Will is six years old. He has sandy brown hair, and blue eyes. He’s compactly built, like his father, and has energy enough for the both of them. He’s insatiably curious, and incurably imaginative. He doesn’t remember his mother, though there are photographs of her in the flat, and at night he cuddles with the blanket she made for him before he was born. He loves drawing, and puzzles, and going to the park with his father. He feeds the squirrels there, and the ducks, and even the pigeons, but the swans worry him with their long necks and greedy beaks. He adores the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and begs to be taken there when the weather is nice.
His mother has been dead for five years now, and the tragedy of her death still dulls his father’s eyes. But there is another sorrow there, deeper still, buried beneath the joy the child brings him.
The child is Will Watson, and the father is John.
John lost Sherlock ten years ago. He floundered, lost at sea in a labyrinth of dead ends, until he found Mary.
Mary, his salvation.
But Mary’s life was snuffed out too, as surely and irrevocably as Sherlock’s was. A train derailment took her life, and gave back to John both cane and limp.
Mrs. Hudson welcomed them back, when he could not bear the small family’s cottage any longer, giving them a home at 221B, and minding Will on the days John went in to the surgery. 221B had seen several tenants since Sherlock left it and John abandoned it, but now it is his home, and Will’s home, and John sleeps in Sherlock’s old bedroom, and Will has recently moved upstairs to his.
It is not the life he imagined he would have, but it is a satisfying life. He doesn’t have Sherlock, and he doesn’t have Mary, but he has Will, and they have Mrs. Hudson. He has friends – mostly casual, a few close – and his work and his writing. There are school friends, too, for Will, playmates whose parents (younger than John, more active, more engaged) draw John out and include him in play dates and outings.
It is a satisfying life, and it is enough.
But it all falls to pieces one rainy Friday in March when John comes home from work. He’s had a tiring day, full of strep throat and bronchitis and a late run of the flu and old Mrs. Dempsey who won’t take her diabetes medication. He’d taken the tube home, and walked a block in the rain, and is more happy than he usually is to see the door of 221B. It will be warm inside, cozy and dry, and Will will be sitting at the kitchen table with Mrs. Hudson, colouring, or working on his letters, while Mrs. Hudson prepares dinner.
But today, Mrs. Hudson is not in the kitchen of 221B making dinner and nodding her head as Will goes on to her about seals and whales and giant squid. She is sitting on the stairway, near the bottom. She struggles to her feet when she sees John, and he is instantly on the alert. Something is wrong. Something is off.
“Will is fine, John. It’s not about him.” She reaches out for him. Her hand is shaking. He takes it, and tries to move around her, but she grabs his wrist. Her grip is surprisingly strong.
“Wait, John,” she says.
She has been crying. Her face is streaked, and puffy.
“Is Will up there alone?” His first concern is his son – bright and precocious and usually well-behaved as he is, John would not leave him alone in the flat, even for a short time.
“No, of course not. John ….” She doesn’t seem to know how to say what she needs to say.
“Has someone died?” He glances up the stairs, frowning. Will is talking. Excitedly. He can’t make out the words, just the cadence of the syllables and the bright inflection of childish excitement.
Mrs. Hudson is shaking her head. She is crying again, but he sees now that she is not sad. “It’s just a bit of a shock, it is. More than a bit. He just knocked on the door, and I came down with Will and…and….” She bursts into tears again.
And he can’t wait any longer. Someone is upstairs with Will, and Mrs. Hudson is crying, and he moves around her, leaves her crying on the stairs as he grabs the railing and uses his cane to haul himself up, one struggling step after another, as fast as he can manage.
“He’s come back,” she says, voice catching. “Our Sherlock – he’s come back.”
He freezes, three steps from the top.
“He’s been in prison, John.” She begs him. “Be gentle with him. He’s not…” She doesn’t finish. She drops her head into her hands and turns away.
In the weeks and months after Sherlock died, John half-expected him to turn up on a sunny morning and tell him that it was over – the danger, the protection, the threats, the charade of his death. Reality was a fleeting and ethereal thing in those days, elusive and intangible. But weeks and months marked a year, and John stopped looking for Sherlock and the reality of his death – of the black marble and the cold, still hand – became a fixture of John’s life.
And now, in this life as a father, a widower, an un-believer, he leans heavily on his cane and moves guardedly into the parlor. Will’s voice floats up, clear and true.
“And this is his cane. He keeps a secret sword inside it, like Captain Hook, but he still has both his hands, doesn’t he? We don’t have crocodiles in London.”
John limps through to the kitchen, skin prickly and heart thudding, and Will is on his knees on a chair, bent over a large piece of drawing paper, brown crayon in one hand, green in the other, pointing the brown at the figure sitting across from him.
“Will.” He speaks the name calmly, tense as he is.
“Da!” The child drops both crayons and nearly knocks over the chair in his eagerness to reach his father. John swings his son up one-armed into the safety of his grasp then dares to look at the stranger at the table.
Mrs. Hudson was not deceiving him, nor are his eyes, though for a moment he thinks it is Mycroft. It is more plausible to him that Mycroft Holmes – Mycroft! – would be sitting here, in his kitchen, colouring and drawing with his six-year old son, than Mycroft’s long-dead brother.
Sherlock Holmes is dead. John watched him jump, saw him die. His early doubts were unfounded. And this man, pale, too thin, is so much older than his Sherlock, and is most decidedly alive. He is looking up at John now with those eyes that cannot be Mycroft’s, holding a red crayon in his right hand, and it is Will who excitedly introduces them.
“Da – it’s Mr. Holmes. Sherlock.” He presses his lips against John’s ear, speaks in an exaggerated stage whisper. “The one with the skull, Da!”
John has kept two things Sherlock left behind. The skull is one of them.
John’s cane falls from his boneless hand and clatters to the floor as he reaches for the back of a chair, managing to hold himself upright until he can pull the chair toward him and drop into it. Will wiggles around his arm until he is facing the table, away from his father, but still secure on his lap. John can hardly hear Will through the acute buzzing in his ears.
“He’s been traveling,” Will says, filling the empty air with his chatter. “He ran into some trouble in Bliv….” He frowns, and looks back at his new friend for help.
“Bolivia,” the man says in a hoarse voice, answering Will’s question but eyes on John, only on John. He covers his mouth and coughs.
John focuses on the cough, because a cough he understands. A cough he can diagnose. Respiratory infection. Bronchitis.
His arms tighten around his son. He holds him against his chest like a security blanket. Will’s weight is warm and comfortable. His hair is soft and clean. It smells slightly fruity like the shampoo in the dinosaur-shaped bottle.
“Bolivia!” repeats Will. He squirms in John’s lap, turns to face his father again and puts one small hand on either side of John’s face. “He’s not dead after all, Da! That’s good, right?”
John stares into his son’s eyes and jerks his head in a quick affirmative. Across the table, the coughing has quieted.
