John rubbed his eyes, but the weariness pulling down his eyelids remained. He couldn’t remember the last time he got a full night’s sleep. First his mind was plagued by images of Mary, and now he couldn’t stop thinking about Sherlock. There was a time in his life when that brought a smile to his face, albeit wistful. Not anymore.
It was a week after Sherlock’s birthday, and things were still not close to okay. John thought that was to be expected, considering the emotional turmoil they both went through (and the physical one he put Sherlock through--no, don’t think of that), but he wanted this period of misery to end. He hated this. He hated his life. Sherlock was talking to him again, sure, but were they really friends anymore? John had blamed him for something that wasn’t his fault, completely pushed him out of his life, wrote him a horrible note, one which he wished he could erase from his memory, and he hurt him terribly. He acted like a complete monster. He apologized for his actions last week, when they stopped back at the flat after they had gone out for cake.
“W-what I did to you. That was--”
“No, it’s not! It's not okay!”
They had a long, honestly much-needed conversation. John apologized until his mouth was dry from speech, and his knees were weak from the ache in his stomach. Sherlock accepted his apology, but insisted that he understood. Still, John tried to make it as clear as possible that Sherlock didn’t deserve an ounce of that, and he would never do it again.
Sherlock had gently taken him by the shoulders, and looked him straight in the eyes. “I want to move on,” he had said softly, “from everything. Can we do that?”
John couldn’t deny him. He agreed that the subject was finished, no matter how often the image of Sherlock’s glassy, desperate eyes looking up at him from the morgue floor haunted him. If Sherlock wanted to move on, if it was best for him, then John would do it. He may have acted like a complete and utter twat, but he would still gladly, readily do anything for Sherlock, even take a bullet. He didn’t want to put Sherlock through anymore pain, so he would stay silent.
John swallowed hard. There was a deep, long-suppressed ache in his chest when he thought about what Sherlock really meant to him, but that was out of the question. Their friendship was barely afloat, and there was no way they would be anything more. Aside from everything else, John didn’t deserve Sherlock’s affection.
All of these thoughts swirled endlessly in his head, keeping him up almost every night since January 6th, replacing his visions of Mary. He was exhausted, angry, struggling not to fall back into despair. He wasn’t well now, but better than he was a week ago, and he had to stay that way. For himself. For Rosie. For Sherlock.
John had to do better. He couldn’t change how he acted last week, or over the past few months--or maybe over the past year, since Sherlock got off the plane--but he could be the man he had to be. It was going to be hard, but he had no other choice. He had to be a better friend, and a better father. He was disgusted with himself for that, too. He passed his baby, his little girl, around like a bloody football to anyone willing to take her. It was wrong. Yet again, an innocent person was forced to deal with his inability to cope with his shitty life. He was glad she was too young to remember any of this.
In any case, John felt like he had done so much wrong that he didn’t know how to make any of it right. With Rosie, he was less worried about turning things around. He was going to be there for her and stop dropping her off at the homes of everyone he knew. He was a father now, god damn it, and he was determined to care for her. His Rosie, not Rosamund . He never wanted to use her full name. He didn’t want to think about that woman anymore, or exactly how he felt about her. He needed a break from thinking about Mary. He forced the image of her smug, smiling face from his mind.
With a heavy sigh, John looked at Rosie, who was waking up from her nap, lying on the living room floor on her stomach atop the warm, thick blanket Mrs. Hudson knitted for her.
John gently picked her up. “Hey,” he whispered. “You hungry?”
She rubbed an eye with a chubby fist.
John set Rosie in her height chair, and put a handful of dry cereal in front of her. He smiled a little when she started feeding herself. She was getting big. But, his mind wasn’t solely focused on her. The itch to see Sherlock grew. There were so many problems, too many to count, but they would never get through them if they were apart. The last time he left Sherlock, he fell back into the throes of addiction. John shuddered. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it.
“How ‘bout we go see Sherlock after you’re done?” he asked her, watching her stuff another small piece of dry cereal into her mouth. “He sent me a text yesterday saying he wants to see you.” He paused. “I suppose I don’t have to justify this to you, do I?” He thought seeing Sherlock would be good for Rosie, too. She had been shoved from person to person so much that John wanted her to have some stability, get to know the same handful of faces better.
