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Family Matter

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When John first meets Mary, it’s a cold, rainy day in April.

She walks in on her first day of work soaking wet, her blonde hair turned dark from the heavy rain and laughing as she shakes out her umbrella indoors. "This is rather ominous for the first day of work, isn't it?" She jokes, white teeth on show. The other doctors and nurses laugh with her and introduce themselves, welcoming her to 'the clinic family'. (Complete bullshit.) John pays her no interest. New nurses are always coming and going, after all, when NHS salary turns out to not be enough and maternity leave takes priority. He feels her eyes bore into the back of his head as he sits, unresponsive, and going through paperwork, sticking out like a sore thumb among the rest of the staff who have already fallen for her charms.

After Sherlock's death, when the alcohol became more of a nuisance than a suitable distraction (there's only so many times a week one can wake up sobbing and vomiting before one decided enough is enough), his next solution was work. Extra hours, extra effort, his hands and mind kept busy as he scribbled out prescriptions for patients, refusing to let himself think of how much the boy with the dark curls and pouty eyes, the woman with the sharp cheekbones, the old man with the long dark coat reminded him of Sherlock. He keeps those feelings of grief and nostalgia tightly locked away, letting it sit heavy on his chest until it is time to continue with work again. There isn't time for considering an office friendship or romance. Just constant working.

He often wonders if Sherlock would be proud of him or scoff at his hypocrisy.

When John doesn't approach her of his own accord, Mary comes to him the next day at lunch with a bright smile. Everything about her was bright and blinding and luminescent: green shirt, blonde hair, blue eyes, white teeth. Like the sun. "Hi, I don't believe we've been introduced properly. I'm Mary," she says as she holds her hand out. It’s entirely unremarkable: small, soft, nails neatly and practically trimmed.

John accepts it, forcing himself to smile back. "John Watson. Welcome to the clinic."

"Thanks. I really think I'm going to enjoy it here. Everyone here is so lovely - much lovelier than my last job."

He hums and nods, not entirely sure how to respond. He was never really that good with people except when stood next to Sherlock.

She continues, determined, “Yeah, no one there ever really… socialised. I love going out for drinks.”

John knows this is his cue for him to ask her out. He hums and nods again, and a brief flash of annoyance contorts her features before she smiles again.

“Would that be something you’re interested in? This Saturday, maybe?”

He shakes his head. “Sorry, Mary. Sounds great, but it’s my sister’s birthday. I’ll be in Edinburgh all weekend.”

She tilts her head, almost pouting. “Oh, shame. Still, have fun at your sister’s. Another time perhaps?”

“Another time.”

She asks him out for drinks the next week. And the week after that. And the week after that. Each time, he politely shook his head - no, I have too much work. No, I'm visiting my cousin. No, it's my mate's wedding. No, I’ve got a headache. She’s pretty, and charming, and has a wonderfully dry sense of humour, but for once John is immune to those things. Sherlock would definitely be proud.

He ends up asking her out the month afterwards, when he sees her flirting with one of the male nurses and decides to break the pattern of letting second chances of happiness slip away.

As the summer turns cool and the leaves turn dry and brown, Mary remains a constant, standing by his side even when he wakes her up with night terrors, letting her eyes glass over in sympathy when he brings Sherlock up of his own accord without her prompting, jovially saying 'whatever you like!' whenever John asks what they wanted to do for date night every Saturday. She is warm and inviting and as predictable as the sun's rotations. (No - Earth's rotations. Dear God, Sherlock is probably laughing in his grave.)

Like the sun, she is also blinding.

Several months later, after Sherlock returns (surprise!), after John and Mary get married, after Sherlock nearly dies (yet again), John finally realises this, and even then, Sherlock hands this vital information to him on a silver platter.

"How good a shot are you?"

"How badly do you want to find out?"

John's heart hammers as she cocks the gun and points it into the shadows where he is sitting without hesitation. He restrains himself from making a noise, from any kind of movement, following Sherlock's plan. (Always Sherlock's plan.) But God, how much he wants to yell, to scream, to punch the wall and demand why the hell she would try to shoot him - no, try to shoot Sherlock. That's who she thinks is there, sat directly in front of the bullets, obscured by shadows.

When Sherlock reminds her that she could get arrested for his murder - a shocking revelation, apparently - she simply tilts her head in agreement, tosses a coin, and shoots a bullet directly through it. There is nothing of her left that could be recognisable - her voice is like steel, her eyes cold and grey as frost, as unpredictable as a storm.

He hates her.

He hates her as he moves back into Baker Street after the events at Leinster Gardens. He hates her as he sits by Sherlock's bedside, watching him rest and recover after his exertions (for John. Yet again.) and warily watches the lines of the monitor rise and fall with his heart rate. He hates her as he dresses Sherlock's wound, covers the angry bullet wound with clean bandages and resists the urge to kiss it and apologise profusely I'm sorry I brought her into our lives. I'm sorry I brought you so much pain. I'm sorry you had to leave.

He never hated her more than when Sherlock tells him, his eyes full of pain and his voice wavering, shattering the quiet bubble of domesticity that formed around them in their months of cohabitation, that he will have to go back to Mary.

John shakes his head firmly, placing the old bandages aside on the floor next to Sherlock's bed. He will move them later. "No. I can't."

"Mycroft has found some new intel on her. Though we're uncertain about most things, we know she's far more dangerous than I initially suspected."

"More dangerous than the fact that she shot you?!"

"Minor details. If you go back to her, it would stall her from leaving the country and give Mycroft time to find out more. Currently, all she has keeping her here is the baby. Once she's born..."

John sighs. He reached for the memory stick that he keeps in his pocket at all times, turns it around in his hand contemplatively as he does dozens of times a day. "Should we give this to Mycroft?"

"No. This memory stick means that the cards are in our hands. You can use it to prove your loyalty to Mary."

He scoffs weakly. "Loyalty. What does she care about loyalty?"

"She did marry you, John. For better or worse."

He scoffs again, then sat in silence for a few moments. "What happens if Mycroft does the research and she turns out to be dangerous?"

"Then he'll find the opportunity to arrest her, if need be."

John takes a moment to absorb this, inhales and exhales, before croaking out like a confession, "And if she's not? If she's genuinely changed and just shot you to get out of a sticky situation?"

"Then you reunite with her and continue to live out a life of domestic bliss, I imagine," Sherlock replies softly. He’s shirtless, naked save for pyjama bottoms, his wound dressed in clean, white bandages, leaning up against the pillows on his bed. He has never looked so vulnerable and John's chest aches in something akin to sympathy but more like longing.

"I'm not sure I want that," John confesses quietly and a crease forms between Sherlock's eyebrows.

"Why? You love her don't you?"

John opened his mouth to respond honestly, but then stops himself and exhaled softly through his nose. "It's complicated. I'll think about it. Get some sleep alright?"

He quickly adjusts Sherlock's pillows, pulls the duvet up to cover his exposed chest, feeling himself be watched curiously as he did so, then leaves the room before the conversation can delve deeper into the dangerous subject of does John Watson really love Mary Morstan?

~

On January 3rd, nine days after he and Mary reconcile with some reluctance on his part, on the day of Sherlock's exile for a crime he committed for Mary, John’s hatred has not shifted, not even remotely. After all, had it not been for Mary and the bloody Magnussen case...

He watches the plane take off with a hollow weight in his stomach and a lump in his throat. Six months, he reminds himself. Six months and Sherlock can come back if Mycroft's estimation is right. But god, how long that seems. Six months without cases or chases through London. Six months of his daughter's life that Sherlock won't be a part of. How many of the baby's milestones will Sherlock miss? First laugh? First crawl?

Mary's hand clasps around his, warm as frost and just as comforting. She squeezes it as the plane takes off. John feels like he was suffocating.

But then, a miracle by the name of James Moriarty occurs.

"But he's dead. Moriarty - you told me he was dead." Mary demands, the lines on her forehead creased with anxiety that John doesn't feel much like reading into, far too focused on his own cocktail of excitement and relief and fear and determination at the new of the broadcast. He shrugs, barely suppressing his elated grin. Christ, what has he turned into, if he is excited about the return of a bloody psychopathic criminal mastermind? “How can he be back?”

"Well, if he is, he'd better wrap up warm.” He smiles to himself. “There's an East Wind coming."

John watches the plane turn back around, not noticing how beside him, the blood drains from Mary's face.

Chapter Text

“Hear anything yet?” John asks as soon as he opens the door to the flat, dropping the bags of takeaway and DVDs on the coffee table.

“Nope,” Sherlock replies snappishly. He is sat on the floor, cross-legged, eyes manic, hair ruffled, newspapers and magazines and his laptop scattered around him as he frantically looks through them, scanning through each line for any kind of sign of Moriarty’s return to a reign of chaos. The room smells overwhelmingly of cigarettes, the windows and curtains closed off to keep out daylight that had long since disappeared and turned to night time. If John hadn’t known better, he would say he hadn’t moved in the last four days since his return from his short exile. “Nothing. No politician has gone missing. No priceless jewellery has been stolen. Not even the slightest sign of a sudden increase in inflation. God!” Sherlock grabbed the nearest newspaper and ripped it up into pieces in frustration - The Daily Mail, John noted with some amusement. “I can’t stand it, John!” He exclaims bitterly.

“Yeah, I figured. That’s why I came here with movies for you to actually relax tonight.”

“Relax?” Sherlock turns to glare at John, his eyes sharp and bright against the dark circles under his eyes. His hands still shake with withdrawal. “Do criminal masterminds relax? I think the fuck not.”

John chuckles at the crude language, always surprised whenever someone as put together as Sherlock becomes snappish and bad-tempered enough to swear along with the plebs and commoners. John is very familiar with the mood swings and bad tempers that result from withdrawal and is glad that today the worst of it has passed, even if not all of it has entirely disappeared. “Maybe so, but genius detectives who took a shit ton of drugs a week ago and have barely slept since do.”

“I can’t afford to relax. Moriarty is back. We have to be at least two steps ahead of him if we want any chance of defeating him. He’s quiet, too quiet. We have to be prepared.”

“We don’t know that he’s back for certain. They still haven’t managed to trace back the source - “

“Exactly. Do you think a student playing a prank would be able to make the source so untraceable? No. It’s Moriarty, beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

“Okay. And if it is? Are you really going to be much use against him right now? No offence, but you’re a bit of a mess. You’re going through withdrawal, you’ve barely eaten or slept, you look like you could collapse any second. I suggest, as your friend and your doctor, that you take the night off and recharge your batteries.”

Sherlock reluctantly averts his eyes, looking around at the mess around him. Apparently, he concedes defeat, as he eventually sighs and nods. “Fine. If you must. What food did you get?”

“Indian.”

“Acceptable. And the movies?”

“Midnight Run, Die Hard or Goldfinger.”

“Well, which one do you think I’ll prefer?”

“No, I mean, which one do you want to watch first?”

Sherlock’s eyes widen in surprise, a small grin growing. “This is going to be a rather long night. Not particularly productive if you want me to sleep.”

“Don’t worry, it’s all part of my cunning plan,” John winks as he unpacked the food.

They sit on the sofa together at a suitable distance apart, close enough to ground them both, so that Sherlock's temper and shaking calms, and John is reassured of his presence; it is still incomprehensible to him that Sherlock would have been dead by now had the plane not turned around, and even if he didn't take those drugs, the exile would have killed him in a matter of months. He still feels the bitter nausea that came about when Sherlock explained his decision to overdose, his guard and walls crashing down with him hours after the plane landed. He’s lost him twice now - once on the rooftop, the second time on the surgery table; a third might just kill him.

If he wants to, he could place his hand between them, slide if a couple of centimetres until it contacts Sherlock's hand. But he doesn't want to. So he places his arm at the back of the sofa behind the man next to him, allowing himself to content in the small waves of heat radiating off of him.

