"Thank you for coming to help, Greg." John gave his friend a faint smile. "I know you don't have that much free time. Sorry you have to waste it with me."
"Helping a friend is hardly a waste." Greg chuckled. "Not that you seem to have much stuff to move in, mind."
"Yeah, well, the rest will arrive later." Mycroft had told him Benedict's things would be delivered soon. Knowing him, there would be more than what he'd originally had, but then John wasn't going to complain. He had absolutely no idea what kind of things a baby needed in daily life.
"So." Greg gave him a suspicious gaze. "What is it? You're acting all weird, and moving back is the least of it. Not that I'm not glad you're out of that little hole, but why now? Feeling nostalgic about Christmas?"
"Let's just say I didn't ask you here to help me move in, per se." John paused, trying to decide how to best put his news. "There's also baby proofing to be done."
"Wait, what?" Greg's eyes widened. "A baby? Where?"
"Here. Soon." John wasn't sure if he should smile or sigh or what. "Turns out I'm a father, Greg. And now the mother is dead, leaving me with the child."
"Bloody hell. So that's what he meant."
"Hm?" John glanced at him. "What who meant?"
"Mycroft. I saw him yesterday and he said he had something to discuss with you."
"Yes, he met me yesterday and told me." John shook his head. "This is all moving so fast, I'm still not sure it's not all a dream. I suppose it's lucky Mycroft's been paying the rent here all this time, my place is really not a place to take a child." He supposed he was lucky, not for the first time, to be under Mycroft's very strong wing. Not that he was an expert, but his gut feeling told him that most such cases required quite a bit more paper work and bureaucracy.
"Well, neither is this, not until we clean it out." Greg looked around in the familiar clutter of the living room. Mrs. Hudson had clearly been around sometimes, dusting and putting things in order, but the sheer amount of things made it look untidy. "So how old is this surprise kid of yours?"
"Seven months. Just learning to crawl." So very small. "Meaning I have some time before I have to worry about table level and up, but anywhere within his reach, we'll have to take away anything small or poisonous or otherwise dangerous."
"That's no small number of things, I'll say." Greg clicked his tongue. "You at least have somewhere to put the things?"
"Sherlock's room, for now. Most of them are his things anyway." He felt Greg's concerned gaze even without looking. "I'll clean them out eventually, Greg. Ask Mycroft to take them, perhaps, if he wants. Right now I have to focus on the baby."
"Right. Just as long as you're sure."
John sighed. "I am over his death, Greg, don't worry. I wouldn't have come back here if I wasn't. That doesn't mean I'm ready to handle going through his things yet, not when I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I'm a father."
"Right." Greg nodded, then started quietly gathering some of the small ornaments and gadgets that Sherlock had surrounded himself with. "The fridge's cleaned out, I presume?"
"Mrs. Hudson assures me she emptied the whole kitchen soon after I moved out." The last thing he wanted to think about was finding some decomposed human remains lying around. "Reminds me, I'll have to go and get some groceries before Benedict is brought here." So many things to do. And for the most part, he had no idea what he was doing, himself.
"Calm down, John. We'll get everything done, all right?" Greg patted his shoulder, then smiled. "Benedict? That's a pretty name."
"I guess." John chuckled faintly. "Sounds more like a Holmes than a Watson to me. I can only hope he won't turn out quite as insufferable."
"Just call him Ben if that's what you're worried about."
"Like that could deter a true Holmes spirit." John snorted as he gathered some marbles from the table. If those rolled to the floor, it'd be an instant deathtrap for an infant.
"Indeed." Greg murmured a curse as he accidentally knocked down a pile of magazines. "One would hope any kid raised by you would have at least a basic understanding of good manners, though."
"Considering that the surviving Holmes influence is Mycroft, I'm more concerned with teaching him not to kidnap people for fun and profit."
Greg laughed as he started gathering the magazines. "Mycroft does make a habit of that, doesn't he?"
"Don't tell me he's kidnapped you, too." It was one thing when it was him, but a DI? Even for Mycroft, that was going a bit too far.
"Just once or twice. I think I convinced him quite soon that I do not appreciate getting abducted."
"What did he want from you, anyway?" Come to think of it, Greg had mentioned talking with Mycroft the day before. "I get why he wants to keep an eye on me, but you, too? Really?"
"It's less a case of keeping an eye on me and more working together." Greg shrugged. "We've been cooperating on a project ever since he got me back to work. God knows why he'd need someone like me, but then I'm not convinced he doesn't consider himself God."
John laughed. "Sounds like Mycroft all right."
"I swear, if anyone can have a bigger ego than Sherlock, it's Mycroft." Greg paused. "Sorry."
"I told you, I'm over it." John shook his head. "I'm going to have to get gates for the staircases, aren't I?" Focus. Concentrate on Benedict, now.
"Unless you plan on standing guard your every waking second, yes. Do you even have anything for the child? Crib or high chair or anything?"
"Mycroft assured me that he'll have everything necessary sent over before Benedict arrives. We'll put his crib in my room for now."
