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If Equal Affection Cannot Be

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He wakes to birds singing instead of bins rattling these days, with soft sunlight filtering through the sheer curtains Mrs. Hudson made him get all those years ago. The moths have got at some of them, but he hasn’t the heart to replace them. Not yet. Not when he still hears her voice in his head so clearly:

“It just looks so drab, dear. Liven it up a little. A lace frill won’t kill you.”

“It might,” he had replied, but she merely shook her head and reappeared later that afternoon with a package from the local haberdasher.

He smiles at the memory and throws the covers back, grunting as he sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed. His knees ache these days - too many years spent climbing over roofs and bins and gates in Oxfords - and he brushes a hand down his face as he flexes his toes against the cold hardwood floor.

It’s been just over fifteen years since he left London behind. Mrs. Hudson is still kicking, though perhaps not as high, and he travels back solely for tea with her once a month. The city doesn’t quite have the same pull as it once did, so an afternoon or an evening (or a night if they get into the herbal soothers) is enough to whet his appetite.

Yes he’s retired, and enjoying every moment of it. So much so that even the ghost of a particular army doctor doesn't call him out anymore on this partial truth.

His phone chimes on the nightstand and he reaches over, unplugs it, and checks the incoming message.

Sally Donovan
Got a weird one for you.

Well, he’s semi-retired.

How so?
-SH

Sally Donovan
Pagan ritual. Three dead.
Missing reproductive
organs. Room locked
from the inside.

Hmm . It does sound tempting. But dismembered bodies are no longer his bread and better.

Send photos. Will research.
-SH

Sally Donovan
Saint Sherlock,
saving my arse yet
again.

It's a change in tone since he first stumbled into the Yard, to be sure, but their relationship was never quite as frosty once he returned like Lazarus from the dead.

Quite the opposite,
Detective Inspector.
-SH

Donovan and Mrs. Hudson are really his only two remaining ties to London. Mycroft doesn't count and Lestrade had swapped his badge for a pension just after Sherlock moved. The former DI prefers to come to Sussex, using Sherlock as an excuse to escape the city and staying in the cottage’s spare room for a night or two. They've actually become close, their stresses falling away to reveal an easy sort of companionship. Sure, Lestrade still decries his ignorance of rugby and Sherlock still pretends not to know his name, but it's a gentle teasing these days. They've grown too old for anything else.

John Watson’s name does not cross either of their lips.

He stands with a stretch and scratches his belly, letting out an obnoxious yawn. It's only gone 8am - plenty of time to start the day. Throwing his dressing gown over his pajamas, he pads down the stairs, careful not to trip over the border collie thumping his tail at the bottom.

“Good morning, Edison,” he greets, bending down to scratch behind his ears. Edison gives him a lick to his cheek and stands to follow Sherlock into the kitchen. He's getting too old these days to navigate the steep stairs of the old house so Sherlock set up a dog bed at the bottom, even though some nights, he carries him up himself for the company. Others, Edison prefers to stay by the embers of the dying fire in the living room before settling on his bed to sleep until Sherlock wakes him in the morning. Sherlock misses him those nights. And resolves to give him an extra treat or two when they come back from their morning errands.

The French press provides strong coffee and he groans as he pours himself a cup. He’s cut back on his sugar intake, per his doctor, and he sneers as he dumps in only one spoonful. Apparently that’s something he should monitor as he approaches 60. Hideous.

He opens the cabinets and is greeted with a sack of onions and not much else.

“Nothing in,” he sighs. “Edison, how could you let this happen?”

Edison cocks his head and thumps his tail.

“Typical,” he scoffs, taking his cup of coffee out into the back garden and checking on his hives from a distance. It’s a grey morning, as so many are these days, but there’s a sense of peace out here in the country. If he closes his eyes, he can almost hear the gentle hum of the bees as they go about their work. He makes a mental note to bring Mrs. Hudson another jar of honey when he next heads to London.

He heads back inside and finishes his coffee at the wooden kitchen table, using a toe to rub Edison’s belly where he’s sprawled at his feet as he checks the news on his laptop. Nothing about the pagan rituals. He opens his email and finds an unread message from DI Donovan and the symbol signaling an attachment. His stomach rumbles and he closes the laptop. Perhaps the missing reproductive organs can wait until after breakfast. His constitution is getting fragile in his old age, even if his appetite is growing.

He’s out of eggs and there’s no one else to go to the shop anymore so he eventually pulls on proper trousers and a jumper (not unlike the loathsome cable knit one he burned so many years ago), tugs on his shoes (wellies, not Oxfords) and trudges out the door, forgoing his usual scarf, but pulling a cap on his head if only to hide the silver that is starting to rapidly overtake the brown.

The sun is peeking through the clouds and Edison is a comforting presence at his side as he straightens the potted plant that the mailman continually knocks over. He’s half blind, though, so Sherlock can’t really fault him.

His garden has suffered through a rough spring and he bends down with a groan and feels how dry the petals are. A little too crinkly for his liking. He'll pick up some fertilizer from the Wagners’ farm on his way home.

“You up for it, boy?” he asks as he pulls the bike away from the stone wall surrounding the property.

As a puppy, he used to stick Edison in the basket at the front of the handlebars, but the dog rapidly outgrew the tradition. Still, despite his advancing years, the border collie is good for a steady trot and he barks to show he’s ready to go.

“All right, then,” Sherlock replies, kicking the kickstand and straddling the seat. “Tally ho.”

