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A Case for Domestic Propinquity

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A Case for Domestic Propinquity

 

“So, are we just not going to talk about all that, then?” John asks one day out of the blue.

The flat is quiet; the contractors have gone, finished for the day. Sherlock looks up from the lamp he was attempting to rewire after having cleaned it thoroughly of smoke residue and debris. “All of which, precisely?”

It’s only been four days since the conclusion of the case, the case of his own sister, and there’s been so much to do that there hasn’t exactly been much time to talk. Of course I’ll help you sort out Baker Street, John had said, and they’ve been doing nothing but that ever since. Everyone came that first day, got the majority of the broken things and burnt things cleared out. Then they left but John stayed, sleeping in his old room that night. I don’t imagine you want to be on your own just yet, he’d said, and shrugged it off when Sherlock had said he was fine, so he hadn’t argued. If he’d had his wish, John would never leave again, but it’s a wish he knows he should leave unspoken. John has Rosie to think about now.

John looks back over his shoulder from where he’s been re-gluing wallpaper to the wall. “All that about Redbeard and your friend. Eurus in general. Everything that happened.”

Sherlock shrugs a little. “What do you want me to say?”

John makes a slightly exasperated sound. “I don’t want you to say anything. Just – you must have some thoughts on the whole thing.” He pauses. “Plus… I mean, you don’t have to talk to me specifically about it, but I do think it could… help. You know. Not to bottle it up.”

“Lest I turn my memory of it into something it never was?” Sherlock asks, his lip twisting as he carefully inserts a raw wire back into its feed with a pair of needle-nosed pliers.

“Not exactly that, but you know what I mean,” John says, half-apologetically, and Sherlock silently loves him for the apology.

“Yes, I suppose so,” he says. The wire slips out and he angles it again, concentrating. “I thought we didn’t do this.” His voice comes out even and slightly out of focus: perfect.

“Do what?” John asks, smoothing his hands down over the wallpaper, his back to Sherlock halfway across the room.

“Talk.” There, the wire is in place. He should really weld it, but once he’s there’s a little metal cap meant fit over the opening and once he’s got that in place, he thinks it should stay put.

“We talk all the time,” John says.

Sherlock lets a moment pass for emphasis, then says pointedly, “You know what I mean.”

He glances up from beneath his brows and sees John’s hands pause. “I suppose I do, yeah,” he says, with a sigh. “Figured maybe we could change that, though. I mean, we’ve been through a lot.”

“True,” Sherlock acknowledges.

“And all of this – ever since Mary died, it’s been – ” John stops. “No, since before that. Since she shot you, really. Or maybe since the day you – ”

He stops again and Sherlock doesn’t ask him to finish his sentence, nor does he fill it in himself. He knows precisely which day John means. “It’s hard to know where to start,” he says, his tone carefully neutral.

“Start with the recent stuff,” John says briskly, covering for the awkward moment. “Eurus. Redbeard. Or, er, Victor. Thoughts?”

Sherlock nearly smiles at this, but it fades before it can reach his face. He screws the cap back onto the opening and tightens it with a pair of pliers. “I have a sister,” he says slowly. “I’m still processing that. A sister whom I deliberately wrote out of my memories. Grew up not knowing.”

“For some pretty good reasons,” John points out. “I mean, with Victor…”

“I know.” Sherlock turns the lamp over and starts in on the electrical cord. “I suppose I should hate her for what she did. Then again, she’s never known a moment of compassion or kindness in her life. Not as an adult. It must… change a person, and she was already so far beyond help. It wasn’t her fault that she was like that, nor our parents’. And Mycroft… did what he thought best, I suppose.”

John turns on the stepladder to frown at him. “But you’re not suggesting that if Eurus had been loved more that she would have not turned out the way she did, are you? I’m sure your parents loved her very much.”

“No, I’m not suggesting that,” Sherlock says. “But it might have helped her to have some contact from her own family. To know that she hadn’t been forgotten.” He pauses, then reaches for the pliers again. “I don’t intend to forget her now.”

John glances back again. “You’re going to visit?”

“Yes.” Sherlock looks up, meets John’s concerned gaze. “I’m not going to talk to her. Or approach her. I’m going to play with her. With our violins.”

John’s face relaxes. “That’s a brilliant idea,” he says. “Music can be incredibly therapeutic.”

“I don’t even mean it as therapy,” Sherlock says, focusing on the power cord. “I just want to give her what she wanted so badly all those years ago: the chance to play with me. The only way that it’s possible now. She’s gone non-communicative, apparently. The doctors told Mycroft that it’s unlikely that she’ll ever speak again, now that she’s not actively lashing out. I just want her to know that she hasn’t been forgotten. That she’s cared about.”

A small silence forms after he stops speaking, and when he looks up at John, slightly uncertain, he finds John smiling at him with a gentleness around his eyes that Sherlock hasn’t seen in awhile. A long while. “You’ve grown,” John says, his voice sounding a little tight. “That’s – that’s really beautiful, Sherlock.” He clears his throat, dispersing the odd moment. “And if you want me to come with you at all – not down to the cell; I know you’d want to see her alone – but upstairs in the control room – I’d be happy to. Just if you want.”

Sherlock finds himself touched by this. “Thank you,” he says. He wasn’t expecting John to offer this. Somehow he assumed that their individual family issues – his siblings for him, Rosie for John – would be things they dealt with on their own. Then again, he’s changed quite a few nappies since John relented and let him back into his life. Perhaps this is going to be something which they share, like fixing up the flat they both lived in for so long. “I’ll think about it,” he adds, realising that the thank you was a bit inconclusive.

“And Victor?” John asks, coming down from the stepladder and folding it up. “Do you remember him clearly now?”

Sherlock nods. “Yes. It was a long time ago, but yes. I do.”

John crosses to the kitchen and plugs in the kettle, then comes to sit at the far end of the sofa, turned sideways to face him. “That’s incredibly rough. Your best friend.”

“Yes.” Sherlock bends to examine his work, nudging the cord a little further into the base of the lamp. “It was traumatic, obviously. I didn’t even realise that the mind was capable of rewriting a memory that way. I thought that the loss of my dog was bad enough.”

“It is,” John says. “Dogs are special.”

“True, but dogs are not people.” There, that should about do it. Sherlock sets the lamp on the floor and reaches for the end of the extension cord he set up to test it. Gingerly, half-expecting it to blow up, he plugs it in. No sparks. He switches it on and the lamp lights up.

“Brilliant,” John says in approval, and Sherlock smiles.

“What about you?” he asks.

“What about me?” John’s response comes swiftly, like an automatic reflex, slightly defensive.

Sherlock smiles and shakes his head. “As far as I understand it, the art of conversation suggests two-way dialogue,” he says mildly.

“I thought we were still talking about Victor.” John doesn’t back down.

Sherlock gives in. “It was traumatic then,” he says. “It was – a child’s loss, a child’s horror. Blocked and buried and – changed. It’s not traumatic anymore, though I suppose that learning the truth was disturbing enough.”

John accepts this, his chin ducking in acknowledgement. “And now?” he asks. “You’re all right?”

Sherlock nods. “We could talk about how the trauma of it led me to shun close friendships from that time forward, how Mycroft encouraged that for what he believed was my own good, but the fact is that I’ve already recovered sufficiently on my own. I have you. The best friend anyone could have asked for or possibly want.”

A shadow passes swiftly over John’s face and he bows it again. “Listen, Sherlock,” he says, his face still mostly hidden. “About that. I… I should have said this a long time ago. We talked about it once, but so quickly… I’ve never properly apologised to you for what I did. That day in the hospital. You were dying of an overdose and I – beat you. I, a doctor, beat you until blood was dripping from you and I couldn’t stop. I’ve never been more ashamed of myself in all my life.”

“John – ” Sherlock tries, wanting to cut into the flow of self-recriminatory words, but John interrupts.

“No – you have to let me say this, Sherlock,” he says firmly, looking directly into his eyes now. “It has to be said, and you have the right to an apology for that. I’ve never been sorrier for anything in my life. When I came to myself, I felt so awful that I thought it would be better for you if I weren’t a part of your life.”

“When you brought the cane,” Sherlock says. “I know, John. I – didn’t mean to lose control the way I did, either. We weren’t ready to work together yet. Mrs Hudson pushed it on you before we were ready. I was ready – more than ready – but you weren’t. I needed you, needed your help, but we should have talked first. I was trying to manipulate you into rescuing me and I – it was a bad plan. And perhaps you didn’t even need that. Perhaps you just needed time.”

John scowls. “I can’t believe that Mary told you to send yourself to hell, get yourself killed,” he says. “What was she thinking? And how was I supposed to have known it was your plan? If I hadn’t seen that video, I never would have realised what you were doing, you idiot. But I also realise that you were probably at your wits’ end, with me being the way I was, and so you took Mary’s terrible advice.”

The kettle is boiling. Sherlock looks toward the kitchen. “I can – ” he begins, but John cuts him off.

“No. I’ll do it. Just a second.” John gets up and goes to the kitchen. “Earl Grey?” he calls.

“Please. With a scoop of lapsang souchong, if you don’t mind,” Sherlock calls back.

He hears John’s short laugh. “All right.” He appears a few moments later with a tea tray, not just the pot and two mugs in his other hand the way he normally would. He sets it down on the coffee table and pulls it closer. The table is still covered with dust but it doesn’t matter. “There we are,” John says, settling back onto the sofa, a little closer this time. “The point I was trying to get to was making a real, proper apology for what I did that day. And I’m including the leaving part.”

“It’s fine, John,” Sherlock tells him, meaning it. “No lasting damage. Nothing that could possibly compete with what I already did to myself.”

“It still shouldn’t have happened.” John is adamant. “I’m a doctor, for God’s sake. And you’re my best friend.”

“Well, I forgive you,” Sherlock says, quietly but firmly.

John looks at him for a long moment. “You sure about that?”

Sherlock nods at the teapot. “Very sure. Think that’s about ready?”

John keeps looking at him a moment longer, then his shoulders relax a little and he reaches for the tea. “Only one way to find out.” He pours a little into Sherlock’s mug. “That looks good.” He fills it now and pushes the sugar bowl toward Sherlock, then hands him a spoon. “There you are. And – thanks.”

Sherlock shakes his head to convey that it’s not necessary. He doctors his tea with sugar and milk, then takes a deep, appreciative sniff. “It smells good,” he approves. “What else did you put in there?”

John grins suddenly and the tension dissipates. “A bit of gunpowder. I figured that if you wanted smoky tea, I’d make you smoky tea.”

Sherlock laughs, and suddenly has a mental image of himself setting down the cup and putting his arms around John to hug him for a long moment. He swallows instead and samples John’s mix. It’s delicious, the bergamot not overbalanced by the gunpowder or the heady smokiness of the lapsang souchong. Impulses like those are dangerous, he reminds himself for perhaps the millionth time.

John glances at him, an interested, interesting expression on his face that Sherlock doesn’t entirely understand. “How is it?” he asks.

“Perfect,” Sherlock tells him. He takes another sip, savouring it, then says, “All right: your turn. What should we talk about first? You survived your brush with my family. What else?”

John turns his face down toward his tea. “You’re right,” he says after a moment. “We don’t usually do this. One of us usually shuts the other down every time we’ve ever tried before.”

“You were the one who wanted this,” Sherlock says. “You don’t have to talk if you’d rather not.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just… hard. To put into words, I mean.” John puts his hands around the mug as though needing its warmth.

Sherlock looks at his delicate, infinitely capable hands and is very conscious of the glint of gold on John’s fourth finger. “You miss her,” he says quietly.

John purses his lips and continues to study his tea. For a while he seems to be gathering his words inwardly. Sherlock waits, careful not to push. Finally John says, slowly, “This may be – well, but – no, it – you’re going to think less of me for this, probably, but – the truth is that I don’t. And that’s almost… worse.”

Sherlock doesn’t understand. “Worse – how?” he asks.

John takes a sip of his concoction and returns his gaze to the contents of his mug. “I feel like I failed as a husband. I just – couldn’t love Mary enough. I suppose I never did. I was never sure about it – any of it.” He shakes his head, then goes on. “When I met her, I thought she was nice. That’s it: nice. Kind of pretty but not someone I would have looked at twice, shallow as that sounds. Not unattractive, just – not someone who stopped me in my tracks, you know? But she liked me, and that helped. She was the one who kept pushing for a drink, then teased about dinner until I gave in, then started hinting about moving in together. I went along with it because there was nothing better in my life and no reason to say no. I wasn’t even sure when I proposed.”

“Sure of – what?” Sherlock asks, almost holding his breath.

“Of the thought of being with her forever,” John says bluntly. “I wasn’t sure that I loved her enough. But she’d been there when I had no one else, and I meant it when I said that it turned my life around. I was pretty damned low when I met her. I never actually got through the proposal, you know. I’d started, but you interrupted by walking in when you did, and Mary just assumed after that, and I suppose I let her. I questioned it, trust me. There were so few times when I actually felt happy with her. Even at the best of times, I was restless. Even the honeymoon. And then it took me six months to decide whether to go back or not, and when I took her back I wasn’t sure about that, either. It just kept going like that. And then I cheated on her, close enough. You can say it wasn’t technically an affair, but it could have been. It wasn’t loyalty. And it wasn’t even about who it was. It was just – anyone. Anyone taking an interest in me. You were so fixated on Moriarty’s plans and Mary wasn’t even there for awhile, when she left, and when she was home she was either out with friends, or with Rosie, or off with you. I know it was wrong, but – I was lonely, damn it. Doesn’t make it right, though, and that’s why I didn’t let it go any farther.”

Sherlock absorbs all of this. “A good thing it didn’t, given who it was,” he points out dryly.

“Don’t I know it,” John says emphatically. “Jesus. If ever I needed a wake-up call!” He takes another sip of tea, then says, “And then Mary died and all I could feel was guilty that I hadn’t loved her more. She died saying all that stuff about having loved being Mary Watson and I couldn’t even say it then, say that I loved her. I don’t think I ever did, honestly.”

Without thinking, Sherlock reaches over and touches the band of gold on John’s hand. “You’re still wearing your ring,” he says. “Is it that you think you can strengthen whatever you did feel retroactively?”

John looks at him now, his gaze direct and unshuttered for once. “I think that’s exactly it,” he says. “I don’t think I ever consciously thought of it that way, but – yes. I mean, I gave my word. I made her a vow.”

“So did I,” Sherlock says. “I made you both a vow. I think it could be argued that Mary made it rather impossible for either of us to keep our vows, though.”

John thinks about this, then makes a thoughtful sound. “I never thought of it that way. I suppose you’re right. You couldn’t have stopped her jumping in front of the bullet, and with everything she did, all the lies, all of the stuff she’d done in the past, shooting and damned near killing you, it was a bit of a tall order to go on loving her. If I ever did in the first place, and I don’t think I really did.”

“Which doesn’t make you a failure,” Sherlock says. “Just – human. I find it perfectly understandable, myself.”

John looks at him again, really looks at him. “Do you?” he asks. “I thought you would despise me for it. She was your friend.”

Sherlock shakes his head a little. “She was my friend because you’re my friend,” he says. “No other reason, John. I might have even tried a little too hard.”

Half of John’s mouth quirks into a smile. “I’ll take that,” he says. He looks over into Sherlock’s cup, which is empty. “And then there’s Rosie,” he says, reaching for the teapot and pouring Sherlock’s mug full again. “I mean, I love her – don’t worry, I’m sure about that. But I never really dreamed of becoming a father. Sometimes when I’m alone with her, I just think, really? My life has shrunk to this: raising a baby by myself. I completely understand why some parents get overwhelmed and abandon their kids. Not that I would do that, but – ”

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Sherlock says, brushing off the ridiculous suggestion. “You would never think of it. But you aren’t alone. You have me. And everyone else,” he adds quickly, lest John get the wrong idea.

“You’re surprisingly good with her,” John allows. “But at the end of the day, she’s my responsibility and will be for years and years. I don’t know – I want to get back into regular, normal casework with you again, but I’ve got to work, I need the money, especially with a child in the picture, and it’s going to hold me back in ways I never wanted. By the time she’s grown up and on her own, I’ll probably be too old for this sort of work, our sort, I mean. So while I feel horribly guilty about it, there’s also that.”

“I see,” Sherlock says, and means it. He does see. It’s all quite comprehensible. “Well, we’ll see,” he says philosophically. “It won’t be so bad once she’s in school and that. I know it’s still a few years off,” he adds when John opens his mouth.

John makes a neutral sound, mostly agreeing, but he still sounds a bit glum. He changes the subject. “What do you want to do for dinner?”

“Ordering it would probably be the easiest,” Sherlock says. “The appliances haven’t been reconnected yet. The fridge is, but there’s nothing to eat. No need to worry about finding a baby-friendly restaurant, if such a thing exists, if we order in.”

John makes a slightly irritated sound. “I forgot about that. We could always leave her with Mrs Hudson?”

“Do you want to go out?” Sherlock asks curiously.

John shrugs. “Could be nice. I’m feeling a bit stir-crazy. Need some air.”

Sherlock leans forward and sets his newly-emptied mug down on the coffee table. “In that case, I’ll go down and see if Mrs Hudson would mind keeping her a little longer.”

“I can do that,” John says, sounding guilty. “She’s my child.”

Sherlock smiles at him, already at the doorway. “I don’t mind.” He trots down the stairs briskly and finds Mrs Hudson’s door ajar. He pushes it open gently, not wanting to wake Rosie if she’s sleeping. She isn’t, though; he finds them both in the sitting room, Rosie in Mrs Hudson’s lap, being read a story.

Mrs Hudson looks up and him and smiles, but doesn’t stop reading the book. Rosie reaches out and mashes the book’s pages with her small, but very determined fists. Sherlock stands where he is, listening, and only when the book is over does Mrs Hudson acknowledge him. “Hello Sherlock,” she says, then bends her mouth to the child’s ear. “Look, it’s Sherlock!” she coos.

Sherlock smiles at the pair of them. “Hello,” he says. “We were – ”

“Come and give your niece a kiss,” Mrs Hudson orders, interrupting.

“Niece?” Sherlock repeats, turning the word about in his mouth. “Not quite.” He goes over anyway, and stoops to kiss Rosie on the head.

“Now what is it?” Mrs Hudson asks when he straightens up again.

“Have you got plans for the evening?” Sherlock asks.

“None at all, why do you ask?” Mrs Hudson returns, her eyes as direct as ever.

“We were thinking of going out for dinner, but only if you don’t mind keeping Rosie a little longer,” Sherlock tells her. “John in particular was wanting to get out of the house for a bit.”

Mrs Hudson understands immediately. “Of course he does,” she says briskly. “That’s fine, then. We’ll be just fine here. You take that man out somewhere nice, thank him for all the help he’s giving you. Keeping you from getting too lonely by yourself, too. That’s worth a dinner or two right there.”

Sherlock smiles at her and doesn’t comment on this. “You’re a saint,” he says. “Thank you. We won’t be too late.”

She waves this off. “Stay as long as you like and have a nice time. You know I don’t go to bed until eleven.”

“Stay off the herbal soothers,” Sherlock tells her sternly. “You’ve got an infant here.”

Mrs Hudson gives him a pointed look. “Oh, and you’re a fine one to talk. Last month – ”

“That’s all over now,” Sherlock says firmly. “Everything is better now.”

That gets him two very arched eyebrows. “Is it, then,” Mrs Hudson says. “Good. I’ll hold you to that, young man. Now go on and take John somewhere nice.”

Sherlock feels his face relax. “All right, then. We’ll be back before eleven. Thanks.”

