Chapter 10: Learning the Ropes
Sherlock abandoned the boy in the parlor for the five minutes it took to change into more suitable attire, something like anticipation building in his stomach. This would be the first lesson, the first real opportunity to gauge the boy directly… and he had a theory he wanted proven. He returned to find Harry still sitting bewildered on John's chair, his face a mix of confusion and helplessness.
Oh, I remember that feeling, John commiserated wearily.
Sherlock quirked a mental eyebrow as he straightened the cuff of his shirtsleeve, curious despite himself.
Mental-John sighed and took pity on him. He's just realized he's in a bit over his head, is all. He'll get used to it, he assured the detective.
The detective sniffed and ignored the construct, turning to the seated boy instead.
"Well, come along then," he said, a bit perplexed over why the boy hadn't moved yet. Didn't I say we were going to Angelo's?
Sherlock cleared his throat, "Er–" there was something I'm supposed to ask now, wasn't there? Something Mummy always pestered me about, one of the first things I learned to tune out… dim memories, long abandoned to the back of his mind, obligingly came forward, "–have you got a jumper? Do you require the facilities?"
The boy had hopped to his feet at Sherlock's first words; a nod and a shake answered the two questions respectively. Sherlock peered down inquiringly to confirm that the boy still had on the shoes he'd been wearing all morning. The detective gave a short nod then, feeling rather on top of this whole guardian thing, before marching towards the stairs. Scrambling footsteps told him the boy was following.
He paused briefly at the foot of the stairs to let the boy precede him out the front door, turning to lock it behind them. Immediately he was off again, long strides eating up the pavement as Harry scurried after, finally settling into a half-jog to keep up.
You could slow down, John told the detective, annoyance creeping into his tone.
It'll be good for his endurance; he's below his age class's average weight and height requirements, and it's likely due to malnutrition. Mrs. Hudson's cooking – or his own, for that matter, Sherlock thought sardonically – should take care of the growth problem, but it's best to build up stamina early.
"Sherlock," the boy panted haltingly, curiosity finally overruling his silent nature, "what am I going to learn at a restaurant if we're not going to eat there? Can we even go in if we're not eating?" he asked wonderingly. "I've not really been to many, but I was pretty sure that's a rule somewhere."
Sherlock could hear the dubiousness in his voice without looking down at his charge, and waved a hand in his general direction. "It won't be a problem; I assisted the owner some years back, so I've got a standing reservation there."
"Oh," the boy replied. Concerns settled, he took to craning his head from side to side, trying to get his first good look around Baker Street. Sherlock approved of this behavior, so he went out of his way to nudge the boy around a particularly vicious crack in the pavement.
A few blocks down, Sherlock directed them to cross the road and take a left; they spilled out onto a higher trafficked street, boasting more cafés and restaurants than Baker Street owned. It wasn't long before they fell behind a slow moving herd of pedestrians; Sherlock picked out a handful of construction workers on an early lunch break, a journalist, a few retired old men, some nurses, and several American corporate-types on some sort of working holiday. The chatter was inane, mostly exclaiming over work or family life. Sherlock kept his ears perked for anything interesting, but truthfully let most of it filter out in favor of addressing his charge.
"I advise you to make note of the street signs: it's always useful to know where one is," Sherlock asserted. "We'll make rounds of the surrounding neighborhoods in the future to orient you better, but a good sense of direction will serve you well."
The boy nodded seriously, eyes already pinning down the nearest cross streets. This earned a few indulgent smiles from the nurses as they took a right; must be headed to the Welbeck Hospital then, Sherlock marked absently.
The detective was beginning to chafe at the slow pace, but the walkway had narrowed due to London's ever-present construction. The boy and he still walked comfortably abreast – small, he's so small – but the rest of the traffic had fallen into single file, raising their voices to continue conversations.
