John is holding Rosie's hand when she catches sight of the dog. They are standing a few paces from where Sherlock is regarding a shattered shop window with his particular keen focus, bobbing his head, craning his neck, running careful gloved fingers along the frame.
"Dog," Rosie says, and tugs on his hand, and then, when he doesn't immediately react, she tugs and twists with increasing desperation. "Dog, dog, Daddy, dog!"
Sherlock stops moving, and John can see from the sudden stiff line of his back that his focus has shifted entirely from the window to the child currently moments away from a full tantrum on the pavement.
"Shh," John says, desperate, and when that does not quiet her, he turns his head, looking for the source of her sudden misery.
There is a woman waiting at the edge of the kerb, bundled up against the chill in a long coat. She is holding a leash, looking down at a small terrier sniffing the ground beside her.
Sensing her father's attention has shifted, Rosie grows even more frantic, flailing now, yanking on his hand. "Dog! DOG! DOGGIE!"
"Shit," John murmurs to himself, takes a firmer grasp on Rosie's hand. He looks back over his shoulder at Sherlock, who is still paying close attention but clearly trying to look like he isn't. He turns his attention to the woman, who has now noticed Rosie (Christ, how could she not?) and is smiling faintly in their direction.
"She can say hello," the woman says. "He's friendly."
And so John lets Rosie lead him at a stumbling run towards the dog, and he holds her hand and reminds her to be gentle, and the dog sniffs at her outstretched fingers and gives them a lick.
"Say thank you," he says.
"Thank you," Rosie says obediently, her eyes never once leaving the dog.
The light changes.
"She's lovely," the woman says. "Have a nice day."
The woman gives a gentle tug on the leash, and she and the dog step into the crosswalk. John and Rosie watch them go.
When he turns back, Sherlock is watching them.
"Sorry," John says.
Sherlock turns back towards the window, which had been broken the night before in an apparent robbery. John's not sure why he finds it so interesting. It looks no different from any other broken window.
Still, he knows his role, and he steps into it.
"Probably just—kids, yeah? Smash the window, grab some cash, run off?"
And John smiles, because this is what they do, and he loves it.
"Great pains have been taken to make this look like a crime of opportunity, John," Sherlock says.
"So it was planned," he says. Rosie stands quiet at his side, no longer fussing, her own eyes rapt on Sherlock. She seems to enjoy when he spins off into a deduction, giggles at his silent lapses and abrupt vocalizations, is mesmerized by the way he moves and gestures.
John can understand that. He finds himself much the same.
And later, when it's the shop owner himself being bundled off by New Scotland Yard, his own larger crimes having been exposed by a carefully staged robbery, after they return to Baker Street for dinner and post-case conversation, after Rosie has fallen asleep on the sofa with her hair tumbling over her face and one chubby cheek mashed against a throw pillow, John will think to himself that this is when he feels most at home.
He will not want to rouse his daughter and take her out into the chill of the night. He will not want to look over his shoulder and see Sherlock in the window, as he always is, with his violin. He will not want to ride the Tube back to the quiet little house he shares with his daughter and the memory of his dead wife.
But he will do it, because that is where they live, and that is what he does.
He is at Baker Street on an unremarkable autumn afternoon when he receives a call from the surgery, asking if he'd mind coming in to cover an emergency shift. He leaves Rosie with Sherlock, who is intent on his experiments. She sits cross-legged on a kitchen chair, watching him with wide eyes.
It is only a few days past her third birthday, and he catches himself, sometimes, marvelling at how much she's grown.
So he stands, and he marvels, and then he goes to work.
When he returns, hours later, takeaway bag in hand, the flat is empty.
He is too accustomed to Sherlock by now, after all this time, to succumb to immediate panic. He sets the bag down on the kitchen table, goes back out into the hall, looks down the stairs.
The coat hooks are empty. Sherlock's coat, and Rosie's, are both gone.
A planned outing, then.
Sherlock can be single-minded and careless at times, but he wouldn't take Rosie out on a case without discussing it with John. He knows that, deep down, the way that he knows that Sherlock will never see her harmed.
Sherlock is not much for shopping, and he'd sooner shout down to Mrs Hudson for a sandwich than take Rosie somewhere for lunch.
