Fandoms: Sherlock and Merlin
Rating: PG (Gen)
Word Count: 7,938
Setting/Spoilers: Spoilers for S1-S2 of Sherlock. You don't really have to know anything about Merlin, since I've taken it very AU in this 'verse.
Warnings: Emotional aftermath of a suicide.
A/N: Part of the UnfortunateBrother'verse, it helps if you've read the first part, though it might not be mandatory. Basically, all you need to know is that I've added a third younger Holmes brother to the mix.
A/N #2: Title is from Edna St. Vincent Millay
A/N #3: I was going to wait until S3 of Sherlock before I wrote anything else in this 'verse, but I got impatient. I tried to keep things vague enough so that they'll hopefully fit into whatever we're told happened between S2-S3. If it ends up being vastly different though, I'll just come back an re-write. :P
A/N #4: I jump back and forth between different parts of the past and the present, without announcing where you are in the timeline...hopefully it's fairly easy to figure out though and not too jarring.
A/N #5: Only moderately brit-picked, so please let me know if there are any glaring errors.
Summary: The problem with Tug of War is that it's never really about the rope.
Merlin’s first memories were of lying on the floor while his older brother circled around the room announcing everything he saw, and, in all his memories, Merlin always knew that Sherlock would solve his murder. He remembered the awe and delight as he lay as still as possible...waiting...waiting... and then finally smiling as Sherlock kneeled next to his prone body.
“Obvious,” Sherlock would say, “Hardly a challenge, but I suppose excuses must be made for youth.”
Sherlock would recount what happened – whether it was the gardener, an accidental poisoning, a botched robbery, a deliberate suicide. Sherlock would tell him how he knew, and how quickly. Always, even if Sherlock had known right away upon entering the room, Sherlock would make an act of needing time while Merlin’s delight grew.
“But wait,” Sherlock would say, leaning over Merlin, “I have yet to examine the body!” Sherlock would pick up one of Merlin’s limp hands and peer at his nail beds, and then carefully trace Merlin’s palm with a finger. “Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear, one step, two step...” Merlin would squeal and try to get away, but Sherlock’s tickling fingers were always quick and efficient. And Merlin would laugh so hard that he was sure that he would actually die, that this would be the end of him – that in the end, it would be Sherlock that killed him, and the real detectives would be confused as to why there was dirt ground deliberately into the carpet, or strawberry jam spread out on the table in a childish imitation of blood, and whether it was even possible to die of happiness.
After Sherlock’s fingers retreated and Merlin caught his breath, Sherlock would teach him how to make the game harder the next time. Sherlock was always teaching Merlin, more than school taught him, more than Mummy, more than anything or anyone.
Merlin knew, through Mummy’s stories, that Sherlock had been teaching him even before he could remember. She told him stories about Sherlock carrying Merlin as a baby around the garden, teaching him the names of all the plants, bugs, and animals. He’d plunk him down in the dirt of the flower beds and give him lectures on botany. Mummy said that Sherlock never listened to her when she tried to warn him that Merlin was too young to understand – that if he couldn’t even say Sherlock’s name, he should hardly be expected to be able to pronounce rudbeckia hirta
At night, Merlin would often fall asleep squished into Sherlock’s side, while Sherlock read chemistry books in silence, drawing little patterns of chemical bonds for Merlin to colour in the next day. The thump-thump-thump of Sherlock’s heart was Merlin’s favourite lullaby, though he also had fond memories of the times that Sherlock had stood in Merlin’s room and practiced his violin. Merlin liked the tuning bit the best and made no point to hide it, which always caused Sherlock to roll his eyes – but Merlin knew that Sherlock took twice as long to tune his violin whenever he played for Merlin.
Merlin’s only enemy, in those early years, was Mycroft. Merlin dreaded Mycroft’s visits, because it meant that all the games stopped. Mycroft would come home and the house seemed to become colder, the silences less comforting. Sherlock locked his thumping heart away and would not allow Merlin to cuddle up close to him on the couch while he read. The murder games ended, because Mycroft deemed them ‘a foolish waste of time that created unnecessary mess.’ Any violin played was played only at Mummy’s request and with Mycroft’s accompanying piano, which Merlin thought often drowned out all the small quiet lovely bits of Sherlock’s songs.
Merlin didn’t know what Sherlock thought of Mycroft. Sherlock would defy Mycroft with every word he spoke and yet not in his actions – because, although he would join Merlin in complaining about Mycroft, it was Sherlock who told Merlin to read his own book on the opposite side of the couch. It was Sherlock that told Merlin that he didn’t feel like playing the murder game.
He asked Sherlock once whether Mycroft had been born already an adult – because Merlin had never known him to be otherwise. For Merlin, Mycroft had always been old, tall, well dressed – the spitting image of their father down to the way he read the paper every morning and talked only of politics. But at one point in Mycroft’s life, Merlin knew, Mycroft had been to Sherlock what Sherlock was to Merlin – and Merlin couldn’t imagine it. Sherlock hadn’t understood Merlin’s question about Mycroft though. He had laughed as though Merlin had told a joke at Mycroft’s expense, and simply answered “He may as well have been.”
But what Merlin really wanted to know was whether Mycroft had ever tickled Sherlock, whether they had ever played games, whether Mycroft had ever let Sherlock lean up against him while he read his school books on the couch. What Merlin had wanted to know was whether or not Sherlock would one day turn into Mycroft.
