As soon as the ambulance pulled away John turned to the small knot of officers left. “Get someone watching from the side window – preferably with a gun – and you need at least two people at the back so they’re not coming up your arse unexpected,” John said, somehow resisting the impulse to check his gun again. They just stared at him, and John could practically feel Sherlock smirking next to him. “Or, you know, you could do it,” he nodded to the SFO, clearing his throat.
“Go,” the SFO said to the nearest officers with a jerk of his head. He glanced at John once more before turning to the remaining men. John felt Sherlock step in close behind him, his hand pressed to John’s lower back as the SFO barked orders.
Once the officers were in position John moved near the door, watching as the SFO peered through the small pane of glass on the front door. John licked his lips, his heart pounding as he waited, perfectly still.
What felt like hours later, he heard a car roll to a stop outside. John looked around at the gathered police, who were all tense with nervous energy. The SFO pulled his gun.
“There are three of them,” he murmured, glancing back over his shoulder. Sherlock slid to the side, peering out through the crack over his shoulder.
“Here they come,” he whispered. He met John’s eyes for a just a moment before the door flew open.
The police flew into action, the SFO immobilizing the first man through as one of the other officers cuffed him and began to pat him down. The second man pushed past John, and the third turned, bolting toward the car.
John snarled a curse and ran after him, his heart pounding. There was no way he was going to get away, absolutely no way –
John managed to grab him by the shoulder, jerking him around. They tumbled, their feet tangling as they fell, landing hard enough to knock the wind out of them both. The man below him jerked back, snarling under his breath as the back of his head slammed into John’s cheek. Cursing, he swung his arm back, pushing up the back of his jacket, feeling for the cold metal of his gun.
It wasn’t there.
He swung his head around as two of the officers ran out of the building, handcuffs in hand, and John managed to hold the man long enough for the others to immobilize him. He nodded to them, prodding gently at his cheek before looking around. Sherlock was just inside the door looking at the floor at his feet, talking fast as Lestrade handcuffed one of the other men, and John made his way to Sherlock’s side.
“Is that all of them, you think?” he asked. Sherlock turned, his eyes lingering on his cheek.
“I’m nearly certain – and if there are any others still free, they’ll be found soon enough.”
“Alright,” Lestrade said, nodding to them. “They’re going to get this lot processed while the rest of us go to take statements,” he said. He nodded to them both again before he hurried out to his car to follow the ambulance.
Sherlock turned to him. “Home?” he asked.
John shook his head. “No. The hospital.”
“They won’t let you in to see her.”
“I know. I just... I want to be there anyway.” Sherlock, to his credit, just nodded and took his arm, leading him toward the road, blocking him from the wind.
He felt... numb. The adrenaline and anger were seeping out of him – or maybe they were sinking below the surface, out of immediate reach – and he could feel himself starting to sag, exhausted.
His hands were beginning to shake.
In the back of the cab, Sherlock slid closer and pressed his gun into his hand. John glanced up at the cabbie as he slid it into his pocket.
“Why?” he asked quietly.
“Not even I could have done anything if you’d shot a man in clear view of a dozen police officers,” Sherlock murmured.
He knew it was true; he didn’t have to like it. He exhaled slowly as he gripped Sherlock’s hand. “Thank you,” he said anyway.
When they arrived at the hospital John stopped at the doors, pulling out his mobile. It was dark, and the hospital lights were shining through the glass doors. Sherlock looked over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow in question. “I’ve got to call Catherine,” John explained. He could see Lestrade just inside the doors, talking to a middle aged couple. When he noticed Sherlock and John outside he nodded to the couple and walked over to the doors.
“What are you two doing here?” he called as he walked out. “Sherlock? Anything else we should know about?”
“We need to contact one of the parents,” John explained, holding up his phone.
“No, we don’t. She already knows,” Sherlock said.
“Have you called her already?” John asked Lestrade, lowering his phone.
“No,” Sherlock answered for him.
“Then how does she know?”
“She knows because she paid them to take her daughter.”
“Wha –” John opened his mouth to speak, but his head began to spin as the implication of that statement sank in, and he pressed his palm to his forehead. Sherlock led him to the cold stone bench by the door, sitting with him, but John hardly noticed. He had seen news reports from time to time about parents killing or selling their children with disabilities. The news reports always said the same thing: they were too tired, too stressed, they had nowhere to turn. He’d read them but then ultimately dismissed them – nameless, faceless people.