The ride to town is perhaps fifteen minutes by bike at Edison’s pace. Eight or so by car, depending on whether or not the sheep decide to make a detour into the road. It’s a small town, quiet, with one general store, one post office, one doctor, and one police station. It fits his needs perfectly, his needs being a distinct difference from the life he once had. The one that got him out of bed in the morning (if not always off the couch), that brought him to Barts and into the company of one of the RAMC’s finest, that sustained him for two years of horrors as he fought his way back home.

Home. London is no longer that for him.

He pulls up in front of the general store and dismounts, leaning his bike against the wall and bending down to congratulate Edison on a good jog.

“William!” Mrs. McGregor greets cheerily as the bell over the door trills.

“Hello,” he replies with a smile, tipping his cap and wiping the mud from his wellies off on the well-worn mat.

William. It’s still odd enough to hear, let alone respond to, but Holmes is a common enough name. It’s ‘Sherlock’ that gives him away. William Holmes was easy to adapt to. A welcome change, in fact, that didn’t even require too much paperwork - just a license that omitted his middle names. It’s not as if he’s trying to hide his existence per se; he still posts his findings on his blog and answers the occasional email, but it’s mainly just research and bees these days, with the odd favor for DI Donovan. It’s not so much that he’s erasing Sherlock Holmes but that Sherlock Holmes doesn’t really exist anymore. ‘William’ means fewer questions, and after a lifetime of asking them, he’s all questioned out.

“Eggs?” Mrs. McGregor asks and Sherlock nods as Edison makes a beeline for the counter where he knows a treat awaits him. Mrs. McGregor has a soft spot for the local dogs and Edison in particular.

“Please. A dozen.”

“Right-o.”

He picks up one of the tiny baskets on offer for the shop’s customers and places a loaf of freshly baked bread in it, followed by tomatoes, a couple of tins of beans, and milk.

There is a group of girls huddled in the corner going over the candy options. Odd, considering the median age of the town is at least 52. Sherlock himself is on the far side of that, which is why four young women barely pushing twenty stand out in the shop. Then again, the town is on the way to the seaside. They frequently get tourists and the like popping in to appreciate the history and the food of the local pub.

He grabs a few more things (fresh meat to make up for the distinct lack of takeaway, coffee beans, and a few bars of dark chocolate to replace the sugar he’s not putting in his tea) and makes his way to the register, pulling them out of the basket for Mrs. McGregor to scan. She puts everything, including the carefully wrapped eggs, in a paper bag and accepts the money Sherlock is holding out, getting him his change from the old-fashioned till.

“Nice weather for it,” she says, nodding at his bike propped up against the window outside.

He hums. “Indeed.”

She gives him an encouraging smile and he musters one in return, suppressing his urge to roll his eyes. He knows she thinks he’s sad. Lonely. And honestly, he can’t deny it, but it’s just a general sense of melancholy. Not the crippling anxiety and horrible depression he faced when he first came here.

“Hey, boy,” one of the girls says as she bends down and scratches behind Edison’s ears just the way he likes it. He thumps his tail and practically preens under the attention. She laughs and plays with his ears, following him down to the floor when he tilts sideways and rolls over to show her his belly is feeling neglected.

“He’ll have you there all day if you’re not careful,” Sherlock murmurs, pocketing the money Mrs. McGregor has given him as the girl lifts her head of dirty blonde curls and smiles with an expression Sherlock hasn’t seen in nearly two decades.

“I’m happy to oblige,” she chuckles, finally meeting his gaze and knocking the breath from his lungs. The familiarity in her features nearly cripples him ( those eyes) but it must be coincidence no matter what blasted Mycroft says about it. It must be, because there’s no way a part of John Watson followed him here, of all places… But then her smile flickers and a million things pass across her face: recognition, hesitancy, hope, caution, incredulity, and finally, dismissal.

Or Sherlock is just seeing things.

“Come along, Edison,” he manages, clearing his throat and slapping his thigh so the dog will stand. “We’ve taken up enough of this young lady’s time.”

“Not a bother,” she replies, eyes soft, but searching.

He turns before he can get lost in them and tips his cap again to Mrs. McGregor as he exits, placing the shopping in the basket and not daring to look through the window once more.

Regardless, she manages to haunt him all the way back to the cottage, yet he convinces himself that it’s just a bad day (a Watson relapse, if you will) and that he’s seeing ghosts in the corners of his mind palace. Plenty of girls have that coloring. That smile. Those eyes.

It isn’t until he’s scrambling eggs, having showered and pressed himself another cup of coffee, that he hears the knock and truly begins to question his sanity. And he would chalk it up to the growing pains of an old house, to the advancing of his years and the diminishing of his hearing, but Edison begins to bark, proving that, yes, someone definitely did knock on the door.

“Hush, you,” he murmurs, petting the dog as he passes and wiping his other hand on the apron he wears that reads: “In dog years, I’m dead.” Lestrade had gotten it for him for his 50th birthday and he realized that making pancakes (a Sunday tradition since relocating) was rather messy so he kept it, as ridiculous as it is. Still, Lestrade was “chuffed” (his words) when he saw it hanging on the back of the pantry door.

He glances out the tiny window above the umbrella stand but can’t see anything so he undoes the latch and pulls it back, bracing for any number of things -

But the girl he saw in the shop is decidedly not one of them.

