“John said if you were to come around, asking after him, offering to help… He said, he’d rather have anyone but you. Anyone.”
The conversation with Molly on John’s stoop after Mary’s death was the hardest moment of Sherlock’s life. He’d been tortured, shot, frightened out of his mind. He’d thought his own life was over more times than he could count. And yet, it’s on the doorstep of an unassuming garden apartment in suburban London that Sherlock realises his life is really over.
Without even reading the note Molly has pressed into his hand, he knows it.
John doesn’t send others to fight his battles. John is brave and noble and full of morals. He wouldn’t send Molly out to end it unless it were really over. Unless battling Sherlock, screaming at Sherlock, venting at Sherlock, just wasn’t worth it any more. Unless John were in too much pain to even foist it on Sherlock. Unless John had given up.
Sherlock could see on Molly’s face how sure she was of her message, how she wanted to protect John, but also how precisely she could understood the impact on Sherlock. How cutting this would be.
Absorbing Molly’s words, Sherlock is too devastated to be angry. What more could he have done to save Mary? To protect John? From the day he interrupted John’s proposal until the night Mary died, he’d done nothing, nothing except support them. Love them. Try to prove to John that Sherlock was worthy of his friendship, his protection, his love.
He’d done everything in his power to show he was different after his return. That he could let Mary into their partnership. That he loved John enough to do that, even when she felt like an intruder from the start. Every smile, every meal, every wedding planning meeting – all for John.
But now, this. The end.
As Sherlock sat in the black cab heading back to Baker Street, his mind was empty. The doors of his mind palace were firmly closed. The last lines of John’s note had stilled his mind. “… You had to prove you were smarter… that you knew more… that you could break her. And guess what, Sherlock? You broke her. You won. And Mary died. I don’t want to see you. Stop calling.”
As hurt and overwhelmed as Sherlock was, it was almost peaceful to give up.
Days later, Sherlock had a plan. He needed John to know that he would respect his wishes; that Sherlock understood that continuing to contact John, to show up at John’s door, was about what Sherlock wanted; Sherlock’s need to be close to John. Drafts consumed Sherlock for days. In the end, he landed on a note. Short and sweet. Posted rather than hand-delivered, so John would know that Sherlock hadn’t come around again.
On plain white, stock card (where had this even come from?), Sherlock sat and wrote:
I won’t contact you again – I’ve heard you. But know this: I love you. I love Rosie. You will always have a home at 221B, should you ever want that. You know where to find me. You always have. – SH
He let it sit on his desk for days, so he could be very sure that that was the message he wanted to send. That he wouldn’t have regrets once he relinquished it to the Royal Mail post-box. Without touching the note, he came and sat with it multiple times a day, reading and re-reading it. And then, a week later, he knew it was time. He scooped up the card, slipped it neatly into its matching envelope (really, where had this stationery come from?), and painstakingly wrote John’s name and address on the front. He smiled to himself a little – when had Sherlock last cared what someone thought of his handwriting? And yet it felt important, so he wrote slowly and precisely, with sharp down-strokes and perfectly curved loops.
As he pulled on his coat and set off down the stairs, he decided to buy a stamp instead of borrowing one from Mrs Hudson. He wanted to choose the stamp – find least ornate, simplest stamp on offer. Somehow clean lines and solemnity felt respectful to John’s headspace.
Once satisfied with all aspects of the missive, Sherlock strode around the corner to post it. As the envelope slipped away from him into the cherry red post-box, Sherlock felt more at peace than he had in weeks. Even if John never wrote back, never came around, never spoke to Sherlock again, this felt like the right message. He’d done everything he could, everything he should, to leave the door open.
Months passed with no word from John. The weather warmed. The Belstaff coat was dry cleaned and packed away, and crisp cotton shirts moved to the front of Sherlock’s wardrobe. Mrs Hudson had thrown all the windows open, and the air inside 221B Baker Street smelled sweet and vaguely floral.
One sunny Thursday afternoon around 3pm, Sherlock was curled up sideways in his chair when he heard a tread on the stairs. A familiar tread – an authoritative one; one that said “I’m home”. Though he’d previously been staring into space thinking about a case, he screwed his eyes shut as his heart leapt in his chest. Could it be?
Closing his eyes seemed easier than acknowledging the hope he felt, the rush of adrenalin, the craving.
The footsteps reached the landing at the top of the stairs and paused a moment. Sherlock quietly cursed the closed door – it now seemed like a convenient spot for a cherished arrival to have second thoughts. As quickly as the thought occurred to him, it became irrelevant; the latch released and the door swung open decisively. With a wild heartbeat, Sherlock couldn’t take it any longer – he opened his eyes.
There stood John, his familiar outline in the doorway more comforting to Sherlock than any sight in the world. The shape of his shoulders, the way he stood stiffly, slightly crooked even after all these years without a limp. And on his front, strapped into her carrier, was a chubbier Rosie than he remembered, facing Sherlock with a small fist waving in the air and bright eyes focused on him. Sherlock drank them in, overwhelmed by the sight. He breathed out slowly as relief flooded his body, and just as quickly, wariness set in. Should he be gearing up for a fist fight, verbal attack, or a cup of tea in their old chairs?
“You’re home,” he said in a low tone as he swung his legs around and stood up.
“Yep,” said John decisively, as he took Sherlock in. His eyes ran over him – up, down, and up again, landing on Sherlock’s face and holding there with a resolute expression.
There was a pause, just for a moment, then Sherlock lunged at John, overwhelmed by the need to be physically near him, to touch him, to be enveloped by him. John looked startled for a moment, then pleased as Sherlock came at him from the side, folding himself around the left side of John’s body, with his right arm thrown across John’s back, and his face wedged tightly in the gap between John’s neck and his right shoulder. Sherlock’s left arm softly cradled Rosie in her carrier. Sherlock clung to John, tense and breathing deeply, and John thought carefully before slowly lifting his left arm to hug Sherlock back.
They stood like that for long, silent minutes. John’s face relaxed and he breathed out slowly, letting himself enjoy the contact. Rosie seemed to understand this wasn’t her moment, and sat quietly in her carrier, legs kicking occasionally as she grabbed onto Sherlock’s thumb, which he’d pleasingly rested right in reach. John resisted the temptation to stroke Sherlock’s back, surprised that that felt like the right thing to do.
