The brakes squeal as the bus pulls into the station. It rolls to a stop with a loud huff and hums as it sits before the glass windows of the coach station. She sits in the front near the aisle holding a baby in her arms as the people around her gather their things and rise to their feet. The others line up beside her, but she makes no effort to move as she looks out of the window at the cool grey pavement.
"Oh hell! We're in London," Maddy thinks. "What in the world made me think that this was a good idea? Oh, yes. It was Sherlock Holmes. 'Go see John', he says. 'John loves babies', he says. I don't even have the excuse of gin in the eggnog to explain my insanity. How long did it take me to escape from this place only for me to come back willingly with my baby no less? Maybe in Manchester I could keep her away from Mycroft, but here?
"What am I saying? I'll never be able to keep her from him. No matter how far I go once he knows for sure who she is. But, if Sherlock's right, and he usually is, Mycroft already knows and isn't choosing to do anything about it, so... stay calm, Maddy, stay calm. No one is waiting to take her away from me, so there's no use delaying. Time to go."
Maddy stuffs the blanket into the diaper bag and zips it before lifting it and her purse over her shoulder. Eliza stands on the seat, her hands holding onto the back of the bench. Maddy smiles and lifts her up onto her hip before getting in line to exit the bus.
She walks down the steps carefully, one at a time. As her foot touches the pavement she lets out a sigh thinking, 'I'm here'. She takes a few steps forward, and then stops, looking around for cameras. The people behind her flow around her, so she steps to the side to be out of the way checking to make sure that Eliza's hood covers her face. She taps Eliza's button nose playfully and smiles before standing with the other passengers at the side of the bus to await the unloading of the luggage.
The wind blows chill making her ponytail flap against her cheek so that Maddy regrets not bringing her knit cap. "Too late to get it now."
The driver roughly throws her suitcase and the playpen down onto the hard concrete. She rushes forward to get it afraid that he's broken it. She thinks of complaining, but she says nothing.
She drags them toward the building, passing beside a nice woman who holds open the door for her, as she has no hands free, and she doesn't want to have to put Eliza down.
"Thank You," she says to the woman as she passes through the door, dragging her luggage to the nearest row of white plastic coated benches and sitting down. The lobby is warm. She sits near the windows watching as the man outside continues to carelessly toss other people's belongings onto the pavement.
Maddy lowers Eliza down onto the cold linoleum floor. It hasn't been swept for a while, and is covered with a fine layer of dirt, the dried remnants left from the passage of hundreds of feet. Eliza crawls across the floor toward the window placing her small hands against the glass as she looks out.
"I'm going to have to wipe her hands," Maddy thinks to herself before pulling out her phone and dialing.
"Hello? John Watson here," the voice on the other side says.
"John, it's Maddy."
"Maddy! Hello, where are you?"
"At the coach station."
"Wonderful. Do you want me to pick you up?"
"You have a car?"
"No ...I meant, I could take a taxi. Pick you up and bring you back here."
"And pay twice the fee? Don't be ridiculous. I can hail a cab myself."
"Are you sure Maddy?"
"Of course I am, just give me the phone number, and I'll call for one."
"Right, give me a second to look one up ..."
Maddy rifles through her purse pulling out her notepad and pen to write down the number.
"Great, see you soon, John."
She dials and the dispatcher tells her that a cab is on its way. Eliza sits on the floor looking out through the large plate glass window at the coach which still waits outside. Even through the glass they can hear the rumble of its engine as the last of the bags are removed and the hatches put back into place.
Eliza is growing fast. Her short brown hair has a hint of red in it, and her eyes are still shockingly blue. Maddy has heard that all babies eyes are blue when they're born, but how long do they stay that way? How long will it be before someone remarks on how incongruous the color is for the daughter of Abud Mohammed? It isn't unheard of. Sometimes genes just work that way, and since none of his family is alive, no one that she knows of, then perhaps people will take her word for it that he has fathered this fair-skinned blue-eyed child and not ask too many questions.
