River sat on the floor, dressing her doll in a purple dress sparkling with silver glitter. She picked up another doll and began to play, swinging both dolls around in the air as if they were flying. She weaved a story about angels and princesses as she played, making her Papa smile behind the screen of his laptop.
It was autumn now, the trees dotted with bursts of red and orange among the still green leaves. John sat in his chair typing away as he normally did on these lazy Sunday afternoons. He enjoyed this peaceful time with his daughter. They had just finished an arts and crafts project he had found online. The blue tissue paper pumpkin sat on the mantle, waiting for Sherlock to come home so that it could be proudly presented to him. John sighed as he watched the lone figure play enthusiastically on the floor.
"Do you want me to come play with you, love?" John called to her.
"Yes, Papa! You can be the princess!" River called back.
John shut his laptop and placed it next to him. He went over to her and sat cross-legged on the floor, his knees clicking as he bent down.
"You're the Princess Indie and I'm Princess River, and I've got to save you before you get to Heaven!" River happily exclaimed.
She continued with her elaborate story, not noticing the glaze of tears in John's eyes or his reddening cheeks as he tried to hold his tears in.
It had been 6 months since Indie had died, but to John, it felt like just yesterday. Before the girls were born, he and Sherlock had gone on several cases where children had been kidnapped or murdered. He would see the distraught parents and offer words of comfort that seemed so great to him at the time. But now, those words seemed to be so weak, so powerless, as they were repeated to him over and over.
"I'm so sorry…what a lovely little girl…she was beautiful…"
He wanted to shout at them, yell from the rooftops, that she was so much more than that. She was intelligent, she was funny, she was kind, loving, and caring. That she was terrified of thunderstorms and she loved when the snow fell. That she was his little girl that gave the biggest hugs and sang as loud as she could.
He felt River's hand grab onto his.
"Papa, you have that sad look on your face again," she said.
"Oh, I'm sorry, love," he sighed, "I was just thinking about your sister. What color do you think she would have made her pumpkin?"
River laughed and shouted, "Pink!"
"You think so? I think she would have picked a nice purple," he said.
"No, Papa! Pink!" River said again, her wiggly tooth slightly shifting with the force of her exclamation.
"Pink it is then," John said, a soft smile crossing his face.
The timer on the oven buzzed from the kitchen, its loud incessant tone piercing the air.
"There's lunch, can you pick your toys up while I get it ready?"
John nodded and crossed into the kitchen, the sounds of cabinets opening and plates clinking on the counter soon following.
River stood and gathered her toys together, placing them in the plastic containers that they usually sat in when not in use. A flash of yellow caught her eye in the corner of the room by the open door leading to the stairway. She stared curiously until she saw it again. She walked closer and saw that it was a small yellow butterfly. It soon flew up, nearly hitting River's face, and down the stairs.
River straightened and cautiously glanced into the kitchen, her Papa was turned away from her, placing carrots on plates. She tiptoed down the stairs, searching for the butterfly all the while. She found it resting on the front door, its wings gently rising and falling.
"Do you want me to go outside?" River whispered, "I'm not allowed to go outside without Daddy or Papa. But, I can let you out so you can get back home."
She opened the large, heavy black door as quietly as she could, her small arms trembling from the weight. The butterfly flew out, but hovered at the bottom of the steps, seemingly waiting for her new friend.
River, daring as she was, quickly stepped out onto the landing without a second thought. She knew she had to follow the butterfly, maybe it was leading her to a buried treasure! Or a secret butterfly land!
Her pink trainers slapped against the concrete as she ran down the street behind the butterfly. It led her down several blocks, through several alleyways, until she arrived at the playground that she and Indie had most often played at when they were younger.
"Mrs. Butterfly, why did you take me here? I haven't been here since Indie…since she…" River began to cry, fat tears rolling down her cheeks and splashing onto the brown dirt below.
The little girl stood crying, fear beginning to fill her as she realized she did not know how to get home. She walked into the park, hoping to find a nice grown up to help her call her Papa. She saw a lady walking on the path next to the playground and went towards her.
The sight of a little girl on the swings, blonde ringlets falling to her shoulders, stopped her.
"Indie?" River shouted, "Indie!" she shouted, louder this time.
The little girl turned, unmistakable bright hazel eyes staring back at her, a wide grin set on her face. Her cheeks were full again and there were no longer dark shadows under her eyes. She wore a short blue and white striped dress, white Keds on her feet.
River's mouth fell open and she broke into a sprint, running to the sister that she loved so dearly.
"Indie! You came back! I knew you would!" River exclaimed, catching her in a hug. Indie hugged back and the girls held onto each other until Indie broke away. Taking River's hand, she pulled her towards the tunnels and slides.
The two girls slid down the curvy slide, climbed through the tunnels and on the monkey bars, shouts of laughter coming from both of them all the while. They ran through the grass and dirt hand in hand to each station, kicking up the fallen leaves beneath their feet. They finally stopped underneath the shade of a maple tree to rest, both joyous that they had found each other again.
John set the finished plates on the table and called for River to come for lunch. His brow furrowed when she did not appear in the doorway.
"River?" he said, walking into the front room.
"River Grace!" he shouted, a hint of panic rising in his voice.
Again, silence deafened his ears.
He dashed into her bedroom, into his and Sherlock's room, into the bathroom, opening and slamming doors in an increasing panic. Finally, he ran down the stairs and stood, face drained of color, gawking at the open front door. He ran out onto the steps, frantically looking around for his daughter.
"RIVER!" He screamed, the anguish tearing through Baker Street.
The girls laid on the soft grass, naming what they saw in the clouds.
"I think that's a big penguin!" River giggled.