That leaves one option, and a fairly good one, so John goes back down the stairs and out the door and walks the short distance to Regent's Park.
It does not take him very long to find them, and he stops walking, watches.
Rosie and Sherlock are sat on a bench under a canopy of trees that are turning the most lovely shades of orange and yellow—Sherlock in his coat, and Rosie in hers.
She has a book open in her lap, and is concentrating fiercely, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. She has a pencil gripped in one chubby hand, and she looks up from the book to stare across the path at something—John follows her gaze to an elderly man walking a dog.
She looks from the dog to Sherlock and back to the dog. Says something. Sherlock leans down and says something in her ear. She curls herself over the book, pressing the pencil down, makes a mark. Sits up again, looks at Sherlock, hesitant.
He smiles. She smiles back, giggles. Points at the dog.
John cannot stand still any longer. He crosses towards them, chest aching. It is a pleasant ache.
Rosie sees him first and leaps to her feet, ready to bolt towards him. The book slides from her lap, forgotten.
Sherlock stands up in alarm, one hand on her shoulder, and relaxes when he sees John. He lets her go. She runs across the path, flings herself into his arms.
He picks her up, bounces her a bit. The air is crisp, and her cheeks are red. He kisses the side of her head, her tousled blonde hair.
"Dog," she says, squirming a bit in his arms, craning to look over his shoulder.
He turns. A woman with an Alsatian has stopped by Sherlock's bench. He is petting the dog, careful, firm strokes through its dark fur.
John watches them for a moment, bemused. The woman has adopted a flirtatious pose, is leaning in, talking animatedly. She is smiling, touching her hair. Sherlock is ignoring her every word.
She reaches out, puts her hand on his shoulder. Smiles. He stops petting the dog, looks up. Stares at her. She continues to speak. His attention slowly drifts, his eyes seeking and then finding John's gaze over her shoulder. He looks faintly alarmed.
John takes pity. He sets Rosie on the ground, lets her tug him by the hand back towards the bench. They make enough noise approaching that the woman turns to watch them.
Rosie sticks her hand out towards the dog, and John tugs her back. "Rosie," he says, stern.
She pouts, looks at him for a moment. Looks back at the dog, and then at the woman holding the leash.
"Can I pet?" she asks, voice gone shy and mumbly the way it does, sometimes, with strangers.
"Of course," the woman says. "Just be gentle with him."
And Rosie stands still and sticks out her hand, the way that John had showed her to, fingers curled, knuckles facing out, not too close, letting the dog edge closer to sniff. The big dog whuffs out a breath and she giggles. It licks her face.
"Rosie," John says.
She looks up at the woman, a quick, furtive look. Her eyes slide away. "Thank you," she mumbles. Then she turns and buries her face against Sherlock's leg.
The woman blinks. Looks at Sherlock, looks at John. "Oh," she says. She shakes her head, smiles a little. Looks back at Rosie. "You're welcome, little one." She looks back at John. "Enjoy your day."
He does not correct her obvious assumption as she moves away, the dog trotting happily by her side.
Sherlock, he notes, is watching her go.
No, he corrects himself a moment later. Sherlock is watching the dog go.
Rosie climbs into Sherlock's lap, buries her head against his shoulder. Sherlock brings one hand up to rub absently at her back, over the pink wool of her coat.
He'd thought the coat too formal for daily wear when she'd first spotted it on the rack. A double-breasted greatcoat, light pink, with a wide collar. But she'd seemed so in love with it, and when he let her try it on, she'd stood in front of the mirror and done a clumsy little spin, clapping her hands in front of her like Sherlock receiving news of a gruesome murder, the coat fanning out behind her, and he had been lost.
John reaches past Sherlock to pick up the book that Rosie had discarded in her earlier excitement. It is a field guide of sorts, photographs and descriptions of various dog breeds. Rosie has carefully marked an X in pencil next to several entries. Below them, in his distinctive hand, Sherlock has written in the dates.
His heart thumps hard in his chest. He wants nothing more than to sit down next to Sherlock on the bench, Sherlock who is cradling his daughter like she is his own, like he loves her. He wants to sit down next to Sherlock and lean against the warmth of him, turn his head, kiss him and kiss him and kiss him.
He thinks he has, likely, always wanted some variation of this. He's learned to live with his inaction.