There are a million things John wants to say. To ask. Presented with an impossibly alive Sherlock Holmes in his kitchen, he is both terrified and overjoyed. The only thing keeping him upright, in his chair, not hyperventilating, or retching in the sink, or pummeling the apparition before him with his fists, is the three stone bundle of life in his arms.
“I like him, Da,” Will confides, nodding confidently. “He coloured your jumper. He made it brown and green.”
John is staring at the drawing. It is him, naturally, standing alone in the middle of the paper, looking unusually frumpy. He stares at the brown and green jumper and is struck with the sudden irrefutable certainty that Sherlock Holmes has risen from the dead and is sitting at his kitchen table holding a red Crayola.
John looks over Will’s shoulder at the phantom, staring now with eyes that take everything in without really seeing. He is aware he hasn’t spoken yet. Not a word. Not a syllable. Sherlock – it is Sherlock after all – no one else would know to put the stripes on his jumper just so, just slightly off kilter – looks at him, then looks down at the drawing again. He is taking John in in small doses, drinking him in, storing snapshots for a rainy day. He begins colouring in the upside down hair.
“He’s sick, Da,” says Will helpfully. “Mrs. Hudson was going to make tea but she hasn’t come back.”
“Tea.” The word catches in his throat. “Tea. Of course. And biscuits.”
“Chocolate please,” Will says as he slips out from his father’s grasp and climbs back into his own chair. “I’m doing his trousers,” he tells Sherlock, smiling as he reaches for the grey crayon. “You keep working on his hair. You’ll need the grey when I’m finished.”
John is on his feet now, moving toward the kitchen, using the chair backs and then the counter to support his bad leg, but Mrs. Hudson’s voice interrupts his movement.
“I’ll make the tea,” she says, taking John’s arm. He leans on her as she leads him back to his chair. Sherlock’s eyes are on them both as she picks up John’s cane and leans it against his leg. He holds it tightly in one hand.
They stare at each other until Sherlock drops his eyes and reaches for the grey crayon Will has just set down.
“How long have you been here?” John manages at last. An innocuous question, a safe one. Will pushes a yellow crayon his way and he picks it up and begins shading in the sun. He is glad to have something to do with his hands and something to focus on besides Sherlock. He is glad that Will is in the room, tempering the conversation, grounding him.
Sherlock does not ask what John means by “here.” He glances at the clock.
“Nearly an hour.” He clears his throat. John wonders if he is unused to talking, on top of being ill. “I’ve been in London almost three hours.”
John stares at Sherlock now. Three hours. Three hours and “here” is the first place he’s come.
“You’re supposed to be dead, you know,” John says. He picks up the orange crayon and adds a spiral of orange on top of the yellow ball. His sun is a particularly hot and angry sun. The acknowledgment unleashes some errant emotion and tears form in the corners of his eyes. He can feel them there, and he wills them back, and away, but they well up until one drops down his cheek.
Sherlock, blue-grey eyes, dark curly hair starting to turn silver, pale skin, too-thin, too-wan face, stares at him with mouth slightly open.
“I know,” replies Sherlock. He is staring at the wet track on John’s cheek. “I’m sorry.” He gives John a smile that can only be described as pained. He looks from the grey crayon to John, as if surprised to notice the grey in his hair.
John watches Sherlock’s hand move over the drawing paper. Will has the green crayon now, and is coloring a carpet of grass at John’s feet. He moves the green crayon to his right hand and sorts through the colors and finds black. He draws something vaguely resembling an elongated eight, then shades green on top of the black.
“I’m putting in a crocodile,” he volunteers.
“Is that mould on its back?” asks John, smiling as he watches his son’s small hand work up and down and up and down. It is easier to watch Will than to look at Sherlock. Sitting with Will at the kitchen table colouring is normal.
Conversing with Sherlock Holmes is not.
Will tilts his head and stares at the crocodile. He shakes his head. “No,” he says, then continues colouring. “It’s plankton.”
John nods, accepting that his child visualizes plankton as a sort of green glaze that settles on the backs of London crocodiles. He is staring at the drawing, at the green and brown jumper with its peculiar stripes that run not-quite-horizontally from side to side. That particular jumper is pushed to the back of his bottom dresser drawer, shapeless and comfortable. He feels another tear release, run down his cheek.
Sherlock is drawing something small, in the corner opposite the sun.
“What’s that? A rain cloud?” asks Will, pausing to watch Sherlock’s hand at work.
“It’s a whale,” answers Sherlock. He smiles vaguely, eyes on the whale and not on Will. He picks up a blue crayon and adds a tiny spout of water above the grey blob.
“It’s too small for a whale,” insists Will. “And it’s in the air. Whales live in the ocean. Most of them don’t fly.”
“Whales eat plankton,” says Sherlock. Every time he speaks, John’s heart catches. Years ago, in another lifetime, he used to ride on the coattails of that voice. He’d followed it to hell and back. “This particular whale came in on a typhoon and got lost on its way up the Avon. And now it smells plankton.”
Will is in for the game
“There’s not enough,” he says. “He’ll still be hungry even after he eats all there is on the crocodile’s back.”
And as Mrs. Hudson places the tea tray on the kitchen table, rolling a dozen crayons out of the way as she does so, Sherlock and Will begin dotting the drawing paper with specks of green, more plankton for the whale.
“There won’t be enough,” says Will to John, pretending to worry, trying to draw John into the game.
“The whale is still a long way away,” John assures him. But for good measure, he picks up another green crayon – this one marked ‘Asparagus’ – and begins dotting plankton in the air around the sun.
But chocolate biscuits distract Will from the game and he slides easily back onto John’s lap as Mrs. Hudson serves the tea.
And it’s another game for Will now, the game he plays with his father and Mrs. Hudson whenever they have tea.
“And how do you like your tea, Mr. Holmes?” he asked with a giggle, exaggerating the ‘you’ and taking on an affected air that makes John smile, even now, the one hundred and sixtieth odd time they’ve done this.
Sherlock already has his hands wrapped around the mug Mrs. Hudson has passed him. He seems to be soaking in the warmth, letting it anchor him to the present. John stares at the rough nails on the still elegant fingers.
“Here,” Sherlock says, after a pause. He smiles at Will. “I like my tea here.”
“Mrs. Hudson cried,” says Will, apparently satisfied with the answer. He bites into a biscuit. “A lot.” He says it matter-of-factly as he goes about the business of eating a biscuit and keeping all the adults in the room entertained and informed. “And he even cried.” He points to Sherlock, and John, whose eyes were still on Sherlock’s hands that should not look like they do, looks up. “Just a little, but he did. He said ‘You’ve gone and shrunk John, Mrs. Hudson. Did you put him in the dryer then forget him while you chatted on the phone with your sister in Liverpool?’” He mimics Sherlock’s cadence nearly perfectly in his small child’s voice. His face opens into a pleased smile when everyone laughs.
