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All of These Lines Across My Face

Chapter Text

 



All of these lines across my face,
Tell you the story of who I am,
So many stories of where I've been,
And how I got to where I am,
But these stories don't mean anything,
When you've got no one to tell them to,
It's true... I was made for you.
-Brandi Carlile, The Story

He was at the laundromat, again.

John Watson stood on the hard linoleum, a crying, vomit-covered baby in one arm, rolled up comforter in the other. He bounced Poppy on his hip absent-mindedly while he scanned the bank of washers and chose one not in use. A few other late-night patrons in desperate need of clean laundry milled about the laundromat, all sharing the dead-eyed stare of the chronically sleep deprived. Near John's feet, leaning against a dryer that shuddered alarmingly during its cycle, Milo played with his toy plane, making whooshing noises with his lips. John shifted Poppy a little higher, adjusting his grasp so her plump body didn't slither out of his arm, and stuffed the soiled comforter into the washer with his free arm. He quickly dumped in detergent, deposited coins, and pressed the button to start the wash.

If you'd asked John five years ago where he'd expected to end up, he probably would not have predicted an all-night laundromat with two children under the age of five, one of whom was still covered in chunks of her own throw-up. Five years ago he'd been finishing med school, with bright hopes of a shining career as a doctor. He'd enjoyed a varied love life and he'd been content to have fun while he could. Then he met Mary. She'd been in the nursing program and they'd met through mutual friends. John wasn't sure if true love was the right way to describe his feelings for Mary, but certainly fondness had been in play. Fondness graduated to commitment with the positive pregnancy test six months into their relationship. Not one to shirk duties, John proposed and, nine months later, Milo Tobias Watson came screaming into the world with a red, scrunched face and a thatch of blonde hair. Any mediocre feelings towards Mary on John's part didn't transfer to Milo; John fell in love with his son at first sight. His own lack of a father figure for most of his life left John promising fervently to spare his own son that same experience. From then on, he committed himself to making it work with Mary.

Not that the relationship ever came easily for them after the honeymoon period had faded. Though Mary had a sweetness about her, she also had a cunning, manipulative streak that came out when they fought - which was more often than John would have liked. Mary could be selfish and demanding one moment, and then turn around and be giving and generous the next. Her mood swings created an atmosphere of inconsistency that wore on both John and Milo.

It was her second pregnancy that brought deep depression with it. Harsh words turned to crying jags that would last days. John tip-toed around his wife, always feeling as though he were walking on eggshells. The pregnancy also left Mary incredibly sick all the time; morning sickness was more like all-day sickness and she struggled to put on any weight during the nearly nine months of pregnancy.

Poppy Lorelei Watson was born one month early, malnourished, and barely making a peep as she surveyed her new surroundings with bright, curious eyes. When Mary left the hospital, it was without her new baby, as Poppy had to stay in an incubator until she gained the strength to survive on her own. John felt like a giant when he held his new daughter and, once again, looking at the face of his child filled him with so much joy and love that he vowed a second time to try harder with his marriage and commitment.

Mary, too, seemed to renew her efforts at being present in the relationship. Gone was the mercurial temperament, the flashes of anger, and the deep valleys of anguish. She balanced a part-time nursing job while sharing parenting duties with John. He soon fell into a comfortable rut of daily routine and - in his mind - domestic bliss.

His life, however, never seemed suited to routine. Just as soon as they found their new comfort zone, something new came along like a truck barreling out of control, and smashed through their contentment. This time, it came in the form of a severe headache. The shooting pain in Mary's temple was so severe, she'd needed to come home early from work. John found her on the sofa when he came home that evening, her eyes squeezed closed, while Milo played quietly on the floor and Poppy grizzled and fussed in her playpen.

The headaches got worse over the course of the next week and finally John insisted she have it looked at. The doctors said the tumor had probably been forming for a long time, but it hadn't effected anything until now. Surgery was out of the question and success with radiation therapy unlikely. Regardless, they began treatment as soon as possible. John's new routine involved holding Mary while she threw up the contents of her stomach, her thin body wracked with shivers. It involved arranging baby sitters so he could drive Mary to her treatments, and making sure the children were completely quiet afterwards while their mother slept fitfully in their room. It involved night sweats and insomnia and more bottles of pills than John could keep track of.

And yet... none of it worked. Mary grew painfully thin, with hollow eyes and stretched skin. Her blonde hair fell out and she wore knitted caps and silk scarves to cover her baldness. Finally, they agree that the treatment wasn't worth the strife and John set about preparing for their last days together. They contacted Hospice, made final arrangements, and after that, they spent their final days focused on each other and the children. Mary held Poppy and Milo as much as she could, memorizing their faces as she rocked them to sleep each night. Soon, though, she could no longer hold them, her body sapped of strength. She spent more and more days in bed, sleeping twenty-two hours out of twenty-four. The hospice nurses stayed longer and longer, easing her pain with morphine and trying to counsel John through the grief process. When she did wake, she and John spent what time they could talking about what she wanted for her children's life.

It was a sunny, spring day when Mary didn't wake up. Her eyes remained closed and John sat by her bedside, holding a brittle hand that felt as delicate as a bird's skeleton, and said his good-byes. He watched her breaths slow and become shallow, until she took one last breath and was gone. It was as easy as a whisper and John suddenly found himself alone in the world with two small children.

He'd skipped right to the anger stage of grief and spent far too long in that vicious, teeth-gnashing phase. His heart felt like a hard lump of coal sitting in his chest, blazing in furious pain when he thought about his lot in life. Looking at Poppy, not yet a year, made him want to go into the kitchen and break every piece of wedding china in their cupboards. The anger filled him and fueled him; it was his son's scared face after he'd yelled at Milo for making too much noise that finally shook John from this stage and convinced him to seek therapy.

Now, two years later, John was mostly okay... most of the time. He still went to therapy once a month and sometimes - particularly now - he felt like he didn't know what he was doing. But he'd found several reliable baby sitters who watched the children while he was at work and, when he wasn't at work, he split his time between sleep and making sure Milo and Poppy were happy and well-adjusted. John Watson's favorite hobby was sleep, mainly due to the fact that he never managed to get much of it. Tonight, in fact, he was missing out on his precious few hours of sleep because nearly three-year-old Poppy woke with a fever and thrown up all over herself and the last of the clean bedding. John had eyed the overwhelming stack of laundry piled near his washing machine and remembered that he'd meant to call a repair man to fix the non-functioning machine. Knowing he had no choice, he'd gathered Poppy's bedding, Poppy herself, and woke up a bleary-eyed Milo to make the trek to the one all-night laundromat he knew about, several blocks away.

Getting the bedding going, John took Milo and Poppy into the customers-only bathroom and tried to wash the worst of the sick off of Poppy's pajamas. He'd forgotten to grab clean night-clothes for her on their way out, so she would have to look a mess until he had her blankets clean and dry. Returning to the bank of machines, John found several uncomfortable chairs to settle in. He rocked Poppy gently, touching her forehead to make sure her fever hadn't grown worse. He was sure it was just a virus, or even a case of over-tiredness. Milo sat in a chair next to him, his head drooping forward as sleep threatened to overtake him. John, too, felt his eyes grow heavy, the swish of the washing machines soothing him to slumber.

It was at that precise moment that the laundromat door flew open and a tall, disheveled man with a mess of black curls stalked in. His electric blue eyes roved all over the room and his thin, long-fingered hands twitched at his sides. He wore sweat pants and a ratty coat, both of which had seen better days and could probably have used a turn in one of the washing machines. The man surveyed the room and then began pacing up and down the rows of dryers, muttering softly to himself. John was fully awake now, eyes on the man warily. He snaked his hand into Milo's and squeezed comfortingly while his other arm tightened around Poppy.

The man stopped in the middle of one of the rows and now seemed to be counting the ceiling tiles. Suddenly, he leapt on top of one of the driers with a clang and poked at a tile.

"It's here! I know it's here!" The man said in a singsong voice. "I left it here!"

Alerted to the ruckus, the old woman working the night shift at the laundromat came out of her office and tutted. "Sherlock Holmes, get off my driers!"

The man - Sherlock - turned his manic gaze to the woman, but surprisingly complied. He climbed off the drier and looked meekly at the woman. "M-my things. I left them here."

"You did." She said, nodding. "I have them in my office, remember?"

"Oh. Right." Sherlock's voice took on a far away tone. "I'll just...."

"Sit over there, dear." The woman waved to the row of chairs in front of the washing machine. "I'll get your things and call your ride."

Subdued, Sherlock drifted to the row and chairs and took a seat several spaces away from John. His eyes fixed on the swirling washing machine that held Poppy's comforter and he stared, open-mouthed, at the whirl of colorful fabric. After a few minutes, the old woman came bustling out with a tattered messenger bag.

"Here you are, Sherlock." She handed the bag to Sherlock, who took it without looking away from the machine.

The woman noticed John staring and she smiled at him. "Don't worry, dear. He's harmless. Has a bit of a struggle, you see... but he's a good soul. I'm Martha Hudson, by the way."

Martha held out her hand and John briefly dropped Milo's hand to shake it. His eyes darted back to Sherlock. "Exactly what sort of struggle?"

Martha glanced back at Sherlock, then whispered from behind her hand. "Drugs. His brother's been trying to get him clean, but it looks like he's relapsed again. Don't worry, I've called his brother and he'll be here to pick him up soon. But he really is harmless. Just gets a bit confused."

It was at some point during this exchange that Milo slipped out of his chair and padded over to the raven-haired man. He stood in front of him, staring, wide-eyed and John only noticed this when he heard Milo's high-pitched voice asking a question.

"What's your name?" Milo said, poking at Sherlock's arm.

Sherlock turned his vacant stare towards Milo and cocked his head. John jumped up and brushed past Martha. "Milo! Come back here!"

The electric blue gaze met John's stern face and John's breath hitched in his throat. Sherlock's eyes were so intense that John couldn't help but be drawn to him. He stared for a moment, transfixed, before shaking his head and pulling Milo back from the man. Sherlock watched, his brow furrowing.

"H-how old?" He finally asked, waving his hand at Milo.

"He's almost five." John muttered. "Sorry we bothered you."

"No bother. No bother." Sherlock said, rocking a bit in his chair. "He's got your face."

John couldn't help but laugh at this because what Sherlock said was true; Milo was his miniature doppelganger, the spitting image of himself at that age. "He does." John said, amused. "Do you have children?"

Sherlock threw his head back and laughed at John's question. But before he could say anything more, a prim-looking man with sparse ginger hair bustled through the door and made a beeline for Sherlock.

"Sherlock!" The man snapped. "I've been worried sick."

"Worry-wart." Sherlock mumbled, allowing the man to haul him to his feet.

"This really is the last straw." The man - presumably Sherlock's brother - said, his voice tight and frustrated. "I'm booking you back into the rehab center tomorrow. No getting out of it this time."

Sherlock's brother nodded politely to John as he pulled Sherlock behind him. "Terribly sorry, sir."

John watched them leave, his mind working to process what had just happened in the space of no more than fifteen minutes. He felt as though the floor had dropped out from under him, but he wasn't exactly sure why.

"Daddy?"

John glanced down to Milo, who held out a slim wallet towards him. "What's this?"

He took the wallet and flipped it open. Inside was a small amount of cash, a credit card, and an I.D. card belonging to one Sherlock Holmes.

John sighed, "Guess we'll have to return this to its owner, buddy. But not tonight. Let's get things finished up and go home."

Chapter Text

The fog of whatever cocktail of drugs he'd ingested the night before faded slowly. By morning, Sherlock was left with a fuzzy brain, a splitting headache, and a general feeling of annoyance to the world in general, which seemed to have continued spinning without him.

His body was stretched across the sofa in his brother's sitting room, still clad in yesterday's clothing. He sat up too quickly and immediately clutched his head. His throat worked for a few moments before he groaned loudly.

"Awake, I see." Mycroft strolled into the living room and perched on the edge of a chair arm, his hawk-like eyes boring into Sherlock and making judgments. "How are we feeling, brother mine?"

"Fuck off, Mycroft." Sherlock snarled and tried to get off the sofa, only to find that his legs had hit the snooze button.

"We need to talk, Sherlock."

"Pass. I want to go home."

Home was a dingy flat on a dodgy street, dimly lit and piled with Sherlock's belongings. It was a way station between his various nights out and a place to grab a few hours of sleep. But it was what it lacked that made it home for Sherlock: it did not have Mycroft Holmes inside, ready to pronounce doom upon his head at his every move.

"This can't continue." Mycroft warned.

"I'm fine." Sherlock hissed. "It's all just an experiment, anyway."

"An experiment in what? How to kill yourself?"

"None of your business!" Sherlock snapped.

It's true that the drugs started as an experiment - a test to see how his body reacted to multiple substances. But even now, Sherlock knew they had become so much more. He felt the siren call of the empty void that drugs brought him. He longed for the blank stretch of memory he found every morning after a night spent wasted.

Mycroft trotted out an old argument. "I'd shudder to think how much pain you'd be putting mummy and daddy through, if they were still around."

"Well, they're not, are they?" Sherlock growled and tried to get up once more.

"No, they're not. But I am." Mycroft arched an eyebrow at his brother. "And it's time to make some changes, Sherlock."

As Mycroft issued this last statement, the doorbell echoed from the hallway. "Ah, just in time."

Sherlock squinted at his brother as he left to answer the door. Mycroft was up to something and Sherlock determined he would be gone before he could set it in motion. He levered himself off the sofa and, after a few false starts, managed to get himself standing and walking relatively well. He scanned the room and had just decided the sitting room window would provide adequate escape, when Mycroft returned with two imposing-looking, burly men in medical uniforms.

"Sherlock." Mycroft cautioned, as he saw his brother edging towards the window. "I've arranged for you to enter a rehab facility that has been very highly rated."

"What?" Sherlock whipped around, stunned. "No, not interested!"

"I'm afraid you have no choice."

"I'm an adult, aren't I? I have to give consent." Sherlock felt far from an adult under his brother's steely gaze. He felt like he was age seven again, and being teased by Mycroft about how hard he cried when their family dog, Redbeard, was hit by a car.

"You are clearly a danger to yourself and others, Sherlock, and I've spent all morning arranging guardianship. I make your decisions, now. And my decision is that you will be going to a rehab facility to get clean, once and for all."

This development shocked Sherlock so much, he didn't notice the two men from the rehab center slip around him. Didn't notice, that is, until they'd taken his arms firmly. Sherlock pulled against them, struggling to break loose.

"You can't do this!" He shouted at Mycroft, desperately. "You're my brother!"

"I'm doing this for your own good." Mycroft said sadly. "I've spent far too many years watching you circle the drain, Sherlock."

Sherlock shrieked at the top of his lungs as he was dragged forcibly from Mycroft's house, loaded into a van, and buckled into restraints. As the van pulled away from the curb, Sherlock pressed his face against the side window and watched his brother standing at the front door, watching them drive away.

What he didn't focus on was the compact blonde man who walked purposefully towards Mycroft, pushing a pram and clutching the hand of a small boy.

***

"Excuse me... Mycroft Holmes?" John tentatively approached the red-haired man he'd encountered the night before.

Mycroft turned an imperious gaze on John, taking in his rumpled attire (he still hadn't managed to call the washer repair man) and Poppy and Milo's grubby faces. "Yes? What do you want?"

"This was left at the laundromat last night by your brother." John held out the wallet. "I tried going to the address on the I.D. and one of the neighbors gave me this address instead."

Mycroft accepted the wallet and nodded. "Thank you, I appreciate the return."

"Er...." John shifted uncomfortably.

"I suppose you'll be wanting a reward."

"Oh... oh, no!" John blushed. "I just... I guess I'd feel better giving the wallet directly to its owner?"

"I'm afraid that's not possible. My brother entered a rehab facility this morning."

John rocked back on his heels and wrinkled his brow. "Ah... well, yes, I guess that won't work, then. Is he... all right?"

Mycroft took a long time to answer, instead focusing his penetrating eyes on John and looking him up and down. After a few moments of observation, he answered in a clipped tone. "I have hopes that he will be."

"Right." John still felt as though there was unfinished business to be taken care of. "Um... well, if you'll just tell him... I mean, I know he doesn't know me, but...."

John stopped, realizing he was babbling. Mycroft continued to stare, his eyes narrowed as he seemed to be sifting through a catalog of thoughts.

"What's your name?" Mycroft finally asked.

"John. John Watson. This is my son, Milo, and that's Poppy in the pram."

"And you've never met my brother before last night?"

"Nope. Never laid eyes on him."

"So your concern is due to....?"

John laughed and raked a hand through his hair, only then remembering he'd forgotten to brush it that morning. "I honestly don't know. Just something about him, I guess. I hope he'll be okay. I'm a doctor... or, well, I've trained to be one. I've seen how drugs can ruin a life."

"Indeed." The wheels of Mycroft's brain were turning. "You're a doctor?"

"Well, between jobs at the moment." John said sheepishly. "But yes, I've got all the training."

"Do you have a card?" Mycroft asked. "I may be able to help you find a job, if you're interested."

"Oh! Uh, sure... let me just...." John patted his jeans and managed to find a scrap of receipt and a stubby pencil.

He scrawled his name and number and handed it to Mycroft, who took it between two fingers and regarded it with the same disdain he might had he just been handed a dead rat.

"Thank you, I think." Mycroft said. "I'll surely be in touch, Dr. Watson."

He left John standing on the sidewalk as he clicked the front door firmly shut. John stared for a few moments, baffled and unsure, until Milo tugged on his sleeve.

"Daddy, you said we'd go to the library!" He sniffled, rubbing a sleeve across his nose.

"And so we shall!" John said, aiming a smile at his son. "Onward!"

***

John's state of unemployment came about rather suddenly. He'd been working at a small family clinic - the same one he'd worked while Mary was sick. It was a good place to work and his co-workers and supervisors had been supportive during all the time he'd taken off to take Mary to her treatments. They even overlooked the months he'd been gone while waiting for his wife to die. Afterwards, he'd returned to the job and found solace in the routine of his days.

The breaking point came when he'd thought he'd finally recovered from loss and found his new routine. He'd left Milo and Poppy with a babysitter, as usual, only to get a phone call that both of them were sick. John convinced several co-workers to take on the rest of his day's appointments and went home early to discover Milo must have brought home chicken pox from his preschool playgroup the day before. He'd phoned out of the office over the next few days and, when he finally returned, it was to a meeting with his supervisors, who bemoaned the need to downsize and encouraged John to find somewhere - anywhere - else to practice.

John probably could have made a fuss. Probably should have, even. But by then, he was just so tired of it all, that he'd meekly packed up his things, signed the appropriate papers, and left the job at the clinic. They'd offered a modest severance package, which is what John used to get by until he'd found reliable employment. He thought about opening his own practice, but knew that Milo and Poppy needed him far too often to devote himself to that amount of work. When he wasn't busy trying to play super-dad, he peddled his resumes to nearby clinics, usually to find that they weren't as flexible with scheduling as he needed them to be. He knew he might have to settle soon, as funds were dwindling.

John heaved a tired sigh as they drew up to the small library they frequented. Checking his watch, he was pleased to see they hadn't missed story time. Pushing aside his worries about money and work, he opened the door and ushered Milo into the lobby, following with Poppy's pram.

***

They'd taken his clothes and given him loose scrubs to wear. The scrubs sagged off his thin body, exposing a strip of skin at the waist and the bones protruding at his hips. Sherlock lost count of the doctors he met, the doctors who assessed his mental and physical state. They all looked the same, with their stern eyes and their scribbling notes. They'd taken his clothes and made him wear their uniform. He looked like all the others in the rehab center, complete with the hollowed eyes and vacant expression. They'd taken his clothes and given him an injection to calm him down. Now he floated, floated, floated on his bed in his new room. He tried to focus his mind, to bring himself back to the present, but instead he was floating, drifting.

He wanted his things. He wanted his microscope and his experiments. What would happen to the mold he'd been growing in the fridge? Who would make notes? He'd have to start the experiment over. He wanted his things. He wanted his bed. He wanted to feel the needle slip into his skin and, most of all, he wanted to feel his veins fizzing with his latest concoction.

He wanted.

Sherlock Holmes's eyes grew heavy as his thoughts blurred out of focus. He no longer remember what he wanted. He just wanted to sleep.

Chapter Text

Six Months Later

"Yeah, yeah, I understand. Sure. Thanks for letting me know." John hit disconnect on his mobile and rubbed the space between his eyebrows, where a dull headache settled stubbornly.

Six more months of job searching, three more months of resumes. Still he hadn't found a clinic who would take him, with his scheduling requirements. Money was growing scare and John had started thinking about finding a job outside of the medical field.

"Your old man might have to go sling burgers and fries." John said to Milo, who sat at the kitchen table with his toy cars while he nibbled at his lunch.

Milo aimed a fish finger-crumb covered smile at John and lifted a toy triumphantly in the air. "Boogers and fry!!"

John chuckled and sat down in front of Poppy's highchair to finish spooning strained pears into her mouth. Most of lunch seemed to have ended up smashed into her baby-fine blonde hair, which was de rigueur these days in the Watson household.

"Good thing you two are easy to impress." John muttered, wiping at Poppy's mouth with her bib.

***

Mycroft Holmes stood in the middle of the empty flat and surveyed the surroundings. Nearby, Martha Hudson hovered, an expectant look on her face.

"I'm so glad you asked if I knew anyone with a flat to let." She said. "I've had this one for a while and it would be perfect for Sherlock, I know it would."

"Hm." Mycroft supposed the flat was in a better area of London, at least. "That remains to be seen. My brother is being obstinate and refusing to move back home with me when he's released from the rehab center."

"He's an independent soul," Mrs. Hudson said fondly. "But he's a good boy. What do you think, Mr. Holmes? Shall I draw up a lease?"

"You'll be here to keep an eye on him?" Mycroft arched a questioning eyebrow at her.

"Well, I still have the laundromat to run." Mrs. Hudson replied. "I can check on him after my shift there. He's a dear... I'd like to do what I can to help."

"I fear that won't be enough to keep him on the right path." Mycroft grumbled. "But this flat will suffice. Draw up whatever papers you must, I'll work on finding someone to help with his care."

***

The groceries came to more than what he had in his bank account. John cursed under his breath.

"Right... okay... could I put back the, um...." John looked over the groceries a bit desperately. "... take away the orange squash and the tomato ketchup. And the beans. How much is that now?"

Two packages of cereal and a bag of satsumas had to go as well and John dejectedly hauled the rest of his groceries home. Milo and Poppy's baby sitter looked annoyed as John was forced to dig through his spare change jar to pay her.

"Sorry." John said, voice clipped as he tried not to sink into the floor from embarrassment. He made a mental note to transfer some money from his savings account that evening. If there's anything left, he thought.

After dispatching the baby sitter and settling the kids in front of the telly, John booted up his laptop and made the transfer, pulling a face when he saw how little was actually left in his savings. He then pulled up his usual job-search websites and began clicking through the new listings. The ringing of his mobile interrupted his routine, however, and after a quick glance at the unknown number, John answered.

"Hello?" He said hesitantly.

"Is this John Watson?" The voice on the other end was haughty and vaguely familiar.

"Speaking. Who's this?"

"I'm not sure you remember me, Dr. Watson. My name is Mycroft Holmes. You had an encounter with my brother approximately six months ago."

"Oh... oh!" John instantly pictured the curly-haired young man whose wallet he'd returned. "Yes, hello. Can I help you with something?"

"I hope so, yes. You see, my brother is leaving rehab next week and I've been searching for someone to help care for him. I've checked with some of the private nursing agencies, but I'm afraid I don't feel they're up for the job. Are you still searching for employment, Dr. Watson?"

"Y-yes...." John said, already mulling the question over. "I haven't been able to find any family medical practices willing to work with my schedule."

"You are a single father, are you not?"

"I am, but I don't recall telling you that."

"I'm sure you'll understand that I must thoroughly check backgrounds on anyone I'm considering leaving in charge of my brother's care."

John worked his jaw for a few seconds, tamping down the building annoyance. "Sure, I suppose I can see that."

"Here's the situation. My brother is leaving rehab. I've rented him a new flat on Baker Street. He is, even while not under the influence of drugs, a man prone to dramatics and a rather unusual schedule. Your duty will be to make sure he is taking care of himself. Eating. Sleeping. Taking his medication. He usually sleeps late, so I believe I could safely use you from noon until around 8PM. He would then be on his own for a few hours until his landlady can check on him, but I'm comfortable with that scenario. I'm prepared to offer you a generous salary if you'll take this on, Dr. Watson."

"How generous?"

Had John not been sitting down already, he would have had to after Mycroft gave him the number. The salary was more than generous. It would be enough to hire a proper nanny for the children, pay all the bills, buy groceries, and leave plenty left over to rebuild his anemic savings account.

"And I just have to keep an eye on him?" John asked.

"Keep him away from the more unsavory characters of his past. Do a bit of shopping and cooking for him, perhaps some light housework. My brother has rather unique interests, so you may have to follow him around a bit on his investigations, but the primary goal is to keep him from dabbling with drugs again."

"You think that's worth that kind of salary?"

