Characters: John, Sherlock, Abby, Sarah
Warnings/Triggers: a veiled implication of past bullying
Word Count 4,115
Summary: Abby starts preschool, despite Sherlock's feelings on the subject.
Author's notes: Set in the Abby 'verse.
So, this story is not the story I set out to write, but Sherlock suddenly hijacked it and had, like, feelings, so I just let it go where it wanted.
I think we're at the point where all the stories I've been writing get finished at the same time. Sorry about that.
“Daddy, my handbag has paper in it,” Abby announced.
John leaned over in the cab to take a look. “It's your rucksack, sweetie, not a handbag,” he said. “They put paper in it at the store to fluff it out so it looks nicer.”
“When I go to school, I will take it with me,” Abby said. “And put things in it. Like Susie.”
“Does Susie have a rucksack too?” John asked.
Susie the imaginary unicorn had recently taken up residence in the Watson household. Around the time they'd started preparing Abby for preschool. Susie hadn't been to school before either, and had a lot of questions about it.
Abby nodded. “Her Daddy bought it for her at the store,” she said. “Just like me. He let her pick her favourite one.”
“Is Susie excited about school?” John asked.
Abby looked over to her side to check with Susie. “Susie is excited,” she said. “But she's nervous, too.”
“Yeah? Well, that's okay,” John said. “Everyone gets nervous when they do new things.” He ruffled Abby's hair.
The cab pulled up in front of 221, and John paid the driver. Abby informed Susie that they were going to visit Sherlock, and she would have to stay outside. Sherlock did not allow unicorns in the house. He was supportive of imaginary friends, and didn't try to discourage Abby from it, and, in fact, was surprisingly game in accepting Susie's existence and asking questions about her and talking to her. He just didn't want Susie in the flat, because he kept stepping on her or hurting her feelings, and there was only so many times Sherlock Holmes would agree to apologize to an imaginary unicorn before he lost his patience. So, he'd regretfully informed Abby that he'd found out that unicorns could get sick from the chemicals in the kitchen, and she would have to stay outside for her own safety.
Violin music filled 221 when John and Abby entered, sans Susie. The same notes over and over again.
“Sounds like Uncle Sherlock is writing a song,” John said to Abby. He listened to the notes. “I can't tell if it's a happy song or a sad song. I suppose we'll have to go up and find out.”
Abby climbed up the stairs ahead of him, and skipped into the living room. Sherlock had a pencil behind his ear, and was facing the window with his violin under his chin. He wasn't dressed, despite it being nearly two o'clock in the afternoon. Abby came up and wrapped her arms around his legs, giggling. John winced as Sherlock instinctively swatted downwards with his bow, but he only flicked one of her bunches. John needed to dissuade her from hug attacks. One of these days Sherlock was going to attack back, and not with a hug.
“Where did you come from?” Sherlock demanded. “It's the middle of the night.”
“It's the afternoon, Sherlock,” John said. He opened the curtains and Sherlock winced at the sunlight. “How long have you been at it?”
Sherlock stretched to set his violin down, having to bend awkwardly around Abby. “I thought only a few hours,” he said. “I started at eleven o'clock last night.”
“Oh, so you've only been standing here for fifteen hours then, that's good,” John said. “That's a totally normal amount of time to be doing that.”
Sherlock picked Abby up under her armpits, and raised her to his face. “Hello,” he said. He sat her on the table, and moved away before she could reattach herself. “I have a song in my head, but it won't come into being in real life.”
John peered around to the music stand. There was no title on the song yet, just notes scribbled on and crossed out and redrawn. Sherlock usually named his songs with musical terms like 'Allegretto' or 'Adagio', while John privately labelled them things like 'Ode to the Dead Bodies in the Park' or 'Lament for a Suicide that was Really a Suicide'.
“What's inspired it?” John asked.
“No idea,” Sherlock said. “I had this set of notes in my head—” he hummed something that sounded like a bird chirping, “and I've been trying to build around it, but I haven't got very far. Is it really two o'clock?”
“Yep,” John said. “Have you really not moved?”
“No,” Sherlock said.
“Sherlock,” Abby said. Sherlock turned to her with eyebrows raised. “Can I play with your toy?” She pointed to the violin. “I like it, it makes nice noises. I want to make noises.”