Sherlock’s laugh is almost brittle.
And then it is time for Thomas the Tank Engine, and Will would like to watch it with Sherlock this time, thank you very much, and unbelievably, this Sherlock stands and accepts Will’s hand and lets himself be dragged into the parlor where Will expertly points the remote at the telly and selects just the right combination of buttons before plopping himself in the chair and patting the empty space beside him for Sherlock.
And while Sherlock and Will watch the telly, John numbly sits and stares ahead and drinks his tea and Mrs. Hudson sits across from him with her own mug.
“What is must have been like for him, of all people,” she says. “Sherlock Holmes – locked up in a foreign prison.” She is crying again, and John blinks and stares at her. He wants to doubt any story Sherlock might tell, and thinks being locked up in prison too convenient an excuse for someone who has just risen from the dead.
Not once, however, does he consider rushing into the parlor and rescuing his son from the criminal madman.
“So you believe him?” he asks, searching her face.
“Oh, John,” she says. She reaches across to pat his hand. “Does it really matter? He’s really here. And it’s him, all right. I ran him through every question I could think of. No one could say the name ‘Mycroft’ with as much derision as he did.”
“It was drug possession,” continues Mrs. Hudson in a whisper. “He said he left to protect us – and I believe that, John, and you should too. He wanted to come back as soon as it was safe. He just…couldn’t.”
John looks into his tea and doesn’t reply. He doesn’t know what to think. He feels as if his skin is too small for his body. It’s tight and dry and wrapped around his frame like a compression bandage, like a shrink-wrapped package. The near-constant ache of his leg has been swallowed up by the thrumming of his heart. He wants to scream, to laugh, to vent, to release the pressure. He needs to get out of this flat, out of the confines of these rooms, out of the confines of his skin.
“I’m going for a walk,” he says abruptly.
Mrs. Hudson doesn’t utter a word as he leaves the flat.
He cannot go quietly. He needs the cane, and his leg is heavy as it follows him down the stairs.
A voice calls to him at the bottom.
Will is standing at the top of the stairs. He nods at John, seriously, as if in understanding. What he understands John doesn’t know. His hand rests lightly on the railing; he trails his fingers over the banister.
“When I’m sick, I like ice cream.”
John cannot help the smile that hijacks his face and reaches his eyes.
“Alright, Will. I’ll bring back ice cream.”
John walks with purpose, down to the corner, across, to the next corner, across again. He turns left, walks a block, then right and back around to Baker Street. It isn’t raining, but there are puddles on the sidewalk. He hasn’t walked enough, hasn’t loosened the tightness within, so he starts another circuit. His leg huts, and he is panting – from the exertion of the walk, from suppressing everything– and he stops and leans against a building just inside an alleyway. The bricks against his back and the catch in his side take him back ten years to a chase through the alleys, a jump from a fire escape, hiding behind the rubbish bins with Sherlock, heart beating fast, high on adrenalin.
For a moment, fleeting but sure, he thinks he feels the cold metal of his gun against the small of his back.
He inhales, exhales, inhales again. The next breath is a ragged sob. The next is a gasp as his airway constricts against his tears. He leans his head back against the wall, looks at the cloudy grey sky, and cries like he hasn’t since Sherlock died.
The cathartic tears have watered his soul.
He struggles up the stairs a half hour later, ice cream in hand.
Will and Sherlock are still in the chair, and the telly is on, but Will is sleeping, curled up in Sherlock’s lap.
Sherlock’s hand is on his head, smoothing down his hair. In profile, Sherlock looks like a lost child.
There was a time, in the long ago and far-away, in their all-too-brief Camelot before the roof of St. Bart’s, when Sherlock stroked his hair like that. He aches for it now. The ache in his heart is older and deeper than the loss of Mary.
“Can you carry him into my room?” John stands in the doorway and speaks softly. “I’d like to take a look at you. You’re not well.”
Sherlock stands and arranges Will so that his head rests on his shoulder. Obediently, he follows John into the bedroom. John stands in the doorway while Sherlock lays the child on the bed. He leaves the door open and returns to the parlor, flicking off the television. He points to the sofa, and Sherlock sits, holding himself very still as John stands there and looks at him.
John’s hand is shaking.
“Mrs. Hudson says you’ve been in prison,” he says at last. His voice is carefully neutral. “How long?”
“Six years.” Sherlock’s voice is barely more than a whisper.
John examines him methodically. He is looking at Sherlock’s wrists and forearms when Sherlock speaks.
“You don’t have to do this, John. I just wanted to see you. I don’t need anything….”
“You have somewhere else to go?” asks John, dropping one wrist and taking hold of the other. “A hotel reservation tonight? Sleeping on the sofa at Mycroft’s, are you?”
Sherlock does not answer.
John shakes his head and presses his stethoscope against Sherlock’s back, listening to his lungs. He drops the stethoscope and begins to unbutton Sherlock’s shirt. The shirt fits Sherlock loosely, hanging off his shoulders and drifting down around his torso. John pushes it open and down Sherlock’s arms, off his shoulders. He stares, transfixed.
Scars. One long one under his ribcage. Ribs that stand out so starkly John can easily count them.
A tattoo on his bicep.
John’s mouth opens in surprise.
Black ink, ornate lettering. Each letter an inch tall. It is so out of place on Sherlock for every reason imaginable that it takes him a moment to understand. To see.
Gospel of John, Chapter three, Verse sixteen - God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.
John’s fingers are drawn to the mark. He brushes them over it, recognizing that it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ at all. It is his name, and a date.
They had joked on that long-gone day that it was the Ides of March. The day Caesar met his end, the day they finally got their heads out of their arses and did what everyone assumed they were doing anyway.
The funny thing was that it was after midnight when they stumbled into 221B, already the sixteenth of March, no longer the Ides.
He runs his knuckles over the tattoo now, almost reverently.
He wants to know how he did it, and why, and where he’s been, and how he got out of prison, and what he wants, and what he expects.
But more than that, he wants to give in to the exhaustion and sleep again with Sherlock in his arms.
He is kneeling before Sherlock, bad leg aching, and he leans his forehead on Sherlock’s chest, and Sherlock raises his hand, and runs it through John’s hair.
“Mycroft found me,” Sherlock says in that rough, hoarse voice. He is reading John’s mind. “One of his aides stumbled upon me – it’s a long story and not too interesting. He came himself and got me released, and flew me back to London. I managed to lose him at the airport.”
“He’ll know where you’ve gone,” says John.
“He told me where to find you,” says Sherlock. He lowers his voice, strokes John’s hair more firmly. “He told me about your wife. About the accident.”
Of course Mycroft knew. No matter he hadn’t seen Mycroft, or spoken with him, in eight years at least.
Sherlock has a serious respiratory infection, probably bronchitis. He is severely underweight. John worries about hepatitis, but he’ll need a blood test for that. Mainly, he needs good meals and rest.
