Note: This is the second story in the Sofie Series. The Sofie Series includes the following stories in this order:
Mouth of Babes
It was an ongoing mystery to John Watson how the few items he most needed at any given time seemed to migrate of their own accord to the highest shelves in the kitchen.
Stretch, damn you, he told himself as he reached, fingers splayed. Just because you feel ninety years old doesn't mean you're allowed to act that way. Not yet.
He'd blame Sherlock for the trouble, but these days the consulting detective didn't have it in him to be deliberately contrary or even carelessly rude. His focus remained obsessively trained on Moriarty, but on the rare occasions when it strayed, the recuperating man was almost solicitous in his own awkward, diffident way. John hadn't decided yet whether this made him feel more appreciated or patronised on the whole, but he didn't have the heart to call Sherlock on his altered behaviour.
After all, Sherlock wasn't the only one who'd felt his world tremble on its axis that morning, seeing his flatmate pulled broken and bleeding from the rubble. John understood far too well.
Setting his jaw, John attempted to shift his weight to the balls of his feet and rise up, but it was too much too soon. He knew the difference between pushing himself and jeopardizing his recovery. Bone and muscle could only re-knit so quickly, and already he was demanding a great deal of himself.
Nothing for it, then. He'd have to get the stool. Sod it all.
Lestrade's call came as a welcome distraction.
The detective inspector sounded even more harried than usual. "John, look, I said I'd be by later with those supplies Sherlock wanted for his experiment – I know it's for that cold case I brought him – but my day's gone a bit pear-shaped. It may be tomorrow, yeah?"
"The case is years old: another day could hardly matter. I'm sure that'll be fine. Is everything all right?"
Lestrade sighed, and John could picture the shrug that accompanied the sound. "Just too much at once. The higher ups called a last-minute meeting I've got to attend – on my day off, and the weekend, at that – and my mother-in-law's sick, so I need to take Sofie. I honestly don't know—"
"We could help," John said, unembarrassed by his own eagerness. He moved into the sitting room, waving to catch Sherlock's eye. "We could watch Sofie for a while."
Straightening behind his laptop, Sherlock nodded immediate agreement. John smiled as the familiar brooding shadow lifted from the pale face.
"No, John, thanks, um, but I wasn't asking—"
"You don't have to ask. I'm offering. We're offering."
A pause followed.
Sherlock rolled his eyes and then drew a breath. John held out the phone as his flatmate projected his voice: "Tell Lestrade that his fears are baseless and, frankly, insulting. I would be on my best behavior. I would do absolutely nothing to scar his daughter for life."
Choking back a laugh, John brought the mobile back to his ear. "I think that's Sherlock-speak for 'Can Sofie come over to play?'"
Lestrade chuckled, then cleared his throat. "It's kind of you, but I wouldn't presume... I mean, you're still recovering—"
"Yes, and the day you brought her over was the best we'd had in weeks. We've been living off it ever since. I'd call her positively therapeutic." Easing himself into his chair, John wondered at how greatly his day had changed merely at this thought, how much it suddenly felt like hope.
"If you have other plans," John continued, "I understand, but honestly, we'd be delighted to have her visit. Mrs Hudson's here, and I'm sure she'd be glad to help if needed, so you can rest assured there's at least one able-bodied adult on the premises. And you did say this flat was the safest place in London."
"If you're sure... well, I could go to the meeting, and then pick up those supplies for Sherlock as well as dinner on the way back."
"That would be perfect. Tell Sofie to pack a bag with anything she wants to bring – books or movies or whatever – and we'll let her set the agenda for the afternoon."
"Will do. See you around two?"
"Good." Very good, John thought.
Sofie brought not one bag, but two, and she was unpacking her bounty piece by piece, explaining each item in detail to Sherlock as John walked Lestrade to the top of the stairs.
The detective inspector stepped closer to John and hushed his voice. "I'm grateful to you, I really am. But if I find out Sherlock's had her mixing poisons or dissecting specimens or juggling explosives—"
John raised both hands in mock surrender, grinning and nodding in understanding.
