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Posted as [livejournal.com profile] killalla, September 5, 2005 in [livejournal.com profile] cox_and_co



Title: The Rule of Three
Author: killalla
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Rating: PG, Holmes/Watson/Hudson
Spoilers: All stories and novels through "The Empty House"
Summary: Beginnings, endings and a most unconventional arrangement.
Many thanks to beehive_clover and k_haldane for beta assistance. Thanks also to nickeyb! I have used the Klinger chronology for most of my dates and case references, but I have made some deliberate changes for the sake of the story. All errors and omissions are, of course, mine.


1895
It was odd to think of Baker Street as a quiet place, but this afternoon it was wrapped in a fragile peace. With the Doctor attending a medical conference in Edinburgh, and Mr. Holmes off on a case, Mrs. Hudson had a rare moment to clean and set everything in order before the tempest descended again. Fifteen years of experience had taught her the value of seizing every opportunity to right the clutter, dust the mantelpiece and clear the grate, lest they fall to the congenial chaos which reigned in the sitting room. Reaching down to right a stack of fallen casebooks, a stack of old newspapers under her arm, she gave a sigh. Long ago, these rooms had been neat and orderly. But then, that was before they had become ‘home’.

***

1881
Martha was born in 1850 in the village of Seven Oaks, in Kent. Her father was an innkeeper, and a retired navy man. At twenty-two, she married Jack Hudson, already a Captain in the Merchant Marine. It was a sensible match, and all agreed that they had both done well. He had some savings put aside in addition to his regular wages, and what with the money she’d inherited from her parents, they were able to buy a house just outside of London, where she could live while he was away at sea. He was good man, and their marriage was a happy one. It lasted for seven years. One day came the dreadful news that his ship had been lost with all hands crossing the Bay of Biscay. A few weeks later, Martha miscarried of what would have been their first child. The surgeon who attended her told her there had been an infection; she would not be able to conceive again. She was not yet thirty.

The years that followed were difficult, but she came aright in the end. Although there were some who would seek to take advantage of a young widow, others were much the kinder for her loss, and after all the debts were cleared, she found she had enough to buy a better property in London, just south of Regent’s Park, in Lower Baker Street. Years of experience in dealing with tenants honed her instincts, so by the time the young man appeared on her doorstep, she was a reasonable judge of attitude and character.

***

Mr. Blaine had paid her a month’s rent in lieu of notice, so she had no need to let the place at once, but she put a sign in the window anyway, and within a few days, she had an enquiry. Having rung the bell and given his card to the maid, the gentleman was waiting in the front hall when she came downstairs. He was young, tall and quite slender with a hawkish nose and clear grey eyes. His attire, although a bit worn in places and perhaps the worse for wear, was clean and well maintained.

“I’ve come about the rooms for rent,” he said, politely. “May I see them?”

She showed him the bedroom and sitting room on the first floor, and the additional room upstairs, across from her own, which could be used as a bedroom or study. “The bath is on the ground floor, next to the kitchen. Rent is fifty shillings per week, including all meals and the use of the servants. I do most of the cooking myself.”

The rooms were bare of everything but the most basic furnishings, for she was having the carpets aired, but he seemed to take a liking to the place at once, pacing out the steps from the bedroom to the fireplace, and spending several minutes at the sitting room window, watching the traffic in the street below. “The rooms seem most comfortable, and the location is ideal,” he pronounced after some time. “The rent is a bit dear, though – I wonder, might I ask that you hold them for a day or two while I see if any of my colleagues might be persuaded to share the lodgings with me? I feel sure that the rent would be manageable, spilt between two.” He smiled, and in so charming a fashion that she could not help but respond.

“Well, I suppose I could wait until the end of the week.” She managed a small smile in return. “But if I don’t hear from you by then, I’ll have to consider any other offers.”

“It is most generous of you.” He turned to leave. “Oh, one other thing – I will be using the flat as my place of business, and I shall need the sitting room to receive clients. They may on occasion call at unsociable hours, or leave urgent messages for me. I would, of course, be prepared to pay a premium for the added inconvenience. I hope that will not be a problem?”

“Clients?! Why, bless you, sir, are you a doctor?” She was somewhat taken aback. He did not have the look of a medical man, and the flat was certainly not an appropriate for a surgery.

“No, it is a consultancy of sorts, on specific scientific matters.” He was apparently unwilling to divulge more.