John struggles up and sits beside Sherlock on the sofa. There are no words. No words at all. They grip each other’s hands, then Sherlock’s arms are around him, and he curls up on John’s lap, and, in the manner of Will, falls asleep.
Will does not sleep long. When he comes out of John’s room, rubbing his eyes, he snuggles in with them on the sofa and for five minutes he is a warm, sleepy, cuddly bundle. And then he is awake again, and wants supper, wants pudding, wants his daily routine to continue. He is not afraid of ghosts, does not think to be disrupted by their appearance.
Sherlock sleeps through supper, and clean-up.
And now it is seven-thirty, and time for Will to practice.
Will’s violin is small. The bow is shorter than most. But he has had lessons for two years now, and knows his way around the instrument. John sits on his chair and glances at Sherlock as Will stands before the window, lifts violin onto his shoulder, places his chin on the miniature chinrest, and draws the bow across the strings.
Scales first, then the songs he has already memorized, then the new ones he’s working on still.
The notes are not discordant, nor are they yet the works of a master. Will’s instructor says he has talent. John believes him because he wants to, not because he knows anything about the instrument.
Sherlock is sitting up, sleepy-eyed, when Will starts Frere Jacques.
John is watching Sherlock now, who is watching Will.
Will plays exactly twenty minutes – he is only six, after all – then sits cross-legged on the floor and gets out the soft cloth and begins to carefully polish the wood.
“Someday,” he says, looking up at Sherlock. “Someday I’m going to play a big violin.”
“Are you?” asks Sherlock. He is staring at Will, watching the cloth in his hand rub circles into the polished wood.
“Yes, I am,” Will says confidently. “We already have one. Da keeps it in his room, under the bed.”
“Does he?” Sherlock looks at John. John is looking at Will.
“He does,” says Will. “He doesn’t play, though. He’s waiting for me to get big enough.” He carefully picks up his tiny violin and places it back in its case.
“If you father doesn’t mind, why don’t you fetch it?” Sherlock says. He sits up straighter on the sofa. Now it is his hand that is shaking. “And don’t put yours away quite yet.”
Will gets a nod from John, and rushes away, and is back again in a trice with the violin in its case. He stands at Sherlock’s knees and watches him open the case. Sherlock stares at the violin inside for a long moment, then carefully removes it. It has been stored with love, but it is unused, and out of tune, and Sherlock works to remedy that while Will stares at him, mouth agape and John stares at him, alive in this miraculous moment. And when he is ready, Sherlock hands the small violin and tiny bow to Will.
“Frere Jacques,” he says, very quietly, nodding at the child. “A duet.”
Will beams and nods, and places the miniature violin on his shoulder and they run through it once, each of them playing a simple melody, their bow tips dancing up and down in mirrored steps.
“Again, Will. Just the same. You play the melody again and I’ll fill in the holes.”
It’s an odd way to phrase it, John thinks, but Will seems to understand and he dutifully begins the melody again as Sherlock improvises, dancing around Will’s simple notes with mournful grace, a dozen notes for each of Will’s, but Will plays gamely on, carrying the melody through, and when it ends a second time, they have bright smiles for each other. Will’s eyes are shining, and John’s are wet with tears.
And it has begun.
John’s son is falling in love with Sherlock. He looks at him now, with open-hearted adoration, and Sherlock speaks to him softly, praising him for the care he takes with his instrument, encouraging him to practice every day.
John struggles to his feet and helps Will put away his violin, then takes him to get ready for bed.
When he comes back downstairs, Sherlock is playing a low and mournful tune. His eyes are closed and he is absorbed in the music.
John sits beside him on the sofa. Just like before, there are no words.
There is the mark on Sherlock’s shoulder, the tattoo that etches John permanently into his skin. There is the child who is no less amazed at Sherlock’s brilliance that John is, who accepted him on sight as part of their world, played with him, and coloured him into their quiet little life. There is the skull on the mantel, and the framed photograph of Sherlock and John beside it, set apart from the photographs of John and Mary, of Mary and Will, of Will, chubby-cheeked and two years old.
And there is Sherlock beside him, Sherlock’s music surrounding him and, when Sherlock has stopped playing and has placed the violin back in its case, there is Sherlock’s head in John’s lap, Sherlock, sighing into sleep, John’s hand in his hair.
And John considers this new reality, the questions that must be answered, the decisions that must be made. He checks off lists in his head, and worries about whether he can support them all on his salary, and what paperwork must be filed to bring a dead man back to life. He worries about Sherlock’s physical health, about hepatitis and HIV and God knows what else he could have been exposed to in a South American prison. And he worries about his mental state – will Sherlock’s brilliant mind be broken?
Words will wait. He has made his decision. He made it before Sherlock and Will played their duet, before he saw the tattoo, before he left the flat to limp around the block and cry against the alley wall. He made it when he saw the off-kilter brown and green jumper on an out-of-proportion crayoned version of himself, when he saw a plankon-eating whale flying in the sky. When Will framed his face with his hands. He’s not dead after all, Da! That’s good, right?
His hand strokes Sherlock’s hair far into the night.
When he wakes, Will is standing next to the bed. He crawls up with his father and sits cross-legged in front of him.
“He’s made a big mess, you know,” he says with a sigh.
John blinks and his fuzzy mind finally connects the dots.
“Well, he’ll have to clean it up then, won’t he?” John manages, smiling at Will and tousling his hair. “Has he made coffee?”
Will frowns. He does not appreciate morning coffee. “He says he’s putting things to rights,” he adds. “I don’t expect Mrs. Hudson will like it.”
No, John thinks. Mrs. Hudson won’t like it. But she’ll tolerate it. Because it’s Sherlock.
Sherlock is wearing the too-short, too-large sleep pants and t-shirt John gave him last night. His feet are bare. He’s showered, for his hair is damp, and he’s standing in front of the open refrigerator, staring inside.
“See? I told you it’s a mess!” Will exclaims. He’s wandered into the kitchen behind John. Like John, he’s wearing his housecoat, sensibly tied in front, and a pair of warm slippers. “I told him you don’t like messes, Da.”
John sits Will at the table and reaches in the refrigerator around Sherlock for the milk. He pours Will a glass.
Sherlock is still staring into the refrigerator.
“You can have anything you can find in there. Doesn’t have to be breakfast food,” says John. Sherlock is far too thin to worry about what he eats, as long as he eats.
Sherlock is obviously overwhelmed with the number of choices. John steps up next to him and pulls out the left-over Indian take-away they’d had Thursday night. He puts the teakettle on and arranges the leftovers on a plate and warms them in the microwave. He then leads Sherlock to the table, pulls out a chair for him and makes him sit.
Sherlock lifts a forkful to his mouth and takes a bite.
Sherlock has another forkful of food raised. He looks over it at Will.
