Sustain III: Obbligato 1/14
Authors:Onemillionnine and MaybeAmanda
Beta: Courtesy of what_alchemy (read her stuff!)
BritPicking: Courtesy of non_canonical (read her stuff, too!)
Disclaimer: Son of fanfic of fanfic. Not ours, not really theirs, either. BBC, Moffat, Gatiss, ACD, PBS, Cumberbatch, Freeman, Brealey (whom we forgot last time!!) etc, etc. No money being made on this side.
Additional Warnings: Consensual sex, off-screen violence, on-screen violence, family drama, annoying patriarch, disturbing themes.
Note: Follows Sustain and Sustain II. You should read those first, or you'll be all kinds of lost. Veers off wildly after The Great Game. Not Series Two compliant (at all).
Thanks Again: to everyone who read, faved, rec'ed, kudo'ed, bookmarked, and sent comments/feedback on Sustain I and Sustain II: Refrain. Every comment is appreciated and cherished. No, really.
Felix, qui potest rerum cognoscere causas
---after Virgil, "Georgics", v. 490
(Fortunate is he who is able to know the causes of things)
Pip, as was so often the case, was on a mission. She sat on Mary's sofa, sipping tragic tea, trying to be warm, friendly, and convincing, while trying not to be awkward, frustrated, or rude. She wasn't sure at this point which side was winning.
"We missed you at Easter," she said, and set down her mug. "You and Edmund." She kept catching herself looking around the flat, trying to find some trace of Sherlock. No shoes, no personal effects, not even that stupid skull he always kept prominently on display. She didn’t see his Strad anywhere, either, but a smart person wouldn’t leave it out in the open, especially not in a flat with a baby. But then, Sherlock, in her experience, tended to be mostly stupid.
"Eddie was miserable from his jabs," Mary said. She looked like a rabbit standing on the centre line of the motorway, doing its best to get hit. "Sherlock was supposed to tell Mrs. Holmes -"
Pip waved her words away. "Sherlock says all sorts of things. We've learned to take it all with a grain of salt. Well, a boulder of salt, really."
Mary opened and closed her mouth, a bit like a goldfish, then pulled the end of her plait out of the baby’s fist. "Um," was all she managed to say.
"Frankly, Violet was, well, has been concerned that Sherlock has made a hash of things with you and that she’s never going to get to see little Edmund again."
Mary's brow furrowed. "Excuse me, what?"
"If it’s true, don’t think I blame you for a minute," Pip ploughed on. "Don't think anyone does. Frankly, how you put up with him at all is a mystery."
Mary shifted Edmund from one side of her lap to the other. "We’re, we’re not, not,- "
"You’ve given him the boot, haven’t you?" Pip asked. "Well, it was inevitable, really. No one will be surprised, Mary. Violet might be a touch upset, but that's beside the point. It's just that, well, even after Violet sent Quin packing - Quin is their father, I doubt Sherlock's mentioned him much, they don't get on - but even after they separated, Violet brought the boys round to their Grandmother Honoria's on special occasions, holidays, birthdays, that sort of thing, and - "
"Sherlock lives upstairs," Mary blurted. "He always has."
Pip found herself temporarily at a loss for words. Upstairs? "Oh," she finally said.
"We don't live, um, together. Exactly."
"So, you and Sherlock, you haven't broken up? You’re still - dating?" Pip asked.
Mary exhaled dramatically, as if the wind had been knocked out of her. "We're not exactly, um -" she hesitated, "- that, either."
"Oh." Pip said again, at a loss. They weren't together, and they weren't apart? How did something like that work? "I'm so sorry, Mary. We've all misunderstood. Violet said Sherlock was enchanted - that's the word she used, 'enchanted.'" She smirked. "She’s under the impression you’re the love of his life."
Mary's face contorted into something almost a grimace. "I don't know about that."
"I suppose that was the impression he wanted her to have, wanted us all to have. 'Sherlock's found a lovely woman who can tolerate him.' As if! You are entirely too normal for him."
"Well, aren't you?" Pip asked.
Mary shrugged slightly, almost as if she were apologizing, and said nothing. She appeared as confused as Pip felt.
Pip looked at Edmund. He sat on Mary’s lap, watching Pip's every move, his expression almost clinical. He looked like every one of Sherlock's baby pictures, and not unlike a few of Mycroft's. There was no mistaking his bloodline. "Edmund is his child, though, isn’t he?"
