Ernest is a full-grown man but he can admit it: he's dreading this phone call.
He'd been planning to leave -- just ten more minutes and he'd have been safely out the door, this whole mess in someone else's hands. Instead, two pairs of wide, innocent eyes are staring at him from across his desk, watching his every move and likely deducing him down to the cellular level. "There's nothing for it," he tells them. "I've got to call your parents."
Their looks shift accordingly, one worried and the other defiant. It's the latter that'll keep him here until the break of dawn if she has anything to say about it. "Lucy, you know it's my early day."
The little girl narrows her brown eyes, tilts her head in a distinctly superior fashion he's never seen someone with plaited pig-tails pull off before. "I thought it was Thursday," she says primly.
"It's Wednesday," he corrects her, picking up his phone. "It's always been Wednesday." He hits the second speed dial -- his own bloody wife is third -- and tries not wince under the glare of a seven year old.
Sherlock Holmes answers on the second ring. "Hello Higgins," he says, falsely pleasant. "Which of them is currently in your custody?"
"Both, Mr. Holmes." There’s just something about the man that makes him want to squirm, and he feels a bit bad about calling him when Andrew cringes. Lucy just crosses her arms and looks sullen, cheeks pinking in irritation. If he didn't know better he'd have though Mr. Holmes had a hand in making her, the imitation is so spot-on. "Security cameras show they've been here since round two."
"And none of you spotted them until now?"
"They office-hopped until they could get in to see those hawks we asked the RSPB to come and g--"
"You just let them wander in?"
Ernest wilts under the question. “Well, I. Mr. Holmes, I was processing a few coke dealers at the t—”
“You people are incompetent," Mr. Holmes starts, cutting him off. "It's incredible you're even capable of independent functioning. Two seven year olds should not--"
Ernest leans his head on his free hand and hits the speakerphone button, just so both children can hear their father rant. Somehow Mr. Holmes always knows when Ernest switches over, because his topics change to not only the MET's shortcomings but his children's 'pointless mutiny against reason and commonsense'. Andrew stares at the phone through his coke-bottle glasses in concern; Lucy just looks bored.
After about seven minutes and forty seconds (not that Ernest is counting) Mr. Holmes finally wraps up. "If you're not waiting by the door in ten minutes neither of you will be allowed near a computer for the next week."
"No!" Andrew blurts out, though it’s overridden by Lucy's, "That's totally unfair!"
"Do you know the details of the case I'm leaving to come and get you?" Mr. Holmes says, to which neither of them answer. "Ten minutes," he snaps into the silence, and promptly hangs up. Lucy glares at the phone like she wants to set it on fire while Andrew hops to his feet, already heading for the door. "Lucy, let's go."
Ernest barely has time to text his boss before he’s hurling himself after the kids, yelling, "Wait, wait, don't touch that--"
Ten minutes have never passed by so slowly before.
The DAC is waiting for them when they get to the first floor, a sour look on his face. "Do you two like being on punishment?"
"We just wanted to see the hawks," Lucy says, dropping onto a bench with a thud.
Andrew follows suit at a more sedate pace, but that's mostly because his attention is several feet away, on the man being brought in by two constables. "He didn't do it," he says, pointing.
Lestrade sighs. "I think you want to see how many times you can pull your parents away from work before they snap."
Lucy says nothing; Andrew is still looking away. "No, seriously Uncle Geoff. He's innocent."
"Okay, thank you," Lestrade says, and nods at Ernest before heading off to evaluate the situation. Ernest can guess this is going to be another one of those situations where they have to pretend they weren't just handed a case by a primary school pupil. It's incredibly dispiriting.
"So you are capable of following instructions." The three of them turn at the sound of a deep, and deeply annoyed, voice in time to see Mr. Holmes striding towards them, Dr. Watson in tow. "This is just selective misbehavior then."
"Thanks," Dr. Watson says to Ernest, who shrugs. Mr. Holmes is staring down at both children with an expression Ernest will have to remember for his own kids, someday, when he needs to cow them into submission.
Or maybe not, since Lucy only looks more petulant. "We just wanted to do something interesting! The after school club is so dull."
"Lucille," Mr. Holmes says. "This has to stop."
"Stop sending us boring places!"