After a while, John realised Sherlock’s breathing had changed. Instead of the calm, steady flow from before, he could almost hear…
“Are you smelling me?”
“Yes, you are. You’re smelling me. I can hear your sniffs.”
“Ugh, fine. Yes, I am smelling you. You smell amazing… like home.”
John chuckled quietly at this – it was very “Sherlock” as a thing to say. Sherlock smiled against John’s neck as he felt the chuckle rumble through John’s chest. Not just a hug, but he’d earned a laugh too – things were looking up!
Sherlock slowly pulled back, releasing the hug but still lightly touching John’s side as he examined his face. John looked back at him steadily, knowing that Sherlock was reading him. Checking what had changed. Sherlock’s scan revealed almost exactly what he expected – John looked sad around the eyes, face rather slack with the months of stress, and definitely older, with his now silver hair in really a very nice cut. Longer on the top, Sherlock thought admiringly, and smiled.
“What are you thinking?”
“Just that I like your hair like this… it’s really nice. Very smart. It suits you.”
John looked a bit embarrassed, but smiled as he ran his hand through it self-consciously. “Yeah, I like it too. Different from the Army, let me tell you.”
Sherlock pulled back further, and wiggled his thumb up and down in Rosie’s hand as he made eye contact with her. She giggled as she clung to it; her little arm moving with Sherlock’s as he engaged her in this smallest of games. He took her in as he held her gaze – he couldn’t really see much of either Mary or John in this little creature. He knew it was polite to tell parents their baby looked like them, but didn’t think John would mind if he stayed silent now.
John watched Sherlock’s animated face, surprised that he was engaging with Rosie. Even after being appointed godfather and suffering through the formal Christening, Sherlock hadn’t really engaged with her. He’d held her when asked, and certainly spoke warmly about her (he claimed even to have shown Mycroft a photo!), but he’d never sought her out. Now, though, it felt different; like he wanted to understand her. That she was worthy of his attention. John felt fond, and as Sherlock looked up at John again, he could see on John’s face how chuffed he was that they were getting along.
They smiled at each other – still a bit nervous, but feeling more and more familiar as the moments went on. Sherlock was the first to move.
“Well, come in then,” said Sherlock, gesturing to the room behind them. Neither of them had really moved past the threshold – John was inside, but only just. He laughed a little as he realised he now merited an invitation to step into the main room of the flat that had been his for so long. He looked around, surprised to notice that a lot had changed.
“Is that… new wallpaper?” he said, as he looked around the fireplace, the bookshelves and the chairs, sweeping back around to take in the familiar windows. He sniffed the air. “It smells different in here, too. Almost… fresh?” Sherlock just smiled enigmatically, watching as John did a slow spin.
“And… what’s that?” John asked as he took in the unrecognisable sofa area. What had previously been a dark corner, piled high with books, magazines, old mugs of tea and (he thought warily) sometimes the odd experiment, now looked like a cut out from a glossy day-care brochure. On the floor was a soft foam mat, almost puzzle-like, with interlocking coloured squares each featuring a letter or number. On each wall, about a foot off the ground, was clear shelving about 10cm deep, with books set up as if in a children’s library. All the covers were facing outwards, and they had intriguing titles like “Quantum Physics for Babies”, and “Awesome Science Experiments for Kids”. As he moved closer, he inspected more of the titles; “The Big Book of Why” jumped out at him, as did “The ABCs of Space”. They were books for a whole range of ages – some were board books, made of stiff cardboard and almost indestructible for little hands, while others were for school age children, with hardback covers and normal picture book paper. There were probably 20 of them, all arranged neatly like a choir, slightly overlapping, and all at eye level for a toddler.
He noticed then the neat woven basket with a small selection of soft toys that was resting in the corner of the mat. He crouched down and leaned in, taking out the top toy. Unlike Rosie’s other soft toys – knitted woollen bears in soft whites and pale pinks, and fluffy pink rabbits with Liberty print ears, all gifts – these weren’t recognisable animals, and none of them were pink. Upon closer inspection, this first one was a sloth, with long fingers and wide eyes, gazing back at him. As Rosie grabbed for it, he released the sloth to her and she gave a gurgle of delight, whacking John with it to show her pleasure. He reached into the basket to get the next soft toy – what appeared to be a teddy bear in a dark green smoking jacket with a bow tie and a full head of hair. He laughed to himself and turned around to Sherlock, holding the bear out.
“What is this? This is the oddest teddy bear I’ve ever seen.”
“It’s Chopin, obviously.”
“Chopin like the composer?”
“Do you know any other Chopins, John?”
John smiled a little to himself and thought “Only Sherlock would buy a child a Chopin bear”, but refrained from saying it aloud. Though a bit peculiar looking, the bear was decidedly cute.
Sherlock crossed the room in three long strides, and reached out his hand expectantly to John.
“Let me show you how he works.”
“He… works? Don’t you just play with a bear?”
“Ah... no John. This isn’t just any bear. It’s Chopin bear!”
With a mischievous smile, Sherlock reached over and took the bear from John, neatly flipping him over and lifting up his jacket to expose his bacskside. John chuckled – it was a bit undignified for the bear, after all. Sherlock clearly saw where John’s mind was at, and smirked back at him, as though accusing John of being the immature one. As he did, Sherlock’s long, nimble fingers pulled out a small green plastic wheel from a hidden pocket in the bear’s back. He flicked a little switch with the edge of his fingernail, and then poked the green wheel back into place. Once that was sorted, he pulled the bear’s jacket down and turned him over again, holding him out so he faced Rosie. He wiggled the bear’s limbs so he did a little dance for her, earning a giggle, and then he lightly pressed his thumb to the bear’s tummy, and familiar piano melodies rang out into the still flat.
John looked up from the bear to Sherlock, amazement on his face. “He’s a musical bear!”
Sherlock snorted, “Of course he’s a musical bear, John – he’s Chopin! He plays six of his own pieces, and there’s a list of the songs and of fun facts in the back of his jacket too.”
The two watched Rosie drop the sloth unceremoniously to the floor as she made a bid to grab Chopin from Sherlock. Sherlock made the bear dance a little again, before gently placing him in her hands. John looked back up to Sherlock’s face and saw him watching John closely; a tentative, enquiring look. It had been a long time since John had seen Sherlock so vulnerable, and he felt a twinge in his chest.
