“Yeah, love?” John answers distractedly, head bent over his laptop as he taps away at the keys. He’s gotten better at typing, but only just. Sherlock still sighs exasperatedly, but John knows he finds it endearing, even as he mocks his prose once the post hits the blog.
He gets no reply though, so the tapping slows as he turns to find his eight-year-old standing in the doorway to the kitchen, head down. She’s exuberant even at the worst of times so this withdrawn behavior is… odd.
“Rosie? What’s wrong?”
She hasn’t broken anything. If she had, she’d be shuffling her weight back and forth while her tiny teeth nibble at her bottom lip. Just two of her many tells. She refuses to look at him, but she’s perfectly still, her mobile clutched in her tiny hand. “For emergencies only” he had said when they bought it for her just last week, but the glint in her eye as she bounced off to her room told them it was the beginning of an era which would no doubt see both of their sanities stripped. Still, she had been remarkably responsible in the few days she had it, with only the occasional text to Olivia about someone labeled <3 J.<3. John shudders to think.
But he can have that particular panic attack at a later date. It’s not what matters now.
“Rosie? Darling, what happened?” He holds one arm out to her, putting the laptop on the side table with the other, and she shuffles forward until she’s close enough for him to see her lower lip wobbling.
His anxiety is slowly rising and he gets an arm around her waist and tugs her in close, head gently bumping her temple. “Sweetheart, talk to me.”
She sniffs, the first sound she’s made since she called his name. “Why did Papa die?” she manages, voice cracking on the final word, and his heart stops as his lungs attempt to squeeze out any bit of air they have left.
Sherlock’s fine. He must be. John just got a call from him not an hour ago. For God’s sake, he’s in the middle of the cold case closet at New Scotland Yard! John supposes that if anyone were to find themselves in mortal danger in the middle of Metropolitan Police headquarters, it would be Sherlock Holmes, but it’s a Tuesday for goodness sake.
“What?” he manages evenly, voice sounding distant to his own ears as he wills his brain to consider the facts.
He’s fine. He’s fine. You just talked to him. He’s fine.
Rosie holds the mobile out with a trembling hand and he takes it, seeing an old Guardian article pulled up that turns his blood to ice. One he memorized ages ago that won’t stop haunting him, no matter how many exorcisms he tries:
“Genius Detective Takes Life: Questions Swirl After Sherlock Holmes Throws Himself from Barts’ Roof”
“He had you,” she whispers, voice breaking as the tears she’s been valiantly holding back tumble onto her cheeks. “Why did he kill himself?”
“Oh, love,” he breathes as he tugs her up on his lap and holds her tight, pressing her face into his neck as he buries his nose in her blonde curls.
She lets the sobs loose then, tiny body shaking as the mobile in her hand tumbles to the floor. He holds her tighter, rocking her as he did when she was just a baby. She’s too old for this (her words, not his. He’d happily rock her until his dying day if she’d let him), and despite the situation, he revels in the feel of his daughter in his arms. She’s always been a demonstrative child, never one to withhold affection. But his baby girl is growing up and John just wants to stop the earth from spinning if only to bottle a perfect moment - preferably one that involves Rosie and Sherlock and maybe a walk in the park on a sunny afternoon.
“I don’t understand,” she murmurs. “How is he here? Why did he go away?”
He closes his eyes as if pained and presses a fierce kiss to the side of her head. “It’s complicated, sweetheart.”
God, they had tried so hard to keep this from her for as long as humanly possible. She wouldn’t understand, they said. But it was bound to come out at some point, they both knew it. Frankly, John’s shocked no one’s blurted it out to her in the street. Perhaps one of the paps that still follows them to the Tesco or something. Reporters do love a juicy bit of drama.
He shifts to the side and manages to pull his own mobile out of his pocket, continuing to rock Rosie as he thumbs out a message.
What’s wrong? - SH
The reply is immediate. No luck with the cold case, then.
Rosie got a hold of an old article.
She knows about The Fall.
