Actions

Work Header

The Hour Goes By

Work Text:

Some people aren’t meant to be fathers.

That’s what John says, at least. Seated on the sofa in 221B, staring at his own shoes, looking smaller than Sherlock has ever seen him.

“You—” says Sherlock, but thankfully some semblance of a preservation instinct stops him from finishing. You can’t be serious.

John hears it anyway, and bares his teeth. “Don’t. Just—you don’t understand. I’m going to ruin her. All right? She’s not even a year old, and I’m—I’m shouting at her. I’m frustrated with her. I’m—”

He drops his chin and buries his face in his hands. The grey in his hair glints in the lamplight, and Sherlock aches.

“I can’t do this,” John says. The fact that he’s speaking into his hands doesn’t hide the tremor in his voice. “I’m an adrenaline junkie with a short fuse and no concept of—of normal. With Mary, I thought, ‘Well, neither of us are really the parent type, but maybe together we can sort it out,’ but on my own….”

John’s shoulders slump, making him appear even smaller. Sherlock is reminded vaguely of a centuries-old skeleton crumbling under the lightest touch. He opens his mouth to say anything—something clever, something encouraging—but what comes out is “You’re hardly on your own. You’ve got me.”

There’s a silence, and John lifts his head. His eyes are wide but dry, which is good; Sherlock doesn’t know what he would do if John cried—probably crumple like the skeleton he just imagined.

“You can’t be serious,” John says.

No, Sherlock really can’t. He is, after all, far worse than an adrenaline junkie with a short fuse. He is a very literal junkie, not even a fortnight sober, and he is full of himself, cocky, and overconfident with a history of getting the people around him killed. Hs is, in short, precisely the sort of person who shouldn’t be helping to raise a child. In fact, according to John himself, he is the last person John wants assistance from at all.

He can’t be serious, and yet he is.

Sherlock might’ve failed utterly to protect Mary Watson, but he will be damned if he fails John again.

He takes a breath, steeling himself, and says, “Absolutely. In fact, you should move in immediately.”

*

John doesn’t move in immediately. He takes his time, waffling, kicking at the ashes of his grief and fury, and doubting Sherlock’s sincerity, which is surprisingly fortuitous, as it allows Sherlock to make the necessary preparations.

“Are those child safety plugs?” John asks, something between awe and incredulity in his tone.

“For all the sockets in the flat,” Sherlock tells him. “Mrs Hudson has them as well.” He tries not to be dramatic, not to swish about and preen even though he is pleased with himself for thinking of it and inspiring even a hint of admiration in John. “There are also safety locks on the cupboards. And a gate, but I’ve not—”

“What happened to the knife?”

Sherlock spins, following John’s gaze to the mantel. “Ah. Put it away. Thought it might be best, not leaving a sharp object lying about, you know.”

“Because she might… climb up the wall and get it?”

Sherlock blinks and looks around the flat again. Sees that the mantel is several feet off the ground, that the fireplace itself is wide open without a single deterrent, and that he’s not even thought to put away the fireplace tools. Hears that there is less awe in John’s voice now and more bewilderment, perhaps a hint of mocking, but that’s fine. It isn’t shouting incoherently in rage. It isn’t telling Sherlock that he’d rather have anyone but him.

He shrugs one shoulder. “Well. Better safe than… something, isn’t that what they say?”

John has Rosie strapped to his chest, facing outwards for once. Her face is bright red, her fists balled. She must’ve fussed on the trip over, shouting and flailing and resistant to being soothed, but she seems all right now. She’s staring towards the standing lamp, squinting as though bothered by the brightness. Her hair glints golden in the light, reminding Sherlock of John.

“You—” John begins, and pauses to lick his lips. “Jesus. You really mean it, don’t you? After… I mean, everything I said and did, and everything I— And you want me to just pack us both up and move in?”

It’s both a blessing and a curse, John’s ignorance. John will never understand that, with three words a matter of years ago, he singlehandedly made Sherlock Holmes—just as, with five words a matter of weeks ago, he singlehandedly wrecked Sherlock Holmes. That John could show up on his doorstep with three daughters, a stray cat, a dying dog, and the rotting corpse of the Prime Minister, and Sherlock would offer his home, his resources, his protection without hesitation.

But, in the absence of informing him, what else is there to say except “Of course”? And then: “Today would work, if you haven’t any objections.”

