Into the Light
Autumn arrived without fanfare. Mycroft, or more often one of his lackeys, still stopped by periodically to "say hello." Which, of course, was super-secret code for "make sure John hadn't offed himself." As if he'd do that here in the flat where Mrs Hudson would find his body. He could never do that to her. More likely, he would wade out into the Thames and shoot himself. Much less messy and disruptive that way.
Why, yes. He had considered various scenarios, thanks for asking.
When Mrs Hudson tapped on the sitting room door that evening to announce that someone wanted to speak to him, he figured it was yet another petty government official from Mycroft's payroll.
"Tell whoever it is they can go back to their boss. I'm still alive and likely to stay that way," he said. For the time being, he added silently for himself alone.
"It's not one of his. It's a young woman."
That was odd and almost enough to get him up out of his chair. "Who is it?"
"I'm still not your housekeeper, dear," she admonished more out of habit than anything else. "And she didn't give a name." She dropped her voice in a vain attempt at a conspiratorial tone. "She looks to have brought a violin."
Now that was interesting. "Let her in. Please."
And there she was. It had been more than two months since he'd heard her music. Not since that night she'd played that piece that would have broken his heart if it hadn't already been shattered to pieces. That piece that had somehow left him feeling less alone and less lost than he'd felt since Sherlock's passing.
But then she'd disappeared. He'd looked to see if she'd stopped into the clinic like he'd offered, but other than a Jane Doe from that same night, there had been nothing on record.
Now Asha stood in the sitting room doorway, staring at him.
"Hello," he said.
"I thought you'd gone."
"I had. Now I'm back. Sort of. Can I come in?"
"Sure." He gestured and she entered, glancing warily around the flat as if judging potential escape routes.
"I like your skull." She nodded towards it on the mantel.
"Oh. Of course."
Unlike the previous times he'd offered, she nodded. "Yeah. Thanks."
He went to the kitchen and bustled about, filling the kettle and plugging it in, digging a box of tea out of the cluttered cupboard, finding two mugs that weren't in need of a wash and dropping tea bags into them.
"Where've you been, if you don't mind me asking?" What he really wanted to say was, "I've missed you and your music out there in the shadows." But that would have sounded creepy no matter how he phrased it.
"Oh. Good for you."
Filled and steaming mugs in hand, he returned to the sitting room and offered one to her. She set down her violin case in order to take it.
"Careful. It's hot. Sit down if you want."
"Thanks." She perched on the edge of a chair, directly in line with the still open door to the stairs. John made a point of not walking between her and the exit even though it meant taking an awkward and lengthy route to the sofa. He was astonished she was here at all; the last thing wanted was to spook her into running off again.
He sat down and set his tea mug on the table. "You look well." Brilliant conversationalist, he was.
"Thanks. You look like hell."
He'd have laughed but he was fairly certain he'd forgotten how. He managed a wry, "Thanks."
"Sorry." She set her untasted tea on the floor beside the chair. "Look. I came here to ask you a favour."
That was a surprise. The only person who'd needed his help in a long time was Mrs Hudson, and that was just to open the occasional marmalade jar or fetch something down from a high shelf. All things he knew she could do fine on her own, but she was trying to make him feel useful.
He cleared his throat. "Favour?"
"Yeah. I-- I can't think who else to ask. I didn't want to bother you, but--" She hesitated and rushed on. "You'll think I'm daft, but I think it's time for me to pay up."
"Pay up?" And now he was stuck in an echo pattern. Clever, John, he thought disdainfully. "What for?"
"You know the weird lady with the shop? She gave me back that." She nodded to the cased violin.
Now he began to understand. "Winnie. I know her well enough. But what have I got to do with it?"
She shrugged. "Maybe nothing." Another hesitation. "I got a call last week. It came through the centre. I reckon that's how they tracked me down."
Instead of answering, she said, "My dad asked to see me. He's... He's in prison. I haven't seen him since he went inside."
"I see." He didn't really, but he thought he was beginning to. He wanted to ask questions. How long had he been inside? Where was her mother? And didn't she have any other family? But that was the worst thing he could do, so instead he kept quiet.
The silence between them dragged on and he could only wait for her to break it. Whether that would be with an explanation of this favour she'd mentioned or with her abrupt departure remained to be seen.
Traffic noise passed below in the street. A car horn honked and faded away. Indistinct shouts and laughter drifted up to his ears.
"Will you go with me to see him?" she blurted out at last.
Her question so surprised him that he said, "Why me?"
"Why not you?"
"Isn't there a friend you'd rather ask? Or perhaps your sponsor would be a better choice?"
Asha shook her head, her long hair catching on the slumped hood of her sweatshirt. "Not really a possibility. Besides-- You're the closest thing I've got to a friend right now." She looked at him with dark eyes. Defiance and fear were written in the tight corners of her mouth.
John swallowed hard once. How long since anyone had genuinely needed him? Not as a doctor. Not as a handy helper. As a friend.
He could name the number of days without thinking.
He blinked, looked down at his hands where they rested between his knees, and swallowed again. Then, without raising his head, he nodded. "Yes," he said, finally meeting her gaze again and finding it less defiant and more hopeful, less afraid and more confident. "I'd be glad to go with you to see your father."
"You don't have to go all the way into the room," she assured him quickly. "Just, you know, ride along. So I know someone's waiting for me."
"Whatever you need," he said firmly.
It was the first time he'd seen her smile. "Thanks."