Dr. Watson is outwardly a bit more agitated. “Blue Hall is fifteen minutes from here,” he says, in a tone just under a shout. “Do you both know what could have happened to you, in a city like London, by yourselves? How many times do we need to tell you about this?”
“Nothing happened,” Lucy says breezily, as if it’s a non-issue.
“That doesn’t matter!”
"Dad, are we going to get dinner on the way home?" Andrew asks, as though this conversation has nothing to do with him.
"I don't know, Andrew, not right now," Dr. Watson tells him, his eyes on Lucy.
Andrew frowns at his father. "But I'm hungry--"
"Andrew just relax for a second, alright?" Dr. Watson orders, shifting his gaze to his son.
Andrew crosses his arms and falls back against the bench. "'S not fair, I didn't want to see those stupid hawks anyway and I didn't like lunch and now I haven't eaten--"
"Alright, let's go," Dr. Watson says, gesturing sharply for Andrew to stand up. "Sherlock, deal with this." He herds Andrew away, grumbling at him the whole time about poor decision making and impulse control.
Mr. Holmes watches them go then turns back to Lucy, who now looks even more offended and moody. God, Ernest hopes his future children are boys. All boys.
"I know what this is about," Mr. Holmes says, and moves to sit next to his daughter. She doesn't acknowledge the words, choosing instead to stare at her shoes. "It was an accidental miscommunication, Lucy," Mr. Holmes continues, serious and sure. "I thought John was coming to get you and he thought the same about me. We weren't leaving you somewhere. We're not going to leave you somewhere. Ever."
"You left us there the whole afternoon," she says, and Ernest is surprised by her tone, and then completely exasperated at himself for being surprised. He is so used to Holmes 2.0 he sometimes forgets she is in fact just a little girl, someone who’d been hurt and left and forced to fend for herself. He forgets, sometimes, that she wasn’t always a Holmes. It seems inconceivable.
"I'm sorry," Mr. Holmes says, jolting Ernest out of his reverie. Oh, if he could only record those two words for posterity, just to prove he’d heard it. "It won't happen again."
"You have to be there when you say you will," she tells him, and God, no girls. Please. Ernest could easily see himself climbing a mountain with two broken legs if his future daughter were asking in that tone, and she is asking, no mistake about it.
"I will be," Mr. Holmes tells her. "I promise."
She looks at the ground, and seems to come to some sort of decision. She looks up at her father and nods. "Okay."
Mr. Holmes stands up and Lucy scrambles up, standing on the bench. Even with the boost she's still half a foot shorter than him. She stares him down until he sighs and picks her up, where she instantly wraps herself around him like an octopus. "Sorry about your case."
"It's fine, Higgins can finish it."
Ernest starts. "What?" His phone starts vibrating ominously in his pocket.
He looks at Mr. Holmes in desperation, but all he gets back is a smirk. "The remains will be somewhere out in Peckham. There are only a few kilometers to cover, though admittedly it will be a little more difficult in the dark."
Ernest watches them go and thinks despairingly about his early fucking day.
Of all the children she expects to see sitting across from her desk that cold winter’s Friday afternoon, Headteacher Bradley’s brilliant, perpetually odd, and tenderly favored pupil Andrew Holmes is not one of them.
Oh, the child has been to see her before, many times – when he’d accidentally set fire to the science wing (twice), when he’d accidentally blown his classroom windows out last spring, when he’d accidentally reproduced an almost-extinct (and quite vicious) mold spore that crawled into the ventilation system through an unused biology classroom. The child is a wonder, a prodigy who Elizabeth has brought professors from all of England to teach and guide when the skills of her staff became exhausted. She nurtures his creativity as much as possible, and gives him as many opportunities as are at her disposal to expand his mind and challenge his intellect.
Though she works closely with both of his parents to make sure that he isn’t left behind socially, bringing him out of that shell of his to interact with humanity is at best difficult, and yet most often completely impossible. And so to see him sitting across from her desk, nose bloodied and eye black with an expression of mulish fury on his face, is such a surprise she almost doesn’t know how to respond.
“He started it,” the other young man snarls. Timothy Franklin, two months at St. Bernadette’s and already she knows him well. He has a chip on his shoulder with anger to match, the product of a messy divorce made infinitely worse by his mother’s fame.