*

Rosie Watson, Sherlock quickly learns, has her father’s temper. A physiological need, a misplaced toy, or simple whimsy, and she kicks her feet and thrashes her fists and shouts louder than it seems her tiny lungs should even be capable of. The walls of the whole building quake with her displeasure.

Just past two in the morning, whilst Sherlock is debating sleep in his bedroom, she lets out a banshee-like shriek that dissolves into crying. Shortly after comes the sound of John stumbling from his bed, grabbing Rosie, and plodding down the stairs, trying uselessly to shush her.

Sherlock hears them in the kitchen, cupboards opening and shutting and John whispering “Please, just—” and “I know, hang on—” and Rosie making hiccoughing sobs between furious yells. Eventually the noises recede slightly, moving to the living room. Sherlock finds himself pressing his ear to his closed door, listening for John’s voice under Rosie’s shouts.

“Here,” he’s saying. “It’s time to eat. Christ, if you’re not hungry, what do you fucking want?” And then: “Goddammit, Rosie—”

Sherlock throws the door open and strides out. The lights in the kitchen are on as well as in the living room, so as he approaches the sofa he gets a clear view of John’s haggard appearance, the weary irritation in his expression as he strives to keep hold of both Rosie’s wailing, writhing form and a presumably fresh bottle.

Sherlock doesn’t think; he just swoops and grabs. As soon he lifts Rosie, she stops struggling and her cries cut off abruptly. She looks baffled, wide-eyed and slack-jawed as Sherlock transfers her to one arm.

“Give it here,” he says, and snatches the bottle up next. He shoves the nipple towards her mouth, and she startles, kicking and wriggling before finally giving in and beginning to drink. Immediately, her eyes go half-lidded and she falls still and quiet. “There. Good.”

Sherlock lowers himself to the sofa, and remembers only after he’s seated that John is there too, mere inches away—far, far closer than is typical—and staring at Sherlock just as wide-eyed and slack-jawed as his daughter was moments before.

“What?” says Sherlock, and John looks away.

“Nothing. Nothing, I just— Jesus. Did we wake you?”

“Of course not.” Sherlock’s still clothed, after all, and his hair’s unmussed.

“I’m sorry,” John says anyway, shaking his head. “She… I mean, she’s never been a good sleeper, but it’s been worse since… yeah.”

That much is obvious. Since Rosie’s birth, John has been more tired, but nothing compared to now. He has heavy bags under his eyes, and his face is pale, dull, and drawn. He looks as though he’s aged at least five years. Even when Rosie allows it, Sherlock suspects John isn’t sleeping well.

Sherlock holds his tongue on all of that, and says instead, “You’re handling it remarkably well.”

John snorts, and Sherlock realises what an empty sentiment it is and that by trying to say it pleasantly, cheerily even, he’s made it even more so.

“Yeah, right,” John says. “I’m a fucking disaster.”

He leans back, resting his head on the back of the sofa. They’re sitting close enough that the motion sends a whiff of John’s shampoo in Sherlock’s direction. He hates himself, just a bit, for the way he inhales it greedily.

“A fucking disaster,” John says again, more heartfelt this time. His teeth are clenched, and disgust drips from his words so strongly that Rosie flinches in Sherlock’s arms before going still again.

“Sleep deprivation has a significant effect on cognitive function,” Sherlock says. “Confusion, memory lapses, irritability, hallucinations. I once read an account of a man who, when sleep-deprived, became utterly convinced that there was a sea cucumber in his kitchen sink singing to him. So, really, you’re doing wonderfully in comparison.”

John chuckles, and the sound is so warm and brilliant that Sherlock burns with pleasure. He closes his eyes a moment, savouring it.

“Go on, then. I’ve got this well enough in hand.” He nods towards Rosie, who is still suckling happily.

John doesn’t move, and Sherlock assumes he is thinking, pondering Rosie or his own situation, until a soft, familiar snort tells Sherlock that he’s fallen asleep. Rosie, too, seems to be dozing now, albeit with the nipple still in her mouth. Not wanting to bother either of them, Sherlock simply sinks into his own mind to pass the time.

Eventually, John sags to one side, his head rolling and coming to rest on Sherlock’s shoulder, jolting Sherlock from his Mind Palace.

There’s nothing to be read in the gesture, of course, but nevertheless—sitting there with Rosie asleep in his arms and John’s head with its sweet-smelling hair pillowed on his shoulder—Sherlock shivers and smiles.