"What was that, Bart? I can't hear you in my bad ear," the old man at the front said, twisting back to face his friend. He stopped every few steps to respond, turning the whole line into some sort of bizarre inch worm, pausing and bunching all over the place. Not a few of the group ended up running into each other due to the erratic pace; the Americans got annoyed and stepped off the curb to go around. Sherlock was tempted himself, but Angelo's was just beyond the construction – he'd only have to wait longer for the whole procession to pass.
Sherlock couldn't suppress a sigh of irritation when he saw the two retirees turning off into Angelo's as well, one of them painstakingly holding the door open for the other.
This is karmic retribution for getting so unapologetically gleeful over new murders, John informed him, tickled.
Karma, Sherlock lectured snippily in response, is an Eastern construction to encourage good behavior, often associated with actions in one's so-called past life; it's certainly not responsible for inflicting me with impatience. Though, he thought privately, if I believed in that sort of thing, a past life heavy with misdeeds might explain why I was saddled with Mycroft.
Harry was clearly caught off guard by Sherlock's immediate halt, because he trailed off for a few more steps before realizing the detective's shadow hadn't followed him. He turned to look questioningly at the tall man, attention sharpening when he realized they'd reached their destination.
Sherlock flapped an abrupt hand at the boy to follow the men into the restaurant, earning a considering look from the child before he crossed through the threshold. The detective pushed past the dawdling duo, ignoring the hostess stand completely to direct Harry to the front table by the window, where he'd sat with John all those years ago. The boy slid into the booth obediently, watching the old men still conversing with interest.
Sherlock's cursory look about the room noted that little had changed in the restaurant since he'd been here last, sometime before the mess with Moriarty. The same small tables dotted the space, meant for intimate conversation – looks as if Angelo had the booths reupholstered in a light blue. Wooden slat screens still provided some modicum of privacy between guests at regular intervals, although other diners were clearly visible in the divide between boards. Despite the bright July sunlight creeping in the front window, the rest of the room was bathed with a dim gleam reminiscent of candlelight; Sherlock assumed the effect was achieved with some sort of filtered bulbs and left it at that.
One of the waiters had obviously noted their presence and gone to retrieve Angelo, because it wasn't a full minute (in which Harry turned to peruse the menu curiously while Sherlock did the same with the clientele) until the large man bustled out of the depths of the restaurant to appear at the edge of their table, round face awash with an open happiness.
"Ah, Mr. Holmes," he exclaimed cheerily, "it has been quite awhile! I'm so glad to see you, so very glad indeed – I told everyone you'd be back at my table someday, and here you are!"
Sherlock nodded in greeting, throwing in a slight smile for good measure. There were perhaps a few more threads of silver in the older man's hair and beard, an extra line around his mouth, but beyond that as little seemed to have changed with Angelo as with his restaurant. Still rather easy to predict, too, Sherlock thought as he watched the large man's attention fall on his charge, already anticipating the inevitable question.
"And who is this?" Angelo asked, voice light and chipper.
"Angelo," Sherlock introduced, "this is my ward, Harry. Harry, Angelo, the owner of this establishment."
Angelo's eyes crinkled up in the kind way that had told Sherlock when they first met that this man was not a killer, to which the boy tentatively offered one of his own rare smiles.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, young Harry," the owner greeted with a bob of his head.
"You as well, sir," Harry replied in a soft voice. Sherlock read a relaxed comfort in the slope of the boy's shoulders, and was pleased. Either he's made his own assessment and determined Angelo's worth, or he trusts my judgment of the man.
"What will it be, gentlemen? On the house, of course," Angelo inquired, an effortless transition testifying to years in the food industry. Angelo was not one for manners much outside of his restaurant, as Sherlock well recalled, but within his domain his customers were treated well; it made for many happy regulars.
"I think we'll hold off on lunch for a bit; perhaps something to drink though?" Sherlock interjected, looking towards Harry.
Taking his cue, the boy asked, "Could I have some apple juice?"
"Water will be fine for me," Sherlock followed.