Elizabeth glances down at the incident report, written by the deputy headteacher. In it she has detailed a messy lunch time brawl, but she hadn’t been able to get more than spitting curses out of either child before hauling them to see her.
She glances across to Andrew. “Is that true, Andrew?”
The boy crosses his arms tightly across his chest, and the boorish expression on his small face would be charming if she didn’t know that it was his way of expressing true anger. “Yeah, but only because he was saying things he shouldn’t say.”
This, also, doesn’t surprise her in the least. “What did you say, Timothy?”
Timothy sniffs out of a bloodied nose, glaring at his knees. Her heart goes out to him, and she waits patiently until he blurts, “I only told him the truth.”
“He deserved it,” Andrew says, looking for all the world just like his father. “He deserved every punch he got and I would give him more, too.”
“Andrew,” she says firmly, “I cannot and will not condone violence at St. Bernadette’s.”
His eyes film with hot, furious tears, and he dashes his wrist across his eyes, shoving his glasses up his face. “He said that my siblings weren’t really my siblings because they’re different from me.”
The words bring her up short, and she turns to stare at Timothy, who has gone red and is staring down at the floor. That the words are true is doubtless, and that they come from a well of pain doubly so. There is a reason the divorce is so messy -- there are two children from a mistress involved.
But neither can she allow such behavior, not in her school, where she is so proud of the diversity that is flourishing under her steady hand, of the values she is teaching her students which her own mothers had taught her.
Elizabeth hears voices outside the office, Mrs. Franklin’s and Mr. Holmes’s, and Andrew’s fight with his tears ends. They trickle down his face until he is shaking with silent sobs, setting off Timothy who is doing a better job at hiding it, but which he can hardly deny.
She buzzes her secretary, and within a moment she’s opening the door to Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Franklin both.
They rush towards their children, but it’s interesting to note how different their reactions are. Mr. Holmes crouches beside his son, cataloguing his injuries – the split lip, the blackened eye. Andrew cries harder, and though Mr. Holmes offers no comfort, his very presence is obviously comfort enough as Andrew’s tears are the more normal ones of a child who knows they’re in trouble.
Mrs. Franklin coos over her son, the very last thing she should be doing, and Elizabeth cuts it off at the pass. “Take a seat, both of you. Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“I apologize for John’s absence, our youngest is ill,” Mr. Holmes tells her offhand. In a way she’s grateful – Dr. Watson can be a bit intimidating, and in this situation she wants the children to express their thoughts honestly. Mr. Holmes continues with, “Would you please explain why my son looks like he went three rounds with a boxer and lost?”
“It seems that we’re having a small issue,” Elizabeth says, and turns her gaze to the boys again. “Why don’t you explain what happened, gentlemen.”
Andrew’s lip quivers violently, and when he speaks she can hardly understand one word in five. “Timothy said something he oughtn’t have about Lucy and Monica and Kaden, because they look different from me that they’re not really my real siblings. I punched him because he said that, and I was still mad so I punched him again too.”
Mr. Holmes stares down at his son like he’s never seen him before – Elizabeth knows the feeling. She turns her gaze to Timothy, who can’t meet anyone’s eyes, let alone hers. “I said those mean things about his family, Mum, but I didn’t mean it. I just hate it because Dad has a new family and they’re different from us and he loves them better than us and I’m not his son anymore.”
Elizabeth’s heart breaks anew, and though Mr. Holmes’ expression is still blank, telling nothing, she thinks perhaps that this incident won’t pass this office. Timothy sobs against his mother’s shoulder and Yolanda looks over him at Mr. Holmes and Andrew with pain in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. You have a beautiful family, Mr. Holmes.”
“And I apologize for my son’s temper getting the best of him.” Andrew looks up at his father, and Mr. Holmes glances down at him for a moment before turning his attention to Elizabeth. “Will there be a suspension?”
“They were fighting in the dining hall,” Elizabeth answers. “They could have seriously hurt each other, or an innocent by-stander. And while I’m sorry for your situation, Timothy, and I’m sorry for your hurt feelings, Andrew, neither can I let this go unpunished. As it is Friday afternoon, I feel that, with your parents’ permission, I assign you three days suspension over the long weekend.”