*

A side effect of John moving back in is that Mrs Hudson is frequently underfoot, cooing over Rosie and tidying up and plying them all with food.

When John takes Rosie for a walk one afternoon, Mrs Hudson comes upstairs to fuss over the state of the fridge (free of experiments or body parts, but largely empty) and then sit in the armchair across from Sherlock’s, peering at him.

“How is he?” she says in a whisper, as though John is somehow going to hear her.

A fucking disaster, apparently, Sherlock thinks, but what he says is “He’s handling it remarkably well.”

Unlike John, Mrs Hudson doesn’t seem to hear it for the trite nonsense that it is. She nods. “Does he know about… you know?”

You know. Better than trying to put into words the video that implored him to both save John Watson and go to hell, Sherlock supposes. “No,” he says. “Of course not. What good would that do?”

Mrs Hudson considers him silently. Sherlock could deduce what she is thinking, of course, but he doesn’t bother. He looks about the room instead, eyeing Rosie’s bouncer on the floor and her rattle on the sofa, how strange the contrast of garishly coloured baby paraphernalia and the flat’s décor.

“Probably for the best,” Mrs Hudson says. “He looks better now. Less… unhappy, I suppose. Seems to be sleeping a bit more too.”

Sherlock says nothing, although his mind drifts to the weight of John’s head on his shoulder, the warmth of John’s body against his.

“You’re good for each other, you know.”

Sherlock doesn’t flinch, although it’s a very, very near thing.

“He’s not been himself, not since you died. Well, not died, obviously, but pretended to. Ever since then, he’s been….” Mrs Hudson shakes her head, sitting back in the chair and looking wistful. “He’s been nearly someone else entirely.”

“People are capable of change,” Sherlock says. If anything, John is proof of that. “They grow older. They marry. They have children. Priorities shift. Sentiments fade.”

Mrs Hudson shakes her head again, more sadly this time. “Not like that. And you’ve not been yourself either, you know.”

Hasn’t he? Hm. No, he supposes he hasn’t. Although he scarcely even remembers how he used to be, before…. Well, before.

Mrs Hudson stands and comes close enough that she can pat Sherlock’s arm and then his cheek. “It’s all right. You boys really are better together. You’ll see. You’ll sort each other out.” She smiles. “Save each other, you might even say.”

She pauses, no doubt waiting for him to respond, but Sherlock has nothing to say. He and John may have been better together once, but now there is Rosie. Now there is betrayal, and a broken vow, and the ghost of a woman that neither of them ever really knew.

“You’ll see,” Mrs Hudson says again, and then she leaves and the flat is silent.

*

Sherlock wakes one morning at half three, rolls onto his side, and sees a strip of very faint light under his closed bedroom door.

He gets up, throws on his dressing gown, and goes to the living room, where he finds John sitting in Sherlock’s armchair. He has one elbow propped on the chair arm, his chin in his hand, and he is staring darkly, almost resentfully, at the seat of the chair opposite him. Only a single lamp is lit, the one closest to the door and farthest from John, and there is a glass of amber-coloured liquid on the table beside him.

John doesn’t so much as glance up as Sherlock enters, nor as he crosses the room, passes behind the armchair, and plucks the glass from the table.

“I haven’t drunk any of it,” John says.

No, he hasn’t. The absence of any lip prints on the glass says as much. But Sherlock knows he didn’t have an ounce of alcohol in the flat when John moved in, nor did John bring any in his belongings, which meant that John bought it recently for this explicit purpose. To sit alone in the middle of the night and drink. It doesn’t bode well, even for a person without a family history of alcoholism.

Sherlock takes the glass to the kitchen and dumps its contents down the sink. When he returns to the living room, John still hasn’t moved. Sherlock sits across from him, trying not to betray how uncomfortable he is. He’s never been terribly fond of this chair, but now he has associations. It feels wrong to sit in it, especially with John right there.

But he does, and he folds his hands in front of his chest, waiting.

Eventually, John breathes deep and licks his lips. “It wasn’t fair of me. Blaming you. I know that.”

Sherlock doesn’t see why. He is to blame, after all. His overconfidence. His arrogance. But he remains silent, unwilling to risk putting John off continuing.

“I knew it then, even. I just didn’t—I don’t know.” John dips his chin, rubs his eyes. “There was this woman. On a bus. Not too long after Rosie was born. She smiled at me. Gave me her number. I— I don’t know what I was thinking.”

