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(Never) Turn Your Back to the Sea

Chapter Text

*

They walked together down a small footpath at the back of the house, overgrown weeds snagging and tugging at the hem of his coat. The air was cool and clear and damp, alive with the sounds of the night.

The path twisted and turned as they walked, the stars above blotted out by a dense thicket of trees. There was a small car parked up on the grass, out of sight from the house.

He glanced at Eurus. She looked steadily back at him.

He opened the door, slid behind the wheel. The interior was neat, devoid of character. An air freshener hung from the rear view mirror, giving off a chemical pine scent. Cloth seats, threadbare. There was an oily smudge on the passenger-side window. It was just the right height for John's forehead, pressed against the glass as he slumped unconscious in his seat.

He swallowed, looked away. The keys were in the ignition, dangling, cold to the touch. He started the engine.

Eurus slid into the passenger seat beside him, silent as a ghost.

She had not done this alone. She had not carried them, had not flown them from Sherrinford, had not arranged him in a dark box of his own memories without assistance of some kind. Someone had helped her. Someone had put John into this car, had driven him off into the dark.

Paid or coerced? Or a willing volunteer?

"Where?" he asked.

She pointed. He drove.

The car bounced over bumpy, barely-there road. Stones rattled against the chassis, kicked up by the tyres.

They continued in silence for several minutes. The trees around them loomed dark and treacherous.

They had roamed, as children. They had been wild, in a way. Indulged. He had not been held back, given free rein to explore the boundaries of his curiosity. It was not inconceivable to think that any one of them might have strayed far from home.

Eurus had been five years old. This would have been a challenging journey on foot. Not impossible, surely not impossible. But difficult. To the extreme.

"Stop," she said.

He stopped. Turned to look at her.

She nodded. "Here."

He clambered back out into the cold night air, pocketed the keys. Just in case.

"John!" he shouted.

Something winged flapped off into the shadows.

He looked back at the car. Eurus was still and silent in the passenger seat, knees pulled up under her chin. Her gaze was distant.

He tore his eyes away, scanned the ground, squinting to make out detail in the dark. There—grass flattened by a heavy tread. Snapped twigs, felled branches. A disturbed path where a body had been dragged through thick brush.

"JOHN!" he tried again.

He struck off into the tall grass, following the trail. The car disappeared behind him, swallowed up by the night. He lifted his lantern, skimmed the faint light over the ground, searched for signs. Walked.

He came out from under the thick canopy of trees, hesitated at a dip in the path. Overhead, the moon shone.

There was a sound—faint—unmistakable. Water.

He broke into a run, watching the ground, skidding to a halt as it dropped away to inky darkness before him.

The well's upper structure had long since crumbled. It was little more than a gaping hole in the earth, moonlight gleaming weakly off of rippling water far below.

The ground all around was soft, muddy, freshly disturbed. Someone had recently laid piping.

Paid, coerced, or volunteer?

There, a dark shape in the water, still faintly moving.

"John," Sherlock breathed, relief crashing over him.

There was a rope, tied off against a nearby tree. It was rough in his hands, the ends still damp and crimped. Someone had clearly used it to lower John down. He hadn't been pushed, hadn't been battered and dashed against rock. He'd been dropped with care.

She'd wanted him alive.

Alive to be found? Or alive to suffer as he drowned?

"Heads up," he shouted, tossing the end down towards John. Something in his stomach twisted as John's hands flashed pale in the moonlight below, grasping for it. John hauled himself upward, using the rope as leverage, his head and shoulders lifting above the waterline.

"Sh—Sherlock." John's teeth were chattering. But his voice was strong. "I'm chained."

"I know," Sherlock said, shutting his eyes. Stupid. Stupid. He'd brought nothing with him. "I—"

A whispering behind him, tall grass in the breeze. He had left Eurus behind in the car, quiet and huddled. Had she remained there? Or had she trailed, ghostlike, in his wake?

There was no way to be sure.

And while it certainly seemed that the malice had gone out of her, he was not quite ready to bet his life on it. Or John's. Especially not John's.

Never turn your back on the sea.

