The water around her was turning red, though Sherlock couldn't feel where the bullet clipped her. It had only taken the blind dive to her right as she shot the bomb to save herself from being instantly killed. Slowly sinking to the bottom of the pool - she was on the deep end, where people jumped off the diving board and didn't crack their skulls open - she looked up and watched the ceiling start falling in. The world was eerily silent as the water rose around her. When Sherlock hit the bottom she waited as long as she could before kicking up, propelling herself back toward the surface with air bubbles flowing from her mouth and nose just before she broke free. The ceiling was still falling in, so she only dared stay above the water long enough to suck in another breath before forcing herself back under.
She fell into a pattern of rising, letting out air, breathing deep, and sinking until she hit the bottom again to kick up. Her head was swimming, hazy, her vision going cross and wide as she tried to keep her eyes open to avoid falling debris. With every move other than stroking up her body screamed in pain. The red was getting thicker around her. The whole world was wavering and shimmering with the tumultuous waves of the pool and lights reflected all around. Disorienting.
Several small and fragmented somethings floated into her line of vision as she sank for what felt like the hundredth time. Fingernails. Sherlock looked at her hands and saw they were intact. It was a small comfort to know that she at least had achieved what she went in for, even if she was likely going to die. Things were getting dark, and weariness was dragging at her, hindering her way upwards with each kick.
Sherlock hit the bottom and drifted, legs falling to the side as her muscles finally gave out. Her stinging eyes slipped shut and wouldn't open again. The spot where there had been a faint hope of survival, of seeing John and her son again, was filled with stony silence. There was no longer any sign that she would make it out alive. Debris starting falling more frequently all around her; it was only a matter of time before something hit her, knocked her out, and she drowned with Moriarty's blood in her lungs.
No. No, one last kick up, she berated herself, just get to the surface and grab onto the nearest floating object. Get to the edge, get home, find John. Sherlock forced her eyes open, kicked with all her strength, but didn't hit the bottom of the pool. Her body had drifted sideways and she hadn't felt it. Lungs screaming, head light, and heart quietly despairing, Sherlock gave in. Cold, chlorine-tasting, smoky, water filled her lungs and made her body convulse in an attempt to expel it. Her brain spasmed and screamed for oxygen, stars danced in front of her eyes, and just above her an enormous dark shape broke the surface of the water. Two strong somethings wrapped around her torso and dragged as she slipped away.
I'm sorry, Alex.
She is six years old and can hear Mummy crying all the way upstairs. Mye is up there too, knocking on Sherlock's bedroom door, but she isn't in there. She is crouched in the space behind the fireplace, drawing with her fingers in the dusty spot the maids always miss. She's tired and she's sad but doesn't know why. It's hot outside. The doctor's office was not fun. Sherlock is hiding from her brother because he was scary. He shouted at the doctor. Even if the doctor was rubbish, Mye was acting really, really scary and made her whole head itch.
"Sherlock?" She looks up and finds Daddy watching her from the door. Rather than telling her to get out of the space behind the fireplace, he comes nearer and crouches down so they're at eye-level with one another. "What are you drawing, sweetheart?" he asks. His eyes are smiling, and he looks like Mye.
She doesn't want to say, but Daddy looks interested. "Skull."
Mummy usually gets mad when she draws, but Daddy creeps closer, sprawling on his stomach, and peers in to look. "That has to be the nicest skull I've seen in ages," he smiles up at her. It makes Sherlock happy and she smiles back for a moment. Then she frowns again, and Daddy stops smiling too. "What's on your mind, Sherlock?"
Before she can duck her head Daddy tickles her under the chin, not trying to make her squirm and twitch like the old ladies at the park, just catching her attention. "You won't tell Mummy?" she asks. Daddy shakes his head and locks his lips with an invisible key. Sherlock's glad that locking his lips doesn't stop him smiling. Picking at a scab on her knee, she mutters, "I don't want to go back to the doctor."
Daddy's face falls. "What did the doctor say to you, Sherlock? When you were alone with him. Was he okay?" he asks, leaning closer.
"He said I oughtn't tell."
"Well, you can tell old Dad, can't you, love?"
