When Sherlock opens the door, John is standing on the other side.
Sherlock doesn’t seem to know what to say.
“John,” Sherlock says, “I’m sorry.”
John’s voice is flat, “Did you deduce that?”
“I heard about it,” Sherlock murmurs, “Isn’t that what people do? Offer their condolences?”
John presses his fingers to his forehead and says, “Not you, Sherlock.”
Hamish doesn’t make a sound until her coffin is lowered into the ground—and then he tears his hand out of John’s and tries to jump in after her. John catches him by the midriff and Hamish screams, just one long cry in front of a hundred mourning witnesses.
“Don’t do this to me right now,” John pleads, pulling his son close, “Hamish, please don’t do this to me right now.”
“Son,” Mary’s father steps forward and puts a hand on Hamish’s shoulder but John just draws him closer. Hamish cries into John’s side, getting his snot all over the suit he borrowed from one of Harry’s friends. John doesn’t care though, just kneels down on the ground and hugs Hamish tight.
The electric kettle gurgles. John finds himself on his feet, reaching for the teacups in the cupboard when he hears the kitchen chair scrape against the ground. Sherlock is standing at his chair and looking at him.
“I,” John says and returns to his seat. He puts his hands on the table in front of him, on top of two-week old newspapers and bills postmarked three days ago.
The clink of a spoon against china and then Sherlock sets a cup down on the newsprint between John’s hands.
“Milk, no sugar,” Sherlock says, watching him.
John swallows. “Thank you.”
Sherlock stirs his tea. John wishes he would look away, even for just a moment, so he could steel himself for what he had to say next—but Sherlock has never been obliging.
“Look,” John begins, “I wouldn’t ask this if it wasn’t last resort—”
“Yes,” Sherlock says, “The answer is yes.”
“You—I haven’t even asked the question.”
“Your coat is five years out of style and yet you’d chosen to mend it no less than three different times rather than get a new one and I know that you are not a sentimental man. You showed up with no taxi in sight suggesting that you walked the few streets from the tube. You were making your mortgage payments up until Mary was diagnosed and then those funds were redirected to consultations at private clinics in hopes that they would produce a better prognosis. Now your house is being repossessed.”
John cannot look at Sherlock, not with shame burning his face.
“Pancreatic,” Sherlock’s voice is quiet, “Stage four. It was already malignant when they found the tumour which is why you never made contingency plans. You’re angry that the symptoms slipped you.”
John swallows and squeezes his eyes shut, “Shut up.”
“The answer is yes,” Sherlock says, “It has always been yes.”
“I don’t want Hamish to have to go to a new school,” John says after he finishes carrying boxes of Hamish’s toys into the room that was once his, “He has friends there. And after—“ he clears his throat, “I think that he really just needs some form of stability in his life at the moment.”
Sherlock looks up from the newspaper, “Indeed.”
“This is just temporary,” John says, “I don’t intend to impose for any longer than it takes for me to get on my feet.”
Sherlock folds the newspaper and rises from his chair. It’s far too familiar of a movement and John looks away.
“Thank you,” he adds, looking at Sherlock only when he’s turned his back.
Sherlock doesn’t reply.
Hamish refuses to play with his toys, even when John pulls out the T-rex figurine from the Natural History Museum. He had cried for the toy halfway down the street before Mary ran back and bought it. John makes the T-rex dance on the edge of the bed and attack Hamish’s arm with a tiny roar, but his son just lays on the bed and stares at him with huge eyes that keep breaking John’s heart.
“I love you,” John murmurs, dropping a kiss in his hair. Hamish loops an arm around his neck and starts to cry against the side of his neck. John closes his eyes and measures out his breathing.
“I miss mummy,” Hamish hiccups. He smells like dirt and paste and his fingers are sticky against the back of John’s neck. “I want mummy back.”
“I miss her too, love,” John says with an effort to control his voice and rubs Hamish’s back until he falls asleep.
John figures that he’s obligated to cook dinner for the three of them. It’s been a long time since he’s cooked to impress though—not since he and Mary were still a new couple. Hamish doesn’t like to deviate from his strict diet of plain pasta with sweetcorn and a chicken drumstick on the side. John tried giving him a boiled drumstick once and Hamish had thrown a fit and refused to eat dinner—so now he knows to prepare ahead of time, set aside two hours on Sunday to prepare Hamish chicken for the rest of the week.
“There aren’t—“ John says when he opens the fridge for the first time. He can’t help but laugh a bit, “Have you stopped collecting body parts then?”
“Downstairs,” Sherlock says. He’s moved the microscope to the living room table and doesn’t look up from it as he scribbles into a notebook.
“Downstairs,” John repeats.
“I’ve invested in a new fridge. Research-grade. Mrs. Hudson was getting adamant about not mixing experiments with food.”
“I’ve brought that up a million times,” John says.
“You aren’t Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock replies and finally looks up at John. John doesn’t know whether to feel annoyed or to let it go.
“I’ve invested in a few other things,” Sherlock continues, unperturbed by the frown on John’s face, “A bacterial incubator for one. Much more reliable than the toaster oven, I don’t know why I hadn’t done it before.”
John opens the vegetable bin and finds a lone potato that has already sprouted. He opens the cupboards and finds a box of crackers long past its expiration date.
“Perhaps you’d like to see it sometime,” Sherlock says. John glances over his shoulder—Sherlock leans against the wall, “My new—lab.”
Sherlock looks at him like he’s waiting for something. John suddenly gets it. “Hamish. You cleared out the fridge for Hamish.”
Sherlock looks down at his phone and starts to tap at it, “When I was six I rather liked dissecting frogs.”
“You’re not normal people,” John says but he’s smiling.
Hamish holds on to John’s hand in the morning when they take the underground five stops from 221B to his primary school. He looks at the ground and scoots closer to John every time a passenger moves past. They’re on a different line and John makes sure to read the station name aloud every time they get on or off, just in case Hamish ever gets lost.