"You going to make use of the second bedroom at some point?" You going to get rid of Sherlock's belongings?
"All in due time. Right now I'm more concerned with the challenge of teaching him that I'm supposed to be his family, now."
"Suppose that's a fair order of priorities." Greg gave him a slow nod, a thoughtful look on his face. "If you ever need help, just ask, you know. I know it's been a while since the girls were that small, but I haven't forgotten everything yet."
"Thanks, Greg. I really appreciate it." And he did. Right now he felt quite lost, to be honest; to have a friend to rely on was a huge relief.
"I hope you realise you'll have to write about him in your blog, too," Greg added with an almost teasing tone. "And not just little mentions during your cases about who babysat him while you were running after the bad guys. Actual proper entries about the kid. I'm sure there's people at the Yard who'd be dying to know how John Watson does as a parent."
"You still read it, even without Sherlock?" John was genuinely surprised.
"Of course. Believe it or not, there are people who didn't see you as an extension of him. Quite frankly, I think a lot more people liked you than ever liked Sherlock." Greg shook his head. "For most people on the force, he was the necessary evil. You made working with him more tolerable."
"So nice to know my worth." He wasn't even sure whether he should have felt happy or insulted or what. "I'll try, okay? Not sure how good I'll be at blogging about lullabies and nappies, but I'll try."
"Right." Greg gave him a smile. "For what it's worth, I'm sure you'll be a fantastic father."
"I can only hope."
After all, he didn't exactly have many options right now.
It has been a while since I set foot in 221B. Half a year since I actually lived here, a little less since I last picked up some of my belongings, yet a lifetime since it felt like a home, our home. It still doesn't, not quite, not with everything so quiet and dead.
The skull is still here, of course, just like everything else. Mrs. Hudson has been keeping a close eye on everything, bless her, and even though she's not our housekeeper there isn't a speck of dust anywhere. It's almost as though we just stepped out for a day or two, except it took me half a year to return and Sherlock never will.
It's still not just my home, though, I wouldn't have returned if it were. It's still ours, though now the one sharing with me is Benedict and not Sherlock. Thankfully he doesn't mind living in the middle of Sherlock's things. It's probably going to take me quite a while to pack those away. Even though I know Sherlock isn't going to show up and interrogate me about what I'm doing with his things, it still doesn't feel quite right. Besides, if it was only my things and Benedict's around here, the place would be quite empty.
I'll worry about cleaning up later, though. Right now Benedict is demanding my attention.
I guess the skull will stay, in any case, regardless of what I do with the rest of his things. Even though it is quite the poor substitute for Sherlock.
This probably shouldn't have felt like such a bloody accomplishment, but at the moment, John was going to take what he could get. At least the child wasn't screaming his head off because John wasn't the one he wanted. Right now, that was a big step forward.
After the army and Sherlock, he had thought he would be quite prepared for the demands of a small child. As it turned out, things were not quite that simple. At least in the army he had known what his duties were, more or less, and Sherlock had never failed to make it clear just what he wanted from John, even if his motivations had not always been equally clear. However, none of his previous experiences had prepared him for the sheer desperate helplessness of holding a crying baby and being unable to soothe him.
It wasn't that he didn't know the technical side, really. Just because he wasn't a pediatrician didn't mean he didn't know the basics. However, when his son was fed and dry and warm and safe and still kept crying no matter what he tried, it started to get frustrating.
The poor child missed his mother, reminded a cruel little voice at the back of his mind. He was foolish to think he could ever take her place, that he could ever be as good. He should have known better to begin with.
Except there was no way for him to give Benedict his mother, not now. The best he could do was hold the crying child and hopefully reassure him that someone still cared for him and loved him and was willing to sacrifice half the night so he could sleep.
Despite his exhaustion he stayed beside the crib for a moment, silent. A part of him almost expected the baby to start screaming again, afraid to even breathe too hard lest he startle the tired child awake. Leaning over the crib, he looked down at Benedict.
The child was so small, finally laid down to sleep, one hand curled over his mouth. So very vulnerable, his son, and so very much dependent on him.
Benedict needed John. Not like his men in Afghanistan had needed him, to keep them patched together where possible, not even like Sherlock, who would oftentimes forget to sleep or eat if someone didn't remind him. Benedict could not take responsibility for himself, could not seek out anyone else's help, could not even tell him what he needed. All the poor child could do was cry when something was wrong, cry and hope that someone heard him and gave him relief. And because his mother would not come no matter how he cried, it fell upon John to keep him happy. To keep him alive.
He'd been responsible for other people's lives before. He was a doctor, a surgeon, a soldier; it had been part and parcel of his life for most of his adult years. However, that responsibility had always been momentary, situational. It had never felt quite as heavy as the weight that settled upon his shoulders as he looked down at the tiny little human being he had promised to care for in every way.
"Good night, Benedict," he murmured under his breath, then turned to get into bed.
He would be of little help to his son if he collapsed in exhaustion, after all.