Sherlock looks up at him, his skin painted golden in the setting sun, beneath the spray of vivid leaves. He smiles, a small smile, but a genuine one.
"I brought takeaway," John says. He closes the book, tucks it under his arm.
Sherlock nudges Rosie, and she clambers down from the bench. He stands. Stretches.
They set off at a slow walk. John lets himself fall a stride behind and watches them, Sherlock and Rosie, as they move side by side. She steals glances, he notes, and when Sherlock reaches to flip up the collar of his coat, she mimics the motion with her own.
After that day, he is unable to stop noticing.
Sherlock, aloof and untouchable Sherlock, his hand casually outstretched to the side to scratch at a velvety ear, to accept a sniff from a curious muzzle.
He does not make a show of it, does not crouch down and babble at them, but he quietly and carefully acknowledges almost every dog they see.
John wonders if he has always done it, in that peculiar way he has, almost like sleight of hand. Walking, talking, thinking, deducing. One hand occasionally dipping down out of sight to graze over soft passing fur.
He had wondered where Rosie had picked up her affinity for dogs. He'd never really been one for pets, and though Mary had made half-hearted inquiries into getting a cat in their early courtship, the timing had not quite worked out.
Now he knows.
They catch a bank robber and a murderous circus clown in the same week.
The clown's nose squeaks, loudly, when John tackles him to the pavement and he cannot stop laughing, cannot stop himself from doubling over, his shoulders shaking with it.
Sherlock cuffs the suspect and then he is laughing too, his head thrown back, and it is good to share laughter in the dark, it feels like something long missing has finally slotted back into place.
They hand the suspect off to Lestrade and walk home, laughing, stumbling against one another like drunks. They are drunk, in a way, John supposes, though on adrenaline and endorphins rather than alcohol.
They cut through an alleyway, one of many shortcuts that Sherlock has stored away somewhere in his brain. John stumbles over an empty beer bottle, kicks it away. It clatters, startlingly loud in the darkness.
"Shh," Sherlock says, but he is smiling.
A dog barks. Close.
Sherlock tilts his head to look for it, and John watches him. Watches the gleam of his pale neck in the darkness, the furrow of his brows, the intent expression that smooths out when he glimpses his quarry.
John follows his gaze to a window high above, a dog leaping against the glass, barking. The dog is small, its bark fierce.
"Bet its bark is worse than its bite, yeah?" John says, grinning a little.
"Oh, I don't know," Sherlock says. "It might surprise you."
He turns away. John follows. Behind them, the dog barks and barks and barks.
They emerge from the alleyway onto Baker Street. Sherlock pauses, looks down at John.
He is lovely under the streetlamps, John thinks. It is only with some effort that he manages to drag himself away.
He had thought Sherlock amazing, fantastic, brilliant on that very first day, and has spent the years stretched between that moment and this one carefully shielding his heart. He has not always been successful.
It is improbable, he thinks, that they should both still be here. All of the things that have gone wrong, all of the times they've left each other, by choice and by circumstance. They have emerged on the other side, battle-scarred and weary, but alive.
And Sherlock, battle-scarred and weary, is lovely. And John loves him.
They pause once more to giggle against the door before making their way gracelessly inside. They leave their coats in the hall and keep quiet on the stairs, not wanting to disturb Mrs Hudson or Rosie.
John's shoulders are again shaking with suppressed mirth.
He follows Sherlock into the sitting room and thinks he may be able to hold it together, but then he thinks again of the sharp squeak the nose made when it impacted the ground and he snorts, chokes, starts laughing all over again.
Sherlock looks at him, mouth twitching.
John had thought him lovely under the streetlamps, earlier, but he is even lovelier now in the warm golden lamplight, comfortable and at home, pleased and open.
They are kissing before he can wrap his mind around it, before he can even properly determine who moved first, who stepped towards who. They are kissing and he is no longer laughing; instead his heart feels as though it could burst from his chest.
Sherlock is warm and solid and his nose is cold but his lips are soft, at once eager and tentative. He kisses like he doesn't quite know what to do with himself, his hands curled tight around John's upper arms, holding him in place.
A horn blares somewhere nearby, and the outside world comes crashing back in. Someone shouts from the street. Another horn honks.