At school, Hamish’s teacher pulls him aside and says, “Mr. Watson, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for your loss,” which John waves off as politely as he can because he really doesn’t want to think about it, not this early in the morning—and then she says, “Do you think it’s a little bit early, though?”
“A bit early for what?”
She hesitates, “I’m just not sure if bringing Hamish back to school so soon is the best idea for his mental health.”
John wants to put his face in his hands and take a few moments to control the anger that he knows is just threatening to break loose with a round of shouting. When he finally speaks, his voice is level, “I really think that Hamish needs some form of stability in his life at the moment. He needs engagement, he needs routine. If he’s not doing any better after a week, I’ll see about taking him out for a bit longer. And—“ he leans in, can’t keep the edge from his voice, “—please don’t tell me how to raise my son.”
A knock at his door. John continues typing and doesn’t look up as he says, “Come in.”
The door clicks open. “John,” Sarah says.
“I’ve got a patient in five minutes,” John warns her, “Do you think this will take long?”
“No,” she says, “John, I’m worried about you.”
“I know my days have been cut a little short but I’ve finally got a login for the internet portal and I’ve been charting from home,” John says, “I can fit in more patients during the day. If I can find a babysitter for Hamish, I was thinking maybe—“
“—weekends too, I know you’re short staffed—“
John shuts up and looks at her.
“You have been working extra hours during the time that you should be taking off for yourself,” Sarah says, “It’s barely been a month and you’ve only taken five days off. You should be spending this time with Hamish.”
“I—“ John clears his throat and straightens his shoulders, “You know I need the work.”
Sarah leans forward, palms down on his desk, “I will personally pay you to go home. Take another week.” She looks into his eyes, “Please.”
John can hear the violin when he and Hamish get home from school. Hamish tracks mud halfway across the hall before John catches sight of the footprints and lifts Hamish to his shoulder. Hamish quietly leans his head against John’s ear and John realizes just how heavy his son is getting as they go up the stairs.
Sherlock doesn’t stop playing when John enters. John doesn’t make their presence known but Sherlock is probably just ignoring them. John sets Hamish down on his bed and tugs off his shoes.
“How was school?”
Hamish shakes his head and looks at the television. John hesitates but turns it on for him. He wants to pull out Hamish’s toys, the Lego he loves so much, try and convince him to build something—but he has two unfinished charts and lab results to look over.
Sherlock stops playing when he sits at the kitchen table and opens his laptop.
“Don’t stop on my account,” John says. Sherlock unwinds his bow, eyes on John all the while.
“So,” John says, willing his computer to boot up faster, “Are you still—“
“Of course,” John agrees. He wishes Sherlock would look somewhere else, “And uh, have there been any good ones?”
Sherlock pauses in the middle of wiping his violin. “Murder suicide which turned out to be a double homicide.”
“Sisters,” Sherlock says, shutting the violin case. He stores it under the living room table—John doesn’t even know when Sherlock started attempting some semblance of organization—and moves into the kitchen. John looks at his laptop screen even as Sherlock pauses and looks at him. John feels like Sherlock is always looking at him.
Sherlock finally turns around and starts to shake coffee grounds into the cafetière. John pulls up the hospital software.
“You should get a new laptop,” Sherlock says as he reaches for the kettle, “Four years since you bought that one? Two minutes to boot up and another three minutes to load your program. It lags between every letter you type, doesn’t it?”
“That is none of your business.”
Sherlock doesn’t say anything else after that until he sets a cup of coffee in front of John and takes a seat across the table. John refuses to look at him.
“John,” Sherlock begins.
“I can’t, Sherlock,” John says, “I really need to get this done.”
After John drops Hamish off at school, he has nowhere to go. Sarah threatened to suspend him if she saw him at the surgery before the week was up and he refuses to entertain the idea of spending the day at 221B with Sherlock. He has half a mind to turn back around and excuse his son from school so that maybe they could go to the art museum, to the park, to do one of a million things in a city he doesn’t trust himself to wander alone. But that was selfish and wasn’t fair at all for Hamish who had finally settled into some sort of routine.
He makes it to the end of the street and he’s wondering which way he should go when a black car pulls to the curb and the back door opens.
“Hello,” Anthea says, “Please get in Dr. Watson.”
Anthea escorts him to the door of Mycroft’s office before she bids him a, “Good luck,” and leaves. John stands outside, looking through the open door at Mycroft who is writing on a legal pad, ignoring John.
John refuses to knock. He just looks at the top of Mycroft’s head, silent.
“Come in John,” Mycroft finally says. John steps into the room and Mycroft glances at him.
“It’s been almost a decade now, hasn’t it?”
“Seven years,” John corrects.
“I’m very sorry about Mary.”
John looks at him blankly. Mycroft sets down his pen and folds his hands.
“If there’s anything I could do for you, John, please do not hesitate to name it.”
Mycroft pauses. John wonders how much of his life has been catalogued in the past seven years, how often Mycroft glanced over his files. He wonders if Mycroft had ever shared any of the mundane details of John’s married life with his brother.
“So I see you’ve moved back in with Sherlock,” Mycroft finally says.
“Temporary thing, really. I don’t mean to inconvenience him any longer than necessary.”
“Necessary,” Mycroft repeats, “That’s an interesting choice of word.”
John wonders what would happen if he turned around and left. “Yes.”
“John,” Mycroft says, “You know I care very deeply about my brother.”
“You hurt him,” Mycroft says, “Last time.”
John laughs and feels the edges of hysteria taking shape, “Me? Hurt him?”
“If there is anything I can do for you John. Anything financial. Anything to expedite your temporary situation.”
“You don’t know a thing about what happened,” John says fiercely, “And if you think I’m going to accept your charity, you’re terribly mistaken.”
Mycroft leans back, “Ah.”