It has been a strange Christmas.
There's barely been a quiet moment in 221B, even though it seems oddly empty without Sherlock here. Still going to take some getting used to, I guess, especially when everyone else is dropping by. At least when it's just Benedict and I, I can conveniently forget he hasn't just stepped outside for a moment. When everyone else is hurrying about, his absence is somehow more pronounced.
Greg has been here because his girls are with their mother today. They'll be at his place tomorrow, but for today he's been here with the two of us. Other people have been dropping by as well, to meet Benedict, I presume. Even Sherlock's brother came around for a bit. He and Benedict get along famously, believe it or not.
Harry came by with her new girlfriend. They're rather cute together. (No, Harry, that doesn't mean I'm interested in your woman. Stop it.) I just hope this goes well for them; she deserves to be happy, even if she is annoying at times. (And yes, you are. You brought Ben a laser pistol with "realistic" sound effects. He doesn't play with it and you knew it, you were just trying to annoy me.)
All in all, though, it's been a surprisingly merry Christmas. Or, well, as much so as it can be without Sherlock here.
"Benedict? Uncle Mycroft came to visit us." John picked up a few of the toys on the way to the living room but did not worry too much about the mess. If Mycroft chose to drop by without warning, he had better tolerate a bit of everyday life, too.
"Uncle?" Mycroft navigated neatly his path through scattered plastic blocks on the floor, taking his usual seat in an armchair. "I count as honorary family, now?"
"You come around more often than Harry, and she's his actual aunt." John walked over to where Benedict was chasing his ball across the kitchen floor. "Hell, you're here more than Greg sometimes, and he's certainly been enthusiastic enough to claim the uncle title."
"Your sister does not live close enough to make regular visits, Greg's schedule is difficult to navigate at best, and I still have to give you cases."
"Yet you rarely visited in person before." John carried Benedict to the centre of the room, setting him down on his feet a few adult paces from Mycroft. "See, Ben, here's Mycroft."
"My," Ben said, grinning as he tugged at John's fingers. "My!"
"As you might recall, I often came here in person before Sherlock's passing," Mycroft remarked. "We both know even you were relieved to be out of your horrid apartment as much as possible. It was a matter of location, not Benedict's presence."
"Which explains the gifts you keep bringing him, I'm sure." John chuckled. "Okay, Ben, go to Uncle Mycroft. See what he's got with him now."
"My, John, you make me sound so softhearted." And yet he leaned ever so slightly forward. "Well, Benedict?"
A very determined look took over Benedict's little face. Sucking in his lower lip, he let go of John's fingers and started his way toward Mycroft with small but surprisingly steady steps. A couple of times he wavered, who whole walking thing still something of a novelty in his skill set, but John forced himself to stay back. The worst that could happen was a little bump and a cry, and if he panicked, it'd just make Ben afraid to even try.
Little hands fell on Mycroft's knees, and Benedict let out a triumphant little giggle. Mycroft smiled indulgently, reaching a very prim hand to pat messy light hair.
"You've grown a lot, Benedict." Why did Mycroft's tone make it sound almost like an evaluation? "I do look forward to seeing how you will do in life."
"My." Benedict looked at him with determined blue eyes. "Sent!"
John chuckled. "I do believe he is referring to present."
"But of course." Mycroft lifted the bag he had been carrying into his lap, reaching into it. "Happy birthday, Benedict Watson. I do hope you have many more."
John blinked as he watched Mycroft lifting out a worn, clearly very loved teddy bear, and handing it to the child. "That, ah, looks old." His most polite way of saying 'You're usually the type to buy new stuff.'
"That would be because it is." Mycroft smiled as Benedict laughed in delight, hugging the bear close even as he fell down on his behind. "It belonged to Sherlock when he was a child. He would simply not go to sleep without it."
"Ah." John swallowed. "Um. I."
"John." Mycroft looked at him seriously. "Little Benedict is not a replacement for Sherlock. I know neither of us thinks that. However, I do hope you'll forgive me for bestowing upon him some of the affection I might be directing at my brother, were he still among us." His smile took on an almost teasing quality. "After all, as your son, he is the closest thing to an offspring of Sherlock this world could ever hope to see."
"I can't believe I'm still saying this a year after his death, and to you of all people, but we were not actually a couple." There was something almost surreal about the words even to John himself, some strange quality that made him pause. Perhaps it was the seemingly unlikely fact that he was talking about Sherlock's death, acknowledging that he was gone, without it feeling painful. There was the familiar ache, still, the very large part of his heart that seemed to be missing, but now he could mention it as a part of regular conversation, at least.
"Oh, I'm well aware. However, I also know very well that Sherlock loved you."
"Yes, I know. His only friend, as he put it."
"I do not believe that was all of it." Mycroft steepled his fingers, his eyes following Benedict's bumpy little wrestling match with his new friend. "To the best of my knowledge, Sherlock did love you, John. Not in a sexual manner, but then he never put much stock in sex."
