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The Edinburgh Problem

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221B on a Sunday morning was one of John Watson’s favourite places in London, if not on earth. Sunday morning was a reliable sort of time; clients rarely darkened their doorstep before noon. Criminals usually wanted a lie-in. Lestrade did not come pounding up the stairs to demand urgent assistance on cases, as he only worked Sundays during dire emergencies. Mycroft usually managed to pick another time in which to inflict himself on the residents of Baker Street. And Sherlock, although he was often completely unaware of the days of the week, usually seemed to be content puttering around his experiments in the kitchen rather than shooting holes in the walls, or idly playing his Stradivarius. John avoided buying the newspapers or turning on the television or radio until the afternoon, just to be on the safe side. He liked the peace of Sunday mornings, when he usually lounged in his arm chair and read or listened to Sherlock playing.

And so on a crisp late September Sunday John lay back and listened to his flatmate play Bach. John’s slippered feet were pleasantly warm next to the newly lit fire and he had a cup of excellent coffee next to his elbow, courtesy of Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock was still in his pyjamas and dressing gown and he played facing the window, each movement of his bow causing the blue silk of his robe to swing lazily to and fro. John absently watched the cool autumn sunlight filter intermittently through the thin fabric as Sherlock moved in front of the window. Neither had spoken much that morning, beyond murmured good mornings and thanks when passing coffee cups. There had been no need; and neither man was much inclined to disturb the pleasing calm of 221b.

It struck John that Sunday mornings had somehow become surprisingly domestic, a ritual that both men respected and enjoyed sharing without ever having to talk about it. He had even observed Sherlock ignoring his phone once or twice on Sunday mornings. When John had gestured towards it Sherlock had made a vaguely complicated gesture incorporating a shrug, a curled lip and a dismissive wave of the hand before going back to his microscope. John supposed Sherlock’s gesture had been intended to suggest “sod it, it can wait” despite the fact that it had looked much more like “irritated duck”. He never bothered drawing attention to the abandoned phone again.

Sunday mornings hadn’t always been like this however; back in the old days, before Sherlock’s long absence the two men had treated Sundays casually, as a day not much different to any other. John might have been staying at a girlfriends’ house, or attempting to smuggle an overnight guest down the stairs before they came face to face with his supercilious flatmate. And Sherlock could have been attempting to hack the Pentagon (again) or tailing smugglers or arguing furiously with Mycroft (yet again) over whose turn it was to visit Mummy and Father this month. Certainly not idling around, enjoying the peace of coffee and books and experiments and Bach.

However since the Mary debacle and John’s subsequent move back to Baker Street, Sunday mornings had been different. There was no question of girlfriends for John at the moment at least. Finding out that his ex-wife was an assassin had perhaps made him a little wary of romantic entanglements. Especially so when he found out that she was not, strictly speaking retired even after they were married. And particularly so when he found out that the child she was carrying was not his.

After the last awful crushing blow and the final night of tears and recriminations in the house at Crouch End, John had found himself on the steps of 221b clutching a hastily packed bag and pressing the doorbell with shaking fingers. He had hoped against hope that Sherlock was there; but there was no answer despite his increasingly desperate ringing. He had left his phone behind during his hasty departure, and at 3am couldn’t quite bring himself to wake Mrs. Hudson. He sat on the doorstep and waited for a long time. He could have gone to a hotel or woken up his sister, but somehow all he wanted (all he needed) was to see Sherlock.

Sherlock, who would undoubtedly say entirely all the wrong things.

Sherlock, who would possibly dismiss the whole issue with one of his “humans are incomprehensible and more trouble than they are worth” faces.

Sherlock, who might be perplexed at why John had chosen to come here of all places.

Sherlock, who could be in Nicaragua or Skegness for all John knew. He hadn’t spoken to the man for almost a week, and that was a long time in Sherlock’s world.

Oh god, Sherlock who could be passed out in some grim tenement again; off his face. (Please, not that.)

John grasped his knees and waited. It seemed that several years passed and the cold sank into his bones mercilessly. He received a few pitying glances from passers-by, and more than a few suspicious ones. He attempted to appear as non-vagranty as possible as a police officer walked past. It was probably only an hour or so until an achingly familiar figure came striding around the corner and towards 221b. Sherlock's face was tired and tense, but he seemed reassuringly sober. His coat streamed behind him as he quickened his pace, seeing John on the steps.

“Christ, John. I’m sorry. Getting a cab at this hour was impossible and I couldn’t get here any quicker.” he was taking off his gloves in the last few steps, so that he could grip John’s cold hand and help him get up. Sherlock’s tone was contrite and his eyes darted over John, no doubt piecing together the whole sorry story from John’s dishevelled appearance.