They weren’t faceless anymore.
He closed his eyes, picturing a young Sherlock, smiling under Mycroft’s arm; Julian, shrieking with laughter. He doubled over. “Jesus,” he breathed, stunned at the force of his own reaction. Sherlock turned back to him, brows drawing together.
“How – how do you know?” He looked away again, closing his eyes as the thought hit him. “You knew...”
“Not where she was or why she’d been taken,” Sherlock said quickly. “And I only had suspicions about the mother. I had to have proof, the piece of the puzzle that would lead me to her daughter and the other children; do you understand? I had to.”
He’d talked to her, he’d held her hand, and the entire time she’d known. Known what was happening to her fourteen year old child. “Jesus,” he whispered, his voice shaking. ”Jesus.”
“She wasn’t going to leave London; not with you visiting her on a regular basis. You made her feel at ease –”
“Just shut up.” He swallowed, hard. “That’s why you kept me in the dark on the case. And all those kidnapping cases – you took them to try and find the other victims?”
“Does that disappoint you? That I wasn’t doing it out of the ‘goodness of my heart’?” Sherlock asked. John just shook his head, running a hand through his hair. “She believed the investigation was coming to an end,” Sherlock went on.
“When I told her we couldn’t find her daughter,” he realized. Sherlock nodded.
“We were nearly there on our own, but you certainly sped things up quite a bit, yes. When she believed the investigation over, she transferred a large sum of money to the kidnapper’s bank account. I’ve had Mycroft monitoring her account for just such a transfer. The other children were sold by siblings, nannies or others with lesser means. Those sums could be transferred in cash – a hundred quid here, fifty there - and the withdrawals wouldn’t have been large enough to confirm.”
“So… they charged more to abduct children from wealthy families?” John asked. He felt sick again.
“Yes. In the Victorian Era, there was a practice known as ‘baby farming’ – infants would be turned over for a nominal fee, a pound or two for the poor, up to eighty pounds for the wealthy looking to avoid scandal.”
“’The old baby farmer, the wretched Miss Dyer’,” John quoted. He shivered. “I didn’t know that was actually based on something.”
“The most horrifying stories, John, always are,” Sherlock said with a tight smile. “In this case, Ms. Harris was looking for a chance to start over again, in a new life with a new lover.”
“Lover?” Lestrade said, and John jerked his head up; he’d forgotten anyone else was there. “We checked her out. What lover?”
“The boyfriend. The smoker,” Sherlock said offhand. He paused when they all looked at him expectantly. “Oh, for God’s sake, the curtains!” He waited, but no one else moved. He stood, frustrated, but John jumped to his feet and gripped his hand to calm him. “The curtains. They smelled of smoke, yet Ms. Harris’ fingernails were immaculate. The curtains in her daughters room weren’t discoloured and the smell wasn’t as strong, indicating that she wasn’t the smoker.”
“She’s fourteen,” John pointed out, and Sherlock just shrugged.
“And how does that prove a lover?” Lestrade asked.
“It was obviously someone who was there often enough for the scent to linger, yet the few ashtrays around the room were completely clean. And it fits the motive: she gets to start over with her new boyfriend; the buyers get what they were looking for,” he finished with a flourish, and Lestrade’s face contorted in anger. John reached out and squeezed Sherlock’s arm, and he deflated slightly under their combined looks.
Lestrade turned away, crossing his arms. “Alright, I’ve got to get started on the paperwork for this mess. If you think of anything...” he broke off, shaking his head, and then walked away without another word.
John tugged at Sherlock’s arm until they were sitting again, looking over at the doors that led into the hospital. Where would she go? Who would take care of her, after such a horrible experience?
“Absolutely not, John,” Sherlock’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“I know, I wasn’t thinking she’d come stay with us. I doubt two strange blokes would do much to help, in her situation.”
“She trusted you.”
His chest throbbed and he ducked his head. Sherlock looked away pointedly as he wiped at his face, studying another group of visitors as they walked toward the door. “She did, didn’t she?” John said.
“She has an aunt in Sussex Gardens who I imagine will take custody,” Sherlock said. “She’s already been notified.”
John ran a hand through his hair, nodding. “Just one of those days where I hate this job, I suppose,” he muttered.
“Why?” He looked over at Sherlock, who was looking back at him, frowning. “If we hadn’t been working on this case, who knows how long the police would have taken to find those children – if they found them at all.”