When she was finished eating, John got Rosie into her pink coat, shushing her as she fussed a bit, and got her nappy bag ready. “Sherlock will be happy to see you. You like him, yeah?” He chuckled. “You like tugging that ridiculous mop of his. I’m surprised he lets you do it. I’ve never touched his hair.” John paused, one of her stuffed toys in his hands. Was he really comparing his relationship with Sherlock to that of a baby’s? What the fuck was wrong with him? He shook his head and stuffed the pink elephant into the bag. “C’mon, love. Let’s go.”
John entered 221B with Rosie strapped to his chest, nappy bag thrown over one shoulder. He was nervous, and was acutely aware that there was a time when he felt nothing but comfort around Sherlock, but they would work back up to that, wouldn’t they? One day. He hoped. They would only get back to that point by spending time together.
Rosie babbled a bit, and John wondered if she recognized the stairs leading up to the flat, trying to recall long-term memory abilities for babies her age. He pressed a quick kiss to the top of her head, her golden hair soft as silk against his mouth. He thought about popping in to Mrs. Hudson’s for a minute, but he knew once she saw Rosie, she wouldn’t give her up for a good twenty minutes, and he just wanted to see Sherlock for now.
John opened the door to the flat.
Sherlock was sitting in his chair, clad in one of his suits with a dark blue shirt underneath, although his old dressing gown was thrown over his clothes. He was clean-shaven, now, and had showered recently, a far cry from how he looked last week. And yet, he wasn’t well. His cheekbones were still poking out too sharply, his cheeks too sunken, the cut next to his eyebrow fading, but visible. His skin was still too pale, as well, with dark circles under his eyes. He looked like he was recovering from a nasty cold. Sherlock raised his eyebrows, but not in pleasant surprise, it seemed. He looked uncomfortable, a frown troubling his thin face. John only registered this for a couple seconds before he realized someone was sitting in his chair.
He saw the top of someone’s head, their hair dark and done up in a bun. The head turned, and bright red lips were smiling at him.
John’s heart stopped, an unpleasant shiver rippling through his skin, giving him gooseflesh. No. An ache crawled into his stomach, and it was as if all hope at spending time with Sherlock flew out of his chest, leaving him empty.
“Dr. Watson,” she purred, light eyes twinkling with amusement.
Irene fucking Adler. Why was she here? How was she here? Why the fuck was she sitting in his bloody fucking chair? It felt like his brain came to an absolute halt, and he was glued to the floor. It was like a brick dropped into his stomach. Rosie kicking her feet threw him back to reality, and he sucked in a breath.
“What are you doing here?” he found himself asking, manners nonexistent.
Irene laughed at him. “Well, it’s nice to see you, too. But, who is this ?” she beamed at Rosie.
John took a few steps forward, clearing his throat, grateful for Rosie’s warm, solid presence against his chest. “This is my daughter,” he said woodenly. The last time he saw Irene Adler, it was before the Fall. Before he got married. Before Sherlock got shot. Before he became a father. Before the Culverton Smith case-- Don’t think about it. He told you to move on. How did so much change? How did the years pass by so quickly? He felt strangely self-conscious in front of her, and of his life choices.
“ You’r e a father?” she asked incredulously. Her smile fell. “Wait, you’re not living here?”
“No,” Sherlock said softly, speaking for the first time. His eyes lowered to the floor.
The way he said it made John’s heart twist. He sounded upset. Was he upset about that?
Rosie smiled, completely oblivious. “Shuh,” she reached her arms out to Sherlock.
Irene looked surprised, her calm and superior aura broken. She regained her composure. “Well, that’s not important right now. Back to this little one,” she turned in the chair, brining her knees up and feet on the cushion. She was dressed in a slim black dress, neckline down so low John was surprised her breasts weren’t popping out completely. She was barefoot, with her matching black high heels on the floor next to John’s chair. He didn’t want her bare feet on his chair. She looked exactly the same as she did almost five years ago, not a line on her face, which made a bubble of resentment form in his stomach.
“She seems to like you,” she flashed a grin at Sherlock. “How sweet. What’s her name?” she asked.
“Rosie,” John replied.
Sherlock was eerily quiet.
“May I see her?”
John instantly felt protective. “Why?”
“I like children,” she shrugged. “If it weren’t for my line of work, I’d have one.”
John wasn’t sure if he believed her, but more importantly, he really didn’t know if he wanted Rosie in this woman’s arms. “Why are you even here?” he asked again.