If they’re surprised, they hide it well. “I would also like for both Andrew and Timothy to write an essay explaining why their reactions to one another were incorrect. They will bring it here to my office on Tuesday.”
Mr. Holmes nods shortly. “We thank you, Mrs. Hughes, for your time and your patience in the matter,” he says, standing and shaking her hand.
Andrew stands too, quickly, and with one sharp look from his father, he says, “Sorry, Tim. About what I did. I shouldn’t have hit you.”
“Me too,” Timothy says, scrubbing the back of his hand over his nose. “Sorry, for hitting you. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”
Saturday afternoon, Elizabeth and her husband catch a taxi to the West End for an early dinner and a show at the Playhouse Theater. They just so happen to pass through Baker Street, and she is not in any way surprised to see Andrew Holmes hauling a black rubbish bag down to the corner and covered in dust from head to toe, with Dr. Watson glowering, armed with a broom, from the door to the flat.
Duchess Beatrice Nicolette Churchill is a woman used to the finer things in life.
She has always been a social butterfly, the belle of every ball, the flower of every soiree. She had single-handedly brought back the notion of good breeding in high English society during her time in Kent, reintroducing the days when the ladies were ladies and the gentlemen were gentlemen to the socialites who fluttered around her, hanging on her every word. In the early spring of their fifth year in Kent she decides she’s outgrown the city, and simple convinces her husband to take her to London, where his firm might grow and she’d have the opportunity to teach the young, rich wives of young, rich politicians just how things were done.
They have all the right friends, and all the right connections; they live in the right neighborhood, and most importantly their children go to the right school, St. Bernadette’s Academy. Beatrice didn’t realize just how right until one autumn day, quite unexpectedly, completely out of the blue, the Earl of Abingdon enrolls his young children in the school. Naturally, the parents at St. Bernadette’s go completely mad over it – the honor, the prestige of an Earl at their school is not lost on anyone.
Nothing might have come from it if the Earl himself hadn’t been ridiculously handsome, with a shock of dark, perpetually wind-blown curly hair and the most beautiful eyes Beatrice has ever seen. Every time she happenes to catch a glimpse of him he is wearing a great coat that likely cost upwards of two thousand pounds, and never anything short of impeccable clothing – understated but undeniably designer. And the name – Sherlock Holmes -- so delightfully odd yet somehow perfectly traditional, reeking of old money. And if all of that isn’t alluring enough, and good heavens it most certainly is, the mysterious airs surrounding him are like nectar to a bee – impossible to resist.
He wears no ring, and while she is happily married to her Charles (and approves of his steadfast determination to be Prime Minister before fifty), she has an unmarried sister in Chesterfield who is very becoming and would suit the Earl and his quiet, serious demeanor nicely. For this reason Beatrice, who has always aspired to make higher connections, makes it her business to learn everything she can about the Earl. After all, nobility should mingle with nobility.
He makes it very difficult. No one knows who he is, other than title – he had emerged quite out of the blue. Even the women who work at St. Bernadette’s central office and could always be counted on to share some little smidgen of gossip remain annoyingly tight-lipped. Worse still he’s rarely seen at the school, instead entrusting his children to his various servants, including an enormous Swede and a very short man whose entire wardrobe seems to consist of an army of oatmeal-colored jumpers.
Encouraging a friendship between the little lord and lady and her own daughter becomes Beatrice’s first project in London, and perhaps, she thinks, her most important one. Her first point of business is to appoint herself as the president of the Parent and Teacher Association, and from there she makes it a year to never forget. She throws parties and a spring carnival, even a children’s winter formal in her own ballroom, in the hopes of bringing the reclusive Earl out into society – after all, his rare appearances at St. Bernadette’s were always in attendance of something for his children. Throughout the entire school year he’d only emerged twice, once to see little Andrew accept an award for his science project and once to see the children perform in the Christmas choir concert. Each time he stood at the back as if utterly immune to the staring he was attracting, and as soon as the event was over he did not mingle or enjoy the cakes and pies Beatrice baked herself – rather he collected the children and with a polite nod to all gathered swept out, the short-statured nanny at his heels.
“Hello,” she tells the nanny, the gentleman with the oatmeal jumpers, one afternoon while waiting for the children to come out. “I’m Beatrice Churchill.”