Soon after they finish their meal, which Sherlock consumes the majority of but would never admit to, and part way through Midnight Run, John's phone buzzes with a text inside his pocket. It's from Mary - no one else other than Sherlock and occasionally Harry really texts him these days.

Just got back from Kate's. Poor thing considering divorce now. Where are you? xx

John hisses through his teeth quietly, and replies, unconsciously turning his phone away from Sherlock as he types.

Sorry, Mary. Forgot to tell you. With Sherlock, watching films together.

The reply is almost instantaneous:

Aw, like boys in primary school at a sleepover! xx

For a moment, John sees an image of Mary as a young girl in primary school, blonde and happy and innocent, before she became whatever she ended up becoming. Or perhaps she was the bully of the playground, willing to shove (or shoot, for that matter) whoever was standing between her and her goals. He's almost tempted to ask her, 'do they have specialist assassin primary schools where you grew up?' but he decides that pissing off a heavily pregnant woman who is trained to handle firearms is a bad idea. Besides, he's meant to have forgiven her, hasn't he? The problems of her past, et cetera, et cetera -

"Who are you texting?" The rumble of Sherlock's voice drags John back to reality.

"Just Mary. Sorry, I'll put it down."

"It's fine, John. You don't need my permission to text your wife. Even during movie night. Just as much as you don't need her permission to come here." He frowns. "Did she know you were here? Should you even be here, with how far along she is?"

"She does know now." He places the phone back in his pocket. "Don't worry about it. She's not due for another five weeks."

"Yes, but the statistics for premature births in mothers her age - "

"Sherlock," John cuts across him firmly, "leave it. Turn your brain off for one damn second before you hurt yourself, okay? Let's not think about Mary or the baby. Christ knows I've been up to my neck in baby clothes and nappies and bottles lately..."

If Sherlock has something more to say or ask him, he doesn't admit it. Instead, he turns back around to face the screen, watching it with a half-focused interest. John's concentration isn't faring much better.

It isn't long before the distance between them shrinks, inching closer and closer, until John's arm has slipped from the back of the sofa to Sherlock's shoulders (later, he will blame it on the slipperiness of the leather), and Sherlock's head is resting on John's shoulders, his curls tickling his cheek (exhaustion and still in recovery is John's excuse for Sherlock's casual physical affection.) Sherlock's breaths become steady, slowing and slowing, until John is certain that his plan worked and Sherlock is finally asleep.

He turns the tv off. The film's over and Sherlock is sleeping, allowing himself to rest and recover for the first time in days, so arguably, John has no reason to stay there. He does anyway, taking in the quietude and tranquillity, the sounds of London traffic outside merely white noise, until he himself is ready to drop off, his arm around Sherlock's shoulder's, his head on top of the other man's head.

What difference will one night at Baker Street make anyway? After all, with the due date vast approaching, it will probably be the last time he can stay there in a very long time.

The silence lulls him to sleep, a taunting reminder of the lack of silence to come.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Comfort and Joy

Baby Watson is born two weeks later, at 7:50 in the morning, six pounds and four ounces, and she is the most beautiful thing in the world.

John holds her as Mary sleeps, his finger clasped in the baby's tiny hand. Vaguely, in the back of his head, he recalls the information about newborns he learned in medical school, about how Baby Watson is very much average sized, but he still can’t help but wonder at just how small she is and just how big the world is compared to her. It’s his responsibility to protect her from it, and it’s a responsibility he will take with joy.

He’s fairly sure he’s crying a little bit, but he doesn’t really mind. As long as he’s quiet and doesn’t wake her up yet.

“John.”

He looks up at Sherlock, who is standing in the doorway, lips parted in awe as he sees the tiny person in John’s arms. “John,” he says again, unable to say anything further. John smiles and nods, unashamed of the tears currently streaking his face. His hands aren’t free to wipe them away anyway.

“Yeah, she’s here. Come here and meet her.”

Sherlock steps closer so he can see the baby’s face, but still keeps a respectable distance, as though afraid his mere presence can harm her. It’s adorable.

“It’s okay, Sherlock. You can hold her, if you want.”

He blinks. “I can?”

John chuckles, “of course. Just keep her head supported and you’ll be fine.” John gently hands her over into Sherlock’s arms, and Sherlock emits a small gasp of surprise.

“She’s so small.”

A giggle escapes. “Yeah, well, she is a baby.”

Sherlock continues to look at the baby, unable to tear his gaze away. The sight of Sherlock holding his baby, so gentle and yet so conscious, his arms stiff with the worry of dropping her, fills John with joy, making his eyes prick with newfound tears again.

As if on cue, knowing that people are talking about her, she wakes up with a sob that soon grows from quiet mewling to wailing, making Sherlock’s eyes widen with panic. “She’s crying. Did I do something wrong?”

“No, she’s just waking up. Wants to say hello, that’s all. Might need feeding in a bit,” John takes her back and gently rocks her. He coos, “is that right, love? You want to say hello to your godfather?”

“Godfather?” Sherlock repeats.

“Yeah, ‘course.” John smiles up at him. “I wouldn’t want anyone else.”

He truly didn’t. He went through a list of people in his head to be godparents when Mary suggested a christening, and other than Harry and Sherlock, no one really mattered. Besides, Sherlock planned his wedding, encouraged him and Mary to reconcile (somewhat reluctantly, but then again, Mary did shoot him), and John saw his interactions with Archie, so Sherlock clearly at least had a respect for children. Why wouldn’t he want to be the godfather of his and Mary’s child?

“But - but she’s a baby!”

“Excellent deduction, detective.”

“I can’t take care of a child,” he splutters. “I can barely take care of myself. You do realise the kind of responsibility you’re trusting me with?”

“No one’s asking you to take care of her,” John explains calmly. “That’s mine and Mary’s job. But you’re my best friend, Sherlock. If the worst case scenario happens, heaven forbid, then yes, I trust you to take care of her. But not yet. For now, I just - “ he takes a breath - “I want to know you’ll be in my baby’s life, as much as you are in mine.”

“Oh.” He’s pulling the same frozen expression as when John asked him to be best man, making John’s heart clench fiercely. He then clears his throat, standing to attention like a soldier. “Then yes. I will.”

“Good. Great. Do you want to have another go at holding her?”

“Yes, please.”

John transfers her into Sherlock’s arms, and he instantly calms. He’s known her all of five minutes and already he loves her with every fibre of his being as though she were his own, radiating through him almost visibly. Even the baby seems to be comfortable in Sherlock’s presence, gazing up at him curiously with bright blue eyes.

“What’s her name?” Sherlock asks

John shrugs. “Not sure yet. I want Katherine, after my Grandma. Mary wants Rosamund after… I don’t really know. And she wants the middle name to be Mary as well, some kind of family tradition.”

“Surely you could compromise?”

“She’s never really been the compromising type.” You of all people should know that, he doesn’t say. The bullet wound you spent months recovering from is proof of this. “Besides, she is the one who put in all the effort to bring her into the world. She‘s been reminding me of that for the last week, whenever we talked about it,” John half chuckles.

“Well, for the record, I do rather like Katherine. But I suppose my opinion isn’t quite as important.”

“Yeah. I think we’re in the same position in this case,” John says quietly, glancing surreptitiously at the bed in case Mary was awake and listening. She was still sound asleep.

Sherlock doesn’t comment. John doesn’t explain.

“To be honest, I don’t really care what she’s called,” John says quietly. “I - I’ve never really wanted to be a father. And when you told us that Mary was going to have a baby, it didn’t even really sink in. In fact, it wasn’t until the baby arrived that it really hit me that I am a father, and I really, really want this more than anything, no matter what her name is. She could be called bloody… Mackerel Watson for all I care.”

“I hear that’s a universal experience among fathers, about how they feel about becoming one. ‘Women become mothers when they find out they're pregnant, men become fathers when they see their child for the first time.’”

John raises an eyebrow, amused. “You got that from a book.”

“I had to have something to do while I was stuck at Baker Street all those months,” Sherlock shrugs. “Even before I was shot, I started skimming through a couple of books. It was soon after your wedding, even when I started to - doubt my place in your life with your marriage to Mary, I decided that I wanted to be of any use to you that you’d need me for. If you no longer needed me for cases and adventure, then perhaps I could…” He trails off, struggling

“Sherlock. You should never doubt your place in my life. Not ever. I don’t care about the cases or if you know every single thing about childcare. You’re my - you’re my best friend. Okay?”

“Okay. That’s - that’s good to know. You are too, you know.”

“Yeah. I know.” John sniffs and grins. “Christ, I’m exhausted. It’s been a long day. Sorry, it’s making me a bit - y’know.”

“Sentimental?” Sherlock suggests with a smile. “It’s fine, John. You’re allowed to be, today of all days.”

“Christ, Sherlock Holmes, giving me emotional advice. Never thought I'd see the day."

"Well you're hardly in enough control of your emotional faculties to be giving yourself advice. Look at you: you haven't stopped crying since I got here."

"Oh, shit." John wipes his face quickly and takes a steadying breath, not out of embarrassment, but he is slightly self-conscious of the fact this is the first time he has cried in Sherlock's presence. "I'll just pop out for a bit. Need to rehydrate, probably. Are you alright holding her until I come back in or Mary wakes up?"

"I think so," Sherlock says with the uncertainty of someone who would do anything and everything to look after the baby perfectly, scrutinising his every interaction. "By the way, John, before you go - Mackerel Watson? Really?"

John snorts at the judgemental amusement on Sherlock's face. "Yeah, I told you I was tired."

"Mmh, I can tell by the appalling sense of humour. Go get a coffee before you collapse."

John mock salutes and leaves the room obediently. Once he does, he takes a moment to lean against the wall outside, suddenly tired to the bone and needing a long nap. Or caffeine. Just as he's about to muster up the last of his energy to get a drink of water, he hears the rumble of Sherlock's voice from inside the hospital room.

"Rosamund, or Katherine. I may not be the... best of godfathers. Frankly, I still think I'm a terrible choice for John to pick. But regardless, I will do whatever I can do within my power to keep you safe, to protect you and... do whatever it is godfathers do. I made a vow to do so already, but I feel it needs repeating/ So, there. I hope that's of comfort to you."

It is Sherlock, John thinks, and almost says out loud. It is.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks pass like clockwork as both John and Mary get used to the regular irregularity of taking care of a child. They alternate who wakes up in the night to feed her, who goes to work in the morning, who watches her during the day, with the system only interrupted for the christening, which was rather enjoyable. John got to watch Sherlock vow to protect satan while he repressed the urge to roll his eyes in disgust, and Rosie vomited on the vicar. A good day, all in all.

Sherlock visits, occasionally. He says hello to John and Mary, if she’s home from work, then to Rosie, who is always pleasant in his company (a small victory over Mary, whose friends cause Rosie to scream and wail in protest whenever they hold her.) Sherlock gives vague answers to John’s questions about cases: it’s the quiet season, only fours and fives, bank robberies and adulteries, but hey ho, needs must when one is in need of some more money.

Despite Sherlock’s best attempts to make crime fighting seem as unappetising and dull as possible, there are times where he wishes that he wasn’t at work or at home, looking after Rosie, but instead, out there still. Chasing jewel thieves and serial killers, like in the days before… No, he loves his life now. He loves Rosie. He loves his wife.

But he’s only human. Anyone could get bored. Even Mary, whose eyes still linger every so often at the duffel bag in their wardrobe that contains her gun and silencer (in case of emergencies) that John pretends not to know about. After all, his gun is by the bedside drawer, so they're in agreement.

What a pair they make.

Then, three months after Rosie’s birth, something happens.

It’s the middle of the night and there’s a frantic knocking at the door. John groans as he rolls out of bed for the third time that night, puts on a dressing gown over his pyjamas, then opens the door with a glare he doesn’t bother to conceal. Then he sees that it’s Sherlock standing there with panic in his eyes and his hair wet from the rain.