“It's not a toy, it's a violin,” Sherlock said. “And you may absolutely not play with it. If you touch it, I will be very displeased.”
He said this ominously enough that Abby, who was at a stage of questioning any attempt to stop her from doing what she wanted, merely widened her eyes and nodded.
“I'm sorry,” she said.
Sherlock frowned. “Did I just sound like Mycroft?” he asked.
“Yeah,” John said. Sherlock groaned. “Don't worry, we all turn into our dads.”
Sherlock let out a soft chuckle, and went to the kitchen, his path a bit swaying.
“Eat something,” John said.
“Is that what your father sounded like?” Sherlock asked.
“No, he sounded like, 'Eat yer peas, Johnny',” John said, in his best impression of Hamish Watson's faded Glaswegian accent. “'Yer Mam's slaved over this fud all dee.'”
“Oh, was he Pakistani?” Sherlock asked.
John laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “What, you couldn't deduce that?”
Sherlock put the kettle on, and pulled out a box from the cupboard, stuffing something into his mouth.
“Are you eating a sponge bear?” John asked.
“Yes,” Sherlock said.
“That does not qualify as food, Sherlock,” John said.
“I bought it at a grocery store,” Sherlock said.
“You can buy loo roll at a grocery store,” John said. “How do you not have scurvy?”
“It has fruit in the middle,” Sherlock said. “It provides 'a bit of discovery in every bite', apparently. Only for those with short-term memory disorders, I presume.”
John couldn't scold for laughing, and gave it up for lost. Sherlock had survived for thirty-some years without John controlling his diet, he assumed he would survive now as well. Until he died of vitamin deficiency.
Abby was wiggling to get down off the table, and John lifted her. She gave the violin a very wide berth on her way to the kitchen. Sherlock poured the boiling water into a mug to make coffee.
“I want coffee, please,” Abby said.
Sherlock looked down at her. John could see the gears working, trying to decide if he should be giving her some or not. He started to offer her the mug, but changed his mind and lifted it up again.
“That seems ill-advised,” he said. “Here, have a sponge bear.”
“Oooh, thank you!” Abby said. “Can Susie have a sponge bear? She's outside, I will give it later. She says hi to you.”
“Yes, fine,” Sherlock said. He handed her another bear, and patted her head.”Tell her hi back.”
Abby gave his knees a quick hug. “You are nice, Sherlock. I like you.”
“That's rather ill-advised, too,” Sherlock said. He looked to John. “Why are you here, anyway? We don't have a case, and you just submitted your column, so you can't have writer's block already.”
“We were out finishing up school shopping,” John said. “Thought I'd stop in on the way back.”
“Is there something happening at home you wish to avoid?” Sherlock asked.
“Sarah had a fight with a cupboard this morning, and now she's on a reaming out streak,” John said. “We're staying out of the way until she's done. Plus, Abby wanted to show you her new shoes. Right, Abs?”
“I have big girl shoes for school,” Abby said, lifting a foot to show Sherlock, before toppling sideways. “I'm going to learn things. I will be smart.”
Sherlock didn't look downwards. “I see,” he said. “When does school start?”
“Monday,” John said. At Sherlock's look, he added, “It's Saturday.”
“Ah,” Sherlock said. “Well, congratulations Abby, soon all your achievements will be judged based on standardized testing designed to turn you into a drone and drain all your creativity and personality out of you, so you can be considered 'normal' by the most boring people on the planet.”
“Someone went to public school,” John said.
“You can't tell me you never wanted to gnaw your own arm off just to have something to do,” Sherlock said.
“Yeah, I can,” John said. “I liked school.”
“No one likes school,” Sherlock said. He came out with his coffee and threw himself into his chair. Abby skipped after him, holding her sponge bears. “Only children who are so stupid that they prefer to conform to society's standards because they can't fathom what they're supposed to do without someone guiding their every move. You're not that stupid.”
“Aww, thanks,” John said. “Abby, don't play your food. Eat it or put it down.”
Abby stopped the bears from having a conversation with each other, and took a bite out of one. “I saving the other for Susie,” she said.
“Susie won't exist after she starts school,” Sherlock said. “They'll tell her she isn't real. They'll squash every bit of creativity out of her. You should keep her at home until she's five. You're not legally required to send her until then.”