She certainly doesn't want a custody battle, not with Mycroft. She will lose even though she is her mother. That's how it always goes isn't it? She's sure she's seen it in a movie somewhere before. A rich, childless couple, the man having fathered a child illegitimately takes him from his poor starving mother and they raise it in luxury. The mother left in the dirt childless because she's unfit to raise the son of a noble. That's how the story went, she thinks. She knows that Mycroft is very powerful when it comes to law and paperwork, and she won't be able to keep Eliza if her real father insists. And if they take her baby away, what will she have left? Eliza is the only family she has in the world! But it will be okay. Now there is doubt. Now, Eliza is only Maddy's daughter, and they'll need her consent to do paternity testing. Maybe it won't be a problem? After all, there's no guarantee that Maddy's eyes will stay this shockingly bright and piercing. They might turn brown. It's possible.
Eliza bounces on the floor and Maddy wonders if she needs to change her diaper again. She changed it before they entered the station, so she thinks not. She'd meant to take the bag of dirty diapers and place it in the waste bin as soon as she entered the station, but she doesn't want to step away from Eliza for a moment. She's an incredibly fast crawler.
Maddy looks around the bus station. There was a time, not that long ago, when she had spent a lot of time in bus stations. They were warm, and the bathrooms were free. Most of the time if you were relatively clean and didn't act too conspicuously like a vagrant, the security guard would look the other way and let you hang out for a while out of the cold.
Maddy spots a homeless person across the room from her. The man is sitting quietly on the corner bench unconsciously fingering the holes in his gloves. She spots another one standing near the woman's restroom. An older women wearing a dirty plaid jacket. She's looking in the bin to see if anyone has thrown away food. She's going to be tossed out. She's too obviously poor, too obviously needy. She looks like she's about to ask someone for food. "I have a banana in my bag... but it's for Eliza. I feel for the woman, but I'm a mother now and I have to think of my own first. In the whole world, Eliza only has me to take care of her."
"I'm sorry" she whispers into the air.
The cab pulls up outside, and Maddy rises from her chair scooping up Eliza as she pushes through the door to wave at the driver so that he knows to wait for her. She balances Eliza on her hip again and drags her luggage out of the door and down to the curb. The driver picks it up and puts it in the boot.
Eliza is fussy during the ride, so Maddy opens her coat and discretely feeds her. She hopes that John isn't weird about breast feeding. He probably isn't as he's a doctor, but she should ask just in case.
They arrive at 221B Baker street and the driver unloads her things onto the curb as she reaches into her purse for money. He takes her bills rushing back into the cab with a muffled thanks. She's too hesitant to ask for her change.
Mrs Hudson answers when Maddy rings the bell.
"Hello Maddy! And who is this then?" she exclaims smiling as she never had done before when Maddy used to come to visit John. "What a coot wittle baby," she says reaching out her arms. At first Maddy clasps Eliza closer before relaxing and letting Mrs Hudson hold her. Eliza's in good spirits after her feeding.
A sound causes Maddy to look up to see Dr. John Watson on the stairs. It has been a bit more than a year since she last saw him. He's thinner now and the hint of grey that she'd seen in his hair before has transformed into a solid grey mass covering each temple. He walks down the steps smiling and gives her a hug before going out through the door to get her luggage.
"How was your trip?" he asks when he returns lugging the playpen and suitcase.
"Good, good. It was a bit long, but we enjoyed ourselves, didn't we Eliza?"
"Eliza?" Mrs Hudson says. "What a beautiful name. Is it short for Elizabeth?"
"Uh...no, it's just Eliza. It was my mother's name. Her full name is Eliza Mohammed St. Martin."
"Mohammed?" Mrs Hudson says. "That's a strange name for a girl."
"It's her father's name."
"Her father? So you mean that her father is not..." Mrs Hudson glances at Maddy and tilts her head to look back at the baby. "Well, well... anyway, she is such a beautiful girl. Do you mind if I take her to see Mrs. Turner? When I told her that a baby was coming, she had me promise to take her right over as soon as she came. Do you mind?"
"Okay," Maddy says. " It's fine."
"Thanks dear," Mrs Hudson says. "This is such a novelty for us. John, of course, has no children and Mrs Turner's married ones can't... well I suppose they could adopt, but you know what I mean."
"Of course, Mrs Hudson."
"Wave to Mama, and we'll be back in just a bit."
Maddy reaches out to Eliza pulling her coat closed before Mrs Hudson turns away. She stares at Mrs Hudson's back, biting her lip as the door closes between her and Eliza's smiling face.
"Don't worry," John says putting a hand on her shoulder. "Mrs Hudson will take good care of her."
John smiles climbing up the stairs and setting her things in the living room beside the door. He walks across the room and squats down next to the mantle to adjust the fire.
