It's seven months after Sherlock's death that there was a knock on 221B Baker Street's door.
Not that John's keeping track.
Despite the melancholic air that has filled 221B in those past seven months, John has not been idle in that time. He allowed himself time to mourn, to wallow. He kept himself from depression. He kept busy.
He got hired at a clinic. Originally, John had considered Bart's, a job at a real hospital, but he couldn't bear walking by that spot daily. Mycroft had been a thorn in his side for a while. He was as stubborn as his brother when he wanted to be and unfortunately for John, he seemed persistent to look after John in lieu of his brother. In fact, the civil servant had taken to paying for half the rent, to ensure John was able to retain his residence in 221B.
But it was not Mycroft who knocked at the door that afternoon.
It was The Woman.
John stared, gaped really.
She returned his gaze steadily. "Doctor Watson, if I may come inside. I have a matter of some urgency to discuss." Numb in disbelief, he held the door open wider to allow her entry.
It was then that the doctor first took a good look at her and actually saw her.
Irene Adler was dressed in an expensive and doubtlessly designer dress, though it was more...conservative than her norm, and a dark coat over it.
She held a swaddled infant to her chest.
Upstairs in the sitting room of 221B, John sat down in his arm chair; the should-be dead woman took the chair opposite: Sherlock's chair.
She cast a curious glance around the flat. "So, when can we expect the great detective's return, Doctor Watson?"
His mouth dropped a bit. She didn't- she didn't know, then. John's shoulders drooped and he sat back in his chair, but the doctor's eyes did not leave the sleeping child in the (former?) dominatrix's arms.
"We don't," he said, voice coming out hoarse before he cleared his throat. "Sher- He ju-" He swallowed. "Sherlock's dead."
To her credit, she genuinely appeared shocked and appalled. Irene blinked owlishly before simply asking, "How?"
"Your friend, Jim Moriarty," John said bitterly. "He discredited Sherlock to the point of suicide, actually. He jumped off a building seven months ago."
"I did not know," Irene replied quietly. "I was away in America. I hadn't heard."
John stared still. "How are you alive? I thought you were beheaded in Pakistan."
A smile curled her lips. "Sherlock, how else. He saved me, helped me get away. He said it was his way of making sure we were even."
Silence fell through the flat. Irene seemed lost in thought, trying to decide her next coarse of action.
When exactly, he wondered, had Irene Adler - The Woman - The Woman who had beaten Sherlock Holmes - had a child?
She noticed his distracted gaze. "It was after Sherlock saved me from execution in Karachi," she explained. "I may have dosed him with a little cocktail of drugs, something like our first meeting, but with a...different intended effect."
It didn't take a consulting detective to deduce her meaning. "You used the drugs to seduce him, then?"
After a moment, he sighed and stood abruptly, going to the kitchen. As he pulled out the kettle, he called wearily over his shoulder, "Would you like a cuppa?"
"Black for me, Doctor Watson," she replied politely.
As he put the kettle on, trying to stall her tale but failing, she continued anyways. "I don't suppose I need to tell you the details. We parted. I went to New Jersey; he returned here. And I never expected to involve myself with the great consulting detective again. Unfortunately, the best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry," she sighed.
He returned to the sitting room with two steaming mugs of tea. "I suppose, given your presence here, it was Sherlock's, then?"
Irene nodded, sipping at her tea. "Indeed, she is."
"Does she have a name?" the doctor politely inquired.
"Sophia," Irene replied, glancing at the quiet but now waking up child. "I cannot care for her. There are still too many enemies of mine out there. I thought Sherlock would be safer. At least he was not faking his death."
John's grip tightened on his mug. "Nope. Instead, he really is dead."
"I saw him fall. I was there, after... I took his pulse: there was none," John replied quietly.
The Woman gave a soft hum of disappointment. "Shame. I expected that he would at least attempt it. She'll have an IQ on his level, I'm certain. He'd be pleased. I suppose an orphanage will suit then."
John's tea paused mid-air. Finally, he returned it to the table and asked, "May I see her?"
Irene offered the swaddled child to him. He cradled her gently, inspecting her features.
She had dark brown curly hair, something of both of her parents. Irene's nose but Sherlock's mouth and his cheekbones by the looks of it. Light grey eyes peered at him, eyes that could only have come from the detective, though they were a shade darker, the influence of Irene's genes. Good looks from both sides. She'd have their intellect, that was unquestionable. Probably her father's curiosity, too.
Abruptly, his head shot back up and he looked to the infant's mother. "You said an orphanage."
She nodded. "Unless you take her."
The words fell from his mouth before he even thought. "I will." The choice required no thought, no consideration.
How could it? For months he'd been mourning the man, his best friend, the greatest and best man he'd ever known. And now, here was a small part of him, offered to him willingly, freely.
How could he let that piece, no matter how small, go?
A child- Sherlock's child.
"I'll take her," he said softly.
Irene smiled, nearly smug. "I thought you might, Doctor Watson. Though he may be dead, you are still entirely loyal to Sherlock." She paused. "I don't think he ever realized just how loyal you were, how much you cared.
"Do you know what he told me? When he deduced the passcode to my mobile? 'Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.' That's what."
He frowned. "You think I'm foolish for having cared for him."
"For caring about him, even now, Doctor," she replied smoothly. "Why else would you be willing to take in a two month old infant of no familial relation to you?"
"Because she's Sherlock's," John replied. "And she seems to be the only thing left of him."
Doubt teased the fringes of his mind, but he shoved it away. If nothing else, he could do this. John had nothing better to do with his life now; he may as well raise his dead flatmate's child, even if he never knew of her.
She gave a small hum but then pulled her bag into her lap. From it she withdrew a crisp manilla envelope and a pen. She took a moment to sign and initial a couple papers before laying them upon the table for him and setting the bag down next to them.
She stood and John followed suit, though cautious of the infant in his arms. Irene offered a hand to him. Carefully, he grasped and shook her proffered hand. He could smell her perfume, standing so close, but he barely noticed. "Thank you," she said to him. "I was hoping not to leave her at an orphanage. All the appropriate papers are there, birth certificate, adoption papers, et cetera. Even a paternity test, but feel free to double check." She went to leave, doubtlessly disappear as quickly as she came.
"Good luck," he said to her.
The Woman glanced back and chuckled. "I think you will be the one who needs it, Doctor Watson. Take of her. And thank you. Good day."
And just like that, she was gone, leaving the invalidated army doctor, the infant child of his dead flatmate, and the lingering smell of perfume in the sitting room of 221B.