That it takes Sherlock a moment to understand is a testament to the shock of it. The world seems to shudder, to go cold. There’s a brief twinge in his chest, a whisper of And you berated me for betraying my vow? and then nothing. An absence of nothing, really, like a sort of vacuum somewhere between his lungs. He breathes, recalibrates.

“Ah,” he says. His mouth is open, but nothing else will come.

John recoils, his lips twisting bitterly. “I know,” he says, practically spitting. “God, I know. There’s no excuse. It’s worse than shitty. It’s fucking unthinkable.”

Sherlock finds his words again. “Hardly unthinkable. All things considering, it’s really quite normal. In my experience, infidelity, the temptation of it if not the actuality, is present in most marriages.”

“It fucking isn’t.” John does spit this time, a small spray that falls to the floor between them. “It— I— Your cases are hardly a fair representation of all marriages.”

A fair point, but Sherlock isn’t given the opportunity to concede it.

“Anyway,” John continues, “it doesn’t fucking matter. What matters is that my dead wife thought I was some perfect husband, everything she could have wanted, when I was a worthless slag who thought about stepping out on her the first bloody opportunity I had.”

He’s fairly shouting by the time he stops, and Sherlock is half-shrunken into the armchair, listening to John’s fury rumble through the room like a crack of thunder and waiting for Rosie to jerk awake and add her own anger to the mix.

She doesn’t, though, and John’s voice fades to silence, and Sherlock doesn’t know what to say. He’s far beyond his depths. He’s liable to put his foot in his mouth, to make it worse, to inadvertently turn John towards a self-destructive tear. He casts his mind about for someone better equipped.

Meanwhile, John carries on, expression twisted with anguish. “I wanted to be. God knows I wanted to be. But I was… pretending. Acting like I had any idea how to have a happy fucking marriage.” He sucks in a breath through his mouth, baring his teeth, and for a moment Sherlock thinks he’s going to stand for a proper rage. But he doesn’t. He only bends forward slightly, so tense that he’s shaking. “Christ, what a failure. I was miserable. Do you know that? Fucking hell. You were the only fucking person I was happy with.”

Like the head on his shoulder, Sherlock knows better than to read into it. John is grieving, guilty, angry. If anything, he means it as a barb, and indeed it finds its mark. It sinks into Sherlock’s side just below Mary’s bullet.

Sherlock looks away, retracing his thoughts until he finds something worthwhile. “Perhaps this is a good time to mention that I’m meant to be encouraging you to give Ella a call. Her idea, not mine.”

It’s a lie, of course. Ella says little about John, and only when Sherlock mentions him. She refuses to even acknowledge that John had been her patient, much less suggest that he become her patient again. But the comment knocks the wind from John’s sails, at least. He stops shaking, and when he speaks, the anger is gone from his tone.

“Her…. You’re talking to Ella? When?”

“Once a week.” Sherlock shrugs, as though it’s nothing of import. “As a patient, obviously. We’ve a standing Wednesday appointment. I apologise for all the things I said about her, by the way. She’s really been quite helpful.”

Another lie, but Sherlock knows that’s the result of his own failing, not hers.

“You—” John sounds dumbfounded, more lost than Sherlock has ever heard him. Sherlock glances over to find John staring at him, a shadow of hurt over his face. “Because of me, yeah? You went to therapy because of me.”

“Of course not.” Yet another lie. John was his sole reason for contacting Ella Thompson in the first place. His first session consisted almost entirely of him begging her to tell him what to do about John.

“You’re in therapy because of me,” John says. “You. Christ.”

And with that, he slumps further and drops his head into his hands, hiding his expression. The shaking begins again, primarily in the shoulders this time, and he gives a tremulous inhale that has Sherlock seizing in panic. Please, he thinks. Please, no. If John cries, Sherlock doesn’t know what he will do. How he will help. Whether he will even be able to help.

“Just—” John says, and his muffled voice reveals nothing. “I’d like to be alone now.”

Sherlock moves immediately, practically stumbling out of the chair in his haste to do as John wants. “Right, yes. Of course. I—”

I’m sorry, he wants to say. I don’t understand what’s happened, but I’m sorry. I take it back. Please don’t cry.

“Please,” John says.

Sherlock goes.

*

Just as Mrs Hudson is often underfoot, so occasionally is Molly. She comes round at seemingly random times, although she insists “I told you I’d be by today. Don’t you remember?” Sherlock doesn’t, but she’s never an unwelcome addition to the flat.