“Do… do you like it?”
John looked around the play corner again, taking everything in this time. He could see the care that had gone into every choice. His heart warmed as he realised he could see hints of Sherlock in every item – the subjects he cared about, the lessons he wanted to teach Rosie, the world he wanted to open up for her. John didn’t think Sherlock knew anything at all about babies, and yet… this was perfect. It must have taken Sherlock weeks to find these things, and to arrange them so thoughtfully.
“You did all of this for us?”
“Yes. I… I hoped you’d come home. Forgive me, you know, and – ah – come home.”
“Sherlock, it’s amazing. I love it.” John looked down to Rosie’s head on his chest, and watched her pudgy little hands clutching the bear. He dropped a soft kiss on her head, and looked back up. “We both love it.”
John smiled at Sherlock then, genuinely, warmly, glad to be back in 221B with his best friend. Feeling relieved he’d come today, and hadn’t turned on his heel at the top of the stairs. John felt his face relax as he realised that they might be ok, and was pleased to see Sherlock loosen up as he watched John’s reaction – clearly he’d been worried about the reception this new set-up would get.
Wanting to ease Sherlock’s apprehension further – he clearly still felt like the other shoe was still about to drop – John broke eye contact and looked around the rest of the room again.
“So… did you also change the wallpaper? It looks familiar, but also different?”
“Yes – it was time for a refresh. The old stuff had been here for ages before you and I first moved in. It’s actually the same pattern, but I got new stuff. I can’t believe anyone still makes it, but I liked it. No bullet holes, no blood stains, but same old busy Victorian pattern. Same-same-but-different, as the kids say.”
“Do they? Say that, I mean?” John teased Sherlock.
“What would I know?” said Sherlock with a one shouldered shrug, but then gestured again at the walls. “I wanted them to be fresh and clean, but I also didn’t want the room to change too much. This was the compromise.”
John went close to the walls to inspect them, and could see what Sherlock meant.
“I really like it – it changes the feel of the room so much! I always thought of this as kind of a dark room, but now it feels much brighter.”
Sherlock nodded, smiling a little as he acknowledged the comment. The room was brighter – he’d also changed the curtains and pulled them wide for maximum sunshine to enter. Instead of feeling betrayed by the sun spilling through the windows on his darkest days, he’d found he was able to wallow perfectly well, and see things more clearly.
“Do you want me to show you the rest of the changes?”
“There are more changes?”
“Yes… I think you’ll find I’ve been quite busy.”
“Really, Sherlock – this doesn’t seem like you at all. This isn’t what I expected when we came over today.”
Sherlock paused, looking back at John from where he’d been heading down the hall.
“I know, I guess. It’s just that I spent a lot of time missing you, and feeling sorry for myself, and hoping you’d come back. And then after a while, it seemed like the best way I could do that was by preparing for your return. And if you never came back – if you never wanted to speak to me again – then at least 221B would be nicer for me to live in. But if you did come back… then I’d be able to show you how much you mean to me. How much I want us to be together again.”
John snorted a little at that, as heartfelt as Sherlock’s little speech had been. “Still not gay”, he thought to himself, with a mental eye roll.
Sherlock clearly picked up on John’s thoughts, and rolled his own eyes. “Not like that, you idiot. Just, you know, John-and-Sherlock again. Watson-and-Holmes on the case. All that. I miss that.”
“You know very well that no one ever once used my name before yours. I was always your number 2.”
“Yes, well, I’ve been thinking we should change that.”
John gave a shy smile, enjoying that Sherlock had clearly thought about this. Sherlock’s face clouded a little and when he spoke next, his tone was serious.
“Yes, really. I never once doubted what you brought to our partnership, how much value you added to our cases. I know I didn’t do a good job of showing you that, and I’m going to be different next time. I’ll never let you doubt what you mean to me again.”
“Sherlock, you know I didn’t really need you to change… I know I said some awful things. When I was angry about Mary, it wasn’t really about you. I mean… it was about you in that you were there, and she was dead, and my world fell apart, AGAIN.”
Sherlock looked down at his feet, not sure where this was going.
“But, even when I was at my angriest, and my most hurt and betrayed… I knew. I knew that you’d done everything you could to keep her safe. You’d been shot by her. You’d kept her secret as best as you knew how. You flew around the world to protect her when she abandoned me. You shot Magnussen for her. And ultimately… ultimately it was her choice to jump in front of you that night in the aquarium.”
“No, look, I know you weren’t blameless there. I know you goaded the secretary into it, and I’m not sure I’m really over that, or will ever get over that. But… that was you being you. And I’ve seen you do that countless times with incredible results. This city, this country, I – we’re all better off for your deductions. For your brilliant mind, and your impulsive streak. And I think over the last few months I realised that I couldn’t have all this respect for you, and all these incredible memories of our cases together, and yet hate you for the one time it went wrong that had consequences for me…. That’s not fair to you.”
“No, Sherlock – I know there’s more to say – and I hope we’ll have more conversations about this and the rest. I think we owe that much to each other. But before we go further,” John gestured between them, “I just want to say that we’re ok. You and me. We’re ok. That’s what I came here today to say.”
Sherlock looked up from his shoes with watery eyes, and instinctively brought his right hand up to rest on his chest, cradling his heart. John idly wondered if it was his shot wound he was touching, or his brain was focussed on his emotional-not-physical heart. Sherlock took a deep breath, and started to open his mouth. He looked quite overcome, John thought. Sherlock stopped and started again, his lips pressed together then releasing as he took another deep breath, jarring almost like a sob.
“John, I -”
Sherlock crossed the room again with quick strides and crushed John into a second hug. This time, John didn’t hesitate to wrap his arm around Sherlock, and squeezed tightly so Sherlock knew he was serious. He never really thought of Sherlock as a toucher – he wasn’t a physically affectionate person – and yet John knew in every part of his being that Sherlock needed this. Deeply.
John rubbed Sherlock’s back firmly, still holding Sherlock tight. This time it was his turn to breathe Sherlock in, and he did so without embarrassment. Sherlock also smelt like home to John – how funny that he’d never thought that before. Subtle yet expensive soap from that fancy barber down in Curzon Street. Sherlock’s hair curling lightly over his collar, his white collared shirt still neatly pressed despite being crushed against the chair cushions when John had arrived. John could feel the pleasant knobbles of Sherlock’s spine as he rubbed his hand down his back. For a gesture intended to comfort Sherlock, it was having a surprisingly calming effect on John himself.