It was only later in life that Merlin realized all this though, and he wasn’t sure that Mycroft ever figured it out. Back then, Mycroft took Merlin’s formality with him as respect, Merlin’s silence as awe, and Merlin’s defiance as misguided youth – but, like with so many things to do with his brothers, Mycroft was wrong. They were all signs of a deep fear that one day Merlin would wake up to find he or Sherlock had become Mycroft. Mycroft didn’t serve as an inspiration to Merlin, he served as a warning.
Merlin was setting up the projector in the conference room when Lance showed up at the door.
“Merlin,” Lance said, “Arthur-”
“You can tell Arthur that I’m working as fast as I can,” Merlin rolled his eyes. “It’s hardly my fault we were late this morning, and don’t try to tell me he’s not sitting in his office with his feet up insisting that reading the paper and eating scones is essential to the business – because I’ll have you know there’s nothing in that paper that I don’t already-”
“Merlin,” Lance interrupted, and it was the odd quality to his voice that caused Merlin to look up from the mess of wires in his hand. “Arthur needs you to come to his office right away.”
“What’s happened?” Merlin asked, because Lance was looking at him as though... as though he were terrified.
“Please, just come,” Lance said and made an abortive gesture, as though he wanted to take Merlin by the hand, but he was too far away. Merlin dropped the tangled wires and followed Lance out the door.
“Is Arthur okay?” Merlin asked, and his voice sounded small even to his own ears. He wondered if maybe Arthur had choked on a scone and died.
“Arthur’s fine,” Lance answered. Merlin considers what else it could be – perhaps the meeting had been called off, and Arthur needed Merlin for an emergency strategy session to try to salvage the deal.
The office wasn’t reacting as though Arthur had received bad news though. It was performing business as usual; however, there was always the possibility that Arthur had yet to inform anyone else that the meeting has been cancelled. The only thing off was Lance’s behaviour, which was frightened and solemn.
When they got to Arthur’s office, Arthur all but leaped out of his office chair and came immediately around the desk towards Merlin. Arthur looked worse than Lance did, pale, frightened, nervous. Merlin took in the room at glance, looking for something that would give him his footing. Arthur had only eaten two bites of his scone. His computer was not yet turned on. He’d been watching TV. The TV itself was off, but the Sky Box was on, paused. The newspaper, which should have been on Arthur’s desk being read while he ate his scone, was instead on the coffee table by the leather couch, the sections separated, with the classified and sports sections hiding the others.
Bad news. Arthur had sat down to eat, but something in the newspaper caused him to lose his appetite. He only took two bites, so it was front page or at least section A news. Concerning enough for Arthur to find a report on the same news item on the television – again, major enough news that he was able to find it swiftly and then rewind and pause it to show Merlin. It was something frightening. Merlin tried to think of what would frighten Arthur, but he didn’t know – couldn’t think.... Morgana maybe? It couldn’t be business news; Merlin knew what was happening in the business world before the newspapers ever did. Plus, business news was never frightening – and Lance and Arthur were frightened.
“Merlin,” Arthur said, he nodded to Lance over Merlin’s shoulder, and Merlin head the door shut as Lance left, but Merlin knew that Lance stopped just outside the door. He was giving them privacy, but wanted to be close – expecting he might be needed. Why would Lance be needed? To protect Arthur? From whom?
“What’s going on?” Merlin asked. He tried to not let Arthur’s mood become his. Maybe that’s what had happened to Lance. Something had frightened Arthur, and Lance was frightened because Arthur was frightened even though he didn’t know why... and Arthur probably just needed someone to be brave, and then he would be brave – whatever the news was.
“Have you... have you heard from your family lately?” Arthur asked.
Merlin shook his head, confused. “You know we’re not particularly close.”
Meanwhile Merlin’s mind whirled. Mycroft, it had to be Mycroft. He’d done something. Mycroft always ruined everything – whether on purpose or by accident, it didn’t matter. Mycroft had obviously done something to make the news. That wasn’t surprising. He often did, though his name was never attached. There should be no way that Arthur could connect the news to Mycroft. Mycroft could be sloppy, but never that sloppy.
Maybe it wasn’t the news at all. A phone call. Mycroft had called Arthur and told him... told him that Merlin was an unparalleled genius. That he was doing things in Arthur’s company behind Arthur’s back – and Merlin was, but only to Arthur’s benefit. But why would Mycroft call and give away Merlin’s secrets? It didn’t make any sense.
“Sit down, Merlin,” Arthur said, and reached out, like Lance had done, only he actually caught Merlin’s arm and pulled Merlin towards the leather couch. “Merlin, I was reading the paper and... I don’t know how to... Maybe I should just...” Arthur reached for the papers on the coffee table, and Merlin realized that his hand was shaking. “Merlin, I’m so sorry.”
From beneath the classifieds, Arthur pulled out the first section of the paper, and handed it to Merlin with wide anxious eyes.
DISGRACED DETECTIVE TAKES OWN LIFE
Merlin blinked. There was that funny picture of Sherlock in the ridiculous hat under the headline. They should be careful what pictures they put next to headlines, Merlin thought, people are going to get confused and think that-
“No, they’re lying,” Merlin said. “It’s lies... Sherlock isn’t a fake, he’s not a fraud. These are lies, Arthur. They’re lies.”