***

So they go out. It’s still relatively early, only just after six, so they sit around discussing their nearby options, though Sherlock points out that they could also take a cab anywhere else, too. John says he’d really like to walk, though, so in the end they choose a Greek restaurant with a higher-end price range in Fitzrovia, about twenty minutes away, and set out. They take their time, eating slowly, savouring each course. They do what they always used to do, each ordering something and then sharing both dishes. John orders lemon chicken and it comes perfectly roasted, the meat hanging off the bone and dripping juices and tangy lemon. Sherlock’s moussaka is delicious, too, the béchamel and lamb complimenting each other perfectly, the potato and eggplant tender. They order Greek salads and eat their way through lemon roasted potatoes, rice, and drink a bottle of retsina with it. Toward the end of dinner, John reminds him of a little dessert café just off Marylebone that serves a wide array of tortes and cheesecakes and suggests they have coffee and dessert there. Sherlock, not about to refuse any suggestion John makes, agrees at once. He pays in spite of John’s mild protest: Sherlock hasn’t paid for John since Mary came into his life. John always insisted, and bills were always grouped into John+Mary and he on his own. John gives in without a fight, though, merely saying that coffee and dessert are on him. Sherlock smiles to himself and agrees, and they head back into the January night.

At the café, everything continues to feel relaxed and easy between them. Sherlock wonders if John is merely prolonging the outing until it’s time to go back, collect his child, and go home. No matter; he’s enjoying this as much as John is and doesn’t want to say anything to spoil the mood. They go to the pastry case and study their options. In the end, John chooses a richly-layered mocha torte and Sherlock decides on an apple cheesecake with a thick shortbread crust, topped with baked apple slices, almonds, and a drizzle of honey. They share again, and it’s perfect, Sherlock thinks. Even their cakes complement one another. He cannot say this aloud, though, so he follows the line of light conversation instead and sips his dark roast, just bitter enough to offset the sweetness of his cheesecake.

“I have a question,” John says, after he’s paid and they’ve found their way back onto the pavement.

“What’s that?” Sherlock asks, deliberately lightly.

“In one of those trials, one of Eurus’ games,” John says, and Sherlock feels his shoulders stiffen slightly. (Which will John ask about?) John lets a few beats pass as they walk, their steps synchronised perfectly. “When you had to choose between me and Mycroft… I’m trying to ask – and maybe it isn’t fair to ask, but – I’m wondering if there was really no question for you. About who you would have chosen, I mean. Did you never even think, for a few seconds, that maybe I was the one who had to die?”

“No,” Sherlock says. They keep walking, footsteps falling at exactly the same time. “Not for one second.”

John doesn’t quite look at him. “Really, though? I mean, not even – ”

“Not one single second,” Sherlock repeats firmly. “There was no debate. I never would have chosen Mycroft over you and Mycroft knew that, too. It’s why he tried to make it easier for me to choose him.” He glances at John. “But you believed him, didn’t you. That you’re stupid and worthless and replaceable. I saw it on your face. You really thought I was thinking about it, didn’t you. That I thought it was true, what he said.”

I thought it was true,” John says, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets. “I mean, he was right. I’m not as smart as Mycroft, obviously.”

“But it was never about intelligence,” Sherlock says, endeavouring to keep his voice even. “Your worth to me has nothing to do with that, not that you’re at all unintelligent. You know that’s just a joke. You’re my best friend.”

“But he’s your brother,” John argues. “I mean, I know what he’s like, but I also know that you love him in spite of all that.”

“I do,” Sherlock agrees. “But he doesn’t come before you. No one does.”

This takes John a moment to absorb. They’re almost back at the flat. “No one?” he asks, his voice distinctly unsteady. “Not even – ”

“If you even breathe the suggestion of Irene Adler, I’ll hit you,” Sherlock says, his tone acerbic. “You’ve always come first, John. Don’t you know that by now?” They’re there now, at the door, and he turns to look John in the eyes. “You asked me about Victor earlier, and I told you that I had already recovered sufficiently from my ban on personal affections and cited you as my example. That’s how it is: you came first. You’ve always come first. And while it’s true that I’ve seemingly allowed myself to care about other people since then as well, it’s always been you, first and foremost. I made that vow for you. I jumped off that hospital to keep you alive. I shot that man for you, so that Mary’s past wouldn’t destroy your marriage. Unfortunately I couldn’t control that one. But it’s always been you who mattered the most to me. Don’t ever let yourself believe otherwise.” He turns away and unlocks the door (with a baby inside, it behoves one to lock up, now) before John can respond.

They find Mrs Hudson dozing in her chair, Rosie asleep in her carrier. Sherlock waits in the kitchen doorway as John creeps into the sitting room to retrieve his child without waking Mrs Hudson. She does anyway and they have a briefly whispered exchange.

“How was dinner?” Mrs Hudson asks, looking from John to Sherlock in the kitchen doorway.

John smiles at her. “It was perfect. Really good. We went to The Odyssey and then to The Cake Café for dessert.”

She beams at him. “Lovely!” she whispers. “Good night. Will we see you tomorrow?”

“Of course,” John returns, and comes away with the baby. Sherlock waves at Mrs Hudson in thanks and they go back into the corridor.

Sherlock walks them to the door. “Have you got everything you need? I think one of Rosie’s bottles is still in the fridge.”

“That’s fine, I’ve got plenty at the flat,” John tells him. “Besides, I’ll be back in a few hours, anyway.”

Sherlock smiles. “Are you coming back tomorrow?”

“Of course,” John repeats. “We can tackle the kitchen tomorrow, get the appliances and all the wiring sorted. The contractors are coming back at one, aren’t they?”

Sherlock nods. “The electricians, yes. There’s someone coming around then to fix the ceiling plaster and see about the floor in your old room, too.”

“There’s that one hole, but otherwise it’s basically fine,” John says. “Could be handy for shouting downstairs to you.”

It’s a joke, but it falls slightly flat as they both remember then that John doesn’t live in that room anymore. Sherlock just manages to suppress his sigh. “Tomorrow, then,” he says. “Come whenever you like.”

“Probably around ten or eleven,” John says. “Doesn’t matter if you’re up yet. You don’t mind if I bring her?” he asks, hefting the baby carrier.

“Of course not. What a question.” Sherlock rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling and John smiles back.

For a moment, something hangs in the air between them. Then John clears his throat and puts his hand on the doorknob. “See you tomorrow,” he says. “Thanks for dinner. It was great.”

“It was,” Sherlock agrees. “Sleep well.” They both seem reluctant to end this, for John to actually leave, but it’s inevitable.

Perhaps John realises this, himself. “You, too.” He finally goes then, pulling the door closed behind him.

Alone in the darkened corridor, Sherlock stays where he is until he’s heard the sound of a taxi pull over, hears John’s voice directing the cabbie out to the suburbs. When the car pulls away, silence falls. He does sigh then, and takes himself back upstairs to what remains of the flat.

***

When he gets back to the flat, it’s half past ten and John is already there. He comes to the top of the stairs as Sherlock starts up them. “Hey,” he says, looking down at Sherlock. “Where’ve you been?”

“Sorry,” Sherlock says, skipping stairs to make the ascent more quickly. “I didn’t think you’d really be here so early.”

“Just got here ten minutes ago,” John says. “I brought Rosie’s playpen, thought we could maybe set it up in your room for now, keep her out of the way of the contractors and that?”

He steps back to let Sherlock up and Sherlock nods. “Good thought. Have you done it already?”

“No. Didn’t want to go into your bedroom without asking first,” John says, sounding a bit awkward, following him inside.

Rosie is in her carrier on the kitchen floor, asleep. John’s put the kettle on, Sherlock notes with pleasure. “I went to the lab,” he says, sidestepping the awkward subject of having John in his bedroom. “I thought I should see Molly.”

“Ah.” John’s tone says that he understands immediately. “And how was that?”

The kettle is just about boiling, so Sherlock sets about organising tea, still in his coat and shoes. “Difficult,” he admits. “I think she knew all along that it wasn’t real, but hope can be surprisingly persuasive.” He doesn’t add that he finds himself unable to develop an immunity to hope. Persuasive and dangerous, indeed.

John pulls out one of the kitchen chairs and wipes it off with a wet flannel, then cleans the surface of the table, too. He tosses the flannel across to Sherlock. “Take off your coat; you’ll get it filthy in here,” he says, just shy of an order.

Sherlock smiles to himself and turns around, setting the teapot on the table and filling it with hot water. “In a moment.” He fits the lid onto the teapot and puts the kettle back, then goes back to the sitting room to peel off his coat and hang it up.

“What did you say?” John asks. “And what did she say? How did you break it to her?”

Sherlock comes back and starts toward the fridge to get the milk (one of the only items in the fridge at the moment), then sees that John has already brought it to the table. “Well, I apologised first. Then I told her about Eurus. I told her that I do love her but just as a friend. I told her that her friendship is important to me and that it shattered me to do that to her. She cried almost throughout. I felt like a heel.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” John reminds him, his voice gentle.

Sherlock sighs deeply. “I know that. But to do that to her, to put her through that… I do see why Mycroft always tried so hard to keep me from caring about people. I care far too much. Just not in the way Molly would like. It… hurt to hurt her that way. And to lie to her, because to say it that way was a lie.”

John’s eyes are compassionate. “I get that, yeah,” he says. “For what it’s worth, though, I don’t think it’s a mistake to care about people. Even after what you went through. I get it, but I’m glad you’ve started to break out of that, even before you found out what really happened, as you said.”

Sherlock picks up the teapot and pours two cups of strong English breakfast. “Have you eaten?” he asks.

“Yeah, I had some toast at the flat,” John says. “You?”

“I had a bagel on my way to the hospital.” Sherlock adds sugar while John puts milk in his tea and then passes it to him, their old routine. “I thought about bringing some flowers as an apology, but then I thought perhaps that would just make it even worse. Flowers are generally associated with romance and I didn’t want to walk in there with flowers and get her hopes up or something.”

“No, probably better that you didn’t,” John agrees. He sighs. “Poor Molly.”

“Indeed.” Sherlock looks around the ruins of the kitchen. “Well, now that the walls are patched, there’s just the wiring left and that’s being taken care of this afternoon. Mrs Hudson is making a beef stew for lunch; I could smell it cooking when I left this morning. What do you want to tackle first? We can’t plug the stove back in just yet, but – ”

“There are the broken dishes,” John says. “I think we should start there before anyone gets lacerated. Everything needs wiping down or dusting, too. The new window looks good. I like the panes.”

“Yes, so do I,” Sherlock agrees. From the floor beside John, Rosie stirs, waking. “First things first, though,” Sherlock says. “Let’s get that playpen set up.”

John agrees and brings Rosie with him as he follows Sherlock, who is carrying the boxed-up playpen, into the bedroom. He finds a moment to be thankful that he made the bed this morning and that the room is quite clean at the moment. John has only been inside a few times as far as he knows and he feels strangely nervous about having him here now. John has Rosie on one hip, carrying the carrier in the opposite hand. “There’s enough floor space, I think,” John says, and if he’s masking his own awkwardness, he’s doing a good job of it.

“I can move the bed over if you think – ” Sherlock moves toward it, but John shakes his head.

“No, it’ll be fine right here against the wall,” he says, indicating the patch of floor between the door to the corridor and the bathroom door. “If you don’t mind her being in here. I’d just put her upstairs but it’s a little far off if she cries.”

“Plus there’s a gaping hole in the floor,” Sherlock points out dryly. “Otherwise, we could just set up the baby monitor up there.”

“We could, if I’d brought it,” John agrees.

“She’s fine in here.” Sherlock nods toward the bed. “Put her on the bed for now and help me set this up. I don’t have the first idea what I’m doing.”

“Says the man who can rewire a lamp without instructions,” John teases, but he’s already taking the suggestion and laying Rosie on top of the blankets. “You stay put,” he tells her, dropping a kiss onto her forehead. “Let’s see, where’s your lamb?” He finds it in the carrier. “I’ve got some of her toys in a bag, too, but hopefully this will do the trick for now.”

He joins Sherlock on the floor and together they get the playpen set up within minutes. It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. “I hope the contractors won’t bother her too much,” Sherlock says as John puts Rosie and her stuffed lamb inside. “I wouldn’t think that the wiring will be too noisy, but one never knows…”

“If it gets to be too much, we can always see if Mrs Hudson would like to come and visit her, or take her downstairs for a bit,” John points out. “Handy having her here, I must say.”

“Oh, she loves it,” Sherlock says, waving this off. “All right: get the toys, then come to the kitchen and we can drink our tea and get started.”

“Perfect,” John says, following him out of the room, as though they’ve planned a picnic by the lake rather than a gruelling day of renovations and cleaning, and Sherlock silently loves him for this, too.

***

The next few days follow a similar pattern, though John stays later and later every day. Sherlock wonders if he’s imagining that John is reluctant to go back to the flat. He also notices with private wry amusement that John seems all too happy to shift Rosie onto Mrs Hudson or even onto him, and Sherlock doesn’t mind. It’s something he can do for John, and besides which, he’s grown very fond of Rosie, too. It cannot be denied that caring for an infant while putting the flat back together is more than slightly inconvenient, but it’s simply the way things are. John takes a nap on the sofa one day while Sherlock gives Rosie her lunch and scolds her quietly for throwing her spoon on the floor for the tenth or eleventh time. Since John is here for most meal times now, he finally just brought the high chair over at last, which has made feeding the baby slightly easier. It’s also another way to contain her, keep her from getting her hands into piles of glass-infused insulation, sparking sockets that have yet to be fixed, and broken glass and wood. Though most of that has been cleaned up now. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. Sherlock is privately cherishing this incredibly special time of not just rebuilding the flat, but building something new with John, something stronger than ever before, the fibres of their friendship woven tightly together. It has been tested and broken and now it’s rebuilt itself anew, different than it was before, and better. It’s incalculably precious to him to have these days with John, feeling it grow stronger and stronger by the day.

A day comes later that week when something happens which threatens to mar what’s been growing between them, however. John is sorting out one of the drawers in the kitchen. Rosie has been put down for her nap in a makeshift bed Sherlock has built inside her playpen in John’s old bedroom (now that the hole has been repaired and John’s brought the baby monitor over) and the flat is tranquilly quiet. Sherlock is painting the a patch of wall above the sink where Mrs Hudson’s wallpaper burned away, kneeling on the counter, and suddenly John goes quiet.

“What’s this?” he asks, and Sherlock looks down to see him withdrawing a folded piece of paper from one of the drawers.

He recognises it immediately and feels his chest tighten upon seeing it. John is already unfolding it. Sherlock watches him, wary, watches his jaw clench.

“Oh, God,” John says, a hand going to his forehead and shielding his eyes from Sherlock’s view. “I can’t believe I really wrote this. Jesus.” He reaches for one of the chairs and sits down heavily. “Fuck. I’m so sorry, Sherlock. So very sorry. I never should have said any of this.”

Sherlock’s balance is precarious, looking back over his shoulder at John like this, so he turns himself carefully around and gets off the counter, leaning against it instead. This is difficult. It cannot be denied that John’s letter hurt more than possibly anything else he has ever experienced, right along with Molly’s passed-on message that John didn’t want to see him, that he would prefer absolutely anyone else to him. He doesn’t know what to say now. Reassurances come instinctively to his lips but die there. It wasn’t all right. It hurt, devastatingly. “You were… understandably upset,” he says, the words coming out rather woodenly, but it’s the best he can do.

John is pinching the bridge of his nose, obviously upset with himself. “This,” he says, holding up the letter without looking at it, “is unpardonable. These things that I said. Please tell me that you know – now, at least – that I didn’t mean any of them. It’s not true. Not a word of it.”

“You meant them when you said them,” Sherlock says in the same tone. “You can’t deny that.”

“This isn’t really me,” John says, looking at him now. His eyes are pleading to be understood. “I don’t think this of you. I don’t feel this way. You never failed me. I mean that, Sherlock. I – I wasn’t in my right mind, and I was almost certainly incredibly drunk when I wrote this. I’m terribly sorry. I’m saying it now: not a word of it is true, all right? Not one bloody word!”

Sherlock makes himself look at John. Everything that’s happened since they finished the Eurus case has been steadily binding them closer and closer together, their friendship unquestionably stronger, deeper, more affectionate than ever before. He would never have mentioned John’s terrible letter, lest it break their momentum somehow, set them back. He does not want to talk about it, but perhaps this is a hurdle that must be crossed if they’re to progress from here. “I’d like to believe that,” he says quietly. The truth, then: they’ve been doing so much better at communication since John started their new pattern of talking properly, as he puts it. “It was… devastating to read. I found it entirely believable.”

“And you started trying to kill yourself just to reach me. To save me, when I’d said all this to you. Jesus.” John shakes his head. “I’d like to destroy this.”

Sherlock blinks once or twice, then says, “Perhaps we can get the fireplace going tonight. There are some other things that could be burnt, too.” It’s the best he can offer; just remembering the contents of John’s letter has stirred up things he would rather have left temporarily forgotten.

John shoves himself out of his chair and comes over to him, his face intense. “I’m sorry, Sherlock,” he says, his voice as intense as his expression. “I don’t mean any of that now. That was – me at my lowest and worst. That was the same me as in the hospital that day and I wish to God that side of me didn’t exist. I don’t mean any of it. I’m sorry. So sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Sherlock says, the words coming now, if awkwardly.

John moves closer and puts his arms around Sherlock’s middle. “It’s not, but I’ll make it up to you,” he vows, and Sherlock, surprised and moved by the spontaneous hug, folds his own arms around John’s shoulders.

“There’s no need,” he says, his voice coming out low and not entirely steady. He puts his cheek down in John’s hair and lets the hug spin out, silently treasuring every second of it. “I’m glad you didn’t mean it.”

“I didn’t – my real self didn’t,” John tells him. “I’m so sorry for putting you through all of that, Sherlock. You’re my best friend. I had no right to say such things to you.”

“You were grieving,” Sherlock says, still holding him. “Everyone says things they don’t mean when they’re upset.” There, he’s given John plausible deniability over his intentions now.

John pulls away and looks into his face. “You’re being incredibly gracious about this,” he says, gratefully. “You’re an amazing friend, Sherlock. Know that I really do think that. Okay?”

They’re too close; John will feel his heart beating at this proximity. “Okay,” Sherlock says unevenly.

John releases him, which is both a relief and a disappointment. “It’s just about lunch time. Let’s leave the rest of this and go out, shall we? It’s on me today.”

“You don’t have to keep apologising,” Sherlock tells him, putting the lid back on the paint. The wall could do with a second coat, but he was more or less finished, anyway.

“If I tell you it would make me feel better, would you let me?” John counters, and Sherlock gives in.

“All right, then. But we have to figure out what to do with Rosie. Mrs Hudson is out.”

“We could take her with us, I suppose,” John says a bit dubiously. “I’ll bring a bottle and one of those squeeze pouches of food. She likes those.”

Sherlock does not say that even with help, Rosie usually ends up wearing most of those. “Sounds like a plan,” he says briskly. “I’ll go up and get her.”

“Okay. I’ll just – get this in order quick,” John says, meaning the drawer he was sorting, and with that, the danger moment is past.

***

That night, it’s nearly eleven, the embers of their fire burning low in the grate when Sherlock bends over John and wakes him gently where he’s dozing in his chair. “John.”

John opens his eyes blearily. “Oh – sorry, I must have nodded off,” he says, which is understatement; he’s been asleep for an hour already.

Sherlock decides not to tell him this. “I thought you might want to go home,” he says, apologetically. “I can call you a cab. Or you could just sleep upstairs, only Mrs Hudson took all the linens off the bed to give them a wash. She said they were covered with plaster dust from the floor patching. You could take the sofa, but you’d sleep better in your own bed.”