“Well, as long as it doesn’t disturb the neighbours, and you’re prepared the pay for any damage resulting, as far as I’m concerned, Mr. Holmes, you can do as you like.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.” And he looked at her, then, so quiet and serious all of a sudden. “I think it shall suit nicely.”

***

Mr. Holmes returned in a few days as promised, and he brought with him another gentleman, who he said he’d met through a colleague from the chemical laboratories at St. Bart’s. Dr. John Watson, late of the Army Medical Department, was a retired surgeon who had seen service in Afghanistan and India. He was a handsome man in his late twenties, tanned from his time overseas, with friendly, open face and kind eyes. He took the room upstairs, on the second floor, and shared the use of the first floor sitting room with Mr. Holmes.

It was a surprisingly workable arrangement, and for all that the two did not seem much alike, they became fast friends. Mr. Holmes was courteous but aloof, and he could be abrupt or importunate at times. The Doctor was quieter, no less clever but more soft spoken, often thoughtful and always kind. Indeed, she developed quite a fondness for the Doctor in those early days, when he was still suffering from the effects of the Afghan wars, for his weakness brought out her maternal instincts. His constitution was poor; his wounds clearly pained him, and he suffered from nervous exhaustion. She took it upon herself to make sure that he ate well, learning his favourite dishes and fixing them for him, and made sure that the fire was always lit, so as to keep him comfortable on those chill afternoons. He seemed quite grateful for such kindnesses, and thanked her for them with real gratitude.

Indeed, of the two tenants, it was Mr. Holmes who was the more difficult of the two, for he would come and go from the house at all hours, taking his meals at odd times, if at all. His moods were as changeable as the weather – he could be quite charming on occasion, and he was the most well spoken man she knew, but he tended towards impatience, and was inclined to become restless when bored, snapping at her for no reason at all. She had always had a sharp eye and a good deal of common sense, and she was soon aware that Mr. Holmes was no ordinary businessman. By the time the Doctor published his story, she was well aware that Mr. Holmes’ consultations often involved nobility, criminals and police, and she learned to accept the regular upheavals with a sort of aplomb. Mr. Holmes was true to his word about paying for damages and inconvenience (although a few of those early chemical experiments were still sore points) and she was fast developing a more than passing familiarity with the world of London crime. It was really rather exciting, and complain though she might to Mrs. Pearce and Mrs. Warren, round for tea of an afternoon, she was in no hurry to change tenants anytime soon.

***

1895
The bell rang in the front hall, and she hurried downstairs to answer the door. The Doctor was just letting himself in with his key when she reached the head of the stair, and it was from there she greeted him. “Welcome home, Doctor.”

Hanging up his hat and coat in the hallway, John H. Watson was a well built, handsome man of middle age. His hair might be greying at the temples, and his waist thickening a little, but he was as correct and courteous as ever, and he retained a gentle strength of demeanour that was perfectly suited to his profession. All these years, she had held him in the greatest affection, her heart warmed at the sight of his dear face. She thought it a tragedy that his marriage had not produced children; for rarely was there a man so clearly meant to be a father. Had things been different for him, perhaps – but then his life, like hers, had its compensations. “Mrs. Hudson. I trust everything is well at Baker Street?”

“It is indeed, thank you, Doctor. You go upstairs, and I’ll just put the kettle on.”

He was settled in his chair by the fire with the daily paper by the time she brought the tray up from the kitchen. She set it down, poured a cup (milk, no sugar) and brought it over to him.

“Mr. Holmes,” she said in answer to the unasked question, “is consulting on a case with Inspector Bradstreet, but has promised that he will return for supper by seven.” In response to the raised eyebrow, she added, “I shall be serving at nine.”

Pouring a second cup for herself (milk, two sugars), she took a seat next to him on the settee. “But you must tell me about the conference. Was your old Professor, Dr. Bell there?”

He smiled, the wrinkles crinkling at the corners of his eyes. “He was, indeed. Quite old now, he is well past retirement but up to his usual theatrics – sometimes I think the old man is worse than Holmes. He is pressing the university to open a school specifically for forensic medicine – pathology. He says that doctors must be properly trained in order to investigate death. Can you imagine?”