She stares at him for a moment, gaze flitting over his hair, his nose, his mouth, his ears, before locking on his eyes and never leaving.

“It is you,” she breathes and Sherlock’s heart proceeds at a gallop.

“Me, who?” he manages, grip tight and sweaty on the knob.

“The great Sherlock Holmes,” she replies with a small smile and not a little bit of reverence.

He shakes his head and begins to close the door. “I’m afraid you must be mistaken.”

And if the hand she shoots out doesn’t stop it from closing, her words certainly do: “Would you really lie to John Watson’s daughter?”

And the bottom drops out beneath his feet.

Rosie.

He just stares at her for a moment, eyes wide, cataloguing everything he refused to see in the shop.

It isn’t until she says, “I go by Rose these days,” that he realizes he said her name out loud.

“How did you find me?” he finally breathes.

“Coincidence, honestly,” she whispers, as if speaking any louder would shatter both of them. “I thought I was imagining things, but then the lady in the shop called you ‘William.”

“And?” Certainly that would throw her off the scent, no?

She tilts her head and the corner of her mouth quirks up the same way John’s does. “William Sherlock Scott Holmes. That’s the whole of it, isn’t it?”

He gapes, mouth working but nothing comes out until he’s saved by the honk of a horn, which causes both of them to jump.

“Rose!” the girl leaning on the side of the old BMW calls. “In or out? We gotta go! Mum’ll have my head if I’m not back by one!”

“Go ahead!” she calls back.

“What?!” the friend squawks. “Are you serious? I’m not leaving you alone in the middle of the bloody countryside with a potential madman! No offense, mate,” she adds as an afterthought and Sherlock decides he likes her immensely.

“I’ll be fine, Em. Really.”

This ‘Em’ person stares at her skeptically with a force that even Sherlock might wither under. Rosie huffs and marches back down the path to the car, banging her hand against the window to startle the two other faces that are pressed against the glass before leaning in and whispering something in Em’s ear.

“Holy shit, really?” Em blurts, rather indiscreetly. “That’s him?”

Rosie rolls her eyes and turns towards Sherlock far enough that he can see the blush on her cheeks, before spinning again and pulling Em in for a private conference once more.

Sherlock, for his part, does nothing but shuffle his feet as he stands in the doorway, wondering what in the hell he’s supposed to do now. This was not how he anticipated his day going when he rolled out of bed this morning.

With Rosie’s tete-a-tete with Em apparently finished, the former sticks her head in the open window of the car and pops the boot as the latter fixes Sherlock with a look, pointing to her eyes and then to him, as if to say I’m watching you.

Sherlock truly wonders what sort of twilight zone he’s entered into.

“Text me every hour on the hour,” Em instructs as she opens the car door and Rosie waves over her head as she heads up back to the house, bag in hand. The two girls in the backseat continue to look both confused and intrigued. Sherlock can tell Em is filling them in at lightspeed as the car peels away from the gate, one passenger short.

“Just what on earth do you think you’re doing?” he asks, just barely dropping the ‘young lady’ at the end of it as she comes to stand before him.

“I think you and I have a lot to be catching up on, don’t you?” she asks, but she doesn’t pass by him (even though there’s plenty of room for her to do so) until he gestures that she may. She gives him a genuine, if nervous grin hidden under layers of bravado. No doubt she has her father to thank for that.

“How did you even find out where I lived?”

Rosie shrugs. “Just asked the lady at the shop.”

“Ah.” Bloody Mrs. McGregor. No more honey for her.

He stares at Rosie once more, pulse thrumming at realizing John Watson’s daughter is in his house. A house he had tried so hard to keep John Watson-free. Likewise, Rosie seems to have lost the courage she showed when she kept him from slamming the door in her face, as she glances around the foyer hesitantly, taking in the knick-knacks and evidence of a life well lived.

“Smells good,” she murmurs as he shows her to the living room.

He takes her bag like the good host he is, still not completely sure he’s awake, and gestures towards the kitchen beyond. “Eggs. Would you like some?”

Her stomach grumbles, a betrayal of trust if there ever was one, and Sherlock chuckles as he drops the bag and leads the way into the kitchen. He flicks the kettle on and stirs the eggs, thankful he thought to turn the fire down when he went to answer the door. Edison follows his every move, waiting for a piece of food to fall to the stone floor. Rosie’s gaze is nearly as bad, clocking every shift of his body, every detail her father likely omitted during her upbringing.

“Shoo, you menace,” Sherlock finally says after the third time he trips over the dog, and Edison only too happily trots over to his bed (one of many) and curls up by the stove. “You can have a seat, too, you know.” He gestures to one of the wooden chairs around the table in the corner of the renovated kitchen.

She slides onto the seat, looking suddenly small amid the stone flooring and granite countertops, as if the magnitude of what she just did is only just now hitting her.

He places a mug of tea in front of her, because that fixes everything, along with a cup of milk and bowl of sugar. “Drink something before you fall over,” he murmurs, turning to the stove and scooping the eggs onto a plate. The toast pops a moment later and he puts out some of Mrs. McGregor’s homemade jam.

If John saw him now, he’d probably have a heart attack. He’s become quite the chef in his solitude.

“How did you end up here?” he asks as he sits opposite her.

Rosie spoons some eggs onto a wedge of toast and takes a bite. “The town? We were in Eastbourne. Maria’s parents have a house. We stopped here to get some snacks on the way home.”

He raises an eyebrow, leaving his own food untouched for the moment. “And you had no idea I lived here?”