“Head of the PTA, yes I know,” the man replies, smiling. He’s holding a baby with toffee-colored skin and the most beautiful eyes she’s ever seen on a child. “John Watson.”
Actually he’s rather charming, and handsome in that comfortable way men sometimes have, which makes her goal look a bit easier to attain. “My Margery is in Lucille’s class – she’s a beautiful girl, little Lucy.”
“Thank you,” is the man’s odd reply. “She was just telling me last night that the school is going to be holding a talent show soon?”
“In a few weeks time,” Beatrice answers, pleased that the news had reached the children, and therefore the Earl. “Does Lucy have something in mind?”
“Lucy always has something in mind,” Mr. Watson says, smiling and shifting the baby to his other hip. “She’s a little diva in the making – don’t know what we’re going to do when Sherlock finds out.”
She titters with polite laughter. “You must care for the children very much.”
A strange look filters across his face. “Of course, they’re pretty great kids.”
“How long have you been in the Earl’s employ?”
He freezes – it’s obviously been some time. “I –”
“I can’t even imagine what an honor it is to be in his household. An Earl! And such a kind man he is, too – last autumn he gave three thousand pounds to the St. Bernadette’s Sport’s League, and forty children were able to go compete in the country-wide football tournament. Without him they would never have been able to go.”
He says nothing, but she’s undeterred -- she leans in closer, certain she has finally found a source of information. Like a wriggling tooth, it will only take poking and prodding to loosen him up. “I would simply love it if my Margery and Lucille could become close friends.”
Mr. Watson’s lips curve into a small smile. “Would you.”
“Margery is a good girl, brought up correctly -- especially in today’s day and age when so many of our young people aren’t taught to respect the aristocracy and all that it entails. She and Lucille have a lot in common.”
“I’m sure that they do,” Mr. Watson says.
The conversation pays off, just as she’d known it would. The very next day Margery comes skipping out of school with an invitation to Lucille Holmes’ birthday party clutched in her hand.
Beatrice is utterly beside herself. The party is the following week on Saturday, on the very fashionable Baker Street where the Earl undoubtedly keeps a penthouse. For eight solid days the preparation for the party becomes her life’s mission. She has a brand new party dress made for Margery, and makes salon appointments for the both of them to have their hair, makeup and nails done, and spends three days suffering over the perfect present for the daughter of an Earl. Finally, she picks out a twenty-four carat diamond jewelry box made of ivory and pearl with ruby accents, and has the entire thing wrapped in pink Persian silk and soft bows.
Charles even has a limousine and driver take them to Baker Street the afternoon of the birthday party – fashionably late, of course. The driver stops them in front of some sort of chip shop, but Beatrice knows all about the ways the fabulously rich like to hide their homes – she would have expected nothing less from a man so mysterious as the Earl.
The little lord, surprisingly, is the one who answers the door. His grubby trainers and play clothes are a tad disconcerting, as is the way he stares at Margery like a gaping guppy -- a perfect example of the peerage going too far when it comes to inbreeding. “Whoa,” he blurts.
“Andrew! Who—oh.” Mr. Watson appears behind his charge, smiling and offering them a hand. “Welcome, both of you, please come in. Margery, what a lovely dress.”
“Thank you, Mr. Watson,” Margery replies with a perfect curtsy.
Both men look suitably startled – they obviously don’t run into good breeding often, which is a shame and a perfect example of everything Beatrice stands for. If it were up to her every young woman would be required to take classes on proper etiquette, party planning, home making. Such a shame.
Andrew blurts, “Ow!” and Mr. Watson smiles, turning his charge around and nudging him to the steps. “Why don’t you show the ladies upstairs? I’m going to get the cake and fetch your father.”
“Now, Andrew. Ladies, if you’ll excuse me.”
It doesn’t look like a penthouse, is Beatrice’s first thought. She hadn’t known what to expect, but it isn’t a foyer that looks in need of a good mopping, or expensive children’s shoes lined up by the wall, or the truly ungodly wallpaper that looks as if it had last been replaced in 1974.
Most of all, Beatrice isn’t expecting a cramped sitting room full of mismatched furniture, laughing girls in jeans and jumpers, or a moose head wearing headphones that serves as the focal point of the room.