Angelo gave a brisk nod and lumbered towards the kitchen; their drinks were brought out in short order by one of the waiters, and then they were left alone. It was one of the many reasons Sherlock appreciated his relationship with the former housebreaker so much – despite appearances, Angelo knew how to read a situation (and keep his lips closed on a matter, besides).
Sherlock could see a quiet building of questions in his young charge, so he was not surprised when the silence was broken shortly thereafter.
The boy fiddled with the paper wrapper his straw had come in, tugging it this way and that, before asking conversationally, "Were you on holiday for a long while, then?" He peered up at Sherlock at the tail end of his question, a half glance through long eyelashes.
"Of a sort, I suppose," Sherlock offered. He had, in fact, considered this carefully in the last several weeks, the story of his two-year "death" and tarnished reputation. At first he'd thought it might prove an impediment to the adoption process, but the home workers had cared little (whether this was due to Mycroft's influence or just a natural disinclination for the media, Sherlock knew not). He'd realized setting out in his search that the child in question would probably have been too young to know much about the event, but there was always a chance he might have heard a snippet or two.
Harry had shown no signs of it, so Sherlock had simply decided that it may or may not become relevant later and left it at that; John would probably have approached this directly, laid the whole of it on the table to put an end to any rumors (even if the boy had not yet heard them), Sherlock mused, remembering how offended his friend had been on the detective's behalf.
But this will serve as a lesson that you never know everything about a person from a first impression. Harry should make up his own mind on this, and I'm interested to see how he goes about fishing for information – call it a soft form of interrogation practice.
At Sherlock's answer, the boy had ceased fidgeting and looked at the detective directly. "Were you ill?" Harry asked, hints of concern starting to show.
"No," Sherlock replied, a corner of his mouth lifting in amusement.
Harry sat back against his seat, shoulders straightening. A considering look next. "In prison, then?"
"Not quite," Sherlock temporized, a full on grin starting at the revelation that the boy did not find him above suspicion. He relented then, realizing Harry would never theorize it out properly from what little information he had to work with. "I faked my own death to give myself leave to hunt down and dismantle the web of an international criminal mastermind," he informed the boy casually. "It took two years, though I did spend some of that time in an underground Serbian interrogation cell, so I suppose you could say I was in prison," he mused with a blithe air.
The boy had lost the considering look to stare at him a bit, brows furrowed. He cleared his throat and asked in a level tone, "Are you having me on?"
"No," Sherlock said steadily, meeting him eye for eye.
A pause. "Okay then," Harry nodded, taking a sip of his juice.
Satisfied the matter was settled, Sherlock switched gears to begin the lesson he'd brought the boy here for in the first place.
"Now, Harry, look out the window. What do you see?"
Obviously a bit confused at the non sequitur, though perhaps beginning to get used to it, Harry obligingly twisted to squint out the paned glass at the busy scene outside.
"Well, the buildings across the way have apartments above them, like back at Baker Street – it looks like there are numbers on the doors," he said haltingly, trying to pick out what answer Sherlock wanted. "Traffic's been bunched up by all the construction we passed?"
Sherlock made a noise of agreement and asked, "Good, what else?"
"There are a lot of people going by, a lot of families with kids," he added, beginning to pick up steam. "It's a nice day out, more sun than we've had in a while – maybe they're all headed to a park?"
"Perhaps," Sherlock acknowledged. "Narrow your focus a little; what about those three, there?" The detective dipped his head at a woman with a pram, tot inside, and what looked to be a four-year-old girl hopping beside her. They're coming directly into Harry's line of sight and moving slowly, that should give him plenty of time.
Unsurprisingly, Harry began to describe the girl first, perhaps latching onto the familiar.
"The little girl is in a dress, pink with a big bow. She's got those shiny black shoes on, the ones that are real slippery? Her hair's long and blonde. She looks younger than me by a few years, shorter, too. She's… bouncy. Um," he paused, running out of things to say. He switched to the woman next, assuming Sherlock wanted him to continue. "Their mom is pretty, maybe around Miss Rachel's age? She has short brown hair. She's dressed nice too, and has a big handbag. She's pushing a pram; I think the baby's probably a boy, from the blue blanket he's all wrapped in," he finished, turning to look back at Sherlock with an expectant gaze.
