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Before I Come Home

Chapter Text

The flat has been rebuilt. The floors are cleaned, the paint dried. The books on the shelves have been replaced, the skulls put back in their rightful places. The yellow face on the wall grins at Sherlock like it always used to, only drawn by John's hand this time, completed with three bullet holes for old times' sake.

It is as good as new, with no traces of the ruins it was rendered to if you don't look past the surface. It's not as it used to be, but Sherlock doesn't think that it can ever be that way again. That is fine. He doesn't think that he can ever be that way again either.

It's a strange thought. He is not sure how he feels about that. The past few months - years, really – have been exhausting beyond anything Sherlock has ever experienced, and he has been in rehab several times. He supposes that he should be grateful. He came out of everything that happened alive and unharmed, more or less. He has John back in his life, and Rosie. He is fine. It's fine.

So he doesn't think about it.

He works a lot instead. He told Mrs. Hudson that it's the best antidote to sorrow, and while he has no reason to feel sorrow, he does feel inclined to follow his own advice for once. He keeps busy enough that he simply has no time to ponder his feelings on the matter. And it works, most days. It's fine. He is getting by, making money, and cherishing the days when John decides to spend a few hours with him, sometimes bringing Rosie along. Having spent so long apart, not knowing if John would ever want to see him again, every minute feels like a treasure.

It's the days in between that make him falter in his rhythm, when there is no work to be done. When John hasn't come to see him and starts feeling continents away rather than miles. When the lure of what Sherlock used to seek out when his mind turned in on itself becomes stronger than he wants to bear. He is clean again. He promised himself that.

It doesn't make it any easier.

It is on those days that he realises how deep the feeling he so expertly ignores most of the time cuts within him. He doesn't know what to do with it. He feels worn, tired in a way that has nothing to do with sleeping. He doesn't quite feel right within himself.

Then again, he seldom has. The fact that the feeling is different now, bigger than what it used to be, bigger than Sherlock when he is at his lowest by far, is just a minor inconvenience.

He tells himself that on those days. He doesn't stop to think about it, because he is sure he won't like what he would find once he starts digging. Deep waters indeed.

He carries on.

It is Mycroft who gets him thinking in the end. He addresses the issue during one of his social calls – rather more frequent these days – with a scrutinising look over his cup of tea.

“Do you think this is a good idea, Sherlock?”

Sherlock meets his eyes with a questioning glance. “What is?”

“The way you're... handling things? Forgive me if I'm overstepping, but I can't quite help but think that you've been drowning your emotional response to the traumatic and disturbing events of the last few months, or years by extension, in work.”

Sherlock frowns, briefly wondering if Mycroft decided to read up on Freud. “Since when do you give a fig about emotions?” he asks.

Mycroft regards him steadily. “You're not the only one who has changed, brother dear.”

Sherlock takes a sip from his cup. Mycroft leans back, lifting an eyebrow. “How are you, Sherlock?”

“I'm fine,” Sherlock replies immediately. Mycroft gives him a smug look, and Sherlock narrows his eyes. Damn him.

“Allow me,” Mycroft puts forward, “to make a suggestion. I know you have built your life here. But you don't seem at the top of your game, if you'll forgive me for saying so. You have always been much more sensitive than I wanted to see. Recent events have been... taxing, for all of us. A lot of your trauma is connected to this city and your life here. Don't you think a break would be beneficial? Just to clear your head, as they say. It would do you good to get away from here for a while. Everything you're leaving behind will still be here once you return.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me, brother?” Sherlock retorts, but Mycroft just raises an eyebrow. Meddlesome as ever. Sherlock can't quite bring himself to be mad. That, he supposes, is a concession of his being right in itself.

“I suppose you have a suggestion for my... getting away,” he says. Mycroft's face shows surprise for a split second, gone within the blink of an eye. It gives Sherlock a childish sense of satisfaction. Mycroft may always be right, but he can still catch him off guard.

“As it happens, there is a wellness clinic in Cornwall that I can highly recommend. It's similar to one of those health hotels, if you have heard of those, only with qualified people.”

Sherlock snorts. “Hand-picked, I assume.”