Mycroft had told him that, once. Hadn't he?

The sea was capricious. Brilliant and beautiful and, above all, dangerous. Never to be entirely trusted, no matter how calm.

He glanced over his shoulder, saw nothing but dancing grass and dark gnarled trees.

Still. Best to be cautious.

He dropped into a crouch, carefully lowered himself flat against the ground, on his stomach in the grass. He wormed his way towards the edge of the well so he could peer over without presenting a tempting target.

"Are you all right?" he called down.

John. John was there, his face pale and grim. His hair was plastered down against his head, his lips pressed together in a tight line, his hands wrapped around the rope. He nodded, a sharp, controlled movement. Still the soldier. Vigilant, wary. Not yet clear of danger.

There was no easy fix to their present situation.

He, in his flood of panic and confusion, had failed to plan for every contingency. He had been so focused on getting to John, that he'd neglected to account for what he'd do when he found him.

You try to repress your emotions to refine your reasoning.

There had been nothing refined about his reasoning here.

He did not have the tools at hand to free John. It would necessitate either going back up to the house to look for something that could cut through chain, or coaxing Eurus into revealing the location of the key.

"John," he called down.

John met his gaze. He shivered, clutched on to the rope.

"I have to—" Sherlock hesitated. "John. I'm going to have to leave. There's nothing here I can use to get you out. I'll be back as soon as I can. You—just hold on."

"Where is she?" John's voice was grim. His jaw clenched against chattering teeth.

"Not a threat," he hedged, and hoped he spoke the truth.

"Go," John said. "Hurry."

"Will you be all right?"

John laughed, the sound sharp and humourless. "Not much of a choice, yeah?"

Still, he hesitated. Stared down, not quite able to pull himself away.

This was the place where his friend had died.

"Sherlock, unless you're planning on joining me down here, you should probably—"

"Bad idea," Sherlock said, as if a part of him didn't want to do just that. Which was ridiculous. "My lock-picking skills may be superlative, but I've not attempted to work underwater—an unforgivable oversight, I'll grant you—and at the moment I lack the necessary tools for the job. Not so much as a paperclip at hand."

Also, while it's not likely, there still remains a greater than zero percent chance that my sister might not be able to resist cutting the rope and leaving us both to die down there.

It was, he thought, a sign of great emotional maturity that he opted not to say that last part out loud.

He tried smiling instead. Which, in retrospect, was probably a mistake.

"Sherlock," John said, and it sounded like there was a faint thread of exasperated mirth somewhere in his trembling voice. Which was remarkable, but which was also very much like John. "Go."

He stood up, stepped back, reluctant. And then he paused, cocked his head, listened.

"Sherlock—" John said again.

"Shut up."

"Sherlock, seriously—"

"Shut up," he said again. "Listen."

The sound grew louder, stronger, the steady beat of propellers. A searchlight crested over the trees, catching him in its sweeping beam. He waved his arms.

"Is that a helicopter?" John shouted.

"Well-observed."

"I'm down a sodding well, you arse!"

The rush of relief left him lightheaded, reeling. Laughter bubbled up from somewhere deep in his chest, inappropriate, inescapable. He looked down, caught John's eye, and John—freezing, shivering, miserable John—he threw back his head and started giggling too.

*

A security team had found Alex Garrideb on the beach on their second sweep of the island. He'd been huddled, shivering, against jagged rocks, his hands still bound.

He was treated for his injuries, then formally arrested and taken into custody for the murder of James Evans.

He had not, Sherlock was told, struggled or put up any kind of protest, nor made any token effort to clear his name. The only words he had spoken, as he was being escorted from Sherrinford, were to inquire about his brothers.

Nathan Garrideb's body was recovered three weeks later, by a fishing boat some distance from the island. Howard's remains had, to date, not been found.

The tides surrounding Sherrinford's grim island were notoriously vicious, after all.

The news of his eventual sentencing was received with little fanfare, just a small blurb in the papers. It had been an uninteresting crime by an uninteresting man with an uninteresting motive.

"Do you think we should talk to him?" John asked.

