His heart was beating out of his chest, its steady rhythm resonating in his ears. It was such a simple thing really, sitting on his small row while looking out the window; a flea in a world of giants. The miniature prison he’d spent all his life in was flying past him, waving its crooked arms in a mocking goodbye for the stupid creatures that dared leave its safe, caging walls. His fingers beat on his thigh, pulling on invisible violin strings; he wasn’t stupid at all, yet he’d never felt so careless. He made calculations, considered all variables, built a plan on the go; he hadn’t had the chance this time. All he had was the waving trees of the countryside, his miniature cage being left behind as the train carried his flea self into the large world. How very reckless, escaping what always has been for the sake of the unknown, for a taste of miraculous wilderness on his tongue. He was a bird, his previously clipped wings having been returned to him just for his body to be thrown out the window by two pairs of wrinkled hands, as if they expected him to know how to fly after a lifetime in captivity. He wondered if he would crash, slam his head and crack it open on the pavement, perhaps wring his own neck by crashing against an invisible glass barrier, be recaptured by another pair of hands with far fewer wrinkles.
He was a flea on a train, destined for small, boring, endless misery. He was a flea on a train, looking for wilder, bigger, better.
“Dad”, a small hand pulled on his curls, “dad, dad, dad, dad...”
“What?”, he mumbled, still drowsy by the pulls of sleep, “what is it, Child?”
“What!”, an adrenaline surge made him jump upright, all signs of sleep fading away. He turned to the small clock on the bedside table, his mind taking only half a second to realize the child was, in fact, correct, “oh bloody... “ He rubbed his eyes with the sides of his hands, forcing himself awake. He was about to rise when his eyes landed on the small body standing by the bed and stopped short at the sight of a princess skirt topped with a rolled-up unicorn shirt, a large multicolored bow on the messy dark curls, blue sandals for footwear, and a sparkling feathered scarf for flare. Sherlock fought down a smile, “however interesting such style choices may be, I doubt the daycare would be too pleased with them.”
The three-year-old’s eyes darkened, narrowing under the frown that had taken over her previously excited face; Beth huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, “stupid daycare.”
He couldn’t help but snort, completely agreeing with the girl, “yes.” He got on his feet, pulling his sole blue dressing gown over his shoulders and ruffling the child’s curls, “go brush your teeth, I’ll get you new clothes.” His daughter ran out of their room, hopefully to do as she had been asked, and he turned to their few drawers. Mindlessly, Sherlock started pulling out clothes, mindful of the warmer weather he was still growing accustomed to after so many months in their new city; the child didn’t have that problem, of course, she was young enough to hardly remember London. Something about that made his stomach clench. He went out into the poor excuse of a living room, small clothes in hand, to find Beth gulffing down spoonfuls of cereal; he went to stand behind her and patted the girl lightly on the side, “trousers.”
Sherlock helped her dress while the girl all but ignored him, her breakfast holding priority. His hands moved fast in their practiced ease, by now having had to rush-dress the child far too many times for it to be viable; he had never been good with schedules. He did, however, decide to put the ridiculous bow to good use and tie the wild curls up into something that would spare him a lecture from the daycare. There was no time to force the girl’s hair into submission that morning.
“Motel today?”, a small voice asked around a mouthful of milk and cheerios.
He nodded before remembering Beth couldn’t see him, “after daycare, yes”, a smile broke out at the girl’s groan, “just for a bit.” Bethany clearly thought the arrangement unacceptable, for she stomped her foot with a huff, angry at the prospect of her having to spend her evening waiting for him to finish a double shift. He patted his daughter’s head before getting up and going into their room for clothes of his own, “go get your bag while I dress.”
She grumbled, and rolled her eyes as she followed behind him, but obeyed and stayed behind, packing her things while he went in the bathroom to get ready. He caught his own eyes in the mirror, his breath hitching in his throat at the lack of dark smudges underneath, the fewer premature stress lines around his eyes, and the much longer hair. It still caught him by surprise, still made him have to look twice; he had known leaving would be a good thing, he just hadn’t expected how good. Even Beth was happier, though that may just be her getting older, God knew she talked enough to prove it.
“Eight thirty!” her sharp voice yelled from outside the door. He muttered a curse under his breath, getting out and into his clothes at the utmost speed; giving his hair for a lost cause, he patted the curls down at the lack of a bow of his own and got out. His legs hurried him across the small apartment, getting him from bedroom to kitchen in seconds. Bethany, for her part, stood by the door in her light pink jacket, her princess bag in hand; the girl was also remarkably entertained by his suffering, explosive giggles leaving her lips as she watched him hurriedly grab his own bag and coat, “run, daddy, run!”
