Chapter 1: A is for Afghanistan
“It’s too hard.”
“It’s not too hard. It’s a very important word for a very important place. Now listen - Af-ghan-i-stan.”
Rosie scowled. “It’s not on my list.” She crossed her arms and glared at Sherlock. The glare was ineffective, first because it was coming from a small face still a bit crusty from the macaroni cheese she’d had for lunch, and second because over the past few years, he’d had that expression leveled at him so many times he’d become all but immune to it.
“Ah.” He rested his chin on folded hands. “So, learning to spell is simply about knowing the words on the list well enough to pass a test?”
“That’s a trick question, isn’t it?” she asked, clearly familiar with this tactic.
Sherlock reached over and tousled the little girl’s hair. “Life’s a trick question, Rosie.”
She puzzled that one for a moment, then shrugged. “When’s Dad coming home?” she asked, not for the first time that day.
“Tomorrow,” Sherlock answered, also not for the first time.
“In the morning or night?”
“Neither. Afternoon. Before you get home from school, I expect.”
“Well, he won’t make me spell Afghaninstant.”
Sherlock grinned. “No, I suppose he won’t.”
“I miss him,” she said, turning suddenly sad eyes up at him.
“I know you do. You don’t hesitate to inform me that I’m doing it all wrong – your breakfast, the clothes I put out for you, your hair, even your spelling homework.”
“I just miss him,” she repeated. “He does do my hair better.”
“And your breakfast, but I’m much better at your clothes and homework. Besides, your father has told me more than once that you complain about how he does things when I’m gone.”
“Because I want you both here,” she declared. “I want your stories and Dad’s hugs and breakfasts and ‘sparements with you and going to New Scotland Yard and Mr. Bart’s.”
Sherlock didn’t correct her. She’d been calling the hospital Mr. Bart’s since she was four. He reached across and tugged her braid. “Your dad’s trip was very important to him. He’s counting on you to take good care of me.”
“I’m to keep you out of trouble,” Rosie corrected. “And to make sure you sleep, and eat.” She brightened at the mention of food. “What are we having for dinner?”
“No idea. Take-away, I suppose. Thai?”
Rosie shook her head and gave a resigned sigh. She didn’t need to mention that her dad always had the meals planned. “Oh Sherlock, you really shouldn’t,” she said in a dead-on impersonation of her father. “You have to mind your sodium. Dad says take-out has loads of it, and you shouldn’t have so much ‘cause of your blood pleasure.”
“My blood pleasure - pressure - is just fine, thank you very much, Dr. Watson.” He pretend-glared at her as she gave him a smug little smile. “Fine. No take-out. We’ll have beans and toast then.”
“With sausages?” Rosie pressed.
“Too much sodium,” said Sherlock, stealing her smug expression for himself.
“So do beans,” she countered.
“Your father bought a tin of the low sodium variety.”
They stared at each other for a bit longer, until Sherlock’s mouth tipped up into a slow smile. “Alright – low-sodium beans, toast and cheese omelets for two.”
Her face brightened – she had a particular affinity for cheese omelets and Sherlock well knew this – but a frown soon crossed it again. “Are omelets bad for your blood pleasure?” she asked suspiciously.
“No. Not at all. And my blood pressure is absolutely fine – your father worries too much.”
“’Because it’s trending higher,” Rosie reminded him.
“You aren’t my conscience and you aren’t my mother,” Sherlock said. “In fact, you’re my responsibility, which means I get to make the decisions. We’ll pass on beans and toast and omelets and go to Angelo’s tonight, and you can personally direct him to make me something exceedingly healthy.”
Rosie’s homework was quite forgotten. She clapped her hands together, then scooted her chair back and ducked under the table, popping up again on Sherlock’s side to wedge herself in the vee of his legs.
“Angelo’s! That’s excellent! When he brings our candle, I’ll tell him to feed you something that won’t make your head blow up.”
“I should hope he wouldn’t ever give me anything to make my head blow up,” Sherlock said, obligingly scooting back his chair just enough to hoist Rosie onto his lap. “Did you have anything in particular in mind? Perhaps an exploding cake?”
Rosie giggled. “Not that kind of blowing up,” she clarified. “The kind inside. An – an – an-your-illian.”
“Aneurism.” Sherlock shook his head and gave a very dramatic sigh. “Your father taught you that word too, I expect?”
“He didn’t make me spell it though,” she said, her suspicious glare back again.
“Spelling!” Sherlock made a show of palming his forehead. “That reminds me – in all the excitement of discussing dinner and sodium and my blood pressure and Angelo’s and how much you miss your father, we seem to have forgotten your spelling lesson.” He picked up the list she’d reluctantly dug from her school bag and handed him a few minutes before, studied it, then ran through the words with her by memory, mixing them up to keep her on her toes.
“Excellent.” He began to sign across the top of the paper as her teacher required but stopped mid-letter and set his pen down beside the paper.
“What? What is it? I did them, didn’t I? Sign it so we can go to Angelo’s before he gives our table to someone else!”
“You haven’t done the challenge word,” he said, very seriously. “Do you remember what it was?”
“You can sign without the challenge word,” she assured him, handing him the pen. “The challenge word is something you made up, anyway. My teacher doesn’t ever ask about it, and no one else’s parents give them challenge words.”
“Rosie – ”
“I know, I know!” She threw up her small hands in exasperation. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else’s parents do or say. Their children will have the vocabillary of a head of cabbage.”
“So – do you remember the word?” Sherlock picked up the pen again and pulled a blank piece of paper off the notepad they kept on the table for grocery lists. He printed the letter A on the paper.
“It was a place,” Rosie remembered. “I’ve heard it before. A country, I think. A country with wars.”
“The country is Afghanistan,” Sherlock said. “Look – A – f – g – h – a – n – i – s – t – a – n. It’s not as hard as it looks. The only tricky part is the h after the g.”
They practiced printing it, and spelling it out loud, until Rosie had it down and Sherlock signed the top of her paper with a flourish.
“Why’s it important, Sherlock?” she asked as she tucked the paper back into her school bag. “You said it wasn’t too hard, and I guess it’s really not. And that it’s an important word. So why’s it important?”
“Do you remember where your dad went this week?” Sherlock answered.
“To see his friends from the army,” Rosie answered. “In Dublin.” She brightened. “Can we do Dublin next week? I already know how to spell that one.”
“Then it wouldn’t be much of a challenge, would it?” answered Sherlock. “And yes – your father is at a reunion. With his old friends from the army – they served together in Afghanistan. That’s where your dad was wounded.”
He explained it all matter-of-factly, as if every little girl’s father had a scar on his shoulder from an actual bullet.
“And came home to London to find you and live happily ever after!” Rosie twisted around on his lap and planted a kiss on Sherlock’s cheek. “So can we go to Angelo’s now?”
“Yes. We may. Get your shoes and wash that macaroni cheese off your face. Angelo might not feed you if he thinks you haven’t finished your lunch yet.”
She giggled and slid off his lap, crawling back under the table and out the other side before disappearing into the corridor to search for her missing shoes.
Sherlock glanced down at the paper on the table.
Happily ever after.
He supposed she was right, in a way. John had come home to London. Had found Sherlock. And what was this – this life they now shared – but a happily ever after?
It didn’t happen in a tidy condensed package like Rosie envisioned, but it did happen. All those things in between that initial meeting and the happily ever after?
Details. Mere details.
Chapter 2: B is for Beekeeper
Sherlock proposes something John wasn't expecting.
“I don’t understand. You never once mentioned bees, Sherlock, and suddenly you want to be a beekeeper and move to a cottage in Sussex and – I don’t know – what? Make honey? Set up a stand at the local market and sell it?”
Sherlock looked up from the Apiarist Outfitters website he’d been perusing. “Rosie’s nearly off at school and we’lll be rattling around in here, John. And of course I’ve mentioned bees. I’ve had every intention of keeping hives in my retirement. I’ve loved bees since I was a boy – I’ve always dreamed of becoming an Apiarist.”
“You wanted to be a pirate,” John dead-panned. He looked around the cluttered flat. “And we’re certainly not rattling around in here.”
Sherlock’s mouth twitched in that particular way that let John know that the game – or what passed for the game these days, anyway – was on.
“I wanted to be an Apiarist Pirate,” Sherlock contended.
“You wanted to be a pirate who kept bees,” John said. “Bees. On a pirate ship.”
“Why not?” Sherlock returned his attention to the website. “Surely pirates appreciate honey. They don’t necessarily give up their sweet tooth when they become pirates.”
“And they keep drinking rum too but they don’t make it on board ship,” John reasoned. “Besides, what would the bees pollinate in the middle of the ocean?”
“Seaweed,” answered Sherlock, perfectly seriously.
“I am not about to research how seaweed propagates just to have an argument with you,” John stated. “But I call bollocks on that one, Sherlock. Pirates do not keep bees.”
“Perhaps I planned to keep bees on a tropical island, make my own honey and sell it to passing pirates,” suggested Sherlock. He closed the laptop and turned his attention to John.
“Not the same thing at all,” John answered. The corners of his eyes were crinkling, and he had that fond look in his eyes that Sherlock loved for a reason he couldn’t ever name. “Selling honey to pirates doesn’t make one a pirate. If it does, then sewing up a burglar after he crashes through a skylight makes a surgeon a burglar as well.”
“Well, technically, you were a burglar,” Sherlock said.
“I didn’t steal anything!” protested John. “And that was years ago, Sherlock.”
“A burglar enters a building or properly illegally with the intent of stealing something.” Sherlock picked up his mobile and began thumbing through photos. “You entered Mycroft’s condominium through the skylight once I’d crashed through, correct?”
“With absolutely no intent on stealing a thing,” John said. “And weren’t we talking about pirates and beekeepers?”
“Were we?” Sherlock looked up at John with a distracted smile. “Look, John. I’ve found it. Come see.”
John gave his standard exasperated sigh and stood up with a groan, favouring his left leg. He considered his cane but didn’t pick it up, then hobbled over to Sherlock and gazed down at a photo of a perfectly charming cottage on a lovely lot sitting somewhere that was definitely not London. Sherlock’s arm went around John’s waist to steady him, but he didn’t let go when John had his feet solidly beneath him.
“It’s lovely, Sherlock. It’s perfect for Mrs. Hudson.”
“Mrs. Hudson is eighty-four years old, John. She’d never leave London.”
“She would if she wanted to be a pirate,” John murmured. “Or sell honey to them.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes, as he’d done a thousand times before to a thousand similar statements, but John didn’t notice. He was studying the photograph, zooming in to try to peak through the fences to find the beehives.
“The cottage is available at a very reasonable price,” he said. “And there are no hives – yet – so stop trying to look through the knotholes in the fence. I think we should go look at it – we can wait until this weekend and bring Rosie along.”
He sounded perfectly casual, but John knew better. It the team of John Watson and Sherlock Holmes was formidable, the team of Rosie Watson and Sherlock Holmes was unstoppable. John narrowed his eyes and took a careful step backward. He grabbed for his cane as Sherlock steadied him by the arm.
Steady on his feet again, John held out his hand. “Give it to me.”
Sherlock smiled. “You’re losing your touch, John. It took you nearly five minutes to smell the ruse.”
John narrowed his eyes. “Mobile, Sherlock.”
“Fine, fine.” He held out the mobile but didn’t relinquish it just yet. “But for the record, I did want to be a pirate when I was small, and I did want to keep bees, so it stands to reason that I wanted to be a beekeeping pirate.”
John jerked the mobile away and opened up Sherlock’s text app.
“Two months?” he exclaimed a few minutes later. “You’ve been plotting this for two months?”
Sherlock cleared his throat. “More or less.”
John looked up from the text from Sherlock to Rosie with the photograph of the cottage and the surprising detail that it had belonged to Sherlock’s grandparents, and had been rented out by the family to an elderly couple who’d recently moved into a retirement community.
“More, you mean,” he said, shaking his head. Why did he never see these things coming?
“Well, a bit more, perhaps,” conceded Sherlock.
John was sorting through the jumbled calendar of their lives this past year, and when the penny dropped, he gave a fond, resigned sigh.
“My leg,” he said. “You started plotting when I was in hospital.”
Neither one of them spoke for some time, but their gazes locked and the resignation in John’s met the worry in Sherlock’s.
“Alright,” he stated at last, lowering himself back into his chair and propping his leg up on a pillow on the ottoman. He thumped his empty mug on the side table and looked expectantly at Sherlock. “I’m willing to listen – now that I realise this isn’t just about bees - but I’ll need tea.”
Sherlock was already headed to the kitchen.
“I do like bees, John,” he called out. “I always have.”
“You love London,” John answered. He’d picked up his own mobile and entered What the hell is there to do in Sussex? in a browser window.
He was busily reading an entry on The Long Man of Wilmington and the neo-pagan rituals around it when Sherlock handed him his mug and settled into his own chair.
“I do love London,” Sherlock conceded. “But I love you more. We both do – Rosie and I….” He leaned forward. “Come see the cottage, John. Give it a chance.”
John gave a half-hearted huff. “I can do the stairs, Sherlock. It’s only two or three times in a day.”
If Sherlock was thinking for now, anyway, he didn’t voice it.
“The London air – the pollution – it’s been affecting me lately.” Sherlock forced a cough. “My physician advised me to live by the sea and take long walks every day.”
“Did he?” John asked, not stating the obvious. He’d been Sherlock’s physician for nearly twenty years now. “Obviously a brilliant man.”
“Obviously.” He took a sip of his tea. “Did I mention that you can see the sea from the cottage?”
“No, you didn’t.” John did like the sea as Sherlock well knew.
“Well, yes. From the roof. But we thought we could build a catwalk of sorts….”
“That I’d access by stairway, of course. How many steps, do you suppose? Seventeen?”
“A ramp, then.” Sherlock would not be dissuaded. John had taken the hook and he simply had to set it.
“Ah. A ramp. Maybe you could build it from the cottage to the sea so I can just wheel myself right into the ocean once this leg gives out for good, eh?”
Sherlock’s face fell, and John realised his error. It’s not what he had meant – he had no intention – would never take his own life.
“No – no, Sherlock. I meant to swim. To lie on the shore – not…. Not that.”
He settled his foot onto the floor and pushed the ottoman out of the way, then leaned forward and put a hand on Sherlock’s knee. Over the years, their chairs had inched closer and closer together. “Alright – fine. We’ll go see the cottage on Saturday with Rosie. But no promises, right?”
Sherlock rested his hand atop John’s. “You’ll love it, John.”
John turned his hand over and gripped Sherlock’s tightly.
“I’m sure I will,” he said, then, drawing in a steadying breath, continued. “Now, about those bees….”
Chapter 3: C is for Cardigan
John dropped gratefully onto the slightly-too-small chair in the corridor outside Rosie’s classroom. He’d come directly from Bart’s after his longer-than-planned shift, and knew he could use a shower and a shave. Rosie’s teacher was certainly aware of his schedule, and he hoped she’d forgive him the breach of hygiene. He’d made it, hadn’t he, after just getting off a grueling twelve-hour shift?
The spare shirt in his locker was mostly clean, though awfully wrinkled, so he’d covered it with the cardigan Rosie had gifted him at Christmas. He’d left it in his locker ages ago, sometime after Christmas and before the weather turned warmer, and it had been hanging there like a left-over Christmas decoration ever since.
It wasn’t the best choice to wear to a parent-teacher conference. It was deep green – not a bad colour, really – but featured two front pockets and a row of buttons in cherry red.
To be honest, John loved it. Loved it because Rosie had chosen it for him on her first-ever shopping outing with Mrs. Hudson. Loved it because it was soft and warm, and loved it because she’d given one to Sherlock as well.
He couldn’t help grinning as he remembered Sherlock last Christmas morning, holding up his Christmas cardigan, a twin to John’s except it was cherry red with green buttons and pockets. He gamely put it on, and had even worn it around the flat every now and then until spring turned into summer. John hadn’t seen it since.
Where was Sherlock anyway?
The classroom door opened, and the Willoughbys exited, clutching a folio of papers and looking relieved. John knew all about their son Ian – Rosie told stories about the boy every evening at supper. If half of what Rosie told them was accurate, John expected the Willoughbys had been dreading this particular meeting.
He wondered, fleetingly, as he rose to take their place inside the classroom, what stories the other children told about Rosie. Then, just as fleetingly, he wondered – with some alarm – if Rosie told stories about their home life.
Suddenly panicked – why the hell hadn’t he thought about that before now? – he steeled himself and opened the classroom door.
Ms. Flores stood to greet him. She was a seasoned teacher but hadn’t lost her youthful enthusiasm for the job. They’d met several times already, but this was the first official meeting to discuss his daughter’s progress since she’d started primary two months ago.
“Just you today, then, Dr. Watson?” she asked as she directed him to an even smaller chair at a table at the back of the room.
“Apparently.” He sat and glanced up at the clock. “Sherlock’s supposed to be here, but I didn’t have a chance to touch base with him before I got off work. Something must have come up.”
“A case, I’d expect. Must have been an eight or better,” said Ms. Flores. She laughed. “Oh, get used to it, Dr. Watson. Children of this age share quite a lot. I tell all the parents that this is a good time to begin talking to your children about privacy – what things are good to share, and what things aren’t so good to share.”
John had just scribbled the word “Privacy” in the margins of the topmost paper in the pile before him when the classroom door opened behind them.
“Oh, I’m late, aren’t I? Sorry. Bit of a wardrobe problem at home.” Sherlock gave the teacher his most apologetic smile – completely false, of course – as his gaze swept the room and rested on John.
“Well, this is unexpected,” he managed as John stared back at him.
“Happy Christmas, then,” said Ms. Flores, not missing a beat as John stared, gape-mouthed, at Sherlock. “You two look quite festive.”
“Thank you,” choked out John, trying to sound sincere, as if he and Sherlock always dressed in this fashion for outings.
“I need to duck out a moment – I’ll be right back,” announced Ms. Flores, giving them a friendly wave as she disappeared into the corridor.
“She went out to have a laugh at our expense, didn’t she?” John asked.
Sherlock smiled. “You do realise it’s only October?” he said as he dropped into the seat beside John.
“If you know that yourself, why this?” He gestured toward the cardigan. Unlike his own, it was impeccably placed and perfectly buttoned.
“Rosie wouldn’t let me leave the flat without it. I actually have a reason for looking like a poorly-wrapped Christmas present in October, Dr. Watson. What’s your excuse?”
John grinned as he pulled the garment up to expose his shirt. “Moderately stained and massively wrinkled. Only thing I had at work to cover it up.”
“You took that cardigan to work on purpose!” Sherlock exclaimed. “I wondered where it had gone.”
“It’s warm,” John said, oddly protective of his cardigan. “And Rosie picked them out for us herself. You can’t expect a five-year old to have your fashion sense. And furthermore, it was in my locker when it warmed up. It’s been hanging there for months just waiting for an opportunity like today.”
“An opportunity to appear at Rosie’s first teacher’s conference with your same-sex partner wearing matching holiday cardigans?”
“Exactly,” said John. Despite his rocky start in the something-other-than-straight world, he sounded very amused and a tiny bit smug. “Sherlock – if she saw you leave wearing it, why didn’t you just take it off in the cab?”
Sherlock fidgeted. He brushed an invisible speck off the left shoulder of his cardigan, then glanced at the door.
“I couldn’t,” he admitted. “She was so earnest about it. She told me I looked beautiful and she climbed in my lap and patted my cheeks. My cheeks, John.”
John shook his head and smiled fondly.
“Well, if anyone could actually look posh in a Christmas cardigan, it would be you,” he said.
Sherlock looked down at his clothing, considering John’s compliment. “I think we should take Rosie out shopping with us this year and let her select something special for Mrs. Hudson,” he suggested. “A see-through dressing gown, perhaps?”
“Careful - that woman makes your tea,” John warned him. “And if she weren’t around to mind Rosie in a pinch, you’d be doing all your casework from the sitting room.”
“Right.” Sherlock conceded. “She has us in a vice lock, hasn’t she?”
Ms. Flores reappeared then, looking quite collected as she took her seat across from them. Collected though she was, she still seemed a bit more amused than a seasoned teacher should be.
“All right, then,” she said, opening a turquoise folder with Rosie’s name on the tab. “Rosie is doing quite well overall. Excellent attendance, good social skills, far ahead of the normal six-year old in her ability to entertain herself at her seat and not run about the classroom when my back is turned. Really, we only have one small area of concern.”
She looked up at John and Sherlock, her mouth twitching just a bit as she watched them exchange a worried glance.
“Oh – it’s probably nothing, but we do need to address it now. It’s quite common in children of this age, especially children with no brothers and sisters at home. The only unusual thing is that she seems to be quite a bit older than Rosie. Imaginary friends are usually….”
“Wait.” Sherlock held up a hand. “Rosie has an Imaginary friend?”
Ms. Flores stared at them, puzzled. “Well, yes? You don’t know? She’s really very imaginative – though we’re a bit concerned at some of the details, though that’s not unexpected given your lines of work. A widow – husband was a murderer. Has an affinity for cannabis? No?”
“Mrs. Hudson,” murmured John.
“You do know her, then. Excellent. Well, we have a social worker available….we’ve agreed it isn’t really something to refer up to a psychologist quite yet, though if you know of someone you trust, Dr. Watson….”
It would be amusing later – years later, when Rosie was grown and on her own and a psychologist herself – to pull out the drawing of Mrs. Hudson in her nightgown whacking Sherlock with a giant pink feather duster. The drawing would still have the social worker’s business card stapled to the corner. But now, standing in the blustery October wind outside the school, dressed to the nines in his green and red Christmas cardigan watching a red and green Sherlock failing at flagging down a cab for the first time ever, John wondered if he really should have seen this coming.
Chapter 4: D is for Dancing
Just shy of 1000 words, but I thought they were the right words.
John didn’t know he loved Sherlock until he saw him dancing.
It was a very peculiar kind of dance. His partner was a great deal smaller than he was, and really had no rhythm or moves of her own to speak of. The music was more a gentle lullabye than a romantic, sweeping ballad or the lilting cadence of a classic waltz. And the dance floor was the already worn carpet stretched over the newly-placed floorboards of a first floor flat on Baker Street in London.
John stood in the doorway as Sherlock danced with a sleeping Rosie on his shoulder. He’d been gone for only an hour – forty minutes of brisk walking around the never sleeping streets of London, and twenty minutes in an all-night café, staring into a cup of strong black coffee and dreading returning to 221B. An hour before, Sherlock had taken Rosie from him, handed him his wallet and keys, and pushed him out the door as his daughter screamed her outrage from Sherlock’s arms. He was still dressed – trying to sleep on the sofa in between her crying jags. He wouldn’t have cared if he wasn’t.
This too shall pass, he’d thought as he walked in the quiet night. She won’t be a toddler forever. The antibiotics will kick in soon – she’ll feel better, sleep better, won’t keep him up ‘til two thirty when he has to work at eight. She won’t wake Sherlock, who’d been down with the flu too and was only just starting to feel like himself again.
She won’t scream like that. She won’t pierce the quiet of the flat with her desperate cries.
MAW MAW MAW MAW MAW MAW MAW MAW MAW
No matter that he knew she was calling out for Mrs. Hudson – she’d been calling her MawMaw for quite a while now. It still grated at him, hearing those syllables. Even after all this time. He didn’t mourn his own loss – his relationship with Mary had been turbulent at best and his rage at losing her had been sorely misplaced – but Rosie’s. A life without Mary. A childhood without the dependable, everyday presence of a mother. Lopsided family photographs. A home without a woman’s touch.
And that was the crux of it, wasn’t it? Since they’d returned to 221B months ago, they’d been functioning as a family of three with a grandmother living conveniently downstairs. Why did this bother him? There were probably as many non-traditional families as traditional ones living in London. He saw a wide variety of them at the park, and never felt out of place when Sherlock was with them.
He didn’t feel guilty for not dating, for not searching for a replacement. A replacement spouse, a replacement mother.
It wasn’t the right time.
He stood silently in the doorway, watching Sherlock sway with Rosie’s messy, tousled head in the crook of his neck. His dressing gown had a pink stain on the arm – she’d thrown up her medicine on him the day before and the stain hadn’t come out. A damp spot on his shoulder grew from where her lips grazed the fabric of the garment.
It would never be the right time.
Not for dating. Not for finding a wife for him, a mother for Rosie. Not for strolling in the park, he on one side, a woman on the other, holding Rosie’s hands between them as she skipped along and babbled.
Not for leaving 221B.
He placed his wallet and keys on the table, toed off his shoes, and walked into the sitting room.
Sherlock acknowledged him with a smile, but didn’t stop dancing, didn’t move to settle Rosie on the sofa where her plushies and quilt waited. John could hear him now, humming along softly to the music.
He recognized the music. It was a melancholic lullaby Sherlock sometimes played on the violin on nights when Rosie couldn’t settle.
Or when John couldn’t.
He’d recorded himself playing – he must have. Obviously. It was playing now through the Bluetooth speakers beside Sherlock’s mobile.
Looping, over and over, like his feet around the square of carpet he’d cleared when he’d pushed the chairs to the side.
His move, then.
John raised his hands, one higher than the other. It was the classic pose, the move before you took her in your arms as you stepped onto the dance floor.
Sherlock slowed, regarded John with a question in his eyes. John gave him a tentative smile, one that reached his eyes before it lifted the corners on his mouth. Sherlock looked away, down at Rosie’s ear, then back at John.
He shifted the child’s weight, and extended one hand.
And then they were dancing.
It wasn’t graceful, nor fluid. There were no butterflies in John’s stomach, no fireworks in his heart. Rosie was a solid weight between them, her breathing like a metronome, keeping time with their heartbeats. Sherlock’s free arm settled around him, and John rested his head on Rosie’s back, his hand on Sherlock’s, and found himself, suddenly, irrevocably, across the forbidden line.
On this side of tomorrow. On the other side of yesterday.
He was so very tired.
He sunk into the comfort of this new familiar, and closed his weary eyes.
He was so very glad to be home.
Chapter 5: E is for Empty
E is for Empty
Over the years, John had had his share of empty at 221B.
Empty milk cartons – sometimes left on the counter, always unrinsed. More often put back on the refrigerator shelf, as if the refrigerator held some kind of magic, a magic that would turn empty to full as London slept.
Empty boxes – freed from their Christmas wrappings, strewn about the floor with all the jubilation of a small girl on a Santa Claus high. Squeals of delight, exuberant surprise, hugs and kisses and Daddy, make it work! while Sherlock blinked sleepily and cradled a mug of hot tea and watched a new kind of Christmas unfold around him.
The empty wine bottle – the ungodly expensive vintage Mycroft had gifted he and Mary on their wedding day. The one they’d decided to save for their first anniversary. The one they’d forgetten, that he’d packed up with everything else for the move back to 221B. The one he and Sherlock had shared together after putting Rosie to bed on that night they’d danced with her in the sitting room. The wine went down smoothly, left a pleasant warmth inside him. It was delicious on his lips, and on Sherlock’s.
Sherlock’s empty chair across from his, those interminable weeks John had spent locked up with the memories, the guilt, after watching Sherlock fall from the roof of Bart’s. He’d tried filling the chair with pillows, newspapers, dirty clothing, take-away cartons, but no matter how full it was, it remained empty of Sherlock, empty of life and finally he could bear it no longer and left the flat altogether.
An empty gun – bullets removed, rendered useless, decorative, an expensive paperweight that could never harm Rosie, could never accidentally discharge, could never get into the wrong hands at an unforeseen moment and effectively end the blessed peace he’d earned these past years.
The gun is long gone now, the wine bottle lost, the milk cartons discarded and Sherlock’s chair, replaced when the flat was rebuilt all those years ago, is weathered and worn. Every available empty box has been filled with what they’ve agreed to keep, what they absolutely need, or very much want, or simply can’t let go. The rug, the very same run on which they’d danced with Rosie that night when John had stopped pretending, has been rolled up and carted away. The mantel is bare, the furniture loaded up, and Mrs. Hudson’s table, staying for the next tenants, cleared off for the first time in John’s long memory.
Their heads are filled with plans, the van is filled to capacity, and 221B is empty save their travel bags beside the door, Sherlock’s violin resting on the floor beside them.
He hasn’t seen Sherlock in hours. He left before the movers arrived, making up an excuse that took him to Bart’s to collect some personal items he claimed to have left there. He’d texted a couple hours ago that he was heading out to pick up the car and that traffic was bad so it might be a while.
Rubbish. Molly’s still at Bart’s, but she’s worked herself up and out of the morgue, and Sherlock hasn’t visited it in a half dozen years, and certainly can’t expect to find his personal items lingering about still. And John doesn’t believe he actually left anything there anyway as careful as Sherlock is about his possessions He recognizes the ruse for what it is. Sherlock is finding it more difficult to leave 221B than he imagined, and he didn’t want to stay around to see his life dismantled before him as the movers worked to fill the van.
He’ll show up soon enough in the car they’ve just purchased, since they’ll be needing dependable transportation where they’re going. It’s been at Greg’s place in the suburbs these last few weeks, and Sherlock has developed a strange sort of fascination with it. In hindsight, John sees that the time Sherlock has spent obsessing over the car is time he didn’t have to spend at 221B with the moving preparations.
It was useless to remind Sherlock that moving was his idea.
A stab of pain in John’s leg reminds him of why they can no longer live in 221B with its long stairway up, and that it may have been Sherlock’s idea, but that Sherlock can still bound up the stairs like a teenager, and that as much as he loves Sussex, and the hives he’d already installed there, London is his home. He might claim to have always wanted to retire in the country to raise bees and solve cases involving vicars and old country churches and haunted churchyards, but John knows he’ll miss London desperately, no matter they can look out the window of their new cottage and almost see the sea.
Sherlock blames himself for the accident, but everyone knows it wasn’t his fault.