"—I'll go up to your room, get the Weapon Of Which We Never Speak, and use it on you and Sherlock both. Got it?"
John's breath caught. After his release from hospital, he'd found his service gun cleaned and restored to his room, only a bit the worse for wear despite the explosion. He'd assumed he had Mycroft to thank for this. Perhaps he'd assumed too much.
The revelation struck like a physical blow.
Lestrade's half-fond, half-threatening expression softened as he witnessed the impact of his words.
"Sometimes," Lestrade said, "I'm not quite as stupid as Sherlock claims."
If he was aware of the gun, John realized, then he was aware of who had killed the cabbie.
"You knew." John swallowed. "You've always known."
Clasping his hands behind him, Lestrade studied the floorboards between their feet. "If there's one thing I've learned from my years on the force, it's that a man has to pick his battles, John." He pursed his lips as he considered his words. "And he also has to pick his side."
As he looked up again, he gave John a brief, grim smile, as if to confirm that he had made his choices, and they were final. John was disturbed to see that a new wariness had settled beside the general weariness in the man's features.
Dark eyes bored into John's. "It would help me to know that, if I'm not around, you'd be willing to defend her" – a nod toward the sitting room, where Sofie chattered at Sherlock – "with the same kind of commitment you've shown him."
John met the frank gaze, humbled and honored and more than a little surprised by the depth of the trust he read there. "Without hesitation. You know I would."
"Yes, I do," Lestrade said gruffly. "Good man. Thank you, John." He turned and descended the stairs two at a time, raising one arm in a wave of farewell.
Alone on the landing, John shivered.
Lestrade texted to let them know he was on his way, which gave them time to restore some sort of order to the sitting room. Sherlock – walking at last, although halting and graceless on his mending leg and hip – and John then engaged in a half-hearted battle for control of the kitchen table, where John wanted their takeaway and Sherlock wanted the supplies for his experiment.
Hearing Lestrade's tread on the stairs, John ceded the victory to Sherlock and limped to the door. He relieved the detective inspector of an armful of bags, freeing Lestrade to greet his daughter.
"Hi, Daddy!" Sofie sprang up from her place on the sofa, leaving Mrs Hudson holding an open volume of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
"Hi, Sweetheart! Aren't you beautiful?" He went to one knee as Sofie drew up before him, turning full circle for his admiration. "You're looking very" – he put his head on one side and rubbed his chin – "Padmé Amidala, I think. Yes, definitely, you'd be right at home with the royalty of Naboo."
The child grinned at him and then threw her arms around his neck.
He nodded at the landlady over Sofie's new and elaborate coils of braids. "Hello, Mrs Hudson. Thank you for this. It must've taken a long time."
"Oh, it wasn't me, Dear. I just came up a few minutes ago to read Harry Potter. Braiding is John's department."
Sofie released him. "It took him the whole movie to finish." She put a hand to her temple and patted her dark hair reverently. "The best thing is that it looks pretty, while at the same time it keeps my hair out of my face, so I can aim my blaster better." Her hand fell to her side and then rose swiftly in mimicry of drawing and aiming a weapon.
"Smart as well as stylish. I like that," Lestrade agreed. "The Trade Federation had best beware."
Holstering her imaginary weapon, Sofie glowed with delight.
As he climbed to his feet, Lestrade looked to John and raised his eyebrows.
"What? I have a sister." Handing the bags off to Sherlock, who promptly set them down and began rifling through them as if they contained holiday presents, John schooled his features to something he hoped passed for innocence.
"I am recovering from serious injuries, you know. I have to regain my coordination and dexterity." He raised his hands and wriggled his fingers, several of which showed the scarring of recent burns. "Thanks to Sofie, I can skip my physio exercises tonight. She did me a favor."
Lestrade brought the rest of his load into the kitchen, shaking his head ruefully. "That was above and beyond the call of duty. Especially if you watched The Phantom Menace, too."
"I happen to like Qui-Gon Jinn," John said. "And Sofie's a good sport; she let us fast-forward through the parts with Jar Jar Binks."