“I’m sure it would prove a great boon to the Inspectors – after all, there are only so many of you who understand how to diagnose the dead as well as the living.” She laid a hand on his arm. “Finish your tea. Then I’ll draw you a bath downstairs and you can tell me all about it.”

***

1882
The publication of the Doctor’s story was a moderate success, but more importantly, it publicised 221B as Mr. Holmes’ address. The flow of clients became even heavier, and she was obliged to keep a better track of his comings and goings, if only to inform clients when he might be expected to be in. Moreover, the Doctor had begun accompanying Mr. Holmes regularly on his cases, and the two were rapidly becoming inseparable. She would often find them discussing their latest escapade when she brought up supper in the evenings, and it became increasingly common that she would be awakened at any odd hour of the night, by their comings and goings, often heralded by Mr. Holmes’ shout of her name. Whether it was for a late night arrest or an early morning train departing for the countryside, she soon adjusted to bringing up late cups of tea or a basket of sandwiches for the train at a moment’s notice. Indeed, it was not all that uncommon for her to sit up half the night waiting to see that they both returned safely, although she would never dare admit it, were she asked.

After a time, it seemed natural that she should ask the occasional question, while lighting the sitting room fire, as to what clients, criminals or other upheavals she should expect in the coming week, and her ready acceptance and tart responses amused Mr. Holmes to a great degree. In no time at all, it seemed, he was recruiting her assistance, whether it was to slip a document into a silver serving dish, or to delay a suspect in the sitting room while he climbed out the back window. She thought she should be rather more annoyed by such matters, but truth be told, she found them rather exciting, and was quite pleased when Mr. Holmes spent an afternoon teaching her how to pick a simple lock. It was, she thought, some compensation for his regular habit of leaving the sitting room on a state of complete disorder, or the noxious fumes and periodic explosions caused by the chemical experiments he had installed on the sideboard. They had had words over the bullet holes in the wall, however, and it was only through a promise to pay for new wallpaper and a healthy application of charm that he managed to escape her wrath on that particular occasion.

Still, the Doctor was her favourite, and his affection for her was evident as well. He was a bachelor, she a young widow – it seemed inevitable that at some point they should begin a modest flirtation. It was innocent enough at first, exchanged smiles, her hand on his arm when she brought the tea, his assisting her with the tray as she left. But it became more serious over the ensuing months, and she knew that if they pursued it, it would lead to a declaration of some kind, perhaps even an offer of marriage. The Doctor was kind. The Doctor was charming. But the Doctor, if he married, would want a gently born wife who could bear him children. Martha was an innkeeper’s daughter and a sea captain’s widow, and barren besides, and she knew that the match would never be right. What she would tell him when the time came, though, she did not know.

***

1883
Nonetheless, the declaration was a surprise, occurring, as it did, on an ordinary late winter evening. She was downstairs in the kitchen with the household account book, which the Doctor had been kind enough to offer to review for her. Having checked that the latest invoice tallied against the regular payments to tradesmen and the like, the Doctor turned towards the fireplace, where she had just put the kettle on, and rather abruptly began to speak.

“Mrs. Hudson – Martha – I hoped I might have a word with you.” The Doctor shifted uncomfortably. “I know that matters have become more – serious – between us, and before they proceed any further I thought it proper that I should ask you if you would do me the honour of accepting…”

“Oh, please don’t, Doctor.” She looked up for a moment, and then quickly down again, unable to meet his eyes,

“I apologize. I had thought that, all considered –” He paused.

“It’s not you I am rejecting; it’s the offer I know you were about to make. I know that you are a gentleman, sir, and that you would never think of taking advantage, but I cannot consider any sort of formal arrangement. It wouldn’t be right.”

He appeared somewhat affronted by this. “I fail to see any particular impropriety, Mrs. Hudson.”

She did not answer for a moment, preferring to busy herself warming the teapot and measuring out the leaves. Then, with a sigh, she responded. “Well, you’re a professional gentleman, for a start, a medical man, and I’m not of your class. I couldn’t make you a proper wife, not the sort you deserve. For example, if we were to marry, what would I do with Baker Street?”

“Could we not simply continue as we are?” His face registered genuine confusion; and it was clear to her that he had given the matter no serious thought.

“What, with me running a lodging house? The wife of a sailor or a publican might take in lodgers, but the wife of a practicing physician could not. And what would become of Mr. Holmes, now that the public so associates him with Baker Street?” That, if nothing else, seemed to gain his attention, as she knew it would. He obviously did not contemplate life without the presence of the detective, and she had no wish to be the cause of any such separation.