She thinks about it for a few minutes before deciding that Daddy is very good at keeping secrets. "Well, he asked me what I like. So I showed him my book about bee detectives. Then he asked me about bees and so I told him all about them. Then he asked me about other things that were stupid and boring, and I said they were stupid and boring. That made him..."
"Made him what?"
"Well, I dunno. I think it was like your face when Mrs. Next-Door called Mummy a naughty word, and then you called her a no-good-"
Daddy laughs and shushes her. "I know what face you mean, Sherlock. That wasn't a nice face he made at you. Did it give your tummy the willies?" She nods, and Daddy sighs. "I'll see if I can talk to Mummy, but she really wants you to keep going. You know it's because she loves you, don't you, my pet?"
She nods again. "I know, Daddy. Will the doctor fix me?" she asks.
Something strange passes over Daddy's face that makes her face get hot. His throat makes a funny noise when he swallows and he sits up onto his knees, taking Sherlock's shoulders in his hands. "Now you listen to me, Sherlock," he says in a voice like the gravel driveway. "The doctor can not and will not fix you." Her mouth falls open. That's a terrible thing to say. "Do you know why?" She shakes her head and Daddy leans closer. "Because there is nothing wrong with you, Sherlock. You are not broken. You can't fix something that's already perfect, do you hear me? You're my little girl, and you are fine justthe way you are. Seeing the world differently doesn't mean you need to be fixed or changed, and if anyone tries to make you change, then they aren't worth being your friend. Do you understand me?"
Speechless, she nods. Daddy hugs her tight, just the way she likes. "The doctor's going to try to help you, make it easier for you to talk to people, but not make you change to fit in. You see? That might be fun."
"Now, how about we get out of here and you play me something lovely on your violin, eh?"
Sherlock came to, only for a moment, as the water was pushed from her lungs by a hand to the diaphragm. There was smoke and confusion everywhere, and if she weren't so wet she might have felt Lestrade dripping on her. Before anyone could reach her line of sight she slipped away again.
She is twelve and Mummy hit her four hours ago. It's hard to understand why she still wants to cry. Crying is useless and doesn't get anyone anywhere; it just makes people dehydrated. Daddy is very cross with Mummy and won't speak to her. Sherlock is old enough now to know that sometimes parents split up from one another. She wishes Mummy and Daddy would split up for how often they fight. Then maybe she could live with Daddy. That could be fun.
Mummy starts to cry, loudly, from the bedroom down the hall. Sherlock's stomach twists. She doesn't know why hearing Mummy cry still makes her feel sick. She wants to call Mycroft on the phone, but he's too busy for her now that he's in uni.
There's a knock on the door and Daddy pokes his head in. "How are you, my love?" he whispers. He looks so tired and miserable that Sherlock can't even be angry with him. She shows him where Mummy hit her and he swallows like there's something big in his throat. It's clear to see that Daddy doesn't like when Mummy hits her, wants to make her stop, but he's afraid of her too. If he does too much to try making her stop, then Mummy could just get rid of him, make him go away, tell the police that he hurt Sherlock and have him locked up. Sherlock is too young to know this yet.
"It doesn't hurt, much," she tells Daddy so he can feel better.
He smiles sadly. "On the outside, or the inside?"
Then she finally starts to cry, because her inside hurts a whole lot.
Her eyes opened just after they shocked her. Pain roared across her synapses but she couldn't scream, her body still arching up off the ground with the electric current. "She's back!" one of the paramedics announced. An oxygen mask was put over her mouth and nose. It was too loud, too bright, so Sherlock closed her eyes again.
She is nineteen and Father is dying.
It's not like in the movies, where it's sad and sudden and usually unseen in a tragic accident. It's slow, and scary. It starts with stomachaches, lots of them. Father changes his diet but it doesn't matter. Then he starts getting dizzy, and throwing up, until he can't eat at all but his stomach is swelling. That's when he goes to the specialist. Cancer. It eats him slowly.