John certainly doesn’t blame him – never has – yet Sherlock carries it with him always. They don’t speak about it. John told him the matter was closed. Not his fault, doesn’t blame him, could have happened anywhere, anytime, with anybody.
He’d gone with Sherlock that night reluctantly, after a long day on the job in the A&E at Bart’s. Rosie was spending the night at Molly’s, minding the children, and he’d thought he and Sherlock might have a quiet evening together, winding down after a long, busy week. But Sherlock was insistent – he needed John there, and Lestrade could only give him an hour.
Odd how life goes, John thinks, running his fingers over the empty mantel as he started a final walk-through of the flat, looking for anything they’d missed. He’d gone with Sherlock, and had been so irritated by the end of the evening that he’d left Sherlock talking with Lestrade outside and had hailed his own cab even though Sherlock implored him to wait. And when a cab pulled right up as soon as he’d raised his hand, he got in and didn’t even look back at Sherlock as they pulled away.
He had the misfortune of hailing a cab whose driver was about to suffer a fatal cerebral hemorrhage, though he wouldn’t know that until much later. He hardly remembered the accident, which was probably for the best. He soldiered through the surgeries and the therapies, and lived downstairs with Mrs. Hudson for two months after he was released until he could finally climb the stairs reliably on his own.
Now, he walks through the kitchen, then into their bedroom. The small room seems almost cavernous without the furniture. Their room in the cottage is large and airy with big windows and lots of sunshine. He thinks Sherlock will hate the morning sunshine. He isn’t wrong.
It’s not London. So decidedly not London.
He flips the light switch and turns around just as the front door opens and Sherlock steps into the flat.
“We’re ready when you are,” Sherlock says, taking pains to not glance around the empty rooms.
“Rosie made it then? She didn’t come up.” He meets Sherlock in the sitting room and watches as he stoops to pick up his violin case. Rosie is riding out with them in the car and will take the train back to school on Sunday. The cottage is to be her home, too, now, though Molly’s set up a room for her when she wants to spend a weekend now and again in London.
“She said she wanted to remember it how it was,” Sherlock explains.
“Why is it,” asks John, and his voice echoes in the emptiness, “that the two who were most adamant that we move to that cottage are the most reluctant to leave London?”
Their eyes meet, but Sherlock looks away.
“I love the cottage,” he says. “As do you.”
“I’m not saying you don’t – and yes, I do love it. I’ve agreed it’s the right place, and the right time. But I can’t get over the feeling that I’m ripping your heart out.”
There. He’d said it. He meets Sherlock’s eyes again.
Sherlock doesn’t answer at first. He considers John, his words, his countenance, then shakes his head fondly.
“You’re my heart, John. Rather silly to rip out what you already own.”
They stare at each other fondly a long moment more, two men on the brink of retirement, hopelessly in love.
“Let me use the loo and we can be out of here,” John says, wishing he had words like Sherlock’s to express what his eyes are trying to say.
He hears the first notes before he opens the door, and walks slowly to the sitting room to find Sherlock at the window in a pose so familiar he thinks he could paint it in his sleep. The melody is unfamiliar, slow and mournful, an ode to the dimming of the day. The notes fill the empty rooms like they’ve never filled them before, triumphant in their power though subdued in their message. They bid goodbye to the comfortable old flat, to the busy street outside, to the marvelous whole of London. Farewell to late night shifts at Bart’s, to consulting with the Yard, and to the deafening silence growing ever louder in the building since they lost Mrs. Hudson on the twelfth of November.
Sherlock needs this, John realises. Just as he himself needed the time alone to walk the quiet rooms, to pack away Rosie’s childhood. He’s said his farewells to the anchor point of his adulthood and is about to take a leap of faith into tomorrow.
Everything will work out, he thinks, as Sherlock lets the violin sing his goodbyes. Everything is alright.
Chapter 6: F is for Fiddle
The argument started when Rosie was ten. Sherlock, bemoaning the cutbacks to music education in the British school system, had enrolled her in after-school music instruction.
This wasn’t her first extra-curricular activity. Not by far.
They’d tried swimming, dancing, gymnastics, football, painting, French, and martial arts. John thought they were overdoing it, but Sherlock pointed out that they weren’t enrolling her in a six-year program but rather trying out introductory classes that offered a taste of everything.
Rosie enjoyed swimming, loved to dance but thoroughly despised the dance costume and proved far less flexible than the other children in gymnastics. She would have spent all her time playing football if she could, but wasn’t the best team player.
“Ball hog,” John had sighed. “She must get that from her mum.”
She showed little interest in painting, and the subjects she chose delighted Sherlock and embarrassed John.
“An autopsy? She painted a cadaver?”
“Exactly. Very lifelike, don’t you think?”
Sherlock’s mouth had turned up a fraction, just enough for John to notice, at his oh-so-appropriate choice of adjective.
As for French, she took to it with ease, and was becoming more fluent by the day as she and Sherlock chatted together, forgetting that John couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying. They spoke it so frequently together that John began picking up phrases and was occasionally able to decipher bits of a conversation, and was not pleased at all to find they were discussing which of his jumpers they should donate to Oxfam.
As for martial arts, John had pulled the plug on that activity when Rosie, at the age of eight, had found Sherlock’s nunchaku and whopped herself on the head, causing a mild concussion.
But music – surely music was a safe enough bet. Difficult to cause severe bodily injury with a clarinet or flute or a piano, unless she figured out how to roll it down the stairs.
She was introduced to a variety of instruments in the twelve-week program Sherlock had chosen, and encouraged to research even more on her own.
But Rosie, naturally, chose the violin.
Naturally, even though she frequently complained about Sherlock’s playing, especially when he was in one of his frantic, unsettled moods and the music made everyone but Sherlock jittery and nervous. Even though she’d called the violin stupid when she’d wanted to go to the park while Sherlock was playing and suggested she help him compose a song for John’s birthday instead. And even though they all suspected she really really wanted a set of drums.
But violin it was – she insisted, and Sherlock still owned the violin he’d used at her age, miniaturized for small hands and arms and necks, so outfitting her was especially easy and inexpensive.
The argument wasn’t over practicing. She practiced without complaint, seemed to enjoy her lessons, and was always up to new challenges Sherlock posed, which he did frequently, and with great creativity. A year after her first lesson, Sherlock had her reversing simple pieces – writing, then playing, them backward.
“Now I know what you’re playing when you’re in one of your moods,” John said to Sherlock after Rosie played him a discordant not-quite-tune then showed him how she’d re-written the music of her beginner pieces from finish to start.
The argument wasn’t over the care of the old violin either. Rosie had John’s temperament and generally followed John’s lead. She took on his mission of making sure Sherlock ate and slept. She thought him just as brilliant as her father did. She even expressed the same kind of exasperation with him that John did, though she herself exasperated John for many of the same reasons, including full milk cartons left on the carton and empty ones returned to the refrigerator. And, like John, she knew when Sherlock was serious about something and when not to push his buttons. And pushing his buttons on the care of an instrument he obviously valued was absolutely not wise.
The argument was about whether Sherlock’s violin, the one that sang her lullabies when she was small, that professed Sherlock’s love for John before John spoke its hidden language, the one that artfully recreated the profound passion of the classic composers, was, as she insisted, a fiddle.
Unfortunately for Sherlock, Rosie had at her disposal every article regarding the subject on every child-safe site on the internet, and very likely, a few sites that had managed to slip through Sherlock’s filters. Unfortunately for Rosie, no one won an argument with Sherlock.
“I really don’t care what you think,” she said one particular evening, after she’d just played a simple but catchy Irish tune on her instrument, “all violins are fiddles.”
“You don’t care what he thinks?” John had repeated, mainly because he was in the mood for an argument between the two. It was Friday, he didn’t have to work the next day, there was nothing of note on television, and he really didn’t want to play Scrabble again. “You seem to care what he thinks quite a bit when I want you to go to bed and he says it’s fine to stay up and watch a movie with him.”
“I don’t care what he thinks about violins and fiddles,” she clarified, glaring over at Sherlock, who was frowning as he examined something that looked extremely unhygienic n a clear plastic evidence bag Lestrade had brought over the day before. “I care what he thinks about bedtimes.”
“Time for bed,” Sherlock said, distractedly, as if he hadn’t even heard her.
John hid a grin and picked up a magazine.
“You can’t do that!” protested Rosie. “It isn’t fair – not at all!” She placed her violin carefully in the velvet-lined case and closed the lid, snapping the buckles with more noise and intensity than the task merited.
“Careful with that violin,” warned Sherlock.
“I’m always careful with this fiddle,” she retorted.
“it doesn’t matter. They’re the same. All violins are fiddles.”
“All violins can be fiddles,” Sherlock corrected. “Though mine is always a violin.”
“Even when you fiddle on it?” Rosie shot back.
“I do not fiddle on my violin,” Sherlock stated, very gravely and only a tiny bit petulantly.
“Ha!” Rosie was triumphant. “You do too! You played Maggie at my school with Ms. Pollard and Mr. Clyde.” She looked over at John. “Didn’t he, Dad? He did, you were there. Remember? The really fast one that you said make his face scrunch up like he was going to have a tantrum?”
“I didn’t….” John began automatically as Sherlock slowly raised his eyes and stared keenly at him. He trailed off. He had said that, in fact. Exactly that. “Alright, I suppose I did say that. To get the argument back in the right arena, he turned it around again. “That was an Irish song, wasn’t it, Sherlock? An Irish fiddle tune?”
“Drowsy Maggy,” Sherlock corrected them after a good deal more silent staring. “And you may not recall, as it would have escaped your notice completely, but Ms. Pollard and I exchanged instruments before that impromptu performance. She insisted I try hers but we all know she was just keen on getting her hands on mine for a bit.”
John was glad Ms. Pollard had taken a position in Boston for a year or she’d soon be privy to that bit of information from Rosie.
“So she played Maggie on your fiddle?” Rosie was not very adept at subtlety. John could plainly see where she was going with this.
Sherlock made a show of arranging the specimen bag back in the box with his other case notes. Finally, he looked up at Rosie with a carefully schooled expression. John raised his magazine higher to cover his entire mouth and nose. Sherlock was about to spout something ridiculous. However, he wasn’t prepared for what came out of Sherlock’s mouth next, especially when he let the words sink into his skin.
“She played Drowsy Maggie on my violin. My violin had no say in the matter and felt used and violated afterward. Survivors of trauma sometimes cope with the traumatic event by blocking it out of their memory – totally suppressing it so that they are able to continue with their lives. My violin currently has no memory of being manhandled as it was and I would appreciate it very much if you would not mention Drowsy Maggie ever again.”
At ten, Rosie was old enough to know how ridiculous that statement was. But she was also young enough not to completely understand that an instrument – any kind of instrument – only amplified the feelings put into it. Heart, soul, spirit, passion, melancholy, rage, exuberance – Sherlock’s violin was Sherlock.
And Sherlock was simply not a fiddler.
They stared at each other, and John felt the change in the air when Rosie, not understanding why it was important but accepting that it was, let it go.
“Do you think my violin will mind if I learn to fiddle?” she asked, running her hand over the case, and looking tentatively at Sherlock.
“Your violin is you.”
She narrowed her eyes, thought about it, then bit her bottom lip and glanced over at John.
“I think – ” he glanced at Sherlock and somehow read the intent in those stormy eyes. “He means it wouldn’t mind at all.”
Chapter 7: G is for Girlfriend
John collapsed, fully clothed, onto the bed. He released a long breath and watched Sherlock methodically hang up his jacket, remove his belt, then toe off his shoes.
“Well, that was certainly interesting,” he said a few seconds later as Sherlock settled in beside him.
“Interesting?” Sherlock spoke the word as a challenge. He was resting his arm on his forehead, and John jostled him so he’d move his elbow, which kept poking him in the cheek.
“Fine,” John sighed. “Unexpected??” He turned his head to look at Sherlock. “No? How about educational? Thought-provoking? Trying? What? Do I need more syllables?”
“I think embarrassing and awkward will cover it nicely,” Sherlock said.
“It would have been a lot less embarrassing if Rosie had bothered to tell us first.” John rolled to face Sherlock, biting back a grimace as his leg twinged. “Why do you suppose she didn’t? Have we ever…?”
“No. Never.” Sherlock sighed. “Never,” he repeated, and he sounded as puzzled as John felt.
“You’re right. We haven’t.” John rubbed his eyes behind his glasses, then pushed them up onto his head. Sherlock reached over and plucked them off, then folded them properly and put them on the bedside table.
“Not only have we been careful not to instill heteronormative expectations, we’ve gone out of our way to make it clear that we accept people as they are.”
John laughed. “Unless they’re Mycroft,” he said.
The corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitched. “Unless they’re Mycroft,” he conceded.
“Or very, very stupid.”
“Mycroft and Anderson.” Sherlock paused. “And that cabbie who got us stuck on that roundabout for fifteen minutes.”
John grimaced at that particular memory. Sherlock had practically climbed over the backseat to try to take control of the vehicle. “Oh – and evil criminal masterminds.”
“Well, suffice it to say that she’s been exposed to all types,” Sherlock said.
John rolled onto his back again and they lay there, staring at the ceiling.
“Emily’s parents were nice,” he mused after a few minutes.
“They insinuated that I wasn’t much of a detective if I couldn’t see that Emily and Rosie were – how did they put it?”
“More than friends,” John said.
“More than friends,” repeated Sherlock. “How did we not see it, John? We went to great pains to make sure she wasn’t in her room alone with boys but just waved them on when she brought home a girl.”
“We didn’t know,” John said. “We assumed they were just friends.”
“Chris and Monica think that’s exactly what they are,” Sherlock reminded him. “Friends who are doing a bit of experimenting. Because their daughter isn’t gay.”
“Well, Chris and Monica are both women. They claim to know a lesbian when they see one.”
“Monica was married to a man for twelve years,” Sherlock noted. “I’m not sure she’s the most authoritative source.”
“How do you even know that?” John asked. “You just met her tonight. She never said that.”
“I looked them up when I went to use the loo,” he answered.
“Of course you did,” John said, tugging at one of Sherlock’s curls. “Unfortunately, they’ve been reading my blog for years. There’s not much they don’t know about us.”
“You’re focusing on the wrong thing,” Sherlock said. “What’s important is that they don’t think their daughter is gay. Naturally, they came here to find out if we think Rosie is.”
“Why would they care?” John rubbed his eyes again. “Jesus – this isn’t how I expected to start our weekend alone.”
“They care because they don’t want the world to think that same sex parents necessarily produce homosexual children,” Sherlock stated. “And now they have a daughter dating the daughter of another same-sex couple.”
They were silent for several minutes more, then John spoke into the quiet.
“I just wish she’d told us. I can’t understand why she hasn’t.” He entwined his hand with Sherlock’s beside his. “She was probably planning to spring the surprise after she got back from the class trip to Edinburgh.”
“Where she and Emily are rooming together.”
“John – stop.” Sherlock let go of John’s hand and scooted up to against the headboard. “She’s seventeen now. She’s already had two boyfriends. Now she has a girlfriend. She’s young. She’s smart. She’s having fun. She’s trying to figure things out.”
John gave him a tired grin. “Yeah – she’s not waiting ‘til she’s forty to see how the other half lives.”
“Hardly half,” said Sherlock fondly. “So, she’s not a late bloomer like her dad.”
“You were worth the wait,” John said. “And to think – if you hadn’t got your head out of your arse, I might be living with Mycroft now. I have it on good authority he was definitely interested.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “He likes your tea, John. Your tea.”
“And my arse. I’ve caught him looking.”
Sherlock wedged a hand under that particular body part and squeezed. “Speaking of – you say my head was up my arse, but I’d don’t recall that it was I who married a woman to deal with my repressed feelings.”
John gave him the look. That look. The one that said I think we all know what you did, Sherlock.
“We were talking about Rosie,” Sherlock reminded him. He considered the matter, running it through his mind, then letting out a small breath. A silent Ah ha!. “Are you worried she’ll stick with women, John?”
“No! No…I…I don’t know. Maybe? I’ve never thought about it before. She’s been talking about boys since she was twelve, Sherlock. Boys. She’s on birth control. I just didn’t expect to have to address…this.”
“This.” Sherlock repeated the word, then started to chuckle. “This is nothing, John.” He took John’s hand again and carefully laced their fingers together. “We’ve survived murderous wives and sisters, PTSD and serious injuries. We survived falling in love with our best friend. Addiction. I have no intention of being done in by Rosie’s dating preferences and refuse to lose more sleep over this than I did when she was teething.”
John smiled. “Don’t forget toilet training,” he added. “We survived toilet training.”
Sherlock shuddered. “Barely.”
They lay quietly side by side for a few minutes more.
“Well, thing or not, it’s taking up too much space in my brain right now,” John muttered at last. “I’m not going to be able to sleep.”
“Oh?” Sherlock moved their joined hands to John’s thigh. “I can work on your leg a bit then, if you’d like.”
“Yeah. That would be nice.” John settled into a slightly more comfortable position as Sherlock repositioned himself and began the deep tissue massage he’d mastered soon after John’s injury. He grimaced against the pain – productive pain, Sherlock would remind him. Pain mixed with relief. “Do you remember the old days, when Molly would take her for a weekend?” he asked as Sherlock moved from quadriceps to knee.
Sherlock smiled. “I remember. Sex holidays, you called them.”
“Pajamas all weekend. Eating nothing but take-away.”
“Sleeping in until ten.”
“Or ‘til noon.”
They were companionably quiet after that, until Sherlock pushed at John’s side to encourage him to roll over.
“Do you think she’ll want children?” John quietly asked as he settled onto his stomach.
Sherlock began working on the always too-tight calf as John tried not to tense the difficult muscle. “Did you?” he asked, just as quietly.
No one outside of a therapy session had ever asked him that before, not since he’d had Rosie, anyway.
“No, I didn’t,” he answered, feeling guilty to admit it, and relieved to have it out there. “Did you?”
Sherlock’s fingers and palms continued to work John’s leg. “No,” he said at last. “I didn’t. But I’m very glad she was part of my prize package.”
John rolled over with a groan and grasped Sherlock’s wrist, pulling him down until they were tangled together.
“You always say the perfect thing, you closet romantic,” John said.
“I do,” said Sherlock, kissing John’s neck and scooting up to carefully straddle him. “Now let’s get on with our weekend and let our daughter and her girlfriend get on with theirs.”
John grinned. and for a moment, or for the space of time they remained entwined in bed together, Rosie was no longer front and center in their minds.
Always loved, always wanted, but tucked away in Edinburgh on a school trip with a trusted friend who might be something more, she was – temporarily – forgotten.
Chapter 8: H is for Husband
John dried the last of the breakfast dishes then headed to the bedroom to fetch the dirty laundry. He had it in the back of his mind to strip the bed even though it wasn’t Monday. The sheets were starting to ball and they had too many spare sets to suffer through uncomfortable nights on old linens.
“Get out of bed you slacker,” he said, more fondly than the situation warranted, given how often it had been repeated of late. He vaguely remembered the days when Sherlock had to be coerced into sleeping. “I thought you said we weren’t coming down here to retire.”
He untucked the bottom corners of the fitted sheet. They sprung up onto the bed, where Sherlock’s body kept the rest of the sheet pinned to the mattress.
“Tired,” Sherlock mumbled. “Taking a nap.”
“Right. Napping directly after breakfast. Again.” John may as well have been talking to himself as he moved about the room picking up discarded clothing. “I’ll just leave the laundry for you then while I go to work. Because I’m not retired, remember?”
“That’s nice.” Sherlock sounded very relaxed. John stood in the doorway, arms full of dirty clothing, and watched Sherlock with a tiny spot of envy.
“Do you have plans today?” he asked even though it was obvious that if Sherlock did have plans, they weren’t for any time soon.
“Bees,” mumbled Sherlock.
“Besides the bees,” John added at the nearly the same time.
“Might plant a garden,” Sherlock answered groggily.
“A garden? Really?” John’s voice clearly betrayed his lack of confidence in Sherlock’s gardening skills.
“I can garden,” Sherlock said. He was still sprawled on the bed, head turned away from John. His words kept getting swallowed up by his pillow.
“I didn’t say you couldn’t,” John answered.
“You didn’t have to.” Sherlock muttered as he rolled over. He looked at John as if John had somehow let him down. “You don’t think I can keep a garden, do you?”
John didn’t answer. He dropped the laundry onto the floor and walked around the bed until he was staring down at Sherlock.
“Honestly? No. I think you can plant a garden. I don’t imagine you can keep it going. Vegetables need care – pruning and watering and tilling and fertilizing. You’ll get bored and abandon it and we’ll have a few scraggly beans and turnips.”
“Who said anything about vegetables? Vegetables are boring.” This time, Sherlock actually put out the effort to roll over and stare up at John. He had a deep diagonal crease across his cheek from a fold in the pillow case.
“So what are you growing then? Phad Thai?” asked John, suppressing a smile but still sounding very impressed with his own cleverness.
Sherlock didn’t seem to notice the gleam in his eyes and completely ignored the Phad Thai joke.
“Bees, John I’m growing a bee garden. Native flowers – perennials – the sort of plants that don’t require a lot of care and that will thrive here. Flowers for the bees, John.” The animated look faded from his face and he yawned, then closed his eyes and stretched out like a contented cat. “They’ll keep the bees closer to home – perhaps attract neighbor bees.” He yawned again and put the pillow over his face. “Perhaps tomorrow,” he added, his voice so muffled John could barely make it out.
John wasn't sure that attracting neighbor bees was necessarily a good thing, but he sighed and let Sherlock be. After all, they’d only been in the cottage for two months. Maybe Sherlock really would plant a perennials garden. Maybe he really would take care of it. Perhaps looking after bees and flowers would be enough for him.
Right. Maybe Mycroft would quit meddling and their laundry would do itself too, John thought, as he stepped over the pile of dirty clothing in the doorway and headed off to work.
John returned to the cottage at half five with a pounding headache. He was beginning to question his judgment at taking a job as assistant medical director at a sprawling retirement community. It had sounded like a perfect fit when he interviewed. Residents who needed routine care on an ongoing basis. Plenty of time to get to know his patients. The usual range of falls and complaints. What he hadn’t expected was the keen interest they had in him – or, more specifically, in Sherlock.
“Ooh! You’re married to that detective - the one with the delightful arse,” old Mrs. Goetz had cooed that afternoon when she came in to see him for the first time, complaining of gout, a condition John could find nowhere in her file.
And while John did agree that Sherlock’s arse was delightful, that wasn’t quite the point.
“Actually, we’re not married,” he said as he studied her chart.
“Not married!” He may as well have said “Actually, he’s from Uranus,” or “In fact, he pads his pants with foam packing.” She somehow managed to look both horrified and terribly upset. “You need to go home tonight and propose to him!” she insisted. But she frowned then, and looked even more horrified. “You have, haven’t you? You’ve already proposed and he’s said no, hasn’t he? He isn’t sure yet – wanting to make sure you don’t turn up with something he can’t handle. Dementia, I’d say. Or some sort of physical limitation – like bad knees. You’re fairly solid, Dr. Watson. Even a strong lad like Sherlock Holmes would have trouble carting you up and down stairs if your knees gave out.”
He cleared his throat, trying not to think about his bad leg. “Mrs. Goetz – your gout?”
“Gout too, eh? Well no wonder he won’t have you! Painful – very painful. You’re probably up at night complaining, aren’t you?”
He’d managed to finish his examination, ordering tests for rheumatoid arthritis – it was a much more likely explanation of her complaints than gout – but she managed to sneak in a few more questions about his relationship, including questioning his devotion and loyalty to Sherlock given that he wasn’t willing to marry him. “Are you waiting for something better?” she’d asked. “Because if you’ve not been with a lot of men, Dr. Watson, you may not know that arses really don’t come in prettier packages.”
Now, headache about to be amplified, he climbed out of the car and started up to the cottage, a dark raincloud hovering over him and shooting out random bolts of sputtery lightning as he considered just exactly how he’d get from the car to the cottage door if his leg got weaker, or if his knees gave out, or if he succumbed to gout. His progress was halted as soon as he turned the corner from the side drive where he’d left the car, however, by the dozens of pots lined up in rows across the walk, all filled with unidentifiable sprouts and sprigs of green in a variety of shades and sizes. To the side, a huge pile of what looked and smelled very much like cow manure nearly blocked his view of the front garden.
John took a deep breath, regretted it instantly as the farm-fresh aroma of manure filled his nose, then stepped carefully through a gap in the first row of plants, then another, then another, until he was standing at the front door. He pushed it open and stepped inside to complete silence, letting his eyes adjust to the semi-darkness.
Oh God no.
More plants, apparent clones of the ones outside. They were arranged in clusters instead of rows, and nearly filled the corridor.
John worked his way around this next set of obstacles, and was oddly grateful that there didn’t seem to be any piles of manure inside the cottage.
He found Sherlock, as he had half-expected to, asleep on the sofa.
Sherlock’s feet were bare. He was wearing the sturdy yet somehow still stylish work trousers he’d adopted since moving here, with one of John’s old t-shirts on top. Short as it was, it had ridden up to expose half of his stomach. He had a smudge of dirt on one cheek and another on his forehead, and both knees of his trousers were green with grass stains. His hands were folded on his stomach, and four of his fingers were adorned with plasters. His hair was a reassuring tumble of salt and pepper curls, plastered more closely to one side of his head than the other.
John wanted to be angry. He really, really, wanted to be angry.
But he stood there, exasperated and tense, staring at Sherlock, for all of five seconds before he was overcome with a most ridiculous desire to do something very rash and very unexpected.
John cleared his throat. Loudly.
Sherlock grunted. His eyes flickered open. He blinked – quite endearingly, then smiled crookedly.
“John – home already.” He pushed up on his elbows, then his brain seemed to engage, clearly bringing to mind the disaster he’d left in full view. “It turns out that creating a bee garden involves quite a bit of digging,” he began.
“Quite a bit, I’d imagine,” John replied. He turned over Sherlock’s closest hand. The blisters on his fingers were hardly contained by the meager padding of the plasters, and the blister on his palm had broken and torn. He sighed.
“I may have taken things out of order,” Sherlock admitted. “I suppose the flowers could have waited until the beds were prepared.”
“Why aren’t we married?” John blurted, dropping his hand and looking at Sherlock accusingly.
Sherlock, looking a bit alarmed at the outburst, and probably not processing it fully despite his documented brilliance, scooted back until he was sitting in the corner of the sofa, knees drawn up defensively.
“Really – why aren’t we married?” John repeated. “People do that, you know. They fall in love, and commit to one another. And they get married. I did that once – you were there, remember?”
He had assumed military stance without meaning to, and Sherlock instinctively straightened his back.
“I remember,” Sherlock responded carefully, his gaze not leaving John’s face, perhaps searching for a sign of the alien life form that had taken over John’s body. He did not say, though he very much wanted to, that John had on more than one occasion ridiculed the institution and pledged never to go down that path again.
“We’ve always made it around hospital and legal restrictions because we’ve had Mycroft, but he’s not going to be around forever, and he’s in London. I don’t care if he’s the British government – things are different here. People are different. They don’t know us.”
“John, I …”
“What if you go blind, Sherlock? What then? What if you’re too much of a burden and I decide I can’t take it anymore? What’s to keep me here then?”
Sherlock looked a bit panicked. “You assured me my glaucoma was caught early! You threatened me with blindness if I didn’t do my drops. I do my drops! You watch me!”
“Hmph.” John blew a blast of air out of his nose.
“John, I hardly think….” Sherlock was a very, very bright man, and it was a bit surprising that the conversation – if one could call this verbal assault a conversation – had gone on as long as it had without his brain clicking in gear. He wanted to shout it out – What happened today at work? Why are you suddenly worried that I’ll abandon you? How ridiculous can you possibly be?
But wisely, of so wisely, he kept his mouth shut except to utter a single syllable.
“Yes?” It was John’s turn to blink. And to frown. “What do you mean – yes?”
Sherlock’s face softened as he stared at John, hoping he’d read the signs correctly this time. “I’m taking that as a proposal. Yes, I’ll marry you. Yes, we should get married.”
John stood there, seemingly frozen in place.
“Married.” He was giving Sherlock all his considerable focus now. It almost hurt Sherlock’s brain to keep staring at him.
“Right. You proposed – albeit in a roundabout way. Quite unexpected – I rather anticipated you’d boot me when you found the manure out front. Given the circumstances, I’d be a fool not to accept before the next episode – bees in the sunroom or noxious gases in the kitchen or maybe an orphaned litter of field mice to raise….”
“Sherlock.” John’s voice was low and gravelly now, slightly menacing. Sherlock narrowed his gaze.
But he was smiling, and his eyes were glistening with what could not possibly be tears, and Sherlock frowned again, and leaned forward. “Am I wrong?” he asked. “Did I do it all wrong?”
“No, you didn’t, you idiot,” answered John, good knee falling forward to rest on the edge of the sofa as he took Sherlock’s bandaged hand in his own and kissed the bruised knuckles. He was transported back to a day in May long ago when he’d stood between the two people he loved most in the world and promised his forevers to only one of them. He tugged on Sherlock’s hand, the solid hand of the one who was there now, who’d always been there, even when John thought he was gone. “Come here.”
“You’re going to kiss me,” Sherlock said.
“Deduce that, did you?” said John, pulling Sherlock’s head forward and kissing him just as Sherlock had deduced.
He tasted like sweat, and hard work, and sunshine. He tasted of all that is good and true and sure in this world. But most of all – most of all– he tasted of home.
“You still have to clean up that mess,” John murmured into Sherlock’s neck. “Move it all to the shade out by the hives. The plants might actually survive out there until you have someone come out and cultivate the bed.”