"What?" Mary's blinked at her. "Yes, of course."
"And you and he, are, well, friendly? Not at odds? Not not speaking?"
"He's been out of London for almost a month. I haven't heard from him, but that happens when he's working." She looked away. "When he left, I, um, I think we were on good terms." Mary ended her statement with a blush.
"Oh. I see." She didn't, really, but she hadn’t come to straighten out Sherlock’s emotional life. Curious or not, Pip was there to make certain Mary and Edmund attended Violet’s birthday. "He'll be back for the party. Unless he is physically unable, he'll be in attendance. It's a high holy day for the Holmes boys."
"Right," Mary said. "Yes, of course." But she looked absolutely miserable. That had not been Pip's plan at all.
Time to try another tack. "Look, I apologize, Mary. I didn’t mean to overstep any boundaries or make you feel bad about, well, the way Sherlock is." Pip inhaled sharply. "I don't know if Sherlock's told you, if any one has told you, but my parents died in an aeroplane accident when I was twelve -"
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Mary said, and it sounded very genuine to Pip's ears.
"Thank you. Yes, well, I was alone in the world. My grandfather, who was my default legal guardian, wasn't much interested. Violet was there for me. She looked out for me when everyone else was out to see what they could get. The reason I’ve come is, as I mentioned, her birthday’s in a week and we planned a little jaunt. Sherlock won't - I can guarantee you - he will not do anything to ruin her party, so there will be no scenes, no amateur dramatics on his part. It would mean a great deal to Violet if you and Edmund were there, whatever the situation between you and Sherlock. And that would mean a great deal to me."
"Oh. Well, I understand that, of course I do, I just -"
"Woo hoo!" someone called out and rapped on the door. "Molly, dear, I've another parcel."
"Oh! Come in, Mrs. Hudson," Molly said.
An older woman in an aubergine dress popped her head in the doorway. "Oh sorry, love. I didn't realize you had a guest."
"No trouble." Mary rose, Edmund now on her hip. "Oh, have the two of you met?"
"I don't believe we have." Pip stood and extended her hand.
"Mrs. Hudson, this is Sherlock's sister-in-law, Phillipa," Mary said. "Phillipa, our landlady, Mrs. Hudson."
Mrs. Hudson placed the box she was carrying on the coffee table, then looked at Pip, clearly surprised. "Oh, you're Mycroft's wife, then? Sherlock's mentioned you, many, many times."
"Has he really?" Pip asked. "Nothing good, I assume."
Mrs. Hudson grinned, waved dismissively. "Well, you know Sherlock."
"Entirely too well," Pip said.
"Mrs. Hudson," Mary said, "would you like to join us for a cup of tea?"
"Can't, love," Mrs. Hudson answered. "Just wanted to get this to you. Signed for it while you were out. I hope that's all right. Just didn't want it sitting out there, getting pinched or having someone come along and, you know, interfering with it."
"Of course," Mary said. "Just sorry to put you out. And you were careful?"
Mrs. Hudson smirked. "After that other time? Heavens, yes."
"Good," Mary replied.
Mrs. Hudson pointedly looked at the parcel. "How many's that, then?"
"This makes an even dozen," Mary replied. She seemed uncomfortable with the topic, though, and Pip couldn't help but wonder why. She recognized the distinctive wrapping. The package had come from a very smart shop where she herself often purchased lingerie and sleepwear. Mary's taste in intimate apparel obviously contrasted markedly with that of her outerwear.
"Are you sure you can't join us?" Mary asked Mrs. Hudson.
"Positive," she replied. "I'll be on my way. Very nice to meet you, Mrs. Holmes."
"Nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Hudson."
"So what do you say?" Pip asked once Mrs. Hudson had closed the door. "Are you in?"
Pip could tell Mary was considering her offer. "Well, what -"
Before Mary could fully answer, the door swung open, and Sherlock walked in liked he lived there, no matter what Mary said.
"Phillipa," he said without so much as a glance her way, "your broom is double-parked." He stood in front of Mary a moment, then took the now smiling and squealing Edmund from her arms, and marched off to the back of the flat.
"Lovely to see you again, too, Sherlock, dear," Pip called to his back.
