Lestrade paused with his glass halfway to his mouth, gaping openly at John.
“What do you mean,” he said in a low voice, “‘giving it up’?”
“Just what I said,” John sighed. “He’s giving it up. Everything. No more puzzles, no more crimes, no more anything. He’s even taken the website down, did you see?”
“No, haven’t been keeping up with it lately,” Lestrade admitted. “I just - he’s giving it up? Why?”
“You know why,” John said darkly. “That bloody case. He still won’t talk about it, so I’ve no idea how he managed to land himself in so much danger. But he’s been a wreck ever since; nearly as bad as I was while he was missing. He won’t let Calvin out of his sight - which is a bit difficult with school and all - and he phoned all of his clients the morning after he returned. Dropped them all.”
“But the work is his life.” Lestrade continued to look dumbfounded.
“Believe me, Greg, I’m as bewildered as you are,” John said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s sweet. It’s - well, it’ll be nice not having to worry about him jetting off to bloody Russia or wherever and getting killed, I’ll admit that. But - well, I knew that coming in, didn’t I? I knew what life with him would be like. Didn’t stop me. And it just seems a bit extreme to give everything up.”
“That’s the way he’s always been, though. All or nothing.” Lestrade shook his head and took a sip of his beer. “Christ. Well, what’s he gonna do with his time?”
“He wants to publish again; hasn’t done that since Calvin was born. Scientific papers and the like. He was also talking about a book based on his methods; teaching deduction as a science. I think he’s excited about it, but I can’t help wondering how long it’ll last.”
“Well, who knows,” Lestrade mused. “Maybe it’ll be good for him, the whole stay-at-home dad routine. He might realize it’s what he’s been missing all along; doesn’t need anything else.”
“God, I hope you’re right,” John murmured, signaling for his tab. “For all our sakes.”
“Have you done your reading for the day?”
A sigh. “Yeah, dad.”
“Well, then, I suppose you could practice for your piano lesson tomorrow.”
“Never mind! I thought of something.”
Calvin scurried off, and Sherlock smiled to himself.
Sherlock stood in the kitchen, bent over a microscope while part of his experiment boiled on the stove. He straightened and rocked back on his heels, pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut, sighing as the beginnings of a headache lapped at his skull. He reached into his shirt pocket and tugged out a pair of glasses, ones he tried to pretend that he didn’t need. He only wore them around the flat, and though he felt the effect of not wearing them at crime scenes, he was not about to give in to this tiny betrayal of his body.
He couldn’t deny, though, that wearing the glasses instantly eased his near-constant headaches and, with a sigh of relief, he turned back to his microscope.
Will be home late. Have to pick up milk after work.
Don’t bother. I already did. - SH
No need to sound so surprised, John. - SH
Well. Thank you.
Of course. - SH
It snowed one Saturday morning, and though it was late in the season the sight of the white fluff sent Calvin into a state of excitement reminiscent of his four-year-old self, when the child would bound into his parents’ bedroom and wake them up the moment he spotted the first flakes outside his window. Calvin was a good deal more restrained now, but when Sherlock rose at his usual time (three hours and fifteen minutes before John generally woke), it was to find Calvin already awake and dressed, sitting in the living room and practically quivering with excitement.
“Dad!” he exclaimed when Sherlock stepped through the door, pointing to the window. “Look!”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow in amusement at the child. “You have seen snow before, Calvin.”
“Yeah, I know, but look. We haven’t gotten any since Christmas and now there’s so much.” He swung his legs over the edge of the sofa. “Can we go outside? Please?”
Sherlock moved into the kitchen. “You know Papa will not be awake until later this morning.”
“But I wanna go with you.”
That brought Sherlock up short. He paused in his filling the kettle, thinking.
Sherlock set the kettle aside, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “Go get your winter clothes on. All of them, Calvin Jack. Even the boots.”
John returned to consciousness at quarter after nine, blinking sleep out of his eyes as his body abruptly transitioned from dead-to-the-world to fully-awake. Old habits died hard, and though he had been out of military service for longer than he had been in it, during the week he always was up before the dawn - sometimes even before Sherlock. But he had managed to re-train himself over the years to sleep in on weekend mornings. It never failed, though, that once he roused, he was fully awake. The few lazy, bleary minutes after coming out of sleep were forever lost to John, having been stamped out of him long ago by an unforgiving routine.