“She needs to build up social skills,” John said. “She's an only child, who talks to a unicorn most of the day. She needs peers.”
“Peers are overrated,” Sherlock said.
“You really hated school that much?” John asked. “You must have liked Chemistry or Science.”
“I was so advanced that they were mind-numbing,” Sherlock said. “And my school's solution to this was to bump me up a year in those subjects, and so then I was a perfect target for the senior students. I had a choice being bored or bullied. Any nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
John hadn't stuck out enough, then. He was never hammered down. He never did the hammering, either. He usually only fought to protect his honour or someone else's. He'd always enjoyed school. It was better than being at home most of the time, and he'd been in the Combined Cadet Forces, and played rugby, and earned decent grades to get into medical school. He knew what he wanted from school. Maybe Sherlock hadn't. Sherlock still didn't seem to know what he wanted from anything.
“There must have been something you enjoyed,” John said.
“Music,” Sherlock said, without hesitation. “Music was the only part I ever liked.”
“Why was music different?” John said.
“Because it wasn't easy,” Sherlock said. “Because it wasn't something I could be told or shown once and pick up. It wasn't boring. It doesn't matter if you have the knowledge of how to play or how to read the notes, you have to work at it. Even if you have natural talent, you have to work. I wasn't bored, and I wasn't out of place. It was the only challenge I ever had, and the only place where my creativity wasn't discouraged. Abby is a bright child. I hope you don't let her get beaten down.”
John didn't think he'd heard Sherlock speak that frankly about Abby before. He didn't even know Sherlock thought about Abby's well-being or future. He knew he loved her, in that odd way Sherlock loved people, but he thought it was more a case of being willing to put up with her.
“It's only preschool, Sherlock,” John said. “I don't think they start drone training until First Year. She'll be fine. It will be fine.”
“Well, that was horrific,” John said, on Monday morning.
Sherlock lifted his head from the music stand and gave him a bewildered look, his eyes running over him for clues. “You're distressed,” he said. He wiggled his fingers at John. “You do that when you're stressed or upset. Why are you stressed or upset?”
John looked down and found he was wiggling his fingers by his side.
“Abby started preschool this morning,” he said. He gestured to the music stand. “Are you still working on that?”
“It got...bigger,” Sherlock said. “What's so horrific about her starting preschool? Or have you finally accepted that it was a terrible idea?”
“No, it was a great idea,” John said. “Except the part where she had a complete meltdown when we tried to leave her there. Apparently Susie didn't want to stay, she was scared. And we left her crying, because what can you do, and then we got in the cab and Sarah started to cry because she felt bad and when either of them cry, I get—” he wiggled his fingers. “Stressed and upset.”
“Ah, separation anxiety,” Sherlock said. “Yes. That's normal. Children prefer having a familiar figure with them when attempting something new.”
“Yeah, thanks Dr Spock,” John said. “Did you read that in a book or something?”
“I must have at some point,” Sherlock said. “It's in the hard drive. Is this the sort of stressed and upset that needs us to talk about it?”
“No,” John said. “It's the sort of stressed and upset that needs a good cup of tea.”
“Excellent,” Sherlock said. “That's my favourite. Please, feel free to wallow silently. I have a symphony to compose.”
John made himself a cup of tea while Sherlock fiddled on the violin. He also had one of his laptops open to some sort of composition programme. He clicked and, indeed, a symphony came rolling out, different electronic sounding instruments layered over each other.
“Have you slept since Saturday?” John asked.
“Erm...” Sherlock said, distracted. “Yes. I did. Look, you can see I slept on the couch for a while.” He pointed with his bow in a direction that was not the couch.
John decided not to pursue conversation, and sipped at his tea to calm down.
He spent the day at Baker Street, writing his next column and waiting for the phone to ring to inform him something had gone horribly wrong at Growing Garden Preschool. Sherlock continued to write his symphony. John hadn't been aware he could compose for that many instruments, but there was a full string section at work, and Sherlock kept adding to it, instrument by instrument. He was in a manic mood, but very content.
John usually found Baker Street's gently chaotic atmosphere conducive to writing, but his mind was elsewhere that day. He just kept picturing Abby still wailing and waiting for someone to come and rescue her.