Mycroft's look silences him. “I can personally testify to the competence of each and every employee. They have an excellent selection of treatments for body and mind alike. The scenery is not to be disregarded either. It's not a bad place to spend some time.” Sherlock quirks an eyebrow at his delicate phrasing for what he assumes boils down to counselling. The prospect of wellness treatments holds a certain appeal though. He does feel wrung out, like he's not quite at the top of his game the way he used to be. It might be age catching up with him rather than the strain of the last months, but the thought of resting for a while is intriguing, to say the least.

Good god, he is getting old.

Mycroft takes a card from his pocket. “This is the name of the clinic. I'm sure you'll want to conduct your own research before making a decision. Do give it a thought, Sherlock. For your sake, if not mine.” His lips curl slightly. “The English countryside is so nice this time of the year.”

Sherlock takes the card. “I'll think about it,” he says. Mycroft nods.

“That is all I ask. Rest assured that everything will be taken care of, should you decide to go. It's your choice.”

He leaves soon after that, having said what he came for. He stops on his way out, though.

“There is no weakness in taking care of yourself, brother. It would... reassure me, to see you taking care of what I failed to do.”

Sherlock swallows and doesn't reply. He listens to Mycroft's steps on the staircase as he leaves. His eyes fall on the card in his hands. Eaton Health Resort, Cornwall.

He hasn't been to Cornwall in a few years. It's nice, from what he remembers. He looks around the flat, turning the card over in his hands. Everything still looks a little too new, too clean, but it is undeniably, irrevocably home. It has been for the last couple of years, ever since he set foot into 221b with John following after him, still leaning on his cane. It was home even when it wasn't, when he worked his way through Moriarty's network when he was dead. It was home when John wasn't here anymore, when he returned and brought Mary with him each time, when Rosie was here for the first time and during the long, silent months Sherlock does not want to think about.

It is home now, and yet.

And yet.

He looks at the chair opposite his – John's, it's still John's, even though he doesn't live here anymore and never claimed this one except for his visits.

It's John's, and it's empty. It's a void Sherlock does not know how to handle most days, despite having done so ever since his return from the dead.

In some ways it's easier now, after everything that happened between them in recent history. In some ways it is much, much worse.

Suddenly a change of scenery doesn't seem like the worst idea Mycroft has ever had.

He would come back, of course he would. Soon. The flat would still be there. The work would still be there. John and Rosie would certainly still be there when he returned.

But maybe the ghosts that linger in the shadows of the flat, sometimes behind every corner in the city, catching up with Sherlock when he's at his lowest, would cease. Maybe London would be London again instead of the ghost town it had become.

Maybe Sherlock would feel a little more settled again. A little more whole, just a touch.

Sherlock gets up to fetch his laptop. He reads up on the clinic for a while, then ponders the topic over his solitary dinner. By the time night falls, he has made his decision.

He asks John to come over the next day. He arrives in time for lunch, nodding his agreement when Sherlock asks if he wants Thai.

He settles in his chair (his, Sherlock thinks, still his, always his) while Sherlock places their order. When he's done, he sits down opposite him.

There is no use in deferring the news.

Sherlock folds his hands together. “I'm going to go away for a while.”

As expected, John's eyes shoot up immediately. “What?” The utter shock his face betrays surprises Sherlock however.

“Don't look so scared,” he jokes. “I would have thought you'd be glad to get rid of me for some time.”

“That's-” John cuts himself off, then shakes his head slightly and asks instead, “Where are you going?”

“Cornwall. There is a health resort in St. Ives that I'm going to be staying at.”

“A health resort.” John furrows his brow. “This isn't for a case, is it? Are you sick? You should have told me that something was up. I'm a doctor, you know, I'm capable-”

“I'm not sick,” Sherlock interjects. “I'm perfectly alright, John. I do trust your professional opinion, regardless of what I may have led you to believe.”

John blinks at him in incomprehension. “What is this, then? Some sort of vacation?”

“In a way, yes. The resort is versatile. It's a wellness spa for those who want it and a health retreat for those who need it.”

“And you are...”