"And what might you infer from that?" Sherlock asked next, adding, "Similar to when we played our game, what can you tell about them?" when it became apparent the boy was stumped by the word 'infer.'
"I guess… they're probably going somewhere nice, if they're all dressed up like that," Harry said slowly. "And most of the other families are walking the other way, so… not to the park? And… the little girl likes pink?" he guessed, nonplussed.
Sherlock gave him a wry look at that. "You are correct," he began, "in that they are headed away from a park and towards a nicer location – lunch at home, to be exact," he informed the boy. "See the grass stains on the girl's knee? The way one of her socks has slipped down, probably from running? And there's a book visible in the woman's bag – probably something she was reading on a bench while the girl played.
"But that is not their mother: her coloring is completely different, and probably not dyed either – see how her eyebrows match. The makeup, high end clothes, and shorter hair cut make her appear older than she is; I'd say," he cast an approximating glance at the woman in question, humming absently, "probably three to five years younger than your Miss Rachel.
"The children belong to a well-off family," he continued, "you can tell from the high quality of their clothing, the pram, and the baby bag – that large handbag you mentioned earlier," Sherlock said with a nod in the boy's favor. "It's designed to appear more fashionable than traditional bags of the same nature. The woman is most likely their nanny, supported by the fact that they're on an outing during the weekday and the lack of a wedding ring," he pointed to her left hand on the pram bar.
"You can see too, that the little girl adores her," Sherlock added, "look at the way she keeps reaching for the woman's hand even though she's trying to push the pram; the child's too energetic – bouncy, as you said – and happy to be repressed or seeking comfort. That's an action of reverence for where she gets the most attention. Statistically speaking, she's probably neglected by her actual parents at this stage – typical of high end families," he said matter-of-factly.
The boy had started out squinting at each of the physical signs Sherlock pointed out, trying to catalogue the observations for himself, but by the end of Sherlock's litany, he'd ceased in favor of staring at Sherlock, mouth halfway open in awe.
"That's just… wow," Harry said finally, when it became apparent Sherlock was finished. "And you're going to teach me how to do all that?"
"It's more a matter of guiding you to see the observations for yourself – all the evidence is there, and with a little base-level knowledge, it's simple to pull together the pieces. Granted," Sherlock warned, "the method is not infallible – not always correct – statistics and balance of probability situations indicate what happens more often than not, but there are always outliers – different events. For instance, that woman: perhaps she really is about to become the children's beloved step mother and wears her engagement ring on a necklace inside her shirt for some silly reason," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "But it's statistically less likely."
That was almost humble, John said from the back of his mind.
Shut up, it's important he knows the flaws – he's not had much exposure to the concepts of probability and hypotheticals yet, for all that he's demonstrated more cognitive development than most his age. He did well to use familiar points of reference for comparison purposes, though – himself, and that Rachel woman. I have to get him started with some logic problems soon…
"Now, try again, but this time with the guests in here," Sherlock said, eager to test out a little experiment he'd had in the wings.
Harry cast him a dubious look, but dutifully turned to scan their fellow diners. "Well, the old men we followed in here are Bart and Gary; Gary has bad hearing in his left ear, said his hearing aid has been on the fritz for a while."
"I think they come here pretty regularly, 'cause Angelo stopped to say hi to them after he spoke to us. And they're close family friends or cousins or something – Bart's started every other sentence with 'Remember that time,' and he keeps saying how pretty Gary's mom was. So I guess that means she passed away?" he speculated, a sadness coming into his eyes briefly.