In Molly’s presence, Rosie rarely fusses and certainly never shouts. She seems content to simply sit in Molly’s lap, gurgling and drooling and looking around.

Inevitably, Mrs Hudson joins them as well, and she and Molly pass Rosie back and forth like she’s a train car travelling between stops.

Today, though, Mrs Hudson winds up in the kitchen with John, nattering on about telly and politics, while Molly sits in the living room with Rosie and Sherlock settles with his phone in his own armchair across from her.

“It’s going well, then?” Molly asks. It’s not quite a whisper, but close enough that Sherlock knows immediately what she’s referring to and is tempted to roll his eyes at being made to have this conversation yet again. “You and John, that is. Here, you know. I wasn’t sure it would, after….”

She trails off with a wince that Sherlock doesn’t allow himself to echo. Yes, after. He still has John’s letter, tucked away in his bedroom, although he’s not looked at it again after the first time. He doesn’t need to, really. He doubts he’ll ever forget a word of it.

“You seem all right, though,” Molly says. “Both of you.”

Sherlock can’t handle it, somehow. Not now. Not from Molly of all people. He scoffs, although he keeps his voice down so as not to attract John’s attention. “We’re not all right. He’s—” A fucking disaster. Sleeping poorly. Drinking. “And I’m—” Trying. Trying so bloody hard, and failing every time.

“No,” Molly says quickly. “Bad wording on my part, sorry. You’re not all right. No one in their right mind would be all right in your situations, but you’re… you’re getting there. I’m glad he moved back in, to be honest.”

Sherlock can’t help but sneer. “Why? Because we’re better together?”

Molly tightens her lips, looking uncertain. She knows he’s referring to something, but obviously she doesn’t know what.

“Well… yeah. I suppose so. You’re certainly happier when John’s around, and that counts for something.”

Sherlock scoffs again, tossing his head and returning to his phone, dismissing the entire conversation.

“You are,” Molly insists, shifting a sleeping Rosie from one arm to the other. “Look at you. When was the last time you got high?”

Ages. It’s been weeks now. At first it was simply a temporary measure to appease his brother, but now… it’s a risk he can’t take. Not during the hardest case of his career. Drugs might help him focus on cases, but not with John. Never with John. The significance of John’s moods is harder to track when Sherlock is high, the implication of his behaviours easier to overlook.

“Believe me when I say,” he tells her solemnly, “that sobriety has nothing to do with happiness.”

Molly meets his gaze almost defiantly, raising one eyebrow. “Be that as it may, I’m still glad you and he are together again.” A moment later, she blanches and winces, jostling Rosie who makes a sleepy noise of protest. “I mean… not ‘together’ like…. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I’d be glad of that as well, to be honest. You and John—”

“Hm?” John calls from the kitchen, obviously having heard his name. “What was that, Molly?”

“Oh!” says Molly. “Um….”

And the conversation is blessedly over.

*

Without the drugs, the insipid little cases in his inbox return to being exercises in tedium. He could solve them, yes, probably in a matter of seconds, but what’s the point? He sits at the desk, scrolling through his email on his laptop, deleting messages freely, wondering what the point of any of it is.

From the corner of his eye, he sees John carrying Rosie into the living room, kneeling with a grunt.

“Don’t put her in the bouncer,” Sherlock says. “She hates the bouncer.”

John freezes, one hand on the bouncer while the other holds Rosie steady. “Beg your pardon?”

“Haven’t you noticed? She fusses the moment you set her in it, and within minutes she’s thrashing and kicking and having a shout over it.”

Sherlock doesn’t blame her. To be placed into a reclined position on the floor, forced to stare up at the ceiling and the same dangling toys day after day. He’d kick and shout as well.

“Okay,” John says. “Fine. What do you suggest?”

“Booster seat on the chair, obviously. Cover the tray with toys. She likes that.”

Sherlock understands that less, as she still winds up looking at the same toys day after day, just in a different position. But he supposes he can fathom the appeal of wanting to pick up the toys, verify herself that nothing has changed since the last time she saw them. Sometimes Sherlock will slip the rattle over the elephant’s nose or hide a ball in one of the stacking cups, just to give her something new to investigate.

“Likes it, sure,” John says. “Until she throws them all on the bloody floor.”

It’s not entirely true, as Rosie has finally tired of throwing. Now, more often than not, she opts for something more dramatic.

