“Our family was not a sentimental one, nor a terribly forgiving one. It was, however, a peculiar one, and one that is not overly concerned with the niceties and dictations of society. We are as we are, and will do as we must in order to maintain that.”
You have always been clever; you have known that since childhood, after an uncle chucked his meaty hand under your chin, looked at your face, and declared that your face would never win you any prizes, so you had better be especially sweet-tempered, and that with your dowry would win you a proper husband. You had stared at him with a frown on your face, and you said that any man who would be so foolish as to accept such an obviously-cultivated facade did not deserve one penny of whatever money you might bring him. You might have said more, angry and flush the way the very young are (once upon a time, you had some vanity about your own appearence: you have outgrown that long ago), if not for your brother’s intervention and your father’s lazily well-timed remark, your lady sister would have boxed your ears soundly for such a remark, Charles, and don’t let yourself forget that.
You have always been very lucky: your brother would leave his door cracked open when tutors came, so that you could linger outside to listen, and there were times where he tutored you himself–mostly, though, he simply left his texts lying where you could find them (and deliberately so: there is no way it could be any sort of accident; not in a family like yours), and did not ask for them back. There is a system: you read, you make notes, and eventually you return the books exactly where you found them. He never asks for them, but sometimes he engages you in discussion on what you have read.
Your father teaches you practical things; he agrees, nearly apologetically, that you are not a very pretty child, and never shall be, but he tells you your mother had been striking in her own way, and he says if you cannot be beautiful, then by God, let you at least be clever, and he teaches you the working and making of things, of how to properly use both pistol and hunting-rifle and the violin; he teaches you that you must listen, instead of merely hear, when someone speaks, even if it is not to you. You must observe rather than merely see. For your sixteenth birthday, nearly upon his deathbed, he cuts off the heavy plait of your braid with a knife and gives it to you to burn, and he tells you that he is glad that he will be able to tell your mother about you, and that she will be glad to hear of you. At this point in your life, you are hardly the sort of person who can be moved by sentiment, but there is still a part of you that is fiercely glad at that declaration.
When he dies, you turn up your collar and wrap your small narrow breasts, and you follow your brother to your city.
School starts off as a fascinating thing–there is such depth and amount of knowledge that you think you could not possibly get through even a quarter of it in your lifetime–but soon enough, you find yourself missing the countryside where you grew up, and the quiet steadfast nature of the people you left behind. People in the city are narrow-eyed and paranoid; they resent you enough for your intelligence when your disguise is firmly in place, and the things you have heard them spit about women while in their cups does not convince you to take them into your confidences. They are pigheaded, foul-tongued, and nowhere near as clever as they fancy themselves, her classmates, and the women that they keep company with are no better: fluttery empty-headed creatures who would as soon faint at the sight of a gun before they could be pressed to touch one, even to defend their own lives. In people you are disappointed, so away from people you turn: deeper into your books and your studies you go, separating out sorting out useful from the maybe someday important from the absolutely worthless.
They whisper about you, your classmates and their women; moreso when you manage to find the supposedly missing ring of the dean’s wife. It was simplicity itself to see the truth: that the silly woman, under the intoxication of a new affair with one of her husband’s students, had removed the ring so as to be able to accompany her buck into certain uncomfortable areas, and finally, at one particular time, had forgotten to put it back on again. You lay out the facts of this case nice and neat, and the woman turns scarlet and rails at you for having no human pity in your heart, to which you say: my pity, such as it exists, goes to the girl whom you attempted to accuse of stealing the ring; it is of no particular matter to me what happens to you, but I will not see someone innocent suffer in your place, madam!
Your brother tuts at you for the news over dinner, when you are visiting him at his club; he gifts you with a clay pipe and a pouch of tobacco of your own. You will never make friends, if you cannot control your tongue, he tells you.
I do not want to make friends, if these are the sorts of people I must be friends with, you say, and he exhales plumes of smoke that wreath his head. It takes you nearly two weeks of practice before you can emulate the gesture.
Be that as it may, Sherlock, he drawls, his sleepy dark eyes never once blinking, you are most damnably clever, and I’d like very much to not have to bury the rest of my family before I myself am thirty. Indulge me this, please.
You are hardly of any category that needs indulgence, you say, but you let the subject be turned to your studies, and to his new employment, and it is a pleasant enough meal afterwards. In all the gray dreary streets of your new city home, your brother, at least, is comfortably the same, and intelligent enough that it does not feel like yelling at a closed door just to be properly heard.
And then: John Watson.
He is a most peculiar man: a soldier, clearly enough, and a doctor as well–both so clearly obvious that he might as well have written the names upon his forehead. He does not immediately irritate you, though in some ways he is no more clever than the fellow students you have so recently left behind; there is a sort of genuinity about him that you have never seen properly faked. He will never be as smart as you, for all of his medical education, but he at least has potential: without ever having been taught, he listens. In your head, you picture it as such: it is as if you were in a closed room, shouting at the top of your lungs to communicate with the intolerably thick, and rather than allow you to continue straining yourself, John Watson simply opened the door and spoke with you face-to-face.
