for whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it's always ourselves we find at the sea. e.e. cummings
"Holmes." Watson said, looking out the window of his small room in St. Barts hospital two days after he'd been fished from the flood under the old house. He was still feeling the effects of the nasty cold he'd picked up from being in the frigid water, but he was mercifully able to stretch his legs. His cane was once again a permanent feature at his side, and, according to the doctor's and his own unwilling inclination, must remain there for the rest of his life.
"Holmes." He said again, turning from the window to face his friend, sitting in the chair and note even glancing at the spectacular sunset over London that St. Barts always afforded them. "You know where we must go now."
Sherlock Holmes turned, revealing the small baby he had tucked under one arm. Little Mary had suffered no adverse effects from being in the water. She didn't even know that she should be pining for a mother's touch, for since Lestrade had dumped the girl into Holmes's arms back at the house to keep him from getting in the way of the Yard the detective had not put her down except to give her to one of the young mothers in the hospital to nurse her.
"Of course, Watson. Has Lestrade found the woman's home?"
"Mrs. Birchtold." Watson reminded gently, knowing that the name would slip from Holmes's memory in a matter of minutes. The detective could never remember details as insignificant as names for very long unless they were attached to violent characters. "And yes. Apparently Mrs. Birchtold takes…took…the same train every week to visit her sister in London. Her return ticket is for a small town on the coast, and there was only one woman who matched Mrs. Birchtold's description…I have the address here."
He fumbled with the address and started to read it off before he noticed that Holmes wasn't paying attention to him. "Really, Sherlock." Watson said shakily, collapsing back down on the bed. He didn't quite have the energy yet to stand for any length of time. "You mustn't hold her like that. She's a baby, not a book."
"I've been holding her for two days." Holmes retorted, clutching the squirming baby to his chest. "And she does not seem the worse for my manhandling."
"It's a wonder you haven't dropped her yet." Watsons aid, drawing baby Mary towards him and leaving Sherlock harrumph -ing in the chair. Watson held the whimpering babe in the crook of his arm and bounced her lightly until her cries subsided. "Now that I have your attention." He said to Holmes, catching as his old friend just caught himself from rolling his eyes. "We need to go to the sea. Lestrade has informed the family of Mrs. Birchtold's death and of the existence of this baby."
"If he did all that why didn't he just take the blasted thing with him?" Holmes asked, irritable now that the baby was no longer in his arms.
"Because I wanted to do that myself." Watsons aid quietly. "The woman died in my arms. That hasn't happened since the war, old friend. And I was connected to her as I haven't been to any woman since my Mary's passing."
"It only weighs eight pounds." Sherlock mused, head resting lightly on his fingertips in a position Watson had come to know well. "Such a fuss over so small a thing."
"You will never be a father, Holmes." Watson said with a small smile.
"If I have any luck at all, you'll be right." Holmes said, standing up. "So are we off now?" A light came over Holmes's face and he smiled broadly at some inner joke. "After all, Watson, I did promise you a trip to the sea-side."
"And I only had to be kidnapped and thrown in a basement to reap my reward." Watson said, eyes twinkling.
Sherlock nodded and whisked out of the room to discharge Watson and the baby, but not before he put a firm hand on Watson's shoulder and squeezed, conveying with that gesture sentiments that he was incapable of putting into words. That he was glad Watson had gotten out of the basement with nothing worse than a cold. That he was sorry for Mrs. Birchtold's death and the baby they were honor-bound to return to its proper father. That he was sorry for everything.
And Watson, because he was Holmes's Watson, his Boswell, his friend, understood.
The sea murmured its tune against the bluffs, a desolate sound that ebbed and flowed like the tide, like some large animal's careful breathing. At the top of the windy hill overlooking the sea was a beautiful, tiny house that Watson, with his fondness of the coast and love of all things unique, could have easily spent the rest of his life in.
"Take the baby." Holmes murmured, his voice uncharacteristically soft. In the past few days he'd learned not to raise his voice around baby Mary, as well as how to tell the difference between her cry for food and her cry that meant she wanted to be rocked. Looking at the small house, it became real to him that they were giving this baby up forever, and he found himself saddened at the prospect, as if the baby was something more than just another piece in a puzzle, as if she was a tiny human being who had wormed her way into Sherlock's notriously hard heart.
Watson obliged him and took the baby from his arms after he'd stepped out of the carriage. Holding the baby firmly and using his cane and Holmes's ready hand on his arm for balance, he made his way up to the front door.
The man who answered the knock had a pained look Watson recognized from his own grief. It was the expression of one who has lost his true love, and Watson felt his big heart break for this man, Harold, who had cared so deeply for a woman Watson himself had cared for. Around him was a cluster of children, from a boy on the cusp of adulthood to a girl no more than four years old.