At their entrance the girls abruptly stop talking and Lucille jumps to her feet. “Margery!” she squeals, embracing her tightly and unwittingly getting what appears to be some sort of red sauce all over the back of her daughter’s brand new chiffon party dress.
It doesn’t seem to matter to the others that they are horridly under-dressed – within moments Lucille and the girls are running up the steps, leaving only the sullen little Earl beside her, the baby, and a quiet young lady Beatrice vaguely recognizes as being a student at St. Bernadette’s. Lucille shrieks, “Monica come on, the game is starting,” down the steps, and the young lady takes off like a shot.
“Yeah,” Andrew says, handing her the baby and grabbing his jacket. “It’s always like this.”
And then, quite unexpectedly, Beatrice is alone in the quite ordinary flat with a sticky baby and absolutely no idea what has just happened.
“Well,” she says, and the baby gives her a big smile.
The flat is undeniably a bachelor pad. Though scrupulously clean, it is nevertheless an utter disaster of toys, books, and papers. The table in the cramped kitchen has been set for cake and ice cream, the remains of pizza boxes on the counter. The toilet has no guest towels, and the shrieking of the girls upstairs echoes through paper-thin walls.
Beatrice has seen enough. She sets the gift from her family on the table – though honestly, she has half a mind to take it back and return it – and storms out the door to find Mr. Watson, and the Earl, and give them both a piece of her mind.
She doesn’t have to go far. They’re at the bottom of the steps, kissing.
Mr. Watson breaks free first, rosy-cheeked and red lipped, and the Earl catches her eye just beyond, inscrutable but almost… amused. “Mrs. Churchill,” he says, voice deep and cultured and refined.
“I don’t understand,” she blurts. “I don’t understand you, or this, or… or anything!”
“Of that I am painfully aware,” the Earl replies, taking the baby from her and bouncing him gently on his arm. “Let me make it easy for you, as Kent has a reputation for rotting the mind. I am indeed the Earl of Abingdon, a position that came to me after my older brother renounced the title, as he had more interest in pursuing a political career than an aristocratic one. You put a spectacular amount of weight on prestige and presentation, Mrs. Churchill, perhaps as a way to mask your own social insecurities, perhaps as a weapon against those in the peerage who would look down on you, as you are the recipient of a minor duchy in an unpopular and poor part of England. Whatever the case, if our children are to go to school together, and our girls are to be friends, than I really must insist that, at least while around me, you stop this ridiculous posturing, as I honestly I find it repellently ingenuous.”
He stops at the stoop, glances back. “Oh, and by the way. John Watson is my partner, and we’ve been married for eleven years this July. In light of the Queen’s policy changes back in the early teens, that makes my husband a lord. Don’t ever speak to him like he’s the hired help again.”
He disappears into the flat and Mr. Watson, with a small smile, says, “Why don’t you show yourself out? Party ends at six,” and follows the Earl up the steps.
Mrs. Beth Henderson is not remotely surprised to find herself, at the age of fifty-two, guiding yet another Holmes child through the first year of primary school. She's more surprised it's taken as long as it has to see them again; she'd almost believed they'd decided to stop at three. She's nothing but pleased to know otherwise though, because Kaden is easily one of her favorite students in this or any other class she's ever had - and she's taught for many, many years.
She is used to the family's quirks: the -- unique -- stories the children were apt to share with the class; the strange, expensive cars that would occasionally pull up to take the kids after school; the way Sherlock would come in and dissect everyone in the room, or John would apologetically limp in late some days with one child strapped to his chest, one holding each hand, and a fourth careening around like they couldn't believe their luck at being left unrestrained. It always took them twice as long to get in when that free child was Andrew, who'd stop to literally pick apart any and everything that crossed his path. The staff were quite obvious about how much they enjoyed watching the show, even when it ended with other parents complaining or giving the family an overly-wide berth.
Lucy was always utterly charming, and often too hard-headed for her own good; Andrew was outpacing Beth within the first week of class. She hadn't taught Monica, though her teachers have only the loveliest things to say about the solemn little darling who can shut down a room when she chooses to smile. But when she meets Kaden for the first time her immediate thought is to wonder how anyone could give up a child that precious. Both Sherlock and John have shown up to send him off for his first day, and both of them seem to be having a harder time leaving than he is letting them go. Sherlock's hiding it better -- of course he is -- but after all these years it's obvious to her.