John shook his head, searching for words. "If he loved me, he wouldn't have jumped."
Mycroft sighed. "When people come to that point, they rarely think of other people. If anything, he might have well thought that you would be better off without him than dragged down with him."
"Except he should have known it wouldn't happen." John shook his head. "There wasn't any evidence. There never was any evidence. He should have known."
"Perhaps he felt cornered. After all, Moriarty did have the public opinion on his side." Mycroft closed his eyes momentarily. "I do believe you have the best understanding of his motives out of anyone alive, John. After all, you were the one to receive his last words."
"Except they didn't make any sense." None if it had ever made sense. "He was lying to me. He had to be. None of what he said was true."
"Sherlock never said anything without a reason." As though he didn't know that. "Even if they seem nonsensical to us, his words must have carried some meaning."
John shook his head again, playing the conversation back in his mind. He could still remember it, every word of it, every bit of desperation in Sherlock's voice, every sound that almost sounded like a sob…
It suddenly hit him. The realisation must have shown on his face, as Mycroft gave him a sharp look. "John?"
"His phone." Of course. Of bloody course. "Did you ever examine his phone?"
"To an extent, yes. The call log to you, along with some evidence of communication between him and someone he met on the roof that day, likely the same person who kindly left behind significant amounts of blood and brain matter yet managed to vanish afterwards. Greg and I call him Moriarty, but of course we cannot take an official stance on that."
"There has to be something else." Suddenly, he knew it, knew it with the utmost certainty. "He said it was his note, Mycroft. 'This is my note,' those exact words. I always thought he meant the conversation, but he never had much faith in my memory." He cursed himself for not realising it before. "He was talking about the phone, he had to be! Why else would he have bothered to toss it aside before jumping? There has to be something on that phone that explains why he did it!"
Mycroft hesitated for one brief, uncharacteristic moment, then nodded slowly. "There is some merit to that."
"You'll check it, right?" Of course they would. "You'll check the phone? See if Sherlock left anything?"
"At our earliest convenience." Mycroft's hand tightened around the handle of his umbrella. "I will inform you if anything is found."
"Thank you." John finally sank down in his own chair, feeling exhausted all of a sudden. "I, just, thank you, Mycroft."
"No, John. Thank you, for bringing this to my attention." Mycroft's tone was quiet but sincere. "I see my brother made the right choice in trusting you with his last message."
John quite doubted it, but right now he wasn't about to bring that up.
On the floor, Benedict laughed, hugging the teddy bear close.
"And?" He felt almost afraid to ask, yet at the same time he had to. He knew there was something, Greg wouldn't have asked him here if there wasn't anything. "What did you find?"
"Not much of interest. In fact, the only thing that stood out was one thing." Greg reached for the phone, resting on the desk between them. "One voice recording."
"His note." John's heart jumped in his chest. "That has to be it. That has to be his real note."
"I'll have to warn you, John. The recording is timed as having been saved on the phone right before he called you." Greg paused. "There are two voices audible on it."
"Moriarty." It couldn't be anyone else.
"From what we can tell, yes. Of course, we'd appreciate your confirmation, as you have actually dealt with him directly outside his little game of false identities."
"Of course." John nodded. He really didn't want to hear Moriarty, not right now, not ever, but it would be worth it for the chance to hear Sherlock again.
No matter what it was Sherlock had to say.
"I can get you the full transcript if you wish," Greg said as he looked through the phone's files. "However, for the most relevant part, I really think you should hear it for yourself."
He pressed 'play'.
"Let me give you an extra incentive." Moriarty's voice was somewhat muffled, through the coat pocket no doubt, but it was still audible enough to desperate ears. "Your friends will die if you don't."
John's lungs emptied in one sharp, almost painful breath. His hands gripped the edge of the desk, his knuckles white. Greg's face was grim, but he didn't say anything.
"John." Sherlock's voice came after a pause, low, a bit rough. John closed his eyes, imagining the expression that would necessarily accompany such a tone.
"Not just John. Everyone." Moriarty sounded like he was bragging.
"Lestrade." John opened his eyes to look at Greg. He saw a painful look on his friend's face, one that he knew was reflected on his own.
"Three bullets. Three gunmen. Three victims. There's no stopping them now." Another pause that seemed to drag on forever. "Unless my people see you jump."
John's eyes fell shut again. However, he did hear the faint sound of Greg reaching to stop the recording.
"We listened to the rest of it, too." His voice was tight, controlled. "Basically, Moriarty confirms his plan, and his insanity. Then Sherlock figures out that Moriarty must have a code to call off the assassins."
"But he didn't call them off," John said quietly. "He jumped instead."
"Yes. Because, as I said, Moriarty confirmed his insanity." Greg swallowed. "He shot himself. The bastard shot himself rather than let Sherlock pry it out of him."
"Bloody hell." Sure, it wasn't very eloquent, but it did adequately sum up his feelings right now. "Bloody fucking hell. He did it for us, Greg. Sherlock jumped to keep us safe."
