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Truth May Vary

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"Be careful up there! You might fall."

Naz kept climbing up the play structure. "I'm fine, Dad."

John sighed. Didn't matter that he'd fallen off it last week and cried the entire way home; literally nothing could dissuade Nazir Watson from scaling the play structure like it was K2. John tilted his head. Well, more like Kilimanjaro. It was kind of a walkup, he supposed. Why was he thinking in mountaineering metaphors? He needed a nap, probably.

His phone beeped. Keeping one eye on Naz's ascent, he pulled it out and flipped through to his email. Christ, Pfizer wanted another round of revisions? The last set had been absolutely up to EMA standards, so unless they were trying to hide all the major side effects--and he wasn't going to let them do that, thanks very much, if you hire a doctor to write your drug approval documentation you've got to expect they care a bit about the patients--they didn't need more finessing. He huffed. At least he billed by the hour. Maybe he'd have time to look at it after Naz went to bed. Mary's not home until seven tonight--no time before then.

He put his phone back in his pocket and reassured himself that Naz was still on top of the climbing structure and was neither upset nor somehow terrorizing other children. For a long moment, there was nothing in his head but the chill and the damp of the January day, and the noises of children in uproar on the playground in front of him.

"He's quite the climber," said a voice behind him.

It had been years; John was surprised that hearing Mycroft Holmes's voice could still make something burning and cold settle in his belly. He glanced over his shoulder warily. Mycroft was letting himself go grey, it seemed, and the hands wrapped around the umbrella handle were more aged, but his posture, the drape of his winter coat against the fine wool of his trousers, the vague and annoying haughtiness as he looked over the playground, they were all the same as ever.

John turned back to watching Naz. "What do you want?"

Mycroft settled on the bench and folded his legs. "I wanted to speak with you. And, frankly, I thought it more likely that you'd be willing to do so, or at least less…vociferous in your objections, were I to approach you publicly. My apologies for cornering you, John, but it seemed to be for the best."

Naz was negotiating something between two kids taller than him. John didn't let himself look over at Mycroft, because he knew what he'd be looking for if he did, and that hurt. He didn't want to start thinking about how Sherlock would have aged these seven years, because he's taken enough emotional blows to the kidneys in his life, he doesn't need any more. "I am not particularly interested in anything you have to say."

"I understand that. But, nevertheless." Mycroft cleared his throat. "How old is Nazir now? Five?"

John wanted to snap at him to stop playing stupid, but the part of him that wasn't wounded and hissing pointed out that this was Mycroft trying to act normal. He took a long exhale. "Five, yes. He's in reception."

"Ah. And is he enjoying it?"

John's smile was involuntary, but he caught it before he let it all the way out. "Very much. It's a good crowd of kids, and he's a bit of a social butterfly. No idea where he gets it from."

Mycroft nodded sagely, his sharp eyes following Naz as he led a bunch of kids over towards the swings on what might have been a raiding mission, or might have merely been a race. "And Ms. Murstani? I read her piece in Comment is Free last month. Her rhetorical skills are quite well honed."

John snorted. The mere fact that perfectly upright Mycroft was complimenting his bolshy wife's attack on government education policy--it was impossible to maintain the level of frigidness he wanted to, not in the face of this absurdity. "I didn't take you for a Guardian reader."

The face that Mycroft made at that was a pleasure to behold, but his glance over at John seemed to suggest this was a conscious game of back and forth. "Well. I have staff to take care of unpleasant things for me."

"Of course." John rested his elbows on his knees. "What did she do to earn your surveillance, then? I wasn't aware the Ministry of Education was in your sphere of influence."

"Mmm, only peripherally. No, John. Her surveillance is secondary to yours, of course."

John watched Naz as he wandered off from the group to fuck around with sticks for a while, and thought about that. The thing was, for Mycroft, surveillance was an act of affection. Fucked up as it was, John found that, on reflection, he was still touched that Mycroft thought of him as family. He took a deep breath and leaned back. "All right, then. Full marks for small talk. What do you want?"

Mycroft turned, so that his body faced John. John hadn't been looked at by a Holmes in a long time, and something painful echoed inside him to feel it--but those were good memories, if he could skate around the gaping loss in the middle. "I find myself, John, with a problem that I believe you are uniquely equipped to solve."

John barked a laugh. "I highly doubt that's true. I haven't fired a gun in seven years. I haven't revalidated my medical license since it expired four years ago. I am a part-time freelance medical writer whose major daily chores revolve around the social life of a five year old. So, unless you have a pressing argument about Legos to sort out, or possibly need someone write new copy for a miracle drug you've patented, my skill set is absolutely trumped by just about anyone else."

"I believe you sell yourself short," Mycroft said. John refused to turn to look at him full on, but threw him a glance. Mycroft leaned in slightly closer, and began to speak in a voice that, while not hushed, was designed not to carry. "You see, John, I have spent the last seven years working on a very peculiar problem, which has now come to a head. During this period, I engaged, alongside other projects more crucial to the national interest, in the eradication of the web of criminal enterprises tied to James Moriarty. Among my colleagues, my interest was regarded as an eccentricity, but accepted. Personally, I viewed it as a form of penance. So imagine my surprise when I noticed that I was not the only person engaged in the project of eradicating individuals tied with this network."

John turned to look at Mycroft sharply. "If you think I--"

"I did, at first, but no, obviously not. Your travel patterns alone precluded it. The eliminations I tracked were global in scale, but incredibly precise. More importantly, whoever was conducting them left no evidence behind, but did engage in symbolic markings on bodies or near them. While the actual events were carried out precisely, these were deeply personal actions, wherever they took place. There was also no thread that bound the criminals involved except Moriarty. So you see what I realized, John. The person who was engaged in this campaign was highly motivated, extremely skilled, and had profoundly personal reasons for specifically targeting Moriarty's network, and only Moriarty's network."

John felt a prickle at the back of his neck. He didn't know where this was going, but it scared him.

"It took years, John," Mycroft said, pitching his voice so it couldn't be heard by those not on the bench. "Eventually, I managed to locate the individual responsible, living under an assumed name--the last in a long string of them. Although it was not easy, my personnel have been able to retrieve and repatriate this individual, who is, for the first time in many years, on British soil yet again."

There was a buzz in John's ears that Mycroft's voice somehow cut through perfectly. "What are you saying?" he asked, his voice perfectly still.

"I'm saying," Mycroft said, "that my brother is currently being held in a military facility outside of London."

John gave himself a lot of credit for not passing out at that. For not collapsing at the words, and at the sudden rush of blood before his eyes--warm blood on the textured cement of the pavement, sliding through hair across a skull rendered pliant by impact, the still, still brush of skin under his fingers. It's amazing to him, when he can think about it objectively, how tactile his flashbacks are, how precisely he is recalled to a time or a place through the sensations his body can summon up. He dragged himself back into the body on the bench, where his fingers were going numb from the cold, and tried to make himself think. "That's not possible."

"Two years ago, I would have agreed with you. And yet, it is the case."

John stood up. He didn't quite know why; his body wasn't acting properly. He couldn't leave, couldn't make a scene, not with Naz here, and damn Mycroft for knowing exactly how to do this to keep him in line. He spun around and faced him head on. "I was there, Mycroft. I saw it. Tell me how it is even remotely possible that what you are saying is true."

"I cannot tell you how it is true, John. Merely that it is."

Mycroft's intense steadiness is almost disconcerting, but somehow provides what John needs to anchor himself back in this moment. "What does he say, then? If it's really him. If this isn't--Christ, Mycroft, if this is some sort of joke--"

"It is him. I did have DNA records compared, but, frankly, even before that--" Mycroft glanced down. He cleared his throat. "I was there when they took him off the plane. It's him."

John sat down in a way that fell just short of collapsing onto the bench. He took a deep breath. "Then--how. He has to have told you how he did it. Or why."

"And we come to it," Mycroft said.

John looked up in confusion.

"He's not speaking."

John watched his face for a moment. "Is it physical?"

"No. He spoke to me, briefly, when we deplaned him, though his demeanor was uncharacteristically flat. But since he was removed to the facility where he is currently be held, he has not spoken."

Through the ringing in his ears, John felt some edge of diagnostic ability creeping back to him. "Eliminations, you said. Meaning murders. Highly personal, which means bloody and violent. A delayed trauma reaction? What are they medicating him with?"

Mycroft's smile at this was bitter. "The problems continue. While he has not spoken, he has also refused any form of treatment. Not by any means as simple as verbal refusal, of course. One nurse's arm was broken in three places. A doctor's collar bone was shattered. Briefly, they were able to restrain him and run an IV line, but he removed it."

"Christ." John could see it now; a silent wraith, tearing a hospital room to shreds with his bare hands. And he knew why Mycroft was here. "You want me to treat him."

"Not, precisely, in your capacity as a physician," Mycroft said, quietly. "Although I believe your skills in that area will be relevant. Instead--" Mycroft cleared his throat. "I believe he will respond to you, John. In ways he will not to others."

The chill that ran down John's spine hurt. Because who was he, to this man who'd spent the last seven years murdering his way across the criminal classes? He was nothing. There wasn't anything he could be to a dead man. But at the same time, there was a tinge of hope that hovered around him, now that the fight-or-flight was gone. Because if this was true--if this wasn't some trick--then--then miracles were possible. And he'd do anything he could to make sure the miracle worked out.

"Tell me what I need to do," John said.

 

***

"John?"

John looked up. He'd been staring blankly at his computer for an hour. Technically, the notes from Pfizer were open on it. Realistically, he couldn't bill for time spent with his eyes unfocused in the general vicinity of work. Mary was leaning on the edge of the door from the kitchen to the sitting room, a glass of wine in her hand, watching him with worry in her eyes. "Sorry. Did you call?"

"I just asked if you wanted a glass." She walked in and sat down in the other armchair, and placed her glass neatly on a coaster. "Is everything all right? You've been out of it all night."

He closed the laptop. He'd thought about what to say--been thinking about it even as he'd gathered Naz up from the playground, cooked supper, sent him to bed--but it wasn't easy to even concentrate enough to get the words out. "I spoke to someone today. Someone I used to know. From the government." Mary's face got that slight look of discomfort it always did when he referenced his military service. He knew it made her uncomfortable--and he didn't blame her, which is why he never talked about it any more--and he felt bad, now, in this moment, for making use of that fact. "There's someone, a friend. He was, um. On a mission. A long one. He's having trouble coping with--you know. The transition. Back to--" He made a gesture, as if encompassing all of London, normal life, something like that. "They've asked me to meet with him. Try to help get him back on his feet."

Mary toyed with the stem of her glass. "Why you? Aren't there people who are trained for this sort of thing? I mean, you're not a psychologist or anything."

"No, I know, it's that--well. More of a peer support thing, you know." John looked out into the back garden through the sliding doors, and tried to come up with a way to explain something about this. He was keeping back all the important bits, but that didn't mean he wanted to lie. "Just a sense that--that the world is still here. I thought I'd go see him. He's just outside London a bit. Just a day trip, to visit."

And Mary just have caught the edge of that, like he was asking permission, because she waved her hand. "I mean, of course you should. Do you want me to call the daycare to take Naz for a day after school, or--"

"No, I think--I checked the train, and I can be up and back before he's home." He was too dizzy to plan, but he somehow doubted that he was going only once. "I just. Yeah. Just something I need to do."

"Absolutely," she said. "Are you OK?"

"Fine," he said, and flashed her the best smile he could produce at the moment, which wasn't particularly enlightening but was something. "Just, you know. Preoccupied."

She smiled back. He liked her smile; it was one of the first things he found himself really liking about her, and he still liked seeing it, even if the fire that held them together had become merely a hum of familiarity. "Of course, love."

He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the back of the chair. "Rewrites aren't getting done tonight, I think."

"In that case, do you mind if I turn on the telly? Maybe it'll get your mind off it."

"Mmm," he said, nodding. Eyes still closed, he listed to the noise of the telly as she dug a QI episode out of the plus box, and let the sounds wash over him. Because there was only one thing he'd been thinking, all day, ever since Mycroft leaned close to him on a bench and murmured the impossible truth.

Sherlock's alive.

He's alive.

He's alive.

Chapter Text

John liked to sleep on trains. To sleep, or to watch the swoop of telephone lines or the rustle of grass or any of the innumerable things that rushed by his window. He wasn't sleeping now, though, even if he was more tired than usual; he wasn't seeing the rough winter countryside as it rolled passed. His head was still stuck on what was happening: that Sherlock was waiting for him at the other end of this journey, that he was alive, that John was going to get to see him again, to hear his voice. It was impossible to imagine, which he supposed was why he was struggling.

And it was more difficult to imagine because he didn't know what was going to be wrong with Sherlock. It was possible that he wouldn't even recognize John, that he would have been deleted, or that his memories of his time before he--before he left would have been lost to whatever trauma had occurred. Or that he'd simply forgotten--but no, some things stretched credulity. John had been obsessing over his every memory of Sherlock for the past week, and particularly that last day, those last moments. Sherlock wouldn't have done that to him out of cold-heartedness. He was incidentally cruel, not aggressively so.

Or it was possible he wouldn't care about John, that Mycroft's attempt to use sentiment to bring his brother back to life would have presumed too much about what would work for Sherlock. John knew a soldier who killed himself after coming back home, remembered the emptiness in him the last time they'd spoken; it's possible that Sherlock isn't fixable. And he doesn't know what he would do in that case. The right thing to do would be to tell Mycroft to give Sherlock means to end it, because starving to death on a psych hold is pretty much the worst possible way to die, but he's not certain he'd be able to let that happen, even if it were a mercy.

They announced the station, and he picked up his bag and shrugged on his coat. (Funny, how he'd brought his tablet along, as if it were remotely possible he'd be able to get anything done on this train ride.) He was the only passenger getting off, and there was a car waiting silently at the curb. He took a deep breath and got in it. He supposed it was better Mycroft wasn't there, but the empty back seat did nothing to calm him down.

It was barely ten minutes to the facility. He'd assumed it would look like Baskerville, or perhaps like one of the barracks he'd seen before deployment, but instead it looked like a stately manor house with a particularly advanced security gate. Better camouflage, he supposed. The driver let him off at the front of the building, where a soldier in a uniform was waiting for him. "Captain Watson, sir. I'm to take you in to meet with Doctor Sheffield."

Christ, he hasn't been called Captain in a decade, nearly--but it's probably necessary to getting him in, so he nods and says "All right, then. Lead the way."

Inside, it looks like any hospital, at least the parts they walk him through; slightly more swipe cards than he remembers, though. They must be underground by the time the soldier knocks on a plain white door with a small note on the side listing a number. The man who opens the door is wearing a white coat over a suit, but he's got the military air about him too. "Doctor Watson, yes, good to meet you. Thank you, Private."

The room John steps into looks a bit like an office--there is a desk and a few chairs around it, though no personal touches--and then it has a wall of electronic controls, and then a few cabinets with medical supplies in them, as long as the labels are correct. One wall has a window in it, with shades drawn across it. He didn't think about that, because, if he started, he'd run over and pull the curtain aside, and it might not even be Sherlock in there, this might be another office, or someone else being held in this strange warren of a place. "Doctor Sheffield, I believe your name is?"

Sheffield nodded and sat down at the desk, next to a medical file. "Yes, indeed. Mr. Holmes suggested that we needed reinforcements in this case, and I'm inclined to agree. I have to say, of all the operatives we've rehabilitated at this facility, very few come to us in as good physical shape as this one, but the mental condition--well. We're a bit at a loss."

"I can imagine," John said. "Is that the file?"

Sheffield tapped it, then picked it up and handed it over. "I'm not sure how much it will tell you. As soon as we took the restraints off him at arrival he lashed out, so we've only been able to track vitals when he's restrained. The problem is that he doesn't need restraint constantly--he's not a danger to himself in any active way, and he doesn't attack the orderlies who bring his meals, for instance."

"He just doesn't eat them," John said, and felt like smiling, just a little, because it seemed that some things stayed the same.

"No. Nor does he respond to people talking to him, though he'll watch them while they're in the room. He's perfectly calm until you touch him--and then, well, all hell breaks loose. We've been giving him tranquillizers once daily so we can run fluids and glucose, just to keep him alive, but there's a limit to how long we can do that. I've suggested tube feeding, but--"

"No," John said. Sherlock kept restrained in a bed with a nasogastric tube--he'd never recover. "You'd never get him back, after that."

Sheffield narrowed his eyes. "Mr. Holmes wasn't specific about your past history with the patient. Were you involved in his training?"

John looked at the file in his hand. There was no name listed for the patient anywhere--just a code number--which implied that Mycroft didn't trust anyone in this facility with Sherlock's identity. It gave him great pleasure to reply, "I believe that's confidential in this case." He flipped through the file, trying to glean what he could. It had been fifteen days since he'd arrived; there are brief accounts of his lack of movement, his lack of engagement with the world, more detailed accounts of his attacks on staff. The pills they'd given him on his food trays in the first few days were accounted for, so he wasn't storing them up for a suicide attempt, at least there was that. He tried not to wince visibly at the accounts of the IV hydration sessions; he didn't recognize the name of the sedative, and it was listed as an aerosol, which means they must have gassed Sherlock to knock him out before they entered the room. Christ. He was probably paranoid when he came in, and that wasn't helping.

The door opened, and Mycroft strode in. "Excellent to see you, John. I see you've been preparing yourself."

"As best I can," John said. "I'm not entirely certain what you want me to do."

Mycroft smiled ruefully. "Whatever you can." He turned to Sheffield. "Doctor Sheffield, I'll ask you to leave myself and Doctor Watson alone for the duration of his visit. He will write a report which can be included in the patient's file."

Sheffield didn't look happy about this, but since Mycroft probably outranked the Queen there wasn't much he could do about it. He nodded at John and left the room, closing the door behind him.

John set the file down on the table. "Before I see him. Tell me." He licked his lips, and tried to form the question. "How bad is it going to be? If I'm going to walk in there, I need to know what I'm expecting."

Mycroft looked down at his shoes. "It is…hard to describe. Occasionally, I have felt like I am sitting in a room with a Sherlock shaped mannequin. But despite the fact that he is physically altered, he is still recognizably himself, at least to look at."

"That might actually be worse," John said, and ran his hand over his face.

"Come see," Mycroft said, and walked over to the window John had been avoiding.

He pushed himself to his feet, and made himself join Mycroft at the window. He felt like a family member being called to identify a body; he supposed he was, even if the body was still breathing. He closed his eyes as Mycroft pulled the curtain, and then opened them to look.

The body curled on the small single bed on the wall in front of him was draped in a pair of pyjamas that looked less like hospital wear than they did like Sherlock's own clothes, the ones from before. The long, narrow feet at the end of the bed were bare and white. The body was on top of the sheets, not under them, so John could see the thinness of its thighs and hips, the prominence of shoulder blades through cloth. He forced himself to keep going, to see the face as it lay there, immobile against the pillow. The eyes were open, staring, unfocused, at the centre of the room. John gripped the windowsill tightly, and made himself watch for his chest expanding and contracting. This is a live person, he told himself, but it was hard to believe that with how still it kept.

Not it. He. Sherlock. He forced himself back to looking at the face, and there he was, the arch of his cheekbones, the pucker of his lips. His eyebrows were thinner, and dyed to match the ridiculous ginger hair he'd given himself, but the eyes were the same, even if they looked more vacant than John had ever seen. But he was as sure of it as Mycroft was; this was Sherlock on the bed, lying still as a corpse, which was a terrible thing to think in this case but there it is.

John realized Mycroft was studying him, and tried to shake himself. "Yeah. Give me a minute, and I'll go in."

"There's no rush," Mycroft said, and John could tell it was meant gently, as odd as that was. "I was planning on speaking to him first."

John nodded, grateful for the moment.

He didn't pay attention as Mycroft picked up one of the chairs and left the room, not really. His focus was on the still, vacant figure of Sherlock on the bed. The bit of him that was thinking medically was curious to see what his responses to Mycroft would be, as he knew it would suggest a great deal about what could be done to help him, but most of his brain was buzzing and overheated to be standing in front of the proof that Sherlock was alive. (He remembered getting the phone call that his mum had died, and the way he'd gone about his day in a complete fog after that as he packed a bag, bought train tickets, rode the tube. This was the same fog, which wasn't right, but it was, too.) So he startled a little when the door on the side of Sherlock's room opened, and Mycroft entered, holding the chair he'd picked up.

Sherlock's eyes shot to the door when it opened. John thought, though he wasn't sure, that his body tensed at the noise of it opening, and then relaxed when he identified Mycroft. So that was good, he recognized his brother, he didn't see him as a threat. Mycroft set his chair down a few feet away from Sherlock but within his line of sight. Sherlock made eye contact, which was a good sign, and watched Mycroft sit, adjust his suit, lean forward to look at him closely. "Sherlock," Mycroft said, quietly but clearly. "It's good to see you again."

No response from Sherlock. Not a twitch.

"I am sorry, however," said Mycroft, leaning back in his chair, "to see that you have not improved since my last visit. Come, now, Sherlock, this is childish. If you want to recover, you'll need to start accepting medical treatment without resorting to violence."

John wondered if Mycroft meant that, or if he also suspected what John did--that Sherlock didn't want to recover, not really.

"I have thought long and hard," Mycroft said, "about what would help you ease out of this mood you seem to have put yourself in. As you've been away from England a while, I thought perhaps you might like to hear how your friends are doing." At this, Sherlock averted his eyes, and began staring at a point somewhere just to the left of Mycroft with a certain fixity. Well, that was a tell. Mycroft pulled out a notebook from the inner pocket of his suit and began leafing through it. "Miss Hooper has been promoted, and is now the head of histopathology at St. Barts. She lectures, occasionally, to the students, but she is not particularly popular with them. However, her colleagues speak very highly of her work. Detective Inspector Lestrade is no longer with the Metropolitan Police, but he has found gainful employment elsewhere in Her Majesty's service. His oldest child is now at university, UCL to be specific. And Amelia Hudson died of pancreatic cancer four years ago; not a terribly long illness, and it was as peaceful as it could be, under the circumstances." Sherlock blinked at the last one; John couldn't tell if it was a real reaction or just that he needed to blink.

Mycroft looked up from his notebook. "Is that everyone, Sherlock? Have I sufficiently updated you?"

Sherlock blinked again, and looked back at his brother. The doctor voice inside John said good, he's responsive, and the friend though Mycroft was being a bit of a dick to try to get a reaction. He didn't like it, but at least it was working.

Mycroft waited. Sherlock stared at him, and then swallowed. His mouth opened. "John," he said, very, very quietly, his voice sounding dry and out of practice.

John had to grip the window frame harder to stop from falling.

"Mmm," Mycroft said, and turned the page in his notebook. "John Watson. No longer a practicing doctor. Instead, he's moved on to what appears to be a very fulfilling career as a medical writer. Well-known in his field, well-respected by his peers. He married about six years ago, to a woman named Maryam Murstani. Ms. Murstani is an administrator in the London Educational Authority, a well-known speaker and advocate for progressive education reform, and widely published in the field of participatory education for youth. They have one child, a son, who is five years old." Mycroft looked up. "Not named for you, surprisingly." At that, Sherlock's face crumpled a little, and John had to stop himself from breaking through the glass to punch Mycroft in the teeth. "By all accounts, he is a happy, successful individual, with a well-settled family life and a pleasant future ahead of him." Mycroft tucked the notebook back in his pocket. He then leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and watching Sherlock closely. "He's also on the other side of the glass right now."

Sherlock's eyes snapped to what must be a mirror for him, and John gasped. Even though Sherlock couldn't see him, he felt pinned, trapped in Sherlock's gaze, seen for the first time in years. Almost unconsciously, he raised a hand to rest it against the glass.

Mycroft nodded at his reaction. "I'll leave you to your deductions," he said, and stood to leave.

John was still standing there with his hand against the glass, and Sherlock was still staring at him, when Mycroft reentered the room. "That was cruel," John said, trying to keep his voice steady.

"I expect so," Mycroft said. "Turn right out of this room, then right again. The door will be obvious." Mycroft held out his keycard, and John took it with a shaking hand.

The door that lead to Sherlock's room--a cell, more like, call it what it is--was as plain as all the other doors in this place, but the access light turned green when he touched the card to the box. He took a deep breath and opened the door. Sherlock's eyes were still on the mirror, but instantly they refocused on John as the door opened. John though he saw him gasp, just a little, and that made him feel better, that Sherlock was as on-edge as he was in this moment. And he'd had time to prepare--Sherlock hadn't, Sherlock didn't know what was coming, Sherlock was mentally unstable and John had no idea what he'd do. But he felt safe with Sherlock, always had, even when he was on the brink of death, so he was fairly confident they'd manage.

The chair Mycroft had carried in was still there, and John thought about sitting in it. Instead, he picked it up and pulled it over to Sherlock's side, turned so he was facing him, and settled down into it. Sherlock's eyes were wide, and he might have been hyperventilating a little. John leaned forward and reached out, very slowly, very calmly, telegraphing his every move. No one had touched Sherlock since his arrival without coming away battered for it, but John wanted to try, needed to feel Sherlock alive beneath his hands. Sherlock didn't move, kept looking at him, kept trembling, ever so slightly. John stroked the side of his face, very gently, brushed his hand back to push his hair off his ear. His hair was greasy, and his skin was sallow, but he was soft and warm beneath John's hands. "Hello," John said, barely able to raise his voice above a whisper.

"John," Sherlock said, the only word he apparently knew at the moment, his voice still rough and broken.

John smiled, softly. "I've missed you."

Sherlock's face, his lovely mobile face, seemed to crumple at that. John stroked his hair, and felt the trembling in his shoulders, in his arms. Very, very slowly, Sherlock curled forward, and John let him, until Sherlock rested his head on John's lap, his hands, curled against his chest, his body nearly fetal in shape. John bent over, wrapped an arm around his back, and rested his head against Sherlock's shoulder. He smelled bad, unwashed and afraid, and his pyjamas were no barrier to the bones under his skin, but John held him closer, let him shake, stroked his back, and was glad, glad, glad to be there, to be in this moment, to have had his miracle.

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes in, Sherlock had just barely stopped shaking. John wasn't sure he had, but he thought he could speak without weeping, so he took a deep breath. "Sherlock," he said, as quietly as possible. "They tell me you haven't been eating."

Sherlock should have rolled his eyes at that. He should have scoffed at the need for maintenance of transport. He should have made a joke about old points of contention. Instead, he simply nodded, not moving his head off John's lap.

John stroked his back. It occurred to him that he was treating Sherlock like he'd treat Naz, which wasn't quite right, but it was working, so there it was. "Right. We need to take care of that. If I get them to bring you something, will you eat it?"

Sherlock was silent for a long time. Right when John was going to try again, he whispered, "What will be wrong with it?"

Christ. John stroked his hair. "I don't know if they've tried to put anything in your food, Sherlock, but I'll ask for them not to, alright? And I'd like to run an IV as well--you're dehydrated. They've been knocking you out for those, but if you'll let me do it, that won't be necessary, right?"

Sherlock nodded.

"All right," John said. He wanted to stand up and walk over to the mirror, but couldn't bear the idea of removing Sherlock from his lap. So he straightened his torso and turned his head as far as he could. "If someone is listening," he said in a clear, loud voice to the mirror behind him, "I need a rehydration bag and something suitable for him to eat. And I need them not to be adulterated with anything--not painkillers, not tranquillizers, not anti-psychotics. Just bring it in."

When he looked back down, Sherlock had turned his face up to look at him, and he caught his breath. The eyes weren't right, still too unfocused, but that was Sherlock looking at him, and he'd always loved that. "There you are," he said quietly, and pet Sherlock's hair again. "It'll just be a minute, and they'll bring in the supplies. And you'll start feeling better."

Sherlock shook his head, and pressed his face back into John's lap.

"Yeah, all right, you probably won't," John said. "But you won't be in ketosis anymore, your blood sugar will rise, and you'll feel less like you're slowly starving to death, so that'll be an improvement."

Sherlock's face stayed very still, but he nodded, very, very slightly.

An orderly entered, looking nervous, with a tray in his hands. John nodded to him. "Thanks much, just leave it where I can reach it." The orderly hovered by the door, and John sighed. "Look, I realize why you're nervous, but I've got him, he's not going to rip your head off. Just come set it down."

The orderly did not look reassured, but he followed orders. Sherlock stared at him menacingly, but considering he was curled up with his face mashed against John's belt buckle the appearance was more of a very sour-faced Siamese cat than of a hardened serial killer. John had never seen an orderly leave a room so quickly.

He leaned down and shielded Sherlock's body with his own for a moment, and spoke quietly into his ear. "I need to transfer you back to the bed to put in the IV, and then to feed you, all right? Can you move yourself?"

Slowly, Sherlock uncoiled and lay back down on his side on the bed.

"Good, that's good," John said, and patted his shoulder. He reached down onto the tray and picked up the IV bag. He's got his choice of needles, apparently, and his hand hovered over the hep-lock. "They've given me supplies to put in a line that stays in," he said, in as matter of fact a way as possible. "Means that next time you get fluids you won't need to get stuck again. If you think you can leave it in, then it'll be easier on you in the long term. But if you think you'll use it to harm yourself, or someone else, then I won't, I'll put in a needle and remove it right after." He looked up. Sherlock was regarding the needles warily. "I won't do it if you'll hurt yourself," John said, as clearly as he could. "You have to tell me."

Sherlock swallowed, and looked up at John. "I won't hurt myself with it."

That wasn't a vow to not harm himself, but close enough. "Will you use it on the staff?"

Sherlock shook his head.

"All right," John said. "I know you want to stay so you can see the door, so I'll put it on your left arm. Might be a little tricky, depends on how dehydrated you are." He reached out, very slowly and carefully, and pushed up the sleeve of Sherlock's pyjamas. "There, veins not too bad, considering. I suppose they've been putting enough fluid in you when they knock you out. I'll talk to them about stopping that, I know you don't like it." He inserted the needle as softly as he could, but Sherlock inhaled sharply. "Sorry, bit out of practice."

He reached for the bag to connect it, but Sherlock grabbed his hand before he could. He was staring, intently, at the bag. "Is it safe?"

John took a deep breath, and looked at the bag. "Label's factory printed, says it's rehydration solution, the ratios are correct, at least as far as I remember. Tubing is original, hasn't been switched out. No puncture marks. As far as I can tell, it's just sodium chloride, glucose, and water. If you start to feel funny, I'll disconnect it, but I think it's fine." He studied Sherlock's face, and waited until he nodded and released his hand before reaching out and attaching the tube to the needle in his arm. "And there's a hook on the wall there, that's convenient. I suppose they set these rooms up for things like this." He looked around. "Could have given you a nicer decor, though."

