Summary: Sick in bed, John finds a surprise hidden at the back of his mother's old diary. But when a kidnapper shows up threatening him and Harry, what can Sherlock do to help? Notes: In my head, this takes place well after the events of Season 2 and probably Season 3 as well. It's well after the canon Hiatus and John and Sherlock are happily back to solving crimes together. There are minor references to the missing time when Sherlock was "dead," but no real spoilers for season 2. If you've heard of Reichenbach in any of its incarnations, you're good. If you haven't, all you need to know is there was this unexplained absence of Sherlock's for a while. As always, I own nothing but my own plot. Everything else belongs to the BBC and Arthur Conan Doyle-I just like to play here.
"I didn't know you kept a diary, John."
Sherlock paused in the doorway, holding a glass of water.
"What? Oh, that. It's not mine, Sherlock. You know perfectly well I have a blog." John pulled himself up in bed, skin still flushed pink from fever. "Besides, even if I did do it the old-fashioned way, you can be sure that my journal would not be covered in flowers."
Sherlock smirked and walked over to the bed, handing John the pills from the nightstand. "It's time for your medicine. I was given strict instructions to make sure you took it. You know how careless you are about these things." His eyes strayed back to the diary on John's nightstand.
"Go ahead, Sherlock. You know you're dying to." John said, leaning back against the pillows. "Tell me all about the diary."
A keen glance showed Sherlock that John was more alert than he had been yesterday, and exhibiting signs of boredom. A sure sign of recovery, but also a stage where distraction is welcome. "The diary is clearly at least thirty years old. It's covered in a rose-print fabric which strongly suggests it belonged to a woman. It locks, which is popular with teenage girls, but the quality of the diary suggests it belonged to a woman somewhat older. One with secrets, hence the lock—a remarkably good one for a diary. I'd say it belonged to your mother, since you pulled it out while you were ill and needing distraction."
He glanced at John, who nodded at the diary. "Go on then. You know you want to look inside."
Delicately picking up the book, Sherlock flipped through the pages. "She liked variety, your mother, using different color inks for each entry. Her penmanship shows her to be a warm person, energetic, compassionate, but with hidden depths. Not unlike her son."
"Ta," said John.
"It seems an odd reading choice."
"Yeah, but Harry mentioned it the other day, and since I haven't been able to do anything else this week…."
"Mmm." Sherlock paged through the diary. "What did Harry want to know? What your mum made for dinner on July 7th?"
John gave a small smile. "No. She just said she remembered Mum keeping a diary when we were small, but it wasn't with her things. It reminded me that it was in the box of pictures she left me when she died. I pulled it out to give to Harry next time I see her." He turned his head restlessly on the pillow. "Frankly, I'm surprised she hasn't called to ask about it. She was oddly insistent, but then, that's Harry when she gets an idea in her head."
Sherlock nodded absently, distracted by an anomaly under his thumb. He looked carefully at the back of the diary. "Did you know there's something hidden in here?"
"What? No." John started to reach for the diary, but the gesture started him coughing again. More phlegm than yesterday, Sherlock noted, which meant the congestion was breaking up.
"Here," he handed the diary back and gestured to the cover. "See where the lining has been pasted down? It's clearly been lifted, very carefully, and something hidden under the liner. It can't be bigger than a single sheet of paper, or a photograph, or it would have left a bulge. It's almost a perfect fit, just this slight tear to the paper and a smudge of glue, do you see?"
John nodded. "I do," he said, voice hoarse from coughing. He looked up at Sherlock and his lips twitched. "Go ahead. Just try not to damage it, would you?" When Sherlock didn't reach for the book, he held it out. "Really. My hands aren't as steady as they should be right now. I'd rather you did it. You found it, after all."
Sherlock considered. He didn't always understand sentiment, but he understood John. This diary was a piece of his mother, and he was trusting Sherlock to treat it—her—with respect. He nodded. "I'll be right back."
It took only a moment for him to get a scalpel from the desk and to collect the new cough syrup from the kitchen before returning to John's bedroom.
He picked up the diary. "You're sure?"
"I'm not going to ask why you have a scalpel," John said with a wan smile. Then he nodded at the diary. "I can't believe you haven't cut into it already, Sherlock. I'm sure. It's not like I expect deep dark family secrets in there. And anyway, even if there were, you'll find out anyway. Go ahead."
