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At 4:27 am on January 5th, six days after Sherlock stepped on a plane and after sixteen hours of labor, Willa Louise Watson was born. Being just over six pounds and 48 centimeters long she was just a tiny thing in the doctors palm but her lungs were anything but. She screamed her displeasure at the world while being held up and announced, she screamed while John cut the cord, she screamed during her assessments, and when she was finally wrapped up and placed in her father’s arms she squinted at him from beneath red lids and promptly screamed louder.

John couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful.

At three hours old the Watsons finally settled on a name. Mary had relented and allowed John to choose her first name. John wasn’t entirely sure she meant it, that it wasn’t another gesture to get herself back on his good side but he allowed it. Mary had been utterly surprised when John had suggested the name.

“Willa? Really? Not Sherley or Lochlyn?” Mary didn’t know and John wasn’t about to tell her.

Louise was Mary’s contribution and John didn’t bother to ask where it came from, he found he didn’t care.

It was noon when both Willa and Mary were finally asleep that it hit John that the one person he wanted to tell first about the birth of his daughter was gone, likely forever. He made it to an empty waiting room two floors below before breaking down.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. He had wanted to ask Sherlock to be Willa’s Godfather even though he knew the other man would have scoffed at the religious implications. He had wanted to watch Sherlock hold her for the first time while taking photos of the inevitable awkwardness that would ensue. He wanted the option to call Sherlock at two in the morning when Willa wouldn’t sleep because he knew the other man would be awake and would undoubtedly have some science based suggestion of calming a colicky baby.  

John wanted Sherlock.

Right at that moment John hated Mary just as badly as he had hated Moriarty. It was her fault Sherlock was gone. If she had been honest with John just once maybe none of this would have happened. Sherlock killed Magnussen to protect them and it was Mary’s fault they needed that protection in the first place.

Part of John wanted to run upstairs, take Willa and just hide away from it all.

He didn’t.

Willa had been born three weeks early. Not early enough she was at any real risk but early enough the doctors wanted them to stay an extra day to make sure she didn’t develop any complications.

Mary hated every second and John took an inappropriate amount of pleasure from it.

They had been home a week and John was standing at the sink washing one of a hundred tiny bottle parts, Mary hadn’t wanted to breast feed ‘I carried her for 37 weeks, time someone else takes care of her’, when a black SUV crawled slowly by the window.  John sighed and shut off the tap.

The vehicle was idling just down the block when he finally got out the door and not surprisingly Mycroft was seated in the back.

“I believe congratulations are in order Doctor Watson.” Mycroft said mildly as John slid in.

John just stared.

“What an interesting name choice.” Mycroft continued over John’s silence.

John rolled his eyes and sighed. “Sentiment, Mycroft, I don’t expect you to understand.”

Mycroft looked up and his gaze seemed to pin John to the seat. For just a second it was easy to see the relation between Sherlock and his brother. “I may not regularly participate in sentiment but I do understand it, at least in this case. My brother-”

“Your brother is gone. Is he dead yet I wonder? Hmm?” John snapped unable to listen to platitudes about Sherlock.

“He was alive as of three days ago.” Mycroft confessed.

John crossed his arms over his chest and looked out the window. “For how long?”

Silence prevailed for another minute before Mycroft chose to speak. “I did everything I could at the time to give him a chance.” Both men winced thinking of the failed return of Moriarty plot. “Believe it or not, John, this was his best chance for survival. But I made a promise to my brother before he left.”

John finally looked over at Mycroft.

“I promised him I would continue to look out for you and your family, that was his only request.” Mycroft explained, his tone almost soft.

Rage rose up in John’s chest at the injustice of it. “Yeah well we don’t need your protection now, Sherlock took care of it already. So, you may kindly remove yourself from my life.”

Mycroft’s eyes narrowed. “Surely you’ve realized not all threats were a result of my brother.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” John yelled throwing his hands up in frustration.

Mycroft said nothing.

John shoved open the door and stormed back to his boring little house on the quaint little street. He bypassed Mary and jogged up the stairs to where Willa was napping. Not caring one bit if he woke her, John scooped her out of the crib.

He went back to work three weeks after Willa was born, simply because he needed to get out of that house. There were moments, days even, when everything was nearly perfect. John could look at Mary and remember who he fell in love with. Most of the time though Mary would speak and it took every ounce of John’s willpower not to scream at her to shut up. There were evenings when he couldn’t take it any longer and he would bundle up Willa, wrestle her into that damn pram and then leave on a walk.