"I think my brother is worth it, Dr. Watson. He would never believe me if I told him, but I care for him very deeply. Our parents are no longer living, so it falls to me to make sure Sherlock does not follow them to an early grave."

John swallowed hard. He looked at Poppy and Milo, faces rapt as their bright eyes remained glued to the animated characters frolicking on the television screen. He knew all too well the feeling of worry that came with obligation. Taking this job could mean that he wouldn't have to worry so much about the life he gave his children. Squaring his shoulders, he nodded to himself.

"I accept, Mr. Holmes. When do I start?"

***

"Let's finish up by going around the circle and telling one thing we are grateful for today." Maureen, the group therapy leader, chirruped in her too-cheerful voice.

Sherlock winced and rubbed his head. He wouldn't miss this. Wouldn't miss any of it. His mind might be slowed by the infernal antidepressants forced upon him, but he still hadn't succumbed to the mind-numbing positivity that seemed to be encouraged in this brand of self-improvement. He couldn't wait to get away from the institutional routine and back to his experiments.

But not back to the drugs. He thought.

He wouldn't admit to anyone, let alone himself, that he was scared of the prospect of living life without the numbing effects of his drugs. Trapped with his own thoughts, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Sherlock shuddered slightly as he contemplated that new reality.

"Sherlock? Your turn!" Maureen grinned her artificially large grin at him and the rest of the group looked at Sherlock expectantly.

He scowled, but knew he had to play the game to get the reward. "I'm, uh... grateful to be leaving. Going back to my home." He muttered quietly, ducking his face away from so many probing eyes.

"That's right, you're leaving us today!" Maureen's grin grew impossibly larger. "How exciting!"

Sherlock made a non-committal noise and hoped Maureen would move the focus from him. She seemed to sense his reluctance to talk and shifted the conversation to another topic. Sherlock blew out a breath of relief, worrying at a thread on his t-shirt while he waited for the group therapy session to end.

***

"If you'll just sign here, Mr. Holmes, that will release your brother under your care." The doctor slid a form and a pen towards Mycroft, who took them and scribbled a signature.

Sherlock scowled, unhappy that Mycroft's guardianship was still, apparently, in place. But if it meant he could go back home, he would put up with it... for now. He thought.

Forms signed, discharge instructions given, and Sherlock's things returned to him, Mycroft and Sherlock trudged to the waiting car outside. Sherlock felt antsy, wanting to get home and change out of the rehab uniform of loose t-shirts and sweatpants. Then he could restart some of the experiments he'd been doing on mold, trying to solve the assault case he'd been working on.

Sherlock, preoccupied with thoughts of his experiments, didn't notice the car traveling in the wrong direction until they'd pulled onto Baker Street.

"Why're we going this direction?" Sherlock asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

"This is your new flat, Sherlock." Mycroft said, voice equal parts hesitant and firm. "I felt you needed a safer environment to live."

"What about my things?!" Sherlock snapped, yanking open the car door before the vehicle had even come to a full stop.

"They're here. Or at least the things that weren't wallowing in filth."

Sherlock allowed himself to be led through the front door and up the stairs. He wanted to be furious with Mycroft, but when he stood in the middle of the new flat he had to admit that it was much nicer than his previous dwelling. His papers and books were all neatly stacked on the various shelves pushed against the wall. His clothes were freshly laundered and hung neatly in the bedroom closet. Much to his annoyance, Sherlock found nothing to complain about.

"I suppose if I've got no choice...." He grumbled, stomping into the bedroom to fling his bags on the bed.

Mycroft didn't answer, only raised his eyebrow and took a seat in the black leather chair that dominated the living room. "There's one other thing, Sherlock."

Sherlock poked his head out of the bedroom and glared. "What?"

"I've hired someone to come in every day and help you with things. Cleaning, cooking, etc."

"What does that mean?" Sherlock asked, his suspicions returning.

"Just what I say it does. I feel you could benefit from some supervision."

"I'm still going to work my cases." Sherlock cautioned.

"Yes, I know I won't be able to stop you."

"I suppose you've hired some doddering, old woman who will tut and fuss around me?" Sherlock returned to unpacking his things.

"Not exactly." Mycroft got up and went to look out the window. "Ah, I see he's arrived just now. Right on time."

Sherlock joined Mycroft in time to see a compact man step out of a silver Ford Fiesta and walk purposefully to the front door. "Who's that? He looks familiar."

"I'm surprised you remember him." Mycroft said. "You've only met him once and you weren't exactly in your right mind."

Below them, they heard the door open and someone taking the stairs at a brisk pace. A knock sounded soon after at the door to 221B. Mycroft crossed the floor and opened the door to admit John Watson.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Holmes." John said, smiling and shaking his hand.

He then turned to Sherlock, smiled warmly, and held out a hand in greeting. "Hello! You must be Sherlock. I'm John Watson."

Chapter Text

There are all these small moments in life that are formative. They are not momentous events that send up a red flag screaming "CHANGE". It is the moment you decide to switch college courses and set yourself on a new career path. It is the time you turned left instead of right and avoided that car accident. Every day these moments, these twists of fate, happen and you don't even realize it as they pass. Only later, when you look back, do you see the scattered remnants of change and realize how that original moment re-shaped your life.

Sherlock was too busy trying to encourage his thoughts to return to their normal breakneck pace to realize he was standing in the middle of one of these moments. He eyed John Watson's outstretched hand, a scowl marring his features. Choosing to ignore the proffered handshake, he turned his glare on Mycroft.

"I don't need a baby sitter." He growled and then flounced to his bedroom, slamming the door decisively.

Mycroft pinched the skin between his eyes and sighed. "I'm sorry, Dr. Watson. My brother can be... difficult."

John, who dropped his hand and now stared at the bedroom door with a perplexed look on his face, nodded slightly. "So I see. Will he be okay with me looking after him?"

"Most likely, no." Mycroft sighed again. "But he also has no choice, if he's to live on his own. He knows this, Dr. Watson. Just keep him out of trouble and contact me if you have any questions. You have my mobile number?"

John nodded. "Right, then. Any other instructions?"

Mycroft glanced at his watch. "He'll need regular reminders to take his medications and eat meals. My brother doesn't follow a conventional schedule, often gets lost in his thoughts."

"Meds. Meals. I can do that."

"Good. I think that will be all then, Dr. Watson. I will leave you to get on with things."

Mycroft swept out of the flat and John found himself, alone. From behind the bedroom door, he heard muffled bumps and thuds that indicated Sherlock was moving around. John went to the door, pressed his ear against it, and tapped lightly a few times.

"Sherlock?" He asked. "All right in there?"

The sounds of movement ceased and then, "Go away!"

"That's not going to happen, I'm afraid." John called.

A flurry of footsteps brought Sherlock to the door. He cracked it open and glared out at John. "How much is my brother paying you to play nursemaid?"

"A fair wage." John mused. "But I'm not your nurse or your maid."

"You're to keep me out of trouble?" Sherlock's voice took on a mocking tone as he imitated Mycroft's proper cadence.

"Yes, that's what your brother's asked me to do."

"How much would it take to make you go away?"

John stared at Sherlock, his eyes narrowed. "More than you have access to. I know Mycroft is your guardian at the moment."

Sherlock huffed and stomped away from the door, but he let it drift open. John took that as a sign of permission and walked into the room, surveying the surroundings. Sherlock was in the midst of tucking his socks neatly in the top of a chest of drawers. He muttered something too quietly to hear and switched one pair of socks with another.

John's eyes roved to the bathroom, which stood open. A handful of pill bottles stood on the counter and he walked over to pick up one. Sherlock looked up, eyes flashing.

"What do you think you're doing?" He snapped.

"This bottle's empty." John said, perplexed. He lifted another and found it, too, was empty.

"They're all empty. I don't need them." Sherlock said, hovering around the bathroom door.

"What did you do?" John tried to meet Sherlock's eyes, but the young man's gaze slid away from him each time he made a connection. "Sherlock, these are the medications you're supposed to take every day."

"They make me feel fuzzy!" Sherlock protested. "My brain is so slow when I take them... my thoughts won't fall into the proper order. I'll go mad if I have to take those!"

By this point, Sherlock was tugging viciously at his hair and a note of pleading crept into his voice. John watched his tirade, not saying anything, until he finished. He glanced down at the bottles, making notes of all the names.

"You should normally taper off some of these slowly." He said, frowning. "There are side effects."

"No side effects could be worse than what they do to my mind." Sherlock said quietly, his energy seemingly spent. He walked over to his bed and sank down on it, rubbing one hand over his face and blinking rapidly. "Besides, you're a doctor. You can keep an eye on me."

John took an involuntary step back. "How'd you know that?"

Sherlock scoffed. "Well, for one thing, I heard my brother call you Dr. Watson. You confirmed it by being familiar with all those prescription drugs."

"You're very observant." John said, a half-smile creeping over his face.

"You don't know the half of it." Sherlock looked up at John, returning the smile with one of his own.

"I'm still supposed to report stuff like this back to your brother." John pointed out. "He's in charge of your care."

"Yes." Sherlock pulled a face. "And he's so insufferably smug about it, isn't he?"

He stood up and walked back over to John, moving in closely. His eyes bore into John's with shining intensity. "What do you say, Dr. Watson? Are you just a toady for my brother, or will you place a little trust in my capabilities?"

Sherlock extended his hand for a handshake this time, his eyes still locked with John's. John felt sweat break out on his forehead and he swallowed audibly.

"Ah...." He muttered. "I don't even know you well yet."

"No. I could be pulling the wool over your eyes completely. But you're an experienced doctor, what do your instincts tell you?"

John looked Sherlock up and down, taking in his steady hands and unwavering gaze. "If I trust you," he began. "You must promise to tell me if you notice any unusual mood swings, or if you feel the desire to use drugs again. You have to agree to work with me."

"And you won't tell my brother about this?"

"I think I can leave it out of my reports, yes."

"Fine."

John hesitated and then grasped Sherlock's hand in his, finding a firm, confident handshake. "Then it appears we've come to an agreement."

A smile flickered across Sherlock's face before he let go of the handshake and moved back to the chest of drawers. "So it appears. If you'll excuse me... I need to set up my sock index."

"Right. I suppose I'll go make us some tea?"

Sherlock, preoccupied, waved his hand at John and continued tucking socks into the drawers.

"Right." John said again. He turned on his heel and left the bedroom to find his way around the flat's kitchen.

***

Mycroft had stocked the kitchen with the basics. Or rather, John suspected, he'd made one of his assistants do it. John put the kettle on and went about making cheese on toast. He wondered if he should take a moment to call the new nanny he'd hired, but reminded himself that she seemed extremely capable and came with excellent references.

The kid's are fine. He told himself. They probably don't even realize you're gone.

John heard the strains of violin music coming from Sherlock's room. He must have a stereo in there, John thought.

Toast made, tea brewed, John assembled both on a tray he found tucked in one of the cupboards and took the food to Sherlock's room. He found Sherlock standing by his bedroom window, a violin tucked under his chin. He played a sorrowful, slow song. John paused at the doorway and watched him. This was the first time he'd really taken a moment to properly look at him.

Sherlock was thinner than John remembered, especially now that he'd changed from the baggy t-shirt and sweatpants he'd been in when John arrived. Now he wore black trousers and a simple button-up white shirt with long sleeves. A suit coat lay on his bed, folded neatly in half. The clothes had obviously fit at one time, but now they sagged a bit off Sherlock's smaller frame. John could understand now why Mycroft was so concerned about mealtimes.

Sherlock played with his eyes closed. John thought he looked much younger and more vulnerable this way, completely relaxed and rapt in his music. His mouth softened and a long sweep of dark lashes brushed his sharp cheekbones. A smudge beneath each eye betrayed the relaxed look, telling of sleepless nights and six months of struggling. John felt a tug on his heart as he stood and looked at Sherlock. This was a man who needed help returning to the world. A man in need of a friend.

Not a friend. John chided himself. This is a job. Don't forget that.

Stirring himself from his reverie, John cleared his throat. The hand that drew the bow across the violin stilled and Sherlock opened his eyes. They held a faraway look, their blue depths somewhere unknown. He blinked a few times and came back to himself, turning to John.

"I brought tea." John said, lifting the tray. "Come and eat, won't you?"

Sherlock wrinkled his nose. "Not hungry."

John didn't say anything, just raised an eyebrow. Sherlock rolled his eyes and swept into the living room, snagging one of the cups of tea on his way. John followed, coaxing Sherlock to take the plate of toast he'd made, too. Sherlock flopped down on the leather chair that stood in the middle of the living room, pulling his long legs up so that his chin practically rested on his knees. His eyes tracked John as he moved to the kitchen to begin cleaning up after himself.

"What does a doctor want with a job playing nursemaid to someone's junkie younger brother?" Sherlock asked, sipping at the tea and taking a large bite of toast.

"I told you, I'm no one's nursemaid." John wiped up crumbs as he talked. "I needed a job and your brother saw fit to hire me."

"But there are plenty of clinics and hospitals in need of doctors?"

"Yes, there are. But none of them willing to work with me on scheduling."

Sherlock studied John for a moment. "Ah... yes. You have children. I vaguely remember a small, foul-smelling one?"

John stifled a laugh. "That would be my daughter. She wasn't at her best when you met her."

"Ah, well. Neither was I. There was another one, too? Slightly taller?"

"You really don't know much about children, do you?"

Sherlock pulled a face and shook his head. "God, no."

"I have two children, a son who's four and a half and a daughter who's nearly three."

"But no wife."

"No," John said cautiously. "Not anymore."

"She died." It wasn't a question, but a statement.

John stiffened. "Yes, how did you know?"

"Process of elimination. There were only two options: divorce or death. You didn't sound angry enough for it to have been divorce."

"She died of...." John's voice cracked and he swallowed, trying to push past the lump of emotion that had formed. "She died of cancer."

Sherlock nodded, quiet. He took another bite of toast and chewed.

"So you see, there's a good reason I want to keep your brother happy. I need this job."

"Mmm. Yes." Sherlock scowled. "Quite an achievement, I suppose... becoming someone's 'job'."

"I didn't mean it like that."

"No, of course." Sherlock finished the last bite of toast and stood up. "I'm going back to my room. I have a call to make about some of my cases."

"Oh. Er... right. I'll just... be out here, I guess. If you need me?"

"Why would I need you?"

"Well, if you do...." John trailed off, not sure what else to say.

"I'll be setting up my scientific equipment on the kitchen table after I make my call." Sherlock said. "I have experiments to restart."

John felt like he'd just gone one-on-one with a porcupine after Sherlock swept from the room. He washed up the dishes and wondered if interacting with Sherlock Holmes would ever become easy.

***

"Lestrade. I'm back. "

"Jesus, Sherlock, where'd you go?"

"Never mind, it wasn't important. That assault case I was helping you with... did you win?"

"Nah, it got dismissed. We didn't have the evidence we needed."

Sherlock cursed. "Figures. What have you got for me now?"

"Nothing at the moment. I tried to call your brother after you stopped responding to my texts."

"Well, I'm here now."

"And are you... okay?"

"If you're asking if I'm clean, yes. Is everyone I meet going to ask me that from now on?"

"...."

"Just text me if you get anything interesting."

"Sure, if I need your help, I know where to find you. Take care of yourself, Sherlock."

"Whatever."

***

The scientific equipment included a microscope and various tubes of unknown usage set up on the kitchen table. John tried not to hover around Sherlock, but found there wasn't much to do in the flat. It was already clean, considering Sherlock had only just moved in, and he'd already done the washing up. After he'd dusted the same end table for the fifth time, Sherlock let out a snort of annoyance.

"If you're going to lurk, you might as well help me. Hand me that bunsen burner."

Grateful for something to do, John retrieved the things Sherlock asked for, handing them carefully while Sherlock placed them how he wanted. This was how they spent the afternoon and evening, until Sherlock had his things strewn across the flat and he sat at the microscope examining something on a slide. John rummaged through the fridge for dinner inspiration and finally settled on a quick chicken and vegetable stir-fry. Sherlock didn't look up from his microscope when John slid a plate of food by his elbow, but soon he forked a bite into his mouth and chewed while staring at the slide and making notes in a notepad. Satisfied, John once again cleaned up the kitchen.

Shortly before John was due to leave, Sherlock stood abruptly. "I'm going out."

"Excuse me?" John sat in the living room, the telly on quietly. "No you're not."

Sherlock glared. "You said you weren't my nursemaid."

"I'm not. But I'm supposed to go with you if you go out. And It's almost time for me to leave."

Sherlock looked as though he wanted to argue, but he must have reminded himself about the deal they'd struck earlier. He huffed out an annoyed sigh. "This could be detrimental to my research."

"You'll just have to go out during the day." John remained stubborn.

"Fine." Sherlock hissed through his teeth. "If you insist on being this disagreeable, I think I prefer to be in my room."

He stomped out of the living room and closed his bedroom door. A few moments later, John heard the sound of the shower being turned on.

When eight o'clock rolled around, the flat was silent. A dim light shone from under Sherlock's bedroom door and occasionally John heard the sound of movement. He got up and tapped on the door.

"I'm going, Sherlock. Do you need anything before I leave?"

John waited, but received no answer.

"All right, I'll see you tomorrow." He said, resigned.

John gathered his things, did a quick sweep of the flat to make sure he'd done everything, and then locked the door behind him as he left.

Mycroft had given him the use of the Ford Fiesta to ferry himself back and forth between his own place and 221B. He climbed into the silver car and glanced up at the glowing window that was Sherlock's bedroom. The curtains twitched and then fell still, the only sign that Sherlock watched as he drove away.

Chapter Text

Mrs. Hudson peeked her head out of 221A as John let himself inside the next day. "Oh! So you're the one Mr. Holmes hired for his brother."

John smiled in recognition. "Mrs. Hudson! I didn't realize you were the landlady for this building. You remember me? I sometimes bring my things to the laundromat."

She slipped into the hallway, holding her fuzzy robe closed at the neck. "Of course I remember you, dear. How's the little ones?"

"They're doing well, thanks." John nodded his head towards the stairs. "Did you check on him when you came home?"

"He was sound asleep, bless him. He looks so thin now! You'll make sure he eats, won't you?"

"Trying to." John said ruefully.

Mrs. Hudson reached out and patted John's hand. "You'll be good for him. I can tell - you've got a caring face."

John ducked his head to cover a blush and shuffled his feet. "Ah, well... thank you. I'd better get up there and see how he's doing. You'll let me know if you see anything that concerns you?"

"Of course, dear." Mrs. Hudson said warmly, returning to her flat.

John stumped up the stairs and let himself into 221B. The flat was dark and quiet. Sherlock's violin rested against his leather chair. John drew the curtains to let the sunlight in and then cracked open Sherlock's bedroom door and peered in.

Sherlock sprawled on his back in bed, his arms flung wide. The blankets tangled around his legs. One leg dangled over the side of the bed. His mouth was open as he breathed noisily in his sleep. His hair was a riot of curls and John had to resist going in and smoothing them off his forehead like he did sometimes with Milo and Poppy when they slept. John closed the door again softly and went back to the kitchen. As he did, his mobile buzzed in his pocket. Withdrawing it, he found a text from Mycroft.

To: John
From: Mycroft

How is my brother?

John pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and sat, taking care not to disturb Sherlock's equipment while he tapped out an answer.

To: Mycroft
From: John

All well here. He's still sleeping, but yesterday was fine.

A moment later, John's phone buzzed again.

To: John
From: Mycroft

Excellent. Do contact me if there's anything you need.

John set his phone on the kitchen counter and then went about taking stock of the food in the fridge and cupboards. Fifteen minutes later he had the beginnings of a shopping list. Mycroft had given him a debit card for groceries and other costs that might crop up, so John thought he might drag Sherlock to the store that afternoon. In the meantime, he decided toast, eggs, and sausages would suffice for a late breakfast for Sherlock.

By the time John finished buttering the toast, he heard thumps coming from Sherlock's room that indicated he was awake. Shortly afterwards, the door flew open and Sherlock edged out, wearing a blue dressing gown over t-shirt and pajama pants, a suspicious look on his face. His hair still stuck out in all directions. When his eyes lit upon John, he relaxed slightly.

"John." He said, sitting down on his leather chair and curling his legs under him. "You're back."

"I am, indeed." John carried the plate of breakfast and a cup of tea into the living room and handed them to Sherlock.

"I don't eat first thing in the morning." Sherlock said, trying to give the plate back.

"Good thing it's not first thing in the morning, then." John replied, checking his watch. "It is, in fact, one o'clock in the afternoon. Eat up."

Sherlock scowled, but balanced the plate on the arm of the chair and halfheartedly took a bite of the eggs.

"We need to go shopping today." John said. "And I thought you might enjoy a walk in the park or something. Get some sunshine."

Sherlock's forehead wrinkled. "I'm not one of your children, John. You don't have to plan activities for me."

"Okay, we don't have to go to the park, then." John had promised himself he would remain unflappable in the face of Sherlock's stubbornness. So far, so good. "But the store is non-negotiable."

Sherlock grunted and sipped at his tea.

"We'll go as soon as you've finished breakfast and gotten dressed." John said firmly.

"I need soil samples." Sherlock said, suddenly.

"Pardon?"

"Well, if we're going out, we might as well do what I intended to do last night. I need soil samples from an apartment building in the Hyde Park district."

"All right, I suppose we could stop there." John said, figuring it would be easier to keep Sherlock happy than to argue the bizarre request.

"And I need to stop at a bookstore."

"That's fine."

"Are you always this agreeable?" Sherlock snapped, seeming annoyed at John's calm demeanor.

John laughed. "I don't know... I suppose? No harm in going to either of those places."

"Hmph." Sherlock resumed pushing his food around on his plate.

"Your food's going cold." John pointed out.

Sherlock heaved a sigh. "You're not going to give up on the food issue, are you?"

"No, I'm not. Why are you so reluctant to eat?"

Sherlock, having just taken a bite of toast, sprayed crumbs as he answered. "I must keep my body and mind sharp and alert. Food weighs me down."

John narrowed his eyes. "Staying sharp and alert also means fueling your body, Sherlock. Fueling it with something other than drugs, mind."

Sherlock's face went stiff and John immediately regretted what he'd just said.

"I'm sorry, that wasn't appropriate." He said quickly. "Look, I'm just here to make sure you're--"

"Not becoming a filthy drug addict again." Sherlock snapped, interrupting John. "Could we come to an understanding?"

"S-sure?"

"There are many reasons why I turned to drugs. I will admit I didn't willingly go into rehab. But now I am clean and committed to remaining so. Will you trust me on that?"

Sherlock turned clear blue eyes to meet John's, his expression open and pleading.

"I... yes, of course." John said. "I'm sorry, I--"

"No need to apologize." Sherlock said, waving his hand dismissively. He took two more bites of breakfast and then held out his plate. "I'll go get dressed."

"You're not going to eat more than this?" John asked, staring at the more-than-half-full plate.

"I have a small appetite." Sherlock said, getting up and heading to his room. "I'll eat more later."

John sighed, deciding to give in and not continue arguing and prodding at Sherlock.

***

Sherlock emerged wearing a black suit over a white shirt a short time later. He shrugged into an enormous black tweed coat.

"It's rather warm out for a heavy coat." John pointed out.

"I always wear this." Sherlock said, popping up the collar.

John began to think that an outing with his children would be easier than an outing with Sherlock Holmes. He ran a hand over his face. "Fine, okay. Let's go?"

Sherlock snagged a few specimen bottles from his table and tucked them into his pockets. Finally he nodded and followed John out the door.

***

Grocery shopping with Sherlock Holmes was an exercise in John's rapidly thinning patience. Sherlock was just as easily distracted as he was bored. John kept one eye on him and one eye on his grocery list while they traversed the aisles.

Sherlock moaned as they came to the produce section. "Aren't we done yet? How much food do we need in the flat?"

"Almost done. Here, don't do that!" John snatched a satsuma from midair that Sherlock had been tossing as high as he could to see if he could catch it.

"Is this what people do all day? No wonder everyone is unhappy." Sherlock pouted, poking at a pile of lettuce.

John gathered the last few things on his list and tugged Sherlock's sleeve. "C'mon, time to check out."

The self check-out proved fascinating to Sherlock and John set him up scanning their items. The only hitch in that plan was when Sherlock insisted on examining the bagging area to see how it knew groceries had been placed there. A clerk finally shooed them away after John finished swiping his card. He gathered the bags of groceries and dragged a protesting Sherlock back to the car.

"But I was just going to examine the scales to see how they worked!" Sherlock said, threatening to go into a pout.

"Can't you just Google it or something?" John said, irritation making his words clipped.

"I prefer to be hands-on." Sherlock grumbled, slouching down low in the passenger seat.

***

Collecting soil samples and perusing a bookstore took up the rest of the afternoon and early evening. Sherlock was silent during the ride home, alternating between texting on his mobile and staring out of the passenger window.

"What would you like for dinner?" John asked.

"Not--"

"Don't say it." John warned.

Sherlock blew out a breath. "Maybe... one of those steak and onion pasties you picked up?"

"Sure, that'll be nice and easy."

Sherlock went straight to his microscope while John heated the pasties. He worked while he ate, occasionally answering a text message.

"Who's that you're talking to?" John asked curiously.