Sherlock had come out of his bedroom to find John lingering over the kitchen table, dressed for work. He was flipping through the newspaper while he helped himself to a scone from Mrs Hudson's tea tray. A quick glance confirmed that she'd brought up extra this morning. Almost as if she'd known he might be stopping by.

"Rosie's with the sitter," John said, mouth half full.

"Obviously," Sherlock said, blinking. John with the paper in the mornings, John alone at the table, eating quickly before rushing off to work. Cluttered flat, smiley face on the wall—no. No. The smiley face was wrong-not-wrong-different and he had not just woken to find himself in the rose-tinted past.

He was here, in the present, and John was speaking. John didn't live at Baker Street, John still lived across town in the house he'd once shared with Mary and he'd hired a sitter to help with Rosie three days a week so he could take his shifts at the surgery. John had woken up this morning and had elected to leave for work approximately forty-five minutes earlier than necessary in order to stop by Baker Street and filch a bit of Sherlock's breakfast. John was here now in the only capacity he'd ever be here again—as a guest. And John had asked him something.

He inhaled sharply, caught up with his senses. "Talk to who?"

"Alex Garrideb."

John tapped his finger on the newspaper, and Sherlock craned his neck to read the small print.

"Why?"

John could not seem to find an answer for that. Likely because there was no good reason to be had for speaking with Alex Garrideb, other than as a means to assuage misplaced guilt.

But John was also giving him one of those looks, one of those looks that said he was missing something, that he'd failed yet again at grasping some small but vitally important nuance of human interaction.

It rankled, that look.

He did not care about Alex Garrideb. He'd had no desire to serve as the man's judge, jury and executioner, of course, and the fate of his brothers was exceedingly unfortunate, but the man had committed murder. He'd been caught out, and was now being suitably handled. There was nothing to be gained by visiting him. Nothing to be learned, nothing to be done.

Sitting across a table from Alex Garrideb would not stop Sherlock from thinking about the look on his face as he'd met his gaze through a pane of glass and issued his condemnation.

"I am not responsible for what happened to his brothers," Sherlock said, sharper than he'd intended. He glanced up, realized too late that he'd disappeared into his own head again, that he'd let silence linger in the conversation for far longer than was appropriate and had startled John with a poorly timed response.

John, who had finished his tea and scone, who had rinsed and put away his plate and mug. John, who had his coat on. John, who was halfway out the door, who was looking at him with an expression caught halfway between surprise and regret.

"You were—" John made a vague waving gesture by his head by means of explanation, and Sherlock nodded.

He turned around and went into the sitting room, expecting to hear the door shut behind John.

"Sherlock," John said instead.

He sat down in his chair, smoothed his face into something resembling a patient, expectant expression. Waited.

John looked tremendously uncomfortable. "I know that—Christ—I wasn't trying to imply anything like that. That's not at all what I—"

"There was nothing I could have done," Sherlock said, and why were they still talking? Why had John not gone out the door and down the stairs and out onto the street as he'd clearly been intending?

"I know," John said.

"He made choices that put himself into that position," Sherlock said. "He killed a man in cold blood for financial gain. And—I'll grant you that there really was no way he could have foreseen the specific circumstances surrounding his discovery, but—"

"Sherlock—"

"But it was his choices that put him there and it was Eurus who pushed the button and I did not kill them!"

His face was hot. A bead of sweat rolled down his back, chilled between his shoulder blades. He was trembling, he realized, all over. He lifted his hands, looked at them shaking. They had shaken, badly, while he'd been high. He was not high right now.

"Sherlock," John said again, and he had shut the door, he was taking off his coat again, approaching Sherlock's chair. There was concern written in the lines of his face.

"You're going to be late for work," Sherlock said.

John crouched down in front of him, hands on his shoulders, peering into his eyes.

"For God's sake, I'm not taking anything."

"I didn't think—" John rocked backwards a bit, shook his head. His face was pinched.

"Why not? It's a perfectly reasonable assumption."

"No," John said. He shook his head, a short, sharp motion. Decisive.

"Shall I remind you of my history, and the statistics surrounding relapse within—"

"I know you're not high," John said. A muscle in his jaw ticked.

