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A Tiresome Ritual

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The beginning of the year was a tough time for John Watson.

Not tough in the sad or tragic sense, the my-best-friend-jumped-off-a-building-while-I-watched or the my-wife-and-mother-of-my-child-jumped-in-front-of-a-bullet-to-save-our-friend sense. Both of those anniversaries were nearer the end of the calendar than the beginning. And John had done an admirable job, he thought (and so did Ella, thank you very much) working through the corresponding grief so that those previously black days of remembrance now cast more of a slight grey tinge, a gentle mist of memories instead of a tidal wave of numbness and despair.

No, the top of the calendar was tough because there were too many happy dates to celebrate. Christmas had just passed, as had New Years and its associated shenanigans. Rosie had expressed steely determination to stay up until midnight, had dressed in a “very fancy” dress and shiny patent shoes…and crashed on the sofa by nine o’clock. And John and Sherlock had passed a quiet evening, conversation flowing between their chairs on either side of a crackling fire, Sherlock playing “Auld Lang Syne” on his violin as a nearby clock struck midnight.

Rosie’s birthday sat at the end of January, which was usually enough time for John to get creative with a present to outshine her Christmas haul. It helped that his soon-to-be-six daughter had myriad and shifting interests. For instance, she had been tending a pot of geraniums since her last birthday, but had lately decided to pluck their leaves and petals for examination under the microscope she received for Christmas. Knowing Sherlock’s predilection toward less appropriate specimens, John supposed it could be worse.

But Sherlock’s birthday was another story. Twelve days after Christmas was an indecent interval, especially for a man who was incredibly hard to please, in a material sense.  Not to mention that the detective reviled the entire concept of celebrating one’s birth anniversary. Why, John hadn’t truly known his birth date until nearly six years after they met. Sherlock later pointed out that it had been written clearly on his tombstone and it was painfully obvious that John’s brain operated poorly under the influence of emotion.

Somehow, John had managed to make each birthday since special, in its own way. In 2017, John cooked the “thing with the peas” and presented Sherlock with a stack of case files from the late 1800s that Greg had unearthed in some underground room at the Yard.

In 2018, John and Rosie finally moved into Baker Street, and John gifted Sherlock the opportunity to index both of their sock collections.

And on the sixth of January in 2019, after a year of lingering glances, light touches, and nervous stuttering words skirting their feelings, John and Sherlock shared their first kiss.

It happened as John finished tucking a new blue cashmere scarf around Sherlock’s neck. He suddenly found that he could no longer resist the urge to pull his friend down into what had been the best first kiss of his life. John’s inadvertent and half-asleep avowal of love had broken the trend, coming as it did mere weeks later beneath the glittering countenance of Billy the skull.

Last year, Sherlock had deduced that John had a platinum band waiting in a box in his pocket as they sat over a candle-lit dinner at Angelo’s, once again ruining a perfectly good proposal, as John had later pointed out.

But the plan for this year was causing John indigestion. This was Sherlock’s 40th birthday, and John’s mad crazy wonderful husband seemed more determined than ever to avoid the fuss. He had tried to send John off to a German medical conference on dermatology, of all things, and simply hmmphed and changed the subject whenever John asked what he might like to do on that day.

And now it was January 4th, and John lay staring at the ceiling in their dark bedroom, searching the last corner of his brain for some wonderful experience or meaningful gift. The alarm on his mobile chimed quietly, and John sighed and rolled to silence it.

He leaned to place a kiss in the nest of dark curls which was the only part of Sherlock visible above the covers on the opposite side of the bed. “Rosie’s back to school today, love. But I’ll walk her there. You sleep in.” John smirked when another hmmph was muffled into the pillow.

Rosie took no notice of her father’s quiet state. Just like Sherlock, her excited stream-of-consciousness chatter could expand to fill any void. She spoke nonstop about seeing her friends again after two whole weeks, about the new projects her teacher had hinted at for this term, and especially about her upcoming mystery-themed birthday party. (John made a mental note to remind Sherlock that a missing toy would be a more appropriate case for six year olds to solve than, say, a counterfeiting-operation-turned-murder-scene.)

John helped her through the morning routine, standing just outside the bathroom door to make sure he actually heard her toothbrush being used, running a brush through her blonde tresses, wrangling them into a French braid. (Ta to Molly and her braiding lessons.) Her monologue continued as John prepared and served a slice of toast topped with peanut butter and some of Janine’s Sussex honey.

