“Bye love. Have a nice day.”
“Bye. You too. Love you.”
“Bye Hamish, take good care of daddy now.”
“Bye John. See you later.”
“Bye love. Good luck today.”
“Thanks. Bye Hame.”
As the door closed behind the two women, John sighed contently. The house was suddenly empty, and heavenly quiet, until Hamish grabbed his earlobe and pulled enthusiastically.
“Ouch! Yes Hamish, let’s get you cleaned up, and then you can play, but not with my ears.”
Ignoring the explosion of dirty dishes, burnt toast, cereal and yoghurt in the kitchen, John went upstairs to give Hamish his bath. It was Tuesday, one of his two days alone with the boy, and it was off to a normal start. First there had been breakfast, with people storming in and out of the kitchen, looking for shoes or lost notebooks, and grabbing bites from his plate. Hamish had smeared most of his breakfast out on the table and in his hair, while John prepared lunchboxes. Once everyone had wished everyone goodbye and kisses had been exchanged, John was left with a mess, but he didn’t mind. He bathed Hamish and dressed him in his tiny jeans and a T-shirt. He set the 1 year old down in his playpen where he would happily talk to his stuffed animals for a while so John could clean up the kitchen and read the newspaper without having to worry about drawers being pulled out on top of anyone’s head or cleaning product being swallowed. His son was 16 months now and difficult to keep from wandering off and explore potentially dangerous situations.
John liked to tell himself that it was not an inherited lust for danger, but mere naivety that regularly brought Hamish into near heart attack situations. He’d be more careful with age, he told himself. Ignoring the fact that he’d learned the hard way himself.
Everything had fallen apart the night Sherlock disappeared, but now, over a year later, John was still alive and doing relatively OK. He tried not to think -or drink- too much and focus on his family. The steady rhythm of the children, the love he received, and the need to fix things were what kept him going forward and away from the darker parts of his mind. The boring part-time work at the practice was an anchor.
Around ten thirty a.m. it was time for Hamish’ snack, so he picked up his little man and set him on his hip. He had just cut up some fruit and put it in a bowl when the doorbell disturbed them.
Thinking that at this hour it could only be some sort of salesperson or Jehovah’s witnesses, John went to open the door with a frown. A frown that was joined by a gaping mouth when he recognised the person on the sidewalk was definitely neither of those.
“Good morning, John.”
Sherlock was wearing his normal superior frown. The frown John had desperately missed for over a year. He looked different though. Instead of an impeccable tailored suit he was wearing jeans and a hoodie, and there was a duffel bag hanging from his shoulder. Most shocking was the beard, a few weeks to a month old, adorning his pale face. He also looked as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. Hamish didn’t care much for the visitor and tried to grab John’s ear again. Sherlock’s eyes flicked to Hamish for a moment, but returned to stare at John.
“You’re repeating yourself.” Then he added more hesitantly “Can I come in?”
“O- of course”, John stammered.
His heart was hammering in his throat as he stepped aside to open the door further. Sherlock walked in and it was hardly believable that he was there, warm and alive. At the same time John couldn’t help but notice the change. Sherlock’s shoulders hung, his eyes weren’t bright like they used to be, and his movements were far from elegant as he put his bag down. He moved as if all his muscles hurt him and even though he stuffed his hands into his pockets John noticed the tremors.
“I would have waited before coming here, I just…” he started, clearly embarrassed about the state he was in.
“Wait”, said John. He walked back to Hamish’ playpen, gently set him down, and walked back to a frowning Sherlock, who looked like he was anticipating to be thrown out. Instead, John wrapped his long lost friend in a tight hug, which lasted for a full minute.
Eventually he let go and Sherlock carefully sat down on the sofa and had a few sips of hot tea with lots of sugar, slowly getting used to the situation.
Olivia was the first person he asked about, to John’s pleasant surprise.
“She’s doing a bit better these days. She went through a very difficult period of course. It wasn’t easy. It still isn’t.”
“You see her a lot?” Sherlock asked after another sip.
John looked at him with surprise.
“Well yes. She lives with us.”
It was a bit sad how Sherlock’s eyes instantly darted through the room, looking for all the clues he’d missed.
“I sort of assumed you’d be watching. Somehow.” John didn’t want to let on how many people, including John sometimes, had thought Sherlock was dead.
“I haven’t.” Sherlock swallowed. “You took her in.”
“We did. We couldn’t leave her with strangers that night. She needed somewhere safe. After that she just… became part of the family.”
Sherlock looked pensive for a while, and then decidedly announced he needed a bed.
