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Five Birthdays (Sherlock)

Title: Five Birthdays
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandom: Sherlock
Disclaimer: This universe does not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: Some birthdays are welcome. Others are not.
Author's Note: Birthdays usually don't affect me much, but later this month I celebrate a significant one, and it's on my mind more than I expected (or wanted) it to be. (Generation Watson, here I come.) This is a result.
Warnings (Highlight to Read): #5 includes general references to the Reichenbach scenario and assumed character death.

Five Birthdays


Time changes everyone.

He used to be… well, thinner, obviously. More concerned about what others thought of him. Restless.

These days he's more comfortable in his own skin. More comfortable, full stop. And, thank God, he's growing wise enough to appreciate that this isn't a bad thing. Not every act must be a miracle-like resuscitation of a failing patient before a gasping crowd of impressed colleagues in order to be rewarding.

He's learning the value of subtler moments, humble and yet equally meaningful.

He's felt the quiet joy of watching as comprehension dawns on an earnest student's face. He's known the satisfaction of mentoring dedicated young professionals as they grow in ability and confidence.

He's enjoyed the pleasure of being a friend to unique and remarkable individuals. Two such men he introduced to one other, as a matter of fact, and now he has the delight of watching each better the other in ways he never could have expected.

Speaking of whom…

Mike Stamford opens the laboratory door, quite certain of what he will find.

"Afternoon, Sherlock."

Sherlock continues to peer through the microscope. "Yes, it is. Well spotted."

Mike grins to himself.

"Some of us are planning to grab a pint or two tonight," Mike continues.

"This is relevant to me because…?"

"It's my birthday. That is, we're going out for a few because it's my birthday. You're welcome to join us." He tucks his hands into his pockets and braces himself for the reply.

"I don't make a habit of engaging in foolish, over-sentimentalised public bonding rituals in recognition of incidental and irrelevant dates on the calendar." A sigh. "Boring."

"I know," Mike says, unsurprised, even a bit amused. "But I wanted you to know you're invited anyway. And I'd appreciate it if you'd tell John that he is, too. It's been years since we raised a glass on one of our birthdays. Be just like old times."

Sherlock glances up at this. "I'll text him."

"Thanks." Mike looks toward the microscope. "Anything exciting?"

"Potentially." Long fingers twitch with mad energy. "I'll let you know."

"Do that." Mike offers a parting nod, but Sherlock already has returned his attention to his slide.

"I meant birthdays in general, not yours specifically," Sherlock adds abruptly.

"Sorry?" Mike pauses, half in and half out of the room, and considers the unruly curls on Sherlock's bowed head.

"The celebration of birthdays in general is foolish, over-sentimentalised, and irrelevant. Not yours in particular."

For a moment, Mike stares.

He knows Sherlock Holmes well enough to appreciate the statement for what it is. He knows John Watson well enough to know who's responsible for what it represents.

"I understand," he says at last, touched.

Time changes everyone, even high-functioning sociopathic geniuses.

These days Mike Stamford is old and astute enough to value the modest, simple, extraordinary moments when they occur.

Just now, he can't help but think he's received something of a gift, birthday or no.


She turns the page on the calendar, revealing a new month and a new photo of playful kittens.

It feels like hope. It always does.

Her eyes skim the squares that mark the forthcoming days, empty and waiting.

All but one.

A strangled gasp escapes her. She'd forgotten. How could she have forgotten?

Instantly, without invitation, memories of that night return to her. The romantic dinner at the intimate little Italian restaurant. The dress she wore. His smile.

Comparing top ten lists of favourite musicians and bands, actors and actresses, films and shows. Drinking wine and giggling like schoolchildren as they traded embarrassing stories of their teenage years. Sharing their personal histories along with the tiramisu.

She told the truth. He lied.

That night she came home and marked his birthday on her calendar, so she wouldn't forget it. The words hung there on the wall like a promise, like a good omen foretelling that they would still be a couple then, still be together, still in like, perhaps even in love.

The words mock her now: "Jim's birthday."

