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Six Dates

Chapter Text

(01)

John and Rosie moved in on a Friday. For John, of course, it was a prodigal return of sorts, a heavy unsung homecoming that drudged up feelings he didn’t want to examine too closely. For Rosie, it was the first--no, second, major upheaval in her young life, but the first one that John was fully responsible for. It bothered John, of course it did, all of it, everything. But he pushed it down and told himself that he needed the help, the proximity to babysitters and godparents and public transport to his new ghost-free job. None of it was untrue, after all.

Apart from Rosie playing the role of squirming hot potato, all two stone of her being endlessly transferred between John, Sherlock, and poor Mrs. Hudson all afternoon, the move went remarkably like the first time all those years ago. Owing to John moving very little from the old flat, in the end. It was mostly Rosie’s things packed in Mary’s luggage, and his clothes, which all still fit in a large army duffel. He left Mary’s sunny old flat with its too-large rooms, and moved his daughter into dark and dusty 221B, both of them crammed into his old bedroom upstairs. It wasn’t the most tenable of long-term living solutions, but he didn’t have the energy to deal with long-term. He had a finite amount of will to deal with anything at all beyond the current work week and Rosie’s daily supply of nappies, and anyway, he needed the help. That much, even his new therapist had agreed, was true.

Rosie and Mrs. Hudson seemed to run out of patience with the day at around the same time. By the time daylight was fading to burnt orange outside, Rosie was emphatically done with her empty bottle, and she started yawning and fussing into the collar of John’s shirt, her eyelids drooping in that guileless way of tired children. Mrs. Hudson, having had a full day’s workout, made her excuses to get an early start on her evening routine downstairs. And then they were alone.

“You rest,” Sherlock said, putting down his cuppa and scooping up Rosie from John’s arms. “I’ll put her to bed upstairs. Maybe we’ll celebrate your return to Baker Street when I return?”

“You sure you want to put her to bed? Sherlock?” John said, but Sherlock was already headed for the stairs with Rosie in automatic adjustment against his shoulder. He paused at the door to the landing, a safe distance away, and gave a polite little smile, as if he weren’t doing John a favour right this moment. As if Sherlock hadn’t slipped right into their John-and-Rosie life and known just what both of them needed.

In the doorway, Rosie had one loose fist raised, rubbing at her eye as she snuffled into Sherlock’s neck, and Sherlock’s hand spanned the whole of her back, rubbing it idly, soothing. John’s heart gave a little kick at the sight; it felt like the last spasm of muscle he was capable of for the day.

“Of course,” Sherlock said, breaking the spell.

They disappeared upstairs, and John watched the empty space where they had stood until the sky outside darkened completely, blanketing the sitting room in dim, murky shadows. His eyes drifted closed, ears unconsciously straining to listen to Sherlock’s formless rumblings drifting down from the room above--a bedtime story--and exhaustion took him before he got to the end of the book.

-

John woke to the unmistakable smell of curry and the homey sound of a fire. He started to move, stretching away some of his stiffness, but he was so pleasantly warm and loathe to crack open his eyes--he kicked off the blanket that had been laid on top of him and watched Sherlock come into view, takeaway containers in hand.

“Ah, you’re awake.”

John swung his legs down off the couch and rubbed his eyes, taking in the piled up containers on the coffee table. “You got dinner. How long was I out?”

“Not that long,” Sherlock said noncommittally. “Long enough for me to get Rosie to sleep and to get takeaway. Dishoom.”

“God, I’m bloody starving,” John said as the realisation struck him. He was salivating at what he suspected to be mattar paneer, if he knew Sherlock’s ordering habits. Which of course he did, because this was John’s favourite Indian in London. John hummed happily, weak with gratitude. “This was...this was really nice, Sherlock, thank you. I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome home.”

A blush stole over Sherlock’s face, which crinkled up in a pleased little smile. “Yes, well. You know you’re more than welcome here, John.” He started scooping out biryani onto the two plates already set out before them. Settled down side by side on the sofa, they started in the food with all the ceremony of two famished bachelors.

“Almost forgot,” Sherlock said some long moments later, a little loud in the quiet they’d drifted into. Neither one of them had elected to switch on the telly for background noise. “Not much of a celebration without libations. There’s a choice of beverage, would you prefer a Kingfisher? There’s also a Chardonnay or maybe a Riesling hiding in the fridge somewhere.”