"Gary's either really bad with tools or really bad in the kitchen," Harry continued, "he said something about his garbage disposal breaking for the fifth time and having to fix it, which means he's doing it wrong a whole bunch or he's putting things down there that he should be binning," he told Sherlock. "Aunt Petunia used to shriek at me over potato peels, so I learned pretty quick." A sober look passed over his face at the memory, but, as children are wont to do, he forgot it just as quickly in favor of his last bit of information.
"Oh, and I think Bart's a smoker – I smelled it on him when we walked by," Harry added with a wrinkled nose.
Sherlock thought rapidly back to their entrance, surprised he'd missed that detail in particular – but maybe, it was just a hint of nicotine; I think I blocked it out –
"You were busy being annoyed, I think," the boy said, apparently having read some of the consternation on Sherlock's face. The detective quirked an eyebrow and gave him the point, silently admonishing his own lack of attention.
So he can make inferences then, given enough information, Sherlock thought. I assumed as much from our game, but it is nice to have it proven again. And it looks as if my experiment paid off here.
"And how do you know that Gary's the one responsible for the clogged disposal? It could be his wife."
Harry shook his head, "I don't think he's got one; I can't see his hands from here, but Bart's complained about his three times already, and Gary hasn't joined in."
Sherlock felt a wry smile twisting his lips. Relatively familiar with human nature, then. "When, may I ask, did you learn all of this?" he inquired.
"Well, the hearing problem was pretty obvious when we were walking over here," Harry said frankly. "Bart's been remembering and nattering about the wife the whole time, but Gary just mentioned the disposal a few minutes ago."
"And the other diners?"
"The couple in the corner," Harry flicked his eyes towards the kitchens, "are in the middle of a domestic 'cause the husband doesn't like how his fish was cooked and the woman said he's 'being ridiculous.' The family a few tables over were talking about going to a picture later this afternoon, something with a superhero in it?"
Sherlock obligingly followed Harry's lead, confirming his claims in the detective's usual method – there's certainly enough tension in that corner to reflect a domestic, probably one of many recent fights. The woman's developed an eyebrow twitch. Divorce in three months, he wrote off. At the family's table, a boy around Harry's age was holding his napkin about himself like a cape; it was no large leap in logic to the film Harry had mentioned.
"Very good, Harry," Sherlock said finally, folding his hands together to rest his chin on them as he looked at his charge. "I don't believe you realize it, but you have incredible auditory senses – you hear very well," he clarified. "Possibly olfactory as well – your sense of smell. I've suspected as much with regards to your hearing ever since our game, especially since your eyesight appears somewhat poor; do you often have difficulty seeing or reading signs?"
Harry crinkled his nose in thought. "I had a hard time with the details you pointed out about the nanny and kids earlier, but it got easier after a bit. Same with letters, I suppose."
Sherlock's eyebrows rose. Perhaps he means after he squinted at them? That's supposed to put a terrible strain on the eyes, though I suppose it won't matter for much longer – I'll get Mrs. Hudson to take him to an optometrist soon. He must be nearsighted though; he peered into my face several times when he 'caught me' during our game, and he obviously has no problem reading facial cues, judging from how tense he was with Mrs. Hudson last night. Or perhaps it's body language…?
"This lesson served double as a little experiment of mine; you've got a high ability for auditory recall – I suspect you'll always be able to remember better the things you're told than the things you see, so we'll have to concentrate on building up your visual recall. First though, you'll need a new pair of glasses."
Harry was beginning to look overwhelmed again, and ran a nervous hand through his hair; it parted just enough that Sherlock was able to catch a glimpse of something darker than the expected pale skin tone. Yes, I had meant to ask him about that.
"Birthmark or scar?" Sherlock inquired, eyes narrowed on his charge's forehead.
"Er-" the boy stuttered, caught off guard. He followed Sherlock's gaze up to where his hand was still rubbing his temple. "Scar," he said softly, eyes dropping to the table as his hand lifted up his fringe to expose a zigzag of healed flesh.
Unusual shape, Sherlock noted absently, a bit perplexed by the melancholy mood suddenly overtaking the boy. He thought about leaving it there, but he wanted to know, "How did you get it?"