“I know,” he sighed as he stood. “I know it has to be done. Some days that’s a big part of the problem.” Sherlock stood next to him, looking uncertain. “Just stay here. I’m going for a walk. I’m not leaving,” he added. Sherlock just nodded, lowering himself back onto the bench as he looked up at John.
He walked inside and wandered the halls, watching the nurses rushing about. A few of them looked grim or ill; the rest spoke in hushed whispers to each other, and John found himself wishing he didn’t know just what they were talking about. When he reached the vending machines he stopped to glance over the food, wondering how long it had been since Sherlock had last eaten.
“Tea?” He turned to see Donovan standing behind him, two steaming paper cups in her hands and a bag of crisps balanced on her arm.
“Thanks,” he sighed, reaching out to take one. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Taking statements,” she said, and he nodded. He sipped the tea and grimaced down at it as they sat. He looked around silently as she ate, staring at the white walls.
“Sherlock thinks you pity him now,” he said after a moment. She just shrugged.
“I don’t give a toss what he’s got.”
John blinked, surprised. “You don’t?”
She scoffed. “’Course I don’t.”
“But then, why -?”
She sighed, setting her cup down as she turned to him. “Do you know why we hate him?”
“Because he’s better at your job than you are?” John guessed. She rolled her eyes at him.
“Because he’s arrogant, rude, runs roughshod over our work insulting us the whole way without so much as a word from Lestrade or anyone else.” She handed him her empty wrapper to wipe her hands as she stood. “I don’t care what they say to him, but they’re going to have a damn good reason for it – a proper reason, like before – or they’re going to answer to me.”
“Well, thanks, I guess.”
“Don’t you dare tell him I said that,” she called over her shoulder as she walked away.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” John muttered as he tossed the wrapper and cup in the bin.
When he arrived back at the hall where Sherlock was waiting, Sherlock was standing, his hands in his pockets as he shifted his weight impatiently. He walked toward John without looking up. “Her aunt’s here. She’ll be staying overnight with Angel, and taking her back with her as soon as possible.” Sherlock frowned at that.
“Please tell me you didn’t interrogate her,” John said.
“I didn’t,” he said, and another absurd flash of fear went through him. “No need to worry, John. Child services will be keeping a close eye on her for the time being. I’ve ensured it.”
“Are you ready to go, then?” John asked.
“Yes, I think it’s time to return home. Use my card to get a cab to your sister’s.”
“Wha – oh, alright,” John said, not bothering to hide his disappointment. Then it dawned on him. “Julian! I left him with Harry –” he looked at his watch and groaned; it was already half past midnight. “- half the night, Christ.”
“You’d better get going, then,” Sherlock said.
John turned back to him, reaching up to grab the back of the head and tug him down for a kiss. “I’ll see you soon,” he promised. Then he bolted for the door, cursing under his breath.
“Harry?” he whispered as he pushed open the front door to her flat. It was quiet, and the sitting room was covered in shadows, the blue glow of the television flickering in the corner.
He glanced around once, and then crept up the stairs and into their room as quietly as he could. Once he was inside, though, he froze.
The cot was empty.
He ran back down the stairs, his heart pounding. He paced the length of the sitting room once before he noticed them.
Curled on the sofa, Julian’s head was resting in Harry’s lap, his jaw slack in sleep. She was leaning against the arm of the sofa, her head lolling to the side, one of her hands resting on Julian’s head.
He sank to his knees in front of them, his hand resting over Harry’s, his fingers tangling slightly in Julian’s hair. Here. He was here. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead on the edge of the sofa. They were fine.
He pulled the rug from the back and tossed it over them before he climbed the stairs, already half-asleep.
The next morning he was in the kitchen making coffee when he heard Harry groan from the sofa. Julian went running by a moment later, and she followed at a slower pace.
“Good morning,” he said. She grumbled under her breath.
“This feels like the worst hangover I’ve ever had,” she mumbled.
“Over a day of sobriety will do that to you. Well, you,” he added, pouring her a mug of coffee.
“Ha ha,” she deadpanned, leaning against the counter. She groaned as she ran a hand over her eyes.
She really did look terrible, and John sighed as he looked at her. “Go sit down, I’ll make breakfast. Thanks again,” he said, holding out the mug.
“You don’t need to thank me,” she said, but she took the mug and walked in that direction anyway.
