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Darkest Days, Finest Hours

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They had always known it would happen.

It remained unsaid, but it was there – in every press conference they turned down, every blog post that willingly if not always consciously omitted her, every night they spent triple checking the locks before retiring.

There had already been too much press, though. Too many cold cases, too many enemies made. Their reluctance to speak about life at 221B only made the public more voracious for it. Pictures were posted, articles were written, and privacy was invaded.

Yes, it remained unsaid between them, but they both knew, deep down, that it was only a matter of time. And now the time has come.

Rosamund Catherine Watson is missing.

And Sherlock Holmes is about to set the world on fire.

Sixteen hours earlier...

“Sherlock?”

“Mm?” he asks, nose buried in a frankly fascinating article about spores as he lounges on the sofa, bare feet kicked up on the coffee table.

“Did you do the dishes?” John asks, head poking out from the kitchen with a severely cautious expression on his face.

“Mm,” Sherlock says by way of a reply.

“Why?”

“They were in the sink,” he answers distractedly, squinting as he leans closer to the article. That can’t be right.

“Did you…” John looks around, “break something?”

“Nope.”

“So, you just - decided to do the dishes.”

“Mm,” he hums again, making a notation in the margin of the magazine so he can write the editor later and inform him the author is incorrect.

“Well, ta,” John says, and Sherlock can hear him putting the dish soap back in the cabinet under the sink.

He’s been making an effort recently. As Rosie gets older, he knows it will get tougher and tougher to convince John to stay. After all, he and his daughter can’t share a room together forever. But if Sherlock makes an effort, well. Perhaps an alternative option might present itself.

“Anything on?” John asks as he collapses onto the other end of the sofa with a grunt, since the dishes don’t need doing.

“Not really. Just doing this editor’s job for him.”

He hears John chuckle and loudly take a sip of something he can’t deduce, so he glances up and sees that John has a glass of red wine in each hand. He holds the one in his left hand out with a sheepish grin.

“Didn’t want to disturb you. Join me?”

Oh. He quickly puts the pen in the crease of the magazine and drops it on the coffee table, trying to find the balance between not looking too eager and letting John know just how much he appreciates this. With a toddler running around the flat and a recent uptick in murders gifted from the criminal classes, time for just them has fallen by the wayside.

Not that there is much of a them to speak of. Getting John just to move back in was enough. Asking for more would be tempting whatever higher power he refuses to believe exists.

“I feel like we should take Mrs. Hudson out for dinner this weekend,” John says, completely ignorant of the war being waged in Sherlock’s Mind Palace. “As a thank you for taking the monkey when that Ming vase case came up. What do you think?”

The good doctor has a habit of referring to Rosie as ‘monkey’ possibly because, when she was a newborn, her fingers would wrap around whatever appendage was nearest and not let go. She hasn’t changed much. Sherlock spent half of the walk home from the daycare center the other day not even having to hold her because she clung to him so fiercely. He supposes as nicknames go, it’s relatively innocuous. Endearing, even. Possibly downright adorable.

“Sherlock?”

Oh right, John is speaking. “Yes, great idea. I’ll pick up some flowers.”

John’s eyebrows fly up. “Great. Yeah, that’s - good thought. That would be lovely.”

“I do have them from time to time,” he drawls, taking a long sip of his wine and watching as John’s ears turn pink.

“I know.” He dives his nose back into his glass under the pretense of sniffing the bouquet, but he neglects to take a sip.

John seems nervous for some reason, which is wrong, because John doesn’t get nervous. First dates, wedding days, life or death situations: he is calm. Collected. Not the man sitting next to him currently pretending to be a connoisseur of Montepulciano.

“Are you all right?”

“What? Yeah, fine. Why?”

Now it’s Sherlock’s turn to raise an eyebrow, nodding towards the fidgeting John is doing. “It seemed the logical conclusion.”

But instead of getting defensive and prickly, as has been his wont in the past, John merely offers an enigmatic smile.

“I’m off,” he says by way of a reply. “Bloody exhausted.” With a grunt, he stands and takes his glass to the kitchen, but instead of heading straight for the stairs through the side door, he comes back into the sitting room and places his hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Night, Sherlock.”

“Goodnight, John,” he quietly replies, fingers ghosting over the fabric of his dressing gown long after the door to the upstairs bedroom has shut.

Twelve hours later....

“Daddy!”

Sherlock watches as Rosie reaches for the anatomical heart paperweight currently keeping his forensic photos from toppling over on the coffee table in an effort to show it to John. As if John hadn’t been the one to buy it for Sherlock while at a conference in Prague.

“Yes, darling, that’s lovely,” John replies distractedly, wandering around looking for the file that seems to have gone missing from his satchel.

Sherlock stands from his chair and moves the pile of photos, paperweight included, to the kitchen table (earning an indignant squawk from Rosie that he soothes by presenting her with John’s old stethoscope).

“What time is - ?” John presses the home button on Sherlock’s mobile sitting on the coffee table and blurts out, “Oh Christ.”

“John, go. You’re late as it is. I’ll take her.”

“You’ll take her to daycare?” His voice is oddly high-pitched. “You remember where it is?”

Sherlock levels a glare at him. “No, I’ve forgotten in the 48 hours since I last picked her up.” John had gotten held up at the surgery and asked Sherlock if he would mind going. He didn’t, of course he didn’t, but John seems hellbent on making as little impact in their lives as possible. What he doesn’t know is that Sherlock would gladly pick up and drop off Rosamund Watson every day for the rest of their lives if it meant even a moment more of her company.

(Except, perhaps, while she’s teething. Luckily, they’ve moved beyond that phase.)

“Sorry, sorry,” John shakes his head. “I just - I’m a twat.”

“You’re stressed. And your file is unimportant to your patients today. I’ll continue to look for it and drop it off if I find it. Going forward, though, perhaps hang your satchel on the back of the door instead of dropping it on the floor where clever two-and-a half-year olds can reach it.”

John smiles softly, already reaching for his jacket. “You’d do that? Only, I was hoping to catch up on paperwork if the surgery is slow, and I’ll need it for that.”

“Of course, John.”

“Thanks.”

Sherlock is already lifting Rosie onto his hip and removing the stethoscope from her ears. She starts to grumble but he presses his forehead against her temple and whispers in her ear, “Say goodbye to your father.”

“Bye, Daddy,” she replies automatically, leaning forward in his arms and offering her face for a kiss, lips shaping more into a pout than a pucker.

But John just stares for a moment, and Sherlock wonders for the millionth time whether he’s overstepped.

“John,” he softly prompts.

“Right,” he comes back to himself. “Late.” He immediately steps forward and pressed a quick kiss to Rosie’s cheek, which has her giggling at the stubble he didn’t shave that morning, before he grips the bicep that isn’t holding his daughter.

“Thanks again.”

Sherlock waits until John thunders down the stairs, satchel thrown over his shoulder, before murmuring, “Anytime.”

Three hours later....

No luck yet. Am checking Watson’s stash. - SH

Sherlock hits send and sighs as he gets down on his knees and rests his cheek against the floor. Of all the things he expected to be doing today, this was not one of them.

His mobile chimes a moment later with the reply. Slow day, then.

She has a stash?

Yes. Behind your chair. Bottom shelf of the bookcase. - SH

Cheeky girl.

Sherlock flicks through the pile of drawings from school, odd knick knacks, and basic trash that the toddler has deemed worthy of saving.

Found last week’s crossword you were looking for. - SH

We’re raising a kleptomaniac.

Sherlock lets out a rather undignified snort and he goes to reply, but his thumbs freeze, hovering over the screen. We’re raising a kleptomaniac, John had said. Sure, he supposes they’re raising her together in that they all live under the same roof, but so does Mrs. Hudson and Sherlock doesn’t think John would extend that distinction to include her as well.