“You’re having Indian for breakfast,” Will says. He giggles again, then folds a piece of toast into fourths and mashes it down with the palm of his hand.
“Would you like some too?” asks Sherlock, frowning at the toast. He swallows another bite.
Will thinks that’s a fine idea. Soon some of Sherlock’s breakfast has been shoveled onto a plate for Will and they are eating together while John settles in with his coffee and a cup of yogurt.
“What were you doing with our cabinets?” asks Will a few minutes later. He frowns in a very John-like way at the clutter on the counter.
“I couldn’t find the ibuprofen.”
And while he is addressing Will, he is speaking to John.
“It’s locked up,” says Will. “Though you’re a grown-up so I s’pect he’ll give you the key.”
John remembers now that Sherlock is ill. He needs antibiotics, and blood tests, and if John isn’t mistaken, was rifling the kitchen looking for something stronger than ibuprofen. He’ll need clothing, too, and shoes, and toiletries, a mobile, a tablet.
He’ll need something to do. John wonders what Sherlock did in prison for six years. How he kept his mind. How he didn’t go crazy.
He’ll need to learn how to use the new computers, the size of the keyboard of Sherlock’s old laptop, with secure cloud storage and access to your data anywhere through a nationwide 100G wireless network.
He’ll need to learn to use the new mobiles too, and the new texting software.
“May I contact Mycroft?” John asks as Sherlock shovels more food into his mouth and Will looks at him raptly, very much enjoying this new game of having left-over take-away for breakfast.
Sherlock’s fork pauses midair. He is eating mechanically, in a way the Sherlock Holmes John knows has never eaten. He looks at John, stares at him longer than is comfortable, then jerks his head in a nod.
“You’re wanting the antibiotics. You’d rather not write the script for yourself for drugs you don’t intend to use personally. Perfectly understandable.” His voice goes from fairly clear to hoarse and strained in the space of the short statement. He turns and coughs, grabbing a napkin from the table.
Despite the evidence of Sherlock’s physical weakness, John can’t help the smile that warms his eyes, crinkling them at the corners. Not necessarily a brilliant deduction, though accurate enough, but it is a bit of the old mind-reading Sherlock.
Sherlock has recovered from the coughing and is considering another forkful of tandoori chicken.
“You don’t eat tandoori chicken. Will must like it. Of course. Mild. A child’s palette. And not from Masala’s, unless they’ve hired a Mongolian chef. Don’t tell me Masala’s has gone out of business?” He looks at John appraisingly. “No. You’ve quit going there.” He looks long at John, searching beneath the fabric of his skin, the fabric of his life, then lowers his eyes to his plate.
John has stopped going to Masala’s. He hasn’t been to the restaurant since that day Sherlock left him. Nor Angelo’s, for that matter.
“Masala’s is much better, Will,” Sherlock says. “We’ll go there together soon.”
“Tonight?” says Will, bouncing on his knees on the chair.
“When your father’s ready,” Sherlock says. “I expect he doesn’t want Indian again so soon seeing as you’ve just had it this week.” He looks at John again. “Ten years is far too long to go without Masala’s.”
Sherlock looks down at his plate again, and John realizes that he is grappling with guilt.
A part of him is glad for it, but most of him is not. Sherlock has been away a very long time. John’s anger at discovering Sherlock’s farce is tempered by time, and by the years Sherlock spent in prison. Putting Sherlock in a cell is like confining a salmon to a goldfish bowl, a hawk to a budgie cage. It is putting a curious kitten in a plain metal box, a scholar in a library full of books with blank pages.
It’s Saturday, and there’s no school, so John lets Will watch television while he cleans up the kitchen then showers. By the time he makes it back to his room to get dressed, Sherlock is in his bed, sound asleep.
He sleeps curled on his side, back to the wall. He looks exceedingly fragile in this position, fearful, young. John knows Sherlock is none of these things. Not fragile, not fearful. Not young – not anymore. John wants nothing more than to crawl into bed with him and hold him. He is tired of moving on autopilot, of keeping his emotions subdued. But there is Will to consider, he knows, as he sits on the edge of the bed and threads his fingers through Sherlock’s curls, smoothing them down over his head. Sherlock sighs into his hand but does not open his eyes. His breathing is even in sleep, but raspy. He is not struggling to breathe, but he breathes through his mouth, his lips slightly open. John adds a vaporizer to his growing mental list of supplies for Sherlock. He smiles to himself, remembering outfitting Will for school.
He finishes dressing, then pulls the quilt off the bedside chair and drapes it over Sherlock. It’s not quite spring in London, and the morning is chilly.
Mrs. Hudson has invited Will down to help her bake muffins, and Will goes with her eagerly enough, but only after John promises to make macaroni cheese for lunch. The special kind – with the buttery breadcrumbs on top.
Sherlock sleeps while John calls Mycroft. Mycroft tells John what he needs to know, and some of what he wants to know. The story of finding Sherlock is more interesting than Sherlock had suggested. A British official in Bolivia for a prisoner exchange of sorts – a British operative for the son of a Bolivian mogul. Government officials sharing Sherlock’s photograph and paperwork – hoping to make another exchange while the going is easy.
The official recognized the face if not the alias Sherlock had assumed. He managed not to show his hand, and had requested a meeting with the prisoner to verify his identity.
And all Sherlock had said was, “And so it ends.”
Mycroft was on a plane two hours later.
Now, Mycroft says he will send over the antibiotics John requests, as well as the blood drawing kit. He is working on Sherlock’s problem, bringing him back from the dead officially. He warns John that the news of Sherlock’s resurrection will not stay buried forever, that the media will get hold of it eventually, that the resulting chaos may not be appropriate for a six year old boy.
John does not mind that Mycroft knows he has a child. But he hates that he knows that his child is six years old, and that he is dishing out parental advice. What is he saying? What would he have John do? Send Sherlock elsewhere?
And then Mycroft offers Sherlock his country home. And John says no thank you, without hesitation.
Perhaps Sherlock should be consulted, but Sherlock is asleep in John’s bed. And John thinks Sherlock would not want to be ensconced in a country estate, away from 221B, away from the noise and the smells of the city, and from Indian take-away, and from John’s bed, and the comfort of his arms. And he takes into consideration his son, who is six, and who has never been the subject of any media attention whatsoever, and whose world is limited to Mrs. Hudson, and 221B, and his friends at school, all of whom live in the same neighborhood. There are the occasional visits with Aunt Harry, but there is no other family.
Will’s life will change, but John cannot imagine it will be worse for having Sherlock in it.
Mycroft lives up to his word. Sherlock is still asleep, an hour later, when the courier arrives with the medication and the supplies. Another delivery arrives an hour after that, when Sherlock is up, sipping tea at the kitchen table with Mrs. Hudson, eating warm muffins, and engaging Will, drawing him in.
John hears them as he climbs the stairs with a box of clothing from Mycroft.
