It took two weeks for Martha to be sure both Sherlock and sweet Bethy would be alright without her, and by sure she meant being all but kicked out of the small apartment the pair lived in. In those two weeks, she conveniently forgot all about her petition to see her husband, focusing instead on helping the young man that had changed her life in every way she could think of. Martha, more than anyone, knew what a sit down with Frank could do to a person; she was well aware of the man’s talents when it came to hurting people, to knowing exactly what to say. Seeing Sherlock in such a state, it had been awful, this bright reminder of how she herself had once been.
But, Sherlock was alright now, back on his feet and to the kitchen that employed him. Which left her here, sitting on a cold metal chair, a slab of the same metal acting for a table, and the steps of her husband coming closer with every second. A shiver ran down her spine, memories of all the times she had counted those same steps, preparing herself to face his anger whenever she heard it in them. Frank didn’t sound angry now. Somehow, that made the waiting so much worse.
Across the room, a loud buzzing filled the air and announced her husband’s presence, his hands and feet chained together doing nothing to reassure her. There was more than one way to hurt someone, and one didn’t always need touch to do it. Sherlock’s pain had been proof enough of that. The nightmare she had woken up from that same morning had been more than enough proof too. Frank’s eyes met hers as he walked to the table, his face plain and smooth the way it used to be before Miami; the way it was when she loved him. Martha’s hands curled into fists as she waited for him to sit.
“Martha, my wife, to what do I owe the pleasure?”, he drawled, the words like liquid spilling from his lips.
“I wanted to know if chains suited you as much as I imagined they would”, she answered, forcing a harmless smile, “I have to admit, you make quite a sight in them.”
The smooth facade fell away as soon as she finished talking, the darkened and furious eyes returning to their well established place on her husband’s face. Angry and ugly lines were drawn on his skin, twisting his expression into the disgust she knew so well.
“What the fuck do you want?”
Martha forced herself to breathe out slowly, her fingernails digging in her palms. She ignored the thin coat of sweat starting to raise all over her back as she met Frank’s gaze with her own.
“An answer, that’s all”, she took in a deep breath, painfully aware of the man’s careful eyes on her, “why me?”
“Excuse me?”, Frank looked positively delighted, a bright smile fading out the previous wrinkles as he laughed in her face.
“Oh, I think it’s a simple enough question, Franky”, she said good-humoredly, smiling along as if bile wasn’t rising in her throat, “out of all the women in your life, out of everyone you could have chosen to marry and drag all the way here, why me?”
All her husband did was shrug, not bothered at all by her demands.
“We both know there’s a better answer to my question, dear”, Martha tilted her head, coquettishly batting her lashes at him.
“You were pretty enough, bored, all alone and desperate for someone to love you. You were everything I wanted, Martha. So yes, why not you?”
He spoke coldly, much the way Sherlock stated his observations about other people. As if it didn’t matter, as if it hardly meant anything. And it angered her, it made her want to cry, and slap his teeth out, and pull on his hair the way he used to pull on hers when they fought. It wasn’t fair, this was her life he had used and played with. It wasn’t bloody fair.
“You were such a waste of my life, such a waste”, she sighed, a prickle of blood coating one of her fingernails, “I deserve so much better than the disaster you are.”
Frank smiled, leaning on his elbows and coming close enough to her his breath puffed out against her cheeks.
“Are you so sure about that? You came with me willingly, Martha. You chose me, out of every man in your life, and you kept me. I didn’t make that last mistake, or do you really believe you are the only one? Please… there are so many more beautiful women to shag in this country, why would I settle for just you?”
She had started to suspect it a year ago, when she’d seen how that young lady who dealt out his drugs looked at him. With that same foolish adoration she had had for Frank Hudson when he had first arrived at her father’s doorstep with a bouquet. Now she knew it had been the cheapest one he had found. She had seen him do the same for the young lady, after all. It was still hard to hear it hadn’t just been one, and not recently. He may have been cheating on her from the start. The thought made a bright, white fury run down her spine. She wondered if it was the same rage he felt when he kicked her.
“All the more reason to bury you as soon as I can, you cold, cold-blooded man.”
“Bury me? Already? And just how does your little head think you can bury me?”, he taunted, laughing as one would at a child.
Martha leaned forward too, ignoring the raised hairs along her arms and the back of her neck. She moved the way she had seen him do so many times, and hated how entertained by it all he seemed to be. There was one thing she had come here to say, and she would damn well do it now instead of waiting for him to be done mocking her. Twisting and spitting on the love she had so blindly given him. He didn’t get that luxury anymore.