Sherlock leaves university at the end of her second fall term, when it's clear that Father will not get any better. He can't leave his bed. The specialists gave him a prognosis of three months, but they all know he won't last the month. He's in such terrible pain, but won't abuse the medication he's been given. "I want to be awake for this," Father always says when one of them offers to give him something more. Usually it's accompanied by a squeeze of Sherlock's hand and a sunny smile. Though he's pale and waxen-looking, he never stops smiling.
"Will you be alright?" he asks her one night, when Mummy's asleep and Mycroft's working.
Leaning on top of his mattress, head framed between her hands, Sherlock smiles and shakes her head. "You have skewed priorities," she says fondly.
"But will you?"
She wilts slightly, grasps his hand and tries not to look at him. "I think so. I won't really know if I'm alright until I'm not. But I. I think I'll miss you. Every day, I think I'll spare a moment for missing you no matter what."
"Oh, my love," Father says softly, tickling her under the chin until she looks up. "I am so proud of you, do you know that? You never let them change you. Still such a lovely little oddball. The whole world is so vast and so strange and full of mysteries that I just know you can solve. Don't bother with missing me too much, alright? You're a busy girl. Well, woman now, eh? When did that happen? You were just a baby last week, I swear."
Tears sting her eyes.
He dies five days later. In the last few hours he can't speak, can't hear, doesn't see them all gathered round his deathbed. Sherlock pumps him with drugs so it won't hurt. When he finally stops breathing it's like a heavy weight lifts from over the room, even as the sharp pain of grief settles over them all. Mother screams and storms out when Sherlock won't cry. She and Father said their goodbyes ages ago, and she does not want Mother to see her grieving. Sherlock has always felt more strongly in private, and will not let her mother's expectations change that about her.
Another four days later, there is a headstone in the family plot with the name Alexander Barthes Holmes inscribed upon its surface. Sherlock visits once a week, and then once a month, and then only when she remembers. It's hard to keep up with the times when she forgets her own address more often than not. But she never changes herself, never apologizes, and never loses heart.
"Sherlock, wake up, love."
For a moment she was convinced the voice belonged to her father, opened her eyes and expected to see him above her. But then her vision cleared, and of course it was John. Her father was dead. John was alright. It took longer than she would be comfortable admitting to remember why that was a good thing, or what had happened to land her in hospital at all. "John?" she croaked.
He smiled and scooted his chair closer, closing his hand around hers. "You've been in and out all day; we were worried," he told her, free hand drifting up to gently brush against her hairline. "How are you feeling?"
"Where...where's...th'baby?" she muttered, blinking and still confused. The lights were bright and buzzing, monitors at her bedside beeping, the air stifling, stinking of disinfectant, and her head and chest hurt as though they had been jumped on for at least an hour each. "Isse...John, he-"
John hushed her gently. "Alex is fine, Sherlock. He's with Sergeant Donovan - I know, I know, but she was the only person available. Lestrade is investigating the scene with forensics, trying to find as much of Moriarty as possible. Mrs. Hudson's still laid up, your brother's working, and I'm, well, here. But we're fine, Sherlock, we're all fine."
With a relieved sigh, her eyelids drooped and she fell asleep.
Sherlock was allowed to go home with a hospital-issue cane - both for the bullet in her leg and for her terrible balance - and a list of prescriptions for her respiratory system. Not only had she inhaled a lungful of water but her heart had stopped and needed to be shocked back to life. She leaned against John's arm instead of the cane on the way downstairs to the cab. Donovan would be meeting them at Baker Street with Alex. She felt oddly anxious on the ride back, uncertain whether she ought to blame her fragile heart or the anticipation of seeing her baby safe again.
John made her sit down before she hurt herself trying to get to her son, and gently lowered Alex into her arms for the first time since the explosion. Her eyes fell shut as though in rapture before flying open again, taking everything in - the way the ends of Alex's hair curled so delicately and nearly vanished in direct sunlight, the deep blue of his eyes, the cautious cupid's-bow of his pink mouth, the tiny half-moons of his fingernails; Sherlock scarcely dared to touch him. She may as well have been holding him for the first time since he'd been born, no longer forced to reach through the side of an incubator and brush their hands, but actually hold him. They were alive, the both of them, despite the odds against them stacked so high the tops were obscured by clouds and mist.