Ten minutes later, Julian was seated at one end of the table, his knees drawn up and his DS balancing on them as he ate his toast. Harry hunched over her plate, pushing bits of egg around with her fork. “I saw you’re packed,” she said, glancing up at John.
“Yeah. I just have some paperwork to do before I take him home,” he said as he stood. They both stood as well, and Harry gripped Julian’s shoulder and pulled him close as John went to gather their bags.
They were waiting at the bottom of the stairs when he returned. Harry was looking down, smiling sadly. “It was... nice, having you here,” she said. He didn’t know what to say to that; he honestly couldn’t agree in many ways, but it was the most time they’d spent together in years.
“What are you going to do now?” he asked her. She shrugged.
“I was thinking... I might go to a meeting. Talk to a doctor,” she said, smiling as he rolled his eyes at her. “I might... rent out the extra room. It’s too quiet here.”
“Maybe send Clara the rest of her things,” he said, glancing at one of the paintings. “Get something in here you like.”
She looked around at the walls as well. “It’s been years since I liked something I couldn’t drink.”
“Well then get something you hate and keep it around until you either start to love it or set fire to it. Just don’t stop trying.”
“I won’t.” She pulled him into a hug. “Don’t forget to bring him by, now and then. Don’t let him forget his aunt.”
“That all depends on you,” he replied. She wiped her eyes as she stepped back.
“I love you,” he said, because he did, despite everything they’d been through.
She wrinkled her nose. “God, you get gayer by the day,” she chuckled.
“Charming, Harry,” he said, trying not to smile.
“You’re even starting to sound like him. Go home,” she smiled, sniffling, “You belong there.”
“Home,” Julian repeated, looking up at him.
John squeezed his hand. “Yeah, let’s go home.”
Two hours later, their cab stopped outside of 221B. For a moment John just looked up at it, smiling, before he climbed out of the cab and retrieved their suitcases from the boot. Julian was rocking on his toes, grinning as he waited on the pavement for John.
He let himself in – the key now back on his keychain – just as Mrs. Hudson’s door swung open.
“Mrs. Hudson,” he greeted. She looked between them as she closed the door behind himself.
“Are you dropping him off, then? Only, you didn’t call, and I...” She glanced behind him, her eyes widening. “Oh.”
“We’ll be upstairs,” he said with a smile.
“Of course.” She was grinning, and pulled Julian into a hug and dropped a kiss on the top of his head before letting John lead him up the stairs.
Sherlock was seated at the table, reading something on his laptop. Julian pulled away from John and ran over to him, forcing his arm to the side so he could climb into his lap. Sherlock, for his part, just smiled as he turned to them.
“You brought your bags,” Sherlock said. It was the closest thing to a ‘banal observation’ John had ever heard out of him, and he chuckled as he leaned the suitcase against the wall.
“I did. I’ve decided I’m not going back to Harry’s.”
“Oh?” Sherlock ran a hand through Julian’s hair, tugging gently.
“Yeah. It’s just not a good fit. I think we need to find a new flat.”
“Fortuitous – having the flat to myself isn’t as convenient as I expected it to be. I think I need a new flatmate,” Sherlock said without looking up. “However, there’s only one extra bedroom, and I believe Julian will want that one. There’s plenty of shelf space for his books, after all,” Sherlock said, and Julian jumped up and ran to his suitcase.
John smiled as he dragged it toward the stairs. “What a coincidence. Looks like we’ll be stuck together.”
“I suppose so,” Sherlock said. “We’re in agreement, then?”
“Not quite,” John said.
“No?” Sherlock frowned. “Does this have something to do with the envelope in your jacket pocket?” he asked.
John rolled his eyes as he pulled out the envelope, pulling out the small stack of papers inside. “Yeah; I just need you to sign something for me, first.” He held out the papers and Sherlock took them with a frown.
“If this is a contract of some kind stating I won’t bring contraband into the flat –” he broke off at he looked at the papers John handed him. “Custody,” he breathed.
“Joint custody,” John corrected. “We’ll both be Julian’s guardians. It’s only fair.”
He looked up sharply. “This isn’t legally possible.”
John just shrugged. “I may have had some help. Just from some minor government official.”
“Mycroft’s never trusted me to do anything myself,” Sherlock said, frowning down at the paper.