The boy turned to look out the window, scowling something fierce. "In the car crash that killed my parents," he admitted bitterly. "My dad was a drunk," he said, disdain for the word and all that it implied blatantly evident.
Sherlock calculated; the car crash fits in with the report from the home, but I hadn't realized Harry was in the car at the time… I'll have to get John to perform an MRI to ensure there wasn't any lasting damage; it's nearly six years old, and the scar looks rather superficial, but still…
"I rarely imbibe alcohol," he said finally, unsure whether he intended to reassure the boy or bring him back from his gloomy thoughts, but feeling the need to say something. "Though I should tell you I once had a drug habit and occasionally crave cigarettes."
The boy blinked up at Sherlock, clearly at a loss with how to deal with that information.
"Mrs. Hudson will probably enlist you to help search the flat periodically," Sherlock added. "Try not to mess up my sock index, John was always horrible at that."
Harry couldn't help but let out a grin at that. "I'll try my best," he promised earnestly.
They whiled away the lunch hours training up Harry's observation skills, each player picking out a passerby and informing the other about them; Sherlock's turns were always far more comprehensive, of course, but the boy was beginning to make some astute deductions himself. (And if he chose to pick on a middle-aged woman walking by with a Pomeranian instead of the familiar, shining black car inching down the street in front of them, well, the boy didn't know enough to know the difference. Yet.)
Sherlock eventually badgered the boy into ordering some lunch, citing Mrs. Hudson's wrath as a motivating factor. He earned a stern glance at his own lack of appetite, but ignored it with the ease of years of stubbornness and a handy distraction: his next 'impossible' deduction – something about being able to tell the young man walking by owned a talking cockatoo from the cut of his shirt sleeves.
The two wandered off towards Baker Street in the early afternoon, with promises to return soon enough. Sherlock had calculated that Mrs. Hudson would be home in another hour to take the boy out shopping, so they ensconced themselves in the den to do some reading – Harry had perused Sherlock's shelves to pull out a copy of Oliver Twist. It wasn't long until the boy nodded off on the couch, glasses slipping down his face.
"Fed him and got him to take a nap," Mrs. Hudson quipped in a quiet tone when she returned to find the boy asleep. "Why, Sherlock, I think we'll make a father out of you yet!"
Sherlock blanched at that word and clarified over Mrs. Hudson's chortling, "Guardian, Mrs. Hudson, guardian – much like you're a landlady and not our housekeeper," he added tartly. "Now, I've got to make an appointment at the optometrist for him tomorrow. Can you take him in the afternoon again?"
Still chuckling at the look on Sherlock's face, Mrs. Hudson nodded and went to gather her things. Sherlock pressed a card into her hand to cover the expenses and woke the boy, a firm hand gentle on a small shoulder.
"Mrs. Hudson's come to take you to get some new things," he told the yawning boy. "Pick out some comfortable clothes, but get at least two nice things – you'll need them eventually."
A sleepy nod told the detective his instructions had been heard, so he left them to it and retreated to pick through his box of contacts – he recalled at least one acquaintance that was also an optometrist.
And so passed the weekend. Sherlock was woken every morning by the smell of something new being produced in his kitchen; it was different each day – Mrs. Hudson had evidently taken the boy to the market after clothes shopping at Harry's request. He arrived to a table laden with food, a cup of tea made to his exact specifications waiting in front of his customary seat next to the morning paper. The boy would surreptitiously watch Sherlock like a hawk from across the table, until the detective felt obligated to take more than a few bites. Mrs. Hudson joined them on Friday morning, but left them to it after that, explaining that she wanted "to give you two time to settle in together."
The hours after breakfast were usually spent beginning to work on Latin, Sherlock leading the boy through the basic pronunciations of pronouns and more familiar words. Harry had a primer he worked through as well, a double attempt to better his "rather atrocious handwriting."
Afternoons were devoted to outings; Friday's was, of course, to the optometrist Sherlock had contacted.