“Somewhere in the middle,” Sherlock concedes. “You know the last couple of months have been... eventful. Mycroft and I agree that it would do me no harm to take a step back for some time.”

John's eyebrows lift, but he refrains from commenting. “For how long?” he asks instead.

“A few weeks, no longer than three months. I do have a reputation to uphold, but I'm keeping my options open.” He lifts his shoulders. “See how long I can bear staying away. From London.”

From you, is what he almost let slip. John meets his eyes for a moment before frowning at his hands. “Three months,” he repeats, as if to himself.

Ah. That's what he's worried about.

“I'll be back,” Sherlock says softly. A warm sensation spreads in his stomach. It is still new to him to admit his importance in John's life, but he knows that apart from Rosie, he is all John has left. Despite everything he did wrong when it comes to John and himself. Even though he knows it's second-best to what he really wants at most, he won't deny John that.

“Yeah, I know. Yeah, just- can't imagine you out of London, is all.”

He gives him a brief smile, but it doesn't reach his eyes. He is still looking all too serious. Sherlock bites his lip, trying to lighten the mood.

“I know. Can you believe it? Look at me, I've gotten boring. Domesticated.”

John regards him with a tight crease in his forehead. When he speaks, he lowers his eyes to somewhere next to Sherlock's shoulder. “Still, I think it's a good idea.” His voice is quiet. He hesitates slightly before he continues. “I... yeah. It's good. For you. You should go and look after yourself. It's been... a lot. You should go,” he repeats, as if trying to convince him. Or himself.

Sherlock nods once in agreement, giving John a scrutinising look. He isn't quite sure what to make of his words, or the fact that John won't meet his eyes. “I will,” he agrees, then swallows. He can feel the words he wasn't sure he should say on the tip of his tongue, ready to tumble out. He's still not sure if he should. John is still looking away, seemingly brooding.

“I've been reading up on the health resort,” Sherlock begins before he can change his mind. Enough time has passed where they didn't say the words that stood between them. Sherlock is over that. Nothing good has ever come out of keeping everything inside, hidden like a dark secret. There are some things he can never say, not because of himself, but for John's sake. These are the things he doesn't need to know if he doesn't already. Sherlock is honestly not sure. It's not a pleasant sensation. He thinks that the secret he is hiding, the depth of his affection towards John is as visible as a flashing neon sign on the best days, but John has never acknowledged it, and it is his decision to make. If John chooses to disregard them, he isn't going to make him face it. If that is what keeps him by John's side, then it's a small price to pay. Sherlock has been through worse. But apart from that, they have learned the hard way that honesty is the better choice, always.

“Yes?” John asks, effectively ripping him from his thoughts.

“Er. It said on the website that it's also equipped for parent-child-treatments. That is, if you'd be interested in something like that.”

John blinks at him. Sherlock keeps himself from fidgeting in his chair as he awaits his answer, bracing himself for rejection.

“I don't really think we have the budget for some fancy health clinic like that,” John says, but Sherlock's heart gives a hopeful jolt at his tone – thoughtful rather than dismissive. He's actually contemplating coming along.

“Part of it would be covered by your health insurance,” Sherlock says, trying not to sound too eager. “As for the rest, it was Mycroft who recommended the clinic to me. He will take care of having the expenses covered.”

“And by extension mine and Rosie's.”

“Precisely.”

John licks his lips. “You know, part of me wants to refuse anything Mycroft has to give on principle. But another part of me thinks that we've bloody well earned it.”

“You have,” Sherlock agrees quietly. “I think Rosie would like Cornwall,” he adds after a moment. John looks up. The corner of his lips moves up in something that can almost be called a smile.

“I think you're right,” he says. He takes a deep breath, then meets Sherlock's eyes. The crease in his forehead is gone. “When are you leaving?”

“Next Monday. In ten days.”

John hums. “I don't think I can manage that soon. But I could follow once I've taken care of everything. I'd have to talk to my insurance, take care of a substitute for work. Don't know if I could manage three months, but... a few weeks should be fine.”

