Actions

Work Header

Too Much To Hold

Chapter Text

John had gotten used to waking up in a war zone.

Literally, of course, and figuratively now that he’d settled into his life with Sherlock. And the worst days were when he woke up to nothing at all.

He jerked out of bed when the silence managed to trickle fully into his sleep-adled mind. There were no sounds coming from the sitting room, and John crept down the stairs and peered around the room.

Sherlock was lounging on the sofa, wrapped in a burgundy silk dressing gown and staring up at the ceiling, lips pursed. John glanced down at his own worn cotton t-shirt and shorts and wondered again how Sherlock managed to afford to look like spoiled royalty when he rarely accepted payment for his work. He suspected Mycroft was involved, somehow.

After determining – with frank amazement – that Sherlock wasn’t conducting any dangerous experiments or about to start shooting holes in the wall, he started for the kitchen, giving up on the idea of falling back asleep. “Morning,” he called as he passed. Sherlock made a soft noise that could have meant ‘good morning’ or could have meant ‘don’t talk, I’m thinking.’ John went to start the coffee.

The kitchen was an even bigger disaster than usual, and John gave the bubbling tubes on the table a wide berth as he went about making coffee. He didn’t have to be at the surgery for an hour, and he was contemplating updating his blog. Their last case had been intriguing, and involved running around London to find out why someone was smashing Napoleon busts, of all things. Sherlock had discovered the last bust unbroken and proceeded to smash it himself, pulling a pearl from the wreckage and flushing with surprised happiness under their praise.

“Don’t even think of including that in your ridiculous little ramblings,” Sherlock called from the sofa.

“I wasn’t,” John said quickly, trying not to smile. “Or maybe I’ll write that you played it up to be nice to Lestrade.” He poured his coffee, sniffed the milk warily before preparing his cup.

“That would be worse,” Sherlock complained, but John could hear the smile in his voice.

“Coffee?” Sherlock asked as he suddenly swept past and into the kitchen. John nodded and handed him an empty mug. Sherlock just stared for a moment as though he could force coffee to appear in it. Then he looked over at John’s mug. “Sugar?” Sherlock went on. “In yours, I mean.” John nodded again, confused.

Sherlock snatched the cup from his hand, dumping the coffee into the sink as he turned on the tap. He swished the water around to make sure it all went down the drain. John eyed the sugar bowl suspiciously, lifting the lid and reaching out to touch the white powder. Sherlock snatched his hand away just before he touched it.

“No,” he sighed, “It’s not cocaine. It is a rather powerful paralytic, though.”

“Right,” John said, reaching for another cup. He’d probably have to bin the cup in the sink, just to be safe. “And why is it in the sugar bowl?” he prompted.

“I needed a ceramic container to store it in,” Sherlock said, as though that was a reasonable explanation. He stalked back toward the sitting room with his coffee before John could say anything else.

John watched him flop back down onto the sofa and scowl at the television, then at his phone, and resisted the urge to groan. The signs were all there, like a coming storm: this was the start of a bad day, possibly a bad week if Lestrade or a client didn’t bring a case that Sherlock would find interesting. He supposed he should feel grateful that Sherlock interrupted his scowling and dramatic flailing to make sure John didn’t poison himself. It was difficult to muster, though, given that he was the one who put the poison there in the first place.

“What are your plans for the day, then?” he called. Sherlock didn’t move or answer. “I have to go to the surgery today,” John reminded him.

“Dull,” Sherlock sighed. “There are no cases to look into - even a boring one would be a welcome distraction right now. My brain is going to rot.”

“It hasn’t even been a week since our last case,” john pointed out. Sherlock merely huffed. “Well, maybe someone will have lost a ring or a puppy or something by time I get home.” Sherlock snorted.

John ignored him in favour of sitting at the table and opening his laptop. He rubbed his hands together for a moment, thinking, and then began to type.

A half hour later he’d filled in most of the details of the case. He thought back to the look on Sherlock’s face – eyes shining, his cheeks reddening – as John clapped him on the shoulder and grinned.

He was fantastic, he typed. Brilliant as always. He looked amazing, standing there.

He deleted the last part, his cheeks heating. He glanced over at Sherlock, but he was still lying on the sofa, facing the back.

He wouldn’t say he’d been pining lately – he wasn’t that far gone, he assured himself – but he spent far too much time thinking about a man who was likely asexual. Sherlock had never shown any interest in a romantic relationship, either.

He checked the time. “Sherlock,” he said as he stood. Sherlock stirred a bit, but didn’t turn to face him. “I’m off to the surgery. Try not to blow anything up while I’m gone or shoot holes in the walls, please.”

“I’ll try,” Sherlock answered dryly, his voice muffled by the cushion. “You’ve still got beer cans in the fridge, though.”

“And they’d better be there when I get home – don’t even think about blowing them up. I’m not going to sneak them off to work with me; I’m not Harry.”

“Thankfully,” Sherlock muttered. Sherlock rolled to face him as he was stepping into his shoes. “It’s boring when you’re not here,” Sherlock tried, and even though it was an obvious manipulation, his mouth went a bit dry and he paused.

“Yeah, well, I need the money. And you could try tidying up a bit, if you’re that bored,” he suggested. Sherlock wrinkled his nose.

“You could do it if you stayed here,” he suggested. “And I could pay you.”

A gentle ache bloomed in his chest at the implications of that statement. “You don’t need to pay me to be your friend,” he said. It came out softer than he meant it, and Sherlock’s eyes flickered up to his in surprise. He looked strangely vulnerable for a moment; he looked down, clearing his throat. John turned and walked out the door.

“You’re my assistant!” Sherlock called down the stairs after him.

“And you don’t have a case right now,” John called back. “Git,” he added under his breath, trying to force himself to stop smiling. Mrs. Hudson’s door swung open and she poked her head out, raising an eyebrow at him. “Sorry,” he said.

“Are you two having a row?” she asked.

“No,” he said, smiling again as he replayed Sherlock’s words in his mind. “We’re – we’re really not.” He waved to her as he opened the front door.

The small warmth he’d felt at Sherlock’s words stayed with him the entire way to work.

He was ten minutes late to the surgery, and Sarah met him at the door with a stack of files and an exasperated smile.

“Sherlock?” she guessed, holding the files out. He knew what she actually meant.

“If it had been a case, I wouldn’t have made it here at all,” he said, grimacing. “Sorry.”

“No problem. That’s what you do,” she shoved the files into his hands. “Well, when you’re not here, anyway. Now get to work.”

John smiled at her. “Who’s first, today?”

“Mrs. Chapman. She’s been running a fever for three days, she says. She’s already waiting for you in consultation room one.”

He nodded, looking over the file. “Thanks.” He pushed open the door to the examination room, dropping the file on the table next to a half-dead pot of hydrangeas. He smiled at Mrs. Chapman perched on the edge of the examination table and tried to put Sherlock out of his mind.

The morning flew by, until he was sitting at his desk and debating where or not to eat before his next patient. There was a sharp knock on the door as it swung open, and Sarah smiled at him as she leaned against the door frame. “Lunch?”

“Sounds fantastic,” he said, standing with a sigh. He cracked his back a few times, and grimaced when he saw Sarah watching him. “Not as young as I used to be.”

“Pretty soon you and Sherlock will need walkers to chase criminals all over London,” she teased.

He stretched again, groaning as he rubbed his lower back. “Hopefully by then he’ll have retired and we’ll be doing something a little less crazy.”

“Like moving to the country and keeping bees,” she suggested.

He followed her out of the office and toward the front door. “Oh, no, he’ll never leave London. And bees? Too boring. Lions, more likely.”

“Or maybe you’ll be catching international spies,” she said as she pushed the door open. She threaded an arm through his as they laughed, and he smiled the entire way to the restaurant.

They stopped at a small cafe down the street, and sat by the window in companionable silence while they waited for their food. The waitress at a plate in front of him, and he found himself wondering if Sherlock had eaten anything all day. Calling him and asking seemed a bit much, though, so he started eating instead.

“What is it?” Sarah asked.

He shrugged. “Sherlock,” he explained with a smile. To her credit, she just nodded.

She wiped her mouth on a napkin. “So, what have you and Sherlock been up to lately? I didn’t see you much last week.”

“We had a crazy case,” he sighed, shaking his head.

“Tell me about it,” she requested. She folded her arms and leaned on the edge of the table, eyes shining. He laughed and launched into the story, playing up his own involvement, even though she probably knew better.

“There was a pearl? In the bust?” she asked as she finished her food.

“Yeah. Sherlock had looked into its disappearance a while back, I guess, so he was happy to find it again.”

“Fascinating.”

“It is,” he agreed. She was still beaming at him, waiting for him to go on.

He had the sinking feeling that at some point he had gone from ‘John’ to ‘John-and-Sherlock’ in her mind. Not that he could blame her; in his own mind he’d moved from ‘me’ to ‘us’ at some point, unnoticed.

And while he wouldn’t be adverse to it, he knew a hopeless situation when he saw one.

He cleared his throat. “You look nice today.”

She smiled at him, brushing her hair behind her ear. “Thanks.” She looked down at her watch and stood. “We need to get back to work.” He nodded, following her out of the restaurant.

---

He was between patients that afternoon when his door swung open, and he looked up to see Sarah standing in the doorway. She was worrying her lip between her teeth. “Hey. Something wrong?” he asked.

“There’s a call for you. A woman named Harry?”

He sighed and closed his eyes, steeling himself before he glanced at the clock. He only had two more hours of work; she was probably drunk already. “I’ll take it in here, thanks.” Sarah nodded and backed out of the room. He sighed and lifted the phone. “Hello, Harry.”

“John?” Her voice wavered.

He frowned, instantly on edge. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I tried your mobile, but it’s ringing out,” she babbled. Her voice was unnaturally loud, but she wasn’t slurring yet, at least.

He checked his pockets. “I must have left it at home.” Or Sherlock had pick-pocketed him. Again.

“I tried it over and over, and then it stopped ringing.”

“Harry,” he stood, rubbing his eyes. “What’s this about? I’m at work.”

“Mark and Jennifer were in a car crash this morning.”

He dropped back down, the chair squeaking under his weight. Mark had been close friends with Harry when they were younger. He and John hit it off spectacularly when he came to stay with them over summer break when Harry was in fifth form; they spent all their free time together, and when Mark met Jennifer at uni she integrated seamlessly into their friendship. He’d been the best man at their wedding; he was the first person to hold their son.

They hadn’t talked in years. He’d gone to Afghanistan and they were raising their son. He could feel his pulse hammering in his throat anyway.

He swallowed hard. “They –”

“They didn’t make it.” Her voice wavered again, and she let out a low sob.

“Jesus, Harry,” he breathed. “I’m so sorry.” A cold wave washed over him, and he shivered.

“It was quick,” she went on, and she gave a short, humourless laugh. “So there’s that.”

He stood, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair. “I’m – I’m on my way to my flat now. Are you okay to travel?” he asked.

There was a short pause, like she was considering it. “Yeah,” she said, her voice soft.

“Good. Meet me there, yeah? I’ll see you soon.” He hung up and walked toward the door, flagging down Sarah on his way out.

---

“Your phone has been ringing all afternoon,” Sherlock called the moment he came into the room. John grabbed his phone and checked it – eight calls from Harry, two from a number he didn’t recognize. He turned it off again and dropped it on the coffee table with a sigh. “You’re home early,” Sherlock went on.

“A couple friends of mine,” he cleared his throat, but it still came out strangely thick, “They passed away today. I just got word.”

Sherlock sat up on the sofa, his eyes alight with curiosity as he looked up at John. “How did they die?” he asked.

John ground his teeth; of course Sherlock would want to know. “Traffic accident.”

“Oh,” Sherlock slumped back, frowning to himself. “Boring.”

Anger rippled through him, burning hot and twisting at his insides. “Shut up, Sherlock,” he growled, voice low. “I mean it. Two of my mates from uni just died, don’t you understand what that means to me?”

“You hadn’t seen them in years,” Sherlock pointed out, and John didn’t want to ask how he knew that. He didn’t want to ask anything, he didn’t want to hear Sherlock’s bloody deductions, but his mouth was moving and his hands were gripping the back of his chair hard enough to turn his knuckles white.

“God, Sherlock, what if I died? What if I’d died at that bloody pool? Can you even imagine what that would feel like?” He realized he was shouting, but at that point he didn’t care.

“But you didn’t,” Sherlock answered. His eyes were wide, startled, but for once John didn’t relish it.

“Fine, what if you got a call from your bloody brother that I’d – I’d been in a cab on the way to work when it crashed or been in a bloody fire or something, I don’t know – how d’you think you’d feel? Would you feel anything?”

“I imagine shock would set in rather quickly and no, I wouldn’t feel anything – not for a good few hours,” Sherlock muttered. John glared at him, and Sherlock glanced away, an uncertainty flashing in his eyes that John rarely saw.

Bit not good, yeah.

John sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Please, just don’t say anything once Harry gets here.”

“What’s she coming here for?”

John dropped his hand. “Mark and Jennifer were her friends, too. I didn’t want to just leave her at her flat drinking herself stupid. Don’t –” he raised a hand when Sherlock opened his mouth, “– say anything. About any of it. Please.”

Sherlock nodded, glancing away, and they waited in tense silence.

Harry arrived a few minutes later. She looked between them, her eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot, and collapsed onto the sofa without a word to either of them. Sherlock scrambled away from her so John could sit in the vacated seat. He hovered in the doorway watching them until John glared at him and he retreated to his room.

“When is the funeral? Do you know yet?” John asked as he slipped an arm around her shoulders.

“Friday. They tried to phone you – something about the will, but -”

“My phone was here, yeah.” He didn’t want to think about the will; it didn’t matter to him what Mark or Jennifer had left him. His thoughts were swirling; they’d been alive just this morning, just this morning they were going about their day, same as me. He gripped Harry tighter and they sat in silence, only broken by the ticking of the clock. John stared at the floor between his feet while Harry wiped at her eyes and blew her nose occasionally.

He must have drifted off at some point, because the next thing he knew he was seeing fire and twisted metal. He jerked awake with a gasp, his breath stuck in his throat.

The room was dark, the only light coming from the street lamps outside.

“Christ,” he muttered, wiping his eyes. His head was pounding, and he tried fiercely to ignore the wetness on his cheeks. He looked down; Harry had stretched out on the sofa, her head in his lap. Her purse was open on the floor, the contents strewn about, and an empty bottle of vodka sat on the coffee table. He groaned.

He covered her with a blanket and slipped out from under her, grabbing the bottle as he stood. When he turned around he spotted Sherlock hovering in the doorway to the kitchen, a steaming cup in each hand. John crossed to stand next to him and took one, sitting the empty bottle on the table with a soft thud.

“Thanks,” he whispered.

Sherlock nodded, taking a drink from his own cup. “You’re a good brother,” he mumbled into his drink. John wasn’t entirely sure he was supposed to hear.

“Doesn’t feel like it.” He looked back down at the bottle with a sigh. “One of these days she’s going to wake up from one of these binges and find herself in a rehab facility.”

“Don’t.” Sherlock’s voice was sharp, followed by another awkward silence.

“Sorry for shouting at you earlier,” John went on, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He wasn’t sure why he suddenly felt guilty about it, but seeing Sherlock standing here waiting for him in his dressing gown had washed all of his anger away, leaving him just feeling drained and painfully aware of the ache that had settled into his chest.

Sherlock waved him off. “I’m certain it was perfectly justified.”

“Yeah, well,” he shrugged, “It was. But still, I’m sorry.” Sherlock didn’t move, or acknowledge John’s apology. Instead he ducked his head, hiding his face in shadow.

“John.”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t ask me to think about you dying again.” His voice was hushed in the darkness, and John suddenly wished he could see his eyes. “I pictured it – the explosion, the funeral, and now... I can’t stop.”

John’s breath caught in his throat, and he reached out and pressed a hand to Sherlock’s arm. “I’m sorry.”

Sherlock shook his head, as though John didn’t quite understand. John could feel a faint trembling through the soft material of his dressing gown. “The thoughts... they go round and round in my head, and I can’t switch them off. I can’t make them stop.”

Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear.

He felt a wave of hysterical laughter rising in his throat at the memory. Now, now, Sherlock wanted to open up. But he didn’t say anything, afraid to break this strange new intimacy. Sherlock rarely talked about himself – oh, he’d talk about how clever he was, but not about what he thought, what he felt – and if he wanted to, well, of course John would listen. His heart was already pounding in his chest at the thought.

But Sherlock was silent, and eventually he stepped back, setting his cup on the table next to a large stack of papers. “I’ll be off to bed now,” he said, his voice guarded, normal. It made John want to scream; to rip the truth out of him.

Instead he took another drink of his rapidly cooling tea and nodded, briskly. “Right. Harry’ll be a mess tomorrow, so I’d best be off as well. See you in the morning.”

Sherlock brushed past him; he felt a shock of warmth where Sherlock’s hand drifted over his arm. “Sleep well, John.”

John stared at Sherlock’s bedroom door long after it had closed behind him.

---

The funeral was a nice, if sparsely decorated affair. A few of their old friends were milling about before the ceremony, and John split from Harry as soon as possible. A few of them stood together, sharing sad stories and whispering funny memories about Mark and Jennifer that he was sure they wouldn’t want their families to overhear.

But their families didn’t seem to care enough to show up. Instead their uncles, aunts and cousins nearly all sent postcards or notes to include in the guest-book – some of them with cheques in the five-digit figure that left John swearing. The executor of the estate just cried, running a handkerchief across her cheeks again and again as she looked over the notes.

Harry sat on the far side of the church during the service, clutching her bag to her chest. He thought he’d seen her sneak a flask out of it at one point, but he did his best to ignore it. She’d be taking a cab back to her own flat after the funeral. Honestly, he was glad for it – he didn’t think he had it in him to play host another night to her problems. He drew a deep breath and faced the front of the room, trying to ignore her.

There was a little boy curled up in the first row, his feet planted firmly on the bench in front of him, his arms wrapped around his knees. His dark hair was sticking up in all directions, as though he’d been running his fingers through it off and on.

That must be their son. He didn’t even remember the boy’s name, John realized with a pang of guilt.

The executor walked over to kneel in front of him. “Julian,” she muttered, resting a hand on his knee,
“It’s time to say goodbye to mummy and daddy. Come on, love.” She led him toward the twin coffins, and John looked away.

The executor approached him after the service. “You’re Dr. Watson?” she asked. He nodded and stood quickly. “Gina Foster, Mark’s second cousin,” she held her hand out and they shook briskly. “Jennifer’s sister Alice was named executor, originally, but she died last year.”

John nodded. “Yeah, cancer, I heard. I didn’t get to the funeral, unfortunately.”

She nodded, and then turned away. “It’s been rough; well, you know,” she said. He grimaced, thinking back on all the funerals he’d been to in the past few years.

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

“It must be tough, to have all this sprung on you on such short notice.”

A thought was buzzing around the back of his mind, the sinking feeling that he didn’t know quite what they were talking about. “Sorry – but what do you mean by that?” he asked. Her face fell.

“Well, he’s been with me, but,” she stopped when she saw the confusion on his face. “You don’t know yet, do you?”

“Know what?”

She began to fidget, looking more and more upset by the second. “No one’s told you? Really?”

“No,” he said in his best soothing Doctor’s tone. “Told me what, Gina?”

“Jennifer’s will hadn’t been updated since Alice’s death, but Mark’s had.” She looked up at him.

“Yes?” he prompted.

“It’s their son, Julian. You’re his guardian.”

Chapter Text

Three hours later, John was sitting numb on the sofa watching Sherlock pace around the kitchen, digging through cupboards and muttering under his breath. John suspected some of the words were directed at him; if they were, he didn’t hear any of them anyway.

A child. Julian. Who was… different, he knew that much, but everything else about the boy was beyond him. Gina had said ‘autistic’, then went on to describe a whirlwind of behaviours that he was really only vaguely familiar with. He understood them from a professional standpoint: don’t make quick movements, be careful not to overwhelm them with sensory input, ect. But now? Now they were going to be in his bloody house. How was he supposed to take care of a whole new person, even still a person with those problems?

A throat clearing pulled him from his thoughts. He looked up at Sherlock watching him from where he’d settled himself at the table, frowning, and John found himself flushing guiltily at his train of thought.

He opened his mouth and took a deep, steadying breath. “I can't raise a child here,” was what came out. Not that one.

“Of course you can't,” Sherlock agreed, turning away and reaching for a pipette. “Hand me that red vial, would you? Don’t touch the green.”

John pushed himself off the sofa with a sigh. “It’s not that I wouldn’t like to help the kid out, but look at this place.” He lifted the vial and walked over to Sherlock carefully. Sherlock plucked it from his fingers and sat it at his elbow. “And there’s no room. Where would he sleep?”

“Astute observation as always. Take a step back.” John took a quick step back, eyed the distance between himself and the experiment and hedged back farther.

“It just can’t happen. Someone would need to be available to watch him at all hours, and I don’t know anyone who would.”

“Very good.” Sherlock straightened up, and they both paused long enough to watch the concoction bubble over. Sherlock tossed down his pipette triumphantly. He nearly threw his phone to John, and they couldn’t seem to stop smiling at each other, even though he had no idea as to why. Sherlock’s enthusiasm was infectious enough that it hardly mattered, at any rate; not when Sherlock smiled at him like that. “Text Lestrade. Tell him the gardener was the murderer.”

John lifted the phone obediently and began to type even as his mind wandered. “I thought you didn’t have a case right now?” That morning Sherlock had still been sighing and flopping about dramatically, wondering aloud about the state of the world that it could go this long without interesting crime.

“Cold case. It was too boring for my time last year, but with this current lull I was more… amiable to the idea.”

John snorted. “Well, I’m sure the victim appreciates it, at any rate.”

“Of course she doesn’t, John, she’s dead. Do try to keep up.”

John lowered the phone to look at him, exasperated, but Sherlock merely watched him in anticipation. “Right, silly me.” He finished sending the text and tossed Sherlock’s phone back to him. “Tea?”

“Yes, please. You’ll be pleased to hear the sugar bowl has been decontaminated, by the way.”

“Lovely. Anything in with the biscuits I should know about?” John asked.

“Not that I’m aware of. Though I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since Mrs. Hudson switched them out.”

“Well, they look alright, so you’re having two,” John said as he lifted them. Sherlock sighed, but accepted them with only token mutterings.

“What would I do without you?” he said sarcastically. There was no bite to it, though, and John smiled into his tea.

“Starve, probably.”

“Hmm. I was quite proficient at ordering take-away before you came along.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not good to let your skills get rusty.”

Sherlock mock-glared at him, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he ate.

John shifted, running over their conversation in his mind as he thought of Julian. “Right,” he muttered to himself. That was that, wasn’t it? They agreed – it simply wasn’t a good fit.

Which didn’t explain why he felt so wretched about the whole ordeal.

---

Monday morning John got out of bed even earlier than usual. He’d spent the last hour staring at the ceiling, feeling distinctly uneasy, until he couldn’t stand it anymore and gathered his clothes, heading for the shower.

When he emerged a half hour later, Sherlock was already at the table, looking at something on his phone. That wasn’t terribly surprising. Sherlock’s sleep schedule was erratic at best; he refused to let little things like circadian rhythms dictate his schedule.

“Sarah wants me for a half-shift at the surgery,” John said as he walked past, headed for the door.

Sherlock didn’t look up; John could hear his fingers flying over his phone. “Only a half-shift because they’re bringing it by this afternoon.”

John poked his head back around the doorway. “It has a name Sherlock; and yeah, they’ll be assessing whether or not Julian will be able to stay here.”

"I thought you were certain," Sherlock said, frowning at him.

"I am, but..." He looked around at the unmarked chemicals strewn about the kitchen still; and he knew anyone who opened any cupboards would likely have nightmares for a month. “I’m just not going to worry about it,” he said, eying the skull on the mantle, “I think it’ll sort itself out on its own, to be honest. Will you be here?” he asked. That would clinch it, if he was.

But Sherlock shook his head, standing from the table. “No, Lestrade text me a few minutes ago about a new case. I shouldn’t be back too late – it’s a kidnapping case, sounds boring.”

John nodded. “I’ll order take-away when I’m finished at the surgery, then.”

“Excellent,” Sherlock smiled. “I’m off to work.”

They walked down the stairs together, and Sherlock dragged John into his cab. He instructed the driver to drop John off at the surgery before stopping at Scotland Yard.

When the cab pulled up outside the surgery John pushed open the door, stopping long enough to look back at Sherlock and grin at him. “Thanks. I could’ve taken the tube, you know.”

“And you also could have walked, but you didn’t. Now get out, I’m in a hurry.”

John climbed out, shaking his head with a smile. If he’d really been in a hurry he wouldn’t have offered-forced John to share his cab; John appreciated the gesture all the same.

His good mood faded fast over the course of the morning, though, and as the end of his shift approached his mind kept wandering to the coming meeting.

“Is something wrong?” Sarah asked him when she caught him lost in thought for the second time that day. “You seem tense.”

“Yeah, it’s just that – ” he broke off. There’s the slim chance I’ll need to find a way to bring a child with special needs into the flat that I share with my brilliant-but-mad friend. Who I happen to be half in love with. “ – Nothing,” he finished, instead.

He sighed. Why was nothing in his life normal?

But that wasn’t quite true, he reminded himself. There was Sarah, who was sweet and kind and really, far too patient with him.

“Sarah?” he called just as she was turning to leave. She turned back, leaning against the doorframe. “I was wondering if you’d like to go to dinner with me again sometime, actually.”

“Oh,” she pushed her hair behind her ear as she smiled, “Yeah, of course I would. When would be good? For you, I mean,” she said. “I know your schedule’s a bit weird.”

“Anytime. Sherlock’s got nothing for us at the moment. And I’ll make sure he doesn’t tag along this time.”

“Probably a good idea to keep your dates separate,” she teased.

He groaned, “God, not you too. Anyway, how about next Saturday? We’ll go to that little Italian place on Seymour Street.”

“Sounds lovely.”

He decided to walk home from the surgery, his hands tucked in his pockets, contemplating the strange dread he’d been feeling all morning. Really, he’d faced down worse than this a hundred times over; it made no sense to be nervous over such a thing. Really flattered, thank you, but I couldn’t possibly. And there, that would be it, done.

Of course, he should have known nothing in his life was ever that simple.

When he pushed open the front door the first thing he noticed was the door to Mrs. Hudson’s flat standing open. “Hello?” he called as he hedged toward it. There was no answer. He slipped inside, but the lights were all out, and he couldn’t make out anything.

Something thumped on the floor upstairs in their flat, and John jerked. He slipped out of Mrs. Hudson’s flat, inching up the stairs.

“I don’t understand it,” he heard Mrs. Hudson say, and he let out the breath he’d been holding. “I expected Dr. Watson would be home by now.”

“Does he work late often?” a woman asked.

“Oh, no. He’s very punctual, that one.” He jogged the rest of the way up the stairs, curious.

“Hello,” he called, tapping his knuckles on the door as he entered. The moment he was inside, he stopped.

And stared.

The flat was clean.

And not just clean – the kitchen table was immaculate, and the skull was gone from the mantle. Sherlock’s papers had all been cleared away; even the smiley face on the wall was gone. The only indicator that Sherlock hadn’t simply moved out behind his back was the violin still leaning against his chair.

“Oh, Doctor, there you are.” Mrs. Hudson’s eyes were shining. Gina and Julian were standing with her, along with a woman John didn’t recognise. Julian had his nose buried in a Nintendo DS, not bothering to look up to take in the proceedings. He was leaning against Mrs. Hudson’s leg. “The flat looks lovely,” Mrs. Hudson went on, “I was just showing Ms. Foster around, I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, I – Hello, Gina,” he said, extending his hand. He barely noticed when she shook it; he was too distracted by the large, clean flat surface that was their table. “Hello Julian.”

The boy didn’t look up from his DS until Gina tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and even then it was only the barest of glances. The other woman stepped forward, extending her hand. “Hannah Young, child services. I was happy to hear from you this afternoon. Shall we start?”

Indignant anger was already beginning to stew in the back of his mind, but he managed a tense nod. Whatever Sherlock was planning, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a part of it.

“Will your flatmate be here this evening?” Gina asked.

“Ah, no, he had a case, I’m afraid.”

Hannah pulled a small stack of papers out of her briefcase, riffling through them until she found what she was looking for. “That’s alright – I’ve got the report right here, the, ‘consulting detective’?” John nodded. “He checks out.” He checks out? John wondered, but she went on before he could say anything. “You work with him as well, in addition to your job at the surgery?” she asked. John wondered just what Sherlock had told her about them.

“Yes, but I’m always available to watch the boy,” Mrs. Hudson stepped in.

“You are?” John asked.

“Of course, dear,” she reached down and ruffled Julian’s hair. John considered this; Julian certainly seemed to like her – he was still playing his game, but he was leaning against her leg gently when standing still, and trailing only a step behind her otherwise.

Hannah cleared her throat. “And where will Julian be sleeping?”

“Upstairs, I suppose,” he said warily, gesturing to the staircase. He wondered if there was room for a twin bed in with own; then it hit him that once they realized Julian would be in John’s room, they’d likely scrap the idea altogether. That thought calmed him somewhat as he led the way up the stairs and threw open the door.

He froze in the doorway.

His bedroom had been transformed, so it looked like any other little boy’s room might. A large wooden bookshelf stood in the corner, filled with colourful picture books, the spines all bent and worn. There was a twin bed in the far corner with a little nest of pillows piled on it, and old wooden model aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling on bits of string. The window had been opened, letting in a light breeze that rustled the soft blue curtains. Julian pushed past him and ran inside, sitting his game on the floor to inspect the bins of toys in an old toy organizer. He pulled out a bin of cars from one of the shelves and began arranging them on the short table. Mrs. Hudson patted John on the arm and smiled at him, but he was hardly paying attention.

Where were his things? Had Sherlock found somewhere to store them? Had he just binned it all, without a thought?

“Does this mean you’ll be staying downstairs with Sherlock, then?” Mrs. Hudson asked. She looked positively gleeful at the thought.

John turned and led the way down the stairs, his heart pounding. He hadn’t even considered that option, because, well, Sherlock wouldn’t have. He valued his privacy, after all, John told himself as he gripped the door handle. Sherlock was picky when it came to his ‘space,’ and –

- And John was going to murder him in his sleep.

Their beds were against opposite walls, Sherlock’s a mess as usual, John’s made to its usual military precision. Their desks were pressed together under the far window in a similar state, though some papers from Sherlock’s had spilled onto John’s. A mini-fridge with a lock on it stood at the foot of Sherlock’s bed; John guessed the experiments had been moved there. He half expected to see a line of tape dividing the halves of the room, even down the middle, but he supposed the line of chaos meeting order did the job well enough.

“Well, this will be rather cramped,” Gina remarked from behind him. “You’ll practically be on top of each other.”

“Yeah,” he croaked.

Murder. In his sleep.

“I think that’s everything, Dr. Watson,” Hannah interrupted his thoughts. “Do you have any questions or concerns?”

He turned to look at her. Tell them you can’t do it. Tell them they’ve made a mistake.

But all of John’s reasons that he’d listed for not taking the boy in – the sleeping arrangements, Sherlock’s toxic experiments, having no one to watch Julian – were gone, taken care of, after all. Maybe Sherlock had seen something he hadn’t – that maybe he actually wanted this – wanted them to do this together.

And if he didn’t take the boy in – who would? He pictured him upstairs, playing quietly. He could do this. He’d always wanted children, after all, and if he could do this for his friends, well -

“Alright. It looks like everything is in order, then,” he said with a firm nod. Right. He could do this.

“Perfect.” Gina pulled out a manila envelope and began pulling out papers. “Here’s Julian’s therapy schedule – they’ll come here to the flat, it’s no trouble – and here’s his meal schedule, and his morning and bedtime routines. Any questions?”

He flipped through the papers. “Yeah, where’s his bathroom schedule?” he said with a slight laugh.

“They stopped doing that last year.”

“Oh.” He cleared his throat. There was another pause. “And how’s he been, emotionally?” he asked, quieter.

“Rather well, I’d say, surprisingly,” Gina said. “He was anxious before the funeral, but after getting to say goodbye he seems... calmer, about the whole thing. A little more accepting, but I’m sure he’ll still have his ups and downs.”

John nodded. Losing a parent often manifested itself in odd ways; only time would tell how Julian would react. “There’s some books about autism in with Julian’s things,” Gina went on, “I’d suggest you read them. Maybe do some poking around on the internet. You’ll get the hang of it in no time.” She clapped him on the shoulder, letting her hand rest there as her eyes softened. “Thank you for doing this. Mark and Jennifer’s families – they meant well, most of them, but they couldn’t have done this. Mark picked you for a reason, I know it.”

“Looks like that’s it,” Hannah said, packing away her notebook in her briefcase. She held out her hand and John shook it, nodding to her. “Good luck, Dr. Watson.”

He started in rising panic. “You’re just... leaving him here?” he sputtered. He’d thought there would be more – something. More time, he supposed.

Hannah nodded. “Yes. Your job checks out and the report from your physical arrived this morning. I see no reason not to allow Julian to transition to your home as soon as possible.”

John’s head was pounding. Physical? Sherlock had faked an entire physical?

“I’ll have Julian’s things delivered tomorrow,” Gina added.

God, there was more? He looked around the flat, wondering where they were going to put it all.

They said their goodbyes, and he let Mrs. Hudson show them out. Instead he walked back up the stairs and stood in the doorway to his old room, watching Julian. He moved around the room, digging through the toys as though searching for something. The pile of pillows from the bed were strewn across the floor.