“I had not thought, I suppose. I would not have imagined it would make a difference to such things.” The Doctor was quiet for a moment, with a serious expression on his face, and her heart skipped a beat, as she knew, suddenly, what she would say next.

“It need not, John.” She reached for his hand. “But not through marriage.”

His eyes flashed. “I would not take advantage of you in such a fashion.”

The kettle was boiling now, but she ignored it, and instead knelt down beside his chair. “I do not question your honour or your sincerity. But I have made it clear, I think, why marriage is not an option. Yet I have no wish to reject your friendship, or the closeness that has grown between us.” Unconsciously, she raised a hand to her temple, where the first few grey hairs were starting to show. “It has been many years since Jack died. And they have been lonely, until you and Mr. Holmes arrived here.”

He frowned for a moment, but his face took on a thoughtful expression, and she felt a glimmer of hope that she might win him over. “But if there should be complications – a child, for example.”

“There will be no child. Not now, not ever. ” Her voice was uncharacteristically flat in cutting him off.

“I apologize, my dear. I did not know.” And there it was again, that uncommonly gentle look that made her stomach lurch.

“How were you to know?” She looked down at her hands, lost for a moment in the memory. “I miscarried, and there was an infection. The doctor said that it was unlikely that I would be able to get with child again, and even then I would not be able to carry it to term.” Raising her head, she met his eyes. “That is the other reason why I would refuse your offer. It would not be fair to you, otherwise.”

“My dear Martha, I do not think there is anything that would make me wish otherwise. But, I understand why you would refuse my hand but not my person, and if you are willing to consider it… ” He stood, and took her hand in his. “It would make me very happy.”

Theirs was a very quiet, subtle sort of affair, often thought of but little spoken. It was easy enough to manage, with the Doctor’s room across from hers on the second floor, and no one else around the house in any case, save for Mr. Holmes, and the girl who helped Martha in the kitchen. She liked to think that her comfort and companionship had aided his recovery, even as his presence eased her loneliness. Simply to be desired, to have the warmth of another body beside her for a few hours of the night, these were things she had missed, and it was good to be reminded. And, she told herself that there was no harm in it, for the Doctor was a bachelor, and she a widow. They behaved most properly around each other, perhaps even more so than they had before.

It was that only now and again, when she brought up the tea tray or turned from lighting the fire, she would catch Mr. Holmes giving her the strangest, almost appraising look, which made her wonder how much he knew, or if he disapproved. But he said nothing, seemingly content to leave matters as they were.

Having fully recovered from the war and his subsequent illness, the Doctor resumed his practice, which began at last, to prosper. Life settled into a comfortable routine, and what had begun as a passionate clandestine affair shaded over time into a deep and abiding affection and support for each other. For a time, Martha attracted the attentions of one Mr. Killick, a widower who ran the public house on the other side of Regent’s Park, and the Doctor teasingly offered to enquire as to the man’s intentions towards her. She knew the publican was looking to start a family, however, and after some mild flirtation, the matter went no further. In the end there remained nothing to prevent her and the Doctor from occasional comfort of each other’s arms, and as long as they were both discreet for the sake of reputation, there were none to be the wiser.

The ensuing years flew by, busy but rewarding. Both gentlemen were often away on various matters of business, with Mr. Holmes’ growing reputation in particular necessitating long absences and frequent travel, for which he was wont to ask the Doctor accompany him. Martha missed them both while they were away, she also came to appreciate how much the Doctor loved the adventure and excitement of assisting on a case, and how, in turn, Mr. Holmes relied upon the Doctor as he did no other. Besides, she reflected, their periodic absences were a welcome opportunity to give Baker Street a much needed cleaning and reordering, before some fresh upheaval.

***

1895
“Mrs. Hudson!” The roast was nearly done, and the Doctor was upstairs, dozing in his chair by the fire when the bell rang a second time as the door opened and a familiar shout came from the downstairs landing. It was gone half eight.

She paused to set down the basting tray and put her head round the kitchen door. “Go on upstairs, Mr. Holmes. The Doctor returned this afternoon, and is waiting in the sitting room. Supper will be served in ten minutes.”