“Out, now”, he ordered, opening the door and slamming it shut behind him. He fumbled with his wallet, looking for his keys, and stretched out a hand. When no one grabbed him back, he turned around only to realize he hadn’t been followed by the smaller human that was meant to be with him. “Oh for God’s…”, he ran back inside, finding Bethany standing in the middle of their home, hands pressed against her mouth to muffle her laughs, “hilarious, Child.”
She nodded enthusiastically, “yes”, the girl claimed through her giggles.
Sherlock rolled his eyes, going up to his daughter and picking her up; once she was secured in his arms, and the door had been locked, he ran back to the street. They better make it in time.
He stirred the eggs on his pan quietly, keeping to himself in the large hotel kitchen; occasionally, he still missed the pub and it’s crowded rooms, the slightly claustrophobic press of shoulders and backs against his own had become integral to his life, and this new kitchen where he could stand in one corner and never meet anyone’s eyes was rather disappointing. Not that it mattered, really. It was a well-paying job, it was more experience under his belt, the motel was close to the daycare, and his boss, Anne, was a flexible woman. He had little to complain about; the hidden away kitchen kept him far from both idiots and guests alike, at the very least. Yes, it was a good job.
Alan, the head cook, entered the kitchen with a scowl on his face. He hadn’t seen him step out earlier. The man looked around his staff, intent gaze stopping on each of them and their respective works; finally, he looked to Sherlock and his nearly done eggs. Alan walked to him, standing close enough for the conversation to be private, yet not close enough to touch him.
“Hey, I need you to go up to deliver a plate once you’re done with those”, the cook pointed at his pan and got his hand in his front pocket, pulling out a card, “dish is done, you just have to get it to the room.”
He frowned. It wasn’t customary for kitchen aids to deliver plates, they were supposed to stay in the kitchen, “I thought we didn’t do room service.”
Alan huffed, rubbing his eyes, “we don’t, usually, but we have orders from up above.” Sherlock had no idea of what could possibly make someone up above -most likely Anne- decide to send a kitchen aid to deliver food, “sorry to tell you, but you might just have to go up and do room service for a few days.”
The older man patted his shoulder, starting to walk away, yet stopping mid-step and turning back to him, “room 201, dish is at the front.”
He bit back a groan. Clients, idiots, boring and unbearable people he would have to serve for days. Utterly unacceptable. He had become a kitchen aid, not only out of necessity, but because he refused to serve others, and now he had no choice.
Sherlock did what he could to delay the eggs being well cooked, but he ran out of time eventually. With a sigh, he went out front for the tray and on the elevator. If he was lucky, unlikely though the prospect was, whoever resided in room 201 would want him out of their day as much as he did. He knocked on the white-painted door, shoving down a scowl lest he got into trouble with Anne because her special guest didn’t like being scowled at. There was a shuffle behind the door, quick steps running up to it and what he presumed was a pause to look out the eye hole. Frowning at the unusual behaviour, he cleared his throat, “I was sent to deliver breakfast.” He lifted the tray to the small crystal and took a step back. There was a minute of hesitation before the door opened just enough for the beginnings of a worn-down face to peek through.
“That’s fine dear, just a moment.” He muffled a gasp at the familiar accent that greeted him. The woman on the other side of the door closed it again, removing some other lock, and opened it wide for him to enter the small room, “leave it on the table, please.”
He walked inside, doing as she asked and setting the tray on a small wooden table by the window. The woman didn’t move from her place by the door, her eyes following his every move. Sherlock turned back to her, an endless string of deductions flashing before his eyes. Mid-fifties, used to live in London but has lived in Florida for years, no pets, high middle class, long hair to cover her face, bruises on her wrists, the balance of probability says there were more bruises under her long sleeves and trousers, running from something. He hesitated, not knowing if he should address his findings or leave as quickly as possible. He decided to make himself known instead.
“My name is Sherlock, I was told I would be delivering your meals for a few days.” She nodded her understanding, a kind smile on her lips, but said nothing. For once, he was struck by the intensity of her gaze. It wasn’t as obvious as his, but he would be a fool not to realize she was studying as much as he had studied her. “If you don’t need anything else…”
“Not at all, dear, thank you”, she stepped aside, opening the door wider for him to leave. Not wanting to stay any longer, he walked out of the room without turning back. Just as he was reaching the end of the hall, the woman spoke up again, “it’s a lovely name you have, Sherlock. Good to be around someone from home again, isn’t it?”