It's probably not even his real one, Molly Hooper tells herself. Then again, maybe it is. He used his own name, didn't he? Why not his birthday, as well? He lied only about the important things, like who he was, and what he felt about her, and how he was using her.

And who he really wanted. And why.

She shudders.

She doesn't look over her shoulder quite so often anymore. She doesn't check her locks half a dozen times before she goes to sleep. She doesn't have nightmares, much. She's been putting this behind her. Honestly, she has.

It's not some vague, disappointed dream that makes her flesh crawl now, or this handwritten testament to her own gullibility. It's the thought that somewhere hidden, somewhere secret – likely in her very own London – Moriarty soon might be celebrating.

She won't forget this date again.

It feels like horror. It always will.


When she hears his approaching step, she looks up to meet his smile with one of her own. His kind expression unfurls a blossom of warmth deep inside her chest, as welcome and full of promise as the morning's first cup of tea.

She's neither a randy teen driven by hormones nor a naïve romantic pining for an impossible paragon of a hero. She's earned this, with her age and experience and wits, and by God she's going to savour it: the luxury of feeling for a man who's all too human and yet someone she truly can respect, even admire.

"Happy birthday," he says. Gazing at her with undisguised fondness, he juts out his chin, and the gesture is so endearingly him that for a moment all she can do is continue smiling.

He's neither a large man nor a particularly charismatic one. His presence fills up a room with the same quiet, steady determination as sunlight. If she allows herself, she knows she could find him every bit as indispensable.

"Thanks," she says.

For several seconds they regard each other, and all is calm and comfortable between them.

Then his mobile chirps in his pocket.

Like a lightning bolt splitting apart an untroubled sky, the sudden incoming message seems to charge the very air around them.

His body curls around the phone in his hand like a coiling spring, and she can sense the fresh energy in his limbs, see the new animation in his face as he reads its screen.

"Sherlock," he whispers.

Moments earlier, he was her colleague and friend and date for tonight, Dr Watson. Now, he's a new creature; he's Sherlock's John; he's alive.

She can't shake the notion that she's intruding, somehow, just by witnessing this transformation.

"Sorry," he mutters with self-conscious chuckle, as he tucks the mobile back into his pocket. His eyes are lit up from within, and a private grin still tugs at the corner of his lips.

I'm not, she wants to say, because surely she should be glad that anything, anyone, could move him so.

But I am, she thinks, because she realises with absolute certainty that he'll never look at her – at work, over dinner, in bed – with the same electric intensity he just showed that text.

The revelation lodges in her throat.

For a moment, she doesn't breathe. She doesn't even try.

Sarah's never quite understood, strictly speaking, what exists between John and Sherlock, but labels hardly matter. Whatever it is, it's real. Real and far stronger than the tentative though well-intentioned "what ifs" that lie scattered between John's feet and hers.

"So," he says, clasping his square, strong hands together, rocking a bit on his feet, "are we still on for a birthday dinner tonight?"

He doesn't know, she tells herself. He doesn't see what I see.

No, of course he doesn't.

Her gaze falls to the paperwork on the desk before her. She's all too aware of what needs doing, this very minute, to spare them both later.

"Oh, John, God, I'm sorry. I'm afraid the timing's really bad." She gives herself a heartbeat or three to blink back inconvenient anguish, and then she meets his eyes.

"Lunch tomorrow instead?" she asks. Colleagues eat lunch together. So do friends.

She forces herself to watch as his dear, expressive face betrays him, as surprise and disappointment surrender to resignation and no little regret.

No, she hadn't been the only one who hoped…

He eases a half-step backward, widening the distance between them just a fraction.

"Yeah, lunch is good," he says at last with a genial nod, and Sarah accepts the gentleness in his voice as apology and forgiveness as well as acquiescence. "It's a plan, then." Not a date.

As easy as that. But oh, so very difficult, burying this thing not yet born.

"Thanks." Sarah swallows and stares once more at her desk, shuffling the memos and forms without seeing them.

"Right. I'll just get to it." The lightness in his tone doesn't come easily, she can tell, but she's grateful to him for making the gallant effort.

At the sound of his retreating step she glances up, admiring the broad line of his shoulders under the lab coat, the soldier-straight length of his back, the purposeful stride and swing of his arms.

