London was just as he remembered it. That wasn't terribly surprising, he'd only been gone for five years, but it was still a great comfort to the doctor, who had been unsure of what to expect. There was a chill in the air, the sky gray and overcast with thick clouds that threatened to produce rain at any minute. The streets reeked in the way that only such a great city could, a detestable odor to those who were unaccustomed to it, but the most welcoming scent to those who had lived and breathed it their entire lives.
Watson enjoyed the country, he truly did. The fresh air warmed his insides, and the scenery never disappointed, but he supposed, after having so much excitement in his life, it would only be a matter of time before he grew bored of the tranquility. Not that he had ever mentioned that to his wife.
His wife… his sweet Mary. Every reminder of the woman brought a weight down on his heart. No. No, that was not true. Not every reminder. One reminder in particular squeezed his hand, tugging on his fingers to gain his attention.
"Look daddy, look!"
Watson turned his head to see what had captured her attention. She pointed out the window of the hansom to the giant clock tower, standing above many of London's buildings, its great clocks glowing in the dreary sky.
"It's so pretty!"
The doctor smiled faintly, reaching out and gently tugging the girl away from the window she was standing at, pulling her into his lap. "You should not be standing while we are moving, darling."
Her lower lip stuck out in a pout, but it did not last long, as soon she was peering out the window on Watson's side, taking in all new sights.
Jean. His little Jean. She looked so much like her mother, though Mary had always claimed that she looked like him too. At four years old, the girl's face was still round, but even then, it showed promise of her mother's high cheekbones. She had Mary's fair skin, and deep curls of hair, but Watson supposed that the color did lean closer to his own sandy-brown than her chestnut. And Jean's eyes, Mary always told him, were identical to his own.
Watson felt an awful stinging in his eyes, threatening to break the calm resolve he'd managed to hold for his daughter. Oh, his Mary. It had not been three weeks since her illness had finally taken her. She had been sick for some months, and he'd done his very best to care for her, but nothing he did helped. Jean mostly stayed with a pair of very kind neighbors during the worst of Mary's illness, and they had offered to help with her after his wife had passed, but he did not feel right, having people he barely knew raising his child. He could not do it himself. In the four years of Jean's life, Mary had always been the one to care for her most basic needs… but what was he to do, then?
He found his answer about a week ago, when Jean had crept from her bed to his room.
Watson opened his eyes blearily, startled to see the little face looking at him, and the deep emotions that ran through her big blue eyes. He was ashamed that she should find him in such a state, clinging to her mother's pillow as he was.
He pushed it away quickly, sitting up in bed. "J-Jean. What are you doing out of bed?"
The girl shifted her weight from foot to foot, debating with herself before finally, she answered, her voice cracking, "Mummy isn't coming home, is she? Sh-she left her things, but she isn't coming back."
His heart broke. He drew his little girl into his arms, pulling her close to his chest. She grasped at his night-shirt, sobbing into his clothing as she curled into him, tiny and delicate in his arms. He held her for the rest of the night, gently rocking her as she slept fitfully in his arms, murmuring words of comfort, telling her that everything would be alright.
Watson knew they couldn't stay there, for Jean's sake as much as his own. Mary was everywhere in that house. If both of them were to be able to let go, they would have to leave.
Jean had been excited at the prospect, which he hadn't expected. He had thought that maybe the girl would cling to their familiar home, but she had always been too adventurous for the quiet country, and the idea of going somewhere new had made her positively giddy. Watson had still been forced to remove a large portion of Mary's belongings from the girl's bags - something she'd been very upset about - but he had not completely deprived her. Packed safely away was a portrait of his late wife, as well as one of their family, one of Mary's favorite dresses, and her beloved collection of books. He and Mary used to take turns every night reading to her.
For some time Watson had wondered where they would go, but when he'd first decided to leave, he'd known the answer to that. There was only one other place in the world for John Watson.
"Baker Street," the cab driver announced.
Watson's insides turned cold. Baker street. Looking out the window, he took everything in, the familiar building in which he'd spent so many years of his life. Jean, still on his lap, was studying it as well, eyes large and inquisitive. The doctor was anxious now. How could he not have thought this through? In the five years he'd lived out in the country, he had never gone to London to visit his closest and dearest friend. It was not that he did not want to, he had simply been far too busy with his practice, and his family. At first, he'd sent letters, telling his old flat mate of how happy he was, but at the time, the other had still been very angry with him for leaving. His writing had dwindled after a few months, knowing he would gain no response.
What now, then? Would his friend be angry with him? Cold? Would he send him away? Watson had no idea what he would do if that were the case. Even more, if he was accepted back into his Baker Street home, then what? That old bachelor pad was hardly the place to raise a child! A child… his dearest friend did not even know of Jean's existence!
Snapping out of his thoughts as he heard the concern in his daughter's voice, Watson blinked owlishly. Her brows were furrowed slightly, creating a little crease between them. "S-sorry, Jean." He cupped her face, placing a kiss on her forehead gently. "I want you to stay here for a few minutes, do you understand?"