“I know,” Arthur said softly. “But, Merlin, I think that... that’s not the part you should be concerned about.”
Merlin looked back down at the paper... “...takes own life.... leapt to his death...” and beside those words a picture of his brother – his brother in a funny hat looking so annoyed that when Merlin had first seen the picture months ago he had laughed out loud. He had cut it out and put it in his album. He had wanted to call Sherlock and tease him, but he hadn’t, because he’d just wait until the next time they were in London...
“No,” Merlin said. “No, no... this doesn’t make sense. Sherlock wouldn’t... Sherlock doesn’t care about reputation or... or what idiots think of him. He doesn’t care. This is wrong. It’s a lie. They’re lying.”
“Merlin,” Arthur said.
“No!” Merlin said, and threw the paper away. He picked up the TV remote from the coffee table. “You’ve got it recorded, yeah? Some news report that proves it? I’ll show you, Arthur, I’ll show you that it’s a lie – I will. They’re just too stupid to see, that’s all. Idiots. They’re all idiots.”
Arthur breathed in a long breath beside him, but Merlin didn’t turn to look at the expression on his face. Instead he focused on the news report - fraudulent detective, lies. And then there was a shot of police tape and blood-stained pavement, there was a reporter saying that Doctor John Watson had witnessed the event and been treated for shock, and had then been arrested. John Watson was in custody and could not give a statement, but an unnamed spokeswoman had issued a statement on behalf of the Sherlock Holmes’s family that only said that it saddened them deeply that Sherlock had chosen to take his life in such a manner. The wording was all Mycroft, cold and to the point.
“Mycroft,” Merlin said. “I’ll... I’ll call Mycroft.” Merlin turned off the TV and reached for his phone. He called the number that he knew Mycroft had dedicated solely to Sherlock and Merlin. Merlin wasn’t surprised when it went straight to voicemail, but he was not prepared for Mycroft’s outgoing message.
‘Merlin, I’m sorry.’
Merlin hung up.
Mycroft wouldn’t address the outgoing message only to Merlin, unless Sherlock was never going to call. Mycroft wouldn’t apologize unless there was actually something he could be blamed for.
Later Merlin would be told that his scream could be heard through the entire office – that Gwen had been so frightened that she had burst into tears – that Lance had to stop three people from calling emergency services. Merlin didn’t even remember screaming. He just remembered pain and rage, and Arthur’s vice like arms around him.
Come save me, Merlin. He’s being insufferable.
Merlin ignored the text, though he read it. The last thing he wanted was to get involved... again. He had told Sherlock to move, to try Belfast or Glasgow, or some other far flung city in the kingdom that Mycroft thought was beneath him.
“Don’t be absurd. London is mine. I won’t allow him to take it from me,” Sherlock had said.
Merlin had closed his eyes and thought, ‘Mycroft takes everything from us,’ but out loud, he had only said, “Well then don’t come crying to me. It’s your choice.”
I know you’re in London. The second text read.
Am not, Merlin typed back.
You’re moping in that awful pub. Now come save me
The fourth text was an address. Not far from Merlin’s awful pub really. How convenient. Merlin had just wanted to get away from university for one weekend – just have a short break while he sorted out exactly what he was going to do about this Arthur fiasco. He had not come to London to get into yet another argument with his brother. Nevertheless, he put some bills down on the sticky counter and made his way towards the urine soaked neighbourhood that Sherlock had decided to call home.
“Piss off, Mycroft!” was the first thing that Merlin heard as he let himself into the flat.
“Ah, the sweet sounds of home,” Merlin said and smiled at Sherlock. Sherlock smirked back with bloodshot eyes. He was slouched on a settee that had seen better days, the detritus of his everyday life collecting in dusty piles on the floor around him. Mycroft stood in the center of the room as though anything he touched might infect him.
“Oh, not you,” Mycroft deflated.
“Pleasure to see you too, Mykey,” Merlin deadpanned. Sherlock shifted on the couch, and that was the only invitation Merlin needed. He crossed the room and sat next to Sherlock, who immediately leaned in to rest his head on Merlin’s shoulder. He looked up at Merlin with a pout.
“He’s trying to lock me away, Merlin,” Sherlock said. “He wants to put me in a tower.”
“I am not locking you in a tower,” Mycroft glared. “The drug rehabilitation centre is the very best in Britain, it just so happens to have the word ‘tower’ in the name. That’s all. It’s only a two storey building.”
“Are you trying to kill him?” Merlin asked Mycroft, outraged.
“I’m trying to stop him from killing himself,” Mycroft sneered. “And don’t pretend that’s not exactly what he’s doing with this childish behaviour.”
“You putting him in a place like that will only speed up the process,” Merlin countered. “Sherlock doesn’t want to be clean and blackmailing him into rehab isn’t going to change that.”
“Who said anything about blackmail?” Mycroft asked. Merlin didn’t deem it worthy of a response. Mycroft adjusted his cufflinks. Merlin reached his arm around Sherlock shoulders and buried his hand into Sherlock’s greasy curls.
“I knew you’d rescue me from the tower,” Sherlock whispered, patting Merlin on knee and burrowing further into Merlin’s undoubtedly boney and uncomfortable shoulder.