Shall I start saving bail money now? - SH

As his jokes go, it’s rather amusing and keeping in line with the lighthearted banter they had begun. It toes the line and, hopefully, John won’t think he’s crossed it.

But a reply doesn’t come and Sherlock’s pulse spikes with every minute that his mobile remains silent. Perhaps John got a patient, his brain helpfully supplies, but they’ve been mid-conversation when a patient has come in before. John always tells him if he has to go abruptly with either a Gotta go or Duty calls or just a succinct Patient.

He slides the mobile in his dressing gown pocket, continuing the search for the patient file, despite the fact that he could be doing more important things, like writing a strongly worded letter to that editor about the spores article, but his mobile rings a moment later and he hates that his heart does a little flip at the sound. Pulling it out, he glances at the screen with a frown.

John never calls. Perhaps his joke was taken out of turn.

“I don’t actually think we need to set up a bail fund - ” he starts, but John’s frantic voice cuts him off.

“Sherlock, she’s gone. Christ, she’s gone - ”

“What? Slow down. Who’s gone?” His heart has started thundering in his chest, despite the confusion he feels.

“Rosie. They took her.”

Oh God. “Who took her? Where?” he asks quietly. Authoritatively.

“I don’t know!” John yells. “Just - I need you!”

He vaguely registers hearing footsteps on the stairs but the blood rushing in his ears is blocking out the rest of the ambient noise. The street is silent. The line is dead.

Only Lestrade appearing panting in the doorway, keys clutched in a white-knuckled grip and look of determined heartbreak on his face is enough for the world to come crashing back into existence.

“I’m on my way.”

Now:

A partial profile captured on a blurry CCTV screenshot and a hysterical phone call from the daycare center at 11:17 are all they have to go on. Estimated time of abduction is somewhere between 11:08 and 11:15, when Marie Davison, the daycare owner, had gone inside to help Ava Braddock, the assistant, carry out the snacks. With twelve screaming, running children in the class, it took a minute or two to notice they were one toddler short. Marie hasn’t forgiven herself yet, if the sobs still echoing down NSY’s hall are anything to go by, even if Sherlock can grudgingly admit that the delay was an honest one.

Rosie likes Marie. Which means Sherlock has to like her, too.

Rosie Watson is two years, four months, three weeks, and five days old, and every minute that she is gone sees another string snapped from the already flimsy tether Sherlock has on his sanity.

She’s been gone for two hours and thirty-nine minutes. The tether is straining.

“If you do not have new information for me,” he yells, throwing a hand up to the terrified lieutenant who’s halted in the doorway, “then get out of my sight!”

The silence that follows is odd in that John’s usual reprimand is noticeably absent. Civility seems to be at a premium.

Keep it together, Holmes, he chastises. You have to be the eye of the storm today.

Sherlock sighs and manages a nod to the now petrified kindergartner parading as a police officer who’s just trying to place a fresh pot of coffee on the table in the conference room. Sherlock closes his eyes and swallows, feeling the weight of the gaze of the man standing behind him. John.

John has reverted to “Captain-mode,” barking orders and listening to theories with a cool intensity that Sherlock envies, but anyone with eyes can see the panic lurking just beneath the surface. It’s there in the clench of his fist and the tension in his shoulders. The crease in his brow and the tears that occasionally gather before being swiftly and harshly wiped away. Sherlock could list his tells in alphabetical order, beginning with cardiac arrhythmia and ending with psychosomatic pain manifesting itself once again in his right quadriceps femoris, but they don’t have time for that.

Hopkins hasn’t strayed more than five feet from him all day, as if John might collapse at any given moment. She’s a calming presence, though, Sherlock must admit. He envies her and her ability to be what John needs. When it comes to his blogger, Sherlock’s calculations always seem to be just a tad off the mark.

“Give me something,” Lestrade barks when Dimmock strides through the door with a tip. Sally is already grabbing the paper from his hand, as John steps forward with Hopkins a step behind. It’s all hands on deck and the sight warms something in Sherlock that he’s too terrified to process at the moment.

“All right, we got a possible location,” Lestrade calls to the room full of officers. “Caller ID’d the car and caught a partial plate that matches half the numbers of the van seen on CCTV outside the daycare.”

A strangled noise leaves John’s throat and Sherlock’s fingers twitch to reach for him.

But they don’t do that, he and his blogger. They don’t touch. They don’t hold. Not since that day so long ago when John fell apart in his arms and Sherlock tried to tape him back together the only way he knew how.

Sure, they were somewhat more demonstrative now than they were in the aftermath of his resurrection, but they were quintessentially British above all: emotionally constipated and loath to reveal anything sentimental or intimate.

“Everyone to the cars. Donovan’s got the lead. Three block radius around the perimeter. No one moves until I say so, got it?”

There’s a chorus of nods and then a mass exodus for the door. He snatches the piece of paper out of Lestrade’s hand and memorizes the details, turning only when he feels John leave his side. He follows, because that’s what they do, but slams to a halt when Lestrade’s arm comes across the doorframe, barring their exit.

Oh, not good.

“Greg, due respect,” John begins, voice hard, “but if you don’t move, I will break your arm.”

“John - ”

“In three places.”

“Hey, you’re lucky you’re even in this building, let alone asking to come in the squad car - ”

“Don’t recall asking,” John growls, but Lestrade steamrolls over him.

“You are not John Watson in this moment! You are a father whose daughter is missing - ”

“Oh is that what I am?” John sneers. “Should I call you Detective Inspector now?”

“If it makes you feel better, yes!” Lestrade yells, voice echoing around the claustrophobic room, before he sighs as his shoulders slump. “Don’t test me, Captain,” he says gently.

The muscle in John’s jaw jumps, but he swallows and manages a nod. Lestrade steps aside and grips his shoulder as he passes.

“I’m sorry, I - ” John starts, voice wobbly, but Lestrade just shakes his head.

“Don’t give it a thought.”

John leans ever so slightly into the hand Lestrade still has on his shoulder and Sherlock has never wanted to wrap him in his arms more than he does in this moment.

“You can come,” Lestrade addresses to them both. “Lord knows I need your eyes, but promise me, promise you’ll…”

“Keep it together?” John whispers, voice breaking, and Sherlock allows himself to reach out and wrap his fingers around John’s wrist. Lestrade’s face softens and the hand on his shoulder comes up and cups the back of John’s head.

“As much as you can, yeah?”

“Yeah,” John replies, clearing his throat.

Jealousy burns hot in Sherlock’s gut, but then John’s other hand comes over and covers his own, squeezing slightly. He squeezes back, feeling lighter than he has in hours, days. Months.

“All right, let’s go.” Lestrade turns and strides down the hall, and John cranes his neck, as if to make sure Sherlock is just behind him. He manages a tight smile in return and suppresses a roll of his eyes, because honestly, where else would he be?

xxxxxx

Sherlock didn’t disconnect the call when he had followed Lestrade out of 221B and into the squad car the DI had parked literally on the kerb. He took comfort in the fact that John didn’t end the call either, and he forced himself to listen as John asked someone (possibly Donovan) strangled questions to which she had no answers. He thanked whatever higher power sent friendly faces to give them the news. Lestrade had turned on the siren without him even having to ask, which meant he and John arrived at the Yard within moments of each other.

After getting out of their respective cars, they stared at each other for a loaded second on the pavement, both acknowledging that their greatest fear was coming to pass.

Realizing neither of them was in a fit state to make a decision, Lestrade quietly placed a hand on each of their backs and murmured a “Let’s go” before ushering them into the building.

At least they’re in the same car now. At least they’re together.

“Just - I need you!”

Despite Sherlock’s wish to be the eye of the storm, John is the one sitting completely still, stoically staring out the window, the rise and fall of his chest and the occasional blink of his eye the only indications he still lives. Sherlock, meanwhile, is tapping his fingers against his knee in a beat that has no rhythm. He closes his eyes and leans his forehead against the cool glass, remembering just the other day how perfect everything seemed. He should know by now how fleeting perfection can be.