There’s a slight lag in response and John can almost perfectly see Sherlock staring at the mobile in his hand, wishing the words away. But they can’t. Not anymore.
On my way. - SH
More time. I just needed more time.
Sherlock thrusts his hand in the air and exhales as the black cab screeches to a stop in front of him.
“Baker Street,” he blurts as it peels away from the curb.
Is she okay? - SH
Not as sucg is the reply that comes a moment later (Misspellings. Typing one-handed. Probably holding her, then).
Sherlock closes his eyes and presses the mobile to his forehead hard enough to leave a mark. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to have time to plan. Strategize. Think of a way to break the news gently, because even Sherlock knows they couldn’t protect her from this forever.
221B arrives all too quickly and not quickly enough, brakes screeching once again, no doubt alerting John to his arrival. He pays slowly and exits, staring up at the window like a man awaiting a sentencing. With a deep inhale and a raise of his chin, he stalks forward and unlocks the front door, climbing the seventeen steps with a confidence he does not feel.
His strides shorten and his breath slows as he turns on the landing and catches sight of their door, slightly ajar, silence beyond. He swallows as he trudges up the rest, allowing his palm to rest against the worn wood before pushing it back and meeting his fate.
But no Serbian prison or MI6 suicide mission compares to the sight of his daughter’s shaking body curled up in his husband’s arms. Or the judgment she levels him with through eyes so like her father’s.
“Rosie…” he whispers, but she’s on her feet and fleeing past him before he can think to reach for her. Her tiny feet pound the floor, punctuated by the slam of the door that rattles the flat.
He remains standing, utterly numb, staring at nothing in particular as all of the warmth seeps out of every pore in his body. Is that possible? It must be.
“Sherlock,” John says in a manner that suggests it’s not the first time he’s said his name. And when did he get up from the chair?
Sherlock blinks and stares at the man in front of him, who holds Sherlock’s entire world beneath the wool of his oatmeal jumper.
“Come on.” John guides him further into the living room, letting go only to unwind the blue scarf from around his neck and push the coat from his shoulders, which already seem to be bearing far too much of a burden. John hangs up the garments and returns to Sherlock’s side. Idiot man.
“She hates me,” he manages, voice hitching over the word.
“She loves you,” John quietly replies, stepping into his space and brushing the tip of his nose along Sherlock’s jaw. “We knew this would happen.”
“But not so soon.” He nearly pouts childishly at the unfairness of it all, and he’s sure John would find it endearing if their whole domestic tranquility hadn’t just been blown totally apart.
“True,” John says with a small smile. “Thought I had a few more years to go before slamming doors became the norm.”
But Sherlock can’t find it in him to smile in return. Not if Rosie decides she doesn’t want him in their lives anymore. And why would she, after that kind of betrayal? No, it seems he’s not done paying his penance for the choice he made.
“Hey. Talk to me. What’s going on in that brain of yours,” John murmurs, hands resting on Sherlock’s waist to ground him. As if to say I’m here.
Sherlock doesn’t deserve him.
“I suppose I could go to a hotel for the night. Night manager of The Savoy owes me a favor.”
John frowns and shakes his head. “What are you talking about?”
“Rosie. She probably won’t want me around tonight. Or anymore - ”
“I don’t really blame her. I wouldn’t want me around either. You didn’t, when I first came back.”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down.” John’s hands on his waist tighten, forehead creasing in incredulity. “That was different. Sherlock, you can’t just leave. This is your home. We are your family.”
“Easy for you to say.”
John takes a step back, yet his fingers remained entangled with his shirt. “What? Why?”
“She’s your daughter - ”
“Our daughter,” he snaps.
“John, you know what I mean.”
“No, actually I don’t.” He chuckles, but it contains no humor. “Because I have pretty clear memories of you signing adoption papers with her name on them. In fact, I’ve got a copy of them in the safe if you need a refresher.”
Sherlock shakes his head. “I hurt her father.”
“You saved her father!” John shouts, finally letting go, turning away, and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Jesus, Sherlock, I can’t keep having this fight with you. I feel like - like I’m on a carnival ride and I can’t get off.”