“Sherlock could have said no,” John says, “When I came to ask, he could have said no and he said yes and I think he’s enough of his own person that he can make his own decisions.”
Mycroft looks at John. “I see.”
John slices tomatoes for the salad. Hamish will only eat them if they are cut like orange pieces and if there are also baby carrots and pasta on his plate. The salad is for Sherlock and John only—Hamish thinks that the green is out of place in his warm coloured meal. He will only eat lettuce with peas and broccoli, which means that he rarely eats it at all.
“Daddy?” Hamish stands at the threshold between the kitchen and the living room. He holds a book to his chest. It’s the same one that John bought him from the hospital gift shop in the last days before Mary—left.
“Will you read to me?”
The water for the pasta is boiling.
“I’m busy cooking, love.”
“I tried to read it by myself but there are a lot of big words.”
“I’ll read it to you after dinner.”
“I want to read it now.”
“After dinner, Hamish.”
Sherlock snaps his gloves off and turns from the microscope, standing up in one smooth movement. “I’ll read it to you.”
Hamish looks at Sherlock, taking a step back into the kitchen. It might be the first time that Sherlock’s actually addressed Hamish since their introduction. Hamish looks over his shoulder, up at John.
“I’m sure you’re busy,” John hears himself saying. He’s still processing the fact that Sherlock even offered.
“Not at all,” Sherlock replies and John wishes he could figure out what the other man is thinking, wishes he could read into the smile that touches Sherlock’s lips as he moves across to Hamish and bends so that they’re eye level. “What book are you reading, Hamish?”
Hamish hesitates and then holds the book out, “Do you like Roald Dahl?”
It’s nearing midnight and John has been staring at these X-rays for the last twenty minutes. He had been so sure of his diagnosis but there is nothing on the film to support it. Wrong questions—he must have been asking the wrong questions.
“Did you know—” Sherlock says from his position on the sofa, tilting his head back to look at John, “—that you have not cried once since arriving here?”
John hopes that if he doesn’t answer, Sherlock will leave him alone.
“You wake up in the morning, drink a cup of coffee and prepare Hamish his lunch. You both leave by seven-thirty. Considering your financial situation, you can’t afford to buy prepared foods and you hold moral compunctions about stealing. You do not bring a lunch for yourself, John, so I’m fairly certain you’ve been skipping out for the last month.”
“This is rich,” John snaps, “You lecturing me about not eating.”
Sherlock shuts the book he had been reading and sits up, focusing all of his attention on John, “You bury yourself in work. You have been coping by not coping at all.”
“What the bloody hell do you know about coping?” John shouts, “What can you possibly tell me about the fucking grieving process?”
Sherlock remains silent.
“Me on the other hand, I’m very experienced. Had an entire three years to do it, really. When my best friend fucked off without telling me anything, when that insensitive, selfish twat decided in all of his holier-than-thou that he was entitled to fuck around with my life and put me through thirty-six months of misery.”
“John,” Sherlock says, but John won’t have it. It’s an argument that they’ve rehashed a million times and John can’t stand it, can’t bear the idea of hearing Mary’s name in Sherlock’s voice.
“Don’t you dare make this about you,” John hisses, “Don’t you dare think that the faster I got over my deceased wife, the faster I’d be jumping back into your arms.”
“I wouldn’t—” Sherlock is on his feet but John’s already down the stairs and out the door.
John has taken Hamish to her grave twice since the funeral. He lets Hamish choose a small bouquet from the florist and Hamish gets daisies each time: yellow and white tied with a pale gold ribbon. They sit next to her headstone. Hamish picks the petals off the flowers as he talks about the new things he’s learned this week while John blinks into the distance with an arm around his son’s shoulders. When Hamish gets tired and hungry, they leave.
John doesn’t want to go more often than that. It reminds him too much of those first few months after Sherlock jumped off the side of St. Bartholomew’s, those first few months when he had gone to the cemetery a few times a week and tried to bargain with whoever was listening: all of his secrets for the possibility of Sherlock being alive. It reminds him of a time when he had been vulnerable and self-indulgent and he can’t afford that now, not with Hamish depending on him, not with the weight of debt waiting to crush him.
But he’s thinking about Hamish now, when he jumps the fence of the cemetery. He’s thinking of Hamish when he breathes mist into the cold night air and walks down rows of headstones. Everything looks different at night and he can’t find the same markers that would lead him to Mary’s grave. He keeps walking and dares the ghosts, the serial killers, the ghouls of the night to come at him in the dark.
It’s nearly dawn when he admits that he’s lost and cold. He needs to take Hamish to school.
Despite what you may think, I still do care about you. – SH
“Is Sherlock my uncle?” Hamish asks as they emerge from the station. The question startles a laugh out of John.
“No,” John says, “He’s just an old friend of mine.”
“You were shouting bad words at him last night,” Hamish says.
“You heard that,” John rubs at his forehead, “Sometimes friends fight. I’m sorry Hamish, I shouldn’t have lost my temper and said those things.”
“I got scared when you left,” Hamish tells him, “But Sherlock said that you would be back and not to worry.”
John is failing his son. John cannot fail his son. He kneels down in front of Hamish and cups his face, “Hamish, you’re the most important person in my life. I will never leave you, you know that right?”
Hamish hugs him, arms locked around his neck and mumbles, “That’s what Sherlock said too.”
Sherlock is still asleep by the time that John returns. John sits at the kitchen table, looking at but not really reading the morning newspaper. He rehearses conversations in his head, glancing over his shoulder in the direction of Sherlock’s bedroom every once in a while.
By the time it turns eleven, John finds a pair of rubber gloves that Mrs. Hudson must have left behind and starts attacking the kitchen sink with the bleach. The fridge is next. By the time John is in the midst of throwing out toilet paper wrappers that Sherlock tossed back into the cabinet rather than into the rubbish bin, Sherlock appears at the bathroom door wearing silk pajama bottoms and a thin cotton shirt.