“Hmm.” Sherlock winced as he threaded his hands around John’s neck. "Tomorrow. It’s Saturday – you’re off. You could help.”
John laughed. “Tomorrow we’re going to London to tell Rosie.”
They lay together that evening, entwined in each other’s arms, and in the darkness, with John’s heart beating against him, Sherlock had the courage to voice a question.
“Why now, John? Why now after all this time?”
“Because Mrs. Goetz thinks you have a delightful arse,” John answered sleepily. He gave that arse a little squeeze and Sherlock gave a mental shrug and sank into sleep. And he never mentioned it again, but once his garden was established, Mrs. Goetz began to receive regular bouquets of local wildflowers from a secret admirer. She always tucked a flower from the bouquet into John’s front pocket, and John in turn left it on his husband’s pillow.
Chapter 9: I is for Idiot
The day after John realised he loves Sherlock.
John Watson knew he loved Sherlock Holmes, really, really knew it, the night he found Sherlock dancing a restless Rosie around the sitting room.
He’d joined the dance, Sherlock’s partner with Rosie nestled sleeping between them, and they’d stepped around the room as the music playing from Sherlock’s mobile looped around and around in a continuous, golden, lilting lullaby.
John knew he loved Sherlock then, and he knew he loved Sherlock when at last he fell asleep on the sofa that night, Rosie sleeping, fist in mouth, in her travel cot beside him. He knew it when he woke up in the morning to find Sherlock, sitting cross-legged on the floor with John’s laptop open before him, feeding Rosie bananas and hotcakes.
John knew. And Sherlock knew.
John knew Shelock knew. He could see it in his eyes – from the moment he caught them watching him as he stretched awake on the sofa, and every time they connected as they passed on that rare day home together. It was a particularly quiet day, with Rosie spending most of it sleeping in her cot or cuddled up with a blanket and a plushie, tucked beside one of them on the sofa. John did the crossword and read the paper. Sherlock worked quietly at the table. John made soup and sandwiches for lunch, and Sherlock actually ate, then fell asleep on the sofa after, still not completely himself after his recent bout with the flu.
There was another lullaby for Rosie that evening, with Sherlock coaxing the tune, soft and gentle and sweet, from the violin while John danced quietly with her around the room in circles and figure eights until she fell asleep on his shoulder with an exhale and a sleepy sigh.
But Sherlock and John didn’t dance that night, and no one dared to bring the secret words up to the surface from the depths of their hearts, but John knew, and Sherlock knew. They sat together on the sofa, side by side, almost touching but not touching, John reading the book he’d been meaning to finish for three months, and Sherlock restringing his violin.
When John closed the book at last with a quiet yawn, he rested his hand on Sherlock’s leg as if it were the most natural gesture in the world , one he’d been doing for years in a sleepy, time-for-bed ritual.
“I’m off to bed – if Rosie’s feeling well enough tomorrow, we should all take a walk in the park.”
Sherlock's fingers on the violin strings stilled. He looked down at John’s hand on his thigh, then lifted his gaze slowly to John’s face.
“We don’t take family walks in the park, John,” he said, voice low, working it out as he spoke. “You take her or I take her but we never take her.” He looked down at John’s hand again. “We don’t do that,” he whispered.
John stared at his hand on Sherlock’s thigh. Odd that it was still there. Odd that he hadn’t jerked it away with a quick excuse, or slid it quietly back onto his own lap.
Odd that Sherlock hadn’t recoiled, or stood up quickly to excuse himself. Odd that his trousers were so soft, his skin so warm.
Odd that you haven’t kissed him, John thought. Odd that you danced in his arms last night, rested your head on his shoulder, spent a perfectly lovely, beautifully-choreographed day at home together yet haven’t told him you love him.
“Maybe we should, then,” he said.
Sherlock’s hand slid atop John’s. His touch was light, almost hesitant, but John turned his own hand over and with no real effort, and no thought at all, they were holding hands.
“Maybe we should - take a walk in the park?” Sherlock clarified.
“That too,” said John, absently, focused as he was on the fit of Sherlock’s hand inside his own.
They stared at each other for the longest minute of their lives, until Sherlock’s eyes softened, and John’s lips twitched into the smile he used to wear when Sherlock had exasperated the hell out of him but still managed to impress him with his brilliance.
“You’re an idiot,” Sherlock said softly. “If you wanted to dance, you should have just asked me.”
“I don’t want to dance,” John said.
“Idiot,” murmured Sherlock, and he lifted John’s hand and kissed it.
It was a language they’d never spoken, in a world they’d never visited. A topsy turvy, mixed-up world where every word meant something new, where idiot was I love you and holding hands was kissing lips, and walks in the park were making love in the moonlight.
“Idiot,” repeated John as he pushed Sherlock’s violin carefully to the side, then knelt on the floor between Sherlock’s knees, framed his face in his hands and kissed him.
There would be better kisses between them, more passionate, more practiced, more desperate. But there would never be another first kiss – two ridiculous idiots slow dancing in the moonlight, walking hand-in-hand in Regent’s Park.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a very long time,” John said, lips grazing Sherlock’s ear.
“You’ve wanted to do that since last night,” said Sherlock, uncharacteristically breathless. He was softer around the edges than John had ever seen him, as if the kiss had eased open all of his acute angles. “When you finally put it all together. You didn’t have all the clues before last night.”
“Selfish,” John breathed. “Hoarding all those clues.”
And he kissed Sherlock again, coaxed his lips open, mapped his face with his fingers, tasted clues not yet revealed.
And they waltzed in moonlight on water, floated away with the gentle breeze on Primrose Hill.
Chapter 10: J is for Jump
John and Sherlock experienced enough trauma in the first five years of their friendship to last a dozen lifetimes. They’ve worked through it, and over it, and sometimes around it, and mostly, these days, it’s solidly behind them. While they have their individual triggers, neither can stomach aquariums, and they had matching panic attacks the first time a drone hovered overhead when they took Rosie for a stroll in the park.
But time passes, and love heals, and laughter truly is the best medicine when the specter of something best forgotten rises out of the mist of their pasts and hovers over the life they’ve settled into.
Rosie doesn’t remember her mother, and neither John nor Sherlock know how to make her part of the little girl’s life. There will come a time when Rosie will ask questions, when she is old enough to learn the truth.
What was my mum like?
How did you meet?
Was she very pretty?
How did she die?
John can imagine the questions she’ll ask, and Sherlock can imagine even more.
Why did she die instead of you?
If Daddy saved you, why couldn’t he save her?
Did you love Daddy back then?
Why did he marry her if he loved you?
But what neither of them can imagine is how a little girl who loves to swim and who very much wants to be brave in front of her parents and her classmates will bring them both to their knees.
Rosie is eight years old. She’s been taking swimming class in the winter for three years now. It’s one of the extracurriculars she enjoys, and while she most likely isn’t bound for the Olympics, she loves the water and the time with the other children her age when it’s too cold for the park and for outside play dates.
John’s rule has always been that if Sherlock enrolls her, Sherlock is responsible for getting her there and back. He’ll go to recitals and end-of-class promotions, and any other time Rosie insists, but he’s always glad to have an hour or two to himself on a Saturday morning or Wednesday evening. So Sherlock goes, and John knows he doesn’t sit still for the duration of the lesson, watching Rosie intently as she practices flutter kicks or participates in swim relays or does underwater somersaults during free play time. He pokes around the place, and studies the other parents, and probably has broken into an administrative office more than once to borrow a computer to look up the decomposition rate of pickles under a park bench in summertime.
But today is the last lesson of the season, and Rosie informed him last week that his presence is required as all the parents will be there, even Homer’s mom Alice who never comes because she has a new baby. So John goes, willingly enough, and parks himself in the bleachers.
He doesn’t like pools, or water, for that matter. Hasn’t since – well, hasn’t in a very long time, anyway. But Rosie is a clean slate, and he wants her to experience life – all of life – not just the parts he deems safe, the tried and true and tested bits and pieces of what is, or can be, a very dangerous game.
She’s just a little spot of a thing in the pool, in her green and blue one-piece suit that crisscrosses her back with a tiny bow in the middle– the only adornment she would allow. He’d taken her to buy it at the end of August during the sales, and she’s spouted forth a lecture about water resistance and the ridiculousness of capitalizing popular culture when she’d struck down his choice of a brightly coloured two piece with full top and shorts adorned with a Wonder Woman motif.
It was Sherlock talking, but John loved Sherlock, so how could he not love Sherlock in Rosie?
Her hair is tied back in a braid and she’s easy to track with her blonde hair and sensible swim suit as the children swim short laps, demonstrating each of the strokes they’ve learned and practiced this session. She’s already told him that the side stroke is like picking apples - You reach for it, pull it off the tree and drop it in the basket, she’d said, in her most didactic voice, illustrating the hand motion then jumping into the air but not quite executing the accompanying scissor kick. They also do a basic crawl and the back stroke, then the instructor has them float for several minutes and practice their kicks along the wall.
And then it is time for free play.
There are restrictions on play, of course. Rosie has already warned them about this. “I want you to watch me,” she said. “I may have a surprise, if it’s a good day and Ms. Cortez allows it.” Apparently, some days the children haven’t listened well or have misbehaved and free time is used up by breathing practice or an oral quiz.
Ah. Today about half the children scamper out of the pool and walk, as quickly as they can without strictly breaking into a forbidden run, along the side of the pool to the deep end, and they queue up at the ladder going to the high dive. They wait there, antsy with anticipation, until Ms. Cortez’ helper has the remaining children sitting cross-legged at the end of the pool and Ms. Cortez herself is positioned at the ladder on the side of the pool opposite John and Sherlock.
They’re sitting several rows behind the other parents who’ve come to watch today. It isn’t a big crowd by any means, but there are a dozen other people watching and waiting.
Not surprisingly, Rosie is first in line.
“Has she done this before?” John asks. Sherlock shakes his head as Mrs. Cortez blows her whistle – two sharp tweets – and Rosie begins to climb the stairs to the 3 meter platform. She is sure-footed and eager, and they watch her with some pride until she steps out onto the springboard and inches toward the end.
They’re sitting on level with her, but far enough away that they can’t make out the emotion on her face. She hesitates at the end, glances quickly over at them. Sherlock gives her a thumbs up and John nods and smiles.
Rosie looks down at the water, then over at Ms. Cortez. But still she hesitates, even as her instructor calls out words of encouragement.
Ms. Cortez moves toward the board to clear the other children so Rosie can climb back down. It happens, John thinks. She’s just not ready yet.
And it is then, while Rosie is still vacillating, that the chanted chorus begins from the children seated at the end of the pool.
Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!”
John’s breath catches. Wide-eyed, he watches as Rosie straightens, then raises her arms as if testing the wind, as if preparing to fly.
Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!
John cannot breathe. He cannot see, or taste, or feel. He can hear the chant and he can see – not Rosie on the diving board, but Sherlock on the edge of the roof, arms outstretched, testing the wind, preparing to fly.
Something – someone – Sherlock – wrestles him back when he jumps to his feet, impulse defeating reason, and his garbled cry of “No!” is swallowed up by the cheering of the children and parents as Rosie steps off the diving board and falls, pencil straight, into the pool below.
“John – it’s alright. It’s Rosie, John.” Sherlock’s voice is insistent, close to his ear. “It’s fine. She’s fine.”
It takes far too long for her head to pop up out of the water, and she attempts a brave wave to them, but swallows a mouthful of water and spews a bit as she swims, awkwardly kicking, back to the ladder where Ms. Cortez is ready with a beaming smile and words of praise.
Rosie gets back in line, bouncing on her heels and whispering to the little boy ahead of her.
John is aware of his surroundings again, of Sherlock’s hand clinging tightly to his own, Sherlock distracting him with deductions about Ms. Cortez and her pet capuchin monkey and her two lovers who know nothing of the other, even though they are father and son.
There is no hesitation when Rosie jumps the second time, or the third.
But before that, when each of the remaining children has their first turn, each time one of them falters, each time they stand near the end of the board, eying the blue water so far below, the chorus chants the same refrain. Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!
And each time, every time, Sherlock’s hand tightens around his own, even when the panic is gone, even when the chant is no longer a potent trigger.
Until John sees, at last, that Sherlock’s grip tightens as the child hits the water, and doesn’t release until the small head pops up, mouth open, gulping in air.
Chapter 11: K is for Kiss
See end notes for warnings for this chapter. It's sad and happy all at once and definitely part of life.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
John is sleeping.
He’s on his back now, but the head of the bed is elevated and his head is propped on a pillow. Not the soft pillow he prefers, but a firm one, institutional, covered in a crisp white case and smelling vaguely of bleach.
It’s not his heart, or his lungs, or cancer, or a stroke. He hasn’t fallen and broken a hip, and he’s not been injured or poisoned. None of the curses of advanced age have felled John Watson, who celebrated his sixty-ninth birthday only two weeks before.
No – John Watson is here, in this hospital bed in one of London’s finest medical establishments, because of a kiss.
Sherlock sits beside John’s bed, looking haggard and worried, which isn’t at all necessary, as John is doing fine. He’ll be going home tomorrow – or, more precisely, to Rosie’s place here in London for a week or so before they head home to Sussex.
John’s part in this unexpected drama is nearly over, but Emilio has a long road ahead of him.
There’s a photo in John’s wallet of two small boys. One is their grandson, and the other is his friend Emilio. Emilio, five years old, is fighting for his life and John is his best chance of winning the battle.
All because of that kiss.
An innocent kiss. Not romantic. Not sexual. Not passionate or intense. Silly, really, when you think about it. A little boy running to his grandpa in the park, his grandpa lifting him up in his arms and kissing his forehead.
“Kiss Emilio too!” William insists. “Pick him up, Grandpa!”
Emilio, shy, hovers behind his playground friend. John lifts him – Emilio is a long-time friend, and he knows his mum and gran, knows they won’t mind the display of affection. He presses his lips to the little boy’s forehead, startles at the unexpected heat emanating from the child’s skin.
“Are you feeling well today?” John asks as he eyes a plaster on the child’s elbow. It is stained and the scrape beneath is still oozing blood.
“’m hot,” says the boy, touching his forehead. “And achy.”
John lifts the boy again. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s go see your mum.”
Sherlock has scooped up William, and follows John to the bench where Rosie and Carla sit. John has noticed the bruising on Emilio’s legs, and Sherlock is putting it all together, only half a step behind John.
It’s probably nothing, but the signs can’t be ignored.
Their worst fears are confirmed that very week – leukemia, and fairly aggressive. As the treatment progresses and a miracle is needed, Rosie, John and Sherlock all test to be bone marrow donors. They are only three of dozens of Emilio’s family and friends who volunteer, only three in a fairly large medical database of strangers, but in the end, and against great odds, John is the best and only match.
He knows the process, the risks, the side effects. He knows the donor process is nothing compared to what the boy will go through. He doesn’t need Sherlock to worry, or to hover, but Sherlock does both nonetheless.
But most of all, and best of all, Sherlock is there with him. He doesn’t tell him he’s too old, even though he is too old by all medical considerations and guidelines. He doesn’t remind him that he barely knows this five-year old child with the shy smile, or his mum, single like Rosie, that their daughter and grandson happened upon one day in a tucked-away London park.
William, six years old, is really too young to visit John in hospital, and it really isn’t necessary. John’s only to be here overnight, and Sherlock is making sure the medical staff give him the very best care, though he’s lost the battle of the pillows – they insist the firm pillow is perfectly fine for an overnight stay. With John groggy and mostly sleeping, he wanders off to the cafeteria for a decent cup of tea that simply isn’t to be. When he returns, he stops in the doorway to John’s room because Carla is there, beside John’s bed, seated in Sherlock’s chair. John’s eyes are open, and he smiles tiredly as Carla leans in and kisses his wrinkled cheek.
Sherlock knows the feel of that face, the texture of the skin beneath his lips, the sandpaper rough comfort of his own sun-roughened cheek against John’s. He reaches for Carla’s hand as she leaves, squeezes it as tears leak from her bright brown eyes. He takes back his chair and settles in for the night, though John will wake and tell him to go home before he ruins his back and drives the staff mad.
Sherlock will ignore him.
Sherlock will nod off in the uncomfortable chair and a passing nurse will arrange a blanket around him, untie his shoes, and prop his feet on another chair. He’ll wake himself with his own snoring in the middle of the night and crowd in beside John on the narrow bed. The night nurse will pick up the blanket and let him be.
Sherlock and John are long gone now. John didn’t want a granite memorial, or weeping mourners, so Rosie and William and Sherlock brought him here. Emilio, twenty-two and just out of Uni, knelt with them in a circle around a hole in the ground and scattered his ashes beneath the roots of an apple tree. The tree bears fruit each year, and every year Emilio comes on the first Sunday in September and chooses an apple and eats it as he cleans the plaque beneath the tree. It’s his own appointed mission, because he doesn’t want to forget, and sometimes Rosie comes, and sometimes William, and always he feels the ghost of Sherlock whispering at his back.
For John Watson, and all the tomorrows he gave me.
Sherlock had liked the sentiment, had told Emilio that he might just borrow it for himself for a while. He hadn’t needed it for long – hadn’t, in fact enjoyed many tomorrows after John’s passing. He’d faded away within a year, and Rosie and William had scattered his ashes under the tree, then they’d spread out Sherlock’s magnificent coat on the ground and had a picnic in the sunshine.
Emilio chooses an apple, polishes it on his shirt, and bites into its golden flesh. It tastes like sunshine, and life, and bright stars in dark skies. It tastes like gentle rain, and warm hugs, and the glorious discovery of a new and wonderful friend.
It takes of hope. Of life. Of rebirth.
And most of all, it tastes of the memory he’ll never forget - of an old man’s kiss on his small and fevered head.
Warning for discussion of past main character death, as well as serious childhood illness.
Chapter 12: L is for Landlady
My brain is a roller coaster. I'm taking you from sweet angst to gobsmacked Sherlock getting sex advice from Mrs. Hudson. Enjoy!
Sherlock had known Mrs. Hudson for some time when John and Rosie moved back into 221B. He’d helped get her out of a rather difficult situation some years past, and she’d developed a certain fondness for him that went far beyond the typical tenant/landlady relationship. She might claim – repeatedly – that she wasn’t his housekeeper, but the fact was that she consistently performed housekeeper duties, but only when she wasn’t helping out with Rosie, picking up the shopping or acting as their gatekeeper.
Mrs. Hudson certainly wasn’t just their landlady. She was a part of their family. A mother, a friend, and indeed, sometimes, their housekeeper.
Yes, she filled a variety of roles in this life they’d cobbled together at 221B, but Sherlock felt she’d crossed the line when she started to give him relationship advice.
Who was he kidding?
It wasn’t relationship advice – it was sex advice.
“Have you got him into bed yet?” Mrs. Hudson asked him one morning, very casually, as if she were asking if he liked strawberry jam on his toast.
Sherlock blinked. He was, in fact, eating jam on toast in what he now referred to as his second morning. The first arrived far too early, at half five, when John showered and got ready for work and Sherlock dressed and changed Rosie and got her bag ready for the nursery. You’d think an institution like Bart’s would have a nursery system that didn’t require a fresh bag every day, but apparently, they had no storage room for hundreds of nappies and sippy cups. He then had a groggy cup of tea while Rosie banged away at her high chair tray and ate mushy bananas and John patiently scooted Cheerios’s from the edges of the tray to the center. Sherlock would tumble back in bed for another hour of sleep after they left, waking whenever John’s alarm went off again. John changed the alarm time at will, and hid the damn thing every morning. Sherlock given up trying to find it with his muddled morning head.
How had his life so utterly changed since John and Rosie moved back? He not only slept at night – he slept more after they left, and he didn’t have the energy to find a bloody alarm clock hidden in the dirty laundry.
“Into bed?” he repeated, as Mrs. Hudson warmed his tea and smiled a bit cattily at him. He really did deserve this – after all, he’d wandered into her flat uninvited hoping for a decent cup of tea. She’d been sitting at her table with a lovely cuppa, reading the paper and nibbling on a rather generous homemade biscuit
“Well, yes. Surely you don’t get up to it on the table already?”
“What?” He hated sounding so stupid – so surprised - but she was really making him a bit off kilter.
She frowned at him. “You’re sleeping too much, Sherlock. You’re all fuzzy in the morning. How is it that John gets up, perky and whistling, and goes off to work with the baby and you tumble back into bed?”
“I hardly tumble,” he mumbled.
“Well, you two clearly aren’t having sex yet, so that’s not the issue. So – what is it, then? Late nights cuddling on the sofa?” She took a sip of tea, smiling over the rim at him.
“We…” He found himself about to explain that they enjoyed watching movies together after Rosie went to bed, and that John was extremely tired after working all day then making dinner and caring for Rosie in the evening. He stopped himself, partly because it really was none of her business, but partly because it left a huge opening for her to suggest that he might do more of the meal preparation and child care himself.
“We?” she repeated, taking a bit of her biscuit and setting it politely on her saucer.
“We’re stuck!” he blurted. “We can’t get past snogging on the sofa!”
It wasn’t what he meant to say at all. Snogging was perfect. They’d only been at this a couple weeks, after all, this new world of John and Sherlock, of physical intimacy, of a love finally voiced.
“Oh, darling.” Mrs. Hudson put down her cup and leaned in with a conspiratorial whisper. “He’s either waiting for you to make the move – letting you set the pace, I mean – or he doesn’t know how to go about it.” She lowered her voice and leaned in toward him, both palms on the table. “He doesn’t know how to go about it with another man, I mean.”
He opened his mouth to respond, though he had no idea what words were going to come out, but she cut him off before he started.
“Well, either way, you’re going to have to take the lead, aren’t you?” She took a bite of her biscuit and wiped the crumbs off her lips with a pink birthday serviette printed with “I’m 1!”
“Really not my area,” he said, thinking it was the perfect way to derail this very uncomfortable conversation, perhaps head it off to Brussels or Barcelona or across the Black Sea on a leaky freighter.
“Not your area?” She shook her head fondly. “Sherlock, you’ve been as gay as a daffodil since you were old enough to dress yourself. Do what comes naturally – that’s all that’s needed.”
“Naturally,” he repeated, realising as soon as the word left his mouth that it sounded like he was agreeing with her. He had meant to repeat what comes naturally. Of course he had.
“Exactly! You could start with fellatio – warm up a bit before you go full on. I’m quite sure John will respond favorably to some nice oral sex. Men do, you know. It was the best way to calm my husband down after one of his little episodes– left him quite boneless.” She sighed at the memory – and he couldn’t tell if it was a pleasant one or an unpleasant one. “Do you need some pointers? It’s been a while but I’m told I was quite good.”
“No!” shouted Sherlock. His voice was incredibly high-pitched and a bit more than frantic. “I mean – no. No thank you. We’re – we’re – ” Sherlock struggled for the words to describe what they were, and what they weren’t, without provoking Mrs. Hudson into a blow by blow description of the act.
Blow by blow. Another unfortunate turn of the phrase.
“You’re struggling,” Mrs. Hudson said, as if trying to calm a wild animal. “It’s overwhelming, isn’t it?” She patted his hand fondly, then looked at him very sincerely. “I remember my first time.” She was staring at something he couldn’t see, staring right past the horrified look on his face, eyes far away. “Oh, it was quite a long time ago, wasn’t it? In the back of a black cab my boyfriend borrowed for a bit. I was much, much younger than you are, of course. And he was a bit older – Randy was.”
She paused, and Sherlock had his opportunity. Time to cut her off at the pass, stand up and declare he had a personal emergency and run into the loo.
“Randy?” he said instead.
Oh God no! Why wasn’t his brain taking charge of his mouth?
“I know, I know,” she said, nibbling on her biscuit again. “It’s quite a name for a first lover, isn’t it? No worse than John, though, is it?” she asked pointedly.
“John isn’t my first lover,” he said, finally getting some semblance of control back. “And it’s a perfectly fine name. John. Not Randy. Randy is not a good name at all. It has terrible implications, never mind that he was a car thief.” He narrowed his gaze. “Why did you take up with a Randy? Surely you could see what was coming?”
“Of course I could! I wanted it! I was seventeen after all – practically ancient!” She clapped a hand to her mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry, Sherlock. You’re a good twenty years older than I was, aren’t you? It must be difficult to get out of that rut you’re stuck in with John.” She peered over at him curiously, and he thought she was trying to get a look at his lap. “All the equipment works, doesn’t it? There are pills, you know….”
“We don’t need pills,” he said, quite quickly, putting a kibosh to that line of thought. ‘’The … er … equipment is perfectly fine.”
“Oh – you’ve had it checked out then. Good!” She smiled, and he didn’t like the gleam in her eye. Not at all. “Oh, Sherlock! I know what you can do! It was right there in front of us the whole time. Check-up? Doctor?”
What and what? He blinked as she clapped her hands together.
“You can play doctor!” she exclaimed in an excited whisper. “You can pretend you’ve hurt your bum, and John will have to have a look at it, and then – well – he’ll need to roll you over to palpitate your abdomen, and you’ll have the most glorious erection, and he’ll say ‘Hmm. What seems to be the problem here?’”
Had she not been so utterly sincere about the whole matter, he probably would have remembered he was late for an appointment with his dentist for a root canal with no Novocain. Or, at the very least, he’d be denying it – all of it. Not his first time – and that was true, to a point at least. Not stuck. Not in love with John and damnit how did she know that, anyway?
As it was, however, he let her words sink in for a bit, considering, though it was ill-advised with his landlady sitting across from him, the thought of John laying eyes on his most glorious erection and even better, getting a glimpse of John’s in return. More than a glimpse –
“Sherlock?” He looked up to find Mrs. Hudson finishing her biscuit. “Do you think he might wear his lab coat and stethoscope?”
She may as well have been talking about the weather, or Mrs. Turner’s cat, or which of Rosie’s ridiculously colourful barrettes to put in to match her glow-in-the-dark mini-trainers.
When he didn’t answer, she reached for her biscuit, which wasn’t there, and sighed.
“I’ll have to whip up another batch, I suppose,” she said. “Two’s my limit, you know.”
She eased herself up to her feet and dropped a kiss on his forehead.
“You go back upstairs and think about it, Sherlock. And I’ll be where I always am if you need more pointers.”
“Of course,” he muttered, glad that this particular teatime was coming to an end.
Mrs. Hudson eyed the empty saucer one more time.
“You clean that up, dear. Not your housekeeper, right?”
Had she forgotten she was in her own flat?
She made her way back to her bedroom, humming to herself, and Sherlock stared after her, completely and utterly flummoxed.
He was still flummoxed that evening when John returned, twenty minutes later than usual. He’d heard them come in so they must have ducked in to see Mrs. Hudson. Rosie was in the middle of what promised to be a spectacular tantrum. John passed the little girl off to Sherlock gratefully and took off his coat and shoes as Sherlock dropped her into her high chair and scattered some Fruity Os onto the tray. “I took a biscuit away from her and she’s not having it. Mrs. Hudson’s been experimenting with her herbal soothers – working them into baked goods - so don’t let Rosie have anything she’s made, please. She says she made a clean batch for Rosie but I can’t tell the difference.”
He filled Rosie’s cup with milk, deposited it on her high chair tray, then stood on his tiptoes to press a kiss to Sherlock’s lips.
“Seriously, Sherlock, packaged biscuits only. She was as high as a kite down there – said you’d come down there for advice and she told you to give oral sex a try.”
He looked at Sherlock somewhat earnestly, and Sherlock blinked back at him, trying to dredge up the best, most appropriate reply.
“I know you didn’t,” said John, not breaking his gaze.
“It it such a bad idea?” Sherlock asked after a good deal of staring on John’s part and blinking on his own.
“No,” he said, smiling as he kissed Sherlock again. “It’s not a bad idea at all.”
Chapter 13: M is for Mistake
There’s a time they rarely talk about, a handful of hours when Rosie went missing and Sherlock took forever to get his head clear to piece it all together and John punched the wall because he couldn’t do nothing yet he couldn’t do anything.
It’s one of those moments in time. A dividing line. A before and after. It marks the seminal moment when Sherlock nearly failed. When he realised he was human, capable of crippling sentiment, that his tactical approach to problem solving should not necessarily be applied outside of crime scenes. When he blamed himself for Rosie trying to work things out on her own. When he knew – just knew – that he’d made a horrible mistake, and John would never forgive him, which didn’t really matter as he’d never forgive himself.
John punched the wall. Would have punched through it but he hit a stud and jammed his fingers and sprained his wrist and bloodied his knuckles.
He was so completely, utterly, irrevocably alone.
Sherlock was locked in his mind palace, Mrs. Hudson was in hospital, Rosie was god knows where and John was a fucking disaster.
It was a nightmare scenario, the perfect storm. A crowded tube carriage, a sleepy child tired from too much Christmas shopping, a skipped lunch, and an acting grandmother who’d forgotten to take her diabetes medication that morning.
That John managed to stay upright was a miracle. Texts from Lestrade, calls from the hospital where Mrs. Hudson, who’d collapsed in the open doorway of a tube carriage and fallen onto the platform, was being kept with a suspected concussion, and updates from Mycroft as CCTV footage was scrutinized.
Three hours. Three endless hours since Mrs. Hudson’s niece called.
She’s fallen getting off the tube. They’ve taken her to St. Mary’s. It looks like she either skipped lunch or forgot her diabetes medication or maybe both. She’s hit her head and is still woozy so they’re keeping her for a bit.
He’d expressed the requisite concern – and said he’d be down there straight away for Rosie.
Rosie? Rosie’s not here, John.
Another forty minutes wasted after that horrifying conversation to determine that no, Rosie really wasn’t there, waiting patiently in a visitor’s lounge or wandering about the corridor nosing into rooms where she really shouldn’t be. No, she hadn’t been in or around the ambulance. No, the officer at the scene had not seen or noted a child.