"So it would seem."
"I pleaded with him, Greg. Bargained at his grave. Asked him not to be dead, for his sake. I was so angry." He drew a deep breath. "And it was all because of me."
"He always was a great man," Greg murmured. "It was just the price of his becoming a good one that was too steep."
"Moriarty is lucky," John murmured, his fists clenching. "If he was alive, I would track him down. And I would not give him such a gentle end."
"He is not, though. And even if he were, I wouldn't let you. You need to stay here, for Ben's sake."
Benedict. Right. Benedict needed him. Calm down, John. It would do no good to get angry at a long-dead man only to end up neglecting his very much alive son.
Greg was quiet for a moment. "It's not your fault," he said then, his tone quiet. "It's not my fault, either, or Mrs. Hudson's fault." It might have been more convincing if he hadn't sounded like he was chanting a mantra to remind himself of the fact. "The only one who is to blame for this is Moriarty."
"Right. Moriarty." The one who had stolen everything from him and then escaped his revenge.
Benedict is finally asleep.
One would think I were used to it, getting someone to sleep when they are exhausted but too stubborn to admit it. However, Ben is quite different from Sherlock. For one thing, he needs more sleep to begin with, so I can't just give up and leave him. For another, Sherlock was never quite so clingy when sleepy.
Once they do go down, though, they are quite similar in sleep. Dark lashes, messy hair, pouty mouth, and yes, Sherlock did pout every now and then. Not like he'd have ever admitted it, though.
I'm starting to feel quite sleepy, too, but unlike lucky Ben, I can't quite go to sleep just yet. I need to go through the files on the latest case for tomorrow so we can go out hunting for leads.
I hope Ben likes museums, because I have a feeling we're going to see several of them tomorrow.
"I figured as much." Greg chuckled. "Believe me, I know damn well what it's like to have a toddler in the house, and at least I had a break when I went to work. You've got a saint's patience, carrying him around all the time."
"It's that or cut back on work, and I'd rather not risk my sanity when I'm responsible for someone else. And don't look at me like that. We both know I'd have trouble keeping it together if I just sat around without anything to do but change nappies all day."
Greg raised his hands in a defencive gesture. "Hey, don't look at me. I've seen you when you're bad. As long as you're not taking the kid to a firefight, you're not going to hear me saying you should slow down."
"To be fair, my worst time was right after Sherlock's death." Just saying it still made him feel cold, however long it had been.
"But it was getting back to work that dragged you out of that mess."
"Getting back to work and the bloody stubborn people in my life, you mean." John smiled. He was quite grateful for the stubborn people pulling him back to life. Without them all, he probably would have fulfilled Mycroft's prediction of following Sherlock to the grave, never mind being able to take care of Ben when he needed it.
"Ah, yes. The stubborn people. Hate those." Greg grinned at him. There was a hint of something else to his expression, though, a certain kind of tension John wasn't sure he liked.
"Some stubborn person bothering you?"
"Huh?" Greg blinked. "Did I say something?"
"Oh, nothing. Just wondering since you looked strange for a moment there." John gave him a closer look, doing his best to observe instead of just seeing, as Sherlock had told him so often. He was really getting good at this, though compared with his late friend he was obviously nothing but a child making guesses. "You know, you look awfully fresh for someone who supposedly just came around for a pint after a long day at work."
"What do you mean?" Ah, a nice and quick response.
"You've obviously shaved, and your shirt is clean. I rather doubt you'd bother to do that just for a chat between friends."
"Ah, yeah." And here came the sheepish grin. Well, it was much better than the tension, at least. "I may have some plans for tonight."
"Really, now?" John echoed his grin. "Big plans?"
"Something like that." Greg looked a bit embarrassed but happy nevertheless. "I've got a date."
"Seriously? I thought you haven't gone on a date since the divorce." Not that he was keeping count, but the people at the Yard were, and it was rather hard to avoid any gossip as long as Donovan was privy to it.
"Yeah, well, figured it's been long enough. So, when someone interesting asked me, I said yes."
"Someone asked you?" Somehow he'd always taken Greg to be the kind of old-fashioned man who preferred taking the first step himself. "Anyone I know?"
"I'd imagine so." He chuckled. "Let's just say it's a very stubborn person."
John frowned. That wasn't a very specific description, granted, but within the context of their conversation, it gave a rather limited range of possibilities. And considering these, he could really only come to one conclusion. "You must be kidding."
"Hm? Something the matter?" Greg was still smiling, but the tension was back. He was wary of how John would react. Understandable, given the issue.
"How would you end up having a date with Mycroft bloody Holmes?"
"I just told you. He asked, I said yes." Greg shrugged. "Maybe I'm insane, but hey, it can't be worse than working with him."
"Except you're going to be on a date. In a romantic context. A date with a Holmes."
"Because a date with a Holmes is going to be so very romantic, I'm sure." Greg shrugged. "I'm not exactly expecting a fairytale romance, John. Most of the time I'm convinced he's had his heart replaced with a computer. But he's a fascinating man, and frankly he needs someone to drag him out of the work context, if only for a moment."