Blood roars in John's ears. His heart thuds against his chest. His face burns, his lips tingle. He looks up at Sherlock, clears his throat, takes a half step back.
Sherlock's eyes are closed. He opens them slowly, as if dazed. His pupils are huge and dark in the dim light. He blinks once, and then again. He looks at once elated and terrified, his face flushed, and John could die happy, here in this moment, having got to see him like this.
He had thought any chance they'd ever had for this had come and gone long ago.
He wonders, now, if he's been wrong.
Sherlock takes a deep breath, looks down at his feet. He seems to be trying to school his expression. When he looks up, he seems impassive.
But John knows him, can read the wild discomposure that thrums just below the placid surface.
He wants to reach out, to tug Sherlock back into his arms. Wants to kiss him again. Wants to bury his face against Sherlock's neck and breathe him in. Wants to undress him, wants to slide reverent hands along smooth warm skin. Wants to hear what kind of sounds he can tease out of Sherlock, wants to feel the thunder of his heartbeat, the stuttered gasp of unsteady breaths.
The force of it terrifies him, paralyses him, and instead of moving forward he brings one hand up to rub uncomfortably at the back of his neck, shifts where he stands, feeling like an awkward schoolboy.
Sherlock watches him, and then he moves his head, the tiniest of nods.
"Good night, John," he says.
He very carefully does not touch John as he moves past, not even a brush of his sleeve. He disappears into his bedroom, closes the door.
John stands in the sitting room for much longer than necessary. He stares at Sherlock's bedroom door and wonders what might happen if he were to knock, if he were to let himself in.
Instead, he takes himself upstairs, to the room that used to be his. It is bare of his things, but the bed is freshly turned down with clean sheets, bless you, Mrs Hudson, and he falls back against it with a sigh.
He sleeps well. But then, he always had, back when he called Baker Street home.
They do not talk about it.
He cannot imagine how such a conversation would go, anyway.
He finds himself worrying over Sherlock, from time to time. He is not sure why. Sherlock is two years clean, and healthy, and seems more content than John has ever known him to be. Rosie adores him. The feeling appears mutual.
And yet it troubles him, when he takes his leave of Baker Street, when he heads out into the night with Rosie bundled up in his arms, when he looks back over his shoulder to see Sherlock silhouetted in the window, tall and proud and so very solitary.
He tells himself that Sherlock has always preferred being alone, and then he tells himself that he is full of shit, Sherlock hates being alone. Sherlock hates being alone so much he constructs elaborate conversations with people in his head.
He is not sure why he feels guilty over that, but he does.
Alone protects me, Sherlock had said, once.
John thinks that may have been true. A long time ago, perhaps. A good many terrible things have happened to Sherlock, simply by virtue of the fact that he is not alone. But any truth the statement once held has been lost, because Sherlock's armour has been battered to bits over the years—cracked open on the pavement under a grey sky; then dashed, once against the still-shining floor in a posh restaurant, and then again on a cold morgue floor.
Alone does not protect Sherlock, and Sherlock hates being alone.
He worries at it in his mind. Constantly. At work, on the Tube, at the playground with Rosie, jogging a half step behind Sherlock down narrow London streets, sharing a meal in the warm comfort of Baker Street.
There is nothing to be done. He has his life, he has his sensible little house in a sensible neighborhood, has his sensible job at the surgery and his less sensible but vastly more rewarding role as Sherlock's assistant and blogger and friend. He has his daughter.
He is fairly sure that Sherlock would say yes without hesitation if he turned up at the door with a suitcase in his hand and Rosie on his hip. But—
Too much time has passed since he was a bachelor looking for a flatshare.
There is no permanent place for John Watson, widower and single father, amidst the clutter and chaos of 221B. Sherlock has made allowances for him, for Rosie. He can see it in the way that Sherlock keeps his more gruesome and toxic experiments safely hidden away, the way he will pause in the midst of an excited deduction to lower his voice so that he doesn't disturb her nap, the way he patiently explains things to her, answers her questions even if they're repeated. The way he'll bring puzzles to distract her if she accompanies them to a crime scene, the way he'll make arrangements in advance for Mrs Hudson to look after her if he thinks there might be trouble.
Rosie is, without a doubt, the product of John and Mary. She is clever and stubborn and prone to fits of temper, a whirlwind of activity and energy and red-faced tantrums.