John makes a disgruntled noise, sighs and yawns. “You’re right,” he says grudgingly. “Where’s Rosie?”

“Still asleep in your old room.” Sherlock hesitates. “You could leave her here overnight, if you want. I don’t mind. I’ll put the monitor in my room. Be easier for you that way. And she’s already asleep.”

John looks at him with gratitude. “Are you sure?” he asks. “She might need changing…”

“I’ve changed her many times before,” Sherlock reminds him. “It will be fine.”

John considers this, then admits, “I don’t really feel like going home, honestly. The sofa would be fine. I love that sofa.”

“It’s the perfect napping sofa,” Sherlock agrees. “If you’re sure, then… let me at least get you a pillow. And I have a spare blanket in the closet in my room. Hold on.” He goes down the corridor to the bedroom to have a look and comes back with a pillow and blanket, plus a spare top sheet to put down on the leather, make it softer for John. When he comes back to the sitting room, he finds John sitting in one of the desk chairs, still blinking sleepily. “Here we are,” Sherlock says, endeavouring to sound brisk. “I’ll just – get this sorted.” He spreads out the sheet, then puts down the pillow and remembers that John usually sleeps with two, and props it up with the Union Jack cushion from his chair. He spreads out the blanket, then steps back and gestures. “There you go. Your old toothbrush is still in the bathroom and you can use my razor if you want to shave in the morning.”

John smiles at him and gets to his feet, stretching so that an inch of his flat stomach shows beneath his shirt. “You’re the best,” he says. “Thank you.”

Sherlock smiles back, feeling slightly awkward. He opens his mouth to speak, and notices just then that John is not wearing his wedding ring. (When did he take it off? Perhaps he just took it off to use his hands for something.) Never mind, best not to comment on it. “It’s no trouble,” he says in response to John. “Sleep as late as you like. I’ll put the monitor in my room.”

John doesn’t argue with this. “Okay. Night.”

Sherlock hesitates. “Good night.” He collects the baby monitor from the kitchen table and escapes down the corridor to the sanctuary of his bedroom before he can say anything untoward. Night time is dangerous for this, and with John soft and sleepy, and the memory of their emotion-laden exchange earlier, too much is too close to the surface. He brushes his teeth and gets ready for bed quickly, then shuts himself in his room even as he hears John’s step in the corridor. He undresses as quietly as possible, very aware of John’s presence on the other side of the frosted glass, then gets into bed. It’s been a very long time since John slept here at Baker Street, apart from that first night, and it feels… different. It’s just a question of convenience: John spends his days here these days, so the trek back out to the suburbs every night and the associated taxi fares must be draining on his energy and finances both, especially with an infant in tow. Better he just stay here.

Permanently, one part of Sherlock’s mind suggests rather firmly, but he ignores this. He knows better than to ask for too much. This is already more than he’s dared hope for in a very long time, indeed.

***

The next day is noisy and a bit stressful. The contractors are back in the morning, installing insulation along the back wall and doing something complicated with the kitchen plumbing. John takes Rosie down to Mrs Hudson’s in the morning, but she brings her back up as soon as the contractors have left for their lunch break, apologetically saying that she’s got a hair appointment.

John rakes his fingers through his own hair. “Okay,” he says slowly. “It should be okay, I guess. They’ll be back this afternoon to finish up, but we can put her in her playpen. Did she sleep at all?”

“Yes,” Mrs Hudson tells him. “Just a little, though. I expect she’ll want a proper nap in the afternoon.”

“She may not get one with all the noise, but what can you do,” John says tiredly. He goes to pick her up. “Hello, my love,” he says, pressing a kiss into her sandy curls. “Shall we see if there’s something for you to eat in the fridge?”

“There should be,” Sherlock calls. “There are still a few jars of baby food. Peas, I think, and possibly peaches?”

“Delicious,” is John’s dry comment. “And us?”

“I’ll order something.” Sherlock meets Mrs Hudson’s gaze and becomes aware that she’s looking at him expectantly. “What?”

She lowers her voice. “Did he go home last night, then? Only I didn’t hear the door…”

Sherlock feels his lips compress. “You’re always asleep by the time he goes,” he says, dodging the question.

She catches it immediately and levels him with a look. “Sherlock.” She’s not having it. “Did he stay over or not?”

Sherlock sighs and rolls his eyes. “Yes, if you must know,” he mutters, keeping his voice down. “On the sofa.”

She’s still smiling, though, brows arched. “Ah.”

He glares at her. “What?”

Mrs Hudson makes conciliatory gestures. “Nothing, nothing. Not my place. I know. Only I notice he’s stopped wearing his wedding ring, too. It was about time.” She stoops to pick up Rosie’s carrier. “Where should I put this, then?”

Sherlock nods toward the stairs, ignoring all that about John’s ring. “The upstairs bedroom. If you wouldn’t mind.”

She goes, and Sherlock wanders into the kitchen to join John and Rosie.

“And how are the peas?” he asks Rosie.

She makes a nonsensical sound and bats at the spoon John is holding to her face.

“Stop that,” John says crossly. “You know you like peas.”

“Do the airplane thing,” Sherlock says.

John gives him a patented look. “I think you suggest that just because you like seeing me do it.”

Sherlock lets himself grin, entirely unrepentant. “It does rather make my day.”

John smiles, the lines in his face easing. “Oh, have it your way, then,” he scoffs, but his tone is more indulgent than he probably intended. He proceeds to make silly faces and poke spoonfuls of strained peas into his daughter’s mouth, at least one third of which ends up back on her chin and bib and the tray of her high chair, but at least she’s eating.

Sherlock gets up and wets a flannel in warm water, then drags his chair to Rosie’s other side and dabs at her face, which makes her fuss.

“No point doing that now,” John says. “She’ll be wearing most of it before we’re through.”

“I know.” Sherlock wipes her cheek anyway, getting his hand out of the way for John’s next essay with the spoon. “She should have a bath tonight. It’s been since the day before yesterday.”

“Right. Yeah. Okay. I’ll do that later.” John is vague, not specifying when or precisely where. “Are you still ordering us something?”

“Oh. Right. What would you like?” Sherlock asks, taking out his phone. They discuss it briefly, then he dials and organises their meal. “You know, I’m almost looking forward to having everything settled and actually cooking real food again.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling. We should be able to soon enough,” John says, as though he lives there, too, and neither of them comments on his slip. Sherlock isn’t even sure that John noticed that he did it.

The afternoon is loud, in a word. The contractors’ tools are noisy and Rosie cries loudly throughout, which makes them grouchy, too. At seven, they’re still not finished. Sherlock, John, and Rosie eat dinner up in John’s old room, just trying to get out of the noise. Afterward, Sherlock shuts himself in his own bedroom and phones Molly, their first communication since his visit, and awkwardly asks if there’s any chance she could look after Rosie for a bit.

“I’m sorry, Sherlock, but I’m still at work, and we’re very busy today,” Molly tells him, sounding flustered. “I would otherwise. You know I would.”

“Of course,” Sherlock says. He feels badly for having asked. “Well – don’t worry about it, then. Good luck with all the work.”

“Thanks.” Molly ends the call abruptly, and Sherlock confirms inwardly that he should have got John to call her. He sighs and goes back to the sitting room.

John was there, but now he’s in the kitchen arguing with one of the workmen, who seems to be explaining why it’s taking them so long. At that precise moment, Rosie manages to trip on the carpet and fall face-first into the sharp edge of the coffee table. Sherlock is almost there in time, crossing the six metres in record speeds, but he’s not able to stop it from happening. Rosie bursts into piercing wails – and no wonder, she’s bleeding. Sherlock’s heart is in his throat as he scoops her up.

“Shit, shit!” John is there in nanoseconds, hovering and worried. Sherlock hands her over at once.

“I’ll get your kit,” he says. “Or maybe just bring her to the bathroom. Why weren’t you watching her?”

“It was two seconds,” John returns, obviously not pleased to be questioned this way. “I know she’s my responsibility, but you weren’t watching her, either.”

“I know. I should have been.” Sherlock is immediately contrite, though it’s hard to communicate this over the sound of Rosie’s howling. The contractors are probably more fed up than ever, but that’s their problem, he thinks.

John pulls the bathroom door shut behind him to help stifle the sound of his daughter’s shrieking. “You’re okay, love, you’re okay,” he soothes, but Rosie refuses to be soothed. She’s cut the bridge of her nose and her forehead, a vertical laceration dripping blood down her face.

Sherlock yanks a piece of toilet roll off to dab at the blood before it can get into her eyes. “Shh,” he says, stroking her hair as John holds her. “You’re going to be all right. We’ll get you fixed up.” He looks at John. “Actually, perhaps I should hold, you should fix?”

“Yeah. Okay.” John hands her back and bends to get his kit from the cupboard. “Note to selves: baby-proof the sitting room properly one of these days. Or else confine child to playpen at all times.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Sherlock says. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No, you were right. I should have been watching her.” John runs a flannel under cold water and presses it to the cut and Rosie cries more loudly still.

Sherlock kisses her hair and tries to calm her as John cleans the wound as gently as possible, then tapes a bit of gauze onto her forehead. She claws at it, trying to get it off, and Sherlock holds her arms down and remonstrates. “No no, that’s got to stay in place. Your father knows what he’s doing.”

John snorts, but he’s smiling. “I think the jury’s still out on that one,” he says, something odd lurking behind his tone that Sherlock is unable to identify.

He makes light of it. “Nonsense. You’re doing fine.” John seems to be finished, so he transfers the child back to him.

She’s still crying. “Look,” John says wearily. “Why don’t you go and finish the argument I was having – it seems they mucked up the plumbing earlier, forgot to put in some sort of trap thing or something, which is why they had to redo it all, including that incredibly loud cutting of new pieces of pipe, which they’ll almost certainly charge you for, and I was trying to tell them it was unacceptable. I’ll stay in your room if you don’t mind, and try to get her calmed down.”

Sherlock nods. “All right.” He goes back to the kitchen to deal with the contractors.

Later, they finally go, entirely finished now. The flat looks better than it has in ages. Rosie is still irritable and starts crying again every few minutes, or so it seems. John is clearly at the end of his tether. Sherlock watches him with carefully-hidden anxiety; the last thing he wants is John to decide that being here is too much to handle.

“Look,” he says. “We’re just about out of milk. Do you want to get some air, and milk while you’re at it? Just to take a break from all of this? I’ll stay here with Rosie, see if I can get her to go to sleep or something, now that it’s quiet.”

John gazes at him dubiously, obviously tempted. “You sure?” he asks. “She’s overdue for a change.”

Sherlock stoops down and gives Rosie’s bottom a squeeze. “She might be wet,” he concedes. “I’ll give her a bath and change her then.”

John purses his lips and runs his fingers through his hair, a sure sign that he’s thinking. “You’re sure you don’t mind?” he asks. “I really could do with a bit of air…”

Sherlock shoos him away. “She’s your daughter,” he reminds John. “Of course I don’t mind.”

“Should I get anything else?” John asks.

Sherlock pauses. This is delicate territory. “Maybe some things for breakfast?” he suggests, careful to keep it light, and devoid of any reference to it being for him alone or both of them.

John nods. “Right, okay. I’ll see if Tesco’s has that thick-sliced bacon that we like. Maybe some fruit, too. And I’ll get a few more jars of baby food.”

“There’s still lots of formula,” Sherlock says. The conversation is going better than he cautiously imagined. “Maybe another box of Earl Grey?”

“Earl Grey. Got it.” John goes for his jacket and shoes. “I won’t be long,” he says.

Sherlock waves this off. “Take your time.” John goes, and Sherlock looks at the child of the man he loves. “All right, Watson,” he says. “Bath time.”

She screams throughout the bath and he hopes that the neighbours don’t think he’s killing her. She’s equally unenthusiastic about the installation of the nappy that follows. She generally has a bottle at night. It’s both past her bedtime though, and she didn’t have a nap, so Sherlock debates the bottle. Perhaps it would soothe her. Well: she doesn’t have to take it if she doesn’t want it, he reasons. He goes into the kitchen and sets her down on the floor but she starts shrieking again, so he sighs and picks her up, holding her on his hip as she wails into his ear, trying to prepare her bottle to the precise temperature with one hand only. Parenthood is exhausting, he thinks. No wonder John is so worn out with it. He finally gets the bottle organised and takes Rosie to the sofa to sit in the corner with her there. The blanket John slept under last night is still there, so he gets it around the child and settles her into the crook of his left arm. She accepts the bottle, somewhat to his surprise, and falls asleep while drinking it, her weight growing heavier as she shifts into sleep. Sherlock carefully extracts the bottle and gets it onto the end table behind him.

She’s been asleep for about ten minutes when Sherlock hears the front door open and John’s step on the stairs. He keeps his footfalls deliberately light and appears in the doorway a moment later, two bags of shopping in his hands. He looks around and finds Sherlock and Rosie on the sofa, and his entire face smiles. “Bravo,” he murmurs. “Did she have her bath?”

“Of course,” Sherlock says loftily. “What do you take me for?”

It’s a joke and John knows it, still smiling. “I’ll just – ” he says, hefting the bags, and Sherlock nods. He goes into the kitchen and puts everything away, then comes back into the sitting room. There’s a look of slight incredulity around his eyes as he stands there watching the two of them, and it makes Sherlock’s chest ache oddly to see.

He indicates the sofa beside him. “Come here for a minute,” he says. “You should see her face right now.”

John comes over and sits down quite close, turned sideways with one leg tucked under him, his elbow on the back of the sofa behind Sherlock’s shoulders, leaning over to see his daughter’s face. Rosie is sleeping with her mouth open, one fist up near her forehead, subconsciously still thinking about trying to get the gauze off. John’s laugh is just an exhalation of breath. He doesn’t move away, though, still looking down at his child.

The sitting room is dark; there’s only one lamp on at the other end of the sofa. It’s very quiet, and Sherlock is suddenly extremely conscious of John’s proximity. He turns his head and finds that John’s face is only a few inches away. John raises his gaze from the infant to Sherlock’s eyes, and for a long moment they just look at each other, the air between them charged. Then John moves forward very slowly and kisses him. It’s almost tentative, unsure of its welcome, but Sherlock responds instinctively, his lips tightening against John’s. It ends too quickly. Without consciously thinking about it, he leans toward John, seeking his mouth, and John doesn’t deny him. They kiss again, longer this time, then again after that, again, again. It’s magnetic, the pull between them, and John isn’t going anywhere. He puts the arm that was on the back of the sofa properly around Sherlock’s shoulders and kisses him again, his mouth more certain now, the tempo accelerating. Sherlock drinks in kiss after kiss, their lips parting and meeting over and over again. There doesn’t seem to be any need to stop and discuss this; it feels as though it was wholly inevitable, that it happened precisely on schedule, Sherlock thinks dizzily, sucking at John’s mouth as though it’s oxygen and he’s drowning. He manages to free his right arm and gets it around John’s back, and John’s right hand is squeezing his upper left arm where it’s cradling the baby. The kisses grow deeper and more breathless, and Sherlock feels half-drunk on them. His chest feels so full it could burst. John’s tongue and lips are sucking at Sherlock’s lower lip and then it shifts and his tongue is in Sherlock’s mouth, pressing into Sherlock’s, and Sherlock’s heart rate trebles. He moves his hand to John’s face, cradling it, thumb pressing into John’s cheekbone as they kiss and kiss and kiss and it’s so intensely good that Sherlock can hardly stand it. John puts the hand that was on his arm on Sherlock’s face, too, and it’s so much, this smallest of things, that Sherlock almost thinks he could die of this heady blend of joy, of long-denied fulfilment, of overwhelming love swimming through his being.

He’s lost all track of the time. Has it been – twenty minutes? It feels as though neither of them can get enough of this, losing themselves in what was must have been long-buried desire on both their parts. Finally, after an eternity, John pulls away a little, still holding Sherlock’s face. His eyes open, half-lidded, looking into Sherlock’s. “Wow,” he says, and his mouth smiles and Sherlock wants to kiss it again.

“John…” It’s the only word he’s capable of at the moment. He pulls John’s mouth to his again and John responds freely, kissing back as deeply as before, his fingers tangling in the curls at the back of Sherlock’s head. Sherlock silently gives himself over to it entirely, revelling in it and loving John more than he thought it was possible to love someone else, which is remarkable because it’s not the first time he has thought this before.

It goes on until Rosie stirs, making a small sound in her sleep. John breaks off the kiss gently. “Your arm must be dying,” he says, looking at Sherlock’s one-armed grip on his daughter.

“It’s fine. I couldn’t possibly care less right now,” he says honestly, and that makes John laugh.

“I’ll just – go up and put her to bed,” he says. He ducks in and kisses Sherlock once more, swiftly. “Don’t you go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”

“Okay.” Sherlock agrees, butterflies swooping in his gut, already anticipating John’s return and their next embrace without a one-year-old between them. He thinks of the implication of John putting Rosie down for the night and shivers: John means to stay over again, then. Likely not on the sofa this time, either. He gets up, wanting to stretch his limbs after the long sit, and also suddenly nervous. Or – not nervous, precisely, but the anticipation is making him jittery. If John intends… that, then it will be incredibly important to get it right, and he is singularly ill-equipped to prepare himself adequately for the task, mentally speaking. Physically, he’s already begun to respond, visibly so. His body knows what it wants, but not necessarily what to do should he manage to obtain it at last. Nevertheless, he finds himself yearning for John’s mouth again, for his dizzying proximity. His heart is racing. He wants this very much, nerves notwithstanding. He stretches out his fingers and shakes them and wonders if there are steps of preparation which he should be undertaking in the very possible event of whatever may come with John staying over. He paces around the sitting room until he hears John start back down the stairs.

He’s across from the doorway when John reappears in it and stops pacing. He doesn’t know what to do, what John intends or expects, but John smiles, seeing him there. “She didn’t even stir,” he says, closing the space between them, his hands settling on Sherlock’s hips. “Now: where were we?”

His eyes are already at half-mast and Sherlock lowers his face without even thinking about it, unable to form words for an answer. All he knows is that kissing John is the best thing he’s ever felt and he wants endlessly more of it. Their mouths draw together like heat-seeking missiles and his arms get themselves around John’s shoulders without his conscious direction. They stand there, kissing, jaws and tongues and lips moving, hands rubbing over each other’s backs. It feels so exquisitely good that Sherlock’s knees feel weak. There’s no hesitation between them, nothing but warmth which is steadily flaring into heat, John’s arms around him until he frees one hand to put it on Sherlock’s face again, his thumb rubbing over Sherlock’s cheek. Sherlock feels engulfed by what he feels, by what John seems to feel. It’s – phenomenal. His hunger for John is growing exponentially by the minute, his arousal insistently making itself known against the heat of John’s body. John must be able to feel it. He shifts then and Sherlock feels the brush of John’s arousal grazing his own, and a shiver skates down his spine.

John is the first to pull away, both of them breathing heavily. Sherlock’s heart is pounding in his chest. John puts his other hand on Sherlock’s face, too, his eyes starry and flushed with arousal, searching Sherlock’s. “Can I – stay over again?” he asks, the question both oblique, yet rather direct. “Would that be all right?”

Sherlock attempts to analyse the question in his emotionally-compromised, lust-addled brain. “You don’t mean… on the sofa,” he says, putting the theory out for confirmation.

John smiles, his eyes on Sherlock’s mouth, then flicking back up to his eyes. “I’ll admit I was thinking more like your bedroom,” he says with admirable frankness. “But only if you – ”

“Please,” Sherlock interrupts him. He finds John’s mouth again and kisses it with conviction, then again. “Please,” he says again, the word sticking in his throat. “Stay with me.” Another kiss, John kissing back just as firmly, just as hungrily. “I don’t know what I’m – but I know that I want this. Want you.”