"And you think you can do that?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I'll end up wanting to wring his scrawny little Holmes neck five minutes into it. No way I'll know without giving it a try, though."
"I suppose." John raised his pint. "To a hopefully non-catastrophic date?"
"Hell, I'll drink to that."
It wasn't until quite some time later that John realised he hadn't been on a date since before Sherlock's death, himself.
There are times when Benedict reminds me of Sherlock. Not only because they are both given to tantrums when they do not get their way, or make noise at ungodly hours when by all rights they should be fast asleep. Benedict also seems to share his tendency to notice things I would overlook. Of course, he lacks the deductive powers and endless roves of seemingly unconnected trivia, but nevertheless, the case today would have taken much longer to unravel if Benedict hadn't drawn my attention to the strange sound in the warehouse.
Naturally, there are differences, too. While Benedict may be fussy about what he eats, in the end he will always happily eat something at least, and makes sure to tell me if he is hungry. He is also more affectionate than Sherlock, giving me hugs and kisses rather than insults to my intelligence.
I miss Sherlock.
"That's what we need to figure out." John sighed, shaking his head. "I'll probably keep most of his books; I can always put up some more shelves. Mycroft said he wants any notes Sherlock might have left behind, as well as any sentimental items I don't want to keep myself. Clothes will be donated since I don't know anyone they would fit, and for the rest, well. We'll see."
"Let's get started, then." Greg grinned, though there wasn't much actual mirth behind it. "Ben's going to love his new room."
"It's about time." John sighed as he started looking through the nearest pile. "His things are getting everywhere nowadays; it'll be good to get a place where he can keep his toys. Maybe he'll also sleep better in his own room." Or at least stop getting woken up by his father.
Greg nodded sympathetically. "Nightmares?" He started going through a pile of books, setting aside magazines and hand-written notes in separate piles.
"That and the calls in the middle of the night, yeah." Ah, the sock index. How the same man who kept his socks organised could fail to find his own passport in a hurry was still quite beyond John. "Not that I expect him to sleep on his own for a while yet, considering he has a bad habit of crawling into my bed even though we're in the same room at night."
"Kids often do that, yeah." Greg chuckled. "You going to keep Sherlock's bed for him?"
"We'll see." For him there were so many memories, of dragging an unconscious Sherlock to bed or forcing a reluctant detective to stop ruining his back on the couch. However, that was about him, and about the past. He had to think of Benedict, now. "Obviously he doesn't need such a big bed for a long while yet, and it takes up a lot of room that he could use for playing."
"He could play on the bed, though. Would be great to bounce on, I bet."
"Maybe." Ben did love driving his cars all over John's bed. "His current bed will be too small soon."
"Maybe see how he likes it?" More notes in the pile for Mycroft. "Think Ben would like this molecular model?"
"Depends on if it breaks apart. Wouldn't want him to choke on the parts, after all." It did look pretty, with coloured spheres combined in an intricate structure with fine beams. However, his son was sadly still in the phase where most pretty things belonged in the mouth.
"Seems pretty well glued together." Greg tugged at a few of the spheres, but they did not come loose.
"Put it aside, then." So many things to go through. There were a few objects he couldn't even remember seeing before, even though he had packed most of them into the room with his own hands. Others brought on a flood of memories when he even looked at them, images and sounds and smells from the past filling his mind. This was the book he had barely saved from acid during a botched experiment, there was the shirt Sherlock had worn during that particularly confounding investigation, that pen had somehow turned out to be decisive evidence in a seemingly hopeless case.
He could almost see it, the pale hand closing around the pen, slender fingers twiddling with it, tossing it in the air for a spin. Catching it, ever so deft, as the grin of triumph spread on the pale face and he went off on another one of his convoluted explanations. John could still recall it, word for brilliant word, and in retrospect it all seemed so clear, so very obvious. Rare were the times that he had not been able to follow a deduction as it was broken down for him to see, the inevitable bonds from cause to consequence brought out for all to see.
A touch to his shoulder startled him, making him spin around. He found Greg looking at him with a concerned expression. "You all right, mate?"
"Ah, yeah." John drew a deep breath. "Just, ah, got caught up in the memories."
"I'd imagine." Greg nodded slowly. "You spent a long time with him."
"Not really." John managed a wistful smile. "He's already been dead longer than I ever knew him." It seemed absurd, to think that his time with Sherlock had not stretched out to infinity like the overwhelming weight of memories seemed to indicate. But then, it was also surreal to suggest that he had not been alone forever, had not felt this gnawing pain in his chest ever since he had first drawn breath.
"Doesn't change the fact that he turned your life upside down." Greg's expression echoed his own. "It sure seems to be a Holmes trait."
"So I've come to understand." He still didn't understand much about how Greg exactly related to Mycroft, but it was at least clear enough that he, too, had been caught in the Holmes net beyond pure professional interest. "How is it going with your own genius, anyway?"