The little girl did not seem pleased, but she seemed to sense her father's apprehension on the matter, so she nodded slowly. Climbing from his lap, she watched Watson slide out of the hansom, gripping his walking stick tightly as he made his way to the curious door of 221B.
Watson raised a fist, pounding on the door and holding his breath.
Despite the anxiety boiling inside of him, the sound of that voice brought him a sudden rush of delight. Sherlock Holmes. The most brilliant man in all of London. And for the first time in three weeks, he wanted to laugh, knowing that his old flat mate had not changed. He could imagine Holmes now, scrambling to clean up the sitting room, in case it was a client at the door.
Mrs. Hudson did not appear to be there, however, so Watson waited patiently. Finally, after several minute and a few more shouts of the landlady's name, he heard the sleuth rush down the stairs. He pictured Holmes straightening his back, taking a deep breath to make himself appear more dignified again before finally the door was pulled open.
Watson almost grinned. The great detective stood before him, his eyes going wide for a fraction of a second before settling again into the calculating gaze he had always come to associate with Sherlock Holmes. He had wanted to take in the sight of his friend, to assess if he'd been taking proper care of himself, but it would have taken him several minutes to do so. It took Holmes a grand total of five seconds.
"My deepest condolences."
The military man blinked slowly, not quite registering. "Excuse me?"
"Your wife," Holmes stated patiently.
Watson should have known, and yet still his friend's abilities astounded him, even after so many years. "How-?" How, in those few seconds, could Holmes have figured it out?
"It is hardly an intricate mystery, old boy. You've brought far too many bags for a short stay, indicating that you are moving from your country home. And the…" Holmes paused, his gaze flickering past Watson, "child watching us from your cab - I believe I am a little late in offering my congratulations, she has your eyes - indicates that you have not merely had a falling out with your wife. Miss Morstan would never allow herself to be separated from her child, no proper mother would."
The doctor could only stare for a few minutes, trying to grasp everything that had just happened. During his travels, he had tried to imagine what he might say to his friend, he'd gone over various speeches, mulling them about and picking them apart. Again, he should have known. Attempting to pull himself together, to stop looking like a damned fool, Watson straightened his back. "Holmes, look…"
"You can not stay here." Holmes turned his back, then, and moved to close the door.
Quickly, Watson stuck out his cane, effectively stopping the door from closing. "Holmes!" He used a sharper voice, one that he had not used in a long time. None the less, it seemed to capture the detective's attention.
Facing him once more, Holmes raised an eyebrow, waiting for him to state his case.
"I know you have no obligation to me anymore, I am sorry that I have not come to see you, or even written a letter to you in so long," his friend was hurt by that, Watson knew he was, even if he would never admit to it, "but I'm begging you, as a friend. I don't know what else to do."
Holmes scoffed. "I hardly believe that, Watson. I'm sure your in-laws would be delighted-"
"They've not liked me since I missed lunch with them to get arrested with you, Holmes."
That brought the detective to a pause. "I'm sure they would put aside-"
"They would waste no time in stripping her away from me, Holmes," as he said this, Watson's voice cracked. His face burned with shame at his weakness, but he would not turn away now. He would not lose his daughter. Not his little girl.
Holmes hesitated. He could see the desperation burning in those pools of blue, and he was wavering. "I've no room for a child, Watson, you know this."
"She will share my room until we figure something out."
"My clients will not appreciate a child running around."
"I will keep her in my room when you are speaking to a client."
"I have some very delicate experiments-"
"She will not disrupt you, or your work."
"… Why here?"
Watson smiled warily. "I've no where else to go."
Holmes fell silent for a long moment. He looked up at the cab again. He could see that little girl once more, eyes identical to his old friend's staring directly at him with a mixture of curiosity and uncertainty. When he caught her gaze, she realized she'd been caught and ducked down out of his sight. Even the little glimpse of her, he could see Watson's late wife in her. His eyes were drawn back to the doctor. "Watson…"
The detective folded. His expression set into something cool and calm, but Watson could see there was annoyance lingering there as he stepped away from the door, leaving it open for the doctor. Watson did not wait, knowing that if he did not hurry, Holmes might change his mind.
Smiling in relief, Watson stepped away from the door, stepping back toward the cab as quickly as he could. With some instructions to the cab driver to carry their things inside, he opened the door, finding his daughter ducking behind it. Jean looked at him uncertainly, waiting for an answer to a question she didn't really have to ask.
"We're going to stay here for a while, sweetheart," he told her gently, reaching into the cab to scoop her up. He did it with some trouble, the combination of a bad shoulder, bad leg, and the need to hold a cane making it difficult, but he'd learned how to balance her growing weight years ago. Her adventurous spirit had vanished, replaced with something very shy, no doubt because she'd seen him arguing with Holmes.
"Here?" Jean repeated, fingers curling into his waistcoat and pressing herself close to his chest.
"Yes Jean, here." He held her protectively, carrying her through the door and thanking the cabbie as he set the last of their things inside. He paid the man and bid him a good day.
"Who was that man?"
Kissing her forehead, Watson started carefully up the stairs. "He is a good friend of mine. His name is Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
"Sherlock Holmes," Jean tested the name on her lips, her brows furrowing. She was certain she'd heard the name before.