John exhales hard, his grip on Sherlock tightening. “You’re sure?” he asks against Sherlock’s lips.

“Yes – I want you so much.” It’s rather plain, but John doesn’t seem to mind.

He responds by backing Sherlock into the wall and transferring his hands to Sherlock’s hips, knocking his own up against Sherlock’s so that their erections are pressing together, his breath hot on Sherlock’s lips. The next kiss is messy and wet, hungrier than before, and Sherlock’s pulse redoubles on itself. How they get from there to the bedroom is a blur; the next thing he knows, John’s small, strong hands are stripping the clothes from his body and his seem to be doing the same to John’s, and then they’re naked in each other’s arms and he revises his earlier thought: this feels better than anything he’s ever felt before. Better than any hit, better than any puzzle, and his skin is singing in the pleasure of John’s touching his in so many places at once. The stimuli are impossible to keep track of; Sherlock’s nervous system is flooding with it, his chest swelling to the cracking point. His genitals are stiff and feel swollen, like very ripe fruit, and he thinks in passing that the analogy is almost embarrassingly apt. Every part of his body desires John, desire rising and surging in his bloodstream, a maelstrom of forty years of unspent arousal and yearning pressed up against John’s hip in unabashed, impossible to hide, entirely exposed need.

John’s hands are all over him, rubbing and stroking and squeezing, everywhere but there. “God, you’re gorgeous,” he murmurs, his voice heavy with his own arousal, and Sherlock’s heart expands with a spike of emotion.

You are,” he manages, and it’s true. John’s skin is golden in the light of the one lamp that’s on, on the night table. Sherlock bends a little to put his mouth to John’s neck, his shoulder, the uneven mark of his scar, touching his tongue to it, his thumbs pressing into the stiff nubs of John’s nipples. He can hear the air in John’s lungs dragging heavily through his tissues as he pants, his fingers in Sherlock’s hair. He isn’t nervous anymore, though the anticipation hasn’t gone anywhere. It feels – natural. Almost familiar, like he’s always known what this would feel like, somehow. Sherlock kisses John’s chest and throat and chin and then their mouths come back together almost violently.

John’s hand finds it way to his penis then and Sherlock breaks of the kiss involuntarily, gasping as John’s fist closes around him. Their cheeks are pressed together, both of them panting, and somehow his hand migrates instinctively to John’s erection. It’s stiff in his palm and he moans at the feel of it. They stand there, touching each other in this most intimate of ways, exhaling vocally, chests heaving together. “Sherlock – ” John breathes his name, then walks him backward toward the bed.

Sherlock finds himself on his back, John’s face above his before dipping to kiss him again, first his mouth and then his throat and chest. Sherlock is about to ask where he’s going when comprehension dawns, a nanosecond before the heat of John’s mouth closes around his erection. A shuddering cry breaks from his throat, his body jerking, his fingers clenching in the blankets. “John!” The strangled word is all he can imagine; he’s nearly hyperventilating. He’s never imagined sensation like this before, every nerve ending in his body swimming in quicksilver pleasure. Every exhalation is something between a cry and a whimper, wholly undignified and out of his control. John’s mouth is sucking his most private of parts, working over his vulnerable flesh, and the pleasure is prickling over his skin like needles, so intense that he can barely breathe, carbon dioxide filling his lungs. Panic comes into his voice and he knows that he has to stop it, before he – “John! S – stop!” he gasps out, tugging at John’s hair.

John looks up at him, framed in the vee of Sherlock’s long legs, his mouth red and wet. “What is it?” he asks, concerned.

Sherlock knows he sounds slightly agonised. “I don’t – ” Stopping this is only just shy of torture at the moment, but this is too important.

“Oh! You don’t want to come yet?” John understands then and crawls back up his body, draping himself gently onto Sherlock, his weight warm and perfect. He strokes the damp curls off Sherlock’s forehead and smiles down into his face. “Of course. I understand.” His head dips and they kiss again, Sherlock with feverish need, his entire body still on edge.

His hands find their way to the firm curves of John’s arse and squeeze. “I want it to be with you,” he gets out between kisses. “I want – ”

“Yes.” John is all agreement, his voice low and warm and incredibly sensual. He begins to move against Sherlock, their arousals leaking copiously against one another as his hips writhe, rubbing their erections together.

“Ah – !” Sherlock is moving back against him in counter-rhythm, one leg winding itself around John’s hip and back and thigh, desperate for better purchase. “John, please – please – ”

John gives a grunt that seems to come from his pelvis and he’s thrusting steadily now, panting against Sherlock’s mouth, their faces inches apart, but breathing too heavily to kiss, their gazes locked together. John’s pace doubles, becoming desperate, and then he reaches between them, grasping both of their erections together and jerking them hard.

Sherlock loses control then and his hips pump sharply upward and he cries out as the orgasm overtakes him, blinding pleasure arcing throughout his body like radiation, glittering behind his retinas and flooding outward in thick jets of release. It grips him, his body twisting off the sheets and spurting between them again, again, his throat hoarse as he rasps out his climax, only dimly aware that John is rutting frantically against him, cursing and saying his name, and then there’s more heat, more fluid and John’s body is convulsing against him, still thrusting and still coming, Sherlock’s hands both gripping his arse, unable to let go.

The corners of his eyes are wet when the spasms finally stop shuddering through his frame. His fingers loosen and he strokes John’s heaving back over and over and over again. He’s never felt this close to another person in his life, not by the smallest fraction of the enormity of this incredible thing that’s just occurred. He cannot stop touching John, caressing him with all of the feeling he’s tamped down so forcefully over the past several years. It’s unbelievable that he’s permitted to do this now, that he can feel John’s softening genitals directly against his own. It’s heart-stoppingly intimate and he loves it frankly and unabashedly, shaking with the very weight of how much he feels. He cannot speak, breathing into John’s hair and loving him so much he thinks it could split him in half.

John is holding him just as hard, his arms dug under Sherlock’s back, mouth wet on Sherlock’s jaw, close to his ear. Eventually, he gets himself under control and raises his face to look down into Sherlock’s his eyes so full of emotion that Sherlock’s chest hurts with it. “You’re phenomenal,” he says, his voice husky. “That was – there aren’t words. God.”

“John – ” Sherlock reaches for his face and John lets him have it, and the kiss is deep and slow and thoroughly wonderful, the driving need faded, but the passion no less profound. He can feel John’s heart pounding against his own. There are so many things to say, and yet this feels entirely natural at the same time. It was simply the next logical step.

“I love you, you know,” John tells him, stroking his face, and it stops the breath in Sherlock’s lungs. “I should have told you years ago. It was always true, you know. I couldn’t quite get there. I just – I buried it. Tried to tell myself that it wasn’t there. But it always was.”

Sherlock is having difficulty breathing. “Do you mean that?” he asks, searching John’s face. He is completely vulnerable, every filter and wall stripped away, his naked soul revealed for John to see.

John nods slowly. “I’ve almost said it a few times now. Told you how I felt, I mean, and that I already have for ages. Years.”

“Since before Mary?” Sherlock asks, and John nods again.

“Since the days when we lived together. Before you went away. I – couldn’t always quite bring myself to acknowledge it directly, but I knew. Under there somewhere, I always knew.” John puts his lips to Sherlock’s again. “And somehow, in spite of all the shit we’ve been through, here we are again. Rebuilding a home together. A life together, if you’ll have me in it.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Sherlock says, with a slightly unsteady laugh. “I’ve been trying not to scare you off with anything that made it sound like I was trying desperately not to ask you to move in again.”

“I want to,” John says honestly. “I’ve wanted to since we started fixing it up. It’s just that I have Rosie to consider.”

Incredibly, Sherlock managed to forget about Rosie. “Where’s the issue?” he asks. “We can convert your old room for her.”

In lieu of answering, John shifts off him, revealing a sticky mess cooling between them. “Let me get a flannel,” he says, going into the bathroom for it.

Sherlock watches him, concerned. What’s the problem? John already practically lives here. “Is it something to do with Mary?” he asks stiffly when John comes back. It’s difficult to talk about Mary when he is naked and feels exposed in every way possible. “Some – emotional attachment to the flat?”

John smiles and shakes his head. “Not in the slightest. Don’t be ridiculous.” He bends and kisses Sherlock, then settles on his side facing him and starts cleaning off his stomach and chest. “It has nothing to do with anything like that. I’m just trying to make sure that I don’t just do what I want to do. I have to make sure I think it’s the best thing for Rosie, too. Besides which, you looking after her now and then is one thing. Having me means having her all the time. Are you sure you want to sign up for helping me raise a baby? That’s what I mean. It’s more than just a question of me moving back in and us going back to our old life. Except with this, now.”

Sherlock holds his breath as John gently cleans between his legs. “You both already practically live here,” he says, far more conscious of John’s hand on him through the flannel than he is of what he’s saying. “And you know I love Rosie.”

John smiles. “I know that. I do, Sherlock. Let’s just – not jump the gun. I just think we should talk about it a little more. I don’t mean now; we needn’t decide right away. For right now, let’s just focus on this. On us, I mean.”

Sherlock takes the flannel from him and starts to return the favour. “Okay, but never mind about Rosie, as far as I’m concerned. Whatever you want will be fine. And I want you. I want you all the time,” he says, his voice low. He kisses John’s forehead, then his nose, which makes John laugh, and then his chin. “I want you here, with me. I want you when I’m eating. I want you when I’m fixing things. I want you when there contractors cutting pipes in the kitchen. I want you to drink tea with.” He shifts lower and kisses John’s chest. “I want you to cook with. I want you to work with.” John is breathing faster, his fingers closing in Sherlock’s hair. “I want you during the day, and I want you at night, here in my bed.”

“Sherlock…”

He’s caressing John’s penis with the flannel, deliberately angling to make it harden again, and it’s working. He throws the flannel away and continues with his bare hand. “Impressive turn-around time,” he says, his lips on John’s sternum.

John manages something like a snort. “Considering the circumstances, I find it quite understandable.”

Sherlock smiles up at him. “That was decidedly not a criticism.” He’s getting hard again, himself. He turns his head sideways, resting it on John’s hip, and studies his growing erection, touching it with fascination. “I never thought this would happen,” he says quietly, not looking up at John.

“But you wanted it?” John’s voice is slightly strained.

“Always,” Sherlock says, and leans forward to run his lips down the length of John’s shaft. He lets go in favour of cupping the warm sac of flesh just below, kissing John’s penis reverently. It’s standing at a one hundred and ten degree angle now, thick and flushed. He lifts his head and slips his tongue beneath the foreskin and John groans. Sherlock is pleased. He’s thought about this in his most private of fantasies, imagined what he would like to do. John has a phenomenal penis, a solid eight inches and a bit, and thick, too. The head is a pleasing shape and Sherlock decides on the spot that it’s completely perfect. “You have a beautiful penis,” he says, and puts his mouth around it, relishing the feeling of the head against the roof of his mouth and his tongue.

John groans again, louder. “Oh, God. Christ, Sherlock. Of course you’re unnaturally good at this, too. God, that feels good!”

Emboldened, Sherlock experiments, using every resource available to him: his tongue, the inner walls of his cheeks, his hands. He turns properly onto his front and bobs his head up and down the length of John’s shaft, sucking and licking and observing every minute shift in the taste of the fluid seeping steadily from the head of John’s penis. (Should he call it a cock, he wonders. Perhaps. He’s woefully unfamiliar with the vernacular.) John is pushing upward in a gentle rhythm, not forcing anything, but moaning steadily, one forearm flung across his forehead. Sherlock detects that his orgasm is approaching and increases his speed until John is panting shallowly, then jerks his fist rapidly along John’s length, sucking hard at his head, rubbing his tongue against the slit, and that’s what does it. John gasps and without warning, Sherlock’s mouth is flooded with salty release. John’s breath gusts out from between his teeth and his penis twitches and erupts again. Sherlock swallows it down, a bit escaping the corner of his mouth. He keeps sucking until John stops coming, and when a different sort of shock runs through John’s body, Sherlock releases him.

He’s so hard now that it’s painful. John’s mouth is overflowing with praise and endearments and all of them go directly to Sherlock’s genitals and make them harder than ever, to the point that he spasms when John’s hand closes around him. “Oh God, you’re already so hard,” John murmurs, his eyes half-shut. He rubs his mouth over Sherlock’s, catching at his lips with his own. “Do you want me to finish you with my mouth this time?”

“No – just your hand – ” It’s all he can gasp out; John’s grip is perfect, it’s earth-shattering. He rubs and squeezes for perhaps thirty seconds, Sherlock practically hyperventilating, and then his body gives a mighty thrust forward into John’s fist and he fills it, hips pumping it full of hot fluid as his body attempts to turn itself inside out. He can hear the noises he’s making, low and animalistic this time, his fingers gripping John’s hip as he spends himself, and then he’s sagging onto the mattress, panting and sweaty.

John kisses his hot face until he’s recovered enough to kiss back. After awhile, John giggles, his old, high-pitched giggle that Sherlock hasn’t heard in ages.

“What?” he pants out.

“So much for cleaning up,” John says, sounding terribly amused. He shows Sherlock his palmful of come, leaking through his fingers. “I’m just going to wash my hand. Possibly even both of them.”

Sherlock is too sated to pay this much attention. “Okay.” He closes his eyes.

John is back a moment later, tugging the blankets out from under him. “Come on, get under here,” he says, and they find each other beneath the sheets again. It takes a bit of arranging, but they get their limbs twined around each other, their heads on the same pillow, and it’s only a moment or two before Sherlock is asleep.

***

He wakes with John’s breath on his face and the memory of the previous night floods into him. Sherlock feels himself smile, thinking of it. He feels ridiculously proud of it, as triumphant as though he just won the Olympics. John actually wants this, wants him. He thinks briefly of the letter they burned two nights ago, a brief shadow of pain fluttering over his heart at the thought of it. Things couldn’t be more different now. John loves him. He said it. Sherlock suddenly realises that he didn’t say it back. Surely John must have gathered this by now, one half of his brain argues, even as the other is already responding that he needs to say it, anyway, partly for John and partly for himself. He’s deliberately not said it for so long now, except carefully hidden in a safe way at the wedding. He thought it was safe, anyway. Perhaps all of the assembled guests saw directly through it. He doesn’t know.

Sherlock looks at John, careful not to disturb him. It’s been a long time since he’s seen John’s face this relaxed, all the lines eased into gentleness. A lock of his hair has fallen across his forehead and Sherlock wants to smooth it back. He hesitates, then does it.

John wakes almost immediately, shifting and yawning, then opening his eyes. He blinks, finding himself face-to-face with Sherlock, and smiles. “Hello,” he says.

Sherlock smiles back. “Sorry,” he says, meaning the hair. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Don’t be sorry. C’mere.” John leans over and kisses him, getting an arm around Sherlock’s back.

Sherlock lets himself fall into it with something like relief and joy mixed together. It goes on for a long while, both of them relaxed and easy about it now. When it tapers off at last, Sherlock says, very seriously, “I love kissing you. I want to kiss you for the rest of my life.”

John smiles again, a predatory light coming into his eyes. “Just kiss me?” he asks, his hand sliding lower to squeeze Sherlock’s arse cheek.

Sherlock’s erection goes from mostly hard to extremely hard and his mouth floods with saliva. “I don’t think I used the word ‘just’,” he gets out with difficulty, and John laughs at him, nicely.

“I love your arse,” he says, after another round of kissing. “I’ve been lusting after it since the day we met.”

The feel of John’s hand on it is very good. “Have you?” Sherlock says, angling to hear it again.

John nods. “Oh, yes. And some of the trousers you wear – I think I almost got immune to it after awhile, but some days it took every ounce of discipline I had not to notice, you know.”

Sherlock smiles at him. “I think my arse has been lusting after your hand all this time, too.”

John’s eyebrows jut upward. “Just my hand?” he asks, meaning it as a joke, but the other part which isn’t a joke at all is suddenly right there between them, too.

Sherlock’s legs move against the sheets. “Not necessarily,” he says archly, feeling a bit delicate about making such a direct reference to it. He clears his throat, feeling his cheeks warm a little. “I was tested, you know. In the hospital. I’m perfectly clean. If you were… wondering. Or – concerned.”

John looks into his eyes for a long time, his eyes sober. There is a lot he could say now and a lot he probably wants to, but he chooses to be kind. Finally, he just nods. “Okay,” he says. “In that case… have you got some lube somewhere handy?”

Sherlock nods toward the night table. “In the drawer,” he says, his breath already coming quicker. Is John going to – ?

As though hearing his thoughts, John retrieves the long, thin tube and turns back around to face him again. “That might be a bit – sudden,” he says, not clarifying, but then, he doesn’t need to. “But God, I’m dying to touch you. I want to make you feel good, Sherlock. In every way that I possibly can.”

Sherlock swallows. “Okay,” he says, not entirely understanding what John means, but open to whatever it is.

John shifts closer and kisses him, his nude body warm against Sherlock’s. They kiss again, again, Sherlock getting an arm wrapped firmly around John’s back. John’s erection is touching his and Sherlock arches closer to it, craving its friction. John presses into him, fumbling one-handed at the tube of lubricant at the same time. “Good thing Rosie slept so little yesterday,” he says, breathier already. “She’ll likely sleep a little later this morning.”

“I don’t even know what time it is,” Sherlock says, not caring. John has just started probing at his arse, his fingers slick with lubricant.

John’s laugh huffs out his nose. “What, no deductions about the shadows, the angle of the light coming in?”

“I could, but it – ’s almost entirely irrelevant – at the moment,” Sherlock says with difficulty, his eyes closing. John’s middle finger is rubbing directly over the entrance to his body and he has a spare to hope rather devoutly that he’s entirely decent back there, though he’s normally quite confident of his level of cleanliness. John doesn’t seem to have any concerns on this front, however. His finger is inside Sherlock now, and the sensation is – good. Odd, but good. It feels different when someone else is doing it.

John is kissing his throat, Sherlock’s head tipped back to allow it. “This okay?” John murmurs against his pulse point.

“Yes – ” Sherlock’s leg curls itself around John’s hip instinctively, trying to give him better access. John sinks his finger about as deep as it can go and curls it a little, and Sherlock feels his entire body jolt. “Ahhhh!” He’s gasping like a fish out of water. “John – !!!”

He feels John’s pleased laugh, low against his throat. “Found it, did I?” he asks rhetorically; Sherlock is almost writhing, caught between the sensation of John’s finger tip pressing into his prostate and the rub of John’s penis against his own.

He’s gasping and thrusting in both directions and John catches his rhythm and helps, rocking against him. “Here, get your hand around us,” he says. “Touch us both.”

Sherlock moans and does it, curling his fingers around both their erections. They’re almost exactly the same length, though John is a little thicker around the base, and this works perfectly, thrusting into his palm against John’s hardness. John’s finger is plunging in and out of him, sparks of pleasure going off every time he brushes Sherlock’s prostate. He’s getting closer and closer and John seems to know it, know exactly how fast to go, how hard to press. Sherlock’s arousal is leaking copiously (prostate stimulation, of course, he knew that), pearly strands of it smearing on John’s belly. John adds a second finger and pumps them rapidly into Sherlock’s arse and Sherlock shouts out and starts to come, his hips jerking forward with John’s fingers buried to the hand inside him, his penis painting John’s belly in stripes of wet release as the orgasm shakes out of him.