"Growing a bit morose as the anniversary approaches." Greg shook his head. "He thinks I don't notice, but it's quite obvious in the way he acts. If I asked him, he'd probably say something about how it isn't useful to mourn someone who is already dead."
"And caring for the living doesn't help one save them." Such a familiar attitude, not that he was about to trust those words. "Except that is exactly how Sherlock managed to save us."
"He never was one for rules." Little more than a murmur. "Even the ones that he set himself."
"But then, he always cared more than he wanted to admit." John sighed. "Let's get on with it. We only have so much time before Molly brings Ben back, and chatting about Sherlock won't help us get this mess out of the way."
"Right." Greg started disassembling the pile again. Then, after the silence had dragged on for a while, he spoke again, sounding somewhat awkward. "You know, he did love you. In his own weird way. Sherlock, I mean."
"Oh, I'm aware." His lips twitched into a small, rueful smile. "And I loved him, or I'd have ditched the crazy bastard ages ago." He laughed, then, though the tears stung in his eyes.
Time to get the room cleaned for Ben.
Benedict has taken quite the liking to the skull, it seems.
Of course, most people take one of two approaches to the skull. Some are freaked out, declaring it creepy and inappropriate, perhaps asking who Sherlock killed to get it if they are suspicious enough of him. Others regard it with kind of a morbid fascination, until they finally get used to its presence around here. After that, they may make some jokes about it, but most still prefer to ignore it.
Benedict never thought twice about the matter. I set the skull aside when I was cleaning the living room earlier, and when I peeked in from the kitchen, I found my darling quite contently curled up for a nap with it. He seemed to be sleeping quite well, too.
I'd say something about how he's at least not likely to gang up against me with the skull, but from my experiences with Sherlock, I don't dare be quite sure. I suppose I won't waste my time worrying as long as Benedict doesn't talk to it.
I do draw the line at feeding the skull, though. There are some things not even the prettiest blue eyes will make me do.
Now to get Benedict to stop trying to convince me.
Of course, as he had more or less expected, this simply made Benedict run off even faster. At least he wasn't hard to follow; never mind the small size of the apartment, but the wet footprints he left behind were quite enough for John to follow his tracks.
He cornered his son in Benedict's room, planting himself in the doorway to prevent any further escape attempts. "Now come here and let me dry you. You'll get cold."
"No." Benedict peeked at him over the edge of his bed, then dived out of sight again.
"Come on, Ben. Let's get you dry so we can get you dressed up."
"No!" The brat was having fun with this, John could tell. Because obviously the exhilarated laughter as he ran off from the shower hadn't been enough of a hint.
"You don't get to watch any videos until you have clothes on, young man."
Now, his darling two-year-old peeked out again. "Ben watches Hello Kitty!"
John sighed. He'd been hoping to update his blog before dinner, but hey, who was counting? It was just his laptop. "Okay, okay. You get to watch Hello Kitty on Daddy's laptop, but not until you're dry and dressed. Deal?"
Cue wet, naked little boy clambering quickly over his bed toward John. John had to step forward and catch him before he rolled right off the bed.
"Easy there, kid. Wouldn't want you to get hurt, now would we?" He laughed as he sat on the edge of Benedict's bed, quickly drying off the slightly protesting kid. "There, all clean and dry. Now let's put some clothes on you, hmm?"
"That's right, Ben. We'll find some clothes for you." He walked over to Benedict's closet, picking out an outfit that would hopefully not cause too much protesting. "Come here, let's get you dressed."
"Myself!" Oh, sure, of course he had to get dressed all by himself when he still hadn't even mastered the intricate art of matching his head and arms on the right holes on his shirt. At least they had time to spend on dressing practice.
After a good, long while Benedict was mainly clothed with everything on the right way around, rushing off the minute John let him go. Chuckling, John followed him to the living room, finding the child busy opening his laptop to look up his favourite videos.
"You really are a handful, aren't you, Benedict?" He went over to open the appropriate page, ruffling his son's hair. It was a wild mess of sandy curls, as always. "Should have known better than to give you such an unfortunate middle name."
"Name?" Ben looked up at him, blinking. "Ben Watson!" Of course, this was accompanied by the appropriate gesture of showing him two fingers, one for each full year.
"That's right. Benedict Sherlock Watson." Mycroft still gave him that odd look whenever the middle name came up, the same one he had given when John had first asked to have the name included on the official paperwork. He'd never questioned it, of course; Mycroft rarely questioned anything and when he did it was because he already knew the answer. Not that John himself was entirely clear on his motivations, aside from his usual joke that it was only appropriate that the one who ordered him around be called Sherlock.
"Daddy?" Ben's eyes returned to the screen. "Bring Clue."
"You could have gotten him when you were in your room." Nevertheless, John chuckled, walking back to Benedict's room. The much-loved teddy bear lay half hidden under the bed. Picking it up, he returned to the living room, handing the toy to Benedict. His son clutched onto the teddy without a glance at him, eyes glued to the computer screen.