It is a most … fascinating thing, really. Refreshing, definitely.
He becomes your roommate and your companion in your business in short order; it is easy enough to convince him to follow you. Watson is a soldier, after all, and one prematurely discharged due to his injuries–a hale young man who is otherwise healthy, and chafes at how sedentary his life must become, to be a city-doctor to city-folk. A few choice phrases dropped here and there get his blood boiling with curiousity, and in short order, he has become your shadow and your backup, and you are quite glad to have him there. More vexing is his decision also to become your biographer and chronicler–but you are confident in your own cleverness and in the inherent desire of people (even those with such potential as Watson) to merely see what they want, when there is no explicit evidence to prove them wrong. He will look at you and see Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first consulting detective, tall and whipcord lean, a man with stern thin features and ruled by the demons of his own intelligence, because you will give him nothing that might make him consider otherwise. He will see that because that is what you will show him with no hint otherwise, and you know that never in your life will you be caught.
Besides, while Watson is an admirable fellow in all things, he has a certain chivalric streak that rankles you–it is one thing to be gallant to the high-class women who seek your services, or the poor shivering girls who are too poor and too frightened to do anything but gamble on your skills, but to be so genuinely kind to the hideously stupid is an insult to all intelligence; you may trust him in all things, but you do not trust that his nature would change when it came to the truth of your sex, and to be deferred to by him because of that and not because of your own competance is something so vilely intolerable that it keeps you awake for two days straight, alternating between your work-bench and your violin.
No: your friend (for he is your friend, in spite of your best efforts internally and without) must only know if he discovers the truth himself, and you have taken precautions to insure that he never will. With that, you are satisfied, and with that you set your violin aside and you procure tickets for the opera, inviting him to attend with you, confidence carrying you bouyantly along. He is the immovable object to your unstoppable force, and that, you think with great satisfaction, is exactly how the two of you shall remain.
It is a strange and peculiar blow when Watson takes up with Miss Mary Morstan; his absence leaves a queer feeling in your gut that leaves you feeling oddly off-balance for days. Weeks, perhaps. You are horrified at the precisely fifty-seven mistakes you almost make, which would have revealed everything. Perhaps your tongue is loosened by the cocaine, or perhaps it is the knowledge that Watson will not be by your side forever more–but the man is so pleased with his new relationship that he does not notice your slips and mistakes, and that is also deplorable. You cannot decide if you are angrier at yourself or at him, so you retreat into the comfort of your blackest moods, and you begin to search for a way out.
When you find it, you leap upon the opportunity with a wholehearted freverence; when you tell your brother of what you wish, it gets an actual raised eyebrow out of him, and a vague pursing of his thin lips.
You are damnably clever, he says, as he did years before, but you are also quite mad.
Perhaps I am, you say, but you never waver, never break eye-contact. Perhaps I was born mad, the wrong mind as well as the wrong body. Perhaps somewhere there is a man who longs in his heart for the comfort of silk and lace upon his skin and is so empty-headed that the light in his eyes are simply another reflection of the sun. Will you help me?
He looks at you for long moments, your distinguished lazy older brother, smarter than any man you have ever known, except for perhaps–perhaps–your shared father. I will, he says at last, and the Devil take us both if this fails.
Everything goes to plan, which is of no surprise to you. What is a surprise is Watson’s cry of anguish when he realizes that you must have gone over the falls, that you and Moriarity both are lost to the dark and cold and wet. He is a man happily-married with a thriving practice–he has dozens of notes from your adventures that have yet to see publication, and he has friends who call upon him regularly, and whom he is always glad to make social arrangements with. That he thinks you gone and would react like this is most peculiar. You wait until he leaves finally, walking with his head down and his shoulders stooped and his limp more pronounced than you have ever seen it: a man in some strange terrible pain, and you do not understand why, or why it should make that queer emptiness in your belly reach its cold fingers up to knot in your throat.
It is not terribly unlike when your father died, his hand in yours and his eyes bright, when he whispered Marie, my angel, she’s come for me in a display of sentimentality you had never otherwise seen in him. For a moment you feel too-young and confused, like the gawky young child who’d shed petticoats for a boy’s trousers–only you never regretted that change at all, and certainly not as you think you will come to regret this.
Watson is weeping; you can hear him. Even when he is gone, the echoes of it linger.
It is an image that you will carry with you for years to come.
“I think, of everyone else in the world, Dr Watson, you were in a position to know my errant sibling better than any other soul, living or dead. However, I think that perhaps to expect you to have completely seized advantage of that would be unfair: Sherlock was always a creature too subtle even for family to catch at anything he did not wish to reveal. But I hope you shall consider what I have said, and indeed, what I have not–as well as those things that Sherlock left waiting for too long. Should an opportunity present itself again, I suggest that you do as your friend has always told you, and pay attention.
“I hope these words will bring some measure of comfort for you, Doctor, in the times to come.