They couldn’t even answer the officers’ questions. The standard questions. The ones even Sherlock asked at a scene. What was she wearing? She’d spent the night down at Mrs. Hudson’s as they’d planned to leave early on their Christmas shopping adventure. He and Sherlock had gone out on a case at nine and hadn’t returned until two, and neither had any idea what clothes she’d taken to wear in the morning. Nothing terribly colourful or unusual was missing. Her red wool coat was hanging on the hook by the door so she’d worn the dark blue jacket she loved, the nondescript one that made her look like any other nine year-old of any gender. Jeans, most likely, and trainers – she had a black pair and a purple pair – of course she’d worn the black. More worn and comfortable for a day spent in the shops.
The jacket had a hood, but she loved hats and had a box of them she’d accumulated. Impossible to tell which was gone, but Sherlock had made a go of it because he was too distracted to think and thought there were two missing – a brown stocking cap made of alpaca wool that was plain but sinfully soft, and one that would stand out in almost any tube station anywhere – his old deerstalker. He couldn’t know that deerstalker was tucked into her backpack. That she made a practice of putting it on and playing consulting detective at school during outdoor play time.
John stared at Sherlock as he sat, head titled back onto the sofa cushion, legs folded, hands on his knees, deep in his mind palace. Where was she? What was she wearing? They’d practiced this, hadn’t they? It was a game Sherlock had introduced even before she was in school. Situational awareness. Good decision making. The What would you do? game.
What would you do if an aggressive dog was loose on the school playground?
If a well-dressed stranger had a message for you from your dad? How about a stranger who looked homeless?
If you came home from Mrs. Hudson’s and no one was in 221B?
If you didn’t have any money or a mobile and needed to call me or your dad?
If you were lost and couldn’t find me or your dad?
If you were arrested and taken into custody even if didn’t do anything wrong?
It wasn’t that much of a stretch to What would you do if the woman you call Grandma pitched over and fainted from low blood sugar while trying to exit a crowded tube carriage while loaded down with shopping bags and in the commotion, you were too small and tired to get out the door and were carried away alone down the line?
The problem was, Rosie had learned to think of it as a game. A game Sherlock wanted to win by tricking her into risky behavior, and a game Rosie wanted to win even more so by thinking the entire thing out before she did anything and then trying to come up with the most clever and original response possible.
“Did she have any money with her?” the first officer had asked. “A phone? Identification of any sort?”
She’d had a bit of money, but it was Rosie – she’d have spent it in the shops. No mobile – too young, they’d thought. Mrs. Hudson had everything she’d need. Mrs. Hudson had charged into grandmother-hood full throttle. She could pull anything out of her bag, from a plaster to a spare pair of socks.
“How does she wear her hair?”
Something different every day. Pulled back if she hadn’t washed it. French-braided when Sherlock was relaxed and complacent, worked into a simple braid or an elaborate labyrinth of plaits depending on his mood, and Rosie’s patience.
“Other identifiable features? Scars?”
They’d paled at that one. Too many crime scenes. Too many visits to the morgue.
Mercifully – or not – Rosie had made it nearly to ten without a single permanent scar.
A knock at the door – John tore it open hoping – dreading – and it was Mycroft, who simply glanced at John, taking in his bleeding, bruised knuckles and swollen eyes, before heading to the sofa, quickly clearing a space on the coffee table, and sitting down directly in front of Sherlock. Unlike John, he wasn’t reluctant to break his brother’s concentration.
“Nothing on the tapes from any of the station exits at or near Baker Street Station, though they’re still checking. Sherlock – ”
Sherlock opened his eyes as John sat wearily down beside Mycroft. He took in Mycroft, looked worriedly at John’s hand but didn’t comment on it, and began speaking very quickly.
“She’d need money to exit – or an Oyster or fare card. She’d not ask a stranger, or the police. She’ll be looking for a lost card, or coins or bills fallen from pockets. She won’t want to be noticed, so she’ll have on the alpaca wool hat, hair pulled up under it, coat zipped up. She’ll linger around people – family groups with children, if she can manage it, or even – even – ”
He paused, then reached out and grabbed John’s uninjured wrist, standing up and pulling John with him.
“Buskers! She’d trust a busker, John, someone who played for the love of music - and for tips. John – of course…. She’d see the money just sitting there….”
Mycroft didn’t even blink as he moved away into a corner, mobile to his ear.
“She’ll have gone several stops before she exited. Maybe as many as ten. There’s a high probability she’d have tried to get back to Baker Street Station, but she doesn’t know the system well and won’t want to call attention to herself by asking. She’d sit there and think it through, and she’d be most unnoticed on a train where people get on and off all tShe doesn’t trust people – we’ve made sure of that – and the game….the damn game we play will make her stay away from police officers. She’ll feel that it’s cheating to take the easy way out. She’ll want to make me proud, John. She’ll want to win! Don’t you see?”
He did see. And he wanted to slap Sherlock in the face and tell him it was his fault – for making life a fucking game and for trusting Mrs. Hudson who was clearly too old to be minding children and for taking him out on a case last night so that he had no idea what his child was wearing today, or how she’d done her hair, or if she had money with her.
But more than anything, he wanted to calm Sherlock’s frantic ramblings. He wanted to wrap him up in his arms and tell him it would all be all right. That it wasn’t his fault. That they’d find Rosie, that she’d be home before they knew it, that the next knock on the door would be an officer holding her by the hand. He wanted Sherlock to be Sherlock again and not take hours to deduce what was right in front of their noses.
What was right in front of their noses was an entire network of homeless who noticed everything, and a collection of seasoned buskers making their living entertaining millions of commuters and tourists.
And when Rosie was found, within an hour of Sherlock putting out the word, and when they swept her up into their arms – blue coat and brown hat and hair tucked up just as Sherlock had said - she spilled out a jumbled story of riding a hundred trains to get back to Baker Street Station and asking an old woman with a dirty coat and a big bag for directions to the right train. Of looking for money on the ground until a woman in a suit started watching her so she went up the stairs and got on a train going the wrong way. Of finding an old man with a guitar who had one blue and one brown eye who let her sit with him and shared his sandwich and gave her enough to get a fare card and go home, except it had just turned five o’clock and it was rush hour rates so it wasn’t quite enough, so she had to wait ‘til seven so she found another busker playing the violin and sat there until the officer came for her and she was sorry, Sherlock, but didn’t she do good until then? She’s almost made it out using her brain and was Mrs. Hudson horribly angry and what had happened to the gifts she had bought that Mrs. Hudson had tucked into her shopping bags and could they please have take-out for dinner and maybe a movie before bed?
“Sitting next to old Jenkins,” the officer explained. “He’s virtually blind now, wouldn’t know she was so little, I expect. As soon as I saw the notice, I started to check the buskers and there you go.”
There were strict rules after that, and a mobile for Rosie, and Sherlock, who hated the tube, took her all over London on it and made her memorise the names of the stations, and their order on each line. And she always had emergency money, tucked in a special pocket on the inside of her shoe, and strict orders to go directly to a police officer if she were lost, or to someone who worked at the store, or the underground station, if she couldn’t find an officer. But to try calling Sherlock or John first on her mobile – unless there was extreme danger - and to stay exactly where she was, unless it was somewhere unsafe. But to never go looking for an officer if she had to do anything remotely dangerous to find one, including crossing the street or crawling through a window, unless the building was on fire, of course.
Most of this was delivered as they rode back to Baker Street in the back seat of Uncle Greg’s police car, and all of it – or nearly all of it – came from John’s mouth as Sherlock sat, Rosie’s hand gripped in his own, looking out the window of the car in the hopes that no one noticed he was just about to fall apart.
And when Rosie was tucked in bed that night, belly full, easing into sleep with story time and a lullaby with a still shaky Sherlock , John took a long bath, wrapped hand folded atop the other on his chest. And he cleared his mind as he soaked, and decided what he was going to do next, then settled on the sofa beside Sherlock and turned off the telly – which Sherlock wasn’t really watching anyway. Then he pulled Sherlock down beside him, took his face in his hands, and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was the best, the very best father a girl could have, and to never ever doubt that.
“It’s all of our fault and it’s no one’s fault. Things like this can happen, and they will happen, and in the end, we have an incredibly bright and resilient and brave child who is safe and sound and fast asleep upstairs because you held it together with her and made falling asleep tonight just like any other night for her. And if something like this ever happens again, it’s not your responsibility to figure it out. You might be a consulting detective, but you’re a father too, and you’re allowed to get emotional, and to panic, and even to punch the wall.”
Sherlock blinked, and dropped his head to John’s shoulder. “But…”
“No. No buts. The game wasn’t a mistake, Sherlock. You taught Rosie to use her brain – to think – and she did, no matter that she didn’t get back to us as quickly as we’d have liked. And I’m allowed to get angry, and pace, and cry, but I’m not allowed to look to you to swoop in to save the day. We need to be here for each other, right?”
“It won’t happen again,” Sherlock murmured, head pressed into the crook of John’s neck. “She’s never leaving our sight.”
John smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “I think I can live with that.”
Chapter 14: N is for Names
Some angst, some fluff, and a reminder that life is short, but love endures.
Sherlock will tell you, if pressed, that he doesn’t do relationships. Yet here he is, sixty years old, nearly grey, a tiny bit pudgy around the middle, holding John’s hand in the labour and delivery waiting room and staring at the doorway into the corridor.
Though neither man wears a wedding rings, Sherlock’s claim about relationships is abjectly false.
John’s isn’t his only relationship. He has a handful of friends, a brother, a sister – somewhere, and a daughter, not by birth but by merit – he’s earned her affection, his status in her life. Said daughter is currently giving birth to the newest person who will lay claim to his heart.
And taking her damn time about it.
“Calm down. It’s only been twenty minutes.”
“Forty minutes since that imbecile popped his head in to exclaim to every person in here that Rosie is fully dilated, wanting to push and cursing like a sailor.”
“Don’t call him that.”
“What? Don’t call the imbecile an imbecile? Do you prefer something even more descriptive?”
“You might try his name,” John says. He’s being extraordinarily calm given the circumstances. “Rosie wouldn’t want you to call him an imbecile.”
“Rosie calls him much worse,” mutters Sherlock. “And even his name is ridiculous.”
John laughs. “Sherwood. Yeah – ridiculous name.”
Sherlock glares at him. “I still don’t understand why he’s here. He ran off when he learned she was pregnant and keeping the baby. She isn’t seeing him anymore. We haven’t seen him since she introduced us to him a year ago and it’s perfectly obvious that he’s as gay as the day is long. Plus he’s named for a forest. He’ll probably want to call the baby Oakwood or Knotty Pine.”
John shakes his head, ignoring most of the rant. “You know why he went to Rome, Sherlock. She told him to go. She told him he couldn’t pass up the chance. So stop blaming him for something that Rosie supported as well. As for being gay, I do believe the word is bisexual, and if you don’t think gay men can be good fathers, you’d best take a good look in the mirror.”
Sherlock wilts a bit. “He was apprenticing with Penone, not Michelangelo. It could have waited.”
“Some chances only come around once, Sherlock,” John says, quietly.
Sherlock sighs and squeezes John’s hand. “You don’t like him either,” he says after a long pause.
“Rosie likes him. That’s enough for me.”
“Liked him well enough to sleep with him but not well enough to marry him,” Sherlock says. He pauses, then adds, “Thank God.”
They both resume fidgeting with their mobiles while keeping a close watch on the door. Still, they jump when Sherwood appears at last, smile splitting his attractive face, hair plastered to his sweaty forehead.
“He’s here,” he breathes, approaching them with both exuberance and a bit of trepidation. “John William.” He says the name with finality, in a single breath, as if he’s trying to come to terms with this rather ordinary name. “He’s perfect. Eight pounds even. She had a time of it but it’s all good. And she wants to see you so you’d better get in there before she comes looking for you herself.”
John jumps to his feet and heads to the door but Sherlock remains in his chair, staring at this young artist who Rosie apparently determined offered appropriate genetic material for her progeny.
“Yeah.” He gives Sherlock a tentative smile. “John’s rather obvious – not sure where she came up with William but she plans to call him that – William. Or Will.” He shrugs. “It’s rather ordinary, but I suppose we’ll get used to it. It’s just a name.”
Sherlock could tell this young man who didn’t plan on being a father that names are important. That ordinary names can go with extraordinary people. Names like Rosie, and names like John. That sometimes extraordinary names – like Mycroft – might just belong to people whose first extraordinary achievement was having an unusual, memorable name but who fail in life because they are self-centered, arrogant, and egotistical. True, his own name meets that criteria as well, but at the very least he has a sensible first name on his birth certificate.
Sherlock could tell this young man that he knows exactly how Rosie came up with William. That it’s his name – his given name – one he rarely uses but one that is his all the same, and now his grandson’s as well. He can’t know, though he may suspect, that little William will grow up without this father’s presence. That Sherwood Foster will go on to make a name for himself as a brilliant sculptor, growing more and more distant from this particular detour in his life, this comma, this small and beautiful being that, at less than an hour old, as yet unseen, is already the most miraculous thing in all of their world.
“Sherlock – come on!”
John is waiting, impatient, at the door, and Sherlock stands and follows him out, Sherwood trailing behind them.
Of course, William is the most beautiful child that ever graced the planet, with a downy tuft of hair atop his head, and fingers so small they can hardly grasp Sherlock’s pinky. It’s impossible to tell who he looks like at not quite an hour old, and John is saying all the perfect things, beaming like he achieved this miracle all on his own while striving to pay as much attention to Rosie as he is to the wrinkled bundle in her arms. She’s announced the name and they act surprised, but don’t have to act pleased and proud. John asks about APGARs and makes sure Rosie is sipping her water while he takes a hundred photos – Rosie and the baby, Sherwood and the baby, and Sherlock sitting carefully, stiffly, on the edge of the bed beside Rosie staring down at the tiny, mottled face of John William Watson.
It’s just a name.
Only it’s not. Sherlock glances at Sherwood and thinks you are so, so wrong, young man.
It’s an affirmation of love. An acknowledgement by the child who slid unexpectedly into his life. When her mother stepped in front of the bullet meant for Sherlock, she – unwittingly or not – gifted him with a child.
A child he never thought would be. Never contemplated having. Never wanted before, suddenly, she was there, scooting around 221B, falling asleep on the sofa between them, demanding bananas and biscuits. He’d really never considered himself as attached to anything so addictive. She was more powerful than drugs, than nicotine, than the rush of adrenaline, the wind on his face.
Rosie scoots over in the bed, wincing a bit, and John fusses over her and helps her settle as she pats the mattress and beckons to Sherlock. He glances at John, who is beaming more than he was beaming before, which frankly, seems physiologically impossible. But he slides over a bit and before he knows it, he’s got a bundle of John William Watson in his arms.
Rosie caresses the child’s cheek while Sherlock cradles him against his chest, learning once again the curves and weight and heat of an infant’s body.
“Did I surprise you with the name?” she asks him quietly as he studies the tiny face, the delicate fingers.
“You know you did,” he answers.
“And?” She turns to look at him, wrenching her gaze from her child’s face.
“I’m pleased,” he manages. “Honoured. Truly.”
“I’m calling him William,” she says. “It will avoid confusion with Dad, right?”
“William. It’s perfect.” John has leaned in now, and the man has tears in his eyes, and he’s smiling again.
“John William.” Rosie says the name again, trying it on this tiny human in Sherlock’s arms. “I expect I’ll call him that when I’m especially angry with him.”
“How could you possibly ever be very angry with him?” Sherlock asks. “Look at him.”
Baby William sleeps in his grandfather’s arms as John reminds Sherlock of several times they were, indeed, exceedingly angry with Rosie, and Sherlock reminds him that they were disappointed, but not angry, when she told them she was pregnant and was trying to track down the father. Then John corrects him – insists they were concerned and not disappointed, but Sherlock just rolls his eyes and Sherwood, showing very good common sense that his son William, happily, will inherit, disappears to the cafeteria to catch up on the meals he’s missed while Rosie was in labour.
John holds the baby next, and Rosie takes a photo of the two of them with William. John’s face is a bit splotchy from crying, and Sherlock looks a bit shell-shocked. William, for his part, looks like any other newborn in London, except for the very, very tiny deerstalker that Molly crocheted covering his very, very tiny head.
Sherlock would have loved an Evan, or a Winston, and yes, even a Sherwood, but he can’t imagine this child as anything but a John William. He’ll know him and love him for twenty four years and a handful of days, will hold his hand as he slips away to join his John in the great somewhere, and he’ll never, not once, think him anything but extraordinary, no matter his ordinary name.
Chapter 15: O is for Opera
This chapter has an M rating.
This one, for some reason, was incredibly difficult for me to write. I knew where I wanted to go, but took a long time to work out how to get there. Sappy at times, definitely sexy, and I'm testing the limits of my knowledge of opera and men's formal wear. Enjoy!
“How did Mycroft know it’s our anniversary?” John asked as Sherlock stood beside Mrs. Hudson’s ironing board, carefully pressing the collar of a formal white shirt. Sherlock had announced that morning that Mycroft had gifted them with tickets to the opera, and John had, of course, wanted to know why.
“Mummy told him,” Sherlock said. He made a minute adjustment to the position of the shirt on the ironing board as he began working on the pleats in the ridiculous shirtfront.
“You told your mother?” John raised his eyebrows and continued to watch Sherlock, thankful that his best dress shirt contained about half the amount of fabric as Sherlock’s.
“She insisted on having an actual date to put on her calendar.” Sherlock glanced over at John and grinned. “And quit pretending you’re surprised that I told her when we both know you’re actually surprised I remembered the date in the first place.”
John grinned back. “All right. Surprised – and pleased.” He watched Sherlock work for a few more moments then lowered his voice. “Though it might have been better all around if you’d given her the date we danced with Rosie, and not the date I made your toes curl with that first blowjob.”
The iron continued its slow, methodical slide. Sherlock smiled to himself. “Mycroft’s birthday. I’ve been meaning to thank you for giving me something much more pleasant to associate with the date.” He set the iron on its end and glanced at John. “Will this date suffice for the future?”
John smiled. “Yeah. Of course. It was certainly memorable.”
“Agreed. I’d never been restrained with non-regulation handcuffs before.”
John laughed, glancing into the sitting room where Mrs. Hudson’s television nearly drowned out the sounds of her putting away dishes and Rosie banging on a metal bowl with a wooden spoon.
“She knows all about them. She cornered me for details the next day. According our dear landlady, you could have heard me over an air raid siren.”
John laughed again. He laughed a lot these days, had been for a year now. “She brought up tea that morning – I remember. I was just leaving for work. I hurried out of there because I had this feeling she knew.” He passed a hanger to Sherlock when he stretched out his hand for it. “You could have lied, you know,” he said. “Or at least left out some of the details. Most people keep their sex lives private.”
“She wanted all the details, John.” Sherlock pulled the shirt off the ironing board and carefully hung it on the hanger. “She fed me scones - homemade scones.”
John frowned at the shirt. Jesus – it looked horribly uncomfortable with all those pleats and cuffs and collar that didn’t look remotely like the cuffs and collars of any shirt he owned. “So – the opera.” He nodded at the shirt. “Does everyone get this dressed up?”
“What everyone else does doesn’t matter. I dress for the opera….”
“You dress for everything. You wear a suit jacket when you go the morgue, for Christ’s sake.”
“Of course. You never know who you might meet there.” John grinned and Sherlock smiled back. “Fine. Point taken.” He unplugged the iron and put it away. “But you do not, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing you dressed up tonight.”
“You’ve seen me in my suit before,” John said, matter-of-factly. He pushed off the wall and followed Sherlock into the corridor, dropping a kiss of Rosie’s head as they passed. “And I’m wearing the same shirt and tie I wore to the…. Wait – where are you going?”
Instead of going up the stairs to 221B, Sherlock walked directly toward the door to the street. He pulled it open precisely as an elderly, impeccably dressed man, laden with a heavy garment bag, lifted his hand to knock on the door.
“Maurice – punctual as usual. Excellent.” Sherlock passed the pressed shirt to John and held the door open as Maurice stepped inside and whisked the freshly-pressed shirt from John’s hands, adding it to the neat bundle in his arms, then followed Sherlock up the stairs without a word.
“Come, John. We’ve only got a few hours so Maurice will have to rush the alterations.”
“Go on, dear.” Mrs. Hudson, Rosie in her arms, had stepped outside and pushed him gently toward the stairs. She lowered her voice to a stage whisper. “He’s got a thing for men in formal wear.”
“He’s…what?” John whirled around to stare at her, mouth gaping.
“Tuxedos,” she whispered. “Men in tuxedos.”
“John! We can’t exactly start without you up here!”
John glanced up the stairs, then back at Mrs. Hudson, who nodded encouragingly.
“Details!” she said as he started up the stairs. “I’ll want all the details in the morning!”
For the first time in his life, John felt comfortable in formal clothing. And even better, he looked as good as he felt.
Maurice had left after a grueling, uncomfortaable and somewhat embarrassing three-hour session in which John was forced to stand on a chair in the trousers Maurice had extracted from the garment bag – trousers that fit him surprisingly well – and endure a series of measurements and adjustments while Maurice complained to Sherlock that the measurements he’d sent over earlier were practically useless.
“You sent him my measurements?” John asked, shifting and earning a pin stick in his buttock for the infraction.
“I don’t remember giving you my measurements.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “You don’t know your measurements. You don’t even know your inseam, John. I measured you while you were asleep.”
Maurice swiveled his heads to stare at Sherlock but remained silent. The next pin hit John in the thigh.
“In my sleep?” He wasn’t a particularly heavy sleeper and startled easily. “Did you dru...?”
“It was to be a surprise,” Sherlock said, cutting in quickly. “I could hardly measure you while you were watching television or playing with Rosie or taking a bath.”
John gave Sherlock his best We’re going to talk about drugging me without my knowledge look, but a grueling two hours afterward, stood in front of the mirror admiring his new suit. Or better yet – admiring himself in the suit. Or tuxedo. Admittedly, he had no idea what made a suit a tuxedo, only that he knew one when he saw one.
“It’s the satin,” Sherlock said, apparently reading his mind and speaking so softly that John barely heard him. He moved closer to John and ran one hand slowly over the satin-trimmed lapel while the other smoothed over the similarly-trimmed collar. John watched in the mirror as Sherlock’s hands continued downward, tucking into the pockets, thumbs running smoothly over the satin trim there. He stood still – very still – as one of Sherlock’s hands moved over his hip and dropped lower, as his thumb traced the top of the satin stripe on his trousers. “Here.” His other arm encircled John’s waist, and he buttoned one button left-handed. John could feel Sherlock’s breath, warm and quick against his neck. Jesus Christ – Mrs. Hudson was right! How had he never known this – in all the years he’d known Sherlock? He’d wondered once if Sherlock had any kinks at all – but he’d been, to this point, an equal opportunity lover, willing to try nearly anything and never gravitating to any one thing in particular
Hell - how had he never known how a tuxedo, perfectly tailored to his body, would make him feel? He met Sherlock’s eyes in the mirror and something sparked – something he thought he’d very much like to pursue.
But Sherlock broke their gaze and stepped back deliberately. “Later,” he said, turning around. “Wed better hurry - we’ll be late.”
It was a miracle they weren’t late, as it turned out they were nowhere ready to leave. Sherlock fiddled with John’s neckwear, changing out the bow tie for a silk necktie. He produced three different sets of cufflinks and made John try each before settling on simple studs. He insisted John remove his vest, then put it back on, then remove it once again. He fussed over John’s hair, and polished invisible scuffs off his shoes. In fact, Sherlock himself dressed quickly, wore a pair of cufflinks he’d rejected when choosing John’s, and toed on his shoes without buffing out a single smudge. He shrugged into his jacket as they left the flat, almost as an afterthought, and virtually ignored his own hair.
John has never seen Sherlock less concerned about his own appearance or more focused on John’s.
As it turned out, the promised ‘later’ wasn’t as late as John had imagined. ‘Later’ was halfway through the performance, during intermission, in a business office whose door Sherlock had spotted as they headed back to their seats after getting up to stretch their legs.
John couldn’t say he was surprised to find himself being pulled by the wrist into a dark room. It had happened before, and his immediate thought was that this whole evening was a set up for a case. But no – cases didn’t involve midnight blue tuxedos that cost two month’s earnings, or fittings by Mycroft’s personal tailor, or being pushed up against the back of a door in a pitch-black room with Sherlock on his knees before him, unzipping his trousers.
With his teeth.
Said trousers fell neatly from his waist, sliding smoothly down his legs to pile in soft folds around his ankles, and he had only the briefest worry that they’d get wrinkled before Sherlock was unbuttoning the bottom buttons of his shirt, parting it, then mouthing him through his boxers. His breath was warm and moist, and John shuddered and shifted, spreading his knees and bracing himself against the door. He hadn’t got so hard so fast since he was a teenager, and he decided then and there, with the few functioning brain cells he had left, that he’d wear that tuxedo every day of his life if it would make Sherlock come undone like this, and invest in a few pair of satin boxers to boot.
Hell, he’d get a tuxedo and a pair of satin boxers for every day of the week.
Sherlock tucked his thumbs into the waistband of his boxers and nudged them slowly down, and the illusive promise of hot, wet heat became gut-melting reality. He bit his lip to keep from crying out as Sherlock worked him, allowing only a guttural moan as his hands cupped Sherlock’s head. He wanted to thrust into that gorgeous mouth, to grasp fistfuls of Sherlock’s curls, to feel the back of that long and delicate throat, but struggled to stay still, to let Sherlock call the moves and play this out as he wanted.
John would love the opera from that moment forward. The moment would forever reside in what passed for his mind palace, inexorably linked with one of the best orgasms of his life, with the most evocative mental image, an out of-body experience imagined from a weightless position in the corner of this unseen room. Eyes scrunched shut and feet braced, palms flat against the door behind him, disheveled and wrecked, half-dressed in crisp white shirt and midnight blue tuxedo jacket, working with everything he had for five more seconds, ten, fifteen. Prolonging the blissful tension, the heavy weightlessness, the agonizing ecstasy in this quiet, dark, unknown place with the murmur of crowds seeping voicelessly under the door.
He had banged his head back as he peaked, and his head throbbed now as Sherlock leaned against him, breathing fast and warm on his hip. He caught his breath at last and tucked him away, righted his clothing, meticulously smoothing out the wrinkles, then straightened John’s tie, all in absolute darkness, in silence complete save their uneven breaths.
“Come here,” John whispered shakily. He pulled him down into a kiss, arm around Sherlock’s neck and free hand caressing the side of his face. Sherlock smelled of expensive soap and disturbed dust and sweat and sex. “Gorgeous,” John murmured, kissing that spot between exquisite ear and jawline. “Even in the dark, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
He could feel Sherlock’s smile against his cheek, felt his arms embrace him beneath his jacket, tuck his shirt down below his waistband, graze against the cleft of his arse.
“Ready?” Sherlock asked, as he pulled out his hands, squeezing John’s arse goodbye as he did so. John felt the hands pull his pocket square out, then tuck it back in a moment later, as if detailing a tuxedo in the dark was as natural to him as chasing criminals through alleys.
John kissed him again, a prolonged press of his lips to the corner of Sherlock’s mouth, then pushed away from the door and followed Sherlock nonchalantly into the corridor, as if emerging through a closed, unmarked door into a corridor that fed to a bustling lobby was an everyday occurrence during a night at the opera.
As they took their seats, John glanced down to smooth his jacket. Peeking out of his pocket, instead of a simple triangle of dark blue silk, he found a perfectly folded rose.
He brushed his hand over it in disbelief, glancing at Sherlock.
“You’re full of surprises,” he said. “And don’t tell me it’s just like napkin folding.”
Sherlock reached for his hand as the lights dimmed. And though John sat through the second half of Die Walkure, the performance he remembered in years to come was not the ride of the Valkyries, but rather the dancing of his heart, and the mesmerising song of Sherlock’s pulse steady and warm against his own.
Rosie is four and a half and Rosie is obsessed with ponies.
John has given in and acquiesces to her demands. He and Rosie sit on the floor with the ever-growing and nauseatingly colourful collection spread out on a fluffy yellow bath towel, miniature hair accessories in hand. He’s very good at braiding, though he can’t seem to keep the names and cutie marks straight. The only ones he knows without fail are the ones Rosie made them choose for themselves. He’d decided on an acorn, for no particular reason other than it was small, and ostensibly cute. A cutie mark should be cute, he reasoned, and Rosie herself had picked a butterfly – the tortoiseshell, to be precise. However, for reasons he would never be able to understand given the rather gruesome nature of it, and the fact that she’d rejected his first choice of a plaster as being yucky, she was perfectly happy with Sherlock’s choice of a skull.
Not that Sherlock had chosen a cutie mark without a great deal of cajoling. Sherlock disliked the ponies so much that he occasionally let Rosie braid his hair rather than sit on the floor – or anywhere, for that matter – and play hairdresser to a hoard of ponies with unreasonably long and colourful manes and tails. He would take Rosie to the park, to the zoo, on long walks to observe the world and make deductions. He would play her favorite tunes on the violin, including the theme song from Shaun the Sheep, and read her any of the special books he kept on a special shelf for her – books like “Basic Equine Anatomy” and “Extinct Horse Breeds of Asia and Africa.”
And once – or perhaps twice – he’d agreed to take her to see the royals parade through the streets of London in horse-drawn carriages, preceded by a hundred mounted guards, for some ridiculous occasion like the Queen’s one hundred and twentieth birthday.
He’d read about horses, study horses, go see real horses, but he would not play with those ridiculous little ponies.
“It’s consumerism at its worst, John,” he’d say. “Just considering the concept of mutant tattooed ponies prancing about and having misadventures has lowered my IQ by forty points.”