John stares up at him. “That’s my shirt.”
Sherlock looks down at it. “No, it’s not.”
“15th annual UK translational research symposium at St. Bartholomew’s?” John demands, “How is that not my shirt?”
“You abandoned it. I’m not in the habit of throwing out perfectly serviceable articles of clothing so I requisitioned it. May I use the toilet?”
John opens his mouth and then closes it. There’s a comeback somewhere in the fact that Sherlock’s wardrobe probably costs more than John’s annual salary but John can’t push it past the fact that he’s weirdly touched. He gets up and moves past Sherlock to get back to the kitchen. Sherlock leans away as he passes and John doesn’t know what to think about that either.
He busies himself with making lunch. He throws rice into a pot and sets half a bag of frozen vegetables to thaw. There are only two eggs left in the carton. He’ll have to go shopping.
The violin starts playing behind him. John keeps looking at the eggs he’s stirring.
Sherlock keeps playing. The way that the notes dip makes it sound a little wistful—or maybe that’s just John projecting. John sets up two places on the kitchen table: fork, glass, napkin. The low hiss of oil and John muffles a curse as some of it splatters on his wrist.
It isn’t until John turns off the stove and starts to run the tap that the violin stops. The pan steams as John runs water over it. The violin case clicks shut.
John sets two bowls of fried rice onto the table. Sherlock stands in the living room, watching him.
John takes a seat and gestures. “Sit. Have some lunch.”
Sherlock crosses the space and hesitates before he slides the chair out from under the kitchen table and slowly sits.
“I’m sorry for losing my temper last night,” John says.
“Your behaviour is understandable considering the circumstances,” Sherlock replies, “You are under a great deal of stress.”
“No, that was still unacceptable,” John says. Sherlock looks at John’s hand, the white-knuckled way that he’s holding the fork. “I think this is an opportune moment for me to reiterate how grateful I am that you have opened your home to me and my son in this time of need.”
Sherlock leans back, steeples his hands and studies John.
“I realize that I have been immature in avoiding the topic for so long,” John continues, “But I think that we should establish some ground rules. And maybe—chat. To clear the air.”
“Understandable,” Sherlock repeats, “Considering the circumstances.”
“I would like,” John says haltingly, “For us to be—friends again.”
“Of course,” Sherlock murmurs.
“I would also prefer it if you didn’t try to engage me in conversation about—” John pauses, clears his throat and says the last bit in a rush, “—my dead wife.”
“Yes,” Sherlock agrees, “Never again, John.”
“Are you mental?” Harry asks over the phone, “Have you gone stark raving mad?”
“There’s nobody else,” John says, “Nobody else lives in London. Hamish goes to school here and my job is here—what am I supposed to do on such short notice?”
“Not move in with your ex, for one,” Harry shouts, “You’ve been living with him for the last month? How have you not killed him by now?”
“It’s been seven years, Harry,” John says, “Plenty of time for there to be a mutual cooldown.”
“Oh yes,” Harry practically snarls back, “Because you didn’t call me two years back when you and Mary had that epic fight, drunk off your ass and instead of talking about your marriage issues, you ended up talking about how that insensitive prick broke your heart five years ago.”
It hurts more to think of Mary in the moments when they were fighting than it does to think of the moments when they were really in love. He hates the guilt that floods his mind, the way that his chest suddenly feels tight and he can’t breathe. He failed Mary, the woman he had sworn to love and protect—he had failed her in body and in mind just as he would inevitably fail everyone that he had ever loved.
“I have to go,” he chokes into the phone and throws it into the corner of the room. He buries his face in his hands and tries very hard to control his breathing but the tears won’t stop coming.
He is quiet. He must be quiet because Hamish is home.
Every other day, Hamish writes into a journal that he has to keep for his class. John knows he shouldn’t pry but Hamish still doesn’t talk much. He spends a lot of time in the living room, putting together lego starships and making sound effects under his breath while John works out his finances at the kitchen table.
John doesn’t really read the entries, just opens the notebook to the latest page to see how much Hamish wrote. In the two weeks after Mary died, Hamish didn’t write anything at all, just scribbled big black circles and little black circles orbiting the big ones. It hadn’t been until week three that Hamish wrote anything at all—fragmented sentences about something interesting that he learned that day. But now he’s writing a full paragraph. Nothing like the whole pages he would fill up four months ago, but it’s enough to make John feel a little better.
“Would you like to see my new lab?”
John looks up from the book that he hasn’t been reading for the last thirty minutes. He’s been thinking about whether or not Harry would lend him the money to send Hamish to therapy.
Honestly, he doesn’t, not really. But Sherlock’s clearly making an effort and John needs to make more of one. He sets the book aside, “Go on then.”
It turns out that Sherlock’s new lab is barely bigger than the size of a storage closet after the fridge and the incubator have been fitted in. A tabletop centrifuge sits next to a more impressive looking microscope than the one that Sherlock has upstairs.
“Is this where you spend most of your time now?” John asks, leaning against the door. He has to admit that it’s a fairly impressive getup.
“The centrifuge came in two days ago,” Sherlock says, opening the fridge, “I was considering getting a portable culture hood but those ended up being several thousand out of my budget so my toxin studies will have to wait a little bit longer before I can get cell lines going.”
“Did Bart’s kick you out?”
Sherlock sets a bag of bovine eyes on the benchtop, “Where else would I get my human samples?”
“Yes,” John echoes, “Where else?”
“This is much more efficient,” Sherlock assures him, “I don’t have to keep stealing Molly’s badges this way.”
John smiles despite himself. Sherlock glances at him and tentatively smiles back.
John almost feels okay, for just a moment.
“Are you a scientist?” Hamish asks Sherlock as he climbs on the chair that used to be John’s with his T-rex toy. Sherlock has been sitting in his chair for the last thirty minutes, motionless with his eyes closed. John knows better than to disturb him in such a state. The apology for his son’s interruption is halfway to his lips when Sherlock opens his eyes and looks at Hamish.