("-it was fantastic, really – he fiddled with some of the lenses and all of a sudden I could see, without having to wait for it like usual! The letters were just there, so clear and crisp-" the boy exclaimed, excitement bubbling over as he twisted his head from side to side, grin wide on his face.
'Wait for it like usual?' The squinting…?)
Saturday and Sunday, Sherlock took the boy out to different parts of London like he'd promised, trying to give him a basic map of the city. He continued to educate the boy on his observation skills, made easier by the boy's newfound ability to see details. Harry seemed to enjoy it, exuding a spirited quality when Sherlock expounded on the lives of the people surrounding them.
The three residents of 221 Baker Street ate dinner together all three nights, cooked in the landlady's flat by Mrs. Hudson and her newest assistant. Conversation flowed easily despite quiet natures. The boy was always happy to tell the landlady how they had spent their day and what all he had learned, often in exchange for some stories about Sherlock. The detective would cut in affably with clarifications whenever Mrs. Hudson got a detail wrong, but allowed her the little embellishments – she was a rather good storyteller.
In the evenings the duo settled down with some reading, or Harry worked on some of the logic problems in the puzzle book Sherlock had bought for him; they seemed overly simplistic to the detective, but the store clerk had assured Sherlock that they "would form a good beginning, and be fun besides."
Harry usually took himself off to bed when he felt tired, often before nine, leaving Sherlock to his own devices.
It was a quiet routine for now, but the flat was no longer silent.
So when Monday morning rolled around, Sherlock had almost forgotten about the guest they were expecting, until the boy haltingly asked him if "maybe he wanted to change out of his dressing gown" a little after nine forty.
Sherlock stared blankly at Harry for a second, absently appreciating how much better the new glasses frames appeared (though, of course, he'd had the boy hold on to the old frames just in case a situation presented itself). "Oh, that woman's coming today, isn't she?" he realized belatedly.
"Miss Williams," the boy proffered.
Sherlock shot him a dry look and rose. "Why don't you go put the kettle back on, while I get dressed? Mrs. Hudson left some biscuits in the bread box yesterday," he remarked, leaving to get changed.
Just as well I never made it to Bart's on Thursday, Sherlock thought to himself as he tugged on one of his casual suits, or we'd have a few experiments running on the counters by now.
Might be a little much for a first real visit, John agreed.
He emerged from the depths of his room just as he heard Mrs. Hudson opening the downstairs door to admit their guest. A quick glance told him the boy had finished cleaning up from breakfast and put the kettle on – so efficient – tea things already laid out for four. Figures he'd realize Mrs. Hudson would want to be up here for this.
Indeed, the steady tromp up the stairs brought both the landlady and the expected Miss Williams. Sherlock turned to face the women, Harry sidling up beside him.
"Sherlock, is your doorbell still out? I thought we'd had that taken care of a few months ago," Mrs. Hudson asked, face perplexed.
"Mmm, I seemed to have misplaced its batteries. My apologies, Miss Williams, I hope you weren't waiting long."
"Not at all," the woman demurred, splitting a smile for the boy. "Hello, Harry. How are you?"
The boy smiled shyly back at her. "I'm quite well, Miss Williams, how are you?"
The pleasantries were continued for a few more minutes, Mrs. Hudson introducing herself before taking charge of the tea service. Harry led them all into the den, claiming one of what Sherlock and John had dubbed the "client" chairs. Miss Williams followed suit, leaving John's chair for Mrs. Hudson.
"Well, Harry, how was this weekend?" Miss Williams finally began in a cheery tone, twisting to peer into his face.
The boy broke into a smile, eyes lighting up. "It was excellent! Sherlock took me to lunch, and Mrs. Hudson's been letting me help her in the kitchen, and Sherlock's teaching me Latin-"
Sherlock used the time Harry prattled on to gauge Miss Williams, affixing a pleasantly interested expression to his own face: body language tilted completely towards the boy, she hasn't looked away from him since he began regaling her with his story – I'm willing to be she's had quite a lot of practice pretending interest, but I suppose she's actually listening; she'll come up with a few questions for me next, maybe ask Mrs. Hudson about the shopping trip or dinners. How dull.