Rosie gave a shout then, suddenly outraged at being ignored. Sherlock loosened the hug, stepped back from John, and looked down at Rosie, smiling. He put his index finger back in her curled hand, watched her curl her fingers tightly around his, and said lightly “Come on then, Miss Rosie. I’ll show you what else has changed, even if Daddy wants to stand here having meaningful conversations.” With this Sherlock looked up at John, gratefulness in his eyes even as he stepped away – just far enough that his arm stretched out back towards Rosie, and hers lifted away from the carrier towards him.
John nodded quietly, knowing there would be time for more conversations later. For now, Sherlock clearly wanted to show off what he’d been working on, and John was happy to let him.
“Do you want to hold her?” he said, looking at Sherlock and Rosie’s joined fingers.
“Yes, why not? I’m sure she’d love to give you a cuddle.”
Sherlock blushed lightly and gave Rosie’s hand a little bounce. She giggled again and clutched his finger more firmly.
“Would you like me to hold you, Miss Rosie? Even though I have no idea at all what I’m doing?”
“You’ll be fine, Sherlock. She’s just a baby. Plus now she’s big enough that you won’t break her.”
Sherlock looked nervous at mention of “breaking”, and John rolled his eyes. “Honestly, Sherlock. You’ll be fine. I was just going to hand her to you, but if you’d prefer I can strap her into the carrier on you instead, then you’ll know she’s safe and you can’t drop her.”
Sherlock looked intensely relieved at this, and said immediately, “Yes, please. I can work up to holding her, but for now a safety harness feels like our best bet.”
John huffed out a little air through his nose, amused that this man, this brilliant man, who jumped from roof to roof, ran down alleys after criminals, and had gone through god-knows-what in Serbia, was too scared to hold a child in his arms without straps and buckles and Velcro. Sherlock smiled at this too as his eyes scanned John’s face, acknowledging it probably seemed a bit silly.
“Don’t laugh at me, John. You’re an expert in this and it’s still new to me. Imagine if I broke her after everything we’ve been through! You’d never forgive me!”
John chuckled a little at this – no matter how unlikely it was to eventuate, mistakenly dropping his daughter didn’t really compare to having his wife shot before his eyes, but he could see how for Sherlock they were so closely connected.
“OK then Sherlock – let’s get you strapped in, then. Come back here… yes, that’s right. Let go of her hand…” Rosie gave a yell at this – clearly she didn’t approve. With practiced hands, John pressed Rosie lightly to his chest as he unclipped the straps around his waist and lifted the carrier up and over his head as he lowered Rosie to the ground.
“She’s on the floor!” said Sherlock with surprise, looking down at his feet as she crawled towards them. John smiled a little as he looked from Rosie all the way up Sherlock’s long body to his face. She did look particularly small down there when faced with Sherlock’s height. He wondered idly if all adults looked the same to Rosie, or she could tell that Sherlock was particularly lanky.
“Yes... she is. She’s often on the floor at this age – she’s ok. She likes to crawl around a bit. I’m trying to encourage her to start walking, but she doesn’t seem particularly interested in that yet. By all means watch her closely, but you’ll find she won’t get too far… I just need to fix these straps for you as you’re quite a bit taller than me and it won’t be comfortable for you the way I have it.”
Sherlock nodded to acknowledge John had spoken, but didn’t take his eyes off Rosie for a second. Her little hands tapped on his shoes happily, and she started to pull on the laces of his left one.
“John, she’s pulling my laces!”
“Yes, Sherlock. I can see that. But again… she’s a baby. She does that. You can tie them back up again, you know.” John smirked at Sherlock, who looked up to catch it.
John skilfully loosened the straps to something approximating what he thought would fit Sherlock.
“Come here, then. Bend down.”
Sherlock dutifully leaned closer and down, so John could put the carrier on him. He’d never had something like this on before – it felt like a school backpack had been put on the wrong way. He squinted at it, as he felt John’s hands smooth along his lower back and clip the strap closed. He closed his eyes, revelling in the touch, and breathed out deeply.
John caught that, smiling a little to himself and noting how nice the expensive cotton of Sherlock’s shirt felt against his skin, and how he could feel the warmth and firmness of Sherlock’s lower back under his hands. It was an oddly intimate moment, for just getting Rosie sorted. He gave Sherlock a sort of double-tap on the strap and said “All good,” and Sherlock straightened up again. John looked up at him, noting quietly to himself how comfortable his head was at this angle. Almost like a remembered position – his height to Sherlock’s. He gave himself a little shake for being sentimental, and then looked down at Rosie, who was happily playing with Sherlock’s shoelaces, with one disappearing straight into her mouth. He picked her up easily, scooping his hands under her as he removed the lace from her mouth, and raising her back to chest height, facing Sherlock.
“No, no, Rosie darling. That doesn’t go in your mouth, now does it?”
Rosie babbled happily and seemed deeply unconcerned at being admonished, however gently. John looked at Sherlock again – “Now, do you want her facing you or facing out?”
Sherlock looked confused for a moment.
“Does she go in different directions?”
John laughed, “Yes, of course. Just a question of whether you want a little cuddle or you want her to see what you’re seeing. She won’t mind either way – she clearly adores you.”
Sherlock looked chuffed with this news, and gazed fondly at her little body in John’s arms.
“Well, the feeling’s mutual then, Miss Rosie. What do you say you face out, then? You can see the world! Lots of time for cuddles later, I should think.” And with this, he shot John a hopeful look, and John nodded back. “Lots of time for that. I think she really does prefer looking out – she likes to point things out and chat away at birds and buses and things.”
Sherlock smiled and said conspiratorially to Rosie, “Of course you do, you clever wee thing. Who would look inwards when the world awaits?”
John laughed to himself again, even as he felt a pang in his chest – he’d missed this. Missed the casual intimacy of a man he knows so well, who himself is always looking outwards, always looking for that next adventure. And he can see, so clearly, how much effort Sherlock is making to understand Rosie, to show John that he cares, that there’s room for them both in his life. John lets the pain and sadness settle alongside his warm feelings – there’s room enough for them all.