“If she were that upset, the carer would have rung by now,” Sherlock said. “As she would have made herself ill and disrupted the other children. The most likely scenario is that she calmed down within a few minutes of your departure. She always does that with me.”
“Sherlock, you've looked after her twice on your own,” John said. “'Always' is a bit much. And she knows you. You're not a stranger. Unfortunately.”
“Well, the worst case scenario is that this was not a good idea—as I told you—and you don't send her back again until she's older,” Sherlock said.
“We can't just let her avoid things she doesn't like,” John said. “She has to learn to cope on her own.”
“I see you're in one of those moods where nothing I say is going to be of any use,” Sherlock said. “I'll just let you feel inadequate, shall I?”
“Yeah, thanks,” John said. “S'probably the best way to do it.”
Sarah rang on her lunch break, and they commiserated about what horrible people they were to have inflicted this on Abby.
“Wait, I think we're supposed to be comforting each other,” she said. “Aren't we?”
“I'll put Sherlock on the phone,” John said. “He's being logical.”
“That bastard,” Sarah said.
“I know, right?” John said. “Exactly what we don't need.”
“First day has to be the worst,” Sarah said. “And then it gets easier?”
“Sure, let's go with that,” John said.
“Okay,” Sarah said. “Ring me after you pick her up. Or text me. Or just let me know that she's not permanently scarred by our awful parenting.”
“Roger,” John said.
“I'll see you after work,” Sarah said. “Love you.”
“Snap,” John said.
He ended the call. Sherlock informed his fictional cellos that they were under-performing, and bumped up something in the programme. He seemed pleased by them now.
At 2:30 precisely, John stood up to get Abby from preschool. He might have been watching the clock with something like obsession.
“I'm going to get Abby,” John said.
“Mmm,” Sherlock grunted.
“I might bring her back here,” John said. “If she's in a good mood. I won't bring her back if she's upset, though. I'll probably bribe her with ice cream or something. Oh! I need to take a picture of you.”
“Mmm,” Sherlock grunted, and then, “What?”
John took his mobile out. “The preschool asks for photos of people who might be picking the kids up, so they can match us to the right kid and make sure we're supposed to be there,” he explained. “They have a list of people who are safe to pick up the kids, or people who are probably safe but you should check first, and people who are definitely not safe to pick up the kids.”
“And which one I am?” Sherlock asked.
John laughed, but then realized Sherlock was serious. “The first,” he assured him. “We're gonna ask for you to be emergency contact if they can't get a hold of either Sarah or me. We figured you're the closest to the preschool, so you'd be able to get there the fastest, and you can either bring her here or take her to somewhere...”
“Safe?” Sherlock suggested.
“Else,” John said. “Is that okay?”
“Yes, fine,” Sherlock said.
“Good,” John said. “So, I need picture of you, because we looked and there is literally nothing out there in which do you not look angry, miserable or a bit creepy. So, can you give me something a bit more 'responsible and friendly adult'?”
“I am neither responsible nor friendly,” Sherlock said. “And adult is highly debatable.”
“I know,” John said. “Pretend. Smile.”
“Nope, giving me creepy,” John said. “Smile like you mean it.”
“I don't mean it,” Sherlock replied, through his smile.
John took a few shots, but there was nothing in there that wasn't screaming 'do not let this man have care of children'. He tried to think of something that might make Sherlock give a real smile.
“Killer swans,” John said. It was a reference to a case which involved the only time John had ever see Sherlock totally lose his shit with laughter. Full-on, rolling on the ground, curled up in a ball, unabashed, genuine laughter. It was one of the best things John had ever seen.
Sherlock snorted a laugh now, and then began to chuckle, until he was properly laughing. John managed to snap him at the right moment, and got a shot of him looking warm and friendly.
“There we go,” John said. He showed it to Sherlock, who was laughing too hard to look. John started to laugh himself, and had to leave before it got out of hand.
Growing Garden was in Marylebone, about a 10 minute cab ride from John and Sarah's place, and twenty minutes or so from 221. It was based in a home, but it was highly praised, and well-reviewed. Sherlock had approved the carers, and John and Sarah had been very glad when Abby was accepted. They didn't take a lot of kids.
John braced himself for the worst as he knocked on the door to the preschool.