Perhaps it was the glint to her eyes or the familiarity with which she talked to him, but Sherlock didn’t dismiss this odd woman. He turned back to her, finding the previous skittishness gone, replaced by a quiet self-assurity and a curl to the lips that spoke mischief. She looked at him as if they had just exchanged secrets, and for a moment he felt like they had.
Three days later, after several similar instances of meal deliveries and ever-growing smirks from them both, Sherlock decided to learn the woman’s name. On his way to picking up Bethany, he stopped at a public library and settled himself on an open computer. It would take him minutes to hack into the hotel’s system, and even less to cover his tracks. Perhaps his father would grow furic at the idea that it had been his own computer and company systema he had learnt to hack with. It was a refreshing thought, he almost wanted to add it in the next letter he would find himself forced to write the parental unit.
Cracking his knuckles, Sherlock set to work. It was embarrassingly easy for the system to crack under his efforts, the list of the week’s residents appearing on his screen; he skimmed through it, going directly to the 200’s and stopping at his target. His breath hitched in his throat, the final puzzle piece settling in place and confirming his theory. Whoever that woman was, staying in room 201, she was unlisted. Running from someone. The bruises he’d seen, the starvation for conversation on her lips, the erratic movement of her eyes whenever he saw her. Unlisted. Running.
He leaned back on his chair, hand going through his hair. Should he bring it up in their next conversation? Keep the knowledge to himself and observe from afar? He couldn’t walk away, of course. This nameless person grew more interesting every time, her existence in his life the only mystery he’d come across in years; the only thing that required him to think.
He closed the list, erased his entrance into the core of his workplace, and left the library. The rest of the day, and all of the night, he spent running miles around the bright eyes that hid behind a picturesque smile.
By the end of the week, he had to take Beth with him to the hotel. It wasn’t the first time they did that, the rest of the staff were already growing used to the young child running around the halls while he finished some task or another. That evening, the task was delivering a tray. He’d sent Beth to the small garden behind the building, where he knew she would be easy to find once his job was done. Though they were both familiar with the place, he still took the long way up to his destination and went up the stairs, knowing that way he could glance down at the garden and ensure the child was there. Halfway up the second floor, he leaned to the window and felt his heart fall to his stomach. Adrenaline rushed into his veins, his eyes running across the green expanse in frantic search for the mop of wild curls that resembled his own. He was about to drop the tray and run back down when a set of giggles reached his ears. Giggles he shared a home and a room with. Giggles that were followed by a delighted laugh he also happened to know, though not as well.
Slowly, careful to not make a sound, he went up the stairs. He entered the hall silently, eyes stuck on the child animatedly luring the nameless woman into a conversation about flowers. The older face lighted up in a way he’d never seen before, the tension around her eyes gone and the glint of her gaze brighter than ever; he did notice, however, that the woman’s back remained tense, as if ready to spring up and away at the earliest inconvenience. He walked to them, tray in hand, and raised a brow.
“I told you to wait for me at the garden, Child”, both the woman and child turned to him like deers caught in headlights. The woman’s eyebrows raised almost imperceptibly as she connected the dots of the girl’s parentage. Beside, his daughter greeted him with a groan.
“But dad!”, she whined, walking to him, “the garden’s boring.”
The edge of his lips curled up; old memories of himself uttering similar complaints flooded his mind. To be fair, the garden was rather boring after the first ten seconds. He turned back to the woman, eyes rakking her up and down at this new development; she liked children, but never had any.
“I hope she isn’t bothering you.” Beth scoffed by his legs, offended at the idea her presence could possibly bother anyone.
“Oh! Not at all!”, the woman gushed, the gentle smile opening wider, “she’s a lovely girl, this one.” She shared a conspiratorial smile with the girl before turning to him again, the mischievous glint back in her eyes. “Looks a great deal like you, let me tell you.”
“We’ve been told.” Sherlock lifted the tray he was carrying, “dinner.”
“Of course, of course, give it here”, the older woman fussed, going up to him and taking the tray in her own hands, “no need to carry that around all night, thanks dear”, she smiled at him, almost motherly, and gestured down at Beth with her chin, “now you take that little one home, don’t let me keep you.”