“Mm, you choose,” John said, swallowing a mouthful of sauced naan and tearing off another piece.

He chewed thoughtfully, watching Sherlock’s retreating back as he went to retrieve some stemmed glasses and root around in the fridge.

It was only later, in bed, as consciousness faded and his limbs grew heavy with exhaustion and the quiet stirrings of the violin wound their way upstairs, that he wondered when Sherlock had started keeping white wine in the flat.

(02)

The following few days passed in a blur. Molly dropped by midweek when it seemed like Lestrade needed Sherlock for a case, but Sherlock said it was a five at best and he wound up solving it from the flat before Rosie was done with her evening bottle.

“To be honest, this doesn’t feel any different from before you officially moved back in,” Molly commented, when Sherlock had faffed off to his room for an older map reference than he could find on his laptop.

“Lavatories,” he had muttered, leaving John and Molly on the sofa. Rosie was stood between Molly’s legs, carefully dumping block after block into Molly’s open bag between them.

“No, yeah, I suppose not,” John agreed. He’d spent enough post-case nights in the upstairs bedroom over the past few months, with Rosie in a crib they’d long installed in 221A downstairs. There were now more changes of clothing for the both of them though, and less guilt eating away at him whenever it came down to the hour or two before Rosie’s bedtime. Decision time as to whether to haul her all the way back home or just stay the night, yet again.

“He seems happy,” Molly continued, head gesturing back toward Sherlock’s bedroom.

John’s eyebrows lifted at that. “Sherlock?” He looked in the direction of Sherlock’s closed bedroom door, as if that was going to give him any insight into his happiness.

“He ordered two orders of dumplings,” Molly said by way of explanation, confusion crinkling her brow. Her eyes narrowed just slightly at John, which made him feel grateful that Rosie was fussing spectacularly that she’d run completely out of toys to dump into Molly’s purse.

“Okay, missy, time for you to go to bed and for Molly to excavate her bag, eh?” John scooped her up and heaved up off the couch. “Say goodnight to Molly,” he said, dipping her down to let Molly cuddle her.

“Moh!” Rosie said obediently, although she wore a familiar pout as she spouted the unexpected little syllable, and she turned away to bury her face in John’s neck, already yawning.

John and Molly exchanged a long, wordless look of surprise.

“Wow, I don’t--I don’t think she’s ever--” John started.

“No, no, she hasn’t.” Molly’s eyebrows looked as far up as his now, and then they broke out into matching grins, equal parts incredulous, happy, and shocked. He’d have to tell Sherlock after Rosie was down for the night.

“I--well. Stick around if you’d like, Molly, I’m sure Sherlock will be out in a minute. I’ll just--put her to bed before the crankiness goes nuclear.”

He left Molly on the sofa, his heart twisting with a shapeless regret that Sherlock wasn’t around for the moment.

-

When Friday rolled around, Sherlock arranged for Mrs. Hudson to take Rosie for the night, after making sure to tire her out at the children’s playground that afternoon, he told John. (“That’s the trick, tiring them out.”) In a way, John mused, Rosie was more used to spending the night in the cot downstairs than the one upstairs.

“I thought Angelo’s,” Sherlock said with uncharacteristic shyness. “Or, I could cook a pasta thing here, but since Rosie’s with Mrs. Hudson, I just thought…” He trailed off, faint pinkness heating his cheeks. He gestured vaguely at the kitchen, as if he was going to cook in that getup.

“No, no, that sounds...great. Good,” John said. “Pasta would hit the spot, yeah. Let me just get my coat.”

It was just something he said to get moving. The coat proved unnecessary for the unseasonably warm weather, which even Sherlock seemed to dress for tonight. He left his Belstaff on the hook, and looked remarkably thin and vulnerable in a satiny grey shirt and pressed black trousers. The shirt had even lighter grey, pearlish buttons, which of course weren’t done up enough to hide a pale vee of skin that drew the eyes down from the column of his already damnably long neck. Even in the warm flickering candlelight of Angelo’s, he seemed cast in a monochromatic greyscale, picture perfect and smooth clean lines.

By comparison, John felt every bit the sweating, frumpy dad that he was.

“Sherlock! It’s good to see you, my friend,” Angelo greeted with his usual verve. “No daughter today?” He looked between Sherlock and John expectantly, as if Rosie would pop up out of John’s shooting jacket with a squeal.

“No, er, it’s past her bedtime,” John said. “Babysitter has her.”