He showered, dressed, and wandered downstairs to find that Sherlock and Calvin both were sitting in the kitchen. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence for Sherlock on a Saturday morning, but Calvin was another matter. The boy would sleep well into the afternoon if they let him. But here it was, barely mid-morning and already Calvin was wide-awake, his ears and nose bright red from the cold and his small hands curled around a steaming mug. He used both hands to lift it to his face, swinging his legs happily and listening as his Dad recounted a story to him.
“...and it was only then that I realized that the killer - oh, hello, John.”
“Hello, you two,” John greeted warmly, coming up behind Calvin and planting a kiss on the top of his head, ignoring the slightly indignant Papa! “Been outside already, have we?”
“Yeah! Daddy took me to the park and we had a snowball fight. I won.”
“Did you, now?” John asked, pouring already-boiled water into a mug for tea and nodding his thanks at Sherlock for making it.
“Mmhmm. And then there were some other kids there and they had sleds and so I -”
Sherlock listened to Calvin’s recollection of their morning together with his head resting in his hand, a lazy smile creeping across his face at Calvin’s enthusiasm. He was blissfully unaware of John watching him - unaware of anything, really, apart from their son.
John returned home one night to a flat that was eerily devoid of noise.
“Where’s Cal?” he said as he shut the door behind him and tugged off his coat. Sherlock was seated cross-legged on the sofa, wearing faded jeans and a jumper - an image that was at odds with his usual strict posture and pristine clothing. He had a folder spread open across his knees, and without looking up he answered, “He’s with a babysitter. Come and sit down before you fall over.”
John didn’t need to be told twice. He nearly fell out of his shoes in his weariness and then slumped onto the sofa, laying his head down at the end opposite Sherlock and draping an arm across his eyes.
“How on Earth,” John murmured, propping his feet on Sherlock’s lap, “did you manage this one? I thought Lestrade was out of town.”
“Believe it or not, John, other people are capable of looking after our son.” Sherlock gathered his papers and set them aside; John settled his feet more securely on Sherlock’s thighs.
“Yeah, but you know he prefers Greg.”
“Who cannot drop everything for us on a whim. He has his own life.”
John nodded absently, and then blinked at Sherlock. “Good God.”
“You’ve turned into me!”
Sherlock stared; John laughed.
“Seriously! You’ve become the responsible one.”
“I don’t think there’s any threat of that happening, John,” Sherlock said with a soft laugh. He began to rub John’s aching arches; John sighed.
“This suits you,” he murmured after a moment, as Sherlock’s ministrations lulled him into a gentle stupor.
He could almost hear Sherlock’s arched eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Yeah.” John sighed heavily through his nose. “This - working on your papers, doing your experiments, spending time with Cal. It’s...sickeningly domestic, but you enjoy it, don’t you? I never would have guessed.”
“Nor I,” Sherlock admitted. “But I’m finding that it’s...not as tedious as I would have expected.”
John smiled gently. “And Cal’s really enjoying having Dad around.”
Sherlock’s movements stuttered for a moment; John nudged him affectionately with a toe.
“Seriously,” he said to Sherlock’s stunned silence. “He’s adoring it.”
The flat was quiet.
The flat was often quiet in the middle of the day, what with John at work and Calvin at school. Even in the years before Calvin the flat had been silent at this time, though usually Sherlock rectified the situation by pulling out the violin or starting a row with the neighbors through the thin walls.
But this silence persisted, even through the sound of the violin and of the experiment bubbling away cheerfully on the stove. It sat under the notes Sherlock coaxed from his instrument and wormed its way into his mind, replacing order with white noise.
Sherlock set the violin aside abruptly and turned on the radio before moving into the kitchen to tend to his experiment.
The silence continued.
“Calvin, come here.”
Calvin dropped obediently onto the ground beside his father, and Sherlock tugged at the boy’s scarf to make sure it was still secure around his neck. He then pointed at the sky and said, “Do you see that star?”
Calvin fixed him with a withering look. “I see a lot of stars, dad.”
Lestrade, seated on Sherlock’s other side, snorted in amusement while Sherlock resisted rolling his eyes.
“Very astute, Cal,” he muttered. “I mean that one - just above the tree line, the one that’s particularly bright.”
“I don’t see it.”
“Right, come here.” Sherlock gently tugged the boy into his lap so that he could better follow his father’s line of sight. “It is the very tip of that line of stars. See? They form the handle of Ursa Minor.”
“The Little Dipper,” Lestrade supplied.
“Oh, yeah!” Calvin said suddenly. “I see now.”
“Well, that star is called Polaris,” Sherlock instructed.