Mary never asked why he would leave suddenly with their daughter for two hours.

After going back to work John somehow found himself in charge of the night shift. He knew he should be irritated with Mary over it and part of him was. Yet he grew to adore those late nights where the nursery was lit by the night light in the corner and the only sound was of Willa sucking happily at her bottle. As he fed her he would press his face into her silky soft hair and simply breathe. After her bottle, she would lay in his arms and eye him speculatively in the dim light, it reminded him of how Sherlock looked at the world.  

When Willa was three months old John began to worry about Mary. There was a certain lack of emotion between Mary and Willa that was slowly becoming more evident as the baby grew. Mary wasn’t neglectful or even a bad parent as Willa was always content, clean and fed when he got home from the surgery. He noticed Willa never seemed to smile up at Mary whereas the moment her tiny blue eyes spotted John she would break into the widest gummy smile. Mary seemed almost apathetic towards the whole thing, towards them. She often left for ‘alone time’ as soon as John got home, never asked to come along with them on their walks and if John was home she never went out of her way to feed or cuddle the baby. John worried about postpartum depression.

A month later John learned there were far worse things.

Willa was four months and had figured out how to roll. Unfortunately, she had decided nighttime was the perfect time to practice this skill. Luckily for John he was off the day following the worst of the nights.

Willa was miserable even when fed and changed. Her cry was whiny and she clawed at her face with her hands leaving John to put socks over them so she didn’t cause any more scratches. By nine thirty in the morning John was very quickly approaching his wits end and had to do something. There was one sure method to lull his overtired daughter to sleep and it was also John’s preferred method of calming down. He’d only gotten three blocks from home when he was cut off by the ever-bored looking Anthea leaning against a car.

John hadn’t had any contact with Mycroft since Willa was a week old. Still for some reason he found himself climbing dutifully into the car, the petty part of him allowed Anthea to argue with the pram without any help.

The familiar scenery of the road to Mycroft’s office flashed by as John held Willa to his chest. She fell asleep within minutes.

John was still clutching her to him when he entered the office. Mycroft was seated behind his laptop.

“I know you are concerned about Mary’s behavior.” Mycroft began without any preamble.

John nodded, there was no point in asking how Mycroft knew. He hadn’t had any real delusions that Mycroft would actually back off when asked to, that just wasn’t in his nature.

“She is not depressed, John.” He said finally looking away from the computer.

John sighed. “You’ve become a psychiatrist then?”

Mycroft’s mouth pulled tight. “It’s far worse than depression.”

There was a sinking feeling in John’s stomach and he finally took a chair, careful not to jostle Willa. Mycroft silently pushed a stack of manila folders in front of John, eyes flickering down to Willa for a moment.

John rearranged Willa on his chest and reached out for the top file. Surveillance photos: all taken with a long-range lens, all of Mary. Mary leaving their house, Mary taking a cab to a nondescript apartment building in the middle of London, Mary through a window looking over papers, Mary looking determined as she walked through a crowded street with her head down.

“Are you stalking my wife?” John asked halfway through the file of photos.

“Keep looking.” Was all Mycroft said.

As John continued to flip through the photos it became clear Mary was up to something, something not good. The final photo was what stole his breath. Mary seated on the top of a building looking down a rifle scope pointed at the streets below.

“We believe she’s active again.” Mycroft spoke.

John huffed out a laugh. “Really? You think?”

Mycroft just looked at him.

If Willa hadn’t been laying quietly in his arms John would have punched something. Instead he reigned in his fury and simply crumpled the photo violently. “When did she start?”

“Your trip down memory lane.” Mycroft said simply.

On January 29th John had given into the desire to think about Sherlock. He and Willa had spent the day in London visiting all of his favorite cases. They’d ended the trip having evening tea with Mrs. Hudson at Baker Street.

“Has she killed anyone?” Was John’s next question as he tried to ignore the small flicker of guilt when he realized he’d given her the opportunity to start again.

Mycroft shook his head. “Not yet but we believe she has a target. She will undoubtedly be acting soon.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do?” John bellowed suddenly and Willa immediately tensed and began to whimper. John inhaled sharply trying to control himself. “No love not you, you’re fine.” He whispered trying to sooth her.

Mycroft allowed him a moment of comforting his daughter before finally speaking. “You will go home tonight-“

John cut him off. “I will not.”

“You will, John.” Mycroft snapped, this was enough to keep John from protesting again. “You will go home and tomorrow morning you will go to work.”

“I am not leaving Willa with her.” John objected instantly.