“Ah, good, good, it’s important to get time alone, away from the bambino,” Angelo said, conjuring up visions in John’s mind of Angelo’s Italian mother with those words on her lips, or possibly a wife. Was Angelo married? John had never asked. “I’ll prepare you something myself tonight then, no menus, no menus. Something special. A bottle of wine for you, okay?” He took up the menus the hostess had given them and disappeared to the kitchen with a cartoonish wink.

John chuckled at Angelo’s departing form until he caught sight of Sherlock across the table, flushed pink and holding himself very very still. John could see the flush creeping down his neck. Those stupid unbuttoned buttons.

“You alright? Sherlock?”

“Yes, of--of course. I was just being--well. Scandalised by a couple behind you. No, don’t look.” Sherlock seemed to push the words out mechanically, but his shoulders visibly relaxed. Of course John desperately wanted to look now. “No, they’re leaving now, never mind,” Sherlock said in a single breath, eyes tracking away from John and then down at the tablecloth.

But then oven-fresh bread and olive oil arrived for the table, and John was entirely engrossed in overloading on carbs for the next hour to really think about the couple that he never caught a glimpse of.

(03)

The next Friday ended well into Saturday thanks to a moonlit chase right to the banks of the Thames. Thankfully, neither one of them fell in this time. He wouldn’t have liked to explain the stench to Mrs. Hudson again in the morning.

The adrenaline hadn’t worn off yet by the time they stumbled into the sitting room, making them clumsy as drunks and just as giggly. In the dark, John stepped on a toy of Rosie’s, which started a short burst of song, circus-loud in the stillness of the flat.

“Shhh! Shhh! Shut up!” John scolded, hopelessly drowned out by the cloying children’s song. “Children are sleeping!”

Sherlock’s shoulders shook with laughter that he kept nearly silent, which under the circumstances seemed wholly unnecessary as the song kept going cheerfully, let’s sing a song about you!, spelling out Rosie’s name like a clap machine-accompanied spell. R! O! S! I! E! John dissolved into laughter despite himself, groaning. Please, please let her not wake up.

“You--” Sherlock laughed breathlessly, trying to keep his voice low still. “You told my pal Violet to shut up.” He was wheezing in earnest, his face warm with genuine, childish glee. He wiped at his eyes and then unceremoniously collapsed onto the sofa, taking up the whole length of the thing quite attractively. Selfishly. The song at least had mercifully stopped after one bar of Rosie’s name.

“Oi,” John said indignantly, before claiming a spot on the sofa for himself in revenge--on Sherlock’s feet. “Budge over. Is that her name, Violet?”

“Some detective’s companion you are,” Sherlock huffed, grinning. “The dog’s name lights up on her collar when she sings.”

“I wasn’t reading the damn flashing light,” John retorted. “I was too busy panicking.”

“Like a first-time criminal in the flashing lights of a police car,” Sherlock teased, sing-song. He chuckled at the thought.

“You got me,” John said, snorting. “Arrest me, take me away.”

Sherlock coughed abruptly, clearing his throat as he sat up on the sofa, one quick jerk of his body. “Nightcap?”

“Love one.”

Sherlock extricated his bony feet from underneath John and padded to the kitchen, leaving John temporarily alone with Violet the singing dog. He meant to ask Sherlock when he got around to programming the name song into the toy, but it simply slipped his mind.

(04)

Three weeks into being back full-time at Baker Street, John blearily started the week by getting all the way to the clinic doors before realising it was a bank holiday. And of course Sherlock didn’t keep track of that sort of thing, so he was of no help this morning. So John trudged back home, exasperated and annoyed at himself; the lack of rush hour bodies jammed onto the tube really should have tipped him off.

His mood was lighter by the time he arrived home though. He unexpectedly had all day to spend with Sherlock and Rosie, which would be good even if they did nothing at all. And if he was going to have a child unapologetically cough in his face today, at least it’d be his own child.

He crept up the stairs, skipping the fifth tread that always creaked. Maybe he could get the drop on Sherlock for once. And if he were honest, he was curious to get a glimpse of what their day was like after he’d gone to work. It pulled up a shockingly blank slate when he tried to pull it up; he knew Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson shared duties about feeding and changing her, took her out to the park sometimes, but John wasn’t aware of any sort of schedule. No playdates or Gymboree or anything like that. At 10am on a Monday morning, what his own daughter was doing outside of his care drew up nothing but question marks.