“Sh’ock, higher!”

He purses his lips and groans like an airplane as he lifts her high, minding the ceiling as he twirls her around the room. Her little body rests on his head and her tiny hands are engulfed in his, spread wide like the wings she’s pretending they are. He dives her towards the floor and she shrieks before bursting into a fit of giggles.

“Sh’ock, no!”

“Runway five is clear!”

“No! No land! Up!”

“Oh fine, you backseat pilot,” he fake grumbles, but purses his lips all the same and makes a motoring sound once more.

He hears a sigh and looks up to find John standing in the doorway, a soft look on his face, shopping bags hanging forgotten in his hands.

“Oh,” Sherlock blurts, standing up straight. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“Just came in,” he replies, soft smile still in place.

“Daddy!” Rosie yells, so Sherlock buzzes her over, John drops the groceries, and takes the toddler that Sherlock flies into his waiting arms.

“What a welcome,” John replies, placing a kiss in his daughter’s hair as she nuzzles into his neck.

John’s hand on his bouncing knee halts the memory and he inhales sharply, heel falling back to the ground. John’s thumb rubs small circles and Sherlock exhales slowly, feeling the tension of the last couple hours leech out of him.

“We’re here,” Lestrade murmurs a moment later. (Obviously. The car had stopped, not that that was enough to rouse Sherlock from his morose thoughts).

John squeezes Sherlock’s knee once more and Sherlock returns the favor John bestowed on him at the Yard, placing his palm on the back of John’s hand and running his thumb across his knuckles.

They both audibly swallow as they reach for their doors, pulling the handles back and exiting into the chaos around them.

Dimmock is yelling orders at the officers setting up the perimeter and Lestrade immediately strides off to chat with Donovan as Sherlock scans the rest of the scene. He should be surprised to find Mycroft standing off to the side, watching the proceedings with calculated determination, but he’s not.

This is John Watson’s daughter. The resources of the British Government are rarely used for nobler causes.

“Your brother is here,” John says rather redundantly. Sherlock will forgive him for it just this once.

“Yes.”

“That’s awfully nice of him.” And if there’s a hitch in his voice, Sherlock doesn’t comment on it. He wants to reach out for him again, but he restrains himself. It’s one thing to do it in the back of a car, away from prying eyes, but they’re surrounded by people (professionals, yes, but people all the same) who keep glancing at them as if they’ll fall apart at any moment.

To be honest, it’s a near thing.

Lestrade strides back up to them and points to yellow police tape currently being tied between two open patrol car doors.

“You stay here. I swear to God, if either of you runs off, I’ll handcuff you to a table at the Yard myself.” Lestrade sighs and steps closer, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. “Your brother’s given us the best he has. If they’re still in there, we’ll find them.”

John quietly nods, so Sherlock follows suit, despite his desire to argue that Lestrade can’t guarantee anything of the sort. John doesn’t need to hear that right now, regardless of the fact that he’s probably thinking it himself.

The target is a derelict warehouse (isn’t it always?) in one of the downtrodden industrial parts of the city. The surrounding companies, not that there are many, have been evacuated and the police and Mycroft’s men have set up a three block radius per Lestrade’s instructions.

Speaking of Mycroft, the insufferable man himself saunters up to them with that ridiculous umbrella hooked over his arm.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” he clips, just to keep up appearances’ sake, but nothing prepares him for the words that leave Mycroft’s mouth next:

“This is family.”

“That’s why he stays.”

He can only nod in response and even John has stopped his pacing, staring at Mycroft as if the man had up and announced he was taking an improv comedy class at Central.

“We good, Mycroft?” Lestrade calls from his place behind an open car door about twenty feet away.

“On your order, Detective Inspector,” is the reply.

Lestrade nods, but Sherlock can’t hear what he says into the radio next. All he knows is that men and women outfitted in black begin to storm the warehouse and John has gone eerily silent beside him, body tense with adrenaline for which he has no outlet. His hands are curled into fists and Sherlock has a feeling that Mycroft and Lestrade are remaining nearby to prevent either of them from doing something drastic, but he really doesn’t have any desire to spend the rest of the day handcuffed to a table. Not when Watson is out there without her father.

He closes his eyes and listens to the sounds from Lestrade’s radio. There are bangs and shouts that have him flinching, but eventually the calls start to come in: “First floor clear!”... “Second floor clear!”... “Basement clear!”... “Roof clear!”

And with every pronouncement, he finds that sliver of hope that he had allowed in shrinking further and further back into darkness.

“Building’s clear, sir,” Donovan says reluctantly, lowering her radio and not daring to glance in their direction.

“Fuck,” Lestrade mutters, before turning and kicking the tire of the cruiser he stands next to.

Static crackles over Donovan’s radio again, but the words are garbled.

“Say again?” she asks.

“They left a note.”

An inadvertent sound escapes Sherlock’s throat and Lestrade glances up, expression already resigned to the fact that there will be no keeping them in place.

“Go on, then.”

Before the words are even out of his mouth, John is sprinting towards the building with Sherlock hot on his heels.

xxxxxx

The warehouse is musty, smelling like mouldy cardboard and rusty pipes, and Sherlock wheezes as he tries to take a satisfying breath.

“Where is it?” he asks, chest heaving (he really must stop smoking) as he catches up to John.

“Here!” Hopkins calls, leading them to a corner of the room behind a tower of lopsided shelves.

He wants to see the note, but his eye is immediately drawn to a jacket on the ground, the light blue peacoat Sherlock himself had wrapped Rosie in not four hours ago.

“God no,” John groans, falling to his knees and reaching out for it, before Lestrade’s voice cracks the suffocating silence like a whip.

“Don’t. It’s evidence.”

John’s outstretched fingers shake, but he curls them into a fist and presses it firmly to his thigh. Sherlock stands just to the side and, propriety be damned, cups the back of his head much like Lestrade did before they left Yard minutes yet years ago. John tilts sideways, head lolling against Sherlock’s leg as Sherlock moves his hand from John’s nape to his shoulder, squeezing hard.

An officer with gloves steps forward and lifts the jacket up. It’s far too small to be in a place like this. Far too delicate. He gently opens it up to inspect it, but Sherlock blurts out, “Wait.” He squeezes John’s shoulder one more time before stepping away. “Get me a pair of gloves.”

Anderson’s replacement freezes and glances at Lestrade before raising eyebrow. “What, Sherlock Holmes, doing things by the rules now?” he quips but Sherlock merely narrows his eyes.

“Now,” he growls.

Lestrade gets the gloves himself and hands them over before muttering for the forensics team to back off.

Sherlock inhales the scent of latex as he snaps the gloves into place, before stepping forward and keeping an eye out for footprints. He takes the jacket gingerly from Anderson’s replacement (never bothered to learn his name) and holds it up, swallowing thickly as he’s hit with the smell of home .

“No evidence of a struggle. No blood stains,” he manages with a steady voice. John inhales sharply but remains silent on the ground. “Not a single button missing or tear. Weren’t here long,” he says, glancing around at the lack of footprints. “If the van is outside, they likely had another vehicle waiting here, knowing it would be caught on CCTV. Picked this place particularly because of the lack of CCTV.” He glares at his brother as if he personally made the decision not to outfit a derelict warehouse with government-funded surveillance. “Get security footage from the surrounding companies,” he clips instead. “Interview anyone and everyone. It’s a Tuesday for Christ’s sake. Someone must have seen something.”

“What does the note say?” comes John’s broken voice a moment later, drawing all eyes to him. He’s standing again, which is good, but his very body looks like it’s trying to fold in on itself, shoulders hunched and arms crossed in front of his chest. He looks nothing like the man, the soldier, who stood just outside the police barricade for a crime he had helped commit, bold as brass, looking like innocence incarnate:

“Good shot.”

