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These Things They Go Away

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these things they go away
replaced by everyday
-R.E.M., "Nightswimming"

 

"Daddy!"

John blinked his eyes open slowly. The clock on his bedside table read two-forty five. He closed his eyes again. Maybe he'd go back to sleep.

"Daddy!"

No, he couldn't possibly be that lucky. He rolled over and ran his hand over his face. If it were just him, he'd leave Naz be, let him stumble down the hall into his bed if he needed comfort; it was the laziest parenting option available, but that wasn't precisely a downside. But Mary had got home at half-eleven after spending two days in Edinburgh arguing about budgets for the next fiscal year and then having a nightmarish series of flight delays, and she couldn't sleep properly with Naz in the bed. So on the third shout, he rolled himself out of bed and stumbled down the hall towards Naz's open door.

Naz was sitting up in bed with his eyes half-open. "Nazir, love. Go back to sleep," John said from the doorway.

"There were foxes in the back garden," Naz said, wobbling a little. He wasn't really awake. "They had hats."

"That sounds nice," John said, and walked over to try to ease him back to lying down. "Why don't you go back to sleep now. Maybe you'll have more dreams."

"I don't like foxes," he said petulantly, and resisted John's guiding hands. Christ, four year olds were stubborn.

"Well, then, go back to sleep and tell them to move down the street. I bet the O'Reillys wouldn't mind them in their garden."

Naz blinked sleepily. "I want a glass of water."

John sighed. "If I bring you one, will you go back to sleep?"

"I want water," Naz mumbled.

John kept one hand on the wall all the way down the hallway until he got to the loo. He fumbled around on the counter until he found a cup, and tried filling it without turning on the light. Not for the first time, he thought that a life with Sherlock Holmes had been remarkable preparation for fatherhood: here was someone who felt he had full right to take over his life, ordered him to do ridiculous things at all hours of the night, expected him to respond immediately when summoned, and couldn't be arsed to say thank you at the end of it half the time.

But--as he brought the water back to Naz, supported his small head in his hand while he drank it, and tucked him back in with his stuffed hedgehog on his astronaut sheets--the thing about it was that both of them were the most satisfying things he'd ever done in his life. There was something about knowing you were essential to the life of another human being, who was doing something amazing all the time--and while Sherlock's brand of amazing was a good deal more original than Naz's, watching a baby turn into a person and gradually develop a self was equally astounding, when you thought about it. He was a part of something bigger, something fantastic.

So it didn't matter that much if his career was pointless; he'd made work the center of his life for a while, and that had ended with a bullet through the shoulder, so he can be forgiven for moving on. And it doesn't matter if his marriage had grown hollow at the core; though he and Mary might not precisely be in love any more, they certainly liked each other well enough, and that was enough, he supposed, to keep on with. And it doesn't matter that he wasn't able to save Sherlock, that the person who had remade him after he came home, who had given him a reason to keep living, had died with tears and blood on his face because John couldn't do the same. Because this, this one small thing, this one small act of miraculous creation, he could manage this. It's enough to live for, in the end.

"John?" Mary mumbled from the other side of the bed as he climbed back in.

"Just Naz," he said, recovering the portion of the duvet that had crept over to her side of the bed during the night. "He's fine."

"You spoil him," she muttered. An old argument; now when she muttered it, it at least sounded affectionate.

"I'm a terrible pushover," he said, and closed his eyes.