Did he miss his parents? Did he even understand what it meant, that they were gone for good? Were his thoughts a swirling mass of confusion, with no way to let it out?

“Julian,” he called. The boy turned toward him, eyes focusing somewhere over his left shoulder. John moved to kneel in front of him. “My name is John. You’re going to be staying here with me, and my flatmate, Sherlock. Do you understand?”

The boy blinked at him. John had the distinct impression of being sized up.

“Er... can I see your cars?” he asked, pointing to the elaborate arrangement on the table. Julian stared at the tip of his finger. Frowning, John jerked his hand towards the table once more, as though he could throw the boy’s attention toward the toys. Julian reached out and caught his hand, examining it closely.

“Hi,” John wagged his fingers, and Julian mimicked it. John smiled at him as Julian flattened their palms together and waved both their hands, smiling. John chuckled.

At the sound of his laugh Julian became bolder, pulling John down farther to inspect his hair, his face, until he had an armful of curious five-year-old closely inspecting the pattern of his jumper. John couldn’t help but laugh at Julian’s intense concentration, so strange and yet so oddly familiar, and Julian let out a full-bodied squeal of laughter in response. John was just wondering if he’d passed inspection when Julian suddenly leaned closer and blew his nose on John’s shoulder.

“Ah – I’ve just been christened, haven’t I?” he said, grimacing. He sat the boy back on the floor and gently pried his fingers out of his jumper. “I’d better go change.” He hesitated. “Will you be alright up here? Would you like some time to get used to your new room for a bit?” That got the boy’s attention, and he looked around. He gestured toward the bed and made a soft noise. “Julian’s room,” John said softly. The boy climbed up onto the bed clumsily, bunching up the blanket and resting his head on it, looking around at the pillows on the floor. “I’ll be back in a bit to check on you, but you can come down if you need me,” John told him as he crossed to the door.

He walked back down to Sherlock’s – their – bedroom and stripped off his jumper and tossed it in the hamper, looking around. His dresser was nowhere to be seen, but there was no extra room for it, anyway. He walked over to Sherlock’s wardrobe in the corner and pulled open the door.

He stood there for a moment, marvelling at how his soft, comfortable clothing looked squashed in with Sherlock’s. Then he shook his head and pulled out a button down, shrugging into it. Best to keep that train of thought firmly under wraps.

He walked back to ‘his side’ of the room, looking around. Where his wall was bare, Sherlock’s was covered in clippings, his spidery scrawl stretching over the margins of paper and across the wallpaper in places.

He sat on the edge of the bed and flopped back, exhaustion overwhelming him for a moment. The sound of something crinkling in his pillowcase seemed to echo in the small room, and John sat up and looked back at it, curious.

Maybe Sherlock had left him a note of some kind, explaining the method behind the madness. Stranger things had happened, he supposed. He reached into the pillowcase, feeling the glossy texture of the paper.

He pulled it out and groaned when he realized it was a well-thumbed copy of QX Men - one that he usually kept in his dresser, with the rest of his private things.

Well, he thought as he shoved it back into the pillowcase slightly harder than necessary, at least there was no reason to worry about having to come out as bisexual, if there ever had been.

God, he wouldn’t even have the privacy to wank in his own bedroom anymore, he realized. He’d have to start doing it in the bathroom, and Sherlock would just know. He’d probably start timing him and making charts of which magazines he took with him for his own amusement. He flopped on his back and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, groaning.

Why had he thought this was a good idea?

But then he thought back to the boy currently huddled in his bedroom upstairs and really, he knew why. So he pushed himself to his feet and walked out to the sitting room to wait for Sherlock.

Julian still hadn’t come down from his new bedroom an hour later. John was pacing the sitting room, torn between wanting to give him time to adjust and wanting to get to know his strange new… son, apparently.

Son. He sat back down heavily. Maybe he’d give himself a while longer to adjust, as well.

There were two sets of heavy footsteps on the stairs, and John could hear Sherlock’s voice rumbling, though he couldn’t make out what he was saying. Lestrade’s voice answered as they reached the landing, and then the door opened.

Sherlock skidded to a stop two steps inside, and Lestrade ploughed into his back, gripping Sherlock’s coat as he stumbled.

“Wha – oh.” They both stared around the room for a moment. “Er… redecorating?” Lestrade asked as he took a step back, straightening his jacket.

That snapped Sherlock out of his daze, and he whirled on John. “What did you do?” he hissed.

John took a step back in surprise. “I didn’t do anything.”

Lestrade cleared his throat from the doorway. “Why don’t I come back later, and we can talk about the case then.” Lestrade shot John a guarded look, and he wasn’t sure if he was sympathetic or irritated. Sherlock continued to turn around in the sitting room, ignoring him. “Right then,” Lestrade nodded to John, then turned and nearly ran back down the stairs. John heard the front door slam a moment later.

Sherlock finally stilled. “Where is it?” he asked, voice deadly calm.

“Where is what?” John asked. His confusion was fading away to irritation as Sherlock stared at him.

Sherlock swooped toward him, his coat billowing out behind him as he crossed the room in two large strides. He stopped inches from John, glaring down at him. “My papers, my experiments, my work – where is it?” he snapped.

John licked his lips. “It’s all in the bedroom. I thought that you –”

But Sherlock was already striding toward the door. John stopped behind him and watched as Sherlock threw open the door and stood there, taking in the transformed room in a quarter of the time it had taken John. Then he walked inside, digging through the things piled on his bed as John watched from the door. His head was still spinning.

“My experiments. My things,” Sherlock muttered to himself as he shoved a pile off his bed and onto the floor. He fell to his knees to dig through it, tossing some papers aside and stacking the others. “It’ll take ages to sort this out, it’s a mess.”

John still just watched him, taking in the frantic edge to Sherlock’s movements. He couldn’t understand it – Sherlock had never seemed to care about his belongings, leaving them strewn about the flat with little concern. “It’s always a mess,” he sputtered.

Sherlock glared at him. “Get out, get out!” He ushered John toward the door, and as soon as he was through it slammed shut behind him and locked. He could hear Sherlock shifting things around on the other side of the door, still muttering.

“Well, that could have gone better,” John said to himself. He could always kip on the sofa until Sherlock got over his tantrum and explained himself, he supposed. He walked over to the sofa and flopped down onto it, running a hand over his eyes.

Upstairs, Julian began to cry.

Chapter Text

John bolted upright and darted for the stairs as Julian’s wails echoed down the hall. He threw open the door only to see him on the floor, his hands fisted in his hair and tugging. There was a small bag next to him, half of the contents spilled over the floor. John stopped short when he saw the portrait of Jennifer, Mark and Julian.

“Oh, Julian,” he breathed, falling to his knees next to him. Julian let John pull him close, crushing his face into John’s shoulder. John wrapped his arms around him and gripped him to his chest as he cried. His legs were flailing even as his fingers dug into John’s arms and twisted in his jumper, as though the two halves of his body were fighting with each other.

“Ma… da…” he muttered between sobs, over and over, until John’s own eyes were burning and he had to close them, pressing his face into Julian’s hair.

“What is going –” Sherlock broke off with a sharp inhale, and John looked up to see him standing in the doorway. He wasn’t looking at them, however; he was staring around the room, lips parted and his eyes wide. Then he looked down at them and froze. John stared back into his eyes as he tried to keep Julian cradled against him. He knew his emotions were clear on his face, but he tried not to think about it – tried not to beg Sherlock with his eyes to help him like he was so used to. This was not Sherlock’s problem.

But then Sherlock crossed the room, his steps even and calm, and knelt in front of them anyway. He reached out and pressed a firm hand to Julian’s back, the other landing on John’s shoulder, warm and solid. He was here, here to support him and then John leaned forward, not caring, and pressed his face to Sherlock’s shoulder, Julian cradled between them. Sherlock tensed, but John refused to budge, and after a few minutes Sherlock’s arms wrapped around his shoulders, holding him close. Julian’s flailing slowed as he was pressed between them, his sobs dwindling to soft, hiccupping breathes before he relaxed, his breathing evening out.

John waited until he was sure the boy was asleep before he leaned back and smiled up at Sherlock, tired and more than a little embarrassed. “Thanks,” he whispered.

Sherlock shook his head. “It was…” he stopped, as though he didn’t quite know what it was. Instead he stood and gathered the pillows that Julian had strewn about earlier, piling them high on the bed and spreading out the blanket. John took the hint and lifted Julian, placing him on the bed and stepping back as Sherlock covered him with the blanket.

John looked down at him, standing shoulder to shoulder with Sherlock. “It’s going to be rough,” he said.

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed softly.

“I don’t know why Mark and Jennifer chose me, but… I’m glad.”

“How could you possibly be glad?” Sherlock asked. He reached out and brushed Julian’s dark hair away from his face.

“Because he’s just a child, Sherlock, like any other. Someone needs to raise him and for whatever reason, they chose me. I’m very flattered.” Sherlock was silent, still looking down at Julian as he slept. His eyes were soft, but there was a sadness lurking there and John felt a pang of sympathy, though he wasn’t sure why. “Sorry about your room,” he went on, “I don’t know what –”

“I do.” Sherlock walked to the toy organizer and lifted something, holding it out for John to take without looking. John took it, turning it over in his hands. It was a red aeroplane, and there on the bottom of the wing in neat black ink, was a small ‘SH’. He jerked his head up in surprise, but Sherlock still wasn’t looking at him.

“Mycroft,” John said, and Sherlock nodded. “But why?”

“Why indeed,” Sherlock plucked a toy car from the table and turned it over, spinning a wheel with his thumb as he paced the width of the room. It looked like he was searching for something, and John could see his shoulders tensing further with every step.

“You know, actually seeing proof that you’re human isn’t going to make me any less amazed by you,” John said.

“I know,” Sherlock replied, but his gaze was still drifting around the room, jumping from item to item.

John looked around as well. There was a faint giddiness in his chest as he realized exactly what he was looking at – this was Julian’s room now, yes, but this was Sherlock’s childhood. “Which ones were your favourites?” he asked. “No, wait, don’t tell me.” He grinned as he walked over to the bookshelf. The top shelf was a row of science books for children. John pulled one out and flipped it open. A child’s neat scrawl littered the margins, making notes and pointing out factual errors.

He looked up to see Sherlock watching him closely, his face carefully blank except for the tenseness around his lips. John smiled, then, imagining him as a child hunched over these books, his nose almost touching the page. “You were always brilliant, weren’t you?”

“That’s not what they said,” Sherlock muttered.

“What did they say, then?” Sherlock turned away, looking out the window, and John chewed his lower lip. He put the book back on the shelf and turned back to Sherlock, wondering what he should do. “Can you tell me about the case?” he tried.

Sherlock turned around and smiled at that. “Kidnapping, as I said. Actually, Lestrade I were on our way to talk to the mother - he probably went on without me.”

“What’d you come back here for, anyway?”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him. “You, of course.”

“Oh.” He felt himself flushing in happiness and cleared his throat. “We could still go as well; I’m sure they’ve missed something of importance,” John suggested. Sherlock smiled.

“I’m sure they have. Let’s get going before they mess up the investigation beyond hope of redemption.”

John started to follow him, but then hesitated, turning back to the bed. “Do you suppose it’s alright to just leave him? He’s only just arrived.”

“We’ll send Mrs. Hudson up to look after him, of course.”

John considered that. Julian had just arrived, but John thought of the way he’d followed her through the flat earlier. “He does like her.”

“She has a way with people,” Sherlock agreed, sounding almost tender for a moment. “Let’s go.”

It didn’t take any time at all to convince Mrs. Hudson to sit in their flat in case Julian woke up before they returned, and soon they were in a cab, on their way to the victim’s home.

“Alright, then,” John said, turning to Sherlock, “Tell me about the case.”

“A fourteen year old girl disappeared from her school during break yesterday afternoon.”

“And why are they calling you about this?” John asked.

“There’s no ransom, no note; the girl was taken from a classroom while her teacher stepped out for only a moment, and yet no one in nearby classrooms heard anything and there’s no sign of a struggle. She was taken from the middle of the school while dozens of barely-supervised children ran around outside.”

“So... someone she knew, then? She just goes off with them, doesn’t scream or fight, something like that?”

“It would seem most likely, but no one familiar to the girl was caught on the security cameras either entering or leaving the building. Neither, in fact, was she.”

John looked at him, confused. “Then how did she leave?”

“That is what we’re going to find out.”

“Shouldn’t we be headed to the school, then?” John asked.

Sherlock shook his head. “I went to the school this afternoon with Lestrade. No clues at all – it’s absolutely brilliant.”

John clenched his jaw, but nodded. “There’s just one more thing I’d like to know.”

Sherlock was looking out the window, eyes darting back and forth as the scenery flew by. “What’s that?” he asked, distracted.

“What’s the girl’s name?”

Sherlock stilled for a moment, then pulled out his phone and re-opened the text Lestrade had sent him. “Angel. The girl’s name is Angel.”

John exhaled slowly through his nose. “Thank you.”

---

John climbed out of the cab in front of a large block of spotless white flats, bright green plants dotting the landscape. There was an Indian restaurant on the corner, and the smell of curry wafted out as customers left, laughing and talking. John’s stomach growled as he eyed the bags in their hands. He turned toward Sherlock hopefully, but Sherlock had already hunched over and began examining the walkway. He doubted they’d get the chance to stop for food any time soon.

The door swung open on the second knock, and a middle-aged woman peered out at them curiously. Her hair was swept up in a tight bun, and she was fidgeting with a plain gold necklace. “Hello?”

“Sherlock Holmes,” he announced as he pushed past her and into the room. “And you are Catherine Harris, correct? You contacted Scotland Yard yesterday about the disappearance of your fourteen-year-old daughter?”

“Y-yes. But I’ve already talked to the police; they sent an officer around this afternoon,” the woman sputtered as they watched him flit around the room, regarding the knick knacks closely and sniffing the curtains.

“We’re not the police,” Sherlock stopped long enough to smile at her, the curtain still in hand, “We’re something better.”

She turned to look at John, looking dazed and more than a little sceptical. “Dr. John Watson,” he offered his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Harris.”

She shook herself out of it and turned to him, shaking his hand. “Just Ms. Harris. Angel’s father ran out on us twelve years ago, I’m afraid.”

“And where is your ex-husband, Ms. Harris?” Sherlock asked as he looked around the room. He disappeared down the hall, and Ms. Harris hedged after him.

“I couldn’t tell you,” she called after him. John saw him emerge from what looked like a bedroom and dart into the room across the hall. “Angel and I haven’t heard a word from him in over six years.”

“Are you certain? There’s no chance your daughter was secretly in contact with her father?” John heard something overturn with a crash and winced.

“Well, I suppose it’s possible,” Ms. Harris said, glancing at John. “But he’s a right bastard; I don’t know why she would even want to.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Sherlock muttered as he walked back into the room. “Other family members? Friends?”

Ms. Harris’ face crumpled. “We don’t have many of those,” she said. Sherlock just gave a brisk nod.

John walked around the sitting room, his hands behind his back. There weren’t many photos, but most of them were of Ms. Harris and a young girl, smiling bright and cheerful for the camera, her arms wrapped around Ms. Harris’ waist. John smiled.

Sherlock stopped long enough to look over his shoulder as he lifted one of the photos. “Down’s Syndrome,” John muttered.

“Yes, I know,” Sherlock said.

“Is that important?” Ms. Harris asked, looking between them. Sherlock straightened.

“It’s hard to say at this point in the investigation. Likely not. Tell me, has your daughter been ill long?”

Ms. Harris looked startled, and John put a hand on her arm to calm her. “How could you possibly know that?” she asked, looking between them.

Sherlock smiled at her tightly, and then resumed pacing the room. “There is a bottle of Augmentin in the medicine cabinet that was filled a little over a week ago. There are earplugs in the shower, possibly the result of the ear infection, more likely a precaution against them. There is olive oil in the bathroom – a common home remedy for the affliction – and there is an older bottle of antibiotics in a drawer in her bedroom, which suggests either a prolonged illness or a reoccurring one. Her school attendance hasn’t suffered, so not too terribly prolonged, then.” He turned back to her. “And so, Ms. Harris, I ask again: her ear infection – how long has she had it?”

“About... two weeks this time, I’d say. She gets them regularly,” she said to John, who nodded. “Angel was a handful, Dr. Watson, but she’s my girl.”

“We’ll find her,” John assured her. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Sherlock walked through the house once more as John and Ms. Harris settled into the living room to talk. John wondered if he should mention Julian; Sherlock emerged from somewhere, his hair full of dust, and announced that they were leaving before he had the chance.

Sherlock walked outside to hail a taxi, but John hesitated in the doorway. “Ms. Harris...”

“Yes?”

“If you’d ever like to just talk, about the investigation or...”

She smiled at him, patting him on the arm as she wiped her eyes. “I think I’d like that.”

He smiled at her, relieved. “Great.”

They exchanged phone numbers while Sherlock shouted for him to hurry up. Fair step up from taking off without him, John thought, and decided not to mention it. He said goodbye again and jogged out to the waiting cab.

“Making friends?” Sherlock asked over his shoulder as he opened the taxi door.

“Yes, as a matter of fact. She sounded like she could use someone to talk to.” And she’s not the only one. He climbed in behind Sherlock and shut the door. Sherlock turned and fixed him with a hard look. “I know, you think it’s stupid.”

“No, actually, I was just thinking that’s an excellent idea.”

John started. “It is?”

“Yes. Now, let’s go over the facts,” Sherlock began.

“The father,” John started, but Sherlock waved him off.

“No. She hasn’t been in contact with him. Now, the ear infection.”

John thought about it for a moment. “Means she may not have been able to hear her attacker coming,” he said.

“Very good, John, yes; but there was also no sign of a struggle,” he reminded him. John nodded. “And the girl seems to have disappeared during the short time the teacher had stepped out of the room.”

John snorted. “That one’s obvious, even to me.” Sherlock looked at him, face blank. “Yes. Of course she did.”

Sherlock held up a finger to stop him. “Nothing’s more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

“Okay, what does that mean?” John asked.

“It means that there’s still work to be done.” He steepled his fingers under his chin and closed his eyes. “Don’t talk.”

---

John could hear screaming before the cab came to a full stop in front of 221B. He leapt from the cab, and he and Sherlock followed the sound to Mrs. Hudson’s flat. John threw open the door without bothering to knock, his heart pounding.

“Hello?” he called as he walked inside, Sherlock close behind. Julian streaked past, crying, Mrs. Hudson following him. “What happened?” John asked her. She shook her head, biting her lip as she watched Julian collapse face-first on the sofa only to jump back up and start running again, still wailing.

“I don’t know, he just won’t listen to me. He’s already broken two cups and the poor thing won’t stop screaming.

“He’s in a strange place after a traumatic event – it’s a natural response,” Sherlock pointed out. “Fight or flight.”

John darted for Julian as he knocked over a glass vase and ran away again. “And which is this?” he snapped as he caught him by the shoulder. Julian tried to jerk away from him, but John held tight.

“Probably a bit of both, actually,” Sherlock responded. Then he turned and walked from the room.

John forced his disappointment down and knelt in front of Julian. “It’s okay,” he murmured. He tried to pull him close but Julian braced his hands on his chest and locked his elbows, leaning away from him. “It’s okay, Julian. You’re alright. You’re safe.”

John was just wondering what the hell to do next when Sherlock strode back into the room, a picture frame in one hand and a threadbare blue and yellow checked blanket draped over his other arm. Julian let out a choked cry and launched himself toward it, jerking it out of Sherlock’s arms and hugging it tightly to his chest. He fell to the floor and began rocking back and forth, twisting and untwisting his fingers in the material. Sherlock sat next to him and held out the photo. “Look,” he murmured. Julian reached out one hand and took it. He didn’t look at it, but he swiped his fingers over the glass over and over as he nearly crawled into Sherlock’s lap. John felt a sudden irrational flare of jealousy at seeing them together, dark hair intermingling as Sherlock held Julian close. He ignored it and moved to sit on Julian’s other side like they’d done just a few short hours before.

After a few minutes Sherlock lifted the DS and turned it on. At the quiet chime of the loading screen Julian looked up at it, and Sherlock held it out to him.

“Mrs. Hudson?” he murmured as Julian took the DS and began to play.

“Yes?”

“Would you take him upstairs, please?”

She nodded. They all stood, and Julian followed her without complaint, letting her take the photograph but still clinging to the blanket and DS.

“Thank you,” John said as they left the room. The moment the door shut behind them he rounded on Sherlock.

“There’s no need to be jealous, John,” Sherlock said before he could speak, “You’ll get the hang of it eventually.”

John flushed in embarrassment. “I know. But how did you do that?”

“He was already winding down on his own.” Sherlock shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “Sometimes all it takes is someone to lead you back out of your own head.”

John looked down at the crook of Sherlock’s elbow, where he’d seen the small, silver-white scars littering the skin countless times before. Or something, he supposed. “But how did you know what would work?”

“The only belongings he has were in that bag –”

“The rest will be here tomorrow,” john said, and Sherlock nodded.

“So obviously they didn’t think it would be good for him to go without those particular items for even a day. What was in there? A change of clothes, a container of food, the photograph and that blanket.” He turned and started for the door.

John yawned as he followed Sherlock up the stairs to their flat. He was looking forward to a hot meal, and eight hours of sleep. At least.

He groaned aloud when he remembered their impromptu sleeping arrangement. “About the bedroom – I can sleep on the sofa for now, I suppose, and find someplace to put my things tomorrow.”

Sherlock scoffed and turned to look back at him. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m hardly ever actually in my bedroom, after all. My experiments can still be conducted at the table, with the chemicals remaining in the bedroom the rest of the time. And since I work at all hours, you on the sofa would actually be more inconvenient than you in my bedroom.”

John tried to ignore the way Sherlock said you in my bedroom and followed him into their flat. Mrs. Hudson was cooking something at their stove, and Sherlock walked up behind her and sniffed at it.

“I thought you weren’t our housekeeper?” he asked.

“That boy needs a proper meal, and neither of you are going to do it, now are you?” she said, stirring what looked like soup. “It’ll be ready soon.”

John settled himself in at the table and looked around, content. He watched as Sherlock attempted to discern the chemical make-up of Mrs. Hudson’s soup while she mock-glared daggers at him, and Julian at the other end of the table, playing his game as he waited. Like a regular day in a regular household.

Like a family.

Sherlock darted back as Mrs. Hudson swiped at him with the ladle, hands in his pockets. “What?” he asked when he caught sight of the look on John’s face. John shook his head, smiling.

“Nothing. Just, I’m glad to be home. It’s been a very long day.”

Mrs. Hudson ended up giving in to his insistence that she stay and eat with them. Sherlock even deigned to join them at the table, though he passed on consuming any food, and Julian set his game aside, though he left it on so he could still hear the background music. They passed a half hour with companionable chatter and excited hand gestured on Julian’s part until John realized it was Julian’s bedtime. His confidence bolstered, he scooped the boy up and carried him up the stairs, after letting him cling to Sherlock for a moment to say goodnight.

When he came back down Mrs. Hudson was gone, and Sherlock had perched on his chair, lost in thought. John cleared his throat.

“Will you be –” he started, but his brain stuck at the words coming to bed, and he left the sentence unfinished.

“No. I’m going to go over a list of the faculty at Angel Harris’ school.”

John felt a twinge of disappointment, but ignored it. “Alright, then. Goodnight.”

When he reached the bedroom John laid back on his bed, watching Sherlock’s empty bed slowly take shape across from him as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

It looked like he was going to have plenty of privacy after all.

Damn it.

Chapter Text

John jerked awake, staring into the darkness. At first, he had no idea what had woke him up, but a second later his eyes adjusted and he saw Julian, sitting on the end of his bed and watching him sleep.

“Julian?” he sat up, rubbing his eyes. “What are you doing up? It’s,” he checked his clock, “Jesus, it’s one o’clock in the morning. Do you need something?”

Julian stood, walking toward the door. John followed him, but slowed as he glanced at Sherlock’s bed.

Sherlock had crawled into his bed at some point in the night, and John took a moment to watch him sleeping, his dark hair spread out over the pillow. John had never seen him look so peaceful, his face slack in sleep, his hands loosely curled on the blanket.

Julian made a soft impatient noise behind him, and John turned toward him. “Alright,” he whispered, “Don’t wake him up. Come on.” He lifted Julian and walked out of the room.

“Would you like me to read?” he asked when they reached Julian’s room. He walked over to the bookshelf and knelt, tilting his head to the side and looking over the titles. He shook his head at Bloodstain Pattern Analysis with an Introduction to Crime Scene Reconstruction and pulled a battered copy of James and the Giant Peach from the bottom shelf.

“Here we go,” he settled himself on the bed, leaning against the wall, and Julian pressed himself to John’s side. He opened the book and began to read.

Then one day, James’ mother and father went to London to do some shopping, and there a terrible thing happened.” John stopped, glancing at Julian, but he seemed unfazed. John cleared his throat, trying to ignore the notes in the margin (factually inaccurate – rhinoceros are herbivores) and continued to read.

All at once he found himself alone and frightened in a vast unfriendly world.” John stopped, staring down at the text. He ran a hand through Julian’s hair, turning to look at him. “Do you like it here?” he muttered. Julian ran his fingers over the text. “Are you happy? Well, you wouldn’t be, would you?” He looked at the picture of Julian and his parents, now sitting on his bedside table. He turned back, pressing his lips to Julian’s head. “I’m going to try and get it right. I promise,” he whispered into his hair.

Julian turned the page. The next page had been ripped out at some point, crumpled and bent with water damage in places. John cleared his throat, blinking, and pressed it flat. “Ready to move on, then? Alright.”

The sun was just peeking through the curtains when the door opened, and Sherlock walked in holding a bottle of water. John sat the book he’d been reading aside and took it.

“Thanks,” he said, clearing his throat. He hadn’t realized his voice was so hoarse, but five hours of reading aloud would do that to you, he supposed.

Sherlock just shrugged. “I could hear you downstairs; it was distracting.” He sat cross-legged next to them, and Julian crawled into his lap and rested his head on against his chest. Sherlock wrapped an arm around his shoulders as he looked around the room. “I’m going back to the school this morning,” he told John, “To speak to the headmaster again and examine the security system. There must be something there; something I’m missing.”

“Alright,” John moved to stand. “I’ll just get Mrs. Hudson –”

“His things are arriving today,” Sherlock reminded him, nodding toward Julian. “One of us should be here with him.”

“Oh,” John tried not to feel too disappointed. This was part of being a parent, he told himself, and he could hardly ask Sherlock to put his investigation on hold for him. So he nodded. “Right. I need to call Sarah, anyway, and see about taking a holiday for a week or so to help him settle in.”

Sherlock left, and John retreated to the sitting room to call Sarah. She was more than happy to give him the time off, and she promised to stop by the flat after her shift to meet Julian.

It was shortly after noon when the boxes arrived, piled high in the sitting room. John ripped open the first box as Julian played with a small bin of Sherlock’s old toys that he’d carried down the stairs. There was a stack of books inside the box, and John looked through them - Early Intervention Games, The Neurobiology of Autism - wondering where he should start. He flipped open Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew and walked over to his chair, pushing toy cars out of the way as he sat.

Two hours later he sat the book aside, rubbing his eyes. Julian was stretched out on his back on the sofa, holding his DS over his head, and John shook his head, looking down at the book. He’d read them later, he decided, walking over to the other boxes.

John opened box after box of toys and clothing. There was a note stuck on each toy, detailing how to use it and what skills it built. Gina must have been very busy over the last few days, he realized.

He turned to Julian, hands on his hips. “Don’t you have any toys that are just... toys?”

In response Julian lifted his old blanket and draped it over his head, so only his feet stuck out. John watched him for a moment, but he didn’t move at all. John sat next to him, poking him in the side.

Julian let out a soft giggle, and John poked him again. Julian squealed, and then lifted the blanket’s edge so John could crawl under with him. John took that as a sign of approval and scooted closer.

“Are we safe in here?” John mock-whispered. Julian giggled harder, trying to stifle it with his hand.

“Say,” he repeated.

John stared at him for a second. “Safe,” he corrected after a moment.

“Say,” Julian said, giggling.

“Alright, close enough,” he laughed.

“What are you doing?” Sherlock’s voice rang out. John pulled the blanket off his head to see him standing in the doorway, a roll of paper tucked under his arm, looking down at them.

“Playing,” John explained. “It’s supposed to be good for them, you know. Helps them learn.”

Sherlock cocked an eyebrow at him. “Them?”

John chuckled. “Yeah, you know, children? Young homo sapiens? It’s how they learn,” he repeated, still smiling up at Sherlock.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Right.” He crossed the room and sat the roll of paper on the coffee table in front of them.

John leaned over to Julian. “Get him,” he whispered. John had barely given the order when Julian leapt at Sherlock, digging his fingers into his shirt.

“Wha – no! I have work to do, and -” John’s fingers joined Julian’s digging into Sherlock’s side, drawing an undignified squeak from him. Oh, it was like Christmas – Sherlock was ticklish. Sherlock thrashed, and John slid an arm around his waist to hold him up and keep him from running away as he bent over and twisted, trying to escape. His voice took on a slight lisp as he panted out, “Stop! Stop!” He broke away and flopped backwards onto the sofa.

John did stop, smiling down at him. “That was... cute,” he blurted out. Then his brain caught up with his mouth, and he wondered if Sherlock would think it strange if he cut out his own tongue.

Probably not.

It was little consolation that for the next few moments, he couldn’t be sure which of them seemed more mortified. Then Sherlock huffed, looking away. “I am not cute,” he said. “I am clever, and I don’t think I have anything to take away from this experience,” Sherlock said as he tried to scoot away. His lips were twitching up in the barest hint of a smile, though, and when he met John’s eye he let out a little huff of restrained laughter.

“I think you do,” John grinned as he gripped Sherlock by the elbow and dragged him back. “It’s playing; and it’s never too late to start.”

Julian clambered into Sherlock’s lap, gripping his shirt to steady himself. John leaned back as he sat on Sherlock’s leg, looking up at him.

“Careful. I got a shoulder full of phlegm yesterday,” John said as he settled himself next to Sherlock. He watched as they regarded each other.

Then Sherlock reached out, pressing his hand to Julian’s side and tickling him.

Julian laughed, then reached out and grabbed John’s jumper, pulling him in fast enough that he almost knocked heads with Sherlock, and John scooped him up as he stood.

It was bizarrely like playing rugby, only with a squealing, flailing child in place of the ball. Sherlock snatched Julian away, lifting him high in the air and just barely missing being kicked in the face as John grabbed him around the waist. They tumbled to the floor, John turning them as they fell so he ended up at the bottom of the pile and slipped out from under him, grabbing Julian and tickling him again.

Julian darted away from him, still shrieking, and they both followed. He was completely free in his happiness, open and honest in a way John had forgotten people could be, and it was infectious. Even Sherlock was laughing, smiling warmly when he caught John’s eye.

After a while Sherlock collapsed on his back, huffing, and Julian sat down next to him and leaned his head on his chest. John stretched out on his stomach next to them and for a moment they all just smiled at each other, trying to catch their breath.

“What are you boys doing up here?” Mrs. Hudson called as she pushed open the door. “It sounds like a herd of elephants down in my flat.”

“Playing,” Sherlock informed her. The word sounded strange, like he was testing it and wasn’t sure if it merited approval. “Apparently it helps them learn,” he added, as though playing for the sake of fun would be somehow scandalous.

Julian lifted his head. His cheeks were still bright pink and he was breathing heavily, but he was grinning, his fingers twisting in Sherlock’s shirt as he nearly vibrated with energy.

“Oh, look at that boy,” Mrs. Hudson said. “I’ll get him some water.”

“When was the last time you did anything like that?” John asked Sherlock. Sherlock turned to look at him, his fingers carding through Julian’s hair as the boy tried to catch his breath.

“I was younger than Julian, I’m sure.”

“Really?”

Sherlock nodded as he reached into a nearby box and began to idly connect the large puzzle pieces he found there. “Mycroft was much older than me and very large. Playing with him would have been hazardous to my health.” Julian broke the puzzle apart just as Sherlock snapped the last piece in place, flapping his hands and shrieking with laughter. Sherlock chuckled.

John lifted the note that had been stuck to the puzzle. Fine motor control, hand strength. “That’s not how we’re supposed to be teaching him,” John pointed out, trying to hide his amusement.

Supposed to. How boring,” Sherlock said as he connected them again.

“What is that, anyway?” John asked, nodding to the roll of paper. Sherlock sat up, reaching for it as Mrs. Hudson re-entered and led Julian toward the table.

“It’s the blue prints for the school,” he grabbed them from the coffee table and unrolled them on the floor between them, smoothing the edges. “I’ve walked those corridors over and over, and yet if there’s any way to pass through them unnoticed, I haven’t seen it.”

“So what do you –” A soft knock on the door interrupted him, and they both turned to see Sarah standing there, smiling at them. Sherlock huffed as he stood, grabbing the blueprints and stalking off toward the sofa. He flopped down and spread them back out over the coffee table, pointedly ignoring her. John glanced at him, and then pushed himself to his feet as well.

“Hello,” he said as he walked over to her.

“Hi,” she smiled as she looked around the room. “Is that him?” she asked. Julian didn’t look up from his drink.

John ignored Sherlock’s derisive snort and smiled at her. “Yeah. Julian? Come here, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

---

The next few days flew by in a blur. Sherlock was hardly ever at the flat, disappearing at odd hours and giving him little information on the case. John should have felt dejected, he supposed, but with his new ‘three-hours-a-day’ sleep schedule, he hardly noticed. It felt like karma was kicking him in the gut for every time he’s told a patient with a child that they needed to get more rest.