“Moriarty’s back,” he says without preamble. “You and your family are in danger.”

John doesn’t really know how to respond to that, still half asleep and in a state of numb shock, so instead he just says, “want some tea?”

Sherlock comes in and sits on the sofa, his head buried in his hands while John busies himself with the kettle, trying to keep calm. After all, his wife and child are asleep, and it probably wouldn’t do any good to wake them up with panicked and frustrated yelling. John brings a mug of tea over to Sherlock, who accepts, then sits beside him. They drink their tea in silence for a few moments, until he is sure that Sherlock has calmed down slightly, then asks. “Are you sure? That Moriarty’s back and we’re in danger?”

“Almost certainly,” Sherlock replies. “The case today - it bore too much resemblance to the cases before my fall to be a coincidence. Details you didn’t write on the blog. It has to be him.”

“Or someone working for him?”

“Somehow, that’s worse,” he mutters. He keeps his eyes trained on the floor, avoiding John’s face. “I spent two years away from London - away from you - dismantling Moriarty’s network. I was tortured and beaten and left for dead more times than I can count. I can’t let that all be for nothing. I can’t let myself think I failed to protect you.”

John already knows about Sherlock’s years away. Sherlock told him not long after his return of his work to destroy what remained of Moriarty’s influence, speaking so matter of factly that John simply imagined, with some bitterness, that his years abroad had simply been one grand adventure, hopping from one country to the other, seeing the sights, beating up bad guys, coming back to the hotel in time for tea. It was only while John was staying at Baker Street after the shooting that he saw the scars that decorated Sherlock’s back. He didn’t need an explanation. It was all there for him to see: the whip scars, the cigarette burns, the shadows of knife blades and bullet wounds on his arms and ribs and legs. Sherlock didn’t speak, he merely let John take in the sight of it, finish changing his bandages, then leave to grab the whiskey from the kitchen cabinet for them to drink in silence.

This is the first time Sherlock has spoken of it so bluntly, of the damage his years aways still causes him today.

“You didn’t fail me,” John murmured gently. “You could never fail me. Even if Moriarty is back, it’s not your responsibility to take care of me and my family.”

“If it weren’t for your association with me - “

“Then I’d probably be bored stiff,” John smiles. “We’re in this together, okay? No more taking personal responsibility for my own safety. I’m a grown man, Sherlock.” John takes Sherlock’s hand in his from where it rests between them and squeezes it on impulse, making Sherlock freeze slightly, before his shoulders relax again. “We’re in this together.”

John quickly retracts his hand as he hears the creaking of the stairs under Mary’s footsteps. She enters the living room, her eyes surprisingly alert for someone who had been woken up in the middle of the night and looking between the two men. “What’s happened?”

“Sherlock believes we’re under threat. From Moriarty.”

Mary’s eyes hardened, with fear or determination. “Moriarty’s dead.”

“Maybe so. But I’m certain that some parts of his legacy remain at least. He was more than willing to die at St Barts. He wouldn’t have done so if he didn’t have plans for what would happen to his network after his death.”

“Or maybe he was just a psychopath that impulsively blew his own brains out just to prove a point?” John suggests drily.

Mary cuts across him impatiently. “What proof do you have? That Moriarty is threatening us?”

Sherlock reaches into his coat pocket and brings out an opened brown envelope. He hands it over to Mary, who removes the contents, flipping through them quickly, eyes scanning, a line between her eyebrows in concentration. “Photographs?” John asks.

“Of the three of you out on walks,” Sherlock nods. “Different days, different places. All of the Watsons. This, combined with the case I had today - ”

“They’re all of me.” Mary hands the photos to John for him to look at. It sickens him, now knowing someone was watching them, snapping photos of private smiles and inside jokes and the baby’s everyday milestones that occurred in those walks. “Look. I’m always the centre of the photo. You and Rosie are background collateral. This is a warning - I may be the target, but he will not hesitate to kill either of you.”

“We can’t be sure it’s him though, can we?”

“We can,” she replies. “It’s him. Beyond a doubt. Look at the envelope.” John turns over the envelope in his hand and notices a blood-red seal with a bird stamped on the wax.

“So? It’s just a bird. Anyone can get a bird wax stamp.”

“Not just a bird. A magpie,” she says. “It’s the exact same as his seal, his sign. He uses it for all his messages, when he hires and when he needs a job doing. It could just be a coincidence, but…”

Something in John’s brain clicks into place, as he looks up from the photos at Mary with cold suspicion settled deep in his stomach. Sherlock must be having the same dreaded realisation, because he asks, his voice betraying only a slight waver, “how do you know all this, Mary?”

She doesn't respond, at first, simply keeping her eyes averted in a display of shame perhaps. "I think you both know," she murmurs quietly.

John chuckles humourlessly. "You worked for him. Brilliant. Bloody brilliant."

"I didn't intend for you to find out."

"Oh, that makes things so much better, then!"

"John," Sherlock interrupts firmly, voice annoyingly calm. "Rosie's sleeping, and we're not getting any closer to figuring out what to do to keep you safe."

"Maybe if my wife was honest with me, we wouldn't be in this position!"

"It's on the memory stick I gave you. For whatever reason, you chose not to read it."

"I wish I did," John hisses. "I wish I did, and that I saw sense, and I never left Baker Street for you."

Mary shakes her head with a scoff. "You don't mean that. Even you can't deny, it's all in the past, John."

"Oh is it? You saw what Moriarty did to Sherlock. Did to me. You were there for the nightmares! You still are. Are those in the past, Mary?" She doesn't respond, but her face betrays... something. Regret, perhaps. Or worry. For the sheer satisfaction of hoping to get a response, of hoping to break the cool mask, he adds with a bitter hiss as he stands up, "besides, these photos, these threats to our daughter, are looking pretty fucking in the present to me."

From upstairs in the guest bedroom, he hears the front door shut and assumes that Sherlock let himself out to work on his case without the interference of a marriage on the verge of a breakdown. He doesn't hear the front door shut again in the early hours of the morning.

Chapter Text

John is woken up the next morning by Rosie’s crying. This is nothing unusual. What is unusual is the fact that the crying continues, without sound of Mary getting up to quieten her, since it's her turn that morning .

Maybe she’s sulking after our fight, John thinks, and then decides to get up when the continued crying becomes too much for him to bare.

He changes Rosie, feeds her, burps her, then puts her in her playpen before he thinks to check up on Mary. He enters the bedroom calling her name, and isn’t surprised to find it empty, the bed neatly and clinically made, the wardrobe absent of her clothes and duffel bag for her gun.

“Huh,” is all John says.

He’s vaguely aware that he should probably be panicking, ringing Sherlock or Mycroft - she is an assassin of international repute, after all, and could be out murdering people in that very moment - or even calling work to let them know that a nurse has gone missing in action, but all he does is stare blankly at the room, feeling nothing. Perhaps relief. Perhaps guilt.

The furniture is all hers. She chose it, bought it when they moved in together, refusing to let John pay her back. “My treat!” She exclaimed at the time, which he accepted without question. John looks around now and wonders which diplomat, which ambassador, which human being’s life paid for the bed, the wardrobe, the curtains. He has no real connection to this place, no sense of home.

Right. Killer on the loose. Should probably let someone know.

He rings Sherlock, who picks it up even at this hour of the morning. John wonders if he slept at all after the events of last night. “John?”

“Mary’s gone,” he says. “Clothes, gun, phone, all of it gone. No note.”

There’s a pause that goes on for too long for John’s liking. “I’m on my way.”

“What for? She’s gone. There’s no sign she was ever here in the first place. Even you would only be able to deduce the obvious.”

“Well… your wife has gone missing, John. Let me come over as a friend, if not a detective.”

He struggles to fight off a small, surprises smile. “Oh. Okay. Come on over.”

He makes breakfast for himself and plays with Rosie as he waits. In the half hour or so before Sherlock arrives, as Rosie giggles to herself obliviously, that’s when the panic finally settles in, seizing in his throat like ice.

Oh.

He’s a single father now.

And he technically has work in less than half an hour.

The door knocks and snaps John out of his panicked thoughts as he goes to open the door. The anxiety must be showing on his face because the first thing Sherlock says when he comes in is “sit down. I’ll make tea.”

John nods breathlessly and all but collapses as he sits on the sofa, his head leaning back against the back of the sofa and staring at the ceiling. “She’s gone,” he says out loud to no one in particular as he lets the words sink in. “She’s gone, and now I’m here. With Rosie. And my job at the clinic.” For a moment he feels bitterness feed into his anxiety, the hatred and anger that Mary would leave him without a second thought to just how difficult the next few months or even years will be.

“Don’t go into work today. The disappearance of your wife warrants a day off,” Sherlock says from the kitchen.

“I think it will have to warrant many days off.Either that or I become one of those parents who never sees their kid again because they’re working all the time, just giving the child to whatever nanny or relative or family friend is available then only turning up for birthdays. Christ, she’ll resent me for the rest of her life.”

“I’d never thought I’d say this but you’re thinking too much,” Sherlock says gently as he passes John his tea. (What is it with the two of them and tea?) The sofa dips next to him under Sherlock’s weight as he sits down. “You don’t need to do that. You love Rosie and I have no doubt at all that you will continue to care for her as you always have done. Besides, you always have me and Mrs Hudson.”

“Really?”

“Of course. I’m her godfather. Mrs Hudson has already taken on the role of honorary grandmother with enthusiasm. And mycroft has the ability to hack into security cameras as impromptu baby monitors.”

John chuckles, making Sherlock grin softly. “It’s still… a lot. A lot of getting up at night - she is getting better, though, mind you. - Paying for the house and groceries with half the number of paychecks than before. I mean - who knows where she’s gone or for how long?”

“Until the threats blow over I imagine. She’s taken her gun with her, I assume?”

“Yes. If she’s not gone into hiding, she’s probably done something really, really stupid and gone into more danger than before.” A lump forms in his throat. “Do you think - if I hadn’t said what I said last night - “

“She still would have gone,” Sherlock says firmly. “She knew that you and Rosie would be targeted with her presence.”

“She didn’t even say goodbye or explain herself. We could have helped. We could have found a safe house or increased security or asked for more information on Moriarty to deal with the threat.” His head hurts with the burden of all the ways he could have prevented this, all the mistakes he made from the day he married her.

“What’s done is done, John. All we can do now is wait to see what turns up.” Sherlock’s phone beeps with a text and he sighs at the screen. “Mycroft. My presence is requested at the Diogenes club, apparently. Most likely about Mary.”

“Should I come? I mean, if I can take Rosie…” The girl in question is currently happily sucking on her fist - not exactly suited for a high end, all male, silence only club.

“Oh, she’s definitely not allowed in, but all the more reason to take her,” he replies with a smirk. “You know I do nothing but strive to annoy my brother and his smug associates in any way I can. Imagine their faces when they see a baby there.”

John grins. “Alright. Let’s go.” He puts on his coat then picks Rosie up. “Want to go out for a walk, Rosie?” He says in a soft, playful voice. “Are you going to cry and make a ruckus as soon as we enter? Annoy some posh old Tories like your daddy did when he first got in the club?” The smile she gives is nothing short of mischievous and it fills John with affection. He kisses her forehead. “That’s my girl.”

Once they’re in the cab, Sherlock speaks first in a quiet, tentative voice. “You know, if you are worried about… money and the house and doing the job of two parents, there is always Baker Street.”

John stares, bewildered. “Sherlock, you don’t - I can’t impose a baby on you like that. It’s your home. Babies are noisy and messy and -“

“So am I,” he shrugs. “You and Rosie could never be an imposition. I’d be happy to help in any way I can.”

“But babies take up a lot of space. There’s two bedrooms, and your experiments, and case files everywhere.”