“Do you want to?” He curses his voice for how small it sounds. How vulnerable.
“You tell me,” John simply replies with a little reproach, but no recrimination. “You’re the one who wants to leave.”
“I don’t. I really… really don’t.”
John sighs and steps forward, placing a hand in the center of Sherlock’s chest and pushing him into his chair. This is what they do. Something emotional happens, Sherlock spins out and John reins him back in.
He crouches down in front of Sherlock, grunting as his knees pop, and places his warm palms on Sherlock’s thighs.
“Who put this ring on my finger?” He holds up his left hand and the early evening sunlight catches on the platinum.
“Yep.” He nods at Sherlock’s left hand. “And who put that one on yours?”
He sighs, feeling the knot in his chest already loosening. “You did.”
“Right. Now…” John shifts his weight and rests forward on his knees, bringing him in between Sherlock’s, “our daughter is upstairs, frightened and angry because she doesn’t understand what she’s read. She’s got the news telling her her father died. Committed suicide in front of her other father.”
Sherlock inhales sharply and John presses his knuckles to his lips as if to soften the blow of the reminder.
“She needs us right now. She needs you. So no more silly talk of The Savoy. Unless you want to save that favor for our anniversary,” he says with a wink which draws a chuckle out of Sherlock.
They stare at each other until Sherlock pulls his husband in and gently captures his lips. It’s soft and sweet and everything Sherlock needs. He rests his forehead against John’s and just breathes for a moment. They’ll have to talk to Rosie, a path that no doubt will have to be paved by John first, and so he takes a moment to savor the calm before the storm.
“Wish me luck,” John murmurs, placing another quick kiss to Sherlock’s lips before standing with a grunt.
“You’re going in there unarmed?”
“What, you think I need my gun to face our eight-year-old?”
“God no. Time to bring in the heavy artillery,” Sherlock replies, pulling out his phone and dialing Angelo’s.
John braces himself as he climbs the stairs to the room that used to be his, back when he was just a shadow of a man, slowly allowing a detective to breathe life into him.
“Rosie? Love, I have dinner.” He taps the door with his elbow, since one hand is occupied with a plate and the other with a glass of water.
He hears a sniff through the door and a garbled, “I’m not hungry.”
Expecting that response, he bends down and allows the scent of homemade tomato sauce to waft under the door.
“You sure? I have Angelo’s spaghetti and meatballs.”
There’s a slight pause before she asks, “With garlic bread?”
“Obviously.” And he knows he’s got her. Ever since she was two, she could never resist the pull of Angelo’s spaghetti, most of which ended up on the floor or in her hair at that age, but still. “May I come in?” The door isn’t locked, he could walk in if he wants to, but they have an open door policy and with that policy comes trust.
“Yeah, all right.”
He opens the door to find his daughter curled up on the bed, facing away from him. He sits down on the edge of the mattress and places the plate and glass on her side table.
She remains silent, though, and he nudges her hip as he toes his shoes off.
“Come on, sweetheart. Don’t make me eat this on my own.”
He hears her stomach grumble and he can’t help but giggle. She joins him a second later, rolling over and burying her heated face in the pillow.
“You’ve been betrayed, my love.”
“Transport,” she groans and he snorts, always loving when he sees a trace of Sherlock in their daughter. He reaches out and squeezes her ankle and they just stare at each other for a moment. A habit of theirs.
“Are you okay?” he eventually asks and she blinks, hooking a curl over her ear.
He quirks a smile. It’s a little bit sad. “It was a long time ago, darling.”
She narrows her eyes and, just like with his husband, he feels like he’s being flayed open. Gently, but thoroughly.
“No it wasn’t. Not really,” she says and it’s so deep and unexpected that it throws him for a moment.
He clears his throat and climbs onto the bed and settling against the headboard, pulling the plate into his lap and twirling a few strands of pasta around the fork.
“No, not really. Not always. Sometimes it still feels very recent.” He holds the utensil out and she sits up and bites it readily, settling next to him as she thoughtfully chews.