He did not offer up any detail on how, how he could be so certain of such a thing. Sherlock was fairly sure that he had never done anything, ever in his life, to warrant such certainty. And yet.

"Right," Sherlock said. He swallowed. "Glad we've cleared that up. You were in the midst of suggesting that I go and see Alex Garrideb?"

"I was in the midst of suggesting that we go and see Alex Garrideb, yeah."

"And I asked you why," Sherlock hissed, annoyed at the way his hands trembled, at the way his skin came over hot and cold all at once, at the way his entire body threatened to shake itself apart for no reason, no good reason at all. "I can only assume it's because you mean for me to apologize to him, for the role I played in—"

"No, Sherlock, no, God—" There was something wrong with John's voice. He wasn't rising to the bait, he wasn't getting angry, he wasn't doing any of the things that Sherlock expected him to do.

Sherlock fell silent, folded his hands in his lap. If he clenched his fingers hard enough, the trembling became less obvious.

John had sat back on his heels, still crouched awkwardly on the floor. His face was very pale.

"You were leaving for work," Sherlock tried again.

"Yeah, no," John said, and he snorted out a laugh that had no humour behind it at all. "Not going anywhere right now."

"It's been quite some time since I've needed to be minded."

"I don't think you need to be minded, you arse, I think you need—" he stopped himself, looked away. He was breathing heavily. Upset. Very upset.

"Go to work, John."

"You didn't kill her," John said. He was staring down at the ground. After a moment he sucked in a quick breath and looked up. His gaze was steady.

"We've had this conversation already," Sherlock said. His throat was dry. His voice emerged less firm than he would have liked.

"I don't think we've had it enough, apparently."

"There's no need to repeat—"

"There damn well is," John said. He had curled his left hand into a fist, was grinding it absently into the floor. His eyes were bright.

Sherlock found himself not quite able to look away.

"I'm not—I shouldn't be. Surprised. That you don't believe me—" John laughed again, that same miserable unhappy sound.

"You seem to have gone off topic. We were talking about Alex Garrideb," Sherlock attempted.

"No we weren't," John said.

No, Sherlock realized, rather belatedly. I suppose we weren't.

"Look," John said, and he cleared his throat. Winced a little bit. "I don't know how to—I'm not very good at this, yeah? And I said some terrible things—I did some terrible things to you, and you didn't deserve—just—none of that was on you, all right? I never should have—I wasn't—"

"John," Sherlock said, something in his chest wrenching, slipping. He was still trembling.

"I'm sorry, all right? Please. Just—Sherlock—"

John's voice caught, he seemed to choke on his words.

Sherlock shifted forward in his seat, uncertain, and John reached up and caught his shaking hands, pressed them close between his warm palms.

"You do not need to apologize," John said, squeezing his hands. "To Alex Garrideb, or to me, or to anyone else. Yeah?"

Molly had stood in the doorway of John and Mary's house, looking crumpled and small and sad, and had sent Sherlock away. She'd passed him a slip of paper and he'd taken it, had unfolded it in the back of a cab and read John's words and had realized, then, that there would be no forgiveness, not ever, not for him.

You made a vow, John had hissed, pale-faced and shocked on the floor, Mary's blood seeping into his clothes and blue ripples dancing on his face. You swore.

"Sherlock," John said, his voice quiet and close and concerned.

I killed his wife, his own confession, blood oozing hot down his face. He'd looked up and he'd met John's eyes and he'd known that he could put himself through as many hells as he wanted, but he was never going to earn back late night conversations and shared giggles in dark alleys. He was never going to have John by his side again.

"Sherlock, are you—" John cut himself off, swore under his breath. "Hey. Hey."

Sherlock blinked. John was still crouched in front of him, clasping his hands, grounding him.

"You're doing that thing," John said, and his mouth did something that seemed to want to be a smile, but his eyes were sad. "The blinking and the, um, staring. I'm used to it, but. Still a bit creepy."

He cleared his throat, his eyes skittering away, looking for safer territory to focus on. He found none. The flat was wrong.