“I can tidy!” John raises an eyebrow. Sherlock amends himself. “You can tidy. Experiments can be cleared away and I could always see if I can move into 221a.”

“Sherlock!”

“It’s going at a surprisingly cheap rate. The damp apparently. It will free up my bedroom for your use and Rosie can have your old room. It might take a couple of months so hopefully you wouldn’t mind sharing a room with your baby - “

“Sherlock, I can't ask this of you.”

“Then don’t.” He turns to look at him, so sincere it hurts to look at. “Let me do this for you. You don’t need to ask.”

The cab stops and they quickly jump out. Before they enter the door to the Diogenes Club, Sherlock pauses and says, averting his eyes to the pavement, “by the way, John. I think, with you moved back in and Rosie there, Baker Street will feel more like home than it has done in months.”

Beyond this point, no talking allowed.

Chapter Text

The meeting with Mycroft is gruelling, emotionally exhausting, full of questions with no answers. All they establish is that Mary is definitely missing, possibly from the country, and doesn’t want to be found. Security cameras didn’t pick up any face recognition, suggesting either a very skilled hack into CCTV or a very skilled disguise. Nothing out of the ordinary was detected in the long stream of people buying tickets to get between cities and countries. Everything is calm and normal, and it makes the three of them uneasy.

Mycroft will text with updates. John isn’t sure how he feels.

After a week of sitting at home, then driving down to Baker Street to drop off Rosie before heading down to work John decides thatm Mary be damned, he will move back in with Sherlock. If anything, logically speaking, it would save him the constant driving from one part of london to another every other day. in reality, it's because the more he continues with his routine, the more he misses Sherlock's company and the excitement of 221b, where routine used to be completely non-existent. Besides, Mycroft predicted that Mary could be out of their lives for the next year or possibly more. He's never wrong.

On the day he moves in, John and Sherlock carry up boxes from the delivery van up to 221b. Thankfully, there are only a couple so the trips up and down the stairs are kept to a minimum: John’s clothes, Rosie’s things, including her cot and clothes and toys, and a few essentials he knows Sherlock never remembers to buy, like bleach and kitchen towel.

They unpack the boxes upstairs in John’s room, giving Rosie a toy to play with and/or drool over as she lies next to them, and put things in their rightful place. Slowly, the room becomes itself again, as it was three or four years ago. Except now it has a cot in the corner next to the bed, and tiny onesies of white and pink and blue take space in his drawers as well as his own clothes. He wouldn’t change it back for the world.

“What’s this?” Sherlock asks, breaking him out of his reverie as he brings out a photo album from the bottom of one of the boxes.

“Just a couple of things I’ve collected over the years. Cases, photos and the like.” John scoots over next to Sherlock so he can look at it over his shoulder. “Nowadays I’m doing the obnoxious parent thing of taking a picture of my kid every five minutes for it.”

“I see.” Sherlock opens the album. The first few pages are all newspaper clippings of their cases together, with words like ‘anonymous informant’ and ‘help from a nameless source’ circled, from back when Sherlock was hidden from the public eye. The cases soon become more frequent and high end, as Sherlock turns from a faceless help behind the scenes of Scotland Yard to ‘Hat Man’ and ‘Boffin’ and ‘Private Detective’. The picture of the two of them in the hat are in there, as well as the sneaky paparazzi photos John used to pretend to be upset about: them walking together after a case has been solved: Sherlock passing a piece of evidence to him with the camera angled just so so they looked like they were holding hands; them laughing at a private joke as they sat outside at a cafe. Their most private and intimate moments have been captured on camera, published for the world to see, and honestly, John can’t say that he minds. Sherlock doesn't seem too bothered either, but instead peruses the photos with a small smile as he lets nostalgia wash over him.

"You collected all this?" He asks.

"Well, not at first but - " he clears his throat awkwardly, thankful they're not facing each other for Sherlock to see the sudden tide of emotion that came over John. "After you were gone, my therapist recommended this, to make my memory of you more positive. A private blog of sorts, away from public pressure. Didn't help much, but it got me into the habit."

"John, I'm sor-"

"Stop it, you. I've forgiven you." John elbows him lightly, playfully, the kind of touch he's allowed to use to comfort Sherlock without making things that much more awkward. "Turn over. I want to see what's next."

The next page contains the only photo John managed to take of Sherlock himself, without using the grainy newspaper photos of them half obscured by shadows. It's of Sherlock smiling at a crime scene, looking up from his phone at John with a fond smile. John was able to get his attention with a bad joke he can no longer remember then snapped a picture on his phone just before Sherlock noticed. He did end up noticing, but that wasn't his intention.

“I thought I told you to delete that one,” Sherlock now says with a pout to rival Rosie’s. John grins.

“I did. After I printed it off.”

“Why? It’s a terrible picture. I wasn’t prepared at all.”

Vain git, you know full well that it's perfect.“Well, I like it. It’s authentic.”

They turned over the page and the contents become less frequent. There’s nothing after Sherlock’s fall for over two years until John and Mary’s wedding. Say what you will about Jonathan Small, he could certainly take a decent picture. Afterwards, the pages are filled with Rosie and of her looking around wide-eyed at the park, or being held by various family members, or of her sleeping in various places. She's only a few months old so there's very little she is able to do that is truly worthy of being photographed. But John does it anyway and plans to fill up the entire album with her over the next few years, capturing all her milestones and memories for later.

"You know," John says once they reach the end of the pictures, "You're not in the last few pictures at all."

"Yes, well, I dislike having my photo taken, and Rosie is far more photogenic." John glances at a photo of Rosie drooling in her sleep, sceptical. Sherlock chuckles. "Ok, maybe, that's debatable. But still, I'm happy for this album to be Watson exclusive. I already took up far too much room in the first half."

"Nah. You're her godfather, I think you're important enough to be in this. Here." He picks Rosie up, who cries a little in protest of her play being interrupted then calms down once placed in Sherlock's arms. John gets out his phone and opens up the camera.

"Smile, you two."

"What? What for?"

"A photo, you idiot. Come on. For me?"

Sherlock sighs then reluctantly smiles for the camera, a shy, private smile that is more sincere than he would like John to believe. Rosie does not smile, but she isn't having a temper tantrum, so John takes that as a win. He takes a couple of pictures then joins in himself, turning the phone around so the camera lens faces them (Sherlock says something there being a lens at the front of the phone, but John ignores him, technology not being one of his fortes). He wraps his arm around Sherlock's waist so that they're close enough to both fit on screen them capture the three of them together. Afterwards, he gives the phone for Sherlock's approval.

"There," he says. "Mine and Rosie's first day at Baker Street. I think that's something worth remembering."

A few days later, he prints off the photo and sticks it on a new page to mark the beginning of their new life together at 221b. It's selfish, but he hopes it lasts. He's not quite ready to face Mary just yet.

Chapter Text

“Let’s go out tonight.” Sherlock suggests as he looks up from his microscope in the kitchen, a harmless experiment free of toxic chemicals and body parts. He made sure to get rid of everything or hand them back over to Barts in the week before John moved back in.

John’s eyebrows climb up towards his hairline as a laugh escapes him. “Go out?”

“Yes. To Angelos.”

“Sherlock, you do realise we have a baby in the house now.”

“Yes, I am aware. But why is that an issue? You can go out with babies. Or we could leave her with Mrs Hudson.”

“I’m not leaving my baby with Mrs Hudson. She’s well into her seventies, she’s got a bad hip, and you very well know about her herbal soothers habit. It’s not that I don’t trust her - “

“But your protective parental instincts override everything else.”

“Yeah, exactly. And I really don’t want to take her to Angelo’s. It’s a nice place. I’d rather not disturb everyone with her screaming.”

“Right. Fair enough.” He thinks he’s hiding his disappointment well. It’s sweet, John thinks. “Well then, how about a takeaway? Anything you want, to celebrate you coming ho- coming back here.”

“Alright,” he says with a grin. “Chinese, then.”

Sherlock makes the call and even goes downstairs to get it when it arrives. He’s changed so much since John last lived here, not counting the months before Christmas - he’s kinder, more considerate, more weary, so much so it sometimes terrifies John that his years abroad - almost literally - beat him into submission. But then again, the old Sherlock is still there, all the snark and stubbornness and sharp wit.

John stokes the fire - it’s cold for March, after all, and it’s an old building - as Sherlock returns with the food then goes into the kitchen to get drinks. John turns around just as he comes back with a bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in another.

Sherlock shrugs. “It’s a celebration. May as well make the most of it.”

“Alright,” John smiles as he gets up from the floor and takes one of the glasses. “Just one, though. I don’t want to get drunk.”

~

John is so fucking drunk.

The takeaway has been abandoned long ago and has probably gone cold. They’ve somehow migrated from the sofa to the floor in front of the fire, where it burns bright and golden against Sherlock’s face, highlighting his features in a soft glow. The fire warms them, so much so that John has taken off his jumper and Sherlock has undone the top button of his shirt, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He’s laughing at something John said about a past case, but John can’t quite remember what it was. All he can think about is a vague sense of deja vu of being in this exact position, dizzy headed and close enough to Sherlock to touch him. Oh right, the stag night. He did touch him back then - on the knee, a perfectly chaste and innocent place, though at the time he wondered if he didn’t bother pushing himself back up onto his chair instead let himself fall, let his hand wonder, go above Sherlock’s knee, fingertips tracing the inseam of his inner thigh…

No. Stop. Dangerous.

“Y’alright, John?” Sherlock asks, observant even in his state of inebriation.

“Yeah, fine,” John replies. “Just...thinking.”

“About what?”

“You, mostly.” Bugger. That’s meant to be a secret. “Wait, no, not you. Something else... Plants?”

“Plants.”

“Yeah. Let’s go with that.”

“What about them?”

“Y’know. Just plant... stuff. Like the flowers Mrs Hudson has in her vase downstairs.”

“Ah, yes. Carnations. Dianthus caryophyllus.” Sherlock smiles wistfully, staring at the fire. “They’re pretty, aren’t they?”

“You’re pretty.”

John hadn’t meant to say that out loud and it only became clear that he did from the startled expression on Sherlock’s face. John laughs humorlessly and stares at his half-empty wine glass, the sixth one that evening. “Sorry. It’s true though. Factually speaking.”

“Is it, now?”

“Yeah. Janine said it, didn’t she? Y’know - ‘unless I meet someone prettier.’”

Sherlock giggles, actually giggles. “You remember that conversation remarkably well.”

“Yeah, ‘cause it was weird. You with a girlfriend. That’s like... I dunno, it was weird.”

“Like you getting a boyfriend?” Sherlock suggests with a wry smile.

“Nah. That’s not that weird.” John sees Sherlock’s eyebrows raise in surprise and he adds quickly, “I mean, it is. Because I’m married now. And I’m not a cheater.”

“But that’s the only reason?”

John swallows down his pride and the lump in his throat. They probably won’t remember this tomorrow, anyway. “Yeah. That’s the only reason.”

Sherlock snorts and breaks the tension. “Well, you’ve certainly changed your tune, Mr I’m-not-gay.”

“Bugger off. I’m not gay. I’m just... very, very drunk right now. And so are you. So I can say this here. That I’m - that I -" The word is stuck in the back of his throat. Bisexual. Bisexual. Bisexual. Apparently even six glasses aren't enough for him to admit it and his face burns with embarrassment because of it.

“I understand.”

John looks up at him. “You do?” He wants him to deduce it, to spit out into the world the information no one else can say, as he always does.

“Yes. But I shouldn't be the one to say it for you."

John chews on his lower lip as he stares at the fireplace, because it gives him something to look at besides the soft, sincere look on Sherlock's face. "I should have said it sooner. I've just been a coward."

"Nonsense. You're the bravest man I know. Factually speaking," he adds with a grin.