“Hello,” Sinead, one of the carers greeted him. “Who are you looking for?”
“Abby Watson,” John said.
“Oh, yes,” Sinead said. “She's just in the playroom. I'll let her know you're here.” She went back into the house, and a few minutes later Abby came running to the front door and up into John's arms.
“Daddy!” she said.
“Hey, Peanut,” John said, hugging her to him rather more than was necessary. “How are you? Are you okay? Was she okay?”
“She was great,” Sinead said. “A few tears, but she settled herself very quickly, and we've had a fun day, haven't we?”
Abby nodded. She pointed to her head. She had a paper crown with her name on it, which was covered in pom-poms and sparkles that she'd looked to have applied herself. “I'm a princess,” she said.
“Yeah, look at that crown,” John said. “What does it say on it?”
“Abby,” Abby said. “My name.”
“It is your name,” John said. “There's A for Abby, and B for...”
“Baby,” Abby said.
“And another B for...”
“Baker Street,” Abby said.
“And a Y for...”
“Yttrium,” Abby said.
“She has these blocks, my friend gave them to her,” John tried to explain to Sinead, at her incredulous look. “It's...never mind. Y is for Yttrium, Abs, good job.” John took out his phone. “I have a picture of our emergency contact, for your file.”
“Oh, great,” Sinead said. “Just bump it over, if you can.” She took a tablet out, and they knocked their devices together. “And how does he know Abby?”
“He's a friend of the family. Sherlock Holmes,” John said.
“Sherlock Holmes?” Sinead said. “As in...?”
“Yep, that's him,” John said.
“I didn't realize...” Sinead said. “We thought Sherlock was like Susie. A 'friend'.”
“No, he's real,” John said. “Though, yeah, sometimes, it is hard to believe.”
John rang Sarah and Abby told her about her day over the phone. She was quite enthusiastic about it, but John had the impression she didn't understand that this was an every-day thing, and not a one off event. In any case, she was not traumatized, and John felt a little less horrible about it.
There was a stop by Gramma's flat for milk and biscuits in celebration of Abby's big day, and then they went up to see Sherlock, who had not moved since John had left. Abby started to run over, but stopped and looked at the violin with apprehension.
“Sherlock,” she said, waving both hands to get his attention. “I'm a princess.”
Sherlock looked over. “I see it's official now,” he said, dryly. “Congratulations.” He bowed with a flourish of his bow.
Abby giggled. She ran back to John and opened her rucksack, pulling out another crown. “I made a hat for Susie, but she said you could have it,” she said. She brought it to Sherlock, holding it up as high as she was able, but still failing to reach his head by half a person or so. She climbed up on the chair in front of the laptop, and was able to get it on him. “You're a princess, too!”
John snapped a picture on his phone. Sherlock shot him a glare that was half-amusement, and swung her down from the chair to the floor so he could sit.
“I think it's done,” he said to John. “Would you like to hear it?” He was so eager, he still had the crown on.
“Yeah,” John said. “Go for it.”
Sherlock pressed play or whatever it was that made the music come out. Maybe there was a little conductor in there. It was very tinny-sounding because it obviously wasn't real instruments, but John could still get the feel of the piece, and it was beautiful. Abby seemed to think so, too, as she began to dance around the living room to it; a gentle princess-y twirl, her bunches bouncing.
“Well, I don't think they've broken her spirit,” John said to Sherlock.
“It's only her first day,” Sherlock said. “Give it time.
“You survived,” John said. He gestured toward the computer. “That's brilliant.”
Sherlock shrugged. “Amateurish,” he said. “I never learned to be a great musician. That's why I like it. I can still get better.”
He'd got a better at a lot of things since John had met him. Who knew Sherlock Holmes would ever allow a three-year old princess to waltz around his living room, while he watched her with a smile?
“I like your music,” Abby said. “It's pretty. Do you want to dance?”
“No,” Sherlock said. “But please, feel free to continue. There are no limits on creativity here.”
“Yeah, not always the best policy,” John said, pointing to the smiley face that still adorned the wall nine years later. Sherlock eyed it with a pleased grin. “We'll make sure she doesn't get beaten down, Sherlock.”
“I hope so,” Sherlock said. “I intend to keep a close eye on it.”