She snorts. “Up until four months ago, I had no idea you were alive.”

This fact both pleases and breaks him. He had asked Lestrade not to tell John where he was (not that John would ask), but the fact that John let his own daughter believe that he was dead cut swiftly and deeply. “Lestrade didn’t say anything?”

She looks confused. “Lestr - you mean Uncle Greg?”

It’s Sherlock’s turn to roll his eyes. “Yes, Uncle Greg.”

“No.” She shakes her head. “Wait - he knows where you live?”

“Obviously. He’s been here many times.” He finally scoops a bite of egg into his mouth, but whatever reaction he had been expecting, her features turning to stone was not one of them.

“I see.”

“Oh don’t sulk,” he says as he swallows and her features harden further.  

“He lied to my father.”

“And your father lied to you,” Sherlock hotly retorts before he can think better of it. “He told you I was dead, did he not? Lestrade lied because I asked him to. Your father lied because he wanted to.”

She swallows, but remains silent.

“See? People in glass houses… whatever.” He honestly can’t remember how the saying goes. John said it to him once. Or twice.

“Shouldn’t throw stones,” she quietly replies.

Ah yes, that was it. Clearly he wasn’t the only one on the receiving end of that particular advice.

He takes a bite of his toast, but finds his appetite has rather fled. Even Edison seems to be judging him from the corner for his outburst. And yet -

“He said you died when you jumped off a roof,” she quietly says.

Sherlock shifts his weight on his chair and takes a sip of his tepid tea. “Well, in his defense, he’s not entirely wrong.”

“I know the story. The beginning at least,” she adds wryly. “You don’t have to… go through it.”  

Thank God for that. “There’s been plenty of press on it, I’m told.”

She bites her lip and tucks a stray curl behind her ear, and for the first time all morning, Sherlock finally allows himself to study her. She has John’s eyes and chin, but Mary’s nose and ears. Soft straw-colored curls that look equally blonde and brown, depending on what light she’s standing in. She’s wearing jeans and converse trainers, plus an oversized navy and white striped jumper that looks like it might have been pilfered from the back of John’s closet. And until this very moment, Sherlock doesn’t realize how much he missed her.

He clears his throat and forces another sip of tea. “You said you thought I was dead up until four months ago. What happened?”

She sighs and plays with her eggs, pushing them around the plate with her fork. “I found a newspaper clipping from 2015. According to my father, you had already been dead for three years, but there you were. In a photo. Standing right next to him.”

“I'm shocked your father didn't try to tear down every article on the World Wide Web to keep you from finding out.”

She executes a perfect eye roll. “I'm sure he did.”

They chuckle in the shared knowledge of John’s overprotective streak, but both sober quickly.

“Does he know?” Sherlock asks as he licks his lips.

“That I know?” she clarifies and he nods. “No. You were always just this… black hole. A name whispered in corners. A topic people would change whenever I got near.’

“For good reason. I got your mother killed.”

She sucks in a breath at his bluntness but she doesn’t look upset. “We both know that’s not true,” she simply says.

John would beg to differ, his mind unhelpfully supplies.

“You are so like your father,” he quietly replies instead.

She cocks her head. “How so?”

“You keep surprising me.”

She smiles and continues to pretend to eat her food. Sherlock doesn’t think either of them are particularly hungry anymore. He stands and picks up his plate, gesturing to hers and she nods sheepishly, wiping her mouth on her napkin as she follows him to the sink.

“Thank you,” she says as he washes them both and he hums in return.

She leans against the counter and takes in the coziness of the space. “What do you do out here anyway? Seems a long way off from semtex vests.”

He pauses. “How do you know about that?”

She fixes him with a look that says, Really? “I’m John Watson’s daughter. Of course I read the bloody blog.”

He wants to laugh, but a thought occurs. “Then why did you think I was dead? He continued to write after I came back. We still had cases.”

She shrugs, open features shuttering. “He made those posts private at some point. They’re not up anymore.”

He raises an eyebrow. “And how do you know they’re private, young lady?”

She smirks and tugs on the hem of her jumper. “I might have hacked his computer.”

“Good girl,” he says, rather impressed and she beams under the praise. “I have bees.”

“Sorry?” She frowns at the abrupt topic change.

“In answer to your question of what I do out here. I have bees.” He nods through the kitchen window and she follows his gaze to the hives beyond. When she turns back, her eyes sparkle.

“Will you show me?” she asks and something in his chest warms.

“Of course I will,” he whispers.

She giggles the entire time she’s putting on the bee suit and he’d be lying if he said he doesn’t find it all terribly endearing. So much so that he only complains a bit when she makes him take a photo of her. She wanted one of the both of them (a selfie or some such nonsense) but he refused. Wouldn’t be good for John to find it on her phone. Still, it’s the first time anyone has shown real interest (Greg doesn’t beyond throwing a “thank you!” out the window to the hives whenever Sherlock hands him a jar of honey to take home), and he finds he’s eager to share this with someone. He details the process and she’s enthralled, asking the appropriate questions and taking a photo of a particularly large bee hovering around a nearby flower.

“Can we harvest it?”

He hums. “Not yet. Only about 60% of the cells are capped. We need to wait until at least 75% are before we can extract the honey.”

“Oh.” She looks a tad disappointed and he knows deep in his soul that he must immediately remove that look from her face.

“I have jars in the kitchen. I’ll serve it with tea.”