"-well, I'd certainly love to try one of your culinary delights sometime," the social worker told the boy, eyes creased in a smile.
The boy nodded, offering up, "Maybe you can come over for dinner sometime?" He looked to Sherlock, the question plain.
Sherlock affirmed, "I'm certain we could work something out."
Sensing a lull in the conversation, Miss Williams broke in again with, "I meant to tell you earlier, I like your new glasses, Harry. Did you choose them yourself?"
The boy brought his hands up to touch the frames, fingers running over the edges in a motion that had been constant over the last few days. "I did," he said, pleased. "Though Mrs. Hudson helped," he added.
"And they suit your face marvelously, dear. Brings out those lovely eyes of yours," the landlady declared.
"On that subject," Sherlock began, turning to the social worker. "Harry's prescription was quite out of date; did he not receive a check up at St. James'?"
Miss Williams frowned. "All our children receive a very thorough physical when they first arrive; Harry, do you remember meeting with Dr. Rodgers?"
"Um," the boy piped up, "he did the height and weight measurements, but then a phone call came for him, so he asked me if I could read a sign and then told me I was done."
The frown deepened. "I'll look into it," she assured Sherlock.
Satisfied, Sherlock let himself fade from the conversation again; Mrs. Hudson prompted Harry to practice some of his Latin on Miss Williams, and the boy was off. The exchange continued on for some twenty minutes until Miss Williams was satisfied and Harry was all chattered out. She left, after informing Sherlock that she'd call again later in the week to schedule her next visit, and they got on with their day.
Well, that's one visit down, at least.
Some would say the life of a soldier left one paranoid.
John would cock one eyebrow and wrinkle his nose in distaste at these people. He much preferred to say he had simply had a few habits trained into him, some favorable – he certainly kept a neater room now – and some…less so. Sherlock's two-year disappearing act hadn't helped matters.
Mary was an unflinchingly good sport about the whole thing; she weathered the occasional nightmare with ease, and thought the way he would periodically poke his head out of the office to check on her sweet, rather than overbearing. Their time apart was peppered with little text messages that somehow managed to incorporate her current location and status – things like, "At the market and it's freezing! We needed milk, right?"
A small part of him figured he should be annoyed that she felt the need to cater to him like that, but honestly, it was a relief knowing that half of his life was safe, especially since they'd found out she was pregnant.
So when the phone rang in their small flat early one evening, just as he was starting to get antsy, John figured it was the routine phone call from Mary, subtly letting him know what she was up to – it wasn't unusual for her to call the landline when her joints were too swollen and achy to punch out a text.
"Hello?" he greeted warmly, anticipation a pleasant feeling in his stomach – it amazed him how thrilled he was to hear from Mary still, even two months after the wedding. He supposed it was still technically the "honeymoon" period, but a small part of him hoped that feeling never really went away.
"Dr. Watson?" came an unexpected voice.
John could feel the frown lines starting.
"This is Lacey Williams, a social worker associated with the St. James' group home for children. I'd like to ask you a few questions with regards to your recommendation for Sherlock Holmes as a candidate for child adoption."
"I'm sorry, what?"
A/N: Behold! I give you, John Watson!
But yeah, I know, I'm evil, I'm late, I'm a lying liar who lies…take your pick, this was still a pain in the rear for no reason whatsoever. And you would have had it last night but for Miss Williams getting in the way, so feel free to blame her.
You may also thank my friend who wields a mean metaphorical whip through text messages, and WilheminaSnape for checking in to see if I fell in a hole again. In the words of Douglas Adams, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." Except for me it's more of a sinking feeling of despair and there's generally less love involved, but whatever.
You're all gems if you've been sticking with me, and I'll be responding to reviews within the next couple of days!