John looked down at the number he’d programmed into his phone. Normally he wouldn’t call one of Sherlock’s clients just to talk, but he remembered the look on her face, the bone-deep weariness that seemed to radiate from her. And he hadn’t done much to contribute to the investigation, really. If he could do something to help, he would. He pressed the send button and pressed the phone to his ear.

She answered on the second ring, a slightly nervous, “Hello?”

“Ms. Harris?” he said.

“Yes?”

“It’s John Watson.”

“Oh, Dr. Watson. Have you found any information on Angel?” she asked. He cringed at the hope in her voice.

“Er, not yet. But we will,” he went on, “I promise you.”

“Oh,” she sniffled. “Please, call me Catherine. Your friend was here this morning,” she went on.

“He was?” John asked, looking around the room. There was no new information on the case that he knew of, but it wasn’t surprising to hear Sherlock had gone back. “I haven’t seen him much in the past few days.”

“I don’t think he expected me to see him, either. I walked into Angel’s room and he was climbing in through the window. Nearly gave me a heart attack.”

John cringed. “He – he does that.” Julian walked into the sitting room, gibbering to himself as he sat on the sofa next to John. He leaned back, his feet swinging as he played his DS.

“What’s that sound?” Catherine asked. John reached out and ruffled the boy’s hair.

“That’s Julian, my... my son,” John said, pulling him closer. Julian leaned against his side without looking up.

Something shifted on her end of the call. “Oh, you’re a parent.”

“Well, a guardian,” he amended. “He’s autistic, and –”

“Oh, I understand,” she said.

“It’s a bit brilliant, actually,” he said, smiling down at Julian. Then he sobered. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright,” she said, but her voice was soft. “I... I really should be going, anyway.”

“Alright.”

“Thank you for calling, Dr. Watson.”

“Call me John, please,” he said.

“John. Good night,” she said, and the call disconnected.

John sighed as he sat his phone down. Julian leaned against him harder, and John wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Come on,” he said, “Let’s get you off to bed.”

Julian followed him up the stairs, somehow managing not to trip even though his DS was still only an inch from the end of his nose. John waited as he sat it aside and helped him change his clothes and put him to bed.

“Good night,” he whispered. Julian’s eyes were already drifting closed.

John walked down the stairs, rubbing his neck and groaning. He’d sleep for a week, if he had the chance, and he wondered as he headed for his bedroom if Mrs. Hudson would watch him overnight sometime. Preferably soon.

He pushed open the door to see Sherlock kneeling on his bed, surrounded by files. John’s blanket and pillow had been pushed aside, bunched up against the wall. He was looking at a map of London he’d tacked to the wall above John’s bed, murmuring to himself as he checked a file and pressed another pin into the map.

He turned to look at him, and John couldn’t stop his eyes from flickering to his pillow and back up to Sherlock’s face. Sherlock smirked. “Really, John, I wouldn’t have expected it of you.”

He rolled his eyes, even as he cringed internally. “You hadn’t figured out on your own that I’m bisexual?”

“Oh, of course I had – I just wouldn’t have imagined you the type to buy magazines. You have a laptop with an excellent wireless connection,” he pointed out, as though John had perhaps just never noticed.

John shrugged. “Nostalgia, I suppose.” God, he couldn’t believe he was standing here discussing his wanking material with his gorgeous flatmate.

“Yes, but why?”

“Because I’m a healthy adult male with a fully functioning dick and nothing to stick it in,” he snapped.

Sherlock blinked. “That was surprisingly vulgar for you,” he said as he turned back to the map.

“Well, good to know I learned something useful in the army.”

There was a long pause. “Does that mean you’re a top, then?”

John groaned. “I’m not discussing this. And could you drop the gay stereotypes, please? Thank you.” He sat on the bed next to Sherlock, trying not to stare at Sherlock’s thighs as he tensed and reached up to push another pin into the map.

“Is this not the sort of conversation friends have?” Sherlock asked after a moment.

“Didn’t you have any mates at school?”

Sherlock tensed. “One,” he answered defensively.

John fought the urge to chuckle that that. “Oh, alright, now you’re embarrassed.”

“Is your sexuality embarrassing for you?” Sherlock asked.

“No. Discussing it with you is. What are these, anyway?” he asked, gesturing to the stack of files on his bed.

“Cold cases,” Sherlock said, lifting them. He walked over to his own bed and dumped them there.

John frowned. “Why so many? Shouldn’t you be focusing on Angel Harris’ kidnapping case?”

“There’s no new leads,” Sherlock sighed, walking back to kneel on John’s bed once more. He reached up and touched one of the pins on the map. “The trail’s growing cold.”

“Which is a damn good reason for you to keep looking,” John growled at him.

“After forty-eight hours the chances of a kidnapping victim being found alive drops considerably.”

“But not to zero.”

Sherlock turned to him, pursing his lips. “John,” he said after a moment, “It’s very important that you understand we might not find her.”

John took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “I talked to Catherine this evening.”

“Who?” Sherlock asked as he turned back to the map. Irritation flared in the pit of his stomach.

“Ms. Harris? Angel Harris’ mother?” John reminded him.

“Ah.”

“I told her you’d find her daughter,” he pressed, “I promised her.”

Sherlock frowned at him. “That’s not something you can promise.”

“What was I supposed to say? That we have no idea where her daughter is, and no clue what to do next?” John snapped. Sherlock looked startled.

“Yes. Why tell her something that isn’t true if it’s no benefit to you?”

“Because it’s her daughter, Sherlock.”

“Ah. Just to spare her feelings, then.”

“Yeah, those pesky little things that drive most people’s lives,” John shot back.

“Instead of logic.” There was a long pause. “I’ve made you angry,” Sherlock said. He chewed his lower lip. “Again.”

John sighed, rubbing his forehead. “It’s alright.” He cast around for something else to talk about. “So... since when do you have a lisp?” he asked, smiling at the memory.

“Since I was six. Now who’s bringing up gay stereotypes?”

John snorted. “Oh, shut up. I’ve just never heard you do it before the other day.”

“Generally I can keep it under control, yes. Years of intensive speech therapy at work.” Sherlock turned and sat with his back to the wall, their shoulders barely touching.

“Christ, your childhood sounds bloody depressing.”

“It was,” Sherlock agreed, and John was vividly reminded of the page Sherlock had ripped out of James and the Giant Peach as a child.

And as time went on he became sadder and sadder, and more and more lonely.

Still looking straight ahead, John reached out and rested his hand on top of Sherlock’s. Sherlock started, and John felt his heart leap in his chest. He was just about to pull his hand away, the apology already on his lips, when Sherlock turned his hand over so their palms were pressed together, warm and solid, and interlaced their fingers.

They were still for a moment, tense, but then they relaxed into the contact, Sherlock’s shoulder resting a bit heavier on his own. Sherlock turned toward him, just a slight tilt of his head, and John looked up at him. Sherlock’s breath ghosted over his cheek.

“John.”

He swallowed, hard. “Yeah?”

“You have a date with Sarah on Saturday,” Sherlock said, voice hushed.

“I – oh, yeah, I do,” John said, blinking.

“Mrs. Hudson won’t be here. Julian can stay with me.”

“Thanks.” He felt very awkward all of a sudden, sitting on his bed with his flatmate holding his hand and discussing his upcoming date. And Sherlock still hadn’t moved away; he wondered what that meant.

“I’d better get to sleep,” John yawned. “Julian’s still getting me up at one in the morning every day.”
Sherlock stood without answering and walked out of the room.

“Good night,” John muttered to himself, rolling his eyes. He stretched out and closed his eyes, trying to relax.

He heard the door open and close, but kept his eyes firmly closed. Yes, it was childish, but Sherlock’s frank dismissals still hurt a bit, even after all this time.

Soft violin music began, and he opened his eyes to see Sherlock sitting on the edge of his bed, the cases and notes pushed aside.

“What are you doing?”

“Thinking,” Sherlock responded. “I told you I play the violin when I think the first time we met.”

“You did,” he whispered, his head sinking into his pillow. The melody seemed to slide over him, drawing them closer. He tried to keep his eyes open, watching as Sherlock’s fingers slid over the strings, but it was impossible. “Thank you,” he whispered as he dropped off to sleep.

Chapter Text

They past most of the next day in the kind of companionable silence that only befit flatmates and close family members. John had spent the morning watching telly, dozing off when Julian wasn’t demanding his attention. Sherlock was still studying the map on John’s (his, their) wall, but had left the bedroom door open and didn’t complain when Julian wandered in with an armful of toys and began to arrange them around him. John moved to stand in the doorway, then, watching as the area around Sherlock transformed into a supernova of colour and shapes, with him kneeling in the middle of it all.

It was well into the evening when John finally switched off the telly and stood, stretching. He was just about to call Julian for bed when Sherlock padded out of their bedroom, still in his dressing gown at nine in the evening.

“I’ll take him upstairs,” he said before John could say anything. John just nodded, too tired to argue the point. He ran a hand over his face, yawning.

“We haven’t been sticking to his bedtime schedule very well,” John said.

Sherlock just shrugged. “He doesn’t like it anyway.”

“How can you tell?”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him. “I may not be an expert in the social sciences, John, but I would think all the screaming would be, as they say, a ‘dead giveaway.’”

“He screamed when I put the butter on his toast this morning,” he pointed out, amused.

“Yes, because you did it before you poured his cereal,” Sherlock said.

“I don’t – what?”

“You didn’t pour his cereal before making his toast. He is supposed to get his cereal before his toast,” Sherlock explained patiently, as though it made perfect sense.

“Why does that matter? And how did you work that one out, anyway?” John asked, stifling another yawn.

“It’s easier to know it than to explain why I know it. Just do it; it’ll make mornings easier, at least.”

John rubbed his forehead. “God, it sounds like you should be making sense but then it doesn’t, and I’m so bloody tired.”

Sherlock lifted Julian, tucking him against his side. “You haven’t been sleeping well.”

“I haven’t been sleeping at all,” he snapped back. Then he pressed his hand to his eyes, groaning. When he looked up again Sherlock was watching him, eyebrows drawn together. “Sorry,” he muttered. Sherlock turned and walked into the bedroom. Their bedroom, and John leaned forward and peered after him.

“What are you doing?” he called.

Sherlock re-emerged, still holding Julian. “Taking Julian off to bed, of course,” he said, and he whisked up the stairs before John could reply. He leaned back on the couch, yawning.

He had nearly drifted off to sleep when he heard Sherlock’s footsteps on the stairs. “He’ll sleep through the night, tonight,” Sherlock announced as he entered the room.

“How could you possibly know that?” John asked, struggling to sit up fully. He tensed when Sherlock sat a small bottle of pills on the coffee table.

“I had it on hand from a case last year,” Sherlock explained.

“Sherlock,” he warned.

“Relax, it’s melatonin; it’s perfectly safe.”

“I know it’s safe, But you can’t just drug him whenever you want him to sleep.”

“And yet he is, in fact, sleeping,” Sherlock pointed out.

Exhaustion overwhelmed him suddenly, and he smothered a yawn behind his hand. “I am going to be-” another yawn, “- so bloody angry with you in the morning.”

Sherlock smiled. “I’m looking forward to it. Sleep well, John.”

---

The first thing John noticed in the morning was the light streaming in through the window. The second was that Sherlock’s bed had been slept in since the night before, even though he’d been working when John went to sleep.

The third was that there were soft sounds coming from the sitting room, indicating that Sherlock and Julian hadn’t simply been abducted in the night. So the most logical explanation for the first two occurrences had already been ruled out. He threw back the covers and hurried from the room.

He found them seated at the kitchen, Julian eating quietly while Sherlock stared at another map. John stood dumbly in the doorway for a moment.

“You gave him breakfast.” He looked back at Julian’s plate, and then he spun around to look at Sherlock. “Who are you and what have you done with my flatmate?”

“You watch too much Doctor Who.”

“You fed him.”

Sherlock scoffed. “Of course I did, John. It’s not like having a dog.”

“That doesn’t make any – have you ever had a pet?” Sherlock scribbled something in what looked like French on the edge of the map, muttering to himself. “Because you have to feed them too, you know,” John went on.

Julian stood up from the table, then, and John lowered himself into his vacated seat. Sherlock looked at him expectantly.

“What?” John asked.

Sherlock stood and crossed to the sofa, lifting his laptop. “I believe you were intending to be angry with me this morning,” he reminded him as he sat once more.

John sighed. “Right. Look, I know it’s hard because he just... he doesn’t sleep,” he began.

“Neither do I,” Sherlock pointed out without looking up from his laptop.

“Yeah, but you’re a grown man, and – ” he broke off when Sherlock looked up at him, exasperated. “Wait – are you volunteering to watch him at night?”

“Congratulations, John: only one verbal cue and countless non-verbal, well done. Yes; when I’m here.” Sherlock closed the laptop, watching him. “Why not? It suits my sleep schedule fine – ”

“I didn’t realize you had one.”

“ – And when you don’t get at least six hours, you get testy and difficult. It’s very hard to work with,” Sherlock said as he re-opened the laptop and began to type.

He could feel a wide smile threatened to spread out onto his face and did his best to contain it. “Well, thanks.”

“Did you really just thank me for calling you ‘testy and difficult’?” Sherlock asked, smirking. John finally let himself smile.

“You know I didn’t, you daft git.” He pushed himself to his feet. “Tea?”

They sat in an easy silence until Sherlock leapt from the sofa an hour later, muttering something about the case as he bound down the stairs. John merely watched him go before settling himself into Sherlock’s spot on the sofa, glancing toward the stairs to Julian’s room before he lifted his book and began to read.

It was well into the afternoon when a soft knock on the door distracted John from his reading. He looked up to see Lestrade standing in the doorway, a stack of files in his hand.

“Sherlock wanted me to bring him some more case files. Said he couldn’t come out to get them himself, though it doesn’t look like he’s here, is he?” Lestrade asked, looking around.

“No, he disappeared a few hours ago and isn’t back yet.” John frowned as he stood and went to take the stack of files. “More cold cases?” he asked, flipping through them.

“Not cold cases. Kidnappings,” Lestrade explained. “He’s found three missing kids in the past four days, it’s fantastic. Speaking of,” he looked around, “Where is the little bugger? Sherlock won’t shut up about him.”

John looked up, surprised. “He won’t?”

“Well, it’s not that big of a change, now is it? He won’t shut up on his best of days and he’s usually withholding information on the rest, but yeah. Donovan thinks he’s taking all these kidnapping cases because he’s got a kid around. You know, easier to empathize and all that.”

“I doubt it,” John said, but he glanced over at Julian’s toys littering Sherlock’s chair and couldn’t help but wonder. He dropped the files on the coffee table. “Anyway, he’s upstairs. Come on.”

He led the way to Julian’s room, knocking gently as he pushed open the door. Julian had strewn the books around the room and was lying on the bed, flipping through The Very Busy Spider.

Lestrade walked over and sat on the edge of Julian’s bed. “Hello,” he said. Julian shifted at the movement, but ignored him. Lestrade chuckled. “Bit like Sherlock already. Watch yourself, there, doctor. Never had the two of you pegged as parental types, to be honest,” he went on as he flipped through one of the books idly.

Ah. “Well,” John hesitated, “I’m Julian’s guardian. Sherlock’s just... here, I suppose.”

“Oh,” Lestrade looked up, raising his eyebrows at him, “I just assumed.”

“Everyone does,” John said with a rueful smile. “Our landlady won’t be here tonight and I have a date, so Sherlock’s babysitting. That’s all.”

“Wait,” Lestrade lifted his phone and held it out in his palm, “Say that again.”

“Oh no,” John said, laughing, “I’m not giving you any more blackmail material than I already have.”

“This isn’t blackmail material, this is evidence,” Lestrade insisted with a small smile.

“Of what?”

Lestrade looked up. “That Sherlock Holmes is as human as the rest of us.”

John’s lips twisted into a grimace, his good humour fading fast. “Of course he is.”

Lestrade snapped his phone shut and shrugged. “Doesn’t seem like it, some days. Well, most days,” he amended. He stood. “I’ve got to go. Tell Sherlock I came by and to bloody call me next time he figures out a case. He can’t just keep running into trouble and expect not to get killed or arrested.”

John felt a stab of jealousy, but did his best to ignore it. He hadn’t even known there’d been trouble, but he should have known Sherlock would be at the heart of it when it happened. “Thanks,” he said tightly, “I’ll tell him.”

Lestrade nodded, and John let him see himself out, sitting on Julian’s bed with him instead, wondering what Sherlock was up to.

“You don’t have to help take care of him, you know,” John said by way of greeting when Sherlock arrived. Sherlock stalked over the sofa and flopped down onto it, shifting around on the cushions and looking for all the world like a burrowing animal. He settled himself and closed his eyes, his fingers under his chin.

“I know.”

John leaned against the side of the sofa, looking down at Sherlock. “I always thought it would be too boring for you. Raising a child, all that.”

Sherlock made a soft noise in the back of his throat. “So did I,” was all he said.

“Lestrade brought by some files while you were out,” John went on. Sherlock’s eyes flew open, and he looked up at John. “Yeah, he told me what you’ve been doing. Told me to tell you to stop running into trouble.”

“It was perfectly safe. You know I would have invited you if I’d been in any real danger. I need you,” he said simply.

Warmth spread through him, but he did his best to keep his face neutral. “And the kidnapped cases,” he went on. Sherlock slid lower on the sofa, sulking. “Were you embarrassed? Is that it? Because there’s nothing wrong with getting attached to him, you know. That’s generally what happens.”

Sherlock glanced toward the table. “He’s... interesting.”

“Never dull,” John agreed. “So, you can tell me about your cases now, right? I’m not going to take the piss just because having a kid around the flat has made you go a bit wobbly.” Sherlock glared at him, and he fought the urge to smile. “Okay, now I’m not going to. I promise.” He pushed off the couch. “Come on.”

Sherlock stood and followed him into the bedroom. He flipped open the first case file and flopped down onto his bed as John began to rummage through the wardrobe.

“This one’s a six year old boy who went missing three days ago,” he said. John nodded for him to continue as he looked over his wardrobe. His gaze shifted longingly to Sherlock’s well-tailored suits.

“Who saw him last?” John prompted.

“Nanny.”

“Posh,” John muttered. He flipped through his button downs, frowning. Then he stripped down to his pants and pulled out a suit. It was old, a little worn around the edges, but would do well for a date, he supposed.

He turned when he realized Sherlock was no longer talking. Sherlock was still sitting on the bed, the file open in his lap, but he was staring at John.

John tensed. “What?” he asked.

Sherlock moved to kneel at the end of the bed, reaching out to brush his fingers over the edge of the scar tissue littering John’s shoulder. His entire shoulder tingled with warmth and he jerked; Sherlock’s gaze darted up to his face. “No,” he said, his voice thick, “It doesn’t hurt.” Sherlock fingers trailed down to a large, white scar on his side. John cleared his throat. “IED blast – took out an entire humvee with one damn lucky shot,” he went on. Sherlock splayed a hand on his side, as though debating which scar to ask about next. “Sherlock... what is this?”

Sherlock looked up at him, and for a moment he looked confused, as well. “I thought I knew everything about you,” he murmured.

John shook his head. “You can’t know everything about a person. And it isn’t as though I like to talk about it. The things that happened to me over there, they weren’t... good.”

“I don’t want to know just the good.”

John sighed. “Yes, you want to know everything, as usual.” But Sherlock’s fingers were warm, tickling through the coarse hair on his chest as he wordlessly asked about a two inch scar just under his right nipple.

“Rugby. Yeah, I had a life before Afghanistan,” he added when Sherlock’s eyes flickered up again. “And I need to get dressed. I have a date,” he reminded him. Sherlock pulled his hand away, nodding, his face blank. He leaned back on the bed and flipped open another file.

John dressed slowly, watching Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. He tried to think of something to say to restart the conversation, but before he could, Julian let out a fierce cry from the doorway. John spun to look at him, startled.

“It’s your tie,” Sherlock said. John glanced at him, but he was still hunched over the file in his lap.

“My... tie?” he asked over the din.

“Yes. Take it off.”

John spared him one last glance before he pulled off the tie and threw it into the wardrobe. “See?” he gestured to his chest, “It’s gone.”

Julian’s cries slowly stopped, and he inched past John and over to Sherlock, still breathing heavy. Sherlock shifted the file to the bed next to him to let Julian crawl into his lap.

“Scared of a tie,” John said, still dazed, “Right.”

“You wore it to his parent’s funeral,” Sherlock explained without looking up.

“He didn’t even know who I was then. You’re telling me he remembers my tie?

“Yes,” Sherlock said simply. “Now, this one is interesting. They found blood at the scene of the disappearance, but it belonged to neither the child or the sister, who was watching her at the time.”

“I need to find another tie,” John muttered.

“Just go without,” Sherlock said, waving him off. “Anyway, the blood splatter on this photo – John, are you listening?”

“Go without? Not all of us can go around with our shirts half-unbuttoned and still turn heads.”

Oh God. Get out before you speak again.

“Right,” he cleared his throat and grabbed a random tie, “Gotta dash. Sarah, date, all that. Julian, I’ll see you later,” he hugged the boy briefly, trying not to knock heads with Sherlock in the process, and waved to them both on his way out the door.

He met Sarah at the restaurant. She looked radiant, and smiled in all the right places during his stories – which were usually about Sherlock, and now Julian, and more often than not both. But she seemed to enjoy them, and when he offered to walk her home she agreed, taking his arm with a wide smile.

They stopped outside her door, and she began to fidget. She smiled wider when she caught his eye, and he ran a hand down her arm, leaning forward.

He kissed her.

Or, he tried to. Their noses bumped together, and he was still muttering an apology when her lips brushed over his at first. He tried to relax into the contact, but it felt awkward and strange.

She pulled back, giggling.

“That’s just what a bloke likes to hear after a kiss,” he muttered, which only made her laugh harder. “Red-flagged at the goal line,” he said, gesturing up at her flat. She smiled.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t date single dads?” he joked.

“More like I don’t date men who invite me out to dinner and then go on about what a good thing they’ve got waiting at home for two hours.”

“Ah,” he grimaced as he ran through the conversation in his mind once more. “That’s… probably a good choice,” he admitted.

“I thought so – I’m not fond of feeling like the other woman. Now go home to your boys; I’m sure they miss you.” She shoved him gently in the direction of the street.

“If they’ve noticed I’m still gone.” He moved close enough to kiss her on the cheek. Her eyes fluttered closed for a moment, and she smiled. He stepped back. “For what it’s worth, you really do look lovely this evening.”

“Thanks. I had a good time, anyway.”

He waved, watching as she went inside, and then walked toward the street, hailing a cab.

He nearly jogged up the stairs to their flat when he arrived. The door was standing open a fraction, and he pushed it open and paused in the doorway.

Sherlock was seated in his chair, the laptop balanced on the arm as he typed one-handed. Julian was curled up in Sherlock’s lap, staring down at his DS, Sherlock’s other arm wrapped around him to steady him. It looked as though they were ignoring each other despite their proximity, but somehow John knew that wasn’t the case.

“How did your date go, John?” Sherlock asked without looking up.

“Um… rather well, I’d say,” he cleared his throat, trying not to fidget. He’d liked Sarah well enough, but he could honestly say he wasn’t too terribly disappointed with the outcome.

Sherlock looked up, eying his clothes and posture. “That badly?”

John sighed. He nodded toward Julian. “He should be in bed. Should’ve been in bed an hour ago, in fact.”

“I was letting him stay up and wait for you,” Sherlock said as he sat his laptop aside.

“No you weren’t; you just don’t care for silly conventions like bedtime.”

“Hmm… perhaps.” Sherlock stood, bracing Julian against his hip and plucking the DS from his fingers and tossing it on the sofa. Julian fussed, reaching a hand back toward it, but Sherlock walked over to John. “Go on, then,” he prompted, “Say goodnight to John.”

Julian reached out and gripped his suit jacket, pulling him close and burying his face in it. John wrapped an arm around his waist and tried not to think about how easily he could wind an arm around Sherlock’s, as well. Their sides were pressed together; he would only have to lower his head an inch to rest against Sherlock’s shoulder. They fit together perfectly, like a jigsaw puzzle, and John let himself take a moment to marvel at it.

Then he tightened his grip on Julian and began to lift him, but Sherlock stepped back without relinquishing his hold. “I can take him,” he murmured.

John smiled at him. “Thanks. Take his snack with you,” he added as Sherlock headed for the stairs.

Sherlock glanced over his shoulder. “Of course.”

“And don’t put anything in it this time.”

Yes, mum.”

“Oh, sod off.”

Sherlock turned to smile at him once more, and then John watched them disappear up the staircase with a strange ache in his chest. Sarah was right, he realized. They may not be dating, but he could hardly describe himself as ‘single’. Not anymore.

He walked into the sitting room, stripping off his suit jacket as he went. He tossed it on his chair and looked around at their shared space - their home - content.

He turned a few minutes later to see Sherlock braced in the doorway, watching him.

“What is it?” John asked softly. Sherlock took a deep breath and moved to stand directly in front of him. He seemed to be bracing himself for something, and john nearly jumped when Sherlock rested a hand on his shoulder. He reached out and gripped Sherlock’s hip, whether to reassure him or keep him from running away, he couldn’t be sure. He licked his lower lip.

“John,” Sherlock said, eyes trained on the movement of John’s tongue, “I’m going to kiss you now.”

He’d never considered that announcing intent before a kiss could be sexy, but his heart was hammering in his throat and a jolt of pleasure shot through him before their lips even touched. Then Sherlock was leaning over him, his hand sliding down John’s back as he gently pressed their lips together. The touch was tentative, probing, and it took all of John’s self-restraint to hold as still as possible, letting Sherlock explore the feeling.

“Interesting,” Sherlock mumbled against his lips.

“Is this an experiment?” John asked. Their lips brushed together with every word, and heat began to coil in him as Sherlock shivered in his arms. He gently trailed his fingertips over the back of Sherlock’s neck, drawing a soft, surprised sound from him.

“If I say yes, are you going to stop?” Sherlock asked, his low voice rumbling through both of them, they were pressed so close together.

“God, no.” He gripped those soft curls in his hand, groaning as they kissed again. Sherlock made a sound in the back of his throat that might have been a whimper, and John pressed his tongue past his lips.

Sherlock jerked his head back. “Don’t put your tongue in my mouth.”

Zero for two. You’re doing brilliant today, Watson.

“Oh, um, sorry. I thought you wanted...” he trailed off, confused. He tried to take a step back, mortification setting in after the confusion, but Sherlock’s hand slid around his back and fisted in his shirt, keeping him close.

“I don’t mind kissing,” he said, his voice low and smooth, “I’d just rather you keep your tongue to yourself, thank you.”

“Oh.” That still didn’t make much sense to him, but he was too focused on the first half of that statement to care. “Alright – yeah, that’s fine,” he breathed, and Sherlock leaned down and pressed their lips together once more.

Julian’s voice echoed down the stairs, and Sherlock huffed in amusement as John pulled back a fraction. “Still opposed to my drugging him at night?” he asked.

“I think I’d let you use a mallet right now, to be honest,” John grumbled against his lips.

“Really?”

“No, not really,” he chuckled. He leaned in and kissed Sherlock once more, a little shy and awkward but still amazing, and then turned toward the stairs with a sigh. When he reached them he looked back over his shoulder to see Sherlock staring off into space. He looked dazed and uncertain, and John hesitated, his nerves returning full-force. “Sherlock?”

“It’s... fine,” Sherlock said, blinking. “It’s good,” he added, softer, and John nodded.

Julian was sitting up in bed, his cries slowing to soft fussing as John entered the room. “Alright,” John said quietly, “What’s all this, then?” Julian let out a soft whimper, wiping his eyes with the edge of his ratty blanket. John stopped at the edge of the bed, running a hand through Julian’s hair as he looked down at him. “Come on, budge up,” John said, sliding Julian toward the wall. He stretched out on the bed on top of the blanket, humming under his breath as Julian relaxed against the pillow, blinking slowly as he looked at John’s face. John rested his hand against Julian’s arm, still humming, until the blinking turned into peeking under his eyelashes at John, and then his eyes stayed closed as he relaxed fully. John stood, careful not to jostle him, and walked toward the door.

When he reached the sitting room, Sherlock was nowhere to be seen. John glanced into the kitchen to see if Sherlock was working on an experiment before he headed for the bedroom.

He pushed open the door and stopped. Sherlock was sitting on his bed – John’s bed – in his pyjamas and dressing gown and a case file open in his lap. John smiled as he walked over and lifted his book from his nightstand, then settled himself against Sherlock’s side. Sherlock lifted his hand slightly, hesitating, before he brushed his knuckles over the back of John’s hand.

“Alright?” Sherlock asked without looking up. His shoulders were tense, his eyes unmoving on the page.

John leaned over, pressing a soft kiss to the corner of Sherlock’s mouth as he flipped open his book. He leaned back, looking down at it with a smile.

“Alright.”

Chapter Text

Waking up to slow, lazy snogs with Sherlock Holmes, John decided, was brilliant.

He’d awoke at some point in the night to Sherlock stretching out on top of him, the fingers of his right hand intertwining with John’s left as he pressed him back against the mattress, swallowing his half-awake confused mutterings and perhaps whispering a few of his own.

He was intoxicatingly warm through the thin material of their t-shirts, running a hand down John’s side and pushing his legs apart with his knees to settle between them.

“Is there anywhere else my tongue’s not allowed?” John murmured against his throat. Sherlock made a choked noise.

“I don’t know,” he gasped. “I think we need to do more research.”

John laughed breathlessly at the ridiculousness of it all and pushed the neck of Sherlock’s shirt down to press his lips to his collarbone, flickering his tongue against the skin there. “Always glad to help.”

“I – oh, bollocks.”

The sound of Sherlock swearing was enough to make John pull back, looking around in confusion. The door swung open just as Sherlock leaned back, and John scrambled for the blankets to cover the rapidly fading bulge in his pyjama pants.

“Um, good morning,” John said, painfully aware of Sherlock still kneeling between his thighs. He glanced at the clock.

One in the morning. As usual.

“Why don’t you – um, go back upstairs,” John began, pulling the blanket tighter around himself, “And I’ll be up in a minute to read to you, okay?”

For a moment Julian simply looked at them, and then he turned and walked from the room. John let out the breath he’d been holding. “Jesus, that was like ten cold showers in January,” he said, and Sherlock nodded, flopping on his back next to him.

“You’d better go.”

“I thought you were watching him at night,” John pointed out. He burrowed further in the blanket to make his point.

“I’ve got work to do,” Sherlock said as he climbed out of bed.

“Oh, of course you do,” John complained, but Sherlock merely ignored him and started to dress. After a minute of watching John climbed out of bed and trudged from the room, grumbling.

He’d been reading for a few hours – which was quickly becoming standard morning fare – when his phone rang. He checked the caller ID and started when he saw who it was – Catherine. He handed the book he’d been reading to Julian and walked out of the room, pulling the door shut behind himself.

“Catherine,” he greeted as he walked down the stairs and back to his room. “I didn’t expect you to call.” Not after what he’d said last time.

“Good morning, John. Do you have any new information about Angel?” He grimaced.

He looked at the case files strewn around on Sherlock’s bed. “Yeah... we’re still looking.”

“Any... any new information? At all?” she asked. He sat down, rubbing his head with his hand.

“We’re still looking,” he repeated, quieter. Only, that wasn’t quite true, was it? He wasn’t sure if Sherlock was still investigating the case, and he himself hadn’t done anything to contribute to the investigation since Julian’s first day in their home. Guilt washed over him, and he closed his eyes. “I promised you we’d find her, and we will,” he said, determined.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” she asked. Her voice wavered. “How long until he – your friend – doesn’t think he can find her?”

“Sherlock won’t drop the case,” he promised her. I won’t let him.

“Thanks – thank you.” There was a short pause, as though she were considering something. “John,” she said, “I was wondering if you’d like to come over for coffee sometime? Just to talk.”

He looked over the room again. “I think I’d like that.”

Once the call ended he stalked over to Sherlock’s bed, looking over the mass of items strewn about. Honestly, he would have no idea how the man slept here if he hadn’t seen him do it. He grabbed a handful of scribbled notes and set them aside to get to the papers underneath. He moved to kneel on the bed and began to look through them.

He wasn’t sure how long he worked before a soft sound drew his attention and he looked up to see Sherlock in the doorway. “What are you doing?” Sherlock asked, tense.

“I’m looking for information on the Angel Harris case. Do you ever organize your stuff?”

“Get off my bed.” His voice was clipped.

John started to move, but then stopped, frowning. “Wait, so you’re allowed on my bed whenever you please, but I’m not allowed on yours?” he asked, still kneeling.

“Yes.”

“How does that work?” John demanded.

“I have an aversion to you touching my things; you don’t. It’s hardly equal.”

“I have an ‘aversion’ to severed fingers in the butter dish,” John pointed out, but he stepped off the bed anyway.

“That hasn’t happened in at least a week.” Sherlock patted the mini-fridge at the end of the bed.

“Oh, alright then, I’ll be sure to send your brother a thank-you note,” John said, and Sherlock glared at him.

John sighed as he walked out to the sitting room, Sherlock on his heels. He was still tense as he lowered himself into his chair, and John could feel his eyes on him as he went about making tea. “Why are you looking for the case file?” Sherlock asked after a moment.

“Catherine called this morning. She wanted to know about her daughter’s case, and she invited me out for coffee. I said yes.” He leaned against the counter, sipping his tea as he looked at Sherlock.

