done so much damage. It was good to know he cared.
"Why would you deny me some happiness?" she said.
He rose from his chair. He traced a fingertip over his lip thoughtfully. The gesture entranced her. Oh, his lips were attractive, yes. He frowned slightly, gaze shifting from looking through her to looking through the wall over her right shoulder.
He turned away and walked past her. He took refuge in his bedroom, turning the lock. She sighed heavily.
She didn't invite him to tea after that, but he cracked sooner than she could have imagined. After only three days, he showed up unannounced with a packet of biscuits. He tried to appear arrogant and unaffected, but his hands shook and she noticed it. His eyes darted around and were reluctant to meet her own.
"Sherlock," she said gently, trying not to smile at the sight, "you're forgiven. Come here, my sweet boy." She offered him a hug. He curled his arms around her, his breath sighing into her shoulder.
"Oh, Mrs Hudson," he exhaled into the soft fabric.
She patted his back gently. "Oh, Sherlock." Both were reluctant to part. "There, that's better, isn't it?" She reached for his packet of biscuits. "I'll make you your cup. And you'll have a bit of cake, won't you?"
"Did you make it?" he asked, finally pulling away a bit, but resting his hands on her shoulders, staring down at her.
She looked up at him, eyes narrowing slightly. "Yes, I did. New recipe. I'll cut you a slice, if you like." She waited until his hands slipped off of her shoulders. She noticed Sherlock bite his lip as he watched her move toward the cabinet to get plates.
"I'll wait to try it until after we've talked," he said, not as shaky as when he'd come in, but still looking unsure and more than a bit frightened.
She eyed him carefully. "Talked? What about, dear?"
He pushed his hands into the pockets of his coat, which he hadn't removed. "Mrs Hudson, I...I wish I could say I was sorry," he started.
"Aw," she said. "Well, I know you're sorry. You're emotionally stunted and all that, so I won't press. It's enough you came down," she said gently, pausing to make her voice firm as she added, "as long as you don't do that to me again."
"Oh, but I'm going to," Sherlock said boldly. "I'll definitely do it again." At her disbelieving expression, he shrugged. "I'll have to."
She looked at him, frowning. "Sherlock, these dates. They won't change things between us. You know that?"
He pulled his hands from his pockets to gesture. "Yes, exactly!"
She sighed, shaking her head at him. "Sherlock, you're not making any sense."
"I want things to change between us. Honestly, that's the point of all this."
She waited for him to elaborate. He was begging her to understand, but it didn't make sense to her at all. She shook her head slightly, going about fixing the tea and cake. "Well, I'm not going to be your housekeeper," she said plainly.
There was a soft, frustrated noise, and then Sherlock began to pace from the kitchen table to the bookshelf in the sitting room and back.
He looked so awkward and out of place pacing his straight line. "Dear, you're gonna work yourself into a tizzy if you keep this up. Have a seat and I'll bring this out to you."
Sherlock's jarringly cold eyes snapped to hers. "Shut up, Mrs Hudson," he said, and continued to pace.
She let him.
She brought out the tea and cake and set it all on the table. "So," she said. "You had something to say to me." He'd still not stopped pacing, but when she said this, he halted, turned toward her, and tilted his head slightly in consideration.
"Guess," he said.
She sighed, hoping he'd relent and tell her. He didn't, though.
"Sherlock, it's not right to put an old woman through all this," she informed a bit coolly.
"Ah, but you're not just any old woman," Sherlock said with a hint of praise. "You lived with a serial killer, if you'll recall. And you had the courage to speak up and to have him executed."
"Only cause I found your number," she pointed out.
"But you were the one who dialed it," he said in an oddly sensual tone.
Suddenly, he said, "I'll be off now, Mrs Hudson."
She stood, determination painted across her features and defining the set of her shoulders. "Well I can't let you leave, Sherlock. Not until you explain how you want things to change between us."
Finally, Sherlock gestured to her. "Housekeeping is definitely not the capacity I was referring to seeing more of you in, but I wouldn't mind if you kept my house, no. Now sit down, Mrs Hudson."
The bridge of his nose scrunched up and he shifted from foot to foot, chastised, looking down and saying nothing for an uncomfortably long pause.
She rolled her eyes, slinking back down into her chair. "Don't know why I thought you'd see me as more than that, as a friend, or even...I don't know." She stared at the pattern on her mug.