“What? How did you know I was here?” John’s hip ached as Sherlock levered him to his feet. Psychosomatic be damned, it still hurt like hell.

Sherlock jerked his head at the nearest security cameras, mounted on the shop front across the street. “Bloody Mycroft. He has his very occasional uses. I was on Hampstead Heath when he called to let me know you were here.” He grasped John’s shoulders, seeming to be on the brink of saying something more. John stared up at him. His relief at seeing Sherlock suddenly seemed rather silly. He could have gone to a hotel, he could have waited till the morning to find Sherlock. He opened his mouth to apologise, to attempt some (utterly feeble) explanation why he was here of all places.

Sherlock, of course, seemed to read all of his in his face without effort. He half smiled at John, and shook his head slightly. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

He picked up John’s bag and led the way into the building before John could embarrass himself further.

Upstairs, Sherlock pushed John into his usual armchair, handed him a large whiskey and added some more coal to the dying fire. It was a long time before either of them said anything. Sherlock appeared content to lounge in silence in his own chair, rolling the edge of his glass idly against the arm and watching the amber liquid glint in the flickering light. Not for the first time, John was glad that Sherlock had never been a fan of small talk. For now, he could only gaze at his friend and appreciate the warmth and comforting familiarity of his presence in the firelit room. The whiskey was good stuff, from the Isle of Jura. It burnt pleasantly on the way down his throat. After around half a glass, John finally felt capable of talking without his voice wavering.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here.”

Sherlock looked up sharply at that, regarding John hawkishly over his glass. “John, please. It’s perfectly obvious why you’re here. You couldn’t remain there any longer, not after finding out about the child.”

John didn’t bother asking how he knew; he wasn’t in the mood for startling deductions just yet. “And the whole, you know, killer for hire thing,” he added with what he hoped was a spot of bravado. It failed miserably, and Sherlock’s eyes remained on his.

“Oh god, Sherlock. I was really, you know, excited about the whole thing. Once I got over the sheer bloody panic. I had this idea that I could be this really fucking great dad, and be so much better than mine ever was.” he took another swallow of whiskey when he heard his voice shaking. “That we could be a proper family, and you would be godfather and teach her all about, I dunno, chemistry and, and, tobacco ash and how to figure somebody out from their shoelaces?” Sherlock’s expression briefly veered somewhere towards startled incredulity. “That Mary and I could leave the past in the past, that she would be happy to do it.”

His hands were shaking now as well as his voice. Sherlock’s gaze was unwavering, his posture entirely still. The light from the fire threw the angles of his austere face into sharp relief. He didn’t seem likely to say anything, which somehow made John feel obliged to keep rambling on. He took another swallow of whiskey, and choked slightly.

“She said that she was bored with it all. With our life, with working at the clinic, with...everything. With me. And god help me, I sort of knew that already. But then she told me about the baby.”

John furiously dashed away the few tears that had somehow appeared on his face. Sherlock’s carefully blank expression flickered briefly and his fingers twitched on the arm of his chair but he made no move towards John. He probably knew that any overt gesture of kindness would be likely to send John right over the edge.

“I wanted to call her Caroline, after my grandmother. God knows who her father is.” He stared hard at the fire, attempting to quell the blind fury and grief. There was panic there too, threatening to overwhelm him. The life he had mapped out had somehow dissolved so quickly. He didn’t feel capable of saying anything else, possibly ever again.

Sherlock regarded him unblinkingly for several seconds, before digging in his pocket for a handkerchief which he handed to John.

John took it, wondering in a slightly hysterical fashion how Sherlock always managed to have pristine ironed handkerchiefs (and clothes) despite the fact that he didn’t own an iron. The one that John had brought with him to Baker Street years before had been used for an unfortunate experiment involving human spleens and he hadn’t been able to bring himself to use it ever again. He supposed it was somewhere in a box back at his and Mary’s house now. He dimly became aware of Sherlock saying his name, seemingly not for the first time.

“John.” He looked up. Sherlock was perched on the edge of his chair, closer now. He was refilling John’s glass which had somehow become empty. “Stop staring at the handkerchief and use it. Mrs. Hudson irons them, surely even you should be able to tell that from the abominable lavender scented starch, which she persists in using. She probably does it just to spite me,” he added thoughtfully, putting down the bottle on the edge of the hearth. “You’re not going to have a panic attack, I’m not going to let you.”