“The bruises you gave me have almost faded away, the nightmares will stop soon enough, I’m sure. Every sign of you in my life will be washed away, with time. I will go on, drink good tea, enjoy my herbal soothers, maybe I’ll even take up bingo. And you, my love, will stay here to die. That’s a happy ending as far as I’m concerned.”
A shadow fell over her husband, covering his eyes as his mouth tugged downwards and his fists curled, a rather angry vein on his neck popping out.
“So this is how you win?”, he sneered at her, leaning as close to her as he could, their noses about to touch. Adrenaline pumped in her veins, both making her want to run as fast as she could and spit on his face.
“Oh, I don’t care about winning, Frank. My life was never a game to me, just you”, she whispered back at him, “this is how I survive you, if that also means you lost then that is your business and yours alone.”
“You will never be rid of me, you know. I am part of your story, Martha, you can’t just erase that when you’re out the door”, he sang-sung.
“No, I can’t. But unlike you I don’t need to erase other people in order to feel tall. I just need you to shut up and die”, Martha spat out, straightening in her chair and facing the bastard she had married one last time, “goodbye, Frank.”
She stood, gathering her bag and keeping her fists curled lest he see the blood on her palms. He raged as he watched her turn her back on him, hitting the table with his cuffed hands and yelling at her.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me!”, it was the angriest she had ever heard him, “Martha! You stupid bitch, come bak here!”
She didn’t even turn to look at him, waiting until the door was opened by a young prison guard and stepping out of the room with her head held high. Behind her, Frank kept on raging long after she was out of sight. Kept calling out to her, demanding her obedience, and she refused it from him with every step. Halfway down the hall she realised she was free to leave, she could go home and enjoy the rest of her day. Frank couldn’t, he was the one trapped now, cuffed and beaten, with nothing and no-one for himself but his own misery. With her husband’s cracking voice yelling out in the background, Martha left him behind with a smile.
Sherlock sat next to Mrs. Hudson on a pair of uncomfortable metal chairs. There were few others in the room with them; Detective Novak and members of her team, prison guards and staff, a string of young women he had soon deduced had been mistresses, and lastly the two of them. Each and every single member of this rather disarrayed group of people here to witness a man’s last breath. He was sure anyone else would find it morbid, his parents would certainly think it in poor taste. Sherlock was surprised to find all he felt was peace. Somehow, in between Off Days and sentencings, he had found a way to feel nothing for Frank Hudson other than vindicated in his own actions against the man. Martha’s new stance, the way she held herself without fear for the first time in their acquaintance, certainly helped settle things.
Without a word, the door to the sterile, cirurgical room across the one way mirror opened, and across it came Frank, accompanied by a pair of prison guards and whom he presumed was a doctor. Beside him, Martha tensed her back, a pair of wrinkled hands clutching onto a tissue for dear life. His shoulder pressed just a little bit closer to her; an accidental graze of course, nothing more. And together they held themselves stock still as they watched the man they had imprisoned be strapped down on a gurney, his wrists and ankles tightly tied in leather. The prison guards settled themselves by the door, keeping as far from the execution as they could, while the doctor gathered her needles and IV lines, setting the stage. He wondered if anyone in this room was apprehensive of what they would soon witness, even if they each knew who Frank was and what he had done. He wondered if any of them were happy. Would it be a horrible thing to rejoice in Frank Hudson’s death? People were always so selective about which forms of death were to be shuddered and which ones they were to be morbidly fascinated by. He gathered Frank was not someone to lament losing.
The man of the last hour himself was looking around his sterile room, the last place he would ever see, the scene of his own murder even if lawful. Had he been a different man, Sherlock would have said there was something ironically poetic about that knowledge, poetic and fitting. He knew Frank couldn’t see them, that he may not be aware they were there at all, which is why he berated his mind as strenuously as he did when the man’s dark eyes settled where both Martha and himself were sitting and Sherlock’s breath hitched. Of course the man would find a way to pin them down as he took his final breaths.
For God’s sake, just die already.
One of the prison guards stepped forward as the doctor placed the needle in the crook of Hudson’s arm, the three tubes being set up and prepared to deliver one lethal injection and finally bring this to an end. Stoically, the guard levelled his gaze on Frank and asked as if reading from an instructions manual.
“Do you have any last words?”
All air left the small viewing area they were huddled in, anticipation vibrating in all of their bones as they waited for whatever the criminal would say now. Some in fear, others in misguided hope. Martha, he assumed, in a bit of both.