Her eyes light up. “That sounds great.”

He takes her through the garden and points out all that he's growing, followed by an impromptu game of fetch with Edison and a tour of the shed he converted into a lab. She’s studying English literature so this is all a bit foreign to her, but she’s still curious, ever the doctor’s daughter. By the time they head back into the house, he feels a satisfying exhaustion. That’s more than he’s talked in a single afternoon in a long while. A glance at the wall clock tells him it’s further into the afternoon than he had realized, well past tea time. He fills the kettle and goes about pulling out the fixings as Rosie sits at the kitchen table and fiddles with her phone.

“We have to look into getting you home,” he says carefully. He’s hesitant to say goodbye - now that he has this connection to his old life, he’s loath to give it up - but he also knows that the longer he spends in Rosie Watson’s presence means the weaker the fortifications around his heart become. It took him years to get to the level of benign resignation he lives with every day. To go backwards, to open those doors and feel that pain again - he just can’t.

Rosie pauses, biting her lip (his first clue she’s about to do something a bit not good), and hits only one button on the mobile (a favorite then… likely John). Christ.

His heart sticks in his throat as she puts the mobile to her ear and listens to it ring.

“Hi, Daddy,” she greets.

Daddy,” he mutters, stirring the sugar into his tea harder than necessary, yet his heart thumps at the thought of John being right there. If he strains, he can hear the soft sound of his voice through the mobile’s tinny speaker.

“Yeah, I know, I'm sorry,” Rosie continues, “but we've decided to stay another night, so I'll be back tomorrow.”

What?

“...If that’s okay,” she says just as much to Sherlock as to John. He waves his arms as if flagging down a 747 and she gives him a sheepish yet sly look and blatantly ignores him.

“Yep, I just didn't want you to worry… Uh huh… Love you too. Bye!” She hangs up with a look of cautious triumph and slides the mobile into her back pocket. “Nothing to it.” She shrugs and he glares.

“You call him back and tell him the truth right now.”

“No.”

“Yes! Now!” Edison barks as if to back up his point. 

“Why?” she cries. “Are you that eager to get rid of me? Why is it such a big deal?”

And that’s it - that’s all Sherlock can take. “Because he'll find out and then he'll hate me!” he yells and Rosie, ever her father’s daughter, barely flinches.

“Doesn't he already?” She doesn’t say it unkindly, but it hurts more than he expects it to.

“You tell me,” he replies evenly.

She eyes him for a moment more, before sighing, sitting back down, and pulling her tea closer. “Don't you have a car?”

“Of course I have a car. That doesn't mean I want to drive John Watson’s daughter two hours because she abandoned her ride.”

“From what I hear, you're my godfather. So I'm not just John Watson’s daughter, now am I.”

She has him there. Damn.

“And the nearest train station will do,” she finishes a bit coldly.

The nearest one is still a solid half hour away and it’s already nearing dinner time. He’s not putting her on a train at this hour. Besides, she already told her father she was spending the night. Might as well make one thing true in this whole mess.

“The answer is yes, by the way,” he murmurs after an extended silence and she frowns.

“What answer?”

“He does hate me.”

She looks sad for a moment. “That's what you both would like to think, isn't it.”

And he doesn't quite know what to do with that.

“Look, I’m sorry I barged in on you,” she continues, oblivious to his inner conflict. “I’m completely in the wrong, but… I finally found you. Did you really think I’d let you go so easily?”

“You just said I was a name whispered in corners. You didn’t even know I existed.”

“Yes, I did.” She smiles softly and plays with the necklace just brushing the top of her shirt. “You were the hero in my fairytales.”

Wait - what? “Excuse me?” he manages.

She smiles crookedly and traces the whorls in the wood of the table. “Dad used to tell me stories of a great detective every night before I went to bed. It wasn’t until I got older and overheard enough conversations I wasn’t supposed to that I realized my great detective was real.” She glances up at him and he realizes he’s holding his breath. “He never used your name. It was just the Detective, capital D. Then I found Dad’s blog and the coincidences were insurmountable. The universe is rarely so lazy.”

He smiles despite himself and lets out a low chuckle.

“What?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he replies, feeling warm inside. “Just - something my brother and I use to say. How's spag bol for dinner?”

She grins again and he sees John in her features. “Perfect.”

They’ve only just finished their tea and the promised honey on toast, but the sauce will take at least three hours to simmer. They can start it now and it’ll be ready at a reasonable hour. He pulls out a box of rigatoni, two cans of plum tomatoes, a bottle of red wine, and a package of ground beef, and puts her on chopping duty which she scrunches her nose at.

“Punishment?” she wryly asks, holding up an onion.

“Perhaps,” he replies, gently nudging her with an elbow as he drops a block of butter in the pot on the hob.

She gets to work on the onion, celery, and carrots without complaint though, knife gliding through the vegetables as he circles olive oil around the bottom of the pot. She passes off the onions first and he dumps them in, turning the flame on and watching as the butter gradually melts.

He pops open the bottle of wine and pours himself a glass, raising it to his nose and inhaling before taking a sip. He pauses for a second, not used to accommodating someone else besides Lestrade, so he pulls out another glass and fills it up, sliding it across the counter to her as she raises an eyebrow.

“Don’t look at me like that. I was there when you were born. Literally. I know you’re old enough.”

She puts down the knife and picks up the glass, smiling coyly over the rim, but it doesn’t last. “Really? You were there?”