"Sorry about, um-" Mary grimaced again. Pip thought it was probably an expression that got a lot of use.
"Don't apologize for him, Mary," Pip said. "It's a bad habit to get into, and one that usually proves hard to break." She took up her bag and jacket. "Please consider coming along. It would mean a great deal to Violet."
Mary nodded. "Yes, I'll call you, and let you know for sure."
"Wonderful," Pip said. "I have to run. I'll see myself out. Speak to you soon."
Sherlock held Edmund up so he could look him in the eye and was rewarded with a slobbery gnawing on the side of his face. At least someone still liked him.
"How have you been, Edmund?" he asked, and began rifling through Molly's fridge. He'd been away from 221B for 27 days and all he was likely to find in his own fridge was hazardous waste or sentient mould; good for science, bad for digestion.
By way of reply, Edmund continued gnawing.
"Did you look after your mother?" Sherlock had initially felt foolish talking to someone who was not going to reply, but all the research pointed to the importance of interaction between parent and child with regards to cognitive development. "You've put on six or seven stone in my absence, Edmund, and grown at least three feet in height."
Edmund found these notions hilarious, and gurgled his delight.
"'Hullo, Molly,'" Molly said in imitation of Sherlock's voice. "'Nice to see you. Mind if I eat everything in your fridge?'"
He looked at her. Was she angry, or was she teasing? Perhaps both? It was so hard to tell with her. "I assumed all that was understood."
"If it weren't, as you say, nice to see you, I wouldn't be here."
"Is that why you've been gone a month without a word?"
Sherlock pulled a pear, a block of cheese, and a package of uncooked bacon from the fridge. "I was working." He set the food on the table, hoping Molly would take the hint and start frying. "I don't call when I'm working."
"You usually text," she said. "I was worried you'd met with another cab, one with better aim."
Edmund lurched forward, making a grab for the pear. Sherlock lifted it off the table and held it up for Edmund to examine, all the while trying to work out whether or not to lie to Molly about texting, or not texting, as was the case. How could he tell her why he didn't text when he didn't know himself? He only knew that each time he'd tried, he'd erased the message before it could be sent.
"Why was Phillipa here?" he asked, hoping to divert her. "Collecting plump little children to chew on, was she?" He squeezed Edmund and elicited a squeal. "Pouring poison in your ear?"
Molly looked confused. "No. She wanted to know if Eddie and I would be attending your mother's birthday party."
"Of course you are," he said. "Not that it's any of her business. Molly, what must I say in order to convince you to cook that bacon?"
She lifted the package and unwrapped it. "You might try, 'Molly, would you please cook that bacon?'"
"Let's take that as read, shall we?" He pulled out a chair, sat, and situated Edmund on his knee. The boy seemed enthralled by the pear, which Sherlock found fascinating. What could possibly be so intriguing?
Molly sighed and set a frying pan on the hob, laid the strips of meat in it one by one. "Are we attending, Sherlock? Me and Eddie, I mean?"
"'Edmund and I,'" he corrected. "And of course you're attending. You know I have a mother. You've met her. You know, logically, she has a birthday."
"Yes," Molly agreed. "But -"
"I don't know why Pip found it necessary to leave her gingerbread cottage and personally issue an invitation. Oh, of course. She was just here to snoop, wasn't she?"
"Right. I'm not going," Molly told the bacon.
Molly took a deep breath. "I don't know when it is, where it is, and I resent being told what I'm going to do."
Sherlock could not believe what he was hearing. "Excuse me?"
"Your mother is lovely, and she's always very kind, but I’m not going if you’re going to spend the whole time being nasty to Phillipa." Her motions were becoming more jerky and less certain. "It - it turns my stomach."
Oh, Pip was good. Better, perhaps, than even he'd given her credit for. All these years of living with that manipulative bastard, no doubt. She could not have been there more than half an hour, and yet she had managed to turn Molly against him. "I'm 'nasty,' am I?"
"You can be," she answered. "You have been. I don't - I don't want Eddie seeing you behave that way." Her words came out in an unsteady rush.
"Be specific, Molly," Sherlock said. "In what way have I been 'nasty?'"
Molly sputtered for a moment. This always happened. People objected to his behaviour, yet, when pressed, they couldn’t cite the specific issue. In truth, it was just Sherlock to which they objected.