When he grows too sensitive, he pulls himself out of his fist and resumes pulling at John’s erection. John is panting and flushed and Sherlock, rendered weak by the strength of his orgasm, drops his head to the crook of John’s neck and shoulder and sucks there, hard, fist flying along John’s penis. John is breathing out a steady stream of profanity through heavy, hot breaths, Sherlock’s name mixed into them. Sherlock adds his teeth and tongue and John cries out then and comes hard, groaning and thrusting and then collapsing forward against Sherlock’s chest.

Sherlock pulls him into his arms and holds him tightly as John pants against him, still breathing hard, himself.

“Shit, Sherlock,” John pants. “How the hell are you so incredibly good at this?”

Sherlock smiles into John’s hair, secretly very pleased by this. “Am I?” he asks with surprise.

“Er, yeah. Rather.”

“Observation skills?” Sherlock tries.

John raises his face, still flushed and a bit sweaty, his hair sticking out this way and that. “Not – practical, er, experience, then?”

Sherlock shakes his head. “But you knew that,” he says experimentally.

John has the grace to look a bit sheepish. “Hoped,” he corrects, though. “I never knew for certain.”

“Hoped?” Sherlock repeats, studying him closely.

John nods. “Very much so,” he says frankly. He puts his mouth on Sherlock’s and kisses him several times, slowly and passionately and gently. On the baby monitor, Rosie starts to cry. John sighs gustily. “Oh, look who’s awake,” he says, sounding grumpy. “At least we got to finish.”

Sherlock tightens his grip on John. “Wait,” he says. “She might go back to sleep.”

“And she might not,” John says darkly.

They listen. Rosie continues to cry. “Do you want me to go up to her?” Sherlock asks. “See what she needs?”

“It’s not like she’ll tell you,” John says dryly. “Mary used to bring her back to bed with us. I always hated that.”

“I’m not surprised,” Sherlock says, his lip twisting. “I had no intention of doing any such thing, for the record.”

John smiles, still listening. Miracle of miracles, the cries taper off into whimpers, then die away altogether. Soon Rosie’s sleep-breathing begins again, and John looks at him incredulously. “It’s our lucky day,” he says. “What time is it now?”

Sherlock props himself up on one elbow to see the clock on the night table, partially hidden by John’s shoulder. “It’s eleven minutes past seven.”

“Oh, it’s early,” John says. “Good. Let’s go back to sleep.”

There doesn’t seem to be any reason why they shouldn’t. “Okay,” Sherlock says, and curls himself around John again. John shifts himself closer, fitting himself into Sherlock’s negative spaces, his warmth and breath and presence flowing into Sherlock’s and mingling with his own. They sleep.

***

They wake a couple of hours later when Rosie starts to cry again. John yawns and stretches. “I’ll go,” he says, before Sherlock can.

Sherlock sleepily finds his hand and twines his fingers into John’s. “No. Don’t. Stay here.”

He’s being facetious, mostly, but John just says, “I have to, or we’ll hear that for hours. I’ll come back. It’ll just be a moment or two.”

Sherlock opens his eyes and looks into John’s, not letting go. John laughs and bends to kiss him for a long moment, his mouth as addictive as ever.

“I’ll be right back,” he repeats. He goes to the back of the door and picks up Sherlock’s plaid dressing gown. “Borrowing this, if you don’t mind.”

Sherlock waves him off and John goes. He listens, then hears John’s voice through the baby monitor, rising as he greets his daughter and gets her out of the makeshift cot in her playpen. John is changing her, he can tell, and then his footsteps start back down the stairs and come around the corner into the corridor.

He comes into the bedroom with Rosie. “Look who’s awake!” he says, beaming at his daughter. He leans over the bed. “Here, take her for a moment. I’ll just dispose of the nappy.”

Sherlock shifts to take the child. “Hello Watson,” he says affectionately and kisses her on the head. “I see you’ve managed to get that gauze off at last. Persistent, aren’t you?”

John leans into the doorway of the bedroom and rolls his eyes. “You’ve no idea.”

“I have a perfectly clear idea,” Sherlock tells John’s daughter. “You’re your father’s child, aren’t you?”

Rosie makes a nondescript sound. John washes his hands and comes back to bed, mirroring Sherlock’s position on his side with the child between them. “I don’t mind this,” he says. “Just not for sleeping.”

“Quite right,” Sherlock agrees.

John reaches across and puts his hand on Sherlock’s hip. “Oh, for a nanny,” he says, a bit dryly.

Sherlock wraps one of his legs around John’s. “Indeed,” he says. “I suppose we should get up and feed her.”

“And ourselves.” John sighs. “Well, at least we got half of a proper morning after.”

Sherlock agrees. “I can still feel it,” he says, arching his brows at John.

That gets him a smile. “Can you? Good.” John leans over and kisses him again, lingeringly, then again. “I want you to be thinking about it all day.” Rosie makes a loud sound and they both ignore her for the moment, kissing again. She makes another sound, more insistent this time, and Sherlock reluctantly pulls away.

“Demanding, aren’t you?” he says mildly, trying to ignore his budding arousal beneath the covers. It’s hardly appropriate around an infant.

“Let’s get you into your high chair,” John says, and gets up and takes her into the kitchen.

“I’ll be right there,” Sherlock says, not moving.

John smirks at him from the doorway as though he knows precisely why Sherlock is still under the blankets. He probably does, Sherlock reflects. John knows much more about this sort of thing than he does. “No rush,” John says, a knowing look on his face, and pulls the door shut behind him as he goes.

It only takes a minute or two with the memory of earlier that morning in mind, John’s fingers plunging into him, his erection straining against John’s – Sherlock tugs and strokes himself until he comes into his fist with a stifled grunt, then sags back onto the sheets for a moment, breathing hard and thinking that he hasn’t had this many orgasms this close together since his adolescence. Well, no wonder, with John Watson to inspire them. It still feels unreal, he thinks. He drags himself out of bed at least and goes to clean up. John won’t mind if he takes a quick shower, will he? Probably not. Besides which, he’s filthy, his skin caked in dried sexual fluids, matted in his pubic hair and streaked up his torso.

Dried and dressed, he wanders into the kitchen to find John already cooking breakfast, Rosie making loud but contented sounds and banging her spoon on the tray of the high chair. Sherlock goes to John, drawn like a magnet, or so it feels, and puts his hands on John’s waist through the dressing gown. “You shouldn’t have started without me,” he scolds. “I would have helped.”

“Please,” John scoffs. “You can at least let me make you breakfast after that utterly incredible night. If you want to help, you can make coffee, though.”

He’s leaning against Sherlock, smiling into his face, and Sherlock feels his chest turn molten. “Was it really that incredible?” he asks, feeling only a very little bit shy about it.

“Yes,” John says without hesitation. “It felt good in every way there is. You’re upsettingly good at this, considering. Not that I’m complaining. We’ve been waiting for this for so long, and I can’t think of a time when I’ve been happier, Sherlock. I mean that. I love you.”

Finally, the right opportunity. “I love you, too,” Sherlock says, his voice coming out low, like a confession, and John lets go of the frying pan and turns to pull him into his arms and kiss him deeply, open-mouthed, fiercely, his hands pressing into Sherlock’s back.

The pan begins to smoke a little and Rosie is still making loud “bah bah bah bah!” sounds. They break apart gently, John still looking into his eyes with so much tenderness that Sherlock’s knees go weak. “Coffee,” John says, not moving.

“Right.” Sherlock pulls himself away with difficulty and leaves John to keep the mushrooms from burning. He tears open a packet of coffee beans and tilts them into the grinder. “Do you mind if I tell my parents about this?”

John looks back over his shoulder, smiling. “You actually want to tell them?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “You know my mother. She’ll be thrilled. Plus, Mycroft is sure to find out somehow, anyway, and I’d rather tell them myself.”

John gives the contents of the pan another stir, then shunts the mushrooms to one side and starts breaking eggs into the pan. “Of course you can tell them,” he says. “I’m frankly tickled that you want to.”

Sherlock glances at him. “Are you?” He turns the grinder on before John can answer, then empties it into the coffee maker.

“Yes,” John says firmly. “I want the entire world to know.”

Sherlock smiles to himself, looking at the coffee maker. “I feel the same way.”

They eat breakfast sitting kitty-corner from each other, Rosie making a mess of herself with a squeeze packet of food. Their feet are tangled together under the table, bare and intimate, and John’s breakfast is delicious. He’s made a fry-up of mushrooms, tomatoes, eggs, and the bacon he bought yesterday, along with thick-sliced toast with honey and washed down with freshly-ground dark roast. John feeds him the occasional mushroom and Sherlock laughs at the silliness of it and feeds him his own mushrooms back.

“I’m so glad the renovations are basically done,” John says when they’ve finished and are just drinking the last of the coffee. “That was exhausting, yesterday.”

“It was, a bit,” Sherlock agrees. “There isn’t much left. We could actually start taking cases again soon-ish. I could take the sign off the front door.”

John looks over at Rosie. “Well, except that I need to figure out some sort of long-term plan as to what to do with her,” he says. “I mean, I could put her into a daycare if I can find one with an opening, but she’s still rather young for that. Molly says she can’t take any more time off work. So either I stay home with her, or we keep asking Mrs H to take her, but she’s got a life of her own, too. Plus, financially speaking, I’ve just got to work, at least a little. Especially with her to support.”

Sherlock nods, thinking. “Do you have the deed for the flat?” he asks, curious.

John shakes his head. “No. It belonged entirely to Mary. I’ve never even seen the deed.”

“Did you just share bank accounts, or where did she bank?” Sherlock asks.

“We shared my bank account,” John says tersely. “If she had funds somewhere else, she certainly never told me about it. And I’m aware that she must have, because whatever she did to pay for that whole running away business didn’t come from my account.”

“Interesting,” Sherlock says. He thinks for a moment. “I mean, someone should have contacted you as the next of kin, power of attorney, executor of the will, et cetera.”

“She probably never told them she was married,” John says. “I’ve already thought about this, trust me.”

“I’ll get Mycroft to look into it,” Sherlock says. “If you don’t mind, of course.”

John shakes his head. “I hadn’t thought of that, actually,” he says, sounding a bit surprised. “Yeah, that would be great if he could make himself useful that way.”

Sherlock smirks. “He’s still feeling delicate, I think. It will give him something to do.”

“He’s probably still cleaning his house, you mean,” John says. He laughs suddenly. “That was fun, I have to say. It’s the least smug I’ve ever seen him look.”

“He had it coming, for keeping Eurus’ general existence a complete secret from all of us for over thirty-five years,” Sherlock says, scowling. “My parents are still devastated.”

John looks at him and puts his hands over Sherlock’s on the table. “There’s nothing they could have done for her, you know,” he says gently. “She’s a very, very sick person.”

“They could have watched her through a screen,” Sherlock says stubbornly. “They could have kept up with her state of wellbeing. They thought she was dead, and grieved her loss.”

“I know that feeling,” John says, his eyes coming up to Sherlock’s. “Yeah. I get what you mean. And I also know you had to. I know that now.”

Sherlock looks at him for a long moment. “I’ve still never told you all of it, from start to finish. I will. Soon. You have a right to know.”

“You told me there were snipers, but nothing in detail,” John says. “Tonight, will you tell me the rest?”

Sherlock nods. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know. About anything.”

John’s eyes scan his face, then he bends forward and kisses him again. It unfolds slowly, deeply, wonderfully, their arms around each other. John tastes like coffee with milk in it and Sherlock realises that he probably does, too, and it’s fine. After a little while, the kiss winds down. “I should go take a shower,” John says, his arms still around Sherlock. “This will be day three wearing these clothes. Can I, er, borrow a pair of underwear?”

“Of course,” Sherlock says. He smiles. “I rather like the thought of you wearing my underwear, if you want to know.”

John smiles back. “Don’t even start with that,” he warns. “Or I’ll never make it to the loo...”

Sherlock doesn’t move or release John. “Top drawer, left side,” he says.

“Are they indexed?” John asks this against his mouth, smirking, and Sherlock shuts him up by kissing him again.

“No, but they’re colour-coded,” he says. John is more interested in kissing him than in finding a witty comeback. Rosie is still talking loudly to herself, or possibly them, and they’re both ignoring her. Sherlock’s heart rate has increased noticeably and so has John’s. “John… you should probably go and shower now,” he gets out.

“Agreed,” John says breathily. He kisses Sherlock once more, as though unable to stop himself. “Okay: shower. I’ll be back soon.”

Sherlock watches him go, then subtly adjusts himself and gets up to organise a bottle for Rosie, quieten her down a bit. Not to mention himself. When he’s got her settled with the bottle and his apparently now trigger-responsive sexuality quietened, he takes out his phone and calls first his brother, then his mother.

***

Mrs Hudson finds out quickly enough, coming up just after Sherlock ends the call with his mother. As she does, she pokes about the kitchen and tidies up without being asked, then turns on the water to start the washing up and goes off to collect dishes from around the flat. When she gets back to the kitchen, she turns off the water, puts a pile of plates in the sink to soak, and plugs in the kettle before coming over to sit down in John’s chair across from Sherlock.

She waits until he caves and looks up. “What?” Sherlock wants to know.

She already knows; he can see it on her face. She doesn’t have to be so smug about it. “I gather John stayed over again last night,” she starts, needling.

Sherlock feels his shoulders twitch. “And?”

“And not on the sofa,” Mrs Hudson says, obviously very confident in her assessment.

Sherlock clears his throat and looks down at the screen of his phone. “What makes you think that?”

“Because he’s showering here again, because that blanket is exactly where it was yesterday, and because you look more relaxed than I’ve ever see you in my life. You look ten years younger.” Mrs Hudson puts her hands on her hips and waits for him to deny it. “Well?”

Sherlock exhales and rolls his eyes. “What do you want, a medal?”

She bursts into a peel of laughter. “Oh, you silly! Look at you, blushing like a girl!”

“I am not blushing,” Sherlock says, with irritation.

John comes back into the sitting room wearing Sherlock’s plaid dressing gown .“Yeah, you are,” he says easily. He comes over and bends to kiss Sherlock quickly, on the lips, pride bursting almost visibly from every pore of his skin. He straightens up and, his back to Mrs Hudson, opens the dressing gown to display the underwear he’s chosen, smooth and black and fitting him so exquisitely that Sherlock is profoundly glad he’s already got his legs crossed. “I picked these ones,” he says. “How are they?”

“They’re – good,” Sherlock says, with difficulty, raising his eyes to John’s face, his own distinctly warm now.

John and Mrs Hudson both laugh at him and John ties the dressing gown shut again. “Sorry,” he says to Mrs Hudson, without any discernible trace of real apology. “Just wanted to check. And no, I didn’t stay on the sofa last night, if that’s what you were trying to get out of Sherlock.”

“Well, good,” Mrs Hudson says emphatically. “Took you long enough!”

John doesn’t deny this. “Sherlock has always said that I’m an idiot, to be fair,” he says with a grin, even as he moves off toward the bedroom to get dressed properly.

Sherlock clears his throat twice, and Mrs Hudson looks at him with deep affection. “I’m so glad,” she says, sincere now, and that’s almost worse.

Sherlock lifts his chin a little. “So am I, as it happens.”

“You’ve loved that man for a long time now,” she observes sagely. “I’m glad he’s finally come to his senses. Have you told your mother?”

“Yes,” he says, a bit stiff. “We’re going to go over for Sunday dinner this weekend.”

“Lovely,” Mrs Hudson approves. “Am I watching Rosie?”

“No, we’re taking her along,” Sherlock replies. “My parents want to see her.”

“Speaking of that, are they finally going to move in, then?” she wants to know.

Sherlock glances at the corridor and lowers his voice. “He’s still thinking about it. I asked him to.”

“Well, it hasn’t been very long yet,” Mrs Hudson points out. “Give it time.”

“He’s all but living here already,” Sherlock says, trying not to grumble. “It would be easier if he just brought his clothes and Rosie’s things here.”

She reaches over and pats him on the knee. “I’m sure he’ll get there. But everything is a big decision when there’s a child involved, you know. I’ll go and make us a cuppa. You stay right there.”

***

It starts on the sofa again that evening, not long after they’ve finished eating, and escalates so quickly that Rosie finds herself getting put to bed rather earlier than planned.

“She might not sleep yet,” Sherlock pants against John’s mouth when John comes back down and manhandles him into the bedroom. “She slept in this morning already, and then she fell asleep again when we took her for that walk.” He’s referring to their longish loop through Regent’s Park that afternoon, John’s arm around him as he pushed Rosie in her buggy.

“She’s a baby,” John says, both hands on Sherlock’s arse. “Babies need lots of sleep.”

Sherlock lets the point go in favour of kissing John as deeply as he knows how. It feels as though a dam has burst, that every waking second is dedicated first and foremost to touching John, being with him, in any way he can. They bite at each other’s mouths and necks and strip one another and themselves, getting naked as quickly as possible, then half-push, half-pull each other back to the bed. John is hard against him and Sherlock’s skin is prickling in the knowledge of it. “I’ve been waiting all day to get to do this again,” he says, rolling onto John.

John doesn’t turn them over. Instead he winds a leg around Sherlock’s hip and thrusts up against him, their erections caught between their bodies. “Me too,” he pants. “If we hadn’t had Rosie, I’d have stayed in bed with you all day!”

Sherlock moans at the very thought of this and begins to thrust against John. They’re both already very, very hard and he can feel that John is as hungry for this as he is. “Where’s the – ”

John is two steps ahead of him, pressing the tube into his hands. “Yeah,” he breathes. “Get some of that on us – ahh, yeah, like that!”

He groans as Sherlock strokes his penis, his palm slick with lubricant, then transfers it to himself, liking John’s groan. He wipes his hand on a corner of the top sheet and begins to move against John again, trying for a long, undulating pattern. It feels – primal, he thinks, breathing through his mouth, looking down at John’s lust-stamped face, feeling his breath on his chin. Just thrusting like this, rutting against John’s erection with his own. It feels good, more to the point. Extremely good.

“Yeah, like that,” John says again. “And you can go harder, if you – oh Jesus, fuck, yes! God!”

John is pumping upward in the perfect counter-rhythm and Sherlock’s breath catches, then gusts out in a moan. His head drops almost to John’s shoulder as he thrusts frantically, unstoppably, the pleasure tightening around him like a vice, his penis stiffer than steel. John’s is wet; he can feel it, and knows that his own is leaking out pre-release, too. His hips snap forward hard and then suddenly it’s upon him, gushing out of him and all over John in spasms of heat shivering down his back and arse and legs and flooding out through his penis.

“Yes – fuck, yes – !” John’s voice rises sharply, then his leg tightens in its grip on Sherlock and he comes with a gut-deep grunt, then again, his releasing spattering Sherlock’s stomach and chest.

Sherlock lets himself drop onto John, panting into his neck. “To think I used to think this was a waste of time,” he says when he can speak again, and he feels John’s laugh throughout his body and loves it.

“And you always say that I’m the idiot,” he says, but it’s fond this time.

Sherlock raises his face and finds John’s mouth again. “No, I am,” he agrees between kisses. “A complete and utter idiot.”

“I love you,” John says in response to this, and Sherlock gets his arms all the way around him and holds him as tightly as he can.

A bit later, they set about cleaning themselves up a little, Sherlock fetching the flannel this time. He comes back to bed and lets John have it. “So,” he says. “I promised to tell you about the snipers and Moriarty and the rest of it.”

“Yeah,” John says. He looks into Sherlock’s eyes, his midnight-grey ones troubled. “But first, I want you to tell me about the scars on your back.”

This takes Sherlock by surprise. “You – noticed?” he asks, almost wincing.