"Can you tell your parents you'll see them as soon as school is over?" she suggests, and smiles as Kaden turns and looks up, up, up.
"I see you later," he says, and immediately wanders off to the blocks.
"Yup," John answers to the back of Kaden's head, nodding shortly. Sherlock is frowning slightly, as though he's smelt something gone off.
Beth tries not to laugh. "I'm sure he'll be charging at you when you come to pick him up."
John smiles like he considers himself to be ridiculous and doesn't care at all. "Oh, that's very unlikely."
She lets them stand there for another minute or so, helping other children take off their coats and put away their trainers, reassuring the other parents, before she steps back over and says kindly, "You really have to go now."
"Right," Sherlock says decisively, and starts tugging John away by the elbow. "Come along, John."
She crouches down by Kaden, who is happily building a tower with three other children. "Can you wave goodbye to your Dad?"
He looks up, sends an absolutely devastating smile at his parents, and waves enthusiastically, knocking half of his tower over in the process. John is still waving back as Sherlock drags him out of the room.
"Who is that?" Matt asks. A man's just walked in, striking even without the knee-length coat, designer trousers and shoes. Matt's only been working at Bernadette's for a month, and has met what seems like one-hundred people every day since he started, but he'd remember someone with that profile.
Helen laughs next to him, the two of them behind the reception desk eating lunch while Matt's Year Fours are in the dining hall. "Mr. Holmes, and don't even bother, he's married with three kids."
"Of course he is -- snatched up by another gorgeous socialite, I bet." Mr. Holmes stands at the entryway, texting rapidly on his phone, a slight frown on his face. Matt wonders what or who he's waiting for.
Helen's smiles grows, her light eyes twinkling. "His husband's an army doctor, actually."
Matt raises his eyebrows in surprised glee. "You're lying."
"Not a word of it," she tells him, and starts to laugh.
"Wait a minute," Matt says, his brain finally kicking into gear. "Holmes -- Lucy Holmes' father? That's him?"
"Yep." Helen snorts. "Explains a lot, doesn't it?"
"An unbelievable amount." Lucy is one of the smartest children in her class, that was readily apparent; she is also possessed of the most incredible ability to make Matt feel like he should be asking her for answers, instead of the other way around. When she'd come up to him after class his third day at work and explained that Grace wasn't keeping up as well as she pretended to, and Dylan had trouble with Patrick but didn't say anything because he didn't want to be labeled a sissy, and Madison wasn't from a good home so he should cut her some slack when she came in and didn't have her work done, Matt had felt like he'd been dropped into the twilight zone. She is the most self-possessed child he's ever seen, but looking at her father -- and the stance that screams alpha male self-assurance -- it suddenly makes much more sense.
"Mr. Holmes," Helen calls, when the man makes no move to either announce his presence or move from the foyer, "can I help you?"
"Not yet," he says, not looking up from his phone. Matt raises an eyebrow but Helen just shrugs and returns to her left-overs, unperturbed.
Less than a minute later there is the sound of three pairs of running feet coming down the corridor, and Mr. Holmes finally looks up. Lucy, another little girl about the same age, and a tow-headed boy come careening to a halt in front of him, all of them smiling happily. "Sorry we're late Papa," Lucy says. "Andrew wanted to finish his picture."
The boy -- the famed Andrew Holmes, Matt realizes, who Matt has already been warned not to let near the science rooms without express permission from the headteacher, whatever the boy tried to say -- holds up his giant poster board proudly. "It's the allosteric transition of an enzyme."
“Excellent.” Mr. Holmes smiles. "Dad will be quite pleased."
The little girl in the middle, looking unsure but curious, asks, "Are we going to go to his work?"
Andrew answers before his father can. "Papa texted him and he’s meeting us here instead.” Matt can't see how he'd know that, and yet almost immediately the front door opens. Mr. Holmes turns, while the kids look around him at the short man who limps in, a baby boy in his arms.
"Hi, Dad, hi Kaden!" Lucy says, striding around her father to play with the baby, while Andrew runs around the other side and holds up his poster. "Look, it's glucose-oxidase!"