“We can go back to London whenever we feel like it. We'll see how long it takes until the countryside drives us mad,” Sherlock remarks dryly, but the gaze he exchanges with John tells him that they are both far more excited than they are letting on. “So it's a deal?” he asks, and a grin splits his lips when John nods.

“Cornwall,” he mumbles, leaning back in his chair. “Haven't been there in ages.”

“Neither have I. I look forward to... you know. The woods. Paths on the ground, very interesting. Trees and all that. Fascinating.”

Their eyes meet, and the next second they both burst out laughing.

“Idiot,” John says fondly when they've caught their breaths, wiping his eyes. Sherlock grins. He really does look forward to the trip, though the trees aren't what he has in mind.

* * *

True to any cliches concerning English weather, it rains when Sherlock arrives in St. Ives. He glances at his surroundings – small, green, wet – then turns up his coat collar and steps into the rain. The Eaton Health Resort is a forty minute ride away. There is a driver waiting for him, and Sherlock is grateful for not having to deal with a chatty cabbie.

The pictures on the website weren't deceiving; the clinic is massive. It's just as well, Sherlock thinks, more space to avoid annoying residents. He can make out the beginnings of the park he has read about behind the building, alluring with its wide fields and veiled corners. It's the first thing he decides to explore once he has checked in.

The air is cold as he steps outside, adjusting his collar against the wind. It smells different than London. He supposes that is the country air people are always on about.

He takes a long walk, letting the view sink in as he makes his way through a part of the park. It is big enough to keep him occupied for some time at least, which Sherlock supposes is a blessing. He's not sure when boredom will kick in, but he's determined to hold it off for a while. He notices a few plants he files away for later, musing that he could take some samples with him to analyse back home. He does appreciate the beauty, though he doesn't quite feel the promised relaxation yet.

Then again, he has only been here for a few hours. Relaxation doesn't come easily to him anyway, his mind constantly working on one problem or another to the point of driving him around the bend. It's worst when there are no problems to work on and his mind turns to himself instead.

Deliberately pushing the thoughts to the back of his mind, Sherlock changes his direction and enters a less secluded area of the park. He meets a few residents in passing on his walk, acknowledging them with a nod, but for the most part it's quiet. There is a silence around him he can't quite decide whether it's calm or eerie, leaving him with nothing but his thoughts to focus on.

That is a path he does not want to go down. Not today.

Sherlock stops walking when a raven flies by. He watches as it settles on the oak in front of him, building its nest.

There is a weariness inside him he can't quite make sense of. It is the feeling that has been sitting in his chest for longer than he can strictly say, long enough that he has grown accustomed to it. It is heavy enough to pull him down when he ponders it, and so most days he doesn't. He doesn't have any answers that would be to his liking anyway.

He asks himself how he is feeling now, and can't come up with a plain answer. His feelings have always been an enigma to him, emotions not being his area, but now he doesn't know at all what to make of them.

A problem too complex for Sherlock Holmes to solve. The irony almost makes him smile.

He should be glad to be here. Maybe not happy, because he rarely is, but glad isn't too much to ask for. He was looking forward to this. He thought that this might be what he needs to stop feeling so numbingly empty.

Maybe that is just how he is now, though. Not that it's a huge loss; nobody ever knew how to handle the full Sherlock Holmes experience. Maybe it's not a bad thing that he gave so much of himself away that he is now missing parts.

Sherlock lets out a sigh that nobody hears and turns back to the building. He certainly hasn't lost his touch for the dramatic.

He wills himself to give it time, if nothing else. It's a childish notion that his mood would magically improve as soon as he set foot in this establishment. Empires may fall within a single day, but it takes a whole lot longer to rebuild them. A mind palace surely is no different, and neither is the person it belongs to.

He resolves to stop the reflecting right here before he gets lost in those thoughts. He ought to save this for counselling. At least then he'll have something to talk about.

The thought of counselling leads his mind to a different direction. He has yet to decide on a schedule for the upcoming days. Eaton Health Resort offers a variety of treatments and activities in groups and for individuals alike, a fact that Sherlock appreciates immensely. Mycroft has done well in recommending him this specific clinic. There are several slots for each activity, leaving it to the residents to sign up for however many and however often they like.