"I'm too old for him now," Sofie explained.
"Newly conceived embryos are too old for Jar Jar Binks," Sherlock said, face peering into the depths of one of the bags.
"Wait, you watched it, too?" Lestrade asked.
Sherlock nodded. "I was pleased to see midi-chlorian counts offered as an explanation for varying levels of Force sensitivity."
The look of astonishment on Lestrade's face was comical.
"It moves the franchise away from fuzzy and vague fantastical mysticism toward something more in the spirit of science fiction. The science is poor, of course, a joke really, but it's a step in the right direction."
Mouth gaping, Lestrade turned to John. "I've never met a soul who liked the midi-chlorians. Never."
"I know," John said. "Don't get him started, please. At some point he almost starts to make sense, and then things get uglier than Jabba the Hutt."
"Right," Lestrade said, sounding a bit dazed.
"Daddy, do I have time to finish up this part of the chapter with Mrs Hudson before we eat?" Sofie asked.
"Sure, if Mrs Hudson doesn't mind."
Twirling to make her braids swing, Sofie retreated to the sitting room.
The moment she left the kitchen, Sherlock abandoned the new supplies and withdrew his mobile from his pocket. "Lestrade, we need to talk."
His tone abruptly reawakened the sense of foreboding that John had been trying to ignore ever since Lestrade left.
"Sherlock," Lestrade began, staring at the man's hand, "are you wearing nail polish? Blue nail polish?"
"Incorrect as usual. I am wearing nail lacquer, and the colour, I believe, is 'Sea Spray.' Sofie thought it was the best match for my eyes."
"You let my daughter give you a manicure."
"Obviously." He gave an impatient huff. "For one thing, I didn't think you'd want her confined by outdated and ludicrous gender stereotypes. For another, it was an experiment."
"You're saying... you let my daughter give you a manicure... for science."
"On the fingernails on my left hand I'm wearing her regular brand of top coat, while on my right I'm wearing my own variation with certain additional ingredients. My theory is that the lacquer on the latter will show substantially less chipping and wear for an additional 2.3 days. Approximately."
"And the lasting implications for science are...?" John left the question hanging.
With a scathing glare, Sherlock said, "Trust me, it will be useful knowledge to have." He cleared his throat. "And it made Sofie happy." He gestured with his mobile. "But we are moving rather far afield from the topic at hand, as it were."
"Which is?" Lestrade asked. "And thank you, by the way." There was no mockery in his words, and Sherlock met his eyes for a heartbeat before inclining his head gravely, accepting the gratitude.
"Mycroft texted me. You were followed today."
Leaning his weight into his palms where they pressed against the table, Lestrade grimaced. "Yeah. Same car that followed me on Tuesday and Wednesday. Different from the one that followed me on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. To work and back. To lunch, the one day I had time to go out. To the bloody store."
Struggling to digest what he was hearing, John stared at Lestrade's hands on the table. They were broad and strong and calloused like his own, but the fingers were longer, more elegant, like Sherlock's. Differently scarred.
"Not exactly subtle, are they?" Lestrade asked. "Though someone went through the rubbish bin out back two nights ago. That's new."
For several moments no one spoke. The only sound was the rise and fall of Mrs Hudson's voice as she read to Sofie. Lestrade let his chin fall to his chest and rolled his head, stretching the muscles in his neck.
In barely more than a whisper, he added, "I let them scan my mail at the Yard before I open it. I check the exterior of the car before I get in, and then I check the interior before I turn the key. I've changed my locks at home three times since the explosion."
John reached out to steady himself, only realizing belatedly that he'd left the cane in his bedroom in the effort to wean himself from it. He clenched his fingers into a fist. His weakness galled him.
"Death threats?" Sherlock asked.
"Just the usual."
"Christ," John said. This was his life now. He had friends who accepted death threats as a natural part of their day.
"You were in Afghanistan, John," Sherlock said, as though he could read John's thoughts. "Your time there was nothing if not one prolonged death threat."
"This is different," John said. And it was.