“Why did he do it?”
John leans down and presses a kiss into her hair. “That’s not my story to tell.”
She opens her mouth expectantly and he rolls his eyes but spears a piece of meatball for her. “How did he do it?” she asks, mouth full. “The paper said he jumped from the roof.”
John swallows hard and nods. Rosie’s chewing slows, eyes softening, before resting her head on his shoulder.
“You don’t have to tell me.”
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t know. I never asked.”
“You didn’t?” she asks, tone indignant at the thought of an unsolved mystery. She is so like Sherlock, it sometimes makes John’s chest hurt. She may be the spitting image of him, but she is most definitely theirs.
He shakes his head and takes a sip of the water he brought. “I didn’t care about the how. I cared about the why.”
“But that’s not your story to tell.”
“No, it’s not. But the person to whom it belongs is willing to answer any question you ask, whenever you’re ready.”
She sobers, but nods after a moment, pulling the plate from John’s lap so she can twirl her own pasta.
“How did you find the article anyway?” he asks and she stiffens, the fork halting its rather graceful if messy pirouette. He frowns and tilts his head in an attempt to catch her eye. “Rosie?”
She sighs, as if whatever she’s about to reveal was inevitable in its unveiling. “Maeve Berensford.”
“Maeve? The Maeve from your class?”
The massive eye roll he gets in response is answer enough.
“She hates me.”
“What? Why?” John is indignant. After all, how could anyone hate this perfect being who’s currently violently spearing a meatball with a perfect Sherlockian pout?
“She’s jealous because my parents are somewhat famous and hers are nothing but social climbers who can’t seem to break into the higher echelon of society.”
John snorts. “You’ve been spending too much time with Uncle Mycroft.”
She smiles at him and offers him a bite of meatball. He chomps down and she goes back to twirling the pasta. “She sent it to me,” she spits. “Texted, ‘What do you think of your perfect dads now?”
John clenches his left hand in an effort to keep from strangling something until Rosie looks up at him with wide eyes.
“Please don’t tell Papa.”
“Love, if you’re being bullied, he’d want to know.”
“You know how he gets,” she murmurs and John does. He’ll probably order Mycroft to pull background on the Berensford family as far back as three generations, before randomly showing up at school to stare menacingly at the poor girl. It’s happened before and Lucas Halsley never recovered (not that the little shit deserved to, smearing mud all over his baby girl).
“Okay,” he acquiesces and she goes back to the spaghetti. He’s content to just watch her for a time, letting her take the lead on how the rest of this evening will go.
“Daddy?” she eventually says and his stomach flips. She doesn’t call him that as often anymore. He didn’t realize he missed it as desperately as he does.
She rests her head back on his shoulder and grabs his hand, fingers toying with the ring that resides there. “You… forgave Papa, right?”
“Of course I did, sweetheart. I love him.”
“But what he did to you was…” She trails off, but not before her voice betrays her.
He gets an arm around around her while removing the plate from her lap and depositing it on the table once more so he can pull her in tight.
“It was bad, love. But he had his reasons, which he’ll tell you about.”
“Did it have to do with The Work?”
“It did,” he murmurs, pressing another kiss in her hair and inhaling the scent of her vanilla shampoo. She knows all about the cases they take and the clients that come and go, though they try to keep the more grisly aspects of the job well away from her prying eyes and eavesdropping ears.
“Will he - will he do it again?”
She threads her fingers through his much larger hand. “Disappear?”
“No,” he states firmly. “He’ll do absolutely anything if it means protecting us. Protecting you. But no, he won’t disappear.”
She looks down to hide the tears that are about to spill over. “How do you know?”
He takes a finger and places it under her chin, forcing her gaze to meet his and catching one of the droplets with his thumb.
“Because he promised me. And a very long time ago, when you were small enough to fit from his elbow to his palm, he promised you too.”
The glasses John convinced him to get are making more and more of an appearance these days, particularly towards the end of stressful, strained evening when he needs to focus on a journal or a slide, but can’t quite make his eyes cooperate.