“Indeed.” He stirs the onions with a wooden spoon, watching them slowly turn translucent.

“Oh. Dad never said.”

“Yes, well, I doubt he thought it important.” He clears his throat. “Finished?”  

“Yep.” She gestures grandly to the neat piles of celery and carrots. “What next?” she asks and he tosses a package of bacon at her, which she barely catches without spilling her wine.

“Chop, chop,” he urges, and she rolls her eyes as he stands there and sips his wine.

Silence descends, broken only by the tick of the hall clock and an occasional whine from Edison for scraps. He takes the bacon from Rosie when she finishes and is perturbed to find her expression troubled. He figures she’ll speak in her own time, though, so he turns and dumps the bacon in with the onions, stirring with the wooden spoon until it starts to brown.

He keeps his glass in his left hand, raising it for a sip as he scrolls through the recipe in his mind palace. Ground beef next, followed by salt and pepper and then milk.

“Aren’t you going to ask me about my father?” Her voice breaks through his concentration and the glass pauses halfway to his lips.

“Do you want me to?” He turns slowly to find her leaning against the counter and fiddling with a lock of hair.

“I just... figured you’d be interested.”

He places the wooden spoon down, followed by the glass of wine, and sighs heavily. “Sometimes it’s just easier not to know. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.”

“What happened to the two of you?” She asks like it breaks her heart to do so. Perhaps it does. He’s not sure what exactly she knows of their history. Sherlock certainly finds it heartbreaking, or he did before he barred that part of his life behind a door in his mind palace. A door whose lock Rosamund Watson is slowly starting to pick.

Like father, like daughter.

He turns back to the counter and dumps the ground beef into the pot. “That’s not my story to tell.”

“Yes, it is,” is her fierce retort.

He braces himself against the granite and lets his head hang down low. “Maybe. But it should come from your father.”

“Sherlock - ”

“Rosie, please.

Begging. He’s begging. How does it only take one person to make him regress 20 years and nearly bring him to his knees?

Her hand covers his on the counter and holds on tight.

Not just any person, though. No. Watsons apparently have that effect on him.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers and he hears the wobble in her voice. He’s not sure he can turn and see the tears in her eyes and physically remain upright.

He clears his throat and nods, covering the hand that covers his briefly before reaching for the wooden spoon once more and stirring the browning mince.

“I didn’t mean... “ she trails off and wipes a surreptitious hand over her face. “I’ve made a complete mess of things.”

“No more than I did all those years ago. Will you get the milk out of the fridge for me and measure out two cups?”

“Sure,” she whispers and gets to it, leaving Sherlock to wipe the back of his hand over his own face and blame the wetness that comes away on the onions.

He pours in the milk, stirring frequently until it’s cooked off, and then adding nutmeg. The task lets his mind wander to the hives, the honey, Mrs. McGregor, and Edison. Not to London or whoever might live in it. Next comes the wine and he kills the bottle, refilling both of their glasses in the process.

“Thank you,” she murmurs, startling him as he nearly forgot she was there. John used to do the same thing. Only then does he notice she’s set the table while he’s been ‘away.’

He dumps the tomatoes in and fills another pot with water for the pasta so it’s ready to go when the sauce has simmered enough. He picks up his glass and gestures that she should follow him into the living room. It’s a bit more comfortable than the wooden table in the kitchen and he can always travel the short distance every so often to stir the pot’s contents.

He fixes a fire and then settles into the plush chair, its dark green plaid upholstery more befitting the country than the leather and metal piece he left behind in 221B. Rosie curls up on the leather sofa, kicking her shoes off and pulling her feet beneath her like a cat. She takes a sip of wine and watches as the wood in the grate catches fire. Edison sits on the floor in front of her like the traitor he is. She reaches down with her free hand and lazily strokes his head. 

“When did you last see me?” she asks out of the blue and Sherlock has to halt the audible hitch in his breath at the memory.

“Anyone but you.”

He squeezes his eyes shut ever so briefly before opening them once more. “You were four months old. Your mother had just died.”

“Anyone.”

She considers this for a moment. “When did you really last see me?”

Sherlock sighs. The girl is too smart for her own good. “You were three. Your father had taken you to the playground and was pushing you in the swings.” His fingers clench on the fragile stem of his glass. “You were so… happy. Shrieking and giggling and yelling ‘higher!” It was then I realized that I couldn’t live in London anymore.”

She visibly swallows and stares into the fire once more. “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault. How’s Oxford?” he asks, quickly changing the topic as her eyes go wide.

“How’d you know I was at Oxford?”

He shrugs, the gesture feeling foreign after years of not having to deflect. “Lestrade tells me things. But only when I ask.”

“About me and Dad?”

His chest hurts. “Just you.”

“Oh.” She shifts on the couch and takes a rather large gulp of wine.

Awkwardness begins to creep in and he finds himself gripping the arms of the chair, knowing that what he’s about to do is not in his best interest and yet he can’t help himself.

“Is he well?”

Her face softens at the mention of her father, but there’s something deeper. Something melancholy that he empathizes with on a visceral level.

“Well enough. He took my going away to uni pretty hard. It’s always just been the two of us and now he’s all alone.” She picks at the throw pillow Mrs. Hudson made him buy for decoration. “He makes a good show of it, but I worry sometimes.”

“He’s a strong man, your father.”

“The strongest one I know.”

He really should have brought another bottle of wine in from the kitchen.