You can't miss what you've never had, people say. Sarah Sawyer knows they're wrong.

She's dared to envision John as a lover, boyfriend, partner, even father. She won't grant herself permission to imagine such again, and she feels the loss as a physical pain. But she's a doctor, isn't she? She'll choose a quick lancing over a slow festering every time.

She's a big girl, too – a year older, in fact, today. She's wise enough not to ruin something she has by yearning after what she doesn't and can't and won't. What she has is an able colleague and, she hopes, a lasting friend.

Love is real. She knows that much. John just reminded her of the fact as he read that text. As birthday presents go, she tells herself, that's quite enough to be going on with.

If love exists, then it's worth holding out for, isn't it? The real thing. In whatever form it appears.

Right, then. She wipes her eyes and straightens her coat.

Their patients are waiting.


He can think of twenty-three immediate, relevant reasons why this day is noteworthy.

Eleven of these have to do with his fast-approaching conference call, timed so that seven individuals in seven different time zones and on four separate continents can compare notes on a situation all would deny in the harsh daylight of their respective homelands.

Business as usual.

If he took the time to rank all of the reasons this day is noteworthy by relevance and immediacy, the fact that he is taking another step forward in his sojourn through his forties would not appear until the three hundred and fifties, at least. Perhaps far later.

Mycroft Holmes isn't one for birthdays.

Why should he be?

He's beyond the point at which he required additional age for decision-makers to take him seriously. (To be quite honest, he's nearly beyond the point where he requires decision-makers, other than himself.)

He's not yet to the point at which his body and mind offer up constant reminders of his own finite nature. (After all, he has a baby brother for that. Sherlock's text – if he remembers, if it appears at all – will be some variation on the theme of "You've survived another year. Well done you. But memento mori, brother mine." The brat.)

As is his custom, Mycroft enters his private study early to collect his thoughts. He finds everything arranged according to his preferences, as always.

And centred on his desktop, something unexpected, as well.

A china plate, and on it, a single, elegant tart. He leans forward and inhales. Pumpkin with cinnamon and nutmeg, brown sugar and brandy, and a touch of the darkest of chocolates. It's a miniature work of art, with a filigree of delicate crust, quite obviously the product of a master chef's skilled hand.

Not a cake. Not a slice of a cake. The tart comprises all of two bites. Three, if he is very disciplined.

Which, of course, he is.

Beside the tart on a pristine linen napkin rests a folded piece of ivory-coloured heavy stock paper.

The handwriting on the top fold is feminine and precise.

It reads, "Happy Birthday, Sir."

Mycroft sighs. If she is the one who offers this, it is safe. It is allowed.

He bends close and inhales once again, revelling in the sweet and spicy scent, even as he admires the intricate patterns of its sculpted texture.

She would think to do such a thing, wouldn't she?

Then again, she's his employee. It's considered good form to keep one's superior pleased.

After a second's hesitation, he reaches for the napkin. On a whim he takes up the paper instead.

On the inside fold, in the same familiar hand, is written, "This isn't because I'm your employee. A"

He's startled into a laugh. A genuine laugh. He claps his hand to his mouth like a child, before he recalls that he's alone.

Dear God, he thinks, but it's good to be surprised, now and again. Especially on one's birthday.

It happens so very rarely.

On the back side of the paper, he pens in his bold, exact script, "Thank you, my dear. MH"

He leaves the paper on his desk.

Nineteen minutes remain before the conference call. Mycroft makes the tart last for seventeen.


They don't make it to the pub.

Lestrade rather doubted they would, so he brought along a bottle, just in case. Only one. John doesn't drink that much, and Lestrade, well, he doesn't drink that much in front of John. Or anyone else.

This isn't helpful, he knows. Or healthy. He's tried to be a better friend than this, tried to encourage John to look ahead at least as often as he looks behind. But there's no fighting it tonight.

He needs this just as badly as John does, God help him.

They end up in the sitting room, drinking without pleasure, staring in different directions into a void that only the two of them can see.

"He'd've hated this," Lestrade says, shaking his head. "He thought birthdays were rubbish."