“John, you already worry about the lack of attachment she has. If you tip her off to any of this are you willing to take the chance she won’t harm the child?” Mycroft reasoned.

John hated him because he was right. There was no way he was willing to stake Willa’s life on an attachment that might not exist.

Mycroft must have seen his acceptance because he continued speaking. “When you get back from work you will take the child on a walk. Anthea will meet you along your way and take you two somewhere safe.”

John considered the plan quietly for a moment, he still desperately wanted to rage against the idea of leaving Willa with Mary but there was no better way. “You will watch very closely tomorrow and if she does anything and I mean anything-”  

“I will have agents through the door in under a minute. I assure you John, I will keep you safe. My brother would never forgive me if he went into exile for you just to have you die under my watch.” Mycroft told him.

John’s heart stuttered. “He’s alive?” His voice was suddenly rough with emotion.

Mycroft looked completely surprised at the question but comprehension drew across his face. “Yes, Sherlock is alive at this moment and currently defying all expectations of him.”

John smiled weakly at that. “Always does.”

“Indeed.”

‘Somewhere safe’ ended up being a cottage that butted up to the beach on the Isle of Wight. It had taken nearly six hours to drive there which John knew was far longer than it should have. The driver was obviously making every attempt to ensure their journey was untraceable. Willa had wailed for half of the drive, not a fan of the carseat that had been installed for her. When she finally fell asleep John allowed himself to lean against the window and doze.

Three days later Mycroft appeared. One look at his face told John something had gone wrong.

“Something tipped her off.” Mycroft said by way of greeting when he walked out into the back garden where John had set Willa up on a blanket in the grass.

John instantly put a hand on Willa’s leg. “What do you mean?”

“She left shortly after you, we assumed to continue her surveillance, we’d hope to catch her in the act but she disappeared.” He explained as he took a seat on one of the iron garden chairs.

John’s gaze darted into the house and he itched to pick up Willa and run inside with her.

“You are safe here.” Mycroft assured. “When we have captured her or confirmed she has fled the country you will be able to return to London.”

Willa was seven months old when one of Mycroft’s agents finally managed to snap a photo of Mary strolling through a South American market.

Willa crawled unsteadily around the floor of the cottage as John and Uncle Mycroft (John had mostly forgiven him and Mycroft had only argued over the moniker once) poured over the surveillance photos and planned the return to London.

Three weeks later John found himself standing inside the kitchen of 221B Baker Street while a team of workers carried boxes and furniture up the stairs.

John’s old room had been converted into a nursery with antique looking furniture that John was afraid to know the price of. There was a baby pink crown that had been painted over the lilac walls just above the crib and it amused John to no end. Mycroft had recently taken to calling Willa ‘Reinette’ so clearly the decoration had been done at his order.

Despite being assured that the return to London was safe there were new security measures put in place. Mrs. Hudson had agreed to bars being installed outside of the windows in the room and even then there had been a motion sensor alarm place on them. The baby monitor was probably a couple thousand pounds worth of government security tech that allowed John to pull up the feed through an encrypted channel on his laptop and mobile.

Willa loved Baker street.

She continued to grow much to John’s dismay and by Christmas she was seriously considering taking her first steps. As she grew so did her family. Mrs. Hudson had become Nana, Greg Lestrade became another uncle (and with him she gained two cousins), and by the second time Molly babysat she had become an Aunt.

For Willa’s first Christmas John had not planned on playing around with Father Christmas. She wouldn’t remember and frankly he’d gotten her a large amount of gifts on his own. But on Christmas morning he’d walked out of the bedroom (once Sherlock’s, now his) and was greeted by the site of a pile presents stacked under the tree and a text.

Happy Christmas. -MH

Only two of the presents were actually labeled as being from Mycroft, the others were wrapped in different paper and had no sender. It was obviously Mycroft’s attempt at playing Father Christmas for Willa. She had not surprisingly been more interested in rolling in the wrapping paper than in the frankly terrifying number of presents. Still when Mycroft arrived in the late afternoon she crawled over to him as he sat on the sofa and held out her arms to be picked up. Mycroft lifted her, still slightly uncomfortable with holding a child but getting better at it.

John had assumed that because everyone seemed to have purchased every toy under the sun for Christmas that Willa’s birthday would be a more sedate affair.

He was wrong.

Willa ended the day covered head to toe in pink frosting and with half a toy store spread out on the living room floor. Greg’s daughter, Addison, was laying on the floor next to her trying to entertain Willa with one of the new gifts but all she wanted to do was chew on the wrapping.

