Rosamund. Such a weighty name for a tiny baby. But her dark blue eyes are calm, her crescent-moon nails sharp, her grip surprisingly strong when she grabs Sherlock's finger.
The other guests mill about, chatting, laughing, eating cake topped with pastel icing, balloons and streamers bobbing and fluttering. Sherlock appraises the baby in the bassinet, and she gazes back at him from her cloud of white blankets.
“You see through me, don't you?” Sherlock murmurs. He gently touches her cheek, plump and soft as a peach, then pulls his hand away, leaving John and Mary's flat without a word.
He walks away, the sound of his footsteps on this particular stretch of pavement all too familiar. He finds himself drifting past the house on restless nights, a soft glow from the upper windows, watching a silhouette slowly pace across Rosie's room.
He pictures John nuzzling her head, breathing in her sweet scent, humming to her. An exquisitely tender world that Sherlock has no right to disrupt, no matter what he feels for John. It must remain a secret.
He walks faster, trying to outdistance the darkness seeping in through the cracks he's so carefully mended. A black mist climbs up his spine, closing around the back of his brain. He calculates how much cash he's carrying, how quickly he could inject this pain away.
But no, he promised he wouldn't. He promised Mycroft. He swore to John he wouldn't.
A hole burns in him. He wants to run. He wants to sleep. He walks until he reaches a busy road and hails a taxi.
He clambers into the back seat, breathless for a moment, lost. Where is he going?
The cabbie eyes him, waiting, a finger tapping impatiently on the steering wheel.
He could go home, bury himself in bed. He could take a case -- any case -- a lost dog, a stolen necklace, a cheating spouse. He could fill the hours any number of ways.
He hesitates, then decides. He gives the address then leans back against the seat, numbly watching the city slip by.
He's pulled from his reverie when the cab eases to the kerb, the engine idling. He pays and exits the car before he can change his mind.
1. Brotherly Compassion
Sherlock glides silently across the deep carpet, the smell of wood polish and tea and wool overcoats lingering in the air of the silent club.
He spots Mycroft in a leather wingback chair. He stands in front of his brother until the newspaper is lowered with mild annoyance. Mycroft’s expression quickly changes, and Sherlock knows the two words clicking together in his mind: Danger night.
Mycroft folds the paper, rises, smooths his jacket, and indicates that Sherlock should follow him to a private room where they can speak.
The heavy door closes. “Have a seat,” Mycroft says, waving a hand at a chair. He holds up two glasses and a cut-glass decanter. “Drink?”
Sherlock nods and unwinds his scarf from around his throat. He's aware of Mycroft’s careful casualness, and, for once, appreciates it. He takes the drink offered to him and sits down, his brain still jittery.
“This is a rare social visit,” Mycroft says lightly, crossing his legs. “We should take advantage of it, don't you think?”
Sherlock clenches his glass, trying to relax. “And do what?”
“Oh, I don't know. Dinner. Maybe the cinema.”
“You hate the cinema.”
“Maybe it's improved since I last went. Surely there's some sort of action film playing.”
Sherlock almost smiles, feels his heart rate slowing. He will let Mycroft guide him through this. He knows he can't do it alone.
Mycroft shifts in his chair, pulls his phone from his breast pocket. “Now then, where shall we dine?”
She's painted the bedroom a different color since he was last here. Before it was a brash, cheerful yellow; now it's a blue-green, the hue of a melancholy sea.
A few black and white photos line the walls, a vanity table holds hair ties and lipsticks. A small television perches on the dresser top.
He slips off his coat and shoes, finds the remote, switches on the telly, and sinks under the covers. The bed is soft and smells like rose hand lotion, the bedside lamp casts a pool of warm light. He's hiding, avoiding everything, disappearing.
He half-watches a crime show, the volume set at a low murmur. A key scraping in the lock rouses him when he's almost asleep.
He sits up, runs a hand through his hair, trying to gather his scattered thoughts.
“Oh!” Molly gasps, her hand flying to her chest. “It's you.”
“Sorry. I should have--”
“It’s fine.” She lowers her coat and handbag onto a chair, clasps her hands together. “You left the party early today.”
“I had another obligation.” It's a transparent lie, but Molly just nods.
“Okay.” She glances up. “Rosie's darling, isn't she?”
They look at each other for a moment, and he's sure his face is betraying something that he can't control.
“Do you need anything?”
He shakes his head, afraid his voice will crack if he speaks.
“Right. I'll just get a few of my things, and take the sofa.” She pries off her heels, gathers up a t-shirt and pajama bottoms, reaches for a pillow, and he blurts her name.
Her eyes are wide, cautious.
“I don't want to be alone.”
She hesitates, her lips pressing into a thin line. She glances at the television where a woman is dabbing tears from her eyes as two police officers question her.
“I like this show,” Molly finally says, not looking at him.
Sherlock doesn't breathe, afraid he's given away too much, hoping she won't misconstrue his intent.
But of course she understands. He shouldn't doubt her. Molly lifts the corner of the sheets and slides in, bumping Sherlock over with her hip, and grabs the remote, turning up the volume. “You'll think it's silly, but this really is a good show.”
She begins to explain the characters and storyline, and Sherlock slides deeper into the pillows. Molly’s leg is innocently warm next to his, the bed an island of comfort in a cold blue ocean.
3. A Certain Arrangement
He stands on the pavement bathed in a pool of red and blue light. Open, the neon letters glow in curving script. Fish and Chips.
He knows the owner. They have an agreement. He needs to fill this ache with something. Salt, tang, flesh yielding between his teeth, heat filling his mouth.
His fingers curl around the worn brass handle and he pushes the door open, a shop bell ringing above his head.
Dark eyes look up, recognize. The man behind the counter straightens his back and smiles slightly. “It's been awhile.” He closes the book he was reading. “The usual?”
Sherlock steps forward, the skin beneath his shirt burning with regret and hunger.