Sherlock is infinitely patient, restrained and kind, and John can only imagine he must breathe a sigh of relief when he is free of them at last.
He is fairly sure that Sherlock would say yes to him because Sherlock is lonely. That Sherlock would consent to the messiness and unpredictability of integrating his vastly unsuitable life with a child just gone three years old in exchange for having someone to pass him his phone from time to time and listen to him ramble about cigarette ash.
He can't do that to Sherlock. Not when Sherlock has already given up so much of himself for John.
So he worries. And he ruminates. And he wonders what he will do if Sherlock ever finds someone other than John to keep him company.
He wants to kiss Sherlock again. He wants to talk about it. He is unsure how to go about doing either, and so he does neither.
Autumn slips by, and the golden leaves tumble from the trees, lie in sodden piles below naked branches. Rosie slowly, painstakingly marks off more dog breeds in her field guide.
She babbles about dogs constantly, a steady, cheerful stream of chatter. She has found a willing audience in Sherlock, who never cuts her short, but instead offers his own observations and gentle corrections on pronunciation.
He thinks of Sherlock speaking of Redbeard, he was my dog, and the dull hurt in his voice as he'd done so. He thinks of the numb sick horror he'd felt, after the real truth had come out, and how his own shock could never come close to what Sherlock must have felt.
He thinks of Sherlock's way with that sweet, useless bloodhound he'd once dragged them halfway around London for. How Sherlock had crouched down and spoken softly to the dog, rubbed its ears, forgiven it its failures.
He sleeps poorly, tosses and turns in the bed he used to share with Mary. His house is too quiet, even with Rosie's whirlwind energy. Everything is neatly in its place. There is no clutter. There are no surprises.
He has steady work at the surgery, a continuous stream of cases with Sherlock, evenings at Baker Street with Sherlock and Rosie—takeaway and crap telly and Mrs Hudson slipping in with trays of tea and biscuits.
He is at once more comfortable than he's been in years, and more miserable.
"It's just the saddest thing, Dr Watson, it really is."
He looks up, focuses on his patient. She is staring at the wall, lips pressed in an unhappy line.
"Sorry," he says, because his mind was miles away. "What is?"
"Well, I just don't know what we're going to do with the poor creature."
He shakes his head, at a loss. She shifts on the exam table, the paper crinkling underneath her.
"Sorry," he says again. "Sorry—what? What creature?"
She turns her head to look at him. "My sister's dog. They've found a buyer for the farm—taking all of the sheep. But no one wants the dog. It's not his fault, the poor dear, but I can't blame anyone for not wanting to take him on. He's absolute rubbish at herding sheep."
John blinks at her, bemused, wonders how long she has been talking before he paid her any attention. It occurs to him that he ought to feel guilty for that.
So he finds himself leaning over to look at her phone, where she is scrolling through several pictures of the most pitiful-looking creature he's ever seen. It is lean and long, this dog, with tangled black and white fur. Its face is narrow and keen, ears pricked, but it—
"What happened to his eye?"
"Accident when he was a puppy. Only a few weeks old when he lost it. Dreadful," she sniffs, and scrolls to the next photo. "He's really quite sweet, you know."
"I'm sure," John says, leaning back. There is nothing grotesque about the dog's eye, nothing that looks painful or worrisome. There is just a small knot of scar tissue around which the fur has grown in nicely. "Well, good luck finding him a home. I'm sure someone will—" he pauses, shrugs.
She smiles faintly, puts the phone away.
"What's his name, then?" John asks, finally.
"Buc," she says. "Well. Buccaneer. Silly name, I know, but my sister has always been fanciful that way."
He stares at her for a moment. Thinks to himself bad idea, and then thinks but the universe is rarely so lazy.
And so he says: "Actually, I might be—do you think I could meet him?"
John is just finishing up a shift when his phone buzzes with a sequence of incoming texts.
Triple poisoning in Mayfair.
Child's party in back garden of house next door.
They have a bouncy castle. SH
He reads them. Reads them again. Bursts out laughing, puts his head in his hands.
Only Sherlock, he thinks, with no small measure of affection.
Double shift today, you'll have to manage without me, he lies, sends his response.
He finishes his paperwork, shuts down his computer, locks up his office. Goes out into the crisp autumn air.