A hand touched her shoulder, thumb gently brushing the back of her neck. She looked up at John and saw him smiling. Donovan had apparently let herself out - Sherlock frowned; she'd wanted to thank her. "Back home at last," he said with relief evident. "Maybe this time we can stay out of the hospital for more than a week running for a while? I think we're getting a reputation at - Sherlock, what's wrong?"
Swiping the sudden tears away with her free hand, Sherlock shook her head. "I'm just realizing how lucky I am."
Later that night, after Alex was safely settled in his crib and John had put Sherlock to bed a few feet away, they lay down with his arm looped over her waist looking out the window, his head resting on top of hers. "So, do you think you'll ever tell him, when he's older?"
"That his dad is...you know. Moriarty."
She thought on it for less than a second before replying, "No. No child likes to hear that their parents are psychopaths."
"You'renot a psychopath."
"Thank you, John. Besides, I think I might just tell him that, well."
"I might just tell him that - uh - you. Were. His dad, I mean. I think he'd prefer having you. If you're amenable."
John was silent.
"Of course, I understand if you don't, and you can forget I ever said-"
His arm wrapped more tightly around her, his breathing tight. "Oh, Sherlock, of course I'm 'amenable'. Of course. I bloody love you, of course I'll be his dad. Sherlock..."
"Alright, alright, no need to get all sentimental about it," she groused at him. She tilted her head away to hide her smile in the pillows, but knew that John would always see.
She is thirty-four years old, and her son is six, when he asks her, "Mum, am I an oddball?"
"Of course you are, darling," she replies over her shoulder with a smile. Only when Alex doesn't reply does she realize that he is deviating from her affectionate nickname for him. Turning to face him, Sherlock drops to a crouch so she can see his eyes. He's been playing in Mrs. Hudson's bins with the cat again. "What's on your mind, sweetheart?"
When Alex doesn't look up she tickles him under the chin, not to make him squirm and twitch like the old ladies at the park do, but just enough to get him to look at her and smile. "One of the girls at school called me a-an oddball. Well. A freak, actually."
"She called you a freak? Who?"
He shakes his head. "I'm not telling or you'll get cross and shouty. I'm just wondering if I am one."
Feeling the sudden weight of her years, Sherlock puts her hands on her son's shoulders. "It doesn't matter what they say," she tells him sternly. "They don't see the world like we do, you and I, so they don't know that really, there's nothing wrong with you at all. You're my boy, and you're perfect justas you are. Don't let them try to change you, fit you in their box, okay? It's hard being different, I know it's hard, but I want you to be who you are, not who they want you to be. And when it gets hard, I want you to try to talk to me. I want to help you when I can."
After a long moment, Alex nods. "Okay, Mum."
Before he can squirm away to play upstairs in his room, Sherlock pulls him in closer. "Hold on a second, I have a secret," she tells him, and instantly he stills, knowing what's coming. She presses their foreheads together until they have to cross their eyes to see one another, giggling softly. "Alex," she whispers, "I love you very, very much."
"I love you too Mum," he whispers back, and then runs off, slipping easily out of her grasp.
She's still crouched on the floor when John tromps up the stairs. "Sherlock?" he asks mildly, hanging his scarf on the wall-hook next to Alex's favorite pink raincoat.
As he watches she stands, grasps his hands, smiles. Today's the day, it feels right. She's going to tell him. Breathing deep, she looks into his honest, open, face, and falters. It's there, sitting between them like a stone, and maybe that's why she can't find the words when the moment feels right. John just smiles, because he can see it too, has known for far longer than she has that she loves him, and doesn't need it out loud when she shows him every day.
"I love you too," he says.
Holy crap you guys. YOU GUYS. I ACTUALLY FINISHED THIS, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? I'm in awe, really I am, and I'm so very very happy with all of the kindness and patience you've shown me in the duration of this series. I'll hopefully write more standalone pieces for this universe, because I just adored writing this. But I certainly will not be doing series 2; it would be a bit difficult with Moriarty blown to bits, wouldn't it? Either way, I just want to say a great big THANK YOU to everyone who's sent in a review for this story. It really kept me motivated through the duration. I wish you all the best, and hope to see you around for my next project, whatever it may be!