John buries his face in his hands with a groan. "Christ, this is humiliating. You say something now."

"What? Like what?"

"I dunno. Something to make up for the fact that I just called you pretty and all but came out to you." He chuckles weakly. "C'mon. The first thing that comes to mind."

"Okay. Well then, factually speaking, when one or more of the participants is using a false name, the marriage isn't valid."

He blinks. Stares. Sherlock definitely isn't joking. In fact, his face is pale, betraying a regret John is so familiar with. "What?"

"It came to mind first, as you said." Sherlock quickly stands up. "Time to call it an evening I think."

"Wait - wait, Sherlock - " John gets up too, so quickly his head starts spinning, and follows Sherlock out of the living room on unsteady feet.

"Goodnight, John."

The bedroom door slams in his face, leaving John to drown in his confusion and panic and... relief.

Bugger.

Chapter Text

“Yoo-hoo! Boys!” Mrs Hudson called as she entered the flat, a plate of biscuits in one hand. “I heard you two giggling away last night so I knew you two would be a little out of sorts this morning.”

“Excellent hearing, Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock drawls from where he’s thrown himself dramatically across the sofa, a hand pressed to his forehead and his eyes shut. John is sat in his chair, looking and feeling equally rotten as he waits for the painkiller to kick in. Thank god Rosie was quiet this morning, waking up with little fuss. “It’s a wonder you don’t put it to better use when we tell you to knock first.”

“Sherlock, be nice,” John murmurs half-heartedly.

“It’s alright, John. Truth be told, my hearing has been rather suffering lately, but the walls are so thin here. Thank goodness you boys are so remarkably quiet. And the little one of course.” She smiles at Rosie, who is lying on her play mat, content to be quietly staring at the mobile hanging above her.

“Anything we can do for you, Mrs Hudson?”

“Oh, no dear, nothing at all. I bring gifts! I have some painkillers, and I’ve been baking gingerbread men…”

“No,” Sherlock groans. “No bloody gingerbread. No food of any kind.”

“Come on, Sherlock. How about a full English first? All that grease should soak the booze up. And you’re so thin already…”

“Don’t worry, Mrs H, I can cook,” John offers. “Just give me five minutes and I’ll be able to get up.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, dear. I’m just happy you’re back here for me to take care of.” John gives a weak smile in echo of Mrs Hudson’s as she sorts through the fridge, thankfully free of decaying body parts. The smell of frying egg and bacon (for Sherlock) and vegetarian sausage (for John) fills the flat causing John’s stomach to rumble in appreciation. Sherlock simply moans and turns his face so it’s pressed against the back of the sofa.

“Drama queen,” John says affectionately. He doesn’t visibly respond to this, though John likes to imagine the insulted face currently being hidden by the sofa cushions.

“You know, John,” Mrs Hudson says as she dishes up the food. “If you two ever want... time to yourself, I would be happy to take Rosie for a few hours. Just pop down and drop her off, whenever you need alone time.”

“Why would we need alone time?” John asks awkwardly as she passes them their plates of food.

“Well, for one, you could end up having a case.”

“The criminal classes of London have been very slow lately. I wouldn’t count on it,” Sherlock grumbles, reluctantly sitting up and poking at his plate sceptically with a fork, as though expecting it to get up and dance any minute.

“Oh dear. Well, be that as it may, you young people need your privacy. You can’t have a baby around all the time. Sometimes I was very thankful that my husband and I didn’t have children. Oh, the things we got up to - “

“Okay!” In a remarkable feat of athleticism for his hungover state. Sherlock leaps up off the sofa and ushers her out of the room. “Thank you for visiting. We’ll bring down your gingerbread plate when we can.”

“Sherlock!”

“Bye-bye!” Sherlock shuts the door then sighs and collapses back onto the sofa.

“That was rude, you know,” John chastises him.

“I have a hangover. I get a free pass.”

“I don’t care. Eat your food, then go downstairs and thank Mrs Hudson for cooking for us.”

“I’m not a child.”

“Your behaviour says otherwise.”

As they eat together in silence and the hangover is elevated, John finally is able to think, all his thoughts rushing back at once as he freezes mid-bite on a gingerbread man's arm.

I called him pretty last night, nearly told him I like men, and he told me I wasn’t legally married.

What a night.

He clears his throat and speaks slowly, delicately. “Sherlock. About last night.”

"What about it?" Sherlock replies casually without looking up from his plate. It makes John want to scream with frustration.

"You know what."

"We both said things we didn't mean to say. Though there is a degree of truth to the words, or at least to mine, we shouldn't place too much significance on them. I apologise for what I said, as it was ill-thought out and insensitive. If you wish to take back what you said, I will delete them immediately and we can move on." As he speaks, quickly and matter-of-factly and his defences built back up, John wonders how many times he rehearsed this before now, and if there were previous drafts where he actually said the goddamn truth.

"You don't need to apologise for what you said," he says quietly. "It's the truth, right? Legally, technically speaking, Mary and I are... not married." It's strange to say out loud, both liberating and terrifying.

"Maybe not, but you were in a relationship. You two have - or had - mutual affection and respect. Legality has nothing to do with it."

"Doesn't it, though?" He gives a self-deprecating smile, bitter and half-hearted. "Sometimes I think it's the only thing that was holding us together. That, and our daughter."

"You chose to go back to her."

"You told me to," John retorts. "I never really forgave her. She shot you, for Christ's sake. How could I have - what was it? Mutual respect or affection after that."

Sherlock is silent, carefully unresponsive. John continues talking

"Going back was meant to keep her here, so Mycroft could keep an eye on her, because she's dangerous. But now she's God knows where, doing God knows what, for God knows how long." John grimaces, rubbing at his temple as though it would soothe out all his tangled thoughts inside. "So yeah, I'm glad you told me what you did, last night. Because it's going to be a hell of a lot easier to divorce someone you were never really married to."

Chapter Text

It’s harder than John expects for him to leave Rosie behind as they go on a case.

He’s been looking forward to one for days, of course, both him and Sherlock itching for their adrenaline fix, growing irritable and claustrophobic in the flat. When Greg rang with an unsolvable bank robbery, they immediately accepted. They didn’t care that any other day, it would barely be worth a Six - ‘impossible’ bank robberies were well below Sherlock’s repertoire.

But now, with only ten minutes to get to the other side of London, John is reluctant to leave. He has Rosie in his arms still, instructing Mrs Hudson on her routine, how to get her asleep if they end up staying out that late.

“Also, try to avoid your herbal soothers. If your hip is causing you trouble, ring us and we’ll pick up some painkillers from the clinic and come home - “

“John, Rosie is hardly the first baby I’ve had to take care of,” Mrs Hudson huffs as she gently takes Rosie from him. “I know what I’m doing.”

“I know, I know. Sorry, I’m just - I’ve never left her with someone who isn’t her parent.”

“I understand, dear,” Mrs Hudson says soothingly, before raising her voice into baby speak as she addresses Rosie. “Don’t worry. Rosie and I will have a wonderful time. Girls’ night in. We might watch a few Connie Prince reruns together, isn’t that right, lovely?”

Sherlock grimaces. “Don’t kill her brain cells with that rot. She’s too young and too innocent.”

“Ignore him, Mrs Hudson, he watches that show just as much as you.”

Sherlock splutters in protest, looking so offended that it makes John cackle at the sight. “Once! I watched it once!”

“Several episodes in a row does not count as ‘once’.”

“It was for the case! You know, with the Greenwich pips.”

“It was well after that and you know it.”

Mrs Hudson giggles as she watches the conversation play out. “Oh, you boys. Go, you have a crime scene to get to. Have fun!”

“We will,” Sherlock calls back, while John kisses Rosie’s cheek once more before following. As he leaves, he wonders if he should have stopped viewing crime scenes as fun yet, as a father in his early forties, but he can’t really bring himself to care.

“Do you think she’ll be alright?” John asks when they’re in the cab.

“Of course. Mrs Hudson is very capable.”

“I know, but I feel bad. Dads don’t abandon their kids for bank robberies.”

“You’ve abandoned dates in the past for far less,” Sherlock points out, making John chuckle at the memories, easing his guilt slightly. “You’re allowed to have interests outside of parenting and work, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah. I probably need it or I’m going to end up being one of those overprotective parents who end up way too invested in their kids lives. You saw how much I was annoying Mrs Hudson. Still, don’t let me have too much fun. It’s not decent.”

~

The suspect has run off. All they did was knock on the door to his flat to ask him some questions about the bank he used to work at, after a full day of research and questioning witnesses, and yet this sent him into a panic, the door bursting open as the suspect flew past them and down the stairs into the streets. Sherlock and John simply glanced at each other, nodded once, then ran after him: the chase begins, John’s favourite part of their cases together.

The suspect is faster than either of them expected and runs for far longer than they are used to. John’s lungs burn and his legs burn in protest - it’s been months since his last proper chase around London - but above all that, he is grinning ecstatically at the welcome adrenaline that courses through him. Christ, he’s missed this

“This way! Come on!”

Sherlock makes an unexpected turn left, while the suspect runs straight ahead into a separate street. John’s gut instinct is to obviously follow the suspect, but he trusts Sherlock. He follows him as they hurry down hidden alleyways, up and down fire escapes, even jumping across roofs before making their way back down to the ground, just like old times. Sherlock soon skids to a halt and drags John by his sleeve into a hidden crevice, pressed close against him as they wait, their chests heaving with exertion.

“What are we doing?” John asks, very much aware of how tightly compressed they are, how Sherlock can probably feel how hard John’s heart is beating. His mouth is directly parallel to Sherlock’s neck, which is exposed under the orange glow of a nearby street light, his head leaning back against the wall.

“Waiting,” he replies and clears his throat. “He runs marathons. There’s no way we could out run him, so we’ve taken a shortcut. If I’ve estimated correctly, he should be along in a couple of minutes.”

“Brilliant,” John praises. “Still can’t believe you have the whole of London memorised. I’m impressed.”

Even under the dim lighting, John can see Sherlock blushing, a faint pink rising from his neck to his face. It’s a beautiful sight when he blushes and John’s praise never fails to cause it.

“It’s hardly all of London. Just the main bits. It is a rather large city, John.”

“You made me run across half of it just now, I know how big it is.” Sherlock laughs quietly, trying to keep silent as they wait for their suspect. “Seriously, though I was never this out of breath five years ago.” They never stood this close to each other five years ago either, but John puts this thought aside

“Out of practice. As am I, really.”

“Yeah. That bullet did a lot of damage to your respiratory system. Incapacitated you for months.” John swallows down his guilt rising in him like nausea, taking a steadying breath as he avoids Sherlock’s gaze. “God, the more I think about it, the more I think… how could I have ever gone back? Even for a little while?”

“Don’t think about it, then.” Sherlock shrugs. “It’s not your fault. None of it is. Just think about the case.”

“Not all of us can turn off our feelings with cases, Sherlock.”

A pause. John hears him swallow then say quietly, slightly hurt, “no. But we can try.” John’s guilt increases tenfold.

They hear footsteps and immediately separate. “That’s him,” Sherlock says needlessly and they bolt out of the crevice so that they’re suddenly face to face with the suspect. John quickly punches him in the jaw, knocking him to the ground for Sherlock to handcuff his hands to a pipe.

“Michael Bloom, is it?” Sherlock asks, in a tone that suggests he definitely does not need an answer. “You’re under arrest for the robbery of - “

“I don’t have to talk to you. You’re not cops.”

“Maybe not. But the police are on their way, and the evidence against you is very damning,” John replies calmly, causing Sherlock to look up proudly. “Isn’t your sister the manager of the bank?” No response. “And aren’t you in rather a lot of debt to her? It would be very easy for you to use the stolen money - her own bank’s money - to pay her back.”

“You have no proof,” he spits.