“Yes. Yes, must have been. Through that window.”

“Well, you’d know.”  

Hopkins holds the note out to Sherlock, already placed in an evidence bag, but doesn’t meet his eyes. He knows then that he’s really not going to like its contents.

Clearing his throat, his eyes scan the first line.

“Dear Mr. Holmes…” his eyes flick to John - the letter doesn’t address him despite the fact that it’s his daughter that’s missing - but John merely looks on encouragingly, if a little desperately. “Congratulations on being able to read CCTV footage. Perhaps you really are the Reichenbach Hero after all.”

John sucks in a breath again, the old nickname bringing up memories both of them would rather forget.

Sherlock clears his throat and continues: “But you have a new companion. Trading Dr. Watson in for a younger model? Shame she doesn’t have his taste for danger yet, if her tears are anything to go by. I wonder how your precious Dr. Watson would feel if something…” he inhales, “if something were to happen to her. You’ll find her where our story began.”

His tongue sticks and his throat clicks as he reads the final line:

“Tick tock, Mr. Holmes.”

He holds the letter out for Hopkins to take, which she does right before he bends over and places his hands on his knees. He feels like he’s going to be sick.

“They’re not making demands,” John whispers.

“He said, ‘You’ll find her where our story began,” Lestrade chimes in. “Which story?”

“Doesn’t have to be a ‘he,” John murmurs darkly, likely remembering a particular ex-wife who was more than capable with a gun.

Sherlock straightens, ignoring the gaze Mycroft is leveling him, as if trying to give him the answer via telepathy. And then it hits him:  

“Reichenbach.”

“What?”

“He called me ‘the Reichenbach Hero.’ Why that nickname? I have many. Why single out that one?”

Lestrade pulls out his mobile and quickly dials a number. “I need the file on every case Sherlock Holmes worked on right before he - ” he glances at John and turns his back, “right before he died.”

“Reichenbach,” Donovan begins, confusion clear in her tone. “What would the kidnappers want with a painting by Turner?”

“It’s not Turner, it’s Ricoletti,” John murmurs.

“I’m pretty sure it’s Turner,” someone whose name he doesn’t know pipes up from the back.

“Not the goddamn painting,” John snaps. “Peter Ricoletti. Number one on Interpol’s most wanted list.” He turns to Sherlock. “You put him away right before - right before Moriarty came back. He had a brother, didn’t he?"

But Sherlock doesn’t know. He barely remembers the cases he’s solved; it’s only the cold ones that stay in the Mind Palace.

This time, it’s Mycroft who speaks. “He did.”

“Checked out at the time,” Lestrade offers. “Worked in Bristol in shipping.”  

John ignores him, opting to stare at Sherlock. Hard. “It’s the only one that fits. Trust me. I went over your cases more thoroughly than I’d care to admit after you were gone.”

“We gave you the hat that day,” Donovan reminds quietly.   

Ah yes, the hat. The one Rosie likes to wear about the flat.

“It really bothers you.”

“What?”

“What people say.”

“Yes.”

“About me. I don’t understand. Why would it upset you?”

He’ll always remember the look of stunned silence John gave him in that moment.

“Ricoletti,” Sherlock confirms and John opens his mouth, but sodding Mycroft beats him to it.  

“Matthew Ricoletti. Abruptly resigned from his post at - “ he chuckles humorlessly as he reads from his phone, “Foster, Turner and Co. The Reichenbach Hero, indeed.”

Lestrade says something into his mobile, but Sherlock continues to stare at John, blocking out the world at large. He tries to say, I don’t remember him, but I’ll find her. And Don’t lose your faith in me. You didn’t then, please don’t now.

And John, beautiful, perfect, broken John seems to understand it all. He nods and licks his lips, returning his look with one that seems to say, Together.

Sherlock nods. Always.  

“Come on,” Lestrade says, breaking their gaze.  

“Where?” John manages, even as he blindly follows the DI as he leads them out of the warehouse and under the darkening London sky.

“I’d love for you to go home and get some sleep, but seeing as that’s about as likely to happen as Sherlock giving Mycroft a hug, I’ll settle for getting you to the Yard where there’s tea. They’ll continue to trace for prints, but there’s nothing more we can do here. Interpol is sending over whatever they had on Peter Ricoletti and I’m sure Mycroft’s gathering intel on Matthew.”

Sherlock looks to his right to find his brother already on his phone. He looks calm and serene, nearly bored, but the grip on the handle of his umbrella is tight and the tip of it is inching further and further into the dirt on the ground.

And that’s perhaps what has his already fragile heart shattering into little pieces.

Because if Mycroft is already cracking, then how the hell is there any hope for the rest of them?

xxxxxx

Rosamund Catherine Watson has been missing for seven hours and eighteen minutes and Sherlock Holmes is slowly losing his goddamn mind.

His eyes burn and his back aches, but he blinks and forces his mind to focus on the information tacked to the board in front of him.

“Sherlock, drink something.”

“I’m fine,” he mutters, staring hard at Lestrade’s notes from Peter Ricoletti’s arrest and ignoring the glass of water John is holding out for him.

“For me, Sherlock. You’ll be no good to anyone, least of all Rosie, if you keel over from dehydration.” It’s a low blow, but an effective one, as Sherlock sighs and blindly reaches out, knowing John will make sure the glass finds its way to his hand. The water is refreshing and he finds himself draining the glass before John takes it and returns with another one which also doesn’t last long.

Matthew Ricoletti is a ghost. He led a quiet life in Bristol. Not a family man, but he had friends who were just as baffled as anyone when he up and left his relatively cushy job.

Hopkins enters once more and Sherlock turns so quickly, he makes himself dizzy and has to steady himself on the nearest shoulder, which of course belongs to John.

“Anything?”

She shakes her head and he bites the inside of his cheek so hard, he draws blood, the taste tangy and bitter on his tongue. He turns back to the board and darts his gaze across bank records, call sheets, credit card statements. Nothing looks amiss except for a $5,000 withdrawal made three weeks ago. In the great pantheon of international crime, that’s milk money.

Nothing makes any sense, he thinks as he groans and pulls at his hair, attempting to block out the chatter, buzz, and general noise that hovers in the suffocating conference room.

“This is my fault,” he grits out, heedless of the many ears there to eavesdrop on his confession. Perhaps the ambient noise will drown it out.

“No, it’s not.” Oh John. Ever loyal John.

“Yes, it is. I always knew my work would put a target on the backs of the people I love. I mean, look at you. How many times have you been kidnapped?”

He freezes. Oh Christ.

“The people I love.”

Stupid, moronic, vapid, simple-minded -

“Our work,” is all John says in reply. “It’s our work, Sherlock. You don’t get to bear this burden alone.”

Sherlock lets out the breath he’d been holding. Perhaps John didn’t hear him. Or perhaps he thinks he means it in the platonic friend sort of way. Yes, that works.

It’s for the best, really.

“Why does the Freak care so much?” someone murmurs from across the room and this is it. He can feel it bubbling up and God himself could not stop it. It’s the moment he’s been expecting all night.

After all, even geniuses reach their breaking point:

“Because she’s my child!” Sherlock roars back, and the room goes utterly, completely silent, save for the tick of the clock on the wall, counting off each second that Rosie is not home.

Fuck. Sherlock closes his eyes and swallows hard. Not your right. Not your place.

He turns slowly and blinks, but keeps his gaze firmly rooted on the shoes he knows to be John’s, which slowly shuffle closer to him.

“I…” but he doesn’t know what’s supposed to come after that. Every errant thought, every secret hope he had of them becoming a family just tumbled forth in a fit of desperation. His heart has been flayed open in front of the entire Met and he’d sink into the stained carpeting if he could.