“On a scale of one to very, how high are you?” Merlin asked Sherlock’s forehead.
“Fuchsia,” Sherlock answered.
“That’s what I thought,” Merlin smiled.
‘You must see now why I felt the need to intervene,” Mycroft said, gesturing to Sherlock.
“I’ve never seen why you feel the need to intervene,” Merlin responded. “Go home, Mycroft. I’ll stay here and look after Sherlock tonight. I hadn’t any other plans anyway.”
“Why aren’t you at university?” Mycroft asked. Merlin forced himself not to smile at the admission that came with the question – Mycroft hadn’t known Merlin was in London.
“Boring,” Sherlock stated.
“It’s the weekend,” Merlin smirked. “Lots of students visit their family on the weekend.”
“You had no intention of visiting until Sherlock texted you from the bathroom ten minutes ago, and we both know it,” Mycroft rolled his eyes.
“Then why did Sherlock buy my favourite beer this morning?” Merlin indicated the old refrigerator with his head. Mycroft narrowed his eyes, before walking over and checking to see if it was indeed stocked with new bottles. “Might as well bring me one, since you’re already over there,” Merlin smiled. Mycroft scowled, but grabbed a bottle and bought it across the room to Merlin’s outstretched hand.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Mycroft said. “Obviously, Sherlock just deduced that you would be in town.”
“And how could he, when you couldn’t, even with your spies and cameras?” Merlin countered.
Merlin used the bottle-opener on his key ring, and then handed the cap to Sherlock. Sherlock held the cap between his thumb and middle-finger, folded his arm, elbow raised – then he took aim and snapped. The cap flew across the room and bounced off the wall, rebounding into an empty coffee mug that sat on top of the TV.
“Nice, Sherly!” Merlin said. “You’ve improved.”
“You’re a horrible influence, Merlin,” Mycroft bit out. “You’ll be the ruin of him.”
‘Likewise,’ thought Merlin, but instead of saying it aloud, he just glared at Mycroft and took a very long drink from his beer.
“Get out,” Sherlock said in a growl sitting up stiffly beside Merlin.
“Sherlock-” Mycroft started.
“GET OUT!” Sherlock yelled, his whole body now poised to pounce. “It seems to have escaped your notice, but I happen to be an adult who is quite capable of ruining himself.” Sherlock gestured to the room at large. “Now LEAVE before I call the police and get us all arrested for the amount of drugs they’ll find.”
Mycroft’s jaw tensed, but his only response was to turn and casually walk out of the flat, as though he had intended to leave at that moment from the very beginning.
“Sorry,” Merlin said, picking at the label on his beer. “I could’ve handled that better. I’ve had a shit week.”
“Tell me about it,” Sherlock replied. “As you pointed out to our dear brother, I did expect you to.”
Merlin woke up with his face pressed into leather upholstery and eyes that felt swollen. There was an emptiness inside of him where his heart used to be and his mind physically ached. Arthur was sitting on the floor in front of the couch. A pile of takeaway containers sat on the coffee table. He was trying to eat crisps quietly, while watching the muted TV. They could have been at home, only they were in Arthur’s posh office, and nothing was right with the world.
Arthur’s suit jacket had disappeared – no, Merlin realized, it had been used to tuck Merlin in like a child who had fallen asleep on the couch while his big brother read chemistry books... Merlin took a deep breath, which caused Arthur to immediately turn to look at him.
“Hey, hey, hush... deep calm breaths,” Arthur said, looking panicked. “Or at least drink some water before you start up again – you’ll get dehydrated otherwise.”
“Already am,” Merlin sighed.
“Gwen got you some soup,” Arthur smiled, pointing to a takeaway container. “I think it’s still warm.”
“Arthur?” Merlin asked. “Have you ever played tug of war?”
“Of course,” Arthur said bemused.
“What happens when you suddenly let go of the rope?”
“The other team usually fall on their arses,” Arthur answered with a smile.
Merlin tried for a smile, but he obviously failed, because Arthur started fussing over him even more – sitting him up, and practically hand-feeding him soup. Merlin would have laughed on any other occasion, but he was too busy being swallowed up by failure, by mistakes, by stupidity that he wasn’t supposed to possess.
I’m sorry, Sherlock
Merlin rang off after telling Will he’d be right over and that he was just waiting on Freya so they could walk over together. He started packing his messenger bag with everything he’d need for the afternoon.
“How do you stand them, Merlin?” Sherlock asked.
Sherlock was supposed to be studying for his A levels, which meant that instead he was wandering through the house in his dressing gown dissecting Merlin’s life.
“Who? My friends?” Merlin replied. “Well, they’re my friends, Sherly.”
“But the charade must get tiring,” Sherlock stated.
“What charade?” Merlin asked.
“The act where you pretend to be just as idiotic as they are,” Sherlock said. “How do you stand it?”
“They know I’m a genius,” Merlin laughed. “Why do you think they asked me to tutor them in maths.”
“Please, you know what I mean,” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I’ve seen you with them. You’re a completely different- Oh. Oh!”
Merlin stopped short. “Sherlock?”
“Oh, you are good,” Sherlock smiled at him slowly. “Impressive, Merlin, really.”
“Sherlock, whatever you’re thinking-” Merlin was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“That’ll be Freya,” Sherlock said. “Go on then. You’ve spent the whole morning with me after all. I’m sure you’ll be happy for the down time.”