"Sherlock," John said, serious again, and Sherlock forced his gaze back to his face. "I never actually said—I'm the one who owes you an apology."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"What's ridiculous is that it's taken me this long to say it. I'm sorry, Sherlock. Me telling you—telling you that I don't blame you any more wasn't the same thing as telling you that I never should have blamed you in the first place. The way I behaved—"

"You were grieving."

"And most people lean on their friends when they're grieving, they don't put them in the hospital."

"You are not most people," Sherlock said, looking away again, uncomfortable. John's hands were warm on his.

John had held his gaze and had shouted laughter over the buffeting propellers that heralded their rescue. John had been halfway to drowned, freezing, frightened and hurt—and he had laughed. And it had been everything, it had been a balm for both long-forgotten aches and fresh wounds still raw, it had been a spark of light in oppressive gloom; the entire world and everything wrong with it had faded away, all else that remained coalescing into one perfect moment: laughing with John in the dark.

No. John Watson was not most people.

Every night I close my eyes and I'm back at Musgrave Hall, he did not say. I see it, over and over and over again. I find Eurus. I walk down the path. I find the well. You laugh. We get in the car. You go home. I don't know why this keeps happening.

He opened his mouth to speak, could not find the words.

It took us all day to walk there. I packed us snacks, Eurus had said, calm and still behind glass. It would have been a challenging journey. They must have gotten tired. They would have had to stop in the shade to rest. He wondered if Eurus had cut up apple slices and cheese the way that Mummy used to do for them, if she'd shared them with Victor while he laughed and made plans for what he'd do with his treasure.

She would have had to make the long walk back on her own.

Someone else had driven John down that same path, John unconscious in the passenger seat with his head against the windowglass, his forehead leaving a telltale smear for Sherlock to find.

And he'd found it. He had. He had driven through the dark, he had searched, he had found John, so why did he keep reliving it again and again and again?

Why did he keep conflating past and present? Why could he not look around his flat, his wrong flat, his changed flat, and firmly ground himself in place and time?

"A case," John said. There was something decisive in his tone, overly so.

Sherlock twitched at the sound of his voice, lifted his head. His brain felt sluggish, slow gears grinding together, struggling to turn.

"What?"

"A case, you need a case. What was the last one you took?"

Sherlock opened his mouth.

"See, you need to think about it, which means it's been too long."

John was still crouched on the ground, still gripping his hands. He was smiling, a forced smile, a little tight around the eyes. It was a desperate sort of smile, the kind that said neither-one-of-us-knows-where-to-go-from-here-so-let's-try-this.

He nodded, hesitant as their eyes met, let go of Sherlock's hands.

"I've been tweeting," Sherlock said, a little defensive.

"An actual case. Something that requires you to leave the flat," John said. He snapped his fingers, his eyes lighting up. "The Borgia Pearl."

"No," Sherlock said. "Absolutely not. Boring. No." He yawned hugely, theatrically, turned his face away. "Falling asleep just thinking about it."

"Think of it as an early Christmas gift for Greg."

"Who?"

"Don't you start up with that again," John laughed, genuine, fond and strained all at once.

"We're nowhere near Christmas."

"I did say early."

Sherlock yawned again.

"Fine," John said, pushing back up to his feet. "Something else, then. Anything. Whatever you want. I'll beg off work. Think I feel a flu coming on."

Reality broke over him in an icy wave.

He sat up straight in his chair, alert now, looking at John with clearer eyes. Whatever he saw on Sherlock's face caused John to take a startled half-step backwards.

John, who didn't live there anymore. John, who had inexplicably arrived that morning to filch a bite of breakfast and a cup of tea. John, who had been on his way out the door before Sherlock had done or said something that had made him change his mind.

And it hadn't been a good change of mind. He hadn't been lured in by anything particularly witty or interesting or alluring that Sherlock had said or done. He'd come back into the room not because he'd wanted to, but because he'd been concerned. Unhappy. Worried.

"I don't need you to manufacture distractions for me," he said.

There was a flicker of genuine hurt on John's face.

"That is what you've been doing, isn't it?" Now that the thought had occurred, he was unable to stop himself. "Doing the shopping. Cooking dinner. Popping in."