The fireplace is burning bright. Maddy walks over to warm her hands. She looks down at John. The shifting flames cast shadows on his face, a face already full of shadows. There are frown lines on his cheeks. He turns toward her and gives a brief smile that leaves his lips before he has fully turned his face away.
When Maddy had last been here, the room had been full of Sherlock's things: Stacks of books on the floor, and papers covering the desk. Now, the surfaces are clear. A seascape hangs on the wall over the place where the image of a skull had been. The lack of clutter makes the room look larger, neater but more stark. Only the mantle is the same as it had been. Nothing has been changed, from the skull and the framed bat, to the knife stabbed through a stack of letters. It is a sort of shrine, the only memory of Sherlock left visible in the room other than his chair which still sits across from John's chair as always.
"Where should I put my things? Am I sleeping on the couch?" Maddy asks.
John looks up from the fire as if he'd forgotten that she was in the room. "Oh no Maddy," John says. "I've made up a room for you. Let me take your things up." He picks up the suitcase and playpen and lugs them up another flight of stairs into his old room.
The bed is freshly made. Probably by Mrs Hudson because she's added an extra coverlet with flowers. Maddy drops her diaper bag and purse on top of it, while John places the playpen down on the floor. Maddy rushes over to take it, pulling it out of its bag as she assembles it.
"Is there a thermostat, the room is a little chilly?"
"Sure, it's right over here."
John walks over to the thermostat and adjusts the dial raising the temperature in the room while Maddy pops out the legs on the playpen.
"Do you need any help with that?" John asks.
"No thank you, I do this all the time. When Eliza comes back, I'm going to change her and put her to bed."
"I see," he says, but she can tell from his look that he is about as familiar with this as he is with subatomic physics. He'd learned the theory, but has little practical experience.
John clasps his hands in front of him, an unconscious echo of Sherlock who had stood at the door of her flat on Christmas day in almost the same pose. He'd told her to visit John, his pale eyes imploring her to do… something. To comfort him perhaps? To make sure that he was alright? She wasn't sure.
"Do you like babies, John?"
John is looking aside toward the window, he turns back to face her. "What?" he asks.
"Do you like babies?"
"Yes, yes I do. Love em in fact. I have cousins. Don't live anywhere nearby, and I've never had any of my own of course."
"Thank you again for letting me stay here," Maddy says. "I wanted to come back. To see you first, of course, but also because I felt...that it was time to face my past. Do you know what I mean?"
John is silent.
Maddy sits down on the bed. For a moment she just stares at John who is looking out of the window. He looks sad. He has more wrinkles on his forehead than she remembers, and creases on his face that show that he frowns now much more than he laughs. He turns his head toward the vacant edges of the room as if he hears voices that are no longer there. Looking aside at images that had once been but are now gone.
It is several minutes before he notices that he has been ignoring Maddy. He looks startled for a second and then he asks. "Should we go down now? Mrs Hudson will be back soon." Maddy nods.
"I didn't mean to take your room from you," Maddy says apologetically as they walk down the stairs.
"Oh don't worry about that," John says. "I sleep downstairs now."
They walk into the living room. John stands for a moment considering, and then he motions for her to take his chair. He stares at Sherlock's chair for a long moment before settling down into it and steepling his hands, holding them under his chin as he smiles to himself. He licks his lips.
John has changed in a year. Before he had been a bit bipolar: Happy at times and incredibly sad at other times. This John Watson is calmer. He has settled into some kind of steady place just on the sad side of normal.
It breaks her heart that she knows the words that will bring a smile to his face, and she can't say them. She wants to say, "Sherlock Holmes is alive and well. He stayed over at my house for Christmas."
What would John do if she said those words? He would be shocked, of course. At first he wouldn't believe her. Then he would start to get excited. He would try to keep calm, afraid that it was a lie, and that he would be disappointed. What if Sherlock had let her keep the picture of him? She could show it to John, Sherlock holding Eliza, and he would grin that radiant smile of his insisting that she tell him everything. Oh how she wants to tell him. She wants to tell him so badly that she thinks that she might cry.
John turns toward her. "Oh, I'm sorry, I was just woolgathering. Would you like some tea? I'll go put on the kettle." He pushes up out of the chair and trudges off to the kitchen while Maddy looks into the fire.