Mr. Holmes was invariably in a good mood upon the successful conclusion to a case, and tonight was no exception. “I am becoming entirely too predictable, Mrs. Hudson. Pray the criminal mind never develops your faculty for predicting my next move.” His expression was amused, and he had the audacity to wink at her before dashing up the stairs with all alacrity, eager to relate his latest triumph.

***

1888
Knowing that she could not offer John marriage and a family, Martha schooled herself to feel no jealousy when Miss Morstan came calling with her mysterious note and exotic pearls. But even as she congratulated the Doctor on his engagement, she could not help feeling a certain foreboding and regret, not so much that he was leaving her, but that he was leaving Baker Street. His departure, she knew, would break the delicate balance they had maintained in the house over the years, and once broken it might never be restored.

Still, she took news of the engagement better than Mr. Holmes, who began by throwing one of his usual sulks. Worse, over the following weeks, he became increasingly irritable at the impending loss of Watson. This was not so surprising considering the disturbance the engagement had brought to his usual routines, for the two men had come to rely heavily on each other for friendship and fellowship as their lives had intertwined. But there was more disruption to come, as the Doctor acquired a new practice near Paddington, and his move was soon followed by the merry chaos of the wedding. It was a small enough affair, for Miss Morstan was an orphan, and the Doctor had no family in England, but there were still various friends and acquaintances including Mrs. Forester, former employer of the bride, not to mention several members of the medical and military communities. Both Martha and Mr. Holmes attended as guests of the groom, and although she managed to enjoy herself in the end, remembering her own wedding many years ago, Mr. Holmes had rarely looked more miserable in his life. Indeed, as soon as the dinner was over and the dancing started, he made an escape, pleading the demands of his latest case. When she returned that evening, she paused on the first landing, seeing the strip of light beneath the door and hearing the melancholy strains of a Mendelssohn Lieder. The next morning, she came downstairs to find the lamp still burning, the violin thrown carelessly on the settee, and an empty syringe sitting on the table next to a familiar green bottle. Mr. Holmes was nowhere to be seen.

Once the Doctor left for good, Mr. Holmes was more difficult than ever. Of course there had been no replacement lodger, as Mr. Holmes could easily afford the rent himself, and in point of fact, she no longer needed to have tenants at all, seeing as her investment in the funds over the years had done so well. The Doctor’s stories had forever associated the famous detective and his address, however, so Mr. Holmes was loath to relinquish them – and of course, he would tolerate no other companions. But with no one to temper his excesses and alleviate his boredom, he grew ever more temperamental and even peevish. Indeed, he might have become altogether insufferable had it not been for the Doctor’s occasional visits. At those times it seemed that nothing had changed – she would bring up the tea tray to find them discussing the facts of the case, or sitting together in companionable silence. But as the visits grew more infrequent, Mr. Holmes’ habits grew more erratic, his hours more irregular, and her relations with the detective became more trying as a consequence. His moods became worse, and he would have alternating periods of mania and melancholia. Seeing as it was all she could do to get him to eat semi-regular meals, she did not dare raise the issue of his other vices, though she knew that he had begun to indulge more frequently than had been his wont.

Martha thought she understood the underlying cause, for beyond the Doctor’s absence, there was a memory of the way things had once been in the house. The sharp looks Mr. Holmes used to give her across the room, when she brought the Doctor his tea. The drowsy look of satisfaction she would note on the Doctor’s face when he watched Mr. Holmes play the violin. And above all, the memory of coming in the sitting room so many afternoons to find the two of them, seated on either side of the fire, talking, or laughing, or simply sharing a quiet contentment. Mr. Holmes no longer relaxed in his chair by the fire these days, preferring to pace the room, and he rarely took up his violin. And never, since the day Watson left Baker Street, did she hear him laugh.

***

1890
It was shortly after the incident with Culverton Smith that matters came to a head. For three days Mr. Holmes locked himself in his room, letting none come near, refusing all food and drink, and swearing at her if she dared so much as open the door a crack. At last, frantic, she begged him to let her summon assistance. But even when he finally allowed her to seek medical aid, he would have no one but Watson, and when the Doctor arrived, Mr. Holmes shouted at him as well. Once the matter was finally settled, and she was made aware that Mr. Holmes had faked his own near death for the sake of a case, it was all she could do not to scream with frustration. She said nothing in front of the Doctor, of course, and she waited until he left, all smiles and relief. Then she marched straight into the sitting room. Mr. Holmes was sprawled across the settee. “Ah, Mrs. Hudson.” He said, waving at the tray of sherry and biscuits. “It you could just clear… ” but he got no further, for he’d had to raise a hand and duck the slipper she’d thrown at his head.