“Da,” he could hear Sherlock saying through the cracked open front door. Was he speaking Russian? “Daddy. Come on now. You can try it with me. Dad-dy. Da-da, if you must.”

John’s breath froze in his lungs. Not Russian then.

“Alright, you were doing better with the nasal consonants then, let’s try that. Muh. Moll. Molly. You try.”

“Muh!” Rosie exclaimed, more squeal than anything. “Mull.”

“Good!” Sherlock was saying warmly. “That wasn’t bad. You need to work on your obstruents though. Da. Da. Your tongue goes behind your teeth. When you get teeth. More teeth. Oh, don’t look at me like that, I can’t make them come in any faster.”

And because John suspected, but he didn’t know, he crept up to the front door of their flat and peered in, heart thumping wildly in his throat.

Sherlock and Rosie were, surprisingly, both in view from the landing. Sherlock was faced away from the door, sprawled out on one of the rugs, propped up on one elbow. Rosie sat up on the far side of him, eyes drawn to the mobile phone in his hand. He was flipping through pictures.

“Shuh-ock?” Rosie seemed to say, pointing tentatively at one of the pictures. Her face looked like it was screwed up in concentration.

“Yes,” he answered, and John could hear the frown in his tone. “That’s not what we’re working on here now, is it? Here, here’s one. Da. Dad. Daddy. Go on.”

Rosie was quiet, looking up at him with a pensive look on her face, and then she caught a glimpse of John in the crack of the door. Her eyes lit up unmistakably, and for the first time in Rosie’s life, that look sparked panic in John’s gut. Sherlock’s head whipped around and John could hear the noise of the phone’s display being put to sleep.

“John?”

John scrambled to straighten up from his low, careful crouch. Inside, he could hear Sherlock getting up off the floor.

“John, is that you?”

Clearing his throat, he walked up to the door and pushed it open before Sherlock got there. He’d just picked up Rosie off the ground. “Yeah, yeah, hey...it’s me,” John said, feeling stupid and obvious.

But it was Sherlock who was blushing, mouth hanging half-open. Rosie tried to put her fist in it, so he snapped it shut.

“Shoe-ock!” she squealed in his arms, entranced by their little game.

“She can say your name?” John said a bit numbly. “And Molly’s?”

Sherlock’s mouth softened with shock again. “I--well, no, not exactly, just linguistic approximations of similar nasal, sonorant, sibilance--you know, I expect half that she’s just free-associating anyway, infant synapses are known to fire randomly, or she’s simply moving spit around her mouth, or--or--”

“Shh’lock,” Rosie squealed, trying to steal a finger into Sherlock’s mouth on a stammered or, and this time the lock was crystal clear in a way it wasn’t before, not from John’s vantage in the landing.

“Oh my god, she talks. She knows your name,” John heard himself saying, not a little bit of awe in his tone.

Sherlock’s face did something complicated, something John couldn’t quite follow. Like John had voiced a shameful secret, and he was preparing himself for the fallout. But why would there be fallout, when Rosie had been delayed in hitting her speech milestones up til now? Why would it be bad that she finally said a few words, and John could feel like she wasn’t neglecting her only daughter, failing her, leaving her too much with--

“Oh,” he said, in the moment he felt his face fall with realisation. Sherlock was teaching her to say daddy, because that’s a word she didn’t say.

Sherlock stood in the centre of their sitting room, John’s daughter on his hip and a desperate, wordless look on his face. Something nameless and gaping between them.

At that moment, Mrs. Hudson rattled up the stairs with a tray behind him, by the sounds of it, and no doubt found John in the doorway of the flat, frozen like a deer.

“Miss-un!” Rosie greeted her as she came in. Sherlock visibly cringed.

“Hullo, Rosie!” Mrs. Hudson said cheerfully. “Oh, John, are you back from work already? Oh no, of course not, today’s a bank holiday, isn’t it? I rather forgot.” She tsked at herself as John moved to the side to let her through. She unloaded a plate of biscuits, which Rosie reached for plaintively from Sherlock’s arms, and started loading up this morning’s cups onto her tray.

“It’s a lovely day out there, boys, if you’re up to leaving the flat today,” Mrs. Hudson prattled on, heedless. Something in the lilt of her voice transported John to the day he first visited 221B. There’s another bedroom upstairs, if you’ll be needing two bedrooms.

Here it was, years later, and Mrs. Turner’s married ones had moved out to the suburbs. Yet Sherlock and John remained, with a child now to boot.