Everyone had a bottle of beer in hand, including Mycroft and Molly, and were talking about everything and anything when Mrs. Hudson reappeared holding a beautifully wrapped box with a silver and pink bow on top.

“Not another gift Mrs. Hudson!” John groaned as he watched her come into the room.

“Not from me dear, found this on the chair downstairs. Someone must have set it down and forgot it.”

No one claimed it and John finally asked. “Who is it from then?”

“Here give me a moment there’s a card.” Mrs. Hudson said flipping over a tag attached to the bow. “Says ‘Happy birthday, Princess. Love Agra.’”

Mycroft and Greg moved at the same time, reaching out to take the present from Mrs. Hudson. John would wonder later that night how much Greg knew about the situation. John had never really told him much but still he seemed to have most of the story.

Greg got to the gift first and carefully carried it back down the stairs while Mycroft followed with his phone, which had appeared for the first time since he’d gotten to Baker Street, to his ear nearly shouting at whoever was on the other end. 

Every test on Earth was run on the present before it was opened and more were invented to be run on the contents. In the end it was nothing more than an innocuous porcelain doll. It was gorgeous and clearly had cost a considerable amount of money.

John smashed it to pieces with a hammer and then proceeded to lock himself and Willa in Baker Street for weeks.

Willa grew and grew and as she grew John missed Sherlock even more. Mycroft had promised once that he would never let John remain in the dark if Sherlock died, that he would know as soon as Mycroft did. So every month that passed John had to live content with the knowledge that Sherlock was alive somewhere that wasn’t here.

When Willa began speaking beyond ‘Dada’ and ‘milk’ John often wondered what highly inappropriate words Sherlock would try to teach her. Which was how John found himself with an eighteen-month-old who knew the word ‘Detective.’

When Willa was three John had decided he was done living solely off the money that magically appeared in his bank account each month and went back to work three days a week at a surgery. Willa was in nursery school for a week when she came home with the word ‘why’ blazing around in full force.

It had been cute for three days.

Then John wanted to scream every time an explanation was followed by ‘why’. He finally did snap, raising his voice with her for the first time. Her face had screwed up in horror at his sharp tone before she threw herself on the sofa crying. He’d felt so guilty they’d ended up eating Chinese, her favorite take away, for dinner.

He wasn’t surprised when Mycroft appeared as John came down the stairs after putting Willa to bed.

“I scolded her Mycroft, I didn’t hit her.” John said wearily as he dropped into his seat. He wasn’t entirely sure that he wouldn’t disappear if he did ever strike her.

“Sherlock was a late speaker, thank heavens,” Mycroft began after taking a sip of the bourbon he had poured himself. “So he was five when he entered into the ‘why’ stage of life. I was twelve and after a few days I did hit him. I don’t think he knew another person could cause you pain like that because he seemed more shocked at the concept of someone hurting him intentionally than he was at the fact I had. I was twelve though and knew I was smarter than most adults, it didn’t sit well with me that I had a seemingly clueless younger brother. Mummy was furious when she learned. Told me I had to spend an entire weekend doing everything with Sherlock and patiently answering every question that left his mouth. If I didn’t I would lose certain privileges I’d grown fond of.”

“No dessert for a week then?” John teased.

Mycroft sighed heavily and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “I nearly strangled him during the first six hours. Then at one point he asked me ‘why’ I was so angry with him. So I of course yelled ‘Why do you think, Sherlock?’ and much to my surprise he answered and was very correct. He knew more than he let on but he wanted someone to confirm he was right. After that it became almost a game. When Sherlock said ‘why’ I asked ‘why do you think?’ When he was correct I praised him, when he was wrong I corrected him, and when he honestly didn’t know I taught him. After only a few weeks he became confident in his own mind and stop asking ‘why’ so much.”

John considered the fire for a moment. “She’s not Sherlock though.”

“No but Reinette is brighter than even you know, all children are. It’s when we teach them that they don’t know anything that they truly don’t.” Mycroft answered.

John found himself attempting Mycroft’s pseudo parenting technique the following morning. He quickly learned that the older man had indeed been correct. Willa might not have been Sherlock but she was exceptionally clever and John felt he wasn’t even being particularly biased in that opinion.

As if to prove to John just how clever she was Willa began reading a few weeks after her fourth birthday. John had not been in the slightest bit prepared for this, after all he’d been seven by the time he realized it might do him well to figure reading out. After a brief meltdown which had lead to him calling Greg before seven a.m. John learned a few things.