"Friend at Scotland Yard." Sherlock said around a mouthful of food. "He's got a case for me."

"So that's what you do, help the police?"

"Sometimes."

"Is that what the soil samples are for?"

"Here, if you're going to give me the third degree, at least make yourself useful. Label those Hyde Park." Sherlock shoved a sample bag and a permanent marker at John. "I'm going to need to collect soil samples from a few other places tomorrow."

"What exactly is this case about?" John asked, fumbling with the marker and scrawling "Hyde Park" across the top of the bag.

"Lestrade - that's my connection at the police - suspects someone's poisoning the water at these apartment buildings. A lot of mysterious illnesses have cropped up and the tenants are suspicious. He's just not sure why, how, or who. That's where I come in. I want to test the soil to see if there's anything unusual."

"And is there?"

"Not that I've discovered... yet. I have a few tests to do on this sample and a few more samples to retrieve."

John watched Sherlock as he talked, marveling at how he seemed to come alive over this puzzle that needed solving. He smiled. "Well, we'll go out and collect them tomorrow then, right?"

Sherlock offered John a genuine smile and nodded. He turned back to his tests and finished the last of his dinner. John washed up the dishes and then went to Sherlock's room and gathered a load of dirty laundry.

"I'm going to put these in the car." John called to Sherlock. "We'll go by the laundromat tomorrow and wash them."

"Mmm." Sherlock assented, concentrating on his soil samples.

After he'd shoved a pile of clothes and towels in the back of the car, John returned to the flat. He checked the time; half an hour left. He pulled out a paperback novel he'd picked up while they were at the bookstore and settled into the chair that stood opposite Sherlock's leather chair. Sherlock glanced over at John and stood up.

"I'm going to my room." He said, "Good night, John."

John looked up from his book, surprised. "A bit early, isn't it?"

"I need to think over this case."

"All right. Good night, then."

A few moments later, John heard the violin start to play and he settled back to his book. He managed to read one paragraph before his eyes drifted closed and he nodded off over his book.

***

His phone buzzing at 8:30 woke John with a start. He checked the time and cursed.

"Hello?"

"John? It's Molly... I was just getting a little worried about the time?"

"I'm sorry, Molly. I drifted off to sleep for a bit and lost track of time. I'm just leaving now, okay? Add the extra time on and I'll pay you for it."

"Sure, that's fine, see you soon!"

John, grateful to have found an easy-going nanny that the children seemed to like, hurriedly gathered his things. He knocked lightly on Sherlock's door.

"Taking off now, Sherlock. Everything okay?"

No answer. John pushed the door open a crack. The room was dark and he could just make out Sherlock laying in bed. An early night, then. John closed the door just as quietly as he'd opened it and left, locking up behind him.

***

"This is where you live, then?"

John was a relatively healthy man, but when Sherlock popped up in the back seat of the car, he was sure his heart stopped beating for a solid minute.

"Jesus!" John spluttered, clutching his chest and trying to get his heart beating at a normal rate. "Sherlock? What the bloody hell are you doing here?"

"I was bored." Sherlock said simply, pushing the pile of laundry off of himself. "I thought I'd like to see where you lived."

"How did you even get in the car."

"Oh, that was simple. You were asleep. I used the remote to unlock it from the window and I made it look like I was in bed. Then I left while you were still asleep and I've waited here ever since."

"You realize that sounds insane, right?"

Sherlock shrugged and repeated. "I was bored."

"Well, I'll just have to take you back to your flat." John reached to start the car again.

"Don't be ridiculous." Sherlock, with lightning-quick reflexes, snatched the keys from the ignition and clambered out of the car. "Show me where you live."

John scrambled out of the car and hurried to catch up with Sherlock. "I don't think this is a great idea... my kids are used to routine and...."

"Routine is boring! It'll be fine, John."

John lived in a terraced house in Upton Park, next door to a Tesco. He ushered Sherlock up the battered steps and held open the front door. Sherlock swept past him, examining the slightly scuffed wood floors and the wallpaper that had seen better days. The entrance opened up to a living room scattered with comfortable, well-worn furniture and a modest television mounted on the wall.

Molly Hooper, the young nanny John had hired, popped her head out of the kitchen. "Hi, Mr. Watson!"

"It's John, remember?" John smiled at her as she came out of the kitchen with a sleepy-looking Poppy balanced on her hip. "Having trouble getting her to sleep?"

"She's been fussy all evening." Molly scrunched her nose. "I think she got over-tired today."

John took Poppy from her, smoothing her silky hair back and kissing her on her forehead. "She just needs papa to put her to bed, right?"

The toddler laid her head on John's shoulder and popped a thumb in her mouth, smiling around it.

"That was it!" Molly said, laughing. She caught sight of Sherlock, who was prowling around the perimeter of the living room. "Oh, hello, who's this?"

"Molly, this is Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, Molly's my nanny."

Sherlock nodded a greeting as he sidled up to John. He glanced at Poppy, who gave him a wide-eyed stare.

"Is everything all right?" Molly asked, her eyes flicking between John and Sherlock.

"They're fine." John reassured her. "Sherlock wanted to see where I live. You'd better get going, hadn't you?"

"You're right, I should. I need to get to the tube station." Molly went back to the kitchen and grabbed her bag.

A loud thump heralded Milo jumping down the stairs. "Papa!"

He wore pajamas decorated with bright cartoon characters. His hair stuck up in tufts all over his head. Milo launched himself at John, wrapping his arms around his legs.

"Oi, you!" John laughed. "How's my boy?"

"Papa, you late!" Milo said, a look of consternation on his face.

"I know, I missed bedtime, didn't I? I'm sorry. Why don't you go sit on the sofa and I'll take you back to bed in a minute."

Milo scrunched his nose at John and nodded. His eyes lit on Sherlock and his face lit up. "Hi-hi!"

He grabbed hold of Sherlock's hand and tugged him towards the sofa. Sherlock looked panicked. "John?"

John chuckled. "He likes you, Sherlock."

"What do I do, John?" Sherlock's voice had raised in pitch.

"Well, he wants you to sit on the sofa with him." John tried to wipe the huge grin off his face, but couldn't. "I'll take him back to bed in a minute."

Leaving Sherlock to fend for himself, he turned back to Molly. "Sorry about being late. Can you get to the station by yourself all right?"

"I'll be just fine." Molly said warmly. "And don't worry about being late. Is he... okay?"

She nodded to Sherlock, who was trying to fend off Milo as he attempted to crawl into Sherlock's lap.

"Yeah, he's harmless." John said. "Just not used to kids, I think."

"I'll see you in the morning, then!" Molly waved good bye and left.

John sighed and looked over at Sherlock. Milo had clambered off his lap and retrieved a picture book. He shoved it at Sherlock and commanded, "Read!"

"John?" Sherlock asked again, his face pale.

"He's just a toddler, Sherlock. He won't bite!" John chuckled. "Will you read to him while I put Poppy to bed?"

"You want me to... read to him?"

"I'll be back down in a second and I can take over. Until then, you can handle it, right?"

He didn't wait for Sherlock to answer. John took Poppy upstairs and tucked her into her crib. Her eyes were already drifting closed as he wound up the mobile above her crib that played You Are My Sunshine and cast twinkly stars and suns around the room as it spun lazily. He stood and watched Poppy for a few moments before turning to go back downstairs.

He found Sherlock stretched out on the sofa, his coat draped over the back. Milo lay on his chest, rapt attention on the book Sherlock held above them.

"You see, Milo, it's impossible for this panda bear to be taught by a polar bear teacher. Do you know how vicious polar bears are? They're one of the most dangerous animals in the world. They can take off your head with a swipe of their paw."

"Sherlock!" John hissed. "Don't tell him that!"

"Why not? It's true! This ridiculous book would have him believe polar bears can teach kindergarten."

John crossed his arms and leaned against the banister. "It's called fiction and that book is more age appropriate than your conversation."

Sherlock sighed. "Dull. All right. Tom pushed open the gate, leaped up the steps, and there, waiting for him, was Mrs. Polar Bear. Who did NOT immediately eat Tom, even though she was a predator much larger than he was."

"Sherlock!"

"The quality of your children's books leave something to be desired." Sherlock stated.

Milo let out a tired giggle. "Funny man."

"Who, me?" Sherlock looked indignant. "I'm not funny!"

"Okay, time for bed." John insisted, moving to take Milo from Sherlock. Milo let out a loud, shrieking "NO!" that nearly deafened them both.

"Dear God, give him whatever he wants!" Sherlock said, panic returning to his voice. "Just so he doesn't do that again!"

"He wants to stay with you, I guess." John shrugged. You mind reading to him while I take a shower?"

Sherlock scowled. "I suppose I can do that."

John left the two of them discussing whether pandas would actually attend kindergarten and went back upstairs to his bedroom. He took a long shower and changed into pajama pants and a t-shirt. Half an hour later, hair still damp, he returned to the living room to find both Sherlock and Milo sound asleep on the sofa. Milo had one hand curled around Sherlock's neck, fingers tangled in his dark curls. Sherlock had one arm wrapped protectively around Milo. The other clutched Tom Goes to Kindergarten. John smiled softly, not willing to wake either of them up. He grabbed a blanket off one of the easy chairs and gently covered both of them with it. Then he pried the children's book from Sherlock's hand and turned out the lights in the living room. John did his usual patrol of the house - checking that doors and windows were locked and turning off lights. Assured that everything was in order, he returned to his bedroom and placed a quick call to the laundromat to let Mrs. Hudson know where Sherlock was. Afterwards, John considered staying awake to read, but found he was exhausted from the events of the day. Instead, he crawled in bed and swiftly fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Sherlock awoke to find himself nose to nose with Milo, who rested his chin on one hand and stared at Sherlock with serious eyes.

"Mmm.... hullo?" Sherlock said, hesitantly, his voice gravelly with sleep.

Milo responded with a tiny finger wave and an even smaller "Hi-hi."

"Where's your dad?" Sherlock couldn't remember falling asleep, but outside the sky was light with early morning.

Milo's tiny shoulder hitched up in a shrug and he reached out and patted a slightly damp hand on Sherlock's cheek. "Hungry!"

"You're hungry?" Sherlock's question garnered an emphatic nod. "Well, um, we should probably wait for your dad to wake up...."

"Hungry, NOW!" Milo's voice grew strident and he emphasized his words with a kick that landed directly on Sherlock's knee.

"Fu--...!" Sherlock bit the curse word off and clutched at his knee. "Okay, okay. Food. Let's go find something to eat, then."

Milo scooted off Sherlock so he could get up. He grabbed hold of Sherlock's hand and tugged him toward the kitchen. "Toast!"

"Toast. Good. That's easy."

John's kitchen was small, but painted a bright, happy yellow with a wallpaper border of daisies near the ceiling. The chipped linoleum had obviously seen better days and the appliances looked as though they'd been around since the 1980s. Sherlock scanned the countertops and spotted a wooden breadbox tucked in the corner near a battered silver toaster. He flipped open the breadbox and found a partially-used loaf of Kingsmill 50/50.

"Toast, then?" He asked Milo, who'd tugged open the refrigerator and started rummaging around inside.

He emerged with a jar of blackcurrant preserves, which he held out to Sherlock. "Toast!"

Sherlock popped two sliced of bread into the toaster and, through process of elimination, found the cupboard that held plates and saucers.

"Juice?" Milo asked, tugging at Sherlock's trouser leg.

Sherlock found a stash of sippy cups in another cupboard and filled it with the organic apple juice Milo pulled from the refrigerator. By that time, the toast had popped up.

"Your toaster doesn't brown the bread enough." Sherlock wrinkled his nose and pushed the toast down once more.

After the second cycle, Sherlock smeared preserves across the bread and helped Milo sit up at the table. He happily bit into the toast, smearing half the preserves across his already grimy face. Sherlock took a neat bite of his own toast and eyed the toaster.

"Want to see how a toaster looks taken apart, Milo?" He asked.

"Yeah!" Milo crowed, his eyes twinkling.

"Let's see if I can find a screwdriver." Sherlock wandered out of the kitchen in search of tools.

***

The alarm was ringing.

Why was the alarm ringing?

John smacked at the alarm clock by his bedside, but the piercing beeps didn't stop. He blinked groggily into the half-lit room, his senses slowly coming to life. Then his eyes popped wide as he realized the beeping was from the smoke detectors downstairs.

"Shit!" He stumbled out of bed, panicking.

He ran to Poppy's room, scooping her up and eliciting a wail of surprise from her. He smelled smoke coming from downstairs and his heart dropped, realizing he'd left Sherlock and Milo sleeping downstairs the previous night. Clutching tightly to Poppy, John pounded down the stairs, prepared to find disaster. The shrill cry of the alarm seemed to grow more insistent, causing Poppy to clamp her hands over her ears and sob.

Once downstairs, John found a fog of black smoke emerging from the kitchen. Coughing, he waved his hand in front of his face.

"Milo?" He called. He didn't see flames coming from the kitchen, nor did he feel heat. As far as he could tell, it was just a thick cloud of smoke and the smell of....

"Burned the toast, sorry." Sherlock ducked out of the kitchen, looking sheepish. "I'm cleaning it up, promise. Can I prop the back door open to get rid of the smoke?"

"Sure, but..." John tried to see behind Sherlock. "What happened?"

"Just a little burnt toast, nothing to panic over!" Sherlock tried grinning while he waved a kitchen towel at the still shrieking alarm.

"Papa, papa!" Milo tugged at John's shirt. "Papa, we took the toaster apart!"

"What?!" John spluttered, looking at Sherlock accusingly.

"Um, I might have tried making a few adjustments to the toaster. It wasn't browning the bread properly, you see. I think I know the problem, though... I think...."

Sherlock stopped mid-sentence as John held up a finger. He pressed the finger to his lips, closing his eyes tightly as though to contemplate his words carefully. "You do know," he said, after a couple of deep breaths. "That the toaster has a little dial that you can adjust the browning?"

The alarm abruptly stopped chirping as the smoke started to dissipate. Sherlock's arms drooped, the kitchen towel trailing on the floor. "I-it does?"

"Yes, it does."

"I... suppose I didn't notice." Sherlock offered a lopsided smile. "I think I know how to fix it, though."

"Please don't fix my toaster, Sherlock." John sighed and patted Poppy's back, trying to quiet her fussing.

"But I really think I know how to fix it!"

"It's okay, it's probably time for a new one, anyway. That's the toaster my w--... that one's old."

Sherlock bit his lip and looked at the floor. "Milo wanted toast and... I didn't want to wake you."

John sighed, silently counting to ten. "It's fine, don't worry about it. Come on, let's get the smoke cleared out."

Having calmed her cries to sniffles, John plopped Poppy in her high chair and propped the back door open. The smoke immediately cleared out and John poured Poppy a cup of cereal to keep her occupied while he made breakfast for all of them.

"Can I help?" Sherlock asked, hovering near the stove and still sounding contrite.

John opened his mouth to tell Sherlock he'd already helped enough, but, seeing the genuine apology in Sherlock's eyes, he nodded instead. "Sure. Thought I might make us all cheese omelettes. Why don't you grate some cheese? I think there's some in the fridge."

He set Sherlock to grating and began cracking eggs into a mixing bowl while heating a skillet on the stovetop. Milo fetched one of his toy cars and ran it around the edge of the table while making "Vroom, vroom!" noises with his mouth. Poppy babbled and managed to get more Cheerios in her hair than in her mouth. Soon, the smell of browned butter and melting cheese superseded the lingering, acrid smell of smoke. Sherlock accepted his omelette without complaint.

"Tea?" John asked. "Or coffee?"

"Whatever you're having is fine." Sherlock said in a deliberately congenial tone.

"Tea it is, then. Milo? Need a juice refill?"

"Yes, papa!" Milo smiled around a mouthful of eggs and cheese.

"Is he always so cheerful?" Sherlock asked, staring at Milo.

"Mostly. He's a kid, aren't kids supposed to be cheerful?"

"I wasn't." Sherlock replied darkly.

"Oh... well...." John shrugged. "I guess when it comes down to it, I wasn't that cheerful as a child, either. But I try to make their lives better than what I had. Isn't that the goal of parenting? To make sure your kids have it better than you did?"

"I don't know, I've never thought about parenting." Sherlock forked a mouthful of omelette into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "And I generally only notice children when they're whining or crying."

John laughed. "Mine do a fair share of that, too. They have good days and bad, but I'd like to think I give them a happy upbringing."

He brought two cups of tea to the table and sat down, taking a bite of his own breakfast. "So! Toaster shopping today, then?"

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "I suppose so."

"We could stop and get more soil samples, if you need it?" John offered a consolation prize.

"Oh, that." Sherlock waved his hand. "I solved that."

"What? But you were only testing your samples last night!"

"I had an epiphany about the landlord's son and how he managed to poison the tenants. I texted Lestrade last night while you were sleeping and he's checking it out. I'm right, though."

"Well, all right, then." John sat back in his chair. "I guess that just leaves your therapy appointment."

Sherlock's eyes narrowed even further. "Therapy appointment?"

"Yes, it's on the schedule Mycroft gave me. Therapy every Friday. I'll get the kids dressed after breakfast and by that time, Molly will be here and we can go." John kept his voice firm, knowing Sherlock would be tempted to argue.

Instead of arguing, Sherlock fell into a sulk, pushing the remainder of his omelette around the plate in a desultory manner.

John ignored the sulk and finished his breakfast in between feeding Poppy bites of her baby food. Once they all finished eating, John cleared the dishes and shooed Milo upstairs to get dressed, Poppy tucked under John's arm and giggling. Sherlock stayed downstairs while John went through the routine of tooth brushing, face washing, hair combing, and dressing. Afterwards, Milo careened down the stairs and launched himself at Sherlock, who sat on the sofa. He shoved an action figure at Sherlock and commanded "Play!"

John came downstairs with Poppy, laughing. "I think my son has decided you're his new playmate."

Sherlock scrunched his face up, but took the action figure and examined it. "What am I supposed to do with this?"

"Play!" Milo insisted, producing another action figure and pretending to make it fly.

Just then, the front door cracked open and Molly came in, smiling. "Good morning, John!"

"Morning!" John settled Poppy on the floor of the living room where her toys were, bending down and kissing her on the top of her head. "Milo, come give papa a hug, I have to go."

"Awwww," Mile whined, but ran over to John, who lifted him up in a tight hug and spun him around.

"I cleared away breakfast already." John said to Molly. "I'll be home on time tonight, promise."

"Oh, it's fine!" Molly laughed. "We're going to go to a tea party today, aren't we?"

She smiled at John, "The Parker twins invited them over. That's okay, right?"

"It sounds like fun." John returned her smile. "Thanks, Molly. Sherlock? Ready?"

Sherlock set the action figure he'd been examining aside and rose to his feet, pulling on his coat. "Er... good bye, Milo."

Milo, who'd been clinging to John's leg possessively, ran to Sherlock and threw his arms around his legs. "Bye-bye!"

Sherlock, momentarily shocked, looked wide-eyed at John and then patted Milo lightly on the head. "That's... that's a good boy."

John grinned, shaking his head. "Let's get going. I want to find a toaster before your appointment. And we've got to go to the laundromat, too."

Waving one last good bye to Molly, John and Sherlock set out to begin the day.

***

"How'd it go?" John asked, cautiously.

Sherlock had yanked open the car door and flounced inside after his therapy appointment, his face stormy.

"Pointless." He snarled.

"Oh?"

"It's just more of that touchy-feely nonsense they spewed at rehab." Sherlock shook his head. "I'm doing fine without any of it."

"Therapy's a condition of your brother letting you live on your own." John pointed out.

"Don't you think I know that?" Sherlock snapped back. "Now I'm supposed to keep a journal of my 'thoughts and feelings'. How's that supposed to help?"

"Oh, I don't know, I've kept a journal before. Sort of. It was more of a document on my computer. After Mary... well, I was going through a pretty hard time and I thought if I had a place to get my thoughts out where they weren't such a jumble. It worked, believe it or not."

"Did you love your wife?" Sherlock asked suddenly, his sulk forgotten.

"What kind of question is that? Husbands and wives generally do love each other."

"My parents didn't." Sherlock muttered, looking out the window as they drove. "Not at the end, anyway. They stayed together because it looked better."

"Oh." John said. "Well, I guess I did love her, in my own way. Mary is... was... a complicated person. She battled a lot of personal demons."

"Hmph." Sherlock sunk lower in the passenger seat. "I suppose I can relate."

"She was a good friend, though. And the mother of my children. So yes, I did love her." John swallowed, thinking about how empty his words sounded to even his own ears.

"Will you marry again?"

"Wow... I don't know. I guess I've never thought about it much. Mary's illness took so much time and then I've just been trying to keep my family together. I haven't been on a date since... well, since Mary and I were first dating, before Milo was born."

"No one catches your interest, then?" Sherlock seemed extraordinarily curious. "What about your nanny?"

"Molly?" John let out a guffaw. "God, no. I mean, she's perfectly nice and the children love her, but no. She's not my type."

"What exactly is your type?"

John slid his eyes to Sherlock. "What is this, the dating game?"

Sherlock shrugged, looking away. "Just making conversation."

"Hmmm." John twisted his head left and right, trying to ease the tension creeping up his back. "I don't think I have a type, really. Before Mary, there were a few others... nothing serious. Well, there was one that could have been... but no, it never did become anything more than a fling."

The silence in the car stretched until John couldn't stand it any longer. "What about you? Who's your type?"

Sherlock's brow wrinkled and he stared at John for a long moment before looking away. "I don't think I want to talk about this anymore."

"Oh... okay. That's fine." John sighed and fell silent.

Sherlock fell back into his sulk, staring sullenly out the window until John pulled into the laundromat parking lot. As he brought the car to a stop, Sherlock stiffened next to him, his eyes wide as he stared at something in front of them.

"I'll just stay in the car." Sherlock said, his voice clipped.

John peered in the direction Sherlock was staring, seeing nothing beyond a few men lingering at the corner. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, just... go in without me."

"Sherlock, what's going on?"

"It's fine, John. Go on. I need to text Lestrade, anyway, and see if he's closed that poisoning case."

Still suspicious, John finally acquiesced and took the laundry inside. He loaded a washer and started it before going back to the car. The men on the street corner were gone and Sherlock now stared resolutely at his phone.

"Lunch time," John said. "How about a sandwich at that cafe? Then we can come back and finish up here?"

Sherlock grunted, which John took as an agreement. After a little more coaxing, he finally had Sherlock out of the car and walking to the cafe. Sherlock seemed twitchy, glancing around as they walked.

"Sherlock, what is it?" John finally snapped. "And don't say 'nothing', because I know that's not true."

"It's...." Sherlock waved his hand vaguely towards the street corner. "I saw someone I knew... from before. I didn't want him to see me."

"Who?"

"No one important."

"Obviously that's not true, or you wouldn't care if he saw you."

Sherlock blew out an exasperated sigh. "Fine. He was... well, I guess you'd say he was my boyfriend. But I hate that term and I'd really just like to move past this. Can we go eat? I'm hungry."

"That's a first." John scoffed. Before he resumed walking, he looked closely at Sherlock. "You know you just need to let me know if you're not feeling safe somewhere, right? That's part of my job."

"Yes, because that's what I am. Work. A job to be done." Sherlock pulled his coat closer and swept ahead of John, striding purposefully towards the restaurant.

"Sherlock... wait!" John jogged after him. "For God's sake, are you always going to be this tetchy with me?"

But Sherlock's shields were already up and he went into silent mode for the rest of lunch. John tried to engage in conversation, but found himself rebuffed at every turn. They ate their sandwiches in silence and then walked back to the laundromat. John loaded the now-clean clothes into a dryer and they both sat in chairs, waiting for the dryer to finish.

By the time they returned to the flat on Baker Street, both men were in a dark mood. Sherlock stomped up the stairs and went straight into his bedroom, shutting the door firmly. John merely sighed and set the pile of clean laundry on Sherlock's leather chair. As he did, his phone buzzed in his pocket.

To: John
From: Mycroft

Just checking in. Does Sherlock know I'll be picking him up tomorrow morning for the weekend while you're off duty?

John groaned. He'd forgotten this part of the arrangement. Mycroft still didn't trust Sherlock to be on his own and, given that John had weekends off, had suggested Sherlock stay with him on the weekends. John was supposed to break the news to Sherlock and get him prepared for the weekend.

To: Mycroft
From: John

Sorry, it's been a pretty busy week. I forgot to tell him. I'll take care of that now.

To: John
From: Mycroft

See that you do.

John dragged a hand through his hair and went to Sherlock's door.

"Sherlock? I know you're not speaking with me, but I have something to tell you." He began.

An hour and a great deal of shouting, bargaining, and sulking later, Sherlock hunched over his equipment at the kitchen table, a murderous look on his face as he labeled some sample slides. John cooked dinner, seemingly unperturbed. But the force with which he slammed cupboards open and closed indicated his anger. He slammed a plate of spaghetti in front of Sherlock moments later.

"I'm not going." Sherlock hissed.

"You know what? I don't care! Take it up with your brother!" John threw his hands up. "It's my days off, so I don't care what you do!"