After Rosie’s hands and face were cleaned of any sticky residue and they both had their coats fully buttoned against the January chill, they descended to street level and the short walk to her school. A small pink-mittened hand in a larger, dark-gloved one urged both attached arms to swing merrily.

John waited for a gap in Rosie’s speech and posed his burning question. “Rosie, love, what should we give Sherlock for his birthday?”

Rosie slowed her skipping and removed her hand from John’s grip, steepling mittened fingers against her pouting lips in a pose she had undoubtedly learned from the man in question.  She held the pose for five seconds or so, then shrugged, grabbed John’s hand again, and resumed her skipping.

John sighed as they reached the door to the small primary school. It had been a long-shot. He crouched down to kiss his daughter, brushing love across her rose-petal cheeks, and met her serious eyes. “Well, then. What would you like for your birthday?”

He began his rise to standing, knees protesting, expecting a list of toys whose commercials rotated in the breaks between Doc McStuffins stories on her favorite channel. But a definitive answer came sooner than he expected, and hit him directly in the chest. “I want Sherlock to be my mommy.”

John shook his head, resettling the world on its axis, and sank back down. “What do you mean, sweetheart? You have a mama. Mary.”

“I know,” Rosie said, “but Jennifer and Braden have two parents who live with them and take care of them. I have you, Daddy. But I don’t have a mommy.”

“Honey, you have Sherlock.”

“I know that,” John could actually hear the eye-roll there, and bit his lip so he wouldn’t smile at the sassy behavior that reminded him so much of Sherlock. “But I want him to be my mommy…for real.”

John thought about it. While Sherlock wasn’t technically Rosie’s parent, he had assumed a lot of responsibility first as godparent and then as John’s spouse. But they had never formalized the relationship.

 And Rosie, bless her, had picked up on this, never calling the other man in her life ”Daddy” or “Papa.” John had never stopped to think about why they referred to Sherlock by name. It just seemed odd to call the infuriating lovely beautiful man anything other than his one-in-a-million signifier.

 But now his little girl was asking for another parent for her birthday. And John could deny her nothing. He pulled his daughter into a quick, tight hug.

“Oh, Rosie-bug. Thank you. I think I know what to get for both of you for your birthdays.”

**********

The paperwork had been beastly, even with the help of Anthea, who had arrived via unmarked black car as John walked away from Rosie’s school that same morning. And despite Mycroft’s expansive influence, John had invested a large pile of quid in order to work around the three-month waiting period and court-ordered social work visits.

But the adoption order arrived just in time, delivered to the very door of 221B in a plain manila envelope. John’s breath quickened as he read over the legalese and signed the space above his name. He smiled at Rosie, who looked even more adorable than usual in the outfit she had picked for herself. (There were a great number of purple ruffles and sparkles.) “Where’s the card you made, Rosebud?”

John slipped the document inside the oversized card and pinned the envelope to the bulletin board beside the kitchen door. And he and Rosie got to work icing the sponge cake Mrs. Hudson had insisted on providing.

**********

Sherlock bounded out of the black cab he had hailed outside New Scotland Yard, threw open the door, and flew up the stairs to the flat. He couldn’t wait to tell John about the masterful criminal mind he had glimpsed through this case. The linchpin had been a shiny, clean car sent to pick up the victim, instead of transport covered with dust, as would be expected after travel over unpaved country roads.

Sherlock quickly removed and hung his coat and scarf, and stopped at the door to the kitchen, suspicious. John stood over the stove, stirring something that smelled like that thing with the peas.

As he surveyed the colorful but messy cake in the middle of the table, his attention was drawn toward  a happy squeal down the hall. Rosie, hands and arms still damp, launched herself at him from just outside the bathroom door.

“Ah,” said Sherlock as a glob of icing still clinging to Rosie’s pigtail smeared across his cheek. “ I’ve interrupted the crime scene clean-up.” She giggled as he hoisted her onto his hip and turned to see John standing, his absolutely ridiculous “If you think I’m cute, you should see my husband” apron stretched across his middle as his hands rested on his hips. He shook his head slowly, a loving smile on his face.

“John, why are you making the thing with the peas? And Rosie, why is that cake…” Sherlock trailed off as his eyes fell on Rosie’s school calendar, stuck to the bulletin board next to an envelope bearing his name.