He glances up at the ceiling as he turns another page in last month’s New Scientist. It’s been terribly quiet upstairs - no yelling or crying or smashing of glass. He supposes that has to count for something.
He had retired to their room just under an hour ago, when it became clear that John wouldn’t be returning for quite some time. Their leftovers from Angelo’s have long since gone cold on the kitchen table, neither of them having much of an appetite when Angelo himself dropped off their order.
He sighs as guilt gnaws at his gut. He’s left John to do the dirty work, but Sherlock would be right up there with him if he thought he’d be welcome -
“Papa?” Her voice is small and yet he starts, having been so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t hear her come down the stairs. Then again, she also knows where every creaky plank of wood is so she’s gotten good at being stealthy. He’s taught her well.
“Yes, Rosamund?” He’s not one for endearments. They fall off John’s tongue so much easier.
The door creaks open then and her blonde head pokes through the crack. He offers her a small (and hopefully encouraging) smile, which she hesitantly returns as she steps further into the room. John is not behind her and he hears the telltale ding of the microwave a moment later. It gives him hope that things have gone well if he’s gotten his appetite back.
Rosie stands there shuffling her weight back and forth. He had read the article she stumbled upon; one which called him a liar and a fraud and only too gleefully detailed the gore that was left on the pavement outside of Barts. But perhaps most damning of all was the depiction of John, the heartbroken friend, left behind to suffer through the theories and pay for the consequences of Sherlock's many inadequacies.
“You have questions for me,” he softly states and she glances up then before nodding slowly.
He scoots over on the bed and pats the space beside him. She hesitates but for a moment, yet it’s enough to break his already shattered heart. She opts for sitting cross-legged on the end of the bed, toying with a loose thread on the blanket that lives there for nights when they get cold. He closes the magazine and places it on the side table along with the glasses, folding his hands in his lap and waiting for her to make the first move.
“I don’t know what to ask,” she murmurs after a long, tense moment.
He inhales. “Well, your father used to always break it down into two categories - ”
“The how and the why,” she interrupts and he can’t help but smile.
“Yes. The question is: which is more important to you? That’s where we’ll start.”
She stares at him with John’s eyes and he’s always had trouble withstanding the unbelievable force of the gaze that could level mountains.
“I thought it would be the ‘how,” she reasons and Sherlock smiles softly at how alike his daughter and husband are.
“Yes, that seemed to be the only answer anyone wanted…”
“Except for Daddy.”
“Except for Daddy,” he confirms. He hasn’t referred to John as that in years. When it slowed in Rosie’s vocabulary, it fell out of Sherlock’s altogether.
He stares at her for a moment longer as she picks at the fringe on the throw and studiously inspects a stain on the quilt that thankfully is only coffee from last Sunday’s breakfast in bed. She deserves the truth. Well, she deserves many things, but the truth above all. That he owes her and that he can give her.
“Rosamund, I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. You’re old enough to know the facts. Perhaps not in all things, but in this, yes.”
She nods and bites her bottom lip, looking more and more like John bracing for battle. His chest warms.
“You’ve heard of a man named Moriarty.”
She begins to look confused, but he holds up his hand.
“Watson, I know you’ve been compiling a journal of cases relating to him based on scraps of what you overhear, so please don’t play coy with me.”
She reddens, but smiles and he beams at her in pride. But the truth of what he’s about to do, of what he’s about to reveal, has the grin sliding from his face. He clears his throat and meets her eyes. Into battle.
“Nearly twelve years ago, a man named Jim Moriarty started a case that nearly ended my career and my life. He had kidnapped some children and pointed all of the clues at me.”
“In a sense,” he concedes. “It wasn’t so obvious. But if someone thought about it, truly looked at it, it would all seem very suspicious. Moriarty loved his mind games.”
“How did you end up on the roof?” Her voice is so small that he finds himself reaching for her, getting a warm palm around her ankle, the only part of her he can easily reach.
“Long story short, Moriarty wanted to destroy me. My reputation. My life. He tricked me, I’m loathe to admit.”