"John," Sherlock said, and he couldn't help it, he shuddered to hear that voice again, to hear those words. He turned back to Sherlock, and tried to keep his face calm. Sherlock was watching him very closely. "John. Is it." He had to pause, as if to reorganize the words before they came out. "Was Mycroft telling the truth?"

Well, it had taken a whole half hour to get here, but at least they had. "You know Mycroft," he said with a sigh. "Pretty good at the big picture, but he usually misses something." He pulled out his phone from his pocket. The lock screen was a picture of Naz taken on the beach in Brighton, grinning like an idiot next to a sand castle. "This is Nazir. We call him Naz most of the time, though. But it's Arabic. Means observant." Sherlock took a deep, shaking breath at that, and then blinked. John unlocked the phone and went to the photo album, looked for another picture. He's one of Naz in Trafalgar Square; here's Naz on the playground at the top of the climbing structure; here's Naz on his first day of school with his blinding grin. John smiled at that, and then realized he hadn't looked at Sherlock in a minute, and glanced up. Sherlock is watching the pictures very closely, and it's the closest he's come to looking like himself since John's seen him. "You've had the line in long enough. Want to try some food?" Sherlock didn't move, so he locked the phone and put it back in his pocket. "Looks like they sent up--" He picked up the bowl. "Fuck if I know, some kind of gruel. Probably it's got nutritional supplements, definitely oral rehydration salts. Do you want me to taste it first?"

Sherlock looked a little lost, but he nodded.

"Apologies for germs," John said, and took a bite. "Well. Not five star cuisine, but you wouldn't be up to that. I think it's rice cereal, and the hydration salts, but nothing I can taste apart from that. Reminds me of feeding Naz when he was a baby, he hated the stuff. You likely will as well, but as long as it stays down." He reangled the chair so he was facing Sherlock and dipped the spoon again. "I don't want to try to raise your head because you might faint. So we'll try it like this, unless it gets too messy."

He almost didn't expect Sherlock to open his mouth, but he did. He was watching John now, like his focus was coming back to him in fits and starts. They sat there in silence, John spooning the gruel into Sherlock's mouth, Sherlock opening his mouth and closing it mechanically. Halfway through the bowl, he didn't reopen it again, and John knew that look, so he set the bowl down. "We can give it a rest a minute," he said. "You might be tired after that."

Sherlock shook his head. "John. The rest?"

He assumed they were still on the conversation about Mycroft's little narrative of John's happy life. "It's roughly right." He reached for his phone again, and went through his pictures until he found one of Mary, with her arm around Naz on Christmas morning. "Mary works a lot, so I end up being in charge of Naz. Mycroft made it sound like I'm much more serious than I am, but I only work part time, freelance stuff. At first I was just breaking into it. And then there was Naz, and, well. It's easier when there's a parent whose schedule can accommodate the child, you know? So this works." John locked his phone, and sighed at the time. "Speaking of. I can't stay much longer, I need to be on the train back to London in half an hour. Naz is at school now, but I need to be there to get him." He pocketed the phone. "I was planning on coming back up on Friday. Don't think I can get here earlier than that. And twice a week is going to be pushing it, might need to only come up once a week after a bit. Do you want more of the wallpaper paste?"

Sherlock shook his head. "You're coming back."

John reached out and unhooked the now-empty bag from Sherlock's arm, slipped the hep-lock over the end. "Course I'm coming back, are you mad?" he said, without thinking about it. He paused, and glanced down at Sherlock, to find him smiling, just a little bit. He smiled back. "Of course I'm coming back."

Sherlock nodded, and closed his eyes. John set the rest of the supplies on the tray, and then turned back to Sherlock. He didn't want to leave--he couldn't imagine leaving. He wanted to take a photograph to be sure, later, that this wasn't the world's most lucid dream. He wanted to pick Sherlock up, carry him back home, and drop him in the guest room bed, feed him canned spaghetti and biscuits until he was human again. He wanted the last seven years to be deleted from reality, but he was never getting that, so he might as well go pick up his son at school. "I'll be back on Friday. Probably about the same time." He touched Sherlock's face again. "Today is Tuesday, by the way." He wanted Sherlock to say he knew that, and he didn't like that he didn't. Sherlock's eyes stayed closed, which made it easier for John to stroke his dirty head. "Right. If you can, try to take a shower before I'm back, all right? You've smelled better." He wanted to lean down and kiss Sherlock's temple. In the days after--after Sherlock had left, he had wanted, desperately, to have touched him again, after grasping his hand on the pavement; to hold his hand again, cold and smooth, to touch his face, to examine the cracks in his skull with his fingertips. It was a stupid desire, but Sherlock's death hadn't felt real; and it was a stupider desire now, to still feel so hot and burning, because this was Sherlock beneath his hands, alive again. Oh, fuck it, he bent over and kissed him, very lightly, a good night kiss. "Get some rest. Don't break anyone else's limbs. I'll see you Friday."

He stood, and Sherlock gripped his hand for a moment. "John," he said.

John squeezed his hand, and set it down on the bed. "Friday. I'll be back." And he picked up the tray and left the room.

As soon as the door was closed behind him his leg went out from under him, and he crumpled to the floor. The tray scattered, needles rolling, the gruel spreading in a slick slide across the linoleum. He cupped his hands over his face and struggled to breathe. The rage and grief that had been fully suppressed while he was in the room washed over him. That was Sherlock, he was in there, but he was broken, he was a stopped watch, a broken china doll. He was alive, which he shouldn't have been, which means he did something and made John feel all these things--but then he broke himself in the process, and wasn't that worse, somehow, to make John think he was never coming home and then come home like this? John couldn't rage at him, couldn't express anything, not in that room where a fragile man on the verge of a psychotic breakdown needed him to guide him back to life. He didn't know if he'd ever be able to do that, not with this Sherlock.

Quiet steps in the hallway next to him. He saw Mycroft's posh shoes out of the corner of his eye, and here, oh here was a Holmes he could shout at. "Of course he's mad, you've got him in a bloody padded cell," he bit. "He doesn't trust the food, doesn't trust the medicine, doesn't trust the orderlies, and he's right not to, because they fucking gas him when they want to sedate him. The only person he knows who speaks to him is you, and you poke at him like he's a pincushion, and not a person. He's still himself, Mycroft, he's just--he's just--" He rested the weight of his head on his fingertips. "I think he's been dead all these years, in his own head. And none of this is bloody helping."

"But you are," Mycroft said.

John laughed bitterly and rested his head back against the wall. "Yeah, my bloody superpower, isn't it?"

"I'd say so," Mycroft said. He held out his hand. "Your notes to Doctor Sheffield?"

John refused the hand and forced himself to his feet, using the wall for a support. "No more tranquillizers, not unless he knows they're being administered and consents. Explain what's happening to him before it happens, and remind him that I did it all before. If you can come up before Friday, try to feed him, see if he'll accept food from you. Keep talking to him, he's moved on to sentences now, might be able to keep it if we work at it. He won't trust strangers, so it's got to be us." He leaned against the wall with one hand, and bowed his neck. "I'll be here Friday. Just keep him alive until then."

Mycroft nodded. "I can have you driven back to London if it would be easier."

No, John knew he needed the train to decompress; as long as he was in Mycroft's car he was still here, and he couldn't see Naz like this. He shook his head.

"I can have you picked up on Friday morning," Mycroft offered.

John was about to refuse again, but Mycroft's would be faster than the train, which would mean he'd have more time with Sherlock. "Pick me up at the Starbucks near Naz's school. I drop him off at 8:15, should be there by 8:25."

Mycroft stepped back to let him through. John kept a hand on the wall, because he knew he would fall otherwise. "Let him rest today. He's been through a lot," John said.

"The private from earlier is waiting at the end of the hall," Mycroft said. "He has your belongings."

John stopped, and looked back at Mycroft. "Were you listening?"

Mycroft shook his head. "I turned the audio off, monitored by visual. Thank you for the postural change when you made a request. It was helpful."

John nodded. "Right. Friday, then." And he limped down the hallway towards the waiting private.

***

"Daddy!" Naz said. "I want to go home and watch TV."

"Did you have a good day?" John asked, picking up his back pack.

"It was Alice's birthday. Her mum made cupcakes," Naz said, putting his mittened hand in John's.

John smiled, and took a deep breath. He could do this. "Tell me about it," he said, and walked towards home.

***

"How was your friend?" Mary asked as they were unloading the dishwasher.

John stared for a moment at the glass in his hand. "He'll live," he said. Hopefully.

"You should stay in touch," Mary said, bending to pick up some plates. "You're good with people who need support, you know. I can't imagine having you to talk to wouldn't be good for him."

"Suppose you're right." John pushed the top rack shut. "Let me go get the dinner plates."

Mary took up the spot at the sink. "Is your leg all right, John? You've been limping a bit all day."

John hesitated in the doorframe. "Tweaked my ankle some running for the train. Suppose I'm getting old."

"Aren't we all," Mary said, and turned back to the dishes.

Chapter Text

Sheffield was waiting for him just inside the entrance to the facility when the car pulled up. John recognized the look on his face; he'd seen it from any number of commanding officers who didn't like how things were going down. At least he was starting it early. "Doctor Sheffield," he said politely as he got out of the car.

"Doctor Watson," Sheffield said, and oh, this was going to be unpleasant. "May we speak for a moment."

John sighed, and nodded. Sheffield led him to what looked like a private consultation room, where he shut the door. "He's worse since you came," he said bluntly, and turned around.

This was a surprise to John. "How in the world can he be worse?"

"He's not permitting treatment. No fluids since you left on Tuesday," Sheffield snapped. "He says he'll only receive treatment from you, which is not standard procedure, not even accounting for the fact that you aren't on staff."

"But he's talking."

Sheffield huffed. "He won't stop talking. He tells everyone who comes into the room very, very precisely what he'll do to them if they touch him. As a result, I've had ten staff members refuse to enter his room again. This is a military facility, Doctor Watson. These are all seasoned professionals, and they know how to follow orders. That's what he's done to them."

John can't help snapping back. "Are you telling me you preferred him catatonic?"

"And I have no earthly clue why you wrote that note attempting to forbid tranquilizer use on him," Sheffield continued, as if John hadn't spoken. "It's the only way that we've been able to treat him--"

"You haven't been treating him," John shouted, and Sheffield startled. He took a deep breath and got his voice under control. "You've been keeping him stable, and I appreciate that before I arrived you didn't have other options. But you have not considered him as a person since the moment he showed up in this facility. He's a thing to you, a thing to be maintained like a car or a gun. But he's a person, and treating him without his consent has not been helping him. If we want him to heal, both physically and mentally, we need to respect who he--" Who he was, John wants to say, but he clenches his hands and bites it back. "We need to respect him," he said. "So, I will talk to him, and I will find a solution to the treatment problem, and you will not do anything to him without his express verbal consent."

"What do you think we're doing here?" Sheffield said, his voice barely held below a shout. "This isn't a torture chamber. If he were in a mental hospital, he would have been restrained and medicated by now. Forbidding us to do that is denying him the ability to begin to recover."

John couldn't unknot his fists. On the one hand, the part of him that believed in systems, that believed that hospital procedures were there for a reason, that the chain of command had a purpose and that it was better not to argue, wanted to agree. But this wasn't any sort of normal psychotic break, not from what he could tell. Sherlock was there, he was just--lost, somehow. They didn't have to stop the fracture in his mind from getting deeper, start providing ways to work across it. Sherlock was a snail in a shell right now, a bear in a cave. They needed to convince him he could come out, and then, it would be possible to treat him. "I understand that you're trying to do your best," he said, firmly. "What I am telling you is that normal procedures are not going to work with him. They will kill him--or, more precisely, he will choose to die rather than submit to them. I am going to do my best to get him through this, and trust me when I say I am probably the only person who can. So step back and let me work."

Sheffield tried to stare him down, but John wasn't easily budged. Finally, he shook his head. "I'll be monitoring your interactions with him," he said, sharply.

"I don't know if you can do that," John said. Before Sheffield could bark back, he continued, "It's nothing personal, it's that I don't know if you are allowed to know his name, or if you're allowed to hear him speak about what he's been doing. Give me a moment." He pulled his phone out of his pocket; damn thing didn't have a signal, probably intentional. "Do you have an outside line I can use?"

Sheffield warily picked up a phone and dialled a combination of numbers. "Ta," John said, and painstakingly copied Mycroft's mobile number out of his phone directory. The phone rang eight times, more than usual, before Mycroft picked up. "Yes?"

"It's John," he said, realizing that he wouldn't know it was him, might think it was the facility calling to--well, calling. "I'm here, I'm about to go in with him. You haven't been to see him?"

"My apologies," Mycroft said. "I was called abroad unexpectedly on Wednesday."

John huffed a little through his nose. He couldn't fault Mycroft for his work, but it would be nice if he could be more focused on this. "Right. Sheffield wants to observe. I don't know if he has clearance."

Mycroft thought for a moment. "Do you wish him to observe?"

"It's not unsafe," John said, even though he'd been glad Mycroft had been there last week, just in case. "It's convenient not to have to leave the room if I need something. But confidentiality is an issue."

"By which you mean you do not wish to be surveilled."

"Yeah, pretty much."

"I see. Pass the phone to him."

John held it out. "He wants to talk to you."

Sheffield took it, and seemed startled when Mycroft's voice began speaking. John couldn't hear what he said, but Sheffield's eyes widened a little. "Yes, sir," he said after a moment, and hung up. He shook his head. "I'm to turn off the audio surveillance, and give you a two-way radio when you're in there."

John nodded. "Excellent. Now, let's get me in there before he passes out."

In the small room next to Sherlock's cell, John rustled through the cabinets of medical supplies and grabbed a new set of cannulas, in case Sherlock had removed the hep-lock, and a bag of fluids. He checked it quickly--it was a different brand from the last bag, so he paused and examined more closely. There was a barcode on the bottom that didn't look familiar. He checked the catheter; it wasn't original. "Fuck's sake," he said, and threw it to the side. The next bag he grabbed looked better, and he pushed himself to his feet. "This is why I don't trust you," he said to Sheffield, and grabbed the keycard off the table.

"Wait, you don't have your radio," Sheffield said.

"I'll be back for it," John said, and stomped out of the room.

Sherlock was sitting up on his bed, his head resting on his knees. His head lifted when the door opened. "John?"

"I'm here," John said, and started crossing to him.

"Are you?" Sherlock said. He wasn't focused, and his voice sounded wrong, desperate and trembling. Christ, he must be nearly gone with the dehydration. "You can't touch me if you're not John, I won't let you."

"I'm John, I'm here. Let me get these fluids running, alright?" He'd forgotten the chair, so he knelt on the bed next to Sherlock. "Give me your arm. Is the line still in?"

"John told me not to take it out. John won't hurt me," Sherlock said, and didn't unfold his arms.

John took a deep breath. Sheffield was probably listening, definitely watching, but he was terrified of Mycroft, so it was probably safe. He leaned over and stroked Sherlock's head gently. "Sherlock," he said as quietly as he could. "Sherlock, it's John. You're safe. I'm not going to do anything that will hurt you. I'm going to help you get better. I need to give you some fluids now. Give me your arm."

Sherlock turned his woozy arms to John. "John. You're real?" He unfolded his left arm and held it out. The needle was slightly out of place, but not so badly that John couldn't attach the bag and start it flowing.

"I'm real," John said, hanging the bag on the hook. "Have you been hallucinating?"

Sherlock considered the floor in front of him. "It's hard to tell," he said.

"That probably means yes," John said, and stroked his head for another moment. "All right. I need to go get some more things to treat you with. I will be right back, okay?"

Sherlock grabbed his arm as he went to stand. "You can't leave me, you can't leave me here, no one here is right."

"I'm not leaving, Sherlock," John said, and squeezed the hand that covered his bicep. "I'm going to the other room, and I'm going to get some things, and I'm going to be right back with them. And then we'll talk, all right?"

"What will we talk about?" Sherlock asked, slowly releasing John's arm.

John stood, and put his hands on Sherlock's shoulders. "Whatever you like. Why don't you lay down. I'm going to be right back."

Sherlock laid down as he guided him. "Are you real?"

"I'm real," John said. "I'll be right back."

Sheffield was standing by the window when he came back in. John expected him to be angry. Instead, he looked shocked. "I was expecting him to attack you."

"He's too weak to attack," John said, and went over to the supplies. He sorted through the bags of hydration fluid, picking out the ones that looked suspect.

"He didn't even try. Doctor Watson--"

"He trusts me," John said abruptly. "So I'm going to use that to help him not die. I need you to get me some things that I can leave in the room with him." He grabbed a permanent marker off the desk and tucked it in his pocket, his arms full of bags of hydration fluid. "Here, give me the radio. And stop listening."

It was hard to swipe the card with his arms so full, but he managed. Sherlock blinked open his eyes. "John?"

"Yes, I'm here. I said I'd be right back, and now I'm right back," John said, setting down the hydration fluid on the floor. He'd run the line open into Sherlock's arm, and he could see the bag was less full already. Sherlock's blood pressure must be low, though, his heart beating too slowly. He'd have time to hang at least another bag before he left, if he's lucky a third, which should take him out of the danger zone. He sighed. "I'm sorry, Sherlock," he said. He hadn't been able to grab the chair again, so he sat down on the edge of Sherlock's bed, next to his hips. "I didn't realize you wouldn't be able to eat or drink while I wasn't here. I'm going to find a solution for that, all right? Because I don't know if you know this, but what you did was dangerous. Three days without fluid is enough to be fatal."

Sherlock blinked slowly, and then looked up at John. "Was it three days?"

John looked around the room. No clock, no windows. "Yes, just under that," he said. "I came on Tuesday. Today is Friday. I told you I was coming on Friday."

Sherlock nodded. "I don't feel well, John," he said quietly.

"Yeah, I know," John said. "Give it a few minutes, you'll start feeling less bad. Sleep if you need to."

"I don't want to sleep when you're here," Sherlock said. "Because you might not be here. So if you're here, if I stay awake, and you continue to be here--"

"Yeah, all right," John said, cutting him off. "I'm not going anywhere for a while. You're all right."

Sherlock lay there silently for a moment, and then looked up at John. "Tell me about your wife."

Well. That was unexpected. John looked down at his hands, at the wedding ring on his finger. He always kept it clean, because he knew what Sherlock would say about that, and he never wanted anyone to think it about him. "Her name's Mary," he said. "Well, Maryam's her full name, but she goes by Mary usually. Her mum's scandalized by it, but her mum's scandalized about pretty much everything all the time, so, yeah. Um. We met…" He doesn't want to think about this, doesn't know how to explain it to Sherlock. "We met about, about seven months, after--after you stopped living at Baker Street." After you stopped living, he wanted to say. "She was a school principal then, but, uh, she was doing some writing too. She's smart, and very principled, you could say. Very passionate about her career." He cleared his throat. "Um. We'd been together about six months, and, uh, she said she wanted kids. I mean, she'd said that from the beginning--but she said that we should decide, if we should stay together, or if we should split, because, you know. Biological clock." Actually, this was girl stuff, Sherlock probably didn't know a damn thing about it. "And we were--we were good, we got along, she was--steady. Patient. I needed that then. So I said, yes, let's get married, let's have a baby. And, uh. I haven't regretted it." That sounded so wrong--he should say it was the best decision he ever made, he should say the day they got married was the happiest of his life, but his life is more complicated than that. "She was pregnant at the wedding, actually, but everyone decided not to do math when Naz was born eight months later, so her mother's still speaking to me, unfortunately. Just a registry office wedding, not a big deal. Harry was there, and Mrs. Hudson, which was nice. We, um. We live in Lewisham, we've got a house there--you'd hate it, it's all little private gardens and boring detached houses, but the train's convenient. Good schools. Mary didn't want Naz to be the only kid without two white parents on the street, so yeah. We're, um. We're happy." He shook his head and looked down. Sherlock was watching him, his eyes gradually growing less hazy as his body rehydrated. "I don't know. What do you want to know?"

Sherlock broke eye contact and stared ahead. John didn't really know what to say either. He pet Sherlock's head gently. It was greasier than Tuesday, which he hadn't thought possible. "I'm really going to have to insist you shower before I come back," he said, and tried to have it come out teasing. "These are previously unreached levels of squalor you're going for."

Sherlock just closed his eyes.

John sighed, and stood up from the bed. He went over to the pile of hydration fluid bags, and puled out the marker. "What are you doing?" Sherlock asked from behind him.

John glanced back. Sherlock was studying him, refocused in the moment. That was good, he thought. "I'm going to put my initials on all of these bags," he said. "I'm checking each one of them, to make sure they're not anything but fluids. And then I'm going to teach you how to change your bag yourself, so no one else will have to touch you. That way, until the next time I come, you'll know that I've checked all the bags, and that they're okay for you to use. Does that sound acceptable?"

Sherlock blinked. "I know how an IV bag works," he said slowly.

"Yeah, well, even if I believed that, I'm still going to show you how to do it properly," John said, and kept examining the bags.

Once they were all initialed, he piled them up in a corner. "There. I numbered them. Only seven; that's not enough to keep you going very long. I need to get more supplies." He looked over at Sherlock. "Will you be all right if I get someone else in here?" Sherlock made a sour look. "Yeah, I get it, you don't like it, fine. But if they see that you're not a danger, that you can be reasoned with, it might be easier."

Sherlock sighed. "All right."

John nodded and picked up his radio. "Doctor Sheffield, can you come in for a moment, please?" John pushed himself up and went to sit down on the bed.

"Your leg is bothering you," Sherlock said, quietly.

"Bad knee," John said, and sat.

Sheffield entered the room warily. "This," John said to Sherlock, "is Doctor Sheffield. He's in charge of your treatment when I'm not here. He's doing his best, and you need to stop threatening to eat his staff, or whatever bollocks you're doing."

Sherlock's whole body tensed. "I don't want them touching me. John's the only one who can touch me."

John could feel the fight-or-flight gearing up, even as weak as Sherlock's body was. "I understand that, and he does too, now. Nobody is going to touch you without your permission, and if you only want that to be me, that's fine. But the more you act like Hannibal Lector--do you know who Hannibal Lector is? Never mind. They don't know you, and they aren't making allowances for you. So you need to tell them things so they'll understand them."

"They understand that I can kill them. I've killed a lot of people," Sherlock said, his voice growling.

John put his hand on Sherlock's shoulder. "Stop it. Everybody here's killed a lot of people, we're at one of your brother's secret hideouts." Shit, he shouldn't have said that in front of Sheffield, never mind now. "The point is, I want you to live, and that means your body needs to recover, and that means that we need to come up with a way to get you to feel safe eating and drinking. So this is Doctor Sheffield, and I'm going to have him get me some things. I'm going to check those things, and then they're going to stay here with you. Is that clear?"

Sherlock didn't look happy, but he nodded.

John took a cleansing breath, and turned back to Sheffield. "So, here's my plan. I need a case or two of hydration fluid, the kind there, that I put in that pile. I need a case of some kind of electrolyte sports drink, preferably still sealed in the plastic wrap it comes in. I need a case of nutritional drinks, again, sealed in the plastic wrap. I need a case of some kind of easily digested food--whatever you've got that doesn't require preparation, and that you can bring me sealed in single-serving containers. And I need a clock, and a whiteboard. A marker too, but that won't stay in here."

Sheffield folded his arms. "We're a bit worried about the possibilities in leaving things in the room."

John rubbed his forehead. "I understand," he said. "Can you arrange to have the rubbish cleaned out once a day?"

Sheffield made a face. "And the clock and whiteboard?"

"He needs to have a sense of time," John said. "Can you project images on the wall from somewhere?"

Sheffield didn't like it, but he nodded. "Right," John said, and turned back to Sherlock. "Can you agree not to kill anyone with the bottle caps and things?"

Sherlock didn't like it either, but he nodded as well.

"Okay," John said, and exhaled. "Do you need me to write any of that down?"

Sheffield shook his head. "I'll go make some calls."

"Thanks, Doctor Sheffield," John said, and rubbed Sherlock's back.

When he was gone, Sherlock said, "I don't like him."

"Well, he doesn't like you either. Or me. And he's scared of your brother, but that's only natural." He glanced up; the bag was nearly empty, so he went over to the pile, found the bag numbered one, and brought it over. "So, you're feeling more chatty today." Sherlock averted his eyes. John sat back on the bed and toyed with the bag of fluids. "It's not a problem. I just was commenting." When Sherlock remained silent he sighed. "The proper thing to say here is that you were waiting for someone worthwhile to talk to, you know. Try to make a bloke feel like you're glad he's here." Which was a ridiculous thing to say, because of course Sherlock was glad John was here, he was refusing to be touched by anyone else and threatening to disembowel everyone who wasn't John, but when that horrible anxious need passed Sherlock was as blank and cool as he'd ever been. "Sherlock?" The blank look was still there, and there was a certain hardness to Sherlock's features. John realized that Sherlock had effectively checked out for the moment. So he sighed, and hooked up the bag, and waited for Sheffield to bring the supplies.

Sherlock snapped back into his body when the door opened and the orderlies brought in the cases; John supposed it was a good thing, that Sherlock could disappear with John in the room, that he felt safe to do so. John went over to the cases and started opening the plastic and examining each bottle and package, and then initialing and numbering each. It was overkill, he knew that--apart from the bags of fluid with something in them, which were, in fact, clearly labelled if you knew that was what they were, and that small matter of aerosol sedation, nobody seemed to be playing elaborate games to poison or drug Sherlock. But this wasn't rational, so he checked seals and looked for punctures and felt, remarkably, like he was on a case, when he hadn't been on a case in a very long time. Halfway through the task, he started talking about rugby; Sherlock wouldn't have listened before, and probably wouldn't listen now, but it would do him good to hear another human voice.

When everything was labelled, he stood up and looked over at Sherlock. He wasn't quite there, but when he said his name quietly, he slowly returned and looked over at him. "I've set everything up," John said, and sat down on the bed again. "Everything with a number and my initials is safe. You can take them in order. When they figure out how to get a whiteboard or something, I'll write down some notes for you." He wasn't certain how tactile he should be with Sherlock; on Tuesday, it had been natural to hold him, and at the crisis moment when he arrived today touching him had been necessary, but now it felt like it might be overstepping. He put his hand on Sherlock's forearm, tentatively. Sherlock reached out with the other hand and surrounded John's, and for a brief moment that was all John could feel, that warmth and that connection.

"You have to go soon," Sherlock said.

"Not that soon," John said. "You can rest. Or we can talk. Or I can talk. Whatever you want."

Sherlock's face relaxed, but he kept holding on to John's hand. "Tell me about your job."

And John recognized tell me a story when he saw one, so he talked, in great and boring detail, about the process of writing prescription drug documentation, about his favourite clients and his least favourite, about the time he nearly broke patent confidentiality because he forgot what the bcc line was for. And through it all, as he faded in and out, Sherlock held his hand.

When John left, there was a clock and calendar projected from a computer in the other room on the wall. Beneath it, John had written a list for Sherlock to see. It read:


John is coming back on Tuesday.

You have 36 bags of rehydration fluid. At least three a day.

You have 24 sports drinks. Drink at least two a day.

You have 12 nutritional shakes. Drink at least one on Saturday and at least two a day starting on Sunday.

You have 24 packets of strawberry jelly with peach bits in. Eat them if you want to.

You can talk to the people behind the mirror if you need anything.

John is coming back on Tuesday.

 

When John got to the train station, he had an email from a client asking if he could do a meeting next week. Sure, he wrote back. Any day but Tuesday.

Chapter Text

Sheffield was waiting for him again in the front hall on Tuesday. John tried not to let his annoyance bleed through onto his face. Traffic had been miserable on the way up from London--freezing rain, stupid drivers, the whole thing a mess--and he'd spent his time in the car answering idiotic emails from the client for tomorrow's meeting. He wasn't in the mood to argue with Sheffield.

But Sheffield's first words were, "He's doing well," so John untensed his hands a little and nodded. Sheffield turned and started walking down the hall. "He followed the directions you left, didn't threaten the orderlies when they came in to clean. He hasn't been active, so to speak, but he moves about a bit more. Given how quickly he's responded to you, I think there's a real possibility he'll make a full recovery."

Define full recovery, John thought, but he didn't say it. "I'm glad to hear it went better," he said, and didn't bother with the I told you so.

As the lift doors closed, Sheffield cleared his throat. "Now that he's out of crisis. We haven't discussed the topic of psychiatric treatment."

"He won't," John said. "I'm sure your staff here are all very good at what they do, but I highly doubt he'll consent to be evaluated, let alone medicated."

"He's not sleeping," Sheffield said, clearly about to start a long list of Sherlock's abnormal behaviours.

"He never sleeps," John said firmly. The lift door opened, and all John wanted was to be alone, not even alone with Sherlock, just alone for a minute without a thousand things depending on him.

"Fine," Sheffield said. "I may want to bring this up again in a few weeks."

"Fine," John said, and waited for Sheffield to open the door to the observation room.

Sherlock was laying on the bed in the room, and John thought he looked as still as the first day, through the glass, but he wasn't the same; he was on his back now, as if he wasn't afraid to show his belly, and his arms were folded across his chest in a way that looked natural. There was a bag of fluids hanging, not yet empty. His eyes were closed, and he wasn't relaxed, but Sherlock never looked relaxed, not really--he looked good-tense or bad-tense, and it was a tricky thing sometimes telling the difference. John dropped his coat, his bag, his gloves on a chair in the room. Sheffield held out the access card and the radio. "Call when you want supplies."

"Thanks," John said. He picked up a chair and carried it with him out into the hallway. Standing in front of the door, he cracked his neck and tried to take a cleansing breath. It didn't work. He swiped the card anyway.

Sherlock startled when the door opened, and John could see the tension in his body before it relaxed at seeing who was there. "I didn't shower," he said, by way of greeting.

"And why was that?" John asked, as he carried the chair over to be next to Sherlock's bed. The bag on the hook was labelled #15, which was pretty good; about half of the sports drinks were gone, almost all of the nutritional shakes, and the jelly looked like it had been picked at. So, yes, Sherlock had done the bare minimum to keep himself alive in the past four days; John would think that was pathetic if he didn't remember how Sherlock had clung and raved on Friday.

Sherlock didn't respond. He kept glancing at John and then glancing away, not moving from his spot in the bed. John sighed. "Sherlock? Care to clue me in? Because I don't much feel like sitting here silently for three hours." He knew he shouldn't get annoyed, he knew he shouldn't; Sherlock was only barely put back together, still wasn't himself, and he'd never been the world's most communicative human being--but John felt his patience run thin. When Sherlock didn't reply, he nearly stood up and left. After what John's done for him, that Sherlock could sit there and just ignore him--

"I couldn't," Sherlock said, very quietly.