He pulled Edmund closer to him and tried to deduce something - anything - from Molly’s stance at the cooker, her hair, lack of make-up, jeans, or trainers. He came up with nothing. Molly was as she always was; inscrutably straightforward.
Fine. He didn't need her. He didn't -
With her back still turned to him, she drew herself to her full height, such as it was, and said, "The first time I met your brother, he offered me money to terminate my pregnancy. You've no idea how I despised him at that moment, how I still resent that. And yet, when I have to see him, I manage to be civil."
"It’s hardly the same," Sherlock said. He didn't want to tell her that had only happened because Mycroft knew for a fact she would some day leave him and feared the first thing Sherlock would do when she was gone was jab a needle in his arm. "Besides, I didn’t start it with Pip."
"I never said that you did." Molly said. She let out a long, slow breath. "I don’t want to argue about this, Sherlock."
"We aren’t arguing," he said. "You are saying irrational things, and I am attempting to understand why."
Molly shut off the gas and turned to face him. "Right, let's try this again." She placed a plate of perfectly fried bacon on the table between them, then sat. "If Mycroft spoke to me, and about me, the way you speak to Pip, and he did that in front of Eddie, would that be all right with you?"
Sherlock blinked at her, utterly lost. "What?"
She straightened in her seat. "If Mycroft called me a witch in front of Eddie, or even insinuated it, would you object? Or would you think 'Well, that's fine, none of my business, what do I care?'"
Oh. When put that way, it was difficult to find an objection that didn’t make him feel - guilty. He cleared his throat. "Yes, of course I'd object."
"And yet, you do that with Phillipa, and you do it in front of her daughters, and just now, in front of Eddie. Mycroft doesn’t say anything, and I guess that's his prerogative, but you aren't setting much of an example, Sherlock."
Example? He was meant to set an example? Good God. The notion that anyone would ever consider him an example in any sense beyond the 'here's-what-not-to-do' variety had never occurred to him. That his own son might take cues from his behaviour was even more disturbing.
And yet, of course, she was right, wasn't she? It was in all the literature. So obvious.
Well. It should be simple enough to be civil to Pip and the clones - her daughters. He cleared his throat again. "I see. Yes."
"Right. Good," Molly said. She took two slices of bread from the wrapper and placed them on a plate. "Sherlock, that bacon isn't going to eat itself." She grinned at him, dimples and all, and it seemed that he was forgiven.
Lucky for him, she was absolute rubbish at holding a grudge.
"Oh, some parcels came while you were away," she said. "Your name's on the label, but they're addressed to my flat."
Sherlock was constructing a sandwich one-handed. It would have been easier, he surmised, without the assistance of a eight-month-old. "Yes, I know. I had them sent. Were they suitable?"
"Suitable?" she asked. "I didn't open them."
"Why not? They're meant for you."
"Oh," Molly answered, suddenly seeming shy, but about what, he couldn't fathom.
"Well?" he said. He was doing his best to have a bite of his sandwich without having Edmund gum it first. "Open them." If they weren't the thing, there wasn't much time in which to correct his mistake, and she could not - absolutely could not - be left to her own devices on this matter.
"Do you want me to take him?" she asked.
"No, I want you to open your parcels," he said. "Can he have a bit of this bread to gum? He seems very keen."
"Probably not a good idea," she said. Molly padded into the lounge and retrieved the single brown paper wrapped box that Mrs. Hudson had brought in to her. She returned and opened it carefully along the tape lines, taking a great deal more time than was necessary. He wasn’t looking forward to Christmas if this was how she opened packages.
And her birthday. That was expected, wasn't it? A gift from him on Edmund's behalf? He'd have to put a reminder in his phone.
Molly was quiet as she lifted the printed silk from the box and held it at arm's length. "Oh," she said.
He was right; the colour suited her as well as he had imagined. Edmund, gnawing on his own fist, turned from watching Sherlock chew to stare at Molly. He seemed to respond to cues from the adults in the vicinity in a way that fascinated and baffled Sherlock.
"This is - it's beautiful. Thank you. What’s it, um, for?"
Sherlock swallowed. "Wearing, obviously. Traditionally, the kimono is considered daywear, but I thought you might use it as a dressing gown."