The child looked up at him hopefully, eyes wide. Delivering the tray having been the only thing he’d had to do before they could leave, he nodded at his daughter. Bethany smiled brightly, jumping up and down in her spot; she turned to the woman who had retreated to her door, and waved happily.
“Bye Mrs. Hudson!”, the woman’s expression twitched, the smile that had been adorning her lips dimming slightly as her eyes darted to him before looking away just as rapidly. Eventually, she waved back at the little girl, though her eyes were no longer as bright. Beth didn’t notice, too enraptured at the possibility of going home early, for once; she grabbed his hand and started pulling, “let’s go daddy, time to go home.”
He allowed himself to be led away, turning back to the now-named woman and giving her what he hoped had been a reassuring nod. Once they were out of earshot, he leaned down to his daughter and whispered, “Mrs. Hudson?”
Beth nodded with a humm, her short legs struggling at the last few steps.
“She said her name was Martha, but I could call her Mrs. Hudson instead.”
“I see.” He settled the new bit of information into the mental board he’d created on his new acquaintance. Mrs. Meant a marriage. The bruises, unlisted, skittishness, Mrs. Running from someone. Running from a husband. A female partner could be a possibility, of course, though the balance of probability was against that. He strengthened his grip on his daughter’s hand; apparently, Beth could be a remarkable spy. She looked up at him again, a question in the rise of her brow; he smirked at her and offered payment for her services, “ice-cream?”
Beth jumped, smile much like the one that odd, purple cat had in the animated movie she liked. His daughter squeezed his hand back. “Always!”
Once Bethany had fallen asleep, her small limbs sprawled across their shared bed, he sat up and thought. His mind drifted back three years, to his miserable form hunched over a bar stool with a depressing list before him. Marcus had helped him then, given him a job, a home, the bones of a life he could build on. After what had happened, both him and Beth could have easily found themselves in a much worse state; this apartment, this job, the trust fund, he wouldn’t have gotten them alone. Oh, he’d accomplished a great deal left to his own devices, anyone else would have crumbled long ago. He knew he was cleverer, more resourceful, better, than most. People were idiots, and he was no idiot. But even he had needed some semblance of help at different times in his life; and if he’d needed help, who was to say that this Martha Hudson wouldn’t. Certainly, she was not the average human; there was something about her eyes, hidden beneath the olderly frailty and motherly kindness she emitted, something with a backbone. Something interesting. And he wasn’t one to let interesting go to waste. Not ever again.
His grey-blue eyes settled on his daughter’s face unprompted, the tip of her nose burning itself in his eye sockets. Occasionally, the shadow of another face on hers would force the air out of lungs, even now. Perhaps it always would.
Interesting was precious and easily lost. He’d lost before, and though he'd vowed never to open the door again, never to put himself at the disadvantageous hands of sentiment, though he’d promised never to care again, about anything but the child he had made; he refused to lose interesting again. Perhaps it could be an experiment, trying his hand at the affairs of mystery. Surely his genius wouldn’t hurt.
His hand brushed at the raven-black curls gently, a decision made.
The next morning, he knocked on the now-familiar door of room 201 with a tray in his hand. Mrs. Hudson opened the door, greeting him with the usual smile, only it was now tainted with weariness.
“Morning dear”, she opened the door widely, inviting him in, and remained far away from him after that, as she always did.
“Morning”, he followed his usual routine, setting the tray on the small wooden table and grabbing the one from the night before. He set the second tray back down, took a deep breath, and whirled back to face the woman, “Mrs. Hudson.” He watched as her back tensed, her gaze sharpened, and her smile dimmed. Yes, the frailty was an act, a convenient facade, but not her. Not really. Her hands were far too steady for the truth to be otherwise.
“Yes?”, her tone remained friendly, though not as inviting as before.
“I told you once my name was Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes”, he started, taking a seat by the window and crossing his legs. He made sure to keep his hands open, resting in the armrest where Martha could see them, “what I didn’t tell you is that you would be hard-pressed to find someone smarter than me.” Martha raised a brow, seemingly amused at his confidence. That was alright, once she knew what he could do with just a glance the amusement would fade, “I’m a genius, Mrs. Hudson, and I’m going to help you.”
“And how do you intend to do that, dear?”, she walked closer to him, still out of arm's reach, but clearly entertained by his surety. But Sherlock wasn’t blind, and the glimmer of hope beneath her every move spoke volumes of the truth. Whispered to him he was right in his conclusions. And he knew exactly how to begin.
“I am going to catch your husband.”