John nods and puts a hand on his face, gentle. “What haven’t you told me?” he asks, and Sherlock hears the sorrow in his tone.

He does his best to make light of it. “Well, you know. I was captured.”

“In Serbia,” John says, studying him. “You were beaten.”

He can hardly deny it. “Yes.”

“Can I see?” John asks, the corners of his mouth setting unhappily.

Sherlock concedes and turns onto his front, arms folded beneath his face. He feels apprehensive about this. He would never have told John about this part of the mission. “I didn’t think they showed that much.”

“They don’t,” John says, his fingers tracing them lightly, and the touch feels good. “I felt them just now.” He follows the lines, touching in such a way that’s meant to produce pleasure for Sherlock, but also exploring, probing. “You were whipped,” he states. It’s not a question.

“Yes.”

“These cuts went deep.” John pauses, and Sherlock grimaces to himself; he can all but hear John making this connection. “When did you get back from Serbia?”

“John…” He doesn’t know how to say this. “Can’t we just talk about the snipers?” It comes out sounding almost plaintive. He should know better by now, though; John is incredibly stubborn.

“This first,” he says. “Please, Sherlock. I need to know.”

Sherlock sighs. “The morning of the fourth of November.”

John pauses again, working it out. “The same day you came to find me at the Landmark,” he says.

Sherlock is silent, and his silence betrays the truth, his lack of denial or correction a confirmation in and of itself.

“And I beat you then, too,” John says, his voice lower and unsteady. “How long before your return did the most recent whipping take place? I can see that there were multiples…”

Sherlock closes his eyes. “Earlier that same morning.”

“And I threw you to the floor, onto your back. With all of my weight on top of you.” John’s voice is flat. He stops touching the scars and puts his arm tightly around Sherlock’s back, laying his head down on Sherlock’s shoulder. “How can you possibly love me, after everything I’ve done to you, and everything you’ve done for me?”

“The two things are unrelated,” Sherlock says, opening his eyes and staring across at the wall opposite. He hates this line of conversation. He twists himself around so that he’s facing John. “I hate this,” he says plainly. “I don’t want to talk about it. The last thing I want is for you to find a reason that this can’t happen, that we can’t have this. Having you is all I want.” He puts his hand on John’s hip. “Please,” he repeats. “I just want you. It’s not your fault I was captured or beaten. And you’ve couldn’t have known.” He does not tell John about the stripes of blood he’d found all over the back of the white shirt he’d chosen that day in Mycroft’s lair, the scabs leaving rust-coloured dust on the fabric, fresh blood stained brightly over the new material. Pity. It was a nice shirt. Between that and his bloodied nose, he was a mess when he’d gone home that night. And he has never once held it against John. John is still not responding, nor meeting his gaze, so Sherlock says, “I put you through hell. Two years without a word, though I couldn’t let you know. Obviously you were angry with me. And I – blundered, going there. I got nervous and tried for humour and it didn’t work at all.”

“I’m sorry,” John says, with evident pain. “Of course you were nervous. I should have guessed, but I was just – in shock, I guess. And I didn’t know why, so I got angry. So tell me, finally, why couldn’t you tell me? What’s this about these snipers?”

Sherlock tells him, pressing closer to John as though even talking about it will bring them back, put John in danger again. He explains all of it, why he had to make sure the snipers continued to believe he was dead. “It wasn’t because you were less important than the people I did tell,” he says. “It was because you were moreimportant. The most important.”

John searches his face. “I get it now,” he says softly. “Oh, Sherlock. You never even told me before that you didn’t have a choice. That it was blackmail, that your choice was between forcing me to think you were dead, or letting Moriarty’s assassins kill me. You should have told me. I like to think I would have understood.”

Sherlock doesn’t know what to say to this. “I thought it was all… beside the point, to you,” he says, a bit stiffly.

John shakes his head. “That’s my fault. I should have asked you properly, a long time ago. I’m sorry.” He puts a hand on Sherlock’s face and leans in to kiss his forehead, then his cheeks, then his mouth. “I love you,” he says again. “Thank you. Thank for everything you’ve done for me.”

“I love you,” Sherlock says soberly, looking deeply into John’s eyes. “You’re all that mattered to me, all that time. Obviously Moriarty had to die, but that’s why, because he’s the one who would have had you killed. He said he would burn the heart out of me, remember? That’s you. Nothing else, no one else matters the way you matter.”

John’s eyes are wet. He blinks several times, then pulls Sherlock to himself and kisses him deeply, passionately, rolling onto Sherlock and holding his face with both hands. A long time later, he lifts his head. “I will never hold it against you again, Sherlock. Never. I promise. And I’ll tell you what else: yes. I will move in. If you’re certain that you still want me after all of this, after years of my not appreciating you half enough, and now that I have serious baggage with Rosie in tow, then – God yes, please. I’ll absolutely take you up on that.”

Sherlock finds himself rendered so emotional by this that he’s afraid to speak. “John – ” Even John’s name seems to fill his chest and grow there until his ribs are expanding outward, threatening to break open. “Yes – please!”

He wishes he’d said more, been more eloquent, built a solid case for all of the reasons why they should definitely live together: A Case for Domestic Propinquity and all of the Benefits Pertaining Thereto: A Thesis by W. Sherlock S. Holmes. But John takes it, plain as it is, and agrees. “Okay,” he says, nodding, his mouth still on Sherlock’s. “I’ll come tomorrow if you want me to. I’ll just need to find a mover – ”

“My brother has one on stand-by,” Sherlock interrupts, telling him. “Just in case.”

John’s eyes grow so full of love, so beautiful, that Sherlock can hardly bear it. “I love you,” he says again, and after that there’s no more room for words. They kiss and kiss, moving together, their bodies becoming hard for one another again. It’s heated, driven by need and passion both, and when John reaches down to take his erection in hand, Sherlock lets himself relish it for a moment or two, exhaling vocally, then takes John’s hand and moves it in wordless direction further back. John gets it right away, makes a questioning sound and Sherlock nods, fumbling for the lubricant. John is mercifully quick, slicking his fingers and massaging this most private part of him, the entrance to his body, fingers dipping shallowly inside.

John’s eyes are on his the entire time, his face heart-stoppingly tender, and Sherlock finds he could not possibly look away if he tried. He feels open and exposed, but trusts John with everything that he is. John has two fingers in him down, plunging deep and procuring shocks of pleasure within him. “Do another one,” Sherlock says, his voice shredded with breath and need.

John blinks, but nods right away. “Okay,” he says, and Sherlock thinks he must know by now where this is going. The third finger adds a little more stretch, the slight edge of pain almost making the pleasure more acute.

Sherlock grips John’s biceps and scrabbles for purchase with his legs, rubbing his obscenely hard genitals against John’s. “I want you in me,” he breathes, sparks of pleasure already glittering in his peripheral vision. “Now, John – please – ”

John nods again, his face terribly serious. He doesn’t, to his credit, hesitate and ask Sherlock if he was really tested in the hospital. Perhaps he trusts the hospital’s thoroughness in procedure. Or perhaps, Sherlock thinks, John really trusts him that much. He arranges Sherlock’s long legs to his liking, then fits himself to the entrance of Sherlock’s body. He’s so hard himself that he doesn’t need to guide himself. “I love you,” he says, looking down into Sherlock’s face with an expression so intense, so full of emotion, that Sherlock is swimming in it, breathing it, flying in it.

“I love you,” he counters, and then the push comes. It’s tight – agonisingly tight – but John goes slowly, his eyes never leaving Sherlock’s face. Sherlock thinks of every pornographic video he has ever seen, one man pounding into the other in the most ridiculous positions, all about dominance and power imbalance and the top getting off in whichever way he wants. This has nothing to do with that whatsoever. He can feel John in every way, almost telepathically. John will make this more about him, his pleasure, what his body needs, unless Sherlock makes certain that it has to be every bit as much about John, about them as a singular, joint entity. Their pleasure. Because now they are one.

He is breathing sharply, fingers gripping John’s arms, and when John is fully inside, he stops moving, allowing Sherlock’s body to stop spasming around his girth. “All right?” he asks, his own voice thick with emotion and punctured through with ribbons of breath, and Sherlock feels him trembling. He’s trembling, himself, he notices as an afterthought.

He nods. “There are no words for this,” he manages. “For what this feels like – having you inside – ”

John nods, too. “I know. I know, Sh – it’s – phenomenal.”

“I love you,” Sherlock says into his eyes, and means it more than ever, the sentiment coming from deeper places than he knew existed within himself. It’s written onto every cell of his body, every molecule of oxygen passing through his membranes. It’s in his bone marrow and the synapses in his brain and the digestive juices in his gut and in the quivering swelling of flesh pressed against the root of John’s penis.

John exhales hard at this, and then he begins to move. He starts slowly, as though testing for depth, for capacity, obviously not wanting to hurt Sherlock. The lubricant helps enormously, easing the friction and turning it to pleasure. John checks in every few moments, listening to his responses and responding perfectly to whatever Sherlock needs. Sherlock can feel him holding back and confirms inwardly that it was right decision to have John be the one doing this, John who knows what he’s doing and can control himself so well.

Finally the tightness eases and Sherlock nods, making a sound of encouragement, and John begins for real now, setting up a slow but steady rhythm of rocking into him. Half the pleasure is the psychological knowledge of having John there within him, but now the purely physical is taking over. He moves his hands to John’s sides and back, stroking, then, as his need grows, grasps John’s arse with both hands and pulls him in as deeply as he can. John is moaning and thrusting hard now. He shifts very slightly and his penis starts rubbing against Sherlock’s prostate on every stroke and the pleasure doubles, trebles, turning to molten silver in his nervous system and shivering down his spine. He hears himself making rather a lot of noise.

Just then, Rosie begins to cry over the baby monitor. Sherlock makes a sound that can only be described as profound dismay and John huffs out his breath in frustration. “No,” he pants. “Not now!”

“John – ” Sherlock doesn’t even know which way he’s protesting. He’s nearly there and desperate to keep going.

John stops thrusting, still buried inside him, and reaches over to the baby monitor and, knocking it over in the process, gets it switched off. “Not now!” he repeats.

Relief is the only thing Sherlock can feel. “Yes – please!” He’s begging, dignity abandoned, and John starts again, plunging into him, his own noises filled with frantic need, also rather loud. Their bodies are slapping together and Sherlock can feel his entire body clenching and twisting and rising off the sheets. A series of cries punch out of his throat and John understands, reaches between them, and grasps Sherlock’s penis, jerking it hard, and Sherlock shouts out. His entire body spasms violently and he comes so hard that stars flare behind his retinas, spurting out stream after hot stream. He doesn’t forget John, though, tightening his grip on John’s arse. “Yes – do it – let go,” he gasps, and John makes a high-pitched sound of pure desperation.

He thrusts wildly perhaps ten more ten, his lower teeth showing, breathing hard through his teeth, and then he shouts out drives hard into Sherlock twice more and then floods his body with release. He thrusts again, still coming, then ruts into his own come within Sherlock, panting and moaning. Then it’s spent and John collapses limply onto Sherlock, both their chests heaving. They’re both sweating and gasping and Sherlock feels as though now, somehow, they’ve crossed some line irrevocably. Stupid, he knows. People have sexual intercourse all the time. What he and John have done before this point certainly counts. But it nonetheless feels different now. Without raising his face from the crook of Sherlock’s neck and shoulder, John strokes his sides and thighs and whatever he can reach. Sherlock’s arms are around John’s back, his hands running gently up the length of it from his arse to his hair. “You,” John says into his neck, his words slurred, “are the most incredible thing I’ve experienced in this life. That was the best I’ve ever felt. Ever. In every single way. And if I loved you any harder, I think I would break.”

Sherlock’s chest swells and threatens to split open again. He tightens his arms in response. “Yes – all of that. I feel exactly the same.”

John finally raises his head and looks down into his eyes again. He puts one hand on Sherlock’s face and rubs his lips with his thumb. “I’ve never loved anyone else this much, you know,” he says, his face still full of everything that was there before. “I love you so much I think it would suffocate me if I didn’t know you felt the same way.”

“I do,” Sherlock says instantly. “I do, John. I love you so much, and I have since – ” He stops. He stops, not wanting to ruin this most perfect of moments.

John understands, though. “Since long before Mary died,” he says almost to himself. “And then that happened, and I cut you off,” he says softly. “I’m sorry, Sherlock. The whole drug thing – was that – that?”

Sherlock nods. “That, and my idiotic plan to try to force you to rescue me from myself.” He puts a mirroring hand on John’s face. “But I’ll never do it again,” he vows.

John hesitates. “Sherlock – that’s a big thing to say. With addiction – ”

“It was never addiction,” Sherlock interrupts. “It was almost a replacement for something else. And I have both of those things now. Besides which, this body and everything in it –me – everything I am – they belong to you now.”

John’s eyes glass over visibly. He says Sherlock’s name and then buries his face in his neck again, arms coming around his back in spite of the mattress and he weeps. Sherlock holds him, blinking hard himself, and lets himself love John with every single part of himself. At last, he thinks in fierce triumph, his eyes closed, his own face buried in John’s hair.

***

Awhile later, they collect themselves and John turns the baby monitor back on. Miraculously, Rosie has fallen back asleep; her deep, regularly breathing coming through speaker clearly.

“We probably woke her up, you realise,” Sherlock points out. “We, er, got a bit loud.”

“We did,” John acknowledges. “Perhaps we’ll have to look into some extra insulation between the floors. Not that either of us are keen to get back into renovations now that they’ve finally finished.”

“True.” They stretch and separate themselves at last, delicately, then go into the bathroom to take a long, hot shower together. After, standing side-by-side in front of the mirror, brushing their teeth, Sherlock meets John’s eyes in the mirror and thinks again that he is the luckiest person alive. This is bliss. Pure bliss. They finish getting ready for bed, then laughingly change the sheets together, nude, before getting back into bed together. Thoroughly sated, at least for the time being, Sherlock sighs in deep contentment as John shifts closer and fits their bodies together like puzzle pieces, their arms around each other, and they sleep.

***

Rosie is awake before them, predictably. Happily, Mrs Hudson becomes aware of the fact only just after they do, knocking and then opening the bedroom door almost without waiting, bringing in a tea tray. She sets this down on the dresser, then surveys the dirty linens piled on the floor at the end of the bed and gives them a once-over, covered to the waist, at least, but obviously naked in each other’s arms.

“Well,” she says emphatically. “Good morning, indeed!” She waves at the baby monitor. “Rosie’s crying,” she points out, as though they’re deaf.

“Yes, I know,” John says, yawning. “We only just woke up, because of her.”

“I see. Would you like me to go up to her?” Mrs Hudson asks. “You two look a bit worn out.”

“You didn’t – hear anything, did you?” Sherlock asks, trying to make it sound diffident rather than just awkward.

Mrs Hudson just gives him a look, one which doesn’t say one way or another. She did, then, Sherlock surmises, grimacing internally. “I’ll take her down and give her breakfast, how would that be?” she asks. “Let the two of you have yours in peace.”

“Mrs Hudson, you’re the best,” John says profoundly. “That would be fantastic. Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Sherlock adds, privately resolving to buy her a thank you gift for this.

“Don’t mention it. I suppose this is a bit like a honeymoon then, isn’t it?” Mrs Hudson gives them both an arch look and indicates the tea. “Don’t let that go cold, now.” She pulls the door closed behind her.

They wait until she’s on the stairs before dissolving into laughter. “That was awkward,” Sherlock says, sotto voce.

“Rather. I guess we were loud.”

“Insulation,” Sherlock says. “Definitely.”

“Can’t she just sleep with those headphones on?” John asks, though he’s clearly more interested in nuzzling at Sherlock’s chest with his nose and mouth.

“Could be – uncomfortable,” Sherlock says, his breath hitching, and he feels John laugh into his skin, shifting lower.

“Well, we’ll work something out,” he says, and after that his mouth is too occupied to talk. Which is just fine with Sherlock. Considerably more than fine, in fact.

***

The movers show up that afternoon with all of John and Rosie’s things. Someone came by to collect the key to the flat that morning, as Sherlock explained to Mycroft that John had no desire whatsoever to go back there. “Tell them to bring all of his things, the kitchen things, and the baby things, but none of Mary’s. That, you can dispose of. And we don’t need the furniture, just the cot and whatever else is in Rosie’s room.” Mycroft agrees and the move is completed by that evening, Rosie’s cot installed upstairs and the playpen brought back down to the sitting room.

The next two days, Friday and Saturday, are calm, though Rosie’s presence is decidedly putting a cramp into the honeymoon phase, as Mrs Hudson keeps calling it. She walks into the kitchen on Saturday to find Rosie is fussing loudly from the high chair, Sherlock and John ignoring her as they kiss, John pushing him up against the counter. Mrs Hudson scolds them and bends to retrieve Rosie’s dropped cup, cleaning it off with a tea towel.

“Though I suppose that’s why most couples do the honeymoon first and the baby after,” she says philosophically. “Perhaps you should go away for a few days. A week or two. Get it out of your systems.”

Sherlock frowns at her. “If you’re suggesting we’ll be ‘over’ this in a week or two, you’re rather underestimating it. We’ve been waiting a very long time for this.”

“Oh, I know that, dear, but you know what I mean.” Mrs Hudson sighs and looks at Rosie, but doesn’t say anything else. “Well, if you’d like to go out for supper or something, I haven’t got anything on tonight.”

They look at each other. “Thanks,” John says carefully. “We’ll talk it over. The thing is, we’re sort of trying to be sparing about asking people to take her for times when we really need it, like when a case comes up, so… we’ll see. But thank you.”

She waves this off. “Not at all. Just let me know, then.”

That afternoon, they’re lying on the sitting room carpet with Rosie between them. Sherlock has been trying to read her a book but she’s more interested in banging her plastic rings together. John is more interested in him, reaching across to stroke Sherlock’s thigh and arse cheek as he attempts to concentrate on the book.

“‘So the five little ducks ate the seeds beside the pond’,” Sherlock reads, adding, to John, “That’s not distracting at all, by the way.”

“She’s not listening in the slightest anyway,” John says, that particularly lazy, playful look on his face.

It’s true. Rosie is making a series of loud noises to accompany the banging of the rings. “I’m insulted,” Sherlock says mildly. He puts the book on the floor between them and continues to read, shunting his leg between John’s and reaching for his arse, too. “‘The ducklings swam on the farmer’s pond. The mother duck swam beside them.’ Look, Rosie – ” John leans over and cuts him off at the mouth, and Sherlock doesn’t even try to protest, kissing back open-mouthed, their tongues stroking together. John’s hand migrates to the front of Sherlock’s trousers, rubbing the arousal already growing there. Sherlock’s grip on John’s arse tightens. “We can’t,” he says between kisses. “She’s right here!”

John makes a disgruntled noise and looks at his daughter, who looks back at him and makes a loud nonsensical sound. “Let’s put you in the playpen for a bit,” he says.

Sherlock tries to protest, but it’s very half-hearted. John drapes the blanket from the back of his chair around the sides and top of the playpen, giving them a bit of a screen, then comes back and lies down on his front between Sherlock’s legs.

“You’ll just have to keep quiet,” he says, his fingers already on the button of Sherlock’s trousers, his eyes glinting wickedly.

Sherlock’s knuckles are ringed with bite marks by the time he comes down John’s (clever, perfect, magnificent) throat, but he manages to stifle himself – just. He pants for a moment or two, recovering his breath, then turns over and buries his face in John’s lap, loving the way he can feel his arousal pressing against his face even through the thick material of his jeans. John is slightly less successful at keeping quiet, though Sherlock even reaches up to clamp a hand over his mouth, his own full of John’s erection, and that just makes it worse. John comes with a strangled, cut-off cry, then sags back onto the carpet. Sherlock swallows down the last ebbs of his release, then turns his head sideways to rest on John’s hip, loving him fiercely.