"Sherlock," John said. He did not deny it.

Months of it. Months and months. John and Rosie, filling the flat with their merry, noisy presence. Letting him get used to it. Letting him trick himself into believing they belonged there.

"I don't need a minder."

Guilt, he thought. Penance of some kind.

"I'm not minding you."

Obligation.

"Go to work, John," Sherlock said.

John stared at him. John did not move. His hand twitched, faint but visible.

Silence stretched between them, thick, interminable.

Finally, John blew out a breath of air. His shoulders dropped and he nodded, a small motion, seemingly meant more for himself than Sherlock. He picked up his coat, went out the door without another word.

*

Sherlock looked at the smiley face, the careful thick yellow curves of it. The bullet holes, the wallpaper peeling up at the edges. The books on the shelves, second-hand, musty and well-used. They were the books that had lined the shelves before, but they were not his. He had not been the one to saturate their pages with old cigarette smoke, he had not spilled the tea that had stained their covers, he had not been the one to dog-ear and highlight meaningful passages.

Rosie had left her fingerprints all over the glass case covering the bat.

He stood up from his chair, went to the window. Baker Street was lively with foot traffic. John was gone.

*

He dressed, went to NSY. Harassed Lestrade into providing him details on a recent murder. Called him Greg.

The murder was boring. He solved it anyway, spent twenty minutes crouched in a skip hunting up the murder weapon, returned triumphant.

Lestrade clapped him on the back as he went to go make the arrest.

*

He went back home and solved minor mysteries on Twitter, half-slumped in his chair. He avoided his laptop. He avoided looking too closely at the walls.

He forced himself to stop when he realized he'd just helped a woman get to the bottom of why her husband had suddenly begun wearing a hairpiece to work (new secretary, office flirtation, desire to look younger, obvious), and that he'd done so automatically, without even passively attempting to insult her for not being able to figure out such a thing on her own.

He was scraping the bottom of the barrel. He had standards, for God's sake.

He told himself he wasn't watching the door. Or the clock.

No one stopped by.

*

He dreamt of Musgrave Hall, of Eurus weeping in the ruined bones of their childhood home, of his eerie drive down the overgrown path, of finding John in the water, eyes bright in the moonlight.

They had propped each other up like soldiers, they had stayed strong, and they had laughed in the face of death.

He had lost that manic edge in the car on the long trip home, after the hospital, after they'd been checked over and released. John next to him, comfortable silence, his own thoughts running rampant.

Christ, John had said, with a helpless little laugh, his face turned towards the window. I really just want to hug my daughter. Immediately.

And Sherlock hadn't wanted to giggle in the darkness anymore, he hadn't wanted the adrenaline coursing through his veins, he hadn't wanted the two of them against the rest of the world. In that instant, he hadn't wanted to fight anyone, let alone the rest of the world. Hugging Rosie seemed like a fine idea, the most understandable response to their ordeal that could possibly be conceived.

And they'd gotten back to London just before the dawn, and Sherlock had looked through the car window as John retrieved his daughter and hugged her close, hugged her and hugged her, apologies and love and something indefinable in that embrace, the kind of thing that could only be forged by fear and loss, and when he finally could not look any more he'd told the driver to go.

He went out of his bedroom and into the kitchen, stopped.

John was at the table with a bowl of cereal, reading the paper, mug of tea steaming in front of him. He glanced up, briefly, as Sherlock entered, then went back to reading. As if it were any other morning. As if this were a perfectly ordinary occurrence.

A delighted sound from the sitting room, Rosie in her little collapsible pen, hands outstretched for him, fingers grasping greedily at the air.

Sherlock looked back at John, hesitated. Then went on into the sitting room, picked Rosie up. She immediately tangled her fists in the back of his dressing gown.

"Ba," she said, quite firm. She pointed.

"Yes," he said, something tight in his throat. He walked her over to the mantel, picked up the glass case. "Bat."

She giggled at the sight of it. Slapped her hand against the glass.

They went around the room together. She pointed, leading the way. He stopped, let her examine anything that caught her eye.

John finished his cereal, said nothing.