John glanced down at Sherlock. Still thin, barely recovered from most of a week of barely moving and near-starvation--he was probably too weak to make it to the shower. "Physically?"

Sherlock avoided his eyes. "Mostly."

Ah, and that was the other thing. John glanced around the room. The shower stall and toilet were in a corner, behind a small partition for privacy. If he were paranoid, worried that someone was coming for him at every moment, then he wouldn't want to stand behind a wall and turn on the shower, block out his hearing and his sight and present himself wet and unprotected to potential threats. "I see," he said. "Well, I'm here now. How about I help you over there, and call for clean sheets and clothes? Then once you're in the shower I can change the bed, and then help you back out. I'll be right here the whole time."

Sherlock swallowed, and kept looking at the ceiling. "All right."

John picked up his radio, requested clean sheets, clean pyjamas, bathing supplies. Then he moved his chair out of the way, placed the radio on it, and went back to help Sherlock out of bed. His arms trembled as he took hold of John's shoulders; John put the sudden spike of grief back down and levered Sherlock up to sitting, letting him rest a moment and get his bearings. Sherlock's head was down, and he was breathing heavily. "It's fine," John said, as soothingly as he could. "You're doing fine. Take a moment's rest."

"I don't want to," Sherlock said, and John understood; he remembered the first time he got out of bed after he'd been shot, the pain and the exhaustion, and wasn't that the worst, to have done nothing and still be unable to move?

"I know, but it's better to get your breath now and not collapse in the shower. Trust me, that's embarrassing." He patted his shoulder a bit. "OK, ready now?"

Sherlock nodded, let himself be pulled to standing, let himself be helped across the room and to a seated position on the toilet. John was reaching down without thinking to pull off Sherlock's shirt when he heard the door open. Sherlock tensed again, and his fingers, which had been resting on his lap, gripped suddenly at John's arms.

John pulled back and took Sherlock's hands in his. "That's the orderly, with the things I asked for," he said, making his voice level. "I'm going to go get them, all right? If you want, you can undress yourself. Or I'll be right back, yeah?"

Sherlock slowly uncoiled his fingers. The orderly was already stripping the bed when John stepped out. "Here, let me help," he said, and pulled the pillow case off. The water turned on behind him--Sherlock must have had the energy to get up and get changed, then. John handed the dirty pillow case over, and pulled the clean one out of the pile. "If you want to finish stripping it, I'll go get his old clothes, and then I can finish making the bed, so you can get back to whatever else you're doing."

The orderly glanced over at the bathroom area. "Are you sure? It's not your job, doctor."

John smiled. He hadn't been called doctor in a while, not like that. "Yeah, it's fine. I think he feels better when I'm the only person in here, anyway. Look, can you bring us some lunch around twelve-thirty? Put him on whatever the easily-digestible diet is, and just bring me a tray of whatever else you've got for patients."

The orderly gave him a strange look. "You've only worked in regular hospitals, haven't you."

John sighed as he went over and snapped up Sherlock's dirty clothes. The shower curtain was pulled shut, and steam was rising from behind it. He supposed a place like this didn't do regular patient meal service; probably didn't have enough bloody patients. "Well, whatever works--just, you know, lunch. For both of us. Twelve thirty. Is that possible?" He dropped the clothes into the laundry bag the orderly had brought.

"Fine," the orderly said. He picked up the laundry bag. "Everything's on the chair," he said, gesturing to where he'd set the clean sheets, a towel, a flannel, a small pile of toiletries that looked hospital-issue. "Anything else?"

"We're fine, thanks," John said, and watched as the orderly left the room. He was tense when there were other people around, he realized. Even if dealing with Sherlock was stressful, it was easier when he didn't have to worry about managing other people. He shook himself slightly, picked up the towel, the flannel, the soap and shampoo, and carried them over to the little bathroom area. He hung the towel on a hook. "Sherlock? Can I pass you the bathing things?" No response from behind the shower curtain. Fuck, if Sherlock had disassociated in the shower it would be hell getting him back to bed--a bed with no sheets on it. "Sherlock?" He edged forward, and pushed the corner of the curtain away from the wall.

Sherlock was slumped on the small bench in the shower, his head bent forward and water cascading over him. It wasn't how thin he was that struck John at first; Sherlock always had ribs showing, that was just what he looked like. It was the scars: a long, thin knife track running from beneath his shoulder blade around his torso and down towards his navel, a poorly healed bullet wound in his thigh, a jagged burn mark on his bicep. And then it was the realization, hot and sudden, that he was staring at Sherlock in the shower, watching the water run down his neck, seeing his long hands rest on the bench--Christ, how was he this broken and still this beautiful? John shook himself. "Sherlock? Are you all right?"

Sherlock tilted his head slowly, and looked over at John. "I'm fine," he said quietly. His face looked so different with short hair--longer, more angular, though some of that was the weight loss. John had to stop himself from crawling into the shower to observe every inch of him; it wasn't appropriate, and he didn't have a change of clothes anyway.

"Do you need help washing up?" he asked, in as neutral a voice as he could. Part of him wanted to help, just to make very, very clear that this was actually Sherlock, that he was actually alive and breathing under his fingers--and the rest of him realized it was horrifically invasive and was so ashamed at the craving that it wanted Sherlock to say no.

Sherlock shook his head and held out his hand. John pressed the supplies into it. "All right," he said, and tamped down the disappointment, and the shame that went with it. "I'm going to go change the sheets on your bed. When you're done, turn off the water and I'll help you get out, yeah?"

Sherlock nodded, and then tilted his head down in the water. John made himself close the curtain and go out to change the sheets.

He kept himself divorced from what he was doing, then, even as he helped Sherlock out of the shower, dried him, helped him pour his tired limbs into the new clothes, which were identical to the old clothes but smelled a fair bit better. It was only when Sherlock was lying on the bed again, on top of the sheets but curled on his side, that he let himself really be centred again in the moment. "Your hair's different," he said, casually, sitting down on the chair again. Christ, it was more tiring doing that with an adult-sized person than with a small one.

Sherlock reached up and touched it softly, as if he hadn't noticed. Slowly, he replied, "My real hair is distinctive."

"Yeah, I can imagine," John said, and wasn't that just ripping the scab off it, that Sherlock had fucked off to play international assassin for seven years and left John alone.

Sherlock wasn't looking at him, but John could feel the tense energy snapping from him. "John," he said, quietly. "I…I'm sorry."

John took a deep breath. He wasn't sure he could handle the emotional catharsis right now.

"I realize…I realize I have not been an easy patient," Sherlock said, and that threw John for a bit of a loop. "I apologize for the difficulty--"

"It's fine," John said sharply, because, no, he couldn't listen to Sherlock apologize for the past week. "You don't have to apologize for that. You just need to recover."

Sherlock looked up at him, and there was a puzzled sort of air to it, though it was much less sharp than it could have been. "You said, I don't need to apologize for that. The way you said it. You think there's something else I should apologize for."

John looked away. Dammit, he could have handled not being deduced right now.

"But what it is? I've only seen you when I've been in…this state. While we didn't part on the best of terms--"

And, no, he could not handle this, no fucking way. John stood suddenly, the chair spinning out from under him. He turned sharply and walked clear across the room to the door. "John?" Sherlock called out. "John, where are you going?"

He left the room, and secured the door behind him. Because he could not, he could not handle this, he could not hear Sherlock calling dropping himself off a five storey building not the best of terms when he left John with blood on his hands, left him with nothing. The grief echoed through him, and it was pressed back by the anger: if Sherlock is alive, if he is sitting alive and well in that room there, then it is because he tricked John, ripped out his heart and threw it away like nothing. So fuck him anyway, if he's going to lay there in that bed--

"Doctor Watson?"

"What?" John snapped, and whirled around.

Sheffield was standing at the edge of the corridor, and his hands went up in a placating gesture. "Sorry. I just--I noticed you stepped out of the room, but you never came in. I wanted to check that…" He trailed off. "Can I get you anything?"

"I just need a minute," John said. He pressed his palms into the wall, and dropped his neck. The slow breaths he took shuddered at the end, and he tried to make the rage and sadness leak out his fingers, get away from his mouth. "Your patient," he said, when he thought he could speak calmly, "is a singularly aggravating individual."

Sheffield made an amused noise. "I can see that."

John tilted his head back. "Yeah, OK," he said. "I need to get back in there. Did he--" He shook his head. "Did he react, when I left?"

"I wasn't listening," Sheffield said, "but I think he called your name. He sat up, and I think he was calling for you."

"Brilliant," John said, and hoped that he hadn't just ruined all the progress they'd made. "Right. Let's hope he doesn't break my neck when I walk back in."

Sheffield shuffled a little bit. "If you don't mind my saying--I've been watching his body language with you. You're right. He won't hurt you."

John straightened his back. "I hope you're right," he said. He turned, swiped the card, and let himself back in.

Sherlock was sitting on the bed, knees pulled up, arms folded around them. His eyes were open, but he was staring at the floor next to John's overturned chair, and he didn't look up when John entered. "Shit," John muttered to himself. If he'd shoved Sherlock back into full disassociation, he was a fucking idiot. He went over slowly, put the chair to rights, and sat down on it. "Sherlock?" he said. "Sherlock, I'm here again. I need you to come back, Sherlock." He reached out, a little warily, and touched Sherlock's hand. "Sherlock?"

Sherlock's head snapped up, but he didn't move apart from that. "John?" he said, a little woozily.

"I'm here," John said, and squeezed Sherlock's hand.

"You came back?" Sherlock said.

"I just stepped outside for a minute. I came right back."

Sherlock's eyes snapped to the clock on the wall. "It's still Tuesday," he said, not questioning, just observing, and a little surprised. "Is it the same Tuesday?"

"I was just in the hall," John said. "I didn't go anywhere. I just needed to step out for a minute."

"I said something wrong," Sherlock said, more quickly than he had talked since John'd been seeing him. "I don't know what it was, but I said something wrong, and you left. I can't figure it out, because I'm too slow like this, and I made you leave."

John hung his head and reined himself in. "It's okay," he said, making his voice be steady. "I stepped out, because if I didn't, I was going to shout at you, and I didn't want to do that. I wasn't going to leave you. I will never leave without telling you that I'm going, and letting you know when I'll be back next, all right? You don't need to worry about that."

"I'm all wrong," Sherlock said. "I don't know how to think any more."

"You're okay," John said. "You're recovering from a lot here. It'll be a while until you have yourself back together. And even then, you may be different. And that's fine. You don't need to worry about that. You just need to focus on getting better."

Sherlock pressed his head into John's hand, where it held his own. "I don't know how," he whispered.

"It's just time," John said, quietly. "Just relax. You're fine." He pet Sherlock's wet hair, and waited quietly for both of them to stop shaking.

When the orderly let himself in with a lunch cart, Sherlock had calmed a little, but they hadn't yet worked up to talking. John pulled his hand off Sherlock, and let the orderly park the tray between them. Sherlock watched him warily the whole time he was in the room, but he didn't say anything, which could have been a good sign or could have been him being more out of it than usual. John made it a point to thank the orderly, and then tried to make a show of examining his lunch with some eagerness. His memories of Sherlock eating are all of sneaked bites and minor after-case binges, not of proper meals at all, and he doesn't know how they're going to pull this off, particularly if Sherlock's gone silent again. "At least they managed to find us food," John said, trying to make conversation. "This sandwich nearly looks edible." He took a bite; it was actually pretty good. Of course the secret facilities had good cafeterias--no justice in this world.

Sherlock moved on from staring blankly at the bowl of oatmeal in front of him to studying it, and eventually to poking it with a spoon. John wished he were better at automatic small talk, but it just wasn't happening today. He was too exhausted; these new clients were annoying, Naz had thrown an ever-loving fit at bath time last night, and Mary was gone from last night through Thursday for work again. He really shouldn't have come up, but Sherlock needed him. And wasn't that just the problem with his life, that it was full of people needing him to be places and do things and be available when they said so? He was just tired of it, all of it.

Sherlock set his spoon down and folded his hands. "John," he said. "I don't--I would like to know what's wrong."

John sighed. He supposed it was a good sign that Sherlock could notice something was off, but that didn't make him any more eager to talk about it. "It's nothing, honestly. Just kind of been a crap week. I'm sorry I don't have more energy."

"That's not it," Sherlock said. He pulled his knees back up onto the bed. "When you left, earlier. That wasn't about your crap week. I did something wrong."

"It's fine," John said, and set down his sandwich. "Not anything you need to worry about."

"That's not true," Sherlock said, and slammed his palm down on the cart. John jumped, and crumbs from the roll Sherlock had disassembled instead of eating shifted around his tray. "Something is wrong, and I cannot figure it out. Don't lie to me. You need to tell me, so I--" His face screwed up and he looked away from the table, fingers twitching against the metal of it. "You want me to get better. You want me to be myself again. I cannot do that if I cannot figure out these things. So you need to tell me, so I can see it, so I can understand."

John closed his eyes. He hated this, as much as it meant that Sherlock was here, again, finally. "I do want you to get better. But that means that I don't want to do anything that would upset you. A week ago you were barely conscious, Sherlock. I left the room for ten minutes and you weren't certain how many days had gone by. No matter how upset I am, that's not something that needs to be your problem right now."

"You made me shower," Sherlock said, and lifted his head to look up in John's eyes.

"Okay?" John said, unsure of the conversation segue here.

"Which means you think I'm getting better. You weren't worried about how I was doing, you're glad about it. You ordered me food, rather than feeding me yourself, and you aren't complaining that I haven't eaten enough, so you're willing to allow me greater bodily autonomy if I can manage to keep myself alive. You didn't like that I thought you were upset about my behavior this past week, despite the obvious terribleness of my earlier condition. So it--" He took a deep breath. "It's about when I died. It has to be." John couldn't stop the twitch at hearing Sherlock's voice say that. "It can't just be grief. It's been seven years, you've moved on. And beyond that, I'm alive again, so your grief would be--" John looked away. "Oh," Sherlock said. "It's that. I just don't know what."

John drummed on the metal of the cart with his fingers. He could try to stop this, but Sherlock wouldn't give it a rest, not ever. "It's not straightforward," he said.

"Explain it to me," Sherlock said.

John closed his eyes, hoping it would be easier. "We fought," he said, and simply as he could. "And then the next time I saw you, you told me that everything I thought I knew was a lie, and then you killed yourself. And it was--" He can't find words for that horrible emptiness that opened in his life after that, the meaninglessness that came pouring out of every crack to drown him. "My whole life was tied up with yours," he said, because you were my whole world was too much to say. "And then it was just gone. You, that whole life, gone. There was just--nothing." He looked up, and Sherlock was watching him, studying him, trying to piece it together. He wanted to stop there, to let it be, to let Sherlock understand enough, that it would be enough, but those eyes staring at him have always pulled out more than he wanted to have known, more than he wanted to say. "How much of it did you arrange? The call to get me out of there? I know you had to have made it so I'd watch, when you. You made it happen. You wanted me to watch. You knew what you were doing, and you chose it. You did it, for whatever your reason was, and you just didn't care what it was going to do to me. So. You didn't kill yourself. You just killed me."

Sherlock blinked.

John broke their eye contact.

"John," Sherlock whispered. "John, no."

And that just broke through him in a wave, because who the fuck was he to try to say no to this, to the past seven years of John's life? He looked up, mouth already open to yell, but then, oh, there was Sherlock's face collapsing on the other side of the cart, his hand shaking where it lay and his shoulders starting to tremble. Goddammit, he shouldn't have said it, he shouldn't have said a damn thing, he knew this was a terrible idea. "Sherlock, you're fine. It's fine. You don't need to be upset."

"No," Sherlock said again. "John, no, you can't, you can't--"

Oh, fuck this. John shoved the cart, and it rolled away from them and crashed into the wall. He moved across to sit next to Sherlock on the bed and took his face in his hands. "I know, it's fine, I told you. You're here, and I'm here, and we're going to be okay, all right? It's fine, see, everything's fine now."

Sherlock collapsed onto John's shoulder, and John gave up any pretense and wrapped his arms around him. Sherlock curled in closer, which meant John had a trembling six foot disaster trying to sit on his lap, but he just kept making hushing noises, stroking his back, and waiting for the moment to pass.

When he stopped shaking, Sherlock didn't pull away. Instead, he said, quietly, "I did it to save you."

John didn't know how to respond to that. Because all he'd been saved from was being happy, as far as he could tell. But he waited.

"There were snipers," Sherlock said. "Three. You, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson. It was me or you. And I--I didn't want to die, but I couldn't, I didn't. You had to be safe. I had to make you safe."

John's hand paused in its smooth motion down Sherlock's back. He remembered the repair man in Mrs. Hudson's flat, the strange way he had watched him. He remembered their street overwhelmed with international assassins. He remembered Moriarty's body on the roof, though he'd never seen it. All these years he'd thought that Sherlock had killed himself because he'd been overwrought, because without Moriarty he thought he'd never be happy again, that he'd lied to John on that building because he'd wanted to end it all, wanted to stop being himself for that moment. But the idea that there'd been a threat, one that none of them had ever seen, and that Sherlock had chosen to do this, this ridiculous horrible thing to keep them all safe--he couldn't process it. He started his hand moving again. "And I am," he said, slowly. "I'm safe."

"I got them all," Sherlock said. "Everyone who knew your name. Everyone who knew who to go after. Cut the spider's threads but they can still catch, and I burned them. I did."

Christ. This wasn't revenge, it was protection. "Thank you," John said, not entirely certain if he should thank someone for their transnational murder spree or not, but it felt like the right thing to say.

"You're safe. You have to stay safe," Sherlock said, and curled his face in further against John's neck.

"I'm safe," John said. "You're safe, too. You're safe now."

"I don't matter," Sherlock said.

"You matter to me," John said, and held him closer.

Chapter Text

The train ticked away the distance out of London.  John stared out the window. It wasn't that he was dreading seeing Sherlock, not really.  The truth of it was that he would always be glad to see Sherlock.  He liked the world better with him in it; he liked the man Sherlock saw in him, even if he didn't always recognize the image.  But they'd left it so rough the last time, and John didn't want to walk back into that, didn't want that wave of crushing emotion to break over him again, because he wasn't sure he could remain standing under it, and he needed to. Naz needed him, Mary needed him, Sherlock needed him.  He'd vowed, when he knew he was going to be a father, that he would never take out his negative emotions on his wife and child, because that was one family cycle that needed ending.  And if he let himself go under again, he didn't think he could stop himself.

The train neared his station.  He sighed and looked around the compartment.  People staring at their phones, typing on laptops and tablets, reading the paper, living their totally normal lives.  He wasn't certain if he envied them or not.

Wait.  He looked around. Papers, phones, computers, conversations: everyone was doing something.  Shit, this is what Sherlock needed: a distraction.  He was far enough out of his head now to be bored, and if all he had to work on was how massively fucked up things were with John, then that would be all they could talk about, it would take over the whole room.  He needed something else to do.  This, John thought, was something he could do.

***

Sherlock was sitting on the bed when John came in.  His knees were tucked up against his chest--the protective stance again.  John smiled as warmly as he could, trying to set the tone for the day.  He set his briefcase down, and then the chair next to it.  "I brought you something," he said, sitting down.

Sherlock's eyes flicked to the bag, and then up at John, a little nervously.  "What is it?"

"It's a prize," John said, crossing his legs and affecting an air of nonchalance.  "And I'll only give it to you once you've deduced three things about me."

Sherlock blinked a few times.  "I...I can't."

"Nothing fancy," John said.  "Just basic stuff.  More observing than anything.  And you know me pretty well--you could probably just guess wildly and you'd be right."

Sherlock broke eye contact and fiddled with the fabric covering his knees.  "I haven't.  In.  In a long time.  I don't know if I can anymore."

Oh, and doesn't John know that feeling, that something just might not be possible anymore, that the not-knowing maybe was better than knowing the answer was no.  "You did, out there," he said.  "That's how you found Moriarty's network, isn't it?"

"It had been...a while," Sherlock said, still not looking at him.  "The Moriarty part of it, that was done.  There were--I'd found some other crime syndicates, I'd tried--" He shook his head.  "I wasn't able to.  I stopped seeing them.  The evidence. I shut it off."

"So turn it on," John said, leaning forward.  "Nobody here but me.  No danger, no stress.  You can examine me how you like, within reason.  You know me.  You can do this."

Sherlock looked up and watched John's face for a moment.  Slowly, he slid his feet down to the floor and pulled himself to the edge of the bed.  He licked his lips.  "Hands.  Give me your hands."

John held them out. Perfectly ordinary hands, he thought: the tremor was intermittent but not severe, his hands were neither rough from outdoor work not soft from idleness.  Maybe Sherlock would notice he typed a lot, maybe see the tiny slice in his fingernail from cooking dinner last night--

"You know how to use your phone now," Sherlock said suddenly.

John startled.  "How d'you mean?"

"Left thumb," Sherlock said.  "You use it more than the right, lots of circular motions.  Not pencil work, not computer typing, those distribute strain differently." He ran his hand up the tendon in John's wrist that always ached. "Confirmed by tension in the wrist and lower arm. You type on a phone regularly, more than just to send texts.  So you've learned how to use your phone."

John was about to praise him, to talk about his love/hate relationship with his phone, but Sherlock moved slowly up from his hand to his wrist.  He leaned close, his eyes focusing tightly as he slowing turned John's arm this way and that.  He leaned in and sniffed once, then twice.  "Your son had trouble brushing his teeth this morning," he said, slowly.

"How can you tell?"

Sherlock ran a thumb over an area of John's shirt cuff.  "Flecks of toothpaste here.  You are meticulous in your toilette, and unlikely to spray toothpaste in this location. Smells of artificial fruit flavor, orange or peach or mango, I can't tell for sure.  So children's toothpaste.  You have a young child. Logical deduction, you helped him brush his teeth this morning."

Actually they'd had a row about tooth brushing, and the toothpaste flecks were the result of the struggle, but he smiled.  "One more."

Sherlock was still holding his wrist.  He bent down and sniffed it again, then turned it to smell a different spot.  He leaned forward more and started smelling up John's arm, again, turning to alternate between the outside and inside of his arm.  When he got to the elbow, he slid to his knees and followed John's arm up to mid bicep, still sniffing; he then raised John's arm above him and ducked under, smelling his side, deep, huffing lungfuls.  John was just about to stop him--there was a limit to where he was willing to be smelled--but then Sherlock dropped back to sit in his heels.  "You had a seat on the tube, he said.  "If you had held on to the pole, your arm would smell the same all the way around, but the side closest to your body smells more like your torso than the other side.  So you had your arm down on the tube."

John looked at Sherlock kneeling next to him, still holding his wrist, his eyes wide and his nostrils flared.  "Brilliant," he said.  "Absolutely extraordinary."

Sherlock's face lit up.  God, John had missed that smile, its bright spark, the crinkles in the corner of his eyes.  He couldn't help but smile back.

After a moment, Sherlock snuck a glance at the bag. "Well?"

"Get off the floor, my knees can't handle getting down there with you."  John turned to his bag and ruffled through.  Sherlock sat again on the edge of the bed.  John pulled out the copy of the Daily Mail he'd bought and tossed it into his lap.  "Had to negotiate to get you a pen for the crossword."  He fished the felt tip pen out if his cardigan pocket; Sheffield had been worried about weapon potential, and John had insisted you couldn't do a crossword in crayon.

 Sherlock took the pen, looking at the paper in shock. "The Daily Mail's crossword is horrible," he said, his voice clearly distracted.

"But you like the gossip pages best," John said.  "Here."  He held out the bag of Cadbury buttons.

Sherlock took it, and looked at it in wonder.  "John."

"You're welcome," John said.

Sherlock cradled it in his hand and looked up, his face schooled into that familiar look of dismissal, the one that meant he was happy.  "You could have at least picked me up a pack of cigarettes."

"That's never happening."  John knew his part in this dialogue, and rolled his eyes deliberately.  "Shut up and eat your chocolate."

***

"I'd like it if he would accept treatment from other people," Sheffield said in the lift, the next time.

"I can try," John said.

So after he and Sherlock had chatted, after Sherlock had deduced who he'd sat next to on the train up, and what the weather was, and that he'd been up late last night (a conference call had been scheduled on Shanghai time--he hated those, they always meant he spent the next day half-asleep), and after John had made sure that Sherlock had managed to do the basics to keep himself alive in the past five days (three protein shakes a day, eating the food that was delivered sealed, and showering, "since you're so picky about that"), John said, "Your doctor wants to have a meeting with us."

"You're my doctor," Sherlock said. He crossed his arms and set his face.

"Yes, but I'm here twice a week, maybe," John said. "You're here twenty-four seven. You've put yourself through malnutrition and dehydration since you've been here, not to mention that we don't have any idea what state you arrived in." Sherlock made a face at that. "Look, I agree that it's not ideal. But if they treat you like a regular patient, then it'll be easier for you, and for them. And, frankly, you need to get used to being treated like a normal person if you're ever going to get out of here."

Sherlock looked away.

"And you're going to get out of here," John said, a little more forcefully than necessary.

Sherlock didn't look back at him, but he nodded.

John tried not to sigh in relief, and picked up his radio. "Doctor? Why don't you come in and we can talk for a few minutes." He put it down, but then picked it up again. "Um. Bring your own chair." He wasn't certain if he should get up and sit next to Sherlock, but he thought it set a better precedent to have them separate, to act as if Sherlock wasn't leaning on him every second of this. Who it was better for, don't ask him.

Sheffield entered, chair in hand. John nodded at him. "You remember Doctor Sheffield?"

Sherlock squinted. "I'm not stupid."

John rolled his eyes. "I was checking to see if you were disassociated when you met him, you twat."

"Oh," Sherlock said, and looked a little chastened. "Yes, I remember him."

Sheffield stood, chair in hand, a little ways away. Apparently he wasn't terribly eager to get near to Sherlock. John scooted his chair closer to Sherlock's bed, and gestured at the space he'd opened up. Sheffield cautiously placed his chair in it, and sat down primly. "Hello," he said. "It's nice to meet you properly."

Sherlock did not dignify this with an answer. John was sure that if he took his pulse right now, it would be racing, but his face was all haughty condescension.

Sheffield looked totally at ease, as well, which was also a total lie. "Now, there's no name for your in your file. So, what should I call you?"

"Adam," Sherlock said, tersely.

Something about that set off John's instincts. "No, he can't," he said. Both Sheffield and Sherlock snapped their eyes to him, but he only looked at Sherlock. "What was the last name you were using out there before Mycroft brought you in?"

Sherlock hesitated. "Adam Kingston," he said, and damn if he didn't pick up the edge of a Welsh accent when he did it. Fucker really went method with the undercover thing sometimes.

"Yeah, no," John said, leaning back. "You're not getting called by a false identity in here. You need to get out of that headspace, it'll kill you." He turned to Sheffield. "Can we skip names for the moment? His real name's a bit distinctive, unfortunately."

"It's a family name," Sherlock said, still performing high dudgeon elegantly.

"That's something your mum says to apologize," John said. He was burdened with Hamish, of all things, for the same damn reason.

"All right then," Sheffield said, though he kept throwing them both confused looks. "So. Are we here to talk about alternatives to Doctor Watson?"

"No," Sherlock said.

"Not exactly," John said. He gave up, and reached out to take Sherlock's wrist; yes, his heart was hammering away, and he could feel the slight tremble of an adrenaline rush. Sherlock flipped his hand over and interlaced his fingers with John's, squeezing harder than was strictly comfortable. "We wanted to talk about a treatment plan. I don't know your standard procedures for operatives who are hospitalized here, but I assume there's a general trajectory towards rehabilitation?"

"Yes," Sheffield said, doing his professional best not to stare at the fact that his patient and his rival doctor were bloody holding hands, John felt like such a tit right now. "Normally operatives arrive with a great deal of physical damage, which doesn't seem to be the case with you. Is that right?" He looked over at Sherlock as if it were a normal question, and not have you been hiding major injuries.

Sherlock considered for a moment. "No unhealed injuries."

"Anything you didn't receive proper medical treatment for at the time?" John asked, trying to keep his voice level.

Sherlock looked to the side, and for a second John could see him go away, but then he snapped back. "I reset my left radius once. But that was three years ago, and I do not wish corrective surgery."

"May I examine it?" Sheffield asked.

"John can," Sherlock said. He pulled his hand out from John's and stuck his arm out. "Lower third."

John ran his fingers along the bone until he felt the knot of healed tissue. He slid up past it, then back down. "Torque injury?" he asked. Sherlock nodded. Christ, someone had tried to snap his hand off, felt like. He cleared his throat. "Reasonably straight, feels like it healed well. Probably not worth intervention at this point, even if you wanted it. Any bullet wounds other than the one in your thigh?" Lost shrapnel would probably be the only thing he'd insist Sherlock have seen to.

Sherlock shook his head. "That one was a graze."

"No, it wasn't, but we'll let that be," John said. "So, nothing outstanding from before your arrival."

"Although it would probably be a good idea to check for liver and kidney function, after your…difficult transition," Sheffield said. The man was good, what with the ability to keep a straight face through this.

Sherlock's hand grabbed John's again, and squeezed.

"I can do a blood draw," John said quietly. "I can't run the tests, but I can read the reports when I get here. Or they can give them straight to you, you'll know what you're reading."

"I could…I could run the tests," Sherlock said, gripping hard.

John doubted he had the concentration for it, frankly. "Lab equipment's changed in the past seven years," he said, hedging his bets. "Plus there's no way in fucking hell they're letting you out of here and putting you in a lab with sharp things. If there's anything invasive that's suggested for the results, I'll supervise to make sure it's not dangerous. Do you trust Mycroft right now?"

Sherlock shook his head.

"Right," John said. "Then we won't tell him we're doing it, will we?" He glanced over at Sheffield. "Patient confidentiality, right?"

Sheffield glanced between them. "That's fine."

"Right," John said. "There's the question of your mental health, then."

"We have an excellent staff of psychiatric experts--" Sheffield began.

"No," Sherlock growled.

"You'd have several options of therapeutic--"

"NO," Sherlock shouted, and John reached out a hand to grab his shoulder before he could stand up.

"All right," John said, calmly. "We won't make you do anything you don't want to do. Anyway, that wasn't what I was thinking." Sheffield looked over at him like he had two heads. John sighed. "I was thinking that you need something to do on the days I'm not here, so you don't sit here eating your own head. I suppose that getting him internet access isn't possible?"

"I don't believe so," Sheffield said, and John was pretty sure he meant that's a terrible idea, which John didn't exactly disagree with.

"What about the paper, then," John said. His hand was now smoothing unconsciously down Sherlock's back, slowly, gently, tracing the line of his shoulder blade through thin cloth. "You haven't had any problems with him acting out towards orderlies lately, right? Newspaper isn't dangerous if you're worried about suicide risk."