“OK then, Rosie darling. Let’s get you settled in.” And with that, John plopped Rosie into her carrier on Sherlock’s chest, pulled the straps tight, and closed the Velcro over. He gave another double tap once that was done, to signal to Sherlock they were ready to go.
Sherlock smiled and, taking one of Rosie’s little legs in each hand, gave them a jiggle. John’s heart skipped a beat as he watched this funny little dance. Rosie giggled as she kicked and Sherlock said cheerfully, “Off we go then!” and marched down the hall. John smiled and drifted after them.
“First stop, the bathroom!” grinned Sherlock. He held open the door and let John step inside – there really wasn’t room for both of them and Rosie. John was taken aback when he saw the changes – a bath! Beautiful new tiles everywhere, and a much more modern loo than had been there before. A lovely new sink, with a big mirror and what looked like more storage space. As he took it all in, he noticed a sort of net hammock thing on the inside of the bath.
“What’s this then?” he said lightly, turning to the door to ask Sherlock.
“What’s what? I can’t see around you.”
“There’s a hammock thing in here, filled with tiny men.”
“Oh yes – they’re for Rosie. Toys for her bath time! I’ve put in all famous explorers. Jacques Cousteau, Edmund Hillary, Shackleton, Francis Drake. The gang’s all there!”
“The gang’s all there, indeed. I can’t believe you’re ready for my child to have a bath at your place - she’s got a better set up here than in her own home! And since when did you have a bathtub?”
“Well… you know… I did some reading and all the books say it’s much better for kids to have baths and you can lean over and play with them and whatnot. The whole shower thing would have been too hard.”
John looked back at Sherlock with amazement. “You put a bath in… for us?”
“Of course, John. I meant what I said before. I really did hope you’d come home.”
John looked back at the bathtub and felt a bit overwhelmed. The amount of love (and money!) that had gone into this was really something else. As sweet as the play corner had been, this was a totally different order of magnitude. What a thing!
“Next stop, upstairs!” said Sherlock in a delighted tone, as he whirled Rosie about and marched back down the corridor towards the staircase, and up to John’s old room. John took another look at the bathtub, feeling his chest swell, then followed Sherlock out the bathroom door and up the stairs to his old room.
By the time John reached the landing, Sherlock was well ahead of him, having leapt up the stairs two at a time despite Rosie’s additional weight. He was standing in the centre of the bedroom with his arms outspread when John came in. He wore a beatific expression, and clearly wanted John to be as delighted as Sherlock himself was.
John enjoyed this spectacle for a moment – it had been a long time since he’d seen Sherlock this gleeful – and then did a double take as he took in the room.
“Sherlock… what have you done?”
Sherlock looked around at the space – the new, cream carpet, the blue patterned area rug, a brand new wooden bed with beautiful slats and textured navy blue duvet cover – and shrugged in faux casualness. “Don’t you like it? I thought it was all very you!”
John took in the black watch tartan throw on the foot of the bed, the fluffed up white pillows, and the peaceful natural wood look of the matching bedside tables. He then realised why else the room looked so different – it wasn’t just the bed itself, but the walls had been painted. Had there been wallpaper before? John now couldn’t remember what the room had looked like.
“The walls are different too, right?”
“Yes – I pulled down all the wallpaper and went for a much simpler look. Isn’t it peaceful, the paint? It’s called Grey Owl. I like the way it looks with the white trim and the navy bedspread.”
John just stared at Sherlock. Who was this man before him, with an opinion on bedspreads and wall colours and showing such clear pleasure in having chosen this all himself? The Sherlock he knew wouldn’t have said any of those words. The Sherlock he knew hadn’t expressed a single opinion about the flat’s appearance in the entire time they’d lived together.
Sherlock’s expression faltered the longer John went without speaking.
“Don’t you like it? We can put it back the way it was, if you preferred that…?”
“No, Sherlock – it isn’t that at all. It looks great. Amazing, in fact. I can’t believe how different it is! I’m just… struggling… I guess. I didn’t know you had an interest in this stuff, and yet you clearly thought a lot about this.”
“Yes, of course! Look, I know it’s not very “me” in the way you know me, but I’ve had a lot of time on my hands and I wanted it to be perfect.” Sherlock bit his lip nervously, and then looked back at John. “I know I probably went a bit overboard, but I really enjoyed it.”
John smiled then, and looked around some more. The room was now pleasantly minimalist – there was no clutter, there were neat spaces to put everything, and simple Roman blinds in the windows, with a drawstring to lower them at night. He admired a new chest of drawers, also simple in natural wood, and then turned to open his old closet. Inside, he was pleased to find new shelving in addition to his old hanging space. It was meticulous – polished and clean and just waiting for his things to be hung up. Somehow it smelt of cedar, which it never had before, though how Sherlock could have achieved that, John didn’t know.
He turned around again, pulling the closet door closed. He walked the length of the room, over to the window, looking out at his familiar view. It was oddly comforting to be back in his old room, as different as it looked. He ran his hand along the windowsill, admiring the paint colour once more, and stepped back a bit to look at the whole picture.
“I thought you could put Rosie’s cot there, you know.” Sherlock interjected. “Under the window. I didn’t buy you one because I figured you’d already have one. But if you want something different, of course we could do that instead… and I thought you could put the changing mat on top of the dresser. Not sure there’s enough space here for both a dresser and a changing table, but I’m sure we could work something out.”
Sherlock gesticulated to the chest of drawers – showing how a changing mat could go on top “just so”. John felt overwhelmed by the changes. The kindness. The huge thought and time that had gone into all this. Sherlock’s expectant face, radiant, almost giddy with pleasure at being able to show John what he’d done.
John gulped a little then, and went to sit down on the bed. As he did, he noticed a beautiful chair in the corner – similar in size and shape to his one in the living room, but in a rich caramel coloured leather. He picked himself up again, and walked over to sit in this chair instead, groaning with pleasure as he lowered himself into it. He stretched backwards and let his head fall back as he spread his arms wide and ran his fingertips along the chair’s arms. Sumptuous.
“It doesn’t rock, you know.”
“That’s ok – it’s maybe the most comfortable chair I’ve sat in in my entire life. I don’t think I need it to rock.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear that… I know Rosie probably still gets up in the night and I thought you’d like somewhere to sit while you settle her. But then I worried that it wouldn’t rock, and maybe you wouldn’t like it, and maybe I should have chosen one of the chairs that really is for nurseries and not this one that’s really for you, and….”