Sherlock stared back. “I didn’t think she’d be your type.”

John frowned at him as he crossed to his own chair and sat. “It’s not like that. I’m not going to date someone else while we’re... what we are.”

“Even though we haven’t had sex yet?”

John choked on his tea. “Jesus – it’s only been a day, Sherlock. Give it time. It’s not exactly like we’ve been... alone,” he waved his hand toward the stairs. God, were they really just sitting there, calmly discussing when – not if, his brain reminded him – they were going to have sex?

“Our bedroom door has a lock,” Sherlock went on.

Apparently so.

“Yeah, ‘cause that’s romantic,” John said. Sherlock’s brows drew together at that.

“I wasn’t aware you were expecting romance,” he said.

“Yeah, well, I’m not expecting to get off while a screaming kid pounds on the door, either.”

“Come over here, I can’t think with you all the way over there.” For a moment, John just sat there stunned. Then he couldn’t help it; he let out a snort of laughter. Sherlock, luckily, looked more intrigued than hurt. “Is that not the sort of thing one says to one’s partner?” he asked, leaning forward in his seat.

“You can drop the sweet talk; I’m a bloke,” John said, still chuckling. “Just buy me a pint sometimes and we’ll be good.”

Sherlock relaxed. “Good. This will be easier than I thought – I’m not expecting flowers or any other rubbish either.”

John stood, then, and walked over to perch on the arm of Sherlock’s chair. “God, I wouldn’t get you flowers.” He thought about it for a moment. “A bouquet of ears, maybe, if I’m ever in the doghouse,” he said.

Sherlock perked up. “Really? I’m starting to see the appeal of traditional romance.”

John watched as Julian ran into the room, a copy of From Fingerprints to DNA Testing clutched in his hands. He flopped face-first on a chair and then ran off again without acknowledging them, his footsteps pounding on the stairs. John smiled. “There’s nothing ‘traditional’ about us.”

Sherlock chuckled as he settled back in his chair. “I know; it’s brilliant.” He reached up and gripped the back of John’s neck. “I was being serious about the ‘come here’ part of that request,” he murmured.

John grinned, stretching an arm across the chair’s back and pressing their lips together. Sherlock’s hand threaded in his hair and John cupped his jaw in his hand, stroking a thumb over his cheek.

“That’s the door,” Sherlock mumbled against his lips. John just shrugged, kissing him again. “And that’s your sister,” he added.

“Wha – oh,” he broke off as the door swung open. He stood hastily, though he wasn’t sure why. “Harry, what are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you too, little brother. I came to see my new nephew,” she said, smiling at him. “I was thinking we could take him out.”

“Out?” He glanced at the window – the heavy clouds were threatening to pour, and he didn’t relish the thought of getting caught in it. “Where did you want to go?”

“For a walk? We could take him to the park.”

She looked bright-eyed and innocent, and John chewed his lip. He lifted his mug of tea and walked into the kitchen; he could hear Sherlock follow him as he sat the mug in the sink.

“She’s sober,” Sherlock whispered as he reached past John. John nodded.

“Thanks,” he whispered back. He leaned forward and kissed Sherlock, lightly, at the edge of his mouth. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to it – the permission to touch, to taste. He didn’t even care that Harry was grinning and giving him a thumbs up from behind Sherlock’s back.

“Alright,” John sighed after a moment. “We’ll go with you.”

Harry’s gaze flickered to Sherlock. “I was thinking family only,” she said.

Something shifted in Sherlock’s expression, but he looked at them, face neutral, before John could identify it. He leaned against the counter and shrugged, crossing his arms. “I have work, anyway.”

John shot Sherlock one last curious look before he went to call Julian down the stairs. A few minutes later, they were on their way out the door.

Harry nudged him as he closed the front door behind them. “So, when did that happen?” she asked, gesturing toward their flat.

“Um, the other night, actually,” John said, trying to shrug it off.

“If I’d just hooked up with someone you wouldn’t find me doing anything but shagging for a week.”

He pursed his lips. “Child present, Harry, which applies to both that situation and this one.”

“Right, right.” She took Julian’s other hand, guiding him between them. John smiled at her over Julian’s head and for the first time in years, he found himself comfortable with her presence.

They walked in silence. As they approached the park, John could hear booming music and the squealing laughter of children. Julian began to tense at his side. “Harry,” John warned. “You knew there was a festival on, didn’t you?”

She caught his arm. “Oh, come on, John. I’ll pay; I think he’ll like it.”

“I don’t think –“

“Let me do something nice for my nephew,” she tried. He sighed; she was trying so hard to make up for lost time.

“Alright. But first sign of any trouble and we’re out,” he warned her. She was already off to purchase tickets. He pulled Julian a bit closer and followed at a slower pace.

But he began backing away from them the moment they were inside, twisting his fingers in his own shirt as he looked around. He looked panicked, and John fell to his knees in front of him. What had Sherlock done to comfort him the other day? God, he couldn’t even be sure. He’d given him a blanket, but John didn’t have anything with him. Julian jerked his hand away and ducked his head, making a distressed groaning sound in the back of his throat, and John could only watch, helpless.

“Cover his ears at the very least, for God’s sake,” a voice snapped, and he turned to see Sherlock hurrying toward them.

“What – did you follow us here?”

Sherlock lifted Julian effortlessly and wrapped his arms around him – it looked like far too tight, but the boy relaxed into the pressure. John reached out and cupped his hands over Julian’s ears, and for a long moment they all stood together, letting the crowd break and flow around them. John moved closer.

“What were you thinking, bringing him here?” Sherlock asked.

“I was thinking I could spend time with my family,” John snapped.

“Oh? And where is your sister, at the moment?” Sherlock said pointedly.

John turned to see Harry chatting up a young woman, just a few feet away yet ignoring them. He turned back to Sherlock, but avoided his eyes. “Let’s just get a cab and get out of here,” he said.

Sherlock didn’t respond, just began to push his way through the crowd and toward the street. Tension was knotted in John’s gut, with a vague sense of guilt as he watched Julian cling to Sherlock like a lifeline. He followed them into the cab, and they both visibly calmed as the cab pulled away from the curb.

“You didn’t need to follow us. I can take him out without you,” John said to break the silence. He felt like a chastised child, though Sherlock had hardly said anything.

Sherlock glanced at him. “Obviously not. He needs –”

“He is not your responsibility,” John hissed, anger ripping through him, and Sherlock went very still.

“Oh.”

Sherlock’s face was expressionless as he turned toward the window, and John’s heart sank. “I only meant he’s not your son. I… oh bollocks, this isn’t helping.”

“No; you’re right, of course.” Sherlock was still looking out the window, his expression closed off.

John reached out and touched his hand. “You’re just so brilliant with him,” he admitted.

“I told you – it’ll take time.”

“It didn’t for you.”

“You’re not me.”

John winced, but it was true, he reflected. They were silent the rest of the ride home.

Later, after Julian was asleep, John hovered in the doorway to the sitting room, watching Sherlock pouring over some paperwork. “Sherlock?” he called. “I thought you might want to...” he trailed off, gesturing to the bedroom door.

Sherlock didn’t bother to look up. “I can’t right now.”

“Alright. Good night,” John muttered in reply, trying to hide his disappointment. He walked into the bedroom, leaving it partially open in silent invitation, hoping.

A few minutes later, the soft sound of the violin began to seep into the room, lulling him to sleep.

---

They danced around each other for the next few days. Sherlock came and went at all hours without a hint as to why; John tried to arrange Julian’s therapy, which Sherlock always found time to attend. He would sit in his chair and watch them like a hawk, waving John away whenever he asked him about it.

John had given up trying to stay as a buffer between Sherlock and the therapists – it didn’t help, and he was fairly certain sometimes it hindered – so he took the opportunity to leave the flat. He had just opened the front door after a trip to the shops when a woman barrelled into him, choking out a pained apology before she hurried away. John sighed.

“Third one this week. Poor thing,” Mrs. Hudson said from the door of her flat.

“I know. I’ll talk to him,” John said as he made his way up the stairs.

Sherlock was sitting in his seat, sawing at his violin when John entered. “Ah, John,” he greeted without stopping, “You just missed Dr. Williams, I’m afraid.”

“Actually, no, I didn’t,” John responded, rubbing his sternum with his free hand. “Sherlock,” he sighed as he sat the bags on the counter, “You can’t keep running off the therapists. You don’t even have an excuse; I know you’ve got work right now, so you can’t be bored. Just ignore them.” He held out a bag and Julian grabbed it, hurrying toward one of the shelves to put the cans away.

Sherlock scratched the bow across the strings again, and John ground his teeth. It was a direct counterpoint to the hauntingly beautiful melodies Sherlock would play at night. “I couldn’t.”

“Why? What did this one do, then?” John demanded, leaning against the counter and crossing his arms.

“She told me he was ‘surprisingly sweet, for someone with autism.’”

His stomach dropped. “Oh.” He watched Julian line up the cans in the cupboard, their labels facing out and aligned perfectly.

“Yes.”

“Well, alright then – I’ll just call and explain what happened, and –”

Sherlock cut him off by swinging the bow in a dramatic arc, pointing at him. “You don’t need another therapist, you know. I could teach him.”

John just stared at him in disbelief. “You.”

“Yes, John. Me.”

“Teach him.”

“Do we need to enroll you in speech therapy? Echolalia doesn’t suit you; you’re starting to sound like a police officer. Yes, John. I am fully capable of teaching him.”

“Do you even know what you’d need to teach him? You haven’t even touched the books Gina sent with him.”

“I’ve touched them.”

“Throwing them under my bed doesn’t count.” John took the empty bag from Julian and he darted away, up the stairs to his room.

Chapter 11: Preparing Your Child for an Institution or Group Home,” Sherlock recited. “I’ve skimmed them,” he said, wrinkling his nose in distaste.

“That’s what’s bothering you?” John asked. He crossed to stand in front of Sherlock, glancing at the stairs. “I know it’s hard to think about,” he said, lowering his voice. “It’s just… there are things that you hope for, and then there’s reality,” he explained.

Sherlock let out a short, bitter laugh, but stopped when he saw the expression on John’s face. “You’re serious,” he said, eyes wide.

“I’m not going to live forever. All I’m saying is there’s no harm in being prepared.”

“I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, doctor.” Sherlock stood, setting his violin in his chair and stalking toward the door.

John spun around to watch him. “Where are you going?”

“I need some air,” Sherlock snapped over his shoulder, and John winced at having his own words flung back at him.

The front door slammed a few moments later, and John waited another minute before he walked down the stairs. Mrs. Hudson stuck her head out her door and looked at him.

He cleared his throat. “Um, that was –”

“I know, dear, I heard him leave. I think the whole street did. Are you alright?” she asked, stepping out into the hall and pulling the door closed behind her.

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I just need to clear my head. Could you...?” he gestured toward the stairs, and Mrs. Hudson patted him on the arm.

“Of course, dear. Take your time.”

He thanked her and walked outside, closing the door rather softer than Sherlock had. He crammed his hands into his pockets and began to walk.

He just didn’t understand. There was some great piece missing from his knowledge of Sherlock Holmes, and it was eating away at him; at them. It didn’t seem fair to have their legs kicked out from under then when they were only getting started.

When he arrived back home, the first thing he noticed was a black car parked at the curb. He frowned at it as he slowed.

“Mrs. Hudson?” he called as he pushed open the front door. There was no answer, and dread began to knot in the pit of his stomach.

“Julian? Julian!” he took the stairs two at a time and threw open the door to their flat.

“Hello, John,” Mycroft leaned forward in Sherlock’s seat with a smile, “Do you have time for a chat?”

“What are you doing here?” John asked, looking around. Julian was sitting in the corner, staring out the window. “Where’s Mrs. Hudson?”

“Your landlady had an errand to run. I was more than happy to lend a hand.”

“She wouldn’t leave him with a strange man.”

“Strange?” Mycroft appeared to consider that, “Perhaps,” he conceded with a smile. “A stranger, however? No. Your landlady is quite trustworthy, John. I’ve made sure of it.”

John’s jaw clenched. “I see.”

“Quite.” Mycroft looked over at Julian, and John could have sworn he looked fond for a moment. “I must say, Dr. Watson, I am immensely pleased by your decision. Young Julian reminds me so much of Sherlock at that age.”

“I – what? How do you mean?”

He sat in his chair as Mycroft held out a plain manila envelope. John opened it and several photos fell into his lap – he looked through them to see what could only be Sherlock and occasionally Mycroft at various ages. Sherlock was always looking off in the distance, or with his hands distorted, or half-hidden under Mycroft’s large arm.

John shook his head, dropping them back into the envelope. “That doesn’t prove anything,” he said.

“He was such a quiet child.” John’s eyes slid to the corner once more. ‘Quiet’ wasn’t a word John would use to describe Julian. “I had hoped Sherlock would tell you himself,” Mycroft went on. “But he is as stubborn as ever, and I sensed tension in your budding relationship.”

John stayed silent. Mainly because he didn’t consider spying a ‘sense’, but he wasn’t sure Mycroft would agree with that assessment.

“I believe you’ll find this more convincing,” Mycroft went on, holding out a file.

John took it, flipping it open. It was a standard evaluation, and his heart sank as he looked over the small checklist of symptoms – only half as long as the list on Julian’s file, but the terms were still similar. Pervasive lack of responsiveness to other people he could imagine; gross deficits in language development he couldn’t. The thought of Sherlock being unable to tell people they were wrong was unfathomable. He looked at the last one: Bizarre responses to various aspects of the environment, e.g., resistance to change, peculiar interest in or attachments to animate or inanimate objects. Well, that explained a few things, he thought as he glanced at the skull on the mantle. He looked back at the paperwork, hardly able to comprehend what he was seeing - Sherlock Holmes, evaluated at six years old.

Diagnosis: Autism.

He looked back at Mycroft as another thought began to form, one that made a sick sort of sense now that he was looking at it directly. “Sociopath, psychopath – they’re both outdated terms for antisocial personality disorder. They haven’t been in the DSM since –”

“1980.” Mycroft smiled tightly. “The terms were still bandied around then, unofficially, but ultimately discarded.”

“I don’t understand; why would he tell people he’s a sociopath, then?”

Mycroft shifted his umbrella to his left hand as he leaned forward. “Sociopaths are hated, John; autistics are pitied. Which do you think a man like my brother would prefer? He has worked very hard over the course of his adult life to make that file disappear entirely.”

A vague sense of unease was building in the back of his mind. “And yet you brought it here, to me,” he said slowly.

Mycroft smiled. “Not the only copy, of course.”

“Of course.” He cleared his throat, squaring his shoulders. “Right; we need to get three things very clear, I think.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. One: Julian will never be picked up by an unmarked black car unless it is a matter of life or death. Two: You will leave our things alone, especially things that are private,” he glared, and Mycroft smiled wider.

“Done and done. And what is the third?”

John flipped the file closed. “If you ever bring me any information about Sherlock’s past without his consent again, I promise you I’ll be the last person to see you alive.”

Mycroft looked surprised for a moment, and then he chuckled. “Oh bravo, Dr. Watson, well done. I knew I was right about you.”

He stood to leave, but another thought struck John and he held up a hand to stop him. “Wait. The guardianship… did you forge it?”

Mycroft lowered himself back into his seat as his eyes softened. “No. Your dear friends did in fact believe you more than capable of parenting young Julian. And I daresay they were correct.”

John nearly jumped when the door to the flat swung open and Sherlock stopped in the doorway. He frowned at Mycroft.

“What are you –” he broke off when he saw the file in John’s lap, and all the colour drained from his face. Even his lips paled. “Get out,” Sherlock said, leaning back against the doorframe.

“Really, Sherlock,” Mycroft chided him as he stood. He crossed to stand in front of him, and John barely heard him murmur, “I’m trying to help you.”

“Get out,” Sherlock repeated, softer.

As soon as the door clicked shut behind his brother Sherlock headed into the kitchen; John followed. Sherlock stood with his back to him for a moment; then he spun around and grabbed him, short nails digging into John’s arms as he kissed him, achingly slow and tender, like a man dejected or pleading.

Or saying goodbye.

John sucked in a deep breath when Sherlock pulled away, pacing the short room. Sherlock ran his hands through his hair, gripping the ends and tugging. “Sherlock –”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Sherlock interrupted.

But John pushed forward, ignoring the warning in his voice. “It doesn’t have to change anything between us, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Sherlock paused to look at him, eyes sad. “Yes it does, John,” he said. “It always changes… everything.”

“Is that why didn’t you tell me?” he asked. His voice seemed to echo around the small room, and he winced as he looked around.

Sherlock let out a short, humourless laugh. “Tell you what, exactly? Tell you that my parents put me through years of therapy so I wouldn’t be an embarrassment to them? Well, it worked. I can now with varying measures of success pass for one of you.” He looked away, closing his eyes for a moment. Then he started for the doorway.

John reached out and caught him by the sleeve as he passed, and Sherlock stilled. “But I don’t want you to. You don’t have to do that here – I want you to be yourself.”

Sherlock winced. “It’s been so many years,” he murmured, “I think I’ve forgotten how.”

John smiled sadly. “You don’t forget.”

“Yes I do – when I want to,” Sherlock reminded him.

“And… did you want to?”

Sherlock shrugged, still looking past John. “It wasn’t my choice.”

“It is now.”

“I’m –” he broke off, sucking in a deep breath. “I’m going to go lie down.”

John let go of his sleeve and took a step back. “Alright.” He watched him go, wondering what he should do – what he could possibly say. “Sherlock?” he called when he’d reached the doorway. Sherlock stopped, but didn’t turn around. “Just… I’m here, you know.”

The door closed behind him, but not before John heard the soft, “I know.”

Chapter Text

Hours later Sherlock still hadn’t reappeared, and John put Julian to bed on his own. He hesitated before he reached for the small pill bottle Sherlock had left on the mantle and led Julian up the stairs.

He lay on the sofa well into the night. It was lumpy and cold, and he found himself alternating between staring at their bedroom door and the stairs. He felt shocked and numb, and his eyes occasionally drifted to the file still on the floor, half hidden under his chair when he had stood to follow Sherlock.

He drifted in and out of sleep, images of a young Sherlock with his lips sewn shut morphing into Julian gesturing wildly and talking about topics he couldn’t understand. When he jerked awake once more, the sun was just peeking through the curtains. He pressed the heels of his hands to eyes and laid there, his mind and heart racing.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed before the bedroom door opened and Sherlock slipped out, still in his dressing gown. John pushed himself to his elbows and for a long moment, they simply looked at each other. Sherlock opened his mouth as though he was going to speak, but then he moved into the kitchen, instead. John waited, watching as he stood in the middle of the room bathed in sunlight.

Sherlock turned back toward him and took a hesitant step in his direction. John pushed himself to his feet and walked toward him, stretching out his hand.

A few steps away, he stopped, hesitating. “May I?” he asked, brushing his fingers over Sherlock’s arm, and the soft, uncertain look on Sherlock’s features hardened.

“Oh, when have I ever indicated an aversion to being touched? Or has Julian, for that matter?” he snapped. He looked angry and hurt, and John grimaced. That was wrong – it was all wrong.

“I just…” John dropped his arm, “You said you couldn’t be yourself. I just want to help. Just… call me an idiot when I mess up, okay?”

“I’ve never had an aversion to that, either,” Sherlock said, softer, and John relaxed somewhat. They were still standing a few feet apart, though. Sherlock fidgeted. “I know it’s not your fault,” he murmured.

“I’m glad it happened, though.”

“I’m not.”

“I know,” John sighed as he sat once more. Sherlock sat on the opposite end of the sofa, and all of a sudden he seemed too far away. So John slid toward him, trying to keep the movement from looking awkward and stilted. From the way Sherlock smirked at him, he didn’t think he succeeded, but it was worth it to see Sherlock relax, even just a bit.

“Subtle, John.”

“Oh sod off.” He gripped Sherlock’s chin and pulled him closer, kissing him.

And then Sherlock was straddling him, his dressing gown slipping off one shoulder as he moved. He was shaking, the same barely-perceptible tremor John had noticed the first time Sherlock had hinted at this; when he should have seen. He gripped Sherlock’s hip with one hand, wrapping his other around his waist to hold him close.

“I’m still here,” John whispered.

“You are,” Sherlock murmured against his lips, as though it was unfathomable. John held him tighter, leaning to rest his head against Sherlock’s chest and feel his heartbeat there.

John heard Julian’s footsteps on the stairs shortly after and nudged Sherlock to the side as he stood. They were silent as he prepared Julian’s breakfast and Sherlock set up some experiment on the other end of the table.

“Second term starts in only three days,” John reminded them.

Sherlock didn’t look up. “Yes?” he prompted.

“He needs to go back to school, and it’ll be good to meet with his teacher.”

“I hardly think an infant school will do much to teach him,” Sherlock said. John frowned at him as he dug through the school paperwork.

“Gina sent along some more information,” he lifted the paper when he found it, “About a primary school called Priory Lodge, but I don’t think it’d be a good idea to transfer him so soon after Mark and Jennifer’s death.”

“Likely not,” Sherlock agreed.

Julian stood silently, headed back toward the stairs to his room. John watched him go with an ache in his chest.

“I wish he’d open up to us,” he said once Julian had disappeared up the stairs.

Sherlock’s head jerked up for just a moment, and then he pulled the microscope toward him and grabbed what looked like a random slide. John stared down at the faded black Property of St. Bart’s on the side as he licked his lip. “What is it?” he asked when Sherlock didn’t speak.

“He will, eventually. You’re... trustworthy,” Sherlock said without looking up. His shoulders were stiff.

Sherlock ducked his head farther, and John walked up behind him and pressed a hand to the small of his back. “Thank you.”

“I was talking about Julian.”

“Still.” John leaned his hip against the table and cupped Sherlock’s jaw in his hands, drawing him closer.

Sherlock was looking up at him, eyes wide, his hands gripping John’s hips almost painfully tight. He looked genuinely surprised, and it was somehow both so wonderful and wrong that John leaned down again to kiss him, letting his lips linger as he trailed kisses across his cheek.

“I’ll be meeting with Julian’s teacher this morning. Come with me?” he asked as he pulled away.

Sherlock smiled as he reached for another slide, this time looking over them carefully before selecting one. “Of course. I wouldn’t miss the chance to verbally eviscerate a so-called ‘educator.’”

“Please, try not to get him thrown out on his first day back, alright?” John sighed as he stood.

“I’m not in the habit of making promises I can’t keep.”

“Right; you just have no problem with promises you don’t intend to keep.” Sherlock smiled at him, then, as though pleased John was beginning to tell the difference. Then the idea that he was beginning to tell the difference sank in and he groaned. “Please tell me your particular brand of crazy isn’t contagious.” He bit his tongue the moment it was out, mortified, but Sherlock seemed if anything even more pleased.

“Of course not; everyone I’ve so much as spoken with would be at least fifteen percent smarter if that were the case.” John just laughed as he walked to the door. “Where are you going?” Sherlock asked.

“To meet with Catherine,” John reminded him as he stepped into his shoes.

“Ah, yes,” Sherlock looked away, “The mother.”

“You thought it was a good idea that I keep in touch with her.” John crossed his arms. “Anything I should tell her?” he prompted.

“Whatever you want, John,” Sherlock said as he waved him off. John frowned, but Sherlock didn’t look at him.

“Alright,” he sighed, “I’m off. I’ll see you this afternoon; please try to be dressed by then,” he said pointedly, looking at Sherlock’s dressing gown. Sherlock didn’t acknowledge the comment, and a moment later John was out the door.

He took a cab to Catherine’s, handing Sherlock’s card to the cabbie as he climbed out. Catherine met him at the door.

“Come in,” she stepped aside, smiling at him.

John looked around her sitting room once more. It was huge, he reflected, and he wondered how she managed to afford such a posh flat. He looked down the hall toward Angel’s room. He wondered if Sherlock had returned during his investigation; there was so much he didn’t know about Sherlock’s work, now, and it made him ache to think of it.

“Tea?” she asked, drawing him from his thoughts.

He jumped and turned to her. “Oh, yes – that would be lovely, thank you.”

They sat in silence, John still looking around the room and Catherine avoiding his eyes when he did look at her. That was only natural, he supposed; he couldn’t imagine what she must be going through. He cast about for something to say.

“You mentioned you’re raising an autistic child, didn’t you?” Catherine asked as she sipped her tea. She was still looking down at the china.

“Yeah.”

“How long has it been?”

“He’s been with us – me – for almost two weeks now.”

She smiled. “Not long at all, then.”

“It feels like a lifetime,” he muttered, looking down at the table.

She patted his hand, and when he looked up she was smiling sadly. “It will. Your life will always be divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’, now.”

He nodded. He knew it was true; but his life was already made up of so many of those - before and after medical school, before and after the war, before and after Sherlock.

“My friend,” he blurted out before he realized it. He blushed, but she nodded at him to continue. “He’s autistic.”

“Oh,” was all she said. He took a deep breath.

“It seems strange,” he admitted, “That I didn’t know. I don’t know how I didn’t see it.”

“Well, you were hardly looking for it, were you? You never expect it. We didn’t know before Angel was born. The testing was available, but I never thought...” she shook her head, twisting the gold chain in her fingers. “I didn’t think it could happen to me, you know?”

He nodded. He checked his watch and stood, smiling at her apologetically. “I have to go – I have a meeting at the school. Julian’s school,” he added when she looked up. She nodded, standing as well.

“Please, keep in touch,” she said as she led the way to the door.

“I will,” he assured her. On impulse he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek and she smiled at him, eyes wet as she showed him out, and he felt another stab of guilt.

He walked home slowly, his thoughts chasing each other in confused circles.

He slowed when he realized people were walking in the street to avoid the pavement in front of their flat. As he drew closer he realized why.

Eggs.

Nearly a dozen eggs, some cooked and some not, cracked all over the pavement. And little bags of flour and sugar. He looked up to see Sherlock leaning out the window, surveying the mess, and he didn’t think for a second that he was imagining Sherlock’s look of smug satisfaction.

“What the hell is going on up there?” John demanded.

“A lesson, John,” Sherlock called back down to him. Julian’s face appeared in the window and he held out one of John cans of beer. “Now, hold it over the flour – no, that one’s sugar – there, yes, that’s right.”

“Don’t! That’ll –“ John broke off with a grimace as the can hit the pavement in front of him and burst, soaking his pants and shoes and leaving little balls of damp flour all over them. Julian let out a bright laugh as a woman walking by jumped out of the way, cursing. John smiled at her, but she just glared at him as she gave him a wider berth. “Sorry,” he muttered, looking down at the mess.

When he looked back up they were gone again. He ignored the curious looks of the passers-by and hurried inside.

He opened the door to the sitting room to see Sherlock standing by the window and Julian next to him, looking as though nothing had happened.

“Well, now I need to shower. I’m not going to meet his teacher soaked in beer.

“That is quite unprofessional,” Sherlock agreed. He turned to Julian. “Excellent lesson; well done.”

“And what exactly were you teaching him?” John asked. He sniffed at his shirt, but it had escaped the blast unscathed, somehow. He grimaced as the beer sloshed in his shoes.

“A combination of primary school physics and chemistry in a practical environment, of course. He seemed to particularly enjoy the differing splatter patterns of the cooked and uncooked eggs.”

John nodded, pursing his lips. “Right, I see.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. We have different ideas of what the word ‘practical’ means, I think.” But he looked at them, smiling at each other, Sherlock with a streak of flour in his hair that he probably hadn’t even noticed, and all his anger melted away. He walked toward them. “Did you see the face of the woman you almost got with the beer?” John said, chuckling as he reached up to brush the flour from Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock smiled back as he leaned over to give him better access.

“I did.”

“I thought she was going to slap me in the face.”

“It seemed to me like she was going to aim for a significantly more sensitive part of your anatomy.”

John sighed, still smiling. “Why do I always get blamed for your... well, you?

“It’s because you seem so responsible, John. You really should do something about that, you know.”

“I thought I was. You know, all this time I’m spending with you.”

“It helps,” Sherlock agreed.

“I really do need to shower, though,” John said as he glanced at the clock. “We’re supposed to be there soon. Bring me some clothes while I’m in there,” he added. Sherlock frowned at him.

“Why?”

Somehow he doubted that was the innuendo his mind seemed to want to take it as. “Because I need to get dressed quickly.”

“You’ve never brought me clothes in the shower.”

John decided not to mention that it wasn’t for lack of desire, rather that he wanted to let Sherlock set his own pace – which he was even more inclined toward now than ever. “It’s new. Think of it as a couple thing,” he suggested instead.

“Ah. You’re the expert, then.” John tried to ignore the warmth that spread through him and walked toward the washroom instead. He stripped out of his wet clothes and left them piled just inside the door, turning on the tap and stepping into the bath before Sherlock brought his clothes.

John didn’t bother to turn around when he heard the door open and felt the rush of cool air before the door closed again. He didn’t pay any attention to it until he turned to reach for the shampoo and noticed the curtain was pushed back in the corner and Sherlock was watching him, eyes dark.

He jumped. “What are you doing?” he asked. Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him.

“Looking,” was all he said.

“Yeah, I can see that much.”

The curtain closed, but a second later he heard rustling cloth, and turned to watch the vague outline of Sherlock undressing.

“Oh, that’s not good,” he muttered to himself as he felt Sherlock step into the shower behind him.

“Why?” Sherlock said in his ear. The shampoo was plucked from his hand and a moment later long fingers slid into his hair, massaging his scalp. He could feel the hot spray bouncing off Sherlock’s body and back onto his own.

“I’m sure there was a reason, I just can’t remember it,” he said as he leaned into the touch. Sherlock leaned his upper body away, and John could practically feel his gaze roaming over his skin. “Are you going to do that every time you see me naked or mostly-naked?” There was something intriguing and more than a little arousing about being the focus of Sherlock’s intense concentration, though, and it was hard to object.

“Problem?”

John laughed breathlessly. “None at all.”

A small fist pounded on the door. “Ah, there’s the reason this wasn’t a good idea,” John murmured, and Sherlock huffed in amusement. “We have to be at the school.”

“We should hurry, then,” Sherlock agreed.

“Sherlock,” John warned.

My implication there was entirely innocent.”

“You’re never entirely innocent.”

“Honestly, you’ve showered with dozens of men before in the service. This can’t be too different.” Sherlock’s hands slipped to the back of his neck, rubbing gently.

John bit back a laugh as Sherlock’s hands slid lower on his shoulders. “There might be one or two small differences.”

“Small?”

John laughed before he could stop himself. “Shut up, you arse. Get out and get dressed,” he ordered, “I’ll be right behind you. Shut up,” he said again as he heard Sherlock inhale to speak. He laughed instead, and there was another rush of air as the shower curtain slid open and he stepped out.

John turned back to the tile and looked down at his aching erection. He wondered if he had time.

He turned the water all the way cold, instead.

---

He stared out the cab window, Julian pressed up against his side and trying to look around him at the scenery.

“I want to go to the school,” John said. Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him.

“Yes,” he drawled, waving a hand around the cab, “I’m aware.”

John shot him a pointed look. “No, I meant Angel Harris’ school.”

“Why?”

“I want to continue the investigation. Let me see the security footage, at least,” John pressed.

“The security cameras are in the halls only; not the classroom,” Sherlock went on. “And there was nothing of interest.” There was something off about that, but John wasn’t sure where to press. “And even if I did, do you think you’ll find something I didn’t?”

“Well, you must’ve missed something. She’s still out there, and you don’t know how or why.” Sherlock pursed his lips for a moment, and then his face went carefully blank. “Sherlock?”

“We’re here.” He stepped from the cab before John could reply, leaving him to pay as he took Julian’s hand and led him toward the door.

By the time John headed for the glass doors, Sherlock had already struck up a conversation with the young woman in the front office. She was nodding along with whatever he was saying, but her features were pinched and weary in a way that John recognised right away. He pulled open the door and hurried inside.

“ – and you records indicate that the school was built in 1887,” Sherlock was saying, “Yet the brickwork –“

“Sorry,” John interrupted as he rested his hand on Sherlock’s shoulder, “Had to pay for the cab.”

The woman looked between them for a moment before settling on John. “Are you Julian’s guardian?”

He nodded. “Dr. John Watson,” he said, extending his hand.

She smiled, a soft, charming expression. “Ms. Richardson. We were all so sorry to hear about Mark and Jennifer,” she said as they shook hands.

Sherlock sighed. “Dull. We’ll be outside. Perhaps Lestrade has a murder or two for me,” he said as he pulled his phone from his pocket.

“Angel Harris,” John reminded him as he pushed open the door. Sherlock merely waved over his shoulder in response.

“It was nice to meet you,” Ms. Richardson called after Sherlock as they left. Neither of them turned back toward her. She smiled at John as Sherlock swept out of the room, and he tried not to cringe. “Two of them, eh? You’re brave.”

He turned back to her. “What do you – hang on, sorry, how did you know that?”

She leaned forward, still smiling. “Intuition born from years of experience, dear.” She glanced around and leaned forward further, “It’s a bit like gaydar, only it gets you less dates.” She nodded toward the door. “I have a hard enough time as my brother’s caregiver, I don’t think I could take in another family member. Julian’s lucky to have you.”

“Caregiver?” He looked back at where Sherlock was now standing outside the glass doors, Julian held against his hip. He was typing one handed on his phone while Julian played on his DS. John still wondered how she had seen it so fast when he’d needed it shoved in his face. “No – I’m, I’m his flatmate.”

She looked amused. “Right, and let me guess, you take care of the bills, and the flat while he’s off in his own little world?” She was still smiling, and John found it a bit less charming than before.

“Well, yeah, but –”

“Help him interact with others?”