She sighed, although a smirk remained across her painted lips. “I need a safe place to stay until I leave Europe permanently. My sources informed me my enemies got wind of my location. I asked Sherlock for help, and he offered his flat. So,” she held out her hands, “here I am.”
A flutter of hope kicked John’s chest. “Leave Europe for good?”
“I don’t think anyone will find me in the midwestern United States,” she winked.
There was no reason to wink. God, she was obnoxious. “I still don’t understand. Where were you all this time?”
“That’s a secret,” she said easily, “but I can tell you it was in Eastern Europe.”
“So why do you need to be here?” John asked in annoyance.
“Her enemies are expecting her to board a plane,” Sherlock spoke for the first time in awhile, looking up. “It would have been dangerous for her to board a plane in--in the country she was in,” he caught himself, “and I’d told her long ago that if she ever needed anything, I would assist her.”
John’s stomach twisted into a tight knot.
Sherlock cleared his throat lightly. “Thus, she traveled across Europe and I’m giving her refuge here until I can give her a fake, convincing identity, one which will not give any indication to who she really is. This flat is safer than any hotel. Mycroft doesn’t know she’s here, but I’ve lied and told him I need a fake identity for a case.”
“And he believes you?” John asked.
He grinned faintly. “I can be an excellent liar, especially over the phone. Once she’s set, she’ll be on a plane to Oklahoma.”
“Exactly,” Irene nodded. “Does that satisfy you?” she asked, her voice turning needlessly low.
John still had some questions, but his mind was spinning, and holding on to the part about her permanently leaving the continent. “Erm, yes.”
“Good. Now, can I see Rosie?”
John sighed, and thought there wasn’t much of a justification to say “no.” He didn’t think she would hurt Rosie at all; it was out of pure pettiness. John held Rosie with one arm and unstrapped her.
Irene held out her arms and took hold of Rosie, grinning. “Well, look at you .”
Rosie made a confused sound.
John set the nappy bag down and removed the baby carrier from his chest, setting it on the coffee table. He didn’t like any of this, but especially how quiet Sherlock was.
“How old is she?” Irene asked.
“Almost a year,” John said. “Her birthday is in two weeks.”
She made an interested sound, but didn’t say anything to that.
John felt like she was silently judging him, but maybe he was paranoid. He couldn’t help it.
“She’s a darling little girl,” she commented, standing Rosie up on her lap, hands underneath her armpits.
“Thank you,” John said, feeling odd that she said something genuinely nice.
“She has your nose and your eyes, but the rest must be from her mother. Where is her mother, anyway?”
It was like the world went silent, all noise from outside disappearing, and ice ran through John’s veins. There was something about the thought of discussing his failed marriage with Irene Adler, of all people, which made him want to flee from the flat. She had been able to see right through John.
We’re not a couple.
Yes, you are.
“Irene,” Sherlock glared at her, a distinct warning in his tone, somehow looking paler than he had a moment ago.
To her credit, Irene looked confused. She turned to John, and her eyes lasered in on his wedding band. But her light eyes ran over his face, too similar to Sherlock’s deduction process for comfort, and she had the grace to sink back in the chair. “Forget I said anything, Dr. Watson.”
“Can I have my daughter back?” John asked through gritted teeth, his left hand clenching into a fist, the ring feeling heavy on his finger.
“Of course,” she held out Rosie.
John took her, instantly holding her to his chest. She started to fuss, and John bounced her up and down. How was it possible that Irene managed to make him feel thoroughly exposed? It’s her job, you moron. He felt small. “You know what? This is a bad time. We’ll just come back an--”
“No,” Sherlock stood up abruptly, but then stumbled, clutching one of the arms of his chair, fingers clawing into the leather. He gritted his teeth, visibly holding back a hiss of pain.
John stepped forward, concern filling his chest.
Irene stared up at Sherlock, eyes interested. “I thought there was something different about you,” she drawled. “You don’t look so good, Sherlock,” she said without sympathy, only faint intrigue.
More ice filled John’s blood, and he hugged Rosie tighter. His heart started to pound.
“What is it?” she asked. “Are you injured?”
It was because of him. Look at him, John’s mind spat. This is you. You did this.
“No, I’m fine,” Sherlock denied with a grumble, standing upright. He wasn’t looking at her. “Would you give me and John a moment of privacy?”