Seeing Sherlock start to spiral, John stood up quickly, striding across the room to where Sherlock stood by the closet. Sherlock stopped talking, surprised by the movement. John looked up into his face, read the worry and the planning and the overwhelming desire to please John and make it all better, and put his hand lightly on Sherlock’s cheek, thumb stroking gently across Sherlock’s cheekbone.
“Stop, Sherlock. This is all perfect. It’s more… it’s more than I could ever have imagined. I came here today to tell you that I’m sorry, that I want to work things out… that I shouldn’t have yelled at you in the aquarium. That I miss you.”
“But – ”
“No, Sherlock, hear me out. I know we have lots left to discuss, and I certainly had no plans to move back to Baker Street, but this is… this is incredible. This is by far and away the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. In my whole life.” John’s voice broke a little as he looked around the room, and then back to Sherlock’s eyes.
“I… I don’t think I’ve ever… ever been loved like this before. I don’t think anyone has wanted to show how much they care before…” John stopped and took a deep breath. “Even Mary… wouldn’t have done this. She wouldn’t have known…” John stopped and gestured around the room. “She wouldn’t have known what I wanted it to look like. She wouldn’t have spent months thinking about how to make us a home, how to make me happy… like you did.”
Sherlock’s eyes were scrunched up tight now, and he was breathing heavily, Rosie between them staring at her father’s face. John continued stroking Sherlock’s cheekbone with his thumb, breathing steadily. Time stood still for a moment, and then John made a decision.
And with that, John slid his hand from Sherlock’s cheek around to the back of his neck, and gently guided his face down to John’s, into a soft kiss. After opening briefly in shock, Sherlock’s eyes fluttered closed peacefully this time, and he kissed John tenderly, loving the feeling of John’s fingers in his hair.
It was a brief, sweet kiss, and John pulled back a little so he could rest his forehead against Sherlock’s.
“Was that ok?”
With his eyes still closed and their foreheads still touching, Sherlock breathed deeply and nodded. “Yes… that was… that was everything.” John scanned Sherlock’s face to check… and when Sherlock opened his eyes and looked straight into John’s, John felt overwhelming relief.
“Good... that was a bit of a surprise, even to me.”
Sherlock smiled a little and ran his hand down John’s arm to grasp his free hand. He couldn’t remember having ever taken John’s hands in his before… though probably in the hospital on one or two occasions he would have. Now he felt John’s skin, rubbed his thumb over John’s knuckles, and gave John’s hand a squeeze.
“Well, I’m glad. I… I don’t know what I expected, but I’m glad we’re here. I’m glad you’re here.”
They smiled at each other for a moment then stepped back, each feeling rather shy.
“Shall we go back downstairs?” said Sherlock, after a moment. “I’ve got some rather nice dinner ingredients if you’d like to stay.”
“You’re cooking now too?”
“Oh yes – you know, I find it’s satisfying like an experiment is… you follow different recipes and you try different things, and sometimes they’re awful but often it comes together just like… like chemistry.” Sherlock gave John a soft smile at this, and gave his hand another squeeze.
Downstairs, John looked at Rosie’s face and noted her eyes starting to flutter shut. She was clearly deeply contented, resting there against Sherlock’s chest. He wondered if she could feel his heartbeat, and felt momentarily jealous of his baby daughter. “Bit much excitement for one afternoon, I think. I’ll take her off you… and do you mind if I put her down on your bed for a bit? That way you and I can talk in the kitchen and she won’t be too far.”
Sherlock looked a bit surprised, but agreed readily. “Won’t she fall off the bed? I did… I mean I really did think about buying a cot, but then that seemed a bit extreme, and I didn’t want to freak you out… and then...”
John cut him off with an easy smile. “Sherlock, she’ll be fine. We’ll just make a little pillow barrier around her on the bed so she won’t be going anywhere. And I brought her monitor with us, so we can watch her from the kitchen and check she’s safe.”
Sherlock looked relieved, and led the way back down the hall to his own room, whose door had been closed this whole time. He paused as he rested his hand on the door handle. “I should say… I made some changes in here too…”
John nodded – he’d assumed if Sherlock was on a renovating run, he wouldn’t leave his own room untouched. It had been years since John had seen inside, and even then he doesn’t remember actually having gone in. It had always seemed sort of “out of bounds”, though even as he thinks that now, it seems a bit silly. Maybe he’d developed a bit of a thing about it? Certainly Sherlock had no qualms about being in John’s space – John had woken up with a start on more than one occasion to Sherlock looming over him in bed, wondering why John was sleeping so late (6.30am), enquiring if he’d come find Lestrade (midnight), or asking whether John had any fishing line Sherlock could borrow (3am).
Those memories felt impossibly far away, now. Before Mary, before the fall, before John was wary about caring too much. He tried to push these thoughts out of his head, and be present for Sherlock, for whom this was clearly an important moment.
Sherlock pushed open the door and led John inside. The room was flushed with late afternoon light from the far window; that sort of golden glow that makes everything warmer. The blinds were up, and John admired the new feature wall: a dark, sumptuous green that suited Sherlock down to a tee. Against it rested a new headboard of dove grey, juxtaposed with crisp white sheets, white pillows, white everything on the bed. The room was sophisticated, John thought with a start. It felt surprisingly grown up; a real man’s bedroom. It was posh, but not in a showy way. How very Sherlock! Clean angles everywhere he looked, high contrast between the white and green, and impeccably neat. John idly wondered where all the Things had gone – the last time he’d been at 221B, there had certainly been a lot of Things.
“It’s lovely, Sherlock. Really – I can see why you like it so much. It’s peaceful and elegant.”
Sherlock smiled his quietly-content-with-myself smile at this, visibly pleased with his own designs. He didn’t seem concerned whether John personally liked it, unlike John’s bedroom and the play area, but seemed to appreciate John’s approval nevertheless. He leaned forward over the bed, going to move the pillows into a barrier, forgetting momentarily about Rosie strapped to his chest, until she gave a squawk of protest as her angle changed abruptly.
Sherlock ran his large hand lightly over her downy head, and spoke in a low, quiet voice that made John’s skin tingle. “Oh dear, I’m sorry. I forgot about you for a moment – you’d been so quiet, my little friend. John – can you take her off me? I don’t know how.”