“We need a minute,” John’s rough voice says and, a moment later, his tight grip grabs hold of Sherlock’s elbow, gently but firmly guiding him from the room. Sherlock still can’t bear to look into his face. To see the disappointment, the pity, he knows will be there.

He does, however, lift his gaze just in time to see Donovan (of all people) grab the clearly misinformed and maladjusted constable and slam him up against the wall, murmuring something in his ear that has him paling several shades. Sherlock feels so hollow, he can’t even appreciate the gesture.

By the time John steers him into an empty interrogation room, Sherlock is verging on hyperventilation. That steady grip disappears as John turns to click the door shut and only then does Sherlock realize it was the only thing keeping him upright. He places his hands on the table, the metal cool against his sweaty palms, and locks his knees in an effort to keep from collapsing to the ground.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t think - ”

“Sherlock,” John interrupts, sounding much closer than he had been a moment ago. “Don’t. Don’t you dare apologize,” he breathes. “Rosie is… she’s always been… “ he trails off and Sherlock finally looks up to find John looking utterly and completely lost.

“What?” he whispers, because he needs to know this.

John gives a tiny shrug. “I thought you knew.”

“I don’t follow.”

“This isn’t the time or the place, but God, Sherlock - ” John’s voice cracks and he shakes his head, an errant tear falling onto his cheek. Sherlock aches to wipe it away. “I thought you knew,” he whispers again.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to know, John,” he says so quietly, terrified to break whatever spell John seems to have him under.

“She’s yours, Sherlock. Ours. We’re both going through this. That’s what you’re supposed to know. That’s what I need you to know. Okay?”

But Sherlock can only nod, because John’s just given him everything he wants (nearly everything) on a platter and the lump that’s suddenly lodged itself in his throat is rather snug.

“I just want to do what you need. What do you need, John?”

John smiles softly for the first time since that morning. “You, you daft man. I need you.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, ‘oh.” John chuckles but it gets stuck somewhere in his larynx, coming out somewhat strangled. “So let me in, yeah?” He sniffs and takes another step forward, carefully but calculatingly closing the space between them. “You once called me your ‘conductor of light.’ Let’s go home for a bit. Let me conduct.”

“But she’s out there - ”

“I know,” he breathes, voice breaking as he takes hold of Sherlock’s shoulders and presses their foreheads together. “This isn’t giving up. This is giving your brain a break so you can recharge and be brilliant.”

Sherlock nods and swallows. It’s loud in the stark, bleak room.

“You are my conductor of light,” he manages after a moment and John merely quirks his lips up into that half-smile that Sherlock loves so much.

“Come on,” he whispers, taking hold of his arm again and leading him gently to the door.  

The hallway is clear by the time they emerge and Sherlock has the vague notion that that’s Lestrade’s doing. Sure enough, the man is hovering at the end of the hall like a silent sentry, giving them the peace they need to put themselves back together again.

“I’m taking him home for a bit,” John states as they pass the DI. His grip on Sherlock’s bicep never wavers. “Find our daughter.”

“Roger that,” Lestrade quietly replies, with a firm nod of his head. It’s a promise.

One Sherlock hopes to God he’s able to keep.

xxxxxx

The ride to Baker Street in one of Mycroft’s unmarked cars is quiet, but no longer suffocating. The air between them is calm if not peaceful and the stifling tension that seemed to claw at his throat at the Yard has abated. For a moment, at least.

John’s pinky rests beside his on the seat between them. Not pressing or entwining, just - there. A reassuring presence.

His head aches behind his eyes and he presses the thumb and forefinger of his left hand into them as if to push the pain away. It works for a moment, but as soon as he lets go, the pounding is back, blurring his vision and rattling his skull.

“I’ll get you some paracetamol when we get home,” John murmurs, knowing the problem without him having to say anything.

“Thank you,” he replies and John’s hand covers his own for the briefest of moments as they pull up in front of 221B.

He realizes two things as he gets the front door open: 1) he never did find the file John was looking for that morning (as if it matters now) and 2) someone must have told Mrs. Hudson because the first thing they hear as the door swings back is a loud sob, followed swiftly by a blur of floral and a cloud of perfume.

Her arms are around John’s neck first, pulling him down as she cries into his neck.

“Oh John.”

He doesn’t even get out a reply before she’s reaching for Sherlock and pulling him in, too. His left cheek is pressed into John’s temple because he’s a bit too tall for Mrs. Hudson to pull him down far.  

“My boys,” she whispers, voice trembling as she steps back and cups each of their cheeks.

“Thanks, Mrs. H,” John quietly replies.

“I didn’t know what to do and the detective inspector said you were at the station all day, so I just cooked. And cleaned. And baked. And cooked some more. There’s shepherd’s pie in the oven and spaghetti bolognese on the hob if that’s not to your liking and Rosie’s favorite scones are cooling on the counter. I’ll bring it all up, though I’ll doubt you’ll be wanting much.”

Sherlock gets a whiff of it something delicious from her flat and his stomach gives a traitorous grumble.

“Thank you,” he manages when he notices John’s eyes have gone a misty. “We’ll just - ” he makes a feeble gesture upstairs and she nods, pressing the back of her hand to her mouth again to stifle more sobs that no one really needs.

Sure enough, their flat is spotless. The detritus from their combined search for the wayward file is gone as are the dishes from their respective breakfasts. Mrs. Hudson has clearly hoovered and dusted and scrubbed and mopped to a point where Sherlock’s unsure how she didn’t give herself a heart attack.

So much for Not your housekeeper. No. So much more.

John disappears down the hallway to the loo for a moment, returning and tipping two pills into Sherlock’s hand before he collapses on the sofa, not even bothering to take off his coat or make an effort to get to his chair. He rests his head back against the cushion and Sherlock watches the mesmeric bob of his adam’s apple as he swallows.

Mrs. Hudson bustles up a moment later and tuts sadly in John’s direction as she heads towards the kitchen. Sherlock follows because he’s honestly not sure what to do and hovering in the shadow of the one person who does seems like the best plan of action at the moment. He grabs a glass of water and tosses back the pills as his head throbs once more.

She turns a knob on their oven and pops the shepherd’s pie in. “It’s already cooked so I’m just putting it on low to keep it warm,” she whispers. “It’s here when you’re ready for it. Mind you don’t forget to turn the oven off when you’re finished.”

He can only nod, which thankfully seems to be all she needs as she pats his chest and removes a nonexistent piece of lint from his lapel.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it. I’m just downstairs,” she manages, nearly losing her composure once more, and he steps forward and presses a kiss to her cheek because she needs to know how perfect she is. How, in this moment, when everything is wrong, she is the only thing that’s right.

She pats his chest once more and disappears out the side door, not disturbing John where he sits still as stone on the sofa.

Checking that the oven is indeed on low and won’t torch the place in the middle of the night, he pads over to the doorway, watching John’s chest rise and fall in a steady rhythm. He’d almost think he was asleep if not for the tension that has his shoulders up around his ears.

“Come here.”

The voice is so unexpected, it actually startles him. “What?” he asks rather dumbly and John sighs, cracking an eye open.

“You’ve been holding me up all day. Sometimes literally. It’s my turn. Now come here.”

Sherlock shuffles closer to the sofa and allows John to pull him down next to him. What he doesn’t expect, however, is John to continue pulling him down until they’re lying side by side on the relatively narrow cushions, knees bumping and noses nearly touching. John still doesn’t open his eyes.

“I didn’t think we did this,” Sherlock manages after a solid thirty seconds of holding his breath.

“We haven’t.”

“Is this what we do now?” he asks in a small voice and John smiles, a soft and secret thing, and slowly opens his eyes.

“Do you want it to be?”

The sudden flash of panic he feels nearly blinds him and he swallows before darting his eyes away to stare at the top button on John’s plaid shirt. “I don’t know how to answer that.”