“We’ll be at Scotland Yard in the morning to go through the evidence,” Sherlock announces. “The police will be here soon. Come, John, I think it’s time we get back home. Rosie would have at least noticed our absence by now.”

John grins, looking forward to going home. “Alright. Michael, think you can wait there for a bit?”

“Fuck you.”

“Cheers.”

They’ve caught their breath enough that they run all the way back to Baker Street, letting the adrenaline make up for their exhaustion. When they get back, they’re fatigued and it’s too late to knock on Mrs Hudson’s door for Rosie. There’s always the morning.

They make their way up the stairs, attempting to stifle their giggles and guffaws at their private jokes as they enter the flat.

Sherlock looks younger than he has looked in a while, his grin spread across his face and his blue-green eyes bright with mirth. He says goodnight, agreeing that they need their rest now, and John’s eyes follow him as he walks to his room, stripping off his suit jacket as he does -

Oh.

Oh no.

Right then, at one in the morning, all the feelings John has been repressing into a backseat for almost half a decade comes rushing back like a tidal wave, so powerful and all-encompassing he can scarcely breathe from the realisation. He sees himself ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, still here, still raising Rosie with him, still on cases -

And still very much in love with Sherlock Holmes.

Chapter Text

In light of his shocking yet unsurprising realisation, John makes breakfast for the two of them the next morning. It’s rather awful being in love with someone unattainable and who is also your best friend, so he figures that he may as well make the most of it. Pancakes are in order. After all, Sherlock does have a hidden sweet tooth and after spending all day chasing criminals and gathering evidence, he will need the sustenance.

Once he’s knocked on Mrs Hudson’s door for Rosie and she’s well fed, he starts cooking for him and Sherlock. Almost immediately afterwards, Sherlock emerges from his room as though summoned by the smell, yawning and his eyes still half closed. He’s still dressed in his pyjamas and his curls ruffled and messy from a rare full night’s sleep. As if John needs a reminder of just how much he loves him.

“Morning, sleepyhead. Hungry?”

“I suppose,” Sherlock admits reluctantly as he sits down in front of a plate. He immediately reaches for the maple syrup and starts drizzling it over his pancake, as though there is a classier way of eating pancake and maple syrup.

“Oh, and Greg’s texted. He says they’ve got all the proof they need to convict him and we don’t need to come in.”

“How surprisingly competent of them,” Sherlock drawls, making John chuckle. “So. Pancakes.”

“Yup. You didn’t eat at all while we were out, so you will eat all of this. And I would hope that it isn’t too much to ask for you to have seconds.”

“Ugh.” He rolls his eyes, even as he chews at his food. “Fine. If you insist, Captain.”

“Shut up, you love pancakes. Though I do rather like you calling me Captain.”

“Oh.” Sherlock’s voice deepens, smirking. It’s meant to be mocking, John assumes, but it makes his stomach flip and his cheeks burn. He has to face away from Sherlock so his concentration on his cooking doesn’t waver and his mind doesn’t stray into dangerous territory. He may be in love with the man, but that’s no excuse for him to openly fantasise. “Is that so, Captain?”

He clears his throat. Change the subject. “Well, I’m so used to just being called your assistant by our clients and news articles about us, it would be nice to be respected for a change.”

“Nonsense, I treat you with the utmost respect. Now give me another pancake. One less burned, this time.”

It’s unrealistic to expect any kind of domestic bliss to go on for very long uninterrupted. And yet, John still finds himself glaring as heavy footsteps run up the stairs to their flat, the thumps disrupting their quietude. The door opens to reveal pale-faced, heavily-breathing man (asthma? Very simply deduction, but Sherlock would probably still be proud), his handsome features distorted by distress.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” he says in a - German? - accent. “But I wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t urgent. And the lady downstairs said I could come up.”

“Of course. We were just finished anyway.” John glances down sadly at his half finished pancake but nods in agreement nonetheless. “Excuse me while I get dressed. John, keep him entertained.”

Sherlock walks off to his room, leaving John alone with the client. “Right,” he says brightly. “Tea?”

~

“It all started around three years ago,” the client, Joseph Weber, says quietly into mug of tea. “I was in a pretty rough place at the time; my parents had died, I was in a job I hated at the bank. And then Eliza Fischer joined. She was like… a ray of hope. Of course, I fell in love with her.”

“Of course,” John echoes, feeling a strange sense of deja vu that settles uncomfortably in his gut.

“We got married fairly quickly. Probably not the best decision. I don’t think we even knew each other very well. She was always… disappearing. Visiting friends I’d never met. Going off to book clubs I wasn’t entirely sure existed.” Definitely familiar. The deja vu turns into full on nausea.

“Did you ever ask her about it?” Sherlock asks.

He shakes his head. “No. I didn’t want to be… that guy, you know? I’m not possessive by any means. If she has friends, then they’re her friends. I trusted her.”

“Trusted?”

“She died.” Joseph swallows, voice forcibly steady. “Ten months into our marriage. Car crash.”

“My condolences.”

“Thank you. The thing is though, I thought I had… moved on. I’m engaged again now. But now, since about two weeks ago, I keep seeing her everywhere. In the pharmacy, on the street. Everywhere. But she never wants to be seen.”

Sherlock is getting bored. John can tell from the way he is slumped in his chair and tapping his fingers impatiently, but at least he’s a little better at hiding it. “This is simply guilt caused by your recent engagement manifesting itself in your everyday life, nothing more. A therapist is what you need, not a detective.”

Joseph glares fiercely, insulted. “Mr Holmes, I would not be so dismissive. I have travelled all the way from Austria to see you, and I would appreciate a little respect.” John can’t help but smile to himself, as Sherlock relinquishes his pride and murmurs an apology. Joseph continues, “you see, I could scarcely believe it either. So I took pictures.” Joseph reaches into his jacket for his phone, scrolls through it until he gets to the pictures he needs, then hands it to Sherlock. “She doesn’t look imaginary. I don’t even think she looks like a ghost. Her hair is different, and she even looks slightly older. Like she’s aged while she was dead.”

John watches as Sherlock stares at the phone, a frown forming. He then suddenly turns pale, his lips parted in a small ‘oh.’ “John,” he murmurs, handing the phone over.. “I have a hypothesis I would like you to confirm.”

“What?”

“I believe we know this woman.”

Joseph looks up, his face conflicted between worry and hopefulness. “You do?”

John zooms into the grainy picture on screen. The woman is at an angle, her face covered by glasses, with her hair dark and at shoulder length. He zooms in further and his stomach flips. The hair may be different, but the nose, the mouth, the chin are all distinctively recognisable. He only needs to look at his daughter for reference.

“Yup,” he croaks, looking up from his phone. Joseph’s face immediately turns to pre-emptive panic. “It’s a small world, Joseph. The woman you know as Eliza Fischer is who we recognise to be Mary Morstan. And up until a month ago, she was my wife too.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock has disappeared into his room to call Mycroft, leaving John with a shell-shocked Joseph. He has no idea how to proceed, whether he should tell Joseph the truth or just send him on his merry way. Your dead wife is alive and faked her death. Don’t worry mate, been there, done that, ta-ta for now.

“Why would she…” Joseph speaks at last, his hands shaking as he holds his tea. “How could she do that?”

“She - she had other priorities, I suppose.” Namely joining Moriarty’s network, John guesses, but doesn’t voice out loud. “She had an agenda when she married you, and later me. I don’t know how much I’m supposed to tell you, or how much you want to know. Hell, I don’t even know if I know enough to tell you.”

“You know enough,” He replies firmly. “Tell me what you can.”

“Right. Uh, so we don’t know what her real name is. But she was, or is, a freelance agent. She got involved with some pretty bad people, then when she had to leave, she married me. Not long after we met, like you did. I don’t know why - maybe security reasons? Easier to keep your cover, perhap.” Joseph frowns skeptically, making John wince. He needs Sherlock here to explain it in the same blunt, proud way he always did. It’s how it’s always been for five years. He clears his throat awkwardly and continues, “then over a month ago, she ran away when we were being threatened. I guess to hide for a little while in Salzburg.”

“So she’s not a threat? She’s only there in hiding?”

“Well, she has a gun and she’s trained to use it, so she definitely is a threat. But unlikely to harm you if you stay out of her way.”

“I agree,” Sherlock says as he comes back into the living room, tucking his phone into his back pocket. Instantly, John relaxes slightly, knowing that Sherlock will be able to shed light on this situation. “You’re going to go back to Austria, now. If you see Mary - Eliza - again, do not confront her or draw attention to yourself. Right now, you are one of only a few people who can expose her secret, and trust me when I say she does not hesitate to shoot anyone who poses as a threat to her.”

Joseph nods, still dumb-struck. “What if she sees me?”

“You’ll have security with you, thanks to my brother’s involvement. Well I say that, but MI6 will be there anyway regardless of your presence or not. And I will be there too.”

“Oh, really - “

“What?” John demands at the same time, considerably less pleased than Joseph is.

“Of course. We need Mary back in the UK, and I hardly trust MI6 to do a proper job of convincing her without scaring her off.”

John can only stare, anger and disbelief and fear bubbling through him, hot as bile. “Joseph, is there anything else we can help you with?” He asks, not taking his eyes of Sherlock, who seems only slightly confused.

“No, not really. I’m still a bit confused but - “

“Then be on your way, please,” he says coldly. “Anything else you want, you can email about.”

Joseph looks between the two, then lets out a breath in understanding. “Ah. Right. Okay. Thank you, Mr Holmes. Mr Watson.” He quickly scarpers from the flat, the bang of the door shutting sparking John’s kindling anger into a flame.

“What the hell are you thinking?” He hisses. “You’re going there alone?”

“Well, there will be agents in the nearby vicinity. But, yes, of course I am.”

“But - “ But what about me, John almost asks petulantly. What about this. Us. You’re all I have. “But she’s dangerous! Certainly dangerous enough to warrant bloody MI6 agents being there. She shot you once. If you’re on your own without me there, she might do it again.”

“That’s highly unlikely. Besides, you can’t come with me, you’ve got Rosie.”

“Well, then Rosie can -“ John cuts off at Sherlock’s raised eyebrow and sighs. “Yeah, I guess Rosie can’t come with us.”

“Exactly. She needs to be here with her father.”

“But I need you!” John yells this before he can stop the words from falling out, and instantly the air sobers and the room falls silent. Sherlock opens his mouth to respond, then closes it, frowns, his eyes soft and confused in a way that makes John’s chest tighten. Does he know? He looks like he’s on the verge of knowing, with the same look on his face as just before he solves a case, the moment where everything is nebulous and urgent, before the dam finally breaks.

Does he feel the same way?

John speaks again, quieter. “I need you here with me. Far more than I need Mary back. I would sooner have her gone and you here safe with me than you injured or dead and her back here.”

For a moment Sherlock doesn’t speak and John is certain that he’s ruined it, that he’s come far too close to a confession to turn back. Then Sherlock steps closer, and in an unfathomable, insane moment of wanting, he is certain that he will kiss him. Instead, he finds himself enveloped in his arms and pressed against him so tightly the air is knocked out of him. “Sherlock?”

“Shut up. I’m hugging. We’re hugging now.” John giggles slightly. “Nothing bad will happen. Remember, regardless of whether she will remain your wife once she comes home, she can help us take down whatever the threat is. She has valuable information.”

“And what if she refuses? She used to work for Moriarty, you know.”

“Well, they’re not exactly on good terms at the moment, are they?” Sherlock pulls away, his hands at John’s elbows. They’re still standing very, very close and his heart is still beating very, very rapidly. “Relax, John. Mary and I will be back within the week. I’ll find her.”

John nods, his lips pressed together in a thin line. “Alright.” Then more certainly,“alright.”

Sherlock leaves soon after and the flat falls silent except for Rosie’s quiet babbling. John distractedly plays with her, making her smile and giggle, but even that doesn’t soothe the sharp, pressing discomfort in his gut that something isn’t quite right.