John gave a shiver, closing his eyes for a moment at the tone of Sherlock’s voice. It felt all too much, and yet just enough, at the same time. He stood still and let it wash over him.
“Yes, sorry – I’m coming.”
John opened his eyes, a bit embarrassed to be caught in that moment, to find Sherlock’s expression curious and open. He clearly wanted to know what John had been thinking, and John felt Sherlock’s eyes flicking over his face, reading for clues.
“No, no, I’m fine. Just having a moment, you know how it is.” John shuffled towards Sherlock then, shifting his left arm in front of Sherlock and Rosie to hold her in place, and running his right hand down Sherlock’s lower back again as he reached to unclip the strap. It felt more intimate than before – John wondered if that was the kiss, or that the mood had shifted – and he noticed that Sherlock was holding his breath as John touched him.
“Here you go, sweetheart. Come back to me.” John whispered softly to Rosie. He held her in the crook of his arm as he removed the carrier from under her legs, and handed it lightly to Sherlock, who took it automatically. Sherlock laid the carrier on the bed and resumed his barrier building while John gave Rosie a cuddle.
“Let me just check her nappy before we put her down. I’ll be back in a moment.” John stepped out of the room and down the hall to where he’d left his bag by the door. As he leant down to get it, careful to keep Rosie upright, he looked into the kitchen. Unrecognisable without a trove of experiments on the table, he laughed quietly when he realised what all the weird shapes on the cabinetry were. It looked like there were white growths on all the lower doors, and John wondered for a moment just what Sherlock had been up to. But then he squinted and took a few steps in… Babyproofing! Sherlock had baby-proofed the kitchen drawers! For a baby who couldn’t walk, a child he hadn’t seen in months, the daughter of a man he didn’t know would ever forgive him.
John stepped back out of the kitchen, again feeling a rush of emotions and pain in his chest. He remembered he was meant to be checking Rosie’s nappy, and gave her bum a bit of a sniff. Even though it smelt fine, he decided he’d better change it now so she didn’t wake up unhappy in an hour.
By the time John reappeared in Sherlock’s room, Sherlock had built an intense obstacle course of towels, pillows, and what looked like a few philosophy text books.
“Ah, well, yes… I may have got a bit carried away. But better safe than sorry, I always say.”
John stared at Sherlock. “You… you… you have never said that in your entire life. Not once, in all the years I’ve known you, have you said – or even thought – ‘better safe than sorry’.”
Sherlock snorted at this, and had the good grace to look a bit embarrassed. “Yes, well. I’ve never had such good reason to be safe, now have I? She’s your daughter, John.”
They both looked at a snoozy Rosie, now in a terry towel onesie, and smiled. John laid her carefully down on her back in the middle of Sherlock’s fortress. She snuffled a little, slipping her thumb into her mouth. Sherlock watched John watching Rosie, feeling his chest stretch with the emotions of the day. The tenderness on John’s face, his soft touch on her skin, the way he carefully smoothed down the bedspread below her, all spoke of a love Sherlock had never seen before. John had changed. John was a father, really a father.
“I’ll just set the monitor up here, so we can see her, ok?” John tucked the monitor against some towels and manoeuvred it a bit so he’d get a clear angle of Rosie sleeping.
Once all was settled, they both gazed at her a bit longer, then Sherlock moved around to the same side of the bed as John, so close they were almost touching. He whispered, “Should I close the blinds, John?” and turned his head towards John conspiratorially.
John smiled back – clearly this was Sherlock’s first attempt at putting a baby down, and he seemed to be treating it like a military mission. “She’ll be fine with them as they are. It’s not dark yet but she’s plainly exhausted. I’m not sure how long she’ll sleep for – it’s not really her naptime but nor is it bedtime yet. We’ll see how she goes.”
With one last look at her, and after securing the other monitor in John’s hand, they turned for the door. Sherlock rested his hand lightly on John’s back to guide him out, softly pulling the door to, but not closed. John breathed in Sherlock, enjoying the touch, but not wanting to get ahead of himself.
They walked companionably down the hall in silence, back to the kitchen. Though it wasn’t really necessary yet, Sherlock leant to his left to flick on the overhead light, which shot a warm glow over the room. John turned to him, drinking him in once more and said with lifted brows, “Now, where were we?”
Sherlock huffed a little air out, surprised and pleased by John’s words. Feeling that John had put himself out there and bravely made the first move upstairs, Sherlock thought it was only fair that he initiate this time. He stepped into John’s personal space, ran his left hand through John’s hair, and bent down to kiss him on the lips, bringing both hands up to cup John’s face. John leaned up, resting his chest against Sherlock’s, and shifted gently against him. John sighed happily as Sherlock moved to deepen the kiss, running his hands up and down Sherlock’s back now. This was better than taking the carrier on and off – now there was nothing in his way, no hidden purpose, and he let his finders linger over Sherlock’s muscles.
They stood like that for many minutes, absorbing each other and enjoying soft kisses as they ran their hands over each other. Sherlock moved up to kiss John’s forehead, his cheeks, the sides of his eyes. John groaned as Sherlock pushed him firmly against the wall, pulling Sherlock down to his mouth again as he felt Sherlock getting hard against his stomach.
They broke apart, panting a little, smiling. “That was… amazing,” breathed John.
“You’re amazing,” smiled Sherlock. “Now, how about we get this dinner on before we get too distracted?” Sherlock gave John one last, chaste kiss, and turned around to the fridge, pulling out minced beef and some fresh pasta, and dumping them on the counter before reaching into the pantry for onions, carrots, garlic, tomato paste and olive oil.
It was companionable, standing there chopping and slicing side by side. Sherlock was more relaxed than John had seen him in ages, moving skilfully and smoothly around the kitchen and throwing things confidently in the pan. The kitchen began to smell wonderful – frying onions always had that effect – and John’s stomach gave an audible rumble.
“Perfect timing, then,” said Sherlock with a smile.
“Mm hm – absolutely. I have to say, I was quite nervous about today and didn’t really eat lunch. Tummy’s been holding out on breakfast until now. I think those onions sizzling were the final straw.”
Sherlock looked at John with surprise. “You were nervous?”