John’s hand comes and rests just below his ear, not quite cupping his cheek but close enough to run his thumb across his jaw. “You don’t have to.”  He closes his eyes again and exhales slowly, as if willing the tension in his shoulders away, even though Sherlock knows it’s not going anywhere. Not while Rosie is out there unaccounted for.

He finds himself closing his eyes as well, though. They’ll never sleep but they can do what John suggested and recharge because the fight is far from over.

His stomach gives yet another traitorous growl a moment later. He frowns, but feels John huff out a laugh. His breath is warm on his face.

“It’s not a crime to be hungry,” he murmurs.  

“Not hungry.”

“Your body would beg to differ.”

He should eat something, but he doesn’t know if Rosie is being afforded the same care so he won’t because if she isn’t eating, then neither will he. His decision lacks logic - presumably he’ll need sustenance to find her, energy to keep the synapses burning to find clues that others do not - but then again, he’s never been logical when it comes to matters of the heart.

“Not hungry,” he says again, more convincingly this time and John relents, for once not fighting him on the issue. They settle back into the cushions, silent, and Sherlock watches as the crease between John’s brow gradually eases.

“I’ll find her,” he whispers long after he hears John’s breath even out.

“I know you will,” comes the reply because even when he thinks he’s certain of one thing, John Watson still has a habit of surprising him.

xxxxxx

Sherlock isn’t sure how much time passes as he lays there, listening to the steady inhale and exhale of John’s breath, studying the face in front of him that’s seemed to gain new lines just in the last few hours. That face has been through some things. Those eyes have seen tragedies no man should face in a lifetime, and yet John keeps coming back. Back to Sherlock.

Back home.

Baker Street has evolved since he first contacted Mrs. Hudson to cash in that favor so many years ago. Since John first limped through the doorway and said, “Oh this could be very nice. Very nice indeed.”

There are no more ears in the crisper or chemical stains on the table. There are jars of baby food lined up in well-stocked cabinets and plastic plugs in all of the electrical outlets. His name is on forms next to John’s listing whom to call if there’s ever an emergency with Rosie. The intoxicating pull of a seven percent solution hasn’t taunted him since John watched him willingly (happily) flush the last of his secret stash down the toilet.

These days, he craves quiet moments crowded on the sofa with a marathon of crap telly. Or the rare trip to drop off or pick up Rosie from daycare, like he had done that morning (that morning? He feels as if he’s lived a lifetime in an hour).

And it’s that simple thought - the memory of waving at Rosie through the glass door as he said goodbye - that has him bolting upright and upending himself from the sofa, landing on the floor with a muffled grunt.

“Sherlock, what the hell?” John blurts as he reaches out and catches Sherlock’s ear in the dark, blindly feeling around his head to make sure he hasn’t hit it.

“John. Where did we arrest Peter Ricoletti?” he blurts before he’s even had time to survey his surroundings. His knee collides with the coffee table and his shoe catches on the leg of the sofa as he tries to stand.

“Uh, warehouse complex on the Thames. Which the police checked thoroughly roughly two hours ago,” John says, sitting up and watching Sherlock like one would a caged animal.

“But the note said, ‘where our story began.’ Not mine and his brother’s. Ours. Mine and Matthew’s.”

John frowns and stands slowly, fists clenching at his sides, braced for battle. “Your story began when he took our daughter from daycare.”

“Exactly,” he clips, too much on a tear to even let the ‘our daughter’ comment sidetrack him.

“Christ, you think he’s back at the daycare.”

“Think about it, John. He’s made no demands. He doesn’t want money. He doesn’t even want his brother released. He just wants to watch me suffer.” He turns around looking desperately for his coat only to realize he never took it off.

“But why?"

“Because I took away someone he loved. Now he’d like to return the favor.” He curses as he tries to pull his phone from his pocket only to get it stuck on the lining. Finally free, he dials Lestrade with shaking hands.

“You’re brilliant,” John breathes, stepping into his space and pressing his forehead into Sherlock’s chest.

He clears his throat and, taking a leap of faith he’ll blame on sentiment if it all goes arse over teacups, presses a kiss into John’s hair. John’s hands find his waist and his fingers tighten in his coat just as Lestrade picks up with a gruff, “Yes?”

“They’re at the daycare,” he clips, having to remind himself to breathe while John Watson is in his arms.

“What?” There’s the sound of a crash, perhaps a pile of paper being knocked over, before Lestrade repeats, “They’re at the daycare?”

“Yes. Ricoletti’s note said, ‘You’ll find her where our story began.’ My story with Matthew began this morning. This has nothing to do with Peter other than good old fashioned retribution.”

“Shit.”

“We’ll get a cab and meet you there.”

“Get a cab?” Lestrade asks. “Mycroft’s had the car waiting outside since it dropped you off. As well as four agents stationed in the building across the street.”

“Oh for christ’s sake,” he mutters, but he’s secretly grateful. Not that he’ll ever let Mycroft know that. “Don’t move without us.”

“Then don’t break my perimeter when you get there,” Lestrade growls before he hangs up.

John leans back and stares at Sherlock, still gripping tight to his waist. “Let’s go.”

“John - ” he begins, because there are things to say, but this isn’t the time and John knows that.

“Later,” he promises, finally pulling away and heading towards the door, shoulders set with a determined edge and Sherlock a step behind.

The wind bites at their cheeks as they tumble out onto the sidewalk, Mycroft’s man already waiting silently beside the open door to the black sedan. John slides in first and Sherlock follows, hands gripped tight between his knees.

“We’re going - ”

“Yes, sir,” the agent replies. Lestrade must have radioed his hunch in. That, or Mycroft came through on his threat to bug the flat.

He swallows hard and stares at the floor of the car, unable to watch the journey he took that morning with Rosie holding tight to his hand as she hummed the theme song to Peppa Pig. He watches the skin of his fingers morph from white to red to purple to white again as he shifts his grip in between his bouncing knees. His stomach roils and his lungs feel like they’re not getting enough air, but he can’t lose it now. Not when they’re so close.

A hand covers his and gently pries his grip apart, but Sherlock cannot lift his gaze even as John laces the fingers of his right hand through Sherlock’s left and holds on firmly.

He lets out a slow, shaky breath as John runs his thumb up and down Sherlock’s forefinger.

“Thank you,” he eventually murmurs.

“No need,” John quietly replies.

They’re there within minutes. The street has been shut down and the surrounding buildings cleared. As they pull to a stop, Sherlock watches through the windscreen as Lestrade barks orders at someone. He’s grateful that the terrible constable who made the crack about him not caring is nowhere to be seen.

He can feel John’s gaze on the side of his face so he turns and meets his eye, giving him a perfunctory nod which John slowly returns as they exit the car.

Catching sight of them, Lestrade jogs up with Sally close by. “Snipers spotted movement.”

At the word ‘snipers,’ John leans down and puts his hands on his knees, closing his eyes and swaying slightly. Sherlock can sympathize.

Lestrade places a hand on John’s back as he continues, “Too dark to make out specifics, but there’s definitely someone if not multiple some ones in there.”

“Any communication?” John eventually clips, straightening, but Lestrade shakes his head.

“None yet. It’s like they’re waiting for something.”

Sherlock inhales. “Indeed.” Or someone.

Lestrade leads them over to an idling cruiser, the one closest to the caution tape where Mycroft already stands.

“Can he see us from here?” he asks, but a voice echoes across the empty street, cutting off whatever reply he’d been about to get:

“Took you long enough!” it calls. It’s loud, but low and gravely, sending a chill skittering down the notches of his vertebrae. “Hello, Sherlock Holmes! Come and have a chat!”  

xxxxxx

Deep down, he’d always known the day would end like this. He’d said as much to John not two hours ago:

“I always knew my work would put a target on the backs of the people I love. I mean, look at you.”

He begins to walk forward but John’s hand is quick to grab his arm.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Getting our daughter back,” he replies as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world, but John is already vehemently shaking his head.