Now, with Rosie in bed with a half dozen pony friends tucked in beside her head on the pillow, John assures Sherlock that Rosie will outgrow this phase. “She’ll be on to something new before you know it. It won’t be long before she’ll beg us for a kitten or a puppy and will forget her ponies. We’ll find them in the bottom of the toy chest in a few years and have a laugh or two about the cutie marks she edited.”
Sherlock offers a half-hearted grin. In an effort to pull him into her fantasy world, she’d tried to change Peach Surprise’s cutie mark into a skull. “She doesn’t want a kitten or a puppy,” Sherlock complains. “She wants a real pony. She plans to keep it in Mrs. Hudson’s extra bedroom.”
“She’ll have to take that up with Mrs. Hudson, then,” John says.
Sherlock picks up a stray pony from the coffee table. He turns it over in his hands and scoffs. John recognizes this particular worn and well-loved pony as the first one Rosie ever received. It’s Princess – something or other.
“Cadence,” Sherlock provides.
“How do you do that?” John asks.
“What? Remember their names?” He shrugs. “You just need to check the mark on the arse and co-relate the mark to the character name.”
John laughs. “I meant how do you know what I’m thinking? But yeah – that too.”
Sherlock tosses the pony into the air one-handed and snatches it out again. He lobs it over to John, who catches it and turns it over in his hands, shaking his head.
“I still can’t believe Mycroft gave Rosie her first pony,” he muses.
“Oh? Did he?” says Sherlock, and there is something in his voice that is just slightly off. Something too casual, too unconcerned to be genuine.
John stares at Sherlock as Sherlock picks up a magazine and pretends to read it, ignoring John.
“Yeah, he did.” John is staring at Sherlock, gaging his reaction. “You remember how she wouldn’t put it down for weeks.”
“Hmmm.” Sherlock turns a page. “No, I don’t remember that. Should I?”
John stared, incredulous. “I don’t know, Sherlock,” he said. “Should you remember trying to get her dressed for bed while she was clutching a toy pony? Should you remember how she trotted that thing through her spaghetti at Angelo’s? Should you remember the time she left it in the cab and we spent the next hour tracking down that cab while she sobbed inconsolably?”
Sherlock licks his finger and turns yet another page. “Really? You’d think I’d remember that.”
John dives in for the kill. He has finally figured out why Sherlock won’t engage with Rosie and the ponies. Why he is constantly trying to distract her with a new obsession. It has nothing to do with their banal cutie marks or rampant consumerism or their ridiculous anthropomorthic tendencies.
“Well, maybe Mycroft should be here helping Rosie get ready for bed, or going to Angelo’s with us. I’m pretty sure he’d recall those things seeing as he’s proven himself so good at choosing presents for her.”
Sherlock scowls at John and turns the page so aggressively he rips it right out of the magazine.
“Put that down – we both know you’re not really reading it.”
Sherlock closes the magazine and lets it fall off his lap onto the floor.
“My brother hasn’t set foot in a toy store in - no. He’s never set foot in one, nor does he shop on-line. He has any number of subordinates to whom he’d have given the job of purchasing a birthday gift for his niece.”
“Why does it matter who gave her her first pony?” John asks. He picks up the magazine and slides it back on the table. “What she’s going to remember is who played with it with her – not who gave it to her.”
“She hates my gift,” Sherlock mumbles.
“You bought a four-year old a junior chemistry set and got upset when she wanted to get right to mixing things up instead of listening to your safety lecture. She can hardly sit still through a meal, Sherlock. It’s no wonder she ran off with Mycroft’s pony.”
“It’s hardly Mycroft’s pony. More like that simpering moron Blaise who works for him. In fact, it probably came from his private collection.”
“You’re being very transparent.” John steps behind the chair and cards his hand through Sherlock’s hair fondly. Sherlock always melts a bit when John displays such common affection. Even now, in his sulk, he leans into John’s hand and tries to suppress a satisfied sigh. It comes out as a sniff, and John bends to kiss the top of his head.
“Look – I don’t mind playing with ponies with Rosie, but I’m just not the one who’s a natural at hair styling, and I couldn’t remember the names and the cutie marks to save my life. All you have to do to steal this one from Mycroft is to sit on the floor and play with her. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Mycroft doing that.”
Sherlock, in a rare gesture that compresses John’s overfull heart, turns and kisses his wrist at the pulse point.
“I suppose,” he murmurs. “You really are awful at it.”
John smiles. “Can’t argue with that,” he says. “Wait a minute – I’ve got something for you.”
He’s back in a minute with a booklet, which he drops into Sherlock’s lap. It’s a guide to cutie marks, and cutie mark groups, with drawings of each and their respective ponies. Sherlock stares at it and looks a bit caught-out.
“Nice try hiding it under the mattress,” John says.
“I – I bought it for you,” Sherlock says. “Happy birthday?”
John looks at the dog-eared pages, shakes his head, and kisses Sherlock fondly.
Rosie is back in a trice with a handful of ponies. She thrusts Shining Armour at him. “They’re getting married today!” she exclaims as she plops her bottom on the floor in front of him. “She wants three braids and a crown!”
Sherlock takes the other pony from her and shoves it under the rug.
“The groom is not allowed to see the bride on the wedding day,” he announces, handily dispensing of the second pony. “John – make a crown.”
John, who is watching from the doorway, and who has cut a hundred crowns from paper and taped them to Princess Cadence’s head over the past months, shakes his head.
“I’ve got to go check on Mrs. Hudson. You two have fun.”
Rosie has already gone for the box with paper and scissors and tape and tiny stick-on jewels.
“She needs a wedding cape, and ribbons in her tail, and what about the bridesmaids?”
John shoves his feet into his slippers and has a hand on the doorknob to go beg tea from Mrs. Hudson when Rosie plops herself into Sherlock’s lap, throws her hands around his neck, and kisses his surprised face. “And after the wedding, we can do a crime, right? The minister can get murdered and fall on top of Shining Armour and the bumbling police pony can mess it all up but then you’ll come and save the day!” She pulls a pony out of the pile – the one whose cutie mark she’s made into a crude skull – and brandishes it like a banner and Sherlock – well, Sherlock’s heart melts and suddenly, playing with ponies doesn’t seem very bad after all.
John closes the door and escapes to Mrs. Hudson’s. He hopes the crime scene isn’t too bloody, and that the chemistry set doesn’t somehow come into play in this new fantasy world.
It’s Holmes and Watson, after all. Anything can happen.
Confession: I don't know much about My Little Ponies. I don't have daughters, and my sons didn't show any interest. But I know they're a thing, (and not just with kids), and that a lot of little girls like them, so I did some research (just enough, I hope) to put this together. I just couldn't get away from the idea of those two sitting on the floor playing with ponies with Rosie.
Chapter 17: Q is for Queen
I mentally committed to one bee chapter, and here it is, full of analogy and innuendo and a few surprises over who, exactly, is the master beekeeper in the family.
Royal jelly is the food made by the bees and given to all the bees-to-be, but only in small quantities, unless you are destined to be queen. Queen cells are created when a queen is sick, or dies, or when the hive is too crowded. They're pumped full of royal jelly, and the resulting bees emerge and duke it out for queendom, the winner killing the loser and getting the hive. The queen herself is also given royal jelly to eat her entire life.
You can apparently trick a hive to produce more queen cells, and extract them before they hatch to harvest the jelly, which some think has medicinal or other value.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
First came the bees, then the bee garden, and finally there was honey.
And mixed in it all was a backwards marriage proposal and an obscene amount of wedding planning for an endearingly small and unconventional wedding, which is a story for another letter.
But before the proposal, and after the wedding, as consistent as John and Sherlock and Rosie and Baker Street and the little cottage in Sussex, there were the bees.
In the beginning, when the hives were new, and the sight of Sherlock bobbing about outside with his protective clothing and his smoker was still endearing, John had little interest in what went on inside the hives. The bees were a living, breathing,, never-ending experiment for Sherlock, supplanting trips to the morgue, and leaving John oddly bereft. Could he really be missing bags of thumbs in the refrigerator and being woken in the middle of the night by Sherlock counting the hairs on the back of his hand or cataloguing every bone in the human body by tracing their outlines on John’s skin?
At least he still felt needed when Sherlock ran afoul of the bees.
He’d insisted he wasn’t allergic when John had asked before the first of the hives was installed. Yes, he’d been stung before. No, he’d never had a bad reaction. And when it happened – several days into their new life in the cottage – John bit his tongue and didn’t argue about the definition of “bad.”
“Why didn’t you come in right away?” he asked as he held Sherlock’s swollen hand still on a sofa cushion as he worked out the first of the stingers.
“It didn’t hurt. I didn’t even know I’d been stung.”
John sighed in resignation but kept working. “Where was your glove, then?”
“I’d taken it off. I wanted to feel the texture of the comb. They’re building it out so quickly – it’s fascinating.”
“Well, don’t do that again then,” John murmured, mentally cataloguing a list of supplies to keep on hand for the next time Sherlock took off his protective clothing while tending the bees.
“I can’t promise that,” Sherlock replied, unapologetically.
John, pragmatic after nearly half a lifetime spent with Sherlock Holmes, just hummed. “Well, then next time it happens, I’m driving you in to A&E and they can deal with you.”
“Unlikely,” said Sherlock, unsuccessfully hiding a wince as John worked a stinger out from between his thumb and forefinger. “You’re already planning an expanded medical kit to deal with me.”
John hummed again, still concentrating on the tricky stinger. “Hold still – just one more.”
Sherlock stared at his grotesquely swollen hand as John gently rubbed in a heavy coating of cortisone cream. He looked up from his hand at John’s even expression. “You’re not angry enough,” he said. “We’ve not even been here a week and already I’ve taken a calculated risk and consequently been stung.”
“Change ‘taken a calculated risk’ to ‘done something extremely stupid’ and you’ve got it.” John didn’t sound agitated. “Don’t move.”
He cleaned up his supplies and came back a few minutes later with a bag of frozen peas, which he positioned atop Sherlock’s hand.
“That’s cold,” Sherlock complained.
“Which is the general idea.”
John picked up his mobile and began thumbing through it while Sherlock reclined on the sofa, hand across his chest and bag of peas atop his hand. The minutes ticked by. John was reading up on beekeepers killed by their bees, careful to keep his face thoughtfully neutral.
“I can’t think like this,” Sherlock said after a few moments. “I need two normal hands. Give me one of yours.”
John looked up. One of Sherlock’s hands was steepled in its normal thinking position, fingers just grazing his nose. The other hand attempted to form the other half of the elegant steeple but in fact looked and functioned like an inelegant boxing glove. The peas were on the floor, forlorn and rejected.
“No. I need it.” John succeeded, with a great deal of successfully-concealed effort, to refrain from picking up the peas and duct-taping the bag to Sherlock’s hand.
“Why? You’re not thinking. You’re playing that ridiculous game again.”
The barest hint of a smile passed over John’s face. “Rosie’s two spots ahead of me on the winner’s board.”
“Fine. If you aren’t going to lend me your hand so I can deduce it myself, you’ll just have to tell me.”
John dropped his mobile onto the table. “Tell you what?”
“Why you aren’t more upset. Why you aren’t insisting I promise not to take my protective clothing off when I’m tending the hives. Why you aren’t lecturing me about how much worse it could have been. Why you haven’t lobbed the peas back at me. Why you didn’t call me out on lying to you about not being allergic to bee stings.”
John considered a moment. He stood and retrieved the peas, placing the bag atop Sherlock’s hand once again. “Because I know you, Sherlock. And I know you’ll get bored of the bees before too long and move on to something else. I don’t know – jellyfish. Or earthworms. Seems rather silly to waste my breath on a lecture.”
Sherlock bristled. He rolled onto his side and sulked against the cushions. The bag of peas fell onto the sofa behind him. When he spoke, his voice was muffled but defiant.
“I’ll never get tired of the bees, John. Never.”
His interest in beekeeping lasted only a season, but he never grew tired of the bees.
Those very bees who lived in the hives that John now tended, dressed out in coveralls and gloves and netted hat, smoker in hand, happily immersed in a satisfying activity he’d never once imagined he’d enjoy.
Just like maladies at the town clinic, the beekeeping process changed with the seasons. It could be quite methodical, though with innumerable variances and nuances that forced him to think, to adapt processes and techniques given any number of variables. It was both science and art, and he learned as much from watching the bees and observing their behavior on the racks as he did from the tall stack of beekeeping books Sherlock had long abandoned on the highest shelf in their cubby-hole of an office.
The honey harvest the first season – the year Sherlock established the hives and started the garden – was spectacular in quality if not quantity. Sherlock went into that next spring with apparent enthusiasm, though it soon waned as it became apparent that he could spend all his time counting the number of bees on a specific flower variety in a given hour, or recording their pollen dances and watching the videos frame by frame on rainy or blustery days. There was never enough time for the actual beekeeping part of his love affair with the bees, and they lost one of the hives to mites, and nearly lost the second.
John reminded him that a good deal of time and money had gone into those hives, and if Sherlock expected to have bees to observe, someone would have to provide them a pleasant, blight-free home. He may have been motivated by the thought of even more of that wonderful honey, even enough to share this Christmas, perhaps, but fortunately Sherlock acquiesced with a pained sigh, donned his protective gear and fired up the smoker.
Thirty minutes later, Sherlock was back inside with two dozen stingers embedded in his right hand.
John’s life as a master beekeeper began the next day.
They became an efficient two-man team, with John charged with the care and maintenance of the bees through changing seasons and Sherlock hovering about, collecting bee carcasses, weighing wings, dissecting abdomens and scouting out fields of heather and wildflowers in the summer, then cajoling the owners of the land to host a hive the next spring in return for a share of the honey.
A hive that John would tend.
The first time this happened, a joyful Sherlock returned from town with the news that the Carpenters, their neighbors to the north (Sherlock would soon deduce they were brother and sister, pretending to be husband and wife, and would fiind Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oiseby hanging on a bedroom wall in their cottage), had a glorious field of heather and had agreed to John setting up a hive on their property in the spring.
“Well, that’s – that’s good, I suppose.” John looked a good deal less enthusiastic about the news than Sherlock might have imagined he would. He shifted his leg, easing it to a more comfortable position on the ottoman. “I suppose I can help them with the basics. But really, Sherlock – the Carpenters?” He lowered his voice, though there was not much of a chance said neighbors were lurking about outside the window eavesdropping. “I just can’t see them out tending bees.”
That first misunderstanding netted John his Land Rover.
“Me? You think I’m going to traipse all over the countryside tending bees on other people’s property? I can barely manage to get in and out of the car as it is. And I already have three hives here!”
Sherlock was apparently very committed to the idea of spreading out the hives to take advantage of the local flora, because the next day one of Mycroft’s people drove up in a pristine, late-model Land Rover.
Sherlock’s requests for royal jelly started coming a year or two later.
“It doesn’t have any proven health benefits, as you well know,” John said, for perhaps the fiftieth time that season. “You only want some because you haven’t had your hands on any yet. And I’m not going to go poking around in the queen cells, Sherlock. I need those queens – is it worth potentially losing an entire hive for a drop of royal jelly?”
“But you have six hives, John. Six! You can spare….”
“No.” John shook his head. He wasn’t about to budge. “I have six hives because I’ve painstakingly worked for five years to produce healthy colonies so that you can have honey all winter and dissect mountains of bee carcasses and make that!.” He gestured across the room to a window on the east side of the cottage. He took a deep breath. “No – just…no.”
Sherlock looked mildly affronted by John’s reaction. He glanced at the window – the window where he lovingly affixed every wing from every one of the twenty or so bee carcasses John brought to him every day. He knew that John loved to drink his morning tea at that window, enjoying the sparks of sunrise through the oddly distorted, near-living, gauzy, curtain. He pursed his lips and studied John, accurately concluding that an argument over who really enjoyed the honey in this household and who really benefited from his bee dissection wasn’t likely to earn him any royal jelly.
“I should never have let you take over my hives,” Sherlock tried instead.
John snorted and mumbled something under his breath that very much sounded like “Let you, my arse!”
“I’ll just set up my own hive, then,” Sherlock declared.
John quickly thumbed through his mobile, selected a photo, and held it up to Sherlock. A close-up of Sherlock’s swollen hand from the twenty-seven sting episode.
“Alright – I’ll order some online. We’ll get off a bit better than with that Land Rover, anyway.”
John shot him a sidelong glance. “Don’t waste your money,” he said. “You’ll probably get apricot nectar.”
They sat in silence a very long time, Sherlock on the sofa with steepled fingers, a vague smile on his face, biding his time, John’s mind working as it always did, plodding its way through the variables of the complex equation that was Sherlock, looking for the right variable to tweak, the right button to push.
“Fine,” he said at last. “The hive in the apple orchard at the Longwood’s. That honey was lackluster at best last year. I’ll check it over next week and consider dropping in a couple queen cells. If I mess up the timing and it goes wrong, they’ll hatch and there’ll be mutiny in the hive. We could lose it, or they could swarm, but then I’d have one less hive to look after and I won’t mind not trekking out there all the time. That bull challenges me every time I drive through the gate.”
Sherlock, mission achieved, got to his feet and dropped a kiss onto John’s cheek as he passed by on the way to grab his tablet and celebrate his win with a research session on experimental uses of royal jelly. “There can only be one queen per hive,” he said, leaving John to ruminate on that while he delved into the secret lives of bees.
Sherlock regarded a roasted brussels sprout while he digested the statement and formulated the appropriate answer.
“She’s not really in charge, you know,” John continued. “And of all the bees, her life is the longest, but who wants a long life when you’re confined to the hive laying eggs the entire time? It seems like a life of leisure at first glance – the other bees taking care of your every need, pumping you full of royal jelly….”
He paused at the look on Sherlock’s face.
“Stop.” He said. “Just…stop.” He speared a brussels sprout with his fork. “Unfortunate choice of words.”
Sherlock laughed, and John grinned broadly in return.
“Fine – I’ll be the queen, then. If it means what I think it means,” Sherlock said.
“You’re a menace,” John said, but as always when he complained about Sherlock, he found he didn’t really mean it at all.
"W is for Wedding" is coming in due course.
Chapter 18: R is for Roger Wilco
Rosie's class is putting on a very special play - a play where the parents do the acting and the children write the script and do the tech work.
This chapter has a bit of Christmas, a bit of humor and a lot of fluff. Enjoy!
“Slow down, slow down!” John took the backpack from his bouncing daughter, who’d run up the stairs ahead of Sherlock.
“We’re writing our own script for the Christmas play and the parents are going to act it!” Rosie repeated, this time at a more intelligible speed and volume. She let her father lift her into a hug, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his nose, then wiggled to get down again. “There’s one parent part for each student but I volunteered you for doctor duty so Sherlock will have to play Roger!”
Said Roger stepped through the doorway into the flat and gave John what could only be interpreted as the evil eye.
“And did you already tell Sherlock the good news?” John asked, stealing a quick glance at Sherlock, who was doing a very good job of pretending he was not at all onboard with ths.
“Course I did!” Rosie said, running over to Sherlock and hugging him about the midsection. She looked up into his face, which softened a fraction. “You’re excited, aren’t you Sherlock?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, but turned back to John. “It’s a big honour,” she said, very seriously. “The biggest! Roger is the BEST role in the whole entire play! Like Romeo!”
Sherlock’s face took on a new, slightly green look.
“So, which Mom is Juliet?” John asked, giving Sherlock a wide berth as he led Rosie into the kitchen.
“Who’s Juliet?” she asked. “Roger is the detective who discovers the missing crown jewels hidden inside a wax dummy of Queen ‘Llizbeth at Madame Toussards – well, most of them, anyway.” She pulled out a kitchen chair and climbed up on it, kneeling instead of sitting as she reached for an orange. “But the bad guys cover him with wax and Chief Investigator Wobbly melts him just in time.”
John glanced up at Sherlock, who was standing behind Rosie shaking his head and mouthing “It’s not happening.”
“Sounds fun,” John commented as he cut up the orange and rummaged in the refrigerator for the milk. “Though not very Christmas-y.”
She deflated a bit and sighed. “That’s what our teacher said too. She told us the idea sounded really good, but we needed to at least sprinkle some Christmas over the top. So now we have caroling mimes in Father Christmas hats and a dog named Eggnog. Plus, it all happens over Christmas, so the wax people are wearing Christmas jumpers. All the parents who don’t want to say lines or act will play wax dummies.” She beamed at John, as if that was a particularly brilliant idea. “Oh! And there’s mistletoe, too!”
“Sounds perfect,” John said, sorting through all of this jumble of information but mainly wondering how mimes would go about caroling. “But are you sure Sherlock can hold still long enough to be a convincing wax dummy?”
“Course he can,” she answered. “Miss Watkins was more worried ‘bout him smothering, so we’re going to give him air holes.” She sipped the milk John had just poured for her. “And don’t worry, we’re not really going to pour wax on him, though Priya thought we could do it if we coated him in butter first. We’re using a mask.”
“With air holes,” John reminded her, thinking that someone should explain to Priya that butter wouldn’t go a long way in protecting human skin from hot wax. “Definitely a good idea.” John slid a plate of orange sections toward her. “Does doctor duty include resuscitating Sherlock if he tries to suffocate?”
“Sure, only no kissing,” Rosie warned, giving John a stern look. “Besides, he has to kiss the chief investigator, once the mystery is solved and the queen has her jewels and Sherlock – I mean Roger– is melted. They fight all the time on the case but that’s because they secretly love each other and don’t know how to go about telling each other. But in the end, there’s mistletoe to help them along.”
Sherlock had disappeared into the bedroom, and by the sound of it, was removing all the drawers from the dresser.
“Sherlock – what are you doing in there?” John asked.
“Packing,” he yelled back. “Where’s my garment bag?”
Rosie jumped up, upsetting her milk. “No!! Sher – ”
John shushed his daughter with a conspiratorial finger to his lips as he mopped up the spill. “He’s just being dramatic,” he whispered. “He loves getting all the attention, doesn’t he?” He raised his voice to ensure that Sherlock would hear them.
“So – this chief investigator – Wobbly, you said?”
Rosie scowled a bit. “I thought it should be something more serious. Wobbly sounds like a drunken elf but they thought it was Christmasy.”
“Like Roger Wilco!” Sherlock exclaimed from the bedroom, as he slammed a drawer shut and John choked back a snort at the drunken elf comment.
John grinned. “So Wobbly – is Wobbly a man or a woman?”
Rosie drooped. “It’s Mrs. Feldman – Calliope’s mum. I wanted one of the dads, ‘cuz I can’t imagine Sherlock kissing a mom, but Miss Watkins says it’s just acting, and he likely can do it, and that it shouldn’t be a very big kiss, or a long one, because it wouldn’t be appropriate for a school play, even with mistletoe. And I wondered if they didn’t want to have dads kiss on stage but she explained that there aren’t any other dads who enjoy kissing other dads except you and Sherlock in our class, but I thought we could borrow from one of the other forms, but she said you and Sherlock were perfectly welcome to kiss as much as you wanted after the show as long as you kept it clean.”
“Well, that’s reassuring,” John said, eyebrows nearly into his hairline. He raised his voice again. “What else will Sherlock have to do besides get covered in wax and kiss Mrs. Feldman?”
“He has to find the Tudor ring ‘cause it wasn’t with the other jewels, so he becomes a mime. Then he falls in the Thames,” she said. “We won’t exactly have the river there, so I suggested we could just throw buckets of water on him.”
“Or not!” exclaimed Sherlock. “It’s Christmas! That water is cold.”
“There’s singing and dancing too,” Rosie added, in a near shout, as if this small fact would win Sherlock over. “Because it’s a Christmas play, so we’re doing Jingle Bells. Mimes aren’t supposed to sing, so they’re going to ring the jingle bells and mime trying to get out of the snow when the sleigh gets upsot.”
“Mimes don’t ring bells!” Sherlock called out from the bedroom.
“YES THEY DO!” shouted Rosie, clearly insulted. “Oh, and William’s mum plays the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
John very much wanted to sit through this play uninterrupted by any medical emergencies, if only to discover how all of these plot elements came together.
He sent Rosie downstairs to tell Mrs. Hudson about the play, then dug through her backpack and pulled out a folio of papers, including a script, which was certainly not fat enough to be even two acts. He read the accompanying letter, then made his way to the bedroom. Sherlock was lying sideways across the bed, a pillow over his head.
“Rosie’s gone downstairs to visit Mrs. Hudson.”
The pillow grunted.
“Stop pretending to mope. You’re not fooling anyone. She’s really excited about this, Sherlock. Think about how you would have felt at her age to have a parent in a school play.”
Sherlock pulled the pillow away from his face and gave John an incredulous look. “I would have fled to Canada,” he said.
“You’re over-reacting,” said John. “It’s a play – written by children.” He brandished the letter. “They’re going to sell tickets and give the proceeds to charity. It’s probably about a half hour long.”
“Thirty minutes is not long enough to take a dip in the Thames, become a mime, participate in a song and dance number, get encased in wax and rescued by an intrepid DI whom I reward with a kiss.”
“Ah.” He had a point – or would have, were this a Shakespearian comedy following the theatrical rules of the time. But Sherlock’s last statement gave him a clue to Sherlock’s behavior. “Well, you should know that Rosie did try to get you a leading man instead of a leading lady.”
“I already have a leading man,” Sherlock grumbled.
“Nice try.” John grinned, leaning against the doorframe.
“You’d go into a rage if you saw me kissing someone else,” Sherlock accused. “I can’t trust how you’ll react – the kiss will have to go.” He put the pillow back over his head and sighed.
“You’re such a drama queen. You faked an entire relationship with Janine. I don’t recall me.…”
He trailed off as Sherlock pushed the pillow back to give him a ‘quit now while you’re ahead’ look.
“Actually, that has nothing to do with anything. You have to go through with it. I can kiss that new doctor at the surgery to even the score - she’s really not my type but you’ve not been down there to scare her off yet, and she’s starting to make excuses to consult with me.”
“Empty threats,” Sherlock said, lifting the pillow an inch or two off his mouth but keeping his nose and eyes covered. “She’s a twice-divorced lesbian. You’re clueless, John.”
“Rosie is so excited,” John tried after a full minute passed where he glared at the pillow, which didn’t respond at all. He didn’t bother to argue the point about the new doctor. “She wants to show you off, Sherlock. She loves you – she’s proud of you. Come on – let’s read the script, at least. It can’t be that bad.”
Sherlock groaned, threw off the pillow, and stuck out his hand.
Unfortunately, it was that bad.
“Here’s the part where you jump in the river,” John said.
“Jump? I thought she said I fall in.”
“Nope. You definitely jump.” John turned the page and began to read. “Just then, Roger Wilco’s mad dash scares a very old three-legged dog that has been walking along the path beside the river. The dog falls in and cannot swim and begins to drown…”
“Stop ,” interrupted Sherlock. “All dogs can swim.”
“Maybe it hit its head,” John said.
“Does it say it hit its head?” asked Sherlock. “Ah – of course not.”
John raised his voice and continued. “Roger Wilco stops and watches it. He seems to be having a hard time deciding if he should help the dog or continue chasing the villains. The dog is splashing and howling. Sudddenly, Roger Wilco….”
“Do they have to say Roger Wilco every time? Can’t they just say Roger?”
John plowed ahead, ignoring Sherlock’s interruption. “Roger WILCO runs to a dock and dives in after the dog. As this scene will be hard to act on stage, because we probably won’t be able to fina a real three-legged dog and we don’t have a river, the dog will be played by a large plushie that will be pulled off the path from backstage with a wire. We will use sound effects for splashing and howling. Roger Wilco will dive off a platform onto a padded mat….”
“That might traumatise you,” warned Sherlock.
“I’ll get over it,” John said. “Roger Wilco will dive off a platform onto a padded mat and the audience will see him fall but will not see him land. Sound effects will be used for the rescue, then Roger Wilco will crawl off the stage, get wet backstage, then appear again from stage left with his hair and coat wet, carrying a dripping wet plush dog.”
Sherlock stared at John as he read. He seemed to be at a loss for words, which simply never happened with Sherlock Holmes.
“No,” he said. “Absolutely not.”
“Oh come on, Sherlock. I admit it’s kind of silly, but you have to remember it was written by a bunch of ten-year-olds.”
“I would never stop to rescue a dog if I were chasing a criminal.”
“Only you’re not really Roger – right?” John bit back a grin. “You’re acting. Roger Wilco is a character the kids dreamed up and yeah – it’s kind of obvious they had you in mind, but it’s not you. Roger Wilco saves drowning dogs. And kisses women because he likes them. And cares about the monarchy enough to chase down the missing crown jewels. And – ” He skimmed ahead a couple pages in the script and laughed out loud. “And goes to mime school.”
“Just kill me now,” Sherlock moaned.
“Not a chance,” John said as he continued to skim the script. “Oh – I didn’t expect that!”
“What?” Sherlock voice was muffled. He had turned over onto his stomach and had his face buried in the pillow now.
John raised his eyebrows. “The dog.”
Sherlock raised his head. “What dog? The three-legged dog?”
“Of course the three-legged dog. What other dog is there?”
Sherlock groaned. “Don’t even tell me - the dog had the Tudor ring the whole time.”
John snorted. “How did you know that?”
Sherlock shrugged. “Because ten-year olds wrote the script. The dog ate the ring and now we just have to wait for nature to take its course. I, however, will leave that part up to Rosie and her cohorts.”
But John was laughing,. He tossed the script at Sherlock and collapsed on the bed beside him.
Sherlock grabbed the script and paged through it until he found the part John had been reading.
“Prosthetic leg? The dog had a prosthetic leg? A hollow prosthetic leg. A hollow leg which, I should add, would have floated, and the dog wouldn’t have needed rescuing at all.”