John knew he'd gone too far by the way Sherlock's face drained of all color. The reminder, once again, that he was John's "job" seemed to cut deeply. He stood up quickly and walked to his room, shutting the door with a firm click.

"Shit." John muttered. He checked his watch - an hour until time to go home.

He stared at the plate of untouched spaghetti for a moment before retrieving it and dumping it back in with the leftovers, which he then stashed in the refrigerator. He cleaned up the rest of the dishes and then did a sweep of the flat, retrieving the various detritus that Sherlock scattered behind him as he moved through his day. Halfway through his cleaning, Sherlock stalked from his bedroom and settled into his chair, glaring darkly at John. When John finished, he turned to Sherlock and took a deep breath.

"I'm only going to say this one more time and then I expect us to have an understanding." He held up a hand when Sherlock opened his mouth. "No, I have something to say and you're going to listen. Yes, I took this position as a job. You know why? Because of those two kids you met last night, remember them? They've had to spend too long watching their father out of work and sad because his wife died. I'm not asking for sympathy, but I am asking for understanding. Your brother offered a salary and a position and I took it. That doesn't mean I think of you as a burden or that I don't care about what I'm doing."

Sherlock's face had softened slightly, but he still frowned at John.

"As for your brother and his arrangements for the weekend... well, it's true. It's between the two of you. If you hadn't noticed, your brother's like a steamroller around anyone who has ideas that differ from his own."

This earned a snort of derisive laughter from Sherlock.

"So you're stuck with him this weekend to work out your own arrangements, I'm sorry. But I'll offer this: if you'd like to stay at my place on the weekends, you're welcome. Under the condition that you realize it's my time off, so I'm not working for you and you'll be expected to entertain yourself."

"Y-you'd do that?" Sherlock seemed stunned.

"I thought about it while I cleaned up dinner. Yes, I'd do that. For a trial period. My kids seem to like you and you didn't seem too badly off sleeping on the sofa. But I expect you to behave like the adult you supposedly are, or you'll be back at your brother's for the weekends. Are we clear?"

"Yes." Sherlock said in a small voice."Thank you, John."

John let out a shaky breath. "Y-yeah. No worries. Look, it's time for me to go home. Are you okay for the evening?"

Sherlock nodded, his eyes intent on John. "You'll be back Monday, then?"

"I will. You've got my number in your mobile if an emergency comes up, right?"

Sherlock nodded again. "My brother's coming to pick me up in the morning?"

"He is. You'll talk to him about this idea?"

"I'll try." Sherlock seemed to grow smaller in the chair. "He won't be agreeable."

"I have a feeling he rarely is."

Another snort of laughter. "You've got that right. You know he'll call you the minute I bring up this plan, right?"

"Your brother doesn't scare me."

"That's a first." Sherlock's thoughtful look turned admiring. "Most people are terrified by him."

"I'm not scared of anything, I've got toddlers." John quipped.

Sherlock's mouth twitched up in a smile. "Then I suppose I'll see you on Monday."

"That you will. Good night, Sherlock."

"Good night, John."

John left then, feeling lighter as some of the tension between them had finally broken. He sat in the car for a few moments staring at the lighted window of 221B. He could see Sherlock's shadow pass by. Finally, he started the ignition and pulled away, headed home.

Back in 221B, the soft, sad strains of violin music began as Sherlock faced the night - and weekend ahead - alone.

Chapter Text

Much to John's surprise, he didn't, in fact, hear from Mycroft - or Sherlock - all weekend. But when he let himself into 221B on Monday, he discovered Mycroft sitting in Sherlock's living room, his hands steepled beneath his chin and his eyes closed.

"Mr. Holmes." John said by way of greeting as he hung up his jacket and stepped towards Mycroft.

Mycroft blinked open his eyes and appraised John with a cool stare. "Dr. Watson. We have... things to discuss."

"I figured we would." John looked around. "Where's Sherlock?"

"In his bedroom. Sulking."

"Something new, then." John tried smiling at Mycroft, but found his joke met with an even frostier stare.

"My brother tells me you want him to stay with you on the weekend. At your house." Mycroft arched a perfectly groomed eyebrow.

John shoved his hands into his pockets. "Well, that's not exactly the way our conversation went. But yes, I invited Sherlock to stay with me on the weekend."

"Why?"

"Well, uh...." If John were honest with himself, he didn't know the answer to that question. "He was upset, as you expected, about staying with you. I thought it might keep him in better spirits if he could stay someplace he didn't mind. I obviously can't stay here seven days a week, so I invited him to my home. My children seem to like him and he's promised he'll stay out of the way. What harm could it do?"

Mycroft took a deep breath through his nose and closed his eyes once more, as if to compose his thoughts. Blinking them back open, he looked sharply at John before replying quietly. "Dr. Watson, I know you're aware of my brother's struggles. What you aren't aware of is the person behind many of those struggles."

"Do you mean Victor?"

This, at least, silenced Mycroft. He sat straighter in his chair and stared at John. "He's told you about Victor?"

"Well, no. Just his name. He... spotted him. On the street one day." John held up his hand as Mycroft moved to stand up, his face growing angry. "No, it's all right. Sherlock asked me to help him avoid Victor. That's all I know, I swear."

"Then you surely saw how affected my brother was by Victor's influence."

"Sure... but what has that to do with me?"

"My point is that Sherlock becomes attached to people. I've never seen him attach himself to someone as quickly as he seems to have done with you, but regardless, my brother has a hard time not getting emotionally involved."

"Ah, okay...." John wasn't sure he took Mycroft's meaning, but he pretended he did. "You're worried that, what, I'll be a bad influence on Sherlock?"

"More the opposite, to be quite honest." Mycroft replied. "While I don't think you'll lead my brother into dangerous situations like Victor did, I do worry about what might happen if you decide you no longer want this job."

Realization slowly dawned. "So you're worried that I'll abandon Sherlock and that it will cause him to relapse."

"Precisely."

"I see your point, but to be frank, I don't see myself leaving this position any time in the near future. I've barely started it and it's the best job offer I've had in ages."

"I am simply trying to keep my brother from getting too attached. To anyone."

"That's a bit of an impossible task, don't you think?" John laughed. "Real life involves getting attached to people, places, things... it's kind of the point."

"Only if you let that happen."

"Ah, so you don't get attached, then? To anything?"

Mycroft didn't deign to respond to John's question, so John continued. "Look, have you thought about giving your brother a chance to prove himself? You treat him like he's five. Or like he's made of fine china. I get that you've both been through a rough time, but how do you expect him to lead a normal, adult life if you don't let up on the leash a little?"

"You think there's anything of my brother that's normal?"

"Christ, I don't know!" John burst out. "But you're certainly not helping!"

They both stared each other down for a long moment before Mycroft gave a small sigh and spread his hands. "Fine. I give in, Dr. Watson. I see you're as stubborn as my brother. He and I argued all weekend over this matter and I'm tired of arguing. If Sherlock wants to remain in your care on the weekends, I will allow it."

"G-good." John felt slightly surprised that he'd won the argument. "Thank you."

"This doesn't mean a pay rise." Mycroft fixed him with a beady stare. "The weekends are all your own. I'm only available in the case of dire emergency."

John nodded. "Understood. I've already told Sherlock he wouldn't be staying with me as part of the job. It'll be... a favor among friends, I suppose."

"You consider my brother a friend, then?" Mycroft stood. The casual tone of his voice was betrayed by his stiff back and clenched jaw.

"I think we're on our way to something resembling friendship." John tried a smile on Mycroft, but didn't receive on in return. "I don't think this arrangement can succeed unless Sherlock and I have a modicum of respect and friendship, do you?"

Mycroft tutted as he straightened his jacket and headed for the front door. "I will caution you the same way I cautioned my brother, Dr. Watson. Don't get attached. Caring is not an advantage."

He swept out the front door, clicking the door behind him. John let out a shaky breath and ran a hand through his hair.

"Caring is not an advantage." He mocked, pulling a face at the empty room. "Small wonder your brother turned to drugs."

John went to Sherlock's door and tapped lightly. "Sherlock? Are you in there?"

He opened the door and peeked inside. The room was lit by sunlight coming through the window. The room itself was neat - bed made, closet organized, minimum clutter. John didn't see Sherlock, so he stepped into the bedroom. "Sherlock?"

The door to the adjoining bathroom was open and the mirror fogged over from the shower running. Sherlock had just stepped out of the shower when John spotted him. His breath caught in his throat as, for one moment, he took in Sherlock's naked body. His pale skin glowed almost blue under the fluorescent lights of the bathroom. The harsh light revealed Sherlock's thinness, backbone and ribs jutting visibly from beneath his skin. John could see faint track lines on his arms. Sherlock's black curls were wet and slicked back from his face and his skin glistened with a sheen of water droplets. Though he was thin, Sherlock was still in decent shape - his arms and legs corded with wiry muscles. John couldn't help himself from trailing his eyes down Sherlock's body to take in the length of it. Though it seemed like the moment froze in time, John knew it was only a split second before his eyes met Sherlock's and the world righted itself.

"Shit!" John swore and spun around. "I am so sorry!"

His face flamed red as he slammed out of Sherlock's bedroom and leaned against the door, waiting for his heart to stop pounding wildly in his chest. John cursed himself for the intrusion on Sherlock's privacy, knowing he shouldn't have entered the bedroom without permission. Behind the mortification, John also felt something else. Something bordering on fascination and... No, he thought. Get a grip on yourself, Watson.

He pushed away from the bedroom door and busied himself in the kitchen, wiping down countertops that didn't need wiping and putting away the small handful of dishes that had stayed in the dish dryer over the weekend. He glanced up, but quickly glanced away, when Sherlock emerged from his bedroom several moments later. He was fully dressed in a blue button-down shirt tucked into grey trousers. His riot of curls were dry and he eyed John warily.

John cleared his throat. "I... uh...."

Sherlock's cheeks turned pink. "Please don't. It was an honest mistake and there's no harm done. We're grown men and I assume you're familiar with the male anatomy, given you're a doctor and... well... male."

John laughed, but still couldn't meet Sherlock's eyes. "Sure, you have a point."

"Then there's no need to be uncomfortable. I'll take care to close the bathroom door from here on out."

"And I'll try not to barge into your bedroom again." John conceded.

"We're all right?" Sherlock still looked worried.

John's shoulders relaxed. "Yeah, of course we're all right. I'm just sorry... I know you said not to apologize, but I am. I didn't mean to invade your privacy."

Sherlock waved his hand dismissively. "Apology accepted, if it makes you feel better. Now can we move on?"

John nodded gratefully, though he knew he'd never admit to Sherlock that the image of his body was permanently etched into John's memory. He knew he wouldn't be able to forget it and the feelings it stirred in the back of his mind left him uncomfortable. He firmly pushed the thoughts aside and smiled at Sherlock.

"I was coming to tell you the good news. Your brother's agreed to let you choose where to stay on the weekend."

Sherlock's eyes sparkled. "I can stay with you, then?"

"If that's what you want, yes."

Sherlock grinned, his face flushing even pinker with delight. "Anything's better than being stuck in Mycroft's stuffy, old mausoleum."

John laughed. "He doesn't exactly seem like the most affable person."

The news of Mycroft's concession left Sherlock in a chipper mood for the rest of the day. He spent most of the afternoon working on various experiments as usual, but he talked more than John had ever heard him talk before. Most of his conversation involved scientific theories John didn't completely grasp, but John was pleased Sherlock seemed happy. He ate his meals without protest and when the time came for John to leave for the day, Sherlock was curled up in his chair with his laptop.

"Heading home, Sherlock. Do you need anything before I go?"

Sherlock shook his head. "No, I'm fine."

"Right, then I'll see you tomorrow? Get some sleep, okay?"

John turned to let himself out, but Sherlock stopped him. "John, wait."

"Something wrong?"

"No, I just wanted to say... thank you. For everything."

John knew these were words Sherlock didn't offer easily. His chest glowed warmly and he smiled. "You're welcome, Sherlock. See you tomorrow."

Sherlock returned to his laptop and John left, still basking in the afterglow of the day. He finally felt like he'd made progress with Sherlock, despite his earlier blunder.

That night, as John lay in his bed and tried to force himself to sleep, the image of Sherlock's nude body swam into his mind. John imagined what Sherlock's skin would feel like beneath his hands, imagined what his curls felt like entwined around his fingers. John's hand strayed to his groin and found himself half hard. He closed his eyes and tried to banish Sherlock, but he stubbornly stayed there, his blue eyes turning liquid with desire. John imagined kissing Sherlock, pressing his lips against that tempting pink bud of a mouth. He moaned softly and palmed against his erection, his hips rolling up to meet his hand. He wrapped his fingers around his hardening prick and imagined it was Sherlock's. Imagined what noises he would make as John coaxed him to climax.

Afterwards, John turned on his side, his body sticky with the remains of his lust. He closed his eyes tightly against the shame he felt. It doesn't mean anything. He thought. It's just because you saw him naked.

John hadn't experienced attraction to men often, but this wasn't his first time, either. He'd never told anyone about the feelings he occasionally felt towards men and he'd acted on those feelings only once in his past. He shoved back the images of Sherlock in his mind. It's inappropriate. He's a client.

Vowing never to use Sherlock as fuel for his desire, John slipped out of bed and padded to the bathroom to clean himself up. Once back in his bed, John tried to relax until, finally, he drifted into a fitful sleep.

Chapter Text

Most of the week passed in relative calm. Sherlock made a concentrated effort to cooperate. John suspected it was his way of proving their weekend arrangement would work. Whatever the reason, John was grateful for an easy week. Sherlock puttered around the flat with his experiments or sat in his chair with a book. Once John even spotted him scribbling in a notebook and he hoped it meant Sherlock was taking his therapist's suggestion of starting a journal.

The biggest challenge John faced was banishing the image of Sherlock's nude body that kept popping into his mind at the most inopportune times. Like when Sherlock shot him a half-grin after saying something particularly witty. Or at night, as he was trying to go to sleep. John chalked it up to having been alone for so long. He was obviously overdue for some release and his mind took hold of any available material. Or at least that's what he kept telling himself.

"Therapy appointment today," John said over their tea on Friday. "Then you'll need to pack up a weekend bag."

Sherlock's brow furrowed in a scowl, but he quickly wiped it away before replying. "Of course. You're still fine with me staying at your flat?"

John rose to clear the dishes. "Yup. I told Milo and Poppy this morning and Milo's already planning what books he wants you to read to him."

"Ah, an exciting weekend, then." Sherlock hid his smile behind a teacup.

Sherlock moved to hand his empty plate to John, their knuckles brushing against each other. John felt a jolt to his middle and his hand wavered, almost dropping the plate. He swallowed, steadied his hand, and covered his reaction with a shaky smile before moving to the kitchen sink.

What's that about? John asked himself as he rinsed the plates.

Sherlock, oblivious to John's internal struggle, came up behind John and leaned over him to set his empty teacup in the sink.

"I'll go get dressed for my appointment, shall I?" Sherlock asked, his mouth dangerously close to John's ear.

John gripped the edge of the sink and tried to sound normal when he spoke. "G-great. I'll finish these up and then it'll be time to go."

After Sherlock left, John pressed himself against the sink, the ache at his groin growing. For God's sake, Watson...get a grip.

It had happened all week; the flat was just small enough to provide opportunities for two people to brush up against each other at every turn. Each time, John felt a static shock to his brain. Each time, he pictured Sherlock's slim body up against his own, the pale skin contrasting with John's tan complexion.

You've got to get laid, John thought. This is ridiculous.

"Ready to go?" Sherlock asked.

He stood in the kitchen doorway, resting against the jamb. He'd dressed in a black suit over a plum-colored shirt and John felt breathless looking at him.

"Yep," John said, drying his hands. "Let's go before we're late to your appointment."

Definitely time to start dating again. He thought to himself, trying to keep his eyes from straying to Sherlock's rear end as he followed him out of the flat.

***

"You don't have to wait in the car."

"Hmmm?" John looked up, startled from thought.

They'd parked outside of Sherlock's therapist's office.

"The waiting room is more comfortable." Sherlock said, indicating the office. "You don't have to wait out here."

"Really? You don't mind?"

Sherlock shrugged. "No, it's fine."

John locked up the car and followed Sherlock inside. The waiting room was decorated in shades of green and accented with potted plants in the corners. An aquarium against one wall held a variety of goldfish. Sherlock checked in and, a few moments later, went into his appointment. John wandered the waiting room, looking at the art on the walls, before settling himself near the receptionist's desk.

"That your boyfriend, then?" The pretty, dark-haired receptionist asked, flashing John a smile.

John laughed and stood up, walking over and leaning against the desk. "No, no... I'm not... well, anyway. No, he's not my boyfriend."

He leaned a little closer, reading her nametag. "And how are you today... Janine?"

Janine batted her eyes and smiled wider. "Well now, I think you have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don't know yours."

John's eyes crinkled as he smiled at her. He extended his hand over the desk. "John Watson. Doctor John Watson."

"Doctor?" Janine seemed impressed. "Well now, this is my lucky day, isn't it?"

John was still leaning against the desk when Sherlock emerged from the therapist's office a half an hour later. Sherlock squinted at them both, suspicious.

"All done then?" John stood up, throwing a wink at Janine.

Sherlock nodded warily as he shrugged back into his coat.

"Great. Janine, lovely talking with you." John waved to Janine as he turned to leave.

"Oh, John... wait!" Janine stopped him before he'd reached the door.

She came out from behind the desk, smoothing nonexistent wrinkles from her dress. She held out a slip of paper.

"My number," Janine said, flashing a grin. "Give me a call sometime when you're free?"

John beamed. "I'll do that... thanks!"

He felt very smug with himself as he and Sherlock walked to the car. It was only when they'd been driving for ten minutes that John realized Sherlock was very quiet. John glanced over to find him looking sullenly out the passenger window.

"Something wrong?"

"No," Sherlock said, his voice clipped.

"How'd your appointment go?"

"Fine."

"Look, you're obviously upset. Did something happen?"

Sherlock scowled and didn't answer. John blew out a sigh, feeling his good mood ebbing away.

"Right, if you don't want to tell me, then I guess that's your problem."

"I don't suppose your new girlfriend told you about her boyfriend, did she?" Sherlock snapped, sinking low in his seat.

"Girl... what? Oh, do you mean Janine? Is that what you're upset about?" John laughed. "Why are you upset about her, we were only flirting a bit? I thought I'd see if I still had that skill."

Sherlock muttered something too quiet for John to hear.

"Pardon?"

"Nothing. But you didn't answer my question."

John went over Sherlock's words again. "What do you mean, her boyfriend?"

"She's got a boyfriend. Been with him at least three years, I'd reckon."

"How do you know that?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "It's obvious, really. There's a framed photo on her desk of her and some guy taken at a New Year's party from three years ago - the date is on the noisemakers they're blowing into the camera."

"Could be her brother?"

"I'd worry about a girl who lets her brother feel her up like that."

"Well, then, how do you know they're still together?"

"Do you keep pictures of your exes around? Besides, she's got a locket around her neck that has 'J'etaime' etched on the front. She was fiddling with it while she said good bye to you, so she's thinking about him even while she's talking to you. And the keys on her desk had two house keys on the ring - one to her place, one to his."

"How can you possibly know that?" John laughed incredulously.

Sherlock shrugged. "I observe, John. Also, there were only two other cars parked besides ours. One was obviously my therapist's - it's a more expensive model. Definitely something a therapist could afford, not a receptionist. The other car had a man's hat resting on the dash."

"Fine, fine, so she has a boyfriend. She's obviously not very committed if she slipped me her number."

"How many other blokes do you think she gives that number out to?" Sherlock asked. "Enough that she has cards printed up with it, eh?"

John reached into his pocket while steadying the steering wheel with one hand and pulled out the card Janine slipped to him. Sure enough, it was a professionally printed contact card with her name and phone number printed in script across the creamy linen stock.

"Shit," John swore under his breath.

"Sorry."

"No you're not."

"She would've bored you."

"You know enough about me to know that?" John asked, feeling a sulk coming on.

Sherlock stared quietly at John for a moment before turning to look out the window again and repeating, "She would have bored you."

John sighed. "Ah, well. I don't have time to date, anyway."

"Are you lonely?" Sherlock asked suddenly, pulling out his phone and swiping at the screen.

"No," John said without thinking, and then, "Yes. I don't know. Hard to be lonely with two small children at home. But sometimes companionship would be nice, y'know?"

"Mmm, not really, no." Sherlock said quietly, still fiddling with his phone. "I've always been a rather solitary person."

"Ah, well...." John trailed off, not sure what to say.

"Don't pity me, John," Sherlock snapped, finally putting his phone away and glaring at John.

"I'm not." John insisted. "Really."

Sherlock continued to sulk and they drove back to 221B in silence. Climbing the stairs ahead of Sherlock, John spotted someone waiting outside the door. A tall, distinguished man with grey hair leaned against the wall, checking his phone.

"Hello?" John asked, stopping short.

The man glanced up and then around John to smile. "Sherlock! Hoped you'd get home soon."

"Lestrade." Sherlock pushed past John. "What do you have for me?"

"Hang on, you're the police detective Sherlock helps out?" John asked.

Lestrade nodded and held out his hand. "Greg. You must be John? Sherlock's mentioned you."

John shook his hand and tried to smile. His insides still roiled from the awkward ride home. Lestrade turned back to Sherlock and held out his phone to show a photograph.

"Unknown victim arrived at the morgue. No sign of violence or struggle, but she appears healthy, other than the unfortunate fact that she's dead. Her boyfriend found her that way in her bed."

"Cause of death?"

"Asphyxiation, but we don't know how. No ligature marks, no sign she was suffocated or strangled."

"Boyfriend's a suspect?"

"They always are, but nothing tying him to the deed. First we've got to figure out how she died. Can you come look at the body?"

Sherlock shot a glance at John. "We have time, don't we?"

John checked his watch. "Sure. Lead the way, detective."

They rode in Lestrade's vehicle to the morgue. Once there, Lestrade uncovered the body of a slim, young woman with red hair and freckles sprinkling her skin. Sherlock methodically checked over the body, pulling out a small retractable magnifier to get a close look. After a moment, he stood back and looked at John.

"Doctor Watson, care to take a look?" He asked, nodding his head at the body.

John straightened and approached the body. He bent and took a complete survey. He paused when he reached the edge of her scalp, tilting his head to get a closer look.

"Your medical examiner missed something." John said, standing up.

"What?" Lestrade came over to stand next to John.

John smoothed aside the woman's hair and pointed to a small red spot near the scalp, less than a half an inch in diameter. Small blisters ringed the spot, but it blended into the freckles on her skin.

"Electrical burn. It's small, but you said she died of asphyxiation? That would go along with death by electrocution. I can't tell you what she was electrocuted with, but it was strong enough to kill her."

Lestrade's lips compressed in a thin line and he pulled out a camera to snap a few pictures of the markings. "Thank you, Doctor Watson. Looks like we'll be bringing the boyfriend in for questioning."

"How can you be sure it was him?" John asked, curious.

"He's an electrician."

"Ah, well. That would point a finger to him, wouldn't it?"

"I'd look at the roommate instead." Sherlock interrupted, looking up from the file he'd been paging through while John and Lestrade talked.

"Eh?" Lestrade asked. "Why? Boyfriend's the obvious choice."

"That's why. Roommate did it to pin it on the boyfriend."

"How d'you figure?" Lestrade crossed his arms and raised his chin.

Sherlock waved the file at Lestrade. "The interview with the roommate is fishy. She says she was away the night her roommate died in one part of the interview, but then claims she heard the boyfriend fighting with her earlier in the evening later in the interview. She changes her story at least three times in subtle ways and when she's asked if she and the roommate had any clashes, she goes out of her way to insist they got along perfectly. Who gets along perfectly with their roommate? Even the best of friends annoy each other sometimes. I'll bet you five quid if you search her room, you'll find some sort of device capable of death by electrocution."

Lestrade made a few notes in a notepad and nodded. "Right. Okay, I'll call this in and get a warrant. We should have enough for at least that. If we can find the weapon, the case will be closed."

He glanced up and smiled at the two of them. "Thanks, Sherlock. And you, too, Doctor Watson. You two make a pretty good team, apparently."

Lestrade had one of his men drive them home while he went to take care of the warrant. On the ride home, John kept glancing at Sherlock, who looked out the window and tapped his fingers nervously on his knee.

"That was brilliant," John said. "You were brilliant."

Sherlock jumped as though startled and looked at John, his brow furrowing. "Really?"

"Well... yeah. We were there barely fifteen minutes and you had the case solved!"

"Through no small part of your own, I might point out." Sherlock said. "You weren't so bad, yourself."

John laughed. "Nothing most doctors couldn't do."

"And yet, you spotted something a trained medical examiner missed."

"Touché."

"It was a simple case, anyway. Barely a two, I'd say. I was hoping for something a little more exciting."

John laughed again. "Well... you were still brilliant."

"That's not what I usually hear."

"What do you usually hear?"

"Piss off."

They looked at each other for a moment and then both burst out laughing.

"So we're a team, now?" John joked.

"You go where I do, so I suppose we are." Sherlock sobered, glancing at John cautiously. "Does that bother you?"

"No. I'm not sure I'm much help when it comes to solving crimes, but it'll take more than a dead body to shock me."