“You can’t - you can’t both be in there. I can’t lose both of you.”

“You won’t,” Sherlock whispers, placing his hand over John’s on his arm. “I’m going to get her back.”

John’s grip tightens and he licks his lips. Sherlock already knows he will let him go because what choice do they have, but he allows John this moment. This semblance of control.

“I swear to God, Sherlock Holmes, if you do anything stupid...” he threatens even as he releases his arm.

“I know,” he quietly replies.

“Sherlock - ” Lestrade begins but Sherlock cuts him off, directing a question to his brother instead.

“How good are your snipers?”

Mycroft lifts his chin and sniffs. “The best.”

“Then the minute you have a clear shot, you take it.”

“No, no, that’s not the plan,” John argues, but Sherlock steamrolls right over him because if he listens to John, if he waits even just a moment and lets John in, he’s honestly not sure he’ll be able to leave his side.

“The second Rosie is safe, you take your shot.” And with that, he strides away, not daring to spare John one more glance, holding his arms slightly away from his sides so itchy trigger fingers in the daycare don’t get nervous.

He pauses as he reaches the front.

“Come in,” the voice calls again (window cracked, curtain drawn).

Clearing his throat, he reaches for the door and pulls it open, eyes blinking to adjust from the darkness outside to the low lighting within.

“Sh’ock!” a heartbreakingly familiar voice cries, and he turns to finally lay eyes on Rosie, struggling in arms of a man Sherlock does not know.

“It’s all right, Watson,” he replies automatically, needing her to be as calm as possible, for his own sake if nothing else. He holds a hand out and is thankful it doesn’t shake as he attempts to placate her like one would a frightened animal. Her face is red from crying and her hair is matted to her forehead, but otherwise she looks unharmed. Her lips are chapped which suggest dehydration, but there are no marks on her that he can see.

The man has an arm around her stomach and a gun pressed to her temple. Sherlock swallows hard, but it does nothing to wet his dry tongue.

“The famous Mr. Holmes. Our Reichenbach Hero,” the man leaning nonchalantly against the wall near the window drawls. Ricoletti.

Sherlock’s gaze drifts to him before finding Rosie again. The oaf holding her too tightly raises the gun up, as if Sherlock didn’t see it the first time, before pressing it to her temple again.

“Sh’ock!” she wails.

“Everything will be fine, sweetheart,” he manages, but it won’t - he can’t guarantee that - and now he’s using terms of endearment. The panic is rising. “What do you want?” he addresses to Ricoletti.

“Just this,” Ricoletti replies with a small shrug and a slow smile. “Just watching you squirm. Like bait on the end of a hook.”

“Then you’ve got me. Let her go.”

“No. How could I? She’s the pièce de résistance.” His smile turns feral. “I always wondered if you cared about the people around you. If you paid any attention to the damage you left in your wake. You solved a case, caught a criminal, and they put you on a pedestal. Hard to see the rest of us from up there, isn’t it.” Ricoletti narrows his eyes and pushes away from the wall. His face is gaunt and lined, his hair greasy. “No, I didn’t think you noticed anyone, not even your Dr. Watson - until you... came... back.” He says the words slowly as he stalks forward. It takes every ounce of Sherlock’s will power not to back up.

“Then Dr. Watson got married, had a child, became a widower. And how you cared .” He smiles again but diverts his path towards Rosie instead.

Sherlock flinches and holds his breath as Ricoletti takes a finger and brushes a blonde curl off her face.

“No one who knows of Dr. Watson can doubt his abilities. He’s gotten you out of more scrapes than even the press is aware of, I’m sure. But Rosamund Watson?” He cups her cheek and she struggles to turn her face away (good girl). “An innocent.” He leaves Rosie alone and slides his hands in his pockets as he turns to face Sherlock. “I hurt her, I break Dr. Watson. Dr. Watson blames you. I break you ,” he says so succinctly, it’s as if he’s naming the types of tea he has on offer.

“His wife tried that. It didn’t take,” he growls. He wishes he had more of a plan before waltzing in here completely unaided and unarmed. John was right, per usual. He doesn’t think the operation involves more than these two, though, It’s been simple, painfully simple, but effective so far. Ricoletti must not expect to get out of this, and he’s going to do all in his power to take Sherlock down with him.

Rosie continues to sob and the idiot with the gun seems to be rapidly losing his patience.

“Look, may I please just hold her? Get her to stop crying?” he tries. He desperately wants to check her for injuries (and just have her in his arms again), but he doubts Ricoletti will let him do anything of the sort.

Ricoletti cocks his head to the side in a way that eerily reminds him of Moriarty and narrows his eyes again. “Yeah, alright.” He nods to the towering pile of flesh and bone and not much else, who looks at him like he’s crazy, before rolling his eyes and putting Rosie on the ground.

She immediately launches herself at him and he meets her halfway, pressing her little body to his chest and burying his face in her hair, whispering, “I’ve got you, monkey."

Ricoletti smiles widely at the tableau, hand moving to the small of his back, and Sherlock realizes a second too late that he’s made a grave tactical error. Oh God.

Ricoletti pulls a gun and Sherlock turns his body to shield Rosie, tucking her into his chest as John’s face flashes before his eyes. A shot rings out as he’s knocked to the side so hard, he loses his breath, and Rosie screams as two more shots pierce the air, shattering the window above them, raining them with splintered glass.

He hears Ricoletti cry out followed by the telltale thump of two bodies hitting the floor on the other side of the room, and he spares a moment of thanks to his brother for listening to him for once in his life. He’s panting into blonde hair, trying to catalogue his injuries. He should feel pain but he doesn’t. All he feels is a weight against his back and an ache in his elbows where they dig into the floor, holding himself up so he doesn’t crush Rosie beneath him. He should have been shot. He should be -

A groan sounds from behind him and the weight that was pressing him down slides off to the side.

“John,” he breathes, turning his head to find the man he loves flat on his back, hands pressed to his side as blood seeps out between his fingers. “Oh God, no. No, no, no,” he babbles, keeping one hand on the back of Rosie’s head so her face is pressed into his stomach and holding his palm over the thundering beat of John’s heart.

“Is she okay?” John manages as he grits his teeth against the pain.

“She’s fine. We’re fine,” he babbles.

“Then get her out of here.”

Lestrade drops to a kneel by John’s side and presses his hands over John’s who hisses. Donovan is in the doorway radioing for paramedics as Hopkins crouches down beside them, running her hand over Rosie’s head and taking Sherlock’s chin, forcing him to meet her eye.

“Sherlock? Are you two all right?”

“I’m - I’m fine, she’s fine, but John’s…” he trails off and stares as more blood stains the brightly colored carpet. Marie will have to get a new one.

“Sherlock, look at me,” Hopkins says more firmly, and only then does Sherlock willingly glance away from John. “We have to get her out of here.”

He licks his lips and nods, standing numbly and pulling Rosie into his arms, careful to keep her gaze away from her father.

“Daddy,” she cries miserably and John’s determined composure breaks.

“I’m fine, Sherlock,” he gasps, lower lip wobbling. “Tell her I’m fine.”

“But you’re not,” he rasps, limbs starting to shake as his body, heart, and mind war between going to John and getting Rosie as far away as possible.

Hopkins makes the decision for him, stepping forward and gently taking the girl into her arms. Rosie like Hopkins so Sherlock allows it and the toddler’s crying gradually eases into hiccups as Hopkins steps into the hallway and rocks her back and forth.

Arms now free, Sherlock collapses on the floor and crawls to John’s side. “Where the hell did you come from?”

“Back door.” John smiles, but his skin is too pale. “You can take care of her for me, right?"

Oh, no. No, he’s not allowed to say goodbye. “Don’t you dare.”

“Sherlock, look at me. I need you to do this for me.”