The first being that Mycroft had zero issue answering Greg’s phone and seemed to enjoy John’s brief discomfort when he realized who had answered. The second was that Mary had been exceptionally intelligent, even Sherlock had noted that, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Willa was going that way as well. The third was perhaps the most surprising: the source of the mysteriously appearing money.

Mycroft suggested a private tutor once John had refused to pull Willa from her current class. When John had protested about funds Mycroft reminded him of the magically appearing money.

“John you’ve been moving the money from Sherlock’s trust into a savings account for the past year.” Mycroft said easily as if this weren’t an entirely new revelation.

John had paused in the middle of the street, he’d never actually asked where the money he was receiving was from. “That’s Sherlock’s money?”

“Did you not know?” Mycroft asked mildly.

“No. Why am I getting Sherlock’s trust fund allowance?”

“My brother has no access to any of his accounts currently. Two days before he left he gave the instruction that ‘The Watsons’ receive his monthly allowance instead of it sitting in an account he couldn’t touch. I assumed since you didn’t ask that you knew.”

John had shaken his head before realizing that Mycroft couldn’t see him, well probably couldn’t. “No. I didn’t want to put Willa in care after Mary so I just figured it would be best if I didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Jesus Mycroft that’s more than I’d make full time at the surgery. Why the hell did he need a flat mate?”

Mycroft laughed, not just a chuckle but a full laugh. “John that is half of his monthly allowance. I thought you’d be uncomfortable with the full amount. Half to you, a quarter in a savings account for Willa for university and the other quarter goes into an… offshore account.”

John sucked in a breath, he knew the ‘offshore account’ was no doubt accessible by Sherlock wherever he was. This was the first time Mycroft even came close to admitting he was still looking after his younger brother. “Yes, yes. Fine. I get it we’ll look into a tutor.”

Her tutor started two weeks later.

Willa was the flower girl at two weddings during the spring and summer she was four. Molly married a fantastically boring forensic accountant who looked nothing like Sherlock in April. The wedding was very traditional and Willa, who had never stepped foot in a church before, spent the entire ceremony trying to look at all the art and sculptures in the chapel.

In August Gregory Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes married in the back gardens of Mycroft’s large home. John hadn’t even been aware they were engaged when Mycroft asked him to stand with him at the altar. Willa was unaware her dress probably cost more than all of her other clothes combined and that during the reception she was running about with the children of some of the most influential people in the world.

When the photographer called for a family only photo John had swooped in to retrieve his daughter from where she was playing with Addison. He’d gotten halfway to the dessert table, fully intending to bribe her into behaving with sweets, when Mycroft called out to him.

“John,” Mycroft said “Family. Is she not my niece?”

John paused and then nodded as he was once again reminded of everyone who loved Willa. After gently pushing her towards them he turned back to the desserts.

Mycroft called over again this time sounding exasperated. “If she is my niece, would that not make you my brother?”

Which was exactly how John ended up in the ‘just the family’ photo wearing a particularly misty eyed expression. Greg teased him over it for months.

The last of the snow had finally melted in London when Mycroft took a trip to Russia. John had only realized the trip was happening because Greg came over more often when Mycroft left, still uncomfortable alone in the sprawling house.

The day Mycroft returned he appeared at Baker Street, his mouth drawn in a tight line.

John’s heart sputtered uncomfortably. “Is he dead?”

“No. He is alive.” Mycroft said softly.

“But you’ve seen him then?” John asked, one hand on top of Willa’s head as she sat at the kitchen table playing with the matryoshka dolls Mycroft had brought back for her.

Mycroft nodded. “I do not come here to get your hopes up, John. But an offer has been made to Sherlock. One more mission and he will be pardoned and allowed to return home.”

John’s knees gave out and he sank into a chair, one hand still clutching Willa. “Did he accept?”

“I will not know for another week if he did or not.” Mycroft admitted looking weary. “But this will be more dangerous than the others. Even if he accepts he may not come home alive.”

Two weeks later a text arrived at 3:15am.

Accepted -MH

John felt like he was living on the edge of a razor for the next few weeks until he realized it could be months or years to complete an MI6 mission. So he began to occupy himself with more urgent matters, like the fact that Willa was due to start primary school in the fall and he’d been avoiding thinking about it.

Mycroft had insisted on looking at several schools instead of just sending her to the local school, citing her above average intelligence as a factor. So John spent weeks touring different schools until he finally found one that was the right mix of advanced lessons and play. He put in their application on a Tuesday and on Friday afternoon John was informed of her place.