Reaching the top of the stairs, Watson took a deep breath. Behind the door of the sitting room, he heard a sharp screech, a sound that he'd become all too familiar with years ago. Jean cringed, and he held her closer to assure her that it was alright. Entering the sitting room, he spotted Holmes quickly.
The detective was in his favorite chair, slouched sideways in it as he pulled the bow unmethodically over the strings of his violin, creating another screeching sound. Watson was finally able to take him in. He looked a little thinner than he last remembered, and a little scruffier and paler, but well enough. His clothes were wrinkled and disheveled, but mostly hidden by that tattered old dressing gown he often wore around the flat.
And the flat, oh the flat. Watson was almost come over with emotion seeing it. Just as he remembered. A massive mess, as always, everything, even his old chair, in the exact positioning he'd last seen, aside from, perhaps, a few extra trinkets Holmes had picked up over the years.
Another wail from his violin.
"Holmes!" both Jean and the detective jumped. Holmes turned to look at him, cocking his head to the side.
"There's no need to shout, old boy, I'm right here."
Jean looked as if she might have smiled, but her shyness quickly took over again and she instead buried her face in her father's neck. What a strange man this was. In all of the people she'd come to know, people that had been over for dinner, and even patients that came to his study, none of them had been like this man. The house smelled strongly of tobacco - even stronger than her father's study - and some other unknown, but poignant stenches. And what a big mess it was, so different from Watson and Mary's tidy habits!
Watson forced a smile. "Holmes," he said, sounding as if his patience was already being tried, "this is my daughter, Jean. Jeanie, this is Mr. Holmes."
Holmes, realizing what this was about, blinked slowly. He looked at the little person in Watson's arms, unsure of what to do. She seemed just as uncertain, burying herself further in his friend's clothing. Watson sent him a pointed look, and he knew that if he did not do something, attempt to make her a little more comfortable, he would likely face the good doctor's wrath. "Yes. I see... Hello Ms. Watson."
Finally lifting her head, she sneaked a glance at Holmes, but while using Watson's coat lapel to hide behind. It was his eyes that unsettled her so much. She had never seen such a gaze, so far away, but focused all at the same time. She turned away again, shaking her head 'no'. Watson looked at his friend apologetically, who gave a shrug and turned back to his Stradivarius. The doctor frowned, not knowing if it bothered him more that Jean was so afraid of Holmes - she was typically very outgoing - or that Holmes didn't seem to care. Not that he had expected his friend to warm up to her immediately, he had simply hoped…
Sighing, Watson, ran a hand over Jean's back. "Is there a bed in my old room, Holmes?"
A grunt of confirmation. The doctor nodded a thanks, figuring that would have to be enough for now. He was surprised, when he stepped inside, to see that it was not as over-run with Holmes' things as he'd imagined it would be. In fact, it was almost exactly as it was the day Watson had left, save for a books, what appeared to be a large bag - good God, he hoped that wasn't a body - and some amount of dishes and old papers. Even his old furniture remained.
There he went, getting emotional again. Clearing his throat, he carried Jean to the bed, pushing some old papers off so that he could set her down in it. There was a slight struggle as she clung to his clothing, but he managed to remove her. "I'm right here, Jean," he assured her as she instead grabbed onto his hand. "Do you want me to stay here?"
Jean kept a tight hold, curling up around his arm. "Yes please."
"Okay." He would get their things in the morning, and he would have to talk to Holmes too. He could feel a great distance between them, and it was unsettling, after being so close to Holmes before. For now, he toed off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, pulling his daughter close to him. She immediately made herself comfortable there.
"It smells like smoke,"
Watson smiled wryly as he realized she was right. The bed practically reeked of tobacco. He could not imagine how it had managed to remain so long without an avid smoker sleeping there, but it hardly mattered. "I know. I'm sorry."
The little girl shrugged, curling up tighter. It was all terribly unfamiliar, but it had been a long, boring drive from the country, and she was very tired. It didn't take her long to fall asleep, despite the almost disturbing sounds coming from Holmes' tortured violin. He would have to talk to the detective about that. He had become accustomed to it over many years, but Jean was only four, she needed her sleep.
Watson remained silent, listening to the violin, and to his daughter's soft breathing. If it were not for the little girl in his arms, he would almost think that Mary had never existed, as familiar as this all seemed. Part of him was amazed that he'd been allowed back into Baker Street, another part of him horrified that he'd even considered this.
He couldn't care for a Jean himself. Holmes certainly couldn't care for her. Perhaps he could beg Mrs. Hudson for help, but could he really remain here? And if not, where would he go?
Sighing heavily once again, Watson nuzzled into his daughter's curly hair. He tried to push away his worried thoughts, and to focus on something better. Mary was gone, but Jean, his little Jean, was still alive and well. And Holmes… how very much he'd missed his friend. He'd tried not to think of it, to be a good husband and father, but he would occasionally, on a quiet night (and oh how many there were), he would wonder what the great detective was up to. Particularly on the rare instances he saw Holmes' name in the paper. And they were very rare, now that he was not there with his friend, documenting cases.
He would figure it out…
Watson closed his eyes.