John barked out a laugh which came out as an odd sound somewhere between a cough and a sob. “You won’t let me? God, that’s nice of you.”

“No, I won’t.” Sherlock said firmly. “Anyway, I was asking you whether you wanted to know who the father is. Whether it would help you at all.”

“How the hell do you know who-“

“I don’t. But I could find out easily enough, I’m quite sure. If you want me to.”

John thought about this while he drank some more whiskey, his burning eyes closed. Did it really matter? Or would it keep him awake at nights, agonising over who Mary had chosen to take to her bed? Whomever she had chosen instead of him. He shook his head angrily at the images.

“I can’t really think about it right now, Sherlock. I don’t know. It probably doesn’t matter, does it?”

Sherlock shrugged one shoulder slightly. It occurred to John that he was probably asking the wrong person. Sherlock, for all his brilliance and his observation of human behaviour, didn’t exactly have a frame of reference for this. He shook his head and attempted to smile at his friend.

“Sorry to ask, but can I stay here tonight, mate?”

“It’s barely night any more, John” said Sherlock, gesturing at the windows where he could see the sky edging towards pale grey. “And you don’t need to ask. Your room is as you left it.”

John blamed the whiskey, but it felt incredibly moving that it was still his room. He swallowed with effort, setting down his glass. “I can’t really talk about this any more. I need to sleep. I’m so bloody tired Sherlock. I just need to sleep and then I can have another go at thinking about all this... this mess. Ok?”

“Of course.” Sherlock somehow sensed that John needed some help manoeuvring himself out of his chair and was on his feet in a trice, gripping his arm.

“And not a fucking word about how this is all in my head, ok?” John muttered as Sherlock helped him to his feet and towards the stairs. The stress of the evening and the cold of the steps outside had left his leg aching horribly.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” He heard the grim smile in Sherlock’s voice. “I’ll save it all up for tomorrow.”

Sherlock helped him up the stairs and made sure he didn’t topple over until he reached the bed. The room was indeed as he left it; slightly dusty but fairly neat. The mess from downstairs hadn’t managed to make its way up here. There were sheets on the bed, and when John lay back he could vaguely make out the smell of lavender scented starch. He shut his eyes and thought a bit about getting undressed and under the covers but it all seemed like a tremendous amount of effort.

He heard Sherlock give a characteristic impatient huff and felt his shoes being untied and removed. Seconds later he felt the blanket from the foot of the bed being pulled out from underneath him, and thrown over him. He should have been surprised at this consideration, but all he could muster was a slightly pathetic sense of gratitude.

“Thanks, mate,” he muttered, managing to drag a pillow under his head. The tiredness was crushing but welcome. He quite fancied sleeping for several years; at least then he wouldn’t have to think about things. “Just... couldn’t go anywhere else, you know?”

He felt Sherlock’s hand squeeze his ankle briefly, before hearing footsteps heading towards the stairs.

“I know, John.” A pause. “And you should know... that this is always going to be your room. No matter how long you’ve been away.” Sherlock’s tone was measured, even if the words were coming out a little slower than usual. He cleared his throat noisily. “Goodnight, John.”

“G’night.”

He heard the door close quietly and a second later the sound of Sherlock’s feet on the stairs.

When he awoke the next morning, his badly packed bag was at the foot of his bed. There was a glass of water and some paracetemol on the bedside table, and oddly enough the latest edition of the International Journal of Parasitology. It was open on an article, entitled Neuropeptidergic control of the hindgut in the black-legged tick Ixodes scapularis. (Probably Sherlock’s idea of a spot of light reading).

When he went downstairs he saw several packing cases and two familiar suitcases on the landing. Sherlock was in the kitchen, glaring furiously at two petri dishes which lay among the clutter on the kitchen table.

“Ah! John. Come here, I need to talk to you about this. For some utterly infuriating reason, the results have been completely skewed. No, wait, make me some tea first – that might help.” He looked up at John, saw John’s (presumably haggard) face and suddenly seemed uncertain. “Sorry. I’ll sort out the tea.”

He strode to the open door and bellowed down the stairs. “MRS. HUDSON, WE NEED TEA!” He looked at John again. “AND PROBABLY SOME BREAKFAST! JOHN IS HERE!”

John scrubbed at his face in a mixture of exasperation and fondness. He could hear vague tutting and muted scolding coming from downstairs and the familiar clack of Mrs. Hudson’s heeled slippers on the tiled floor in the hall.

“Sherlock, really. I can make the tea. Or you can bloody well make the tea, I’ve seen you do it at least once. Don’t shout at Mrs. Hudson, she’s not your maid.”