"What?" he pressed, stepping toward the table. She looked up. "As what?" he asked. There was a real gravity to his expression that she didn't like much. It didn't bode well.
"As a sort of second mum?" she tried. On his face, sudden disappointment appeared before melting into a quiet blankness. What had she said that had set that off? Surely he already knew she felt affectionately toward him.
"Is that what you think?" he asked, frowning slightly.
"Well, not anymore," she pointed out. "You doused that idea just now, didn't you? Why, what am I to you?"
Sherlock's face scrunched up and he began to pace again.
"If I had my way," he said, "You wouldn't be dating any of them."
"Well, obviously," she replied dryly.
Sherlock whipped around mid-step, facing her again, and growled, "Don't you see? They don't deserve you!"
She smoothed out the table cloth a bit where it had begun to wrinkle. "That, Sherlock, is none of your business." She eyed him. "If you had a date I didn't like, for some stupid made-up reason or another, I'd come to you about it out of concern for you, and not out of some stupid jealousy! You've sent me into crying over all this, I hope you know."
"Of course I know," Sherlock said, seeming to shrink. He swallowed, just staring at her for a moment until she began to feel a little unnerved. She was missing something again.
"Sherlock, I'm asking you all direct now. How do you want things to change between us?"
Sherlock turned away.
"You wouldn't like it."
"Now now, stop deducing me. I can decide what I'll like and won't like. You don't know everything about me."
Sherlock whipped around again. "Oh really, Mrs Hudson?" he said with an intense tone that made her lean back in her chair as if to put more distance between them. "Really? I can't possibly know that you'd think it was ludicrous, what I'm about to suggest?"
"No, you can't," she agreed, taking hold of her mug and having a sip. "You really can't. Leave that to me."
He rose up to his full height, raising his chin slightly. "Well the truth is, Mrs Hudson, that I can't stand them. Old and doddering and not at all deserving, lying to you or cheating on their wives or else retired," he said with a hint of a snarl. "You're too clever for them, and much too good-looking."
"Sherlock?" she asked, frowning at him.
"Hip aside, too spry too," he went on. "And then there's me. Look at me! I'm young. and I shouldn't care! But the girls that are young too, that are 'age-appropriate'?" He made quotes in the air. He shook his head firmly. "I can't go out with a woman who'll always be pining away at me, as though she needs to beg my attention. I simply can't. I need a counter, not a blind devotee. And you, Mrs Hudson...Martha Hudson...are nobody's devotee."His eyes were lit with the power a well-kept secret freshly displayed upon a pedestal of nerves.
She looked away. "Oh."
"You should be with me!" Sherlock said, voice rising. "You don't need them; they'll only slow you down."
Martha hudson blushed brightly, getting to her feet. The world was in sharper focus, just a bit. She smoothed out her skirt. "You're very sweet, Sherlock," she said. "But I'll just slow you down, see?"
Sherlock pleaded with his cool, bright eyes, sensing he was being rejected and that she wasn't going to change her mind, not unless he thought something up that was well beyond his current grasp anyway. And that would take time. "But I want to be slowed down," he said very quietly.
Mrs Hudson disappeared into the kitchen. Sherlock turned to watch her, eyes still sad but no longer very hopeful. This was what he got for bearing his soul, was it?
Mrs Hudson found a tin to put some of the cake in. She packed some inside with care, gently offering it to Sherlock when she pressed the lid on.
"Sherlock, I'm very flattered," she said, eyes honest. Of course she was flattered—he was gorgeous! But flattery was just flattery. He rubbed at the edge of his coat's sleeve with the fingertips of the same hand. "But I think when next you see me, you'll be in your right mind.
He slowly reached out for the tin, eyes locked on hers. She patted his left hand. "If you don't mind, I could ask some of my friends if they know of a young woman—or a young man?—who'd be interested in a clever, despite-all-odds sweet, funny man like you. For all I complain about your quirks, you do understand the things that matter."
Sherlock scowled at the remaining hint of her flush. He took a step back, raising his chin again, pulling his hand away from her touch and pulling the tin of cake up against his chest. "Oh, but not well enough for your standards, then?"
"I didn't say that, but if you're going to put words in my mouth, you know where the door is." She turned to gather the dishes he wouldn't be using.
He left without another word. Surprisingly, he did take the tin with him.
Somehow, Sherlock realized that his best course of action was to keep treating her like he thought she was special.