“Except that it was weighed down by a rather heavy ring,” John pointed out. “And rocks. They’ve thought of everything.”
Footsteps pounded up the stairs then, and Rosie burst into the flat, then into their room. She launched herself on the bed between them. “Mrs. Hudson wants to play the Queen. It’s really just a bit part – she just waves a bit and bonks Roger Wilco on the head with a sword when she knights him.”
“Mrs. Hudson’s been hoping to bonk me on the head for years,” muttered Sherlock.
“Hey! You have the script!” Rosie exclaimed. “You’re already practicing!” She scooted up against Sherlock. “I told Miss Watkins you’d have lots of time to practice since you don’t have a regular job.”
“Why don’t we do a read-through after dinner?” John suggested quickly before Sherlock could contest the regular job comment.
“Yea! You can be Chief Inspector Wobbly, Dad! But you should try to kiss like a girl.”
“I’ll do my best,” said John, and sent a very agreeable Rosie out to do her homework.
“What’s your definition of awful?” Sherlock asked. “And do recall the surprise you arranged for me in the audience.”
“Mycroft didn’t make it awful for you. You didn’t even know he was there until the reception after.”
“Well, Margaret Feldman stuck her tongue in my mouth,” Sherlock said a few moments later.
“Did she really?” John asked. “I dared her to, but she said she didn’t fancy you throwing up during your kiss.”
“I might be able to tolerate it better if she’d stop using those menthol throat lozenges. And yes – she most certainly did.”
John chuckled. “Alright. Fine. She did. But God – Sherlock – that dog!”
The bed shook as Sherlock laughed with him. “Can you imagine how much fun those children had amputating the leg of a life-sized plush Labrador and fitting it with a homemade prosthetic?”
“Made out of a green kitchen funnel and a toy lightsaber wrapped like a candy-cane with red duct tape.”
Their shared laughter shook the bed again, and John rolled on his side and snuggled closer to Sherlock.
“Thank you,” he said, placing a lingering kiss on Sherlock’s lips. “You gave Rosie exactly what she needed this Christmas.”
“Nightmares of me debriefing New Scotland Yard in mime?” he replied, rolling to face John and wrapping an arm around him. “A life-long fear of Madam Tussards?”
“Well, yeah. Those.” He kissed Sherlock, pushing curls out of his eyes, then framing his face with his hands. His voice was more serious when he spoke. “But mainly, a second parent to present to the world. Really – thank you. Thank you for being such a good sport about it. She’ll never forget this, Sherlock.”
Sherlock smiled. “I really hate to take all the spotlight, especially at Christmas,” he said. “So I’ve offered to help write their spring play.”
John froze. “What spring play?”
“The one they’re having because I’m sponsoring it with Lestrade’s team. An all-school production this time.” He worked his hands through John’s hair, massaging John’s neck with his thumbs. This usually made John groan, but his sudden tension didn’t abate.
“Lestrade’s team?” John repeated. “About that…” he fumbled.
“Thanks for including them in Rosie’s special evening, John,” Sherlock whispered. He did an amazing job of sounding sincere.
“You’re…welcome.” John squirmed as Sherlock held him a bit closer, kissing his neck, then moving his lips to his collarbone. “It was a fund raiser, right? The team was only too glad to buy tickets to help out. And Mycroft made a sizable….”
Sherlock bit John’s shoulder lightly, murmuring words into his skin. “So – the end-of-year special production. I have some ideas for the script.”
“I’m so screwed,” John said, groaning as Sherlock licked over the bite.
“Think of it as a romantic comedy.” Sherlock rested his head on John’s chest, listening to the accelerated beat of his heart. “An army doctor, invalided out, with a psychosomatic limp tries to find love in London while suppressing his desire for ….”
John’s fingers carded through Sherlock’s hair. He shuddered as Sherlock turned his head, his breath puffing against his nipple.
“For?” John murmured. “Go on.”
“For a career with M16,” Sherlock finished, kissing his way up John’s chest.
John laughed, and Sherlock pushed up so that he was straddling John, trying to look menacing but succeeding only in looking ridiculous with a trace of white mime face paint near his temple and a sprinkling of glitter in the crease of his neck.
“You love it,” John said, brushing a hand across Sherlock’s cheek. “Every minute of it. And not only because you’re Rosie’s hero. Admit it.”
“Never.” Sherlock grinned and John pulled him down for a proper kiss.
“There is no spring show, is there?” John asked a good while later as they lay entwined together.
“Hmmm,” answered Sherlock. He let out a long breath, snuggled in closer, and mumbled something about “Lestrade” and “bigger venue” before he drifted quietly off to sleep.
Chapter 19: S is for Serbia
Sherlock and John don't lie to Rosie - but they wait for the right time to answer her questions.
A second chapter in quick succession to balance out the fluff in the last chapter.
S is for Serbia
Some things are understood between them.
Sherlock will never be completely free of the lure of narcotics.
John will never be completely free of guilt.
Mycroft can never be completely trusted, but can always be counted on.
Rosie must always be told the truth.
Which doesn’t mean that they answer every question the first time she asks. Sometimes, she gets ahead of herself, asking questions about things she’s not yet equipped to understand, or deal with emotionally.
Deciding when the time is right isn’t easy, and another thing understood between them is that the person who gets the question deals with the question. They never consult each other before answering, though they might say it’s the other’s story to tell.
There are difficult things – ugly, hidden things - each keeps inside him. There are things they’ve never told the other, though neither would be surprised to know those things, and indeed, in most cases, they already do.
Rosie Watson is John’s biological daughter yet she is equally a part of Sherlock. She has learned to observe, to assess, to ask the right questions at the right time, when the mood of the room is ripe. There are so many dead ends and blind alleys and wrong turns in their pasts that make them exactly who they are, and influence what she is, what she will become, as well.
At thirteen, Rosie knows exactly why Harry and John are not close. Why her mother’s past is one of those dead ends whose bricked up wall she may never be able to breach. She knows why Sherlock has a scar on his chest, and how it came to be, and why John has one on his shoulder, and why he doesn’t talk about it much at all. She knows that before Mary, before Rosie, before that bullet hole in Sherlock’s heart, that Sherlock pretended to kill himself, and went away from John for a very long time and that, ultimately, he did it because he loved John, but that even knowing that as he does, there’s a piece of John that is still angry about it all.
And she knows how her mother died, but she hasn’t yet pushed for the details. She is well aware that she could break Molly, push her for more, but she isn’t ready yet, and it is a mark of her evolving maturity that she knows she doesn’t quite yet want to know.
But there is something else she doesn’t know. Something she suspects, but hasn’t ever dared ask after that first time, when she was seven or eight, lying in bed between Dad and Sherlock after a nightmare, with the morning light shining through the bedroom window and Sherlock’s back right there in front of her. He was wearing an old t-shirt, but it was stretched at the shoulder, and growing out from under the shirt up to his shoulder was a thick, raised line, smooth and shiny. She remembers reaching out, fascinated, and tracing that line with her finger.
She’d never, ever forget how Sherlock had jerked, had rolled out of bed away from her, how he’d tried to recover as her dad pulled her back against him, snuggling her in close.
“It’s all right – he just needs a moment.”
And when he’d had his moment, and had got back in bed and scooted over closer to her, on his side again but facing her, she’d asked – of course she’d asked – what had happened to give him that cool scar.
She doesn’t remember if she said cool, but she’d been in awe of it, not afraid at all, knowing it was part of his story, what made him so very, very interesting in a way her dad wasn’t. Didn’t matter – her dad didn’t need to be interesting like that. He had his own scars – he’d fought in a war, after all. But she’d known about that scar forever, hadn’t she?
And Sherlock had said then, very seriously, in a voice that shook just a very little bit, that it was a scar he’d come home with from his travels, during that time John thought he was dead, and she should ask about it later, when she was older.
Thinking about it now, when Dad was at work and she was home early from school and Sherlock was sleeping on the sofa, stretched out on his side with his dressing gown slipping off his shoulder, she realises he must have been very careful all these years to keep his back covered. He wore a t-shirt when they went to the beach, even, for the sun, which was certainly true, she knew – his skin was very fair – but isn’t exactly the whole story.
She fixes herself a snack and a glass of milk and sits on a chair facing him, knees pulled up to her chin, and watches him breathe for just a moment or so before his rumbly voice asks, “What’s on your mind now, Watson?”
He calls her Watson sometimes, and it makes her feel, well, different. More grown up, more special. He never says it when he’s angry, or when lots of people are around. Usually just the two of them, when she can’t be confused with her dad, the original Watson.
She’s learned not to be shy about her questions. She’s also learned not to ask them before she’s ready to hear the answers.
“I’d like to hear about how you got that scar on your back,” she says. “Do you think you could tell me now?”
He lays there, unmoving, for so long she thinks he might just close his eyes again and go back to sleep, but really, she knows better. In time, he releases a deep breath then pushes himself up and settles back on the couch, sitting in a position that almost exactly mirrors her own.
“Before I returned to London – after my absence when your father met your mother – I was taken prisoner in Serbia.” He pauses, and gives her that particular, challenging smile of his. “Capital and surrounding countries, please.”
“Belgrade,” Rosie says immediately. She then scrunches up her nose as she always does when she’s puzzling something out. “Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary.”
He smiles and nods.
“Serbia’s a long way from London,” she says, but he only nods again. “Who…?” She trails off at the look on his face and sighs. It never helps to get ahead of herself. He’ll tell her what he means to tell her, and she just has to be satisfied with what she gets.
“It’s very complicated, and not at all relevant, really,” he says, eyes softening a bit at the look on her face. “The short version is enough – I was working against them. I was tired and weak – I’d been ill with a flu or food poisoning, and they captured me. They held me for several weeks until Mycroft was able to free me.”
“They held you,” Rosie says, very slowly. Her stomach is doing uncomfortable somersaults. She moistens her lips, which have gone dry. She’d never imagined what she thinks he’s telling her and the feeling makes her want to vomit, but she’s not going to. She asked him and now she needs to understand or maybe he’ll never think she’s ready to hear this sort of unpleasantness again.
“They tortured me,” Sherlock says. The arms around his knees tighten a bit, and his face looks harder than she likes it. “Chained me up, lashed me when I wouldn’t tell them who I was working for.”
Rosie’s mouth is a startled O that she can’t seem to close up. She forces a swallow just to close her mouth, and blinks her eyes several times, squeezing them shut tightly in between. She pushes back the tears and looks at him as she’s never looked at him before.
“Oh Sherlock,” she says. “I’m really, really sorry.”
He smiles. “It really wasn’t much fun. But it all worked out in the end.”
They sit there, just looking at each other, and she has a million more questions, but this hurts him, and even though she’s only thirteen, she sees that, but there’s something else. Something she needs and maybe, just maybe, he needs it too.
“May I see?” she says in a voice that comes out as not much more than a whisper.
He doesn’t look surprised, but they hold each other’s eyes for a very long time before he moves. He lets the dressing gown slip entirely off his shoulders and beckons to her with a motion of his head.
Rosie stands, leaving her glass of milk on the floor beside the chair, and walks the three or four steps over to Sherlock. She takes a deep breath, then sits beside him on the sofa as he turns his back toward her.
It isn’t at all what she expected. There are so many scars, but they’re not ugly, not ugly at all. There’s that one horrible slash that goes up to his shoulder, raised and prominent and not as smooth and white as she remembers it from all those years ago. But there are so many more – a crisscross pattern, a road map of the most complicated road network imaginable.
She wonders, as she lifts a hand, tentative, and traces a finger over a bumpy route of connected trails, what else they might have done and she really, really, really doesn’t want to know, but it makes her finger fall away from his skin, and her lip begin to quiver and she knows that what she sees might only be a little part of it but she’ll be much, much older before she ever really understands.
Sherlock pulls his dressing gown back up and turns quickly to look at her.
“It’s like a road map,” she whispers.
And there’s that smile again, and he reaches out and tips up her chin and looks into her eyes, and she knows – she always knows this – that he’s seeing more in her eyes than just Rosamund Mary Watson – and he says “A road map that led me back to your dad, and to you,” and he ties the sash of his gown around his middle and looks at her to judge what her next move might be, but still she surprises him, launching herself forward to hug him and she’s crying on his shoulder even though she told herself she wasn’t going to, and he’s patting her back like she’s seven years old.
And she feels seven, and she feels thirteen, and she feels a hundred and forty. But most of all she feels like her heart is too big for her chest, and that there aren’t words in the world to say the kind of I love you she feels right then.
But she doesn’t even have to say it, because it’s there already in the hug, and in how Sherlock is rubbing her back, and how she feels, with the fingers that clutch his back, his complicated past with her dad written on his very skin.
“Don’t ever go back to Serbia,” she says, and he squeezes her more tightly, and says “Already promised your dad that,” and she thinks there’s something else there he’s not saying, but knows enough to save it for another day.
Chapter 20: T is for Tomorrows
Sherlock is called upon to make an important - and final - decision for Mycroft.
John’s voice was rough, evidence of the stress of the last two days. He lowered himself carefully onto the bench beside Sherlock, resting his cane against his leg, and reached for Sherlock’s hand. Sherlock threaded his fingers through John’s, clutching at the familiar hand like the lifeline it was.
“What next, then?” asked Sherlock, staring at the ducks circling the pond in front of him. He sounded tired, utterly spent.
“Nothing but a bit of paperwork later. The facility will arrange the cremation. The crematorium will contact you about the ashes, and the urn.” He waited a moment, but Sherlock didn’t move. “We can go now, let Rosie and the others know.”
“Cremation.” Sherlock repeated the word, voice flat. “Did he want that, then? I assumed he’d want to be buried.”
It’s what he chose for me.
John heard the unspoken words. He squeezed Sherlock’s hand. “It’s in the directive. I went over it with the staff after – well, after you left.”
Sherlock stiffened. “I stayed as long as I could bear it.”
“I know you did,” John whispered. “You – you did fine, Sherlock. You did exactly as he would have expected. He wouldn’t have wanted to suffer any longer. He was very clear about that.”
“He didn’t expect to have an aneurism at seventy-five,” Sherlock said. He dug the heel of his expensive shoe into the gravel beneath it. “Dad lived to ninety-two. It wasn’t that very long ago that ….”
He trailed off, and John hummed, scooting a bit closer.
“No one expects something like that, Sherlock.”
“He should have died right then – yesterday, when It happened. If they hadn’t called an ambulance….”
“Sherlock – stop.” John’s voice was softer now, reassuring. “He was in a cab –the cabbie had to call 999. It’s protocol.”
The ducks paddled around, leaving a gentle wake behind them. The waning sunlight sparkled on the water. The pond, the park, the air itself breathed life on this lifeless day.
“They already had the vent in when I arrived.” Sherlock’s words, words he’d uttered aloud to John more than once in the past twenty-four hours, were barely audible now.
“Yeah. They did. I know they did,” John answered patiently.
There were bees on a patch of clover across the path, their buzzing a poignant reminder of home. Sherlock watched them distractedly. “He might have survived the surgery.”
John patiently nodded. “He might have.”
Another duck paddled by, a parabola of ducklings fanning out behind her.
“Sherlock – you did the right thing. You know this. <>If he’d survived, and that’s a big if, he’d have been dependent on someone for his care for the rest of his life. You know what they said – that he probably wouldn’t have had any self-awareness at all.”
“We don’t know that.” He sounded cross now, almost angry.
John let go of Sherlock’s hand and instead wrapped an arm around his back. “No. We don’t. But Jesus, Sherlock. You asked all the questions. All of them. In the last twenty-four hours, you asked every person with any medical credentials at all who you saw, including me. You did it for all the right reasons, and you respected his wishes. You tried to put yourself in his shoes. Please – please don’t put yourself through this. He was your brother, Sherlock. No matter your complicated history - he trusted you with this. And you didn’t let him down.”
“He trusted me to not let sentiment get in the way,” Sherlock said, though he didn’t seem to be speaking to John. He was looking past the bees now, past the ducks, past the pond, into a past John didn’t know and couldn’t see. “He should have known me better.”
“He did,” John whispered, letting his eyes follow the aimless track of Sherlock’s. He briefly watched the silhouette of a bird winging its way across the golden sky.
They sat in silence, hand in hand again, Sherlock’s fingers gripping John’s tightly. He showed no signs of wanting to move, of wanting to get back to Rosie’s and settle in for the evening.
“I’m a fool,” Sherlock said at last. He glanced at John, and there was something there, in his eyes, that John understood at once. Something that had everything to do with John, and very little to do with Mycroft. “It can’t be me, John. I’d never be able to let you go.”
“Sherlock.” John leaned in, touched and saddened, and brushed his lips against Sherlock’s cheek. “You’d know when it’s time – when it’s right. You’d want to be the one.”
Sherlock straightened his back and sucked in a breath of air and John could feel it coming, the closing of that window into his heart, the return to logic, intellect over sentiment as he raised the defenses he’d lowered in a moment of weakness. Yet there was something touching in his reasoned argument, something that made John grip his hand even tighter, rub his thumb over Sherlock’s pulse point, feeling the comforting evidence of a heart still strong and beating. “Rosie is your biological child. She’s an independent and intelligent adult, is less prone to emotional foibles than I, and understands the human psyche far better. I would be a simpering fool, John. I would offer my own heart were yours to fail. I would drain my veins to give you life. I can’t be counted on to let you go, and I’d never be convinced that it’s the right time. I’d want nothing more than to go with you – to lie beside you on your deathbed and leave this world hand in hand.”
It was an emotional outpouring, a love letter of sorts, penned by the heart Sherlock so often claimed he didn’t have, yet delivered as a rational argument, as if he were expounding on why they should have Indian instead of Thai for dinner or on the merits of corgis versus setters. And John saw it for what it was, and sat there quietly for several minutes, sorting through all the hundreds of things he could say, knowing only that he could not brush Sherlock’s fears aside, could not tell him with conviction that he was wrong, or assure him it would never come to this.
“I think Rosie would agree to share the responsibility with you,” he said at last. “I don’t imagine she would do it without you, though, no matter what the legal paperwork says.”
Sherlock made a noncommittal sound. His hand curled over John’s, gripped it even more tightly.
“She’ll need you, Sherlock. Not just to help with the decision, but after too.”
“She won’t have me,” he answered clinically. “I’ll die before you and put the matter to rest.”
“Look – Sherlock. “You know it won’t likely come to this. Mycroft’s case was -well - extreme. But you did everything he’d have wanted you to do. To the letter. If it had been me instead of Mycroft – ”
“You’d be in surgery now,” Sherlock said. “I wouldn’t have let you go.”
John took a deep breath and released it slowly.
“Sherlock – look at me.”
He pulled at Sherlock’s hand, and as Sherlock turned his head, John lifted his hands to Sherlock’s face and held his eyes. “See these eyes, Sherlock? If you ever look in these eyes and can’t see me through my pain, or you don’t see me at all, it’s time to let me go. That’s all you need to know – and if that’s not good enough, if you’re not sure, let it go another day. But then, if you have the choice, let me go. No heroics. No surgeries where there’s only a slim chance of full recovery. Don’t draw it out. I’ve already had a full life, Sherlock – a damn near perfect life these last years with you.” He leaned forward, resting his forehead against Sherlock’s. “I can’t tell you if there’s a God, and there may not be a heaven, but I’ve given you my heart, and you’ll still have it when I’m gone.”
Sherlock raised his own hands to cup John’s face, then kissed his forehead, lips lingering as a smile graced his strained and pale face.
“You’re a ridiculous man, John, leaving such an important part of yourself in my care,” he murmured, and by his tone, and his words, John knew his dark mood had broken. “But you’ve done it now, and I suppose there’s nothing for it.” He nudged John’s forehead with his chin until John lifted his gaze and met his eyes again. “It will have to be enough – if it comes to it.”
“I’m not going to argue with you about which one of us is going to die first,” John said. “And the only thing I’m asking of you – if I do go first – is that you stay around for a time, for Rosie and William. Take care of them – but it might be best if you let them think they’re taking care of you.”
Sherlock’s smile relaxed his tense face, yet didn’t quite reach his eyes. He looked away, into the distance, and his expression softened.
“For a time,” he said.
And he stood, and held out a hand for John, helped him to his feet and pressed his cane into his hand. And John saw it as something of a victory, that Sherlock was letting it rest, if not letting it go altogether.
“We can talk to Rosie about it tomorrow,” John said as they walked back toward the facility. “We should do it before we go home.”
“Yesterday morning, Mycroft thought he’d have them, you know,” Sherlock mused a few moment later.
“Have what?” asked John, slowing his pace to match Sherlock’s.
John said nothing, but his tightening grip on Sherlock’s hand and the gentle caress of his thumb across Sherlock’s knuckles spoke his heart more than any words ever could.
Chapter 21: U is for Uncle
And just like that, Rosie is two and Mycroft is back - this time in a tale of how he became Uncle Mycroft. There' another half-told story in here too, which will be told in further detail in "X if for X-ray."
In Rosie Watson’s life, people are assigned relationships that often have very little to do with blood or genetics.
She has a biological aunt – though she won’t get to know her well until much later in her life. She has two grandmothers and a grandfather – Sherlock’s parents, and Mrs. Hudson downstairs. Molly is very nearly her aunt, though she’s a tiny bit mother as well, but Sherlock and John don’t call her anything other than Molly, so Rosie doesn’t either.
And along with of all of these, Rosie has a couple of uncles as well.
Dad calls Lestrade Greg, and Sherlock calls him Lestrade, but to Rosie he refers to him as the Inspector, so Rosie calls him ‘Spector, because the first time she did it, everyone laughed.
And besides ‘Spector, there’s Uncle Mycroft.
Mrs. Hudson called him that first, though it didn’t stick that first time. She was minding Rosie for Sherlock one morning after John left for work. Sherlock was at the table, safety glasses atop his head, bent over a petri dish, when Mycroft appeared at the door. When Mrs. Hudson opened it, Rosie on her hip, she said “Well, if it isn’t your Uncle Mycroft.”
“He’s not her uncle,” Sherlock called out at the precise moment that Mycroft said flatly, “I’m not her uncle.”
“Ah – but Sherlock, you’re her father, and Mycroft is your brother, so uncle it is.” She danced Rosie around the sitting room, her problem hip forgotten, singing a made-up song that went something like “Uncle Mycroft, Uncle Mycroft, Uncle Mycroft has a brolly. Uncle Mycroft, Uncle Mycroft, Uncle Mycroft brings you lollies. Uncle Mycroft, Uncle Mycroft, Uncle Mycroft comes to meddle. Uncle Mycroft, Uncle Mycroft, Uncle Mycroft’s a jolly fellow.”
“That doesn’t rhyme,” Sherlock pointed out.
“And I’m certainly not jolly,” Mycroft added drolly.
“We don’t care!” said Mrs. Hudson, dancing a very jolly Rosie over to the table.
But from a time not too long after this, Mycroft was indeed Uncle Mycroft, and he dutifully attended birthday parties and somehow always turned up with the most memorable gifts, which Rosie always loved, and Sherlock always hated.
“A pink cowboy hat with her name in rhinestones?” Sherlock hissed the year she turned four.
“A make-it-yourself paper mache model of the solar system?” he exclaimed the year she turned seven.
“Girl Talk? A guide to discussing girl stuff with your gay dads?” he shouted the year she turned eleven.
“A monogrammed bespoke BROLLY?” he thundered the year she turned sixteen.
But Rosie was just past two when Mycroft earned his title.
She was a frightened mess when the whole thing started, gripping her duck plushie with one hand and John’s shoulder with the other. He was panting, having just completed a mini marathon from 221B to the hospital in record time, all the while holding a fussy toddler and toting a nappy bag in the form of an old med school backpack.
Mycroft met him outside the waiting room with a disapproving look.
“You have the child,” he said.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.” John shifted Rosie on his hip. She buried her face in his shoulder.
Mycroft cleared his throat. “Let me rephrase. Why do you have your daughter with you? She’s too young to go back.”
John rolled his eyes and rubbed Rosie’s back. “Mrs. Hudson was out. Did you want me to leave her in 221B by herself? Maybe give her the violin to play with and tell her not to move off the sofa until Daddy’s home again?”
Mycroft pulled out his mobile. “Fine. I’ll call some….”
“How is he? Have they taken him back yet?”
“Groggy. No. Soon.” Mycroft spoke without looking at John, frowning at his mobile, seemingly perplexed at how exactly to solve the problem at hand.
And suddenly, Mycroft was holding a very small human being who was making the most unholy sound, and a worn backpack with a nappy hanging out an unzipped compartment was draped from his arm. He glanced around the corridor, and into the small waiting area, but there was no one who looked like they would fare any better with the child.
His self-preservation instinct nearly did him in – he wanted to drop the child to save his ears, and hold on to her to save getting murdered by her father. He managed to keep hold of her, wrapping an arm around her middle as she writhed in his arms.
“Sir – sir!”
A nurse hurried over and Mycroft thrust the child at him. The man backed away, arms up defensively.
“No – no, that won’t do,” he said, raising his voice so he could be heard over Rosie’s wails. “Not yours, I take it?”
“No.” He sighed, grimacing as his ears rang. “She’s my brother’s – his friend’s – partner’s….my niece.”
The nurse gave Mycroft another once-over, then pointed to the backpack draped over his left arm.
“You’ll be wanting something from that, I’d wager,” he said. “You can use that room there – no one’s there – last family’s gone in to see their mum.”
Mycroft, feeling less grateful than he should – he’d really have preferred a team of nurses take Rosie off to a private room somewhere – collapsed on a chair and set Rosie on the chair beside him. She promptly slid to the floor as if all of her bones had dissolved at once and stretched out on her stomach, still screaming. He eyed the child, then the door, then the child again.
“I am not your uncle,” he stated. “And I would have Hooper here in a heartbeat if I weren’t at least partially responsible for this little…detour.”
He had begun rooting in the bag, pulling out a second plush duck, and a third – none of the them the typical overly-large headed duckling type, but all different varieties of actual wild ducks. There were books – an ABC on the streets of London and First Words in Aramaic, a package of Hobnobs, a tube of ointment, a packet of wipes, a collection of keys – real keys, some rusty, that looked wholly unsuitable for children, a stack of nappies, a bottle of water and a lime green plastic cup with a lid.
Rosie’s wails had subsided into whimpers. She’d inched toward him on her stomach and grabbed one of the spare plush ducks – a Scaup, if he wasn’t mistaken – and was now clutching it against her belly with the first, eying him with wary interest and, he thought, mild distaste. He imagined Sherlock showing her photos of Mycroft on flashcards and encouraging her to use new and varied vocabulary words to describe him.
“Would you like the Pochard as well?” he asked.
Her eyes narrowed. They were blue, not unlike her father’s, and seemed all the brighter in that halo of messy blonde hair. But she shook her head, clearly suspicious of the offer, so he placed the duck on the chair beside him and surveyed the other items he’d catalogued. Certain she wouldn’t be pacified with a book, he rejected the nappies and other accoutrements of personal hygiene and proffered the Hobnobs.
The wary look was back, but there was more than veiled interest now in those eyes. She scooted several inches closer to him and held out her hand.
“What do you say?” he asked, automatically, then snapped his mouth shut in alarm. Where had that come from? Could that possibly still be engrained in him from childhood?
“Pees and t’ank you,” she whispered. She didn’t sound at all sincere.
“Very well.” He handed her the entire packet, which had been opened but was nearly full. She looked at him in utter confusion but when he didn’t move to snatch away the prize, she tore the wrapping and extracted a biscuit.
“We will need to stay here until your father returns,” Mycroft explained. He glanced at the number on the door. “I shall text him now to let me know where they’ve put us. Apparently, your histrionics were not highly regarded.” He kept a wary eye on her even as he texted John. “He isn’t going to be at all happy with me when he rejoins us, so you’ll have to pardon my rudeness if I don’t bid you a polite goodbye at that time.”
Perking up at the familiar word, Rosie raised one hand and waved.
“Going bye-bye?” She sounded hopeful, if a child of her age could sound hopeful.
“No. Unfortunately not. As I’ve already explained, we must stay here – precisely here in this room – until your father rejoins us. He is in with Sherlock now, quite likely holding his hand and coaxing the entire story out of him before they take him to surgery.”
She’d perked up at Sherlock’s name, and looked around the room, and through the open door, expectantly.
“I expect they’ll tell you some horrible things about me, young lady, as soon as you’re old enough to understand them and to soak in their biases, if they haven’t already begun. Suffice it to say that your father – Sherlock, that father – has a stunningly brilliant mind but the emotional maturity of a gerbil.”
He paused for the child to take it in. She appeared to process it by forcing an entire biscuit into her mouth and chewing messily as she regarded him, two ducks clutched against her body under one small arm.
“Well, yes. It’s true. And you’ll have many chances over the upcoming years to assess the accuracy of that statement.” He frowned at her face but thought it premature to wipe it now as she was only on her second biscuit. “Case in point – this afternoon in my office. Sherlock barged in, uninvited – do note that, if you would – to berate me for, as he so eloquently put it, having one of your nursery caregivers sacked.”
He regarded her seriously, as if giving her the opportunity to weigh in on this most egregious abuse of power, but she said nothing, just watched him cautiously with big blue eyes as she ate biscuits – she had one in each hand now. “He’s not wrong, you know,” he said, after another quick glance at the door. “I did have her employment terminated. Miss Emily. She has a narcotics problem, if you must know. Your father – again, the juvenile one – pointed out that Miss Emily didn’t even work with children of your age, but as your father seems quite content with your rather plebian school – you don’t know that word, do you?” He gave her a moment, and she spent it dumping most of the remaining biscuits into her lap. “You will someday – my brother might be an immature circus pony, but his vocabulary, at least, is above average.”
At this point, Rosie, who’d been patiently eating biscuits and listening to Mycroft, a man she recognized as not-quite-a-stranger, held out an almost-unbroken biscuit.