Despite his grumbling, John heaves himself to his feet, carries her booster seat to his armchair, and straps her in it. He rounds up a few toys, including the elephant and the rattle—her favourites—which he places in a neat line along the length of the seat’s tray.

Sherlock pays little attention to what follows, as he’s seen it enough times already. Rosie will examine one toy at a time, lifting each to her face and peering at it, shaking it, tasting it, and then she will set it back in its place and pick up the next in the line.

Eventually, there is a clatter, and Sherlock does turn to watch, this time, as she falls prey to a sort of fit of excitement. She wriggles, making the whole seat knock and sway, and waves her little arms frantically, sending the toys scattering in all directions.

The rattle lands in John’s lap, and he retrieves it and sets it on the floor, then simply stares as Rosie’s excitement passes and she goes still. Her face scrunches in what Sherlock imagines is confusion and then annoyance.

“What?” John says. “You want your toys?”

Rosie’s feet kick, and she lets out an angry “uuhhh!”

“Well, that’s what happens when you throw them,” says John, as Rosie begins to pound her fists on the tray. “Maybe next time—”

“Oh for god’s sake!” Sherlock throws his chair back and lunges for the rattle, then the elephant, then the jingly butterfly. “She’s going to do it again. Of course she’s going to do it again, because that’s who she is. She’s stubborn and impulsive, and although she might berate others about the consequences of their actions, she never gives a thought to her own until it’s too late. It’s tedious, yes, and sometimes infuriating because she’s utterly incapable of cleaning up her own messes, but we put up with it because—”

Sherlock stops, suddenly aware that John is staring as though he’s grown a second or even a third head. Even Rosie has gone quiet, leaning back in her booster seat and gazing up at him in awe.

“Because,” Sherlock says more quietly, “she might learn eventually, or perhaps not, but either way, we like her and we—accept her, shortcomings and unthinkable mistakes and all.”

He means to look immediately away now he’s done, but John is still staring at him, seeing him, observing. There’s a connection, an almost tangible link of perfect understanding between them, that Sherlock hasn’t felt since… he doesn’t even know how long. Years.

Then Rosie pounds her fists again, and Sherlock remembers where he is.

“And anyway,” Sherlock says, coming closer to put her toys back, “she isn’t throwing anything. A throw is a very particular motion, with a very particular motivation. She’s knocking them and letting them fall as they will. There’s a difference.”

When the toys are arranged in a line again, he steps back and is satisfied when Rosie reaches immediately for the rattle and begins to examine it.

Silence descends then and stretches to the point of being uncomfortable. Sherlock shifts his weight from one foot to the other, thinks that he should return to his computer and delete the entire scene from his memory, but he can’t quite convince himself to move.

Finally, John breaks the silence. “Erm.” He’s watching Rosie, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “By the way. Thought I should mention that I…. That is, I’ve been thinking about what you said. About Ella… and therapy. Maybe I should, you know. Give her a call.”

Sherlock feels… something. It’s a sharp contrast to the vacuum in his chest he’d experienced the last time John confessed something to him. Rather than nothing, he feels almost full, in danger of splitting at the seams. He manages a jerky nod just as Rosie has another excited fit and hurls her toys to the floor.

“Little bugger,” John says, but there’s no heat in it.

John gathers up the toys and puts them back, and Sherlock waits until he’s returned to his computer and refreshed his inbox before he lets himself smile.

*

The next time Rosie starts shouting in the middle of the night, Sherlock gets up immediately, puts on his silkiest dressing gown, flips on the standing lamp in the living room, and is waiting in the stairwell when John emerges from his bedroom, holding Rosie while she squirms and cries. He’s clearly taken aback by the sight of Sherlock at the bottom of the stairs.

“Sorry,” he says in a whisper, as though there’s any point in being quiet with the racket Rosie is making. “I was just going to grab a few toys. It’s too early for her to eat, so—”

“Yes, obviously. I do know her feeding schedule. Bring her here.”

John gapes like a fish while Rosie continues to yell and flail. “I— What?”

“She’s obviously tired of enduring the same dull, tedious, static existence day in and day out. I can relate. Bring her here.”

John does, and the switch from one pair of hands to another startles Rosie into silence long enough for her to notice the texture of Sherlock’s dressing gown. As predicted, she’s intrigued and runs her hand over the fabric as though marvelling at it. Well, more accurately, she makes a sort of swatting motion at Sherlock’s chest, but Sherlock understands the intent.