John found himself nodding before the words formed. “Yeah, Sherlock, let’s--let’s you and me take Rosie out for the day, if you’re up for it.” Sherlock blinked, at once bewildered and shy. “If you’ve got nothing else on, that is.”

“No,” Sherlock said slowly, as if it were a trick. “I don’t.”

“Come on then. I’ll pack a bag for Rosie.”

-

The plan was to spend the morning at the London Zoo, as Sherlock estimated the crowds would be easier to handle than in the afternoon. But even Sherlock underestimated the holiday crowd in picture perfect weather. With Rosie strapped to him, Sherlock navigated the winding stairwell at the Camden Town station with about as much sniffing ferocity as John had ever seen him take on a suspect with. Rosie, of course, squealed like it was bumper cars, which it sort of was.

Somehow or another, some former client of Sherlock’s found them near the ticketing centre and insisted on hiring out a pushchair to them free of charge. Rosie had her midday nap in it, after a good couple hours of pressing herself flat against glass and fence enclosures. John told her all the common names of the animals and Sherlock tried to impress with telling her the scientific names, but given the amount he was playing on his phone and sneaking looks at the plaques, John could tell he was cheating. They squabbled over it only a little.

The afternoon was less intense as far as crowds went, but their stopover at Regent’s Park was still busy with families and couples. They staked out a bench to themselves, and made the mistake of giving Rosie a lolly.

“Alright, I didn’t think to bring two changes of clothing,” John complained. “She looks like she’s committed a murder.” He frowned at her, which made her laugh maniacally. His daughter. “A very...fruity murder. Come on, we have to get her home.”

“And what sort of murders are you chronicling, my dear Boswell?” Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “Given the location of the...mess, I’d say she’s closer to a fruit bat than a murderer.”

“Sherlock,” John said, although he was already chuckling.

“Alright, I’ll go fix it, hold on. Just wait here.”

“Fix it? Fix it how?” John called out, frowning, but Sherlock was already winking and whisking Rosie away.

John sighed.

It wasn’t more than a moment that a woman joined him, because John had the worst timing on the planet. Straight brown hair with seagreen eyes. Not a young thing like he used to chase; more middle aged, handsome, with spray of freckles a shade darker than the ones on Sherlock’s neck. She smiled brightly at him when he looked up.

“Lovely weather y'all are having today. I thought it was all fog and rain this side of the pond,” she laughed, American drawl on full display. He was pretty shit at American regional accents, but he was fairly sure she was...southern.

“No, not everyday,” John smiled, trying for politeness.

Sherlock caught up with them with Rosie in tow. She was, as Sherlock promised, fixed--in that she was wearing a London Zoo shirt in a toddler’s size too large for her. When had he her purchased that? But she was less fruit bat down her front and certainly less murderer.

Rosie clamored to be put down by Sherlock and then to be picked up by John, and so obliged her. The shirt fell on her like a dress. “Hello, love.”

“Oh my gosh, is this y'all's daughter?” the American said, her lilt positively musical with warmth. “Why, if y'all aren't just the most beautiful family!”

“Oh, er, thank you,” John said. In the corner of his eye, he caught the tips of Sherlock’s ears turning red, and something flared protectively, almost recklessly. “Thank you,” he repeated to the woman, and then made their excuses to get back home.

(05)

Everyone looked forward to Fridays, and John was no different. The weekend was a natural pavlovian reward for a typical five day work week, and five days was about as much as he could manage any part of his sleep-deprived life, given that he shared a room with Rosie so. He looked forward to Fridays as any person would and there seemed very little that could be deemed suspicious about that.

But then Thursday morning, Sherlock got a case that took him to Belgium. And Thursday afternoon saw him on a Eurostar to a medieval little town called Bruges, where an art thief was hiding. Estimates that Sherlock would be home late Friday night turned into early Saturday morning, and John ignored the way his stomach dropped when he received that text.

Well, he decided, he’d just have to enjoy a quiet night in at 221B. He ordered himself a Thai takeaway feast for one, and opened one, then two, bottles of Singha, ready to catch up on some TV.

He found himself staring at his phone instead, fingers hovering over the keyboard.

Rosie misses you.

The response was immediate.

Oh? SH

Yes.

I, he started to type. And stopped.

Three bouncing dots appeared on Sherlock’s end, and John expected another text. He stared, for a long time, but one never came. John fell asleep on the sofa.