“If you do anything like that again, I swear to God, I’ll throw you out.” She was positively shaking with rage. She had never been so angry in her life. “You don’t eat, you hardly sleep, you live on tobacco, alcohol, and God-knows-what – you’re killing yourself, Mr. Holmes, and I will not stand by here while you…”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson, that will be *enough.*” His voice was like a knife though the haze of her fury, and he caught the arm she hadn’t even known she’d raised in a vice-like grip. Icily calm, he released her hand and turned his back to her. “Now, if you will kindly leave these rooms…”

“You are killing yourself, and you have no right to do it, not because of him!” Breathless and exhausted all at once, she could feel the heat behind her eyes and she knew she was on the verge of tears. “You are not the only one who loved him! Christ, you, of all people, who could have stopped him with a word…”

Mr. Holmes spun around then, and for a moment she thought he would strike her. But his eyes were bright was well, and he faltered for a moment, before all the energy drained out of him. “I’m sorry, I…” and for once even the great detective was at a loss for words. “It seems I am indeed lost without my Boswell.” His expression was rueful as he collapsed in his chair. “I did not realize how much, until he left me. But who was I to stop him?”

She felt like laughing and crying at the absurdity of his question, and it came out instead as a sort of gasping wheeze. “You would hardly have had to say a word. For a detective, Mr. Holmes, you’re a remarkably poor judge of romantic interest. Could you not see how much he loved you?”

She could not see the expression on his face, for he sprang up, and took a few paces towards the window. “It’s not possible! Not in that way! There were women, Miss Morstan, and you and he -”

“The man lived by your side for eight years, aided in your work, and tended to your wounds. He came to your assistance at a moment’s notice, often to the detriment of his own medical practice – and moreover, published tales of your exploits that are undoubted declarations of admiration and affection. He was fascinated by you, devoted to you, passionately attached to you. Had you given him the slightest hint, he would never have left Baker Street.” She bit off a rather harsh laugh. “I, of all people should know.”

Martha could see the realisation dawn across his face, as he searched his memory for all those unexplainable glances, those odd moments that had been dismissed as wistful thinking or unwarranted projection. And then, somehow, he was leaning against her, and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, tears streaming down her face, as he made raw, choking sounds that were not quite sobs.

***

She and Mr. Holmes never spoke of the incident again, but she went to his room that night, and for several of the nights that followed. It was an odd affair indeed, rough and angry and at times desperate, and by unspoken agreement they did not acknowledge it by the light of day. It existed only for the two of them, who understood just what had been lost when the delicate balance attained at Baker Street had been disrupted. There were no endearments, although Mr. Holmes did manage to recall his more civil, charming manner about the flat. When his demeanour did worsen, she, being somewhat less in awe of him now, felt more able to respond with a spirited comment or sarcastic remark, which was sometimes enough to put him out of his sulk altogether. In short, it was nothing like what she’d shared with the Doctor, but it was a kind of comfort to her, to have someone who could comprehend what was missing, who suffered equally in the absence. And for perhaps the first time she could regard Mr. Holmes as more human, with weaknesses as well as his moods and vanities and foibles. But it was not to be enough for either of them, and for all that things improved for a time, Mr. Holmes soon found a different way to court destruction, throwing himself into constant work, pushing himself to the limit of his endurance, making new and dangerous enemies. Long before the arrival of Professor Moriarty and the shadow of Reichenbach, she understood that without the Doctor at his side, Mr. Holmes was lost, a man drowning on dry land.

***

1895
Supper was a jovial affair. Mr. Holmes’ good mood was infectious, so much so that Martha caught herself singing as she brought the supper up. A tutti contenti, saremo cosi, A tutti contenti, saremo, saremo cosi. Although not as learned in music as her gentlemen, she had a fine contralto, and had developed a fondness for the more popular operas. Conversation ceased as she entered the sitting room, and her voice which was soon joined by a tenor and baritone in remarkably melodious harmony, and while the covered plates were passed around the table. During the soup course, Mr. Holmes finished his retelling of the case, which had involved a family secret, a nigh undetectable method of forgery, and one of the most respected families in England. The Doctor evidenced interest, and Mr. Holmes allowed that it might be worth making a few notes over the case, even if they could not be published for many years to come. Over the roast, talk turned to the Doctor’s conference, and the techniques of forensic medicine being championed by Dr. Bell. Mr. Holmes voiced an unusually hearty support of the new school, while not neglecting the opportunity to jokingly chide the Doctor on some of his more old fashioned medical ideas.