“Sherlock-” Merlin tried again, and again Freya knocked.
“Have fun with your little friends, Merlin,” Sherlock said, using the words like a curse.
Merlin debated. He could tell Freya he’d be late and try to make Sherlock understand, or he could let Sherlock cool down a bit and maybe he’d realize that he had it wrong. In the end, it was the sound of Sherlock’s violin, played without being tuned first, and Freya’s third insisted knock that chose for Merlin. He hoisted his bag onto his shoulder and greeted Freya with a smile. There’d be time to set things right with Sherlock later.
As Merlin walked down the lane with Freya in the foggy damp of spring, he wondered if Sherlock was standing in the bedroom window watching him leave like some Byronic hero. Merlin wouldn’t put it past him, but then, he also wouldn’t put it past Sherlock to stay away from the windows in order to purposefully avoid the cliché. In the end, Merlin never turned around to check; and so, in Merlin’s memory, Sherlock was forever both watching him leave and not watching him at all.
Merlin called Mycroft again, leaving a simple “call me” as a message. Arthur was sitting at his desk going over the notes for the meeting that should have been held that morning. Merlin probably needed to figure out how badly Sherlock’s timing had affected Arthur’s business, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“You didn’t go to the meeting,” Merlin said.
“Of course not,” Arthur replied. “You’re my dearest friend and I couldn’t bear to leave you.”
“Really?” Merlin asked.
“Don’t be stupid,” Arthur replied, before making notes in the margins of whatever he was reading.
Merlin’s phone rang. Arthur sat back in his chair and crossed his arms, as though Mycroft had physically walked into the room.
“You could have called,” Merlin said as a greeting.
“I was busy,” Mycroft replied.
“Taken care of,”
“Good,” Merlin breathed a sigh of relief. He would have dropped everything - Arthur, Camelot, everything - surely Sherlock knew that... had known that.
“Before that though,” Merlin said. “You could have called before it was too late.”
“I’m sorry, Merlin,”
“You said that, yeah,” Merlin felt the pressure build behind his eyes. Maybe this was his own fault. He had made it so that his brothers didn’t feel that they could call him. He’d walked out of their lives, what did he expect? Certainly not this – he had never expected this.
“If that’s all...”
“What do you mean, ‘if that’s all’?” Merlin bit out. “What about... what about the funeral?”
“There won’t be one,” Mycroft replied. “John Watson is currently under arrest for assaulting the Chief Superintendent. Gregory Lestrade is suspended and under investigation. He needs to distance himself from Sherlock, not be seen attending his funeral. And quite frankly I don’t feel like standing alone in the rain with Sherlock’s landlady while being, undoubtedly, hounded by the press.”
“And me, Mycroft,” Merlin said. “You don’t want to stand next to his grave with me.”
“And you,” Mycroft agreed. Merlin closed his eyes and tried not to picture the train station, the sound of a black car pulling away from the kerb. ‘We’ll divide the world, Mycroft, leave him to his criminals, go back to your politics and leave me out of it. Quite frankly, I’d be happy if I never see you again.’
“Can you at least help John,” Merlin said. “He must be...”
“It’s nice to know you still think so little of me,” Mycroft replied.
“You’re the one who left me an apology,” Merlin said, “why don’t you tell me what I’m supposed to think.”
There was a silence on the line. Merlin let it be.
“I do care about you,” Mycroft finally said, making it sound as though the very concept was distasteful. “I know Sherlock wouldn’t want to disrupt your life. Now is the time to find joy in your work, as I know Sherlock would wish you to if he were here to talk to you himself.”
“Sherlock loved me,” Merlin replied, “and don’t you dare pretend you know his heart. Don’t you dare speak for him.”
Another pregnant pause, and once again, it was Mycroft that broke the silence.
Without Sherlock, there was nothing to tie them together.
The world outside their home was a very different place with different rules and customs. Conversations rarely had more than one level of meaning and one was not supposed to notice things. Merlin realized very early on that it was easiest to act oblivious to most everything he saw around him. This was something Sherlock had taught him as well, though not intentionally.
Sherlock always tried to be helpful. He thought it was only fair that James Hallsworth should know that his biological father was actually the grocer and not the man that raised him. He thought that his teacher should know that she was going to be sacked at the end of the year, because maybe it wasn’t too late to run off with Ms. Odette and live happily ever after. Sherlock thought that if Billy just knew that his unchecked aggression was a product of his alcoholic father that maybe he would realize that it was up to him to break the cycle of violence, rather than continue to punch Sherlock repeatedly for ‘talking shite.’ Sherlock was only ever honest.
Everyone hated Sherlock.
Merlin learned not to tell people anything. He let coffee cups get knocked off of tables when someone put them too close to the edge. He let people have their affairs without comment. He bit his lip and kept quiet and watched his friends do stupid things. He acted surprised when people got divorced. He pretended to be blindsided by betrayals. It was easy. It was almost relaxing. It was a burden lifted. It wasn’t up to him to help people. He didn’t have to make those choices – any choices – he just let the world play out around him like a television show, and he was nothing more than an observer.