He carries her into the living room, John following, and sits with her on the sofa as he did that very first night. John joins him, taking up the same too-close position as then. Sherlock wonders if he thinks about that night as often as Sherlock does.

“There,” he says, nestling her in the crook of his arm and allowing her to continue to bat at his dressing gown. “See. She’s fine.”

“Fucking hell,” John says. “This is what I meant, you know. About some people just not being fathers. I’m complete shit at this. Hell, you’re better at it than me.”

John doesn’t mean it as an insult; Sherlock knows that, so he smiles. “Oh, it’s fine. You’re improving. That’s one of your better qualities. It might take a while, but you always show some sign of having progressed.”

To his pleasant surprise, John chuckles and knocks their shoulders together. “Right. Kind of you to say. You prick.”

Rosie has tired of Sherlock’s dressing gown and begins to wiggle and fuss again, working up to a proper cry. On a whim, Sherlock offers her his index finger and, again, is pleasantly surprised when she is obligingly distracted and grabs it with both hands. He allows her to yank it to her mouth and close her lips around the tip, gnawing at it with her gums. She seems puzzled at first, but gradually grows calm and half-lidded.

“That’s right,” Sherlock says, as softly as he can manage. “You can go to sleep now.” Ostensibly to Rosie alone, but he’s speaking to them both. John might look better now, as Mrs Hudson said, but he’s still far from well-rested.

In no time at all, they’re both asleep: Rosie’s mouth still closed around Sherlock’s fingertip, and John leaning his head back against the sofa back, then slowly beginning to sag to the side, sinking nearer and nearer until his head finally falls onto Sherlock’s shoulder. It’s precisely the same position, the same angle. For a moment, Sherlock lets himself imagine there is something inevitable about it, something fated.

Then John jerks upright, saying, “Sorry. Sorry. Dozed off.”

“It’s fine.” Sherlock can hear the thread of disappointment in his voice, and hopes dearly that John is too tired to pick up on it.

A brief silence falls. John shifts, scooting lower in his seat and folding his arms.

Eventually, he says, “We can’t stay like this, you know.”

“On this sofa? No, I expect not. One of us will need the toilet at some point.”

John huffs a laugh, which makes Sherlock smirk proudly. “No, I mean… here. This flat, like this. Sure it’s fine, her and I sleeping in the same room now, but that won’t last much longer.”

“Sleep in mine,” Sherlock says, and doesn’t consider his wording until John goes stone-stiff beside him. Then he feels rather like Molly, blushing and stammering. “Not…. Not that. I mean…. Look, I sleep less than you, certainly less than her. I can talk to Mrs Hudson about putting a bed in 221C so that when I sleep, I can sleep there. Rosie can have your room, and you can take mine.”

He doesn’t relish the thought. Sherlock might not sleep as much as other people, but he’s fussier about his sleep conditions. He found the downstairs flat dark and dismal even before James Moriarty used it in their game. But the alternative, the possibility of John leaving again….

“Just think about it,” he says. “That’s all.”

John has relaxed, but his brain is whirling. Sherlock can almost hear the rusted gears creaking. He doesn’t know what John is thinking, and it’s probably best he doesn’t, all things considered.

“And go to sleep,” he adds. “You’re exhausted.”

“I’m fine here,” John insists.

“Fine. Then sleep there. But do sleep.”

Sherlock feels the moment that John decides not to argue, when the impulse to protest leaves him like a sigh and he gives in. Sherlock shoots him a smug glance just in time to see him lean towards Sherlock, head cocking as though he’s about to rest it on Sherlock’s shoulder. It’s a miniscule movement, and it’s over in the fraction of a second. John rights himself again quickly, his eyes narrowed and brow drawn in something between embarrassment and confusion.

An unconscious gesture, obviously, and one that he doesn’t follow through on. But Sherlock hardly cares about that, just as he is barely aware of John scooting to the other end of the sofa and lying down on his side, legs bent. Sherlock can only think of John, for a moment, his mind still groggy with sleep, recalling Sherlock’s shoulder on some instinctive level as a comfortable pillow, somewhere he’d been sleeping contentedly only a few minutes ago. Somewhere familiar. Somewhere safe.

For a moment, Sherlock soars. The wind in his hair, a roaring in his ears. His arms extended, the sun on his face. A natural high.

We’re all right, he thinks. We’re going to be all right.