A sampling of Sherlock’s clothes. It seems that Mycroft had them stored away. John wonders if he thought Sherlock alive, or planned to hold a charity auction. Own a pair of famed consulting detective Sherlock Holmes’ pants.
Sherlock is upstairs quizzing Will. It is a game, but not a game. Will thinks it a game, at least, though Sherlock has purpose and direction in the questions he asks. He calls it “detective.” Sherlock is alert and on game now. John has noticed the pattern. Short periods of energy and attention followed by lapses into lethargy, restlessness, sleep. It is his rhythm of old, but compressed now, into spurts of hours instead of days.
John pretends not to hear them as he takes the large box into the bedroom and opens it, unpacking it into neat piles of shirts and trousers and pants and socks. Everything is too large now, but it will suffice in a pinch, and will fit Sherlock better in length than his own clothes.
By the time he finishes hanging the shirts and trousers and emptying a drawer for pants and socks, Sherlock knows that John rarely dates, though he has been known to leave the flat with a bit of aftershave on, that he works four days a week at a surgery not too far away, that he doesn’t have any visitors at the flat who wear suits, and that John truly needs the cane to walk. Will has fetched John’s mobile and is giving Sherlock a lesson on swiping, touching, tapping, sweeping, arcing and all the combinations that have changed mobile technology since Sherlock left. Voice to text is nearly flawless now, screening out background noise and learning speech patterns of users. Mobile user database networks have made calling or messaging nearly anyone a possibility.
“So if I wanted to message the Queen?” Sherlock asks Will. “What would I do?”
“You’d want to message the King, I expect,” says Will, looking a bit disapprovingly at Sherlock. The Queen has been gone several years, her son on the throne now. He scoots the phone to the table in front of him. “Message King Charles,” he says. Then he looks at Sherlock. “What do you want to tell him?” he asks.
Sherlock is staring at the phone. A text addressed to the king has been started, but “What do you want to tell him?” is not spelled out.
“It recognizes inflection,” John says from behind him. “It knows Will was asking someone else a question.”
Sherlock scoots the mobile toward him with one long finger.
“Erase. Start over,” he says.
The message disappears.
“Message Mycroft Holmes,” he begins.
There is only one Mycroft Holmes in the database.
He stares. John can practically hear the gears churning in his brain. He beats Sherlock to the punch.
“You can screen people out, or build a list of allowed senders. The sender will get a rejection notice from the recipient’s provider.”
“I require one of these,” says Sherlock, fingering the phone. “Today.”
“You can purchase a phone but to get into the databases you have to prove identity,” John answers. He relents at the look on John’s face. “Play with mine. You can research and see which model you’d like.”
John makes the requested macaroni cheese for lunch and Sherlock tries it, looking at his fork suspiciously as he does so, and John peals an orange and distributes slices. Will is in a new phase and likes his food colors to match. Sherlock asks him if he’d like some peaches, too, and Will giggles. Sherlock says he’s glad it’s orange day, and not purple day. After lunch, he falls asleep on the sofa watching Will play with the trains.
Mrs. Hudson and her daughter take Will out to see a film and John wakes Sherlock. He sits on the coffee table and touches Sherlock on the cheek, caresses his jaw and softly tells him to wake up until Sherlock opens his eyes.
John slips the thermometer in his mouth, then holds his wrist and takes his pulse. Sherlock is quiet and still, watching him as he works. John removes the thermometer, reads it, and jots down the reading and the pulse rate.
“Go on, I know you want to,” he says, opening the blood draw kit. “You’ve been here a day now.” He looks up at Sherlock and gives him a wan smile. “What have you deduced about me?”
John lines up the syringes and needles and lays out the other supplies and finally, when Sherlock doesn’t speak, looks up again and meets his eyes.
“Are you mocking me?” asks Sherlock, very seriously.
John frowns. He shakes his head. “No. I’m not. Not at all.”
Sherlock takes it as permission, direction.
“You drowned your sorrows with alcohol, felt you were abusing it, and while you meet Lestrade at the pub for pints from time to time, you don’t drink anything hard, and never at home.”
“How did you know about Greg…?” John begins, but Sherlock has more to say.
“Your injury makes you feel less whole. You attack that feeling by working out. Not at the gym – at the rehab facilities associated with your current place of employment. You go at lunch time, and eat lunch in your office. You are worried about money, and bring your own lunch to work. You also take the tube instead of a cab.”
If John didn’t have something to do with his hands– he had pulled on the gloves and was ripping the needle out of sterilized packaging– he knows they would be shaking. Sherlock has been spot on so far. And the bit about the gym – how the hell did he know?
“You have had one – perhaps two – relationships with women since you lost your wife. Relationships serious enough that you brought the woman home. You have not had a lover here overnight for two years at least. You date women exclusively, never men.”
John is staring at Sherlock now.
“You were addicted to painkillers. Narcotics. You broke the habit yourself – likely after compromising Will’s safety. I doubt it was serious, but you used it as a hard lesson to yourself and punished yourself thoroughly.” He watches John line up the syringes.
John is only a bit unnerved by the accuracy of Sherlock’s statements. “Make a fist.”
And as John begins to draw blood, filling one tube then affixing another onto the draw needle, he begins to ask his questions.
“Did you use in prison?”
“Some.” John looks up, but does not demand an explanation.
“Before prison?” John watches Sherlock’s blood flow into the tube. Sherlock hardly flinches.
John attaches another syringe tube and looks at Sherlock. “I’ll phone Mrs. Hudson and ask her to bring back nicotine patches.”
Sherlock looks away. “Thank you.”
“The patch has evolved in the last five years,” John adds. He’s finished with the blood draw now and is holding his thumb over the needle hole, applying pressure. “There’s a variety for smokers who don’t actually want to quit but who don’t want to smoke, or who can’t.”
“Bring me those,” Sherlock says. It is a quiet request, nearly a demand.
“Alright,” John says. He messages Mrs. Hudson, then collects the vials of blood and packs them in the return box and stows them in the refrigerator. He messages Mycroft, informing him that the courier can come pick them up. He rattles off a list of tests – tropical diseases, STDs, anemia, hepatitis, HIV. He wants a complete blood count, liver enzymes, cholesterol. He swabs Sherlock’s throat and the inside of his cheek and adds the swabs to the package to go, then pulls a few hairs from Sherlock’s head, examining them to be sure he has the roots.
Sherlock coughs again, turning his head well to the side, but does not comment, not even when John asks him for a urine sample. He simply takes the cup and goes into the loo, leaving the door open.
John busies himself with doling out the antibiotics and the other medications for Sherlock’s symptoms. Sherlock takes them without protest. The courier comes and goes and John finally drops onto the sofa beside Sherlock.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I have a few more questions.” He looks at Sherlock apologetically, and Sherlock closes his eyes.
“I know I’m being horribly clinical. I know that’s not what you think you need. But we need to get this part out of the way.”