Sherlock decides to start his first treatment as soon as he gets back. If he is here already, he might as well make use of it. He's got all the time in the world, too. John and Rosie are joining him in eight days, so he had better keep himself occupied until then. Although a little time by himself without constantly being on call in case either of them should demand his attention or assistance doesn't seem like the worst idea. He looks forward to seeing them again, but it also feels good to take a step back for a while.

He vaguely wonders if that makes him a bad friend and godfather, but quickly comes to the conclusion that it is far from the worst thing he has ever done. He never claimed to be of the altruistic sort, not that that makes it better. But, he thinks dryly, it is what it is.

The words evoke a memory that he quickly shuts down. Wrong place, wrong time. His hands are getting cold in the fresh air. He tucks them into his pockets and picks up his pace as he walks back to the clinic, going through the list of activities residents can choose from as they please. There was something about a sauna, which seems like just the right thing after his walk in the cold. He thinks he remembers reading something about massages, too. With that in mind, keeping himself occupied doesn't seem like a problem anymore.

* * *

“Sherlock, dear, over here!”

Sherlock follows the voice, making a beeline to the elderly woman waving at him.

“Ruth,” he says in greeting, sitting down opposite her with his breakfast. “You look well-rested. The yoga last night was a success, I take it?”

“Marvellous, I can tell you. You need to try it, young man.”

“Will do,” Sherlock agrees, the corner of his lips curving up. Ruth, while being almost twenty years younger than Mrs. Hudson, bears the same kind of protective affection she displays towards him. It makes him feel more at home, at ease. “I scheduled it for tomorrow after lunch. I thought John might want to come along and try it out.”

“Oh, right! Your John is coming today, isn't he?”

Your John. Sherlock shuts down those thoughts immediately, but the warm sensation in his belly remains. He knows he shouldn't, that nothing good will come of it, but it's easy to pretend here. Nobody knows who and what they are. Nobody knows what they aren't.

“That's right,” he confirms. “He and Rosie will be here in a few hours.”

“Lovely. I can't wait to meet that lovely man of yours.”

Sherlock lets out a deep breath. “He's my best friend,” he says, if in agreement or correction he doesn't know. Ruth does not seem to care either way; he has quickly come to realise that she has her own ideas about the way things are. Maybe that is why he took a liking to her, and vice versa.

John arrives two hours after breakfast. Sherlock has just finished his morning yoga session and waits for him outside. It's not quite as cool as the day he arrived; his muscles are still warm and when he rubs his arms it's enough to stand outside without his coat for a few minutes.

His lips stretch into a smile he can't suppress when the car he recognises as Mycroft's pulls up in the driveway.

It's ridiculous, the way it still takes his breath away for a second when he lays eyes on John. It's only been nine days since he last saw him – he stopped by on the evening before Sherlock's departure under the pretence of 'helping him pack', but really they ended up having tea on the sofa, talking about anything and nothing – but it hits him like a physical blow.

“John,” he says in greeting, keeping his voice even. John grins at him.

“Hello, stranger. Is that part of the service, you waiting for us by the door?”

“Just for VIP guests,” Sherlock replies, smiling down at him.

“Well, I'm flattered.” He looks him up and down, tilting his head. “You're looking well. Feeling relaxed yet?

“Starting to. I'm really beginning to think that this wasn't one of Mycroft's worst ideas. You made the right choice in joining me here, the treatments are excellent.”

They look at each other for a moment, both wearing wide smiles, before Sherlock sweeps him into a brief but heartfelt hug. John's arms tighten around him and Sherlock closes his eyes before he drops them and steps back.

It's one of the few good things that have come out of the past months. Physical contact comes more naturally to them now. It still ignites a longing in Sherlock's chest that is too much to think about, too strong to name, but then again he is an addict – drawn to his inevitable destruction like a moth to a flame.

“Now, where's the little troublemaker?”

One of the other good things to have come out of everything. Rosie gurgles when she sees him peeking through the door of the car, reaching for him with grabby hands. He undoes her seat belt and takes her out of the children's seat, giving her forehead a kiss before balancing her on his hip.