“Can we look at it?”
“Sure, but you’ll have to come over here for that,” Lestrade said, setting aside his steaming mug and going over to the small telescope they had erected on the rooftop. “I don’t trust your dad with this.”
He winked at Sherlock over Calvin’s head; Sherlock tried to scowl at him but found he couldn’t make it appear sincere.
The door to the roof opened as Calvin joined his godfather by the telescope and Sherlock turned to see John stick his head through.
“There you three are,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest as he came to stand by Sherlock. “S’pose I shouldn’t wonder anymore; if there’s a clear night and a rooftop, I know where you’ll be.”
“Hello, John,” Sherlock greeted quietly, and John pressed a kiss to his temple.
“Hello. Sorry I’m home so late; lot of patients today. Did dinner go all right?”
“I am capable of making a meal, John.”
John raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Lestrade, who said, without turning, “It went fine, John. I cooked.”
He finished adjusting the telescope and hurriedly tugged on his gloves again, nodding to Calvin as he went. “Go ahead. Take a look.”
John chuckled. “We’d be lost without you, you know that?”
“It’s good to know I’m useful for something,” Lestrade said dryly.
And as Sherlock stood there with John’s arm wrapped loosely around his waist and Calvin’s happy exclamations filling his ears, he felt ice slide into his stomach.
John was a daily mystery, an ordinary man who was astounding enough to keep Sherlock’s mind engaged. Lestrade kept Sherlock grounded; did his best to provide a distraction on the blackest of days, when nothing could rouse him from the doldrums of boredom. The two men lived in constant fear of Sherlock spiraling; he was well-aware of that.
And no matter what he did, it never was enough. His mind was beginning to rot, starting the slow process of caving in on itself as the weeks dragged by without a break in the monotony. He knew the signs - the headaches, the white noise, his patience wearing thin. He had Calvin and John, and still it wasn’t enough for him. And Calvin Jack needed a parent who didn’t cease functioning the moment the static of idleness began to eat away at his mind; he needed a parent who could manage the trivialities of day-to-day existence.
He needed John twice over, but John already gave so much of himself. Lestrade, too.
John’s arm tightened around Sherlock’s waist, and the movement served to temporarily pull him from the loop he had fallen victim to in his mind.
Sherlock nodded tightly, keeping his gaze fixed on Lestrade and Calvin so he wouldn’t have to see the concern in John’s face.
This should be enough.
“You’re doing well,” John said later that night. He was sitting on the duvet, watching Sherlock undress for bed. “With Cal and the whole...not working thing.”
“I am working,” Sherlock said, bristling. He peeled off his shirt and chucked it in a corner.
“You know what I mean,” John said in exasperation. “It’s just - I’m glad. It seems to be working out all right.”
“Did you have your doubts?”
“Don’t pretend to me that you don’t know what you’re like when you’re bored,” John said as Sherlock joined him in the bed. “I had every right to be concerned.”
He pressed his lips to Sherlock’s forehead and added, “But I’m glad you’re okay.”
Calvin paused in the kitchen doorway, stopped by his father’s words on the threshold. He had a piece of paper clutched in one hand and a pencil in the other.
“I just...” Calvin trailed off, features twisting into a frown of confusion at his father’s irritation. “I don’t understand my homework.”
Sherlock took a calming breath and ran a stuttering hand through his hair. It wasn’t Calvin’s fault that Sherlock’s focus had been slipping as of late. He knew the signs of impending boredom, the static that started to buzz at the edges of his mind and drowned out all that was important, preventing him from thinking and causing his mind to rot. He simply needed a distraction, that was all. Perhaps a break from his article would do the trick, and so he shut the laptop and set it aside.
“Of course.” Sherlock kicked out the chair next to him in invitation. Calvin clambered up into it, looking relieved. “Show me what you’re working on.”
John was on the phone with his mother, simultaneously trying to type up some reports for work while deftly fielding questions about when they were coming to visit her next.
“Next month’s no good, I’ve got that conference,” he was saying as Sherlock recorded measurements from his latest experiment into a log he kept on his own computer.
1.54; 1.65; 1.43 ...
“Well, that could work, but it depends on Sherlock’s schedule. Oh, and Cal has that recital, did he tell you?”
Temperature on Day 1: 17.0 C
Temperature on Day 2: 16.7 C
John’s voice droned on, speaking of dates and train times and No, mum, really, you don’t need to come to London. Sherlock lost his place on the page more than once and twice wrote his measurements in the temperature column. He clenched his teeth as he jabbed at the delete button, the overriding hum of John’s voice driving all relevant thought from his mind.