Sherlock nods, eyes still closed. He’s dropped his head on the top of the back sofa cushion. His neck is long and pale.
“Have you had any vomiting or diarrhea in the past week”
Sherlock shakes his head.
“How did you know about the alcohol and the pain meds?”
John has let his head fall back as well. He’s worn out. Worried. Sherlock turns his head to look at him. A smile plays on the corner of his mouth.
“No alcohol in the flat. Given that your sister is an alcoholic, you likely believe there is a genetic predisposition to it.”
“And the pain meds?”
“You don’t have to lock up ibuprofen from a six year old. Child-proof caps and all, plus you’d have explained it all to Will long ago. He wouldn’t be caught dead opening a pill bottle. You lock it all away, even the most innocuous, every-day drugs. You don’t want to be tempted. You’ve fallen before.”
“And Greg? How did you know I see him still?”
“Ah. Lestrade. He’s your emergency contact on your mobile now. Greg and Linda? I assume he’s remarried?”
“Yes, they have a son a few months younger than Will.”
Sherlock is looking up at the ceiling and John watches his face as he runs through several possible scenarios and settles on…the right one.
“They cared for Will when your wife was killed and you were in hospital.”
John blows out a long breath. “You’re amazing, you know.”
John gives a disbelieving laugh. “What did you do all those years?” he asks after a long quiet space in which he reaches for Sherlock’s hand, holding it with his between their legs on the sofa. “What did you do to keep from going mad?”
Sherlock’s thumb runs over John’s palm.
“Calculated and memorized Pi to a thousand places.”
John rolls his eyes. This he can believe. “Alright. And what did you do for the remaining five years and fifty-one weeks?”
Sherlock laughs. It is a genuine sound, and John squeezes the warm hand – too warm – in his own.
“I taught myself Spanish. And planned the perfect crime. Mycroft has no idea what he’s done by unleashing me onto the world.”
“I’m not going to be able to help you with that,” says John. “Will will need one of us at least to raise him. I can’t spend the rest of his childhood in prison.”
“It’s the perfect crime. We don’t get caught.” Sherlock sighs and squeezes John’s hand. “And you should think before considering me an appropriate father figure for your son.”
John drops his head onto Sherlock’s shoulder. There is nothing to consider. There was never anything to consider.
They sit there together, staring at the ceiling and holding hands. “I should get you something to drink,” John says. He moves as if to stand, but Sherlock tugs him back down.
“When my tests come back negative, you will kiss me, won’t you?”
John laughs. He doesn’t want to wait for tests. He’d kiss Sherlock now if he didn’t have the damn cough, everything else be damned. But he has Will to think of. So he hugs Sherlock instead, gathering him into his arms and feeling the never-forgotten flesh, resting his head under the familiar chin, breathing in the scent he has so long remembered over all these years, the scent that stayed there, in his mind, on his skin, even while Mary was alive and wearing a scent of her own.
“Will has talent,” Sherlock says, seemingly out of the blue. They have fallen down onto the sofa together, and he is spooned up behind John. “And his heart is in it. He’s not playing just to please you.”
John hesitates, swallows, prepares the admission he is about to make, keenly aware of what it will say about him. “His mother was a violinist with the London Philharmonic.”
Mary, sweet Mary, won John’s heart with her violin.
“I missed you,” John says, so very quietly, and he is telling Sherlock a million things with those three words.
The room is utterly quiet. They breathe nearly in tandem. Sherlock’s hand is splayed over his belly, and he tightens his arm, pulls John closer against him, and buries his head in John’s neck.
Will beams. He eagerly accepts both instruction and correction. When he is finished, he quietly, almost reverently, brings Sherlock’s violin to him, and Sherlock takes it out and plays Ode to Joy, then teaches the simple melody to Will. They play it together, intent on their instruments and on each other, and John, hands empty, heart full, feels like a voyeur on the achingly intimate scene.
John and Sherlock sleep together in John’s bed. While there are countless changes in Sherlock that John has noted and studied in the last two days, Sherlock is most different in sleep. He has gone from open and relaxed to closed and guarded. He no longer encroaches on John’s side of the bed, no longer lies splayed out on his back, one arm draped casually over his eyes to shield them from the morning sun, one leg out from beneath the covers. This Sherlock lies on his side, back to the wall, curls up and hugs the pillow.
The first night – Friday – John lays facing Sherlock. He has not invited Sherlock in, but left the door open as he dressed for bed, and Sherlock made his way inside and crawled into bed while John was still sorting out his socks – turning them right-side-out – before tossing them into the laundry hamper. It is awkward – not knowing the boundaries – and he fills the space with soft conversation until they’d been too tired to talk anymore. When he wakes up, his back is spooned against Sherlock’s front, and Sherlock’s arm is around him.
The second night – Saturday – Sherlock does not give up his position against the wall, facing the door, but he pulls John against him as they settle into bed. When John wakes in the morning, he rolls onto his stomach to deal with his erection by not dealing with it at all.
On Sunday, the results of all the tests are sent electronically to John. The news is overwhelmingly good, all things considered – Sherlock is severely underweight and has a host of vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. But he has no tropical diseases, no sexually transmitted ones, no hepatitis, no HIV. He has a respiratory infection, and his blood profile shows some potential issues with organ function that will need to be rechecked. There are traces of several illegal substances in his system, including cocaine and cannabis, as well as a medley of prescription drugs used to treat anxiety or insomnia.
Which more or less answers John’s question of how Sherlock survived six years of prison without going insane.
John decides that nicotine addiction is the least of Sherlock’s problems and resolves to buy him cigarettes.
Sherlock has not asked to leave the flat, nor has he expressed any interest in doing so. He is still unwell, still passes most of his time lying on the sofa, sleeping or watching Will. Will engages him today in a game of twenty questions. John is in his chair, reading the Times on his tablet, while Sherlock lies on his side on the sofa watching Will build with Legos.
“Do you know twenty questions, Mr. Sherlock?” Will asks. John hides a grin at Will’s form of address.
“I know hundreds of questions. Which twenty would you like?” Sherlock answers.
Will grins at him. He is becoming accustomed to Sherlock. He catches on quickly.
“Do you know how to play the game called ‘Twenty Questions?’” he rephrases. He is sitting cross legged at the low table in front of the sofa.
“I expect I do,” says Sherlock. “We called the game ‘Yes and No.’” He turns onto his back and crosses his hands on his belly, waiting patiently, the barest of smiles on his face. John’s tablet is in his hands but his focus in on Sherlock, on Will. On Will slowly bringing Sherlock back to life.
“Well my teacher calls it Twenty Questions,” Will informs him. “Though the answers are always Yes or No, aren’t they?” He cocks his head a bit to one side, a pose John always finds endearing. “Are you ready, Mr. Sherlock?”
“I’m ready,” says Sherlock. “Is it made of wood?”