“How are we today, Rosie? Are you well?”

She certainly looks well. At eighteen months she has almost outgrown the baby phase, stretching and losing her baby fat with each passing day. She already seems to have grown again since the last time Sherlock saw her. She still rarely speaks, but Sherlock doesn't fault her for that.

He hums in consideration when she babbles in response, mostly incoherent sounds, then looks at John. He is regarding them with a fond expression, an easy smile on his lips. “Did you have a good trip?”

“Mostly, yeah. Minus the crying at King's Cross and the spilling incident when we got off the train.”

“Altogether a relaxed morning, then.”

John laughs. “Yeah, you could say that. We've definitely had worse.”

Sherlock smiles at him at the sound. It always catches him off guard, John's laughter – it's not that he hasn't heard it in so long, it's that the sound has become so rare lately. It's better now than it used to be in the immediate aftermath of Mary and all that came after. He laughs with Rosie, sometimes with Sherlock. But it's not how it used to be, before everything.

Then again, nothing is.

“Come on,” Sherlock says, sweeping Rosie up into his arms before turning around. “I'll show you everything you need to know. You can get someone to show you around, but I'll take care of that. Much more efficient.”

“Because this holiday is all about efficiency,” John remarks dryly.

“Better to get this out of the way,” Sherlock says with a pointed look over his shoulder. “Ruth has been dying to meet you, and at her age I wouldn't put it past her to actually go through with it. She has a sense of humour like that.”

“Right.” John pauses. “Who's Ruth?”

“Friend of mine. One of the elderly residents. Keep up!”

He stops in front of John and Rosie's door. “This is yours. Mine is next door. Mycroft got us adjoining rooms but don't worry, you can lock the door. I won't intrude.”

“We did live together once,” John points out, quirking an eyebrow. “Why would I worry about that?”

Sherlock's shoulders tense in a half-shrug. “Who knows.” He steps aside to let John enter, silently awaiting the comment he knows is coming.

It doesn't take long.

“Wow. Bloody hell, that's- even more fancy than I expected.”

“Don't worry. It's all on Mycroft.”

“Yeah, I should bloody well hope so. Jesus. How do people afford this?” He wanders through the room, peeks into the bathroom and the separate chamber for Rosie.

“It's a bit luxurious, I'll grant you that. The maximal comfort is probably supposed to add to our well-being or something.”

John hums. “Well, I'm not complaining. Rosie will be spoiled when we get back home though. Does yours look like this too?”

“Without the second room, yes. Do you want to unpack first or shall I show you around?”

John decides on the tour. Sherlock focuses on the most important places for now, pointing out that he'll have more than enough time to explore everything later on. Even so, John is swamped. He marvels at the physical wing, approving of the pools (“Pools? Plural?” he asks when Sherlock opens the door, then falls silent as he lays eyes on them) and the outdoor fields as well as the gym room. They stand at the entrance of the park, but decide not to go in – Rosie isn't adequately dressed, and Sherlock's next appointment is starting soon. He takes John to the kitchen and eating area, shows Rosie the playground and children's room (big mistake, convincing her to leave without starting a riot turns out to be quite the challenge) and finally ends up in front of the community room, but doesn't go in, knowing that he won't come out any time soon once a certain elderly guest he spots inside gets hold of him.

“Well, that's quite something,” John concludes when they get back to their rooms, wrestling Rosie out of her jacket.

“You haven't seen the half of it yet. You're still missing the entire wellness wing, for one. And the recreational room. Art, music, writing, that sort of thing,” he specifies when he sees John's look. “Might be something for you, actually. Rosie needs to stay out though. No screaming allowed.”

“Do you go there sometimes?” John wants to know.

Sherlock nods. “Loads, yes. It's good for reading, doing research. One of the other guests sometimes asks me to play, too.”

John lifts his eyebrows, but smiles. “Haven't heard you play in a while,” he remarks.

“We can remedy that,” Sherlock replies, smiling as well. “Not right now, though. Are you all settled? Do you need anything?”

“Nothing I can't get from the front desk.”