“He’d get a fist to the mouth if I didn’t. But you don’t understand, it’s not like that – he’s brilliant.

“Oh, they all are, luv,” she said, shaking her head. She reached for a business card on the counter and flipped it over as she grabbed a pen. “There’s a meeting in a couple weeks. An informal gathering, just parents and other close family members.” She held out the slip of paper. “Why don’t you come?”

He took it, nodding curtly as he put the piece of paper in his wallet. He had every intention of binning it at the first available opportunity.

“Right,” he said, a bit more brisk than he intended, “Shall we get on with the meeting, then?”

The facility was nice – exactly what he expected from a school that he’d never have been able to afford if it hadn’t been for Julian’s inheritance. Sherlock had inspected every inch of the classroom while John had talked with the staff, but no one seemed to mind in the slightest. He was silent in the cab on the way back to the flat.

“Well?” John asked when he couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Well what?”

“What did you think? I’d like your opinion.”

Sherlock was still looking out the window, but John saw a glimmer of satisfaction in his eye at that, and his lips quirked. “The facility is acceptable, the staff is not quite as dim-witted as I expected, and Julian seemed quite at ease in the classroom.”

“So... you approve?” John asked. Sherlock sniffed.

“If he simply must attend, it’s adequate.”

John grinned. That was as good as an endorsement as Sherlock was likely to give, and John leaned over Julian to kiss his cheek in thanks.

The moment they were inside the flat John lifted his laptop and balanced it on his knees, looking at Sherlock expectantly. With a slight huff, Sherlock dug out a DVD from a stack of paperwork and held it out to him.

John looked down at the neat handwriting on the DVD - Treehouse School - it sounded familiar; he wondered if Gina had included their information in Julian’s things as well, but he couldn’t be sure. There had just been so much new information lately. He rubbed his temple, sighing.

“John?” Sherlock prompted. He jerked his head back and put the DVD in his laptop. Sherlock began to narrate as they watched, voice tense.

“There, 11:35a, she enters her classroom. She stayed behind when the other children left due to her illness; the teacher stepped into the hall at 12:05p, and when she returned Angel Harris was gone.” He stopped the tape. “That’s all there is, John.”

Sherlock walked over his own chair and lifted his violin. John watched the recording through again, and then a third time, before he sat back. “What aren’t you telling me?” he asked. Sherlock smiled.

“John, surely you know me better than that by now,” he admonished.

“Yeah, I do, that’s why I’m asking.”

“Then certainly you already know I’m not going to just tell you.”

John clenched his fists. “This isn’t a game, Sherlock. Think of what could be happening to that poor girl while you’re sitting around here doing nothing.”

“Assuming she’s still alive.”

“That –” He bit his tongue hard enough that the sharp taste of blood filled his mouth for a moment. “Right,” he admitted tightly. Sherlock began to play, a soft, quiet melody.

“I’m doing all that I can, John.”

They were silent for a moment. “Can I ask you a question?” John asked.

“If you must.”

“Well, I know it’s not my business – ”

“Yet you’re going to ask anyway.”

“But you’re good with expressions and things like that,” John went on. Sherlock rolled his eyes and sat his violin aside.

“Hours a day with flash cards, and you lot are surprised when it actually works.

“Yeah, but those are pretty basic, aren’t they?” John asked, thinking of the small pack he’d seen in with Julian’s things.

“Yes. Luckily, Mycroft –” he broke off, as though he’d just realized he was about to say something good about his brother.

“Go on,” John prompted. He could feel a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth and he fought to keep it under control. He doubted very much that Sherlock would appreciate him laughing at his childhood anecdotes.

“Luckily Mycroft helped me with more in-depth instruction. It was quite… enlightening.” His lips twitched up at some memory, and John smiled as he quickly schooled his features.

“Oh, that had to hurt,” he teased.

“You can stop smiling any time now,” Sherlock sniffed.

“Actually, I don’t think I will.” He crossed the room to lean against the side of Sherlock’s chair, running a hand through his curls. Sherlock leaned into the touch with a sigh.

“Why did I think this would be a good idea?” he grumbled.

“Because you’re brilliant, of course.”

“I am,” Sherlock agreed. John rolled his eyes.

“And so humble,” he teased, chuckling.

“Humility isn’t a virtue. Understating one’s abilities is just as misleading as overstating them.”

John just hummed slightly under his breath as he leaned over to kiss him again.

Chapter Text

Once Julian started school they settled into an easy routine. John resumed regular work at the surgery, and when he returned home in the evenings Julian was usually with Sherlock in the sitting room, pouring over books together or Julian playing games while Sherlock worked.

He arrived home the third day to find Sherlock pacing the sitting room, a file in his hand, his eyes trained on yet another map pinned to the wall above the mantle. Julian was bouncing on his toes in front of the television, laughing as he watched a rerun of Pocoyo. Sherlock didn’t turn to look at him when he entered. John glanced out the window. It was a beautiful day, and he couldn’t bear the thought of spending the evening watching Sherlock pace and tug at his hair.

“Why don’t we go out? A walk might clear your head,” John suggested. Sherlock glared at him, as though something as mundane as physical activity having an effect on his mind was unbearably insulting. Julian looked away from the television then, still bouncing on his toes, and Sherlock sighed.

“Fine.”

“Come on, you might even enjoy yourself,” John said. He gripped Sherlock’s hand and dragged him toward the door.

“I’m far too busy to enjoy myself.”

“Then enjoy me, instead.”

Sherlock smirked. “Language, doctor, there’s a child present.”

“I meant my company, you arse. Come on, we’ll take him to Regent’s Park.”

Despite the weather, the trails were mostly bare when they arrived apart from a few joggers and a woman walking at least half a dozen small dogs. John relaxed as Julian ran ahead of them, laughing. John gripped Sherlock’s hand, tilting his face toward the sun peaking through the trees as he walked.

“I thought you weren’t expecting romance,” Sherlock pointed out. Their shoulders bumped together as they walked, and John found the rhythm soothing.

“We’re holding hands,” John said, “Not writing each other love poems.”

“That would be romantic,” Sherlock said. John glanced over and laughed at the disgusted expression on his face.

“That depends. What rhymes with ‘kitchen explosions’?”

“I’m unsure. That sounds more than the beginning of a haiku, at any rate.”

“Well, I’m sure I could compose a sonnet about you flirting with Molly for morgue access, if you’d like.”

“Jealousy doesn’t suit you.”

“Hardly jealous. I pity the poor girl,” John said, squeezing his hand. Sherlock smiled and squeezed back. Julian ran between them, reaching up to grip their joined hands and dangling from them, giggling. John laughed again and Julian ran ahead once more, babbling. “He’s certainly playful. Do you think he minds being an only child?”

“Sorry, John. I think having a child would ruin my figure,” Sherlock said, and John snorted in laughter, pinching his arm.

“You know what I meant. Harry was a nightmare when we were kids, you know.”

“I can imagine.”

“I sometimes wished I was an only child.”

“I never did.”

John looked at him, surprised. “Never? With how badly you and Mycroft get on?”

Sherlock shrugged. “As insufferable as he could be, his achievements kept our parents from being too depressed about my disability.”

And there it was. There in the late fall sunshine, the word they’d been trying to avoid since Julian came into their lives. John pressed closer to his side.

“There’s nothing wrong with you, you know,” he insisted.

Sherlock would have looked almost amused if it weren’t for the bitter twist of his lips. “Really? Would you say that about Julian?”

John looked up at his sharp profile. “Yeah. I would.” Sherlock turned to look down at him, then. “He has a lot to learn, but what five-year-old doesn’t? He just – Julian? Julian?” John turned around. Julian was standing several feet down the path, one hand fisted in a man’s jacket. He stretched up on his toes, reaching for the phone in his hand. John cringed as he hurried over. The man was cursing, trying to bat his hands away as Julian began to cry. John caught him by the wrist and pulled him back.

“Is this your kid?” the man snapped, straightening his jacket. John nodded.

“Yeah, sorry, he just – he’s fascinated by technology,” John explained. He knelt down in front of Julian and caught him by the shoulders.

“Keep an eye on him or put him on a leash,” the man snapped. John moved to stand just as Sherlock brushed past him. The man took a startled step back, but Sherlock didn’t stop until he was looking down at the man from an inch distance. From where he was standing John could see Sherlock’s eyes roving over the man, his expression stony.

“Sherlock –” John hurried forward and caught him by the arm. “Let him go,” he murmured. “Look, Julian didn’t even notice, see?” That only made Sherlock turn his glare on him, instead. “Let’s go home.”

The man took the opportunity to hurry away, glancing over his shoulder as they watched him go. When he was out of sight John took Julian’s hand and led him back the way they’d came. He turned to see Sherlock standing still, just watching them.

“Sherlock?”

He didn’t answer; instead he walked over to them and lifted Julian, gripping John’s hand with his other hand and tugging.

“Thank you,” John said, voice hushed.

“I’ll still work with him after school.”

“You don’t have to. I know your cases take a lot of time –”

“I’ll make time.” He stepped into the street to hail a cab.

That evening Sherlock sat quietly in his chair, his fingers steepled below his chin as he watched John and Julian put together small puzzles. He didn’t acknowledge them when John took Julian to bed, and when he finished John went into the bedroom to read until he fell asleep.

When John walked out into the sitting room in the morning Sherlock was still there, perched in his chair, looking as though he hadn’t moved a muscle all night. The only indicator that he had was Julian sitting at the table, already eating his breakfast.

“Er, good morning,” John said, looking between them. “I’ve got to go to the surgery today. I might be a bit late. No lessons after school that involve explosions, alright?” John said as he pulled on his jacket.

“I’ll try,” Sherlock said, his voice flat.

“And keep them inside.”

Sherlock huffed, and John took it as a small victory that he’d been able to make him move at all, in his state. “Honestly, John, it’s as if you want this child to have no practical education at all. Would you rather I stick to topics such as history?

“Do you know anything about history? ‘Practical’ history?” John added when Sherlock opened his mouth to speak. Sherlock’s teeth clinked together as he reached over and lifted the laptop. John grinned. “Didn’t think so. Just stick to basic things like speech therapy, alright? I know you’ll do fine there.”

“Fine.”

John leaned over and kissed his cheek. “I’m off, then.”

--

He was just getting ready to leave at the end of the day when Sarah knocked on the door and walked inside. She leaned against his desk as he sat, smiling at him. “How’s fatherhood?” she asked. He chuckled, running a hand over his face. “That’s the usual reaction,” she said. “Has Sherlock gone mad yet? Well, I mean –”

“Madder than usual?” John asked as he dropped his hand. “No, actually. He’s quite good at it.”

Sarah leaned forward. “Really? I never would’ve guessed.”

“He’s better with him than I am,” John admitted.

“Now that I can’t believe. Cuddly John in his little jumpers?” she laughed, nudging his shoulder.

He grimaced, but laughed as he stood. “I’m starting to see why we didn’t work out.”

She stood as well, following him to the door. “Well, go on, then. Go home to your family. And if you need anything, I’m here.”

He turned back at the door and smiled at her. “I know. And thanks.”

When John arrived home the flat was silent.

He frowned as he hurried up the stairs; usually at least the television would be on, and he couldn’t think of anywhere Sherlock would take Julian.

There was something strange about Julian’s expression. John knelt in front of him. “Julian?”

His expression seemed shuttered, and when he smiled it wasn’t with the same vibrant happiness John was used to. He looked up. “What have you been teaching him?” he asked.

“How to survive,” Sherlock responded. He smiled at John, wide and fake. “How was your day, John?”

“Don’t,” he said, standing. Bile was rising in his throat. “Don’t do this, not to me. I know you.”

Sherlock looked amused, but the expression was strangely distorted, as though he had someone else’s emotions stretched over his face. “Do you?”

John swallowed, hard. Sherlock scoffed as he turned to walk away. “I’m not going to let you do this,” John said as he followed.

“You wanted him to learn.”

“I want him to be himself. Not –” he gestured behind himself, “this. He’s just a child,” he hissed. “And these aren’t your decisions to make.”

“Da?”

They both froze. Sherlock turned to see Julian stretched up on his toes behind him, reaching for the hem of his shirt. He caught it with the tips of his fingers and tugged. “Da?”

A torrent of emotions rushed through him as he watched Sherlock kneel in front of Julian: guilt, jealousy, pride.

Sherlock took Julian’s hands in his, shaking his head. “No.” He ducked his head further to look into his eyes. “Not dad. Sherlock.”

Julian reached out to touch his face. “Da.”

No.

Julian pulled away and let out a soft noise. Sherlock merely watched as he turned and ran up the stairs.

They’d left the photo of his parents next to his bed, but John began to wonder if he didn’t talk about them enough. Maybe he should have been taking Julian to visit his family – his real family, he reminded himself guiltily – more often. But they hadn’t phoned; they knew where he was staying and yet not a single one of his relatives had cared enough to check on him. At the very least, he should have been telling him more stories about Mark and Jennifer.

“No, he’s not forgetting his parents,” Sherlock said as he stood, shoving his hands in his pockets. “He’s looking for something.”

John didn’t answer. It didn’t seem to him like Julian was looking for something; it seemed like he had found it. He leaned against his chair with a sigh, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

“What are we going to do about this?” he asked.

“You’re going to go after him,” Sherlock said. John let his hand drop.

“You could go,” he said as he stood again. Sherlock just shrugged, looking away.

“You’re his parent.”

“Guardian.” He walked over to Sherlock, winding his arms around his waist. One of Sherlock’s hands rested against the back of his head. “He wants you.”

“And he has you. Now go.” Sherlock pushed him away gently. John nodded and walked toward the stairs.

He wrapped his knuckles on the door before pushing it open to see Julian curled up on his bed. He hesitated, then walked inside fully and sat next to him, pulling him against his side.

His eyes focused on the picture on the table as he began to talk – about uni, about Mark and Jennifer’s wedding, Julian’s birth. Julian began to rest heavier against him as he talked, and when he looked down again, Julian was asleep. He slid out from under him, doing his best not to jostle him, and covered him up with the blanket and walked out of the room.

Sherlock was seated on the last step, his back against one wall with his feet braced against the other. John stepped over him and walked into the sitting room, and a moment later Sherlock followed.

“I’m not sure how I’m going to do this,” John admitted without turning around. Sherlock rested a hand on his shoulder.

“The world might be a better place if every parent felt like that.”

“What? Inadequate?” John said bitterly.

“Like there’s not one right answer.”

“There sure as hell are a lot of wrong ones, though.”

“You’re doing fine.”

They stood that way for a long time before Sherlock caught his hand and tugged. “Come to bed.”

When they entered the bedroom Julian was curled up on John’s bed, sleeping, his old blanket clutched to his chest as he breathed lightly, his face slack in sleep. They stood together for a moment, watching him.

“When did he come back down the stairs?” John mused under his breath. Julian didn’t stir.

“Right after you did,” Sherlock answered. “I’m not surprised you didn’t notice; you were a bit distracted.”

Sherlock stepped forward and slid an arm under Julian’s shoulders as though to lift him, but John stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Let him stay,” he said. “For now, at least.”

John slid into the bed next to him, his head pillowed on his hand. Sherlock climbed in on the other side, drawing his knees up until they bumped against John’s under Julian’s feet.

Their eyes met over Julian’s head. “We should take him to visit his parents’ grave soon,” John whispered. Sherlock nodded. John reached out and touched Sherlock’s hand. “Sherlock... no more lessons. Not like that.”

“No. No more,” Sherlock whispered. John nodded, and shortly after he drifted off to sleep.

What seemed like immediately colours and shaped were bursting to life behind his eyelids, bodies forming and breaking apart in a shower of blood and bone. He jerked awake, gasping and shaking, trying to focus on his surroundings as he regained control of his breathing. In, and out. Exactly like they taught you.

Sherlock was next to him, propped up on one elbow and looking down at him. John nearly flinched when their eyes met - he wasn’t sure what he expected. Pity? Amusement?

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you do this often?” he asked.

Curiosity. Of course.

He scrubbed a hand over his face, still trying to get his breathing under control. “Not as often as I used to, no.”

“Good. Your pillowcase is fairly soaked with sweat,” Sherlock wrinkled his nose as he tugged it out from under John’s head and tossed it on the floor.

“Then go get yours, then,” John snapped as he kicked the blanket down further. He hadn’t had a nightmare that vivid in months. Then he paused, their position sinking into his sleep-adled brain. “You’re in my bed.”

“Astute observation, John. Yes.”

“But... Julian’s gone.”

“He woke up, so I took him up to bed a few hours ago. And yes, I gave him the medicine. I know you have, too, so there’s no point in shouting about it.”

“Yeah, I have,” John admitted. “It’s just... he seems better, doesn’t he, when he takes it?”

“Better?” Sherlock said.

“Calmer,” John said, and Sherlock relaxed. There was a long pause. “And you came back to my bed,” John went on, smiling.

“Of course. Mine is covered in research.” That was true. There were papers and cloth samples strewn over it, with a large black bag that John hadn’t dared to look in. “And have I assumed correctly that this is also a ‘couple thing’?” he asked, eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, it is,” John assured him. “Just one I didn’t expect with you.”

Sherlock smiled, then. “You didn’t expect me in your bed?”

John grinned back at him, reaching up to grip the back of his neck. “Well, not sleeping, at any rate.”

Sherlock leaned down, pressing his lips to his throat. He arched up into the touch, and Sherlock ran a hand down his side, toying with the button on his pants before stroking him through the fabric.

There was a vague sense of unease building in him, though, and he somehow managed to grab Sherlock by the shoulders and push him back. “Hang on, slow down,” he said, trying to catch his breath.

Sherlock frowned at him. “What?” he asked.

“You’d never kissed anyone before two weeks ago.” Sherlock looked surprised, and John smiled. “You didn’t think I’d figured that out, did you?”

“I also don’t see the relevance,” Sherlock said as he leaned back down.

John stopped him with a hand on his chest. He felt... guilty, though he couldn’t put his finger on why. “I just had a nightmare,” he went with instead, “And I’m really tired. Not the best conditions for this, don’t you think?”

Sherlock pursed his lips, but nodded. “Fine.”

John smiled, relieved. “Good.”

Sherlock leaned over, pressing a soft, chaste kiss to his lips. “Goodnight.”

When he awoke he was alone, but that was common enough that it wasn’t cause for alarm. But Sherlock had cleaned his bed in the night; all the papers and the black bag were gone. Just when he was beginning to worry he’d made a mistake the night before he noticed one of Sherlock’s dressing gowns hanging from the end of his bed. He smiled.

It was Saturday, so they had nowhere to be, provided Sherlock wasn’t going to drag John away for a case. But that was becoming less and less likely. He pushed that thought from his mind and stood. Light was streaming through the window as he pulled on Sherlock’s ridiculous dressing gown and walked out of the room.

The sitting room was a mess – toys everywhere, papers stacked on the table and pinned to the wall. That explained why the bedroom was cleaner than usual – the mess simply needed more room to expand than was available in a cramped space.

Sherlock had stretched out on his stomach on the floor, his arms folded in front of him. There was a chess board between them, Julian rocking back and forth on the opposite side of it, his legs crossed.

John leaned against the doorframe, watching them together. Sherlock was alternating between looking at the board and writing on a sheet of paper at his side; Julian kept glancing at the television, his fingers twisting in his shirt as he laughed. Sherlock chuckled when he let out a high-pitched squeal, and John smiled.

“Are you going to come in, then, or are you going to stare at us all morning?” Sherlock asked without looking up.

John smiled as he walked inside. “This looks nice,” he said as he stood next to them. “Can he play chess, then?”

“He seems rather preoccupied with knocking the pieces down, actually,” Sherlock said as Julian lifted his knight and used it to punt Sherlock’s king halfway across the room.

“I think that counts as a victory,” John said, chuckling.

Sherlock shrugged, then planted his palms on the ground in front of him and stretched back. “Coffee?” he asked as he tilted his head back to look up at him.

John yawned. “Love some.”

Sherlock collapsed back on his stomach and began feeling for the king with his toes. “Good. Get me a cup while you’re in there.”

“Lazy git,” John muttered. He kicked Sherlock’s king back toward them as he walked past.

A strange stain spread over the wall and ceiling above the cooker, and John eyed it as he walked past. He opened his mouth on reflex to complain about but just as quickly decided against it, since it meant Sherlock had at least attempted to make food that morning. That was a rather huge step up from the usual, he decided. “Does the cooker still work?” he asked instead, peering at it closely.

“It may need some adjustments,” Sherlock responded.

John rather suspected ‘adjustments’ were part of the problem. “Take him down to Mrs. Hudson’s, see if she’s got anything for him while I clean up some of this mess, then,” John said. He grimaced as he looked up at the chunks stuck to the ceiling. Sherlock, probably seeing his reaction as a spot of good luck, pushed himself to his feet without argument and led Julian from the room.

The kitchen didn’t take as long to clean as he expected, though he suspected they’d have to re-paint the ceiling. When he finished there he began to absently flip through the papers in the sitting room. He looked over some of them before stacking them together when it seemed appropriate until he could at least walk without disturbing Sherlock’s work. He shifted a stack and carried them over to the desk.

He pulled open a drawer and froze.

There, on top of a stack of old paperwork was the file Mycroft had brought him.

He’d assumed Sherlock would destroy it – or at least hidden it where John would never stumble across it. He lifted it and flipped it open. He looked over the diagnosis again, calmer now that he knew. He flipped to the next page.

It was an IEP, and his gaze drifted over the school’s letterhead before moving down, only to snap back up again, his eyes widening.

Treehouse School.

He glanced over at the DVD of the security footage, still lying next to his laptop. This was where he’d seen the name. Which meant –

He looked up at a soft sound. Sherlock was standing braced in the doorway. “That’s why,” John said. Sherlock nodded. “You said – you said you’d walked those corridors over and over, and I didn’t think about it, I didn’t even think to wonder...”

Sherlock shrugged. “Why would you?”

He closed the file, clenched it in his hands. “I just… sometimes I wish you trusted me a little more.”

“I trust you with my life.”

“But not your past.”

Sherlock walked over and plucked the file from his fingers. “That part of my life has nothing to do with now. With us.”

And John could see he thought it was true – that he’d placed it neat little box in his mind, to be sealed away as ‘unimportant’ forever. John shook his head. “That’s not how these things work.”

“I suppose you’d rather we talked about it.”

“If you’d like.”

“And did recounting your memories of Afghanistan stop you from screaming in your sleep?” Sherlock asked. He crossed his arms, looking away.

“Is that why you don’t sleep? Do you have nightmares, then?”

“If I do I don’t remember them.” His phone rang, and he turned away as he pulled it out of his pocket. “Hello?” There was a long pause, and he glanced sideways at John. “Yes, of course. We’ll be right there.”

“What is it?” John asked as he hung up.

“The police found a body.”

“Where?”

“At Angel Harris’ school.”

John swallowed, hard. “Her body?”

“No. Another student - Kyra Ferris. In the same classroom.” Sherlock pursed his lips. “There’s no time to lose. Let’s go.”

---

The school was a sprawling dark brick building, Where Julian’s infant school was warm and charming, Treehouse School was a cold, bitter imposition against the scenery. John looked around as they climbed out of the cab.

“Charming,” he muttered under his breath, wrinkling his nose, and Sherlock made a soft noise of agreement.

“It’s worse when you’re only about four feet tall,” he muttered over his shoulder as he pulled open the heavy door.

“Where is it?” Sherlock asked as he brushed past the officer in charge.

“Who are you?” the man asked, sounding bored.

“Sherlock Holmes. Surely you’ve heard of me, Sergeant Morris.”

The man made a face, turning back into the classroom to call for someone. “Oh yeah, looks like he’s heard of you,” John muttered under his breath.

Morris nodded at someone in the room, and then turned to John. “And who are you, then?”

“Dr. John Watson, my assistant,” Sherlock answered for him.

“Forensics is on its way.”

“It’s alright, let them in. It’ll be on my arse if they cause trouble,” a voice called, and they both turned to see Lestrade walking down the hall, Sally Donovan right behind him. “I heard you were going to be here, so I thought I’d pop by before you got yourself chucked out. Or at least get it on video.” He turned to Sergeant Morris. “What happened?”

“Kyra Morris, deaf fifteen year old, found dead by her teacher after disappearing this afternoon.”

“Found in the same room that girl was taken from a few weeks ago?” Lestrade asked, looking past him and into the room. Morris nodded as he led the way into the classroom.

The classroom smelled vaguely of antiseptics and strongly of urine. The body was at the back of the room, near a row of tall windows. John looked around. He recognized most of the police present, he realized, though not by name. He wondered what that said about how he chose to spend his free time.

“There was a false wall in the back of that cupboard; the entrance to it is busted,” Morris explained, pointing.

“That explains why the cameras didn’t catch her,” John muttered, peering into it. It was just a Sherlock leaned down next to him.

“Because she didn’t leave the room – not during school hours. Where does this lead to? It’s not on the blueprints.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be, would it?” Lestrade grumbled from behind them. Sherlock ignored him.

“It would most likely cut into around half of another cupboard. But where did the kidnapper go? Why would they leave the entrance open? It’s as though they want to be found,” he muttered to himself.

“I think she opened it,” the teacher interrupted. “She was crawling on the floor when I came back to look again.”

Sherlock’s attention snapped to her. “She was alive when she was found?” he asked, striding toward her. “I wasn’t informed of this.”

The teacher took a nervous step back as he approached. “For a few minutes. She was sweating, and so hot to the touch –”

“A fever?” John interrupted. Sherlock stopped and looked at him. “What else? Her muscles – stiff?”

“Well, she’s dead,” one of the officers pointed out. A few of the others snickered.

“Not now, you idiot, when she was dying,” Sherlock snapped without taking his eyes off him.

The teacher nodded, tears in her eyes. “She was tense all over, even her hands were clenched.”

John stepped closer to Sherlock, lowering his voice. “Kyra was deaf. And Angel – she didn’t hear her attacker coming because of the repeated ear infections –“

“And neither of them fought because they’d been drugged,” Sherlock finished for him. John nodded.

“How do you know that?” one of the officers closest asked.

John nodded down toward the body. “Malignant hyperthermia, I’m betting. An acute reaction to a few types of anaesthetic.”

“What types?” Sherlock asked as he knelt next to the body once more. John pursed his lips as he thought.

“Cholorform, I think; that one probably wouldn’t be too hard to get your hands on. Succinylcholine, definitely.”

“Which is a paralytic, not an anaesthetic,” Sherlock pointed out. He carefully turned her head, looking over the skin for puncture marks before he looked back up. “Previously given to prisoners awaiting lethal injection,” he added at John’s curious look.

“You... would know that, wouldn’t you?” John said, and Sherlock smiled. “But yeah, you’re right. Might be worth looking into here – it works faster than any other muscle relaxant out there, that might’ve caught our kidnapper’s eye. It wouldn’t knock them out, though.”

“Just rendering them unable to move or speak would be good enough, I think. How long would that take?”

“For complete paralysis? Less than a minute with an intramuscular injection. It usually wears off in under ten, though.”

“Enough time to stash a child away in the same room and dose her with something more potent, though not as swift.”

“True.”

“Sorry,” one of the officers interrupted, and John started when he realized everyone else was simply standing around listening to them talk, “I thought you said it was a muscle relaxant. How is her going all stiff a sign that’s the right thing, then?”

“That’s the allergic reaction, of course; the killer didn’t anticipate that,” Sherlock said. “Rather than lying docile as the kidnapper intended, when her muscles began to seize she knocked the entrance open, and thus was discovered.”

“Check the records again for any disappearances from this building since it was built,” Lestrade instructed.

But Sherlock shook his head. “That cupboard can’t be more than fifteen years old, and these particular kidnappers have never used it before Angel Harris.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because they’re attempting to re-create the abduction; it went off well – far better than they could have hoped.”

“And how do you know that cupboard can’t be more than fifteen years old?” Lestrade prompted with a weary sigh, but John caught Sherlock by the elbow before he could respond, a thought rising in his mind unbidden.

“Excuse us,” John said. Sherlock looked mildly offended as John pulled him from the room. The moment they were in the hall John rounded on him, crossing his arms.

“You’ve figured out the cause of death, well done,” Sherlock said.

“Yeah. I did.”

“Congratulations? Should I kiss you now?”

“Tell them what else you know,” he demanded. “You aren’t being objective. You didn’t look over that room – oh, you went through the papers and the cubby holes no doubt - but you didn’t check the structure because you thought you knew it already. That isn’t like you.”

“And what, pray tell, is ‘like me’?” sherlock asked, raising an eyebrow at him. John glared.

“Don’t give me that. You would’ve gone over every inch of that room until you were satisfied if it were any other building – any other case – I’ve ever seen you on.” Sherlock went to turn away, but John caught him by the arm. “No. Admit it, Sherlock, you messed up this case because you can’t be objective and now a child is dead, all because you went to this school,” John pointed out.

“What kind of lies is the Freak spinning now?” a voice said from behind him, and John turned to see Anderson standing behind him, arms crossed, the rest of the forensics team approaching at the end of the hall.

Sherlock opened his mouth, but didn’t speak. His cheeks were pale. “Piss off, Anderson,” John spat out for him.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, being wrapped up in the Freak and all, but this is a school for retards.”

“This is a school for people with differences,” John hissed, rounding on him once more.

“- John –”

“And you and I both know Sherlock is capable of amazing things.”

“The most amazing thing in this building is the amount of glue being eaten.” John clenched his hands into fists, grinding his teeth.

- John -

“He’s not damaged; he’s autistic!”

The word seemed to ring in the air. John was still staring into Anderson’s frozen face when he realized that Sherlock had gone rigid behind him.

He spun around. “Sherlock?”

For a second he stared into Sherlock’s shocked face, and then Sherlock pushed past him, back into the classroom. He cleared his throat as though to speak, but whatever he was going to say died in his throat. A moment later, John realized why.

The entire room was silent. Over his shoulder, John could see them either staring at him openly or pointedly looking away. A few people shifted when he looked at them, ducking their heads, but no one said a word.

Lestrade cleared his throat. “All right you lot, let’s get back to work.” He turned toward the door and said softer, “Sherlock, I –”

But Sherlock spun on his heel and stalked from the room, ignoring them all. Anderson was starting to look positively gleeful, and John couldn’t resist shoving him back against the wall as he hurried after Sherlock.

“Sherlock! Sherlock, wait!”

He pushed open the front door just in time to see a cab pull away from the curb.

Chapter Text

John threw open the front door, running past Mrs. Hudson’s door and ignoring her when she opened it and called after him. He took the stairs two at a time, only dimly aware that she was coming up the stairs behind him.

He stopped just inside the door to their flat. It looked like it had that afternoon – still mostly clean, Sherlock’s things still tucked away, so the flat seemed empty and lifeless. He walked over to Sherlock’s chair and sat in it, letting his hand fall to the side, where it would usually brush against the neck of Sherlock’s violin.

It wasn’t there.

He jerked upright, pushing himself out of the chair and walking over to their bedroom, his heart pounding.

He exhaled deeply as he looked around the room. The violin was next to Sherlock’s bed, amid the mess that he’d grown so accustomed to.

There was a soft sound behind him, and he turned to see Mrs. Hudson standing in the doorway. “I put Julian to bed just a few minutes ago,” she said, and he nodded. “Is Sherlock with you?”

He cleared his throat. “No. Thank you, Mrs. Hudson, I’ll just go up and check on Julian,” he said as he brushed past her. She nodded at him and headed for the door.

John stood in the doorway for a long time watching Julian sleep, wondering how to fix this mess – if he even could. He considered calling Lestrade to help him figure out where Sherlock might be – for all John knew he could be back on the case already – but he decided against it. He’d made a big enough mess of things on that front, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to face anyone just yet.

He walked back to the sitting room and pulled out his phone, opening a new text to Sherlock. Call me, please. He hesitated. I’m an idiot he added. He sent the text.

He stared around at the walls. He wasn’t sure what to do after that; he kept running through the conversation over and over in his mind. He tucked his legs under him, resting his head on the armrest where Sherlock so often laid, and fell into a fitful sleep.

Sometime later a hand landed on his arm, jolting him awake. He looked up to see Julian standing over him, frowning down at him.

“Hey,” John said, wiping sleep from his eyes as he sat up fully. “Good morning. Christ, what time is it?” he asked, still rubbing his eyes. Then he realized where he was and how much time must have passed. He grabbed his phone from the coffee table and checked his messages.

Nothing.

He leaned back with a sigh. Julian looked around the room, flapping his hands as he began to make soft, distressed noises. “Hey,” John said, reaching for him, “It’s okay. He’ll be back. He’s just… he’s working right now.” He glanced at the clock. “Anyway, it’s time for breakfast, isn’t it?” He pushed himself to his feet.

The flat was quiet, which wasn’t unusual for the early hour but still felt lonely. Julian sat at the table, and the only sound was the occasional background noise coming from his DS as John prepared his food.

“You’ll have to stay with Mrs. Hudson this morning, since Sherlock’s gone,” he informed Julian as he set the plate in front of him. He tried to ignore the twinge of guilt that went through him. Julian looked up.

“Say.”

“Stay.”

“Say.”

“Stay. With Mrs. Hudson,” John repeated again, and Julian huffed and turned away. He stared down at his food as though he didn’t know what to do with it, and john racked his brain, trying to figure out if he’d prepared it wrong. But then Julian began to eat, so John left the room to get ready for work.

As he stood in front of their wardrobe looking over their clothes he considered calling off work, but decided against it in the end. Sarah was patient with him, yes, but he could hardly call in ‘waiting by the phone like a fourteen year old girl.’ He dressed quickly, tucking his phone into his pocket, and headed for the door.