Sherlock stepped up onto the couch cushions, Rosie reaching out to run her hand along the wallpaper, fingers catching against the rough texture where the paper had pulled away from the holes. She looked back at him, eyes bright. Pulled his hair.

John stood, rinsed his bowl in the sink, put it away.

They finished their circuit around the room. Sherlock stood, hesitant, by the door, Rosie a warm weight against his side. She tugged insistently at his hair.

John leaned his back against the counter, looked at them. Folded his arms.

"I'm not minding you," he said.

Sherlock blinked. Ducked his head as Rosie gave another mighty yank.

"I am concerned about you," he said. "Sometimes. Of course I am. But that's not why I—that's not why we come here." He hesitated, cleared his throat. "Or, that's not the only reason why we come here."

Rosie untangled her hands from his hair, twisted around in his arms, looking for something else to grab at. His face felt strangely warm.

"I worry that I'm overstepping, sometimes," John said. "Showing up whenever I want."

"You're not," he said. His voice sounded rough to his own ears.

"Good," John said. He looked down at the ground, back up. "Well. Anything on?"

"Um," Sherlock looked back towards the sitting room, at the closed laptop sitting on his desk like the world's most innocuous patience grenade, thought about the woman on his Twitter, the one with the husband with the roving eye. Boring. Inappropriate for present company. Already solved, anyway. He suddenly, desperately wanted a case. Any case. The Borgia Pearl, even.

"Didn't think so," John said. "Fortunately—"

Sherlock lifted his head, surprised by the warm, enthusiastic, insistent tone.

"Some skeletal remains came in to Barts last night," John said. "For analysis. The murderer's already confessed—" Sherlock tried not to feel too crestfallen about that, "—but Molly seemed to feel you might appreciate the opportunity to look at some, um. Aged mud samples. From the remains. They'd been buried in odd spots all around London."

"Molly," he said.

"Yeah. She texted. Thought you might—well." John laughed, a nervous sound, scratched the back of his neck. "She said it's been a bit boring, really, without you dropping in at all hours to cause trouble."

He looked at the microscope on the table. He'd gone to Barts shortly after the Sherrinford debacle, knowing he had to, not quite knowing what to say. It had been uncomfortable. There had been a hurt look about her, one that he'd put there. It wasn't the fleeting annoyance that he usually triggered, but something deeper. Something more permanent.

Something unforgivable, perhaps. He was growing used to that.

She hadn't slapped him. She hadn't shouted at him. They'd lingered for too long, neither particularly good with words. She had not made much eye contact.

On his way out, she'd made an offhand comment about a delivery of microscopes that had just arrived for the laboratory.

They just came stacked in a big box, she'd said, looking at the wall, her laugh a little forced. Not even an inventory or packing slip, and no one can find the original purchase order. Causing a big headache for the Accounts Payable department. So. Um. No one here knows how many there were supposed to be.

That had seemed like a hint, so he'd helped himself to one on the way home. He'd supposed it was a peace offering, of sorts.

Still, there was a wide distance between one misplaced microscope and currying favours from the morgue at all hours, and he'd assumed that was a distance he was not meant to bridge.

"Anyway," John said, fidgeting with his hands. "She said the samples are taking a long time to process, and she mentioned it'd been a while since she'd seen Rosie. So. We're headed over there. And I figured you—well. It's been a while since you've written one of those incredibly boring blog posts on inane subjects, and. Yeah. The whole mud thing seemed right up your street."

It occurred to him that he should be responding in some way. He nodded. He looked down at Rosie, who was absently chewing on the lapel of his dressing gown. She sensed that his attention had returned to her and lifted her head, grinned. She'd drooled all over him. Her face was sticky.

"Understanding the makeup of the soil in any given location is paramount to conducting a proper criminal investigation," he said to her. "A tiny splash of mud can be the string that unravels even the most complicated scheme."

She giggled, reached for his hair again. He ducked his head out of the way. There was something warm blooming in his chest.

"Here," John said, reaching out, lifting her away, making a shooing motion with his other hand as he tucked her against his hip. "Go get ready."

I am ready, he thought, but he knew what John had meant.