"There are actually six ways in which--" Sherlock began.

"Shut up," John said, and pinched the back of Sherlock's neck. Sherlock shut up.

"We could arrange for the paper to come every day," Sheffield said, nodding.

"He likes a selection," John said.

Sheffield's eyes narrowed. "I'll see what I can do."

"Good," John said, and nodded. "And meals?" He turned to Sherlock. "Will you eat if they bring you food?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You are obsessed with my food consumption."

"I'm obsessed with you not starving to death, you great clot," John said affectionately. "You can't live on protein shakes the rest of your life. And, anyway," he said, casually, "if they're drugging or poisoning the food, you'll know, won't you?" Because that was the thing; Sherlock had been relying on John's observational skills to protect him, with the numbered food and the careful inspections, and he had to get back to believing in his own observational skills if he were ever going to navigate the world again.

Sherlock did not seemed convinced by this, but relented. "They can deliver it," he muttered.

"What about someone to talk to?" Sheffield offered. "Not a therapist, obviously, but--" He shrugged. "You seem to do well on the days Doctor Watson is here to talk to you."

Sherlock was looking at the floor now. He didn't respond.

"I think we're done for the moment," John said, as firmly as he could.

Sheffield looked between them. "Right," he said. "Well. It was a pleasure to speak with you." He stood and picked up his chair.

Sherlock didn't look up.

John waited until Sheffield left, and then moved to the bed. "Sherlock?" Sherlock collapsed across his lap like a building falling down, his spine snaking and his shoulders quivering. John bent over him, like he hadn't had to do since those first rough days. "You did so well," he whispered. "You aren't used to people, and you don't want to talk about how you're doing, and you did fine at all that. You're fine now. Just lay here, all right? You're fine, I've got you."

Sherlock bunched his fingers in the fabric of John's trousers, and lay there for a good long while.

***

Shit. Shit shit shit bugger fuck, why the hell had they called this meeting, and he had to take it, didn't he. John stared at his phone in frustration. He was just gathering his things to leave for Sherlock's, and now he had a conference call in an hour and a half on Skype with a tetchy biotech director in Houston whose money he needed and whose face he hated. He couldn't cancel the meeting, but fuck, Sherlock. He paced for a moment, and then made the decision he didn't want to make: he called Mycroft.

Mycroft answered on the second ring. "John. To what do I owe the pleasure."

"Yeah, hi," he said, barely stifling the instinct to say his name, because he still found it odd that people know who was calling them. "Look, I'm supposed to be headed up to the facility today, and I can't make it. Something's come up with work."

"I'm sure my brother can survive you missing a visit," Mycroft said, sounding a bit puzzled.

"Yeah, no, I'm not." John kept pacing. "Not that he specifically will go mad if I'm not there, but I've been very clear about when I'll be there and when he'll see me again, and if I just fail to show up, it'll set him back. He won't accept an excuse from Sheffield, he won't accept it from anyone. But he might from you. Just--" He sighed. "Will the world end if you leave your office for a few hours?" Because if Mycroft won't, he'll need to try to see if he can get a phone number for the facility, if they could bring Sherlock a phone, maybe he could talk to him--

"No, it won't end," Mycroft said, with a little hesitation in his voice. "I'll call for a car."

"Thank you," John said, exhaling sharply. "If you can eat lunch with him, I think that helps him eat. Sheffield's been bringing him the paper, but if--if there's anything normal you can bring that he might like."

"You seem to have some very advanced theories on the care of my brother," Mycroft said, and whatever hesitation there had been is papered over with amusement that might not go all the way down.

"I do, yes," John said. "I know regular people don't have cell service inside the facility, but if you can get around that, he can text me. My meeting's at half-ten, so I'll be a little slower to reply for an hour or so there."

"I'm sure we can manage," Mycroft said, and hung up.

Ten minutes into his call--which was apparently a bunch of pointless dickwaving by the Texan, and which he completely did not need to be there for (he hated everyone in general, and everyone on this call in specific)--his phone vibrated. Trying to not make it look like he wasn't paying attention, he picked the phone up and checked it. A text, from Mycroft's number: He would like some evidence.

John grabbed a piece of scrap paper, wrote I hate this conference call more than you hate Mycroft on it, propped his phone with the camera turned to him, and photographed himself at his computer, holding up the note where it couldn't be seen by his computer's camera. He sent the photo, and then responded to an inane series of questions about the latest round of product documentation, all of which he could have answered in five minutes over email.

When he was done being interrogated, he picked up the phone. Another text from Mycroft: He doubts that is possible.

After the conference call, when he was staring in his usual confusion at his billing paperwork and wondering where the hell the cheque from Mission Theraputics was, his phone buzzed again, with another text from Mycroft: Our visit appeared to go well. He is much improved from the last time I saw him.

As far as John could tell, the last time Mycroft had seen him had been the first day John had been up there, and that was nearly six weeks ago at this point. Did he eat? What did you two do?

He made a token gesture towards food consumption. In terms of activities, I had brought a childhood game of ours, which seemed to suit him.

John smiled to himself. I'm picturing you two deep over a game of Operation now, he texted back.

The reply was quick. I was worried he wouldn't have the fine motor skills for it. I brought Monopoly.

At that, John couldn't help but laugh.

***

"You're saying his name wrong," Sherlock said out of nowhere one day. He was laying flopped on his bed, one arm over his eyes dramatically, ankles primly folded.

John paused. He'd been talking about Naz's school play, in which Naz had been tremendously successful as Snake #2. "What?"

"Your son. You said you named him Nazir, meaning observant. That first day. You implied--" He cut himself off, before saying you named him for me, and made a face.

John leaned back a bit in his chair. "Yes?"

"That z sound, it's wrong. It's the thaa sound in Arabic," he said, impatiently. The sound he made was that strange deep sound that Mary's family used when they said Naz's name. "And you're putting the stress in the wrong place. NAH-thir, not nah-ZEER."

John sighed. "I didn't know you spoke Arabic."

"It's the fourth most common native language on earth," Sherlock said dismissively. "Also, I wanted to read Ibn al-Hayyan in the original. Translations are frustrating."

"Right," John said. "So what am I calling him then?"

He could almost see Sherlock flipping through a mental dictionary. "Small," he said, and made a face. "The most charitable translation would be 'little one,' I suppose."

"Ah." John folded his arms. "Well, no one in Mary's family's ever complained, so I suppose it'll do." Sherlock rolled his eyes at that--trust him not to take the opinions of native speakers into account--and so John decided to try to shut him up. "Anyway," he said, "on the website where I found it, it said that it could also mean 'luminously beautiful.' So that works as well, I suppose."

Sherlock pulled his arm off his eyes and snapped his head over to look at John. His mouth opened and then just hung there, trying to come up with something to say.

John cracked up. "Your face, mate," he said, giggling.

"Shut up," Sherlock said, and pulled his pillow over his face. After a moment, he pulled a corner of it off to steal a glance at John, who was still giggling. The corner of his mouth was tilted up, and he was smiling, even as he pulled the pillow back down.

***

"I think I've figured you two out," Sheffield said as he was walking John down the hallway toward the lift.

"Oh?" John wasn't certain he was going to like the answer.

"You were friends," Sheffield said. "You didn't train him, or with him, or serve with him. You were friends. That's why they brought you in. They're just giving him a friend to sit with him, aren't they?"

John felt his mouth twitching towards a smile. "You're observant."

Sheffield smiled back. "But you are actually military, right? And a doctor?"

"RAMC. Invalided out before I met him," John said, and, god, it felt so good to be able to talk about Sherlock like he's a normal friend.

Sheffield shook his head as he held the lift door. "This is the strangest thing that's happened the entire time I've been stationed here."

"Thanks, I think," John said, and stepped through.

 

***

It was raining--nasty late March rain, the type that made everything grey and flat--and John climbed into the waiting car eagerly. Immediately, his phone beeped. He pulled it out, and then nearly dropped it--five voicemails, and a series of text messages, all from Mary, all some variation on Where are you? "Shit," he said. He knocked on the partition between the back and front seat. "Um, yes, hello," he said to the driver. "I may need you to drive me to London. Is that all right?"

"Of course, sir," the driver said, totally unphased.

John sat back and started listening to the messages. The first was from Naz's school, the nurse's office--he'd taken ill during school, could he come pick him up? He checked the time stamp--two hours ago, right when he and Sherlock had been arguing about whether the discrepancies between the reporting of a murder case in the Guardian and the Telegraph were relevant. The next one, again from the school nurse, saying she'd be calling Mary. The next from Mary, saying she was heading to the school: "I didn't see anything on the calendar. Hoping your phone's just gone dead or something. Call me." The next one, twenty minutes later: "We're heading home now. Let me know when you get this--I've got a meeting this afternoon, so if we can switch off, that would be good. Love you. Call me." And the third, obviously out of Naz's earshot: "John, where the fuck are you? You're not picking up, you're not responding to texts--please, call me as soon as you get this. Now."

"Shit," he said again. "Um, excuse me," he said again. "Lewisham, if you can. Just drop me by the train station, I can walk from there."

"Are you sure? I don't mind taking you to your home," the driver said.

"No, no, that's fine." He didn't want to have to explain to Mary why he was being chauffeured about. He put up the partition again, and rang her back.

"John?" she said, worry apparent in her voice.

"Yes, I'm here," he said. "Sorry, I'm just getting all the messages now."

"Where were you?" she said, and he could hear the noise of the telly getting quieter--she must have had Naz in the sitting room watching something, and was walking away.

"I'm sorry," he said again. "I'd headed out of town to see my friend--the one I'd visited before, you remember?"

"The Army one?" she said.

He didn't precisely want to confirm or deny that, so he kept talking. "He's in a hospital, and there's no mobile signal there. I just got out, I'm on my way home now."

"Why wasn't it on the calendar? Christ, John, I thought something must have been wrong."

"Sorry, I just--I must have forgotten," he said, rubbing his forehead. "How's Naz?"

"He's fine," she said, sighing. "He was sick at school, and he's running a fever, but I think it's just a stomach bug."

"That's good," John said. "I'll be home in--" He checked his watch, did some math. "About forty-five minutes? Can you still make your meeting?"

"It's fine, I cancelled it," she said, and if there was reproach in her voice she didn't articulate it. "Just get home when you can."

"Yeah, right. See you then," he said, and tried not to wince.

That night, after they'd tucked Naz into bed with a kitchen bowl next to him in case he took sick again in the night, Mary said, "I didn't know you were still going to see him. Your friend."

John sighed. He'd been avoiding talking about it with her--it was fifty percent not knowing what he could say without betraying the sixteen levels of secrecy going on, and fifty percent not knowing how to explain Sherlock, to explain what was happening in that tiny cell. "Yeah. I haven't really known what to say."

"Is he…" She made a vague gesture. "All right?"

John shrugged. Most days, he thought Sherlock was getting better, but then there'd be a new stimulus, and the tension, the blankness, it would pop in again, and they'd have to pull through. "It's a process. I don't know how long it'll be until he's…himself again, so to speak."

"He's still in the hospital? Why haven't they moved him to a rehab facility?" she said. So practical, she was; it was sometimes one of his favorite things about her, and occasionally his least.

"It's. Um. Not physical," he said.

"Oh." She looked down at the mug in her hands. "Christ. It's a damn shame."

"He was doing what he thought was right," John said, because he knew that, he knew that Sherlock had been convinced it was the only way--but he wasn't, he couldn't be. Even if the leap off the building had been necessary, even if he'd had to have himself thought dead, there's no reason he wouldn't have been better off with Mycroft helping him, or with John as his gun arm, or doing anything other than losing himself in seven years of false identities and subsumed selfhood.

Mary made a noise at that; he remembered, suddenly, that she thought he was talking about someone from his time in the military, and that was a fight they'd had long ago and eventually called truce on, how much blame to assign to the soldier, how much pity to allocate, in the case where the cause is tenuous at best. And he thought that she probably wouldn't approve of Sherlock's method of seeking justice, but he saw something right in it, something worth fighting for, the directness of engaging the enemy and the willingness to put your life on the line to make it right.

"Anyway," she said. "You two must have been good friends."

He wanted to say we are, because most of the time when he sat in the room they were simply right. When Sherlock was himself, when they sat together, they were simply the two of them, and the room could have been their sitting room at Baker Street, a table at Angelo's or Speedy's, the morgue after midnight. This was still the Sherlock who had been the center of his world seven years ago, and he was still the John Sherlock wanted to spend time with, wanted to be near. And it was so strange to be that person again, after so long away.

But he didn't know how to say that. He didn't know how to say any of that. So, "We were," he said, and stood to get himself another cup of tea.

Chapter Text

It wasn't Sheffield waiting for him this time; it was one of the nameless privates who seemed to hang about the place. John had no idea what they were doing here, but he nodded at this one and made to start down the hallway.

"Actually, sir," the private said, "Dr. Sheffield said to tell you he's been moved."

John stopped and turned around? "Moved?"

"Yes, sir," the private said. "If you'll just follow me."

John knew he shouldn't be worried, but of course he was, as he followed the private down a new series of hallways. Why in the world would they have moved Sherlock? Had he taken ill, somehow, or acted out in a way that required he be somewhere else? He'd thought things had been going so well.

He worried as he walked, and then he realized that they were heading upstairs, and that he was seeing more people than he did in Sherlock's basement hallway. The private swiped them into a ward, and there were actually nurses on it; it looked like a regular hospital, though probably a bit posher than anywhere he'd worked. Maybe this wasn't a bad thing after all.

The private escorted him to a room and handed over a card. "Dr. Sheffield said to tell you to keep this access card. He is busy with another patient at the moment, but you can leave notes for him if you like. If that will be all, sir?"

John took the card and turned it over in his hands. "Yes, that's all. Thank you."

The private saluted, and then walked away. John shook his head to dislodge the oddness of the whole exchange (and, really, the idea that there was still new oddness to encounter here was confusing). Then he swiped the card and stepped into the room.

Sherlock was sitting at a small table, his feet on the other chair, surrounded by a pile of newspapers with a plastic mug of tea set precariously in the spaces between. He glanced up when John came in, and then dropped his eyes back to the paper. "Please don't say something like 'they've moved you,' it's insulting to both of our intelligences."

John ignored this and continued surveying the room. The bed pressed against the other wall was neither a hospital bed nor a cot like the one in the basement cell, and was made up with a pale green blanket. There was a window, albeit one with bars on, which let in the pale light from the cloudy sky, and showed a view of the green gardens surrounding the facility. There was a clock on the wall, which ticked away quietly. "Well," John said. "This is quite nice, actually."

"I'll take your word for it," Sherlock said, and switched papers.

John sighed. "Any particular reason you're being petulant about this? Because it's quite a good sign, if you think about it."

Sherlock looked up. "A good sign?"

John pushed his feet off the second chair and sat in it. "You're not under constant observation anymore, the way you were in the last place. There's furniture you can move, which means they trust you not to attack the staff with it. They've given you a dressing gown with a tie, so they don't think you're a suicide risk any more. Plus, they've given you a window, which adds a bit of life to the room. So. You know. Nicer."

Sherlock folded the paper shut and crossed his arms. "I suppose."

There was something there which John just wasn't getting. "Why don't you like it?" Sherlock looked away, which was the eternal sign of something pushing him out of himself, since he came back, at least. "Hey," John said, and leaned over to touch his hand. "If it's really an issue, I can talk about getting you moved back, but I don't see it."

Sherlock glanced back at him, then looked away. "The transfer was…unpleasant."

"Unpleasant?"

Sherlock looked up again and shifted uncomfortably. "I…I believe I may not have been cooperative. But they were planning on restraining me anyway, so. I wasn't sure--" Sherlock fidgeted.

And John could connect the dots--Sherlock hadn't known where he was going, and hadn't trusted he was still safe. "Did you hurt anyone?"

He shook his head. "I knew you wouldn't want me to."

John stopped himself from wincing at that. He didn't like the idea that he was Sherlock's superego, but at the same time, it was better than nothing. "That's good," he said quietly. "They shouldn't have moved you without me being here, but the fact that they thought they could do it suggests that they really do think you're improving. Do you think--can you think about it like that? As this being something you did well with?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You are not a therapist, John."

"Sod off," John said, and kicked him below the table. "I'm just saying."

"Fine," Sherlock said, and picked up the paper again.

The door opened, and an orderly brought in a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits, which he set on the mess of newspaper. "Thank you," John said, since apparently Sherlock wasn't going to. He picked up the newly arrived cup. When the orderly was gone, he said, "I've never been in a hospital with tea service."

"You should live here," Sherlock said, turning the pages of the paper with slightly more energy than he needed.

John sipped his tea, and thought about this. "That's what's worrying you," he said. "That you're eventually going to have to leave." Sherlock didn't say anything. "No one's rushing you," John said, trying to sound encouraging. "But you've recovered a lot, just in the past three months. And you'll get bored if you spend the rest of your life somewhere like this."

"And who," Sherlock said icily, "do I leave this facility as? Because Sherlock Holmes has been dead for seven years, and the fifteen identities I've held since then have committed some fairly serious crimes. I am fairly certain that I will spend the rest of my life in a place like this, where I will not be a problem to the British government and/or my brother, if there's even a relevant difference. So forgive me if I'm not thrilled to have a prison cell with a view."

John didn't know what to say at first. Because, yes, the whole dead thing was a bit of an issue--but John was fairly certain that Mycroft could have that cleared up. If Mycroft wanted Sherlock hidden away, actually, then he wouldn't have brought John in--but Sherlock wouldn't believe that, because he hadn't trusted Mycroft before all this. And it was likely that whatever Sherlock had done, he had done well enough that he couldn't be traced to the crimes, or that he could somehow be claimed to have been working for MI-6 or something. So, yes, there were--issues that came with Sherlock leaving. But the biggest problem was that he didn't believe that he was going to leave, ever. And John couldn't have that, because he wouldn't spend the rest of his life watching the most brilliant man he knew melt away under the weight of his own brain on a locked ward in the countryside.

So, he took a deep breath, and said, "They've given me a keycard."

Sherlock pushed down his paper and looked up. "What?"

"They've given me a keycard. That means I'm allowed to go in and out with you, if I say it's important to your recovery. So you give me a week or two to case the place, figure out the best option for getting through the fence outside. I'll have a car arranged to wait for us there. We'll say we're going for a walk, and then slip through the fence. We've a spare room at the house. Mycroft might try to argue, but I highly doubt that he's willing to actually blow up my house to get you back, so. That's done. Soon as you think you're ready."

Sherlock seemed caught between shock and incredulity. "At your house."

John shrugged, forcing himself to stay nonchalant. "If you promise not to be tetchy about moving out of zone one."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "With your family."

What John wanted to say to that was you're my family too, but he had no idea how Sherlock would understand that; if his only reference for family was Mycroft and their struggle to alternately control and outwit each other, then he might think he was being manipulated. And Sherlock was right, John had no idea how Sherlock would fit into his life once it wasn't so neatly partitioned, how he'd accommodate his slightly-madder-than-usual best friend alongside work and Naz and Mary. But that wasn't the point right now, the point right now was convincing Sherlock that he'll eventually be able to leave here, which had the benefit of being both true and something John wanted desperately. "Yes," he said simply. "As long as you want to be there."

Sherlock winced like he was in pain, and maybe John had said the wrong thing, but he didn't know how or why, only that he was telling as many true things as he could today. So he sat, and waited, while Sherlock twitched on the other side of the table. Finally, Sherlock cleared his throat. "Tell me about how your meeting went last week."

John tried not to frown, because Sherlock only asked him to talk about himself like that when he didn't think he could function any more; he never asked John to leave, probably because he was desperate for the human contact (or maybe just for John's), but when he couldn't keep talking he'd just ask John to talk. They hadn't had to do it in a while, but if he needed it, John would do it. So he took a deep breath, and watched his best friend fade away, just for a little while.

***

In the car on the way home (John had given up on the train--it was costly, and time-consuming, and he didn't much feel like explaining to Mary why he was traveling so much, and the car was already there, anyway, and perfectly willing to drop him at Lewisham station), John called Mycroft. He picked up on the third ring. "And how is my brother today, Doctor Watson?"

"He's fine," John said. "I need to ask you something."

"Of course." He could hear paperwork being shuffled in the background.

"I need to know how much work it will take to bring Sherlock back to life. Legally, I mean." He rubbed his forehead. "How much advance warning will you need? And will there be, you know. Legal repercussions. For anything."

The paperwork shuffling noises stopped. "May I inquire why you are asking?"

John looked out the window at the wet green and gray. "I don't think he's convinced he's ever leaving the facility. And I want to make sure that you and I are on the same page about this."

"What page would that be, exactly?"

"He's going to get better," John said, a little more fiercely than maybe he meant to, but dammit, he needed an ally here, and Mycroft was his only option. "He's much better already. If he had somewhere he'd feel safe to go to, he could probably leave the facility right now. I'm not saying he should, I'm just saying--I need to know that you're going to let him go when he's ready."

There was a long pause. "I do so want to believe you, John," Mycroft said.

"Then believe me," John said. "And, for Christ's sake, come visit him. Was the last time you were up the time I couldn't make it?"

"Yes," Mycroft said, and he maybe even sounded a little chagrined.

"That's not enough," John said. "Come see him. Weekly would be good, although it's possible you two will kill each other, so maybe not. Treat him like himself. Bring him his violin, I don't know, something. And--" He took a deep breath. "And start thinking about what's going to need to happen to bring him back to life. Because I want that to be possible. And he needs to know it, too. All right?"

"Understood, Doctor," Mycroft said, and hung up.

John rested his head on the glass, and listened to the road rather than his own thoughts.

***

"I want to have a play date with Tristan," Naz said. He was under the table with his Legos, turning them around and around in his little baby fingers as he snapped and unsnapped, snapped and unsnapped. "He wants to build the construction crane with me."

"I'll call his mum, see when they're available," John said, laying plates on the table. Mary was cooking tonight, which was good, since he was a miserable cook who could basically only manage to make food not-raw.

"Is Tristan your best friend again?" Mary asked, as she stirred the soup. "John, can you get me the smoked salt?"

"I don't know," Naz said. "Freya's my best friend too, though."

"You can have two best friends," John said, bringing Mary the salt.

Naz took apart the car he'd been building and laid the pieces out in a row. "Who's your best friend, Mummy?"

Mary turned off the stove. "Your Auntie Janine, I think," she said, reaching for a potholder.

"What about you, Daddy?"

John thought about his best friend in a locked room with bars on the window, and how it was still better than him being dead. But there are things you can't say. "Your mum," he said.

"Aw, you're making me look bad," Mary said, and kissed him on the cheek.

"Don't kiss, that's gross," Naz said.

"Dinner's ready," Mary said.

"Get the Legos out from under there," John said, as he took his seat at the table. "I don't think I've recovered from the last time I stepped on one."

Naz grumbled as he carried them back to his toy bin.

***

There were gardens around the facility. That was the strangest thing about it: regular, mannered gardens, like you'd see at a National Trust house. John wondered why they bothered to keep them up: he and Sherlock were always the only people there. Perhaps it was for appearances.

He'd suggested the gardens as a strategy a month ago, on a lovely April morning. He wouldn't have let Naz stay inside on a day like that, and, frankly, if he'd been home he would have headed out to the one cafe in walking distance where the wifi was still reasonably strong if he sat on the patio and spent the day paying obscene amounts for coffee as he worked. So he had said, "Sherlock, it's a lovely day, let's go for a walk." And then he'd requested an escort (one of the innumerable and indistinguishable privates that seemed to be stationed here, he's got no idea why) who had led them to an outside door and then watched them at a distance while they walked among hedges and John had told stories about the recent lice scare at Naz's school while Sherlock had a quiet meltdown next to him at having left his room. But they'd done it every day that he'd been up since, and now Sherlock didn't flinch at shadows crossing his path, made rude comments about the privates who escorted them out, and had developed a favorite bench, so John thought it was having results.

They were on the favorite bench, which was near a white forsythia and a reflecting pool, when Sherlock said, "You made Mycroft come visit me."

John sighed. "Are we going to have a row about this? You know, most people are happy when their siblings come visit them."

"You're not," Sherlock said. Harry had slept on their couch once for three days, and the tension headache that produced in John had lasted four more past that.

"Has he been any more of an arsehole than usual?" John said, crossing his arms and leaning back to bask in a momentary flicker of direct sun.

"About normal levels," Sherlock said, and John made an affirmative noise at that. There was a pause, which John could tell was Sherlock gearing up to say something, so he waited it out. "He keeps asking me to give him lists."

"Lists of what?"

More pausing. John didn't look at Sherlock, because he got the sense this wasn't a conversation you make eye contact for. When Sherlock spoke again, it was more quietly. "Lists of what I did."

John hoped Sherlock wasn't looking at him, either, because he knew he made a face at that, because it hurt, to hear Sherlock talking about what happened these seven years--not just because they broke him, but because he knew it was bloody and destructive and soul crushing. He'd spent three years in a war zone where he thought he'd known what was happening, he'd had someone to tell him who the enemy was and where to shoot and who to patch up, and even as he'd watched all of that go to hell he'd known there were rules, there were procedures, it wasn't all on him. But Sherlock had done it with his bare hands, had done it alone, had done it without even himself at moments. It hurt, that those seven years existed, for both of them.

He recovered himself. "Can you?"

"I don't…" Sherlock shifted next to him, and John didn't say anything when he felt Sherlock's arm settle against his; if he needed to ground himself in someone else to do this, then fine. He tried again. "I think I can. Mycroft has--he has a list, ones he knew were me. That's how he found me."

"He told me," John said, and let himself lean into the space where their arms touched. "So you're just filling in the blank spaces, then."

"I don't know if I'm missing any," Sherlock said, and now his voice was barely audible. "The arrests, I know I can remember all of those, and it doesn't matter if I don't, not really, but the--" He stopped, and John could feel the shudder ripple through him. The unfinished sentence hung in the air of the garden, and the birds were silent in the trees as they sat there with it.

"You'll give him what you can," John said into the hush.

"I don't know what happens next," Sherlock said.

John reached over and put a hand on top of Sherlock's where it lay curled over the edge of the bench. "You just keep going," he said.

They sat there in the sun until the wind picked up, and they headed back inside for lunch.

Chapter Text

Mycroft was in the room when he walked in.

John paused with the door half open.  Mycroft was sitting at the table, in front of the set of clippings about an unsolved death by driving case in Guilford that Sherlock was certain he'd cracked.  His legs were crossed, his cup of tea half emptied, the plate of biscuits untouched.  Sherlock stood at the window, with frustration emanating from the tips of his hair.  (His poor hair looked ridiculous now; the last inch of it ginger, the rest his own chestnut, long enough to curl and never compelled by product back into shape.)

John looked between them again, and couldn't read the room.  "Shall I come back later?" he asked Sherlock, pointedly not asking Mycroft.

Sherlock huffed and turned back to the window without speaking.

Mycroft cleared his throat.  "I was in fact waiting for you, John," he said. "You will be happy to hear that this will be the last time you will be visiting Sherlock at this facility."

Shit.  Shit.  If he had to get Sherlock out today, with Mycroft watching, it was going to be nearly impossible. His fingers twitched as he stepped in and closed the door.  "Why would I be happy about that?"

"Because I've been reincarnated," Sherlock muttered at the window.

"In a matter of speaking," Mycroft said.  "My brother will be publicly announcing his return from apparent death sometime in the next seven days. We're working out the details."

Oh my god, John thought, and couldn't think anything else for a moment.  Sherlock was going to be real again, not some spectral figure he ran away to see every week.  The feeling in his stomach was that glow of excitement and terror that seemed to encapsulate his friendship with Sherlock.

And Sherlock wasn't looking at either of them.  Shit. He had to get Mycroft out of here so they could talk.

"Good," John said.  "I'm pleased you're doing it.  I was going to put in my plug for before July, but earlier is better."

Sherlock looked over his shoulder.  "July?"

"School holidays," John said.  When Sherlock still looked confused, he said, "I can't bring my son to visit you on a locked ward at a secret military facility, Sherlock."

The look on Sherlock's face broke John's heart. John thought it looked like Sherlock had thought John would just stop coming.  But that was never an option, was it, not really.

"There are still some of the finer details to be worked out," Mycroft said, "but--"

"No," John said. Sherlock was still watching him, and raised an eyebrow at that. John tried not to smirk at him, and turned to Mycroft. "I don't want to know any of the details." Mycroft did not look entirely convinced by that, so he kept talking. "Because if anyone asks me if I knew that…that whatever story you're telling is what happened, then I can say no, and I won't be lying, because that's not what I know. And I'm guessing you don't want this part of the story public." He glanced over at Sherlock, who nodded very slightly and turned back to the window. He nodded in echo, mostly to himself, and turned back to face Mycroft. "So if you need to work out details with him, I can step outside for a few minutes, and then I'll be back when you're gone."

"That would be much appreciated," Mycroft said, folding his hands on the table.

John turned back to try to catch Sherlock's eye, but he wasn't looking that way. "I'll just be down the hall," he said to Sherlock's back, knowing that Mycroft would be the one to come get him. Sherlock didn't turn, so he did, and left the room.

Sheffield's actual office was down the hall; John thought he'd poke his head in, say a word of thanks. He'd been less present since Sherlock was moved upstairs, because there was some new broken soldier in the basement cell, but more than once John had found Sheffield trying to entice Sherlock into conversation over tea, which was mostly fruitless but had once involved Sherlock drawing an elaborate table to explain why one of the staff was stealing from the pharmacy, which Sheffield had been baffled by (but John had never seen that particular staff member again). Sheffield's door was closed, but when John knocked on it there was an immediate reply, so he pushed it open.

"I've been kicked out for a minute, thought I'd come and say hello," he said, as he poked his head in. Sheffield looked distracted, so he added, "I don't want to bother you, though."

"No, no, it's fine," Sheffield said, and gestured to the other chair.

"I guess they've told you that he'll be leaving soon," John said as he sat.

"Yes. They have." Sheffield was looking at John critically, now, as if he were trying to see something. "Mr. Holmes has been visiting a lot lately."

"I encouraged him too," John said, trying not to get defensive. "More socializing struck me as better."

Sheffield's fingers tapped on the table. "Mycroft Holmes doesn't train operatives," he said, carefully. "He's not directly responsible for them, not ever. He's been here before, to debrief, or for--other reasons," and John pretended he hasn't just heard Sheffield reference the murder of British security operatives on the orders of Mycroft Holmes, because he liked to sleep at night, "but never has he taken such a personal interested in one before."

John didn't say anything, because he thought he knew where Sheffield might be going with this, and he didn't trust himself to lie.

"You said your brother, once," Sheffield said. "We're at one of your brother's secret facilities, something like that. So he's not just any operative, he's Mycroft Holmes's brother."