Besides, he could always leave his mobile on, just this once.

---

But Sherlock didn’t call or text, that day or the day after.

Julian was waiting for him at Mrs. Hudson’s each day when he arrived home from the surgery. Each time John opened the door he ran past John and into the hall, leaving John and Mrs. Hudson to watch as he looked around before darting up the stairs. John would thank her and follow him, unsure of what to do.

Three days had passed when he heard footsteps bounding up the stairs, and his heart fluttered before he realized those footsteps weren’t Sherlock’s. He tried to hide his disappointment and turned as the sitting room door opened and Lestrade walked in.

Lestrade glanced around the sitting room before his eyes settled on him. John tried to shake the paranoid feeling that he was looking for something – some proof that what John had shouted that day was true. John had the strangest urge to push him back out the door, to stop him from intruding on their space. He wondered if Sherlock felt like that all the time.

“John,” Lestrade greeted him with a nod. “Is Sherlock in?”

John shook his head, grimacing. “No. I haven’t seen him since…” he glanced down, “Well, I haven’t seen him.”

Lestrade just nodded. “If it helps, Anderson’s on an emergency holiday.” John grimaced. He imagined it would just be a holiday; of course nothing else would be done, he thought, shaking his head. “I did all that I could,” Lestrade said, “But sometimes you have to take what you can get. You can’t fix everything.”

John let out soft, hollow laugh. “No, you can’t, can you?”

Lestrade clapped him on the shoulder. “Relax, he’ll be back.”

Julian came tearing down the stairs, nearly colliding with Lestrade as he came around the corner. He whipped his head around, taking a step back when he realized who was there – or more accurately, who wasn’t.

Lestrade reached out and rested a hand on his head. “I think he’s taller than the last time I saw him,” he said, smiling at John.

John nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Seems like he gets a bit bigger every day,” he said, trying to smile.

“Well, if Sherlock comes back soon, tell him I need to see him,” Lestrade said as he headed for the door.

“Yeah. Likewise,” John said. He turned back to Julian, only to see him staring out the window, his cheek resting on the sill as he watched the street below. John felt another pang of guilt. “Why don’t we go out?” he said, reaching for the boy’s hand.

Julian turned from the window to look at him. “Ow?”

“Out,” John repeated, forcing a smile. “Come on, just me and you.” Julian hesitated, but then reached for his DS and followed John to the door.

At first they walked in silence, Julian staring down at the screen as John struggled to think of something – anything – to say. He found himself wondering what Sherlock would say, if he were here. John smiled as he thought of it; he wouldn’t bother to tailor his conversation for his audience, and he certainly wouldn’t care if he got a response from them. So he held Julian’s hand loosely as they walked, rambling on about whatever topics came to mind and after a moment, he began to relax.

Julian closed his DS and held it at his side as he looked around, seeming content to just listen to the sound of John’s voice. John tried not to worry about whether or not Julian was paying attention, but avoided the subject of Sherlock just in case.

Early the next morning Mrs. Hudson knocked on the sitting room door and walked in as John was getting ready for work. Julian jumped up from the table and ran to the door, but stopped when he saw her and headed for the stairs, instead. John sat down on the sofa and watched him go with a sigh.

“Glad to see you’re up and about, doctor,” Mrs. Hudson said as she gathered a few toys that were strewn about the room. “You’re looking a bit ill, I’d say. Are you going to work today, then?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’ve just had a rough week; nothing for you to worry about.”

She nodded. “Still, you’re looking a sight better than Sherlock was last night, I’d say.”

He sat up straight. “He was here? When?” he demanded.

“I told you, last night,” she pursed her lips in thought. “But it was right after you left, now that I think of it. He looked so tired, the poor thing, but he said he couldn’t stay. Didn’t even have time for a proper meal, but then, when does he?” she shrugged.

“Right,” he sighed, “Of course. Did he seem upset?”

“I couldn’t say. But it didn’t sound like one of his usual tantrums, now that you mention it. He seemed rather tired,” she said, and he felt himself flush in guilt.

“Did he say where he’s been?” he asked. He glanced at the stairs once more, but Julian was gone.

“Not a word, but you know how he is.” She reached out with her free hand and patted him on the knee. “Oh, look at you. He’ll be back before you know it. He’s always rushing about; just like the first time I met you, doctor.” He nodded absently as she sat the toys in the corner. “I’ll just take Julian downstairs with me, then, so you can go.”

He mumbled his thanks as she disappeared up the stairs. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and stared down at it, willing it to ring.

Sometimes I don’t talk for days on end, would that bother you?

He dropped the mobile on the seat next to him and flopped back, his hand over his eyes.

---

It was just past midnight on the fourth night when a soft sound woke him.

He’d finally given up and retired to their room for the night rather than drifting off on the sofa, mobile in hand. At first he’d merely hovered in the doorway, taking in the mess on Sherlock’s side of the room with an ache in his chest.

He wasn’t sure what had awakened him, but then he heard it again: soft sounds coming from the sitting room. Strange noises in the middle of the night weren’t uncommon even with Sherlock gone, but these sounds were deliberately muffled, like the person was trying to be quiet. He slipped his gun from his desk drawer and pushed the bedroom door open just a fraction.

And there stood Sherlock, obscured by shadow in the dim light, but John would recognize that lanky figure anywhere. He reached back and sat the gun on the end of Sherlock’s bed and pushed the door open the rest of the way.

Sherlock froze as he walked out, and for a moment they just stared at each other.

“I’m sorry,” John blurted. “I’m an idiot.”

Sherlock glanced away. “Yes, you are.”

“If there’s anything I can do –”

“There isn’t.”

“I could talk to them,” he suggested. “Anderson’s on holiday, and the others –”

“Leave it,” he said flatly. John cringed, and Sherlock sighed. “I understand why you did it. It was very… chivalrous of you, in a way.”

“So you’re not angry?”

“Oh, I’m angry,” Sherlock assured him. He flopped onto the sofa, pinching the bridge of his nose, and that was when John got a good look at him.

There was dried blood at his temple, his lower lip was split, and a bruise was forming over his right eye. John glanced over his body, but it was impossible to tell the extent of the damage from where he stood.

“What have you been doing?” he asked. He pulled at the rug on the sofa until Sherlock leaned forward enough for him to lift it and spread it over Sherlock’s legs. He was shaking, whether from exhaustion or injury, John couldn’t be sure. “What have you been eating?”

“Coffee.”

“I didn’t say drinking.” Though he wouldn’t put it past Sherlock to have eaten straight coffee grounds, now that he thought of it. He straightened and started for the kitchen. “Right. Food first, then.”

Sherlock didn’t protest as John went about making toast and tea, but merely leaned back farther in his seat as he waited, his eyes closed. That worried him more than anything else, and when he sat the plate in Sherlock’s lap, he leaned closer than necessary to try and assess the damage.

He couldn’t see any other damage, and Sherlock’s clothes were mostly whole, so he stepped back. Sherlock glanced at the spot next to him and John sat, careful not to jostle him too much in case his injuries were more serious than they seemed.

“Relax. I’ve got no broken bones, or anything of the sort.”

John let out a deep breath. “I was just wondering.” He waited, but Sherlock offered no other information.

Instead he ate, grimacing at each bite, but he accepted the tea John kept pressing into his hands between bites without complaint. John, for his part, tried not to fidget and let Sherlock finish his meal without dealing with the torrent of questions that were swirling in his mind.

Sherlock sat the plate aside when he finished and pushed himself to his feet. John was at his side in an instant, gripping his elbow and guiding him so he didn’t trip over the blanket as it pooled at his feet.

“Right, let’s get you cleaned up, then,” John said, tugging him toward the washroom. Sherlock left just long enough to retrieve clean clothes from the bedroom – and John was relieved he’d decided not to touch Sherlock’s things – and John started the tap and left reluctantly when he returned. He paced the sitting room instead, listening to the soft sound of the water splashing.

He looked up when the bathroom door opened and Sherlock walked into the room, sitting gingerly in his chair. A drop of water slid down the side of his face and he brushed it away, pushing his wet hair aside.

“Right, can I get a look at that?” John asked, nodding at the gash on the side of his head.

Sherlock glanced away. “If you must.”

It was as close to an invitation as he was going to get, so he stood and walked into the bedroom to fetch his medical kit.

“What have you been doing?” he asked again as he examined the cut. It was shallow enough that it wouldn’t need stitches, thankfully.

“I was following someone.”

“Doesn’t seem like they appreciated that. Who was it?” he asked as he pulled the alcohol from the kit.

“A lead.”

“Do you have enough for an arrest?” he asked as he swabbed the wound. Sherlock hissed under his breath, but didn’t pull away.

“No. Not yet.”

He covered the wound and sat next to Sherlock on the sofa. He reached for his hand, curling his fingers around Sherlock’s and breathing a soft sigh of relief when Sherlock didn’t pull away. “Lestrade was looking for you the other day.”

“And what a surprise that he didn’t find me.”

John just smiled. “Julian’s been looking for you, too.” Sherlock shifted a bit, looking down. “Why didn’t you answer any of my texts?” John asked.

“I was working.”

“And your work comes first.”

“Of course.” There was another pause, and that time it was Sherlock who grimaced, looking around the room. John sighed.

“You could have at least told me you weren’t angry with me,” he pointed out.

“But I am angry.” John squeezed his fingers, raising an eyebrow at him. Sherlock glanced away. “Everything in the world is relative, John. It terms of my personal life, you’ve hardly mistreated me.”

“That doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.”

“It’s not,” Sherlock agreed.

John sighed, pushing himself to his feet. As he turned away, he felt Sherlock’s fingers close around his wrist. His grip was weak, and he mumbled something under his breath. John leaned closer. “What?”

“I said you were right. It was unacceptable.”

“It was unacceptable that I was right?” he asked, confused.

Sherlock looked up then, to glare at him from under his mop of wet hair. “That I was wrong. I’ve got to be able to do the work, I need to. It’s all that I have.”

John hesitated. “Do you really think that?”

Sherlock pulled his hand away. “Of course,” he said, drawing his knees up to wrap his arms around them.

“You have Julian.”

You do.”

“And… you have me,” he said, hesitantly. Sherlock smiled, then – just a faint twitch of the lips. He looked John over, contemplating, and John cocked his head to the side. “What is it?”

“I want to lie down.”

“Alright,” John said. Sherlock caught his wrist once more as he stood. John looked back, confused.

“I want to go to bed,” he was looking up at him, eyes dark, and John felt his heart leap.

“O – oh.” He hesitated. “Now? Right now?”

Sherlock stood so he was looking down at him. “Yes.”

John licked his lips. “But you’re exhausted. I’m surprised you’re even able to stand.”

“Well I won’t be standing, now will I?”

“I... I supposed not,” John said, confused and more than a little wary of this sudden change. He wondered if Sherlock would notice if he checked him for signs of a concussion.

Sherlock just looked back over his shoulder and smirked at him. “Don’t worry, I’m not concussed.”

“Have I ever told you it’s creepy when you do that?” John said as he followed, still dazed.

“No. But you’d hardly be the first, at any rate.”

The instant the door closed behind them Sherlock turned and slipped his arms around his shoulders. John gripped his hip, licking his lips, and Sherlock pulled him forward.

He was ferocious, biting at John’s lips as he pushed him backward, toward the edge of the bed. There was a hard edge of desperation to it, and John winced as he tasted blood from Sherlock’s split lip. Sherlock hardly seemed to notice however, urging him backwards until he tumbled onto his bed.

Sherlock rolled them over so John was on top of him, pulling him back down until they were pressed together. He relaxed against the bed for a moment as John’s weight settled on top of him, letting out a soft sound of contentment. John shifted against him slightly.

He couldn’t understand it – he couldn’t place the reasoning behind Sherlock’s actions. Even after everything he’d done, Sherlock still wanted him here, still clung to him like John was the only good thing in his life.

Like he needed him.

He broke away, guilt rushing through him. Sherlock had never even kissed someone before him. He was the one who knew what he was doing here, wasn’t he? Was he just taking advantage of the trust Sherlock placed in him?

He shifted, pushing himself back further at the thought. Sherlock looked up at him, eyes narrowing. “You feel like you’re taking advantage.”

John leaned back on his knees and crossed his arms. “I just –I know I’m making a mess of this, but I’d feel better about it if you didn’t need someone to look after you, and I’d feel a lot better about it if that person wasn’t me. It just doesn’t feel, well… ethical.”

“I don’t need you,” Sherlock hissed, planting a foot on John’s hip and shoving. He tumbled off the bed, and Sherlock leaned over the edge to look down at him. “Don’t flatter yourself, doctor. I got along quite well before you, and I’ll do it again once you’ve gone,” he snapped.

They were silent for a moment. “Oh,” John said, voice hushed. “I see.”

“John…” Sherlock started, but he trailed off, looking away. He looked disappointed, yes, but not surprised, and John found himself wondering how much of this had been planned.

“What was this – some kind of test?” he asked, unable to keep the hurt out of his voice. Sherlock was silent, still carefully focused on the bedspread. Anger ripped through him then, and he pushed himself to his feet. His hands were shaking, curled at his sides. “Jesus, Sherlock. You don’t just experiment on the people you love to see if they’ll react in the way you want them to.”

You don’t.”

John let out a bitter laugh. “Oh, I forgot, the great Sherlock Holmes has his own rules, and we’re all supposed to sit idly by while he uses us as his personal guinea pigs,” he hissed. “Did you come back after four bloody days just to play mind games with me?” He stood, Sherlock watching him the whole time. “I’ll sleep on the sofa tonight. Take the bed. It’s probably been a few days since you slept in one,” he said, his voice softening as his anger bled away as fast as it came, leaving a cold hollow feeling in its wake.

Sherlock sniffed. “I don’t need you to do me any favours.”

He looked up, then. “What if I want to?”

“That’s half the problem,” Sherlock muttered, turning away. He didn’t get out of the bed, though, so John turned toward the door. He closed it softly behind himself without looking back.

He flopped back onto the sofa, staring out the window at the few stars visible above the London skyline. As he lay there he couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d made too many mistakes; that their relationship – their friendship – was damaged beyond repair. He watched the lights as the cars passed by, carrying people about their mundane lives, never knowing even a taste of what he had come to know here. He wondered if Sherlock would answer if he knocked on the bedroom door.

Instead he curled against the back of the sofa, cursing himself until he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

John awoke the next morning to Julian shrieking next to him. He jerked upright; Julian was standing next to the sofa, looking away from him, and Sherlock was already seated at the table, staring into space.

“What – Julian?” John gripped him by the shoulder, but he cringed away from the unexpected touch, not taking his eyes off Sherlock. Sherlock turned toward them with a sigh.

“He wasn’t expecting me,” he said over the din.

“He’s been expecting you for four days,” John said, glancing toward him.

Sherlock looked back at the table. “I need to work,” was all he said.

“No explanation, this time?” John said as Julian’s cries began to taper off and he inched toward the table.

“I’m busy, John. Do stop talking.” Julian pulled away from John and walked over to Sherlock. “You, too,” Sherlock added, nudging him away with his toes.

“Sherlock!” John hissed. Julian recoiled from the sound, and Sherlock nudged him away again. He turned and ran toward the stairs. John watched him go before rounding on Sherlock. “You could be a little nicer to him, you know. He’s been waiting for you for four days,” John snapped.

“So you said. Now stop; I need to think.”

“Maybe you could think better if you actually slept, instead of substituting coffee,” John said as he lifted the mug from where it sat next to Sherlock’s elbow.

“And maybe I could think better if you weren’t distracting me at every turn,” he snapped.

“Fine,” John said, jaw clenching. He sat the mug in the sink. “I’ll take Julian for a walk, then.”

“It won’t help.” Sherlock stood, running his hands through his hair in frustration. “It’s all these feelings,” he spat out the word as he began to pace.

“Oh. I see,” John said. He paused. “Wait, no; you know what? I don’t. What the hell am I supposed to do about that? Are you telling me you can’t work properly because you have feelings? Like the rest of us do?”

“Don’t make it sound ordinary, John, the last thing I am is ordinary.”

“Oh, right,” John muttered, glaring.

“It clouds the mind,” Sherlock said, resuming his pacing. Julian ran back down the stairs, a book in his hand, his eyes immediately fixed on Sherlock.

“Well, maybe we’ll pop out anyway, give you some room,” John muttered as he moved to intercept Julian, but Sherlock didn’t even seem to hear him. John reached for Julian’s hand.

They found themselves back at Regent’s Park again, walking the same route as before. Julian released his hand and looked around, looking up at the changing leaves. He studied the people who passed intently in a way that tugged at John’s memory and made him smile, even as he ducked his head to hide his eyes.

His phone rang. He checked the caller ID – half expecting it to be Sherlock with some ridiculous demand – and groaned when he saw who it was. He pressed the button to answer and lifted it to his ear.

“Harry?” he greeted her, “What’re you calling for?”

“Good to hear your voice too,” she said. Julian ran ahead of him, watching as a man jogged past with a dog. “How has family life been?” she asked.

“It’s... good,” he said. He winced at how unconvincing it sounded; not even she would believe that.

“Then what’s wrong? Trouble in paradise?” she teased.

He grimaced. “A bit.”

“Wha – really?” There was a long pause, and he found himself tensing as he waited for her unsolicited advice. “Is there anything I can do?” she said after a moment, her voice soft.

For once in his life, he felt a wave of gratitude for his sister. He looked down at Julian. “Actually,” he said with a sigh, “I think there is.”

---

The flat was quiet when they arrived home. “Go upstairs,” John told Julian, nudging him toward the stairs. Julian turned and walked toward his room without responding, and John turned toward the sitting room.

“You’re back,” Sherlock said without enthusiasm.

John squared his shoulders. “Right, and I need to talk to you.”

“It can wait.”

“No, it can’t.” John inched into the room, his heart pounding in his chest. He knew it was the right choice, but it didn’t make it any easier to say. His throat was dry. “I’ve said... some things that weren’t good, and you don’t want all the feelings this,” he gestured between them, “brings, and... and everything.” John took a deep breath. “Which is why I’m going to stay at Harry’s for a bit,” he said. He didn’t fancy the idea of staying in Chelsea, but he didn’t have many other options, he told himself. Sherlock, for his part, didn’t look up; didn’t acknowledge that he’d said anything at all, and he felt a twinge of anger at it. “Maybe it would be best if we sorted this out separately.”

Because I have no idea what to do for you.

“Yes, that might be for the best,” Sherlock said, his face carefully blank. John nodded and turned to walk into the bedroom, trying to ignore the ache in his chest. He looked around the room as he rolled up his clothes, shoving them in the bottom of a nearly worn-through rucksack he’d kept under his bed.

A few of his books had found their way onto Sherlock’s desk and under his bed, and John spent a few minutes just looking around the room at the effect. The line that separated their belongings had blurred, until he could no longer tell where one side stopped and the other began.

But not anymore.

He gathered his books and a few odds and ends, shoving them into his bag before he walked back into the sitting room. “If you…” he trailed off, clearing his throat. “Well, if you want me, you’ll know where to find me.”

Sherlock nodded. John turned toward the stairs.

“Take the books with you.”

It took John a moment to realize he was talking about the books in Julian’s room. John turned back to him. “But those were yours.”

Sherlock shrugged, still looking at the wall. “I have no use for them. They’ll just take up space, otherwise.”

“Alright, then,” he said, “Thanks.” He turned and walked up the stairs.

Julian was lying on his bed, a book open in front of him, his chin resting on the back of his hand. John watched him for a moment, in this room surrounded by Sherlock’s belongings, before he walked over to the closet and dug out a small bag and began to pack.

Once he had enough clothing packed away in the bag - for what – a month? A week? he wondered, and shoved more in – he called Julian over and had him gather books to bring. He walked down the stairs while Julian was packing.

Sherlock was still in the same spot, looking out the window. The light caught in his hair, and John wanted to stretch up and kiss him, but he didn’t think that would be welcome; not now. It had only been a few short weeks, but he’d already gotten used to the casual touches that came with a relationship. He stepped back farther. “Any time you want to see him, just phone.”

Sherlock sniffed. “I’m sure I’ll be busy.”

John nodded, and then ducked his head. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Well,” he cleared his throat, “We’d better go. Julian,” he called again. There was a soft thump, then footsteps on the stairs.

As soon as he reached the bottom of the stairs Julian dropped his bag and ran over to reach for Sherlock’s hand. Sherlock didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge him at all, and John tugged him away. He looked back over his shoulder at the door.

“Goodbye, John,” Sherlock said quietly, without looking up. He looked so cold, like a statue; unmoved and uncaring, and John wondered for a moment if he’d simply been fooling himself that Sherlock could feel anything at all. Or maybe Sherlock was the one fooling himself.

John looked at him, then, and he couldn’t resist one more comment. “This doesn’t make you superior to the rest of us, you know. It makes you, if nothing else, a little more broken.”

He heard Sherlock inhale sharply as the door swung closed behind him. He didn’t look back.

John was silent in the cab; Julian kept making soft noises under his breath as he rocked back and forth, his hands clenched near his temples. He didn’t know what to do, and Sherlock wasn’t going to be around anymore to help him, now. So he slipped an arm around Julian’s shoulder, drawing him against his side.

“Say.”

“We’ll be staying with my sister – your Aunt Harriet. Harry, from the -” he stopped. He didn’t want to risk reminding Julian of the festival, or Sherlock coming to help them.

Again.

Instead he cleared his throat, pointing out the window. “Look.” It was still warm for the season, but the leaves were turning and falling off the trees lining the street, decorating the pavement in rich orange and yellow hues. “It’s bright, isn’t it?” John asked. “Look, yellow.”

“Yellow.”

John blinked down at him. “You know colours?” he asked. Julian continued to look out the window as the streets passed by, relaxing under the pressure of John’s arm.

“Red.”

John looked out the window with him. “Yeah. Red.” He pointed at Julian’s shirt, and Julian turned to him, a bright grin spreading across his face. “Green,” John said. Julian looked down.

“Green,” he repeated. He splayed his fingers on his jeans. “Blue,” he said, looking up at John.

“Yep.” John pointed to Julian’s hair, “Black.”

Julian tilted his head back, and then turned it from side to side, his eyebrows drawn together. John laughed as he pulled forward a bit of his hair for him to see. Julian took it, tugging it hard. He didn’t seem to feel any pain from the action; John winced in sympathy anyway. “Brown,” Julian said.

John leaned closer. “Oh, it is brown. Just very, very dark,” he mused. Julian looked up at him and smiled again. He pointed at John’s hair.

“Grey.”

“What? No. It’s brown.” Julian reached up and touched his temple. “Okay, mostly brown,” John said. Julian laughed, turning back to the window to continue the game. John leaned over as well, chuckling.

It seemed surreal, but when the cab stopped at Oakley Street, they were both still smiling, even if John’s chest was aching.

Harry’s flat was huge compared to theirs; much too large for one person and a budgerigar, with a spare room he’d turned down before. It was much further from the surgery than Baker Street but South Kensington Station wasn’t far at all. It would be fine, he told himself as he led Julian into the lift. It would be just fine.

The front door swung open, and Harry looked out at him, smiling in a way that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Hello, little brother. Come on in.” She stepped aside, smiling at Julian as John ushered him in first.

He nodded in thanks as he walked past her into the well decorated-foyer. The floors were dark natural wood, the walls, ceiling and even the furniture bright white. It was sparsely decorated, giving it an even more spacious, impersonal feel. He’d always expected the expensive art that lined the walls was Clara’s, and as he looked around he noticed more than half of the pieces were missing. He wondered if she’d left the rest as a gift or a punishment.

“You’ll be staying in the guest room,” Harry went on, leading them up the stairs. John lifted the suitcases and followed her.

The guest bed had fresh sheets, and a cot now sat across from it. John wondered for a moment where she might have gotten a twin cot and a beige blanket, but she turned and left the room again before he could ask. So instead he dropped the suitcases by the door and moved to sit on the bed. Julian mirrored the action across from him, and for a moment they just looked at each other, silent.

It reminded John of a waiting room, complete with vague paintings of scenery on the walls and outdated magazines strewn about.

He wondered idly what Sherlock was doing; if he regretted what had happened. Probably not, he reasoned – Sherlock was nothing but thorough in his logic, even if John thought he was a little short on the emotional part of the equation. He’d probably foreseen every possible scenario that could have happened. John flopped back on the bed with a sigh, and across from him he heard Julian do the same.

In spite of everything, he couldn’t help but push himself to his elbows to look at him, his chest aching.

He could hear soft music coming from downstairs – Stravinsky, he realized, and then he smiled, shaking his head. Sherlock’s practical knowledge might have gaps, but not his knowledge of Russian composers, and he didn’t think anyone else’s should, either. The scent of fresh bread and something he couldn’t quite place but made his stomach growl. Harry wasn’t much of a cook, but she’d probably ordered take-away from one of the many - many - expensive restaurants nearby. He cringed wondering how much he would owe her by time this was all over.

There was a soft knock on the door, and he turned to see Harry standing there, looking between them. “Hey. Settling in?”

He stood. “Yeah. And thanks. Again.”

“No problem. I didn’t expect you to actually take me up on it, this time.”

He frowned at her. “If you were just offering to be polite –”

“No, you know you’re welcome as long as you need, but…” she trailed off, looking at Julian, “Don’t take too long, okay? He needs his family.”

“You’re his family.”

“You know what I meant, John. Julian, do you want to see the rest of the flat?” she asked. “I could introduce you to Libby the Third.” She walked toward the door, and John urged Julian up and followed.

“What happened to Libby the First and Second?” John asked as they followed her down the stairs.

Harry looked over her shoulder with a smirk. “Clara’s cat Hester.” Julian looked up at her, cocking his head to the side. “Um, they were friends, so I let Hester take them with him when they left,” she stammered. John chuckled behind her.

“Left,” Julian repeated. Harry looked at him sharply, but John just shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said to her unasked question, “Sometimes he just repeats. I don’t know if it means anything. Apparently a lot of people with autism do that.”

“Didn’t any of your books say anything about it?”

John frowned. He hadn’t read the books since Sherlock’s frank dismissal of them; and with Sherlock around, it hadn’t seemed like he’d need to, after all. “Maybe I could give it another look.” Though truthfully, he couldn’t remember if he’d packed them or not.

Harry nodded as they walked into the sitting room. “And this is Libby.” She pointed to the corner where a large cage sat, with her blue and white budgerigar asleep inside. He opened his eyes and spread his wings with a loud screech, and Julian went tearing past them and over to the cage.

They both watched as he laughed, then tried to mimic the sound with a soft screech of his own. The bird did it again, and that time Julian mimicked it perfectly.

“Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?” Harry asked John.

“Oh, shut it,” John replied, smiling. “He likes her.”

“I think Libby likes him, too,” Harry said. She opened the cage and Libby stepped out onto her finger.

Julian watched, his eyes impossibly wide as the bird stepped off Harry’s hand and onto his arm, and John smiled at her over his head.

She gestured to one of the chairs in the room before turning and walking toward the kitchen. John sat, watching as Julian stared at the bird making its way down to his hand, fascinated.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Harry asked as she walked back into the room. She sat two plates on the coffee table between them. “I don’t eat in the dining area much anymore,” she said. He nodded. She went back to fetch one more plate and two bottles of beer. She held out one of them, but he scowled at her until she shrugged and kept them both for herself, dropping into the chair across from him. “Well? Do you want to talk?” she prompted again as she opened one and lifted her plate.

He did; he ached to talk about it, to work through it verbally the way Sherlock always did. But Sherlock was so reserved; even now John couldn’t bring himself to betray his trust again. He shook his head ruefully. “I can’t. Talking about it is how I ended up here. Well, part of it,” he amended, and she nodded. He lifted one of the plates and began to eat.

“He’s a weird one, isn’t he?” she said. She turned to watch Julian as he held out his hand and the bird gripped his fingernail in its beak.

“Sherlock or Julian?”

She rolled her eyes as she turned back. “Sherlock, of course,” she said around a mouthful of noodles.

He shrugged as he twirled his fork. His appetite was fading fast. “Not as weird as you’d think.”

“How’s Julian taking it?” Harry asked as he walked over to a small basket of toys in the corner. John smiled at her as he began pulling out cars and arranging them, Libby walking around the small edge of the shape he was making.

“It’s hard to say. He doesn’t talk much, but a lot of kids with autism don’t.”

Harry glowered as she looked down at the can in her hand. “Say ‘autism’ a few more times today. I don’t think Julian’s heard it enough.”

“It’s not a bad thing, Harry.” John looked over at him, but Julian was still painstakingly arranging the toy cars in a huge starburst. “And he’s not paying attention.” Mycroft’s words loomed in his mind all of a sudden - he was such a quiet child - but he did his best to ignore it and the twinge of guilt it brought. “That was half the problem, you know,” he said, voice hushed. “I just can’t get this right.”

“You’re doing fine with Julian. You’re just reminding yourself that he’s normal, that’s all.”

“But he’s not,” John said under his breath.

Harry rolled her eyes at him. “Yeah, he is. He’s a perfectly normal autistic kid. And anyway, why would Sherlock care if you got it right or not? It’s not his kid.”

John winced again. “Because he’s a decent person,” he said, glancing away.

Harry made a face. “No he’s not. He’s a right twat, if you ask me.”

“Well, I didn’t ask you.”

There was a long pause as they both watched Julian as Libby walked up and down his arms where he lay on the floor. “So,” Harry said conversationally, taking a drink of her beer, “Your first real gay break-up. Harrison Ford when you were twelve doesn’t count,” she added, and he snorted.

“Oh, sod off,” he laughed in spite of himself. “You sound like you’re going to throw a party to celebrate.”

“No. It’s just different than what you’re used to, is all.”

“Yeah? How’s it different?” he asked.

She sighed. “There’s nothing to relate to. All the love songs on the radio are about straight couples, the dramas and the romances on the telly are all about straight couples –”

“I really don’t see the difference.”

“You wouldn’t, I guess, being bi and all.”

“You know, I feel like I should be offended by that. And are you really telling me to go cry into a bowl of ice cream while we watch some cliché-filled romance film to get over this quicker?”

“Hmm. Something with Hugh Grant in it,” she chuckled.

“Really?” He wrinkled his nose. “You’re not doing much for your ‘die-hard lesbian’ reputation, there.”

“I didn’t mean for me,” she said with a smile. He shook his head.

“Ah. Now I know I should be offended.”

She shrugged. “Or you could go the ‘quick meaningless shag’ route, but I didn’t think you’d want to hear that from your sister.”

He grimaced. “Yeah, I didn’t, thanks.”

She reached out and gripped his hand. “Look, relax, I’m just taking the piss; he’ll take you back in a few days once he’s calmed down.”

“It was my choice to go,” he reminded her.

“But you didn’t want to,” she said. She smiled again when he didn’t reply. “You’ll work it out. He needs you.”

He swallowed, looking away. “I’m not sure he does.”

“I’ve seen him comment on your blog while you were in the next room.” She smiled. “Which I know because you replied to remind him that you were in the next room.”

“He gets bored.” John looked down at his shoes. “I don’t think he wants me back, Harry; I think that’s what this is all about. I made a right mess of things, and then everything got cocked up when I - we - tried to fix it. He said he’d be fine without me, and you know, I really think it’s true.” He smiled sadly as he looked around. He didn’t have a place here; he was just as disconnected as when he first arrived home, but Sherlock’s life would go on same as before, he realized, full of cases and adventure and mystery.

He just wouldn’t be there to see it. To be a part of it.

Harry let go of his hand and waved him off. “Don’t worry about what he said. Clara used to scream all kinds of things all me when we’d fight.”

John blinked. “And… now you’re getting a divorce.”

“Yeah, well, you’ve got something I don’t.”

“What’s that?” She nodded toward Julian. “I’m not using him for leverage, Harry, Jesus. And anyway,” he leaned closer, “I don’t think he wants to see him anymore, either.”

“Why?”

“Because of his sodding work,” he said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

Harry leaned back, draining the rest of the can and opening the second one. “Anyone who would choose their work over their family has issues.”

He sighed. “It’s really not that simple.” Sherlock’s work made him who he was; John couldn’t imagine him without it. Even a week without work and he was sullen and moody, like an addict who needed a fix. He tried to imagine that intense interest bordering on obsession aimed at anything else, but he couldn’t. He cleared his throat and called Julian over to eat, instead.

They sat in silence for a moment, Harry drinking and Julian sniffing his noodles before pushing them aside in favour of the bread.

“Oi, you should eat that,” Harry told him, leaning her elbows on her knees. Julian didn’t look up.

“Oh, leave him alone,” John sighed, rubbing a hand over his eyes. He didn’t want to deal with her pushing him and the inevitable screaming that would result.

“It was expensive.”

“And he doesn’t want it. Look, I’ll pay you back, alright?” he said, hoping to placate her.

“No, no,” Harry said, waving him off. She stretched as she stood and walked toward the kitchen. “I’m going to get another drink. Do you want one yet?” she called over her shoulder.

“No. Don’t –” he broke off as she pulled a bottle of vodka out of the cabinet. He couldn’t very well tell her not to get drunk in her own home; he glanced at Julian while she watched him expectantly. “Nothing for me,” he said as he stood, “I’m just going to put him to bed.”

She shrugged. “Alright, suit yourself. You can use the loo at the end of the hall up there.”

“Thanks,” he muttered as he stood. “Julian, come on,” John said, ushering him into the room. From the top of the stairs he could only see Harry’s legs and the bottle dangling from her hand as she made her way back to her chair. He closed the door and turned.

Julian was watching him, eyes wide and dark. John wondered if he was confused; then he worried he knew exactly what was going on.