Buccaneer is friendly. He wags his tail and sniffs John's palm and rolls over for belly rubs, tongue lolling out. John scratches him gently. His fur is silky soft.
"All right," John says, after a time. He stands up. His knees pop.
The dog jumps to his feet, looks up at him with his one keen eye. John accepts the leash, and the half-empty bag of kibble, the well-chewed stuffed sheep with the busted squeaker.
They go out into the fading daylight together. John opens the back door to his car and Buccaneer jumps in without complaint.
He climbs behind the wheel and regards the dog in the rear view mirror. Wonders if he has made a terrible mistake.
Rosie is delighted to play the role of co-conspirator.
She alternates between ruffling Buccaneer's fur and running to the windows to peer down at Baker Street below. John busies himself picking up small objects from the floor and clearing the kitchen table of anything that looks remotely dangerous.
Bad idea, he thinks to himself. This was a bad idea.
"Bu-uc," Rosie sing-songs, and the dog goes to her willingly enough. He is relaxed and good-tempered, and Rosie is careful not to approach him from his blind side. She keeps a small hand on the top of his head while she cranes her neck to peer out the window.
John supposes it might not be a terrible thing to keep him, if it doesn't work out with Sherlock. He's not home much, which isn't ideal for a pet. But Rosie would like—
"SHERLOCK!" Rosie shrieks, and she whirls away from the window. "Daddy, he's here!"
"Right," John says, suddenly feeling wrong-footed, ill-prepared. "Er—stay," he says to the dog, who regards him with a tilted head.
Rosie takes his hand, drags him towards the door.
"He's here, he's here, he's here!" she chants.
He shuts the door behind him as they step out onto the landing, and he listens for a moment, wondering if the dog will take his absence as a signal to unleash chaos on the furniture. He hears nothing but a muffled whine.
He hoists Rosie into his arms, because it still makes him nervous to see her on those narrow steep stairs. They've timed it perfectly, are stepping out onto Baker Street just as Sherlock is stepping up to the door.
Sherlock stops, blinks at them.
"I—" he frowns, looks down at the ground, back up at John. "Thought you had a double shift at the surgery."
Rosie giggles, makes a little humming noise, turns her face into John's neck. She is an enthusiastic co-conspirator for sure, but terrible at keeping a secret.
"Turns out they didn't need me," John says.
Sherlock regards him with some suspicion. Looks at the door, back at John, then to Rosie, who is still thrumming with excitement.
"How was the—ah—poisoning?" John tries.
"Dull," Sherlock says. "It was the neighbor."
"The one with the bouncy castle?"
"Apparently a dispute over a barking dog," Sherlock says.
John clears his throat. He gives Rosie a little bounce in his arms just to have something to do. She is growing heavy. He ought to set her down onto the ground.
"Dinner, then?" Sherlock asks after a moment. He is still studying them with some degree of intensity.
"Sure," John says. He steps away from the door, sets Rosie down. She grabs his hand and bounces in place, lifting up onto her tiptoes.
Sherlock blinks at him, then moves to skirt past, reaching for the door. John is struck with a sudden bolt of panic.
"Wait," he says.
Sherlock stops, hand on the door. He turns, regards John with quiet curiosity.
"DADDY," Rosie whinges, clearly reaching the end of her patience.
There is nothing for it. John shrugs, gestures to the door. Sherlock pushes it open, hangs his coat on the hook, goes up the stairs. Rosie slips free of John's grasp and bolts up the stairs after him, much too excited to be bothered with waiting to be carried.
He winces and follows.
When he reaches the top of the stairs, Sherlock is standing in the doorway, staring. Staring. Rosie is by his side, having clasped onto his arm, and is grinning up at him.
John looks past Sherlock into the flat.
Buccaneer is sitting up on the sofa, watching them on high alert, one ear cocked. His tail thumps cautiously against the leather.
"DO YOU LIKE HIM? DO YOU?!" Rosie bellows, unable to take the quiet any longer. She grabs onto Sherlock's arm and lets her feet kick off the ground, dangling for a moment before letting go.
He blinks, blinks, blinks. Looks down at her seemingly without seeing her at all. Looks back into the flat.
Shit, John thinks.