In school, Merlin learned how many questions to get wrong on tests. He learned how to make it look real. He didn’t want to be put in classes away from his friends, like Sherlock had been. Not that Sherlock had any friends, but being younger than anyone in his grade certainly didn’t improve his odds of making some. It went right along with not noticing things. Merlin would spend most of class staring out the window day-dreaming. At the end of the day, the teachers would believe that he hadn’t been paying attention, not that he didn’t need to pay attention because he already knew everything.
And at the end of the day, Merlin would go home, and Sherlock would teach him everything he had learned at his school – in the classrooms or outside of them – and that was Merlin’s real education. It was the best kind of education too, because it was a secret.
Everything precious was a secret. Why else would Sherlock lock his warmth and smiles away when Mycroft came home? Why else would people get mad at Sherlock for exposing their own secrets? Merlin thought he was clever for having figured it out. Everything you loved, everything you were, was a precious secret that had to be kept at all costs. Merlin learned how to lie.
Everyone loved Merlin.
Merlin read the articles every day, even though Arthur told him not to. He considered going to London, but they had limited time to secure the technology that they needed and, quite suddenly, there was more competition for it than they had bargained for. Arthur tried to insist that Merlin should go to London anyway – that Arthur could look after everything in Wales for a bit.
“It’s not like Sherlock’s going anywhere,” Merlin countered. “He’s dead.”
“Merlin,” Arthur sighed. Merlin winced.
“Sorry,” Merlin mumbled, as though it was Arthur’s heart that had been broken, as though Merlin’s words were salt in Arthur’s wounds and not his own.
“They’ll clear his name in the investigation,” Arthur announced. “Any competent reporter or investigator will realize that it’s impossible for him to have faked everything. There are too many factors that are beyond anyone’s control, even your brother’s...not to mention the fact that anyone who has met him knows full well what he’s capable of. It’s a flimsy frame job and the truth will come out in the end.”
Merlin smiled at Arthur’s confidence. He wasn’t wrong, but it brought up the question that had been plaguing Merlin from the very beginning – why would Sherlock take his own life. He never cared about reputation, certainly, he’d held strong against personal attacks in the past. What had changed? Merlin turned to read over the latest article again, hoping to find some clue in the slander. He’d only gotten half-way through when the paper was pulled out of his hands.
“Enough,” Arthur said, crumbling the newspaper in his fists. “I’m not going to stand here while you torture yourself by reading this vitriol. Why they deem it fit to publish, I don’t know.”
“It sells papers – people love reading about it,” Merlin answered.
“What?” Arthur asked, pausing in his quest to ball up every single newspaper within reach.
“Everybody hates a genius,” Merlin shrugged.
Arthur stared at him dumbfounded. “That’s not true.”
“Please, Arthur,” Merlin rolled his eyes. “You hated him just as much as everyone else. Don’t pretend otherwise just because he’s dead - it’s insulting and Sherlock wouldn’t approve of the sentiment.”
Arthur spluttered for a moment.
“I hated him because he was a wanker,” Arthur finally said. “Not because he was a genius.”
“No,” Merlin argued. “You hated him because he was a bright light that could see into your darkest corners. In front of him you were laid bare, vulnerable, with every weakness and secret shame exposed. That was what you hated, Arthur, but he couldn’t help it - it was who he was. It would be easier to stop the sun from burning.” Merlin breathed a large breath, trying to swallow against the lump in his throat. “Though someone managed it, didn’t they? The light’s gone now and we can rest assured that all our secrets are hidden.”
“Merlin...” Arthur all but breathed.
“Ignore me,” Merlin shook his head. “Let’s talk about something else – like how to counter-attack Cenred’s lawyers tomorrow, now that he’s got Morgause in his pocket.”
Arthur let him change the topic, though only an idiot would have missed the concerned glances that Arthur leveled at him for the rest of the day every time he thought Merlin wasn’t looking.
That evening, as they said goodnight, Arthur brought up the subject of Sherlock once again.
“Not everyone hated your brother,” Arthur announced.
“Arthur...” Merlin sighed.
“I’ve read the articles too, Merlin,” Arthur continued, “and I... I believe Doctor Watson loved your brother very much, and I doubt he’d appreciate you saying otherwise.”
Merlin’s breath caught. He nodded, suddenly numb to the world as his mind raced.
“For all that he’s a complete clotpole though, Arthur’s refreshingly...moral and... well, for lack of a better term, good,” Merlin continued, opening his third beer while Sherlock slowly added more nicotine stains to the dingy walls of his flat. “Helping him... I guess it kind of gives my life direction. It makes life less boring.”
Sherlock made a non-committal noise and started blowing smoke rings. Most people would probably think he wasn’t listening, but Merlin knew him better. Sherlock always listened, he didn’t always understand, or remember, but he always listened. Sherlock knew that sometimes all Merlin needed was a sounding board to help organize his own thoughts.
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes – Merlin enjoying the pleasant buzz of alcohol under his skin, and Sherlock, it seemed, contemplating the patterns of smoke that rose up from his cigarette.
“May I meet this Arthur of yours someday?” Sherlock asked.
“Over my dead body,” Merlin answered, laughing.
He could just imagine it. Sherlock would hate Arthur on sight, and Arthur would hate Sherlock the moment he opened his mouth. Merlin gave Sherlock an affectionate smile, because Sherlock wasn’t looking at him anyway.