Why would a trained agent and assassin be so clumsy as to let a civilian like Joseph spot her and take pictures?

With a sigh and an apologetic kiss to Rosie’s forehead, he gets out his phone and rings Mycroft. He’s got a plane to Salzburg to catch.

Chapter Text

After being briefed on the (private!) flight over, John now walks down the streets of Salzburg, seeking out the hotel that Sherlock is staying him. He should be nervous; after all, he’s potentially facing a dangerous assassin and as well as that, Sherlock’s wrath when he finds out that he is here - and yet he feels confident, bordering on cocky. He can feel it in his stride, in his posture, in the determined, set look on his face. In fact, with the weight of the gun in his jacket inner pocket and the speaker in his ear, he can’t help but feel a little bit like James Bond. More than that, he feels like a soldier again. Granted, instead of wearing a suitably tailored tux or a neatly kept uniform, he’s still in cheap jeans from Primark and a plaid shirt that still have traces of baby saliva on them after hugging Rosie goodbye at Harry’s doorstep. Even so, a surge of confidence and adrenaline rise through him as he powers through the streets, each one more rough-looking and unfriendly than the last.

He finally arrives at a rundown building that matches the address he’s been given for Sherlock’s hotel. Of course, the Holmes brothers had to pick the worst hotel in Austria. Bloody drama queens. He steps in with a sigh, tactfully ignoring the weird smells of the street and the hopefully dead rat lying in the gutter outside. When John asks for Sherlock’s room number, or rather, William Sigerson’s, the man at the desk barely glances away from the tv screen except to look at the list of names, not even asking John why he’s there or who he is. Security is lacking, but given the circumstances, that’s probably for the best. It’s difficult to protect someone several floors away stuck in reception or kicked out onto the streets.

It’s probably why Sherlock chose it. If he had a weapon or a laptop for hacking into something, then there are no questions asked.

John climbs up the stairs to room 307, his stomach fluttering with nerves. Up until now, he hasn’t had time to think about how Sherlock would react. Would he yell at him? Kick him out? Let him stay? Take him into his arms in an open display of intense gratitude? …. Perhaps not.

He braces himself and knocks on the door. For a moment there’s silence, then Sherlock’s voice comes from within and asks a question in German. “It’s John,” he responds. “Can you let me in?”

He can practically feel Sherlock’s anger radiating through the door in the few moments it took to unlock it. Once it was opened, John was immediately dragged in by the collar into the room, then slammed against the closed door, a very angry consulting detective pinning him there. His eyes are grey and darkened like a storm and they scan over John once. At that moment, he notices the gun in Sherlock’s hand, ready to use in case the knock came from an intruder instead of a friendly, if not welcome. face. He's also aware of Sherlock's reddened eyes, like he's been rubbing at them in frustration, the fact that he still has his coat and scarf on, and the laptop on the desk in the corner. He hasn't stopped working since he got here, John realises. Hasn't stopped trying to find Mary.

Apparently satisfied that John is not, in fact, an intruder, he hisses, “You shouldn’t be here."

“Oh, nice to see you too,” John replies sardonically, putting all his energy into looking affronted, staring defiantly back at Sherlock’s eyes rather than slightly turned on and letting his gaze drop to his lips, which are only a few centimetres away. “Can you let me go now?"

“I’ll let you go. Go back to England to be home with Rosie.”

“Bloody hell, not this again.”

“Yes, this again! I told you to stay at home, and you didn’t listen!”

“It’s not my responsibility to follow your every order and command.”

“No more than it is for you to protect me.”

“Yeah, well, I can’t just stay at home in good conscience while you walk right into a trap!” John yells. Sherlock’s eyes narrow in confusion, demanding an explanation, so he continues, “Mary knows we’re here. She’d be expecting us. There’s no way she could have not been aware that someone like Joseph was taking pictures and planning on coming to us. She lured you out here. I'm no genius, but I doubt she'd lure you like this for a pleasant chat.”

Sherlock grinds his teeth. “Impossible. We can't - she can't know we're here. This is our only advantage against her. It doesn't make sense. Why? Why would she know he’d come to us?”

“Oh, I don’t know," he snaps, suddenly frustrated that Sherlock is refusing to believe his judgement. "Maybe because you’re Sherlock Holmes? Internationally renowned and revered detective? Because you’re the smartest man in every room you walk into? Because despite the fact that you're acting like a huge cock right now, people actually need your help! And at the moment, you need my help, so if you could get your head out of your arse and let me help you, that would be -” His rant cuts off half way when Sherlock - or maybe John, it’s all so much of a blur - crashes their mouths together.

Later, John won’t really consider this as their first kiss; it’s too much, too soon, easily dismissed with the wave of a hand as the consequence of their riled up anger and adrenaline with their proximity acting as a catalyst. But right now, he can’t think about what will come later, because all he can focus on is Sherlock, and the feeling of his lips sliding insistently against his, the soft curls under his fingertips as he presses him closer, the small moans and whimpers they’re both eliciting, the pressure - oh, Christ - of Sherlock’s thigh between his legs, the lightness in his head as he throws caution to the wind. He never wants this moment to end, because ending it will free their mouths for talking, and they've never been especially good at that. The kissing, though, they apparently have quite the skill for.

Knock, knock, knock

They jump apart as fast as lightning, facing the door, hearts thumping. Sherlock picks up his gun from the floor (I made him drop it, John thinks with pride) and John gets out his own from his jacket, as instinct tells him that it's probably not room service. “Wer ist da?” Sherlock asks, voice low and rough. (I made it like that)

“Are you decent, boys?" A familiar female voice says from behind the door, and John's stomach plummets to the floor. The mocking voice of your ex-wife - more effective than any cold shower, apparently. "It's rude to leave a guest standing outside your door for too long."

"Is now a good time to say 'I told you so'?" John hisses to Sherlock.

"You can celebrate your victory later," Sherlock whispers back. He smooths down his curls and straightens his suit, then unlocks the door for Mary to step inside. Her hair dyed brown, grown out slightly, her eyes undeniably cold and determined, she's almost unrecognisable. She looks between them as they hold up their guns at her, and scoffs. "I didn't expect to see you here, John. Didn't peg you as the adultery type, either. And I haven't even been gone two months yet."

John resists the urge to blush. He's well aware that Mary would be able to see what they've been doing a mile away, like there's a bright neon light above his head that says, I snogged Sherlock Holmes. He starts to lower the gun; if she's here to talk, he can talk. "And how long after faking your death for Joseph's benefit did you marry me? I'm fairly sure that, legally, the two of you are still married if you're both alive and well."

"It's a good thing he's not, then isn't it?"

John's fist clenches as he feels a sharp stab of worry. "What do you mean? We saw him just this morning."

"A lot can happen in ten hours. In fact, it only takes a split second, doesn't it? The pull of the trigger, the bullet flying through the air before it reaches its target." Mary grins. John feels nauseous. "I had no reason to keep him around. He brought you here like I predicted - he was properly starting to become in your blog by the time I left, so I imagined he had grown into quite the fan, at least enough to need your help when he started to see me all over again. After that, he was a liability who knew my secret. He had to go." She's speaking without remorse or empathy, as casually as if giving out a recipe for cupcakes, and not discussing the death of a man she was once married to, who had a fiancée who is most likely starting to feel the keen sting of fresh grief, if the shock hasn't faded yet.

Sherlock speaks finally, having put down his gun on the table next to him. Open, ready for negotiation. Vulnerable. "Mary, it's not too late, you know. If you're still concerned about your safety, Mycroft can easily arrange a safe house for you and security for your daughter. Moriarty won't be able to lay a finger on you."

Mary pauses, searching Sherlock's face for sincerity. Then she laughs, a cold, cutting sound that makes uncertainty flicker behind Sherlock's calm facade. "Oh, Sherlock. You don't know? You haven't worked it out?"

"Worked what out?"

"There's no Moriarty. Not for the last three years." Sherlock's face drains of colour. John just feels confused. "He shot his brains, out after all. You of all people should know that."

"I - I don't understand."

Mary smiles, tilting her head condescendingly. "I'll make it simple, then. The broadcast that brought you from exile? That was a fake to get my attention and to bring you back from exile at the same time The photographs sent to Sherlock's door? That was me. And a couple of very talented acquaintances for the photography. I've been planning it for ages, trying to find a way of escaping without causing suspicion, then bringing you right to my front door, so to speak. Now, I have what I want."

"And what is it you want?" Sherlock demands. In answer, she points a gun right at him, safety off, finger on the trigger, and John doesn't think, except to immediately grab Sherlock's arm and pull him behind him.

"Don't you dare," he growls. "If you lay even a finger on him, I swear you will regret it."

"Oh, John." Mary tuts and shakes her head, like a despairing mother over her child. "I had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but I will not hesitate to kill you either if you get in my way."

"Get in the way of what?"

"Just a job," she shrugs. "A little after Sherlock's return from exile, I got a very good offer from an old friend of mine that I couldn't refuse. Sherlock's head, delivered to his front door, for thirty million. That's more than you can possibly dream of, John. You can't judge, we were both getting a little bit bored of each other by the end." He has to agree. "But I couldn't just leave. Despite what you think, I do care about you and what you think of me."

"Those are two very different things."

"You don't believe me?" Mary's tone becomes affronted, angry, even. Possibly a bit desperate. "You do realise I'm doing this all for us. For Rosie. The money I've been offered - we could do anything. Live anywhere and not have to worry about dull domesticities like the mortgage or school funds. Neither of us had an especially rich childhood. This is our chance to give our daughter the childhood we missed. Don't you want that?"

John shakes his head. He doesn't need to think about it. Sherlock's life is priceless. More than thirty million or sixty million or any other price. "No. Not in exchange for her godfather's life."

Mary seems slightly taken aback beneath her facade, her gun lowering as though she was expecting John to jump for joy and go, yes, do it, kill him, then let's pop home and fetch Rosie before we start our new life together. Then she cocks her head and the gun changes aim towards John. "Fair enough. If I have to go through you, then I'll go through you."

The next second is a blur that John will struggle to remember correctly later, as he recounts the events to doctors, to Salzburg police, then to Scotland Yard.

He's distinctly aware of two gunshots that go off, and the fact that there are three guns in the room.

He's fairly sure he didn't shoot his own.

He sees Mary fall and doesn't see her move again.

But what he's most certain of is that gunshot wounds goddamn hurt. The first time in Afghanistan really didn't prepare him for this.

"JOHN!" The scream tears from Sherlock's throat as John stumbles backwards and his legs give way. He comes round into his line of vision, kneels beside him as he examines the bullet wound, eyes wide and watery and full of unrecognisable fear. His skin has turned green, practically grey.

"Did I get her?" John mumbles, trying to ignore the searing pain in his stomach so as not to worry him better.

He snorts slightly but it comes out like a choked off sob. "No, you idiot, I did. She was going to shoot you. She did shoot you."

"She was gonna shoot you first," John retorts but is cut off by a pained grimace. "Pressure. Put pressure on the wound."

Sherlock nods frantically, unwrapping his scarf from around his neck and pressing it down firmly on the wound in John's stomach, making him hiss through his teeth. The scarf is beyond repair now, immediately darkening with John's blood. "No," he protests tiredly. "'S'your scarf. You love that scarf."

"I love you more," Sherlock says without hesitation, firm even with the way he's shaking, his cheeks wet, eyes focused on the wound with revulsion and distress. Oh, John thinks, like a dull light bulb flickering in the back of his mind. Normally he'd expect to be panicking or overjoyed at this point, but all he can feel is a catharsis. He'd expect it to be a symptom of death if he wasn't so stubborn, determined to get through this stupid bullet wound so he can kiss Sherlock again, so they can talk, so he can come home.