“Look, Rosie you are my goddaughter. And, despite some appearances, I am happy you found me. I know you have questions and I’ll try to answer as many as I can. But there are some I can’t or won’t and I need you to respect that.”

During his speech, she had sat upright and is now perched so close to the edge of the sofa, she’s about to fall on the floor, which Edison would not appreciate. “I will. I promise. How did you meet?”

Cutting right to the chase then, he thinks. Odd first question, though. Surely she knows. “You’ve read the blog.”

“I want it from the source.”

He stretches his legs out and crosses his ankles. His knees protest. “Is your father not a source? Pretty sure he was there.”

“He’s a sensationalist,” she says with a flick of her wrist. “He tends to romanticize things.”

Thank you,” he bursts out. “Been telling him that for years.”

She laughs as she stands and heads for the kitchen. He’s about to ask where she’s going, but she answers before he can. “Stirring the bolognese and getting another bottle of wine.”

Clever girl. “There’s a small wine rack in the pantry. Should be a Brunello.”

“Sounds fancy.”

“Well, it’s a special occasion.”

When she comes back clutching the newly opened bottle of wine, her ears are a bit pink from the compliment.

“We met at Barts,” Sherlock continues as she fills up his glass and sets the bottle on the coffee table. “He had run into his old friend Mike Stamford - ”

“Uncle Mike,” she says and he’s not sure why it catches him so off guard, but it does. Sure, John met up with Mike occasionally while living with Sherlock, but he had hardly entered “Uncle” territory. Things had certainly changed since he left.

“Yes,” he says slowly, the word tasting like ash on his tongue. “Regardless, he needed a flatmate and I had a flat. He wandered in and let me use his phone. I texted a murderer, deduced his whole life, and went about my business.”

She snorts, but she’s rapt. “And that was it?”

He shrugs. “He came to check out the place the next day and shot a man to save my life that night.”

Her pace pales. Bit not good.

“What?”

“Uh… yes, well.” He clears his throat and purses his lips. Lack of company has made his sense of tact relapse. “Your father has done many heroic things that cannot be talked about, but I assure you, they are acknowledged by the people involved.”

“He saved your life,” she clarifies.

“Many times,” he replies.

“After knowing you for only 24 hours, though.”

“He’s an army doctor,” Sherlock says. “What did you expect?” He stands up with a grunt (he can’t sit in one place for so long anymore) and goes into the hall closet, pulling out the walking stick that started it all.

“This was his.”

She wanders over and gently runs a finger down the metal. “How’d you get it?”

“He didn’t need it anymore.”

“Yes, but - ”

“He left it for me,” he clips, interrupting her. “In fact, it was the last thing he gave me before…”

“He disappeared?” she ventures and he shakes his head.

“I knew exactly where he was. He just made it clear he didn’t want to see me anymore. This,” he holds up the stick, “was goodbye.”

She remains silent, eyes boring into the cane with a look of sadness, before she glances up with fierce determination. “Why did he he feel the need to say goodbye?”

“Rosie…” He puts the stick back in the closet and closes the door tightly.

“No, really. You were best friends. Inseparable. Even the damn papers saw it.”

“Please don’t,” he murmurs as he brushes by her towards the kitchen. Surely something needs to be stirred.

“Uncle Greg slips sometimes and mentions you,” she pushes, hot on his heels. “He recovers quickly, but Dad doesn’t.”

That makes Sherlock stop and he has to brace his arm against the doorframe of the kitchen to keep himself upright against the onslaught of John. Edison appears at his side and licks his hand.

“His mouth goes tight and his forehead creases....”

He can see it perfectly.

“His eyes go funny and his left hand twitches.” She places a hand on his shoulder. “I’ve been memorizing his tells.”

He can’t do this. “Rosamund Mary.” He shrugs her hand off and continues his way into the kitchen, grabbing the wooden spoon, and stirring the pot so viciously, bolognese splatters on the tiles behind the stove.

“That's not my name,” she murmurs with a frown when the pounding in his ears eventually subsides enough for him to hear.

“What?” Now it's his turn to be thrown off balance. He was definitely at the christening and paying attention, despite what everyone thinks.  

“My name is Rosamund Katherine,” she replies, chin jutting out in typical Watson defiance. “Aren’t godfathers supposed to know that kind of thing?”

It’s teasing though a little bit skeptical, and it takes Sherlock a minute to right himself, but when he does, his smile is wide. “Oh well done, John.”

Clearly not the answer she was expecting. “What do you mean?”

He places the spoon down in its holder once more, calm now that they’ve moved beyond the details of John’s emotions whenever Sherlock is brought into the conversation. “When you were born, your father wanted to name you Katherine. I assume that was his mother’s name but to be honest, I never deigned to ask. Your mother put her foot down and named you after herself.”

“Oh.” She quiets and stares at the flames dancing on the hob, toying with the necklace around her neck again. A nervous habit clearly. “When he told me he changed my middle name, I thought he had just added the other.”

She looks melancholy once more and he realizes that he perhaps shouldn’t have been the one to break that particular fact to her. That’s John’s job. Not his. “I’m sorry, I - ”

"It's fine." Her response is matter-of-fact and he remembers what she replied earlier in the day when he had said he had gotten her mother killed: "We both know that's not true." 

"What do you know of your mother?" 

Her features darken. "Enough." 

He opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, she’s interrupting him.

“It was, you know.”

“What was?”

“My grandmother’s name. Katherine.”