Today was Wednesday. That meant it was the sixth. January sixth. Sherlock sighed dramatically. “Oh, John, how many times have I told you? Birthdays are sentimental nonsense which I’ve tried to avoid my entire life…”

“Sherlock!” Rosie said, her tone scolding and her head shaking.  She wiggled until he was forced to let her down, then ran over to the kitchen stool, grunting as she picked it up and staggering under its weight. John smothered a laugh and moved to help her place it beneath the bulletin board.

On his way back to the stove, he kissed Sherlock hello, a sweet press of lips followed by a playful nip of teeth that promised more. “Have a seat, love. Dinner’s almost ready, and I think Rosie wants to give you your present before we eat.”

Sure enough, Rosie had retrieved the large envelope covered with squiggles and glitter. Sherlock glanced ruefully over at Billy, who still sparkled around the cranial sutures and ocular cavities. She jumped down from the stool, pushing Sherlock backward by the knees until he bumped into his habitual chair and was forced to sit. She climbed into his lap and began swinging her feet impatiently. “Hurry up, Daddy!”

John turned from where he had been plating the pasta carbonara, smiling indulgently as he placed two full-sized and one small plate on the table. He removed his apron, hanging it on the hook by the sink, and settled into the chair to their right. Which was odd. He usually sat across from Sherlock. John then scooted even closer, as if the answers to the universe’s questions existed inside a card drawn by a five-year-old.

“I’m ready, sweetheart,” John said as he kissed Rosie’s forehead. He kept his eyes trained on the envelope as Sherlock turned it over in his hand, loosened the flap, and extracted the construction paper booklet.

“Happy Birthday Sherlock…” he read, laughing a bit because “Sherlock” had been crossed-out, although it was spelled correctly. Perhaps Rosie had meant for it to go on the inside of the card.

He took a second to run his fingers over a crayon drawing of three people holding hands. The figure in the center was very small with yellow scribbles topping its circular head, the one on the left was very tall with loopy black curls, and the remaining figure was in between, and topped with grey. “Spot on for your hair, John…” he glanced at his husband, who wouldn’t meet his eye. He seemed almost nervous, but Sherlock shook it off and opened the card.

And in that moment, his life changed forever…again.  On the inside flap, in her labored hand, Rosie had written “Happy Birthday Papa.” He blinked twice, rapidly, as his eyes skimmed the stark black lettering on crisp white paper on the right side of the card.

It was an adoption order.

For one Rosamund Watson.

To become the legal child of one William Sherlock Scott Holmes.

And it was already signed by her father, John Hamish Watson.

The formal words blurred as Sherlock pulled Rosie tight against his chest. He buried his nose in her hair and pressed a kiss into the icing-coated strands. Over her head, his eyes sought John, and this time, his husband’s gaze met his.

“It was her idea. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it, didn’t even think to ask. It’s just…you’ve pretty much been her father since…” John shook his head and smiled past the tears collecting on the lower brims of his stormy blue eyes. He cleared his throat. “Anyhow, would you, William Sherlock Scott Holmes, like to be Rosie Watson’s papa?”

Sherlock felt the tears begin to roll down his face, and he sniffled slightly. John looked worried for half a second, but it passed as Sherlock smiled and asked, “Do you have a pen?”

“Ah, I see it’s time for my gift,” John said, pulling a slim package tied with a simple bow from behind his back. He removed the ribbon and opened the case, holding it out to display its contents, a Doc McStuffins combo flashlight and pen.

Rosie nodded solemnly and pointed to the writing implement. Sherlock picked it up and signed his name with a shaking hand. Then he was being pulled to standing and into a family hug with the loves of his life. John peppered his cheeks with kisses, drying his tears, before planting a solid smooch on his lips.

Rosie huffed indignantly and pulled on Sherlock’s collar. The two men’s lips shook in a shared giggle just before the considerable strength of a school-age child pulled them apart. “Is it time for cake now?”

Their eyes met and held over dinner as Rosie chattered about how exciting it would be for Sherlock to come to her Parents’ Work Week, and what color she would use to add a branch to her family tree.

Later, after Rosie had talked herself tired and drifted to sleep, Sherlock bent to scoop her up. He ascended the stairs to her room and tucked her, still fully clothed, into bed. Then he leaned against his daughter’s door frame and watched the quiet movements of her small form.

When he felt John’s presence just behind him, he leaned back into the comforting warmth and whispered his concern to the dark quiet, “Being Rosie’s papa. It’s got to be the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” Sherlock said.

“And you fell in love with me,” John murmured against his neck.