"Hello." Was all Holmes was able to get out before the tiny girl started jumping with pleasure.
"Is that my baby brother? Did you bring me my baby brother?" The oldest boy caught her by the shoulders to stop her from jumping and she quieted, though the look of excitement never left her eyes.
"Almost, little one." Watson said, smiling despite himself at the child's eagerness. "It turns out that this baby is a tiny girl. She is your younger sister. Is that all right with you?"
"A sister's even better!" The little girl exclaimed, touching Mary's sleeping face with one pudgy finger. "I already have two brothers, you know, and now I get to have two sisters!" She clapped her hands together and twirled on the spot in her pleasure. "And I can dress her up like my dollies! She's almost the same size and if Anna helps me we can put her in the little clothes!"
"She's not a doll, Lottie, she's a baby. You can't just dress her up. She needs to be cared for." The older sister, presumably Anna, said. This girl was about thirteen years old and reached out her arms for the baby. "I can take her from here, sir."
The father looked between Holmes and Watson, still on his doorstep, and his children. "Perhaps we should all go inside. Anna, will you put on the kettle? Peter, find Prim, she'll be down by the water, and milk her. It looks like this little thing is hungry." The two oldest scattered and Harold led Holmes and Watson down a short hall to a cozy kitchen.
"I'm afraid I can't offer you much more than tea misters…" he paused, waiting for their names.
"I am Sherlock Holmes." Sherlock said settling into a chair. "And my companion is Dr. John Watson. He was with your wife when she passed."
Tears of grief sprung again to the man's eyes but they didn't fall, and Watson felt himself liking Harold for this. He needed to be strong for his children, after all, and the two youngest were looking at him, taking their cues from him.
"So you didn't bring my mother?" The little boy asked, climbing onto Holmes's leg and making the world-renowned detective look a bit frightened at the prospect of having a child want to be so near to him.
"Michael, I told you that your mother went to heaven. She died when the baby was born and is with God." Harold said gently. "Come here. Get off Mr. Holmes. You have better manners than that."
"It's quite alright." Watson answered for Holmes, smiling at his friend's obvious distress. "Holmes is very fond of children." Turning to the young boy, Watson said, "Michael, I was with your mother when she died and I can tell you that she was very, very brave."
"I know." Michael said, wrapping his fists in the folds of Holmes's jacket. "My mother was always brave. She killed spiders, you know, when they got into the kitchen."
"Did she now?" Watson said, only to have his attention re-directed with a small pat on his bad knee. "Oh! Little one – Lottie, is it? – why don't you climb on this leg so you can look at your sister." With that hand that wasn't holding the baby Watson helped the little girl onto his lap. "Her name is Mary."
"That's a pretty name." Lottie assured Watson as she looked at the little bundle in his arms. "I like her." She declared happily. "Now I am not the youngest and the boys will stop treating me like a baby."
"You are a baby, dear." Anna said, balancing a tray of tea as she came into the room. "But if you are so intent on growing up then perhaps you can go help Peter milk Prim. The baby is going to want her milk when she wakes up. You too, Michael. Peter will be wanting somebody strong to carry the bucket."
The two youngest left, happy to be told to play with their favorite goat, and the oldest daughter poured the tea deftly and handed it to the guests first, as he mother had taught her, before giving a cup to her father with a kiss. "I'll be outside as well, father."
"Thank you darling." Harold said, sighing as she left the three men alone in the room with the newborn.
"Your children are beautiful."
Watson looked at Holmes in surprise at the words, for the detective was notorious for disliking anyone younger than twenty, females in particular.
"Anna and Peter are the only ones who really understand what Beatrice being gone really means. Anna in particular has become a mother these past few days." Harold took a single sip of his tea before getting up and crossing the room in a few steps.
He knelt until he was level with the baby, level with Watson's eyes. "Thank you for saving my daughter." Harold Birchtold said, sincerity and gratitude laced in each syllable. "And I am glad that you were with her when she…when she passed. You seem like a good man."
"He is the highest quality." Holmes said, the second startling thing to come out of his mouth in a minute, and Watson stared at his friend as he handed off the baby. The two were doomed to take no wives their whole lives, and as Mary left his arms Watson knew that they were also doomed to be childless creatures.
But he and Holmes had reached a new understanding this past week, a new level of friendship even after all their decades together. And Watson felt that if he was to be a bachelor all his life, there was no one he'd rather spend it with than Sherlock Holmes.
I know that a lot of people wanted Holmes and Watson to keep Mary, but they just couldn't. That would be kidnapping, and Watson is too fond of Mrs. Birchtold and the law to allow that. So they got their sea-side and their ending which, in the way of life and all the best stories, is not entirely happy, nor entirely without hope.
For the last time, all you beautiful readers out there, we ask you to review.