***

1892
After the funeral, a letter came from the elder Mr. Holmes, asking her to preserve the rooms as they were, taking no new tenants and offering to continue the rent in exchange. She had ceased to require the income some time ago, and had intended to close them in any case, and so she agreed, keeping them clean and tidy to an extent that had been impossible when they were occupied. Once, the Doctor came to visit, and they sat across from each other for a long time, cups of tea cooling in the winter afternoon, grief hanging heavy and silent between them. Later, when news came of the tragic death of Mrs. Mary Watson, in childbirth, she attended the funeral, but sat respectfully towards the back of the congregation. The Doctor wrote her a letter of thanks, in which he mentioned his move from Kensington to Queen Anne Street. He did not ask about returning to Baker Street, and she did not offer.

***

1894
Imagine her surprise when Mr. Holmes returned from the dead, with his valise in hand and his familiar sardonic smile. She very nearly became hysterical, and in an unusual reversal of roles, it was Mr. Holmes who brought her the smelling salts and cup of tea (laced with brandy) that she needed before she could calm down. Once he saw she had, however, it was only a few moments before he began to explain the plan, and what role she would need to play in it. And then it seemed that the last three years had passed in a dream, for he was once more involving both her and the Doctor in another one of his cases. A simple matter of lighting the lamps at the right angle, and making a few arrangements to the furniture, and Colonel Sebastian Moran was in police custody.

When Mr. Holmes returned with the Doctor that evening, she could see that all had been reconciled between them. The triumphant smile playing across his lips, the possessive way he laid a hand across the Doctor’s arm, and the unconscious way that they leaned into one another coming up the stairs – it was plain as day for anyone who had the eyes to see it. Watching them together, she felt the slightest twinge of regret – for nothing would come between them, ever again – before it was washed away by her happiness at their return. Baker Street would come alive again, once more with the cavalcade of clients, the Doctor would help her carry things, and she would have her two tenants to care for and fuss over once more. Thus, she could not help but laugh as Mr. Holmes paced the room, excited as any child in examining the wax figure which the Colonel’s deadly shot had destroyed, and she took great pleasure in making him hold the tea tray while she fished in her pocket for the spent bullet, which she’d retrieved from the floor. It was quite late by the time she opened the bottle, but they both seemed more animated than ever as she made her toast. Once the champagne had been drunk, she gathered up the glasses and prepared to head downstairs. But before she did, she felt she needed to say something, to let them both know that she understood, and that they would always be welcome here.

“I’ve made up your bedroom of course, Mr. Holmes, but I’m afraid I didn’t have time to make up the Doctor’s what with all the excitement over assassinations and air guns.”

“That’s quite alright -” the Doctor started to say, but she continued.

“You two gentlemen would not mind sharing for the one night, would you?” She kept her face as composed as possible, but the implication was clear. “And seeing as it’s so late, I could bring your breakfast a bit later as well – I’ll just knock and leave it outside the door.” The Doctor looked absolutely shocked for a moment, and then he dropped his head as a distinct blush began to creep up his cheeks. Mr. Holmes caught her eye, and after studying her for a moment, he began to laugh, a rich, amused chuckle the like of which she’d never heard from him before.

The Doctor still looked a little distressed, so she laid a comforting hand on his arm. “What I mean to say, is that I hope you will come back to stay at Baker Street, Doctor. With my help you should be able to preserve your privacy, and I’ll do everything I can to make things comfortable for you both. It’s just – it’s not the same with one or the other of you gone. It needs both of you here to be truly be a home.”

“It is my sincere hope, Mrs. Hudson,” Mr. Holmes said, his eyes glittering as he focused on the Doctor, seated in the chair across from him, “that we will both be remaining at Baker Street for many years to come.”

The Doctor looked up from his hands, which he had been studying intently. His brown eyes found them both, each in turn, and his voice, when he spoke, was calm and sincere. “Yes. I think it is high time I came home.”