Frank turned around, meeting the guard’s eyes and whispering, “I was a damn good player, a king”, the man smiled, glancing at the ceiling, “I was a king.”
Sherlock suppressed a scoff. How very telling a set of words those were. Pathetic too, it was downright laughable. Frank Hudson, ascertaining his power as he is put down, a self-given title the most important thing he ever managed to have and consequently lose.
“Egoistical to his deathbed”, he muttered, loud enough for only Martha to hear, who quickly dabbed her eyes with a conveniently unfolded tissue that covered her mouth. Sherlock found he had no such reservations and allowed a minute curl of the lips.
Clearly displeased, but holding back the scowl trying to break through, the guard stepped back as he nodded at the doctor. Nodding back, she silently went about releasing the first of three drugs. Inside his Mind Palace, Sherlock talked through the process, garnering this newly acquired first hand experience to further his understanding of each drug. One never knew when such knowledge could come in handy.
Sodium thiopental - The clear liquid entered Frank’s bloodstream undramatically; if one were to hold reality to the standards of fiction, the slowing of Frank’s blinking and stillness in the sterile room as the anaesthetic did its intended work would be disappointing. As he stood, Sherlock counted the seconds before Frank lost consciousness all together, watching raptly as even the smallest of movements from the man slowed down and stumbled in lazy intoxication. 23 seconds.
Pancuronium bromide - The doctor pushed through the second drug, this one working its way through the man’s body as it stopped it completely. Paralyzing agent, 100 milligrams. It would be enough to kill him, with enough time. Stop his muscles, his organs, deflate his lungs. Sherlock suspected none of them was feeling particularly patient as they watched Frank gasp a few times before laying completely still.
Potassium chloride - A lethal dose, the last ingredient to the deathly cocktail impeding electrical impulses that would, otherwise, keep the heart beating. On the gurney, the man deflated by the second, the irregular beatings on the screens the only sign anything was amiss. Slowly, very slowly, the heart gave in. Sherlock’s skin hummed while he studied the electrocardiogram. In the viewing area, everyone held their breath when the heart stopped completely, alerted only by the mechanical flatline across the one way mirror.
At 12:35 on a Sunday, Frank Hudson was declared dead.
Outside the prison, Sherlock and Martha leaned against a tree as they shared a pack of cigarettes. Not one of theirs, of course, they hadn’t had any. A rather obnoxious guard with a permanent glare on his face and a condescending tone, however, did. If they hurried, the man would notice his missing vice long after they had gone. As for themselves… well, both Martha and he had agreed that a bit of nicotine could be forgiven, considering the circumstances. It was better than other stimulants.
Neither of them had said a word after Frank’s heart stopped beating, merely standing and marching out of the room once everyone else had scurried away. Even Detective Novak had seemed eager to leave, to pretend what she had witnessed didn’t happen at all. He was sure the woman would envy his ability of deleting the unpleasant if she knew of it. Sherlock had nothing to delete, to his surprise. They had sat there, quietly, and kept their eyes on the still warm corpse until the obnoxious guard had cleared his throat and all but thrown them out. Ergo, the free pack.
Now they stood side by side, a cloud of smoke between them, and Sherlock found both of their respective pairs of hands were steady. Nothing to change, then. A satisfactory outcome all around. Regrets? Perhaps, but ever since the week wasted in misery and goo, Sherlock had determined regrets were a waste of time and energy. What was done, was done, suffocating in sentimentality wouldn’t change that. Regret was a rather useless human reaction, he should know that better than anyone.
“Everything alright, dear?”, Martha's voice broke his reveries, a puff of smoke leaving her colored lips.
“As a matter of fact, yes. Everything is perfectly fine”, he spoke slowly, taking another draw of his cigarette and rolling his eyes at the lingering look he was being given, “honestly, Martha, no need to fuss.”
“Mrs. Hudson, dear. It’s my name, and it would be such a pointless hazard to change it”, she smiled at him in that sly way she sometimes had, “it’s not like there’s anyone else to carry the name around anymore.”
“Mrs. Hudson, then”, he smiled back, more than pleased at how calm the woman had been ever since Frank’s sentencing. He could only imagine that calm would grow from now on. As for himself, he found kitchens and hotel’s were more than boring after this particular adventure of theirs. Sherlock turned to his companion, the bitter tang of nicotine on his tongue, “whatever will we do now?”
“Go on with our lives, I believe”, Mrs. Hudson shrugged, head tilting with confusion that did not erase her easy-going smile.