John led him down the hall and drew the bath, helping him out of his clothes as the sound of the water running echoed around the small room.

Julian looked back toward the door. “Just me, today,” John said as he knelt down. “Sorry,” he muttered, more to himself than Julian. “Everyone you want just keeps leaving, and all you get out of it is me.” Self-pity was hardly helpful, he reminded himself. He smiled at Julian. “I said I’d try and get it right. I’m still trying,” he promised as he helped him into the bath.

After the bath, he wrapped a towel around Julian’s shoulder and led the way back to their room, occasionally looking back to make sure he wasn’t tripping over the ends. He closed the bedroom door behind them just as there was a loud thud as something fell over downstairs, and a faintly slurred curse. He shook his head and unzipped the bag.

There, on top of the rest of Julian’s things, was a stack of old books. He smiled as he lifted them and set them aside to pull out Julian’s pyjamas. Then he handed the books to Julian one by one, watching as he arranged them on the shelf next to his cot. When they were done they leaned back to look at the bright spot of colour in the middle of their bland, borrowed room. John pulled out his phone and sent a text.

Thanks for letting him keep the books.

He waited a moment, but there was no reply. He hadn’t expected one, really. “Julian?” he said as he looked up. “Why don’t we read a bit before bed, tonight?” He pulled a book from the shelf and they sat propped up against the wall, Julian’s wet hair quickly soaking through his jumper as he began to read. Julian mumbled some of the words with him, his voice slowly tapering off as John read further. When he looked down again, Julian was asleep against his side. He sat the book aside and looked out at the river through the small window.

He watched the sun go down, staring out the window until the room was covered in darkness.

Chapter Text

As he reached up to knock on the door, John still wasn’t sure this was a good idea.

Yet here he was, standing at Catherine’s front door with Julian, waiting for her to answer. She’d asked about seeing John again, the last time they’d talked, and somehow he ended up agreeing to bring Julian with him to Sherlock’s client’s home. They’d been at Harry’s for less than a week, but John was already thinking that Julian should spend more time outside the flat; he just wasn’t sure coming here was the best choice. I must be losing my mind, he thought, shaking his head.

“John, hello,” Catherine said as she pulled the door open. She glanced down at Julian. “Hello.”

He walked past her and into her sitting room, looking around. “Er, hi,” John responded. She just laughed as she stepped aside.

“I’m used to it. Come in.”

“Thanks,” he nodded to her as he walked past. Julian was still looking around. “And thanks for letting me bring him. I can’t bring myself to leave him with my sister, yet. No, Julian, don’t –” John broke off as he darted into Angel’s room. John cringed as he followed.

It looked like a regular teenage girl’s room, with a large mound of stuffed animals piled on the bed that Julian gravitated toward. He began to pull them down one by one, discarding them just as quickly.

“Julian, no,” John tugged a toy out of his hand and sat it back on the bed. Julian reached for a different one, and John pulled it out of his hand. “Put it down. It’s not yours.”

Julian let out a screech that would have put Libby to shame, and John and Catherine both covered their ears.

“It’s fine,” Catherine called over him.

John turned toward her. “Still, he shouldn’t be –“

“It’s fine,” she said again. Julian began to calm down as he tugged at the toy’s left eye, and John looked between them for a moment, then back at her. A small smile was tugging at the corners of her lips, and he decided not to argue with her. She turned and walked out of the room, and John glanced at Julian one last time before following.

“Have you heard from your friend about Angel?” she asked as they sat. They were in the same spot as the last time he’d visited, but the entire room was different; half the expensive knick-knacks she’d kept about were gone; the curtains had been stripped but not replaced. The entire room seemed bare and lifeless. He frowned. “John?” she asked, drawing him from his thoughts. He grimaced, shaking his head.

“I haven’t. I haven’t heard from him in a few days. We don’t... talk much, anymore. He’d let you know if he knew something, though.” He hoped, at least. It would be just like Sherlock to forget to call a client – it was the sort of thing John used to do for him.

Used to. His life then and now seemed so different.

“Oh,” Catherine said, voice soft.

“It’s been a long time,” John drew a deep breath. “And I don’t think it’s likely we’ll find her. I’m sorry. Sometimes you can’t fix things, no matter how much you want to,” he said, his voice low. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he went on, and he wasn’t sure who was talking to, at that point.

“John?”

She touched his knee gently, and he looked up to see her watching him, red-eyed but concerned.

“I’m sorry,” he said again, horrified at himself. Here he was, focusing on his problems while talking to a client whose child was missing – and very likely dead. He stood. “Julian and I – we should go,” he said, ashamed.

She stood as well, wiping at her eyes. “Alright.”

---

That night John awoke to Julian screaming for the third time that week.

Julian was sitting upright on his bed, clutching his blanket to his chest, his feet flailing in front of him. John threw back his blanket and hurried over to him, drawing him against his chest.

“It’s okay, it’s alright,” he murmured under his breath. He held him tight against his chest, wrapping the blanket back around and squeezing. Julian buried his face in John’s neck.

There were footsteps pounding up the stairs, and a second later the door flew open, slamming against the wall.

“Shut that damn kid up,” Harry shouted from the doorway. Julian jumped in his arms, trying to twist away from him. He kicked free of the blanket and his foot caught the edge of the shelf, sending Sherlock’s books tumbling to the floor.

“Oh, go sleep it off, Harry,” John snarled at her. Julian cried harder, twisting his face away.

“How am I supposed to sleep through all this fucking screaming?” Harry yelled. Her eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed. “I have to work in the morning!”

Julian twisted in his arms once more. “Fuh, fuh, fuh –“

“Oh, thanks,” John snapped, glaring at her.

“You think that’s your biggest problem? Get him out of here!” she demanded. She gripped the doorframe as she swayed again, and John lifted Julian, wrapping his worn blanket around him once more. He pushed past Harry and hurried down the stairs, ignoring her screaming after them.

Even though it was late, he tried not to look around as he approached the lift. Julian was still jerking and twisting in his arms, so he had to stop every few steps to get a better grip on him. He bounced from foot to foot while waiting for the lift as Julian’s cries echoed down the hall.

Once they were outside the cool night air seemed to shock Julian into silence for a moment, and John rubbed a hand on his back as he walked.

He wasn’t sure how long he paced Harry’s neighbourhood. His legs were starting to go numb, and his limp was becoming more prominent with each step, but Julian was quiet, holding onto him as he looked around at the dark buildings.

“I know it’s been hard,” John murmured, “And I know you’re lonely.”

“Lonely,” Julian repeated. John slowed, rubbing a hand over his back.

“Yeah, lonely. I know you’re lonely,” he repeated, voice hushed. Julian’s arms tightened on his shoulders. He couldn’t think of anything else to say; he couldn’t bring himself to utter any meaningless platitudes, so they continued in silence, comforting each other with their presence.

John looked up as he walked. He almost expected to see Sherlock racing down a side street or jumping across rooftops or something equally ridiculous, but the streets were quiet. He shivered as the wind blew, tugging the blanket tighter around Julian.

Slowly, Julian’s head lowered to rest on his shoulder, and his breathing evened out. John shifted his weight as gently as he could, trying not to wake him, and continued walking.

The sun was nearly up when he returned to Harry’s flat. A few of her neighbours gave him odd looks in the lift as Julian snored – and drooled, it felt like – on his shoulder as he waited for the lift to clear so he could enter. He ignored them. He could barely keep his eyes open; he pulled out his phone as the lift jerked upward and groaned – Julian had school in two hours.

He tried to be quiet as he opened the front door, but he could smell the coffee brewing and hear Harry moving around in the kitchen already. He hurried up the stairs and laid Julian in his bed – waiting for a moment to see if the movement would wake him – then went back down to the kitchen. She was standing in front of the counter, pouring herself a bowl of cereal. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she kept yawning. John suspected he didn’t look much better.

“Sorry about last night,” he said as he entered the room. She poured herself a cup of coffee, yawning again.

“What about last night?” she asked as she leaned against the counter. He looked her over, but she was looking at him expectantly, one eyebrow raised.

She didn’t remember any of it, he realized.

“Nothing,” he said quickly, ducking his head and taking a sip of his coffee. “Never mind. I have to get Julian off to school.”

“Grab yourself some coffee. You look like hell.”

“Thanks; you too,” he said, rolling his eyes as he turned and reached for one of the mugs. She knocked her shoulder into his as she walked out of the room.

“See you after work tonight?” she asked.

“No, I’m going to –” he broke off when her bedroom door closed. He rolled his eyes and headed for the stairs to wake Julian, already grimacing as he imagined how tired he must be.

But Julian was already awake, watching him as he came into the room. That was when John noticed it – the slight pinch of his features, the uncertainty behind his eyes that was so familiar it was like all the air had been knocked out of him.

Bit not good?

“You’re – you’re fine,” he whispered, running a hand through Julian’s hair and tugging him against his side. “We won’t be staying here much longer. I’ll find us a proper flat soon if... if I have to.” He glanced at the clock. “Now come on, let’s get you off to school.”

He managed to get Julian to school on time, but between that and being up half the night, he found himself yawning and resting his head on his desk between patients. He caught sight of himself in the mirror a few times and grimaced; Harry had been right – he did look like hell.

He’d laid his head down on the desk to rest for what felt like a moment when a sharp rap on the door caused him to jerk upright. Sarah was standing in the doorway of his office smirking at him and he looked at the clock – an hour past lunch. He groaned. “Christ, sorry,” he said, stifling a yawn.

“You haven’t done that one in a while,” she remarked. “How are things at your sister’s?”

“Julian’s not been sleeping. Again. The pills don’t help, he’s just...” he scrubbed a hand over his face. “He’s miserable.”

“He’ll adjust.”

“That’s what I keep thinking,” he sighed, “And then the next thing I know something else happens. I’m sick of it.”

“Welcome to parenthood.” She leaned against his desk, crossing her arms. “Why don’t I take you out to dinner. You could use a night to yourself.”

He frowned at her. “I’m not leaving him with Harry. I just... no.”

“What about your old landlady?” Sarah asked.

“Mrs. Hudson? Well, I suppose I could –”

“Great. My treat.”

“I couldn’t let you do that.”

She smiled. “I didn’t say it would be good food. Come on. Every parent needs a day off. You’ve earned it.”

“It doesn’t feel like it.”

“Well, you have. Tonight? Seven?” she suggested.

“I can’t tonight. I was thinking I’d take him to his parents’ grave. Maybe it’ll give him some kind of... closure, a chance to move on, you know? Sherlock and I were going to, but...” he swallowed, “We never had the chance, I guess.”

She patted him on the arm with a smile. “See? Earned it. Tomorrow night, then, and I won’t take no for an answer,” she said as she stood, walking toward the door.

“You won’t? Are you going to kidnap me if I refuse?”

She looked over her shoulder with a smirk. “Haven’t you had enough of that for one lifetime?”

“God, yes,” he sighed, and she laughed. “Seven it is, then.”

---

John hurried to Julian’s school after his shift, and greeted Ms. Richardson in the office. “You’re here early,” she said. He nodded.

“I’m taking Julian to his parent’s grave this afternoon.”

She looked up, raising an eyebrow at him. “Really?” she said, frowning.

“Yeah. I think it’ll do him some good. I don’t think it’s a good idea to pretend it didn’t happen,” John said.

“He went after his parent’s funeral. You knew that, right?” she asked.

He hadn’t. He’d been so dazed when he left the funeral; he honestly could barely remember how he made it home. “Well, then he can decide for himself if he wants to go in or not,” he said. She just shrugged, and then nodded. He waved to her and made his way to Julian’s classroom.

They walked from the school to the cemetery. When they turned off their usual route Julian looked around, but the road seemed familiar enough to him that he went without pause, until they reached the gate.

Julian stopped then, looking around. John could see that he remembered. He reached out and took Julian’s hand. “Do you want to go in?” he asked. Julian took a step forward, leading the way.

Julian saw the graves before he did; John stood to the side, watching as Julian approached the graves and wishing desperately that Sherlock was there to guide him.

“Grey,” Julian said, looking down at the headstone.

“Yeah.” John walked forward and knelt next to him. “This is where your parents are.”

Julian’s head whipped from side to side, and he bounced on his toes. John gripped his hand and pointed down at the headstones. “Down here,” he said. “They’re gone now.” Julian leaned down, and John brushed his fingers over the cold stone, feeling the dips of the numbers, the words engraved underneath - Gone, but never forgotten. The dew from the grass was seeping through his pants, making his knee ache, but he didn’t move. “You’ll always have your memories of them. And your pictures,” he smiled, ducking his head. “And my stories. You won’t ever forget them.” Julian leaned against his side as he reached out to touch the stone, as well.

“Gone,” he said. His voice was steady, and he stared down at the words.

John took a deep breath. “Thank you,” he said to the stone, “For leaving him with me.” He could see Julian watching him from the corner of his eye, and he cleared his throat. “I promise I’ll take good care of him.”

John stood and took a step back, crossing his arms. Julian stood still for a long moment, and John shivered as the wind picked up, pulling his jacket tighter around himself. Light drops of rain were falling,

“I’m here,” John said, stepping forward once more. He hesitated. “Someday you’ll have stories about us, you know,” he said. “You’ll probably always miss them, but you won’t be alone.”

There was a long pause as Julian looked at the stone. “Are you ready to go?” John said quietly. Julian just looked down at his shoes and reached for John’s hand.

John led him back to the street, and Julian gripped his jacket, trying to pull himself upward. John lifted him and pulled his own jacket open, wrapping it around Julian’s shoulders as he held him, ducking his head against the rain.

As he walked, John began to hum under his breath, ignoring the looks it earned him. Julian was relaxed against him, and much calmer than John had expected. Like he felt safe; like he trusted him.

For the first time, he felt like he’d done exactly what he needed to do.

Harry looked up from the television when he entered the flat. “How did it go?” she asked.

“It went well,” John said as he sat Julian down. Julian smiled up at him, and John rested a hand on his head. “It went really well.”

---

The next evening when he arrived at 221 Baker Street John pulled out his old key – he’d taken it off his keychain, but kept it in case of emergencies and if he were honest with himself, hope – and let himself in.

He knocked on Mrs. Hudson’s door and waited.

Julian was looking around, his gaze darting around the room and occasionally toward the stairs. John kept a firm hold on his shoulder and tried to ignore the way Julian would tug periodically.

He knocked again, frowning. She’d said she’d be back in time to watch Julian, and John was beginning to wonder if Mycroft had decided to ‘help’ them once more. He tried the handle, but it was locked. He was just considering breaking down the door when he heard the door to their flat open.

He turned to see Sherlock coming down the stairs. He slowed when he saw John, and his eyes flickered to Julian.

“Er, hello,” John said, shoving his hands in his pockets. Julian was starting to bounce on his heels next to him, gripping the back of John’s jumper but refraining from running to Sherlock. Sherlock looked between them once more as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Hello,” he said, voice tight.

John cleared his throat. “You’re looking well.”

“Yes, I am.” Sherlock’s voice still hadn’t lost the edge. He looked down at Julian. “I see you have him back on the ‘if it comes naturally to you it must be wrong’ brand of therapy. Lovely; I’m told it does wonders for the self-image. Do keep me informed on how that works out,” he said, sniffing. John frowned.

“His teacher insisted on some kind of therapy. What was I supposed to do? You weren’t there. I looked at the books again, but they’re not, well... you. I had to do something.” Sherlock looked down, looking uncertain, and John sighed. “Well, I had plans tonight and Mrs. Hudson agreed to watch him, but it looks like she’s not here. I can take him back to Harry’s.” He cringed at the thought. He didn’t want to think of how he and Harry would do alone together. He considered calling Sarah and cancelling.

But Julian had darted forward while he talked and latched onto Sherlock’s leg, looking up at him. John stepped forward to take him, but Sherlock reached down, resting his hand on top of his head as he met his eyes.

“Don’t be ridiculous, John,” he said without looking up, and John could have sworn he looked fond. “You’re both already here. It would be a waste of time.”

“Oh. Er, thanks.” He stepped back, watching as Julian nearly climbed Sherlock in his excitement. Sherlock was beginning to smile as well, though his features were tight in a way that most people would miss. Sherlock looked up as he lifted Julian.

“How are the schools in Chelsea?”

John shook his head. “I didn’t transfer him. Wouldn’t want him to be stuck in some classroom with a bunch of poncy gits,” he said, and Sherlock smiled fully, then.

“You take him on the tube?” he asked. Julian leaned his head on Sherlock’s shoulder, twisting his fingers in his shirt.

“Every morning. Sarah doesn’t mind if I’m a little late.”

Sherlock looked him over, then, shifting Julian higher on his hip as his expression hardened. “No, I daresay she doesn’t. Have a nice date, John.” And with that, he turned and began to walk up the stairs.

He darted forward as the door began to close behind them. “It’s not a –” he winced as it closed fully, “- date. Right, then,” he muttered to himself as he turned away.

He met Sarah at the pub – she’d text him the address to a small, run-down place, halfway between Baker Street and her flat. She was already seated at a corner table, half-rising from her chair to wave him over when he entered.

“So, pub food,” he said as he approached. She glanced up at him, grinning.

“Wouldn’t want you thinking it’s a date, now would I? I’m not a good rebound girl.” He slid into the seat across from her. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked. She already had a beer in her hand, and slid a second one across the table to him.

He sighed. It seemed like that was all anyone had been asking him, lately. “Not really. Julian’s with Sherlock now, and I’d just like to relax for a bit.”

The conversation paused as they ordered their food, and they sat in companionable silence as they waited. John couldn’t help but think about what Sherlock would say about the other patrons as they waited, if he were there.

His thoughts must have shown on his features, because once their food arrived Sarah looked up. “So, joint custody with Sherlock?” she said, smiling at him.

He snorted. “Hardly. We haven’t officially moved out, you know. Most of our stuff’s still there.”

“Will you be moving out soon?” she asked around a bite of food.

He hesitated. “I’m not sure,” he admitted. She just nodded, looking around the room.

“Well, take your time. There’s no need to decide right away, is there? I mean, he’s not likely to just box up your things and take them to the skip, now is he?”

“That depends if he needs more room, I suppose. You know how his cases are,” he said, and she snorted. He ducked his head at the thought of Sherlock’s cases, and took a long drink of his wine.

“What is it?”

He sat his glass on the table. “He – we – lost a client’s daughter, I think. Sherlock couldn’t devote all his time to the case, and... he just lost her. I think it bothered him more than he wants to admit. It... it wasn’t a good time for us, I guess.”

“If it was a bad time because he had a case, would it ever be a good time?” she asked, reaching across the table to touch the back of his hand.

“I suppose not. I just thought...” he trailed off with a bitter laugh, shaking his head. “I don’t know what I thought.”

“Love makes fools of us all.”

His heart sank. “Sarah...”

“Relax John,” she said dryly, “I think I’ll survive.”

The conversation drifted to other topics – to patients they’d seen recently, living in Harry’s neighbourhood – and it seemed like every time he finished a drink she ordered another one. It seemed like hours later when she finished her drink and reached for her wallet. “Ready to go?” she asked, and he nodded.

He was pulling out his credit card – resolutely not looking at Sherlock’s – when his ID, oyster card and a few scraps of paper tumbled to the floor. They both leaned down to gather them.

“Sorry... thanks...” he muttered.

“No problem, but I’m paying, remember?” she asked, amused. He nodded, glancing up at the table. Maybe he shouldn’t have had the last few drinks, but they’d been so wrapped up in talking he’d barely noticed and if he were honest with himself, it was surprisingly nice. “What’s this?” Sarah asked, holding up a card.

He grimaced when he saw it. “Oh, ah, it’s for a support group, for family members of people with autism,” he admitted.

“It says it’s in a couple days. Why don’t you go?” she said, holding out the card.

He shrugged as he took it. “I don’t know. I’ve never been one for that sort of thing.”

“It might help.”

He frowned down at the card. “It probably won’t.”

“Just think about it, okay? I know you’re having a tough time.”

“I’ll think about it,” John said, shrugging.

“Who knows? You might learn something.”

He shrugged again, the alcohol in his system leaving him feeling pleasantly fuzzy. “Who knows?” he agreed as he put the card back in his wallet.

When he arrived to pick up Julian he let himself in the front door again. He managed to trip over the front step and fall into the building, but stopped the door before it banged into the wall. The door to their flat swung open a moment later and Sherlock stepped out, running a hand through his hair. He looked over the railing down at John, his dark hair falling into his eyes as he dropped his hand.

“He’s sleeping,” he said, and John smiled. Of course he would be, he thought. Where else would he sleep, if not here?

“That’s good; he needed it,” he said. He started to climb the stairs. “Can I come in?” he asked. He could hear voices coming from the first floor, and he wondered if Sherlock had guests.

Sherlock looked him over. “I suppose so.”

When Sherlock pushed open the door no one was there, but the television was on, the sound low. John walked into the sitting room and stood by the mantle, unsure of what to do. “You were watching the telly?” he asked.

Sherlock began to clear a few things from the table. “No. I’ve just been leaving it on,” he said without looking around.

It must get rather quiet in the flat, alone, John mused. Sherlock stopped next to him and sat his papers on the mantle, next to the skull, and John stepped closer; close enough that they were almost touching. “You’re lonely, aren’t you?”

Sherlock glanced at him. “And you’re drunk,” he pointed out.

John smiled. “Just tipsy. And that was practically a yes.”

“But not quite.”

John took a step back as the room swayed. “Wait – are we fighting?”

Sherlock smiled back, then, his face softening. “No.”

“Good. I don’t – I don’t want to fight.”

“We haven’t been fighting,” Sherlock reminded him.

“Haven’t we?” He put a hand to his head. “But I left.”

“You should lie down. You’re drunk.”

“I’m really not,” John protested, tripping over the coffee table. Sherlock caught him by the shoulders.

“Do I need to lie you down like a child?” he asked, his lips quirking at the thought. John closed one eye so he could see him better, but the only effect it had was making Sherlock laugh under his breath. “Alright, lie down,” Sherlock tugged him toward the sofa.

“Bring me some water,” John said as he flopped back. His tongue seemed large and unwieldy and it felt like his mouth had been stuffed with cotton balls.

“Demanding, aren’t we?” Sherlock said as he turned away.

“Been living with you too long,” he muttered, his eyes falling shut. He hid a yawn behind his hand – he really was very tired. He could hear Sherlock moving around in the kitchen, the soft sound of glass tinkling as Sherlock moved things around lulling him into a deeper relaxation.

“Hey,” Sherlock said, and John opened his eyes to see him holding out a glass.

“No hazardous materials that I should know about?” he asked as he reached for it.

Sherlock sat next to him once he took the glass. “No; it’s clean.”

They sat in silence for a while, and John rolled his head to the side to watch Sherlock. “I made a right mess of things, didn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“But you miss us,” John said. He reached out and cupped the back of Sherlock’s neck in his hand, tugging him closer. “I wanted to see you, tonight. Kept thinking about what you’d say.”

“Hardly considerate when on a date.”

“Not a date,” John said, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth. He really was so warm; everything was so warm.

Sherlock shifted in his seat, his hand resting on John’s hip. “You won’t remember this in the morning,” he warned. John leaned forward, lightly brushing their lips together. Sherlock leaned against him.

“Yes I will,” John mumbled against his lips. He kissed him again, and Sherlock’s other hand brushed over the back of his neck.

Sherlock disentangled them gently and stood. “You’re drunk. You should lie down.”

“Any reason you’re intent on getting me on my back?” John said. Did his voice really sound that slurred?

Sherlock wrinkled his nose as he looked down at him, amused. “You’re terrible at this when you’re drunk,” he informed him. “Yes, tipsy, I know,” Sherlock said when he tried to reply. “Goodnight.” He turned off the light, and John was asleep a moment later.

Chapter Text

When John woke the next morning the first thing he noticed was the terrible pounding in his head.

The second thing he noticed was that his shift at the surgery started an hour ago.

He sat up, throwing back the blanket draped over him. He instantly regretted it as the throbbing in his head increased. He leaned against the back of the sofa and groaned, rubbing his temples.

“Relax, it’s Saturday,” Sherlock’s voice called from somewhere to his left. John just winced again, still clutching his head. “You never drank your water, last night,” Sherlock added, sounding amused. John glanced up to see him standing in the kitchen, Julian seated at the table next to him.

“Yeah, I realize that, thanks,” John muttered. Then he looked around again and realized where he was and what it meant. “Oh God, did I really pass out on the sofa last night?”

Sherlock smirked at him. “I told you that you wouldn’t remember any of it.”

“Any of what? What did I say?”

“Nothing incriminating, I can promise you,” he said, smirking.

John tried to glare at him as he stood, but the effect was lost to him groaning again. “My head is pounding. Do we have any paracetamol?”

“You gave me the last of it when that jeweller hit me over the head.”

“That was months ago. And what are you doing?” he asked. Sherlock glanced away. John looked over Julian’s shoulder and couldn’t help but smile through the ache in his head. The table was covered in sheet after sheet of paper, with large swirls and scribbles and faces on them. “Were you two colouring?” he asked.

Sherlock just shrugged. “He likes it.”

John turned and smiled at him. “Yeah, he does.”

Julian lifted another piece of paper from the stack – John noticed several diagrams on the back of it, but decided if Sherlock didn’t mind then he wouldn’t say anything. Julian tugged at Sherlock’s shirt until he sat next to him once more, then wrapped Sherlock’s hand around a blue crayon and sat it on the paper.

John poured himself a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter as he watched them, both smiling as Julian used Sherlock’s hand to draw a large scribble. It arced off the paper and onto the table. “He’s missed you, you know,” John said, jerking his chin in Julian’s direction.

“Yes, I can see that,” Sherlock said, still smiling up at him. John felt his heart rate speed up and glanced down at his coffee.

“I missed you, too,” he went on.

“I...” Sherlock glanced over at the television, and appeared to be considering something. “The flat was very quiet,” he admitted after a moment. John leaned against the table on Julian’s other side and lifted one of the crayons.

“It’s always loud at Harry’s. I’m afraid to leave him in the same room with her.” He reached over and drew a small face on the edge of Julian’s paper.

They sat in silence for a while, Sherlock and John doodling on the edges of Julian’s paper while he drew large, sweeping circles in the middle of it. Sherlock lifted the colourful page and handed it to Julian. “Take it to your room,” he told him.

John stood as he watched Julian go, licking his lips. Sherlock stood in front of him. Then he looked away, his shoulders tense. “You hate it at Harry’s.” A muscle twitched in his jaw. “So, you’ll stay?” he asked.

John couldn’t help but smile, even as he shook his head. “No. I won’t.”

Sherlock’s gaze snapped to him and his brow furrowed. “What - no? Why?” he demanded.

“If we’re going to come back I want to be sure this won’t happen again – that you won’t be so uncomfortable with us and how we make you feel that you want us gone. I can’t do that to him again,” he said, glancing at the stairs. “Could you?” he asked quietly, looking back at Sherlock.

Sherlock shook his head. “No,” he admitted. He rested his hands on his hips, biting his lip. “I couldn’t.”

“Good.”

“Good?”

“Yeah. I’m glad you’re taking this seriously.”

Sherlock sniffed. “I always take things seriously.”

“Except when you don’t,” John smirked. “You don’t take my opinion seriously when you think you’re right,” he amended when Sherlock glared at him. “And you always think you’re right.”

“Of course. Who an earth would express a thought they believed to be wrong?”

Before John could answer he heard footsteps hurrying up the stairs, and they both turned to see Lestrade burst into the sitting room. He looked between them for a moment. “Oh,” he said, awkwardly. He gestured behind him at the door. “I can come back –“

“No,” Sherlock said as he walked toward him. “What is it?”

“Fingerprints, from our janitor.”

“Janitor?” John said, confused.

“Yes.” Sherlock gestured to the bruises on his face, “Suspect, remember? One of the kidnappers had entered and exited through the heating ducts, aided by a janitor who subsequently disappeared when the police attempted to apprehend him,” he glared at Lestrade.

“That wasn’t out fault.”

“Well it certainly wasn’t mine,” Sherlock shot back.

“Alright, and ‘one of’ the kidnappers? You think there’s more?” Lestrade asked. Sherlock nodded.

“I’m almost certain of it. If I’m correct, it’s a large operation.”

John’s heart sank. “You really were doing better, though, weren’t you? Without us, I mean,” he said, voice hushed.

Lestrade snorted. “If by better you mean, ‘back to talking to that bloody skull again…’”

“You didn’t,” John said, a smile slowly spreading over his face.

“He did,” Lestrade piped up. “Didn’t help matters much, I must say.”

“Well, it could hardly make them worse,” Sherlock said.

“What do you mean?” John asked, looking between them. They both avoided his eyes. “Is Anderson back from his ‘holiday’ already?” John asked Lestrade, but he shook his head.

Lestrade cleared his throat. “Anyway, like I said, I’ve got some fingerprints from a skip in Islington where a body was found that might be a match,” he said to Sherlock.

“Whole or partial?” Sherlock asked.

“Partial.”

Sherlock made a face, but nodded. “Alright. Let’s go,” he said, glancing at John.

As much as he wanted to go, to be a part of Sherlock’s work once more, he shook his head. “I’ll take Julian back to Harry’s, for now,” John said. Sherlock nodded tensely, and John nodded to Lestrade before going to get Julian.

His head was still pounding when they reached Harry’s flat. At least she would have paracetamol, he thought as they rode up in the lift.

And a ton of questions. He rubbed his temple with his free hand as he pulled out his keys.

“So, where did you stay last night?” Harry called as soon as they walked inside.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” John muttered as he walked toward the stairs. He heard her stand and walk to the bottom of the stairs.

“Your landlady’s pretty nice, then, keeping him overnight. He didn’t freak out about it?”

“Hardly,” John said, yawning again. “He hasn’t slept that well in days.”

She leered at him. “You don’t look so good, though. Guess you didn’t get much sleep last night.”

He rested his arms on the railing, turning back to look at her. “I stayed at home last night.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Really? Are you going back so soon, then?” she asked. She sounded almost disappointed, and John thought of how quiet and impersonal the flat had seemed when they first arrived.

“Not yet. We’ve still got a few things to work out and I don’t want to rush, for Julian’s sake.”

“Not my reckless little brother anymore, are you?” she said, smiling fondly.

“I guess not.”

That night after Julian was asleep and John was in bed listening to Harry fumble around downstairs, his phone beeped on his nightstand. He lifted it – a text from Sherlock.

When pair-bonded animals are separated for any length of time, they experience separation anxiety and what appears to be depression.

John smiled in the darkness as he typed his reply.

I miss you too.

---

I really shouldn’t be doing this, John thought as he adjusted his jacket. I really, really shouldn’t be doing this.

But Sarah had insisted, and Harry had even called Ms. Richardson to tell her John would be coming to the meeting, and at this point, he couldn’t see any way out of it.

There was always the chance Julian would make new friends, if nothing else, he told himself. He’d been sullen since they’d left Baker Street, and John wasn’t sure how to explain it was for the best, in the end.

A small bell rang out as they pushed open the door. Adults were standing around talking, and several small children and teens were gathered at tables or standing in groups. John could barely see the back wall, it was so crowded. He moved away from the door, still looking around. Julian continued to play his DS, oblivious.

“Did you take the tube here?” someone asked. John looked down to see a blonde boy in thick glasses looking up at him.

“Er, yeah, I did.”

“Where do you live?”

“I’m staying in Oakland Street.”

The boy nodded, looking over John’s left shoulder as he thought. “You took the Circle Line to get here. From South Kensington Station to Edgware Road.”

“Um, you’re right,” he said.

“I know.”

A woman emerged from the crowd behind the boy and rested her hand on his shoulder. “Brian, did you do what you’re supposed to when you start a conversation?”

The boy’s face went blank. “Hi,” he intoned, “What’s your name. I’m Brian.”

John leaned closer to hear him over the chatter and the bell ringing. “I’m John. How are you?”

“How are you?” the boy replied. His mother shook her head behind him, but John ignored her.

“Fine,” he said. He scratched his head. “I was just wondering the best way to go if I wanted to go to a shop in Piccadilly when we’re done here.”

The boy’s eyes lit up. “Take Bakerloo from Marylebone to Piccadilly Circus,” he said, rolling his eyes.

John smiled down at him. “Thank you.”

“Brian, why don’t you go play with the other kids?” The boy turned away, walking over to a small group of children. “Don’t encourage him,” she said with a small, awkward laugh. “It’s the tube all the time with him, never anything else. We spent all those years taking him to speech therapy and now all I want him to do is stop. Well, you understand.” She smiled at him.

He didn’t. He couldn’t imagine wanting Sherlock or Julian to stop.

“Do you want a drink? It’s always nice to have a break, get away from them,” she said, waving a hand at him and laughing.

Was this what he sounded like? He looked around, worried that Julian could overhear. But he must have been mingling with the other children, because at first glance, John didn’t see him.

“I’m Angela,” she went on, holding out her hand. He looked around once more as he shook her hand loosely.

“John. And I think I made a mistake,” he muttered, standing on his toes to try to see through the crowd. He knew this was a bad idea.

“Which one’s yours?” she asked, looking around as well.

The six-foot egomanic, he wanted to reply. Julian, he reminded himself. You’re here to talk about Julian.

“The dark-haired boy with the game system.”

She frowned, looking over the small crowd of children. “I don’t see him.”

“I’m sure he’s –” he broke off as he looked around again, his heart beginning to pound. “Julian?”

“I’ll just ask around.”

He pushed his way through the crowd, ignoring the murmurs that followed as he looked around. He didn’t see him; he didn’t see him anywhere.

Angela emerged from the crowd in front of him, shaking her head. "No one's seen him."