“I am not,” he says, “I am a consulting detective.”
“Can I look through your microscope?”
John sits frozen at the kitchen table, unsure of whether or not he should tell Hamish to stop bothering Sherlock. He’s half fascinated—Sherlock seems to like Hamish (Hamish likes everyone) and John wants to see how this plays out.
Sherlock stands and moves to the microscope, turning it on, “What would you like to look at?”
Hamish holds out his toy, “T-rex.”
“I don’t know if he’ll fit up on the microscope stage,” Sherlock replies, “He might be too big.”
“Oh,” Hamish says, sounding disappointing, and then, “What do you usually look at?”
“Vegetation,” Sherlock says, “Mould spores.”
“Like on bread.”
“Yes,” Sherlock pats the chair and Hamish climbs up. Sherlock peers into the eyepiece and adjusts the focus. Hamish looks over at John and grins. John smiles back.
“Here you are,” Sherlock says. Hamish leans forward eagerly to look through the eyepiece.
“They’re all round. Cool!”
John is still smiling when Sherlock meets his eyes over the top of Hamish’s head.
John’s sitting in the library when he gets the text. He has three books on the table in front of him and he’s been staring at the first page of Conquering Grief: Relational Self Help Series without taking in any of the words for the last fifteen minutes. He knows rationally that he needs to deal with Mary’s death, that there are stages that he supposedly needs to undergo before he can really get better. If nothing else, he owes it to his son.
He’s just so goddamn tired. He spent two of the last three months sitting in a hospital room after work, holding her hand (so thin and light that it had reminded him of bird bones) and talking about anything and everything that came to mind. By the end she was breathing through a mask and drugged to near delirium on painkillers but she had pulled him in close and said very lucidly, “I think it’s time we ended it, dear.”
He had said, “No,” and “I love you,” but Mary had only given him a sleepy sort of opiate smile. He had cried then, silently, with her fingers wrapped up in his hands until he came to the realization that he had already lost her, five months ago when the doctor gave her two months to live.
It’s nothing like when Sherlock died. He and Mary had known. They had tried to deflect the inevitable but they had known. And John isn’t sure what new revelations the self-help books will offer. Maybe they’ll help teach him the mechanical motions of dealing with grief. Maybe he’ll feel better afterwards.
So when John gets the text Barnard Park, Islington, come if convenient. – SH, he types out I DO NOT THINK THAT on his phone before deleting it. He looks at the cover of Awakening from Grief: Finding the Way Back to Joy and On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss before pulling on his coat and working out the fastest route to Islington.
Lestrade is the first person to see him. He lifts the crime scene tape and says, “Well, this is certainly a surprise.”
“Hello Greg,” John says as he ducks underneath, “Been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“Almost makes me feel young again,” Lestrade agrees, “Heard that you moved in with Sherlock? Didn’t believe it myself.”
“Lestrade, are you sure that the body hasn’t been touched by one of your imbeciles? There are footprints all around it and the sheer variety of sizes is making it incredibly difficult to determine a single set,” Sherlock peels off his gloves as he walks towards them ,”Hello John. Glad to see you could make it.”
“Hello Sherlock,” John replies.
Sherlock smiles at him then, just for a brief moment before he turns towards Lestrade.
“Hey,” Lestrade says when they’re done at the crime scene and Sherlock has gone quietly contemplative as he taps on his phone, “We should grab a pint sometime. Catch up.”
“I’d have to find a babysitter for Hamish first. But yeah, we should.”
“How have you been holding up?”
The last time he had seen Lestrade, they had both been wearing black and John was running on autopilot. The last time they had a proper conversation, Mary hadn’t yet been diagnosed. “Good,” John says, “Good.”
“I have to admit that it’s a little bit weird for me,” Lestrade jerks his head in Sherlock’s direction, “The fact that you two are talking again? That I’ll be able to mention you without him threatening to rip my head off? I never thought that’d happen. Should I expect to see you more?”
John swallows and attempts a smile, “No, I don’t think so. Work and all.”
Sarah insists on buying him lunch when he comes back. “If you want extra shifts, you’ll let me do this,” she says and hands him a box of curry chicken. She has a box of pad thai and they eat in the canteen because they both have patients that afternoon and it’s too cold to open the windows.
“How’s Hamish?” Sarah digs through her noodles with her chopsticks while John mashes the curry into the rice with a fork.
“Getting better. I don’t have the heart to tell him not to bother Sherlock. It’s been ages since he really talked,” he rubs his fingers on a napkin, “And Sherlock just lets him. In the middle of his experiments and everything.”
“I can’t imagine Sherlock being any good with kids.”
“It’s unexpected to say the least,” John agrees.
In the end she gives him the Saturday night shift in the A&E and an early year-end bonus. It’s enough for the deposit on a new flat.
My offer still stands. Anything you need. – MH
After dinner, when John is charting his latest patients and Hamish is brushing his teeth, Sherlock sets a box on the kitchen table on top of the files that John had been referencing. He stops typing and looks up at Sherlock, “What’s this then?”
“A Dell Inspiron,” Sherlock says, “Because I know how attached you are to that silly operating system.”
“You,” John starts, and doesn’t know how to continue.
“The backspace button on your current laptop is quite possibly the most annoying thing I’ve ever heard. Considering how often you use it since your computer lags behind your keyboard substantially, I really think it would be in all of our best interests if you just accepted this as a belated birthday present.”
“I—” John says, “You can’t just go around buying people laptops.”
“No,” Sherlock agrees, “Just you. Because your current laptop is shit.”
John doesn’t know whether to be annoyed or touched. Sherlock sighs and starts to open the box, “Would you prefer if I called this an apology gift?”
“What do you have to apologize about?”
Sherlock stills and looks up at John, “You can’t possibly be serious.”