When he brought the tin back, he surprised her by asking her how to make his favorite cake. He'd been so genuinely flour-covered and dismayed when his cake followed the recipe and didn't live up to hers that she'd hugged him close, flour and all.
"It's good, Sherlock," she said. "It's not like mine, but you've never done this before. You can't excel at everything."
"Yes I can," he muttered.
She tapped him on the nose, causing him to pull a face. "Keep practicing, and you'll improve, as with anything. In the meantime, taste it again. It's good."
Then, there was the time he demanded she join him for a walk in the park. He complimented her glowing appearance and her ability to keep up with him. He was walking slower than normal, but that's what he said he wanted, being slowed down, so she didn't mind proving him wrong by slowing him down—surely he couldn't really want that!
"You know, walking at your pace," he said, chewing at his lip, "I...I enjoyed that more than usual. It's nicer out here than I'd recalled."
She'd laughed and tried to ignore how flattering that was. They were in dangerous territory. He should have been old enough to know what he needed, and what he didn't need, but if she had to be the logical one, she would. Even if she did like the flower he picked for her, and the way he said it brought out her eyes.
He let her do his colors for him, like she'd been explaining to Lestrade. He asked about the books she read. He dropped hints about dishes he enjoyed in hopes she might have him for dinner, and she did. The funny thing about his lack of eating was he adored her cooking.
One day at tea, while she'd been in the middle of explaining the plot of a soap opera he'd asked her about, he'd stopped her and said, "I can still see you desire me."
Her face flushed. "Aw, Sherlock. Not this again."
"I can read you like a book, Mrs Hudson, only I keep rereading you and I can't put you down." He visibly swallowed. "You're surprising, and I like knowing your secrets."
"Oh Sherlock," she said in a choked tone. Oh, they were supposed to be over that!
"Mrs Hudson...Martha. Just...a date or two?"
She nearly spoke, then faltered.
"You're the one always on about not discounting things before I try them," he said bitterly.
She busied herself with eating a bit more before sighing heavily. "Okay. But you're paying?"
"Yes, yes, of course," Sherlock said, sitting up a bit straighter, looking stunned. "Of course; that's how it's done, isn't it? Yes." He steepled his fingers together, resting them against his lips.
"You've never been on a date before," she said in amusement. She gazed at him with a bit of wonder. Well, even if it was a bad idea, it was just one date.
"It's one of those things I've yet to try, yes," he admitted, smiling softly. He looked beautiful.
"You'll know that I'm not as interested in...relations as I once might have been?" she said. A young thing was probably best for him. Surely there were young things like that Sally Donovan who could counter him? She was out, for the obvious reason of believing him to be dangerous.
Sherlock gave her a scathing look. "Are you trying to suggest that's all I'd want from you? I'd expect this from someone who was painfully dull and idiotic, but not from you. Don't you know me, Martha Hudson?"
She stared at him hard for a moment. He wasn't having her on. "Not to worry, dear," she said kindly. "I wouldn't put those words in your mouth."
Suddenly, she had a thought. She busied herself with grabbing a biscuit and then said, "Sherlock, are you only interested in me because I married a serial killer?"
Sherlock looked highly offended for a moment, and she feared he'd say something very cutting. She felt like he'd been one of the few people who hadn't thought her either guilty or pathetic in the situation with Henry.
Then, Sherlock's expression turned to one of warmth. "In a way," he said.
"Sherlock!" she said. "That's not fair to me. I'm more than that."
"Mrs Hudson," he offered his hand, and she carefully took it against her better judgment, "don't you think that someone as strange and hard to love as I am would find it reassuring that the woman who interests him has the strength of character to love a man who she had her suspicions about? And don't you think that someone would find strength in the fact that, despite all the horror of the situation, despite the fact the woman helped have that man killed, she still loved him and does to this day?" He released her hand, crossing his arms. "So, forgive me if I think that's somehow admirable or worth going after."
She sighed, shaking her head and ignoring the tears his touchingly real speech drew up in her eyes. "Okay, you clot. Let's set a time and place for our date. People are going to talk, you know."
Sherlock grinned at her, a happy sort of disbelief painted all over him. "People do little else," he said gently, "and there's nothing anyone could say that would keep it from all being worthwhile."
She flushed deeply. "Oh, shut up and have a biscuit," she said, smiling as he did as asked after a little bow.