Olivia’s school day was like any other. Freddy Reeves called her a slut -which was obviously based on nothing- and proceeded to laugh at her when she almost walked into the door of their history classroom. Art class was nice as usual and French as grueling as usual. The start of her second year at this posh place felt slightly less daunting than the first, but it was still a relief when the final bell rang.
She took the tube to Rose’s, which she often did after school because Mary wouldn’t be finished working for another two hours and would pick her up afterwards.
Rose had a tutor at home, which she detested because it kept her quite isolated. However she acknowledged that it helped her focus on her revalidation. It also helped that the tutor was hot. Rose couldn’t stop talking about her as Olivia pushed her wheelchair through the park. It was the end of August and still very warm outside.
“I think she likes me.”
“Well, she must do, otherwise she wouldn’t keep coming back every day”, Olivia quipped.
“A minor detail being that she gets paid handsomely for it”, Rose sighed. Olivia suspected that Mycroft Holmes was paying for Rose’s care, just like he paid for her expensive school fees, but she thought it was rude to ask.
They got to a bench by the pond, so Olivia parked the wheelchair next to it and sat down to watch the birds on the water.
“How about you? Any cute posh boys in class this year?” Rose asked tentatively.
Olivia smiled, but said “I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of thing.” Rose just nodded, not knowing that it was a big understatement. Up to now, John was the only man who could touch her without eliciting a cringe.
They sat in silence for a moment, their eyes following the ducks in the pond diving for food.
Rose broke the silence. “I must say our lives have become quite boring these days. We could be old ladies, sitting in the park, talking about the good old days.
Olivia laughed. “That doesn’t sound like us.”
They spent the rest of the afternoon pushing the wheelchair, with Rose in it, off of grass slopes and monument stairs, Olivia running next to her, to the disapproval of onlooking elderly ladies.
Once it was time to head back for Olivia to be picked up by Mary, one of Rose’s wheels was squeaking suspiciously and it took a bit more strength to push the chair forward, but they couldn’t care less.
“Hello love, how was your day?” Mary asked, while Olivia hung up her coat.
“Fine… I guess… uhm… I need to speak to you both… about something.”
Having sat them both down on the sofa, with him in the armchair and Hamish in his lap, John took a deep breath. He’d been thinking all day about how he was going to bring this news.
“What’s wrong?” Olivia asked.
“Nothing. Don’t worry. Everything’s fine. I just need you to take a deep breath.”
Olivia did, as she had so often done for John over the past fifteen months.
Mary gasped and immediately grasped Olivia’s hand, who kept her eyes trained on John.
“How alive… I mean… Is he hurt? Is…” Olivia stammered.
“It seems like he’s OK. But he’s quite… tired. Basically fell asleep once he got here.”
Olivia’s eyes widened. “He was here??”
“He still is. I let him have your bed. I mean, well… he sort of took your bed. I think we should let him sleep for now.” That last part was added hurriedly as Olivia jumped up and made her way upstairs as quick as she could, leaving John and Mary behind in the living room.
“How is he, really?” Mary asked.
“Pretty ill. I think he held out as long as he could until the worst was over, but I know withdrawal symptoms when I see them.”
“Do you think it’s safe, with the kids in the house?”
“He’s harmless. And I already went through his stuff. He just needs a safe place.”
A rush of adrenaline running through her veins, Olivia quietly opened her bedroom door. John and Mary had converted their guest bedroom into her bedroom a year ago, with the assurance that they wanted her to stay. Now there were posters on the walls, as well as framed pictures of her friends and her parents. Her guitar was in the corner and they’d given her a record player for her sixteenth birthday. It was a safe space like she hadn’t had since John took her key to room 221 away.
There was a faint smell of soap in the room. In the semi-dark, she could see a bump of someone under her duvet. A dark mop of curls decorated her pillow. She couldn’t see his face and she wanted to be sure, so she planted one knee on her bed and bent over him to look. He was skinny, pale, and he had a beard, but it was undoubtedly him. He was deeply asleep.
Crawling back and stepping off the bed, she let the situation sink in. Mr. Holmes was alive, he was here, he was sleeping in her bed. It was surreal. She had the urge to touch him, to feel that he was real, but she didn’t dare to. Instead she watched the duvet move up and down with his breathing.
“It’s him,” Olivia said, as if confirmation was needed, when she came back into the living room.
“Still asleep?” John asked, and she nodded.
“Then it’s best you kip on the sofa tonight love. If you don’t mind.”
John smiled as he stood up to go and see about dinner and caressed her head in passing.
“He’ll be fine.”
She nodded with a tight-lipped smile back while the adrenaline had still to fade from her body.