“I'll leave you to it then. I have a massage in twenty minutes. I highly recommend it, by the way. If you need someone to look after Rosie just ring the front desk. Take a look at the list of treatments while I'm gone, you can start with yours right away if you want to.”

“Right. I'll see you around lunch then?”

Sherlock nods. “I'll meet you here.”

“Enjoy your massage,” John calls after him. Sherlock smiles at the thought of the very talented young man who has been doing wonders for his back over the last week.

“Oh, I will.”

By the time Sherlock picks John and Rosie up, their room is arranged and the suitcases have been packed away. Rosie is playing with bricks on the floor when Sherlock picks her up.

“Sweet girl,” he murmurs, nuzzling her hair. It's beginning to curl at the tips, giving her an air of innocence he knows for a fact to be deceptive. “I've missed you.”

“You've only been gone for two hours,” John points out behind them. Sherlock turns around.

“I wasn't talking about today. Are you ready to go?”

They are late for lunch in comparison to the other guests; most of them have already gone on to their post-lunch treatments. Sherlock doesn't particularly mind, he prefers it this way. John will have enough time to meet everyone later on, he'll be enough of an attraction with Rosie anyway. People are drawn to toddlers like magnets.

“Have you scheduled the rest of the week yet?” he asks when they sit down at a secluded table with their plates.

“Just a few things. I thought we could do some things together, maybe.”

“Of course. Show me your plan.”

John hands him the sheet of paper along with the brochure. He has circled the treatments he's interested in. So far he has signed up for parent-child-bonding activities every morning and different physical activities with children in the afternoon.

“I feel bad abandoning her throughout the day,” he says as Sherlock looks over the sheet. He glances at him, quirking an eyebrow.

“You weren't saying anything, I know. It's just-” He lets out a frustrated breath. “I did that. After Mary. A lot. I don't want to do this to her again.”

“You're not abandoning her by taking time for yourself. It's not like you're putting her in a day-care centre for fifteen hours every day. She is in contact with other children her age there, and the minders are excellently qualified.”

“I know.” John sighs. “I know that, yeah. It's just- sorry. I didn't mean to be defensive. It just happens.”

“It's fine,” Sherlock says calmly. He itches to reach out and squeeze his hand, but holds himself back. Better not to push his luck. He's surprised John is talking about his feelings at all, he doesn't want to ruin it.

That is something else that is different about John. Speaking about his emotions still doesn't come easy to him, but lately he has been making attempts at giving it a try anyway. Sherlock doesn't take that lightly.

“Nobody is thinking badly of you for giving Rosie into day-care. You shouldn't do it either. Besides, you already signed up for two activities with her every day. There's more that all three of us can do together. I'm not opposed to watching her if you want an hour to yourself either, if it's the strangers you're worried about.”

“Yeah, that's... that would work, probably.” John licks his lips. “I'll let you know when you can take her. Thanks.”

“Don't mention it. Now, there's this excellent yoga instructor you have to sign up for. I'm going to his course tomorrow evening, if you want to come along...”

They discuss the schedule without any further interruptions, and in the end come up with a good mix of shared and single treatments.

John has put counselling two times a week down after seeing Sherlock doing the same. Sherlock is glad for it. He knows John is still seeing Ella at home, but his appointments are irregular. A set rhythm of counselling will probably do him good too.

He's getting used to going to counselling himself now. The line that seemed impossible to cross was easy to abandon once it concerned John after what happened with Mary. It's still a change to see someone regularly, and having the conversation turn to him rather than John is challenging to say the least, but he's managing. He is aware that they've only scratched the surface so far, but going deeper doesn't scare him like it used to, even if he never would have admitted it.

And if John can do it, he can get himself to going through with it too.

They part ways after lunch. John takes Rosie for a walk in the park before their bonding activity in the afternoon. Sherlock retreats for a nap before his handicraft and art course. John laughs when he tells him about it and Sherlock joins in, because the amount of relaxation the hour spent in the craft room offers surprised him too. He signed up for that activity out of boredom rather than actual interest and found himself intrigued by the teacher, who took a look at his crossed arms and quirked eyebrow and put down a sheet of paper in front of him, telling him to try out drawing.