“Hm, boring”, he took a long draw, closing his eyes at the feeling of the smoke going down his throat only to come back up, “wouldn’t you say now is as good a time as any to wrap things off, so to speak?”
“Well, Frank is gone, as is the cartel. There is no longer a case and what kept both of us in this particular city has come to an end. Perhaps it would not be such a bad idea to end our stay on a high note.”
“You want to go back to London?”, Martha’s surprise was palpable, her brows raised and eyes wide as she considered him. She took her own long draw as he spoke.
“Is it such a terrible idea?”, Sherlock sighed, contemplating the cigarette between his fingers, “I found what I had been looking for when I moved here; I’m thinking the rest of what I need, whatever that may be, won’t be here.”
He had needed to find a way to breathe again, to stand on his own two feet when he made the decision to leave England. To leave the whole continent. He knew who he was now, what he could do. Oh, his life was nowhere near complete, he was perfectly aware of that fact. And yet he found the idea of running from his parents, from Sabel and his brother, was too exhausting now. Too unnecessary.
“Going back to London, I never would have thought”, Mrs. Hudson exhaled, frowning as she twirled the cig around her fingers, “are you sure you want to go back, Sherlock, instead of going forward?”
“I don’t think a return would be a regression as much as it would be a continuation of a path that was paused for this specific interlude”, he shrugged, the beginning of a not-too-happy smile on his lips, “London is my city, Mrs. Hudson. It has been since I was a teenager. There was a time it’s streets were no longer welcoming, but I need to make them so again. I gather The Child and I need a home.”
“And London is that home?”
“At the time? No. But I figure it’s as good a place as any to make one”, he turned back to the scenery around them, the trees and bright sun above allowing them to forget it was a prison they had just exited. He thought about the past two years, nearly three now, and knew there was something both his daughter and himself had come to need throughout, “though I’m sure Beth would appreciate your continued company.”
“Oh Sherlock”, a pleased laugh was startled out of the older woman, her bony arms curling around him as she grinned, “I would miss you both too.”
“Does that mean you’re joining us?”, he asked her, allowing the contact, just for a moment.
“Eventually, I have some loose ends to tie down here. The house, for one. But yes, I think I might just catch up.”
A relief he would never admit soared through him, Martha’s knowing glint telling him he hadn’t been able to hide it from her. Somehow, he didn’t particularly mind.
“Very well then”, he stubbed out his cigarette, digging his phone out and starting to walk away, “I need to make a call, excuse me.”
Mrs. Hudson nodded, going back to smoking against the tree in peace. He stopped far enough from her she wouldn’t hear, but close enough both would be perfectly visible to one another. As he dialed, Sherlock found himself in a sort of deja vu, knowing he had been in this position several times in the past and would, in all likelihood, find himself in it several times in the future too. He still wasn’t sure what he felt about that. He was interrupted before he could figure it out by a tired and simultaneously smug voice.
“Sherlock, calling so soon after my last visit, should I be concerned?”
“That’s for you to decide”, he shammed excitement, sure the other Holmes was rolling his eyes on the other side of the line, “I need you to find me a new flat. I believe it’s time Beth and I move homes once again.”
“So soon, little brother?”, Mycroft made it sound as if he was moving every two months or so. Always so fast to exaggerate everything Sherlock did, it was seriously getting old.
“We’ve been here for over two years”, he defended himself, a bit of his annoyance coming through, “will you do it or not?”
“Yes, of course. Wouldn’t want to leave you to your own devices in choosing housing for my niece.”
“She’s my daughter, Myroft.”
“No need to remind me. Wherever do you intend to go now?”, his brother sighed again, as if Sherlock was burdening him with strenuous work. Honestly, and they called him histrionic.
“Isn’t it obvious? I believe it’s time my child knows the city she was born in.”
“You’re permanently coming back to London”, his brother stated, dangerously close to wistful.
Completely unwelcomed, the memory of Mycrfot’s expression when Sherlock had first announced his intent to leave resurfaced in his mind. The way he had looked at both the child and himself had been unexpected. It had forced Sherlock to soften then, and seemed adamant in doing so now.
“I did promise we would return, in time”, he said softer than he had intended, which of course needed to be remedied as soon as possible, “I will make no promises about permanence, mind. Wouldn’t want you to start getting ideas.”
“Of course not”, the other man answered, sounding far too much like a cat who got the cream to Sherlock’s liking, “I’ll call you back once I have a list of potential future homes for you both.”