“Can’t we just—” John hears the words but there’s a disconnect between his brain and his mouth, “—let the past be the past?”
Sherlock studies him. John feels his heartbeat in his throat.
“Of course,” Sherlock says eventually.
“I’m ready for bed,” Hamish says from the bottom of the stairs, “We’re reading Tollbooth tonight, right?”
John looks at his son, “I’ll be up there in just a moment, love.” Hamish climbs back up the stairs.
“I can set it up for you,” Sherlock says, “I’ll do it properly.”
He doesn’t want to be even more in Sherlock’s debt. He’s already overstepping his boundaries just by living here.
Sherlock pulls at the edges of the cardboard. “Let me do this.”
“Okay,” John concedes.
When John gets back from his Saturday night shift at eight in the morning, he makes himself a cup of coffee without turning the lights on. He sits in his chair, intending to read the immunology paper that Sarah had printed out for him until Hamish woke up, but he accidentally closes his eyes and falls asleep.
When he opens them again, someone is burning toast in the kitchen.
“I like it darker,” he hears Hamish say.
“Any darker and you’ll be consuming pure carcinogen,” Sherlock replies.
John checks his watch. Half past ten.
“Can I have some coffee?”
“Caffeine stunts growth. Your father would be very angry with me if I let you have any.”
“He doesn’t have to know!”
“I’m awake,” John announces. He gets up and stretches. Hamish is practically climbing on top of the kitchen table and Sherlock is at the stove, scrambling eggs.
“Good morning,” Sherlock says.
“Look what Sherlock helped me make,” Hamish says, holding up a lego model. It looks like a sleeker and more realistic version of the spaceships that Hamish has been making all month. “Sherlock says that it takes a lot of work to become an astronaut but I think I want to do it.”
“If you’re sure,” John says, dropping a kiss into his hair.
“And how was your shift?” Sherlock asks over his shoulder.
John freezes. This normalcy—the domesticity—Sherlock in his bathrobe making breakfast. It’s surreal. Sherlock doesn’t ask about John’s work because he has no interest in the inane complaints of his patients. Sherlock doesn’t make food, doesn’t adhere to anything resembling a good flatmate. Sherlock is really trying, John realizes.
“Good,” John replies even though he had to change scrubs after being puked on twice.
“Can we go to the park today?” Hamish asks, balancing grapes on the back of his lego spaceship.
“Sure,” John says, and then, “Would you like to join us, Sherlock?”
“It was hard for him, those last few months,” John says when they’re sitting on a bench next to the playground. Hamish has disappeared into one of the plastic tunnels and John keeps his eye on it. “Six years old. No idea what’s going on, just that mum’s getting really sick. Spend half your life in a hospital.”
Sherlock is silent, but he’s looking at John.
“Then she’s getting worse. And your dad, he tries to explain to you what’s going on but he’s having a hard time of it. A doctor has to explain to you that your mum is probably going to die.”
John laughs at that, runs a hand over his face and forces down the sudden lump in his throat. “A fucking doctor, Sherlock. I couldn’t tell my own son that his mum was dying.”
Sherlock is shit at comforting people, John knows this. So when Sherlock reaches past the space between them on the bench and puts his hand over John’s, he doesn’t expect it. But he doesn’t pull away.
“Look at me dad!” Hamish yells as he hangs upside down from a low set of monkey bars.
“Be careful!” John shouts back. Hamish laughs and flips right side up.
“Did you see me, Sherlock?” Hamish yells.
Sherlock looks away from John’s face and shouts back, “You’re extraordinary.”
“I like Sherlock,” Hamish tells John one day when they’re taking the tube home from school, “He doesn’t talk to me like I’m a stupid kid.”
“Do I do that?”
Hamish squints up at him, “You’re my dad.”
“I don’t mean to.” John mentally runs through the last conversations he’s had with Hamish.
“You’re my dad,” Hamish repeats, as if that explains everything. He fidgets and then tugs on John’s hand, “Can we go and see the dinosaurs again?”
After finishing his work for the night, John scrolls through the available properties on Rightmove. He’s looking at photos of a potential flat when Sherlock looks over his shoulder and says, “That was previously a methamphetamine lab.”
“Circular burn on counter too big to be from a coffee mug and too thick to be from dinnerware, but fits a five hundred millilitre Erlenmeyer flask perfectly. Residues of tape adhesive around the windows where the landlords did a shoddy job painting. I would advise against that one—the fact that they haven’t changed out the carpet from the previous meth addicted tenants suggests that you’d have a difficult time getting the landlords to do much of anything.”
John backtracks and clicks on another flat.
“The previous tenant died in that bedroom,” Sherlock informs him.
“Please Sherlock,” John deadpans, “Please tell me what’s wrong with every flat.”
“Happily,” Sherlock agrees and pulls up a seat.
When Hamish asks, “Can I have a microscope for Christmas?” John realizes that it’s December and he’s been living at Sherlock’s for over three months.
“Why would you need a microscope?” John asks.
“Sherlock has a microscope,” Hamish says, “I want to be Sherlock when I grow up.”
“I thought you wanted to be an astronaut,” John says as he takes a moment to process Hamish’s words. Perhaps he’s overdue for an aneurysm.
“I want to be a detective,” Hamish says, “I’m not scared of blood at all.”
John eventually settles for, “We’ll see.”
John is off to his flat-viewing appointment at three—just a quick circuit around Hackney before he goes to pick Hamish up from school—when Sherlock shows up at his office door. John frowns at him as he puts his coat on.
“Was just chatting with Molly and thought I’d swing by,” Sherlock says, “Are you off to view the flats then? I guess I have no choice but to come with. It’d be terrible if you accidentally rented out a murder house.”
John resigns himself to his fate. “Have you enjoyed the contents of my email then? I hope you haven’t violated any rules of patient-physician confidentiality.”
“I have no interest in such menial complaints,” Sherlock sneers and hurries to catch the taxi pulling away from the hospital entrance.