"Wouldn't know, would I?" John replies with a tight, grim smile. "By the time I learned when his was, it'd already passed last year. I told myself this year I'd do something so unexpected… well, if nothing else, it wouldn't be boring for him."

Lestrade answers with a soft huff of breath. "'Not boring' would've been good."

"Never worked out what it might be, though." John shrugs. "What possibly could surprise the great Sherlock Holmes?"

A fall, Lestrade thinks.

He takes another swallow.


Vital Stats: Originally written in November 2011.


( 85 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 3
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Nov. 1st, 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
Oh, come on: you've stabbed me *again* with no. 5!
No matter that it's as perfect as the other four, or that no. 4 is so unusual and delicate, and no. 1 completely endearing (Sherlock repeating himself without a glitch, a bow of sorts tied on his gift), and that I need to thank you five times over.
You've still stabbed me. Again.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
Oh noes! At least we know - or can assume, anyway - that there ultimately is a happy ending for #5. Lestrade and John just don't know it yet... That said, I'm glad this knowledge didn't prevent the vignette from being properly moving. I can't tell if a story works unless it kicks me in the gut once or twice as I write it. LOL.

I'm so glad these seemed fitting to you. I'm delighted that you found #1 to be endearing (I figured if anyone could repeat himself flawlessly, it would be Sherlock!) and that you liked #4, in particular, as well. (That one was so much fun to imagine!) I appreciate your reading and commenting so much. Apologies for the stabbing!
(no subject) - mazaher - Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 1st, 2011 08:16 am (UTC)
These are excellent! Most poignant for me was Sarah... (words fail me)
Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you for this! I'm particularly pleased that Sarah's worked for you. I've never written her before, and I wanted to give her perspective a try and attempt to make it sympathetic. I really appreciate your reading and commenting. Thanks!
Nov. 1st, 2011 08:17 am (UTC)
Beautiful as always. I agree with mazaher - as lovely as the other four were (and they were wonderful), you killed me with number 5. Well done.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you! I'm so glad #5 didn't lose its potency, knowing what we know (or think we know! ha!) about how that scenario ends. I'm really tickled that these worked for you. As always, I'm most grateful for your support and encouragement.
Nov. 1st, 2011 08:53 am (UTC)

Sherlock's hypothetical text to Mycroft was priceless. :D
Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I'm tickled that the hypothetical text seemed appropriately, er, Sherlockian. ;P

I appreciate your kind feedback! Thanks again.
Nov. 1st, 2011 09:09 am (UTC)
These are all wonderful, like little two-bite morsels of perfection. Sarah's got to me the most. :)
Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much! I'm really delighted that you liked them. I'm particularly pleased that you found Sarah's to be moving. I've never written her before, but I wanted to try at least once and attempt to make her sympathetic.

I really appreciate your reading and commenting! Thanks for your kind words.
Nov. 1st, 2011 09:37 am (UTC)
These are simply exquisite. Each a delicate work of art like Mycroft's tart. I found Sarah's vignette particularly moving, and Mycroft's. Such beautiful work. Gorgeous writing and characterization.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this! It thrills my heart. I'm especially pleased that you liked Sarah's (I've never written her before, and I was hoping to portray her in a sympathetic way) and Mycroft's (which was a true delight to write). It means a lot to me that you found the characterizations to be fitting. I appreciate your encouragement so much! Thanks, my friend.
Nov. 1st, 2011 09:45 am (UTC)
I do not like number 5. :-( *cries*

But #4 is a lovely little bit of joy in unexpected places, and I love #3 with a passion. Poor Sarah. How can she compete against Sherlock? Love this: His presence fills up a room with the same quiet, steady determination as sunlight. If she allows herself, she knows she could find him every bit as indispensable. So could we all, Sarah. So could we all!

Have a wonderful birthday!

Edited at 2011-11-01 01:45 pm (UTC)
Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC)
Aw! *hugs you tightly* At least we have reason to expect a happy ending, ultimately, for #5, even if John and Lestrade don't know this yet!