“Oh, she doesn’t mind.” Sherlock said airily. “And she always enjoys telling me off, you know that. She loves putting on her “martyred landlady” face.” This last comment was delivered somewhat loudly.

“I heard that, young man!” came from downstairs. “John, dear! How nice! I’ll be up in a tick. I’ll just pop into Speedys for some scones. Just this once, mind!” The front door banged loudly.

“All this-“ John gestured towards the boxes and bags, which Sherlock appeared to be determinedly ignoring. “It’s my stuff, isn’t it?”

“Ah. Well, yes. Yes, it is.” Sherlock still seemed reluctant to look at the pile, or indeed at John. He picked up his violin and plucked idly at the strings, before putting it down again and going back to his frustrating petri dishes. “I, er, thought you might want some of your things.”

“Oh.” John stared at the pile. There was an awful lot of it. “Mary didn’t drop it off?”

“No. I went and got it for you. I thought that you perhaps wouldn’t want to go back there just yet. I had a look in the bag you brought with you, and frankly that maroon jumper is offensive and you only brought two pairs of pants, one sock and no books at all. I decided that I simply couldn’t look at you for any length of time if you were planning on wearing that jumper. It makes my eyeballs itch, John. It contains polyester, John. It is an abomination and I barely restrained myself from setting fire to it this morning. So I went and got some of your things earlier so I won’t have to look at it or you wearing it.” Sherlock finally glanced up from the contents of the dishes, which he probably shouldn’t have been absently prodding with his bare finger.

John felt his face was rearranging itself into a faint smile despite his best efforts. “Sherlock-“

“It’s alright. Mary wasn’t there so I didn’t have the chance to say anything...not good.”

John sighed. “Good. That’s...good. Christ. Um. Thanks, I suppose. You’re right, I wasn’t looking forward to making that trip. And I do need more than one sock.” He decided not to mention the pants or Sherlock’s destructive impulses towards his maroon jumper just yet. “I think you’ve probably fetched all the socks I own. And all my books. And possibly everything I have ever owned.”

Sherlock’s mouth quirked into a slightly abashed smile. “Well, it’s hard to know when you might need something urgently. I thought it best to err on the side of caution.”

“Well yes, that is true.” John decided just to go with it. It was nice that somebody was keen on having him around, at least. Sherlock continued to regard him in a satisfied fashion. It seemed unlikely that John was going to argue with his unassailable logic. John stared back at him, taking in Sherlock’s expression and suddenly felt suspicious.

“Sherlock....”

“Yes, John?” That was it. Probably nobody else would pick up on it, but John knew that face. That face was far too bloody innocent.

“I know you didn’t get the chance to say anything...not good. But did you perhaps do anything not good while you were there?”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow as John continued to regard him through narrowed eyes. Eventually he sighed. “Well, I thought perhaps you might also need some fuses. You never know when you might need some fuses.”

“You thought I might need fuses, eh?” John forced his mouth to stay in a straight line. Sherlock looked at him through wide, guileless eyes.

“Yes. Fuses. From every plug in the house. You might need them some day.”

John was definitely not smiling. One should not encourage Sherlock that way. It might make him think that his actions were welcome or appropriate, which they definitely were not. Sherlock fished in the pockets of his coat, which was slung over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. He carelessly deposited a very large handful of plug fuses into a nearby discarded saucer. Some of them escaped and rolled off the table and onto the floor, where they noisily bounced and rolled under the fridge.

“Right. Well done. Good thinking Sherlock; I suspect you brought everything I need.” John said, casually stopping one of the fuses with his bare foot. Sherlock briefly seemed even more pleased with himself, before noticing that his right index finger was still partially submerged in the horrors of the petri dish. His expression swiftly returned to irritation, and he quickly turned to the sink to rinse his hands.

John heard the front door bang again, and the sound of Mrs. Hudson coming up the stairs. He settled himself in (his) armchair and prepared himself for the inevitable questions and commiserations. He was suddenly very sure that Mrs. Hudson was his landlady once more.

And that was alright. There was much to think about and far too much to deal with. He knew that he could only keep the anger and sorrow tamped down for so long. He had to face unpacking those boxes, and all the evidence of the life he had shared with Mary.

But for now it was Sunday morning. He could hear Sherlock swearing quietly to himself in French as he repeatedly scrubbed his hands (hopefully there had been nothing too corrosive in those dishes). He noted the somehow comforting smell of formaldehyde and tobacco (must have a stern word with Sherlock about the latter). He could hear the familiar muted noise drifting up from Baker Street and the sound of china rattling on a tray.

Home.