“Maybe that’s what you need too,” Merlin blurted out, even before he registered it as a thought. Sherlock quirked an eyebrow and finally looked over at Merlin.
“A blonde idiot to be the good angel on my shoulder?” Sherlock asked. “Spare me.”
“No,” Merlin rolled his eyes, “something that gives you direction and makes life less boring.”
“And what would that be?” Sherlock asked, flicking ash in the general direction of the ashtray.
“What about the murder game?” Merlin offered. “You always loved the murder game.”
Sherlock stared at him. “I haven’t any jam. And are you honestly proposing that you come to my flat every day and stage an elaborate fake death for my amusement?”
“No,” Merlin said and laughed. “I’m suggesting real murders.”
“You’re going to start a killing spree for my amusement?” Sherlock raised his eyebrows, smiling. “Now that would be interesting...”
Merlin giggled. “No, I haven’t the time – plus, you know... murder is bad and all that.”
Sherlock made another non-committal noise. So Merlin continued, considering how it would work.
“I’ll hack into Scotland Yard’s closed cases,” Merlin said. “I’ll send you descriptions of the crime scenes, but make things less obvious, and witness interviews if and when you need them. I’ll give you a deadline by which you must solve the case.”
“And if I fail?” Sherlock asked.
“I’ll tell Mykey to lock you in a tower,” Merlin smiled. “Same goes for if you cheat.”
“You wouldn’t,” Sherlock said, but seemed to consider the idea.
“Come on, Sherly, what do you say?” Merlin finally asked.
“The game is on,” Sherlock replied smiling.
Merlin should have known that it would only be a matter of time until Sherlock found a case that wasn’t as closed as it appeared.
Merlin found John in a cafe. He was sitting by the window, a cup of tea and half eaten biscuit beside him. He had a newspaper folded in front of him, a ball point pen tapping absentmindedly next to the clues of the crossword puzzle.
He looked quiet. Boring.
Merlin hunched his shoulders, brushed a hand through his fake grey beard, and was thankful for the dim light that would hopefully hide the fact that his face was covered in meticulously applied aging make-up. He walked up to John’s table, making sure to hide his presence until he spoke. He glanced at the crossword puzzle that John was so intent on solving. Well, Sherlock certainly hadn’t taken to John because of his exceptional skill at crosswords.
Why John Watson, Sherlock
“Holly,” Merlin said, “16 down.”
“Alright, Sher-” John started in annoyance, before cutting himself off when he turned and saw Merlin standing beside him. John closed his eyes briefly, a half-second only, but it was enough for Merlin to hide his own pain at his brother’s half uttered name. “Sorry,” John continued. “You startled me. Thanks, uh...which...which one was it?”
“Ilex aquifolium,” Merlin said, more gruffly than before, remembering the probably lung damage a man of his disguise’s age would have. “16 down. It’s the Latin name for Holly. Forgive me, I couldn’t help but notice the clue over your shoulder. I studied a bit of botany in my youth and it’s so very rare that I get to use the knowledge.”
“No, it’s quite alright, I’d have never gotten it,” John smiled up at him pleasantly. Approachable. Kind. There was pain still lingering in his eyes though – the grief that Merlin felt as well.
“Do you mind if I join you,” Merlin asked, making sure to add a slight tremor to his weathered-looking hand as he reached for the back of the chair across from John.
John looked at him in a bit of confusion, but motioned that Merlin could sit. The waitress arrived with the tea Merlin had ordered at the counter.
“I used to visit my brother whenever I came to London,” Merlin explained. “He’s only recently passed and I find the sting of grief strikes anew whenever I sit alone now.”
“I understand,” John answered, his eyes growing kinder, commiserating. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” Merlin replied. “It was quite unexpected. He had been in perfect health.”
“May I ask what happened?” John asked.
“It was a matter of the heart, I’m afraid,” Merlin answered.
John nodded, knowingly.
“Now, I didn’t mean to interrupt your crossword and force you to talk to an old man,” Merlin found himself saying, even though it wasn’t true. “Feel free to ignore me. I just wanted the company.”
John denied being interrupted, but Merlin found himself directing John’s attention to the crossword again – wanting to escape, perhaps, from John’s kind gaze.
This hadn’t been the plan. Merlin was supposed to interrupt John, slowly get him to talk, get John to confide in him, so that John would tell him about his flatmates’ suicide. Did he speak to you before he jumped? Merlin wanted to ask. What were my brother’s final words, John?
But sitting across from him now, Merlin couldn’t bring himself to do it. Why had he come here? Why had he sought out Doctor John Watson? What had he hoped to be told?
Merlin had wanted to know why. But was that something that Merlin was even capable of knowing? ‘Don’t you dare pretend to know his heart,’ Merlin had told Mycroft – yet, here was Merlin, trying to do the same thing. He was here to try to see John through Sherlock’s eyes, to feel what he felt, but to what end?
Did he want an apology? Did he want to torture this grieving man until he apologized for having been loved? Who was Merlin to accuse him of being unworthy, when Sherlock had obviously ruled otherwise? Merlin felt disgusted with himself. No, Merlin was not here for that – at least, not anymore.
He looked at John while John was bent over the crossword or while he was looking out the window as though the answer to one of the clues would pass by on the street, and then Merlin knew what he wanted from Doctor John Watson: Merlin wanted to see his brother again.