Mrs. Hudson, unable to attend the first day due to her hip surgery, had plaited Willa’s hair and insisted on dozens of photos before she let them out of the house. John wasn’t exactly surprised when he opened the front door to find a black limousine parked out front.

“A bit much?” He asked sliding himself and Willa in anyway.

Greg grinned at him, Anthea didn’t bother looking up from her mobile, and Mycroft rolled his eyes. “Just for today, it would have been… uncomfortable in a normal car.”

Molly texted three times during the ride to the school asking how John was holding up.

As they pulled up John noticed there was new construction beginning on the one side of the school.

“Oh what’s that then?” John asked not actually expecting anyone to have the answer.

Mycroft answered anyway. “I believe they found their musical instruction space lacking.”

John raised an eyebrow. His singular complaint during the tour of the school had been that in the expansion of the art rooms the music rooms had been marginalized. He had thought Sherlock would have been displeased with the idea of Willa attending somewhere without a decent music program.

Anthea looked up from her phone and sighed. “You are aware you applied for a spot nearly six months after everyone else had, right?”

John just looked out at the cost of his daughter’s admission and didn’t say a word.

Willa suffered well through John clinging a bit too tightly as they walked up to the school. It was only outside her classroom that John notice even Anthea had followed them in. Greg gave her a simple hug and wished her good luck while Mycroft rested a hand on her shoulder and reminded her to be good. Anthea actually knelt down to Willa’s level, pulled her into a hug and whispered something in her ear. Willa grinned and nodded.

John did not cry. His eyes might have burned and he may have been rapidly blinking but he did not cry as he hugged his daughter and sent her off into her classroom.

During the walk back to the car John glanced over at Anthea who was back on her mobile, typing furiously.  “What did you say to her back there?”

Anthea glanced up and smirked. “Just reminding her who rules the world.”

The rest of the autumn passed quickly and almost normally. Willa hated homework with a passion but her marks were all above average, she made friends and got in petty feuds, and there was an entire month where she didn’t go a day without some sort of cold symptom.

As the holidays approached John felt the familiar itching return to his veins. If it wasn’t for Willa’s absolute joy over the season he wouldn’t have celebrated them at all. Too many things had happened during this season for him to enjoy them much.

Mary sent presents between Christmas and Willa’s birthday every year and despite Mycroft’s best attempts they never learned how she did it. Extravagant dolls, an actual china tea set, and jewelry. All lovely but not things Willa cared about which assured both Mycroft and John that she didn’t have any real knowledge of her daughter. Every year as he ritually destroyed the objects John wondered if these were guilt trinkets. He wondered if Mary felt remorse for what she had done, for choosing her career over their daughter. It didn’t matter in the end because she would never get near Willa if John had any say in the matter.

December first came in and blanketed London with a dusting of snow. Willa squirmed and wiggled all throughout breakfast dying to get outside. John didn’t have the heart to tell her there wasn’t enough to properly play in. So he dutifully buttoned her up in her winter jacket, wrestled her into gloves, tried to stuff her hair under a hat and took her outside.

Willa was content to push around the 2 centimeters of snow with her little shovel while John sat in the doorway nursing a cup of tea and a novel. Mrs. Hudson, who was recovering splendidly from her surgery, joined him every now and then to chat.

During one such conversation Willa dashed between them and up the stairs, not heeding John’s calls to take off her boots. He shook his head and assumed she’d just realized she needed the toilet. When she returned though she had in her hands five bowls, his metal measuring cups, craft sticks and the box of food dyes.

“What on earth are you doing?” He asked as she wrestled her prizes between them and out the door.

“An experiment.” Willa answered in that voice that implied any of her words might have been ‘duh’.

A wave of melancholy washed over John. “Oh yeah?”

Willa nodded solemnly as she went about setting up her equipment. “Mr. West says it’s important to experiment with things because otherwise we won’t learn how it all works.”

Mrs. Hudson squeezed his shoulder knowingly before disappearing back inside.

John hadn’t the foggiest idea of what Willa was up to but he watched her anyway. An hour later her gloves and hat were lying by his feet and she kneeled on the pavement in front of the steps. Her tongue was poking out of the corner of her mouth in concentration while she went about whatever it was she was doing. There was yellow stain on her cheek and a streak of green dye in her strawberry blond hair but John couldn’t bring himself to care about the mess.

Twenty minutes later as John contemplated another cup of tea a black car slowed to a stop in front of them. It was only because he recognized the driver as one of Mycroft’s that he didn’t immediately scoop Willa up and run inside with her.