John didn't say anything.

"I didn't know he had a brother, but, well, I wouldn't," Sheffield said, looking at his fingers where he was tapping them on the desk. "Except. Mr. Holmes the younger looks familiar. And so I wondered, where have I heard that name before?" He looked up and stared right at John. "And then I remembered that your name is John Watson."

John licked his lips. "Lots of blokes named John Watson," he said carefully.

"But only one of them runs around with someone named Holmes."

John looked down at his hands. "Ran would be more appropriate."

Sheffield sat back in his chair and stared at the wall. "Did you know?"

John shook his head. "Not until just before I came up here the first time."

"Christ," Sheffield said, and ran his hand over his face. He turned back to John. "How can you stand it?"

"What choice is there?" John said. Because, really, there was no option, there had never been, not since Mycroft cornered him on the playground and not since he'd walked through the door at Barts: John would be where Sherlock was, if there was any choice in the matter whatsoever. He would fight for him, he would fight with him, he would push away and he would pull in. He would do whatever he needed to do. And now Sherlock was walking out of here, and into the world where John had a life that had never had to contend with there being a Sherlock Holmes in it, and he had no idea what he was going to do about that fact. But there was no choice. Sherlock had to fit into it, because that was just how it was.

"Right," Sheffield said, and John thought he understood.

"I wanted to thank you," John said, trying to change the conversation. "He wasn't an easy patient, I know that. But I appreciate how much work you put into helping him."

"That's not what you were saying four months ago," Sheffield said, with a slight smile.

"Close enough," John said, and smiled back.

There was a knock on the door, which Mycroft opened without waiting for confirmation. "John, I'll be taking my leave now."

"Right," John said, and stood. He turned back to Sheffield. "Anyway. Thank you."

"Thank you," Sheffield said, and nodded.

Mycroft examined them both as if what they'd said was incomprehensible, looking more like Sherlock than usual. John just smiled blandly at him, too, and stepped into the hall.

Just as he was about to walk into Sherlock's room, Mycroft stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I worry he's become too reliant on you," he said, quietly, as if he knew all the staff were listening in (which they probably were).

John turned back to him and tried not to sigh. "His coping skills have increased a lot. Give him time to get used to new things, and try not to put him in front of a hundred people ten minutes after you take him out of here, yeah?"

"If you abandon him--"

"Fuck off, Mycroft," John said, and he heard an actual gasp from somewhere near the nurses' station.

But Mycroft seemed satisfied at that, and let go of John's arm. "I expect I'll see you soon enough."

"When don't you?" John said, and swiped his card.

Sherlock was standing by the window, still, his shoulders slumped and his hands twitching. John was careful to telegraph his movements as he went over to stand next to him, just in case he had checked out a bit after all of Mycroft's drama. The window was small, and John never usually stood next to Sherlock when he was moping at it; since they'd gotten out of the basement, he'd tried to get used to having normal amounts of space between the two of them whenever Sherlock wasn't about to melt down. But he stood next to Sherlock now, because sitting across the room for this was too impersonal. "Have you known this was coming?" John asked, keeping his eyes on the lawn out the window.

"I suspected," Sherlock said. "I was unaware that Mycroft felt it was time. Or that you agreed."

John sighed. "It's not that I agree or disagree," he said. "It's whether you feel ready to try your hand at everyday life again. You could say no, if you don't want to."

Sherlock reached out and touched the bars on the window, running his long delicate fingers along their surface like he was reading braille.

John took the point. "Look," he said, "it'll be hard. But you're brilliant, and you're remarkably good at handling chaos, which is what it's going to be. So I'm not worried."

"I find that hard to believe," Sherlock said. "There are any number of things that could possibly go wrong in this scenario, and that's leaving out the possibilities where I take up committing murder as a new hobby."

"You're just trying to wind me up," John said. He nudged Sherlock's arm with his shoulder. "Where's Mycroft putting you up?"

"His house," Sherlock said, in a voice that spoke of infinite suffering.

John snorted. He was about to say something about Sherlock could find his own place soon enough, but his heart ached, suddenly, for Baker Street, and he decided that saying anything about it might be too much. "Try not to snark each other to death."

"No promises," Sherlock said. He turned his head and smiled down at John.

John smiled back, and then felt somehow embarrassed about it, so turned back to the window. "When…whatever you're doing, when it's done. You should call me. Mycroft's got my number, or, well. It's the same number, actually, so you probably remember it." He crossed his arms and shuffled. "And then we'll--I don't know. But you should call me."

Sherlock was still watching the side of John's face. He could feel the gaze as it crept across his skin, but he didn't turn to meet it, just let it lay there, warm and searching. "All right," Sherlock said quietly.

John closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. "Right," he said, opening them again. "Lunch, then."

Sherlock kept watching him as he turned to go find someone to talk to about that. He let him.

***

John turned down a job.

Not a big one, but Pfizer wanted him to do another set of revisions for an old product which was getting rebranded, and he found himself telling them that, he was sorry, but he had too much on his plate right now, and they should try him again in a few weeks. Which was utter bollocks--he didn't have anything with a deadline for a while. But there was this constant buzzing in his head, telling him the next seven days, the next six, the next five, and he couldn't fit work in there, not really. So he fiddled with housework, went through things almost due and messed about with formatting, took Naz to the playground and to feed ducks in the park and to the library and anywhere, really, just to drown out the buzzing.

Six days after he'd said goodbye to Sherlock at the facility, his phone pinged as he was trying to decide whether there was anything useful to be done today or whether he'd have to check his work email. Mary had been out of town again and was getting back this afternoon; he was dithering about whether she'd think it was weird if he changed the sheets. But he picked up his phone, and there was a text message from Mycroft's number on it, reading Eleven-thirty today. There will be media coverage.

His vision tunneled, a little, at that, the screen of the phone all he could see. No. No, he wasn't ready, he had no fucking clue what was about to happen. Everything was going to be different in two hours, and he couldn't process it.

And would Sherlock call him, after?

He went about his morning numbly. He cleaned up Naz's train set, which he hadn't had the energy to make him put away before bed the night before, but he didn't see a single piece. He carried the compost out to the bins, and he nearly dropped it on his foot because he couldn't really feel his hands. He realized he'd been staring at the coffee pot for ten minutes, trying to remember what had happened to the french press from Baker Street, whether he had brought it with him when he'd moved or whether he'd left it, or whether it had been one of the pieces he'd smashed, once, when he'd had a terrible day and the idea that Sherlock was dead was more than he could bear.

At eleven-fifteen, he turned on BBC News. Stared at a report about EU expansion, stared at a report about elections in Brazil, stared at a report about a peace summit in the Congo. He stood, went to the kitchen, and found a bottle of whisky and a glass, because he had hours until he had to be at school for Naz, and he couldn't sit there and wait for this to happen any longer without a prop.

He poured the whisky. The front door opened. "John? You home?"

Christ. He closed his eyes; he hadn't even thought about Mary hearing this. "In the kitchen," he called back.

"This morning's meeting ran short, so I flew standby," Mary's voice said, and he followed the sound of her suitcase propped against the stairs, the sound of her jacket hanging on its hook, her keys landing in the bowl on the front table. "Going into the office just seemed like a waste, figured I'd give myself the afternoon off." Her heels coming off, the swish of stockinged feet on the front carpet. "Anyway, what are you--" And she was there, standing in the entry to the kitchen, seeing him there, putting the top back on the bottle, his shoulders hunched forward. He watched her take it in--his bare feet, the dishes in the sink, the glass three fingers full in front of him. "John?" she asked, her eyes locking onto his face.

In the other room, the breaking news music played on the telly. He closed his eyes. "Oh, good," he said. "You're just in time." And he turned and walked into the sitting room.

She followed him, slowly. There was something he should--there was nothing he could say, nothing he could know how to say right now. He sank down into a chair and took a sip of his drink. He heard Mary sit down on the couch, but he didn't look, because he was watching a pretty blonde anchor say that there was going to be an announcement from the Joint Intelligence Council. Christ, who couldn't Mycroft get to do his bidding?

They cut to the press conference, where a publicity man in an expensive suit was standing at a podium, explaining that they were engaging in this highly unusual press conference because of the atypical nature of the asset in question, and the government's commitment to transparency (John had to drink again at that particular bit of absurdity), and the role of the British Secret Intelligence Service in preserving domestic tranquillity and secure relations with Britain's allies (if they spouted much more of this bullshit, John was going to need to go get the bottle). And then the man in the suit took a deep breath, and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, to give a formal statement. Mr. Sherlock Holmes."

There was a collective gasp in the room on the television. "Oh, Christ," Mary said, half under her breath.

John took another sip.

The door to the press conference room opened, and--oh. Oh. And Sherlock stepped in. Not the man in the dressing gown who'd stared out his barred window, not the knife-thin wraith who'd clung to John like he was the only thing that existed, but Sherlock, in a black suit and a blue shirt and shoes that glistened. His hair had been cut, so it was all his own color now, and his curls lay flat; it made his forehead look too high, but at least his hair looked sane. But, oh, his face. John had seen Sherlock in newspaper photos, had watched clips of them at press conferences, and he knew what Sherlock's face looked like in front of a crowd. But Sherlock wasn't there, not right now. His body walked into the room, and nobody who didn't know him would be the wiser, but John knew that he wasn't there, he'd snuck back into the space in his brain where he'd hidden himself away these seven years. But he was doing it, he walked across the room and stood at the podium and pulled out a folded set of papers from his inner jacket pocket and only John knew, only John knew what he was seeing.

Sherlock looked up and made eye contact with the camera. John stopped himself from reaching out to touch his face on the screen. He drank again.

Sherlock looked at the paper while he read. "As many of you likely remember, seven years ago I was a part of the criminal investigation and prosecution against a man known primarily as James Moriarty, also temporarily known as Richard Brook. After his acquittal, which has since been proven to have occurred under disreputable circumstances, I was approached by the Secret Intelligence Service to assist them in the continued investigation of Moriarty's criminal networks." John took another slow sip of his whiskey. So far, this almost sounded plausible; if he hadn't known it was all bollocks, he would have been convinced.

Sherlock's hands were unnaturally still on the podium, which John knew was because he'd stopped them from shaking. He cleared his throat. "The events leading up to my apparent suicide are a matter of public record, as is the fact that I was posthumously cleared of any charges leveled against me." John had been bitterly pleased when that had happened, and at the same time filled with omnipotent rage. That had been the first night he'd spent in the graveyard with a bottle. It hadn't been the last. "The deception was necessary, in order to assure my role in the ongoing investigation. However, I deeply regret its necessity."

John snorted. He felt Mary's eyes slide over him, but he didn't look at her. He couldn't stop looking at Sherlock.

"Over the past seven years, I have been working as a covert agent with the Secret Intelligence Service, operating in conjunction with criminal investigative units worldwide, in an effort to trace the criminal networks sponsored and initiated by the individual known as James Moriarty. As a part of the global operation, we have collectively been responsible for the dismantling of transnational crime syndicates on six continents, and for the arrest of a number of major criminal operators. Confidentiality unfortunately prevents me from providing a full list." Because most of them ended up with broken necks or bullets in their brains, John thought, and drank again.

"However, at this point, my investigation is at a close. I can say definitively that the criminal networks tied to Moriarty are no longer operational, and that most of the individual participants in them have been eliminated from the broader criminal landscape. In consultation with SIS, I have therefore returned to the United Kingdom, where I will continue to be a part of criminal and national security investigations in the service of the British Government." Christ, he'd been sold to Mycroft, hadn't he. John knew Sherlock hadn't written the statement, but he wondered how he'd felt when he read that, when he'd realized what he'd set himself up for. "At this time, I will not be answering any questions, and I ask that you direct your inquiries to the SIS Press Office." Sherlock looked back up at the camera, and John felt his hand lifting before he could stop it. He let it hang there in the air, and then let gravity take it down again. "I am pleased to be back at home. Thank you very much." And he folded up the paper, tucked it back in his breast pocket, and stepped back from the podium.

Flashbulbs popped and shimmered in the air as Sherlock rebuttoned his jacket and turned away from the press. His face was impassive and still as he turned and walked, not wavering or seeming to see any of the commotion around him. As the door to the room opened to let him leave, John saw the hint of an umbrella handle just outside the room. Good; at least he wasn't alone now.

They cut back to the blonde anchor, whose face was calm and impassive as the headline scrolled under her torso: SHERLOCK HOLMES ALIVE, WORKING FOR SIS. John picked up the remote, turned off the television, set the remote back down, and took a long sip of his whiskey.

"You knew," Mary said.

"Yes," he said.

"This is--your friend. Your friend you went to visit. It was him." Her voice was gaining ground now.

He didn't look at her. "Yes." He took another sip.

"Jesus Christ," she said. "Months, you've known. What was it, February?"

"January," he said. January twenty-fifth, but he'd forgotten their anniversary last year, so he knew better than to say it.

"Fuck," she said. She stood, and he looked over at her, glass still in hand. She ran her hand over her face. "Why the fuck didn't you tell me about this, John?"

"I couldn't," he said, and looked away again.

"That is absolute bullshit," she said.

"It was classified," he said, swirling the whiskey in his glass.

"And you're James bloody Bond now, are you?" He didn't point out that he had, in fact, been involved in the rehabilitation of someone who was officially now classified as an MI6 asset, so the comparison wasn't so far off--because that wasn't the point, and he didn't want to pick a fight with her. "This is why you've been gone at odd hours, isn't it?"

He'd wondered when she was going to notice. "Yeah."

"I said, it can't possibly be anything, Mary, because John is honest, John wouldn't be sneaking off behind your back, don't get in a twist about it--for Christsake, John, look at me when I'm talking to you."

He looked up, and, yes, she was furious, but he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry, not for any of it. He'd pulled Sherlock Holmes out of his own grave, and he was never, ever going to be sorry for that. And yes, he hadn't told her, and yes, he'd kept a secret these four months, but Sherlock was alive and he was not going to apologize for anything he did in the process of that.

She stared back. "You don't have anything to say, do you?"

He closed his eyes and tried to find something, anything. Because hurting her had never been the goal here, and he didn't like that it had happened. But he was out of words on this, empty of words, empty of any way to explain this. He opened his eyes again and looked up at her, and wished he had any words left. Mary deserved words, it wasn't her fault he had never had them, not like this.

"Right," she said. "Fuck. Right." She shook her head, and put up her hands like she was pushing something away. And then she walked past him, and he could hear her steps heading towards the front hall.

"Mary," he called out. Her footsteps stopped, and he knew she was waiting for him to apologize, but that wasn't it. "If you're going somewhere. Take Naz."

"What?"

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Take Naz. Because I figure I've got half an hour until the press finds out where I live now, and I don't want them to see him."

The noise she made at that was bitter and amused. "Right. Yeah. Fine." He heard her grab her suitcase again--efficient, that--her jacket, her keys, and the slamming of the door.

He sat in his chair. He finished his glass of whiskey. When he got up to get the bottle, he moved to the couch, because the end table was more convenient there.

He walked past the front windows and glanced through the crack in the curtains. The reporters outside were lined up, acting casual, the lenses of their cameras all tilted to his front door. He let the curtains hang shut again. He went back to his couch.

It got dark. He let it.

He heard the handles of the doors to the garden shake, and then a scratch-scratch-scratch on them. If the press were breaking in, he supposed he should find a weapon, or at least his phone to call the police. But the french doors swung open, and a tall dark figure stepped inside, long coat swirling around him as he closed the door and put his picks back in his pocket.

He always knew how to make an entrance, didn't he.

Sherlock stood in the doorway. He glanced over John, as much of him as he could see in the faint light from the windows, the edge of the glow of the hall light that they kept on a timer and that he hadn't bothered to shut off, but he didn't stare, didn't focus. He glanced again, and then he shuffled across the room, his shoulders curled in. Slowly, carefully, like an animal unsure of its welcome, he lay himself down on the couch, his knees tucked up and his coat wrapped around his legs. He hesitated, and then he settled his head, softly, on John's thigh, and curled himself in tighter.

John set his glass down on the table, and let one hand drift down to run through Sherlock's hair, to rest against his carotid pulse, to feel the tremors running through his body. He felt Sherlock's hand come up to grip his knee, and curl into him, fingers grasping and desperate.

John left his hand in Sherlock's hair.

It was dark. It stayed that way.

Chapter Text

John woke with a stiff neck, a moderate hangover, and Sherlock still asleep on his lap. He shifted and tried to bring his body back into working order, but it didn't seem terribly willing. The light filtering in through the windows was the grey glow of early morning, and the house was strangely silent. A Thursday without Naz in the house; he couldn't remember the last time he'd had one of those. He wondered where Mary had gone with him. He should call, in a bit. He should check if the fucking press was gone first, though. He shifted again, wondering how to move off the couch, and Sherlock lifted his head suddenly. "John?"

"It's fine," John said. His hand was resting on Sherlock's shoulder--he must have left it there in the night--and he patted him gently. "I just need to get up."

Sherlock shifted to let him stand, and then burrowed back into the cushions. His eyes were open and wary, but they stayed focussed on John. "Should I go?"

John looked at Sherlock's fingers where they curled around the edges of his coat collar. Christ, that coat; he couldn't tell if it was identical to the old one in this light, but it was a shock to see him in it, and not a pair of badly fitted hospital pajamas. "No, you should get more rest." He cleared his throat; he wasn't certain what the new rules were, the rules for a free-range, post-death Sherlock, but he decided they were alone, and Sherlock would just mock him if he got it wrong, so might as well. "You're safe here. Nobody's got keys but me and Mary, and nobody's going to come in here to get you. So you just--just rest, a bit more. I'll make us breakfast in a little while, yeah?"

Sherlock examined him closely for a long minute. Then he nodded, silently, and closed his eyes, pulling the coat tight around him. John straightened, nodded to himself, and turned to go upstairs.

The reporters were gone, at least--though he should probably expect them to start ringing the bell once it was a decent hour, or to track down his phone number. He should take it off the hook, text Mary and let her know. He shook his head, dropped the curtain, and made his way to the bathroom. His shower was long, the sort of shower you take when you're too tired and disconnected from the world to have a point at the end of it. Part of him was shocked Mycroft hadn't made an appearance to remove Sherlock yet. Part of him wanted Sherlock never to leave, even though he realized that wasn't practical, not in the least. And part of him was trying to figure out what to say to Mary to fix this, while another part was pushing back and trying to figure out how to make her happier without actually having to apologize for anything. He didn't like that part very much, but it was unfailingly practical.

He dressed slowly, went back downstairs, and found himself standing in the door between the kitchen and the living room, watching Sherlock sleep. He'd slept on the couch all the time back at Baker Street; John could picture him there, in his silk dressing gown, his body thrown haphazardly about, half-curled and half-sprawled all at once. He shook his head, went over, picked up the whiskey bottle and the glass, and went to the kitchen. He brewed coffee, wondered if the smell would wake Sherlock; he stared at the backsplash behind the sink and wondered what the hell to do with himself.

The sound of a key in the lock shook him out of his revery. "Daddy!" Naz's voice called out, and John ducked out to the hallway as quickly as he could make himself move. Naz ran up to him and threw himself around his legs; he was wearing his jacket over a pair of pyjamas John didn't recognize, which must mean Mary picked them up on her way to get him.

"Hello there, love," John said. He squatted down, and let Naz throw his arms around his neck. He closed his eyes and held him tight. "Did you have a good night?"

"Uh-huh. Auntie Janine made us tacos, and she got a new fish for her tank. It's called Rooster."

So that was where they had gone. Well, he wasn't surprised. He kissed Naz's cheek. "Go hang up your coat. Have you had breakfast?"

"Nope. Mummy said I can stay home from school for a treat. Can I have pancakes for a treat, too?"

John kissed him again and stood up. "Let me talk to her about it. Coat."

"Okay." He took off towards the coat hooks at a thousand miles an hour.

Trying not to dread it, John turned to Mary. She had set down her suitcase by the front door again, and was standing with her arms crossed, watching him. At least they were both awkward about this; somehow that made it easier. "You all right?" he asked, quietly, in case Naz was still listening.

"Yeah," she said. "I'm fine. You?"

He didn't know the proper answer to that question, so he made a little huffing noise. "I'll live." She pinched her lips together at that, and he felt bad for a second, but he wasn't sure that was the right answer either. "I've got coffee on," he said, trying to change the subject.

She closed her eyes for a second, and then opened them and nodded, firmly, like she'd decided something. "Sounds good. Listen, John--"

"Daddy," Naz said from down the hall, "who's that man asleep on the couch?"

Mary's face snapped shut at that, and John resisted the temptation to swear. He turned to see Naz standing at the entrance to the living room, staring towards the couch in confusion. "That's Daddy's friend Mr. Holmes. Let him sleep, he's tired. Go upstairs and get dressed now, Naz, and I'll get started on pancakes, yeah?"

"Pancakes!" Naz said, and ran at the stairs like a wild beast.

"He's here?" Mary hissed, and John winced. "He's in our house?"

"Come in the kitchen," John said, and turned before he could see if she would follow.

But those were her steps behind him on the tile. "Jesus Christ, John."

He reached into the cabinet and grabbed her mug and his, poured coffee into them. "Look, it's complicated."

"Oh, of course. What, did you actually wait five minutes after I left to call him?"

John turned back to her, folded his arms. "I didn't call him." She made a disbelieving noise. "I didn't. I haven't even got his phone number. He just showed up."

"So I've got to leave with Naz so the bloody press doesn't see us, but he can just come waltzing in here?"

"Nobody saw him," John said. "He snuck in the back."

Mary leaned back, startled. "In the back? There's a fence around our garden." She shook her head. "That's not the bloody point and you know it. What the hell is he doing here?"

John sighed, leaned back into the sink, tilted his head up. "I think he just needed to feel safe, that's all. I doubt he was comfortable at Mycroft's, so." Mary looked uncomprehending. "Mycroft's his brother, he's staying at his place until--I don't know, until he's able to live alone, I guess."

"So, what, you think this is normal? That some fucking half-mad super spy is going to just occasionally turn up at our house, and, I don't know, I'm supposed to be okay with this?"

"He's not--he's not like that," John said. "He's just--" He's my friend, he wanted to say, but that's not right, there isn't a word for what Sherlock is to him. "He's just a person, that's all, not some--not whatever you're thinking he is."

He didn't like the look on Mary's face at that, but then he paused, because there were voices coming from the living room. He held up a finger and walked over to the door, hoping that it wasn't Sherlock having a nightmare or something. But that wasn't Sherlock's voice he was hearing, was it?

And it wasn't, because Naz was standing in front of Sherlock on the couch, still in his pyjamas, piling up a series of little Lego blocks in front of him, dotting them along the wool of his coat. In Sherlock's hand, snuck out from under the coat, was a red Lego piece, which he was trying to attach to the pieces in Naz's hand. "No," Naz was saying, "you can't put that there. You need to leave room for the wings. Put it there." Sherlock, obediently, snapped the piece into the place Naz had indicated. He glanced over towards John and skimmed his eyes over him quickly, then looked over his shoulder--he must have been able to see Mary there. Then he turned back to Naz, who was adding another piece to the creation. "And then you put the next bit on top, because, see, this is a six-piece, so you can't put the eight-piece there, it's too big. You need to put a four-piece and a two-piece, because four and two make six." Sherlock nodded, watching Naz with his entire focus, as if he were a clue he couldn't figure out. "And then you put the piece on top, and it flies, see?" Naz swooped the bit of Lego around, making spaceship noises. "Haven't you ever played with Legos before?" he asked, looking curiously at Sherlock.

"No," Sherlock said, pitching his voice quiet. "I haven't."

"Well, that's stupid," Naz said, setting down the spaceship and reaching for more blocks.

John knew he should say something, because they were trying to get Naz to stop calling things stupid, it's a bad habit he's picked up at school, but he couldn't, because his throat hurt and he worried if he opened his mouth he would gasp. Because there they were, Sherlock and Naz, the two people in his life who've demanded the most from him and given the most to him, and now they're in the same place, and that shouldn't be possible, it wasn't possible, but it was happening. Christ, he was the luckiest man on earth. And everything might fall apart now, but still, he had this, he had this moment, and he didn't know what to do with it.

Sherlock glanced over at him again. John made himself smile, just a little, so Sherlock would know, and then he turned back into the kitchen. He took a step, and then he had to lean on the counter and catch his breath, because, Christ. He pressed his hand to his mouth for a moment, and made himself push down this shaky joy that was threatening to burst out of him, to spill all over the room. He looked up, and Mary was watching him, her entire expression confused and angry and hurt. He took a deep breath, steadied himself again, and then looked back at her. "I know, this is--it's a shock. And I know we need to talk all this over. I know I need to tell you things. But I can't do it now. Let's just--let's just get through today, and this evening, we can actually talk about this when we have a moment alone, all right?"

She didn't look happy, but she nodded. "Yes, fine." She cracked her neck. "I need to call the office. I'll work from home today. Do you need to--"

"No," he said. "No, nothing pressing. It's fine."

"Yeah," she said, and then she looked over at the doorway like she was startled.

There was Sherlock, his shoulders up unnaturally, his hands in the pocket of his coat, standing there. He glanced at Mary quickly, and then back at John, and then back at Mary. "You're--you must be Maryam," he said, and his voice sounded nearly as rusty as it had the first day John had seen him in the facility. "Hello," he said, and then turned back to John, not quite making eye contact. "I should go."

"You don't have to," John said. He hoped Sherlock hadn't heard them fighting about him, but it was probably too much to ask. "I was about to make breakfast."

"No, I should--Mycroft. He texted." He made a little shrugging motion.

"All right," John said. "If you're sure."

"Um," Sherlock said, and he must be uncomfortable, John didn't think he'd heard Sherlock say um more than a dozen times in his life. "Thank you, you both--" he glanced at Mary quickly, back to John, then turned toward Mary, shoulders still hunched awkwardly. "For the, um, hospitality. Much appreciated. Mary, it's. Nice to meet you." He wasn't making eye contact with her, just little glancing looks occasionally. "Um. And your son, he's…" John could see him ruffling through a list of words in his head, looking for one that wasn't inappropriate. After a moment, he turned to John, and asked "Fascinating?"

John nodded to indicate that it was a good choice. Sherlock turned back to Mary. "Fascinating. Anyway." He glanced between them again, examined John quickly, nodded once, and then turned and walked back to the living room. John stepped into the doorway, watched Sherlock touch Naz on the head briefly where he sat at the coffee table assembling things, and then watched him head out the French doors.

Naz looked up and followed Sherlock to the door. He leaned against the glass and watched, perplexed. After a moment, he startled. "Dad!" he said, turning back to where John was standing. "Mr. Holmes just jumped over our fence!"

John couldn't help but smile. "He does that, sometimes. Didn't I tell you to go get dressed? C'mon, no more Legos until after breakfast."

Naz sighed the deep sigh of a put-upon small child, and turned to head upstairs. When John turned back into the kitchen, Mary was holding her cup of coffee in one hand and getting pancake ingredients out of the cabinet. He took a deep breath and reached for his mug.

***

"So tell me," Mary said, across the table. Naz was asleep, and the rain against the windows muffled all the sounds of the night.

John pushed his teacup from hand to hand. He'd been thinking all day about what to tell her, what he could tell her; he still wasn't sure, but he'd worked out some things.  "When they brought me in, it was because he was...not good."  He didn't want to tell her about the violence, because he didn't want her to be scared of him, though she already probably was.  "He wouldn't talk, he wouldn't eat.  I had to hand feed him, the first few times I was there."

She looked suspicious.  "Why didn't the staff do that?"

"He wouldn't let them," John said.  "A lot of it was paranoia, I think, but. I mean."  He hadn't had to say this out loud before. "I think he was just planning on staying there until he starved to death, honestly."

"So, what," Mary said, a little sarcastically.  "You nursed him back to health?"

"He trusts me," John said, sharper than he expected.  "He was alone, and he was confused, and he trusts me. So, yeah, I went to see him, because it kept him from dying."

She had a look on her face like she thought she should feel bad, but didn't.  "For months."

"Yeah," he said, and tapped the table.  "He had to--you know. Get used to living in a more normal environment.  And get used to people.  So I kept going, until he was better.  And then they arranged for all this.  So."

"So."  She took a sip of her tea and considered.  "What happens now? He runs off to do more spy work?"

"No," John said, a little startled she'd suggested it.  "No, god no, of course not, did you see him? Ten minutes out there and--"  he shook his head.  He didn't want to think of Sherlock alone and lost again.  "No.  I don't know, they might have him do some analysis, but, you know.  Not yet.  If ever."

"I don't get it," she said.  "If he's MI-5--"

"Yeah, he's not really, though," John says. "I mean, not that you can tell anyone this, but that thing yesterday--he's not really MI-5.  That's his brother giving him a cover story."

"His brother?" She sounded incredulous, which was the appropriate response to Mycroft Holmes, really.

"He's, er.  He's got a high position in the security infrastructure.  He can pull strings."  What he wanted to say was the Mycroft's existence was why John listened patiently to Mary's Uncle Georges's conspiracy theories at family holiday parties, because if Mycroft existed anything was plausible.

"So he's just going to be..." Mary made a gesture that seemed all-encompassing.

"He's living with his brother," John said.  "I don't know at what point he'll feel up to living alone. And i don't think he's thought about it past that.  I haven't.  Maybe he'll actually do security analysis or something, maybe he'll consult again.  It'll be--it'll be a while before he's up to much, I think."

"You keep saying that," she said.  "But on the telly, he looked perfectly fine."  John made an incredulous noise, but she cut him off. "Nothing about this makes sense!  One minute he's some kind of government superhero whose spent the past however long out there killing villains or whatever the hell they do, and the next he's some wilting rosebud?"

"Did you see him?" John snapped.

"Yes, I did. I saw him stand in front of the cameras and say he's protected the nation, and I've got a bloody good idea what that means."  She caught herself then, and he knew she was trying to keep her voice down.  "Look.  I just.  I don't know what's happening here, and I don't particularly like it."

"He's my friend," John said.  She looked like she was about to roll her eyes.  "No, stop," he said. "How many friends do I have, Mary? Really?" She glanced over at him, and looked back at her hands.  "He's my friend, and he needs me right now.  Look, I'll--"  He sighed.  "I'll try to keep him out of your hair, all right?  But he needs me."

Mary looked up at him, and he tried not to flinch at the hardness of her eyes.  "Fine," she said sharply.  "Do what you want."

He didn't know what to say to that, so he stood up from the table and went to load the dishwasher.

Before he went to bed, he checked his phone.  On it, there was a new text from a London phone.

This is my number. SH

He saved the number in his contacts, Sherlock Holmes (cell).  And then he looked at it there for a moment, and smiled.

Chapter Text

Harry rang the next morning. "Jesus fuck, Johnny."