"Did you know they followed you on foot today?" Sherlock continued, returning his attention to Lestrade. "Into the store and back. Mycroft has footage. At one point, apparently, you were in some danger of being forced into an alley en route to your car."
Lestrade pushed away from the table and straightened, crossing his arms. "Yeah, it was a tactical mistake, parking where I did. I won't make it again." His eyes flickered toward Sherlock's and then slid away. "I appreciate your brother's warning."
"The smart thing," Sherlock said, without inflection, "would be to cut all ties with me. Stay as far away as possible. Distance yourself from this."
The detective inspector raised his chin. "But you've never mistaken me for a smart man, have you?"
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "Lestrade..."
"Maybe he's gathering for another strike, another round of his game. Or maybe he's just biding his time, trying to wear us down, to isolate you by driving away anyone who'll stand by your side." Lestrade licked his lips. "Either way, I think I'm needed where I am."
Before Sherlock could reply, Lestrade said, "I'm being as sensible as I can be. I'm taking every precaution I know to take. I'd welcome your brother's help, if this is an offer.
"But I'm not going to allow Moriarty to teach my daughter that the only way to live is by keeping your head down and your eyes shut, hoping you go unnoticed. I won't let her think that the best response to evil in the world is to curl up and hide." His voice broke, and he rocked back on his heels with a mirthless laugh. "God, Sherlock, give me some credit, will you?"
"I do," Sherlock said, each word an obvious struggle, "or we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"I know," Lestrade said quickly, waving away the words. "No, I know."
The three of them started apart like guilty lovers as Sofie reentered the room.
"Daddy?" came a tremulous voice.
He turned and knelt in one swift motion. "What's wrong?"
Her eyes were wide and brimming with tears. "I'm sorry," she whispered, her lips quivering. "It's just so sad." She sipped a small breath of air. "Please tell me it's going to be okay."
Lestrade caught her up in a hug and rocked her gently as Mrs Hudson appeared at the doorway, wiping her own eyes.
"I'd forgotten it came so soon in the book," the landlady explained. "He's one of those characters you depend on, you know? A good man and such a wonderful father. You don't really think about him; you just take him for granted and trust that he's there. That's what makes it so affecting. I'm sorry, it's a dreadful place to stop."
"What scene?" John asked.
"The attack on Arthur Weasley."
"By Nagini, when Arthur's guarding the door to the Department of Mysteries," John muttered. At Sherlock's incredulous stare, he added, "I was in Afghanistan, Sherlock, not on Pluto."
"It's okay," Lestrade said in a deep, soothing rumble. "It's all fine. You know what makes it so hard? Not knowing. That's the difficult part, waiting to find out what's going to happen." He pulled back enough to look into Sofie's mournful face. "We'll read on tonight as far as we need to."
She fought to compose herself, her tears giving way to a stubborn (and familiar) frown. John could see what it cost Lestrade to watch.
"If he dies, I may cry," she warned. "And even if he lives, I may cry anyway."
"That's fine. I may, too," Lestrade whispered, and he pulled her back into a fierce embrace.
One of her small hands fisted in her father's jacket. John stared at the other where it rested on Lestrade's back. Her thumb and index finger extended to form a right angle, while the other three fingers curled into her palm. Of course, he realized: it was her blaster gun. She'd come brokenhearted, but she'd also come armed.
Mrs Hudson moved to Sherlock's side. His long arm wrapped around her narrow shoulders.
"I think Arthur Weasley will live to fight Voldemort another day," Lestrade said with clear conviction, "but whatever comes, it'll be all right. You know, the important thing isn't what happens to him; it's that he fought the good fight while he could, and loved his family through it all."
Lestrade pressed his cheek against Sofie's delicate braids and looked up toward John, who squared his shoulders and nodded back once. Sharply. Like a soldier.
NOTE: The sequel to this story is "Sentry Duty."
Vital Stats: Originally written in May 2011.
The title was inspired by the lyrics "I've got a good father, and his strength is what makes me cry. Feet on ground, heart in hand, facing forward: be yourself" from Jann Arden's song "Good Mother."