Mycroft stepped out onto the side walk and John was about to great him but the look on the older man’s face gave him pause.

A tall, thin man unfolded himself behind Mycroft and John’s breath caught in his throat.  

~~~~~~

Six years.

Sherlock had not stepped foot on British soil in nearly six years.

The ‘suicide mission’ MI6 had handed him had taken a mere five months to complete and hadn’t been as lethal as they’d hoped. Yes, he had been shot again but further quick thinking had saved his life. No one visited him in the hospital and because of this no one cared when he walked out of the Bucharest hospital a week later against medical advice.

He hadn’t been about to sit on his hands and wait for MI6 to call him into action again. Moriarty’s networks had been regaining strength while he’d been in London planning a wedding. They weren’t as connected nor anywhere near as clever but it gave him something to do. Sometimes he stumbled upon a gang or outfit that had zero ties to Moriarty but he brought them down anyway.

He often wondered if John would see the news and know it was him.

The British government called on him frequently, yanking his leash to make him heel like a good dog. He went because he had no choice. Every mission seemed to carry more certainty that he would die and yet he survived.

He’d considered returning once. Stood on a beach in East London, South Africa (hateful place, didn’t even deserve the title of East London) and plotted exactly how he’d sneak past his brother and back home. He hadn’t seen London for two years at that point and this imposter weighed heavily on his mind.

He’d gotten spectacularly and wonderfully high the next day, and the day after that, and for the four months following.

Within weeks his money ran dry. Mycroft had clearly gotten word he was using again and stopped the steady trickle of funds he’d been providing.

It had taken a year of sobriety before Mycroft caved and began placing money in the account again. By that point it didn’t matter much, Sherlock had found his own means. It was easy to take money from the organizations he brought down. By the time they realized he was embezzling, if they ever did, he was usually ready to destroy them.

Month after month he kept moving forward with single minded determination. It was horrible. Nothing was ever new or exciting.

Locate a branch. Watch them. Infiltrate. Move up the ranks. Steal their money. Cut them down.

Over and over until he wanted to scream from the sheer monotony of it.

It was in Kazan, Russia that Sherlock saw Mycroft for the first time in five years. Mycroft was in the country smoothing ruffled feathers and Sherlock was slowly eviscerating a group of weapons smugglers.

When Sherlock caught wind that his brother was in country he sent a message his way. Their paths had never crossed this closely in five years, Sherlock guessed that was the governments doing, and while Mycroft was not his first choice he was someone from his past.

Much to his surprised Mycroft accepted the meeting.

A file sat innocuously between them on a bench in Victory Park.

Sherlock’s fingers itched to reach out and take it. To open it and read over everything John had been doing for the past five years. But he couldn’t. He hadn’t let himself think of John since his drugs binge, hadn’t even the guts to say the name out loud which made things difficult given the popularity of it.

Sherlock had met sixty-four men named ‘John’ since starting his exile, he called every one by their surname.

Mycroft had shifted uncomfortably while talking of the dullest things, like there was something he truly wanted to say. For once Sherlock didn’t pick at it until he gave in. He was too busy trying to catalog the changes that had occurred in his brother.

He’d been surprised when Mycroft had looked older. The feeling didn’t make sense since fundamentally Sherlock understood that was how life worked. There were new lines around his eyes, laugh lines like somehow he’d been smiling more in the last five years. The indent on his left ring finger spoke volumes as to why.

His brother had found himself a goldfish.

He had been wearing his ring for most of the trip which ruled out removing the ring to be unfaithful. So he had removed it either to spare himself the questions about it or because he was worried about Sherlock’s reactions. No doubt it was being kept on person so he could slip it back on the second he was out of Sherlocks sight.

“One more mission, Sherlock, and they’ll be amenable to letting you home.” Mycroft had said as he stood to leave, leaning on his new umbrella. This one was inexplicably red, a gift from his spouse no doubt.

Five hours later there was a needle in his veins but he couldn’t press the plunger. Damn his brother and damn the hope he’d given him. The drugs never made it into his veins that night and the following week he was on a plane bound for Brazil.

Now eight months later and he was finally free.

Well, as free as he could get while stuffed in the back of one of Mycroft’s cars. They were leaving Heathrow and heading towards London. Towards London.