"Yeah, that's about the size of it," he said, with a little sigh. Mary had been civil to him on her way to work, but Naz still knew something was up; he was particularly clingy at drop off this morning. And he couldn't put off work any longer; he was red-penning some new copy for GSK while he held the phone to his ear.

"Are you okay?" He could hear her moving around her office as they talked. He just hoped that she wasn't doing this on speaker in front of her co-workers. Probably the reason he took Sherlock's anti-sociality so much in stride was that he'd grown half-used to Harry's.

He sighed. "I guess so." The paper crinkled under his hands as he turned it over. "It's a, you know. Bit of a shock."

"That's an understatement. Were you watching the news, or did you hear about it later?"

He hadn't thought about how to respond to something like that, not specifically, so he spitballed it. "I had it on. The whole thing's a bit surreal, honestly."

"Yeah." He can hear her settling at her desk. "So? Are you going to try to get in contact? Or, let me guess, he's called already?"

"Um."

"What."

"I've seen him," John said.

"Seriously?"

"Yeah."

"Did you break his fucking nose?" she said, incredulously.

John barked out a laugh at that. "He slept on our couch last night."

She cackled back across the line at him, and then sighed. "Oh, Johnny," she said, and the catch in her voice was the one he wasn't letting himself have.

"Yeah," he said, and smiled, blinking harder than he should have.

***

John was half-expecting a reporter to jump out of the bushes; ever since he'd picked up Naz from school, he'd had this feeling of eyes on his back. It might have been a week, but that didn't mean that someone didn't still want the story. He kept loose, just in case he needed to pick Naz up and get the fuck out of there, but for the moment, whoever it was seemed to be staying hidden. He settled into his usual bench on the playground as Naz took off like a shot towards the climbing gym.

The vague sense of Something got a little closer, and John braced himself and turned his head, hoping to catch whoever it was unaware. But it was just Sherlock, his shoulders a little hunched, eying John carefully from ten feet away. "Christ," John said, surprised to see him. "It's been you the whole bloody time?"

"Just since the school," Sherlock said, and twitched a little.

John rolled his eyes. "Well, don't do it again."

Sherlock's shoulders sagged a little more. "I'll go."

"What? No," John said. He needed to be more careful with Sherlock, now that he's out in the world, apparently. He sighed a bit overdramatically, and patted the bench next to him. "Come. Sit down." Sherlock joined him, sitting farther away than he had at the facility, which was probably for the best. "Right," John said, and tapped his fingers. "The thing is, you don't stalk people when you want to spend time with them. That's creepy, and nearly everybody will be put off by it."

Sherlock examined him out of the corner of his eyes. "You aren't."

"That's because I'm used to you being spectacularly ignorant about how to behave like a human being," John said.

"Ah." Sherlock scanned the playground; John wished he could believe he was just looking to see where Naz was, like John kept doing, but there was a bit of it that looked like he was checking for cover, for exit points, and John couldn't blame him. "So. What do I do, then? If I want to spend time with someone."

"You could try sending them a text," John said, leaning back. "Hello, John, you say, or whoever, are you free to get together this afternoon? And I say, or whoever says, yeah, sure, do you mind coming with me and Naz to the playground, or can't today, mate, have a deadline, want to get coffee tomorrow, or something like that. And then you get together. See? Easy, no stalking required." He looked over, and noticed how tense Sherlock was, and sighed. "Although. If you're willing to take your chances, then on a day where it isn't raining too hard, we're likely to be right here after school. So, you could just be waiting here. No stalking, though, that's right out."

"Right," Sherlock said. "No stalking. Check."

"Good," John said. He waited to see if Sherlock was going to come up with something else to say, but, when he stayed quiet, figured that he probably was in charge of this conversation. "So. What have you been up to?" Sherlock shrugged. "How's Mycroft?"

"Miserable," Sherlock muttered. "He keeps calling."

"Calling? Aren't you living in the same house?"

"When he's at work." Sherlock made a dismissive gesture. "He is apparently under the impression that I'm some sort of pet that shouldn't be left alone too long."

"Probably just checking you haven't set the place on fire," John said, and thought, probably doesn't know how to say he's worried about you. "Is he actually trying to get you to work for him, or was that all just a front?"

He looked down at his hands. John waited for him to talk. It took a minute. "He's brought home a pile of folders," Sherlock said, and opened and closed his hands a few times. "I assume they're boring."

"Ah." Well, that was a ridiculous lie. "Might be worth a look, just to get him off your back." Sherlock made a non-committal noise. John looked over at him again, and noticed a bruise beneath his chin. "What's that? On your neck?

Sherlock reached up and touched it, as if startled. "Oh. I've been playing. It's from the chin rest." He held out his left hand; his fingertips looked sore and red. "I've lost the calluses."

John thought of Sherlock prancing around Mycroft's house, violin tucked against his neck, ignoring the ringing phone. "Helping you think?"

"Stopping me from thinking," Sherlock said.

John didn't know what to say to that.

"Dad! Hey, Dad," Naz called out. John refocused in his direction; he was tearing across the grass with something in his hands, smiling. "Look," he said, skidding up to the bench, and holding out his hands.

John peeled Naz's little fingers back around the stone--a soft grey thing with a shell fossilized in. "That's lovely, where'd you find it?"

"Over under the trees. It's got a shell, right there."

"I can see that." John looked up, and caught Naz sneaking a look at Sherlock. "Naz, do you remember my friend, Mr. Holmes?"

"Yeah," Naz said, and held his rock out to Sherlock. "D'you want to see?"

Sherlock reached out and picked up the rock, turned it over in his hand. "Interesting. This is Woolwich formation."

"No, it's a fossil," Naz said. "It's got a shell in."

"Yes, looks like a cerithium funatum," Sherlock said, turning it over. "And I think you can see an ostrea tenera on this side. This comes from the Woolwich shell beds, a clay layer from the Eocene period. Odd to find it here," he said, looking around the park. "This whole area should be Blackheath beds, and that's much later, geologically speaking. Probably dug up during construction, dropped here as fill." He looked up at Naz and held the rock out again. "Um. What I mean to say is, you were quite lucky to find it, they should be rather rare in this area."

Naz took his rock back. "You're weird," he said, in a voice that seemed to suggest he was equal parts impressed and confused.

"Nazir," John said, trying to put a touch of sternness into it. "That's rude. We don't call people names."

"Sorry," Naz said, obviously not meaning it.

"It's all right," Sherlock said, with a little twist of his lips. "I don't care much about what most people think is rude."

Truer words, John thought, but didn't let himself say.

Naz looked like he was considering this. "Really?"

"Absolutely," Sherlock said.

"So," Naz said, experimentally, and John was very certain he knew where this was going, and was unable to stop it. "What if I wanted to talk about poo?"

Sherlock's lip twist turned into the edges of a smile, and he leaned forward and pitched his voice to be conspiratorial. "Nazir, do you know anything about dung beetles?"

"Oh, Christ," John said, and covered his face so Naz wouldn't see him laughing.

***

Naz showed Mary his rock before dinner, pointing out the curl of the shell, the bit of broken impression on the other side. "That's lovely," she said, wrapping one arm around him. "I didn't know there were fossils in the park."

"Mr. Holmes said it's from Woolwich," Naz said, turning it over.

Mary paused and glanced up at John, where he was setting the table. He kept his face still. "Mr. Holmes was at the park?" she asked.

"Yeah," Naz said. "He told me all about--" he paused. "Rude things."

"I see," she said. "Daddy, is dinner ready?"

John glanced back into the kitchen, where the timer on the stove read one minute. "Just about."

"Go wash up, then," she said to Naz. "And put your fossil somewhere safe."

John followed the beep of the timer into the kitchen, and reached for oven mitts. He could hear Mary opening the refrigerator behind him, and waited for her to speak first. "He was at the park?"

"Yeah," John said, lifting the casserole out and propping it on the stove. "Met us there. He seemed to be doing all right. Settling in."

"That's good," she said, and he thought he could hear her forcing the calmness. He picked up the casserole and carried it to the table, where she was pouring milk into glasses. "Rude things?" she asked, glancing up at him.

"Dung beetles," John said, going back into the kitchen for a serving spoon.

"Oh, Christ," she said.

"I know."

"It's going to be the elephants all over again."

"Yeah, they revisited that in great detail." John came out with the spoon just as Mary was coming back in with the carton of milk. Their eyes caught, and they both started snickering at the image. Mary leaned against the door frame and covered her face with her free hand, and John pushed her hair back behind her ear while they laughed.

"What are you laughing at?" Naz asked suspiciously from the dining room.

"Nothing, love," Mary said. She patted John's bicep once, and then pushed past him to put the milk away. "Let's eat."

***

The email from Greg was a surprise.

I haven't known what to write, he wrote, and John could understand that. He wondered how many people had gone searching for his blog after Sherlock came back, and been annoyed to find it still gone. (He'd stopped paying the hosting years ago. No point, really.) He wondered whether Mike Stamford had tried to look him up and then failed to come up with the right words, whether Sarah had thought about picking up the phone, whether everyone they'd known back then had thought about him for a minute but then backed away. He would have. He'd been--he'd been terrible after Sherlock had died, livid and silent and jagged. He'd driven everyone away that he could, not even because he wanted to, but just because he had no other idea how to be.

It's a bit of a shock, Greg wrote. John couldn't have put it better.

Surprised I didn't know. I mean, he was only bloody working for us. Greg had told him, when they'd met for pints for the last time, when Sherlock was six weeks dead and Lestrade was four weeks unemployed, that Mycroft had offered him a job. "I think it's the kind I don't get to refuse," Greg had said, and John had nodded. Mycroft's guilt was everywhere those days--in a massive check to Mrs. Hudson to cover the rent on 221b, in groceries that appeared mysteriously in his cabinets when he had spent the whole day sitting in Regents Park staring, in phone messages left for John from medical education programs and research labs across the city, offering him work. Why shouldn't it take the form of a job for Greg? So he'd disappeared into the security infrastructure, and John had missed a few phone calls, and then they'd stopped coming.

Makes sense, I suppose, he wrote, and John couldn't say whether he agreed.

Be nice to see you again at some point, Greg wrote.

It would be, probably. John didn't reply to the email.

***

The phone range at 11:30 on a Wednesday. John startled to see Sherlock's name on it; he couldn't think of more than one or two calls from Sherlock ever, and he found it hard to believe that he was more likely to call now. He picked it up. "Hello?"

There was silence on the other end. "Hello?" he said again, and then there was a rustle, a thump. "Sherlock?" he tried. Really, this was probably an arse-dial--

Then a thin high sound, followed by a lower one. A pause, and a chord, another, the smooth transition into music of individual notes. John smiled.

The music continued, picking up momentum as it flowed. John set his phone on speakerphone and placed it next to his computer. He typed to the sound of Sherlock playing for the next hour and a half.

Chapter Text

It had been a week since Sherlock had contacted him, and John was trying not be nervous. After all, when he'd seen him last, sitting on a bench at the park, wearing his coat even though it was nearly twenty degrees, he'd been fine. He'd brought a set of small magnetic spheres for Naz, which had delighted him and had ended up arranged on the fridge in about six designs since then; he'd complained about Mycroft, he'd monologued for fifteen minutes on the differences in childhood fractures from abuse and from playground accidents in adolescent skeletons while Naz got as high as humanly possible on the climbing gym (a bit not good, John had thought, but it wasn't like he wasn't spending every minute evaluating the risk of a fall from that particular angle anyway), and things had all seemed normal. But since then, silence. He was probably fine, John told himself. Mycroft would tell him if something had--if there was something wrong. So it was just--it was fine, he was sure.

He kept taking his phone out, staring at it, and then putting it away. He was a fine one, to be lecturing Sherlock on how to behave normally towards friends; how would he know? Most of his friendships, they were all built on proximity. He was friends with his fellow house officers, until they moved on to consultant training and he to the RAMC; he was friends with the men and women in his unit, until a bullet blew a hole in him and he was sent home for being useless; he was friends with Sarah when he worked in her surgery, friends with Greg when he solved cases. The relationships that had lasted had all been with people who'd sought him out, kept him in their lives through their own action. Hell, Mary even fell into that category; she'd scheduled the better part of their dates, had been the one to suggest they marry, had moved him into her apartment without any fuss.

So, what, was he only friends with Sherlock when they lived together? He couldn't bear the thought of that--couldn't stand the idea that now, with the distance of their lives between them, Sherlock would become someone'd he'd see twice a year, text every so often. He'd lived seven years without Sherlock, and he'd been fine--but now, no. Not knowing Sherlock was in the world, and being so far from him.

But he didn't know what to do.

He took out his phone, stared at it, and put it away again. He was sure Sherlock was fine. He must be.

***

"Thanks, love," Mary said absentmindedly as he set down a cup of tea next to her. She was curled up in the corner of the couch with a pile of paper surrounding her--a report was due to the printer tomorrow afternoon, and apparently three different people had only gotten her their edits today. She'd ranted about it all through dinner, and was now spending her evening trying to get things in line.

"No problem," he said, and returned to his armchair. He unpaused the episode of Top Gear he was watching (on mute--Mary couldn't work with the telly on) and settled in with his own cup.

They'd gotten through the part of the program where they drove expensive cars around and acted like human beings might actually buy them, and then through the bit with a famous person trying to banter with Jeremy Clarkson, and were into the bit where all three of them did something ill-advised and humiliating when John heard an odd scratching sound. "What's that?" Mary asked, looking up.

"No idea," John said.

"Sounds like an animal scratching," Mary said. "Jinghua down the streets swears she saw a badger in her garden last week."

"Yeah, but why's it scratching where we can hear it?" John asked, pausing the telly, and was about to get up and go stomp around until he found the source of the noise when the handle to the backdoor turned and the door opened. Sherlock stepped in, lock picks in hand, and shut the door behind him.

John forced himself not to smile in relief, and sighed. "Again, Sherlock, this is a time when you should call ahead."

Sherlock glanced at John, and gave a slight nod as he tucked his picks away. He stood there for a moment, twiddling his fingers in the air, glancing around the room--at Mary, looking startled on the couch, at the cleared dining table, at John's shoeless feet, at the toy chest, the lid resting crooked over the mounds of toys. With a sharp nod, he walked over, bypassing the second armchair, and sat down on the floor next to John's chair, leaning his back against the side of it and tucking up his knees to his chest.

"John?" Mary said, watching him, a little worried.

John made the best sort of placating gesture he could. He really had no idea what was going on here. "Sherlock?" he said. Sherlock didn't move, just sat with his hands around his knees staring at the far wall. John leaned down and rested his hand on Sherlock's shoulder. "Sherlock?"

Sherlock startled and turned his head to look up at John. "John?"

"Are you all right?"

"Hmm? Yes, fine. Case," he said, and rested his chin on his knees.

"Ah," John said. He waited a moment to see if Sherlock had anything else to say, but apparently not. "You know, there are several places in this room more comfortable to sit than the floor." No response from Sherlock. He squeezed his shoulder. "Sherlock."

"What?" Sherlock said, startling again.

"Do you want a chair?"

"No," Sherlock said, a little grumpily. "Case. I'm thinking."

"All right then," John said, patted his shoulder, and sat back up. Mary was still staring at them like they had just grown extra heads. John shrugged, trying to communicate that this was normal, and picked up the remote control. After a moment, Mary stopped staring at him, and he heard her papers shuffling again. As he watched the rest of the episode, and then cued up a rerun of Doctor Who, he kept hearing her pause, feeling her watching him, but he didn't know what to say or do, didn't want to bother any of them, so he just kept watching.

Around eleven, Mary put her stack of papers down. "Done?" he asked, pausing an F1 race he was mostly just watching to pass the time.

"Done as it's getting," she said, organizing them back into their folder. She glanced down at Sherlock, still sitting there motionless on the floor, then back up at John. "I'm for bed, I think."

John glanced down at Sherlock too, then smiled at her. "I'll come up in a bit."

"Right," she said, looking between them again. She huffed out a determined sounding breath, then walked over and kissed him on the cheek. He kissed her back, resting a hand on her hip for a moment, and smiled as she pulled away. She smiled back, half-heartedly. "Good night," she said, and stepped away.

"Good night," he said, and unpaused the race.

She walked towards the steps, then turned and said, "Good night, Sherlock." Sherlock, being far away solving crime, did not respond. She sighed, and went up the stairs.

Hours later, John had exhausted the pickings on the plus box he was allowed to delete (there had been a fairly serious conversation back in the early living-together days when he'd accidentally deleted an episode of QI, and it was not a phenomenon he had any desire to repeat), and was drowsing in front of whatever was on Eurosport when Sherlock suddenly said, "Oh." He startled awake, and looked down to see Sherlock pull out his phone and start texting, rapidly. After a moment, he locked his phone and dropped it back into his pocket.

John turned off the telly. "Solved it then?

"Yes. Obvious. I think the only reason they have the Official Secrets Act is so no one ever finds out what blithering idiots they are."

"Mmm." John reached down sleepily and ran his fingers through Sherlock's hair. He'd done it when Sherlock had been unable to speak in the facility; even when he couldn't come up with anything more to say, he could make sure Sherlock knew he was there. Sherlock's hair felt better now than it had then, softer, somehow. Maybe it was that the dye had grown out, or that he was back to using unspeakably expensive conditioner again. "This your first case back?"

"Sixth," Sherlock said, leaning into John's hand.

"No wonder I haven't seen you," John said.

Sherlock pushed into his hand again, and then pulled back. "Should I have--have called?"

"'S fine," John said, pulling his hand back to the arm of the chair. "Knew you'd turn up eventually." He pushed himself to standing and held out a hand to Sherlock on the floor.

After a moment's hesitation, Sherlock took it, and pulled himself to standing. He glanced around the room. "Where's Mary?"

"Went to bed two hours ago." He cracked his neck; Christ, he hated sleeping in chairs. He'd gotten old, he supposed. "Sheets on the guest bed are clean."

Sherlock glanced around the room quickly, and then down at the floor. "No, I--Mycroft will want to talk to me in the morning. I should--I should go."

John wasn't sure he believed him, but shrugged. "Up to you."

Sherlock nodded, then headed towards the back door. "Um. Good night."

"Good night," John said, walking behind him. "Calling's good. Or texting. Just. Whenever."

Sherlock glanced back at him, nodded again, and stepped outside. John watched his looming shape disappear into the dark of the garden, and then locked the door behind him.

Mary stirred as he climbed into bed. "John?"

"Yeah, it's me," he said, laying on his side.

"Is Sherlock still here?"

"No, he headed home." He wished he knew why Sherlock had left, but it wasn't that much of a big deal--if he felt more comfortable at Mycroft's house, then that's where he should go.

John was nearly asleep when Mary asked, "Is he always like that? With the--sitting on the floor, staring, thing??"

John snorted, remembering Sherlock's many effigy impersonations over the years. "He prefers to lay down, I think, but you were on the sofa."

He could feel her thinking behind him. "So this is…normal?"

"Sherlock's not normal," John said. "But for him, yeah. I used to worry I'd have to dust him, sometimes." And he fell asleep imagining the long elegant stretch of Sherlock on their sitting room sofa, his toes curling into the arm.

In the morning when he picked up his phone, it had a text message marked 4:32 AM. I believe it is customary to inform you I arrived home safely, it said. John smiled.

***

John roamed the freezer aisles of Marks & Spencer idly, trying to think of something to pick up for dinner. He didn't often get down here, but he'd had a meeting in the City, and didn't have to pick up Naz at daycare until six, so might as well do something useful with the time. He was considering the merits of trying to get Naz to eat salmon again when he took an awkward step back and ran into someone's trolley.

"Sorry," he said, turning around to flash an apologetic smile, and then stopped. Because next to the trolley he'd walked into, holding a basket, was Molly Hooper. "Molly," he said, almost unconsciously.

She startled and turned to him. "John," she said, and there was a moment where something that looked like fear flickered across her face, but she pushed it away and tried to smile. "Um. Hello. It's nice to--nice to see you."

He knew he should say something similar, should try to make conversation, but he couldn't, because it was all clicking into place. Molly had signed the death certificate--Molly had stood outside the morgue door and not let him through--Molly had absorbed everything he shouted at her and stood her ground, tears rolling down her face, I'm sorry, John, you can't, I'm so sorry--

"You knew," he said.

Molly looked at the floor, fingers flexing around the handle of her basket. "Sorry," she said, so quietly. "I'll go--"

John dropped his basket on the floor, stepped over to her, and threw his arms around her. Because he understood then, suddenly, what it had cost her in that moment to lie to him, to lie to everyone--what it had cost her to do what Sherlock needed. Because as alone as he had been, Sherlock had been just as alone. "You helped him," he said, squeezing her a little tighter, because Sherlock had needed help, and if it couldn't be him who gave it he was glad it was Molly, was glad there was someone after all.

Molly was still for a moment, and then she let go of her basket, which clattered awkwardly off her shoe and to the side, and put her arms around him too, tucking her head against his shoulder. "Thank you," he said into her hair, and she nodded.

After a moment, she pulled away, and he realized that they were having their cathartic moment around all the other shoppers and dropped his hands. They caught each others' eyes sheepishly; neither of them had quite made it to crying, which he was grateful for. "Um," he said.

She smiled at him and glanced around the aisle. "Hello," she said, and seemed to be a little less nervous about it.

"Hello," he said, and returned the smile. "Coffee?"

They left their baskets in the freezer aisle and found a Costa a few blocks away. In a quiet corner, they avoided the issue for a while. John showed Molly pictures of Naz. She asked intelligent questions about his work, and then talked about her holiday in Goa and her cats. And then, they were silent for a minute, neither of them sure what to say and mostly making eye contact with their lattes.

"I thought he was dead," Molly said, still looking at her coffee. She glanced up, and then looked down again. "I mean, um. He had--" She fidgeted a little. "I had seen him, a few times. Since he--he left." John felt his hand clenching around his mug; he knew he should relax it, try not to look like he was about to break something, but he couldn't, not quite. She kept her eyes averted. "I think, when he was in London, he would--he would stop by. I don't know. But. Then he stopped, and it was years, so. I thought."

"Yeah," John said. It was like having needles shoved into his palms to hear it, but he understood. There had been one person who had known, and Sherlock had gone to her. Molly hadn't been on Moriarty's little list of dead friends--god, what a bastard, even beyond the murderous villainy--and so she'd been safe, safe enough that Sherlock could trust her, could connect to her. That it hurt didn't mean it didn't make sense.

"He, um." She looked up at him, and he could tell what she wanted to say was important. "He would talk to you, I think. I heard him, one night--he was pacing the living room, didn't realize I had woken up--the way he used to talk to you when you weren't there, he was still doing it. But that was early on, so."

"And he changed," John said, realizing that Molly had seen it happening, the end result he'd found on that hospital cot.

She nodded. "He wasn't--he wasn't himself by the last time. It was like he was--hollow, or something. Does that make sense?"

John turned his coffee. "Yeah."

"And on the telly--" She cleared her throat. "He's not all well yet, is he?"

John laughed, involuntarily. Good to know Sherlock couldn't fool everyone. "No," he said. "He's--I mean, he's better than he was--" He glanced up, and realized he'd just admitted that he'd seen Sherlock before the big reveal--but then he realized he was talking to the other person in London who knew for a fact the story was bollocks and wasn't employed by Mycroft Holmes, so, that was fine. "When they first brought him in, it was--it was bad. He was--I'm surprised he made it that long, honestly. He's getting better, but, you know. It's not--it's not a quick process."

"No," she said. "No, I guess not. Is he, um. Where's he living?"

"With Mycroft," John said. "Which is probably for the best, but--"

"But Mycroft," Molly said, the edge of her mouth curling up.

"Yes, exactly," John said, and they shared a little smirk. He swallowed, and thought about how Sherlock seemed to bounce between Mycroft's empty house and the edges of John's life. He thought about Sherlock slowly losing himself, and sleeping on Molly Hooper's couch while he did it. "You should. You should see him. He'd like that, I think."

She looked away again. "No, I mean. I wouldn't want to impose."

For a moment, the empathy overwhelmed the jealousy, and he felt sorry for Molly, who so clearly believed Sherlock didn't care about her in the face of the evidence to the contrary. That was a feeling he knew too well. "No, he'd be happy to see you," he said, trying not to overstate it. "And, you know, it's mostly just--he spends his time in Mycroft's house playing the violin, and occasionally stalking me and Naz at the playground. It would be good for him to--well. To spend time with someone else. To have a friend, you know?"

Molly twisted her fingers around her coffee cup. "I just--you know. He probably barely even remembers me."

"Bollocks," John said, and she let out a nervous giggle. "Hold on." He picked up his phone, and sent Sherlock a text: Molly Hooper has a new mobile number. Twenty pounds says you can't find it out. He hit send, and held it up to show her.

She read it. "But I don't have a new mobile number. It's the same one I've always had."

"I was counting on that," John said.

From where it sat next to her, her phone chimed. She picked it up. "Oh," she said, and turned to show him. There was a text message from Sherlock's number, reading Did you actually get a new mobile number? SH

"I rest my case," John said.

Molly looked down at her phone, blushing. When she caught his eye again, they both started laughing.

***

"Did you see Sherlock today?" Mary asked, as they were both getting ready for bed.

"What? No, I had that meeting, remember?" He took a critical look at his shirt--no, it had gotten something on it making supper--and dropped it in the laundry. "He didn't come by here or something, did he?"

"No," Mary said, putting her necklace in the bowl by the side of the bed. "It's just that you've seemed--I don't know, distracted. I thought you'd seen him, or something."

"Oh," John said, folding his jeans over a chair and then reaching for his pajama bottoms. "No. I actually ran into someone today. An old friend of his, of ours, I guess, from back then."

"A friend?"

"Mmm." John crawled into the bed, where Mary was already laying on her side. "Molly Hooper. She's a pathologist, works in the morgue at Barts. Used to help with cases, sometimes. I ran into her when I was downtown today. We got coffee."

"I see," Mary said, and John wasn't certain what that meant.

"You'd like her, I think," John said, rolling to face her. "Or--I don't know, she can be a bit awkward sometimes, so, maybe not. Anyway, it was just--nice to see someone from back then. And not--I don't know."

"And not what?" She propped herself up on her arm and examined him.

He sighed. "It's nice, not having everything be so--so fraught, I suppose." Not that today's coffee with Molly hadn't been had its moments, of course, but considering how they'd left it seven years ago, it was a fucking picnic. Mary was still looking at him. "Or it's--it's nice, him not being dead, is what I mean." Because that was it. When Sherlock was dead, John had had to excise that whole part of his life from his body, lock it away somewhere, because it hurt too much to live, feeling it every day. He'd moved on, he'd been okay, and he'd done it by taking the Sherlock years and putting them in a box that they rarely ever escaped from. it's not, now, that he wanted to go back to it--he's happy here, too--but now that Sherlock's alive, the box can stay open, and the things in it might be sharp, but it's not killing him to look in it.

"Yeah," Mary said. "I can see that."

Chapter Text

On Thursday, Sherlock was waiting at the park when John and Naz arrived. "What did you bring me?" Naz demanded, and before John could correct his manners, Sherlock was handing him a carefully folded origami frog. They made it jump off the arm of the bench for a while before Naz went to go play, and then John and Sherlock sat together, their mutual silence punctuated with Sherlock's complaints about Mycroft, John's frustrations with the Texan client, and a riveting and not at all child friendly conversation about dismemberments.

On Friday, Sherlock texted John a series of photos of open packages of Hobnobs and asked if he could tell which one had been tampered with. No, John replied. Excellent, Sherlock said, and changed the subject.

On Sunday, Sherlock called John to ask him a series of increasingly complicated questions about field medicine and suture styles. Apparently one of Mycroft's agents was suspected of having manufactured an injury.  When John mentioned something about the way tension would pull on the stitches in that position, unless the surgeon had done them left-handed, sherlock said, "Oh! But that means--I'll call you back later," and hung up. He did not call back later, which John had expected.

On Monday, John got a text every fifteen minutes or so, speculating on several of the major headlines of the day, deducing a series of embarrassing things from a puff piece interview with Prince Harry in Hello!, and, by the afternoon, complaining about the chat show guests and their manufactured drama. John replied to the first ten or so, but he was on a deadline and had to take a conference call, and then Naz had a play date after school, so he missed a fair few.

On Wednesday, John felt his phone buzz while in a meeting with GSK.  When he got out, he found he had a twenty minute voicemail that consisted only of a violin playing something sad and twisting. He had to delete it to make room for anything else in his mailbox, but he texted Sherlock: That thing you played was lovely. Who is it? What are you up to?  Sherlock didn't reply.

He didn't reply on Thursday or Friday, either. John sent him a hello on Friday evening, but he didn't reply to that, either.

"You're worried about him," Mary said, as she watched John check his phone for the tenth time.

"I'm sure he's fine," John said, putting the phone back in his pocket.

"What are you worried about?" Mary asked. "It's not like you to worry without a reason."

John thought of Sherlock's black moods pressing him into the couch in Baker Street. He thought of him hurt by unknown assailants in an alley somewhere. He thought of Mycroft handing him a gun and putting him on a plane.  "He's just.  Very good at getting himself in trouble," he said.

Mary watched him. "I'm sure he's fine," she echoed.

"Yeah," John said. He wasn't.

***

"Did you hear that?" Mary asked from the bedroom, Saturday evening.

John put his toothbrush down and stepped out of the en suite. "Hear what?" And then there was a vague crashing noise from downstairs.  "What the--" He shook his head. "Probably it's Sherlock breaking in again."

"Seriously?" Mary asked, from where she was tucked into bed. "At half eleven?"

"Yup," John said, pulling on his dressing gown over his vest and pyjamas. "He's an arsehole. I'll go deal with him."

As he went down the stairs, there was another crash from the living room, followed by a thump. Sherlock was usually a better burglar than that; John grabbed an umbrella from the front stand as he passed it, just in case, and poked his head into the living room. Yes, it was Sherlock, bent over trying to reaffix the handle to the door. John set the umbrella down. "What are you doing, Sherlock?" he asked, in the sternest tones he could muster.

"John!" Sherlock spun around, dropping the handle in the process. "There you are." He gestured to the handle. "I broke your door a bit. Not much. I'll go get you a new one in the morning." He took in John's outfit. "Why are you dressed like that?"

"It's half eleven," John said tersely.

"Is it? I hadn't noticed. Do you have any crisps?"  He stuck his hands in his pockets and strode past John into the kitchen, where he started making clattering noises.

"Sherlock, for fuck's sake, keep it down," John said, following him.  "You'll wake Naz."

"Nazir!" Sherlock said suddenly, stepping away from the cupboard doors, all of which he'd opened, and started patting his pockets. "I have something for him. It's in--I don't know which pocket it's in. This coat has too many pockets, my old coat was better, Mycroft's had them put too many pockets in this one."