"Sherlock Holmes is a bastard." she thinks to herself. "Sherlock Holmes is a jerk to lie to this man, to abandon him this way. He left him alone to pine away in this empty flat. Thoughtless man. Then again, when he saw John's signature on that Christmas card, his whole face changed. It lit up, as if it held an incantation that led to a magical world. As if it was the door to Narnia. He looked at it with longing. He looked so...lonely.
"How long will it take him to finish what he is doing? What is he doing anyway? Chasing down assassins? I don't really want to know. Holmes men and their cold logic. They can be so heartless! Death will come on it's own. You don't need to invite it in."
John walks in with a tea cup which he gives to Maddy before sitting down in the chair with his own cup. He looks at her and manages a smile.
"So, a baby, that's brilliant! And how is school coming?"
"It's fabulous. I love every minute of it."
"Wonderful, and the money that you have, is it enough?"
Maddy frowns and blows on her tea. "Well, when I first got it, it seemed as if it would last forever, but I underestimated the cost of housing, and doctor visits, and knives. It's beginning to run a little low, but I have talked with the dean, and she says that I can do some workstudy next year. Make a little money to cover expenses."
"Good, that's good."
"How about you, John? How are you doing?"
"Oh...fine. I'm fine," he says taking a sip of tea.
Just then they hear the sound of the door opening and shutting and a high pitched voice crying out before Mrs Hudson shushes her. She trudges up the stairs, and Maddy rises to her feet.
"There, there girl, you'll be with your Mummy in no time," she says as Maddy rushes forward to take Eliza into her arms. She kisses her forehead. Mrs Hudson excuses herself and walks back down the stairs. Eliza calms down in her mother's arms, but after a few tight hugs, Eliza starts to push at mommy's breast trying to get down. Maddy sets her on the floor, and she immediately begins to crawl around the flat.
"John, have you ever met Sherlock's mother?" Maddy asks.
John looks up. "No. I saw her at the funeral, but ... honestly I was in no mood to talk to anyone that day. "
"I understand. But, do you have her address?"
"I think so, why?"
"She sent the baby a gift, and I wanted to send her a thank you note."
John stands up and goes to the desk. He pulls out an old address book and rifles through the pages. "Here it is."
Maddy rushes over. "But I don't have a card?"
"I think I saw a box of stationary in the back of the drawer," John says pulling out pens, pencils, and oddments and placing them on the surface of the desk. After a few minutes of searching he pulls out a box. He lifts the lid to reveal a set of note cards. John draws in a sharp breath. Then he bites his lip and pulls out a card and an envelope. "Do you want me to address an envelope for you?" he asks passing her a card.
"Could you please?" Maddy says picking a pen up from the desk.
Maddy examines the card. It's a white card, completely blank on the inside, but the cover has the initials SH embossed and printed in black ink. She hopes that John's mother doesn't get a heart attack when she sees it.
Dear Mrs. Holmes,
Thank You so much for the gift.
It was so nice of you to think of Eliza.
She loves the rattle, and the shoes fit perfectly.
Madeline St. Martin
Eliza Mohammed St. Martin
Eliza makes a muffled giggle, and Maddy looks down to see that she has her head stuck under John's chair. She hands the card back to John who places it in the envelope and seals it while Maddy bends down and grabs Eliza's tiny waist pulling her out from under the chair.
Then Maddy screams. "What is that!"
Eliza is holding a syringe, the sharp metal needle waving in her hand. John rushes over taking the syringe from the baby "Where did she find that? I thought that I had found all of Sherlock's hiding places. Sorry Maddy, this place isn't exactly childproofed."
Maddy holds Eliza closer to her chest. "No, no." she says shaking her head and grabbing Eliza's small hands. "Don't play with sharp things." Eliza simply laughs.
John returns after disposing of the needle looking a bit apologetic. He picks up the letter from the desk "I'll get this out with the morning post," he says starting down the stairs.
"If you don't mind, I think that I'll take Eliza to bed," Maddy says causing him to turn back to watch her clutch the baby against her breast.
"Good night Maddy," he says.
"Good Night," she replies squeezing past him, and then moving quickly up the stairs.
"Tonight, Eliza will sleep in the bed where mommy can keep an eye on her, instead of the playpen. Eliza is the most precious thing in the world, and she only has me to keep her safe."
They enter John's old room, and Maddy carefully closes and locks the door blocking the scary world out and sealing inside her secrets.