"Good," Sherlock paused, thinking. "Listen, about earlier... I'm sorry I was so short with you. And I'm sorry I ruined it for you with Janine. That was rude. Sometimes I'm rude without realizing it."

"Nah, it's okay." John waved away Sherlock's apology. "It doesn't matter. She didn't look like the type who wants to date a single dad, anyway."

"I could deduce you a girlfriend, if you want." Sherlock offered.

"What?!"

"I mean, point out someone you like, I'll tell you if they're girlfriend material."

John leaned his head back and laughed. "That's... incredibly wrong. No, thank you, Sherlock. I appreciate the offer, but I think I'm busy enough between the job and the kids. Janine was... a moment of weakness. Nothing else. I don't have time to date."

"Mmm," Sherlock made a noncommittal noise. "Well, then, I'll try to make life a little more interesting."

"God, that might kill me." John joked.

The car pulled up to the curb outside 221B and they got out. John checked his watch again.

"It's early, but why don't you get your things packed and we can have dinner with my kids? Pizza?"

Sherlock's shoulders bumped gently into John's as they ascended the steps to 221B. John felt a frisson of heat run down his spine.

"That sounds nice," Sherlock said, smiling.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, it does." Sherlock let them both into 221B and headed for his bedroom. "I'll only be a moment!"

John did his usual sweep of the flat to make sure it was ready to be locked up for the weekend and then Sherlock emerged, hauling a small bag over his shoulder.

"Ready?" Sherlock asked, his face still lit with a happy smile.

"Ready," John replied. "Let's go home."

Chapter Text

They walked into chaos. John held the door of his flat open for Sherlock, who held the takeaway pizza they'd stopped for on the way home. The flat rang with Poppy's screams and Milo yelling "Hi-yah!"

Molly, hearing the door, emerged from the kitchen. Her hair was a mess and her shirt stained with a mysterious green and brown substance. She balanced Poppy, screaming and red-faced, on her hip.

"I don't know what's wrong with her," Molly said, sounding near tears herself. "She started crying an hour ago and I couldn't get her calmed down."

"It's okay, Molly. Here, let me take her." John held out his arms and took Poppy, who only squirmed and screamed louder. John pressed his lips to his daughter's forehead for a moment before she twisted her head away. "She feels like she might be running a fever."

Molly tried to brush some of her hair back as it fell into her eyes. "They've both been out-of-sorts today."

"Is that so?" John bounced Poppy and tried to get her to smile. She whimpered in response, then let out another loud shriek, making John wince.

Sherlock edged past them, setting his bag at the foot of the stairs and carrying the pizza into the kitchen. He shrugged out of his coat and draped it over one of the chairs. When he returned, Milo leapt in front of him.

"NINJA!" Milo screeched, making chopping motions with his hands. "HI-YAH!"

"Milo, I told you that we weren't playing ninja anymore," Molly said, crossly.

Milo spun around clumsily and kicked, hard, at Sherlock's knee, while shouting, "HI-YAH!"

"Christ!" Sherlock shouted, clutching his knee and snagging Milo by his sleeve to hold him back. "That hurt!"

"Milo! What've I told you about kicking?" John snapped.

He crossed over to Sherlock and scooped Milo up by his waist, holding him under his arm. He looked apologetically at Sherlock.

"Could you... could you take her and go upstairs to her room?" John shoved a tear-stained Poppy at Sherlock. "I'll get him settled with dinner and then come up and relieve you?"

"Er...." Sherlock looked panicked.

"Please?" John pleaded, struggling to hold on to Milo.

Sherlock reluctantly took Poppy, who increased her wailing and waggled her arms frantically towards John.

"I'll only be a minute, promise." John said. "I'll just see Molly off and get Milo his dinner."

Sherlock stumped upstairs, Poppy's shrieking reaching the hysterical stage. He plopped down in the rocking chair by her crib and adjusted the toddler so she curled up in his lap. She sobbed and tugged at her earlobe, looking at Sherlock with watery eyes.

"I know," Sherlock said. "I feel the same sometimes."

He tried rocking slowly and Poppy quieted her shrieking to a softer whine. Sherlock bit his lip, trying to think what a toddler might like. He reached out and tweaked Poppy's nose, showing her his thumb tucked between his fingers.

"Got your nose?" He asked, tentatively.

"No!!" Poppy screeched, looking incensed.

"No, I didn't much like it when Mycroft did that to me, either." Sherlock tried again. "What about nursery rhymes? You like those?"

He rocked steadily and wrapped his arms protectively around Poppy.

"Round and round the garden," He began, keeping his voice low and calm. Poppy made a keening noise as she thrashed her head back against Sherlock. "Like a teddy bear. One step, two step, tickle you under there!"

He danced his fingers lightly under Poppy's chin. She gave him a wide-eyed stare and hiccupped a small, tearful giggle. Sherlock smoothed back her hair from her sweaty forehead.

"You are warm, aren't you?" He murmured. Poppy stuck her thumb in her mouth and whined. "Another rhyme?"

Poppy nodded and Sherlock sifted through his memory for another nursery rhyme. "Higgledy piggledy, my black hen, she lays eggs for gentlemen; Sometimes nine, sometimes ten, higgledy, piggledy, my black hen!"

Poppy giggled sleepily and pulled her thumb out of her mouth. "Quack," she said, quietly.

"No, not quack," Sherlock said. "Cluck. Chickens say cluck."

"Cuck."

"Close enough."

***

When John finally climbed the stairs and stood in the doorway of Poppy's room, he found her still snuggled in Sherlock's arms, thumb stuck in her mouth. Sherlock, engrossed in the rhyme he was telling to Poppy, didn't notice John standing, watching the two of them.

"Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night, sailed off in a wooden shoe, sailed on a river of crystal light, into a sea of dew. “Where are you going, and what do you wish?” The old moon asked the three. “We have come to fish for the herring-fish that live in this beautiful sea; nets of silver and gold have we," said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod."

"You settled her down," John said, catching Sherlock's attention.

Poppy sat up and whined, stretching an arm out towards John. He crossed the room and took her up, feeling her forehead. "I really do think she has a fever."

"She was tugging at her ear earlier," Sherlock pointed out. "Maybe it hurts?"

"Hmm," John pressed a kiss to her cheek and handed Poppy back to Sherlock. "Be right back. I want to check something."

He left and came back with a small bag, from which he withdrew a scope for looking in Poppy's ear. "Could you try to hold her head steady for me?"

John flicked the light on the scope on, knelt next to the chair, and peered into Poppy's ear. "Mmm, yep, just as I suspected."

He rocked back on his heels and tucked the scope back in his bag. "Ear infection, most likely. Probably hurts like hell. No wonder she wouldn't stop screaming."

"Does she need to go to the hospital?" Sherlock asked, alarmed.

"No, no," John laughed, softly. "They usually clear up on their own. I'll give her some paracetamol and put a warm flannel on her ear while she's awake. That'll help."

"Oh, okay." Sherlock relaxed. "Where's Milo?"

"Eating his pizza like a good ninja," John smiled. "I told him we might watch a movie afterwards if he's good. I know it's late, but... well, that's what weekends are for, aren't they? Besides, if her ear bothers her tonight, I might be awake for a while. You don't have to stay up with us, though. You can sack out on my bed and I'll take the couch with the kids."

"What movie?" Sherlock asked, brushing John's offer away.

"I have negotiated myself down to Big Hero 6. He originally wanted The Lego Movie, but if I have to hear 'Everything is Awesome' one more time, I can't be held accountable for my actions."

Sherlock smiled, bewildered. "I have no idea what that means."

"That's because," John grunted as he rose to his feet and took Poppy from Sherlock, "you don't have kids."

"Could I watch the movie with you?" Sherlock asked, a little shyly.

"You don't want to sleep?"

Sherlock shook his head. "Not tired."

"Sure, of course you can watch. We'd like that, wouldn't we?" John directed this last question at Poppy, who bounced in John's arms and grinned around her thumb. "Where'd you learn that poem, anyway?"

"Wynken, Blynken, and Nod? My nanny used to tell me nursery rhymes when I was young." Sherlock said, getting to his feet. "I'm surprised I remembered so many."

"Well, it worked. Cheered her right up. You ready for pizza? I want to give her something to help her ear."

Sherlock nodded and followed John out the door.

"Did your mum never tell you rhymes?" John asked, cautiously.

Sherlock shook his head. "No. I didn't see my mum that much. Or my dad. They were... busy. My nanny saw to most of my bringing up."

"Oh." John said, but didn't elaborate on his thoughts.

Milo had managed to get a smear of pizza sauce in his hair, but sat at the table, quietly eating. John took a bottle of liquid paracetamol out of a high cupboard and coaxed Poppy to take a dose. Then he grabbed two flannels and wet them, using one to wipe the pizza sauce out of Milo's hair and the other he pressed to Poppy's ear.

"Grab a slice while you can," John said, waving Sherlock to the pizza.

They sat around the table, munching on pizza, until all that remained were crumbs. John stumped upstairs once more to put pajamas on both children, while Sherlock took it upon himself to clean up the remains of dinner and push Milo's toys to one corner of the living room. When John returned, he looked impressed.

"Thanks for that! I thought I'd be cleaning up after everyone fell asleep."

Sherlock shrugged. "Didn't have anything better to do."

John suppressed a small smile and nodded. "All right, who's up for some Baymax?"

Milo crowed out a loud "ME!" and grabbed Sherlock's hand.

"Sit with ME." Milo insisted, pulling Sherlock towards the sofa.

"Milo, manners!" John said, firmly.

"It's okay, I don't mind." Sherlock said, settling on the sofa and pulling Milo into his lap.

"He should at least say please."

John settled himself at the corner of the sofa, next to Sherlock and Milo. Poppy blinked sleepily and laid her head on John's shoulder. He stretched his arm across the back of the sofa and snagged the DVD remote, hitting play on the movie.

Sherlock arranged himself so he was more comfortable and leaned back, accidentally bumping John's hand. "Oh, er... sorry!"

"It's okay!" John immediately withdrew his arm, making a mental note to keep to his side of the sofa.

They settled back as the movie began. Milo bounced a couple of times in Sherlock's lap.

"That's Baymax!" He burst out as the robot appeared on screen. "Say OUCH!"

Poppy blinked her eyes closed and about half an hour into the movie she was sound asleep. John's arm had returned to the back of the sofa. Sherlock's head rested on the back, curls brushing softly against John's wrist. At some point, they'd scooted closer together and John found his and Sherlock's thighs almost touching, they were so close. Milo's head kept dipping forward as he struggled to stay awake. The flickering screen lulled them all into a relaxed state. Almost of its own accord, John's fingers tangled in Sherlock's curls, twisting them gently around his fingers. Sherlock leaned against John's hand, his own eyes closed.

Sherlock's body listed towards John and John moved to allow him to lean against him. Both Milo and Sherlock's breaths were deep and even in sleep. John wrapped his arm around Sherlock and made himself comfortable. On the TV, the movie continued. John smiled, content, and let his eyes drift closed.

***

John dreamt of Mary. She was having one of her manic periods. She raved, angry with him about something. He tried to appease her, tried to go to her, but the minute he touched her skin, she melted away.

He woke, alone, on the sofa. His neck protested when he sat up, stiff from a night sleeping in an uncomfortable position.

"Sherlock?" He called, looking around. "Poppy? Milo?"

He felt a frisson of panic run through him. The kitchen was empty. The house quiet. John rose, tried to calm himself even as he moved to climb the stairs.

"Sherlock?" He called a little louder, halfway up the stairs.

When he reached the top, he heard Sherlock say, "We're in here."

"Here" was Milo's room. John found them on the floor. Milo was busy stacking Legos into a tower. Sherlock leaned against the dresser, a warm flannel pressed to Poppy's ear while she rested sleepily on his chest.

"She started to fuss and I didn't want to wake you." Sherlock explained, shooting a questioning look at John.

John's heart slowed down to a more normal speed and he let out a relieved sigh. "Oh. Right. Good... that's... good. Thank you."

Sherlock's eyes flickered over him and he looked hurt. "You thought I'd done something. Left them, or taken them? You think I'd do something to put them in danger?"

"N-no...no!" John immediately regretted letting his fear show. "No, I promise, Sherlock. I didn't think that. It's been a long time since I woke up alone. I was only worried something was wrong."

Sherlock accepted that explanation, but still looked hurt. John reached out and helped him climb to his feet and then took Poppy.

"How's my girl today?" He murmured, feeling her forehead. "Feeling better?"

Poppy grinned. "Better!"

"Want to help me get them ready for the day?" John asked, offering it as an olive branch. "Bath time, and then breakfast? Thought we might go to the park today."

"Oh...er... no, surely not?"

"Why not?"

"You barely know me and, well...." Sherlock gestured helplessly to Poppy and Milo, looking extremely uncomfortable.

"Hey, it's okay. I trust you with them, yeah?" John looked steadily at Sherlock. "I trust you, Sherlock."

Sherlock swallowed and looked away. "You do?"

"Yep. And I could use your help. You said you'd help out while you stayed with me?"

Sherlock nodded imperceptibly.

"Why don't you help Milo with his bath? You can teach him some of those nursery rhymes. His clothes are in the first and second drawers of his wardrobe. I'll get Poppy cleaned up and dressed. I'd like to check her ear with my scope, anyway."

"O-okay." Sherlock answered, the hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Milo eagerly bounded after Sherlock, already describing his favorite superhero and asking Sherlock if he knew who Spider-man was. John watched them, a half-smile tilting his mouth. Poppy patted his face with her hand.

"Papa," she cooed. "Papa, happy!"

John's smile spread and he tweaked Poppy's nose. "Yes, poppet. Papa happy."

Chapter Text

After breakfast, John gathered everything they'd need for a trip to the park: wet naps, sunscreen for all of them, extra clothes (just in case), and a blanket to spread on the grass.

"We'll pick up lunch somewhere while we're out." John said, buckling Poppy into her stroller.

Milo skipped ahead of them, pretending to fly his toy airplane, making whooshing noises with his mouth.

"He's smart." Sherlock said. "Really smart and imaginative."

John nodded. "If only I could harness some of that energy."

Sherlock laughed. Then he gestured to a sign on the front of the family gym near John's flat. "You should enroll him."

The sign read: "Karate Lessons, all levels. Classes available for ages 5+. Inquire within."

"Right, because what he needs is more excuses to kick people." John joked.

"I'm serious. He'd learn the proper time and place to use his skills, and he'd work off some of that energy."

"Mmm." John mused. "Maybe. He is turning five soon. Next month, actually. I wish I could take them somewhere. To celebrate. Poppy's birthday isn't too far from Milo's."

"Why don't you?" Sherlock asked.

They'd reached the park and Milo had spotted one of his friends. He waved enthusiastically and ran across the grass to the play area.

"Vacations cost money." John pulled a face. "I'm doing well, but not that well."

"My family always went to the beach." Sherlock said.

"Yeah? That sounds fun."

Sherlock lifted one thin shoulder. "It was okay. My parents always acted like they couldn't wait to go back home."

"My mum and dad were too poor to take us far." John said, settling them near a tree and letting Poppy loose from her stroller. "We usually just visited my granddad's farm in Ireland. Still... some of my best memories happened there."

Sherlock pulled his knees up to his chest and watched Milo careening around the play area. "You're a good dad." He said, softly.

John smiled. "Thank you. I try. I figure I owe them to try my best. What was your dad like?"

"Gone. Just like my mum. They couldn't stand to see each other and I think my brother and I were reminders that they'd once been intimate."

"That's terrible!"

"It is what it is," Sherlock made a face. "I realize there are worse childhoods I could've had."

"It's still terrible. I'm sorry. Every child deserves parents who love them and spend time with them."

Poppy happily tumbled in the grass nearby, shrieking with laughter as she showed off for them.

"Was your wife a good parent?" Sherlock blurted.

John sighed, leaning back. "Mary was... complicated. She could be such a loving person. But I think she viewed the children as trinkets and baubles... sometimes she felt like dressing up and playing happy family. Other times she had no use for them and I was left to do the feeding and soothing and changing. Then she became sick and suddenly I was a parent to three instead of two."

"I'm sorry." Sherlock murmured.

"Ah, well," John scrubbed a hand over his face. "Wouldn't trade these two for the world, you know?"

At that moment, Milo ran over, giggling. He flung himself in John's lap and grinned up at his father.

"Ice cream?" He asked, pointing to an ice lolly cart nearby.

"No, lunch first." John said, tickling Milo into a giggling fit. "But we'll get ice cream after."

"'Kay!" Milo said, in between giggles.

John set him loose again and then climbed to his feet. "C'mon, let's take Poppy over to the swings."

***

An afternoon of running, jumping, climbing, sliding, swinging, broken only by a lunch of sandwiches purchased at a nearby deli, found both Poppy and Milo exhausted and whiny. John gathered their things to go while Sherlock distracted Milo and Poppy with a fingerplay.

"Here is the beehive, where are the bees?" Sherlock asked, holding up a closed fist. "Hidden away, where nobody sees."

John smiled as he watched Sherlock bring out his fingers one by one as the "bees" appeared, and then sent Milo and Poppy into a fit of giggles when he cried out "Buzz, buzz, buzz!" at the end.

"Your nanny taught you a lot of those poems, didn't she?" John asked, packing away the last of their detritus and beckoning Poppy over so he could load her into her stroller.

Sherlock sat down and Milo scrambled into his lap, laying his head on Sherlock's chest. "Mmm. It was the only thing that would keep me in one spot for longer than a minute."

John laughed. "I can imagine! And you've remembered them all?"

Sherlock smoothed back Milo's hair with his hand and nodded. "I have an excellent memory, particularly about things that I consider happy memories. My nanny was a very kind woman. She was more of a mother to me than my actual mother."

"Where is she now?"

"Oh, she passed away a few years back." Sherlock looked away, refusing to meet John's eyes. "She was an older woman, even when I was young. I... I didn't get to see her before she died. I was... distracted."

John accepted Sherlock's explanation without comment. He knew "distracted" referred to Sherlock's drug use. John nodded at Milo, who had fallen fast asleep in Sherlock's lap.

"Hand him over, I think he's still small enough to wedge in next to Poppy."

"No need to disturb him," Sherlock said, shifting Milo's small body so he could clamber to his feet. "I can carry him."

"You sure? Sleeping toddlers are heavier than anything. It's a scientific fact."

"Is it, now?" Sherlock's mouth twitched with a smile. "I'll be fine. It's not too far to your flat."

John nodded. "Thanks. For everything. You've been a great help this weekend."

"I don't really have any experience with children," Sherlock said, walking beside John as they headed homeward. "But yours are tolerable."

"High praise, Sherlock!"

A delicate pink suffused Sherlock's cheeks as he slid his eyes sideways at John. "Well, I suppose they're more than tolerable."

They walked along in silence, Milo snoring softly on Sherlock's shoulder. John kept sneaking glances at Sherlock as they walked. They passed a side street and John heard someone shout.

"Sherlock? Hey, Sherl!"

John turned to look and Sherlock said, firmly, "Don't. Just keep walking."

"What is it?"

Sherlock sped up, his shoulders tense and his jaw tight.

"Don't be that way!" The voice drew closer. "I haven't seen you in ages!"

John tried to keep up with Sherlock's long strides while glancing over his shoulder. He spotted a slim man in a parka too heavy for the day's mild weather jogging in their direction.

"Sherlock?"

"It's fine, just ignore him."

"Is that...?"

"Yes, keep walking."

"Oh, come on, don't pretend you don't know me!" The man was only a few strides away from them.

John stopped, turning around and glaring at him. "I think you have the wrong man, mate."

The man stopped, looking John up and down. His hair was a tangled mess and John noticed he had a sore at the corner of his mouth. "Who're you then? His new keeper?"

"Move along," John said, voice cold and steely. "Don't make a scene."

"John," Sherlock said, quietly. He'd returned to stand behind John. "Let's go."

"Yeah, John, time to go." The man mocked, aiming a wink at Sherlock.

John ignored them both. "You're Victor, right? Well, Victor, if you know what's good for you, you'll turn around and go back where you came from. I'll be happy to show you the way."

Victor eyed John once again. He shrugged and held his hands out to either side of his body in a gesture of defeat. "Fine, okay. Whatever, man."

He nodded at Sherlock and smiled. "You know where to find me, Sherl."

John's eyes narrowed threateningly and Victor backed away before turning around and loping down the sidestreet. After a few moments, John let out a relieved sigh.

"I'm sorry," Sherlock said quickly. "This isn't normally his neighborhood."

"It's...it's okay. Nothing happened." John's knees felt weak. "I'm glad I didn't have to make good on my threats."

"You were slightly terrifying." Sherlock said, letting out a small laugh.

"Was I?" John returned to Poppy's stroller and they resumed walking, quicker this time, both full of nervous energy left over from the encounter. "I didn't feel terrifying."

"You looked like you were going to murder him... and enjoy it."

John let out a guffaw. "Good. That's what I wanted him to think."

He looked over at Sherlock and sobered. "Sorry if I scared you."

"Scared? No, you didn't scare me. I... kind of liked it."

They both laughed and the tension ebbed between them. John nodded at Milo in Sherlock's arms.

"You doing okay? How's the dead weight?"

Sherlock smiled and shifted Milo slightly. "It's fine. Will he sleep tonight, if he naps this much?"

John made a face. "Maybe not. I'll wake them both up when we get home. It'll be dinner time soon. Want to help?"

"I don't really know how to cook."

"That's okay. You grated cheese for me the other day just fine. I'll show you how to do other things, too."

"All right. I'd like that."

***

John woke both children when they arrived back at the flat. He set Poppy up with a cartoon while she scribbled in a coloring book on the sofa. Milo dragged out a bucket of building blocks and dumped them on the floor, happily stacking them and humming tunelessly to himself.

"I think I have all the ingredients for cottage pie," John said to Sherlock as he walked into the kitchen. "That sound good?"

Sherlock nodded. "Our cook used to make cottage pie sometimes and I liked it."

"That's settled then. Why don't I take care of the mince while you peel some vegetables?"

John pulled out a packet of beef mince from the fridge while Sherlock grabbed potatoes, celery, and carrots to wash off in the sink. John handed him a peeler and set Sherlock to work.

"Mind chopping me an onion?" John asked, tossing the onion to Sherlock.

"Er... okay...." Sherlock grabbed a knife from the block on the counter and glanced around for a cutting board.

"Here," John pointed to a cupboard. "Do you know how to chop an onion?"

"Um, I can probably figure it out?" Sherlock placed the onion on the board and looked at it, perplexed.

John laughed. "Here, I'll show you."

He went to Sherlock's side. "Budge up a bit."

John guided Sherlock through cutting the onion in half, peeling off the outer layer, and slicing it.

"Careful to keep your fingers tucked in," John said, covering Sherlock's hand with his and showing him how to hold his fingers so they wouldn't be cut.

John took the board and swept the diced onion into his pan, where they sizzled in the oil he'd been heating up. Sherlock returned to peeling and chopping the vegetables while John finished with the mince.

"Nice thing about this recipe," John said, draining the mince and adding the vegetables. "Is it makes two pans. I'll freeze one, that'll be dinner sometime next week."

"You've really got the domestic thing down, don't you?"

"Kind of had to learn it," John replied. "Funny thing about kids, while they'd probably be pleased as punch to live off of fast food and candy, they do better if you feed them real food."

"How'd you learn it all, then?"

"Well, I knew some of the basics from my uni days. And then I relied a lot on cooking shows on the telly and recipes I found on blogs. Believe me, the kids and I have suffered through a lot of my disasters. I'm a passable cook these days, though."

John showed Sherlock how to boil and mash the potatoes with cheddar cheese and milk, allowing Sherlock to spoon the potatoes over the beef and vegetables in the baking dish. He adjusted the oven to the right temperature and put one of the dishes inside.

"I'll cover that second one up when it's cooled and put it in the freezer." John said, checking his watch. "That one needs to bake for half an hour. I'll wash the dishes, if you'll dry?"

Half an hour later, they sat around the kitchen table, eating dinner. Milo was relating a long-winded story about a superhero who protected his building block city while John fed Poppy bites of potato. Sherlock glanced around the table, a warm feeling in his chest. He caught John's eyes and John raised his eyebrows, questioning.

"What's wrong?" John asked.

"Nothing," Sherlock looked away, still smiling. "I was just thinking that I've never really felt like part of a family. Not this way, at least."

John blinked, his face doing something between a smile and frown. He swallowed, composing himself before he replied. "I'm glad you feel like you're a part of our family, Sherlock. Really, I am. We like having you here."

Their eyes met and held each other for a moment before Poppy distracted John with a high-pitched shriek.

***

Later, after dinner had been eaten and cleared away, pajamas donned, bedtime stories read, and two sleepy toddlers bid good night, Sherlock sat on the sofa. The TV played softly, but neither of them paid attention. John had been reading his book, but he'd fallen asleep with it open across his chest. His head lolled back as he snored softly. Sherlock suppressed a small grin and returned to his mobile, where he'd been composing a text.

To: Mycroft
From: Sherlock

I'd like to use the beach house for a couple of weeks.

***

To: Sherlock
From: Mycroft

What on earth for?