“Stop it right now,” he spits petulantly.

A groan comes from the corner and it’s with a jolt that Sherlock realizes Ricoletti is still alive. The man is being wrestled into handcuffs, despite the fact that he’s bleeding steadily from a wound to his shoulder (not unlike John’s first). Rage consumes Sherlock as he stands and stalks over to him, but Lestrade’s voice halts his approach.

“Sherlock, you lay a hand on him while he’s in police custody and they’ll throw the case out.”

“Like hell they will,” Mycroft says from the doorway, which is all the permission Sherlock needs to punch Ricoletti so hard, he’s unconscious before he hits the ground. He doesn’t spare him another glance as he hurries back over to John and takes his hand.

“You’ll need ice for that, you git,” he gasps as Lestrade presses harder on the wound.

“You’ll need a hell of a lot more than ice, you idiot.”

“Hey, look at me,” John urges softly. He waits a moment for Sherlock to comply before he says, “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not! You’ve been shot!”  

“Not the first time.”

“Please shut up.”

“Sherlock,” John murmurs, “Rosie needs you.”

“You need me.”

“I’m fine. Just a flesh wound,” he manages with nearly a straight face.

“Oh my god,” Sherlock mutters, choking out a laugh at the memory of John making him watch Monty Python and thinking it was the most moronic thing he’d ever seen in his life. It was one of the best evenings they’d ever spent together.

“I’m really fine. In and out. I’m a doctor, I know these things. They’ll patch me up, maybe transfuse me, and send me home. I just - I need you to take care of her until then.”

Sherlock blinks and glances up to see Hopkins holding Rosie, face tucked into her shoulder just outside the room.

“She’s scared. She needs you.”

I’m bloody scared,” Sherlock blurts, taking John’s hand and pressing a fierce kiss first to his knuckles and then to his forehead.

Lestrade raises an eyebrow at John who flushes. “Yeah, we do this now.”

“About bloody time,” is his only reply.

The paramedics rush into the room then and Lestrade backs away, but not before the medic gets a good hold on John’s wound.

John groans again and tightens his grip on Sherlock’s hand as they get the backboard under him. Sherlock leans over and presses their foreheads together.

“That was the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”

“And I married an assassin.”

Despite himself, Sherlock snorts. “But that’s how we got her,” he whispers, nodding in Rosie’s direction. John follows his gaze and swallows hard.

“That we did,” he breathes. “Worth it.” He stares at Sherlock. “All of it.”

Now it’s Sherlock’s turn to lose his composure as a tear slips onto his cheek.

“Ready, gentlemen?” the paramedic gently asks and John nods, squeezing Sherlock’s hand once before he lets go so they can lift him onto the stretcher.

“We’ll follow you to A&E,” Lestrade says as Sherlock reaches out for Rosie again. She’s a welcoming weight in his arms and he makes sure the paramedics have placed a sheet over John’s body before he turns.

“Give Daddy a kiss. We’ll see him soon.” He holds her over John and she leans down to press a puckered, sloppy pout on his cheek.

“Daddy,” Rosie murmurs, closing her eyes and reaching for his nose.

“I love you, sweetheart,” he replies, grunting as he leans up to press a kiss to her cheek before nodding at the paramedics to wheel him out.

Sherlock watches them go for a moment, holding Rosie probably just a bit too tightly as Lestrade waits for him by the door, keys in hand. He begins to walk towards him but pauses when Mycroft enters the hall just between them, sliding his mobile back into his pocket.

“John will tended to by the best surgeon in the country. They’re currently awaiting his arrival at Barts.”

Sherlock stares at him for moment before stepping forward and wrapping his free arm around Mycroft’s stiff neck. “Thank you,” he manages.

Over Mycroft’s shoulder, Lestrade lets out a low whistle.

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

xxxxxx

Sherlock listens to the steady beep, beep, beep of John’s EKG monitor as he shifts in the uncomfortable plastic chair in the private hospital room they’ve been given. Rosie is a warm weight in his lap, snoring softly into his dress shirt, mouth open, completely at ease in Sherlock’s arms.

She won’t remember this, thank God. It’ll be something they tell her later, when she’s older. When she has a better grasp on the darker sides of the world. He only hopes they get a chance to do so before she goes googling.

“She should be in a bed,” John murmurs groggily, startling Sherlock from his thoughts.

He flushes, unwilling to admit that a cot had been offered, but he couldn’t quite let go of her yet. He glances up to find John staring at him with a soft smile on his face.

“I wouldn’t be able to let go of her, either. In fact - ” He scoots over as best he can, hissing slightly as his stitches probably pull from the effort.

“Stop that,” Sherlock admonishes, but John only holds his arm out. “Come on, then.”

With a sigh and soft kiss into Rosie’s hair, he stands and gently deposits her on the bed, nestled up against John’s good side. She instinctively curls into him and John sniffs, hastily wiping at the wetness in his eyes.

“God, I missed you,” he breathes, threading his fingers through her soft curls. “Come on, you too, you git.”

“What?” Sherlock asks, rather dumbly.

“Get in here,” John orders, patting the space on the bed next to Rosie. There’s not much but if Sherlock lies on his side, he’ll be fine. He toes off his shoes and takes off his suit jacket, draping it over the back of the chair he’d been sitting in on top of his coat. He gingerly gets on the bed, careful not to jostle the sleeping baby or the invalid and rests his head on the pillow that smells like antiseptic and John.

John reaches over and takes his hand, clasping it over Rosie’s tiny body as she slowly breathes in and out.

“She’s never leaving the house,” Sherlock murmurs after a moment.  

“Sherlock - ”

“The both of you. Never leaving the house.”

A fond look passes over John’s face and he silences whatever ridiculous argument he’d been about to make. “Okay. Never leaving the house. That goes for you, too. We’ll order take out for the rest of our lives and homeschool Rosie and solve crimes via email and - ”

But whatever he was about to list next is silenced when Sherlock presses his lips to his. Their lips are dry and the angle’s a bit wrong but it’s still the most glorious thing Sherlock’s ever experienced in nearly four decades of living.

“The rest of our lives,” John had said. Think of the decades to come.

“Oh,” John breathes when Sherlock finally pulls away.

“Can we do this now, too?” he quietly asks, still terrified despite the fact that he’s pretty sure he knows the answer.

“God, yes,” John replies, letting go of Sherlock’s hand so he can cup his cheek and run his thumb across Sherlock’s eyebrow. “Anytime. Every time.”

Sherlock licks his lips and swallows, eyes scanning John’s face for any sign of doubt or hesitation, but it contains nothing but sincerity. Sincerity and -

“I love you, you know,” John murmurs. “Very, very much.”

And Sherlock huffs out a breath at John Watson getting in one last surprise.  

“I love you, too,” he manages, voice tight as tears threaten.

John can’t turn on his side yet, so the hand on his cheek guides Sherlock up so he can press their lips together once more. Sherlock gasps as John’s tongue traces his lower lip and John groans as Sherlock instinctively grips his shoulder.

“There’s a child in the bed,” John reminds.

“And you have a hole in your side.”

John laughs and collapses back, wincing in pain. Sherlock reaches for the morphine dial and raises an eyebrow, waiting for John’s permission.

“Want to remember this.”

“You will. It’s late. We both need sleep anyway.”

John considers this for a moment before nodding. Sherlock ups the dial, watching John’s eyelids fight against gravity as they flutter to shut. Sherlock smiles and presses one last kiss to John’s forehead, before rearranging Rosie so she’s in a more comfortable position between them.

Silence descends, broken only by the beep of the EKG.

“Never leaving the house.” John murmurs his agreement as he settles against the pillow and pulls Sherlock’s arm across his chest, settling his palm over his heart once more.

“Angelo will deliver,” Sherlock replies, twisting his fingers in John’s gown and earning a quiet chuckle from the man he loves as they both drift off to sleep.