"You need to stop giving him things,"John said. "It's spoiling him, you know." He'd like you fine even if you didn't bring him gifts, he almost said, but then he forced himself back on track. "Sherlock, what are you doing here?"

Sherlock turned back to the cabinets. "Glad to see Mary's not on a diet.  Although the percentage of whole grain and organic snack foods--no, but that's both of you, isn't it? Healthy food for the child, two working parents, well, one and a half, need to resort to conveniences." He reached in and pulled out a large package of pita chips. "These will do, I suppose. Do you have any mustard?"

"Stop," John said, as Sherlock walked over to the fridge, leaving all the cabinet doors open. "Sherlock, look at me.  For fuck's sake--" He grabbed Sherlock by the wrist and pulled him over to make him look at him and--

And fuck--pulse speeding under John's fingers--skin warm, warmer than wearing that ridiculous coat in June would explain--sweat along his hairline--faint tremble in his fingers where they hung--pupils dilated--manic behavior--

"Jesus fucking Christ, Sherlock, are you high?" John said, dropping his wrist in shock.

"What?" Mary said from behind him.

Shit. John turned around and saw Mary, standing on the stairs watching them.  "It's fine," he said. "I'm handling it." Sherlock went over to the fridge. John tried to grab him back, but he was out of reach.

"You cannot be serious," Mary said, coming the rest of the way down the stairs.

"Look, I am dealing with this," John said to her. "You can go to bed."

"Not bloody likely," she said, folding her arms.

John sighed. Okay. One crisis at a time. He turned to Sherlock, who was dipping crisps into mustard he had squirted onto a plate. "Sherlock, answer me."

"Tedious," Sherlock said, through a mostly full mouth.

"It is not fucking tedious," John snapped, trying desperately to keep his volume down. "I can't believe this. You're using again?"

"Honestly," Sherlock said, rolling his eyes. "I just spent seven years murdering my way across the inhabited world. Of course I'm using again."

Mary gasped behind him. John didn't bother saying anything to her, because that was a pretty reasonable response, actually.  "And why," he said, "did you think, after going and shooting up--"

"Oh Christ," Mary said.

"'Oh, I know what would be a lovely idea, let me just pop round John's place?'"

Sherlock froze then, crisp in the mustard, staring at the table.  "Mycroft won't have me in the house," he said, quietly.

And, fuck. Because of course, Mycroft wouldn't let his brother in the house high, because he'd been there when Sherlock had been an addict last time and couldn't do it again.  And of course Sherlock would come to John when he didn't have anywhere else to go, this was his safe place, or John was his safe place, or something. And of course John couldn't kick him out, not when he knew that the alternative was Sherlock alone and high on the streets in the middle of the night.

"Fucking hell," John said. "Sherlock, go in the living room."

"What?" Sherlock said.

"Go in the other fucking room. Sit down and don't break anything else. I'm too angry to talk with you right now." He pointed.

Sherlock stood, watching John carefully, and carried his pita chips with him into the other room.

John took a deep breath to calm himself, and turned to face Mary.  "Okay," he said, trying to get it together. "Okay. I'll stay up with him."

"Are you joking?" Mary hissed.

"I know," John said, "I know."

"Because from where I'm standing a drug addict just broke into our house in the middle of the night and you want to have a bloody sleepover."

"It's not--he's not a drug addict," he said. Mary looked about ready to explode. He held up a hand to hold her off. "He's not chemically dependent. Not now, anyway, he didn't go through withdrawal in the hospital. He may have been before, it was before I knew him.  That's not the point, the point is." He took a deep breath. "This is bad. This is very bad."

"And your idea for how to deal with it is to fucking coddle him?" she snapped, halfway to shouting.

"Please keep your voice down," he gritted out through his teeth.

"Are you--"

"What I am saying," John said in as calm and quiet a voice as he could manage, "is that I cannot kick him out tonight. He doesn't have anywhere to go, and he will get himself hurt, or he will get himself killed. I cannot do that. So I will sit with him tonight, and in the morning, when he's himself again, I will talk to him."

Mary stared at him open mouthed for a moment, and then pressed her lips together. "Fine," she said sharply. "Do what you like."  She turned and started for the stairs.

"Sleep well," John said with forced calmness. She didn't reply.

John leaned his hands on the kitchen table for a moment, breathing as deeply as he could. Once he thought he had himself under control, he turned and made himself go into the living room.

Sherlock had seated himself on the rug and dumped out Naz's Legos in a pile.  John sat down next to him. Sherlock was sorting the blocks, snapping apart any that were stuck together and then making them up into single-color, single-size rectangles.  He kept working while John sat there. "You're angry with me," he said eventually.

"Yes," John said, resisting the desire to say something sarcastic.

"And Mary," Sherlock said, snapping a blue four into place, "is angry at both of us."

The truth was, Mary was only angry at John--she didn't care enough about Sherlock to be angry at him.  "Yes," he said anyway, because he wanted Sherlock to feel the weight of this.

Sherlock was silent for a long while.  "Will Naz be upset that I took the Legos apart?" he asked.

John had to take a deep breath at that.  "No," he said, and rested his hand on Sherlock's thigh.  "That's fine.  You can do this as long as you need to."

Sherlock nodded, and reached into the Lego pile for another fistful of blocks.

***

John stirred as he felt someone crawl into his lap and settle in against his chest.  He roused his arms off the armrests of the chair and wrapped them round Naz. "Morning, love," he said, not opening his eyes.

"Daddy, why'd you sleep in the sitting room?"

He shifted in the seat and patted Naz's back.  "I stayed up with Mr. Holmes.  He was ill last night."  He cracked open an eye to check that Sherlock was still passed out on the couch. He was.

"Did Mr. Holmes come here because you're a doctor?" Naz asked.

Last night had had very little to do with doctoring, and a great deal to do with babysitting, but he said, "Yes, that's why."

Naz leaned against him for a few more minutes, and John had nearly drifted off again before he said, "Daddy, can I have breakfast?"

John sighed. A lie in was too much to ask, he supposed. "Yeah. Is your mum up?"

"She said she wants to rest a bit."

"Yeah, all right."  He wondered if Mary would stay in bed until Sherlock left. He wondered if he wanted her to.  "Let me up, love.  And don't bother Mr. Holmes, he needs his sleep.  Come in the kitchen with me."

Sherlock slept through the two of them eating breakfast, though they were quiet enough, he supposed. The night hadn't been dramatic, but it had been long; after Sherlock had organized the Legos, he'd deduced each individual book on the shelves, including skimming most of the ones Mary wrote or edited. By that time the sky was starting to turn grey with dawn, so John had taken him outside and told him to compile a list of all the species in the garden.  That had lasted long enough to wear him out, and John had managed to get him asleep on the sofa, shoes off, tucked under his coat. His heart was beating more normally, his temperature had dropped, but John wasn't sure what a cocaine hangover looked like, precisely--when he's been in A&E they'd only dealt with overdoses, not a more recreational dose.  (Christ, he was glad sherlock had gauged his dose right; he'd seen enough relapses turn fatal.)

Sherlock was barely stirring by ten when Mary came down, fully dressed.  "Good morning," John said, trying very hard to act like it was a normal morning and there wasn't a coked out idiot asleep on their couch. He spun the Candyland wheel and moved his marker to the next green space. "There's coffee in the kitchen, but it's probably cold by now."

"Doesn't matter," she said, picking up her purse.  "I'm having brunch with Janine."

"All right," he said. He didn't remember that being scheduled, which probably meant she was going to vent about him.  He should care, he thought idly, but there was a limit on the number of things he could give a shit about today.

She came over and kissed Naz on the head. "See you later, love."

"We're gonna build the picture frames later, right, Mummy?"

"Yup, when I get home."  And she kissed him again before straightening up, nodding warily at John, and leaving.

Naz spun again and moved his piece two squares.  "Your turn, Daddy."

"Yeah," said John, and spun the wheel.

***

"We need to talk about this," John said, sitting down in a chair he'd turned to face the couch. Naz was in the garden playing, and sherlock was barely vertical on the couch, slumped and miserable looking, sipping the orange juice John had given him to serve as rehydration fluid very, very slowly.

Sherlock grimaced and set down his juice.  "Yes."  He scrubbed his hand through his hair gingerly, then folded both hands between his knees.  "I'm sorry for last night.  I shouldn't have come here when I was compromised. It won't happen again."

Almost before John could think, he found himself saying, "You coming here is not the problem, Sherlock.  You coming here is never the problem." He made himself not say I want you to come here if you're in trouble, because he thinks his wife will actually kill him if he does, but he hoped that Sherlock heard the implication.  "The problem is that you're using again."

"Ah," Sherlock said, and made profound eye contact with his orange juice.

"When did this start?"  Why didn't I notice? he wanted to ask, but Sherlock wouldn't have an answer for that.

Sherlock fidgeted, but at a lower rate than his normal fidgeting.  He was silent for a while--maybe he was hoping to wait John out--but John just sat there, as patiently as he could.  Finally Sherlock spoke. "This is the first time since I--returned."

"And you used while you were away," John said, and Sherlock nodded.  "But not regularly, or you'd have gone through withdrawal."

"It was..." Sherlock seemed to search for words. "Anesthetic. Distraction. Both, sometimes."

And John could understand that, had treated addictions picked up in the field, but it still broke his heart to think of it happening to Sherlock.  "So which one was it this time?"

Sherlock ran his hands through his hair, which was already mashed flat against his scalp in places.  "The latter, mostly," he said. "I ran out of work and--" He made a vague flapping gesture with one hand.  "I was. Thinking."

"Right," John said, thinking guiltily of twenty minutes of sad violin in his voicemail, of text messages unanswered.  "So. There are two issues here."

"Only two?" Sherlock said, picking up his orange juice.

"The first," John said, deciding not to get distracted, "is that you're carrying around a great big ball of trauma and guilt from your time away, and the only coping mechanism you've got is distraction.  And the second is that you've got fucking stupid ideas about what constitutes a valid distraction.  So.  We need to work on both of them."

Sherlock put down his empty juice glass.  "Because you're the best advocate for psychotherapy."

"For you? Never," John snorted. "You'd spend all your time trying to deduce the therapist, it'd be miserable. But the principles behind integrating traumatic experiences so they become nondisruptive are pretty well established.  There's me, and there's Mycroft, and there's Molly, and we could all listen." Sherlock's shoulders were creeping up.  "And, anyway, I think the trauma isn't really the bigger part of it.  You've always been a fucking idiot when you're bored."

"You've always thought so, yes," Sherlock said, his tired mouth curving just slightly, as if at the memory of sulks-turned-shouting-matches gone by.

"Right," John said.  "I'm getting you some dry Weetabix, and we'll make a list of things that aren't fucking stupid up to do instead of shooting up."  Sherlock began to make a complaining noise, and John cut him off.  "No, this is non-negotiable, Sherlock.  You were sober when I met you, which means you can do this. And I'm not fucking losing you again."  He hadn't quite meant for that last part to come out, but Sherlock blinked like it mattered, that John had said it, and he meant it anyway, so.  "Yeah?"

Sherlock nodded. John squared his shoulders and went to the kitchen.

When Mycroft sent a car for Sherlock two hours later (John had texted, Sherlock had complained, John had nearly called him a twat in front of Naz), he stumbled out to it with a list in his pocket that included the archive call numbers of partially preserved ancient music compositions in need of reconstructing, the locations of the papers of six nineteenth century chemists held in the University of London library system to be examined, ten good spots for watching for pickpockets, and, written at the top if the page in red, the words CALL JOHN FIRST.

Chapter Text

"Dad, your phone's beeping," Naz called from the living room.

John put another plate in the dishwasher.  "Is it your mum?"

He heard Naz get up and go over to it, and the long pause while he figured out what it said. (He wasn't quite reading yet, but he could read MARY, plus, well, the photo of her was a bit of a giveaway.)  "No," he said.  "It says...sulk?"

"Spell it?"

"S-H-E-R-L--"

"Sherlock," John said, and turned on the water to rinse his hands.  "That's Mr. Holmes.  Bring it in here."

Naz carried it into the kitchen, and John put down the towel he'd used to dry his hands and took the phone.  The text from Sherlock read I'm in the garden.  John stared at it.  What garden? Was this a code for something? A request for an intervention? He thought of texting back a question mark, but then Naz, who had gone back to the living room, said, "Dad! Mr. Holmes is here!"

Oh.  I'm in the garden means I'm standing in your back garden, may I please come in. John shook his head and walked into the living room, opened the door. Sherlock was pacing on the grass, and startled when the door opened.  "This is good, the texting," John said, keeping the tone just sarcastic enough.  "Eventually we'll have you ringing bells like a normal person."

"You weren't at the park," Sherlock said.

"Summer holidays," John said.  "Naz stays at daycare until five."

"Ah," Sherlock said, and shifted on his feet. He was dressed for warm weather, for once; no coat, suit jacket unbuttoned, and, incongruously, a messenger bag slung across his body.  He glanced, awkwardly, at the room behind John.

He didn't know if he could come in, John realized, and could have shaken himself for not figuring that out first.  "Come in," hr said, stepping out of the door.  "We've just finished supper, but I can microwave you something if you're hungry."

"Can Mr. Holmes have pudding with us?" Naz asked, enthusiastically.

John gave Naz a look that said he knew exactly what he was up to--they didn't usually have pudding on weeknights--but then gave in.  "Only if Mr. Holmes has already had his supper."

Sherlock stepped into the room and looked quickly between John and Naz.  "Of course I've had supper," he said.  "It's past supper time."

Filthy liar.  John sighed.  "I'll go see what we have in."

He rooted through the cabinets while listening to Naz and Sherlock talk. Naz had been read a book about penguins at day care today, and wanted to talk about them; Sherlock, apparently, knew a lot of random penguin facts, so they traded them back and forth. "We've got your Teta's biscuits," he called out, finding a plastic container of ma'amoul shoved in the corner.

"No thank you," Naz said, very quickly.

John agreed; Mary's mum wasn't much of a baker.  "There are strawberries in the fridge?"

"Mum said we're making trifle with them," Naz said.

"Ah." John pushed a few more things around.  "Oh, I found those maple biscuits Aunt Harry sent."

"Okay," Naz said, and then explained to Sherlock, "Aunt Harry lives in Canada.  Have you been to Canada?"

There was a pause, and John froze in case Sherlock was going to freak out. "Just the once," he said, quietly, but he sounded okay.  John carried out the box and three plates, rather than arranging them on a platter, just in case.

"I want to go to Canada," Naz said enthusiastically. "They have polar bears there. They put them on the money and everything."

"Come eat your biscuits," John said. And Sherlock and Naz stood, from their place on the floor, and came to eat their biscuits.

Later, after the biscuits were eaten, and Naz had brushed his teeth and been read his story and tucked in bed, Sherlock hovered near the sofa and said, "Where's Mary?"

"Conference," John said, sitting on the sofa and putting his feet on the coffee table.  "Zurich for three days." When she'd gotten the invitation four months ago, they'd talked about it, considered doing it as a holiday with Naz, but decided it was too much work; last week she'd decided to pop over herself, apparently because a friend had wanted her help with a workshop. John didn't ask questions, because it was easier to be encouraging.

Sherlock examined him, probably read John's disbelief, but left it alone.  He clasped his hands behind his back. "Should I...apologize to her? For the...incident?"

John cocked his head.  "That would probably be good, yeah.  Was that why you came by?"

"No. Well, if she had been here--" He cleared his throat.  "I have a case, and I thought--" He waved at his bag.  "Someone else to look at the data. Would be. Good."

John smiled.  "Okay, then."

They sat at the table, cups of tea between them, financial records spread in a haphazard pile.  John highlighted columns; Sherlock muttered at appendices. After a good hour, Sherlock said, apropos of nothing, "I saw Lestrade."

John paused in his highlighting and cleared his throat.  "How was he?" he asked.

Sherlock glanced across the table and then refocused on his papers. "I don't know. Fine, I think."  When John was silent after that, he said, awkwardly, "I was surprised. I didn't know he worked for Mycroft.  So. I was."  He made a vague gesture with one hand.

"A bit off your game," John supplied.

"That's a delicate way of putting it," Sherlock said, flipping pages as if he weren't concerned.

"Well, it's Greg," John said. "He's used to you being a bit mad. You'll be used to it next time."

Sherlock tapped his fingers on the table. "What should I do? If I want to. You know. Be…nice to him."

John got a little worried at that. "How mad were you, precisely?" Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "Like, on a scale from--" He held out one hand to each side of him. "From "I'm Sherlock Holmes and generally a mad arsehole" to "Five months ago I was alternating between catatonic and murderous"?"

Sherlock studied the hands, and then reached across the table and put his own about a third of the distance away from "generally a mad arsehole" towards "catatonic."

John nodded and dropped his hands. "Well, you know. Try to impress him with your humanity a bit. Bring him a coffee, ask about his kids. If you really feel like going above and beyond, form an opinion about Crystal Palace and argue it with him." Sherlock looked confused. "It's his favourite Premier League team." When Sherlock still looked blank, he continued, "Football team." Still nothing. "Um, football? It's the one with the black and white ball, and you kick it--"

"I know what football is," Sherlock said scathingly.

"Just checking," John said. "So. Anything in your files?"

Sherlock shook himself and scrutinized the pile of paper in front of him. "Have you noticed anything arriving from Kazakhstan in the financials?"

John was about to say no, but then he paused. "Is their currency abbreviated KZT? Because there were a lot of transactions in the three from July that--"

"We've got him," Sherlock said, and broke out in a wide smile.

John couldn't help but smile back.

***

John watched Naz chase one of his cousins across the church hall, and was very glad he didn't have to talk to anyone. Another one of Mary's cousins had a new baby, so here they were at the christening party, which mean Mary's entire family, all hundred and fifty of them, were in the same room. It was a bit more socializing than John really thought he was capable of. Vaguely, he remembered being at Naz's, everyone in the room wanting to hug him and hold the baby, and all he wanted was to sit down and maybe take a nap. He wasn't cut out for Arab hospitality, unfortunately. Naz liked his cousins, though, and Mary's mother got tetchy if they didn't show up, so. Usually, by this point in the day, he'd have ended up either sucked into talking about football by one of the knots of men standing around talking, or about doctoring with one of the other six doctors in the room, but today people seemed to be willing to let him sit in a corner and be anti-social.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he pulled it out. Sherlock, of course. You aren't at home.

He smirked at the phone. Excellent deduction. Do we need another new doorknob?

Of course not, it was full light and I'm sober. Where are you?

Paddington.

Naz ran up to him. "Daddy, do you have my hex bugs? I want to show Hala and Michael."

John reached into his jacket pocket and pulled them out. "Don't lose them."

Naz rolled his eyes. He could have sworn he hadn't known how to do that three months ago. It was far from the worst thing Sherlock could teach his son, though. "Yes, Daddy."

John's phone buzzed again, and he looked down as Naz ran off. Something with Mary's family?

Got it in one. Christening party. He sent the message, and then realized there was a more pressing issue that he should have dealt with first. Sherlock, why are you in our house?

Is Mary religious?

Her mum is. I asked a question.

Bored. Wanted to take samples of the orobranche alba growing in your garden.

The what?

A harmless parasitic plant. Increasingly endangered in the UK, and rarely seen outside of Scotland. Grows in your thyme patch. Do you know what variety of thyme Mary planted there? Did she start it from seed, or a nursery specimen?

What makes you think Mary planted it?

You never showed any interest in kitchen gardening when we lived together. In addition, thyme is a staple in Levantine food, something she'd want if she occasionally makes family dishes. It's a matter of the odds.

John couldn't help but smile at that. He was about to type back You mean you guessed when Mary came over, her face stuck in that pleasant-friendly-happy look she always wore around her family, at least until they were fifty yards away and she could drop it. "Christ, the next person who asks me when we're having another kid is getting stepped on." She picked up her lemonade off the table and took a long drink, and then glanced at him. "Who're you texting?"

John waved his phone. "Sherlock apparently has science questions on the subject of our garden." Mary's eyebrows went up. "Yeah, I agree."

She grabbed a wara' off her plate, dropped it into her mouth, and wiped the olive oil off her fingers with a napkin. "Come on, Mum wants to talk to you." John made a protesting noise as he stood. "Yeah, well, if you were talking to someone else I could try to get you out of it, but."

"I know." No rest for the anti-social. John slid his phone into his pocket, and went to make nice to his mother-in-law. Sherlock didn't text again, and by the time John was free to text back, he'd lost the thread of the banter and didn't know what to say.

When they arrived home, hours later, John was carrying Naz, exhausted from the running about and the shouting at cousins and the never-ending meal and the excitement of the tube and the DLR. He set him down in the front hall. "All right, five minutes and then it's bedtime, yeah?"

"Yeah, okay," Naz said, and wandered away. John unknotted his tie, and wondered if Mary would mind if he ran upstairs to change before bedtime. He had just turned around to ask, when Naz giggled from the other room. "Dad, I think Mr. Holmes was here."

Was was a good sign, John supposed. Mary looked a bit worried, but John followed Naz's voice to the living room. Sitting there at the dining room table, in the place Naz usually sat in, was a menagerie of origami animals, folded and arranged in neat rows. Naz was playing with a giraffe. "See?" he said, holding it up.

"Looks like it," John said, picking up an elaborate dragonfly that appeared, on close inspection, to be made from pages ripped out of the Boden catalogue that had been in the recycling bin. He smiled at the paper, and set it down. "We'll have to find somewhere to put them all. And next time you see him--"

"I'll say thank you," Naz said without inflection, moving on to an elephant.

John patted his head, and looked over his shoulder at Mary. She was watching them there, glancing between the origami, Naz, and John. John smiled at her. She smiled back, but slowly.

***

John was loading the dishwasher with the week's backlog of dishes--Mary had worked late, he had been on deadline, they'd eaten a lot of frozen pizza and had never seemed to get the whole kitchen clean at once. Mary had gone out to the living room to check for straggler dishes, but hadn't returned. He picked up the dishtowel, dried his hands off, and went to check on her.

She was standing in front of the shoebox where Naz had put the origami animals, examining a strangely curled one that he was pretty sure was a shrimp. She looked up at hearing him come in. "No more dishes in here," she said.

"You all right?" he asked.

She set the shrimp down. "I don't see it," she said, quietly.

"What, the shrimp?" He knew that wasn't what she meant, but he wasn't sure she really wanted to talk about--about whatever this was.

But she took a deep breath, like she was gathering her energy. "What you see in him. Why you put up with--with all of this."

It's just origami, he wanted to say, but that was deflecting, and besides, he knew what she meant: the constant invasion of space, the complete disregard for social niceties, the tics and the oddnesses and, let's not forget, the addictions. "He's my friend," he said, because that's it at its most basic: John Watson and Sherlock Holmes were friends, and what that meant to John is that he'd do whatever needed to be done to keep Sherlock well and sane and in his life. And he understood, now, that what it meant for Sherlock was that he'd do anything in his power to keep John safe, even if it was a fucking ridiculous, awful thing, because John mattered to him.

"I know that," she said, a little sharply. And she did, he knew--he remembered telling her about Sherlock, almost without meaning to, but they'd made a date for Friday and John hadn't realized it was Sherlock's birthday until he'd woken up that morning, and it had all come spilling out over dinner. She'd listened, and she'd been sympathetic, and when he'd said "I don't believe it was a lie," she hadn't said a thing, had just nodded and let him be. On their wedding day, she'd pushed Sherlock's diamond cufflinks through the holes in his cuffs when his hands were shaking too much to do it, and kissed him on the cheek when he said where he'd gotten them from, and he'd missed Sherlock then for a sharp moment but let it go, let the fact that he was here and he was with Mary and she was amazing and he was happy take up all the space in his chest. "What I don't understand," she said, "is why. Why, of all the people you know, is he the one worthy of your friendship?"

John looked down at the dishtowel in his hands. He had lacked the words for this for years, and nobody had ever demanded them of him, but he thought, maybe, he could try now. And Mary deserved for him to try. "It's because--" He cleared his throat. "Of everybody I've ever met, he's the only one who--he's the only one who saw me, saw--everything that I am, all at once, and he was all right with all of it. He--he liked it all." He wanted all of me, he wanted to say, but that was--that had implications, and he didn't want to imply something he didn't mean, and he didn't know if he meant it, didn't know if Sherlock meant it, and he wasn't saying that to his wife, anyway. He looked back up at her. "That's why, I think."

She studied him carefully, as if trying to read through his face, seeing what he said and what he meant. "And I don't," she said after a moment. She didn't ask it as a question, but there was a question lurking there inside the statement.

He tapped his foot, and shrugged. "It's all right," he said. "I never asked you to. I never asked anyone to." She was still trying to look through him, and he shook his head as if to clear it. "Anyway. I think there's enough to run it. I'll just. Get it started." He raised his eyebrows at her, and she nodded, just slightly, so he turned and walked across the kitchen, leaving her in the living room, watching him go.

Chapter Text

John's phone beeped at lunch time on a Tuesday. Well, lunch time--it was half two, but he'd made himself not get up from the computer until the first draft of the EMA approval paperwork was done, otherwise he'd never finish it. He wiped sandwich crumbs off his fingers on his jeans and picked up the phone. It was a text from Sherlock, reading This is preposterous. SH.

John laughed to himself. Sherlock's ability to send incomprehensible texts was either infuriating or magnificent. What is?

The organizational system. The alphabet is a ridiculous way to try to group unrelated material. Thematic volumes would have been much simpler, and would prevent me from having to read all of this bloody religious bollocks.

John tilted his head and tried to figure out if that made sense. Nope. Are you…reading an encyclopaedia?

Rees's Cycopaedia. Davy's papers are entirely silent on the matter of which articles he authored, but his writing style is sufficiently distinctive that I should be able to identify which articles are his.

John stared at that until something caught--Davy, Davy is Humphrey Davy the chemist, is one of the chemists whose papers are at London-area archives, is on Sherlock's list, Sherlock is using his list. If Sherlock is using his list, that means he's out of work and doesn't have anything to distract himself with and is honestly considering going out and getting high and this is a problem. He hasn't seen Sherlock in, what, two weeks now, and his texts have been sporadic, his case work seeming to bore him more than usual. This was not good.

He turned his phone over in his hand a few times. Right. He needed to do something here. Ever since Sherlock had gotten out of the facility, he'd waited for Sherlock to come to him, and he had, waltzing into John's life at regular intervals, trailing work or trauma or gifts for Naz along with him. John had been trying to give him space, trying to set the terms, but he needed to be more proactive, if Sherlock was up against the wall of boredom and nothingness. So he had to do something. He sucked his teeth for a moment, looking for the right words, and then gave it a shot. Want to come over and talk it through? We haven't got anything on tonight, might be nice to have you for supper. There. That wasn't needy, wasn't pushy, but proposed a clear and obvious plan for staying grounded. He wasn't quite sure how he'd manage Sherlock and Mary at the same dinner table, but Sherlock has been conspicuously polite to Mary and about Mary so far, and Mary wasn't the sort to make a scene, so it should be all right.

Sherlock's reply came quickly. John had no idea how he typed so fast. Can't. Bloody Mycroft is taking me to a cocktail party to try to find a mole. It's possible I may drown myself in the champagne fountain in boredom.

John laughed at that, because a threat of suicide by decor was about appropriate for Sherlock on a good day. But, still, he suddenly wanted to see Sherlock, sooner rather than later, to know that he was all right, to try to make sure he knew that he had a reason to stay sober, to know that John was here and wasn't going anywhere and wasn't going to let him be a fucking idiot. You'll survive. But come by soon, yeah? Or we could meet up somewhere while Naz is in daycare. I'm just writing this week, no meetings.

Sherlock didn't reply. John tried to put it out of his mind as he went back to make sure he'd gotten everything in place on his paperwork, but couldn't. Finally, after fidgeting with a table for the thousandth time, he picked up his phone and texted Mycroft. Danger night, he said.

A moment later, his phone beeped in reply. They are all danger nights now, Mycroft said.

John didn't like that answer, but he agreed.

***

"And then," Mary said, blowing on her coffee before taking another sip, "he said that he didn't think the program was appropriate for, and I quote, the 'school's context.'"

"Oh Jesus," John said, huffing out a laugh. Naz was hanging on to Mary's coffee-less hand, giving him both free for once; the paper was under one arm, his coffee in the other. This Sunday walks thing was a good idea, they should do it more often.

They stopped at the corner and waited for the signal to change so they could cross to the park. "So I said that I thought it was absolutely appropriate, particularly tailored for schools like his, had several options he could choose between, et cetera et cetera, and then he got all huffy and said that I didn't really 'understand' the conditions there."

John looked over at her in wondrous amusement. "Wait, but isn't he the principal of--"

"The school I ran for eight years?" Her grin was brilliantly evil at that.

John giggled back. "Does he still have eardrums?"

"Barely," she said, and started leading them into the zebra crossing.

"Can you two stop talking yet?" Naz said, reaching across to grab John by the belt loop.

"Okay," Mary said, and guided them up and into the park entrance. "Do you want to go on the rocks over there, or the climbing gym?"

"Climbing gym," Naz said, letting go of both of them and setting off for it at a thousand miles an hour. "Hi, Mr. Holmes!" he shouted without stopping as he ran past the bench where John usually sat.

John startled at that, and he felt Mary do the same. Yes, there was Sherlock, sitting on the bench, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands steepled against his lips. He was watching Naz run away with his eyes wide and surprised, and there was a tension in his face that John couldn't quite read.

He walked over to stand by Sherlock, Mary following at his side. "Fancy seeing you here," he said, lightly.

Sherlock's head snapped over to him, again, as if this was all a shock to him. "John," he said, his eyes darting over him, reading whatever-it-was he could read from the coffee in his hand, the knees of his trousers, the fold of the paper, the edge of his jaw. "I. Um. Hello." He glanced at Mary then, his eyes moving as quickly but seeming to hesitate as they scrolled, perhaps short of context to deduce her as quickly. "I wasn't expecting you."

"At the park where you've see us a hundred times in the past four months?" John said, incredulously.

"I." Sherlock must have realized his body language was odd, and straightened up, but then seemed to be completely out of ideas of what to do with his hands, staring at them for a moment before he managed to put them down on his knees. "You've never--it's Sunday, you come after--" He shook his head. "I just came here to think." He glanced down at the bench next to him, where a suit jacket lay neatly folded. "You'll need your bench," he said, and reached down to pick it up.

John held out a hand towards him, tried to sound soothing. "It's all right. Mary and I'll go to that bench over there. Finish what you're thinking about, and then come say hello when you're done. Or come by the house if we've gone."

"No, I." He stood up and shrugged on his jacket. "There's a--Mycroft. He wanted me for--there's a file he texted me about."