“You do that.”
Flying with a toddler was a strenuous affair and would be henceforth avoided at every turn for the foreseeable future. He could only imagine the disaster that Mycroft and Beth in a plane together must have been and, for once, Sherlock wanted nothing to do with it. Having had to keep the child entertained for so many hours with only himself and a set of toys as tools had been bad enough. He would delete the whole flight as soon as possible. It was only with gigantic relief that he realised they had arrived in London and would be getting out and far away from that inhumane concoction that was a metallic bird perfectly designed to trap parents with bored and far too energetic children. As well as an alarming amount of people.
In what would almost seem a divine mercy, the rest of the arrival process had been swift and with minimal human interaction. Which found him tightly holding onto his daughter’s hand, a suitcase in the other, and gaze seeking the designated drivers for the evening. Next to him, Beth ‘sang’ some inane tune from her princess films which, in all honesty, sounded as nothing but gibberish. Who had thought up something as ridiculous as ‘bobbity boo’ or whatever the words were supposed to be. It was the sudden interruption of the song and a forceful pull of his hand that alerted him to the new arrivals at the gates.
“Aunt Gina!”, Beth called out, letting go of her father’s hold and running to her aunt with her arms wide open.
Sherlock watched as Gina kneeled down, accepting the hug and returning it just as enthusiastically, pressing kisses on the girl’s cheeks. Behind them, a rather sleep-deprived looking Jack emerged from the crowd, smiling at the hugging duo and trotting towards Sherlock to help him with the two bags hanging from his back.
“Hey”, the other man greeted, a wide smile under his tired eyes, “go everything you need?”
“Yes, of course”, he said, handing over one of the bags and resetting the other one on his back. Both of them turned to the female pair, neither aunt nor niece done hugging just yet, “I see the Child has been missed.”
Jack huffed a gentle laugh, clapping him on the shoulder and setting them forward.
“Not just Beth, but yeah, you have been”, Jack’s smile widened at the rose tint to Sherlock’s pale cheeks (which was obviously due to the heat that often came with being surrounded by human bodies), “it’s good to have you back.”
Sherlock allowed the beginnings of a smile, stopping right next to the kneeling pair and interrupting their ‘cuddling session’ or whatever this was.
“Do try not to suffocate each other”, he said in a not too convincing irritation.
“Oh, leave me be, I’m loving my niece”, Gina snarked back, their traditional banter back at play effortlessly. The woman stood, carrying Beth with her and huffing at the added weight of the girl as she walked to her boyfriend and allowed him to carry his niece. Gina smiled widely and wove her arms around Sherlock’s shoulders before he could react, “how are you?”
“I’m fine”, he murmured at her back, letting go and putting the suitcase between them, “make sure to remind me never to get on a plane with a small child again.”
Amused, Gina raised a single eyebrow, “that bad?”
“It was much easier when she slept all day and couldn’t speak”, he only half-joked, sharing a smirk with the unexpected addition to his family as he did.
“Are we staying with you?”, Beth called out from her uncle’s hold, ending the conversation about the struggles of flying with children.
“No, sweets, we’re just driving you to your new house today. But we’ll drop by to help you unpack tomorrow”, Gina told the girl, regret tinting her words and face. Jack pursed his lips, sharing a pout with the young child.
The information came as a surprise to him too, having assumed that the couple would join him and the Child for dinner, or at the very least an hour.
“You’re not staying?”
Jack met his gaze, shaking his head with a grimace that let him know they were genuinely upset about their inability to join them
“Can’t, we both have work right after we drop you off, but we’ll invade tomorrow, don’t worry”, he ended with a cheeky smile that was quick to cheer Beth up, if her giggle was any indication.
Sherlock rolled his eyes, huffing and biting back a curl to the lips, “if anything, I’m grateful for the modicum of peace”
Gina snorted, slipping her arm through his and guiding them out of the airport, “come on, let’s get you two home.”
They arrived at a busy street in Central London, not too far from where Marcus’ pub was. The buildings around the area appeared to be closer to apartment buildings closer to the cheap side than restaurants and stores, unlike his previous home address in the city. Gina parked the car outside a tall white building with green window sills for every apartment; Sherlock recognized it from the photographs his brother had sent him while they discussed possible renting spaces.
“Alright, we’ll see you both tomorrow, be safe, don’t forget to eat and go to sleep early. Flying is always tiering”, Gina turned around the seat, pointing a finger at him as she spoke.
“Yes, mum”, Sherlock muttered back, undoing both his and Bethany’s seatbelts.