The agent looks between the two of them as they approach and says, “I didn’t realize there would be two of you coming. I would have prepared another packet.”
“Last minute addition,” John says, smiling politely, “Don’t worry about it.
“The first flat is right up on the second floor,” she says unlocking the door, “It’s a beautiful two bedroom, lots of natural light.”
Sherlock barely looks around the place before announcing, “Your neighbours downstairs are drug dealers.”
“Ignore him,” John says as he shuts the bathroom door, “What’s next on the list?”
The second flat has a balcony (“This street has been featured three times over the last year for particularly violent shootings.”), the third has a spacious kitchen (“Bedbugs. Also, mice.”), and the fourth has huge windows facing south that flood the living room with light.
“I really like this one,” John says. The light slants in at an angle with the setting sun and he imagines putting an armchair in the square of sunlight. It’s not too far from the nearest station.
“Hm,” Sherlock says, looking around in the cabinets.
“Laundrette just a street down,” the agent supplies, “Great school district too. And I’m sure the neighbourhood is um, very accepting.”
“Stop looking for something wrong, Sherlock.”
“Are you sure you can afford it?” Sherlock asks, peering into the fridge.
“And that Hamish will like it here?” Sherlock shuts the fridge, “He’s much closer to everything on Baker Street.”
“I’m sure,” John repeats, looking towards the agent.
She smiles and opens her clipboard, “We can start the lease in January.”
Subject: Christmas dinner
I know that Sherlock won’t pass on the information but you and your son are invited to our Christmas dinner. Please come. Sherlock won’t even entertain the notion unless you accept and mother misses him so. She’s also been inquiring about you.
“I want a microscope for Christmas,” Hamish tells Sherlock from under the living room table. He has a blanket fort set up, a blanket draped over one side of the table, held in place by several pathology tomes and an entire army of dinosaur figurines under the table with him. Sherlock works at his computer like nothing is out of the ordinary.
“Why?” Sherlock asks, “You have a perfectly serviceable one that you can use right here.”
“Sherlock,” John cuts in, “Maybe you should reconsider.”
Sherlock shoots him a look that says please, John, “I have another microscope downstairs.”
“Should I ask for something else then?” Hamish asks. He’s balancing a triceratops on the end of Sherlock’s slipper, “What else do detectives need?”
“You could ask Santa for a detective’s hat,” John suggests.
He grins at the way that Sherlock starts typing with more force than necessary.
John shuts the door after his two o’clock patient at half past three and barely has time to jot down a few last notes before the receptionist phones in about the other two patients who are still waiting in the lobby. He grabs his mobile and punches in a number from muscle memory.
“Please tell me you’re not on a case.”
Sherlock’s voice is staticky, “At the flat, why?”
“I’m running late. Receptionist scheduled clear to four o’clock and I won’t be able to pick up Hamish. If it’s not too much trouble—?”
A pause. John wonders how much Sarah would deduct from his pay if he tried to pawn his patients off on another physician. “I’ll get him,” Sherlock says.
His mobile rings while he’s consulting with his three o’clock patient at half past four. John sees Sherlock’s name and hesitates just a moment before ignoring it and setting the thing to silent.
By the time the last patient leaves, he has thirty missed calls and flurry of texts: Why aren’t you picking up? and Hamish thinks that you’ve gone and I can’t convince him otherwise and I don’t understand children’s logic, help John.
Sherlock was even desperate enough to leave a voicemail and when John catches his son crying in the background, he flings his arm out for a taxi.
“Took you long enough,” Sherlock says just as John enters the flat. Hamish is curled up beside him on the sofa but the moment that he sees John, he launches himself at him and starts crying all over again. John barely has time to drop his briefcase before he’s holding Hamish tight.
“It’s okay, love,” John murmurs into Hamish’s hair, rubbing his back. Sherlock stands, takes an awkward step towards them before turning half away while Hamish hiccups into John’s work clothes. “Shh, Hamish. I love you. I’m never going to leave you.”
Sherlock watches the two of them. John lifts Hamish without protest.
“I’m terrible at this,” Sherlock confesses.
“You did fine,” John says and gives him a small smile.
Mycroft’s home is as large John remembered it to be. Madeleine, Mycroft’s wife, meets them at the front door. She’s put on weight since John last saw her years and years ago, but she looks as effortlessly elegant as ever. She beams at Hamish and ushers them inside.
Sherlock takes off his scarf and tosses it onto the hat rack. He takes off his coat and tosses that on the hat rack as well, even as Madeleine reaches for it and says, “Sherlock, dear, I can take that for you.”
Sherlock ignores John’s, “Really, Sherlock?” and disappears in the direction of the library. Mycroft times his arrival to Sherlock’s exit.
“This must be Hamish,” Mycroft says, bending down and smiling, “You’ve got a detective hat and everything! You could be quite the miniature Sherlock.” Hamish hides behind John’s legs. The hat falls over his eyes and he pushes it back up.
“A little shy today, I guess. The hat was his Christmas present today,” John says, pulling Hamish out from behind him, “Hamish, aren’t you going to say hello?”
Hamish shakes his head. John lets go of his hand but keeps an eye on him. Mycroft’s home was probably a minefield of breakable things.
“This is a change of heart,” John says, “Offering me money to leave and then inviting me into your home.”
“You’ve always been a good influence,” Mycroft answers. He smiles. “Happy Christmas, John.”
“John, be a dear and go find Sherlock, will you?” Madeleine asks. She has her hands full of roast and the egg timer is going off again, “Dinner is almost ready.”
The library is empty. John can’t think of any other rooms that would interest Sherlock so he puts on his coat and lets himself outside.
It’s snowing. John tucks his chin into his coat and shoves his hands into his pockets. It doesn’t take him long to find Sherlock sitting on the garden wall, breathing smoke into the frigid night air.
“Thought you’d given up.”