Will purses his lips. He apparently does not like this first question. “Yes,” he says, reluctantly.
“Is it the violin?” asks Sherlock.
John shakes his head and hides a smile. Sherlock clearly does not understand how to play games with children.
“Yes,” grumbles Will.
“Right. I’ll think of one now,” says Sherlock.
“You haven’t guessed which violin yet!” protests Will.
“I have eighteen more questions,” says Sherlock. He raises an eyebrow eloquently. “And only two violins.”
Will giggles. “You have to finish. It’s the rules.”
Sherlock gave an exaggerated sigh. “Is it my violin?” he asks.
“Your violin? You have a violin?”
Sherlock pushes himself up on his elbows. He is looking at John, who looks down when confronted with Sherlock’s questioning eyes.
“Whose violin is under your father’s bed, Will?” Sherlock asks quietly.
“My mum’s,” says Will. “Did you know her? She played even better than you.”
John raises his eyes to meet Sherlock’s. Sherlock is staring at him intently, reading him. He pulls his eyes away suddenly and smiles at Will.
“I didn’t know her,” Sherlock says. “But she has a wonderful violin.”
And later, when they are lying in bed together once again, John kisses Sherlock.
He can hardly stop himself after lips meet lips, after he tastes what he’s missed for so long. Mary was Mary, sweet and soft and gentle, but no one ever kissed him like Sherlock. Even now, as their mouths come together, as Sherlock breathes fire and ice into his veins, as Sherlock’s arms come around him, tentatively at first, then more sure, pulling John against his body with possessive need, the memory of Mary is nearly erased.
“Where is Mary’s violin, John?” Sherlock whispers into the dark as they lay in each other’s arms, John’s heart only now beginning to slow.
John snuggles more deeply onto Sherlock’s shoulder. He is sleepy. He does not want to have this conversation.
“Storage,” he says, feigning a yawn.
“Why does Will think my violin belonged to his mother?” Sherlock persists.
“I never said it was hers,” said John.
Sherlock is quiet a moment, then his arms tighten around John and he kisses him, mouth moving over John’s, exploring, tasting, hands on his back then on his bum, pulling them together and starting a rhythmic, rocking motion that has John hard and needy and wanting, divesting him of his sleepy lethargy.
“What does it mean…?” Sherlock says, forcing the question out even as he continues to press up against John, “What does it mean that my violin is under your bed and Mary’s is stored in a vault?” His fingers dip down beneath the waistband of John’s pyjama bottoms.
John does not answer. He rocks against Sherlock, fingers digging into shoulder and back.
Sherlock’s lips are close to John’s ear. “Why did you want Will to play my violin rather than his mother’s?”
He doesn’t seem to expect an answer, and John doesn’t give one.
John knows, though, and suspects Sherlock does too. He loved Mary, as much as he was able. But when she played for him, he always closed his eyes and let the music move him. Transport him. Take him away, away, away from their little suburban home. Back to London, to 221B, to Sherlock.
Always to Sherlock.
It is Sherlock’s violin that he hears while Mary plays, and Sherlock that he sees in his mind’s eye through eyes closed against the memories.
It is Sherlock’s violin that Will would have, that Will would play, that is kept close, under John’s bed.
It is Sherlock’s violin that will sing to this father, that will tug at his heartstrings, that will call to his son.
They fall asleep, sated, exhausted, and it is the most they have communicated since Sherlock’s return.
Sherlock has good days, and bad days. Days when he sits at a chair near the window and stares out at the misty London morning. Days when he plays the violin until his fingers are shaking. Days when he opens the refrigerator and stares inside. Days when he creates domino mazes or Lego castles with Will. Days when he does nothing but absorb the life he missed during his ten years away, reading on the tablet John has brought him, swiping his finger across his mobile, reading seven years of Times headlines.
News of his resurrection surfaces, and there is a month of difficult days with people crowding the street outside the flat, and John is thankful summer has come, and Will does not have to leave every day through the throng to go to school.
John brings a child’s chemistry set home for Will, and for Sherlock, and the two do experiments together, and Will learns the first 50 elements on the periodic table, and their chemical symbols.
In July, Sherlock ventures outside.
John finds him smoking, leaning against the wall outside the flat. Passersby sometimes stop and stare, but he ignores them, and blows casual smoke rings, and stares at the clouds.
Four months have passed since Sherlock’s return and he has gained a stone and a half. He and Will play together every evening, and sometimes Will crawls into bed between them early in the morning. He doesn’t talk about his life away from John, and Greg thinks he should see a therapist, and Mycroft has sent no less than three over at one time or another.
John knows enough already. That Sherlock thought he was protecting him. That he did not want to stay away so long. That he used drugs to dull the pain, to numb his mind when he was confined and John and Mycroft and Greg and everyone thought him dead. He knows that Sherlock will be Sherlock again, but for now, he is a different Sherlock. A Sherlock who doesn’t need the therapist Greg recommends or Mycroft provides.
His therapy, John knows, is in playing the violin with Will, and colouring pictures together on the kitchen table, and toppling domino mazes, and playing Twenty Questions and I Spy. His therapy is the childhood he never had, with the child that isn’t his by blood. It takes time for a man, even a man as sure of himself as Sherlock Holmes, to come back from the dead, to rejoin the living, and to find a place in a family that did not exist when he stepped off the roof of St. Bart’s Hospital. It takes time to grow into that family. To grow new skin.
For now, it is enough for John that they hold each other at night, that they seek pleasure from each other, that they fit their bodies together during sleep. It is enough to see Sherlock and Will become friends, to see the love grow between them, to hear their nightly duets, speaking a language John understands, but cannot speak himself. And if Sherlock is more brother to Will than father, John knows that it is Just for Now and Maybe for Forever and it doesn’t really matter. Family is family.
And on an unusually sunny Sunday in mid-September, Will asks to go to Kensington Gardens to see the Peter Pan statue. They feed the ducks and pigeons and squirrels, and Sherlock saves Will from a particularly vicious swan by grabbing John’s cane while John rests on a bench, brandishing it like a sword and jabbing at the air while Will laughs from the safety of John’s arms and women with prams edge away from the strange little family. John laughs on the park bench as Sherlock, still in out-dated and ill-fitting clothes, duels with the swan then collapses on the bench to deduce the entire Round Pound society for Will, pointing out ducks who dream of being swans, and swans who want to be regal princes and princesses, and little boys who never, ever want to grow up.
On the way home, Sherlock stops in front of a high-end men’s clothing shop, and they all duck inside, and Sherlock buys clothes that fit. And they are too close to New Scotland Yard not to drop in, and even though they’ve walked a good deal today, John thinks his leg doesn’t hurt quite as much as it usually does.
He stays back, nodding at Greg from the doorway, as Sherlock holds court, Will his knave-in-waiting, and looking at them, John realizes that one day they will both grow up, but hopes in his heart of hearts that one day is a long way off.