“Get out of my car”, she chuckled and turned to smile at the girl, “bye sweets.”
“Bye Aunt Gina, bye Uncle Jack”, the Child waved as she got out of the car and into the pavement, where Sherlock had just finished pulling out their bags from the trunk.
“Bye Beth”, Jack called out, leaning out the window and smiling at the other man, “see you in a bit, Sherlock.”
He nodded at the couple and stood by his child as they waved them goodbye, quick to hold her hand before she decided to dart off and away. He adjusted the bags and smiled down at the young child, who was jittering where she stood, turning in every direction and watching all the people that walked past them.
“Ready to see our new home?”
“Ok”, she sighed, looking more than a bi overwhelmed.
With the girl’s anxiousness in mind, Sherlock was quick to drive them into the building, leaving the bussy street behind them. Once inside, he started towards the stairs at the end of the room, already lamenting the need to carry the suitcase up four flights of stairs when Beth gasped and pulled on his hand. And Sherlock, who had already been having a frustrating day, could not hold back a groan. Not that he tried.
“Of course you’re here.”
“Always a pleasure, brother mine”, a far too smug Mycroft crossed the hall, meeting them at the foot of the stairs and extending a hand to the child, which she was quick to hold, much to her father’s displeasure, “hello, Young Bethany, how was your flight?”
“Boring”, she shrugged, “lots of people and nothing to do.”
He allowed a grin to fully bloom now, taking great pleasure from the simultaneously shocked and resigned fall of his brother’s eyebrows. Mycroft sighed, minutely shaking his head and sending an unimpressed glance the younger man’s way.
“You’ve been with your father for far too long”, at the pair of identical smiles he received in response, his brother strode up the stairs, leaving Sherlock behind to struggle with the bags and suitcase alone. “Nevermind, come along now.”
Muttering and muffling curses, Sherlock took up the rear of their small party, glaring at the smugness coming off of the older man as he watched Sherlock scramble when one of the bags decided to fly out of his back by passing over his head when he bent over to lift the suitcase. At the very least he had his child’s loyalty, which she proved when she all but forced Mycroft to take one of the bags once they reached the second floor. His brother obliged when the girl informed him that she would be ‘very cross’ with him if he didn’t. Sherlock made no effort to hide his amusement.
Finally, once on the fourth floor, the three Holmes’ walked to the end of the hall where a wooden door was waiting for them. Mycroft unlocked it and pushed it open for Beth to go through, stepping aside once Sherlock caught up with the other pair. The suitcase had caught on the carpet and caused him to trip a few doors back. The carpet was perfectly smooth, but that didn’t change anything.
Once inside the small apartment he would now be renting, Sherlock set everything down on the corner, decided to leave most of the unpacking for tomorrow, when both Jack and Gina would be there to, at the very least, keep the Child occupied. In the center of the sitting room, Beth stood with her arms curled around her torso, eyes wide and mouth agape. The white walls and green details fitting those of the overall building made an interesting contrast with their mostly brown furniture, which had been shipped from Miami a week before. He had to admit, even if only to himself, it was much better than the previous homes he had had ever since becoming a parent.
“I believe you’ll come to find the presence of two decently sized bedrooms a novelty”, his brother drawled from the now closed door, causing Beth’s eyes to widen even more and a big smile to break out on her face.
Both father and daughter walked the apartment’s length, peeking into the bedrooms across one another which were, as Mycroft had said, of a decent size and already set up with their possessions. Bethany’s was painted in a light shade of pink; she was obviously delighted about the whole thing. Though Sherlock knew getting her adjusted to sleeping without him was not going to be easy, no matter how much she liked her room at the moment. He also knew it would be an experience to have a bed for himself again after four and a half years of sharing it with a smaller person. It was definitely a step up from Marcus’ minute bedroom and the one in Miami.
The pair walked back to the sitting room, from where Mycroft had been watching them and was now tall with pride at their transparent reactions to the whole thing. Not liking such high levels of delight from his brother, but also unwilling to do anything about it, he turned to Beth instead.
“What do you think?”
“It’s very big, I like it”, she bounced happily, running over to the couch and jumping on it with a giggle.
It was an excellent reaction, considering how unsettled she had been minutes earlier. And yet, Sherlock could feel a tear in his chest at the words. It was a fine enough place, affordable and enough for a young man and a small child. It was also certainly not big. Sherlock knew that, Mycroft knew that, but Beth didn’t. This was the best home she had ever known, that he had ever been able to provide. Shame rose up his neck, hot and angry at his inability to give his child anything beyond ‘decent.’