***

To: Mycroft
From: Sherlock

For its intended purpose: a holiday.

***

To: Sherlock
From: Mycroft

I'm not letting you go to the beach alone.

***

To: Mycroft
From: Sherlock

I didn't say I'd be alone.

***

To: Sherlock
From: Mycroft

You want to go to the beach with your caregiver?

***

To: Mycroft
From: Sherlock

And his children, yes.

***

To: Sherlock
From: Mycroft

I thought you hated that old house.

***

To: Mycroft
From: Sherlock

For god's sake, Mycroft, I just wanted to check and make sure you weren't using it for a couple of weeks so that I can have a bit of a holiday!

***

To: Sherlock
From: Mycroft

I haven't been back in ages. You're welcome to it, though I still don't understand why you'd want to go back there. I'll call and have the caretaker air the house out and make sure everything's functioning.

***

To: Mycroft
From: Sherlock

Thank you.

***

To: Sherlock
From: Mycroft

Just let me know when you plan on being there, so I don't worry about your whereabouts.

***

Sherlock pressed a button on his phone to dim the screen and smiled in satisfaction. He leaned forward and switched the TV off with the remote. Standing up, he crossed to John's chair and touched him lightly on the shoulder.

"Go to bed, John." He murmured as John blinked awake.

John nodded, a little fuzzily, and allowed Sherlock to help him out of his chair and up the stairs. Satisfied that John was awake enough to put himself to bed, Sherlock returned to the living room and stretched out on the sofa, closing his eyes. While he waited for his mind to settle to sleep, he began making a mental list of the things they'd need to pack for their beach holiday.

Chapter Text

Sunday, John decreed, was cleaning day. Windows opened, floors scoured, trash bins emptied. He set up Poppy and Milo at the kitchen table with a stack of recycle for them to shred, which they were doing while shrieking with laughter, while John busied himself cleaning out the refrigerator.

"Yours is next," John said, squinting at the expiration date on a jar of olives.

Sherlock held open a trash bag for John as he pitched the olives. "Pardon?"

"Your flat. It's next on the docket for a cleaning."

"My flat is perfectly clean!" Sherlock protested. "I've only recently moved in!"

"It won't hurt to do a thorough cleaning." John chucked a package of cheese slices. "Chase out all the dust bunnies, clear out the moldy things in the fridge."

"Those are experiments." Sherlock said, sulkily.

"They're health hazards." John laughed. "It'll be better if I clean than if your brother decides to hire a service."

He had a point, Sherlock thought. "Fine. I suppose the flat could use airing out."

Cleaning took the better part of the day and by the time Sherlock remembered his texts with Mycroft, he felt it was too late to bring up the matter of the beach house. Besides, he reasoned with himself, he wanted it to be a surprise for Poppy and Milo, so he'd be better off waiting until another day.

Dinner was leftover cottage pie, followed by bath times. Sherlock found himself roped into a game of hide and seek with Milo, who scampered around in pajamas decorated with airplanes and gave away his hiding place each time by giggling. After he'd tucked both children in bed, John found Sherlock sprawled out on the couch in a ratty t-shirt and pajama pants, one arm flung over his eyes.

"Scoot over," John said, pushing Sherlock's feet out of the way and dropping to the sofa.

Sherlock pulled up his knees and uncovered his face to look at John. "How do you do it, every day?"

John shrugged. "No choice, is there? The kids need me and things have to get done."

"I'm exhausted." Sherlock groaned.

John laughed and patted Sherlock's knee. "Join the club, my friend."

Sherlock stilled at John's touch. He tried to keep his eyes from focusing on the hand resting on his knee, but found he couldn't stop himself. He licked his lips, suddenly aware of how dry they were. John met his eyes and shifted, uncomfortably.

"S-sorry," John murmured, pulling his hand away.

Sherlock sat up, folding his legs beneath himself, and tried to smile. "It's fine."

"Yeah?" John ran a hand through his hair. "Well. Okay. Er... thanks, by the way. For all the help this weekend. You're a good sport."

"Well, it was part of the bargain, wasn't it?" Sherlock tried not to feel disappointed that the moment between him and John had apparently passed.

"True. But you seemed to enjoy yourself around my kids, around me."

"I've never been so... easily accepted." Sherlock said, his voice soft. "My own family is so prickly. Everything comes with conditions."

Sherlock made a face and looked away, trying to smooth the choppy waters that stirred up every time he spoke of his family. "You don't act like I'm a burden."

"That's because you're not." John said, trying to get Sherlock to meet his eyes. He reached out and took one of Sherlock's hands, rubbing his thumb over the knuckles. "Sure, you were a mess when I first met you. But aren't we all, at some point in our lives? Just because you stumble and fall, doesn't mean you can't pick yourself back up and try again. It doesn't make you a failure. I see you trying to be a better man."

The lump forming in Sherlock's throat made it hard to force words out. His voice came out reedy and slightly strangled. "I am trying."

"I see you," John whispered. "And I've no reason not to trust you. With myself or my kids. They adore you and think you're brilliant."

"A-and you?" Sherlock asked, cautiously, his eyes prickling at the corners. "What do you think of me, John?"

"I think..." John looked at Sherlock's hand in his own, his thumb rubbing circles over Sherlock's knuckles absent-mindedly. "I think you're pretty brilliant, as well."

Sherlock wished the butterflies fluttering in his stomach would calm down. He felt dizzy - half with relief, half with nerves. "You do?"

John gave him a crooked smile and, impulsively, reached out and ruffled his hand through Sherlock's mop of curls. "I do. I like you, Sherlock Holmes. I like having you around."

"Not just because I'm your paycheck?"

John snorted and shot him a rude gesture. "Stuff it, Holmes. You know better."

Sherlock smirked. "Well. I suppose I don't mind having you around, either, John Watson."

"I'm glad we've sorted that out," John smiled, letting go of Sherlock's hand and draping his arm across the back of the sofa. "Now. What movie shall we fall asleep in the middle of tonight?"

After a fierce round of debate, they settled on a murder mystery. Sherlock scooted closer to John on the sofa, trying to act casual. John responded with a chuckle and pulled Sherlock closer, letting him nestle under his arm while the movie's opening credits began playing.

Sherlock settled back, a warm feeling of contentment spreading over him, as he felt John's breaths deepen as he fell asleep.

***

The rest of the week passed uneventfully. John and Sherlock returned to 221B. John made good on his promise to clean the flat, despite Sherlock's protestations over the fate of his mold experiments. It wasn't until John suggested Sherlock purchase a mini-fridge for the sole purpose of experiments that they reached a compromise. Later that week, after Sherlock's therapy appointment - during which John ignored Janine's further attempts at flirting - they bought the promised mini-fridge and installed it in a corner near Sherlock's equipment.

"No more penicillin in the tea," John said happily.

"Mm... no more living dangerously," Sherlock joked.

John laughed, in a good mood after a relatively uneventful week. They'd gone out on another consultation for Lestrade and he'd given Sherlock a case that took him most of the week to suss out completely. Sherlock laughed with John and thought that this would be as good a time as any to spring his surprise.

"John," he began. "I've arranged a little surprise for you. And Poppy and Milo."

"Oh?" John turned, giving his focus to Sherlock. "What sort of surprise?"

Sherlock shifted, looking at his feet. Now that he'd decided to tell John, he wasn't sure how to go about it. "Err... well, I was thinking that we could, well... I mean, if you wanted to, we might...."

"Sherlock, what is it?" John put both his hands on Sherlock's shoulders and made eye contact with him. "Tell me?"

"I want to take you and the children to the beach," Sherlock said in a rush, the words tumbling out almost too quickly to understand. "More specifically, to my family's beach house."

John took a moment to absorb this. "The... beach house? The one...?"

"The one I went to as a child, yes."

"But you said you didn't care for it?"

"It's not that it was such a bad place for a holiday," Sherlock said. "My parents made it difficult, because of their constant arguing and their obvious dislike of each other. My brother didn't help, either - all he ever wanted to do was stay inside and read. Or visit stuffy museums."

"But you want to take me and the children to the beach?"

"I thought... I thought it might be a nice holiday. You said Milo and Poppy's birthdays were coming up and... well...." Sherlock trailed off, not sure how to explain why he desperately yearned to experience a holiday where everyone liked each other and wanted to spend time with each other. He couldn't even explain it to himself.

John's face softened, his eyes sparkling in a way that sent a thrill through Sherlock's belly. "I think a holiday at the beach would be nice. More than nice, in fact. I haven't been able to take a holiday since my honeymoon, actually. And that was just a weekend trip to France."

"Mycroft's already contacted a caretaker to make sure the old house is in good repair. We can go as soon as you want."

"Where is this beach house, anyway?" John took his hands off Sherlock's shoulders and leaned against the counter.

"Cornwall. Padstow, to be precise. It's a small house, but it's not very far to the beach."

"Padstow, that's a fair drive." John said, pulling out his mobile and tapping the calendar app. "You're okay being trapped in a car with two toddlers for five hours?"

"How bad could it be? They're good kids."

John nearly bent double laughing at that. After he'd calmed himself, he replied, "You'll be eating those words, Sherlock. I guarantee it."

"Let's make it interesting, then." Sherlock said, slyly. "A bet? I bet I'll have no trouble surviving a car trip with you and the children."

"And I think you'll be begging for mercy by the time we reach Chiswick. What do I win, if I win the bet?"

"Hmm," Sherlock thought for a moment, his eyes narrowed. "Loser has to buy the winner an ice cream cone at Roskilly's."

John laughed. "Deal."

"So we're going, then?"

"I think it sounds like a perfect holiday," John said, holding up his phone. "Why don't we leave next Friday, after your therapy appointment? We can either arrange for you to miss the next appointment, or we can head back in time for you to make it. That gives me a week to figure out what to pack."

"Perfect," Sherlock grinned. "I'll text Mycroft and let him know when we're leaving."

"Thank you for this, Sherlock. You didn't have to arrange something so extravagant."

"It's not extravagant," Sherlock shrugged. "That house could use a little life in it."

"Well... thank you, all the same."

While Sherlock texted Mycroft, John moved to make sure the flat was ready for them to leave for the weekend. He had an extra bounce in his step as he gathered up a stack of books by Sherlock's chair. A holiday, a real holiday, with the kids and Sherlock. John couldn't help but feel a burst of happy anticipation. A week at the beach was what they all needed.

"Mycroft's been informed," Sherlock said, pocketing his phone. "Are we ready to go?"

John returned the books to their proper place on Sherlock's shelves and nodded. "You head to the car, I'll be there in a minute."

Sherlock left and John did his usual sweep of the flat, checking to make sure no faucets had been left on, the fridge was tightly closed, and everything in its place. As he stopped to turn out the lights, he surveyed the flat once more and marveled over how much his life had changed - for the better - in such a short time. Flicking the light off, he closed and locked the door before heading towards the car and a waiting Sherlock.

Chapter Text

The weekend - and the following week - flew by with preparations for the beach holiday. John made lists and then made more lists - what to pack, snacks for the drive, shopping lists that included everything from extra sunscreen to new beach clothes for Poppy and Milo, who hadn't ever been to the beach before now.

Sherlock, meanwhile, informed Lestrade that he would be unavailable for any cases until after they were back from holiday. After that, he spent several afternoons furtively googling advice on how to keep children occupied during long car rides.

Friday finally arrived and Sherlock dutifully went to his therapy appointment, where he tried to hide the excitement fizzing around in his brain. He didn't think he'd been successful, though - not based on the wide smile that spread across his therapist's face.

"You've made progress," she said at the end of the appointment. "Whatever you're doing, keep it up."

Sherlock practically bounced as he and John returned to the car and pointed it towards John's flat. They'd already locked up 221B so they could get on the road before evening traffic began to pile up.

They heard the wailing before they'd even walked into John's flat. Sherlock paused at the bottom step, shooting John a worried glance. From behind the door came a sharp, angry scream and a great deal of thumping.

"What in the--" John muttered, raising his eyebrows.

He opened the door and the shrieking intensified. John hurried inside, Sherlock at his heels. The luggage John had packed the night before waited by the doorway. In the living room, Molly stood, slightly stooped, a grimace on her face. A naked - and extremely angry - Milo flopped on the floor, kicking his feet and screaming at the top of his lungs. Poppy added her own shrieks to the mix from the sofa, where she sat in clothes streaked with the remains of whatever they'd eaten for afternoon tea.

"Molly?" John had to raise his voice over Milo's constant, high-pitched "NO!"

Molly looked up and made a face as though she might start crying, herself. "Oh, you're... here. Gosh, are you early?"

"What's going on?" John walked over and bent to pick up Milo, who flailed even harder until John gave up.

"I tried to get them cleaned up after their tea," Molly sniffled, pushing hair out of her eyes, "but they've been in terrible moods all day and Milo didn't like the outfit I picked out. So he ran out of his room without any clothes and when I tried to chase him down, he kicked me in the knee. I'm sorry, you know I'm usually more in control of them."

John groaned and rubbed his face. "No, no, it's okay. They know something's up, they just don't realize it's something good."

Molly sniffled once more and John pulled her away from Milo, who had stopped thrashing and was now face down on the floor, whining like a puppy and casting glances at them both to see if they noticed him.

John pulled Molly away and guided her towards the front door. "I'll finish up. You go home. Looks like you need the week off just to recover from my children?"

"You're sure?" Molly asked, smoothing her clothes and trying to compose herself, "I can stay and help."

"Nah, I'll get them calmed down. Thanks, Molly. Enjoy your week - I'll bring you a souvenir from the beach."

Molly offered a quavering smile and allowed John to show her out the door. Meanwhile, Sherlock, who had watched Milo's tantrum with a mixture of horror and fascination, knelt near the boy.

"Hi, Milo," he said, soft enough that Milo had to stop whining to hear him.

Milo sat up, pulling his knees to his chin, his eyes red from crying. "Hi," he said, in a desultory tone.

"Do you want to go on a car ride?" Sherlock asked.

Milo appeared to think about this for a few moments before burying his face in his knees and nodding.

"You can't go on a car ride without any clothes, you know," Sherlock pointed out.

"Why?"

Sherlock had to think about the question for moment. "Well, you'll get cold."

"No blue." Milo huffed out.

"You don't want to wear blue?"

Milo shook his head, flipping his mop of blond hair back and forth.

"Okay, you don't have to wear blue. Would you like to pick out something to wear?"

Milo bit his lip and then gave a tiny nod.

"Let's go do that, then." Sherlock stood up and offered his hand to Milo. He stopped by the sofa and picked up Poppy, whose cries had died down once Milo's had.

John was still talking to Molly on the stoop, so Sherlock ushered Milo upstairs where the offending blue shirt lay crumpled on the floor. Sherlock picked it up and noted the scratchy tag sewed in the back of the shirt.

"Is this why you didn't like the shirt, Milo?" Sherlock held up the tag.

"Blue is itchy!" Milo said, poking out his lip.

Sherlock opened a drawer and rummaged through Milo's clothes, finding a green shirt without any tags in the back and a pair of black shorts. Opening a second drawer, he found clean pants and socks. Once he showed Milo that green wasn't "itchy", he helped him into his clothes and shoes. Then they both went into Poppy's room and found a new outfit laid out for her. Sherlock was trying to figure out how to use a barrette to keep Poppy's hair from falling in her eyes when John stumped up the stairs.

"Sherlock? Milo? Are you all up here?"

"In Poppy's room!" Sherlock called, finally figuring out the clasp on the barrette and clumsily pinning back the chunk of hair that wouldn't stop falling in Poppy's eyes.

John appeared in the doorway and smiled. Milo was leaning against Sherlock's leg, one arm wrapped around Sherlock's knee and his thumb stuck in his mouth. Poppy gurgled happily and patted at the barrette as Sherlock checked to make sure he'd managed to get all the pieces of clothing on right.

"How'd you manage to do all this?" John asked, walking over to them and gathering Poppy into his arms for a hug and a loud, smacking kiss that made Poppy chortle. "They don't look like the screaming banshees that were downstairs."

"Negotiation," Sherlock said, "it works wonders. Milo didn't like the scratchy tags in one of his new shirts."

"Ah, so that was it." John sighed, "I can't wait until they're old enough to tell me exactly what's wrong instead of throwing a tantrum."

"Papa," Milo tugged on John's trouser leg and lifted his arms up, "Papa, blue is itchy."

"Blue is itchy, eh?" John stooped down and awkwardly picked up Milo with one arm, grunting as he stood up with one child balanced on each hip. "I'll bet Molly didn't know that blue is itchy."

"Crisis averted," Sherlock said, smiling, "I think we can go now."

"Thank you," John said, "I'm glad you speak toddler."

"I'm learning."

John had installed the car seats the night before, so it was a relatively quick task to get both Poppy and Milo buckled in and all their suitcases loaded into the boot. Sherlock paused to rummage in one of his bags and produced two coloring books and a pack of crayons, which elicited shrieks of glee when he gave them to Poppy and Milo. John narrowed his eyes as he slid into the driver's seat.

"I see your game, Holmes."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"You'll need far more than coloring books to keep them quiet and happy for five hours, you know."

"How do you know that's my only trick?"

John chuckled and started the car. "We'll see."

***

They did, in fact, make it through Chiswick without incident. Barely. Shortly after, Poppy flung one of her crayons hard enough at Milo's face to make him scream as though he'd been stabbed. This set off a battle of epic proportions in the back seat which ended with Milo getting a handful of Poppy's hair and pulling with all his might. Sherlock tried to lean over the seats and distract them, pulling out a bag of sweeties and trying to reason with them.

"No use trying, Sherlock!" John said, practically yelling over the high-pitched shrieks coming from the back seat, "I'm pulling over."

They pulled off near Heston and John climbed in the back seat and pried Milo's hands out of Poppy's hair. He took Poppy and walked off, trying to console her sobbing, while Sherlock was left feeling shell-shocked with Milo, who was trying to work out how to unbuckle himself from his car seat.

"Out!" He demanded, pulling at the straps of the car seat. "Out, now!"

"I'm not taking you out," Sherlock snapped, "Not until you've apologized for pulling your sister's hair."

"No!"

"Then you're not getting out!"

Milo flung himself backwards, his face tipped up, and screamed at the top of his lungs, "I! DON'T! LIKE! YOU!"

Sherlock recoiled, feeling as though he'd just been slapped in the face. Had someone asked him before he'd met John and became entangled with his family, Sherlock would have laughed at the idea that the disdain of a toddler could hurt him. But now he felt Milo's invective cut deeply, his chest feeling tight and painful as he climbed out of the car and paced by the passenger door while Milo kicked at the back of the passenger seat and chanted "I! Want! Out!"

John returned with a red-faced - but quiet - Poppy. He surveyed the scene in front of him and sighed. "Will you take her? I'll deal with Milo."

Sherlock accepted Poppy, who immediately started to whine, lip trembling and eyes filling with tears.

"Ah... John...."

"Look, Sherlock," John said as he tried to unbuckle Milo and avoid his flailing fists at the same time, "I can't deal with both at the same time! Just bounce her around a bit and she'll be fine! It's not that hard!"

Sherlock bit his lip and stopped himself from snapping back as John hauled Milo out of the car and marched him a distance away to kneel and talk sternly to him. Poppy let out a hiccupping sob as one tear rolled down her cheek.

"I feel the same," Sherlock said miserably, "this isn't starting out well, is it, Poppy?"

"Owie," Poppy wailed, scrunching a hand at her hair.

"Brother pulled your hair, eh?" Sherlock kissed the top of Poppy's head lightly and held her to him, swaying back and forth. "My brother used to pull my curls, too. It hurt like hell."

"Hell!" Poppy sobbed, burying her face in Sherlock's shoulder.

"Don't tell your papa I've just taught you that word," Sherlock said, ruefully.

He began to hum, tunelessly at first, before settling on one of his favorite classical pieces for the violin. Sherlock swayed in time to his humming, stroking the back of Poppy's head. She laid her head on his shoulder and he felt her body relax from its tight, upset coil. Continuing to hum, Sherlock paced a few steps, keeping up with the rhythm of the song. Poppy's breaths grew even and she blinked, sleepily, before the blinking stopped and she was asleep. Sherlock carefully put her back in her car seat and buckled her in, tucking her favorite blanket around her. By the time John came back with Milo, Sherlock was sitting in the passenger seat, poking at his mobile. John looked at Poppy and then at Sherlock, but didn't say a word. He helped a sulky-faced Milo into his car seat and then bent down.

"You remember what papa told you? About the beach and all the fun you're going to have?"

Milo nodded, glaring.

"You'll only get to have fun if you behave, understood?"

Another nod.

"No, I want to hear you say it. Are you going to behave?"

"Yes, papa." Milo huffed.

John bent to rummage in the travel bag he'd packed and pulled out a picture book and a couple of toy cars. "Be papa's big boy and play with your toys, all right? We'll be there in the blink of an eye."

Milo gave his father a tremulous smile as he clutched at the cars. John ruffled his hair and leaned over to kiss his forehead, which caused Milo to shake his head while letting out a small giggle. The worst behind them, John climbed behind the wheel and they were back on the road. They drove, in silence, for a while. John kept glancing at Sherlock and opening his mouth, only to close it again. Finally, he spoke.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I shouldn't have snapped."

"Mmm." Sherlock hunched down in his seat and kept his eyes on his mobile.

"It wasn't very nice and it wasn't your fault that they were being terrors. So. I'm sorry."

Sherlock eyed John for a moment and then shrugged, "S'okay."

"No, it's not," John insisted, "it wasn't my best moment and I'm sorry. You're loads of help with the children, so I shouldn't take it out on you when they're being brats. They're just tired and cranky and off their routine."

"Sounds familiar."

John laughed. "Yeah, you're right. I'm tired and cranky and off my routine, too. I'm sorry, Sherlock. Forgive me?"

Sherlock heard the genuine sorrow in John's voice and he dropped his shoulders. "Of course. I accept your apology, thank you, John."

"Still think a five hour drive with toddlers will be easy?"

"You're not winning that easily."

John laughed again and the tension finally broke. In the back, Milo snored softly, a car clutched in one hand, his mouth hanging open. Beside him, Poppy slept, no traces of her earlier upset on her face.

***

The children slept through nearly half the trip as they passed through several small towns and villages. They woke as they passed the turn-off to get to Bristol and John found a spot to stop off so they could all stretch their legs and empty their bladders. Back on the road, Sherlock tried to distract Poppy and Milo, who had immediately started poking at each other again.

"Look, Milo!" Sherlock pointed out the passenger window, "look at the yellow car! Why don't you try to spot another one?"

But they would have none of it. Milo crowed happily as he pinched his sister's arm, eliciting a frustrated shriek from Poppy as she tried to kick at her brother.

"I will pull over and turn around!" John snapped. "Milo! Do you remember what papa told you?"

Milo stuck his tongue out at Poppy, but stopped trying to grab at Poppy's hair.

This continued the rest of the trip. Squabbles broke out in the back, Sherlock desperately tried to distract the two children with his arsenal of nursery rhymes and car games, and John threatened to call the trip off. They made several stops for bathroom breaks and the five hour trip turned into one closer to six hours. It was dark and the wind had begun to blow when they finally reached Padstow. Sherlock used his mobile as a flashlight while he read the directions to the cottage to John. The cottage was slightly north of the village, isolated from other cottages and overlooking the water in the distance. They drove up a narrow road lined with shrubbery, passing a local farm as they neared the cottage. Giant rolls of hay stood in the fields, resembling hulking, oversized beasts in the darkness.

"Take a right, here," Sherlock said, pointing, "towards the cove. We're almost there."

The cottage was white-walled and covered with climbing vines. The front garden was overgrown and long untended. Sherlock made irritated noises about the caretaker as they carried Poppy and Milo through the vine-covered arch and down the brick path that led to the cottage.

"I don't care if the garden is a jungle," John huffed, "I'll be happy as long as the electricity works and it's warm inside."

The ocean breeze that blew through was on the chilly side and Sherlock was inclined to agree. He fumbled for the set of keys he'd been given by Mycroft and let them inside. A few moments of groping in the dark found the light switch and the cottage lit up. They'd entered through the small living room, which held a sofa, a dining table, a small entertainment center holding an even smaller television, and a brick fireplace, which had been freshly laid for them with kindling.

The living room branched off into a narrow hallway, which led to a tiny kitchen with wood counters and a door that opened out on to the patio and back garden. Further down the hall and past the small bathroom were the bedrooms. John opened one door and found a closet-sized room that barely held the two twin beds inside.

"Found the children's room!" John called out to Sherlock, who had stopped to make sure the bathroom was well-stocked.

Milo careened down the hallway, having been turned loose by Sherlock, and bounced on one of the beds. Poppy giggled and pushed at John's arms, trying to get down, so he set her on her feet and let her chase after Milo. John turned to the other door at the end of the hall and opened it.

"Er... Sherlock?" John called out and Sherlock appeared after a few moments, a questioning look on his face. "We have a problem."

"What's that?"

"Unless you know of a hidden room somewhere, this is it. There are only two bedrooms and this master bedroom only has one bed."

Sherlock's mouth opened in a surprised "O" and his eyes grew wide. After a few seconds, his face flushed pink.

"You forgot there were only two bedrooms, didn't you?"