"It's almost too nice to wear," she said, tentatively. "I suppose my dressing gown is a bit shabby, though."
"'A bit shabby' is a gross understatement," he said. "I know homeless who wouldn't be caught dead in that monstrosity. Do open the rest of the parcels, Molly. At this rate, you'll still be opening them on the train."
"Train? What train?
"The train to the coast, where we'll board the boat."
Molly looked at him with her nose wrinkled, the way she did. "Boat?"
"Boat, ship, yacht," he waved dismissively. "Floating conveyance."
"Oh, so the party is on a boat."
"No, the party is at my aunt's house near Marseilles, which yes, before you ask, is still in France."
"Oh, fine," he said flatly. "Molly, will you please come with me to my mother's birthday party, in France, by boat, which my brother has borrowed for the occasion? Fair warning; there will be hordes of relatives in attendance."
Molly was silent a moment. "What should I pack?" she asked, which Sherlock took to mean 'yes.'
"The clothes I bought you for the trip, but it would be easier if you took them out of the parcels first," Sherlock said. "Obviously."
"Oh. You bought me a new wardrobe, for your mum's birthday?" Molly asked.
'New wardrobe' was an exaggeration, but there were enough clothes for the week they'd be gone. Molly's taste in clothing was atrocious. She couldn't manage items that fit properly, much less matched. The idea that he might allow her to sit beside Pip, who knew how to use everything from the lighting to the decor to her advantage, in something OXFAM would reject as 'just too awful,' was out of the question. His mother would think he didn't care for Molly at all, which was not the impression he wanted her to have. The Vernets, as a group, would wonder if she suffered colour-blindness or, instead, if she were conducting some daring psychological experiment. And Pip would sit there in her perfectly co-ordinated clothes and shoes and pearls and smirk.
He was not John Watson. He didn't emote all over the furniture. But he could do this for her. He could make certain she didn't look out of place, and by extension, didn't feel out of place. It was important to Molly's sense of self that she fit in, whatever the situation. And he could see to it that the two of them looked as if they were together.
"You're welcome," he said, and took the final bite of his sandwich.
"Oh, yes, of course," she said, looking a bit flustered. "Thank you." She was quiet a moment. "I'm glad to have you back, no, I mean I'm - I'm glad you're back."
Sherlock swallowed carefully. "Are you? Really?"
Molly looked at him as if he'd asked a very strange question. "Would I be frying you bacon if I weren't?" She smiled. "Next time, though, could you please let me know you aren't dead? I was a bit worried."
Edmund made a grab for his empty plate, and Molly rose to take it to the sink.
"The telephone works both ways," he said.
Molly tipped her head to the side. "It does, doesn't it?" she said. "Next time, I'll remember that."
They woke up, showered, got dressed, had breakfast, went to work, just as they did every day. Sarah saw three head colds, two sprained ankles, a rash that was probably contact dermatitis, a rash that was definitely ringworm, four older patients in need of prescription refills and a sympathetic ear, and an infected cat bite that was a great deal more infected than any simple cat bite should be. She ate lunch at her desk - a sandwich and vitamin water, even though she knew better - filled out her notes, updated the patient charts and made two phone calls. And at the end of the day, every patient seen and every file charted, she walked out of her office and looked at John, standing there with his hands in his pockets.
"Home?" she asked him, just as she had every day for almost a month.
He gave her a skeptical glance.
"Just checking," she answered, and locked the door behind her.
She'd been concerned at first, worried that John would tell her she was over-involved and that her behaviour was unprofessional. Worried he'd tell her it was hopeless. Instead, every day, after they left the clinic and before they collapsed on their sofa, John accompanied her to the NICU. They held the baby when they could, stroked his tiny hand when they couldn't. Everyone knew. No one asked.
They weren't allowed in right away that evening - something to do with equipment maintenance which Sarah had only half-listened to when Carla, the nurse who was there with them most evenings, began her apologetic explanation. They stood outside the unit and peered through the glass, waiting.
"Eight whole days," John said, his eyes fixed on the baby.
"What's that?" she asked.
"He's been off the respirator eight days." He turned to her. "That's a good sign."
She nodded. "Yes, it is."
"Just under two kilos," he added. "You know what that means."
She knew. There was no doubt in Sarah's mind anymore; the baby was going to make it.