Irene sighed in annoyance. “Fine. I can tell you need some alone time,” she said with far more innuendo than was necessary (or appropriate, for that matter--there was a baby in the room!). “I need to finish unpacking my clothes, anyway.” She got up, grabbed her heels off the ground, sauntered out of the room, and went up the stairs.
She was staying in John’s old room. Seriously, was anything sacred anymore? Actually, wait. She’d been surprised to hear John didn’t live here, but was staying in his room? That didn’t make sense.
They heard the door click shut.
Sherlock sighed, shoulders slumping, walking so he was standing directly in front of John. From here, the cut by his eyebrow was more visible, along with the fatigue in his eyes. He put his hands in the pockets of his dressing gown. “I apologize for that, John. I realize how uncomfortable her question must have been for you.”
John shifted Rosie so her bum was against his left arm, and his right hand was steady on her back. That wasn’t the only thing that made him uncomfortable. Her whole bloody presence made his skin crawl. She made him feel inferior. He bit the inside of his cheek, not knowing what to say. While spending a moment in thought, he remembered how Sherlock stumbled when he tried to get out of his chair.
He took a deep breath. “Don’t. I know what you’re thinking. My body may need time to heal, but my mind does not. I told you I want to move on. Please. I know how you feel about it, and you don’t need to say anything more.”
John still felt sick about it, but nodded. Do it for his sake, not yours. “Okay,” he muttered. “Sorry for bringing it up.” He changed the subject. “Look, it’s nice of you to help her, but I think it’d be better if Rosie and I stayed out of your hair until she’s gone.”
His face fell. “But I don’t know when that will be. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable when you come here, but I also don’t want you to feel as if you’re unwelcome due to her.”
John shook his head. “That woman takes up every room she’s in. I--Rosie and I--will just get in the way.”
“That’s absurd,” a crinkle appeared on top of the bridge of Sherlock’s nose. “You two will do no such thing. I offered her a place to stay, John, but that doesn’t mean I’m here for her entertainment.”
He swallowed. Just last week, Sherlock admitted to texting her back sometimes, and he seemed embarrassed by the admission, or at least tried to change the subject when John heard the text alert. Sherlock wasn’t truthful about his relationship and interactions with her (he’d never told John she was alive!), so John could easily imagine him lying. They were living under the same roof, and she would certainly try to make a move on Sherlock. What would stop him from reciprocating? He should have been happy for Sherlock.
“I don’t see why you wouldn’t be,” John said with a grim smile. “She’s here, right in your flat, and she likes you. What’s the problem?” He almost spat the question, and he told himself to calm down. Getting angry was not good, especially with Rosie in his arms.
Sherlock’s eyes closed, the beginning of a snarl pulling down the corner of his mouth. “John.”
John swallowed hard. He had told Sherlock to go after her, that he shouldn’t miss his chance. She was here. This was the perfect opportunity. Sherlock liked her, and he would just have to be a supportive friend, he tried to reason with himself, although it felt like led was in his chest. “Are you really going to pass up this chance, too?”
Sherlock opened his eyes, irritation clear. “Enough of this, it’s not important right now. Anyway,” he said pointedly, “we were talking about you and Rosie. Last week, did we not agree to see each other more? For Rosie,” he added.
Or, did John only imagine that he added that phrase? Wishful thinking never did him good. “We did,” he said, giving up on the conversation about Sherlock’s love life for now (a selfish part of him was relieved).
Sherlock sighed a little, his annoyance fading. “Then I don’t see why we should change our plans because of the Woman.”
Because I can’t stand to see you with her. No, Sherlock was making an effort, which meant John had to, as well. “Okay,” he agreed. “Okay. As long as it’s no trouble.”
Sherlock just mutely shook his head.
Rosie held out her hands again. “Shuh,” she whined.
Sherlock took Rosie into his arms. “Sorry, did I ignore you?” he asked lightly.
She smiled and grabbed his nose.
John smiled. Rosie was already small, but she looked tiny in Sherlock’s arms, especially with his massive hands holding her. It occurred to him he hadn’t felt this fondness when he watched Mary hold Rosie, and stopped the train of thought dead in its tracks. “So,” he sighed, “I guess we’ll have to, um--” try to salvage our friendship “--spend more time here with Irene. Should be interesting,” he joked.
Sherlock didn’t smile, looking down at Rosie as she put a clumsy hand into his hair. He said nothing.