He hurried to the door, pulling his phone out of his pocket as he walked outside, looking up and down the street. Where would he go?

“Yes?” Sherlock answered.

“Sherlock, listen to me, I need your help. It’s Julian.”

Sherlock made a soft sound, and John could hear his chair scrape on the floor as he stood. “What’s happened?”

“He’s missing.”

There was a long silence. “Where are you?”

“I’m in Knox street, at a cafe.” He looked up at the sign. “Lilly’s Cafe.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes. I’ll text Lestrade, have him send anyone he could spare. They’ll close down the road if need be, he owes me enough favours for that, at least.”

John stared ahead for a moment. He had no idea where Julian would go; what if someone had taken him? What if he had -

“John?” Sherlock’s voice cut through his thoughts. John heard a door slam in the background and the sound of rushing cars.

He cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’ll start looking.” He shoved his phone into his pocket and walked into the next shop over.

“Have you seen a little boy? Dark hair?”

“No kids in here today.” The shopkeeper shook her head, “Quite a few next door from the sound of it.” He turned and darted back out to the street, cursing under his breath. He wracked his brain, but he couldn’t think of anything they might have seen on their walk from the station that would catch Julian’s eye.

John had only been scouring the street for four minutes – popping in and out of shops, shouting directions to the few officers who had already arrived – when he saw Sherlock climb out of a cab down the street. “Sherlock,” he called. He ran over. “Do you think it’s them? The kidnappers?” John asked. His finger twitched; he wished he had his gun on him.

“No, I don’t,” Sherlock said, looking up and down the street.

There was a small knot of police officers standing around, a couple of them smoking as they talked. “Hey,” John called, angry. “Aren’t you supposed to be helping?”

A few of them muttered to each other as one on of them tossed his cigarette on the ground and stepped on it. “Hey, Rain Man,” one of the others called, “What’s the kid’s name again?”

Julian,” Sherlock ground out without turning around. A couple of them laughed; John turned toward them but stopped, looking back at Sherlock.

“Leave them, John, we have more important things to do,” Sherlock muttered, and he nodded.

“Oi, you lot,” a voice called, and John turned to see Donovan approaching. Just what we need, he thought bitterly. “Get to work. Sherlock,” she said as she approached, “Where should we look?” She crossed her arms, waiting.

“Check the shops, the library and the hospital first. Send teams to any bodies of water within walking distance, including Regent’s Lake.”

“You’re the expert,” one of them sneered. “I expect –”

“Just do what he says, alright?” Donovan interrupted. “Sherlock,” she nodded to him, “I’ll text you if we find anything.”

Says the woman that called him freak for years, John thought, looking around as the others dispersed. What the hell had happened?

“I’ve checked these shops already,” he said, gesturing to the shops on their side of the street, “And other officers checked the other side. Half of you go a block on either side and start looking.”

“At least two of them should stay in this area in case he comes back,” Sherlock added.

There it was again – two of them made soft, derisive sounds at Sherlock’s directions as they turned away. John looked at Sherlock, who sighed.

“John, I –” his phone rang in his hand and he pulled it out, cursing under his breath as it snagged in his pocket. “Yes?” he snapped into the phone. He slowed, and John turned to watch him, his heart pounding. After a moment, Sherlock looked up and met his eyes.

“Yes, we’ll be right there.”

---

“When I came home from doing my shopping he was right at the door, playing his game, not a care in the world," Mrs. Hudson said. John leaned against the door frame, taking deep careful breaths as Julian stood from her table, still holding his DS.

John watched as Sherlock lifted Julian and sat in one of her old chairs, letting him curl up on his lap and wrapping his arms around him. He drew his legs up so Julian was tilted against his chest and ensconced in his long limbs. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Hudson,” John said. She patted his arm.

“Oh, no problem at all, dear. I’m just glad he came here. I think every parent loses them once, you know. My daughter once wandered away in the middle of a shop, we found her halfway down the street trying to buy an ice cream nearly an hour later.”

“We must have just missed each other,” Sherlock said without looking up. “Stupid,I should have known he’d come here, being so close by.”

“You couldn’t have known,” John said, kneeling in front of them. Julian reached out and gripped the front of John’s shirt, pulling him closer, and John rested his forehead on Sherlock’s shoulder. “There are all kinds of places he could have gone. There was no way for you to know.”

“I should have,” Sherlock repeated, and John just nodded once to Mrs. Hudson before urging him to his feet and toward the door.

When they reached the sitting room, Sherlock sat Julian on his feet, taking a reluctant step back. They both watched as he wandered up the stairs as though nothing had happened – from his point of view, nothing probably had, John thought. It didn’t stop him from wanting to run up the stairs after him and keep him in his sight for the next… few days, really.

Sherlock made a soft noise from where he stood, and John turned to look at him. They stared at each other from across the room, and a wave of relief went through him, powerful enough that his knees went weak. He reached for Sherlock, who crossed the room in three large strides and wrapped his arms around him, his breathing ragged in John’s ear.

John wrapped his arms around his shoulders, burying his face in his neck. “I knew you’d find him.”

One of Sherlock’s hands gripped the back of his shirt. “No you didn’t.”

“Stop. He’s here.” They stood like that for a long time, before Sherlock pulled away and they collapsed together on the sofa. John rubbed at his head.

“It won’t always be this way,” Sherlock said quietly, and John dropped his hand.

“I know.”

“He’s a good kid.”

“I know,” John said again. “I’m very lucky.” Sherlock looked at him sharply, but whatever he saw on John’s face made him relax and nod.

“Sherlock,” he licked his lips, “I would follow you anywhere. You – you know that, right?”

“I used to.” John started to turn away, and Sherlock caught him by the arm with an impatient huff. “John, surely you must know by now this is your area of expertise, not mine, I’m certain I’ve told you that repeatedly. Everything takes time, but one’s feelings don’t always conflate with one’s desires, surely you know that?” he asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.

John smiled sadly. “I used to.” There was a long pause, and John considered what to say. “What they said, when we were searching,” he started after a moment, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize for them.”

“But it’s my fault.”

Sherlock sighed. “You gave them the information, yes; but they made their own choices about what to do with it. Only take credit for your own faults, John, no one else’s.”

“Donovan was nice, though,” he tried.

“I don’t need her pity. Or yours,” he added.

John sighed, rubbing his forehead. “This is more ‘self-loathing’, I think.”

“I don’t need that, either,” Sherlock said, his voice going soft. He reached out and touched the back of John’s hand. “They’ve… they’ve wanted something to have over me for a very long time now, John. You can’t keep blaming yourself,” he said, and John got the distinct impression he wasn’t just talking about the incident with the police earlier. Sherlock looked over at him. “It doesn’t help anything.”

“But I don’t know what to do.”

“And what’s wrong with what you were doing before?” Sherlock asked.

This won’t change anything between us. He almost laughed aloud at how foolish he’d sounded. How naïve. Had that really only been a few weeks ago? “I – I don’t know,” he admitted.

Sherlock smiled. “Exactly.”

Julian came down the stairs, and John pushed himself to his feet with a sigh. He needed to think. “Julian,” he said, “We’re going to go.”

“Say,” he said.

“Yes, you’re safe,” John told him, “But we have to go home, now.” He turned to Sherlock and muttered, “He doesn’t like staying at Harry’s.”

“Understandable. A drunk is unpredictable at best. And you figured that out on your own, didn’t you?”

John looked at him, but Sherlock was smiling as he looked back, and John found himself smiling as well. He ducked his head. “Yeah, I did. We’re getting on alright, I think,” he said.

“I think you are,” Sherlock agreed. He looked so pleased and yet surprised at that admission that John couldn’t help but lean up, kissing him softly on the cheek. He stepped back, still smiling, and tugged Julian toward the door.

Julian let out an ear-piercing wail as soon as he realized where they were going, his free hand stretched back toward Sherlock. “Tomorrow,” Sherlock said, kneeling in front of the boy and gently touching his index finger to his own cheek, then moving it forward. “Tomorrow,” he repeated. Julian calmed a bit, mimicking the sign. “Yes,” Sherlock assured him, repeating the sign once more.

“He knows sign language? You know sign language?”

“I’ve been – I was teaching him. It can help to have a visual cue along with the verbal.”

A thought was forming in the back of his mind. “Sherlock, when did you say your first word?”

“Six years old.”

“Right,” John muttered to himself, glancing away. He cleared his throat. “You can’t just make plans with him without asking me, you know. You’re not his parent.”

“Neither are you.”

“I’m his guardian.”

Sherlock stood, slipping his hands in his pockets. “Well, that’s lucky, then – I was rather hoping you’d join him.”

“Oh…” He looked down at Julian, who was looking up at Sherlock. “Yeah. Okay. Tomorrow, after he’s done with school, then?”

Sherlock smiled. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“He’d probably like coming to see you rather than his usual therapist,” John said as he turned toward the door.

“John.” Sherlock said after a moment, and John turned to look at him. “I thought I would do better when you were gone,” Sherlock looked up. “But I was wrong.”

John smiled softly. “Thank you,” he said, voice hushed. Sherlock nodded and turned away, and John led Julian down the stairs.

---

When the lift doors opened to take them up to Harry’s flat, Mycroft was waiting inside.

John almost cursed under his breath at the sight of him, but he managed a tense nod and led Julian inside. They stood, shoulders stiff and backs straight, watching the numbers climb to Harry’s floor.

John expected Mycroft to follow them when the doors opened, but he merely stepped forward, resting his umbrella on the hall floor and waited as John opened the door to her flat.

“Go inside,” John muttered to Julian, holding the door open.

Mycroft was still standing in the lift when he turned again, and John walked back to stand next to him. Mycroft pushed the button for the ground floor with the tip of his umbrella.

“Hello, John,” he said as the lift descended. John didn’t answer.

The lift doors opened, and Mycroft led the way toward the front door. John wondered if he was about to be treated to another kidnapping, but through the glass doors he could see the street outside was clear. Mycroft pushed open the door. “Sherlock does almost nothing by accident, you know,” he said once they were back outside.

“What are you talking about?”

“There was a reason he let you find that file again. Can you guess what it is?” Mycroft asked, smiling.

“What file? Oh,” he said. That file - his file. “I don’t know.”

Mycroft chuckled, and John clenched his jaw, looking around. “He has so much faith in you, you know. Sometimes it’s a little… disturbing.”

“How so?”

“It’s not something one expects from him, is it?” John stayed silent, and Mycroft turned to look at the street, leaning on his umbrella. “Our parents had the papers for his guardianship drawn up when he was thirteen years old. All I needed to do was sign them, when he came of age. He was livid about the decision; he fought with them for weeks, and I made a promise to him that I wouldn’t go through with it.”

“But you did, didn’t you?” John said quietly. He couldn’t help his fascination - everything about Sherlock was fascinating to him, and here was something he never could have guessed about him.

Mycroft grimaced, but nodded. “You must understand,” he went on, “Sherlock was not as self-sufficient as he is today. He required extensive care that would have been best administered in my own home. But he fought the decision, and ultimately won.” He exhaled deeply. “And then he spent the next five years in and out of treatment facilities, living in dilapidated flats with dilapidated tenants. He overdosed three times, you know.”

John swallowed hard. “I told you not to do this,” he said. He felt terrible for letting it go this far, but Mycroft merely smiled wider.

“No, you told me not to tell you about my brother’s past without his consent.”

John considered that. He looked up sharply. “Why would he want you to do this?”

“Because he couldn’t do it himself.” Mycroft looked up at the sky. “Because he wanted you to know.”

“That’s why he let me find it again.” Mycroft nodded. “And… why would you do this for him? You said I was good for him – why give me the kind of information that might drive someone away?”

“Because we are all inherently selfish, Dr. Watson,” he had a faraway look in his eye, and smiled at some hidden memory. “And I am still foolish enough to hope that he may yet be able to trust me like he once did.”

John grimaced. “I don’t think that’s very likely,” he said.

“That may be true. But there have been many unforeseen occurrences in my brother’s life. Addiction. Work.” He smiled again. “You.” He turned, looking down at him. “So yes, John; I have hope. Besides,” he added, “If you were the type to be so easily driven away, he never would have wanted to trust you in the first place. When are you seeing him again?”

“Tomorrow.”

Mycroft smiled. “Don’t disappoint me.”

“I’m not doing this for you,” John said. Mycroft nodded, looking him in the eye.

“That’s why there’s hope for you, yet.”

Chapter Text

“Should I not expect you back tonight?” Harry asked as she leaned against the door to their borrowed room. John was standing in front of his wardrobe in a button down and jeans, looking over his clothing.

“I don’t know. I’m not hoping for anything other than to sort this out,” John said as he pulled out a jumper and pulled it over his head.

“Probably best not to let yourself hope for too much. You don’t want to be disappointed,” she said as she took a step forward and adjusted his collar. He fought the urge to pull away, watching instead as her lips twitched up in a sad smile, her eyes trained on the front of his shirt.

“What’s going on? Harry?” he asked, covering her hands with one of his own to still them.

“Nothing,” she said with a shrug. “I just thought –” she shook her head. “It’s nothing.”

“We can’t stay. You know that,” John said.

“I know. That’s not what I – just forget it.”

She turned, walking toward the stairs, and John watched her go as he straightened his collar once more. He glanced at Julian, who was still sitting on the bed, watching him. He wore a button-down as well, his dark hair plastered against his head. It had taken John nearly fifteen minutes to comb it straight after Julian’s bath, and he’d ended up with his clothes sopping wet from the effort.

He still felt a bit ridiculous about the whole ordeal – it seemed absurd, as though they were going on some sort of family date – and he wondered if Sherlock felt half as nervous as he did.

Probably not.

“Well, let’s go,” John said, holding a hand out to Julian. Julian stood, reaching for his DS, but John stopped him. “Not today,” he said. He tugged Julian toward the stairs.

Harry was curled in on herself on the sofa, a beer in one hand and a single piece of paper next to her. John left Julian at the door and walked over to lift it.

Divorce papers. It was done, he realized, and he wondered why Harry hadn’t mentioned it before now. He looked up to see her watching him. She shrugged, taking the paper. “It’s really over,” she said, looking around at the paintings. Tears welled up in her eyes, but didn’t fall. She took another drink.

“Why don’t you call someone? Have someone stay with you?” he asked. She leaned back with a sigh, running a hand through her hair.

“Who’d want to stay here with me?”

He couldn’t tell if it she was being self-pitying or honest. It was a valid question; he certainly hadn’t wanted to. “You don’t have to stay here alone. You don’t have to keep… doing this to yourself,” he said, glancing at the can she held.

“What if I can’t stop?”

“Call someone,” he said again. He took a step back. He wanted to help her, desperately, but she had to make that choice herself, as much as it pained him. “I’ve got to go. I have a stop to make before I see Sherlock.”

“Bringing him something nice, yeah?”

“I think so.”

“Hey, John?” she called as they reached the door. He turned back and she smiled sadly as she looked down at the paper in her hand. “Good luck tonight. You don’t always get as many chances as you think.”

But it wasn’t the same, and they both knew it. So he just nodded as he closed the door behind them.

---

John shifted the bouquet from hand to hand, looking down at Julian. He considered knocking; he considered throwing the bouquet out into the street. Instead, he pulled his keys out of his pocket and opened the door.

“I wondered how long you were going to stand out there,” Sherlock said. He looked down, a smile slowly spreading across his face. “You brought me ears.”

“Molly says hello, by the way,” John looked down at the bundle of ears in his hand. “And that she really doesn’t want to know.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t,” Sherlock said as he took them, running his finger over one before turning toward the kitchen. “Fancy a pint?” he called over his shoulder. The refrigerator door opened and Sherlock dropped the bundle inside.

“Love one, thanks,” John said, smiling to himself. He shrugged out of his coat and dropped it in his chair before turning to Julian to help him out of his coat and shoes. When he looked up again Sherlock was standing in the doorway, drink in hand, watching them. John stood and walked over to him, pulling the drink out of his hand. “Thanks,” he said again.

The flat was the same as it always was, John thought fondly as he looked around. In their absence Sherlock had spread his experiments around the sitting room – the table was clear, though there was a large fresh stain half-covered by a mat in the middle.

There was a knock on the door, and Sherlock stood and bound toward the stairs. Their regular Thai plate didn’t do take-away, but people made exceptions for Sherlock, either out of gratitude or self-preservation, so it was no surprise when he returned a moment later with familiar boxes in hand. John spooned the food out onto plates and they sat, smiling but saying nothing.

“I don’t think Julian’s eaten this much the entire time we’ve been at Harry’s,” John said after a minute. Sherlock curled in his chair watching them eat, his plate untouched. “Hey,” John said, tapping his fork against the edge of Sherlock’s plate. Sherlock looked at him. “Eat. We’re not going anywhere.”

Sherlock unfolded himself from his chair, looking down at his plate as though he’d only just noticed it was there as he lifted his fork.

Julian was the first to jump up from the table, tearing around the room in pure glee. John and Sherlock merely watched as he took in everything, from the papers strewn about to the sound holes on Sherlock’s violin like it was all brand new. When he was finished he collapsed on the sofa, burrowing into the cushions and smiling at them both.

He yawned again as he stretched, his toes sinking into the cushions. He looked over at Sherlock, making a clumsy sign with his hand. “Read,” he said.

Sherlock glanced at John, and he nodded at him. He knew Sherlock had read to Julian before, but after the week they’d had, he wanted nothing more than to relax in his chair and listen to Sherlock, and watch them together. The idea soothed something in him.

Sherlock stood, walking over to the stairs, and a moment later he re-emerged holding one of the few books Julian had left behind. He sat on the edge of the sofa and began to read, his deep voice echoing around the room.

John wasn’t sure how long he sat that way, drifting in and out of sleep as Sherlock’s voice carried through the room, but the next thing he knew there was a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Sherlock leaning over him, looking amused.

“Christ, what time is it?” John asked. He glanced at the clock and groaned. “It’s late,” he said as he stood, stretching. Julian was still lying on the sofa, head pillowed on his hands as he slept. “We should leave soon if we want to catch the last train.”

“Why not stay?” Sherlock asked, voice hushed. He was looking straight ahead, past John.

He considered that. They had clothing at the flat, and Harry wasn’t likely to be waiting up for them - even if she had, she was likely too drunk to be reasonable, at any rate. “I suppose we could,” John said, and Sherlock smiled. John lifted Julian, who blinked around sleepily. “I’ll just put him in his old room, then?” John asked. Julian rubbed his eyes, fussing under his breath.

Sherlock stepped forward, wrapping an arm around Julian’s waist and tucking him against his side. “I’ll take him,” he said as he stepped back. Julian tucked his face against Sherlock’s neck, his eyes closing.

“You don’t have to,” John protested, even as he stepped back. He’d missed seeing them together, after all.

Sherlock looked back at him. “I’d like to.”

He licked his lips. “Alright,” he said, nodding. He watched them as Sherlock walked up the stairs, Julian’s face still pressed against his neck, his hands limp on his shoulders. When he sat down to wait he closed his eyes, trying to keep the image of them together in his mind.

“He’s asleep?” John asked when Sherlock re-emerged.

Sherlock nodded as he sat on the other end of the sofa. He had relaxed, somewhat, the tension in his shoulders giving away to sagging relief, which was almost – almost – what John wanted from him.

“Will you tell me? About your past?” John asked. He gripped Sherlock’s hand between them, pulling it into his lap. Immediately Sherlock tensed again, and John ran his thumb over the back of his hand.

“Mycroft already told you,” Sherlock said, frowning as he stared down at their hands.

“I want to hear you say it. I want you to trust me with your words, not his.”

Sherlock took a deep breath, and when he did began talking it was with the same, low, hypnotic quality as when he’d been reading. His eyes were far away as though he were reading from some invisible page and not telling stories of his past.

He smiled a bit when he spoke of Mycroft as a child, laughed outright when talking about their mother, and grew very, very still when he told John about his falling out with his family. He fell silent, and John waited patiently.

“The things I’ve done, they’re not... good,” he said after a moment. John pulled him closer, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.

“I don’t care,” he said.

“Most people do.”

John leaned his forehead against Sherlock’s cheek. “We’re not most people, remember?”

And there it was, the soft, almost shy smile as Sherlock relaxed again. It seemed like it had been months since they last relaxed together, enjoying each other’s company without dancing around each other and what they wanted to say, to do.

Sherlock pulled away. “I’ve never actively wanted people in my life before,” he said, looking at him. “It was always too much work, and I was much too busy for something like that.”

“It’s not as hard as it seems. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting us around.”

“Isn’t there? Sometimes I’m not sure.”

John frowned at him. “Does that mean you want us to leave again?”

“God, no.” Sherlock shook his head. “It didn’t help. If anything else, it made it worse.” He looked worried, then, and John leaned closer, nudging him with his shoulder. “This doesn’t end, does it?” Sherlock asked. John smiled.

“Ideally, no.”

“How do people live like this?” Sherlock wondered, and John couldn’t help but smile at him.

“Well, there are perks, usually.”

Sherlock laughed then, some of the tension draining away as he smiled. “Usually? Are we going to be the exception?”

“I didn’t mean we wouldn’t, just… there wasn’t time, before.”

Sherlock looked up, eyes dark. “There’s time now.”

There was, and he didn’t stop him as Sherlock leaned in and kissed him gently, questioning. John leaned back, letting Sherlock pushing him down onto the seat. His heart was hammering in his throat as he kissed him again, soft and sweet. John ran a hand through his hair to cup his cheek, and Sherlock made a soft sound against his lips.

“We probably shouldn’t be doing this here,” John pointed out a few minutes later. He could barely catch his breath, and slowing down Sherlock when he was curious about anything was almost impossible, but he managed to get a hold of his shoulders and push him back.

The room seemed to spin as Sherlock jerked away, gripping his wrist and guiding him toward their room. There was no hesitation or uncertainty to his actions, and John let him lead, as always.

It seemed strange that he didn’t feel like the one in control – which was ridiculous, since he was the one with experience – but as soon as the door closed behind them Sherlock had him crowded up against the wall, and he found it hard to care.

He ended up on his back on his bed, Sherlock on him and in him and as insistent as he ever was, and perfect in his eagerness and bliss.

After, when they were stretched out on John’s bed, still panting and watching each other in quiet disbelief, Sherlock frowned, glancing away.

“You’re still not staying, are you?” he asked.

“I’ve got to get my things from Harry’s,” John pointed out.

“That’s not a no.”

John propped himself up on his elbow, looking down at Sherlock. “It’s not a ‘yes’, either. I just… I need to make sure she’ll be okay, or I’ll spend all my time wondering.”

“You can’t fix her.”

“I can’t,” he agreed. “But I can be there for her.”

“She did it to herself.”

“Because she thought it was the right thing to do. She didn’t think anyone would want to be around her.”

“You didn’t.”

“She’s lonely.” There was a tense silence, and for once John realized what Sherlock meant when he chided them for ‘thinking too loud.’ He pulled Sherlock closer, leaning his forehead into Sherlock’s hair. “I know you are,” he muttered, and Sherlock tensed.

“I’m not,” he said automatically.

"Not anymore." John draped a leg over Sherlock’s, partially to stop him from running away, and partially because of the sheer fact that he could. “Just go to sleep. We’ll still be here in the morning.”

“For a while,” Sherlock amended, but he wrapped an arm around his shoulders anyway, and together they drifted off to sleep.

---

They did leave the next morning – when John had awoke, Sherlock was already in the sitting room with Julian, typing furiously as Julian flipped through a book at his feet.

“He’s eaten,” Sherlock said without looking up. His phone beeped, and he frowned down at the response before tossing it toward the other end of the sofa and glaring at it.

“Thanks. He’s got to go to school,” John said.

“He doesn’t have to,” Sherlock countered. “He could study here just as well as there, you know.”

“Relax,” John smiled, “We’ll be back.” He nodded toward the phone, “What was that about, then?”

Sherlock waved a hand at him, flopping back against the cushions in an impressively dramatic pose. “Mycroft.

“Is he calling in a favour so soon?” John asked.

“Hardly. He’s merely gloating over having another request to hold over my head.”

“I would think he’d be the type to gloat face-to-face.”

“Yes, well, with twice the material he’s using every outlet available to him.”

It took John a moment to work out what that meant. “Two favours in one week? That’s not like you,” he said as he stepped into his shoes. Sherlock curled in on himself, and John rolled his eyes as he walked over to him. “Oh, come on, it’s been a hard week, but it’s worth it, yeah?”

Sherlock finally looked up at him, his eyes dark. “You have no idea.”

John licked his lips. “We’ll be back this afternoon,” he said, and Sherlock nodded.

He took Julian back to Harry’s after school that day, though, and spent the next few hours gathering their things from where they were strewn around the flat. After all, it wouldn’t hurt to pack, he reasoned. His phone beeped as he was zipping Julian’s suitcase.

There’s been a breakthrough in the case. Don’t contact anyone, come as quick as you can.

He shoved his phone back in his pocket, his blood rushing in his ears in a way that was familiar in its intensity. It couldn’t be one of the cases Sherlock had been working since they’d left - had they found her?

“Harry?” he called again as he ran down the stairs, “I’ve got to go. Watch Julian for me.”

“Where are you going?” she asked as she stepped out of the kitchen. She already had a wine glass in her hand, and he hesitated.

“It’s important, about a case. I need you to watch him.”

“What about your landlady?”

“I can’t risk her not being there – and it doesn’t sound like we’d have time to find anyone else. So?”

She glanced down at the glass in her hand, as well. “Alright,” she said, setting it aside. He smiled at her.

“Thanks.”

“John?” she called as he opened the door. He turned back. “I’ve called someone,” she said, quietly.

“Clara?”

“Not Clara. An old school friend. I thought... maybe you were right.” She smiled. “Thanks.”

“I’m glad.”

“Now go,” she said, shooing him toward the door. “He needs you.”

When he reached their flat Sherlock was standing by the door, typing furiously. “What’s happened?” John asked as Sherlock lowered his phone. Sherlock smiled.

“They’ve made a mistake. I’ll have to thank you later – for now, Lestrade is here,” he said as the front door closed.

“Wha – me? What did I do?” John asked. He could hear footsteps on the stairs. “And you’re actually waiting for the police? You?”

“We’ve found them,” Sherlock said as the door swung open and Lestrade stepped inside. He just nodded to John. “I have the address, here,” Sherlock went on, typing something on his phone before handing it to Lestrade. “I’ve called it in for you already,” he added.

Lestrade looked like he wasn’t sure if he should be sceptical or angry. “You’re sure of this?” he said after a moment. “You’re absolutely sure? Because if we bust into this place and they’re not there we might be blowing our only chance at catching –”

“They’ll be there,” Sherlock insisted. Lestrade still looked unsure.

Lestrade looked at him, and suddenly he realized what was happening: he was checking in with someone ‘normal.’ John opened his mouth to reassure him, but then he caught sight of Sherlock’s face as he turned away.

“Don’t ask me, mate, he’s the genius,” he said, instead.

Lestrade sputtered. “Well, yeah,” he said after a moment. Sherlock smirked. “Fine,” he sighed. “You’re coming with me this time, though, and you’re not arguing,” he said.

“Yeah,” John said before Sherlock could reply, “We’ll be down in a second.”

Lestrade looked between them before he nodded once, turning back toward the door. John hurried to their bedroom.

His gun was in the same place it always was – the locked drawer, second down, where his laptop usually sat. He pulled it out and checked the clip and safety before sliding it into the waistband of his trousers. He wasn’t sure what it said about his re-adjustment to civilian life that he still felt safer with a gun at hand, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it. Anyway, this was hardly an average 'civilian life,' he told himself. He stood, his back straight, shaking out his fingers as he turned toward the door.

When he reached the sitting room Sherlock was leaning against the door, looking at the window, his eyes far away. They snapped to him when he closed the door behind him, and then Sherlock shoved him against the wall and crowded in close, kissing him. Still with no tongue, but with no less passion, he was learning.

“Oh, bleeding hell, you two…” Lestrade complained from the doorway.

Sherlock broke away with a sigh. “Yes, Lestrade, we’re coming.”

“Not on the way to my bloody crime scene you’re not. Just get in the car.”

---

The building was old, crumbling away in parts, but in this part of the city no one was likely to notice it. John reached back, risking touching the handle of his gun through his baggy coat when Lestrade pushed his way through the small knot of police to find the officer in charge. Sherlock caught the movement and sent him and amused glance, but didn’t say anything. John was grateful.

He wasn’t sure he’d be able to resist firing it when they came face to face with their suspects.

Lestrade walked back to them, his arms crossed. “They’re checking the grounds first before anyone’s allowed in.”

“Wonderful, and while we’re waiting out here they may come back.”

“It’s protocol. I’m not in charge here, Sherlock; you’ll have to take it up with the SFO, he’s in charge of this one.”

“A firearms unit for a kidnapping? Isn’t that a bit much?” John interjected. He tried not to think about the gun tucked into his waistband, the metal cool against the skin of his lower back.

Lestrade gave him a strange look before turning back to Sherlock. “He can’t risk it, it’s a delicate operation.”

“Then we’ll simply go in without him.”

“Yeah, and when he and his team see you moving down there, you’re going to get your heads blown off. Nice plan.”

Sherlock waved him off. “We’ll verify that the building is clear. He can thank us later.”

“You don’t know that it is.”

Sherlock sighed, pointing. “Look – there’s just enough room for a truck to fit through those bushes, and the tire tracks are fresh. There are no lights in the upstairs rooms, and three of the men are currently involved in transactions with their clients.”

“There’s no way you could possibly know that.”

Sherlock smiled, showing far too many teeth. “Of course I can; given that their clients are in fact not involved in the transactions. There’s no one here, and the longer we wait the more likely we are to be trying to move a large group of children when the remaining men return – a bit risky, don’t you think?”

“A large group?” John asked.

“Alright, I’ll talk to him,” Lestrade sighed. He made his way over to the officer in charge and leaned in close, taking fast and urgent. The man frowned, but nodded as he listened.

“Let’s go,” Sherlock murmured in John’s ear, and John turned back to him.

“Shouldn’t we wait for –” But Sherlock was already striding away from the group, and with a soft curse, John ran after him. Several officers starting shouting behind them

The door was locked, but that only delayed Sherlock a matter of seconds – certainly not long enough for the knot of police officers behind them to catch up – and then the door was crashing open.

The first thing that struck him was the smell – it was overpowering, the scent of faeces and unwashed bodies crammed in a tight space. John clapped a hand over his mouth as he edged inside.

The hall was lined with doors, with small windows streaked from small fingers. It must have been an office when it was in use, but now the boards creaked under his feet and soft, frightened voices echoed from behind the doors, tiny faces peering through the windows out at them.

There were so many of them – it was like a compound, and suddenly the ARV waiting outside made perfect sense. His heart was hammering, and he felt like he would be sick.

“Alright,” he turned to the officers that had stopped behind them, “Call for backup, hide that damn truck before the kidnappers come back and see it, and have an ambulance follow the tracks around back, alright? We need to have these kids cleared out of here before those bastards get back.” He reached around again, this time slipping his fingers under the back of his jacket to touch the cool metal.

The man nearest him nodded dumbly, his eyes straying to the nearest door. John ignored them, turning forward. Sherlock was already picking the first lock, and he glanced over his shoulder. “Well done,” he said, pushing on the door. It swung inward, and Sherlock darted inside, out of sight.

John hurried down the hall, looking into window after window. There were at least a dozen children there, each locked in a separate, filthy room. He peered in the last window.

It was her. He’d seen her photograph only a handful of times, but he couldn’t forget her.

The door was locked like all the others, and the thought of waiting for Sherlock hardly crossed his mind before he was throwing himself against it, cursing as pain shot through his shoulder.

She jumped when the lock snapped and the door banged open, and stood on shaking legs. Her hair was tangled and matted, and she wore a filthy blue gown that stuck to her in places by large, rust-covered clumps. He reached out a hand to her, but she flinched away. She reached down with trembling hands and lifted the gown, exposing herself to him, and he felt bile rise in his throat.

“No,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut. “No. You’re safe.”

“I’m safe?” she asked. Her voice was reedy and weak.

“Yes. Yes, you’re safe now. No one’s going to hurt you, not anymore.”

She dropped her gown and took a hesitant step forward, and he was terrified that she was going to collapse; terrified of moving closer and frightening her. But her strength held, somehow, and thin arms wound around his waist. He rested a hand on the top of her head, pursing his lips as he closed his eyes.

Everything became a blur – shouts echoed down the hall as the children realized their captors weren’t there, and that these strange men were freeing them from their prisons – but John didn’t move, he didn’t dare to.

The door flew open and Angel jerked against his side, burying her face further in his chest as he reached for his gun.

“Hold it, it’s just me,” Lestrade said, as though he’d known what John was hiding there all along. He held up his hands as he approached.

“Stay back.” He leaned down, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Her breath was coming in quick pants, and he leaned over further to murmur soothingly into her hair.

“You have to let her go,” he looked up to see Sherlock’s pale face inches from his own. “John, you have to let go. She’ll be alright.”

“Alright?” His voice broke, and he shook his head. “How could she possibly -“

Sherlock cupped his cheek in his palm, raising his head to look in his eyes. “The paramedics are ready for her, John. You have to let her go,” he repeated. “She’s safe now.”

He looked around, blinking. “Right,” he said, taking a step back. The EMTs rushed in, gently guiding her onto a stretcher, and John didn’t break eye contact with her until she was out the door, free from this hell. He turned back to Sherlock.

“We’ll wait for those bastards to get back?” he asked. Sherlock looked back, his eyes hard.

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

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.

“John?”

“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.

“Right.”

“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.”