Sherlock wanted to climb into the front seat and press his face to the window, to take in the familiar sites and catalogue the changes. He refrained. Mycroft was watching him after all. As the city began to rise up around them he became nervous, all these years of wanting home and suddenly here he was. He needed to do something.

“Alright who is it?” He asked not turning his head from the window.

From the corner of his eye he saw Mycroft look up from his phone. “I’m not sure what you mean, brother dear.”

Sherlock sighed, loudly and turned. “Don’t play coy, Mycroft, that is the last thing you should ever do. I can see the indents in your fingers, they were there when we met in Russia. You’ve removed a wedding ring.”

Mycroft looked down at his fingers and considered them for a moment. “I did not wish to… alarm you with all of the change at once.”

“No,” Sherlock huffed turning back to the window. “What alarms me is someone would actually marry you.”

Mycroft didn’t even bother responding, simply returned his attentions to his phone.

Unacceptable.

Sherlock watched the buildings silently for a few more minutes before it struck him they weren’t going the right way. “Where are we going?”

“The St. Pancras Hotel.”

“What? No!” Sherlock shouted reaching over to take Mycroft’s phone from his hands. “Baker Street, now.”

Mycroft pulled the phone out of Sherlock’s reach and sighed. “Six years is a long time, Sherlock.”

Sherlock felt as if he’d been punched. He hadn’t allowed himself to think of Baker Street or Mrs. Hudson in so long. How had they changed? Had she let out the flat again? Who was living there now? Did she still own the building? Was she even still in London? Or had she finally given into her sister’s pleas to move with her out of the city. Was she alright? How was her hip? How was her heart? Had she gotten ill? Was she even-

“Breathe, Sherlock.” Mycroft said tersely. Sherlock hadn’t even been aware he was hyperventilating until he drew attention to it. “Mrs. Hudson still owns the building, she had hip replacement surgery over the summer and the doctors are impressed with her recovery.”

Sherlock’s breathing returned to normal. “But she’s let out the flat.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes towards the roof of the car. “Of course she has, she relies on that money.”

“You could have paid her to keep it open!” Sherlock sneered. “Unless of course you never planned for me to come home.”

It was a low blow from the way Mycroft’s mouth pinched minutely. “Paid? To keep a flat empty? Hardly a good allocation of funds. Besides John asked and I couldn’t exactly say no.”

John.

John.

John was on Baker Street.

John was on Baker Street.

John.

Sherlock was so elated he felt his heart begin to pound again. All was well. John was on Baker Street.

And then ice flowed through his veins. Not just John but John and Mary. They were together on Baker street. It was wrong. It was beyond wrong, it was repulsive in a way Sherlock couldn’t even begin to explain. Did she sit in his chair? They had probably taken his room, it was bigger after all. She was touching John in his bedroom. They were fucking in his bedroom.

Wrong.

Wrong.

WRONG.

“Sherlock if you insist on continuing to do that I’m taking you to a hospital instead.” Mycroft intoned tiredly.

Continuing what? Oh right, he was hyperventilating again.

He turned to his brother and pleaded with him not to make him ask the questions. Not to make him say it out loud.

Mycroft sighed but the skin around his eyes softened. “The marriage was annulled seven months after you left. Mary is in the wind, not even I can find her. John had asked if he and the child could move back to Baker Street once the marriage dissolved. A request I could hardly deny him.”

The child. He hadn’t forgotten about the baby but he’d left those thoughts behind the locked door of John’s wing. “So you were paying to keep a flat empty.” Sherlock smirked, focusing on another matter entirely.

Mycroft scowled.

“Baker Street.” Sherlock repeated crossing his arms over his chest.

Mycroft relented and not much later they were pulling onto the street.

Sherlock found he didn’t have to wait long to catch his first glimpse of John in almost six years. He was seated in the doorway of 221, leaning against the door frame as he watched something on the sidewalk. Not something, someone. The girl. She was kneeling in the melting snow not far from John in a shockingly pink parka, not paying mind to anything going on around her.

John, like Mycroft, had aged. His hair was almost completely grey but it suited him and didn’t age him unnecessarily unlike the mustache from last time. Sherlock’s fingers twitched with the desire to run through it. John’s face looked very much the same, a few more lines sprinkled here and there but at this moment it was mostly smooth. He was watching the girl with so much adoration in his eyes that anyone would have noticed.

As the car slowed John’s head snapped up and his arm made an aborted move towards his back. He relaxed after making eye contact with the driver. He was still used to Mycroft’s employees.

Sherlock’s lungs fluttered and he fought to keep himself from hyperventilating again. Mycroft was climbing out of the car, leaving room for Sherlock to follow. Once his legs remembered how to work he did.