"Hey." He wants to place his fingers under Sherlock's chin, to tilt his face up and kiss him and wipe his tears away, but he's in too much pain to move. Besides, he'd rather not get blood on Sherlock's face. Instead, he speaks softly, letting all his love and adoration pour out freely for Sherlock to see and deduce. "It's gonna be fine, yeah? I love you. It'll be fine."

Sherlock's bottom lip wobbles. "Will it?"

"'Course." In the distance, he hears sirens. He supposes that gunshots are more efficient than phone calls to bring ambulances to a scene. His vision starts to fade. "I have you to live for."

Chapter Text

John's been shot. SH

Even after typing out the words, confronting them on his glaring screen as he hits send, it doesn't seem real. He's sat in the Salzburg hospital waiting room - has been for hours now - as doctors and surgeons poke and prod at John to remove the bullet that Mary planted there. Sherlock doesn't trust them with John's life any more than he can trust himself.

It's not real. I can't believe it.

The whole thing is too much of a blur, like the fading memory of a nightmare after waking up: John's arrival, Sherlock's irrational anger that even now he can't quite think of a reasonable explanation for. He wanted John there. He needed his voice to ground him, his hand on his shoulder, his dark eyes to spot something obvious that Sherlock had looked over when searching for the smaller details. But a part of him predicted that meeting Mary would be dangerous, that she'd be defensive, incalculable in her behaviour, though he never thought she'd be actively seeking harm. Anger was usually the best way to get John to safety.

(A far more selfish and irrational part of him simply did not want to witness the reunion, to see John's wrath evaporate at the sight of his wife, the mother of his child, as Sherlock's role in his life is quickly displaced. Nevermind John's self-proclaimed wish to stay at Baker Street. Sentiment usually wins over. That's what Sherlock told himself.)

But John stayed. And, in a bizarre turn of events, he kissed him. Or maybe Sherlock did, as a plea to make him stay, or simply because the temptation was too much to bare. It was glorious and terrifying and definitely nothing like what Sherlock would have wanted a first and last kiss to be.

Only the universe would be so cruel as to then get John shot minutes later.

And Mary? MH

Dead. My doing. Self-defence. SH

Technically, it was while defending John, but Mycroft could deduce that anyway. Sherlock would take a bullet from Mary a hundred times over if it meant John was safe and happy. He would also kill a hundred times over for the same reason.

Ten million pounds. That's the value of his life now, Sherlock realises with a sickening flip of his stomach. Ten million pounds, an easy escape from suburban domesticity, and John and Rosie all to herself, in exchange for Sherlock's life. And this was the value that John rejected. Despite all reasoning, he chose Sherlock and, as always, ended up paying the price for it.

"Sherlock Holmes?"

He looks up from his phone. A nurse stands in front of him - late-thirties, father of two, regretting being at work at such early hours of the morning - and gives him a look of concern. A million scenarios immediately overwhelm him - John's dead, John pulled through, John's asking for you, John doesn't remember you, John knows you shot his wife. "Your friend is out of surgery," he says in English, and Sherlock's heart jumps. "It went well, with no complications. However, he's still fast asleep and won't wake up for another six hours. I suggest you find a hotel room and sleep if you can. You've been here quite a while."

Sherlock almost laughs. So that's why the nurse is concerned. Sleep? How could he possibly think of sleeping, when he's giddy, practically shaking, with the knowledge that John is okay? Of course he would, when he had promised so firmly that it would be fine. "I have you to live for," he had said. John never goes back on his word.

"I'd like to see him."

"He really should be sleeping - "

"Please. I won't wake him up. I just - I just need - " Sherlock falters and struggles as he tries to explain, and the nurse takes pity, placing a hand on his shoulder. Sherlock tries not to flinch and shove it away.

"Alright. Come in for a bit. Only a little while, mind."

Sherlock stands up on legs that ache from being sat down for too long and makes his way into John's hospital room. He's asleep, his chest rising and falling steadily, the heart monitor gently beeping beside him, slow and, paradoxically, comforting and terrifying.

"I'll leave you two to it," the nurse says, closing the door behind him. Sherlock nods numbly to no one and sits down in the chair next to John.

John's face is pale, care-worn even in sleep, the lines on his face deeper than usual. Sherlock wants to trace them, stroke his forehead and cheeks and lips, smooth away everything that has caused him so much pain. Instead, he settles for his wrist, placing his fingers at his pulse point. It's faint, but it's there, the gentle throb of his blood, thankfully still inside his body, as it should be.

(His bloodied scarf is still on the floor of his hotel room. The staff will dispose of it for all he cares.)

His exhaustion catches up with him and he falls asleep curled up in the chair, his hand wrapped around John's wrist as the thump, thump, thump of his pulse calms his mind into unconsciousness.

John's finger twitches.

Chapter Text

When John had woken up in Afghanistan after getting shot, he was alone. His eyes had blinked wearily open under the blinding white of the military hospital lights, he had looked around and there was no one. No family, no friends, even the nurse had someone more urgent to attend to. He could do nothing but wait, his voice too hoarse to yell for attention, wearied by the fever that had wrecked his body while he was unconscious, the ache his shoulder and leg barely numbed by the painkillers he had been allowed. He realised then that this was his future now: solitude. No army friends, no career. Just a military pension and the pitying gaze of strangers falling to his cane.

Now, in Salzburg hospital, there isn’t very much difference. He’s still aching and exhausted and uncomfortable when he wakes up. The bullet wound in his abdomen throbs with the promise of a new, identical scar to add to his collection. Most noticeably, his throat stings, parched.

But this time, he’s not alone. He senses it from the moment he wakes up without even needing to look. When he does, his anxiety softens and his pain sets itself aside, just a little.

Sherlock is still asleep, curled up, practically contorted in his chair in a position that makes John wince in sympathy. He imagines that he has been here all night, or for however long he has been asleep for, pacing the waiting room floor then claiming his territory in the chair next to John, refusing to move. Oh, my love. You were really that worried?

The hand currently still clasped lightly around John’s wrist, fingers at his pulse point answer, Yes, of course.

“Sherlock,” he says, but it comes out as a croak. He clears his throat and tries again. “Sherlock.” A little louder. It works - he wakes up with a jolt, uncurls his body and sits up in a panic. He’s almost sorry for waking him and not letting him catch up on the little sleep he usually allows himself. But then Sherlock sees John, alive and awake, and his lips part in a small ‘oh’ of surprise and relief, and John can’t bring himself to regret it. “Hello.”

“John,” he breathes. “You’re - you’re alright.”

He smiles. “Of course. I did say - “ he cuts himself off with a coughing fit that has Sherlock jumping out of his chair to fetch a glass and jug of water from the bedside table. John holds back the urge to gulp down the entire thing in one go; slow sips, softly, gently. “I did say I would be, remember?”

“Of course. I believed you. I trust you wholeheartedly. But - there was rather a lot of blood.” Sherlock’s voice sounds strained, his bottom lip wobbling slightly. “I’ve seen hundreds of crime scenes, hundreds of victims who have faced wounds half as bad and not lived. A hotel room, a domestic between a married couple, a third party, a gun, shot in self-defence; all painfully familiar to me. You could have just ended up being another file on Scotland Yard’s desk for me to solve.”

“Please, this case would have been a six at best,” John jokes. It eases the tension slightly and Sherlock’s lips reluctantly twitch into a smile. “You wouldn’t have bothered changing out of your sheet or leaving the flat. You would have solved it in a heartbeat.”

“Perhaps,” he replies. “And you would have insisted on putting it up on the blog, giving it some god-awful name and romanticising every detail unnecessarily.”

“I don’t know. I think I could tell the whole thing with complete factual accuracy and would still be pretty romantic. No embellishments needed.”

Sherlock’s face turns red and he averts his eyes. “You - how much do you remember?” He stammers.

“All of it. You tried to keep me away from danger, you kissed me, you shot my wife for me, you sacrificed your scarf - “

“It was hardly a sacrifice - “

“Then you told me you loved me.” Sherlock’s face instantly drains of blood. John offers a smile, teasing and self-deprecating, to console him. “While I was dying in your arms. Pretty damn romantic, Sherlock Holmes.”

“And this is - okay?”

He almost laughs. “Well, in case you didn’t deduce it from the way I was kissing you not five minutes before I got shot, or my telling you that I had you to live for, I’ll tell you now that it’s much more than okay.”

Sherlock blushes further. “Oh.”

"I would have said it back, you know. If I wasn't, y'know, on the verge of dying."

"No need to be so dramatic about it -"

“And if possible,” John continues, stroking the back of Sherlock’s hand with his thumb (Sherlock watches the movement with wide, disbelieving eyes), “I would like to recover as soon as possible so we can go home and I can show you how very much ‘okay’ all of this is. Also, to get you to safety. I imagine whoever it is that paid Mary to kill you won’t stop with that one attempt.”

Sherlock scoffs. “Unimportant.”

“Sherlock!”

“People have tried to kill me hundreds of times before. I just want you home. As soon as possible. When you’ve healed,” he adds quickly. John grins.

“Give it a week. Then I’ll be free to go.”

He hesitates, then sighs and nods in reluctant agreement, sealing it with a kiss to John's hand. “Fine. A week. I suppose, in comparison to six years of waiting, it’s not very long at all.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you don’t want -”

“Yes, Sherlock.”

“But what if she -”

“Seriously, Sherlock,” John sighs, too exhausted to have any bite behind his words. “I’m fine. I can handle holding my own daughter for a little while.”

“I know. But she - she’s squirming. A little too close to your bullet wound for comfort.” Sherlock watches John with concerned, sharp eyes from his chair, as he lies on the sofa, Rosie lying on his chest and held close in John’s arms. The entire time since John was released from hospital, Sherlock hasn’t concerned himself with anything less than John’s optimal health and comfort, constantly attending to him, even booking a double room at a hotel in Salzburg to give John his own bed to sleep while they waited for John to be well enough travel. Now that they’re home in Baker Street, John had hoped for the coddling to ease up a tiny bit, but apparently that was unlikely to happen any time soon.

He rolls his eyes. “She’s fine. Besides, what’s a couple of broken stitches compared to this?” He kisses the top of Rosie’s head. “This is the first time I’ve seen Rosie in two weeks. I’ve missed her.”

Sherlock averts his eyes guiltily. He barely opens his mouth when John cuts across him. “Don’t. Don’t apologise again. It’s not your fault.”

“I know. But - I could have done more to get you home sooner.”

“I wouldn’t have been allowed to travel any sooner than I already did. It’s fine. We’re home now.” John offers a warm smile, which Sherlock echoes half-heartedly. “Play something, will you?”

“Why?”

“You’ve missed your violin, and I’ve missed hearing it. Come on, nurse. For me, your poor, injured patient,” John teases lightly, in the way he has done all week. Sherlock rolls his eyes, but complies, standing from his chair. He bends down and kisses John lightly as he passes him, then reaches for the violin.

John watches with open adoration as Sherlock tunes the violin, the way his long fingers clasp the neck, turn the tuning pegs, then he takes his bow in one hand. He starts to play, a simple melody like a lullaby John doesn’t recognise (but then again, he never does. Sherlock is the musician, able to recognise a classical tune from the first chord.) Rosie soon stops moving and wriggling, and starts to calm down, until her breaths steady and John feels her fall asleep under the warmth of the violin’s tune.

He indulges in watching Sherlock as he plays, the way he minutely sways to his own music, the way the tips of his fingers vibrate and create such beautiful sounds. Before, such an indulgence would lead to guilt and averted eyes, but now he's allowed. He's allowed to look, and admire, and not hide the love in his eyes, even when Sherlock looks back at him with a smile playing at his lips.

Unable to fight exhaustion - partially from painkillers, partially from the music - John’s own eyes soon close, his daughter in his arms, and the music from his partner’s violin floating above him.