He tried. He did not succeed right away, but the desire to do so had been sparked. He's getting there. And sitting down to narrow his focus on the sole task of drawing line after line until he has created an image is surprisingly refreshing, almost meditative. By now Sherlock finds himself looking forward to it.

They meet Ruth during dinner. Sherlock introduces her to John and Rosie out of courtesy rather than need, as her eyes fall on them immediately.

“It is so good to meet you, Dr. Watson,” she says, shaking his hand. “Sherlock has told me so much about you, and I've been reading up on your blog, of course. A shame that you don't update it anymore.” She gives Rosie a smile, shaking her little hand. “And you must be little Rosamund! What a dear you are, my.”

“Er, good to meet you too,” John replies, throwing a glance at Sherlock. Sherlock just raises his shoulder as if to say told you she was eager to meet you. “And it's John, please.”

“Well, John. I'm Ruth. I've been taking care of this one while you were away.”

Sherlock huffs, pretending to be affronted. John's lips curve into a knowing smile. “He's mentioned you, yeah. Seems you've done a good job looking after him.”

“Oh, he's been doing a lot of that himself, too. Look at him, all glowing up. Looked a lot less at ease when he came here.”

John does look at him, and his gaze is so attentive and earnest that Sherlock almost shivers under it. “Yeah,” he agrees after a moment. “I think so too.” He hands Rosie a piece of bread to chew on, then looks back to Ruth. “So, how long have you been here?”

Once Ruth starts talking she doesn't stop. One of her most valuable qualities, Sherlock deems, is to keep someone engaged in a conversation without turning to mindless chatter. There is always something worth listening to in what she has to say. Judging by John's attentive face, he thinks so too.

“By the way,” Ruth interrupts herself, putting a hand on Sherlock's arm as she turns to him. “Before I forget, Sarah Jane asked me to thank you for the book on poisonous plants you lent her. She feels, and I quote, enlightened.”

Sherlock waves his hand. “It was nothing, really. I just couldn't listen to her uneducated babbling any longer. Sarah Jane goes to Ruth's aqua gymnastics on Saturdays,” he explains upon seeing John's questioning gaze.

“Don't tell me you've gone to aqua gymnastics too,” John jokes.

“Don't be silly.” Sherlock shakes his head. “I met her during Sunday's game night.”

He hides a smile at John's expression, turning back to Ruth when she says, “The downside is that now Miriam has gotten wind of your knowledge on the topic. She thinks herself so smart, you know how it is, I've told you about the lunch incident-” John lifts his eyebrows in question, Sherlock just shakes his head- “and she's bickered about you with Rory all throughout our morning yoga session. I can tell you, the relaxation was minimal.

As is her way, Ruth engages them in effortless conversation all throughout dinner, leaving no time for silences to come up. It is only when Sherlock leans back in his seat, having finished his plate, that he realises that John has mostly kept quiet. He shoots him a look, trying to determine his emotional state.

John is bowed over Rosie's chair, wiping her mouth clean. He seems to intently listen to their conversation though, his head half turned towards them. When he drops the napkin on Rosie's plate he returns his gaze to them, clearly following what they are saying.

Their eyes meet, and the corners of his lips turn up in a genuine smile. Sherlock returns it, feeling a surge of warmth run through him at the sight. He can't quite put his finger on what it is that makes John seem a bit softer here, less on edge. His shoulders are relaxed, his eyes alert but not haunted. It's an expression Sherlock only now realises he has sorely missed.

“She's lovely,” John says when they return to their rooms, and Sherlock knows he means it. “Not quite what I expected, but then again it's always the unexpected with you.”

The ambiguity of the statement makes Sherlock turn to him, but there's no bitterness in John's voice, and his face is still relaxed. “You know I prefer the unexpected,” he settles on. “Everything else is too boring.”

John chuckles. “Says the man who has taken a time out in the English countryside and discovered handicraft for himself.”

“I'm wounded, John,” Sherlock remarks dryly. John smiles at him.

“Good thing you're here to heal, then,” he says, and though his tone is light, Sherlock knows that it's genuine.

He is starting to feel the same way.