“One for you,” she said, giving him a tentative smile, undoubtedly including him in an oft-played game.
He glanced at the door again and, seeing no one hovering outside or approaching from down the corridor, he took the biscuit from her.
“Thank you very much,” he said. “Now. Where were we? Ah. Miss Emily.”
“Eat it,” Rosie instructed. She pulled herself to her feet, still holding her ducks. Hobnobs fell from her lap, scattering left and right, and she placed a grubby hand on his knee and watched him suspiciously.
“Ah. Of course.” He pretended to nibble on the Hobnob, which seemed to appease her, as she sat back down, directly on top of a pile of biscuits. She didn’t seem to notice.
“Miss Emily needs help getting her problem under control, and she should obviously not be around children. Any children. You’d be in her class soon enough – she was with the four-year-olds. And yes, I do admit that the problem I mentioned is with legally prescribed medication for pain following an injury, but that was weeks ago. Weeks!”
“Weeks!” agreed Rosie, giving him a toothy grin. She stood again, retrieved the third duck from the chair, then arranged the ducks in a row on the floor.
“Well, young lady, I see you’ve got your ducks in a row.”
There was a fondness in his eyes he couldn’t see himself, and that Rosie, naturally, didn’t point out. She picked up a duck and held it out for him, and he accepted it and tucked it beside him on the chair.
“I should get to the crux of the matter – the explanation of why we are here.” He looked at her seriously. “Sherlock reached into my umbrella stand, extracted one of them – a very special one of them – and broke it across his knee – as punishment to me, I suppose. And – ah – well, shot himself in the thigh.”
Rosie cocked her head, studying his anxious face.
“I should explain – I said it was a special umbrella. It was a weapon – a firearm, actually. By cracking it against his leg, he triggered the firing mechanism. It was – well, a bit of not good.”
“A lot not good.”
John’s voice came from behind him, and calm and collected though he seemed, Mycroft turned cautiously to face him.
“Da!” Rosie stood, chose a duck plushie, and ran over to press it into his hands. She then offered a half-eaten Hobnob as John brushed crumbs off her bum.
“They’re prepping him now,” John said as he lifted Rosie and brushed a kiss on her cheek. He looked worn, and worried, but no more angry than he typically seemed in Mycroft’s presence. “I spoke with the trauma doctor and the surgeon – they don’t expect any complications, but are asking all sorts of questions. You might want to call whoever it is you call to make all the questions go away. I don’t think anyone believes the story Sherlock is spouting. They think it’s the pain meds talking.”
Mycroft stood, but John held up a hand.
“Wait just a minute,” he said, with a smile Mycroft might have described as evil had it been on someone else’s face. He quickly checked Rosie’s nappy, then put her down again, eying the pile of Hobnob crumbs and the duck nestled next to Mycroft’s poshly-clad leg. “I’ve been given the go-ahead to observe the surgery. Rosie can stay here with you until Molly gets here.” He checked his watch. “She’s leaving Bart’s in an hour.”
“But - ”
“A booby-trapped brolly? Really, Mycroft?”
John had him by the arm now, pulling him just into the corridor, and invading his personal space. “No, you didn’t. But you two – you’ve got to stop this. Both of you. I know you mean well. Well, I think you do anyway. But enough! This could have killed him, or you.” He sucked in a deep breath but didn’t relinquish his hold. “Look – I’m not going to dwell on that part right now. But we’ll be talking about this again – when he’s back home and fucking stir crazy. When he’s climbing the walls, Mycroft, you’re going to be his gopher.”
He let go of Mycroft’s arm and took a step back.
“And from now on, you’re Uncle Mycroft. Got it?”
Mycroft dropped his chin a fraction of an inch, in the barest indication of a nod. John jerked his own chin, muttered “Good,” and spun on his heel and disappeared through a set of swinging doors halfway down the corridor.
Mycroft pulled his mobile out of his pocket and made a brief call, watching the child line up her ducks – she’d taken his back from him again – and feed them mangled Hobnobs. He checked the time, estimated the commute from Bart’s, and settled in for the wait.
John was right. Something had to change. He supposed he could back off a fraction, monitor things to see how a bit less scrutiny carried through to the lives inside 221B. But he couldn’t affect a new direction on his own. Sherlock would have to bring something to the table – after he got over the strop that would certainly make an appearance the next time Mycroft showed his face in his presence.
The child, perhaps sensing his mood, was suddenly standing in front of him, holding out the plushie duck with the green head.
“Mallard,” he said, taking the duck from her and tucking it under his arm. He sighed. “Quack.”
“No.” She shook her head vehemently. “He’s a Shov’ler.” She screwed up her face and made a sound that sounded more like “Chip Chip” than “Quack Quack.”
Leave it to Sherlock to teach Rosie the calls of individual duck species.
“Well, they don’t eat Hobnobs,” he said, imperiously. “What do they eat, Miss Watson?”
She shrugged. “Apples?”
“No, not apples either.” He patted the chair beside him, and she climbed up, leaned her head against his arm, and peered contentedly at his mobile as he keyed in a search for the diet of the Northern Shoveler.
Chapter 22: V is for Videos
It began when Rosie was an awkward thirteen and Mummy, in an astute bid to make Rosie see that she wasn’t alone in her adolescent angst awkwardness, sent her a video of the Holmes family on holiday in Spain when Sherlock was nearly the same age.
It was almost impossible for John to imagine a thinner, more antagonistic version of Sherlock with a larger, less tamed mop of curls, but there he was, right before his eyes, spending the majority of his summer holiday in a magnificent strop.
Rosie thought he was adorable, with his spots and angular awkwardness and the way he kicked at the sand when told he absolutely could not go back inside to get away from all the horrible tourists, potential serial killers and plague-carrying children infesting the beach. She thought her nanna let him off easy what with his over-the-top insolence. She wondered at his too-short t-shirt and too-long swimming shorts, concluding that his enviable fashion sense must have come later in life.
The video had the desired effect on Rosie, and Sherlock suffered through multiple replays, tucked together at the end of the sofa, on the condition that no one outside their family was ever to see it.
“Not even Molly?” pleaded Rosie.
Sherlock shook his head. “No. Not even Molly.”
“Surely you wouldn’t mind much if Nanna Hudders….”
“Surely I would.”
So Rosie grudgingly complied, but being the bright child that she was, realised that this ten-minute outtake of Sherlock’s life couldn’t possibly be the only holiday video captured by her grandparents. John found her in a fit of giggles one day watching a five-year-old Sherlock in a miniature lab coat and a crooked bow tie delivering a lecture on the solar system.
John couldn’t help but squeeze in beside her on the sofa to watch.
“Look at him,” he murmured, draping an arm around his daughter and leaning his head in against hers. “He’s adorable.”
“He’s so serious!” exclaimed Rosie. “And Dad - he thinks Pluto shouldn’t be a planet! He was right about it way back then.” She raised an elbow to nudge him and he grinned and nudged her back, then dropped his eyes again to stare, bemused, at the video.
Sherlock and the solar system. Oh-so-serious as he extoled the virtues of the gas giants, hypothesised about the possibility of future colonisation and terraforming of Mars, and drew a rendering of the red spot storm on Jupiter on the white board behind him.
Sherlock at five, enraptured by the solar system. Enthusiastically illustrating the rotation of Jupiter with spiral swirls on a white board. Meticulously sketching its moons and adding splashes of lava over Io.
Sherlock with a smudge of green dry-erase marker on his nose,
Sherlock so engagingly serious, so remarkably sincere.
Sherlock who’d later deleted the solar system, and with it, John could only assume, a bit of the childish wonder that had illuminated his eyes like the stars above.
“Are there any videos of you when you were younger, Dad?” Rosie asked, pulling him from his contemplation.
“No,” he answered, tousling his daughter’s hair as he stood. “Unfortunately, not a one.”
John hung up his coat and dropped his keys and wallet onto the table and frowned as Sherlock quickly tucked his mobile into his jacket pocket.
“Nothing,” Sherlock said. “Just reading a stupid text from Mycroft.”
“Yeah – Uncle Mycroft,” agreed Rosie, artificially loud. She’d been been laughing when he opened the door. “It was funny. He’s hysterical.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes, but quickly hid his expression as John crossed his arms and took a few steps toward them.
“Well, read it to me, then,” he said. “You know me – always laughing at hysterical Uncle Mycroft.”
Rosie hid behind her hands, giggling even more while Sherlock made a show of retrieving his mobile and opening the texting app.
“Hmm. Must have deleted it,” he said, tucking the mobile back away without apology.
“You may as well just show me,” John said, holding his ground. “I seem to be the only one around here who knows how to make tea, and you’ll want to keep me happy.”
Rosie glanced at Sherlock. His mouth twitched and he gave a tiny shrug.
“It was you!” Rosie exclaimed, eyes bright with delight. “In the army! All sweaty and jumping around without your shirt and crawling on your belly through mud and standing all straight and proper with the other soldiers!” She bounced in her chair. “And you said there weren’t any videos of you when you were younger, Dad!”
“I wasn’t that much younger,” John replied, glaring at Sherlock. “But apparently, Sherlock has access to military recruitment video footage that was never released publicly.”
“You were cute, Dad.” Rosie grinned at him. She’d shed a bit of her newfound teen angst these last few days. “No spots, but you were all smooth and didn’t have much hair on your chest and you were skinny!”
John glanced down at himself – he wasn’t about to apologise for the pounds he’d gained over the past thirty years, and besides, he was still in good enough shape – fit enough to jog a couple miles a day, at least, if he wanted to. “Cute? No – cute is a five-year-old in a bowtie lecturing on gas giants.” He stepped behind Sherlock. “Go on – show me.”
“Later?” Sherlock fidgeted, glancing at Rosie.
“John – ”
Sherlock glanced again at Rosie.
“Fine – you can show me after dinner. Rosie, go down and help Mrs. Hudson put away her shopping. I helped her carry it in and she sat down to rest before putting it up. She’s probably fallen asleep in her chair.”
Rosie hopped up without complaint, and John waited for the door to slam behind her before turning on Sherlock.
“Alright – spill it. Where did you get the footage and what else did he give you that you didn’t want Rosie to see?”
“It didn’t have to be Mycroft.” Sherlock had affected a casual attitude again. “I do have other sources.”
“It was Mycroft.” John held out his hand. “What else do you have?”
“Pretty much just the recruitment video footage – and you already knew about that so you certainly shouldn’t be shocked it resurfaced.” He leveled an assessing gaze at John. “It was a good find – you might not be spotty or clever, but you’re still adorable. All that smooth skin and abdominal definition.”
John held his ground. “And?”
“Hmm.” Sherlock glanced at his mobile, then looked up at John with an artificial smile and a shrug. “Not much else. A bit of old CCTV footage.”
“A bit of old CCTV footage,” repeated John. He narrowed his eyes. “You know I’ll win this one so you may as well tell me.”
Sherlock fidgeted. He looked vaguely uncomfortable. “John, as soon as I realised he’d had a camera in your room, I removed it and made sure it wouldn’t happen again. It was very early on – just after we’d met. I never thought to demand the footage before Mummy started up on this thing with Rosie. I thought I might catch you looking at a bit of pornography on your laptop or hoarding Hobnobs. Given that I removed the bug on your third day here, I hardly expected….”
John’s face had taken on a very curious look as his laughter battled with the sense of outrage he still sometimes felt at Mycroft’s intrusion. He remembered, quite well, in fact, his first wank at 221B, the morning after that first case, waking up and feeling truly alive for the first time in months.
“You’ve been watching me wank,” he whispered, leaning into Sherlock’s personal space, hands on the arms of Sherlock’s chair. His voice was low and suggestive– he’d let Mycroft have it next time he saw him but right now, he had Sherlock right where he wanted him. “You were just below me, weren’t you, sound asleep, while I had the best wank of my life, fantasising I had you up against an alley wall.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened, pupils dilated, and John stepped in between his legs and lowered his head until his lips were nearly touching Sherlock’s.
“Your brother just might be funding Rosie’s gap year for this,” he whispered. “But first, I’m going to thank him for getting you so…motivated.” He pressed a slow kiss to Sherlock’s dry lips. “Maybe tell him the video did more for you than your ED meds.”
John stood quickly and stepped back. “Tea?” he asked.
“John – this is hardly a matter for blackmail.” Sherlock stood and followed him into the kitchen. “It was years ago. Mycroft was just watching out for me. He thought I was still vulnerable. You were an unknown, then.”
“Listen to you defending your brother,” John said. He flipped on the kettle and leaned back against the counter, facing Sherlock.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to alienate him totally,” Sherlock said, reaching over John’s head to pull down a package of biscuits from the cupboard and dropping it on the counter near John’s elbow. “He’s paying for Rosie’s gap year, after all.”
John smiled. Sherlock handed him the mugs, then leaned against the counter beside him.
“John – there is one more thing. About that morning.”
“I wasn’t sleeping.”
His mouth twitched as he raised his eyes, as if staring through the ceiling above. John slowly raised his eyes as well, stared at the ceiling for a long moment, then returned his gaze to Sherlock.
“And I wasn’t trying to be quiet.”
They gazed at each other with the gentle fondness of years, regrets for what might have been tempered with the joy of what came to be. Then Sherlock picked up his still-steeping tea and wandered off to the sitting room and John popped a biscuit in his mouth, thinking of the videos Sherlock’s mum had sent Rosie, and the ones that Mycroft had sent Sherlock. He shook his head at the thought of Sherlock watching that video, remembering that particular wank quite vividly, and, as he made his way back to his chair opposite Sherlock, idly wondered whether Mycroft had had hidden cameras in Sherlock’s bedroom too.
Chapter 23: W is for Wedding
Told in two parts - the lead up and the day of - with love and squabbling and a bit of melancholy.
There came a day when John arrived home from work, after an inspiring conversation with an elderly patient, and proposed to Sherlock, and Sherlock said yes. The day came rather late in their shared lives, considering that they were semi-retired in Sussex, and Rosie was grown and at Uni, and they’d been together a good many years already.
And while John knew that they must get married, and Sherlock agreed absolutely, without hesitation or reservation, neither had given the least bit of thought to how they wanted to do this thing.
John brought it up the day after the proposal, on the train to London, as they traveled up to tell Rosie the news. They had no trouble coming to an agreement on the generalities – something small, and informal, and soon. But the details – oh, the devil was in the details.
Rosie was ecstatic. Her genuine, generous smile was followed by an even more generous and spontaneous group hug, and she insisted on treating for lunch – at Angelo’s. Angelo, hobbling on a cane but as appreciative as always, honoured his long-standing tradition of a candle on the table and a meal on the house.
“We will celebrate here!” he proclaimed. “Cost only – I will close the restaurant for the afternoon for this very, very special event!”
He was beaming. As ecstatic as Rosie, or very nearly.
Later, as Rosie hugged them goodbye at the train station and made them promise to wait until her next break – mercifully, coming in three weeks – before making any decisions or doing something rash like running off to the town hall to have the mayor marry them.
And while they were able to agree on that, and each claimed to have no strong opinions on the rest of it, it turned out that they actually did, and those opinions never quite lined up.
Not surprisingly, Sherlock seemed to know a bit more about weddings than John did, despite never having one of his own, and he dug out the wedding planner he’d used for John and Mary’s wedding, and transferred the headers over into a fresh notebook. While John was at work on Monday, he filled it in and presented it to him after dinner.
“My thoughts only, of course, but since you’re still working, and I’ve done this before and know your tastes and preferences, I thought it might save some time.”
John stared at the notebook, then back at Sherlock, then at the notebook again.
“Sherlock, you don’t get to pick my best man,” John said, because it seemed the best, and most obvious, place to start.
“Well, I’m not about to have Mycroft, and he’ll need to be somebody’s best man, so he may as well be yours.”
“Mycroft isn’t my best man. He isn’t even a close friend. He’s your brother. You should have him. He’ll be hurt if you ask someone else.”
“I’ll be hurt if I ask him.”
John sighed. He stared at the notebook again. “Alright – we need a couple of witnesses so I’ll ask one and you ask another. We don’t have to call him our best man – hell, the witnesses don’t even have to be male.”
“Exactly. I pick Rosie, then.”
John slowly raised his head and glared.
“Agreed. We’ll discuss it later,” Sherlock said in a hurry. “So, you’re good with exchanging vows on the beach at sunset?”
And while John would have very much enjoyed marrying Sherlock on the beach at sunset, he couldn’t agree to it with a good conscience.
“You don’t like the beach – well, you don’t like the sand. And you don’t particularly like casual clothing, or having your hair mussed by the breeze.”
Sherlock huffed, as if put out that he hadn’t guessed John would call him on his overtly generous offer. “I thought it was the least I could offer in exchange for you taking Mycroft as your best man.”
“Well, as Mycroft isn’t going to be my best man, you don’t have to suffer through a beach wedding.” John turned a page in the notebook, frowning at the next header. “What about the rings?” he asked. “You’ve crossed them off. You can’t just cross off the rings, Sherlock.”
“I can if we’re not having them,” Sherlock replied, noticing too late how John’s mouth was beginning to purse and how his neck went all rigid. “My hands are in all sorts of unpleasant and unsavory things every day. I’d have to take my ring off, and I’d undoubtedly misplace it. I’d spend all my free time searching for it. So – rings won’t do. You certainly don’t need a ring to know I’m committed to you.”
“I …” John trailed off, unable to decide where to start. “Sherlock – you can’t just decide for me. What if I want a ring?”
Sherlock smiled. “But you don’t. Not really. The last time you had one, you fidgeted with it constantly. You like the familiar and comfortable, John, and you detest anything that constricts.”
It didn’t matter that he was right. It was the principle of the thing.
“Then ask me instead of telling me,” John snapped. “John, what do you think about wedding rings?”
“John, what do you think about wedding rings?” echoed Sherlock. He looked vaguely amused, sure he would win this round.
John bristled. “I think they’re important. I think that every time I look at it, every time I fiddle with it, I’ll think of you. And it will remind me of my commitment to you – my permanent commitment.”
“I would think your name beside me on the deed to this house would remind you. Or perhaps our toothbrushes almost touching each other in the bathroom.”
“We’ll discuss it tomorrow,” John snapped. He turned to the next page in the notebook rather aggressively and snorted. “Sex holiday? Really?”
“You and Mary had one. It’s an important tradition.”
“Aha – like rings!”
They were still arguing three weeks later when Rosie arrived from London and quickly whipped them into shape.
“I’ll take it from here,” she said as they barraged her with their opposing ideas on the ride back from the train station. “Weddings are exhausting and you’ll end up hating each other if you do all the planning together. I know what you both like – better than either of you. Let’s settle on a date and a few basics and then you two can go back to enjoying each other’s company and getting into all sorts of trouble together.”
Sherlock and John exchanged a glance, both thinking that an end to the not-quite-hostilities would be a welcome thing.
“Fine – you do that,” Sherlock said. “But no rings.”
“And Mycroft isn’t my best man,” John added.
“And we need a sex holiday,” Sherlock added. “A long one. In New Zealand.”
John sighed and rolled his eyes. “We are not going to New Zealand to solve those alphabet murders,” he said, directing his comment to Rosie instead of Sherlock.
“John, please. It’s on your stupid bucket list. You want to see the fjords.”
John and Rosie exchanged an amused glance.
“Like I said, back to enjoying each other’s company,” Rosie said. She pulled out a small notebook. “Now, let’s stop for lunch and get the pesky details out of the way so we can enjoy the next few days without all this squabbling.”
“You love it,” Sherlock said as he headed to their favorite café. “It wouldn’t be home without all the squabbling.”
And true to her word, they had a date and the basic deal-breakers worked out over lunch. Every time the subject of the wedding came up over the remainder of her visit, she’d deftly change the subject to bees or the garden or gruesome murder. By the end of her visit, Lestrade, retired and in private practice now, had called Sherlock in on a new case and the wedding was, at least for the time being, nearly forgotten.
Passports up to date?
They were, though Sherlock’s was set to expire in a few months, so John forced him to queue up and get a new one.
Birth certificates required for marriage license. And proof of marital status.
Documentation was dutifully procured and copies delivered to Rosie.
Dad needs a new suit. Sherlock, get him something to complement whatever you’re wearing.
And while John grumbled that Rosie took it for granted that whatever Sherlock planned to wear was perfectly fine, and assumed that John had nothing appropriate in his closet, he let himself be poked and prodded and allowed Sherlock to make all the colour and style decisions.
Clear your calendars for the week after the wedding.
Check. John had thought of that weeks ago already, and Sherlock – well, he didn’t quite have a calendar to clear.
Don’t make plans on the 15th. Dad can dress casual but Sherlock’s going formal.
“Stag night for me – no idea what you’re doing,” John said with a sigh, exchanging a worried look with Sherlock.
“Oh God no.” Sherlock picked up his mobile and made a show of checking the calendar app he never actually used. “No – I’ve plans already. Big case in Manchester.”
But despite his protests, he took the train to London as directed on the 15th, where Rosie met him at the train station and delivered him to the Barbican Center where Mycroft, as impeccably dressed as Sherlock, sat beside him for a glorious performance by the London Symphony Orchestra, and uttered hardly a word before or after. It was, quite surprisingly, a perfect evening.
He was even home in time to throw a blanket over Lestrade, who he found sleeping half on and half off the sofa, and to remove John’s shoes, which had already muddied up the bed a bit before he arrived.
On Friday the 21st, a day before the wedding, they found Rosie in their garden picking flowers.
“He’s going crazy trying to break into your e-mail you know,” John told her as he watched her carefully cut the stems and lay the flowers in a basket. “And I’d wager you’ve sent him down a few false trails.”
She laughed. She was all of twenty years old. Her eyes crinkled at the corners when she smiled, and she exuded all the confidence of her mother with all the steadiness of her father. “I had Uncle Mycroft encrypt the account,” she admitted. “But he left a back door open and we filled it with all sorts of intriguing possibilities.” She bent over a patch of cosmos. “You need to write your vows tonight.”
She continued snipping stems while John stared.
“Rosie,” he said at last. His voice had the same tone it had had all those years ago when he’d caught her in a lie.
“You’d have obsessed, Dad,” she replied to his unvoiced question. “You’d have wanted them perfect. But really, they just need to be words from the heart, don’t they?” She reached over and tucked a flower behind his ear. “I’ll tell Sherlock before I leave.” She kissed his cheek. “And work outside for a bit and let Sherlock mope inside. It’s a beautiful day.”
She left a short time later with a reminder to be at Molly’s by ten to get dressed, and for John to please remember his cane, as it was going to be a long day. She promised to meet them there to escort them to the ceremony, and once again refused the cheque they’d offered her every time she’d visited, and didn’t offer any details about where, exactly, they’d be going from Molly’s.
Sherlock thought that John was amazingly calm for someone who was getting married the next day, yet had no idea where, or who was coming, or what he’d b promising his soon-to-be-spouse. Someone who needed his passport but had no idea where he’d be using it and who hadn’t yet realised that his daughter hadn’t asked for his ring size.
Quite wisely, he kept his mouth shut.
There are those who believe in chaos. That life is a random series of events and actions. That anyone can be one’s one true love. That we are born and live and die on a planet of limitless possibilities. That happiness is something you make for yourself, whatever your circumstances in life.
There are those who believe in a deity, or many deities. Who thank God for the miracles in their lives, however trivial, however small. Who strongly believe that life continues after death, that they will be reunited with loves ones, that they will retain their sense of self, their memories of love on earth.
John and Sherlock are none of these people and all of these people.
On their wedding day, Sherlock helps John up the stairs to 221B. They’ve come here from Molly’s, as they are ready early, and Rosie has been talking to the new owners of the building about renting the space and wants to show them before they head to the wedding venue. At the top of the stairs, Sherlock inserts a familiar key into the lock and pushes open the door.
The music starts as the door swings inward. A violin plays a familiar, melancholic melody, and John recognises it as something Sherlock used to play on quiet evenings when night had settled but they could not, and Sherlock knows as a composition he pieced together to knit them together after a tumultuous day. He is awestruck, for he’s never written it down, never committed it to paper, yet here it is, played with a nuance he’d never imagined.
John and Sherlock stop in their tracks as a familiar cast of people rise to their feet from a hob nob collection of wooden chairs and turn to face them.
Aside from the chairs, the flat seems completely empty of furniture. The floors are clean and polished, and a thousand origami swans and doves and bees hang from the ceiling on threads. There are flowers in tall vases in the corners, and gauzy curtains that blow in the breeze from the windows. Rosie is standing by the windows, violin under her chin, looking for all the world like Sherlock Holmes, serenading the streets of London.
Mycroft is standing facing them, and Mrs. Holmes rises carefully and stands between them to lead them forward. They walk between the two sections of chairs and it is utterly perfect and completely right. They are here, home, in the place where it all began, where they danced with Rosie on that day so very long ago.
John smiles at Sherlock’s father, at his sister Harry and her wife of ten years, at Molly and Greg and Mike and James and Angelo and a handful of others they count as friends.
Sherlock’s mother is already wiping her eyes. Angelo has a large white handkerchief in hand, but he is red-faced and beaming. Molly has put on the most ridiculous hat – John thinks it features flowers and bees and he loves it already, and Sherlock gives her an uncharacteristic thumbs up and she bows her head and blushes.
Mycroft will be no one’s best man that day. Instead, he’s been tasked with marrying them officially, and Sherlock tries to piece out whether he’s really licensed to do so, but John appreciates that the job has fallen to someone so utterly suited to it.
Her piece finished, Rosie leans the violin against the wall under the window, and it is a finishing touch to the simple, evocative décor. She’s wearing a wreath of flowers in her hair, blooms she picked in their garden yesterday morning, and she looks young and so very alive, living their moment with them. She stands beside John while Molly takes her place beside Sherlock. How fitting that Rosie has chosen her to stand with Sherlock, and dispensed so handily with the problem of Mycroft. Mrs. Holmes cries in earnest as soon as Mycroft begins to speak, welcoming all in a dry voice, bordering on haughty, yet somehow – unbelievably – sincere. He quickly dispenses with the tedious parts of the traditional ceremony. and everyone laughs at the buzzing of a bee – a real bee – that has somehow flown in through the window screen. It lights on Molly’s hat but she doesn’t notice, as Sherlock has begun his vows. The vows they prepared so quickly the day before are tucked in their bag at Molly’s forgotten, which has, apparently, been the plan all along, but things are so organic here in 221B, so real-time, so very well-planned but seemingly spontaneous, that nether balks when it is time, and Sherlock promises to love John even if he loses the rest of his hair, and vows to care for him even if it means carrying him up the stairs to a crime scene if his leg is wonky that day, and finishes it all by naming him a ten, the perfect mystery, the zenith of the periodic table, the gravity that holds the universe together. He is nothing without John – nothing but empty shell and useless transport, a beating heart without the oxygen of love fueling its blood.
It is a tough act to follow, and even Mr. Holmes is dabbing at his eyes now, and Mycroft has passed his mother a second handkerchief, but John gives it a go. The words he prepared are quite forgotten as he looks at Sherlock, the room very quiet. They could be here alone save the occasional buzzing of the bee and the sniffles of a guest, alone here where it started, where they danced Rosie to sleep and crossed that invisible line, the whimsical point of no return.
And John vows to continue loving Sherlock even when Sherlock is in a three-day sulk, or disappears into his mind palace in the middle of an argument, or fusses with his hair so long that they’re late for an engagement. He ties it up by telling Sherlock, in front of these people, their family, their closest friends, voice choked with emotion, that losing him – that first time, all those years ago – yanked the compass from his ship and left him drifting. That all that came after was a series of blind alleys and course corrections, wrong turns that brought their own joys and sorrows, but that nothing was right again in the world until that night they danced here with Rosie in their arms.
They lean in for the obligatory kiss, but Mycroft holds up his hand imperiously and asks for the tokens of their commitment. Rosie and Molly produce identical chains from which hang identical charms – intricate bees made from the silver cup Sherlock gifted Rosie at her baptism. They drop them in surprised hands, and one at a time, Sherlock and John place theirs around the other’s neck, smiling broadly, and then there is a kiss, and a declaration from Mycroft, and applause, and hugs, and photographs, and Sherlock consents to stand alone with Mycroft, and they both manage smiles, and Mrs. Holmes weeps again.
The rest of the day is a happy blur – a private party at Angelo’s where more friends and associates from Bart’s and the old clinic and New Scotland Yard and the old neighborhood join them. There’s a lovely string quartet, and champagne and dancing and candles on all the tables. They dance with each other, with Rosie, and Molly, and Sherlock’s mum, and sleep that night in 221B, where Rosie has had a bed set up, and all the necessities brought in.
The passports are a ruse. They spend the week in London, poking into their old haunts, helping with the wedding gift from Lestrade – a puzzling decades-old case that Sherlock breaks on day four, and sleeping in their old bedroom, with the lights and sounds of London just outside their window.
Still, they are happy to return home, and in time, the chains around their necks grow heavier with new tokens wrought from that same silver cup – a tiny compass, the number ten, a rose for their Rosie, Newton’s apple for the gravity that holds their universe together.
They’re dog tags of sorts, tucked beneath clothing, sentimental trappings. John wears his nearly always, while Sherlock pares the charms down to one or two, depending on his mood. But when John dies, and he is left alone, he drops all save one into the urn, and buries them with John under the apple tree in the park, but keeps the compass to guide him back - one day soon – to John.
Chapter 24: X if for Xenon
Sherlock and John help William with his homework.
How about a 180 degree swing from the last chapter? I'm determined to finish this in February as I have a couple projects looming, and a potential Fandom Trumps Hate auction request to fill. Y is for Yin and Yang is underway....