“Of course I was nervous. I basically told my best friend in the world to go to hell when my assassin wife died, then holed myself up in a shitty suburban flat for months on end, seeing no one and feeling sorry for myself. Honestly, if I hadn’t had to look after Rosie, gone through all her daily routines and stuff, I’m not sure I’d have survived.”
Sherlock looked crushed, and regret clouded his face.
“I – I should have tried harder to get you to let me in.”
“No, you really shouldn’t have. You did everything right. I wouldn’t have let you in, and I wouldn’t have admitted that I needed you even if you’d forced your way in. I just wanted to wallow for a while. Feel really, truly terrible. That the world was a truly awful, unfair, hideous place. And then… I don’t know what changed. I got your card – that was unexpected by the way – and I liked the stationery. I remember thinking ‘I like this stationery, and it doesn’t seem very Sherlock to have this sort of thing laying around’. And then… I don’t know what changed. I think I just ran out of energy to be angry and full of hate. I kept looking at your card, and at Rosie. And I knew that whatever Mary was, whoever she really was under all the lies, she did genuinely want me to be happy. And she wouldn’t want me sitting alone with our daughter in a dark apartment. She’d want me to make it up with you. And she’d want us to be doing our Sherlock-and-John thing. She always liked that, you know? Never jealous, or worried. I guess that’s one thing I did love about her.”
John paused then, looking reflective. His mouth was suddenly dry and he realised he’s done a lot of talking, and Sherlock had been watching him closely.
“Sherlock, you’re my whole world, you know that? Even at my absolute lowest, I missed you even as I railed against you. I.. I told Molly at one point how I was feeling, and you know what she said?” Sherlock gave a minute shake of the head. “She’s so wise. She said, ‘You know why it feels like this, don’t you? It’s because this is the second time in 5 years that you’ve been widowed. First Sherlock, now Mary. Your heart just can’t take it again.’”
Sherlock’s face shifted then, as he absorbed Molly’s meaning. He felt crushed, and almost sank to the floor with the weight of this revelation. Realising he wasn’t coping, he put down the wooden spoon he’d been using to stir the Bolognese sauce, turned the heat under the saucepan down, and pulled out a chair from the kitchen table. He sat, heavily, ashen-faced and wondering if he might throw up.
John sat too. He’d been leaning his hands on one of the chairs, facing Sherlock as he cooked. Now he pulled out the chair and sat opposite Sherlock, who was now shaking steadily.
“Sherlock, give me your hand.”
Obediently, Sherlock moved his hands onto the table top. He turned his right one over, wrist up, and John reached for it, taking Sherlock’s pulse automatically, even as he cradled Sherlock’s forearm. It was intimate and reassuring at the same time, and Sherlock took a deep breath and tried to force himself to calm down. This was it, then. The other shoe was dropping, and it was going to crush him.
“Sherlock, I’m not saying this to start anything. I just need you to understand what this has been like for me. Why I maybe went off the deep end a bit. Molly was right. This was the second time in just a few years I was grieving the loss of the most important person in my life. And sure, you weren’t my spouse and we weren’t, you know, doing anything together. But you were undoubtedly the most important person in my life and then suddenly you were gone. And I lost everything that day you jumped. My best friend, my home, my job. I know I could have stayed here, know I could have kept working with Lestrade, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted you.”
John stopped taking Sherlock’s pulse, and started rhythmically stroking Sherlock’s wrist instead. It was calming for both of them, he hoped. He looked up, trying to catch Sherlock’s eye. Sherlock took another deep breath before meeting John’s gaze.
“I guess... I guess I knew that. I didn’t, hadn’t thought of it the way that Molly said, but I should have. I had all the facts I needed to deduce that. To know why you felt so betrayed. To realise that this was your second time at the cemetery. Your second time starting your life afresh. Really your third, after… you know,” Sherlock waved a hand at John’s injured shoulder.
“I’m sorry, John. I really am. I never meant to hurt you, either time, and if I could go back and change those things I would. It means the world to me that you’re here in our kitchen. That you came home, even just for a visit. I thought you might never come, and I was trying to make my peace with that. Trying to tell myself that that’s what I deserved. But… I never gave up. And I’m not sure that I ever would have.”
Sherlock took another deep breath, and turned both his hands over, taking both of John’s in his.
“Let me say this, and then I think we should stop talking about this for tonight – we can obviously keep talking other nights – we should finish our dinner. And maybe sit on the couch and watch some telly.” John nodded, and Sherlock continued, “You and Rosie are welcome here any time. In any capacity you want to be here, for as long as you want to be here. I know you have your key, but I also don’t want you to feel like you ever have to explain why you’re here, or text ahead to say that you’re on your way.
“This is your home, John. And whether you want to – you know – do this,” Sherlock released one of John’s hands to gesture between them, before setting his hand back in John’s “Or, just be friends and go back to solving cases together…. That’s fine. They’re both fine. Anything you want is fine.”
John nodded, looking thoughtful.
After a few moments, he said, “And what do you want, Sherlock? What do you really want?”
Sherlock breathed out slowly, pulling John’s hands a little tighter. Steeling himself for honesty. No point having suffered all these months, missing John, wanting John, only to lose his nerve at the crucial moment.
“I want this. You. Us. I want us to make dinner together every night. I want to learn what turns you on. I want you to fall asleep in my arms, in my bed. I want to work with you, solve puzzles with you, and fall into step with you as we run. I want Rosie to grow up at Baker Street, and I’ll pack her lovely lunches, and we’ll go on adventures to see my parents. She’ll know that we love her. She’ll probably know a worrying amount about soil and dead bodies and whether people are lying to her. And eventually she’ll head off to university, and you and I will grow old together.” Sherlock sighed, and closed his eyes. “That’s what I want most in the world.”
When he finished, Sherlock could hear his own breaths. Hear John’s breaths. Could hear John thinking. He felt John release his hands, heard John’s chair push back from the table, and prayed to a god he had always sworn he didn’t believe in that John was making his way around the table. He opened his eyes again just in time to see John’s face coming closer, his face blazing with love and pride and hope. Sherlock pushed back his own chair to make room for John, reached out, and John fell into his arms, desperately. They clutched at each other, kissing relentlessly, harder, faster, deeper, until they were both out of breath and grasping each other tightly. Then they stilled, resting their foreheads together once more.
“I want forever with you too, Sherlock Holmes.”