Sherlock flushed even brighter and nodded. "I...I didn't think about it. My brother and I shared the small room and my parents always took the master bedroom."

"Yes, I imagine they would have." John said, ruefully.

"I'm sorry, John." Sherlock looked miserable. "This isn't starting off at all like it should. I'll take the sofa. I'm used to sleeping on the sofa, anyway."

John pushed a hand through his hair and sighed, looking at Sherlock and imagining him squishing his lanky body on the sofa. It was significantly smaller than the one he had slept on in John's flat.

"Oh, for...." John let out a short bark of laughter. "No, you won't. We're both adults here, yeah? The bed's big enough to share."

John thought that if Sherlock's face grew any redder, it could be used as a beacon for passing ships.

"No, I can't ask you to do that..." Sherlock stuttered, not meeting John's eyes.

"Don't be ridiculous, Sherlock. I'll stick to my side and you stick to yours. It'll be fine."

"Y-you're sure?"

"Positive."

"Well...."

"No arguments. It's how it's going to be."

Sherlock gave up, nodding. "All right, I suppose that'll work...."

John walked over and clapped a hand on Sherlock's shoulder. "It'll be fine. Want to help me get the bags in and then we'll go into the village and see if there's anything open for food?"

They hauled in the bags and, over the protests of the children, loaded themselves back into the car and drove into the village. Sherlock spotted a fish and chips takeaway still open, though not for much longer. They picked up two adult portions and two children's portions and headed back to the cottage to eat in the small dining area, the windows propped open to let the cool sea air waft the smell of the ocean inside. After they ate, John insisted on baths for both Poppy and Milo and then bedtime. Despite the long nap they'd taken on the drive to Padstow, both children grew sleepy after their baths and didn't protest when John tucked them into bed and gave them both a hug and a kiss. He dowsed the lights and pulled the bedroom door almost closed before returning to the living room, where Sherlock had cleaned up after dinner and now dozed on the sofa.

"Oi, wake up and go to bed, lightweight!" John swatted at Sherlock's shoulder, startling him into wakefulness.

"It's too early to go to bed," Sherlock said, swallowing a yawn.

"Then you're a better man than me," John said, laughing, "because I'm exhausted."

"I wanted to show you the cove," Sherlock groused.

"Tomorrow, when it's light outside. Come on. Bed."

Sherlock gave a few more weak arguments, each one punctuated by a yawn, before finally agreeing. He shut himself in the bathroom while John hurriedly donned pajama bottoms and a ratty, old t-shirt in the bedroom. Sherlock emerged a short time later, curls slightly damp, also wearing pajama bottoms and a grey t-shirt, turned inside out.

"Wrong way 'round," John joked, poking at the seams showing on Sherlock's shirt.

Sherlock shrugged and grinned crookedly. "Grey is itchy."

John laughed and they both climbed into bed. Sherlock scooted over to the far edge of the bed, leaving a vast space between John and him.

"I will let you have your fair share of the bed," John said, quietly, pulling the blankets over himself.

"I'm fine."

"Sure?"

"Yeah."

"Okay." John reached over and clicked off the lamp. "Goodnight, Sherlock."

"G'night."

The room grew quiet and John listened to Sherlock's breathing. It had been a long time since he'd tried to sleep with someone other than a child in his room. He found his eyes kept popping open when he tried closing them.

"Sherlock?"

"Mmm?"

"Thank you."

"For what."

"For this. All of it."

"You don't have to keep thanking me."

"I know. But... thank you."

"You're welcome."

John rolled to his side to face Sherlock. He couldn't see him in the dark, but he felt him tense up.

"Sherlock?"

"Yes, John?"

"I can't sleep."

Sherlock let out a breathy laugh. "No, neither can I."

"Come here."

"What?" Sherlock sounded startled.

"I mean...." John searched to find the word he wanted to say. "I don't know what I mean."

Sherlock shifted and John felt him roll over and scoot closer until he could just make out his face looking back at John.

"This isn't going to work, is it?" Sherlock whispered.

"Maybe... maybe it'd be easier if...." John knew he was treading on thin ice here, but he took a chance, "you turn around and...."

Sherlock shifted again and then John felt his thin body lean back against him. John curved himself around Sherlock, letting Sherlock tuck his head against John's shoulder. He rested his hand at Sherlock's waist and Sherlock curled his feet up, pressing them against John's legs.

"Christ, your feet are cold," John hissed.

"They always are. Is this okay?"

"Yeah... yeah, I think it is. Is it okay for you?"

John felt Sherlock nod and he relaxed. Now that he had Sherlock's warm body (except for those feet! Ice cubes!) pressed against him, he felt sleep approaching.

"John?"

"Yeah?"

"Is this... what is this?"

John thought for a long moment. Long enough that Sherlock wriggled around a little to see if John was still awake. John could barely see Sherlock's eyes, shining in the darkness as they caught a sliver of the moonlight that filtered in through the window.

"It's... it's whatever you want it to be." John said, not sure how to voice the tangle of thoughts in his head.

"Is it? Are you sure? Do you know what I want?"

John lifted his hand and found it shook slightly. He smoothed Sherlock's hair from his forehead and Sherlock turned to press his face against John's palm, sighing happily. "I think we want the same thing, Sherlock."

"But...how do you know?"

"I don't." John shrugged, even though Sherlock wouldn't be able to see it. "I feel that we do."

"Oh." The sound was soft and barely audible, but John felt the breath of it on his hand as he continued to card his fingers through Sherlock's curls.

"Is this okay?"

"Yes."

"Can you sleep, now? We'll talk more... in the morning, maybe?"

"Okay... John?"

"Yes?"

"I think I owe you ice cream."

John's laugh rumbled against Sherlock's back. "Yeah, I think you do. Tomorrow, all right?"

John felt Sherlock nod and they both relaxed against each other. John had no idea what had just happened, nor when he'd decided that this was what he wanted. Weeks of tension between them, of accidentally brushing up against each other, of feeling like no matter what space they were in, it was always too small, all that drained away and John felt like clutching Sherlock close and never letting him go. He didn't know what it meant, but somehow it felt like the most right choice he'd ever made. He wrapped his arm around Sherlock's waist and snuggled against him, closing his eyes and feeling sleep overtake him almost immediately.

Chapter Text

John woke to a face-full of dark curls and the sounds of gull cries from outside. Sometime in the middle of the night, Sherlock had turned in his sleep and wrapped himself around John, octopus-like. Sherlock snored softly, his face pressed against John's chest. John tried to shift out from under Sherlock, but found his body pinned by Sherlock's limbs. John huffed out a quiet laugh and tapped Sherlock on his shoulder.

"Sherlock, hey... time to wake up."

John could hear thumps from the next room, followed by a high-pitched giggle. Only a matter of time before Poppy or Milo decided to look for him.

"Sherlock," he said, louder this time. "Wake up!"

This last was accompanied by John shaking Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock mumbled something unintelligible and then his eyes flew open. He blinked a few times, clearly confused, before he settled on John's face. The memories of the night before must have come flooding back, because Sherlock turned crimson and sat up, scrambling away from John and leaving a wide gap between them.

"It's okay," John reassured him. "I hear the kids waking up. I thought we should get out of bed before they do."

Sherlock nodded and worried the hem of his shirt with one hand. "Sorry... I'm a deep sleeper."

John laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "I could tell!"

He leaned forward and caught Sherlock's worrying hand, giving it a squeeze before letting go.

"It's okay," John both stated and asked, making Sherlock meet his eyes. "Isn't it?"

John hadn't been on the receiving end of a genuine Sherlock smile very often. But it had happened enough that he knew they were something special. This time, the naked joy beaming at him nearly took John's breath away.

"It's okay," Sherlock echoed. "More than okay, in fact."

"Do you want to talk about...anything?"

Sherlock paused to think the question over before shaking his head. "Can't we just let what happens... happen?"
"But--" John began and then closed his mouth, wrinkling his brow as he tried to sort out his thoughts.

John tried again. "Shouldn't we try to, I don't know, define...whatever this is?"

Sherlock tugged his hand away and returned to worrying the edge of his t-shirt. He looked away and softly - almost too softly for John to hear - asked, "Do you like me, John?"

It was John's turn to smile and laugh, a deep, forceful chuckle that caught him off guard. "Of course I like you! What sort of question is that?"

"Then what more do we need?" Sherlock turned back and met John's eyes, a pleased smile curving his lips. "Why define anything?"

There were a hundred objections John could have brought up. What would people say? What would his kids think? What would they tell everyone? But even as they entered his mind, he swept them away.

"You're right," he said, nodding. "You're absolutely right."

"Good," Sherlock climbed out of bed and stretched. "Shall we go see what the caretaker left for us for food?"

***

John went to fetch Poppy and Milo from their room while Sherlock traipsed to the kitchen, still in his pajama pants and t-shirt. By the time John herded two giggling toddlers to the kitchen, Sherlock had checked the cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer for their contents. He'd decided his cooking skills were about on par enough to make French toast and sausages and was dunking slices of bread in egg wash while John settled Milo and Poppy at the table and gave them some juice.

"Need any help?" John asked, peering around Sherlock to observe.

"I think I'm doing fine." Sherlock answered, smirking.

Now that he had permission, John found it difficult to keep his eyes off of Sherlock. He watched the lines of his body as he finished dunking bread and laid each slice carefully in a pan with caramelizing butter. John couldn't help but reach out and rub a hand on Sherlock's back as he stretched over him to get plates out of the dish cupboard. Sherlock didn't say anything, but the smile and wink he aimed at John told John it was the right move.

"Don't let the sausages burn," John warned, nodding at the other pan on the stovetop, where the sausages sizzled and popped.

"Don't worry, I think I can handle a couple of sausages," Sherlock said and pulled a face at John.

Even so, he leaned over and used a fork to turn the sausages over, adjusting the flame so they didn't cook so quickly. John smiled smugly and returned to the table where Poppy and Milo were giggling and twisting around in their seats to look out the window. Outside, the sun shone brightly in a perfectly blue sky and in the distance, John could see the ocean glittering in the light.

"What shall we do today, troops?" John asked, sitting down in between the two children. "What adventures will go on?"

"Ocean, papa!" Milo crowed. "I wanna see the ocean! You promised!"

"I did, indeed." John nodded and turned to Poppy. "And what about you, my girl? What do you want to do? Do you want to see the ocean?"

Poppy nodded, bouncing in her seat and grinning, a grape juice ring around her mouth. "Notion!"

John laughed. "All right, the beach it is. Then Sherlock owes us ice cream, I think."

"If I remember right, I owe you ice cream," Sherlock retorted, carrying over two plates of breakfast for Poppy and Milo. "I said nothing about buying for everyone."

"You'd deprive these poor, wee children ice cream?"

At this, Milo turned a pleading face to Sherlock, his eyes grown huge. He tugged on Sherlock's shirt and wheedled, "Pleeeeeeease, Sherlock? Ice cream?"

John watched Sherlock go through a torturous ten seconds trying to keep a straight face, before he broke into a grin and nodded. "Yes, Milo. We'll get ice cream after we go to the beach."

Milo kicked his legs enthusiastically and dug into his breakfast. Sherlock returned to the stove and brought back plates for John and himself.

"That was an underhanded trick," Sherlock pointed out, forking a bite of French toast into his mouth. "You knew he'd put on the puppy dog eyes."

"That's what kids are for," John replied, winking at Sherlock. "It worked, didn't it?"

Sherlock blushed and tried hard not to laugh. His eyes twinkled as he reached over and helped Poppy with her breakfast.

"I think we'll go to St. George's Cove," Sherlock said, changing the subject. "It's not too far and it's nice. Plus it's normally quiet."

"Perfect," John said. "I'll clean up these two after breakfast and we'll head out."

***

Breakfast and clean-up took another hour, but soon they were piling into the car. It was a warm day, so Sherlock, John, and Milo wore swim trunks and thin t-shirts, while Poppy wore a bathing suit and banged a plastic toy shovel and bucket together as John buckled her into her car seat.

"Off we go!" John declared, settling behind the wheel.

He rolled the windows down so they could enjoy the ocean breeze and followed Sherlock's instructions to St. George's Cove. They were the only ones there, save for an older couple walking a dog along the coastline and a man and his young son building a sandcastle.

"That looks fun," John pointed to the sandcastle. "Milo, want to try building one of those?"

Milo stood, gaping at the sand and ocean spread out before him. "Wow!" He cried, turning around to look at John. "Wow, papa!"

"Pretty cool, isn't it?"

Milo ran to Sherlock and tugged on his hand. "Sherlock, c'mon!"

Sherlock laughed and followed. John pulled Poppy out of her car seat and gathered the plastic sand toys they'd brought, before following after.

"Oi, you two! Come back and put on sunscreen!" He called after Milo and Sherlock, who were racing towards the water.

They circled back, slathered on sunscreen, and then took off again. John, meanwhile, found a good spot to spread a beach towel and set Poppy up with a shovel and bucket. She cooed happily as she dug her toes into the sand. John divided his time between keeping an eye on her and watching Milo and Sherlock splash around at the edge of the water.

"What do you think, Pops?" John asked, tickling Poppy's feet and making her giggle. "Sherlock's pretty cool, isn't he?"

"Coooool," Poppy nodded, dumping a shovel full of sand on the beach towel. "He funny."

"Yeah, he's funny, too."

"Who's funny?" Sherlock and Milo had come back and now Sherlock stood over John, dripping water on him.

"Watch it!" John laughed, reaching up and tugging Sherlock down on the beach towel. "How's the ocean?"

"Frigid," Sherlock answered, his teeth chattering. "We decided to forego anything more than a splash. The current's too strong, anyway."

"Smart move. What's on the agenda, then? Sandcastles?"

"I've challenged Milo to build the ultimate sandcastle."

"Ultimate, eh? This I need to see."

John loaded the two of them up with buckets and shovels and they returned to a spot where the sand was properly wet. He smiled as he watched Sherlock and Milo together, shaping the base of a sand castle. He'd never been able to share the parenting this equally with Mary. She would grow tired of the children easily, foist them back to John, and go off with her own interests. Sherlock not only helped where he could, he actually seemed to enjoy it. Where he'd been cautious at the start, he now seemed to have found a rapport with both the children.

"Let's go see what the boys are doing, hmm?" John asked Poppy, who'd managed to bury her legs in sand.

He extricated her, brushing the sticky granules off her legs, and hoisted her on his hip. As he approached Sherlock and Milo, he caught snippets of their conversation.

"So you see, Milo, the Vikings would storm the English castles and villages and slay everyone with their swords. They were fierce warriors and after they were done, they'd burn everything!" Sherlock was explaining, excitedly. "This castle could be one of the castles the Vikings stormed."

"Yeah, Bikings!" Milo shouted, standing up and brandishing his shovel like a sword. "Raaaahhh!"

"Sherlock, for Christ's sake, what are you telling him?" John asked, half amused and half perturbed. "He's only four!"

"Almost five," Sherlock insisted. "He wanted to know about castles."

"So you tell him about kings and queens and princesses, nice stuff like that."

"Dull. Besides, that's just filling his head with historically inaccurate details."

John laughed and shook his head. "Please keep the pillaging to a minimum, all right?"

Sherlock sighed, but nodded. "I will endeavor to tell him 'nice' stories about castles."

"Thank you." John leaned over to examine the sand castle. "This is pretty impressive."

"Well, as I said, we're building the ultimate castle."

At that moment, Milo let out an angry shriek as Poppy plopped one foot in the middle of one of the castle's corners. The sand crumbled and Milo shoved at Poppy, who then burst into tears.

"Milo!" John snapped. "No pushing!"

"But papa!"

"No 'but papa'! You don't push." John picked Poppy up again and bounced her on his hip to try to calm the tears. "I think we'll go for a walk, so you two can build in peace."

Sherlock squinted up and nodded. "Probably for the best. Bring us some seashells, if you find them? We can decorate the sandcastle with them."

"Will do!" John waved at them both and headed down the beach, pointing out gulls circling overhead to distract Poppy from her pout.

***

By the time John returned, the sandcastle was starting to look impressive. Milo and Sherlock continued to babble at each other about Vikings and swords and now a dragon had entered into the mix. John shook his head, smiling.

"This one's about beached out for the day," John nodded at Poppy, who had started to whine. Her face was red from sun and wind and a storm brewed in her expression. "Are you two almost done?"

"Oh," Sherlock's shoulders dropped, his voice filled with disappointment. "We were going to go look at some of the rock pools after this...."

"You're having fun, aren't you?" John smiled gently.

"Well," Sherlock mused, "I'm doing everything I used to do as a kid, but this time I'm not...."

"Alone." John finished for him. He thought for a moment and then lit upon a solution. "It's okay. Look, we're not far from the cottage. Do you think you two could walk back, if I took Poppy back now? I'll lay her down for a nap and by the time you two are back, she'll be in a good mood to go for ice cream. Or you can text and I'll come back and pick you up."

"We can walk," Sherlock agreed. "That sounds like a good plan to me."

"Milo, you want to stay at the beach with Sherlock?" John asked his son, who was now using the shovel to mime a dragon flying over the castle.

"STAY!" He roared in his best dragon voice. "STAY WITH SHERLOCK!"

"That answers my question, then." John chuckled. "All right, we'll be back at the cottage waiting for you."

He stooped down and planted a kiss on Milo's forehead. Milo scrunched his nose and waved at John as though he were an annoying fly. On impulse, John stooped down and pecked a kiss on Sherlock's forehead, too. Then he delighted in the blush that so easily spread over Sherlock's face.

"Don't be too long, all right?" He asked, quietly.

Sherlock, speechless, nodded. He brushed fingers across the spot John had kissed. John readjusted Poppy on his hip and turned to go, waving at the two of them.

***

Poppy fell asleep on the drive home and John didn't have the heart to wake her to change out of her bathing suit. Instead, he spread a towel over the bed to catch any loose sand, and laid her down to sleep. Suddenly feeling tired himself, he stretched out on the bed by her, intending to rest his eyes for a few moments.

When he woke, John felt confused at first. The room was darker than it should have been. Outside, the sun dipped low in the sky. Poppy was sitting up, thumb in her mouth, and when she saw John was awake, she smiled around her thumb and waved with her free hand.

"Mmph," John grumbled, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He reached out for his mobile, which he'd set on the bedside table.

No messages from Sherlock and a check of the time confirmed that it was far later than it should be. Sherlock and Milo should have been home hours ago. John swiped through his contacts and pressed the call button next to Sherlock's name. He stood and paced a few steps - the length of the small room - as he listened to the mobile go straight to voicemail.

"Dammit, Sherlock, where are you?" John snapped after the tone sounded in his ear.

He ended the call and swept Poppy up, taking her into the bathroom to wash off the beach sand and change her into regular clothes. Afterwards, he tried calling Sherlock again, only to receive the same answer. John took Poppy into the kitchen and settled her at the table with a coloring book while he paced in front of the front windows and tried to decide what to do. He could call the police, but he wasn't sure where Sherlock and Milo had planned to go. He could go out and search for them himself, but he wouldn't know where to start. He tried calling again; voicemail, once more.

John had decided to call the police when he saw a tall figure struggling up the walk, a small form balanced on his hip. "Bloody hell," he swore, running to the front door and pulling it open.

Sherlock and Milo were both soaked through, their hair plastered to their heads, water dripping everywhere. They were both shivering as Sherlock trudged to the cottage door. Sherlock took one look at John and his face turned pale. He averted his eyes and bit his lip.

"Where," John began, his voice shaking with rage, "in the hell have you been? Do you know how worried I've been? I was seconds away from phoning the police."

"I-I'm sorry," Sherlock said, his voice barely a whisper. "I---"

"You could have been dead for all I knew!" John interrupted, growing shrill. "You couldn't have called? I expect better of you, Sherlock."

Sherlock stared miserably at his feet and Milo began to whimper. "I'm sorry, John. I am."

"Never mind your stories," John snapped, reaching out and taking Milo from Sherlock. "Come in before you catch your death."

Sherlock followed John into the cottage, wordlessly, dripping a great puddle at his feet. John headed for the bathroom to get Milo out of his soaking clothes and into a warm bath. "You going to tell me where the two of you have been? Hmm?"

"It was an accident." Sherlock stood at the bathroom door, shivering. "We were looking at the rock pools and I... I must've forgotten what time the tide comes in. We were stranded."

John swore. "For God's sake, Sherlock! Do you know how dangerous that was? Why didn't you phone me?"

"I lost my mobile. I slipped, trying to get to higher ground. That's how we got so wet."

"If something had happened to the two of you---" John cut himself off, swallowing hard and trying to beat back the anger that kept cresting.

"I know!" Sherlock cried out. "I know I fucked up. Badly. I'm so sorry, John. I didn't mean... you know I would never put either of them in danger. I'm sorry... I'm sorry!"

John rocked back on his heels, attention torn away from Milo, who had recovered enough to splash around in the bathtub. Sherlock covered his face with his hands and shivers wracked his body. John could hear his teeth chattering, as well, and he suddenly felt a wave of remorse.

"Hey," John stood and walked over to Sherlock. "Hey, no... don't... don't be upset."

He grabbed one of the towels he'd set out for Milo and wrapped it around Sherlock's shoulders, trying to rub some warmth into his chilled skin. "Sherlock, look at me. It's okay now. You're all right and... well, it's all right."

"No it's not," Sherlock choked back a sob. "I could have killed us both with my stupidity! How will you ever trust me with them again?"

Milo was watching them worriedly now and John pulled Sherlock into his arms, not caring whether he got wet. "Shhh, of course I trust you. I know you wouldn't do anything like that on purpose."

Sherlock pressed his face into John's shoulder, snuffling around like a puppy looking for warmth. "But it still happened!"

"It did, and you scared the life out of me," John agreed, which caused a fresh volley of choked sobs. "But you came back to me and you brought my son back to me, safe and sound. I won't apologize for being angry, because I was really scared, but I'm not angry anymore."

"I'd never let anything happen to Milo," Sherlock insisted. "I would have... I'd have done everything I could to make sure he wasn't hurt."

John heard the unspoken words and knew that Sherlock meant he would have died to make sure Milo survived. Now it was John's turn to shiver as he thought of what could have happened.

"Of course you would have done everything," John whispered, rubbing soothing circled over Sherlock's back. "I know you would have."

"How can you even look at me? How can you forgive me so quickly?" Sherlock pulled away, sinking to the bathroom floor, his back against the wall.

"Because," John said, sitting down next to him. "Because I care for you. A lot. Just as I care for my children."

This quieted Sherlock. His breath stilled and he stared at John, his eyes bright with tears. "You can't mean that."

"I do," John insisted. "My children are everything to me, but... so are you. Or at least you're becoming that to me."

Sherlock seemed in shock, so John continued. "Look, parents make mistakes all the time. Did I tell you once that Poppy once had to have stitches in her chin because someone who might have been me was letting her jump on the bed with a bottle in her mouth? If you look closely, you can still see the scar."

Sherlock couldn't completely suppress the small smile at that, though he tried. "No, you didn't tell me."

"Well, it happened. And I thought I was the worst father in the world for a week after that, every time I saw the stitches in her lovely face. But... it happened, and she survived, and she doesn't even remember it. We all make mistakes, Sherlock. This one was a pretty big one, but you both survived and as far as I'm concerned, that's all that matters. Because I do care about both of you, very deeply."

Wiping at his face, Sherlock nodded. "I care about you, too, John. And I love Poppy and Milo. I've never even liked children, but I love those two."

John swallowed, suddenly aware of the lump in his throat. "I know that you do. I can see it, when you interact with them. And I'm so grateful we have you in our lives."

"You don't want me to leave, then? After this...?" Sherlock looked terrified as he offered this question, as though he thought John might turn him out.

"No, of course not!" John insisted. "You're officially family now. We don't leave family behind. I might get angry or upset or disappointed, but I would never ask you to leave."

Sherlock's shoulders sagged in relief and he let out a shaky breath. John leaned closer to him, their eyes locking. He reached out and rested his hand on Sherlock's knee as he drew near.

"Papa!" Milo cried out, breaking the moment. "Papa, prunes!"

John jerked back, remembering where they were. He turned to find Milo leaning over the tub and wriggling wrinkled fingers at him. "Ah, you've gone all pruney! I suppose that means bath time's over?"

He wrapped a towel around Milo and then turned to Sherlock, who'd stood up, looking a little lost for what to do.

"Take a shower," John insisted. "Your lips are turning blue. I think we've had enough excitement for the evening. No ice cream tonight - we'll go tomorrow."

Milo protested, but John shushed him with a look. "Ice cream, tomorrow. I'm going to get this one into his PJs and feed both kids dinner. You take a warm shower and then it'll be our turn for dinner. Okay?"

Sherlock, too tired to argue, nodded, and John carried Milo to his bedroom while Sherlock climbed into the shower.

***

John had fed and put both children to bed by the time Sherlock emerged from the shower, warm again and dressed in his pajamas. Sherlock found John lighting a fire in the fireplace.

"Thought you might need this to warm up," John said after he'd looked up when Sherlock entered the room. "Are you doing all right?"

Sherlock nodded. "The shower helped, thank you."

"How about dinner? I made soup for the kids. There's enough left over for both of us. We can have toast and jam to go with it."