Noticing his insecurity, which would later displease him immensely, his brother crept up to him, keeping his voice low and as near to reassuring as he knew how, “all in it’s due time, Sherlock.”
Still upset, but unwilling to delve on it in present company, he raised his hand and asked for the keys.
Later that day, when the sun was setting and the Child had gone to bed, he dared to go into his things and dig out his violin. The notebook with the composition he had been working on was set on the coffee table as he opened the black case and held the instrument in his hands for the first time in years. Stepping away from it had been difficult at the best of times, but very few things compared to the outermost misery and frustration that the panic attacks incited by his playing had caused him. Having this one thing he had been forced to deal with slowly when every other aspect of his life required him to rush and jump through hoops had also been most unusual. Hopefully, he would be able to stop slowing down now.
With shaky breaths, he added rosin onto his bow, tuned the violin strings, opened the notebook on the first page of the composition and raised the wooden instrument to his neck. The first draw on the strings was both a foreign and first language, home and unknown, safe and terrifying. He’d grown so unused to it now, to the music he had once used as yet another form of speech in which he was more fluent than any other. As he played through a few scales, he found himself forcing his lungs to accept the oxygen going in through his nose, forcing his hands to hold steady and his heartbeat to slow. Pinpricks of anxiety raised on his spine, his arms, clogged his throat. But he ignored them; Sherlock had been crawling long enough, he needed to find his voice now. This was the only way he knew how to have one, after all. Isabel had understood that, had sat down and closed her eyes as he played into the night, content to just listen and always with a glint to her eyes as if she understood the words he had transformed into notes. As if she had heard him more than the piece itself.
Slowly, and carefully, lying in wait in case of a threat, the anxiety sat back. His bow moved over the strings more confidently, rehearsed music melting into the written notes of his daughter’s life, of her mother’s touch, of his own dragged steps which were gradually turning into a run. Sherlock closed his eyes, allowing the music to float and lead him to his Palace. He had something to do tonight, it would take hours, perhaps all night. But he needed to do it, and it needed to be now.
Behind his closed eyelids, Sherlock stood in the lobby of his Mind Palace, the wooden walls high and stable around him. Letting the notes be his companions for the task, he willed his feet to move down the halls, to a red door with the lock broken in half. There was a leak that needed dealing with. Dropping the lock to the floor, and watching it dissolve to ashes by his shoes, Sherlock opened the door, forcing his gaze to what stood inside.
Sabel met his gaze, blank faced, her bright pink hair up in a bun the same way it had been the night they made Bethany. Or so they had later theorized. It was both painful and unnerving to see his mind decided to immortalize her in it.
“Hello Sherlock”, she spoke, a twinkle to her eyes, “it’s been a long time since you came to see me.”
Willingly? Yes. Since she had forced her presence upon him? Not nearly as much. Though he had learned from experience never to argue with Isabel, she never let him win, even when he was right.
“I’ve had no reason to”, Sherlock shrugged, wincing at how ragged his voice was.
“You’re not here to say hi, are you? There’s something else in your mind. But then, there always is”, her head was tilted to the side, the smile still sweet and her eyes still amused. She had always been the epitome of befuddled acceptance when it came to him. When she wasn’t whacking him with pillows for his perceived idiocy, that was. She had done both surprisingly often, near the end. But to be fair, he’d always deserved it when she yelled at him. Usually when his hands shook with chemical bliss.
“I’m here to live my life again, surely you wouldn’t oppose that”, he told her, not pleased at how close to pleading his tone had been.
“I’m sure the real me wouldn’t, but it’s not her you’re trying to convince right now, is she?”
She stepped closer to him, cheeky notes flying in the air between them, in beat with her steps. The smile was still sweet, but the amusement had gone, replaced by a fiery conviction that had mostly come out with the help of tequila or sexist lecturers. Until impregnation had become apparent and given her something else to be fierce about. He had always enjoyed that conviction; it had tasted so much like his own, and ended in bumbling fools unable to deny it or her for too long. It had made him laugh at the time.
“I do miss you, you know? Even now”, Sherlock found himself saying without meaning to do so. Though he supposed there was no harm to admitting it here, in the privacy of his mind, where the only one that could hear him was a dead girl with a smile.
“I know, it’s ok, I would miss me too”, she teased, chuckling at her own joke and brightening when he couldn’t help but do the same. Her hand flew to his face, grazing his cheekbone in a ghostly touch, “go ahead, do what you must. I don’t come first.”