Picking up the tray, she headed for the door, but as her hand touched the doorknob, Mr. Holmes spoke again. “Oh, and Martha?”

She stopped. “Yes, Mr. Holmes?”

“Perhaps you might consider joining us, on occasion? If it suited you, of course?”

She wondered if he could hear the happiness in her voice. “It would be my very great pleasure, Mr. Holmes.”

***

1895
This then was how it was to be: the three of them, in this most uncommon and unconventional of arrangements. Together, they formed a household, their needs and interests in the most delicate balance. The Doctor sold his practice, but kept his skills current, and of course, he moved back to his old rooms. He was kept occupied now with his writing, as well. Mr. Holmes was busier than ever with his cases, and it took the combined efforts of both her and the Doctor to make sure that he ate and slept and did not push himself too hard. Meanwhile, she had invested in a new property; a small house in Sussex, on the South Downs, and any time not spent running the household was devoted to supervising its refurbishment. The bulk of her money was still invested safely in the funds, but she kept back enough to play the turf, and splash out on the occasional flutter. She had long since ceased to rely upon the income from her tenants at Baker Street, but Mr. Holmes and the Doctor were fixtures in her life, and the rent was paid in regular as clockwork. Mrs. Pearce and Mrs. Warren might chide her occasionally for not retiring or remarrying, as was her right, but she told them that she liked keeping active, and after all this time, she was settled in her ways. If she refrained from telling them that she enjoyed the occasional attentions of not one, but both of her gentlemen tenants, well, there were some stories the world was not prepared for.

***

Downstairs in the kitchen, Maggie had finished washing the supper dishes, and Martha sent the girl home to her mother. She had just finished putting them away herself when the familiar shout came from upstairs. “Mrs. Hudson!!”

After taking the time to ensure the kitchen was secure, she climbed the seventeen steps to the first floor landing. Wiping her hands on her apron, she entered the sitting room. “Yes, Mr. Holmes?”

It was a disaster already: the newspaper scattered in sections over the hearth rug, the contents of a file box upended in the corner, and a saucer of cigarette ends sitting on the table. “I am very sorry, but I forgot to mention it at supper – I’ll be having guests to breakfast tomorrow. Inspector Bradstreet has promised to call and let me know whether Scotland Yard succeeded in capturing my forger – I’m too old to go along on cold, uncomfortable vigils.” He was in that irrepressible good mood that usually came over him at the conclusion of a case, humming under his breath and fiddling with a few of the items on the mantelpiece. She sighed. Despite her irritation at the state of the room, it was impossible not to love him when he was like this.

“Another plate of sausages, then – I recall the Inspector is particularly fond of them.”

“Yes, please.” He smiled at her in his most charming way, and she could not help but smile back.

“And will the Doctor be joining you?”

“I should hope so – especially after the fuss he’s made over wanting to record it, if only ‘for the sake of posterity’.” He settled himself back in his chair and reached for his pipe. “But he’s already retired for the night, so you will have to ask him yourself, later.” He gestured towards the ceiling. “I’ll turn out the lamp when I’m done here. I trust you’ll be joining us, tonight?” Another slow smile, but this one had a teasing air about it – it was nearly a grin.

Even after all these years, she was hard pressed not to blush like a schoolgirl. “I’ll be up directly, Mr. Holmes. Goodnight!”

***

A figure stands on the second floor landing at Baker Street. She is an older woman, not beautiful, perhaps, but handsome, with dark eyes and a good figure. She wears a cotton nightdress, light for autumn, but has a grey knitted shawl about her shoulders. Her dark hair is streaked with grey and it falls, unbound, down her back. She carries a single lighted candlestick in her left hand, and as she crosses to the opposite door, to join the two men she loves most in the world, she blows the candle out.

Perhaps it will always be like this autumn, in the year 1895. Outside, the fog is thick in the streets, but the lamplight that shines beneath door of the second floor bedroom at 221B Baker Street is warm and comforting. The household at that address might be the most irregular and extraordinary in London. Mr. Holmes has the support and love of his faithful biographer and his redoubtable landlady. Dr. Watson has found female companionship and affection which need not threaten the great love of his life, and Mrs. Hudson has the company of two men who make her life enough of an adventure and a pleasure that she need never marry again. They are home. And that, perhaps, is enough.
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