“Yes, mum. Yeah - yeah - all right, I get it! I promise, I’ll -”
“Shut up , John!”
The kitchen was suddenly quiet, the type of oppressive silence that settled over the occupants of a room and made them uncomfortably aware of its presence. Sherlock straightened, running both hands through his hair, feeling John’s eyes on him and shrinking away from his husband in response. He couldn’t bring himself to lift his gaze, not yet, and stared instead at a scratch in the table while John mumbled hurried apologies into the phone and quickly rang off.
Calvin did that, three years ago, playing with his fork at dinner. He’d been wearing a red jumper and the trousers that Mrs. Hudson -
“What did you just say to me?” John’s voice was low.
“Nothing.” Sherlock finally lifted his head, glanced at John, and looked away. “I - apologize, John. I don’t know why...I didn’t intend to say that.”
There was a soft rustling sound, and then John was at his elbow. An arm snaked around his middle, pulling him until his back was pressed to John’s front. He felt John’s heart thudding against his back, and noted that it was slightly elevated - arousal or stress, Sherlock couldn’t be sure. Though he wasn’t sure that this was a situation that called for arousal, but then he had never been good at deciding what situations did call for lust.
“We need to get that mind of yours to be quiet,” John murmured, and pressed his lips to Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock sighed inwardly; apparently he had been wrong about the arousal. “Find you a distraction for a little while. Would a bit of cataloguing do the trick?”
“No,” Sherlock said stiffly, pulling out of John’s grip. “Honestly, John, must everything be about sex for you? Why on Earth would you think that something as mundane as the human body would be enough to distract me?”
John moved a few steps away. “It’s worked before.”
“Yes, well, it’s not enough now,” Sherlock growled. “I need something big, something really interesting. Sex is too boring; too routine. You get hard, I stimulate you, you ejaculate. Hardly an unpredictable event.”
“Right,” John said quickly. “Right, well, sorry to have...to have tried to help you. I’ll...yeah, I’ll go.”
He left without another word. Sherlock didn’t go to bed that night.
John squinted against the harsh lighting of the mortuary as he stepped through the door, his eyes having grown accustomed to the darkened corridor outside and not prepared for the change. Lestrade was two strides ahead of him, leading him over to the body of a woman that had been laid out on one of the slabs.
“He’s insufferable,” John said abruptly as he donned a mask and leaned over the body, inspecting first with his eyes.
“What’s he done now?” Lestrade asked apprehensively as he handed John a pair of latex gloves, anticipating his need even before John had thought to ask for them.
“Nothing out of the ordinary.” John picked up the victim’s right hand and examined her fingernails. “He’s been irritable lately, though.”
“He’s always like that,” Lestrade pointed out, his shoulders relaxing visibly.
“Yeah, but I worry anyway. He’s snapped at me a couple of times and I don’t know anymore if that’s just Sherlock being Sherlock or a sign. A precursor to a relapse.” John walked around the table to the other side of the body and prodded the victim’s knee. “Or worse.”
“How long’s it been?”
“Since he stopped taking cases?” John straightened, his gaze falling on the far wall while he calculated. “Four months, now? Five? Something like that.”
Lestrade shrugged. “That’s a record for him.”
“So does that mean he’s going to be all right,” John mused as he returned to his scrutiny of the body, “or that he’s heading for a massive spiral?”
I have a cold case, if you’re interested.
I’m not. -SH
It doesn’t require you leaving the flat. I can email you the photographs.
Don’t bother. -SH
Want me to take Cal off your hands for a few hours? I’m free tomorrow afternoon.
Go away, Lestrade. -SH
Calvin was in the other room, playing with his train set.
clack clack clack
The light in the kitchen buzzed, all the time, constantly. He couldn’t drown it out - not with the radio he had placed on the counter nor with the soft murmurs of Calvin’s voice as he narrated an elaborate tale of trains and things.
And then they pull out of the station, not knowing that another train is headed right for them!
Sherlock scrubbed his hands through his hair and returned to the article he was editing, but the acronyms bounced and jumped across the page and he found himself distracted by the cars in the street and Calvin’s voice and God, why hadn’t they changed the light years ago? It was always irritating, always buzzing, a steady thrum of tzzzzt.
He shoved back his chair and winced as the wood scraped across the linoleum and his nerves. He stood, paced, each of his footfalls landing like thunder and his clothes cracking across his skin, as loud as a gunshot.