He flinched away from her, all of him aching, his hands shaking as a false note was drawn from the violin. He’d dreamt about those words for months after she died, dreamt about her sweating form demanding and ordering doctors and nurses around when things started to go wrong. I don’t come first. He hadn’t know whether to argue or not, and then it had been too late. A decision had been made and, indeed, Isabel hadn’t come first. A pink, wrinkled, crying being he hadn’t dared to look at had. And it was a horrible thing, but he was grateful for it now. Even if he had curled up in a close and cried at the time.
“I’m sorry”, Sherlock told her shoes, unable to see her or the gentle smile he knew was there. A forgiving one because she always forgave him, even when they both knew she shouldn’t have. Even when he told her to fuck off as he retched into the toilet and sneered at anything and everything. After, he would apologize and she would tell him it was fine, that she could and had been like that with him too. As if that made it right. As if that made it fair.
They had been better, in the end. Having shared more milkshakes than cocaine had probably been part of that improvement.
Isabel proved him right soon, the notes evening into a simple but calm melody as she held his face between her hands, sorrow and care at war in her features. His eyes stung as they met hers, and he hated it.
“It was my choice as much as it was yours. Always”, she shushed him, stopping him from saying anything further by taking his hand and interlocking their fingers, “come on”, she pulled him out of the room, showing how much a figment of his own mind she really was by leading him down several flights of stairs, to the basement of the Mind Palace, where all that was old and forbidden but never to be deleted now resided. She stopped by an unused door, pushed it open with her foot and extended her free arm wide, encompassing the empty space with it as if showing him a stage, “this will do nicely, don’t you think?”
“Perfect”, he answered. It was perfect, just as he knew it would be. He led her to the center of the room, letting her hand go and standing before her with a knot on his throat. She looked so much younger than he’d remembered her being, so much younger than he now did. A child, a child with a child, just as he was. “Goodbye, Sabel.”
“Bye, Sherlock. Remember I don’t love you”, she told him with a smirk.
He knew what he was supposed to say, what he used to say. He also knew he couldn’t do it now, not if he intended to go through with this. Which he did, it was necessary. A new beginning, in a new life, without her.
“I know”, he whispered, going to stand by the door and leaving her where she was, her young eyes still trained on him.
Parallel columns rose from the floor and to the ceiling, their twirls and lines in style with Ancient Greece in their Ionic details, each holding red curtains tied with a golden rope that would fall loose over the room, separating what was inside from the rest of his subconscious when he was ready to tug the golden fiber. A tree covered in Christmas lights grew on the left corner, casting a soft glow over the white room. A pink rose, a strawberry, a line of cocaine, a pregnancy test. Each object drew a line from the tree to Sabel’s still form. Metal plaques beneath each, detailing their story in this mental museum. On Sabel’s right was a train seat, a broken vase, a hospital bed turned to the opposite wall so he didn’t have to see the blood he knew was on it. The past, pain and loneliness, loss and addiction, sex and laughter. He placed all of it around the room, keeping the girl he had outlived at the center of it all. Every detail with its own plaque, a nod of recognition to the weight they had once held and could not be permitted to keep. Not if he was starting over, on his own two feet, in London’s streets.
Once the room had been filled, he stepped in front of Sabel, his breath shallow as the notes increased their intensity, swirling around them fast and chaotic. Just as they had been. Sherlock planned it to the second, raising his hand as a pane of glass erected from the marble floor. He drew his hand nearer, watching as Sabel raised her own to meet his only for the glass to interrupt them, coming between them in the nick of time. As the window reached the ceiling, Sherlock let out the breath he had been holding, keeping his fingertips pressed against the cool surface as if it were Isabel’s own hand for exactly five seconds before letting go.
Isabel stood behind the glass, a sad smile on her face the likes she had given him many times in life, and now continued to grant in death. For his part, Sherlock stepped back, watching his past and all involved sentiment for one last time before doing as a museum keeper would to an exhibit that was no longer fit to be visited, that had grown brittle and obsolete with age, and setting the curtains loose, shrouding Sabel’s ghost in darkness, never to be seen again.
When he emerged, his heart was much lighter, no longer held down with feelings and useless sentimentality. Only weighted by the never ending access of irrationality and warmth that belonged to another Isabel, this one with a different set of eyes. After setting down the violin and bow in their case, Sherlock welcomed the new day freely, opening one of the two windows in their new home and breathing in the scent of London.
He was back.