Shaking his head in amusement, John crossed over to the kitchen, starting dinner preparations with one eye constantly on Ben. Sure, he was watching now, but he had a bad habit of disappearing the moment John took his eyes off for half a minute.
Well, if he couldn't actually write his blog entry yet, he could at least plan it in his head. It was much faster, he had found, to compose the text beforehand and then just type it up than to sit at his laptop for hours on end, waiting for the right turn of phrase to come up so he could get started.
As much as he enjoyed his investigations and the occasional spurts of action, he had to say he didn't mind days like this, either. They were quite nice, actually, the quiet, peaceful moments at the point when a case was wrapped up and he wasn't anxious for the next one yet, when Ben was acting no more difficult than any other two-year-old, when nothing was causing him too much pain and dinner was coming up nicely.
Ben was singing along to the theme music of his show, Clue held tightly in his little arms. At the appropriate points he slapped the skull he'd settled next to himself, an appropriately morbid little drum for a child with such a peculiar life. Of course, the skull usually got to be a mountain for the toy cars to cross, or a seat for Clue the Teddy, and on one memorable occasion it had born the honour of providing Benedict's stuffed bunny with a house. Mrs. Hudson often said it was too morbid, but John could not bring himself to agree. It wasn't like there was anything unnatural or inherently harmful about it.
"Daddy!" The sudden call made him blink in surprise. "Daddy, give Ben food."
"It'll be ready in just a moment. Patience, Ben." Well, at least this particular curly-haired friend of skulls wasn't too averse to getting fed. It did make things easier, though it also brought about some still aching memories as he set the table for two, eyes caught on the lingering mark of an old acid spill on the surface.
Of course, he wouldn't have minded setting the table for three, but he had already accepted that would never happen. He couldn't imagine anyone taking Sherlock's place, not in 221B.
He just hoped Benedict wouldn't mind growing up without a mummy.
Benedict is learning to be more informative about what he wants. Or, at least, he is getting better at putting it into words.
Of course, this is mainly a good thing. It is much easier to stop his complaints when he actually says what he wants, instead of letting me decode the message from a few petulant words that I obviously should be able to interpret instinctively. However, this also means that he now considers it his absolute right to have me run from the other end of the apartment just because he needs someone to pick up his book.
I'll have to teach him that other people aren't around just to play his servants, or I'll soon have another Sherlock in my hands. God knows that if I never have to get across the city just to send a text message for a lazy sod, it'll still be too soon.
Of course, I'd do it again in a heartbeat if it was Sherlock asking, but it's not like that's ever going to happen again.
"Not falling!" the boy protested, hurrying up ahead of him. John chuckled faintly and followed him, groceries in tow. "Come on, Daddy! I want food!"
"On my way, Ben, on my way." As though he was dallying on purpose. "I'm just as hungry as you are."
"Are not!" Benedict grinned at him from the top of the stairs. "I'm more hungry!"
"It's hungrier, Ben, not more hungry."
"Hungry-er." Ben giggled. "Daddy makes food!"
"Yeah, yeah, in a minute." John took the groceries to the kitchen as he made his way upstairs, patting Ben on the head as the boy rushed after him. "Go see that your room is clean, okay?"
"I'm hungry?" Benedict's voice was hopeful, obviously thinking it might get him out of the chore.
"So am I, and I'm going to make food now. You have plenty of time to pick up your toys." John chuckled. "Go clean your room, and we can have ice cream after dinner."
Benedict's eyes started to shine. "Okay!" He ran off into the little hallway that separated his room from the kitchen.
John shook his head with a smile as he started putting the groceries away. Benedict was a good kid, but at times he could get tricky. John could only wonder what kind of schemes he would get up to once he grew up.
He was startled by an urgent call from the hallway. "Daddy!" Benedict was looking at him from the doorway, eyes wide and face pale, Clue hugged tight to his chest. "Daddy, strange man sleeps in my bed!"
For a fleeting moment John wondered if someone had been reading too much Goldilocks to his son. Then, however, he walked to the door, picking him up. "What do you mean?" Knowing Benedict, it was likely a case of a plushie in the wrong place.
"Strange man. I don't know." One of Benedict's hands grasped onto his shirt, holding on tight, the other still holding onto his teddy. His eyes looked almost scared.
"Oh?" Now, John frowned, growing wary. There were no signs of a break-in, but Ben wouldn't freak out like this over a misplaced toy. Holding his son close, he walked toward Benedict's room, listening for any suspicious sounds.
At the doorway, he halted. There was indeed someone in Benedict's bed, curled up on top of the covers, appearing to be asleep. A tall, slender man, his skin pale where a slim hand lay on a navy blue pillow, dark curls messed up from turning in the bed.
"See, Daddy?" Benedict whispered, holding onto him tight. "Strange man."
"Strange is right," John murmured, "but I think I know this man." However impossible it was.
After three years, Sherlock Holmes was home again.