Rosie is decidedly disgruntled at having been unceremoniously dumped into the playpen, not crying all the way yet, but getting there. They get themselves decent again and John retrieves her, apologising with a kiss pressed into his curls. They’ve just got her settled back on the floor between them on her blanket again when the downstairs door opens. Sherlock listens. “Mycroft,” he says.

John sighs, but doesn’t complain; after all, Mycroft’s movers were incredibly helpful and efficient the other day.

Mycroft steps into the doorway, looking smug. He already commented on their new and quite-obvious status the other day, supervising the move, making pithy comments about it as the movers unloaded John’s clothing into Sherlock’s closet. He spares them now, inquiring only, “Are you both decent? Good. Get up, please; we have a matter to discuss.”

John looks at Sherlock, who shrugs. They leave Rosie where she is and Sherlock waves Mycroft into his chair, going to perch on the arm of John’s. “What is it, brother mine?” he asks, keeping the sarcasm minimal.

Mycroft looks at Sherlock, even while reaching into his retinue and drawing out a large manila envelope and passing it to John. “Doctor Watson. This is for you,” he says, transferring his gaze to John at last.

“I really think you can call me John at this stage,” John says, obviously not caring particularly one way or another. “Given that we’re practically brothers-in-law now.”

“Are you? I don’t recall you having made an honest man of my little brother just yet,” Mycroft says stiffly.

John looks at Sherlock. “You know, he has been angling at our marriage since the day I first met him,” he muses.

Sherlock smiles down at him. “We can discuss it later,” he says. “Open that.”

John smiles back and gets the envelope open with his thumb. “What’s all this?”

Mycroft gives him a moment to see for himself, then says, “You would have had this sooner had the bank in question been aware of your existence. They were not. In such instances, the law requires the bank to hold the funds for up to a year while a search is performed for the next of kin, the executor of the will, et cetera. However, there was no will and no death certificate. As it stood, the bank was unaware that Mary had even died.”

“Or – Lisa Lyons,” John says, staring at one of the account statements. He looks at Mycroft. “Do you actually know what her real name was?”

Mycroft shakes his head. “You can be sure that it wasn’t Rosamund, Mary, or Lisa,” he says dryly. “I doubt very much that she ever would have told you the truth about that.”

“Agreed,” John says shortly. He looks through the pages again, then gives them to Sherlock. “So – what is this?” he asks. “What happens with all this money?”

“It’s yours,” Mycroft says, performing one of his smuggest smiles. “You’re welcome. The bank is now aware of your existence and I had them make out a draft.” He nods toward the sheaf of papers which Sherlock is now examining. “It’s in the smaller envelope toward the back.”

Sherlock finds it and gives it to John, who opens it at once. “Jesus Christ,” he says in disbelief.

Sherlock peers down to read the figure of £5,876,594.02 and feels his own eyebrows rise sharply. “Goodness,” he says. “I did wonder where all of her funds had gone.”

“So that’s – the accounts, plus, what those two holdings?” John asks. He looks to Sherlock for clarification. “Mutual funds or something?”

Sherlock nods. “Yes, and there was also a bond or two,” he says, pointing to another paragraph. He looks at his brother. “So this is all of it, liquefied?”

Mycroft inclines his head and gets to his feet. “Congratulations,” he says, looking down at John but at least leaving off the condescending Doctor Watson. “You’re now a millionaire. Don’t spend it all in one place.”

He gets as far as the doorway when John, still visibly stunned by this, says, “Wait!”

Mycroft stops but doesn’t say anything, a hand going to his waist.

“How long did it take you to find this?” John asks him. “When did you start looking?”

Mycroft turns partially. “When Sherlock asked me to,” he says. “If you want to know, it took about three days nonstop searching. No need to thank me.” His tone is sanctimonious. “By the way: the deed to the flat is clipped to the back of one of those pages. I imagine you’d like to sell it. Property rates in London are particularly high just now. Good day.” He starts down the stairs, and John looks up at Sherlock, incredulous.

“Holy shit,” he says blankly.

Sherlock smiles down at him and lets John pull him into his lap. “Language,” he remonstrates, putting his mouth to John’s. He kisses John several times, then says, “So you won’t have to work, after all. You can do whatever you like.”

John still looks dazed. “I can’t even take it in,” he says.

Sherlock is still smiling. “I know. Mycroft is rather useful when he wants to be.”

John looks down at the bank draft in his hand. “I can’t believe this,” he says again. “I should – thank him somehow, if I can think of a way how. Wow. Holy shit.”

Rosie, from under the desk, makes a sound that sounds suspiciously like ‘holy shit’. John looks guilty. “Oops,” he says.

Sherlock kisses him again, then says, “I’m going to put the kettle on. Go and tell your daughter the good news.”

***

The chickens were roasted exquisitely, the meat tender and falling off the bone. Sherlock’s mother studded the birds with sprigs of fresh rosemary and chunks of garlic, and the result was divine. The four of them eat nearly all of it, along with mashed potatoes, fresh peas, asparagus in lemon butter, and a simple green salad. Rosie eats mashed potatoes and a bit of chicken cut into very small pieces and gets it absolutely everywhere. Sherlock’s parents don’t seem to mind in the slightest, gazing at her adoringly.

The congratulations happened early on, when the three of them arrived off the train. To his gratitude, both of Sherlock’s parents seem delighted with the news of their couplehood, Sherlock’s father shaking John’s hand and then hugging him like a long-lost son. John was released only to be engulfed in Sherlock’s mother’s arms, while Sherlock stepped aside to greet his father. He expected them to be good about it, but he’s privately touched by how very happy they seem to be. During the big meal, they discuss the recent goings-on, the topic of Eurus still bringing a shadow to both his parents’ faces. Sherlock distracts them with the news of John’s unexpected inheritance, and that gets exclamations of delight from them, too.

They’re onto dessert now, or will be in a moment. The three men are sitting around the table while Sherlock’s mother, who naturally refused all three of their offers to help, is brewing coffee and arranging dessert. She brings in a chocolate raspberry torte, a childhood favourite of both Sherlock and Mycroft’s. “The coffee will be ready in just a moment,” she says, beaming at John’s admiring noises toward the cake. She nods at Sherlock’s father. “I’ll start cutting. Why don’t you – ”

“ – see about the coffee,” he finishes, already pushing back from the table. They exchange an odd look of some sort, then Sherlock’s mother turns her attention back to them.

“All right, then. Who wants what sort of a piece?” She dishes out the torte and passes them each a plate, cutting smaller slices for herself and Sherlock’s father, who calls out from the kitchen asking what everyone would like in their coffee.

He comes back with Sherlock and John’s coffee first, then returns with the other two cups. He glances at his wife, who sits back and says, “In fact… we’d like to propose something. It’s a rather large thing, and we know you’ll need to think about it first. And maybe you’ll say no, and that’s fine, but we’d just like you to hear us out first,” Sherlock’s mother says.

Oddly, Sherlock notices that she’s addressing her words more to John than to him. He forgets his forkful of cake and frowns at his mother. “What are you trying to say?” he asks.

She takes a deep breath, and Sherlock’s father reaches over and puts a hand on hers. “John,” she says, ignoring Sherlock, “let me be clear from the outset that this has nothing to do with you. It’s about us. What we’re proposing is that you think about letting Rosie stay with us.”

John blinks, looking a bit stunned. “For how long?” he asks. “What do you mean?”

Sherlock’s mother hesitates. “Well… indefinitely,” she says. “Hear us out: she’s little. Just one. She doesn’t have a mother – and if you want my opinion, never had much of one. She may have two fathers now, more or less, but the two of you have your work. We all know perfectly well that you cannot possibly just drop an infant on Martha Hudson at any hour of the day or night every time you need to go to a crime scene. And it’s not that I’m suggesting at all that you wouldn’t make whatever choices you needed in order to look after Rosie responsibly, but it would hamper you. You know it would. I’m sure it already does.”

John isn’t eating his cake. He swallows, looking down at it. “Go on,” he says. “I’ll listen to everything first.”

Sherlock reaches under the table and puts his hand on John’s knee. John twines his fingers into Sherlock’s, not rejecting his touch, to Sherlock’s unspoken relief. He looks at his mother, who is obviously very invested in this. She meets his eyes briefly, then continues.

“I don’t have a particular stance on the nature versus nurture theory,” she says, “but there is something to both sides of the argument. Rosie is the daughter of a soldier with, as I understand it, a bit of an adrenaline addiction, and her mother was a professional murderer. Sorry,” she adds, seeing John’s wince. “I just mean that, with you two and the life you both prefer, raising a child in an environment where there are guns and criminals and middle-of-the-night foot races, and loads of that happening right there in the flat – we think it would be a better environment for her to grow up out here, in a quiet country village. The local primary is excellent. I wrote some of their curriculum myself. The neighbours on either side both have children about Rosie’s age. And we’re retired, but have plenty of energy to have a little one around.” She nods at Sherlock. “You know my three children, John. We’re not likely to ever get grandchildren out of them. With your parents not in the picture, God only knows about Mary’s parents, we’re essentially the closest thing Rosie’s got to grandparents, since the two of you are together now. And more to the point, we want to. As I said, it’s not about you or our estimate of how well the two of you would do in bringing up a little girl.”

“Not in the slightest,” Sherlock’s father adds. “It really is about us.”

John looks him in the eye for a long moment. “Because of Eurus,” he says slowly, making one of the singular best deductions in his life to date, Sherlock thinks with immense pride.

They look at each other, that same shadow of pain on both their faces. “Yes,” Sherlock’s father says heavily. “We failed Eurus. We know there wasn’t much more we could have done for her, but we failed her nonetheless. And we failed you in having failed her, too,” he adds, to Sherlock.

Sherlock meets his father’s eyes steadily. “It’s all right, Dad,” he says quietly. “You couldn’t have known how far it went. How bad it was. Or what to do about it even if you had.”

Sherlock’s mother has tears in her eyes. “We’d like a second chance,” she says, to both of them now. “We have the time. We have the will. And Rosie is a child who may need careful attention. We’d like to have a second chance to get it right this time. We know what the signs are now, not that we think there’s any real danger, with a quiet life and a good bringing-up.”

John swallows. “You mean so that she doesn’t turn into Mary,” he says flatly.

Sherlock’s parents look at each other. “Well – yes,” his mother says, directly. “I mean, from what Mycroft has told us, that woman killed dozens of people, possibly hundreds. And from what I understand, she was a bit of a narcissist, possibly even a psychopath. No sense of right from wrong. There’s real cause for concern, with that in Rosie’s blood, don’t you think?”

Rosie chooses that particular moment to fling her spoon across the dining room with a shriek, and all four of them look at her.

John’s lips purse. “I agree that it’s a valid concern,” he says. “Go on. Is there more?”

“Only a little,” Sherlock’s mother says hastily. “Let me be very clear that we’re not asking to adopt her. She’d still be yours, always. You could have her any time you want, bring her to Baker Street for weekends, take her on holidays and that. But let her stay here as her default home. The two of you could come for lunch every weekend that she’s not with you. Whatever you like. The specifics could be entirely up to you. We would raise her the way you want. Take her to church if you want. Home school her if you prefer that. Give her riding lessons, music lessons, anything you like. It would be like in Japan, where kids often live with their grandparents during the week, or so I’ve read. That’s all. She’d still be in the family and completely yours. We’d just be taking the bulk of the work, both for her sake, for ours, and for yours, so that the two of you can have the life you really want. And maybe when she’s older, in her teens or later, when she starts uni, when the two of you have started to slow down, maybe then it would work a little better. But we nothing would be set in stone. We could always make a change if you wanted.”

She runs out of words and sits back again, picking up her coffee and looking at her husband. Sherlock’s father is almost finished his cake. “And there’s no question in terms of the finances,” he adds. “We’d be very happy to pay for whatever costs come up. There’s nothing to worry about on that score.”

“Well, apparently there isn’t any worry on my end, either,” John says. He takes a sip of his own coffee, then a bite of his cake. “It still feels unbelievable to even think that. This is delicious, by the way.”

Sherlock looks at his mother, who is still palpably waiting on tenterhooks. “Thank you,” she says, her voice tight. “And of course I won’t press you for an answer.”

She obviously wants to, though. Sherlock looks at John now, their fingers still woven together beneath the table. “It’s a big decision,” Sherlock says, as John is concentrating on his torte and doesn’t seem to be ready to respond just yet. “We love Rosie, after all. I was planning to adopt her.”

John’s fingers tighten in his; they’ve mentioned this in passing but never as a firmly-stated plan yet.

Sherlock’s mother says, sounding excited, “But then, do you see? That would just make us officially Rosie’s grandparents! It all just makes so much sense, doesn’t it?” She falters a little and looks to Sherlock’s father for support.

His hand is still covering hers and Sherlock sees it tighten, too, unwittingly reflecting his and John’s.

John finishes his cake and dabs at his mouth with a serviette. “It’s an incredibly generous offer,” he says at last, his brow a little furrowed. “In the spirit of being entirely forthcoming, I’ll tell you, as I’ve told Sherlock, that becoming a father wasn’t really my first choice. But the fact is that I am one, and I just need to think about what’s really best for Rosie and not what I want. You’ve made some extremely good points, though. I agree: Baker Street and the life we lead is decidedly not ideal for an infant or a young child to grow up around. And you’re also right in the sense of Rosie not being just any child, either. That’s a completely valid concern.”

Sherlock’s mother is watching him anxiously. “You’re not hesitating because of… because of Eurus, are you? Because we did so badly with her?”

John shakes his head. “That wasn’t your fault,” he says firmly. “I have never once thought that, and neither has Sherlock.”

Sherlock sees both his parents look at him. “True,” he corroborates. “Eurus is – very ill. Possibly unreachable. She was just born that way, I think. I’m planning to visit her soon, if Mycroft will arrange it. I don’t hold her responsible for any of what happened, either when we were children or now. Mental illness is no one’s fault.”

His mother’s eyes glaze over again. “Thank you for that,” she says quietly, picking at her serviette.

John glances at Sherlock, then goes on. “It’s an extremely tempting solution,” he says slowly. “Rosie is practically Sherlock’s daughter at this point, too, however, and I think we should talk it over at length before we come to any major decisions. It’s a lot to think about. But I like what you said about it not meaning us giving her away permanently, about being in her life regularly, but letting that life have its base out here… yeah. I’m strongly tempted to agree with you that that would be the best thing for her. The thing is…” He squeezes Sherlock’s hand under the table again and goes on. “Our relationship is very new and very exciting for us,” he tells them candidly. “As Mrs Hudson keeps saying, we’re in our honeymoon phase, and having some time to ourselves would be really wonderful, just to establish our relationship and let our bond develop. I think that would be an important base for any child to have, whether she’s living with us full-time or not. I just need to make sure that we neither decide to keep Rosie with us because we would miss her too much if she came to live with you, nor that we have Rosie live with you because it would be more convenient for us. It has to be what’s best for her. I do think you may well be right that having a quieter life with her own grandparents, or the next closest thing, would probably be the most ideal solution there is. Mrs Hudson isn’t that young anymore, and she has a life of her own, besides. The two of you are stable, retired, established, in a healthy, loving relationship as far as I can tell, and even related to her. And I like the thought of not giving her up entirely.”

“You wouldn’t be giving her up at all,” Sherlock’s mother says, leaning across the table toward him. “You’d just be letting her live with us. Nothing more, nothing less.”

John nods. He picks up his coffee and finishes it, then says, “We’ll talk about it and let you know. Soon.”

Sherlock’s mother sits back again. “Thank you,” she says. “Do talk it over. Think about it seriously.”

“We will,” John promises. He looks at Sherlock’s father. “But as to expenses, I would pay for all of that. I won’t accept this any other way. I’m her father, and suddenly I have more funds than I know what to do with. Her expenses, schooling, lessons, clothes, all the rest: that’s my responsibility.”

Sherlock’s parents look at each other. “As you like, then,” Sherlock father says, conceding.

“We really do love her,” his mother says. “She’s a lovely child, John.”

“I know she is,” John says, his voice a bit tight, and he touches his left eye with his free hand. “She’s stubborn and demanding and brilliant and beautiful.”

“Like her father,” Sherlock says quietly.

“I’m not that that demanding,” John says, but it makes him smile.

Sherlock’s father pats the table with both palms. “Who needs another spot of coffee? John? Sherlock?”

They both accept, and the big discussion dies away, Sherlock’s mother turning the subject to the renovations, and the tension dissipates. Sherlock notices that John doesn’t let go of his hand for the duration of their visit, not even after they’ve all transferred to the sitting room, and his eyes go to Rosie every few minutes, a look of almost pain on his face. Sherlock wishes he knew what to say to make it go away, but this is one thing that John will have to decide for himself, he knows.

***

They talk about it that night, in bed together, Rosie babbling to herself in her cot over the monitor.

“What are you thinking about it?” Sherlock asks as they arrange themselves together, John lying in the crook of his arm. “Is it too soon to ask?”

He feels John shake his head. “You can ask me anything you like, at any time,” he says. His fingers trail over Sherlock’s arm. “I don’t know,” he says, honestly. “I mean… it seems like the obvious thing to do. I want to be working, whether it’s with you or in clinic, but preferably with you, of course. Having money won’t change that; it will just give me the choice to do the work I want to do. So let’s say that I put Rosie in daycare so that I can be free to work with you, at least during the days. That doesn’t solve the problem of night time stake-outs or, as your mother said, criminals bursting into the sitting room at any time of day. It’s fine when it’s just us, but with her? Plus it’s such an obvious liability. If our enemies know that we have a little girl?”

Sherlock tightens his arm a little. “I know. It was bad enough when it was you,” he says, half meaning it as a joke, half entirely serious.

“And your mother’s right,” John continues, too serious to joke yet. “I don’t want to have to train Rosie in self-defense, show her how to use a gun just in case someone tries to kidnap her, use the fact of our having a child around against us. I don’t want her anywhere near that sort of thing. I don’t want her turning out like Mary did. And that’s another thing: I want her name changed, legally.”

Sherlock looks at him in surprise. “But she’s been Rosie for a year now,” he protests. “You really want to change that?”

“I’m not calling her Rosamund Mary,” John says stubbornly. “I wanted to name her Katherine, after my grandmother. We can change it to Katherine Rose, and still call her Rosie.”

“Oh.” Sherlock thinks about this. “Yes. That’s nice. Beautiful, actually.”

John hesitates. “And if you’re serious about adopting her, then I’d like to add Holmes, too.”

This stops the oxygen in Sherlock’s lungs, getting stuck there like clouds tangled in the branches of a tree. For a moment he cannot speak. “I’m entirely serious,” he says, his chest feeling tight. “Are you sure?”

John turns into him even further and puts a hand on his face. “Utterly,” he says, and puts his mouth on Sherlock’s for a long moment. Their mouths open, tongues coming together, and Sherlock feels again as though he is complete only when they’re like this, touching each other, inside one another in any way at all. The kiss grows and expands, John on top of him, moving against him. “Have I mentioned at all how incredibly gorgeous you are, by the way?” he murmurs against Sherlock’s lips.

“You did – say something about – ah, about my arse, the other day,” Sherlock gets out, hampered by John’s erection rubbing against his own, his legs twitching and moving against John’s. “And I believe – there was a mention of my penis on the sofa, while Rosie was napping, and – ”

“All of you, Sherlock,” John breathes into his neck. “Every inch of you. You’re incredibly attractive, you know. I always thought so. You could have been a model for a Rodin sculpture.”