"That sounds good," Sherlock said, smiling. "Thank you."

John brought dinner in to the living room and they ate in comfortable silence while the fire crackled and took off the last of Sherlock's chill.

"I can sleep out here tonight," Sherlock said, in between spoonfuls of soup.

"I thought we went over this last night?" John raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Yes, but... after today, I thought...." Sherlock trailed off.

"Would you please stop punishing yourself?" John asked, setting down his toast. "I promise, I'm not angry anymore. It was only because I was so scared that I let my anger get the best of me, anyway."

Sherlock bit his lip, but didn't say anything.

"I'll sleep better with you next to me," John said, quietly.

Sherlock looked up, surprised. "You will?"

"Yeah, I will." John nodded. "At least I did last night."

"Oh," Sherlock said, relief evident on his face. "All right, then."

"Tomorrow's another day, anyway," John insisted. "A fresh start. No adventure on the beach."

"Definitely not," Sherlock said, letting a small smile play at the corners of his mouth. "Ice cream in the village, I think. Less dangerous."

"That sounds perfect." John stood up to take their empty dishes to the kitchen. "But for now, I'm bushed. Ready for bed?"

Sherlock yawned hugely and nodded. "Ready."

"C'mon, then." John tugged at Sherlock's hand and pulled him up. "Off to Bedfordshire with us."

Chapter Text

The next handful of days passed uneventfully. Sherlock made good on his promise for ice cream in the village and they spent the afternoon licking double-scoop cones while wandering around all the tourist-y shops that lined the main street through the village. Sherlock came close to buying everything that caught Poppy or Milo's eyes, but John put a stop to it before they accumulated ten pounds of souvenirs to take home. Instead, they bought handfuls of postcards and spent a quiet evening writing messages home to family and friends. Sherlock even - reluctantly - wrote a postcard to Mycroft, though John suspected his message mainly consisted of complaints about the groundskeeper.

They returned to the beach after the terror of that first day had faded, but avoided staying out until the tide came in. One particularly sunny morning, Sherlock declared that they would spend the day on the Camel Estuary, digging for clams and mussels. Though John was skeptical at first, he now couldn't recall a time when he'd had more fun. Both Poppy and Milo were useless at catching anything, but the squeals of delight they made while splashing around and digging in the sand indicated they didn't care. At the end of the day, they had a small bucket of seafood, which they steamed and enjoyed that evening for dinner.

The days passed by far too quickly, at least according to John. He wished they could stay forever in the small cottage, where all their cares and worries seemed so small and far away.

"We could stay," Sherlock said, quietly, one evening during dinner.

They planned to leave the next day for home and John had moped around the cottage all day. He couldn't help it - this vacation had been a small pocket of perfection in the middle of the chaos of everyday life, and he felt sad to give it up.

"What was that?" John paused in his attempt to cut Milo's chicken into bite-sized pieces and looked at Sherlock.

"An extra week wouldn't hurt anything," Sherlock forked a piece of chicken into his mouth and chewed slowly. "The cottage sits empty most of the time, and it's not like you've a job to go back to."

Sherlock pulled a wry smile and added, "Or rather, your job's here with you."

John laughed at the joke, but quickly sobered. He pushed his food around on his plate while he contemplated. "Do you want to stay another week?"

Though he acted casual about it, John could tell Sherlock was gauging his reaction as he shrugged one shoulder and replied, "I'm having a good time. And both Poppy and Milo's birthday are next week, didn't you say?"

"They are."

"We could celebrate it here. What do you say, Milo? Birthday on the beach?"

Milo's eye grew saucer-sized as he looked up at John, "Can we, Papa?"

John pointed his fork at Sherlock and put a mock glare on his face, "That's playing dirty, Holmes."

"What do you say, then? Shall we stay another week? I can text Mycroft, tell him not to worry."

John felt a warm, happy feeling spread through his chest as he thought of another week at the cottage, just the four of them. His own, little family.

"Why not?" He said, smiling. "Might as well do these things while the children are young and out of school."

Milo gave a hoot of delight and gave an impromptu plate-drum solo with his utensils while Poppy, not wanting to be left out of the action, screeched and bounced in her highchair. Sherlock flashed John one of his rare - but becoming more frequent - grins.

"Go on then," John nodded to Sherlock. "Text Mycroft."

"Oh, I already did this morning."

"What?!" John laughed. "You were so sure you'd convince me?"

"Considering you were one step away from saying good bye to all the pieces of furniture individually, yes."

John chuckled again and nodded. "I suppose you're right. I wasn't looking forward to leaving. But if we're going to stay here another week, we have to tackle laundry mountain. Otherwise we'll all be going to the beach in our birthday suits."

"I'd like to see that," Sherlock said, without thinking. His face flamed bright red as he realized what he'd just said and he stammered unintelligibly while John laughed so hard he couldn't catch his breath. The children watched the two of them, confused, which only made John laugh harder.

"I didn't mean---" Sherlock began.

"It's all right," John said, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes. "Thank you, again. I know I keep saying it, but I can't help it. Thank you for this... gift. For everything."

Sherlock nodded, his eyes growing intent as he looked at John. "I'd do anything to see you like this, always."

"Like what?"

"Happy."

John paused, and this time it was his turn to blush. "I am, you know. Truly happy. I'd forgotten how it felt."

"I want to make sure you never forget again," Sherlock said softly, looking down at his now empty plate.

John reached across the table, taking Sherlock's hand, which had been tapping nervously near his utensils. He squeezed lightly and smiled at Sherlock reassuringly. "I know, Sherlock. I know."

They sat like that for a few minutes, until Milo and Poppy started squabbling and the moment broke. Sherlock stood up quickly.

"I'll clear up," he said, "while you get them ready for bed."

"Deal," John grunted as he tried to separate Poppy and Milo from their hair-pulling competition. "And then we've a birthday party to plan."

***

"Legos," Sherlock said, popping his head around a shelf in the toy store they were browsing, "or a pirate ship?"

"Do you even need to ask?" John said, nodding to where Milo was careening around the store, wearing a pirate hat and brandishing a plastic sword. "Purple or pink?"

He held up the tea set he'd been eyeing for Poppy.

"Purple," Sherlock declared. "But I think you'd better get pirate get-ups for the both of them."

He raised his eyebrows at the two children. Poppy, eager to imitate her brother, had donned a pirate hat as well and was screeching "Pwank! Pwank!"

"I don't know who's walking the plank," John said. "But woe to anyone who crosses those two pirates."

Sherlock chuckled and went back to his perusing. "We should stop by the bookstore across the street, too. No birthday is complete without a new adventure story to read."

"You'll spoil them, you know."

"Not possible. Those two are perfect as they are."

"Really." John's doubt was punctuated by an angry shriek as Milo grabbed Poppy's pirate hat and threw it across the aisle.

"Well," Sherlock said, refusing to back down. "They are only children, after all."

John snorted and went to break up the fight. They'd decided to shop for birthday gifts that morning; the birthday party in question would take place the next day. Milo had even made friends with a young Swedish boy who was on holiday with his parents, so the party would have guests. They'd chosen a cake at a local bakery this morning, as well, and Sherlock stopped by Roskilly's for hand-packed ice cream. Now, Sherlock smuggled their purchases to the check-out counter while John distracted the two children so they wouldn't see what they were buying.

"I was planning on paying for those," John said as they left the store. "You don't have to pay for everything."

"I know I don't," Sherlock said, making a beeline for the book store across the street. "I wanted to."

John sighed, but didn't argue, and followed Sherlock into the bookstore.

***

John could see Sherlock struggling to make small talk with little Alf's parents as he attempted to keep three children, stuffed with birthday cake and ice cream, from starting World War III in pirate hats. He would rescue Sherlock as soon as possible, but first.... John swept Poppy up in his arms as she went careening by with a fork in her hand.

"Ah-ah.... no eating utensils for pirate weapons, my dear." He pried the fork from her sticky hands and then distracted her with a noisy raspberry on her cheek.

The birthday party had been fun, if a little exhausting. Alf's parents - both scientists - had both latched on to Sherlock when they discovered his shared love of science and the way he used it to solve crimes. Sherlock, to his credit, tried valiantly to be polite and social, though John could see it exhausted him. He resolved to break up the party soon and rescue Sherlock from having to continue socializing.

Later, as they cleaned up bits of wrapping paper, blobs of frosting, and other detritus, Sherlock asked, "So, how's it feel to be the father of a five and three-year-old? Any different?"

"It just reminds me that I'm that much older and more tired." John groaned, scraping the last of the cake crumbs into the rubbish bin. "I have a birthday hangover, and I didn't even have to drink to get it."

Sherlock laughed. "I think Poppy and Milo have one, too."

The two children were sacked out on the couch, oblivious to the world. Poppy had a cone-shaped birthday hat strapped to her chin and Milo clutched his new pirate ship protectively in his sleep.

"Ah, bugger." John cursed. "Wake 'em up, or let them sleep without brushing their teeth or putting them in their pajamas?"

"If we wake them up now, they'd probably fall right back to sleep." Sherlock suggested. "Then their teeth wouldn't rot from all that cake."

"When you're right, you're right. Come help me."

They wrestled two very sleepy, very whiny toddlers into pajamas, coaxed them through brushing teeth and washing hands and faces, and tucked them into bed. Both Poppy and Milo were asleep before John had a chance to switch off the light.

"Look at that," Sherlock whispered close to John's ear. "Out like a light."

John turned, his face close to Sherlock's, and smiled. He reached up and traced a hand down Sherlock's cheek. "Thank you, for today. For everything."

"You keep saying thank you." Sherlock's eyes had gone dark again. "You don't need to, you know. I should be thanking you."

"For what?"

"Saving me."

John felt his heart clutch as he realized how true that answer was. "Oh, Sherlock. I think we saved each other."

Before he could stop himself, John pressed his lips to Sherlock's, burying his hands in his mass of black curls. Sherlock stiffened at first, then seemed to melt against John, pressing the kiss deeper as a groan caught in his throat.

"J-john..." Sherlock broke the kiss and pulled John away from the children's room. "I... I don't want...."

"Don't you want this?" John asked, unable to keep the hurt from his voice. "I thought...."

"No, you don't understand!" Sherlock took John's hands and pulled him closer. "Of course I want this. I've wanted this... you... for so long."

"Then what is it?"

"I...." Sherlock stopped, swallowed audibly, and then tried again. "I've lived a life of regrets, John. I don't ever want to be something you'd regret."

"Oh... Sherlock," John whispered. He tugged Sherlock closer and pressed his lips near Sherlock's ear. "Who could ever regret you?"

John swallowed Sherlock's soft gasp in a slow, melting kiss that sent shivers down to his toes. Their bodies were so hot against each other, John thought they might fuse together. Any reservations he'd had of kissing a man - of kissing Sherlock - fled as he lost himself in pure desire.

"J-john," Sherlock gasped, his hands gripping John's shoulders. "Bedroom... don't wake the children."

John let out a bark of laughter and rested his forehead against Sherlock's shoulder. "You're right," he whispered. "C'mon."

Tugging at his hand, John pulled Sherlock into their bedroom and clicked the door shut. Turning, he resumed what he'd started - trailing kisses against Sherlock's jawline while Sherlock panted and let his hands roam over John's body. John guided Sherlock over to the bed. When his legs hit the side of the bed, Sherlock sat and John looked at him, clear blue eyes wide and eager, mouth slightly open, hair tousled. John closed his eyes and tried to rein in his feelings.

"Is this...." He began, "is this crazy?"

A cheshire grin curled the edges of Sherlock's lips, "Yes, but that doesn't mean I don't want it as much as you do."

"Do you? Want... it?" John cringed at his awkwardness. He felt like an inexperienced teenager around Sherlock.

"I do," Sherlock's slim fingers trailed over John's arms, found his hands and tugged John down on the bed next to him. "I've wanted you for so long. I just didn't think you could ever want me."

Rather than tell Sherlock how wrong that last sentence was, John chose to show him. He pushed Sherlock back against the pillows and straddled his hips, pressing their lips together. Their fingers twined together and John could feel the evidence of Sherlock's arousal pressing against his groin. He groaned into Sherlock's mouth and undulated his hips against Sherlock's body, his own erection swelling almost painfully in his trousers.

Sherlock broke the kiss and let out a hoarse laugh, "Christ, John! Do that again and I'll be finished before we start."

John grinned and eased back. "Can't have that, can we?"

Gentler this time, he returned to kissing, dropping soft kisses against Sherlock's neck, and then his chest as he unbuttoned Sherlock's shirt and slipped it off his shoulders. He paused once more, and looked up at Sherlock, who lay back, eyes closed.

"You're sure this is okay?" John whispered, his hands exploring the ridges and plains of Sherlock's chest, fingers rubbing lightly over the delicate nipples that stood out against his pale flesh.

Arching his back and pressing up against John's hands, Sherlock nodded. "More than okay," he said, voice strained. "Don't stop."

John fumbled at Sherlock's trousers, fingers suddenly clumsy. Sherlock laughed throatily and batted John's hands away.

"Let me," he commanded, fingers deftly undoing the button and slipping his trousers and pants over his hips.

John settled back on his knees, taking in the sight of Sherlock's cock, flushed and swollen against a thatch of thick, dark hair. Sherlock propped himself up on his elbows and a concerned look stole over his face.

"Hey," he said, softly. "I should've asked. Are you okay with this, too? Have you... have you ever been with a man?"

John ran his fingers through his hair and chuffed out a laugh. "Once. A long time ago. Before Mary. I thought it was just... a little experimentation in school. Doesn't everyone do that? I suppose, though... it's a little more than that."

He sighed and offered Sherlock a shy smile. "Yes, I'm 'okay' with this. More than okay. I want this, too, Sherlock."

"You're sure?"

"Absolutely. But I'm... learning. As I go. Be patient with me?"

"Of course. And... you're doing really well."

This made John laugh again. "Thank you, teacher," he said with a saucy wink. "Now... how about less talk, more action?"

Not waiting for Sherlock's answer, John bent and licked a stripe along one hip bone, blowing on it to cool the wet skin afterwards. Sherlock's fingers tangled in John's hair. He nipped lightly at the thin skin of Sherlock's thigh, causing Sherlock's nails to dig at his scalp. John cupped the globes of Sherlock's buttocks as he swirled his tongue around the base of Sherlock's cock, pressing his lips up the shaft. He traced his tongue against a vein and followed it to the head. Sherlock moaned and arched again.

"Christ, John," he groaned. "It's been too long. I'm not going to last long."

John pulled back, letting Sherlock regain some of his composure. He slipped his shirt over his head and unbuttoned his own trousers, divesting himself of his clothes in seconds. Sherlock's eyes grew wide as he took in John's golden body, surprisingly well-muscled.

John straddled Sherlock again, pressing his erection against Sherlock's hips and arching his body against him. Sherlock moaned again and John covered it with his own mouth, drinking down Sherlock's arousal as though it were sweet nectar. He reached down between them and guided Sherlock's cock until it pressed against his own, parallel. He rutted against Sherlock and Sherlock met each of his thrusts with his own. Together they rode each wave of desire as they crested higher and higher. John pressed his face, hot and sweaty, into the crook of Sherlock's neck, inhaling the musky scent of his skin as he felt his groin tighten. Sherlock arched against him, crying out, only to muffle his cries with his own hand as he came. His cock jerked and spurted, and John soon followed with his own climax. He groaned, face still pressed against Sherlock's skin, his hands pulling at Sherlock's curls as he thrust out the last of his orgasm.

"God," Sherlock gasped, voice thready and soft. "That was.... that was...."

John rolled off of him and on to his back next to Sherlock. He grinned.

"It certainly was."

They shared a laugh and then, after a few moments to recover, John got up and padded to the bathroom, where he wet a flannel with warm water and returned.

"May I?" He asked, brandishing the flannel and nodding at the sticky mess left on both their chest and groins. Sherlock nodded, his eyes hooded and sleepy.

John knelt next to him and gently wiped the flannel over Sherlock's skin. He returned to the bathroom for another flannel and cleaned himself off, before climbing back into bed and coaxing Sherlock beneath the blankets. He pulled Sherlock to him, slotting his chin in the crook of Sherlock's neck and smoothing Sherlock's hair back with one hand.

"All right?" He whispered, though he could see Sherlock was on the edge of sleep.

"Mmm," Sherlock snuggled against John, his eyes closed. "M'yes."

"Thank you," John whispered.

"You're thanking me again?" Sherlock asked, voice muffled with sleep.

"I'm going to thank you every day, for the gift you give me."

"What gift is that?"

"You."

Sherlock wriggled, turning to face John, eyes searching and curious. "You think I'm a gift?"

"Yes," John smiled, fondly. "You're the gift I didn't know I wanted or needed. But now I can't imagine my life without you."

In that moment, Sherlock looked angelic, his face open and honest as it rarely was during the day. He smiled and reached out to trace a finger along John's jaw. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. You're the only person who sees the good in me."

"Then we'd best stick together, eh?" John hugged Sherlock to him, his heart aching at the lonely tinge in Sherlock's words.

"Just you and me, against the world," Sherlock muttered sleepily.

"That's right," John whispered, but Sherlock was already drifting off to sleep.

John closed his eyes, then, and let sleep take him as well. For the first time in a long while, he was falling asleep satisfied, happy, and feeling incredibly loved.

***

Now that John had permission to love Sherlock, he could hardly keep his hands to himself. Sherlock was like a magnet, drawing him to him. John found excuses to touch him - a pat on his back, a gentle squeeze of his shoulders. Anything to reassure Sherlock he was there to stay. He thought perhaps Poppy and Milo might find his behavior odd, but they appeared not to notice. They both loved Sherlock so fiercely, it wouldn't have mattered, anyway.

The last few days of their holiday went by too quickly. They spent as much time at the beach as possible. They lingered over dinners at the cottage and did "one last visit" to all their favorite places in Padstow. Too soon, the morning of their departure arrived. They'd packed everything up the night before and, as a family, camped out in the living room of the cottage, toasting marshmallows in the fireplace. Sherlock told pirate stories to Milo and Poppy until they'd fallen asleep on either side of him. The next morning, they woke early and John made pancakes as a farewell breakfast.

None of them wanted to leave. Sherlock even suggested they move permanently into the Padstow cottage, but John pointed out that it would no longer be special if they did that.

"Reality beckons, Sherlock." John said around a mouthful of pancakes.

Sherlock scowled. "It's not like we have obligations back home."

"Perhaps not," John said. "But your brother would probably find it suspicious if we moved here. And besides, all our things are back home."

"We could buy new things. And sod my brother."

John chuckled. "We should go home. We'll have more adventures, I promise. This was wonderful... just what I needed."

Belongings loaded into the car, John strapped two petulant toddlers into their car seats. Looking at Sherlock's stormy face, he amended that thought - make that three petulant toddlers.

The drive home went smoother than the first time. Both Poppy and Milo were too worn out from the weeks of fresh air and non-stop activity. Between naps, they played with some of the toys they'd acquired on the trip. Sherlock, over his pout, talked about a case Lestrade had asked him to check out when they returned. John was content to listen to his chatter, half of it barely making sense to him as he talked about forensics and blood spatter analysis. It was a funny, little family he had, but it was a family nonetheless.

They'd left later in the day than planned, and it grew dark by the time John pulled up to the curb outside his flat. Poppy and Milo were sound asleep, so John carried Poppy and Sherlock carried Milo up the stairs to the flat.

"Ah, it was a lovely holiday," John said, fumbling with his keys. "But it's nice to be home."

"I suppose," Sherlock grumbled, following John into the foyer.

John laughed and dropped the keys in a dish he kept near the door for that express purpose, and turned, pressing a quick kiss against Sherlock's lips. "Cheer up, grumpy Gus."

He turned back and flicked the light switch, illuminating the flat. And then he froze where he stood. He'd spotted their guest - Mycroft Holmes, sitting primly in one of the living room chairs and staring daggers straight at him.

"Welcome home, John. Sherlock." Mycroft drawled, standing up and smoothing nonexistent wrinkles from his perfectly tailored suit. "I believe we need to have a chat."

Chapter Text

Sherlock's knuckles are white as he laces his long fingers together, the only sign of his inner turmoil as he sits, languidly, in his chair and stares at Mycroft. John is too nervous to sit, standing instead at the window, occasionally rocking back on his heels. His hands are shoved into his pockets to keep himself from wringing them. He is hyper-aware of the ticking of the clock; he hadn't even realized Sherlock owned a clock. Mycroft stares down his nose as he scrolls through his phone, reading his notes.

"I was alerted by the hospital that you weren't filling your prescriptions," he said, his voice full of frustration. "I find no sign of your medications in your room, and you were off gallivanting God knows where."

"You went in my room?" Sherlock's voice was full of indignation.

"Yes," Mycroft replied in clipped tones.

"And...and...." For once, Sherlock seemed to be lost for words. John wished his mind worked faster, wished he could find the words to defend Sherlock from his brother. "The hospital shouldn't have given you that information! That's my own private business!"

"You forget, brother mine," Mycroft puffed himself up even more haughtily, "That I am in charge of your affairs now. I am your guardian for as long as you are unable to care for yourself. Which, given your behavior, is probably for life."

"Now, wait one minute," This last statement rankled John and he stepped forward, drawing Mycroft's ire.

"No, Doctor Watson," Mycroft rose to his feet. "There will be no waiting. You were supposed to care for him. I've been paying you to make sure he takes his medication and stays out of trouble. Instead you... well, I don't want to know what you were doing with him."

"What we were doing is none of your business," Sherlock spat, also rising. "I am an adult and I can take care of myself just fine, thank you very much."

"No, I don't think you can," Mycroft said, this time in a tone that was softer.

John felt his blood run cold - somehow this softer tone scared him more than Mycroft's bluster. Mycroft turned back to John and checked his watch once more.

"That will be all, Doctor Watson. We won't be needing your services any longer."

John and Sherlock's voices crashed together as they both cried out in protest. Mycroft held up a hand to silence them and looked at them both as though they were naughty children, caught in the act of pilfering cookies.

"I refuse to pay you to... molest my brother, Doctor Watson." Mycroft hissed.

"Fine," John snapped. "But you can't keep me from being his friend."

"Oh, can't I?"

At this, Mycroft raised one eyebrow and looked over and Poppy and Milo, who were playing on the floor in the kitchen and thus far oblivious to the strife occurring in the sitting room. John felt a trickle of fear drip down his spine. He was sure his face had gone white.

"What exactly are you implying, Mycroft?" John hissed.

"Nothing at all," Mycroft said, smiling a reptilian smile that didn't reach his eyes. "You're correct. I can't keep you from being my brother's... friend. But I'm sure you'll be far too busy looking for employment to associate with him."

John swallowed hard and shifted his eyes to Sherlock. He stood there, like a marble statue, his thoughts flickering across his eyes as he puzzled out this problem. And with a sinking heart, John could see Sherlock reached the same conclusion as he had. Sherlock gave a tiny, almost imperceptible nod as his eyes flicked once to John and then back to his brother.

"I'll be fine, John." Sherlock's words sound false as he struggled to spit them out. "Mycroft's... right. I...."

Sherlock stopped, looked down at his feet. He blinked rapidly and squeezed his hand into a fist, then shook his fingers out as though his hand was numb. He cleared his throat once, twice, and then continued, "I'm unable to care for myself properly. It's... it's for the best if you leave."

"Sherlock...." John whispered. Sherlock's words cut into him, making his head throb painfully.

"Go, John." Sherlock snapped, a little too loudly.

Milo's head popped up, alert to something happening. He got up and stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting room.

"Papa?" He asked, voice tremulous.

"Time to go, Milo." John tried to inject some false brightness into his voice. "Get Poppy, we have to go home."

Milo hesitated and looked silently at Sherlock.

"I'll see you another time, Milo." Sherlock's smile wavered, a shadow across his face, and then fell. "Make sure to fight any pirates you find and keep your sister safe, all right?"

"Good day, Doctor Watson." Mycroft said, stepping closer to John and looming over him. "I will send your final cheque to you in the post. You may keep the car... consider it a gift for the... fine... work that you performed."

John nodded, trying not to crumble. He went to the kitchen and gathered up Poppy, then took Milo's hand. "Sherlock? You'll... take care of yourself, then, won't you?"

Sherlock nodded, his eyes full of pain. "I'll be fine. Thank you Jo---Doctor Watson."

John managed to load the children into the car and climb behind the wheel before the tears started. He cried as silently as he could muster as he drove home. Both children were asleep by the time he pulled up to his flat. Somehow his once cheery flat looked empty, even from the outside. He dreaded going inside. He dreaded continuing his life, alone, without Sherlock. For one blazing hot moment, John cursed ever meeting Sherlock. Surely his life would have been better had he never known such joy was possible. Now he knew, but that joy had been stolen from him. And what would become of Sherlock? John felt like turning the car around and rushing back to save Sherlock, like some white knight. John looked in the rearview mirror at his sleeping children and knew that he mustn't do that - not if he wanted them to remain safe. He knew that Sherlock knew it as well - knew that was why Sherlock gave up so easily.

Wiping the tears from his face, John climbed out of the car and carefully gathered the children into his arms. He trudged up the steps to his flat and let himself inside, alone.