"Well I see a great big dragon! And there's a heart!" Indie said through her giggles.
"There's a flower! It looks like a sunflower…"
River sat up, blades of grass stuck to her raven hair, and put her feet together. She rested her elbows on her jean-clad knees and put her chin in her hand. She took a twig and began drawing circles in the dirt.
"Can you come home, Indie? Papa and Daddy and me are so sad without you. I can hear them crying when they don't think I'm listening. And I cry too."
Indie looked back at her sister, sadness obvious in her face, and shook her head.
River sighed, "I thought so…"
She was interrupted by a distant shout of "River! River!"
River turned towards the sound and said, "Indie! That's Uncle Greg, he must be looking for me. Just wait here until I come back!"
River took off towards Lestrade.
"Uncle Greg! I'm here!"
Lestrade whipped around and nearly collapsed with relief at the sight of the little girl running towards him.
"River! Thank God you're safe!" He caught her in his arms and enveloped her in a hug. "Sweetheart, you're freezing, what are you doing all the way out here?" he said, his voice jittery.
"Come on, I have to show you something!"
She grabbed onto his hand and pulled him back into the park.
"River, what are you doing?" He said, confused.
He took out his phone and speed dialed John as he was pulled along.
"Where is she, Greg?" John's voice came through on the other end, he could hear the noisy street in the background.
"She's safe, John, she's alright. I found her at that park you and Sherlock used to take the girls to."
"Oh, thank God. Jesus Christ, I thought…"
"I know, John, it's alright. She has her mind set on showing me something right now…"
"Indie's here, Papa!" River interrupted.
"What? What did she say, Greg?" John asked, confusion clear in his voice.
"I don't…River, what are you talking about?"
"She's here, Uncle Greg! I asked her to wait."
They arrived at the shady spot where River had left Indie. Empty grass was all they found.
"No, no, no! Uncle Greg, I promise she was here! Right here!" River screamed, tears freely falling.
"Shh, River, sweetheart, its alright," he said, draping his jacket around her and gathering her into his arms. He rocked back and forth with her as she wept, sweeping his hand down her hair.
John and Sherlock ran to the playground, their eyes bloodshot and wild, not believing that they had not lost their little girl until they saw her with their own eyes.
Sherlock spotted the raven hair and pink trainers before John and dashed towards them, his black coat billowing behind him.
"River Grace, oh my darling River Grace, why did you come here? We were so worried! Here, darling, here's my scarf, you're so cold." He said, taking her quickly from Lestrade and kissing her multiple times on the cheek. Tears of relief threatened to escape from his ice blue eyes.
River began to cry again, "I'm sorry, Daddy!"
John came next to Sherlock, out of breath, with tears running down his wind bitten cheeks.
He could only choke out, "River!" before collapsing onto his husband and daughter, embracing them both in a hug.
"Papa, I'm sorry!" River cried, "Indie was here, the butterfly led me to Indie!"
"Butterfly? Darling, Indigo isn't with us anymore, she can't play with you." Sherlock said, sadly, sorrow replacing the brief flash of hope that lit up his eyes.
"She was here! We went on the swings and on the slides and climbed through all the tunnels!" she shouted frantically.
"River, take a deep breath, lovebug, it's alright. We can talk about this later, alright, sweetheart?" John said as calmly as he could, his own hands still trembling from the sheer terror of the last hour.
"I… I just wanted her to come back home!" River hiccupped.
They stood in silence, the quiet hiccups the only sound they could hear against the backdrop of cars driving and birds chirping.
"Come on, I'll take you back home, I parked my car across the street there. What if we go back to Baker Street and make us a nice cup of cocoa, eh? Does that sound good, River?" Lestrade said.
River looked up from Sherlock's shoulder and nodded her head morosely, swiping her sleeve across her dripping nose and dropping her head back down.
The group started back towards the car when River suddenly popped her head up and pointed.
"Look, there's the butterfly!" she shouted. The men looked up to see the yellow wings hovering near them.
It hovered for a few seconds more and then flew away towards the trees, disappearing into the beautiful blue sky that held cotton candy clouds shaped into penguins and dragons, into hearts and sunflowers.
River waved her hand happily back and forth, shouting "I love you, Indie!" until she could no longer see the butterfly.
The next day, Sherlock and John set out several brightly colored flowers in the planter boxes outside the front room windows. They would watch the butterflies and hummingbirds come and go, always smiling when sunshine yellow wings would appear.
John sat with his laptop, typing a blog that he had so long neglected.
'Thank you to all who have extended words of kindness in these last few months and I'm sorry I didn't get to reply to you all sooner, but I'm sure you understand. Grief still surrounds us. Sometimes I find that I'm gasping for air, trying to claw my way out of this fast-sinking mud. River is a wonder, keeping both Sherlock and I on our toes and keeping us laughing. But, at night, I find myself again weeping into Sherlock's arms, or into one of her favorite blankets.'
John sighed, rubbing his face with his hands and pinching the bridge of his nose until he took up typing again.
'But, I write this blog now, not for me or Sherlock, but for Indigo Rose Watson-Holmes, our daughter, the girl that should have never left us. The world should know her and her story, how she lived, and how she died. She will forever be 6 and a half years old, a small girl with golden hair and the sharp cheekbones of her father, with a smile that lit up the room and a laugh that made your heart spring with joy. She was intelligent, she was funny, she was kind, loving, and caring. She would crawl into our bed whenever thunder rang out and she would wake us up at 6 AM to watch the snow fall. She believed that hugs fixed everything and could turn anything into a song. She was our little Sunshine.'
He continued to work, 'Little Things' appearing across the top of the screen as the title to his new blog. He took a steadying breath and continued on,
"We knew she was too good for this world..."