"It's a border collie," he says. He scratches at the back of his neck, uncomfortable, overwarm, aware all at once of what a terrible presumptuous thing he has done. "You might know that already, or you might have—I don't know, deleted it. Irrelevant information. Dogs are dogs, yeah? Or something. But these dogs, these particular dogs are—they're supposed to be the smartest breed of dog in the world, which—well. Seemed like something that might appeal to you. And they're energetic and need lots of stimulation and get destructive when bored, and, ah, it just—it just seemed—"
Sherlock is still not moving, not reacting at all.
John is aware of a slow, steady roar building in his ears.
"Well," he says, babbling desperately now, because if he keeps talking perhaps he can finally stumble upon a good reason for having done this. "He's utter pants at herding sheep, I'm told. But maybe he could—I don't know. Maybe he could be all right at solving crime. Or—er—fetching mud samples for you. Or—" He stops speaking, looks up at the ceiling, the wall. Anywhere but at Sherlock.
Sherlock's silence is so terribly, terribly loud.
"Bad idea," John says, finally. He nods, clears his throat. Goes to scratch at his neck again, lets his hand drop to the side instead. "I don't know why I—I shouldn't have just sprung this on you. I don't know why I did. It's just he—he only has the one eye, and it got me thinking about pirates, and—Christ, that's actually the last thing I should be trying to make you think about, isn't it?"
"John," Sherlock says.
John shakes his head. "Yeah, no, it's—sorry. Sorry. I'll just—I'll keep him at mine. For a while. Until I find someone who can take him in. I don't know what I was—"
"What's his name?"
"I think that—" John pauses, risks a glance. "Sorry, what?"
"His name. I assume he has one."
"Oh. Yes. Buccaneer."
Sherlock's mouth twitches. He looks away from John, back towards the dog. Rosie grabs onto his arm again and tugs. This time he goes willingly, crossing through the doorway with her just ahead, leading the way.
The dog jumps down from the sofa, trots up to Rosie with his tail waving. Licks her face. She giggles.
After a moment, he lifts his curious face to regard Sherlock. Gives a tentative wag of his tail.
Sherlock drops into a crouch, speaks quietly. Offers a hand to sniff, then proceeds to scratch behind Buccaneer's ears. Buc closes his eye and leans into him with obvious satisfaction.
"Bad at herding sheep, you say?" Sherlock asks. He turns his head to look up at John. His cheeks are flushed, his eyes bright.
"So I'm told," John says. "His owners sold their farm. No one wanted to take him on."
"Hm," Sherlock resumes scratching the dog's ears in earnest. After a moment, he takes his hands away, stands up. Brushes at the long strands of fur that cling to his trouser legs.
"Sorry," John says again.
"Why, exactly, are you sorry?"
John shifts where he stands, feeling pinned, flayed open. "I—this was a stupid thing to do."
"Of course," John snaps, and then hesitates. "Wasn't it?"
Sherlock shrugs, noncommittal. "I've always wanted a dog."
"Rather a lot of difference between wanting a dog and having one foisted on you, yeah?"
"Perhaps," Sherlock says. He steps closer, stares down at John, his pale eyes alight with curiosity.
John forces himself to meet that gaze and hold it.
"You got me a dog," Sherlock says.
"Bit unlike you, stating the obvious," John says. It is a weak joke, and it falls flat.
"Why would you get me a dog?"
"Shh," Sherlock says, flicking a dismissive hand. His brow is furrowed in concentration.
Behind him, Rosie picks up the stuffed sheep, tosses it. Buc goes skittering off through the kitchen in pursuit.
Sherlock blinks, brings his hand up to his mouth. John follows the motion with his eyes, suddenly unable to think of anything but the way those lips had felt, soft against his own. The taste of Sherlock's mouth, the brush of his chilled nose, the puff of his warm breaths.
And then Sherlock is kissing him, his mouth hard and determined. His hand has come up to curl possessively at the back of John's neck, drawing him closer, his breaths unsteady.
"What—?" John says, pulling back a bit, feeling dazed, drunk. He can hear Rosie roughhousing with Buc in the kitchen, shrill giggles, the clack of dog nails against the lino.
Sherlock is breathing hard, his eyes wide, fixed on John.
"You didn't regret that," Sherlock says, his voice low and wondering. "The last time I—the time we—" he shakes his head, blinks. "You didn't regret it."