Her eyes widen, because she knows it’s not often that someone tricks Sherlock Holmes, and he nods.
“Yes, he was very good. He had me meet him on that roof - ”
“Where was Daddy?”
Clever girl. Even she knows John wouldn’t let him go anywhere dangerous on his own.
“I had to send him away. To protect him. I wanted him as far away from Moriarty as I could get him.”
“You loved him then.”
He quirks a smile. She knows their history and the story of how they got together. She knows the vaguest details of Mary’s past and that it caught up with her. So far, she hasn’t shown much interest in the woman who gave birth to her. John and Sherlock haven’t exactly encouraged it either, but he expects that will be the next conversation for him to dread now that this one has been ticked off.
“I’ve loved him always.”
But the response he expects is not what he gets as her eyes narrow and tears collect in the corners, threatening to spill once more. She may not know it, but it’s the most potent weapon she has against the world’s only consulting detective.
“You made him watch,” she accuses.
And this is the first time Sherlock nearly breaks, throat clicking as he tries to swallow around the lump there. “He wasn’t supposed to. I... I sent him away, but he came back, because Daddy is smart.” Pretty damn smart. “He wasn’t supposed to see any of that.”
And this time, Sherlock gets a hand around her wrist and gently tugs her towards him. She goes willingly, nearly tumbling into his arms as he hikes her up against his side and buries his nose in her hair.
“If I didn’t jump, Moriarty would have killed your father. Do you know what a sniper is?” He feels her nods against him. “He had snipers on Daddy, Nana, and Uncle Greg.”
“All of them?”
“All of them.”
“I had to make it seem like I had died so they would live. I never wanted your father to see what he did, but selfishly, it allowed me to speak to him once more. It was a comfort, hearing his voice. It was the last time I heard it for two years.”
It's only the gist, but the gist will have to do. He doesn't have the energy for details tonight.
“What happened while you were away?” she asks quietly and he can feel her rapid heartbeat against his side.
He inhales sharply, still feeling the phantom ache of his wounds even after all these years. “That’s, I think, a story for a different time.”
“When I’m older?”
He thinks of the scars on his back and the nightmares that leave him drenched in sweat and reaching for John in the night.
“Indeed.” He presses a kiss into her hair to soften the blow of withheld information and she gets a tiny arm across his stomach, holding him tight. As if he’s the one who needs comfort. Perhaps he does. “What you need to know, Rosie, is that if I hadn’t gone away, your father might not have met your mother, and then we wouldn’t have you. I regret many things I’ve done in my life, but I cannot bring myself to regret that he is safe. And I can’t regret that we have you. You’re my daughter and I wouldn’t trade you for the world.”
She nods and holds him tighter, and if her tears begin to seep through his shirt over the scar given to him by the woman who birthed her, he doesn’t say a word.
John decides that an hour’s worth of space is enough to poke his head in and when he does, it’s all he can do not to pull out his phone and snap a picture. The two people he loves most in all this world are curled together on the bed, Rosie’s smaller body fitting perfectly in Sherlock’s long limbs, dried tears on both on their faces.
Feeling drained, but lighter, John puts away the takeaway, locks the doors, and turns out the lights. There will be time enough to make Sherlock eat in the morning. To get Rosie out of their bed (because he's certainly not waking her now) and ready for school. To watch his husband quiz their daughter about the periodic table over eggs and toast before ushering her out the door with a reminder that Uncle Mycroft will be monitoring her progress via CCTV.
And only then, in the quiet of the flat, will John maybe, possibly tell Sherlock about Maeve Berensford. His husband's reaction is bound to be colorful, and will no doubt involve an aborted storming of the headmaster’s office and a phone call to Mycroft or two. And John will let him rant and rave and threaten and terrorize, if only so he can rein him back in with a quiet word and a cuddle. A whispered reminder of how far they’ve come and all they’ve survived to get there.
After all, Sherlock’s protective streak is not something to be trifled with. And John would happily watch him scorch the earth if it meant being together at the end of the world.