I'm so glad you liked #4 (it was so much fun!), and I'm especially pleased that #3 worked for you. I've never written Sarah's character before, but I wanted to try at least once and attempt to make her sympathetic. I'm so glad you felt for her!

So could we all, Sarah. So could we all!

So true, so true! Dear, dear John! :D (He has a certain Gamgee-ness, doesn't he?)

Thank you so much, my friend!

As always, I'm so grateful for your feedback. I appreciate it.

Nov. 1st, 2011 10:30 am (UTC)
These are all quite brillant, the Mycroft a pleasant surprise, thank you1
Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed them, Mycroft's in particular. (That vignette was so much fun to write!) I really appreciate your reading and commenting.
Nov. 1st, 2011 10:38 am (UTC)
These were lovely. I particularly liked #1 because with just a little moment, one little comment it shows how much John has changed Sherlock. And 4 and 5 were both sad, in different ways. #4 very bittersweet and #5...well, what everyone else said. Thanks for posting these.
Nov. 3rd, 2011 06:56 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for your encouraging words! I'm so happy these vignettes worked for you.

I particularly liked #1 because with just a little moment, one little comment it shows how much John has changed Sherlock.

This is so wonderful to hear! Thank you. I was hoping this would come through just as you described. Clearly Mike was used to (and okay with) Sherlock as he was, but I'd like to think this came as a happy and touching surprise to him.

I'm glad you found #4 and #5 to be properly moving, as well. I really appreciate your reading and commenting. Many thanks!
Nov. 1st, 2011 10:40 am (UTC)
These are all lovely, especially no 4. The idea of Mycroft taking 17 minutes to each three mouthfuls of tart is lovely; I can just imagine how much he enjoyed it. But of them all I actually like no 5 the most, because of the poignancy.
Nov. 3rd, 2011 06:59 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you for this! I'm so glad you liked the idea of Mycroft savouring that tart and making it last as long as possible. I just loved that idea. It's wonderful to hear that #5 was your favourite, and that you found it to be properly poignant. Those poor men! At least we have good reason to assume there's a happy ending that they don't yet know...

I really appreciate your kind words. They mean a lot to me!
Nov. 1st, 2011 10:55 am (UTC)
This is wonderful. Each one is perfectly appropriate and completely unexpected.
Nov. 3rd, 2011 07:00 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much! I'm so tickled that you liked them, and that you found them to be both fitting and yet unexpected (that delights me). I really appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. Thanks!

Edited at 2011-11-03 11:01 am (UTC)
(no subject) - brightredday - Nov. 3rd, 2011 09:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - morganstuart - Nov. 3rd, 2011 07:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 3rd, 2011 07:01 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you so much! :)
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 3rd, 2011 07:02 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm so happy you think so! Mycroft's was great fun to write. This is my first time to try writing Sarah, and I really hoped to make her sympathetic, so I appreciate your kind words about that vignette in particular. Thank you!
Nov. 1st, 2011 12:16 pm (UTC)
Wow---the combination of moods and characters was masterful, and every one of your stories hit me exactly in a different spot of my gut. Stamford's was sweet; Molly's was---hmmm, can't think of an adjective. Creepy, I guess; Sarah's was a beautiful, mature meditation on what real adults do with this sort of disappointment; Mycroft's was dry and witty (and right in character); and Sherlock's targeted the sad bit of my stomach that hadn't yet been kicked. Very well-written! Thank you.
Nov. 3rd, 2011 07:51 am (UTC)
Oh, you have no idea how happy your kind words have made me. I was hoping so much that the tones of these vignettes would work together instead of seeming random and scattershot, and your reaction just thrilled my heart. I'm especially pleased at your lovely comments about Sarah's vignette: this was my first time to write her, and I really wanted to try to make her seem mature and authentic and real in her disappointment and subsequent reaction. Needless to say, your feedback made my day. I'm also delighted that you liked the writing throughout.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and leave such heartening comments. I really appreciate it!
Nov. 1st, 2011 12:29 pm (UTC)
This is me, flailing.

This is fantastic. Just - yeah, fantastic.
Nov. 3rd, 2011 07:53 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm delighted that you liked this! Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate them.
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