“Can I ask for a favour, before I go?” Merlin asked.
John looked up at him, confused. “Yes?”
“Have you ever lost someone?”
Merlin watched as John swallowed. His eyes filled with grief and conflict. Merlin could only hope that John didn’t choose to lie to him.
John nodded, “Yes... recently, my-”
“No, don’t tell me who,” Merlin shook his head. “I just... I know this might sound silly, but I want you to tell me something about them... this person you lost... tell me something that no one else knew about them.”
John stared at Merlin for a moment, and then looked down at the crossword puzzle in thought. Merlin prepared himself for disappointment.
“Everyone knew that Sh...” John’s looked up at Merlin and he cut himself off.
Merlin waited. When John started again, his voice was stronger, yet quieter than before, as though the words were fragile things that would break if gripped too hard.
“Everyone knew that he had a great brain, but they didn’t know that he also had a great heart,” John said. “The depth of loyalty and love – it was worth a wound; it was worth many wounds; to have caught a glimpse of it.”
Merlin stared at John until John ducked his head awkwardly.
“Yes,” Merlin said, as all his questions were answered. “I mean, thank you.”
“Why?” John asked, his voice still quiet, “Why did you ask me that?”
“Because the dead live on in the hearts of those they leave behind,” Merlin answered, even though he knew that didn’t answer John’s question. “I wanted to be reminded.”
“Shouldn’t you be telling me about your brother then?” John smiled, as though Merlin perhaps was a bit of a senile old man – which, in fairness, was exactly who Merlin currently looked like.
“My brother... loved... bees,” Merlin said slowly, feeling stupid for being so thrown by the sincerity of John’s answer that he could not think of anything better without giving himself away.
“Bees?” John smiled.
“Yes,” Merlin laughed at the absurdity of it. “He used to follow them in the hopes of finding their hives and he never once got stung. When I was young, I used to think he was magic – that he had some sort of power over bees and could order them to do his bidding.”
John laughed, and Merlin thought, this – this is what Sherlock saw. This is who Sherlock could not live without.
By the time Merlin returned the wigs and prosthetics to the theatre and removed all the make-up, it was late. He got back to the hotel to find Lance pacing the room, frantic with worry.
“For God’s sake, Merlin!” Lance said by way of greeting. “Where have you been? You can’t just tell me that you want to track down the man who killed your brother and then disappear! Arthur told me to protect you, and I know you’re the last person who needs protecting, but I’m a man of my word. You could have been killed and-”
“Lance, hush, I’m fine,” Merlin said. “Everything is fine. I’m sorry, but I had to go alone.”
“You...did it then?” Lance asked, sitting down on the end of the bed. “You found the man that killed Sherlock?”
“Yes,” Merlin answered.
“I forgave him,” Merlin replied honestly.
“My brother killed himself,” Merlin said. “No matter what the circumstances, I can’t lay the blame elsewhere. And... I understand why he did it.”
“Merlin, suicide is never-” Lance’s brow furrowed.
“I know, but it wasn’t... it wasn’t a suicide; it was a sacrifice,” Merlin sighed. “And I can’t say more than that, and even that can never leave this room, do you understand? Not even Arthur can know.”
Lance nodded, already too familiar with keeping Merlin’s secrets.
“We better call him,” Lance said. “He kept calling to check up, and eventually I had to admit that I didn’t even know where you were. He suspects you’re getting drunk.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “I’ll call him if you go find me something to eat.”
“You have yourself a deal,” Lance smiled, jumping to his feet. “I’m glad you’re okay, Merlin.”
Merlin smiled as Lance shut the door. He flopped down on the bed, exhausted, and pulled his phone out of his pocket. He ignored all the missed calls and text messages and rang Arthur.
“How’s the tavern?” Arthur said by way of greeting.
“Why do you always think I’m in a tavern?” Merlin asked.
“Because, Merlin, you always are,” Arthur answered, because Arthur loved tautological arguments.
“Well, I’m in the hotel room, so you’re wrong,” Merlin said. “Lance is off hunting down a bit of food.”
“Ah, good,” Arthur replied. “So where were you earlier then? And don’t say the cemetery, because Lance checked there.”
“I was visiting one of my brother’s old haunts,” Merlin explained. “I guess I had hoped he would be haunting it.”
“Was he?” Arthur asked, voice suddenly soft.
“Yeah,” Merlin said, “I mean... there was a moment when I could feel him there.”
“I’m glad,” Arthur said. They lapsed into comfortable silence for a few breaths.
“You were right, by the way,” Merlin finally said, “about John Watson.”
“Of course I was,” Arthur replied, “I’m vastly more intelligent than you, Merlin. I thought you’d have realized by now.”
“That’s better,” Arthur said. “Now, when can I expect you back?”
“Tomorrow,” Merlin said. “We’ll take the first train.”
“Good. Your replacement is horrifically competent,” Arthur reported. “He’s making everything dreadfully dull around here.”
“Well, we can’t have that,” Merlin smiled.
“No, we really can’t,” Arthur repeated. “Merlin...”
“Have a safe trip.”
“See you tomorrow, Arthur.”
Merlin rang off. He stared at the ceiling for a bit, before picking up the phone again and scrolling through his text message history.
May I meet this John of yours someday?
Over my dead body.
“Show-off,” Merlin said to the empty room.