"Of course I didn't bloody regret it," John says, rearing back a bit. "I thought—well, I don't know what I thought. I didn't know how to bring it up."
"But you wanted to. Bring it up."
"God yes," John says.
"Oh," Sherlock says, and he is slightly breathless. He smiles. His lips are kiss-swollen. It is a good look for him, John thinks.
Sherlock's fingers are tracing tiny patterns on the back of John's neck. It is almost unbearably intimate. John closes his eyes.
"Stay," Sherlock says.
John opens his eyes. Sherlock's face is soft, fond.
"Stay," Sherlock says again. "I realise now that I've been—foolish. I haven't—I thought you wanted distance. Space. A place of your own away from—well. Away from me."
"What are you on about?" John shakes his head. His heart is thudding, his mind whirling. He does not understand what Sherlock is trying to say.
"You've been avoiding asking me, haven't you? You don't want to intrude," Sherlock shakes his head again, smiling now, that sliding, slanting smile he can't seem to control when his mind begins slotting pieces together. "You think your presence, your daughter's presence, is a burden. Something to be endured."
"Well," John says. "Yes. Isn't it?"
"John," Sherlock says, and shuts his eyes. "The only time I—" he breathes out, shakily. This is difficult for him. "—I'm only happy when you're here. Both of you."
John frowns, because this cannot possibly be true.
"John," Sherlock says, and he leans forward, resting his forehead against John's. His eyes remain firmly closed. "You're not a burden. Rosie is not a burden." He pauses, opens his eyes. They gleam with sudden mirth. "Besides, I have a dog now. An energetic breed, you said, yes? Intelligent? Destructive when bored? Someone will need to ensure he receives the appropriate level of stimulation."
John laughs in spite of himself, looks down. He is warm all over.
When they first met, there had been a spark of possibility between them. He fought against it, muffled it, forced it down because he was afraid to examine it too closely. And then—then, all of a sudden, it was too late.
He has spent years believing it to have been extinguished entirely, that spark—by his actions, by Sherlock's, by Mary's. Believing this chance to be lost forever.
He has contented himself with what he could. He has hurt Sherlock, terribly. He has been spiteful and cruel and utterly wrong more times than he can count, and at the end of the day he is lucky to still be able to call Sherlock his friend.
In the kitchen, Buc barks. Rosie giggles. There is the thump of a toy being thrown yet again, the scrabble of paws. It is a warm sound. The sound of home.
He does not want to leave. He has never wanted to leave.
"I love you, you know," John says. It comes out almost casual, as if it is not momentous in the least to let these words slip past his lips. The words hang between them. "This is home to me, Sherlock. It always has been. Even when I'm not—even when I'm not here."
Sherlock blinks. Smiles slowly, a little surprised grin that slowly spreads out until it has taken over his entire countenance.
"You do know that, right?"
Sherlock starts to shake his head, pauses. Shrugs. "Might as well make it official, then."
"Yeah," John says. "All right."
"Excellent," Sherlock says. He smiles, looking supremely self-satisfied. It fades from his face in degrees, as he seems to have no clear idea of what to do next.
John takes pity on him. "Come here," he says, and tangles his fingers up in the lapels of Sherlock's suit jacket, tugs him forward, brings their mouths together. It is slow, this kiss, soft and warm and tender in all the ways he has always wanted to be with Sherlock but never quite dared.
It is don't be lonely and I'm sorry I hurt you and you're my home, it is all of the things that John has wanted to say and never has.
"Oh," Sherlock says, quiet, hushed, when they draw apart for breath.
John has not spoken, but it seems that Sherlock has heard him anyway.
Sherlock smiles, a wicked smile that promises things to come, and nips playfully at John's lip. Then he relaxes his grip, steps back. Takes a deep, steadying breath.
John does the same.
"Dinner," Sherlock says. He clears his throat, looks up. "I believe we said something about dinner. Before."
"I'M STARVING!" Rosie shouts from the kitchen, and Buc barks as if in agreement.
Sherlock laughs, his face creasing with amusement, looks down. He looks young and oddly bashful, and John loves him.
"They are going to be trouble, aren't they?" John murmurs.
Sherlock is silent for a moment before he lifts his gaze, once more meets John's eyes.
"I hope so," he says.