Sentiment, the younger version of himself taunts, but he can’t scoff at it now. Not when he’s barely been repressing the urge to wrap his arms around the girl in front of him for the better part of eight hours.

But then he frowns. “You said he added another…”

Her eyes finally find his and he’s taken aback at the tears he sees there. “Rosamund Katherine Sherlock Watson,” she whispers.

And everything just - stops.

“I beg your pardon?” His voice is reedy. Thin. Terrified.

“That’s the whole of it.” She gives a little shrug, but it’s half-hearted, as if she knows the information she’s imparting is going to rock his already fragile world. “Dad must have figured that if he was already changing one middle name...”

“I’m sure dinner’s almost ready,” he rasps, reaching blindly behind him, unable to deal with anything that’s happening right now.

“It still has at least another hour,” she replies, placing a hand on his arm, but not before he burns himself on the hob.

He curses and she immediately grabs his wrist and leads him over to the sink, turning on the cold water and sticking his palm beneath it. It smarts, but it’s not bad all things considered. He’s had worse. Edison whines at his side and he reaches down with his uninjured hand and placates him as he stares at the girl - young woman - next to him, whose first instinct was to make the situation right. He can hear himself breathing over the faucet, watching blindly as she turns the water off and gently pats his palm dry with a paper towel.

There’s an aloe plant on the windowsill for just such an occasion, and she breaks a leaf off, oozing its contents onto the red and swollen skin.

“You must have a first aid kit around here somewhere.”

He doesn’t have the heart to tell her that her father was the one who bought it for 221B and it’s the only tangible part of John Watson, besides his walking stick, that he’s taken with him.

He points a shaking finger to the cabinet under the sink and she immediately pulls it out and unwraps some gauze. The wound really isn’t that bad - it’ll be tender tomorrow and fine the following day - but he allows her this. This caring. This healing.

“You were named after me?” He asks the obvious because he just can’t seem to wrap his mind around it. He knows what John’s letter said. He knows what John’s fists feel like. He’s seen the hate in his eyes.

She glances up at him briefly before focusing back on his hand and swallowing. “Yes.”

His throat is tight. “When?”

“Seven, I think.”

Seven. Three years after Sherlock had moved to Sussex. Over six years after they had last seen each other.

“Do you see now why I had to find you?” she finally asks. “I don’t know what exactly happened between you and my father, but he still looks sad when he thinks about you. And I know he does. I’ve read the blog.”

“He doesn’t write about me anymore,” he says, shaking his head. “He doesn’t write about anything - ”

“He writes things he doesn’t post,” she retorts.

“Rosie - ”

“Do you love him?” she blurts and panic seizes his chest.

“Where would you get that idea?” He never should have let her in the damn door. “You're a romantic just like your father.”

“Perhaps.” She leans back and crosses her arms. “And you’re good at deflection.”

He moves away from her but she follows and he’s eventually cornered by the kitchen table with nowhere to go unless he flees out the back door into the yard.

She is undeterred. “I know the look he has because it’s the same one you’ve been wearing all day whenever you look at me. Sherlock, do you love him?”

“Yes, of course I do!” he yells. “Why do you think I moved out here to begin with? So I didn’t have to live in a city where John bloody Watson haunts me every single day.”

His outburst has stalled her offense, mouth open, eyes wide - but then her head tilts and her forehead creases in a way that is so sincerely John he can’t take it anymore. He collapses into the nearby chair and buries his head in his hands, fingers raking through his silvering curls.

“You need to come home with me,” she murmurs after a moment.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“My father needs to see you.”

He scoffs. “Over my dead body.”

“He did that once already.”

“So our roles wouldn’t be reversed,” he snaps, raising his head. “So he could have you and you could be here to lecture me on the inner workings of my heart.”

Oh, too much, too far.

“Please, Sherlock,” she begs, and he wonders briefly if John crumbles as quickly as he’s about to when she speaks to him like that. “Please. He just - he needs to see you.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking of me,” he replies, voice breaking.

“Yes I do,” she says, pulling out a crumpled up piece of paper from her back pocket. It’s a print out of something. A letter perhaps. A print out of a letter that begins “ Dear Sherlock… ” He can read it through the paper. A tear tracks down her face as she kneels on the floor beside his chair.

“How long have you had this?” he whispers, gently taking the folded piece of paper and tracing the edges.

“I printed it out the day I found the private blog posts. This was saved in his drafts, dated nearly ten years ago.”

“Rosie.”

“Read it. Please.” She closes her eyes and more tears track down her face. “And then come home with me.”

His hands shake as he unfolds the paper and smooths it against his lap, trying to focus on the words that John Watson wrote:

Dear Sherlock,

You’ll never read this, which is why it’s perhaps the only time I’ll ever be able to tell you the truth. The only time I’ll ever be able to attempt to make up for what I’ve done, though I know my pleas and admissions will fall on deaf ears.

I made a mistake. A terrible, terrible mistake.

Sherlock closes his eyes as his own tear splashes on his cheek. He keeps reading, though, because he promised he would. And by the time he finishes the letter, he’s stained the paper a hundred times over, like bullet holes in a concrete wall.

“All right,” he whispers, not even sure if Rosie is still in the room.

“You’ll come home?” her voice says next to him. Still on the floor. Still by his side. Still so like her father.

He swallows and smooths the paper once more, smearing some of the ink that had blurred from his tears.

“Yes. I’ll come home.”