Sherlock is panting, unable to respond to this cascade of compliments. “John – ”

John stops moving and looks down at him soberly. “You’re gorgeous. I love every single part of you. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to try it the other way tonight,” he says, very seriously. “If that’s okay.”

Sherlock blinks several times and swallows. “I didn’t think that was your style,” he says.

John shakes his head and smiles, his eyes doing that impossibly tender thing that leaves Sherlock totally incapable of functioning. “You’re my style,” he says. “I want to do this every way there is. I want to be inside you and have you inside me in every way possible. Unless you’d rather not.”

“No,” Sherlock says, the word coming to his lips rather quickly. “I’m not – opposed, at all. I just don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I’ll show you,” John says, and he does.

His voice low, he guides Sherlock through the stages of preparing him, and Sherlock has to admit that he was terribly curious about this. The heat of John’s body is intoxicating against his fingers, and John is urging him on, his voice growing breathless. Sherlock makes questioning sounds and John responds with affirmation, encouragement. “Do you like this?” Sherlock asks, his voice low, mouth inches from John’s.

John nods, mouth open. “It feels really good – better than I expected, but you seem to like it so much, so I – and besides which, I’m a doctor; I know about the prostate, but I never – ”

“You’ve never done this to yourself?” Sherlock asks, watching the arousal flood John’s eyes, his penis flat up against his body. His mouth waters, looking at it.

John shakes his head. “Thought about it, but never tried it. I don’t know – maybe I was afraid of how much I might like it… once you start repressing, it’s hard to know where to draw the line, you know.” He closes his eyes. “Oh God, yeah – just like that! You can – you can add another one, if you want.”

“I want to taste you,” Sherlock says, and it feels incredible to be allowed to just say these things now. John moans and squeezes his eyes shut even tighter, so Sherlock takes it as permission and shifts lower, fingers still moving inside John in a slow, gentle rhythm. With his free hand, he pulls John’s penis to his mouth and puts his lips and tongue around it with something akin to reverence. He loves doing this for John, loves touching him this way, loves the sounds he makes, loves making him feel good. With him distracted this way, Sherlock fits a third finger into him, and despite his lips sliding over the length of his erection, John’s breath draws in sharply. Alarmed, Sherlock lifts his face to look at John’s. “Are you – is that too much?”

“No, it’s good,” John pants, sweat standing out on his forehead. “I actually love the bit of pain!” He tugs at Sherlock’s curls. “Come here,” he says, breathy, half-instructing, half-requesting.

Sherlock crawls up over him, arms bracing his weight. He touches John’s nose with his own, feeling his eyes go half-lidded, his pulse thudding heavily in his neck and penis both, the latter aching in unspent need. “Are you ready?” he asks, his voice husky with arousal.

John nods, his face incandescent. “Yeah,” he breathes. “I need you in me. Now. Please, Sher – I want – ”

Sherlock nods, too, though it’s more of a frantic jerk of his head. “Okay.” He looks down between them, John’s legs splayed, knees drawn up. “Like this?” he asks. “On your back?”

John nods again. “I want to see your face when you’re inside me,” he says, and Sherlock can’t help but moan.

“Okay,” he says again. His penis is quivering with need as he strokes lubricant onto it, then shifts into the right position. It seems to know exactly where it’s aimed, hardly needing the guiding of his hand. Sherlock fits the head of it to the hot entrance to John’s body. “You’re certain,” he says again, wanting this so much that his mouth is watering, but needing to be sure. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I honestly kind of want it to hurt a little,” John confesses. “Who knew?” He pulls Sherlock’s mouth down to his own and kisses him deeply, generous with his tongue, and it sends pleasure shivering down Sherlock’s back to collect in his aching genitals. “Come on,” John urges, lifting against him. “I need you.”

His breath is hot on Sherlock’s mouth and Sherlock cannot respond. Not verbally, at least. With John’s hands on him, he finally lets himself push forward into the tightness of John’s body. He looks down between them and has to stop, moaning, his entire body convulsing as he tries not to lose the plot right then and there. John is panting and still urging him on, hands pulling at him insistently, so Sherlock draws a deep breath and keeps going. He’s never felt anything like this, the intense squeezing of John’s body gripping his erection. Everything they’ve done so far is a separate pleasure unto itself, and this one is entirely novel. He gets himself all the way into John, his body trembling violently as he looks into John’s face, their eyes never leaving each other’s.

John is breathing hard, his body clenching in spasms around Sherlock as it attempts to adjust to the intrusion of his penis. A glance downward proves that John is still incredibly aroused, though. “I’ve – never felt – like this – before,” John gets out, his breath shuddering.

“Me neither,” Sherlock says honestly, his voice rough with unfiltered lust and more emotion than he knows what to do with. “I’m inside you, John – ”

John reaches for his face and caresses it. “I love you,” he says. “I love you so much. You can – you can move now.”

Sherlock swallows. He pulls back a little, testing, and finds that he can move, the slick of lubricant easing the way. He can feel John’s body loosening gradually, accepting him there, and begins to accelerate his pace little by little. It feels so good that he can hardly breathe, and prompted by John’s encouragements, he sets up a steady rhythm, pulling out a little further all the time to increase the friction of every thrust. He shifts angles experimentally, aiming to make John gasp even harder, looking for the same place he found with his fingers, and on the third shift he finds it.

John shouts out and after that it turns into a blur, Sherlock plunging into him over and over again, the bed rocking against the wall, John’s fingers likely leaving marks in his skin as they grip him in frantic need, his body clamping and clamping around Sherlock.

He’s gasping like a fish out of water, his arms shaking, hips pumping himself into the heat of John’s body, deeper and harder than he would have dared five minutes earlier. John is reaching down to grab at himself and Sherlock thinks that he should be doing that for him. He’s only just got his fingers around John’s when John arches upward and comes, wetness spraying hotly out and catching them both in the belly and chest. His body spurts again, clenching around Sherlock, and that’s it – he closes his eyes and lets himself go, giving one more hard thrust and feeling the wave break over him, turning himself inside out, flooding John’s body with gushes of wet release. He can hear himself, shouting and slamming into John, coming more and still more after that. The orgasm seems to go on for ages, his entire body prickling with it, flushing over his skin and huffing out his lungs.

John is still spasming around him even as he pulls Sherlock down to him, holding him as his body shudders through the aftershocks, his hands and voice soothing him, rubbing the tremors out of his muscles and skin. Sherlock cannot even speak, it was so intense, and John is murmuring praise into his hair, kissing him feverishly on the forehead and cheeks as Sherlock gasps and shakes against him. “You’re phenomenal, that was so, so, so good,” John tells him, wrapping his legs around Sherlock and rocking him like a child.

“I – ”

“I know. Me too. Me too.” John’s fingers are in his hair, stroking and tugging just roughly enough to make it all feel even better, and Sherlock gets his arms under John’s back and holds him so tightly John’s ribs might crack. John doesn’t mind at all, holding him just as tightly.

It takes a long time to come down from this one and when Sherlock’s body finally relaxes, he finds himself utterly exhausted, both physically and emotionally. An echo of Mycroft’s warnings about the intensity of his emotions flickers across the back of his mind and he dismisses it. It doesn’t matter. This intensity belongs to him, to them, and he wouldn’t give it up for anything.

***

When he wakes, it’s night and John is sleeping peacefully, snoring lightly. Sherlock shifts and finds that his softened penis has slipped out of John but is still nestled against his body, wet and warm and sated. He shifts, pressing even closer to John, and listens to the even rhythm of his snores. They lull him back asleep, his body relaxing.

When he wakes next, it’s because John is stroking his back, his fingers gentle, lips on Sherlock’s forehead. “Morning,” he says, his voice warm.

Sherlock stretches against him, revelling in every place that they’re touching, and wonders if he will ever tire of this, if the novelty of it will ever wear off. “Hello,” he says. He yawns, then burrows closer to John and kisses him and John not only lets him, but is the first to open his mouth, deepening it.

It goes on for a goodly while, their legs tangling together, John’s morning erection pressing into Sherlock’s. John kisses him another few times after it ends, short, lovely kisses that make Sherlock’s chest feel tight in that exquisite way. “Last night was incredible,” John murmurs, his hand cradling Sherlock’s neck.

Sherlock makes a sound of profound agreement. “Did you like it as much as being inside me?” he asks, curious.

John makes a thinking sound. “I liked it both ways,” he says honestly. “It would be hard to choose. Happily for us, we don’t need to. I meant it when I said that I want you in every way possible.”

“Mmm,” Sherlock says in response. He pulls John onto him and puts his hands on his arse. John’s body is beginning to feel nearly as familiar as his own, and it’s phenomenal. John rocks into him, reaching for the lubricant at the same time, and manages to get a palmful of it onto them without even breaking the rhythm, and Sherlock groans in deep appreciation. Pleasure curls through his body in tendrils, his skin alive with it. He remembers John saying that High Wycombe would be better than he was then equipped to imagine, and he thinks now that John was entirely right, sort of. Minus the part about the Woman. It was always John. His very erections are tailor-made for John and John alone. Otherwise, what would be the point? He renews his grip on John’s arse and thrusts up against him, their erections equally hard as they slide and rub against each other’s, and he revels in being this wanted, this desired, this loved. John’s body heat is all around him, the scent of him heady, his mouth on Sherlock’s, his breath in Sherlock’s mouth, and when he comes, Sherlock can feel it in every part of himself, as though it’s his own peak. John is rigid against him, legs tensing as his penis erupts, and then he wraps his fingers around Sherlock’s sticky erection and jerks it hard, his voice urging out the orgasm as much as his fist is. Sherlock’s vision blurs and he comes precisely when John tells him to, his back lifting off the sheets as his body twists and jerks in it climax, stars flashing across the backs of his eyes, breathing turning to fire in his lungs.

They’re both still breathing hard, wrapped around each other in the aftermath, when Rosie wakes up and begins to cry. John exhales heavily into Sherlock’s hair. “Bloody hell,” he says. “Imagine having mornings to just lie in and do nothing but this, all day if we felt like it. No interruptions. Just us. Imagine that for one second.”

Sherlock turns his face down and kisses one of John’s nipples, the right one, massaging it with his tongue. “We have to decide based on what’s right for her,” he reminds John’s chest, after.

“I know. But just – indulge for a second, and think of that,” John says. He pulls Sherlock’s mouth up to his and kisses him sensually, a hand squeezing his arse. He pulls away after and rolls out of bed. “I’ll be back,” he says, and goes, grabbing for a dressing gown on his way out of the bedroom.

Sherlock turns onto his back and smiles at the ceiling. For a guilty moment, he does precisely that, lets himself imagine days and nights of John and nothing but John. Cases, and John. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and John. Touching whenever they want, kissing for hours. (Yes.) He knows that he wants this, but it will have to be what John wants. He has already decided to accept whatever decision John makes. He loves Rosie. He can admit that freely. He will adopt her and call her his own, and it will become the truth. But if he’s plainly honest, it’s John he wants the most. It doesn’t matter; it will be fantastic either way. He can hear John’s voice over the baby monitor, speaking to Rosie as he changes her, and he smiles. He gets up and goes into the bathroom to give himself a cursory clean-up, then heads into the kitchen to make breakfast for them all.

***

Sherlock knocks at the door of the lab for once, without bursting in. He phoned first, made sure it wasn’t a bad time. She said it wasn’t, so he came. This time, he did bring flowers, a sheaf of marguerite daisies, sunny and pretty.

Molly comes to the door and opens it. “Sherlock,” she says, with a confused smile. “What are you doing out here? You could have just come in.”

Sherlock tries a careful smile. “Didn’t want to be rude, for once,” he says.

Molly gives him a bit of a look and backs away from the door, allowing him entrance. “Come in,” she says. Her eyes go to the flowers but she doesn’t say anything. She shrugs. “What can I do for you? Is there a case?”

She’s being deliberately cool and aloof, and masking it in professional courtesy.

“No,” Sherlock says. He holds out the flowers. “These are for you. They’re a thank you.”

Molly looks even more confused, her brow furrowing. “For what?” she asks, looking at the daisies but not taking them.

Sherlock takes a deep breath. “For everything you’ve ever done for me. You’ve been such a good, loyal friend, and I’ve never said thank you properly. As well, there’s something else, something I should have told you years ago.”

Molly looks apprehensive. “What’s that?” she asks.

Sherlock holds the flowers out to her. “Go on, take them,” he urges. She accepts them then, but doesn’t look at them, still waiting. Sherlock bites his lip a little. He’s never actually said these words aloud before, though they’ve been true for years. He’s known for years. “Can we sit?” he asks, nodding toward the counter, a stool on either side. Wordlessly, she leads the way and they sit down facing one another. Sherlock folds his hands together in front of him on the counter and makes himself look her in the eye. “I’m gay,” he says, the words mercifully firm. “I’ve been in love with John almost since the day we met. I should have just told you that years ago. I love you as much as is possible for – for someone like me, and I never meant to hurt you. That’s the truth, Molly.”

Molly blinks and swallows. “I always thought so,” she says, and he’s relieved to hear the evenness of her tone. “Even when I was trying to persuade myself otherwise, I always thought so.” She looks down at the daisies, masking her eyes, and nods. “Thank you for telling me at last.”

“I wanted you to know,” Sherlock tells her. “We’re – together now. It’s been about two weeks. I didn’t want you to hear it from anyone else.”

Molly looks up, her face astonished. And then, to his lasting wonder, she smiles. “Oh, Sherlock,” she says. “That’s wonderful!”

Sherlock feels his own brow furrow now. “Do you really think so?” he asks, a bit incredulously.

Molly nods, still smiling. “I really do,” she tells him. “And Rosie?”

“That’s the other thing,” Sherlock says. “You and Mrs Hudson are her godparents. John and I are having her name changed officially this Friday afternoon at City Hall. We’d like you to be there as a witness, if you can spare the time. Our appointment is at two in the afternoon. I’m also adopting her then.”

Molly looks impressed. “That’s quick,” she comments. “I would have thought that would take much longer!”

“Mycroft,” Sherlock says in brief explanation, and she gets it. “Rosie’s going to be living with my parents, so you’ll be off babysitting duty for a good while. We’ll still have her on weekends here and there, but we want her to have stability at last. She hasn’t had much so far in her first year, and that’s something that needs to change. But thank you for all the times that you watched her. That’s coming from John, too.”

“It was my pleasure,” Molly says. “And – that’s a wonderful idea. Your parents must be so excited.”

“They are,” Sherlock confirms. “They suggested it last Sunday when we were there for lunch. John and I talked about it for the next three days, and this morning he made up his mind. We think it’s the best thing for Rosie. So we called and talked to my mother and she was so happy that she cried. It’s a bit of a do-over for them, too, after my sister.”

Molly nods, understanding. “That’s perfect,” she says. “Really perfect. So when will she go?”

“Saturday afternoon,” Sherlock says. “We’re going to have a small party after the name change business at Baker Street on Friday evening. You should come, of course. We’re asking my parents, Mycroft, John’s sister, though she probably won’t come, Lestrade. Bring whoever you like. It will be a bit of a wrench to have her go, of course. My parents are out as we speak, buying a cot and everything Rosie could possibly need, so she’ll still have a fully-equipped room at Baker Street when she’s with us.”

“Is John all right?” Molly asks.

Sherlock nods. The decision, when it was finally made, came with wet eyes on John’s part, but a firm sensation of having made the right choice for his daughter. Sherlock held him and asked if he was completely certain, and John was adamant that he was. “I think so,” he says now. “The first week or two will be the hardest, I think. So I’m taking him away. We’re going to give ourselves a bit of a honeymoon. That way, Rosie can really settle in properly and by the time we get back, we’ll really want to see her again, too. Right now I think we’ll both be glad to have a bit of a break.”

“A honeymoon?” Molly repeats. “But you’re not – ”

“No,” Sherlock agrees. “We’re not. But close enough.”

“Where are you going?” she asks, curious.

“We’re going to book it when I get home,” Sherlock says. “Somewhere tropical, that’s all I know.”

Molly smiles at him. “That sounds wonderful,” she says. There’s no wistfulness there, and Sherlock is relieved by its absence.

He leans across the counter a little, his shoulders hunched. “Molly… I meant everything I said when I came to apologise the other week. I never meant to hurt you, and I want us to go on being friends.”

She nods and looks down at the daisies, then across at him. “We are friends,” she says simply. Then she nods toward the door. “Now for God’s sake, go home and plan your honeymoon!”

Sherlock smiles at her. “In that case,” he says. He gets off his stool and goes around to hug her, and she hugs back. “See you Friday. We can meet in the lobby.”

“Okay. Bye,” Molly says, and Sherlock goes, hailing the first taxi he sees, his conscience feeling lighter than it did the last time he left the Bart’s lab.

When he gets back to the flat, he takes the stairs two at a time and finds John waiting for him at the top. Sherlock lets himself be pulled by the lapels into John’s arms and kissed thoroughly, as though he was gone for days rather than a couple of hours. Not minding in the slightest, he kisses back just as hard, his arms and coat all sweeping around John at once. “Goodness,” he says, when it’s over. “What was that for?”

“I missed you,” John says, convincingly, kissing him once or twice more. “And – ” he interrupts himself to kiss Sherlock again, as though he can’t stop – “I have something for you.”

Sherlock’s brows lift. “Oh? What is it?” He looks around, noticing the unusual level of quiet in the flat. “And where’s Rosie? Asleep?”

“No, she’s down with Mrs Hudson for a bit,” John tells him. He takes a deep breath, then reaches into his pocket and draws out a small box, which he puts wordlessly into Sherlock’s hand, his eyes watching Sherlock’s face with a mixture of apprehension and excitement.

Sherlock looks down at it, then comprehends. “John – ” He looks up into John’s face, astonished. It’s one thing to say that they’re basically – but to actually have John ask –

John swallows, obviously a bit emotional. “Go on,” he says, nodding at the box. “Open it.”

Sherlock finds that his fingers are shaking a little. He lets go of John to prise open the lid, and finds a platinum ring, tastefully studded with small diamonds. His exhalation is shaky. “Oh God,” he says. “John…”

“I didn’t think you’d like anything too flashy,” John says, sounding almost apologetic. He swallows again. “So – if you want to be official about this, will you marry me?”

“Yes.” The word is out of his mouth a nanosecond later, almost overlapping with the question. “Yes!” Sherlock says again, louder, out of sheer need to say it again. “John – ”

John’s mouth is on his, hungry and triumphant at once, arms around him tightly, and they sway on the spot, kissing and kissing, the precious box clenched in Sherlock’s right hand. “I love you,” John tells him between kisses. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

“I love you,” Sherlock manages, blinking moisture out of his eyes. He opens the box and takes out the ring. “Am I allowed to wear it now already?”

“If you want to, sure,” John says. “And – unless you want to do something big, which we totally can, if you want to, I thought maybe – Friday? We can just make it all official then, if you want. I can call and change the appointment; I think you have to make an appointment for that, too. But since we’ll already be there…And then later, if you want, we can do a bigger thing. Or not. Whatever you like.”

Sherlock smiles. “It’s perfect,” he says. “Yes. Definitely. Let’s get married on Friday. You’re brilliant. We need to go and get you a matching ring, though.”

“Tomorrow,” John says. He takes Sherlock’s hand and leads him to the kitchen table. “First, I want to plan our trip! I’ve got some suggestions laid out over here.”

“You’re right,” Sherlock agrees. “That’s the first order of business. It really will be a honeymoon now!”

John’s face is so beautiful that it hurts. He stops when they get to the table and pulls Sherlock gently back into his arms. “Yes,” he says simply, before their mouths come together again. “It really will.”

*