The little girl in the middle follows suit, quiet but no less happy, seemingly content to paste herself to the man's side with a soft, "Hi."
"Wow, you were actually listening," the man says to Andrew, who beams. He tilts the baby down so Lucy can blow a raspberry on his cheek, to which it giggles loudly, and then puts an arm around the other little girl.
"He’s getting so big, Mr. Holmes,” Helen says, smiling. “Before long he’ll be running these halls in his own Bernadette blues.”
Mr. Holmes raises an eyebrow, but looks amused. "So long as he’s the last one," he says firmly, turning his head to stare pointedly at the other man, who just smiles serenely back. "They'll be back tomorrow as usual," he calls back to Helen.
"Have a great day," Helen answers, unperturbed by the lack of pleasantries. Not that Mr. Holmes was unpleasant, Matt thinks -- particularly to look at. Just odd, from what he can tell. The odd ones were always fantastic in bed, he thinks wistfully.
"Goodbye, Mr. Camdis," Lucy calls, surprising Matt out of his reverie. He hadn’t even thought she’d noticed him. "Goodbye, Lucy," he says, smiling. Mr. Holmes takes the baby -- who is babbling in happy glee at his father -- and the bag from the other man; Lucy and Andrew are circling their parents, talking over each other at a mile a minute, the quiet little girl giggling now and then at her siblings, occasionally correcting their more outlandish statements. After their caravan goes through the doors the silence in their wake almost deafening.
"That's the quietest I've ever seen them," Helen says, and Matt starts laughing.
And one time no one was watching:
One morning as the kids are sleepily eating their toast, and Sherlock is sleepily drinking his tea, and John is sleepily feeding Kaden – falling back to sleep with his soft baby mouth full of oatmeal – the most amazing thing happens. A dog wanders up to sit in the doorway of the kitchen.
In another family – a more normal family – this would have been an immediate cause for concern. After all, animals don’t normally appear out of thin air in kitchen doorways. Thankfully, this is not what anyone would ever call a normal family, and so without looking away from his newspaper Sherlock says, “Absolutely not.”
The children, who had been very still and very quiet, anticipating an explosion of some sort, all blurt various comments, from surprise – “What’s a dog doing here?” – to disgust – “Oh my God it stinks!” – to sudden and heartfelt tearful begging, “Please don’t make me take her back.”
Had this last comment come from either of the older children, it would have been summarily dismissed, but it hadn’t. Monica looks up at him with wide, soulful brown eyes, eyes that beg and plead as they never have before.
Sherlock lowers his newspaper. “The answer is still no, Monica, but I will allow you to explain yourself before we take it back.”
His youngest daughter looks back down into her toast, cheeks wet, the very picture of misery. Sherlock gives her time to scrub the back of her hand over her eyes, waits until her lip stops quivering. “Well?”
“She kept following me around. To school and… when I got out she would be waiting. She was always around.”
“And of course this means that we must bring it home,” he says.
John, who has been suspiciously quiet, says, “Sherlock,” and he knows, instantly, who her co-conspirator is.
“No. Absolutely not. You only get to say ‘Sherlock’ in that tone of voice once in the course of our marriage, and you used it already to bring Kaden into our lives. Not that I would have disagreed,” Sherlock adds, sweeping his thumb gently across Kaden’s oatmeal-covered chin, “but the fact remains. The dog has to go.”
“The dog has nowhere to go,” John says. “It’s a stray – I had her checked for a chip.”
“You did, did you,” Sherlock says, but before he can expound on the fact that he does not appreciate it when members of his family conspire against him, especially in matters pet-related, Monica chokes out, “I’ll take care of her. Feed her and take her for w-walks, and I’ll wash her and give her water.”
The tears are suddenly less of a trickle and more of a torrent, heaved out until she can hardly breathe, until Sherlock can barely understand her. “Please Papa, please.”
Sherlock frowns sharply at her, and the other two children with their wide, expressive eyes, and John who is staring into Kaden’s oatmeal, and Kaden himself who chooses that moment to give him a wide, gummy smile.
“For heaven’s sake,” Sherlock snaps, and the kids cheer and Monica sobs and John ducks his head to hide his smile, and the dog, in all the excitement, barks joyfully and pees all over the floor.