Sherlock nodded, and took a seat on the wooden chair near the bed. He laid the diary on the mattress, very carefully inserted the knife between the cover and lining, and began cutting.
It was only a matter of moments before he had peeled away the lining paper. He looked down at the photograph for a moment and then passed it to John without comment.
John stared at it blankly, but all he said was, "Oh."
John flipped the photo over to look at the back.
"Ian and me. October 1971."
He turned it back to the front, mind churning slowly. Maybe he was still feverish? "I don't understand," he said, looking at Sherlock.
He felt like an idiot the minute the words left his mouth, his tongue working independently of his brain yet again. But staring at the carefully hidden photo of his mum standing next to a man who was decidedly not Harold Watson was enough of a shock to stop his brain in its tracks.
Sherlock looked down at the photo. "Not your father, I presume?"
"No, not my father," said John. The man looking back at him from the photo had sandy hair and a friendly smile as he stood with his arm around John's mum. His mum … well, she looked happy. Really happy.
With a glance for permission, Sherlock reached forward and took the picture, noticing the shape of the nose, the way the jaw curved, the slightly off-center smile. "Do you have a picture of your father?"
John blinked at him for a moment and then started to climb out of bed. He barely had a foot on the floor when he started coughing again. Sherlock's hands caught his shoulders and gently pushed him back into the pillows. "Tell me where."
Still coughing, John pointed to the dresser. "Bottom drawer. Box. In the back." He gasped out the words between spasms. Frankly, he was surprised Sherlock didn't already know, hadn't already gone through his things in one of his fits of boredom.
With only the slightest hesitation, Sherlock slid the drawer open, long fingers unerringly reaching inside to pull out a wooden box. He carried it over to the bed and John moved over, giving him enough room to set it down.
Before he could reach for it, Sherlock handed him the new bottle of cough syrup. "Take your medicine first," he said, glaring until John took a dose. (Really, all this nurse-maiding was quite unlike him. John wondered how he was going to pay for this later on.)
John slid the lid back and rummaged through the photos. There weren't many of them. After their parents had died, Harry had taken the photo albums, leaving John with a few strays and the framed photos from their mother's bedside. He pulled out a wedding photo, one of those staged affairs with the bride and groom standing in the sun, smiling happily at the camera. He gazed at it a moment and then passed it to Sherlock.
"1967?" Sherlock asked, without even glancing at the back. "And Harry was born…?"
"1968. July. She's three years older than me." John had finally gotten his breath back from the coughing, but still felt short of air, like he'd been metaphorically punched in the stomach. Even his sluggish brain was going to pull the pieces together eventually. He was starting to realize the implications of that hidden photo and was anxious to hear what Sherlock thought. (Any man who could deduce a boy's father from the turn-ups on his jeans would surely be able to tell him if he was imagining things.)
John found another photo of his dad, one of him and John on some family vacation when John was about ten. They were standing side by side, holding ice cream cones and smiling. He held the photo out for Sherlock and then just closed his eyes.
He and his father had never been close, but he'd always credited that to his dad's drinking. It was watching his father struggle with alcoholism for so many years that made it so hard for him to deal with Harry's drinking. There had been plenty of good times, though, and Harold Watson had done his best as a father. It was just unfortunate that the alcohol always got in the way.
It wasn't until John was in his teens that things had gotten really bad, when his father's temper had escalated from yelling during the occasional bender to violent rages. His father never turned his rage on Harry (who had already turned to the bottle for her own coping mechanism). He hadn't been violent toward John either, but he would sit and stare. John quickly learned to get out of sight when his father came home from the pub with that glint in his eye.
The emotional strain was hardest on his mum. He would hear his parents yelling while he tried to concentrate on his homework, and tried to ignore how extra quiet his mother was the next morning. He had tried not to show how relieved he was to get out of the house when he left for university.
His father's drinking had gotten worse, though, and John had only been twenty-three when his father stumbled, drunk, in front of a car on his way home from the local pub. He had been killed instantly.
Sherlock's voice broke into his reverie. "You don't look much like your father."
"No, I never did."
"You do rather look like the man in this photo, though."
John didn't open his eyes. "Yes, I noticed that."