“I got X,” reported a sad-looking William Watson one Saturday in autumn as he moped about in the kitchen while Sherlock stared at the refrigerator, hoping a snack acceptable to both Wiilliam’s sweet tooth and John’s rigorously-adhered-to diabetic diet would magically materialise.
“X?” John looked up over his monitor and pushed his glasses off his nose. His hearing was remarkably good for a man on the other side of seventy. “That doesn’t sound good,” he said. “Open your mouth and let me take a look at those tonsils.”
“Grandad! That’s not funny!” moaned William, though he couldn’t hide the smile in his eyes that very nearly matched John’s. “And it’s not good. It’s horrible.” William sounded like his best friend had left him alone on the playground. “There are no good Xs. Handel got P – I could write loads and loads about Plutonium. And Myrna pulled out a C – I’d do just about anything to have Curium. I’d even take Calcium – or Carbon!” He shuddered, and John bent his head to hide his own smile.
“What could you possibly have against Xenon? Xenon’s a perfectly acceptable element.”” asked Sherlock, catching on quite quickly to the problem at hand. Rosie had told them, when she’d delivered her son for the long weekend, that he had a short report to write for science and that she expected it to be finished before they were “knee-deep in bees.” That the report had to do with the periodic table seemed almost a bonus to Sherlock.
William, who dearly loved his grandpa Sherlock, and showed that love through a certain aggressive contrariness, apparently disagreed. Vehemently.
“Xenon? XENON?” he exclaimed, adding the second Xenon when the first didn’t elicit the reaction he expected. “Xenon is BORING. What does it even DO?”
“Do?” Sherlock closed the refrigerator door, a package of cheese sticks and an over-ripe avocado in his hands. He whirled around. “Why does it have to do anything to be interesting?” He glanced over at John, who rolled his eyes and returned his attention to his monitor, as if to say This one’s all yours, Sherlock.
“Because that’s what the stupid periodic elements do,” William shouted back. He threw his small arms up in the air, giving in to frustration. “They combine with other elements and make interesting molecules like Arsole and Penguinone.”
“And nitrous oxide, for we commoners who haven’t snickered together in the corner over lists of ridiculously-named compounds,” added John, not looking up.
“Ah.” Sherlock leaned against the counter and regarded his grandson levely. “So Curium and Plutonium are exciting but Xenon….?”
“Inert,” sighed William. “Totally useless.” He sank dramatically onto a kitchen chair and dropped his head onto his arms. “Stupid blocks. Ms. Chang put a block in a box for the first letter of each element and we had to close out eyes and pick one for our report. You could pick any element that started with that letter except I got X and there’s only one X and it’s stupid Xenon!”
“And what’s the atomic number of Xenon?” asked Sherlock, taking a seat across from William.
William sighed. “54.”
“Exactly!” Sherlock poked his arm until William gave in and raised his head. “Exactly how old I was when you were born. I tried to convince your mother to name you Xenon for that very reason.”
John was staring at Sherlock over the monitor again. “54 my arse,” he mouthed.
“Really? You wanted her to name me Xenon?”
Sherlock deftly avoided answering. “Ahh – that’s right. You hate Xenon. Xenon is boring.”
William, looking a bit less bored now, shook his head. “No – I mean, yes. The element is boring but the name isn’t. It sounds like a superhero.”
“Xenon, Warrior Prince,” murmured John, who was only pretending to work now. “Goes well with Sherlock is a girl’s name.”
“Well, you ended up John William…or is it William John? William is a far superior name, so it overpowers the other no matter which way you put it.”
“They’re both pretty ordinary,” William groused. He glanced from Sherlock to John to see if he’d aroused any hurt feelings, and they were both giving him rather un-grandfatherly stares. “Not that there’s anything wrong with them,” he hurriedly added. “We had a King John, didn’t we?”
Sherlock, whose forte was decidedly not the British Monarchy, and thus was not immediately aware that King John was usually deemed the worst English king and was actually excommunicated by the Pope, nor that he died of dysentery, couldn’t even point out that there were quite a few King Wiilliams, including William the Conquerer, or that the current king had been born a William as well.
“My mother almost named me Belvedere,” Sherlock said by way of distraction, avoiding the difficult topic of monarchs altogether.
“Impossible to prove or disprove,” John pointed out. “Though mine almost named me Boron. So, if you’d been – say – 62 instead of 54 when William was born, would you have begged Rosie to name him Samarium?”
“How did you….?” Sherlock looked at John, then smiled smugly. “Cheater,” he said.
John hurriedly minimized the window he’d just consulted, hiding the periodic table from view.
“The point is,” John said, “that no matter what we’re named, it doesn’t change who we are. Or that some of us have homework to be done before they can help with the hives, or their mum is going to be very unhappy when she comes by Monday to take him back to his dreary life in London.”
William groaned. “It’s impossible. Xenon is boring.”
“How much do you have to write?” John asked, beckoning William over. “I bet we can find something interesting in one of Grandpa’s old books.”
“They’re hardly old, John,” countered Sherlock. “They’re classic.” He pulled a book off the shelf without even scanning the titles and dropped it in front of William.
“This is all about the noble gases!” exclaimed William. “A whole book about eight elements! Why didn’t you tell me you had this?”
“You didn’t ask,” answered Sherlock. “You were too busy complaining about boring Xenon. Which, as you will soon learn, was discovered in 1898, is used in strobe lights, can kill bacteria and can, and does, form several compounds despite being mostly inert.”
“That’s not quite five hundred words,” said William, but he had the book open and was paging through to find the section on Xenon.
“You haven’t found the part yet about how it was used to fuel experimental ion engines,” Sherlock said.
“This says there’s three times more Xenon on Jupiter than on the sun,” William added.
“Jupiter?” asked Sherlock.
“Stop that,” said John. “You know what Jupiter is. You learned it years ago when Rosie was in school.”
“You only learned about Jupiter when mum was in school?” William’s eyes were wide. “I’ve known about Jupiter forever!”
“Your grandpa deleted the solar system,” John explained, as if people deleting hard-won knowledge was quite the ordinary occurrence. “Probably to make room for facts about Xenon.”
“I believe, at the time, it was more likely dinosaurs,” said Sherlock. “I had quite the obsession with therapods in my younger days.”
John tried to suppress a giggle, but it escaped as an undignified snort, which made William grin.
“We’re doing dinosaurs next month,” he said. “You can help, grandpa. But I want a dinosaur that isn’t boring.”
“Qianzhousaurus,” said Sherlock. “Also known as Pinocchio Rex. A fairly recent discovery. Think of a smaller Tyrannosaurus with a long nose – which its mates find quite attractive.”
“You’re my Qianzhousewhatever,” John muttered, squinting at his browser window as he tried to key in the name and hoped that autofill guessed his intentions correctly.
“Grandad!” exclaimed Will, popping up behind John before he could hide his dinosaur cheat sheet. “Grandpa – he is cheating!”
Sherlock came up behind John, reached over his shoulder and commandeered the mouse. He closed the browser window and handed John his cane, then helped him to his feet and pulled out the chair for his grandson.
“All yours, young Xenon. Three hundred words and then you may take a break and join us outside at the hives.”
William plopped down with another lung-suffering sigh, and while Sherlock manned the smoker and John checked the queens, William, ignoring the blank document staring at him from the monitor, doodled “I am Xenon” on the back of the water bill, then practiced writing John William Xenon Watson and then simply Xeon Watson in the cursive handwriting they were learning again at school. At last, with a fond glance out the window at his grandfathers, timeless fixtures in his young life, he opened the book on the noble gases and gave himself over to learning something - anything - about boring old Xenon.
Chapter 25: Y is for Yin & Yang
Almost there. Dark & light. Joy & sorrow.
A promise that Z is fun w/o the melancholy and bittersweetness. Just - fun and sweet?
Rosie Watson took after all of her parents – biological and otherwise – in one way or another. Over the years, she’d acquired quite a treasure trove of information about the mother she’d never known. She gathered the tidbits, hoarded them in the squirrel’s midden that was her teenage brain, and mulled them over at night, when 221B was filled with nothing but the comforting muted sounds of London, her father’s steady, quiet snores and sometimes, when Sherlock was restless, the melancholic lullaby of the violin.
Rosie Watson, past puberty, growing into a new version of her old self, learned to observe. She was such a fixture in the home, having been a part of John and Sherlock’s combined life for three quarters of their time together, that her fathers somehow failed to realise just how well she could read them, how much she knew about them that neither they nor anyone else had ever told her.
Rosie had friends, and those friends had parents of their own. Mums and dads, step-mums and step-dads, and one who lived with her grandparents. Some she liked, and some not so much, but none of them were as interesting as her parents. None of them came even close. And, in her very educated opinion, they all rather resembled each other quite a bit. Put them all in a room and bring in a stranger and there’d be a pretty good chance that stranger could pair them all up correctly within five minutes.
But not her parents. Not John Watson and Sherlock Holmes.
If you tossed John and Sherlock into that room with all those other couples, you’d probably pair John up with a woman. And you’d have no idea what to do with Sherlock.
As Rosie had grown, as she’d learn to quietly observe, she’d learned that her dad was a very different kind of person with Sherlock than with the rest of the world. Sherlock brought something out in him. A passion for life, a focus he didn’t necessarily have otherwise. It was obvious when John was annoyed – at mad bursts on the violin at two o’clock in the morning, or experiments gone wrong, or food left forgotten on the counter, or commitments made but not scheduled on the calendar, or a drawer of his favorite worn pants mysteriously disappearing. Dad’s annoyance was somehow only superficial and she could feel it, almost see it. Like it was a ruse – there to get the desired rise out of Sherlock so they could escalate the tension, pull that invisible thread between them until it was as taut as a tightwire. She loved those times -though they’d frightened her a time or two before she understood that it was all a game. A game where anger never quite reached their eyes, where they’d walk stiffly around each other until the breaking point, or melting point. A visit from a client. A demand from Uncle Mycroft that suddenly cut the string and put them both on the same side again. Sherlock leaving the flat in a blur of coat tails. Next thing she’d know, she’d be downstairs with her favorite toy, snuggled beside her grandma Hudson in a chair, watching telly or paging through a book while she nibbled on homemade biscuits. She’d wake again being tucked into bed upstairs by John or Sherlock or both, softer versions of the men they’d been, tension bled out, need sated, having fed from each other and from the madness that was London, England and life outside the door of 221B.
She knew, or thought she did, what everyone else saw when they saw Sherlock and John together. She saw it in her friends, and in her teachers, and in the clients that came here for help, and even in her dads’ friends.
Sherlock was the one who commanded attention. Everything about him made you notice him. He was always well-dressed and so put-together in front of people. He took care with his clothing, and his hair, and his skin. He knew where to sit in a room, where to stand, for optimum attention, or to disappear entirely. Rosie used to love to rub her cheek against John’s chin to feel the late-evening or early -morning stubble there, but the only time that happened with Sherlock was when he was sick. He shaved at least twice a day. And Sherlock knew how to move. His movements might seem chaotic, but they were orchestrated. Choreographed for maximum effect.
Rosie always liked to watch Sherlock, but she liked him most- him, the real Sherlock – when he didn’t have time to plan a dramatic entrance or exit. When he wasn’t lying on the couch, seemingly in his mind palace, with steepled fingers, stretched out and perfectly aligned on the sofa. She liked him when he crouched down beside her when she’d fallen asleep in his chair, and he leaned in and tousled her hair as she cracked open an eye, and tapped on her chin to wake her and get her moving, and, nine times out of ten, give up after a minute and scoop her up in his arms and take her up to bed. She liked him when he got a call from Greg and couldn’t quite contain his excitement, and whirled around looking for her Dad so he could exclaim “An eight! An actual eight! Triple murder with a locked door and no weapon!” And she even liked him when he and her dad were arguing, and he sunk into a sulk, and flopped on the sofa and turned his back to the rest of the flat and curled up and ignored everyone. She loved to crawl into her dad’s lap as soon as he sat down in his chair, turned so he could watch Sherlock while he read on his mobile, or played a game with her – though they tried to be as quiet as possible so that when Sherlock finally turned to take a peek, they’d catch him at it, and then she’d jump up and fling herself on top of him to wrestle and that would be the end of the sulk for good.
She didn’t think anyone knew Sherlock quite as well as she did, except for her dad, of course.
Her dad was nothing at all like Sherlock, and he didn’t try to be, and didn’t seem to care that he kind of faded into the background when Sherlock was on stage, as Rosie called it in her mind. While Sherlock appeared erratic, and chaotic (but totally predictable nonetheless), her dad was steady.
Sherlock thought that steady was boring.
And it was for him, but she knew – she absolutely knew – that he wouldn’t trade John for anything or anyone in the world, not for someone who was taller, or who could speak five languages. Not for someone who was a better cook, or who didn’t have a wardrobe full of soft, old, stretched-out jumpers and didn’t come home from work tired at the end of the day, complaining about complaining patients and bringing all sorts of germs home that somehow, he never managed to spread around to any of them, despite Sherlock’s dire warnings.
Steady meant a lot of things. He held a steady job, for example, with a predictable schedule, even though Sherlock tried his best to tear that schedule all to pieces. He didn’t get overly excited when Sherlock was ramped up to high gear. He was generally calm during emergencies and never panicked. Se could outlast the longest of Sherlock’s sulks and when Sherlock dashed out of the flat with hardly a word of warning except “John – let’s go!”, John was always right behind him though somehow it didn’t seem he was hurrying at all.
There was more to it than the two of them being opposites. Because they weren’t – not really. They had a way of talking without words, of looking at each other while her head swiveled from one to another. One or the other or both would have that not-quite-smile on his face, and one might shrug, or raise an eyebrow, and that would be it. They’d go back to doing whatever it was they’d been doing as if everything were settled. And they somehow seemed to know what the other wanted, or needed, just by how they walked up the stairs of 221B, or how they closed the door, or dropped their keys or mobile on the table. It might be a cup of tea, or a glass of wine, or maybe the other would take her by the hand and go downstairs to spend some time with Mrs. Hudson, leaving the flat to the other for a half hour or so of privacy.
When she was older – much older – with a pocketful of degrees and credentials trailing along behind her name, Rosie would understand a lot more than she did as a child. She understood that her dad had been hurt, horribly so, by lies. Her mum’s lies. All the falsehood around who she was, and why she came into John’s life when she did. But just as much, or maybe more so, by Sherlock’s lies. By being made to grieve a man who wasn’t really dead. By losing trust in someone, so that you couldn’t quite ever believe him, though he very nearly always told the truth once he came back. By not being able to trust that his addictions and obsessions wouldn’t overtake him – overtake them both.
There was explosive brightness in Sherlock. Light and sound and colur and ideas and the buzzing of possibilities that threatened to undo him. The always-there, bubbling below the surface yearning for something. Stimulation to enhance the experience of life and to make sense of all the stimuli assaulting his razor-sharp mind. Trips within the circus of his brain, floating above for a bird’s eye view of the festivities. A yearning for something not quite attainable, something he couldn’t even name. Something there, just a step or two into the shadows.
And there was darkness in John. Something simmering. Something personal, self-directed. Anger, perhaps, or self-loathing. Frustration at the forces that had dangled so much before him to only take it away. Living on the edge – knowing that in his life, sorrow followed joy, and disappointment followed hope. But always seeing it – the possibility – a step or two outside of the shadows.
Those things – yes – for both of them. Equally strong. Equally attractive. Yet…balanced.
That’s what it was, wasn’t it? She’d studied it early in her academic career, in philosophy, and in psychology. The concept of Yin and Yang. Yin receptive. Yang active. Seemingly opposite, conflicting forces that are, in fact, complementary. Summer and winter, sun and shade
An indivisible whole.
It was an “aha” moment.
She’d learned more during her travels, her cultural studies. Observed her fathers a bit more closely when she came home to visit. Observed Sherlock observing her.
But it remained something unspoken. Something known, but unvoiced. Duality. Two parts. One whole. The balance too tenuous to speak of lest the words unbalance the scales and one of them, or the other, should begin to spiral inward.
She wears a pendant of her own these days, Yin and Yang, darkness and light. She thinks of the year Sherlock spent without John there, at the end, of the connection they’d managed to forge to keep him going, to work out the delicate balance.
But she wasn’t her dad. She wasn’t his John. Enough to sustain but not to flourish. Enough until his affairs were in order, until she and William were ready to let him go.
She thinks the sun and moon kissed each other coming and going the day he died. She remembers the cool ocean breeze in her hair as she sat cross-legged on the beach that evening while William skipped stone after stone into the gentle waves and the occasional gull above them voiced their pain. She recalls roaming the cottage garden, remembers the smell of the earth, the quiet hum of the hives.
She sleeps in their bed that night – abandoned by Sherlock a year before when John left them – and she is a child again, cradled between them as the storm rages outside and the windows shake. She is infinitesimally small, cocooned in their warmth, safe in their embrace.
Life continues. Tears fade. And love – love remembers.
Chapter 26: Z is for Zygote
And that's a wrap. This chapter is told from William's perspective, many years after the main events - John explaining the birds & the bees to William, and Sherlock explaining them to Rosie. I wanted to end the series on a light and humorous note, given all the previous "bittersweetness" to which I've subjected you. Thanks for bearing with the erratic posting schedule over these past eight months. I have a few timeline issues I'll go back and fix, if I can do so without altering the flow of the story. And now - Z is for Zygote.
When I was ten years old – a normal, annoying ten-year old boy who thought I was much brighter than I actually was and barraged my elders with a thousand and one questions a day – my mum sent me to my Grandfathers when I asked her about babies. She did it with that particular smile she smiled when recalling a fond moment from her past. “One day I came home from school bubbling with the news that my best friend Ashe’s sister was pregnant,” she told me as we cleaned up after dinner. “Suddenly, knowing everything there was to know about babies was the most important thing in my life. When I got home, Granddad was at the clinic still but Sherlock was there so I made him explain it all.”
My eyes widened. “Mum!! Not Grandpa! Why did you do that? He’d make it into a science lesson!”
Mum laughed. “You can ask him tomorrow when we visit,” she said with a wink. “Then we’ll compare notes.”
The problem was, Grandpa was out when we arrived at their cottage in Sussex the next afternoon. Granddad said he’d be back in a couple hours – there’d been a problem at an archeological dig nearby and they’d called him in for some forensic consulting and he couldn’t pass it up. I remember moping around and whinging - But he knew I was coming! - and flopping down on the sofa like a deflated balloon. But Granddad was used to my theatrics and tempted me with the bees, and we left Mum inside while we went out to the shed and suited up to check on the hives.
The bees. I’d fallen in love with my grandfathers’ bees when I was only two or three. The bees bonded us, all three of us, and we spent many happy hours together in the garden, repairing hive parts, bent over catalogues, planning for the next expansion. I had a hive of my own when I was seven, and I’m still eating honey from it, though the hives are now empty as my job keeps me in London and I can’t get down there often enough to care for them.
“What did you want to talk to Sherlock about?” asked Granddad as he prepped the smoker.
“Sex,” I said. “Mum says I have to ask him because he was the one who explained it all to her.”
All these years later, I still recall the look on Granddad’s face when I answered his question. He wasn’t a bit embarrassed – he was a doctor, after all, and not too much embarrasses someone who has to treat everything from flu to piles to ringworm to incontinence. But his face scrunched up a bit, as if he were trying not to laugh, and I saw that same light in his eyes Mum had whenever she locked in on one of those memories.
“You know, William,” Granddad said, motioning me to grab the hive tool and follow him out, “maybe I should do the explaining this time. Your grandpa knows all the scientific terms but he’s not the best at answering the really tough questions.”
“What tough questions?” I’d asked, taking the hive cover he handed me and placing it gently out of the way.
“About the birds and the bees,” he quipped.
I remember rolling my eyes, and then receiving a good thirty-minute discourse on human reproduction that didn’t use a single word I didn’t already know, and involved more talk than I thought necessary on sexually transmitted diseases and the risk of pregnancy when neither the mum nor the dad were physically, emotionally, psychologically or financially ready for it.
He even told me something I didn’t know – but he trusted me with it and I focused in on the tidbit with laser-like intensity.
“It’s always good to have a plan, William,” he said as he replaced the cover on the third hive we’d checked. “But unplanned isn’t the same as unwanted. Your grandma Mary and I didn’t plan to have your mum – she was a wonderful and unexpected surprise.”
“You mean you and Grandma Mary had unprotected sex?” I hiss-whispered. “But you’re a doctor! You know better!” I certainly didn’t want to get the bees going by jumping around or yelling, but this was quite the revelation. More than my ten-year old precocious brain could handle.
“No!” Granddad frowned, more at himself than at me, I thought. “I mean – no. But something went wrong. I told you there are ways to prevent pregnancy – one of them is a pill the woman takes. Something went wrong and….”
“What went wrong? Was the pill defective? Did she take it at the wrong time? Did someone switch it out? Was it Grandpa Sherlock and one of his experiments?”
“We don’t know,” Granddad had answered when I finally shut up. “But no – it most certainly wasn’t your grandpa.” He looked sternly at me, but I could see the sparkle that let me know he was secretly amused by the idea. “Maybe she forgot to take it for a day or two, or the stress of the wedding planning affected her body. We don’t know – birth control isn’t one hundred percent effective. Remember that.”
Oh. I intended to. Not that it would matter. The whole process was only intriguing from an intellectual perspective. I had no intention of ever actually doing what Granddad had described.
“But you had her anyway,” I said as I peeked in at a very active hive, one with two honey supers on it already. “You had mum, even though you didn’t mean to have a baby.”
“We did,” Granddad agreed. “So – have I answered all your questions? You know how a baby is made, and how it grows inside the uterus. You know how it gets out – ”
I remember making a face here, but granddad laughed and moved on. “Anything else?”
“I also know about all the diseases you can get from your partner,” I reminded him as we cleaned up and went back to the shed to take off our protective gear. “So what would Grandpa have told me if I’d asked him?”
Granddad laughed and he had a faraway look on his face, as if we were looking back a long, long time and seeing something -or someone – that made him light up on the inside.
“Zygotes,” he said. “He’d have told you about zygotes.”
“I expect they’ve already told you everything important to know,” he said. “How about a game of chess?”
I’d forgotten all about zygotes by the end of the evening, and acquired the rest of my knowledge about sex and babies as everyone else does – from their friends and the internet. It wasn’t until I was well into my thirties, and about to have a child of my own, that Mum finally told me.
We were waiting at her solicitor’s office, about to finalise her revised will. We’d arrived early, and the solicitor was running late. Seated on comfortable leather chairs, drinking coffee from a complicated expresso machine she’d expertly coerced into providing us cappuccinos, Mum looked at me and grinned.
“I never did tell you about how Sherlock explained sex to me, did I?” Mum said. I sputtered – I certainly hadn’t been expecting that - hadn’t thought of that story in years.
She was feeling nostalgic – about to become a grandmother, tying up the details of her estate. She and her long-time partner Claudio had recently taken in Molly, who was widowed, and whose boys both lived in the States. Molly was family, and I know her presence reminded Mum often of Granddad and Grandpa.
And she launched into the story with her usual flair, and I laughed so hard I was still wiping tears from my eyes when the receptionist called us back to see the solicitor.
She called out another “Dad!” every time her foot hit a step, so that by the time she got to the top of the stairs and flung open the door, Sherlock was standing in the middle of the floor, arms folded, giving her his patented glare.
His pretend glare. She knew the real one from the pretend one very well, so she shrugged off her backpack, pulled off her coat and toed off her shoes before whipping her head around.
“Where’s Dad?” she asked.
Sherlock nodded at the coat rack, which, upon closer observation, turned out to be missing John’s coat.
“At work?” she guessed. When Sherlock nodded, she flopped into her father’s chair. “Stupid flu season and snivelly brats!”
“What, may I inquire, is so important that it can’t wait until your father arrives?” Sherlock asked, sliding into his own chair and tapping his index fingers together as he steepled his fingers in front of his lips.
“Ashe’s sister is going to have a baby,” she sighed, looking at him dubiously. “And I need to know how it got in there.”
Sherlock blinked. He cleared his throat. He looked hopefully back at the door.
Rosie sighed again, this one twice as dramatic as the previous one. “It’s all right, Sherlock. I don’t know either. But Dad will know. He knows all about those kind of things.”
“I know about those kinds of things,” Sherlock said, suddenly finding his voice now that his knowledge of human reproduction was challenged. “I know everything there is to know about babies.” He sounded half smug, but vaguely uncomfortable.
“Like how they get in there, right?” she asked earnestly. “I know all about the egg and the sperm and the race to get to the egg first before it pops, but -”
“Excuse me,” cut in Sherlock. “Before it pops?”
Another dramatic sigh. “The egg! If it pops before the sperm catches it, it wins!”
“Alright then.” Sherlock blinked again and appeared to be searching his mind palace for a way out of this predicament. John had texted that he’d be at least ninety minutes late so he had a good hour to cover before John could potentially rescue him.
“We’ll start with the gametes, then,” he said, “which are, of course, mature haploids.”
Rosie nodded sagely, biting her bottom lip.
“Gametes,” she repeated. “And haptoids.”
“Haploids,” repeated Sherlock. “Which are, of course, cells which contain a single set of chromosomes, instead of a matched set.”
“Of course,” repeated Rosie, still nodding, but beginning to look impatient. “But how does the baby get IN there?”
“You’re jumping ahead,” said Sherlock. “We were discussing gametes.”
“Haploids.” Sherlock smiled. “You’re being deliberately obtuse.”
Rosie grinned and swung her feet. “So what do these gametes do?”
“Well, female gametes are ova – the egg you already spoke of. And male gametes are – ”
“Sperm!” exclaimed Rosie.
“Exactly. And when the two gametes of opposite gender come together, in the act of fertilization, they form a zygote.”
“Zygote.” Rosie tried that one out. “That’s a good word.”
“It is. Though it has the briefest of lives. Once it begins to cleave, it enters the embryonic stage.”
“Sherlock!” Rosie couldn’t hold it in any longer. She stood and stomped her foot. “Stop using big words and tell me how the baby gets in there!”
Sherlock stared at Rosie, this usually quite wonderful progeny of John Hamish Watson, and waited patiently until she sat down again.
“You’ll need those big words to understand what I’m going to tell you next. I can only hope that you are mature enough to understand.”
She rolled her eyes in a perfect imitation of her father and Sherlock couldn’t help but grin.
“The male gamete – the sperm – are produced by the male partner in the coupling.”
“The father,” she clarified.
“Yes. The father.” He checked the time. Fifty-five minutes. “These sperm are produced by the testes.”
“Testicles. Which are encased in the scrotum, below or behind the penis.”
“Oh! Bollocks!” She grinned at him. “That’s what they do? They make the sperm?”
Somehow, he knew what was coming next.
“And the egg is inside the mom?”
“The egg – the female gamete – is produced by the female partner….”
“Fine. The mum.”
“INSIDE HER so how do the sperm get there to make the zygot?”
She was running laps around Sherlock by this point.
“Fine. The sperm are ejected from the penis during sexual release – orgasm. The penis is inserted into the vagina for this coupling to occur, and the sperm travel out of the penis, into the vagina, then through the cervical opening into the uterus. The fallopian tubes capture the egg when released from the ovary and send it to the uterus. When the male ejaculates, upward of a million sperm can be released and they all meander about the uterus, refusing to ask for directions, and attempt to locate the egg. Only one will be successful.”
“I’m not sure I wanted to know that after all,” said a green-looking Rosie.
“Why ever not? It’s a perfectly natural human function – for adults.”
What happened next was most unexpected indeed.
“Does it hurt?” Rosie asked.
Sherlock frowned. “No. I don’t believe so. I’m told it can be most enjoyable.”
“So you’ve never done it?” she persisted. “Not even once?”
He shook his head.
“But Dad has?”
“Rosie – has the entirely of this conversation escaped you?”
She giggled. “But you haven’t?” she repeated. When Sherlock only glared, she continued. “But do your testes still make gametes?”
Where the hell was John?
“So where do they all go if you aren’t trying to make babies? Do your bollocks blow up and get enormous?”
The mere thought of that predicament made him wince. He wanted to tell her that civilised people do not discuss engorged bollocks in polite conversation, but even the thought of it made him wince again.
“No,” he stated. “They are reabsorbed into the body. No – bloating.”
She bounced a bit on the chair, formulating her next questions.
“So – you like only boys, but dad likes boys and girls, right?”
Sherlock nodded, not electing to explain that the proper terms were men and women, not boys and girls, and that John liked most women but only one particular man.
“Do you know how lucky you are?” she asked then, standing and bouncing herself over to stand between his knees.
He let the smile he was smiling on the inside spread across his face as he tugged on her ponytail.
“Why do you think I’m the lucky one?” he asked. “You and your father are awfully lucky to have me, aren’t you?”
“Well,” she began, drawing out the word as she prepared to enlighten him. “Dad had to keep me because he helped make me, even though he probably didn’t even know which of his sperm would catch the egg first and make me,” she explained. “But Dad could have had anyone for a partner! Any of the men or any of the women in the world but he picked you!”
And while he let that sink in, Rosie spun around the room in delighted circles. “I can’t wait ‘til tomorrow so I can tell Ashe where her sister’s boyfriend put his penis!”
Sherlock made a mental note to have John mitigate the impending disaster, and a second mental note to have John warn Rosie about looking up the new vocabulary he’d taught her on the internet – God knows she’d search for testes and be treated to photos of all sorts of examples of testes infirmed or of grotesque proportions. And while Rosie busied herself with finding an after-school snack, he reviewed the conversation in his head, and made a third mental note to have John bring home some educational illustrations of the reproductive system and choose an appropriate beginnings of life documentary. He knew he’d left some things out. Some important things.
But mostly he thought about that last thing Rosie had said – well, the second-last thing. The important one. The part about John picking him out from all the men and all the women in the world.
Do you know how lucky you are?
He did. He absolutely dd.