AN: This qualifies very loosely for the sfaflashfic "Crime" challenge. Really, really loosely.
Spoilers: None, really.
Rating: Kid friendly.
Disclaimer: Not mine. And "The Great Mouse Detective" is a Disney movie. The basset hound comes from artaxastra's Reunion.
Characters: James Watson, Ashley Magnus
Summary: It takes a few decades, and the long-term custodianship of a basset hound, but James has finally managed to stop twitching involuntarily every time someone said the words "Sherlock Holmes".
Of Mice and Men
It takes a few decades, and the long-term custodianship of a basset hound, but James has finally managed to stop twitching involuntarily every time someone says the words "Sherlock Holmes". It's not that he ever regrets agreeing to let Doyle write the books themselves, it's just that he never in his wildest dreams anticipated they would be so popular for so long. He never, ever wanted to be this close to the spotlight. But he's learned to deflect remarks like "You talk like Sherlock Holmes" and swallow the urge to correct anyone who suggests that Sherlock's deductive skills are beyond the realm of mere reason.
All the same, he figured he had at least another five years before he had to endure it from Ashley Magnus.
At five, Ashley shows all the promise of being even more of a hellion than her mother had been, probably thanks to Helen's decision to give birth during the 1980's, a decade James has still not entirely come to terms with, even though it's passed him by like all the others before it. He's still not sure how Helen's "I need your help with a dangerous mission" translated to "Great, you stay with Ashley while I go to Talcahuano for a week or so", between his receiving it and his arriving in Old City, but by the end of the second day, he and Ashley have more or less come to an agreement about what she can get away with in her mother's absence.
There's a great deal more of John in her than James had been expecting. She has his mischievous smile and his inability to stay in bed once put there for the evening. And the way she worms her way past his defenses, so practiced at keeping the world at arm's length, nearly breaks his heart again.
She doesn't fully understand, yet, the miracle of her birth. Doesn't understand that it took two brilliant minds frantic weeks, desperate invention and, on his part, an ungodly amount of cocaine to solve the problems she presented. But she does understand that she doesn't have a father, and for reasons passing James's understanding, she has decided to adopt him in John's place, for all there are far better candidates available. He doesn't put much stock in the theory that it's because he delivered her, or because he spent so much time in the same house with her mother and the box that kept her frozen. He's been in and out of her life with passing frequency, yes, but nothing that would have inspired her confidence in him.
What surprises him most is that he finds he doesn't even particularly mind. He still doesn't care for children, or people in general if he's being honest. Henry avoids his eyes at dinner as though he's afraid that James will be able to answer the questions Henry's not ready to ask, and the skeleton staff Helen left behind is polite, professional and distant. But Ashley notices none of that, or if she does notice, she brushes it off, as John had done all those years ago at Winchester, and refuses to let him alone.
He is in the library at midnight, accompanied by his memories and a well-aged brandy he's liberated from Helen's cellar. He doesn't really want to read a book, and he's pretty sure he's read everything in the room in any case, but he does want to sit in front of the fire and pretend he's reading a book, for old time's sake, so he sets in on the sofa with an old copy of "The Invisible Man", which he tells himself he's reading because it was the first volume that came to hand.
When he looks up, she's standing right in front of him, as if she'd teleported, and he feels the machine whir against his chest as his heart races. She is tiny and blonde, wearing socks without slippers and blue flannel pajamas, and she clutches a stuffed coelacanth in one hand, but there is the unmistakable edge of deadly about her, and it's a moment before James has calmed down enough to speak.
"Did you require something?" he asks.
"There's a monster under my bed," she says calmly in reply. "It's one of mom's Cù Sìth. It's still a puppy, so it fits underneath the bed nicely, but mom said I'm supposed to give them space, so I had to get up."
"I don't suppose you thought to close the door to keep it out?" James says.
"Of course I did," Ashley replies. "It came through the wood."
Excellent. The faery hound has learned to shift, and Helen is not due back for three more days. He understands the EM shield in theory, and is actually one of the few people in the world who understand its true purpose, but he is not sure how it will cope with Helen's newest acquisitions. Perhaps Henry will be able to figure something out in the morning. For all his youth, he's an absolute wizard with technology.
"It's asleep?" James asks.
"Snoring." Ashley settles on the sofa next to him, right next to him actually, and he puts his arm around her without thinking.
"Well then I imagine you've done all you could," James says quite seriously. "You're not afraid of it?"
"I know it doesn't really take souls," Ashley says. "It just likes emotion."
They sit there for a few moments, staring at the fire. James is no longer even pretending to read and Ashley is not pretending to sleep, but neither of them feels the need to fill the silence with pointless chatter. John had, for all his energy, a seemingly exhaustless capacity for silence that James had always found comforting. Ashley appeared to have inherited that as well. She's still five years old, though, so eventually she does turn to look up at him.
"Uncle James, you're special like mom, right?"
"Not exactly, no," he says. He's quite willing to split hairs, even though he has no idea what Helen's policy is for telling Ashley what happened at Oxford all those years ago besides leaving John out of it completely.
"But you can do things normal people can't?" Ashley presses.
"Yes, I suppose I can." James had only even begrudged his blood-given skills once, and when the pain of that failure began to recede, he promised he never would again.
"Can you turn into a mouse?" Ashley says.
"Why in the world would you think that?" James asks.
"Henry and I watched a movie tonight after dinner," Ashley says. "There was mouse in it, called Basil, and he was a lot like you."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," James says. "How could a mouse be like me?"
"He was very smart," Ashley explains. "And he solved crimes for Queen Victoria."
Something flickers in his memory; a book Helen had sent him for a laugh in the seventies, when Ashley was still a whisper and a dream. Basil, Basil of Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes, as told by a mouse.
"I cannot turn into a mouse," James says. "But I think I know what you're talking about. I haven't seen the movie, but there was a book."
"Would you like to watch the movie with me?" Ashley says eagerly. For a moment, James is tempted. But it is very late and he cannot face Holmes in the dark as easily as he once could.
"Tomorrow, my dear," he says instead. "It's too late to start that sort of thing now."
"Okay," she concedes. He knows enough to cherish this type of victory now. In the years to come, they will be few and far between.
She nestles back against his side, head tucked against the slowly ticking machine that keeps his heart beating. He's too old to sleep in a chair in the library, but right now he wouldn't move for all the tea in China. Her warmth banishes the ghosts in the room, and James sets the book down, ready to sleep at last.
Just as he's drifting off, a horrible through occurs to him.
"Ashley?" he whispers, so as not to wake her if she is already asleep. He has to know.
"Yeah?" God, he hates that word. But she's awake, so he can ask.
"Do the mice sing?"
"Only a little bit," she murmurs.
James is awake in the library for a long time after that.
James Watson: best babysitter ever, y/y?
Gravity_Not_Included, April 5, 2011