In the other room, Calvin’s trains crashed together, causing Sherlock to start and his skin to crawl, set afire by the noise.
“Calvin!” Sherlock barked. “Enough. Keep it down!”
There was a meek, “Sorry, dad,” followed by a noticeable silence, which was almost worse than the noise had been. Sherlock growled to himself, gripped his hair, dug his fingers into his skull.
think think think
Why couldn’t he think?
The light buzzed. Calvin’s trains clicked along the track. The laptop hummed.
Sherlock’s mind sputtered.
“Good of you to take my call, Sherlock.”
“You’ve rung me fourteen times. Stop being a bloody nuisance.”
“Only if you stop this nonsense and return to your work.”
“I am working.”
“You know what I mean.” There was a pause; a rush of breath. “I have it on good authority that you were associating with some...less than desirable characters the other week. Ones you haven’t consulted with since your last relapse.”
“They’re part of my homeless network. I needed information.”
“And is that all you needed?”
“I do hope you aren’t lying to me, brother. The repercussions will be less than pleasant if I find that you are. Good day.”
“Sherlock, we need to talk.”
He paused on his way into the kitchen, processing John’s words. He was well aware that that sentence was not one that, historically, signaled that good news was coming. Nonetheless, he said, “Of course,” and continued into the room. John followed.
“You’re being a twat.”
“Ah,” Sherlock said. He pulled a slide out of his microscope and replaced it with another. “I was not aware of this fact.”
“Oh, don’t pull that on me,” John said, crossing his arms. “You damn well are. Are you clean?”
“What?” Sherlock let out a disbelieving laugh. “Am I what?”
“You heard me. And it’s a perfectly valid question. You know how you get, Sherlock, when you’re bored. And you’re most certainly bored. So answer me - Are. You. Clean?”
Sherlock’s eyes flicked of their own accord to the cabinet nearest the fridge - brief and fleeting, too slight for John to pick up on. And then he ground out, “Yes,” because he was clean. That part wasn’t a lie.
It wasn’t a lie.
“All right,” John said, nodding briskly. “I trust you. But would you tell me if you were slipping?”
No , Sherlock answered mentally even as his lips said, “Yes. Is that all?”
“Not quite.” John leaned against the back of a chair, watching as Sherlock tended to his slides. “I want you to go back to taking on cases.”
“You can. Sherlock, this is ridiculous. You can’t keep going on like this.”
“I have to, John,” Sherlock hissed. “I can’t go back to cases. I can’t do that to you and Calvin; I won’t. This will have to work. I’ll make it work. I’ve managed so far.”
“And when it isn’t enough anymore?”
“It will be enough,” Sherlock growled. “John, I will make it enough. You and Calvin are all I need.”
John drew a deep breath through his nose. “You know, Sherlock, I can’t tell if you’re trying to convince me - or yourself.”
Right on both counts, John , Sherlock thought as John came up and pressed a quick kiss to his temple.
“I’ll see you upstairs,” John murmured. “G’night, love.”
“Good night,” Sherlock answered automatically, and his eyes tracked John out of the room.
Why isn’t this enough?
How’s he doing today?
Better, believe it or not.
Yeah. I dunno what happened, but it’s like a switch flipped last week. He’s back to his usual irritating self.
And you’re sure he’s clean?
He says he is, and I checked all the usual spots. I guess something finally fell into place for him. Not sure what, but I’m not about to complain.
Good to hear, John. Keep me updated.
Will do, Greg.
When John came apart, he did so at the seams, twitching and trembling until Sherlock’s ministrations sent him over the edge and he shuddered through a back-arching release, stifling the sounds against his arm. He would take several moments to come back to himself and Sherlock withdrew, pointedly keeping his distance until John’s overstimulated nerves settled and he was able to stand the touch of another. It was only then that he reached for Sherlock, tugging the blankets over both their bodies and sighing lazily into the pillow.
“You all right?” John murmured as Sherlock wrapped lazily around him. Sherlock nosed the sweat-damp curls, breathing in the post-coital musk that clung to John’s skin.
“Yes,” Sherlock answered with a tongue that still held John’s taste, and kissed his husband.
“You seem better,” John sighed. “Overall, I mean. Are you?”
“Yes,” Sherlock said, tugging John closer. “I am.”
“Good. Was gettin’ worried, you know.” John’s words were slow and tinged with exhaustion.
“I know,” Sherlock told him. “But your concerns are unwarranted.”