John licked his lips, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “If you don’t want to sign it – if you’d rather find another way to –”
“No, no,” Sherlock spread the paperwork flat on the table, holding out his hand for a pen without looking up, “Of course I’ll sign it; that isn’t what I meant at all. It’ll give him yet another thing to lord over me, but I rather think it’s worth it.”
“Well, technically it’s something he can lord over me,” John said, grabbing a pen from the old mug on the mantle and tossing it to him. Sherlock didn’t say anything as he signed the papers.
He leaned back in his seat, looking down at his own neat writing. “When will this be filed?” he asked.
“We could send it right now, if you’d like.”
Sherlock looked up at him, a smile tugging at his lips. “Yes. Let’s.”
The next week passed quickly, with them settling back into their routines with surprising ease. John was making tea on Saturday afternoon, still marvelling over how much had changed when Julian went streaking by, his hair and clothes streaked with blue and purple lines.
“What is in your hair?” John called as he disappeared around the corner. Footsteps were racing toward him, and John just managed to jump out of the way as Sherlock ran past, a dark stain spreading on his shirt.
“Experiment,” he called over his shoulder.
“You can’t –“ John started, but they’d both already disappeared into the bedroom. “You can’t experiment on him,” he said, walking over to the door.
Sherlock was kneeling next to the bed, wiping at Julian’s hair. “I wasn’t experimenting on him, I was experimenting with him. It’s hardy the same.”
“With what, then?” John asked, crossing his arms.
“A substance designed to produce strong colours when mixed with water.”
John blinked at him. “You mean watercolour paints. You were painting with him in our bath – no, wait, I don’t know why I’m surprised by that. Why don’t you bathe him properly this time,” John suggested, trying to hide his amusement.
“’Properly’, I thought we’d trained all that rubbish out of you,” Sherlock said as he lifted Julian.
“Old habits die hard.” Sherlock just walked past him, and Julian giggled as they headed for the bathroom once more.
John had just settled into his chair and began to read when the door opened, and Lestrade walked in. He looked at John for a moment, and then looked around the room. “Sherlock?” he asked.
“He’s upstairs,” John said, standing. There was a large splash and Julian shrieked with laughter. “Might be a minute,” he went on, and they both smiled as Sherlock laughed.
“It’s alright, I just wanted to let him know the trial’s going well, so far. Green lighted and going rather fast through court, I’d say.”
“He’ll be glad to hear it.” There was a long silence, and Lestrade glanced around, as though trying to think of what to say.
“You came back, then,” he said after a moment.
“We did. Couldn’t stay away, I guess. Either of us,” he added as Julian laughed once more.
“He’s a lucky bloke. Most of the boys didn’t think you would, but well, I hoped,” he said, shrugging awkwardly. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sherlock so depressed, and I’ve been working with him for five years.”
“I think he’d say you’ve been working for him,” John said with a smile. Lestrade groaned.
“Oi, don’t you start in too. One of him is bad enough.”
“I wouldn’t,” John chuckled, shaking his head. “I don’t think I could muster up the sheer arrogance to make it believable, at any rate.”
“So, I guess you kind of have a thing for –”
“Brilliance? I guess I do,” he smiled. Lestrade shrugged, smiling.
“I don’t get you, Watson.”
“That’s alright; I don’t need you to,” John said as Sherlock entered the room. His hair was dripping into his eyes, but he somehow managed to look smug as Julian emerged behind him, clean and dressed. “As long as somebody does.” Sherlock walked past, ghosting a hand over John’s shoulder, and Lestrade rolled his eyes and walked away.
“Alright, I’m exiting the madhouse,” he announced.
“We should get that on a mat, or something,” John said as he turned to Sherlock, pulling him close. He could feel Sherlock’s laugh rumbling through his chest as the water soaked into his shirt.
“Might save us some time,” he agreed.
“Lestrade said the trial’s going well,” John said as he stepped back. Sherlock soured.
“Yes, I’ve heard.”
“You don’t seem happy about that,” John said, leaning back against the wall.
“Her defence, while unsurprising, is rather... upsetting. Do you think you’re missing out, John? On the chance to have a normal family?”
“Missing out?” John asked, confused. Then he realized what Sherlock had meant about her defence. He thought for a moment. “Well, I suppose I am.” Sherlock nodded, turning away, and John caught his hand in his own and wrapped their fingers together. “But if I had a normal family, then I’d be missing out on this one,” he squeezed Sherlock’s hand, “And I quite like it just the way things are.”
Sherlock smiled, his shoulders relaxing. “Good.”