“I did,” Sherlock says, tapping ash into the newly fallen snow, “Then I found Mycroft’s stash.”
Sherlock holds up a second cigarette, “These two were all I found.” He holds it out to John, “You can throw it away if you want.”
John steps forward and plucks the cigarette from Sherlock’s fingers. Sherlock watches him. This close, John can smell the smoke, see the snowflakes clinging to Sherlock’s eyelashes.
The tobacco burns. Sherlock makes no move to lift the lit cigarette to his lips. He keeps looking at John and John doesn’t want to move away.
“Don’t leave,” Sherlock murmurs, “Stay.”
“I already signed the lease.”
“Doesn’t matter. You can unsign it,” Sherlock drops the cigarette into the snow and he slips off the wall and into John’s space.
“I told her about you,” John hears himself saying, “Don’t know what possessed me. Told her that I thought I was in love once. Maybe she didn’t feel so special then. Maybe that’s why we started fighting.”
Sherlock is so close. John wants to reach out and touch him.
“I loved her, you know,” John’s voice is shaky and unrecognizable to himself, “Even if Hamish wasn’t born, even if it was just the two of us, I would have tried to work it out.”
“You had all of London,” Sherlock murmurs, “And yet you came to me. What can I conclude about that?”
John closes his eyes, “That I’m a bad person.”
Sherlock touches his cheek, right under the eye, feather light. He touches John’s temple and whispers, “May I?”
John closes the distance between them and kisses Sherlock.
Nothing changes. John pretends that nothing has happened because he’s paralyzed with indecision with facing something this huge. Sherlock only follows his lead.
They start packing on the 29th. John’s surprised at how much stuff they’ve accumulated. He doesn’t recognize half of Hamish’s toys—when did Sherlock buy him toys without John noticing? He goes through the bathroom, sorting out his toiletries from Sherlock’s and realizes that they’ve been using the same toothpaste for the last two weeks.
Hamish follows Sherlock around the flat, wearing his hat and trying to mimic Sherlock’s mannerisms. John panics for a good five minutes when he calls out Hamish’s name and gets no response—only to realize that they’re downstairs in Sherlock’s lab. Sherlock is showing him plates of bacterial colonies that he’s been culturing from different water samples around London.
“I don’t know if that’s sanitary,” John says from the doorway while Hamish draws boundaries between the differently coloured colonies, permanent marker squeaking against the back of the plastic petri dish.
“He’s wearing gloves,” Sherlock answers—the medium nitrile gloves that Sherlock buys are much too large on Hamish’s hands but he seems to like them. “I’ve closed the plates up with parafilm. What’s there to worry about?”
John considers pointing out that a six year old was unlikely to understand sterile technique but Hamish focuses so intently on the work that Sherlock’s given him that John doesn’t have the heart to argue.
“This is the last box,” John tells the mover as he heaves it into the back of the truck.
“Light load,” the mover says, “Just one trip?”
“Saves me money, doesn’t it?”
John goes back up the stairs to grab his briefcase. Sherlock stands at the window, looking down at the vans outside. John pauses in the doorway, uncertain as to what he should say.
“This isn’t goodbye, you know.”
Sherlock turns and gives a small smile, “No.”
“I’ll—” John clears his throat and nods, “I’ll see you then.”
They still need to buy furniture. John only has enough money to get a single mattress delivered to the new flat, which goes straight into Hamish’s room.
After John gets through a chapter of James and the Giant Peach and tucks Hamish in, Hamish asks, “When is Sherlock moving here?”
John is taken by surprise. “He isn’t, love.”
Hamish struggles to sit up, “Why not?”
“He lives at 221B. We were just guests for a bit. He was just helping us out before we found our own place.”
Hamish considers this. “I think I liked being a guest better. Can we go back?”
John laughs at that and kisses Hamish’s hair. “Goodnight, Hamish.” He turns the light off and goes back into the living room. The moonlight slants in through the huge windows as he slips into the sleeping bag.
He doesn’t think too closely about the answer to Hamish’s question because it’s too late for him to undo everything he’s already done.
What happened? – MH
Dinner, perhaps? – SH
I’ll let you know when I find a babysitter. – JW
Bring Hamish. – SH
John waits for Hamish after the first day back to school. He got out of the surgery early and he’s thinking about taking Hamish to the park for a bit, before they meet Sherlock for dinner.
Hamish isn’t in the initial rush of children flooding out of the school at the end of the day—but then he’s not with the stragglers either. John feels a sudden spike of panic as he hurries through the entrance and down the hallway towards Hamish’s classroom.
Hamish is putting his coat on in the hallway. John lets out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding.
“Hi dad,” Hamish says as he grabs a piece of paper from the shelf above the coathooks, “I wanted to finish this.”
“What is it?” John asks. Hamish hands it to him.
There’s a giant blob attacking the skyline of a tiny city. There’s a smiley face surrounded by clouds. A small humanoid figure with yellow hair holds some sort of squiggly thing with red lines coming out of it towards the blob. There’s a smaller humanoid figure with yellow hair and a green thing next to him. And next to that, a taller humanoid figure, black hair, grey eyes.
“Ms. Stewart told us to draw our family,” Hamish says, “So there’s you. And me. And our pet velociraptor. And Sherlock. And there’s mum up in heaven. We’re fighting evil. You have a laser gun.”
John blinks at the picture and laughs. He puts an arm around Hamish’s shoulders and keeps looking at the drawing, “I love it, Hamish.”
After dinner and after Hamish is tired of putting things under Sherlock’s microscope, John puts on The Lion King while Sherlock looks at pictures of decaying eyeballs on his laptop. Hamish curls up against his side and falls asleep before Nala finds Simba in the jungle.
“I was thinking,” John says quietly, “That I made the wrong decision in moving out.”
Sherlock looks up from his laptop.
John takes a breath, “And I was wondering—”
“Yes,” Sherlock says, “The answer is yes.”