John was seventy-five percent convinced that was a lie. He wondered how often Mycroft was Sherlock's excuse these days. "You sure? It would be nice to see you."

"I. Um. Yes. When I finish--" He made a gesture with his hand. "I'll just." He nodded his head, once, and turned away from them, took two steps and turned back. "Um. Enjoy the." He made a gesture around him, John supposed to indicate the park or the afternoon or your Sunday or something similar.

"Yeah," John said. "See you soon."

"Um. Yes," Sherlock said, turning away and walking, rapidly and with hunched shoulders, down the path.

John sighed. He glanced over at the climbing gym, where Naz was talking with a kid John thought looked familiar from previous trips, and then over at Mary. "Well. That wasn't worrisome or anything."

"Hard for me to tell," she said, sipping her coffee. "He's always such a bloody weirdo."

John snorted. "Thought you were the great advocate for neurodiversity and nontypical social skills," he said.

She glanced over at him critically for a moment, her eyes as sharp as Sherlock's, and then sighed. "Fair enough."

He hadn't meant it to sound like that, but he supposed he might have, a little bit. "Shall we sit?"

"Yeah," she said, "let's."

***

"We could just go to the beach," Mary said, handing him another plate for the stack.

"I know," John said, turning to put them on the shelf. "It's just, we go to the beach every year. A change of pace might be good, maybe."

Mary examined a glass and set it back on the counter to be rewashed. "It might be a bit late to find something in the Lake District. And I'm really not one for camping."

"I've heard good things about the Isle of Wight?" John reached for the silverware basket. "Hiking to wear Naz out, taking the hover boats, a bit of exploring?"

"Maybe we could do a city break somewhere?" Mary mused, leaning against the counter. "Dublin, maybe, or Edinburgh? Oh, we could take the train, might be a bit of an adventure."

John wasn't sure his mental health was up to six hours on a train with Naz, or even dealing with Naz alternately hyperactive and overstimulated in a strange city. Luckily, he was saved from trying to find a diplomatic way of phrasing this by his phone pinging where he'd left it across the room. He reached for a towel to dry his hands.

His phone pinged again, and again while he finished drying them, and a fourth time before he got over there. "Bloody hell, what does he want?" John muttered, because, let's be honest, there was only one person who was going to text him at nine-thirty at night. He unlocked the phone and looked at the messages.

John.

John.

JOHN.

John.

As he was looking at them, slightly confused, another two Johns arrived. He sighed. "The fuck?" he muttered to himself, as he texted back What?

JOHN. Then a moment, probably for Sherlock to realize he had to type something else, and then I don't want to break your door again.

It took John a moment to put it together, but the last time Sherlock had broken the door had been-- "Oh hell," he said, and walked over to unlock the back doors.

"John? What is it?" Mary said, coming out of the kitchen with a towel in her hands.

"I'm sorry for this," John said, and opened the door. "Are you kidding me," he said to Sherlock, who was standing in the backyard, head tilted back to stare at the stars, rocking back and forth on his heels.

"I assume that's rhetorical," Sherlock said, and brushed by him into the house. "Good evening, Mary. Sorry for ruining it."

"What's happening?" she said, looking between them.

John didn't even bother trying to explain. "I have talked with you every day this week. You could have said something at literally any point. Instead, you decide that you're just going to shoot up and come by for a chat later?"

"Yes, precisely," Sherlock said sarcastically, stomping past Mary into the kitchen. "Well, actually, I snorted it this time, didn't have access to the right supplies, but you were always pants at the details, can't be helped." John could hear the refrigerator door open and a manic drumbeat of fingernails on its handle.

"I thought," Mary said to John, her eyes narrowing, "that you told him not to come here high again."

"Ah, no," Sherlock answered for John, as he came back into the living room with an apple in his hand. "That is fairly exactly what he did not say, in fact." He flopped himself onto the couch and took a bite of the apple.

"What?" Mary snapped, throwing the towel behind her onto the kitchen counter.

"Can we talk about this later?" John said, because he really, really didn't want to have a screaming row with his wife in front of Sherlock. Or, conversely, a screaming row with Sherlock in front of his wife, but he was fairly sure that ship had sailed.

"Don't mind me," Sherlock said through a mouth full of apple.

John wheeled on him, the growing wave of rage he'd felt since he'd realized what was happening bursting forth. "Don't you fucking dare make light of this, Sherlock," he hissed. "This is not some minor little foible of yours I'm just going to have to put up with for the rest of your life. Do you realize what percentage of relapsing addicts die of overdoses?" Sherlock made a scoffing noise. "No, you are not too smart for that to happen, you are exactly stupid enough for that to happen, in fact. Are you seriously suicidal?"

"Like you're one to talk," Sherlock snapped, throwing his apple core at the trash can in the corner. It missed and rolled away against the wall.

"At least when I was suicidal I went about it like a normal person," John snapped back. He caught Mary's sudden gasp at that, and closed his eyes, tried to rein it in, tried to stop himself from yelling loud enough to wake Naz, tried, desperately, to keep everything he was feeling at some kind of normal level. But Sherlock never did normal, not really, and John wasn't much better at doing normal when he was around him. "It doesn't matter. What matters is that you have to stop, Sherlock."

"Look," Mary said, and he turned to her. According to the look on her face, they were, in fact, talking about this now. "I understand that this is a difficult situation. But John, I do not want him in my house like this."

John sighed and tried to come up with a way to convince her. "He doesn't have anywhere safe to go."

"Then he should have thought of that before he made his decisions," she said, firmly, as if they were talking about replacing one of Naz's broken toys, and not about throwing a haunted intoxicated man onto the streets where he'd do god knows what. "I don't want him here. Not like this."

"He's not a danger to any of us," John said, hoping that the only to himself was sufficiently implied.

"So you say," she said, her voice getting icier as she talked, "but I don't think you're very objective on the matter."

"You know," Sherlock said, idly, his arm swinging back and forth on the couch, "I am actually able to hear this conversation."

"You'll forgive me," Mary said to him, "if I'm not particularly interested in talking to you right now."

"You're never interested in talking to me," Sherlock said casually. "You say you want me gone now, you don't want me in your house like this, but that's not it at all, is it, Mary." He swung up from his graceless flop to sitting. "Not that we've spent a great deal of time together, but do you realize that's the first full sentence you've directed towards me? It's not that you dislike having me here high. It's barely even that you don't like having me here at all. You don't like that I exist."

"Sherlock," John said, trying to warn him off. Because he did not want this, he did not want to watch Sherlock and Mary tear each other apart, because he didn't know how he could repair that, and he needed--he needed the fabric of this not to rip in front of him.

"I honestly don't know you well enough to dislike you that much," Mary said, and this was her stern teacher voice, the one that she used at meetings where no one was listening and she needed to be heard. "What I don't like is to see you hurting John. Hurting my family."

"I don't hurt John," Sherlock hissed, rising from the couch.

"You did seven years ago," John said, trying to pull Sherlock's attention away from Mary.

But he just flapped a hand in John's direction and kept his focus on her. "But that doesn't matter to her, she's only ever known you after my death. What she doesn't like," he said, stepping towards her, "is that I change you."

"Sherlock, stop it, stop it right now," John said, hopelessly.

"Tell me, Mary," Sherlock said, perfectly still like a lion waiting to pounce. "Is it that you can't stand to have him paying attention to someone else? I could understand that, all these years of having him to yourself, never doing anything that could take his interest away from your life together, and now you're having to share, and isn't that horrible? Or is it that you don't like the proof that there are things about him you don't want to see, things he's put away for you, and you were able to think they weren't there, but now you see them, and you can't take it back, can't make them go away?" He stepped towards her, his body language torn between menace and haughtiness, as if he were above it all but still closing in for the kill. "Or is it just that the balance has been disturbed, that the way you thought it would be is irreparably gone? What do you tell yourself when you think about him now, when you watch him and realize that the pieces don't fit the way they used to? When you realize that what you want isn't possible? When you--" He stopped, suddenly, pulling up, his eyes darting all over her in quick, jagged motions. "Oh," he breathed, and straightened his back, bringing his whole body into one sharp, solid line. "Do you want to tell him, or should I?"

John looked at Mary and--and she looked furious, and sharp, and scared, in the way that people always looked scared when Sherlock stripped them, when he saw the one thing they hadn't wanted him to see. And he couldn't stand to watch it. "Get out," he growled, low, deep in his throat.

Sherlock snapped around to look at him. "John?"

"Sherlock," he said, "get out of my house."

John had never seen Sherlock collapse so quickly, from sharp, fierce deduction to as desperate and terrified as John had ever seen. "John, I--I don't have--I can't--I'm sorry--"

"No," John said. "Not now." And he took his phone from his pocket, dialed Mycroft. When he picked up, he said, "Send a car. Now," and hung up without waiting for a reply. Sherlock was watching him, his mouth just barely open, looking about thirty seconds from collapsing to his knees and begging John to let him stay. He dialed Molly's number, and, when she picked up, said brusquely, "Molly, are you at home? Good. I'm sending Sherlock to you. He's not well. I need you to stay with him tonight. Can you do that?" When Molly agreed, he nodded, not thinking about the fact that she couldn't see him. "He'll come by car. Don't let him out of your sight for tonight, all right? I'll check in with you later." And he hung up. "You will get in that car. You will stay at Molly's. And you will not fucking do this again. Do you understand me?" Sherlock nodded. "Fine. Go. The car's probably waiting already." He stared Sherlock down for a moment, and then Sherlock ducked his head, fidgeted with his hands, and skulked out into the front hall, where John heard him fumble with the lock for a moment, and then let himself out.

John closed his eyes for a moment, took as deep a breath as he could. "John?" Mary said quietly. He opened his eyes to look at her, and she must have seen something in them that she didn't like, because she pressed her hand to her mouth, turned, and headed for the stairs. He listened to her steps up them, and the near-slam of the bedroom door.

He should follow her. He should go apologize.  He should go bring Sherlock back where he can watch him.  He should--he should--

John turned and walked out into the garden.  It was cold and empty and he could see the thyme patch Mary had planted, the one with the parasite Sherlock had wanted to see, where Sherlock stood when he was waiting to be let in and where he and Mary had stood shoulder to shoulder and decided, out of hearing of the estate agent, to put in an offer, and he could not, he fucking could not do this.  He kicked one of the chairs hard, sent it skidding across the patio, and fought the desire to pick it up and throw it.  Fucking Sherlock, hadn't he given him everything he needed since the day he showed up, twice as much since he came back, and he couldn't even keep his shit together enough not to stomp in and ruin John's life? And what the hell was wrong with Mary, why couldn't she understand that Sherlock needed him, that he was doing his fucking best to balance all of them, to keep this ever-spinning cycle of people who needed him to take care of them running?

He sank into a crouch there, breathing hard, and tried, so hard, to catch himself, to put himself back together.

His phone beeped.

"Fuck," he said, and pulled it out.  A text from Molly: He's here.  I'll make sure he's okay.  He exhaled, long and slow, and felt the tension drain from him a little bit.  Ok.  Sherlock was fine.  He could deal with everything else.

Breathing slowly, he tried to turn it over in his head.  Sherlock had been a right arse, not just to Mary, but since he'd walked in that night.  He was lashing out, and his ability to restrain himself was apparently non-existent when high.  But his deductions, we're they still...he didn't know, working? Could he trust what Sherlock said like that?

He kept breathing.  Those deductions, the observations, they weren't only based on tonight.  His saying them, that was tonight's nastiness, but the conclusions, that was classic Sherlock.  And when he'd said he'd seen something, had asked Mary if he should tell John, she hadn't only been angry.  She's been scared.  Not just of the angry junkie in the room, but of what he had to say.

Fuck.  That meant there was something.  It wasn't like Mary to keep secrets, so if she hadn't told him something yet it was because she didn't know what to think yet, or hadn't made up her mind.  And it was something that Sherlock would think was a trump card in that fight, something about Mary and John.

He bowed his head, took a deep breath, and stood.  "Right," he said to himself, straightened his spine, and turned to go back in the house.

He paused outside the bedroom door, which was closed, hesitating, but then rapped it lightly with his knuckles, just so Mary would know he was here. He opened it slowly, and found her sitting on the side of the bed, her head bent forward and her hands curling into the edge of the duvet. She looked up at him, head still down, a little wary. She wasn't crying, but she looked like she might have been, just a little.

He closed the door behind him. "I'm sorry he did that," he said, quietly. If it had been more neutral, just a string of rude and uncomfortable deductions, he would have tried to explain that this was literally just how Sherlock was, but every word out of Sherlock's mouth had been so nasty that he didn't even bother. "He had no right. I'm sorry I couldn't stop him."

She looked back at the floor, and nodded. "Yeah."

Slowly, he came to sit next to her on the bed. She didn't say anything else, and for a while he wondered if he should just leave, but, well. It was probably more cowardice than compassion that made him think that, and they needed to deal with this. "Do you. Um." He glanced over at her, found her watching him sideways, and looked back to the front. "Do you want to tell me?" She huffed out a breath. "You don't have to. If you're. You know." He sighed. "Not ready yet or." He let it trail off, because he was starting to sound like an idiot.

She sat up straighter. "No, it's--I don't think I'm ever going to be ready," she said, quietly. She took a deep breath. "I went to see a solicitor the other day."

He blinked, not quite sure what she meant.

"She specializes in divorce law," Mary said, still looking forward.

John was sure he should feel something at that, something big and crashing and forceful. But instead, it felt like--like very little, and he was not sure what, at all. "Oh," he said, letting this confusing non-feeling start to wash over him. "So that's where we are, then."

"I think so," she said quietly. She turned her head to look at him. "Unless you think--unless you don't think so."

He let the thought run through his mind for a minute, of what it would mean to fight for his marriage now, to try to keep it afloat (he should want to do that, shouldn't he? and what does it mean that he isn't sure?), but he doesn't know what that would look like and can't imagine how they might do it. "No, it's--" He laughed a bit, sad but amused despite it. "I think this is one of the things I trust you to know better than me about."

She laughed too, and leaned slightly, so that her shoulder brushed his on the bed. He leaned back, a little. "It's just--I can't handle it, John. I can't handle there being this massive destabilizing force in our lives. And I know you've been trying not to let him cause problems but--" She shook her head. "But it's not working. And I just can't do it."

John sighed. "No, I. I understand. The thing is, Sherlock--" He tried to find a way to make it make sense. "It's just--Sherlock is non-negotiable for me. And you didn't--you didn't know that, getting into this. And I didn't tell you, because I didn't know it would. You know, be relevant again. So. Yeah." He cleared his throat. "So, um. How do we--I mean, I remember from Harry's divorce, but not really so--there's a, a separation? Or." He waved his hand.

"No, it's, we don't need to do the two year separation, not if I claim unreasonable behaviour," Mary said.

John laughed again, struck by the absurdity of it. "Right. Well, yes, I think Sherlock can be classed as unreasonable in pretty much any context, so." She laughed too, and leaned a little harder on him. He looked over at her, her beautiful face as it was turned towards him, and her eyes were full of tears now. "Oh, love," he said, and put his arm around her. She pushed her forehead into his shoulder, and wrapped an arm around his middle, blowing out a long breath that shook a little at the end. "We'll figure this out," he said, as much to himself as to her.

"I know," she said, and leaned in further. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

John rested his head against hers. "Yeah," he said to the woman who no longer wanted to be his wife. "Me too."

Chapter Text

John stared out the window and tried to come up with weather-appropriate ideas. While things had been awkward between him and Mary since the night everything melted down, they'd managed to cope reasonably well; their evenings after work had revolved around Naz, housework, and polite conversation. He'd had the thought, at first, that perhaps he should go sleep in the guest room, followed by the pissy thought that Mary was the one who wanted to divorce, so maybe she should go sleep in the guest room, followed by the thought that, honestly, they were grownups, the mattress in the other room was shit, and it didn't bother him to share a bed if it didn't bother her. Apparently it didn't.

They hadn't told Naz yet, or anyone else officially; he was fairly sure Janine knew, was fairly sure Janine had known before him, but that didn't bother him particularly. He'd ended up telling Harry, because she'd made one of her occasional bizarre phone calls two days after everything went wrong. "You sound awful, Johnny. What is it?"

"Um," he'd said, leaning back in his desk chair. "It's-I think I'm getting divorced."

"Shit," she'd said. "What did you do?"

"What makes you think it's something I did?"

She snorted. "Mary could blow up a tube station and you wouldn't leave her. Be a bit pissed off, yeah, but you'd make your weekly visits to the prison anyway, even if just to yell at her. So. What did you do?"

Well, she wasn't wrong. He sighed. "Sherlock…" he said, trying to think of a way to finish that sentence.

"Really?" she said, her voice full of implication.

"Oh, fuck off, that is not what I meant," he said, having to suppress a giggle.

"Is it, though?" She was laughing too.

"I hate you," he said, and he felt like he was smiling for the first time since that night.

But now it was Saturday, and Mary, John, and Naz had two whole days to spend together in the same rooms. It wasn't that they couldn't get along, he and Mary--it was just that they had decided not to talk to Naz about it until things were a little more settled, and John didn't want to worry him if he noticed anything up with them. If it were good weather, he'd have taken Naz to the playground; Mary had just spent an hour reading to him, so it would be good to have him run about a bit, but this miserable rain meant that was right out.

Mary came to stand next to him, having shooed Naz off to do something else, claiming a sore throat from the reading. "What are you thinking?"

"Hmm?" Nothing in particular, but he smiled at her. "I was thinking I'd take Naz out somewhere after lunch. Don't want him getting too cooped up. Not quite sure where in this, though."

She cast the same despairing eye as him over the rainfall. "Well, you'll think of something. Even just a couple of hours changing tube lines might wear him out."

"True enough."

He tried to brainstorm all through Mary making them lunch, and then sitting down and trying to convince Naz to eat with some kind of manners. Really, he wished the playground were an option--and that they could just wander in, and Sherlock would be on the bench, and wouldn't freak out when he saw them, and--

Oh. Well, that was a solution.

Mary went upstairs to get the laundry put away after lunch, and John bundled Naz into boots and jacket, telling him they were headed for a train ride. He held Naz's hand as he bounced like an over caffeinated kangaroo at Lewisham station, kept a vice grip on him as they navigated the crowds into London Bridge station, traced their route on the map for him while they waited for the Northern Line to arrive. Getting off at Highgate, he consulted his phone. He'd known the address for months, but he didn't have a fucking clue about this area. Naz stomped in puddles and John followed directions, and then they were standing in front of an exceedingly large and elegant looking house, absolutely nondescript for the neighborhood but a bit ridiculous in any other context.

John rang the bell, holding his umbrella over himself and Naz, as little good as it did them.

After quite a long moment, during which John realized precisely what an idiot he was going to feel if nobody was home, Mycroft opened the door, looking confused, wearing a waistcoat but with his shirt sleeves rolled up.

"Hello, Mycroft," he said sunnily, as Mycroft was glancing between the two of them. "Can Sherlock come out and play?"

Mycroft blinked.

John sighed. "It would be good if we could come out of the rain?"

Mycroft shook his head to clear it. "Of course, John." He stepped aside to let them in, and looked down at Naz, whose boots had tracked mud onto the front step and whose jacket was dripping from sleeves and hem. "Nazir, may I take your jacket? And perhaps you could leave your boots on the mat here."

"Okay," Naz said, and held out his arms. Mycroft did not understand this as the universal sign for unzip me, so John bent down to do it. Naz examined Mycroft as John helped him out of his boots. "Are you Mr. Holmes's butler?"

John managed not to burst out laughing at that. "No," Mycroft said, and John could tell he wasn't sure whether to be sour or indulgent. "I'm his brother."

"Oh! Hello," Naz said. "Is this your house too, then?"

"Yes," Mycroft said, putting John's jacket next to Naz's on the hooks. "I'll get him, shall I?"

"If he's available," John said, hoping he looked less like he was about to burst out laughing than he was.

Mycroft walked over to the large central staircase, and called up, "Sherlock. You have visitors."

"What?" came Sherlock's muffled voice, and then a series of stomps. "Mycroft, what are you--"

He stopped at the top of the staircase, his eyes wide and shocked to see John at its foot, holding Naz's hand. His hair was wild, and he was still in dressing gown and pyjamas. John smiled at him, and waited while Sherlock examined him closely, reading whatever he could in the lines of his eyes, his shoulders, his hands. John didn't bother trying to hide anything, just let Sherlock see what he could see.

After a long moment, Sherlock nodded, and angled his head to look directly at Naz. "I have the fully articulated skeleton of a civet in my rooms."

"Really?" Naz said. "Can I see?"

Sherlock smiled and held out his hand. Naz glanced up at John and, at his nod, took off up the stairs at a run, grabbing Sherlock's hand at the top. Sherlock took it, and led Naz out of sight down a hallway.

Mycroft was still studying John's face when he turned back to him. John smiled. "You know, this is usually the part of the playdate when the other kid's mum offers me coffee."

Mycroft smiled back. "Would you like a coffee, John?"

"Sounds lovely." He followed Mycroft to what turned out to be the kitchen. He watched Mycroft as he turned on the kettle, poured beans into a grinder, grounds into a press, water on top of that, the rhythm methodical and relaxing. Like this, absorbed in a simple, daily task, it was so obvious he was Sherlock's brother, wasn't it.

"So, John," Mycroft said, pressing a cup of black coffee into John's hand. "How are you?"

"Mmm? Fine," John said, taking a sip. Mycroft continued to watch him, so John sighed and put his coffee down. "Well. A bit less than fine, honestly. Do you happen to know any divorce solicitors?"

Mycroft's face flickered for a moment, and John thought it looked like genuine grief. "I'm so sorry."

John waved a hand. "It's fine. Well, no," he corrected, picking up his coffee again. "It's not fine, but we'll manage. Just a bit awkward right now. We'll get through it." He turned the coffee around in his hands. He'd expected something darker from a Holmes-family coffee pot, but this was surprisingly uncomplicated coffee.

Mycroft was still watching him. He must be a bloody party to have meetings with, John could just imagine getting stared at while giving a report or something. "John," he said, with an artificial air of calmness. "If there is anything I can do that would be…of assistance, please. Do not hesitate to ask."

John snorted. "It's a good thing I've spent so much time with Holmeses," he said. "Otherwise I'm pretty sure I'd accidentally agree to you having my wife assassinated, or getting arrested for child endangerment right before our divorce hearing or something."

"Your ex-wife," Mycroft said.

"Not quite yet," John said. "How has he been?"

Mycroft sighed, actually sighed, which sounded pretty apocalyptic to John's ears. "He had been at something of a loose end for a while before the…most recent incident. However, whatever occurred either at your house or at Miss Hooper's apartment appears to have made him reconsider his behavior quite seriously."

"It bloody should," John said, taking another sip of the coffee.

"If I may ask," Mycroft said, examining John more closely.

John lifted an eyebrow at him. "He came to my house high, and now I'm getting divorced. Do you really need the details?"

"I see," Mycroft said.

"Yeah," John said. "Look, I'd better head up and check on them. The civet skeleton should be fine, but let's hope he hasn't gotten out any dissection supplies, yeah?"

"Of course," Mycroft said. "They are likely in his study. Second door on the right."

Of course Sherlock had his own study. John climbed the stairs and followed the sounds of Naz's voice, muted through the walls, to a half-open door. Sherlock was explaining how partially digested coffee beans, eaten and then excreted by some type of civet from Indonesia, make a particularly rare and prized coffee. "That's gross," Naz said, slightly awed. John agreed, and hoped to god that wasn't what he'd just been drinking. He stopped, just outside the door, to listen to them.

"Mr. Holmes," Naz said, "why doesn't my mum like you?"

There was a brief pause, during which time John was prepared to jump into the room and change the subject. "What makes you think she doesn't like me?" he asked eventually, which was at least a bit of a relief.

"I said something about asking you to make me an origami Oshawott when she was reading to me yesterday and she made a face."

"Ah. What is an Oshawott?"

"It's a Pokemon. Why did my mum make that face?"

John could hear Sherlock fidgeting, and reached out to touch the door handle. "I came over the other night," Sherlock said quietly, "and said some things I should not have. I believe your mother is angry with me as a result of that."

"Oh," Naz said. "Did you throw a tantrum?"

"Yes," Sherlock said.

"When I throw a tantrum, Mum makes me sit in time out," Naz said, "and then I have to say sorry and try again calmer. Maybe you should do that. You're pretty big to throw tantrums."

"I suppose so," Sherlock said. "I'm working on it."

John closed his eyes and caught his breath. Once his heart was beating slowly again, he pushed the door open. Naz looked up from where he was drawing a fairly abstract representation of the civet whose skeleton, mounted on a board, was on the floor with him and Sherlock. He had a book with animal pictures in it alongside him, which John supposed Sherlock was using to illustrate his lecture. "Dad, look at how many bones are in his tail!"

"That's very interesting," John said. Sherlock was lying on his stomach, watching both of them with his hands folded under his chin. John sat down between them, and cupped Naz's head in his hand. Sherlock twitched as if to move off the rug, but John lay his other hand across Sherlock's shoulder blade. He tensed, momentarily, and then relaxed into the touch.

They talked about civets, and other small carnivores, and compared them to Pokemon, which John was desperately hoping that Naz would forget about once he went back to school full-time instead of the daycare. Christ, he and Mary were eventually going to have to talk about schools. And daycares. And houses, and maybe this is why John had come over here, because all these bloody thoughts kept chasing each other in his head. But in Sherlock's study on a rainy Saturday, there were other things to think about, and he could put it aside, just for a while.

Eventually Naz got tired of talking, and John handed him his phone to play Angry Birds for a while. Naz lay on one of the couches on his stomach, feet in the air, hurling birds at pigs, and John sat by the window, watching Mycroft's garden through the humid haze outside.

"Here," Sherlock said at his shoulder. He turned; Sherlock was holding out a cup of tea to him, on a proper saucer, which John took carefully. Sherlock cleared his throat. "I wasn't sure if you let Naz have tea yet, so I brought him a glass of milk."

John smiled and lifted the teacup. "That's fine. Thank you."

Sherlock set his cup and saucer down on the windowsill. "Um. About the other night. I want--" John shook his head sharply. Sherlock blinked at that, and then looked away. "I see."

Oh, Christ. "No," John said, reaching out and touching Sherlock's hand lightly. When Sherlock looked back at him, startled, John nodded towards Naz on the couch. He wasn't having this conversation in the same room as his son, not about Sherlock the other night, and not about him and Mary.

"Oh," Sherlock said, following John's glance and nodding. "Um. Here." He walked over to a door John hadn't really thought about (he would have guessed it was a closet), and opened it; on the other side was another room. He picked up both of their teacups and followed Sherlock into what turned out to be a bedroom. Although the furniture and permanent decor made it clear that it had been furnished by Mycroft, the air of the room was decidedly Sherlockian; the heavy, four-poster bed had a neatly organized stack of books in place of one of the pillows, the mirror of the vanity next to the wardrobe was covered in post-it notes, and the desk by the window was half-buried under notebooks, newspapers, and what looked like several dismantled stuffed animals.

When Sherlock pushed the door halfway shut and turned to look at John, John smiled and held out his teacup to him. "What were you saying?"

Sherlock stuck his hands in the pockets of his dressing gown and rocked on the balls of his feet. "I wanted to apologize," he said, stiffly.

"Yes, you should," John said, and put down Sherlock's cup on the small night table next to the bed. There wasn't anywhere in the room that was well set up for two people to sit and talk, so he set his next to it and perched on the edge of Sherlock's bed. "What, precisely, are you apologizing for?"

Sherlock grimaced. "Can it just." He flapped a hand in front of him. "Serve as a gestalt apology?"

"Nope," John said, picking up his tea. "Details, please."

With a dramatic groaning noise, Sherlock crossed the room. He hesitated next to the bed--maybe John should stand up, it was a bit rude to sit on someone's bed without permission--but then sat, hands on the edge of the bed, fingers fidgeting the duvet. "I apologize for coming to your house intoxicated again. I realize that you did not actually ask me not to, but it was an easy enough deduction that it would be disruptive."

"I'm more concerned that you used again then that you came to my house," John said. "If you felt like apologizing for that, I'd be quite pleased."

Sherlock's attempts at normal body language were gradually failing, and he curled his knees up under his chin. "It was a--a moment of weakness. I thought I'd been holding the impulse at bay better. You can be assured that I had no intention of doing it until shortly before I did. In any case." He huffed out a breath. "In any case. I recognize that the consequences are--that it is not an error I can make again."

John blinked at that. "Consequences?"

Sherlock glanced over at John, a flickering, scared glance, and then fixed his eyes on the wall across from them. "I didn't expect you to speak to me again after I left."

John's hand was halfway to Sherlock before he realized he was doing it. He curled it around the warm nape of his neck, squeezed gently. "Sherlock," he said quietly. "Yes, it was a colossal fuck up, but I'm not going to stop talking to you--to stop caring about you--because you fucked up. I mean, don't misunderstand, if you've resolved you're not going to use again, then I'm ecstatic, but that's not the point." Sherlock sighed, letting his neck bow under the weight of John's hand. John stroked his thumb into the soft skin under Sherlock's ear. "So. About what you said to Mary."

Sherlock groaned loudly and dropped his forehead to rest on his knees. "This is why I was hoping to avoid the details," he said, muffled by his pyjamas. "Could we possibly return to discussing my substance abuse issues? It would be much preferred."

"You're such a cock," John said, trying not to sound too amused.

"Fine," Sherlock said, still through his knees. "I apologize for making uncalled for and exceedingly inappropriate deductions at your wife."

"Yeah," John said. "You'd been sitting on all that, hadn't you?"

There was a pause; Sherlock must be considering his answer. "Not consciously," he said.

John sighed. "Right." He pulled his hand away to pick up his tea, but found that it was shaking, just barely; he set it down in his lap. "We talked that night, after you'd left and I'd--after I'd calmed down a bit." He heard Sherlock's face turn, but now it was his turn to not make eye contact. "And, well. She told me she'd been to see a solicitor."

Sherlock didn't move beside him. "And what are her conditions?"

"What?" John turned to look at him. Sherlock was watching him closely, very clearly steeling himself for something. "Conditions? There aren't any. We're divorcing."

Sherlock blinked at him, and then lifted his head. "No, John, that's not--she's perfectly willing to negotiate, I'm certain that you two can find a--"

John shook his head, and Sherlock stopped talking. "Look, it's--I appreciate the confidence. But that's not what's happening. It's--" He sighed. "There isn't a solution," he said quietly. "Better to do it now than to struggle through another six months of trying to find some way to keep it together just to have it collapse in the end. Spare ourselves the trouble." Sherlock was still blinking. John sighed. "That's why you thought I wouldn't speak with you. You thought that would be one of her conditions."

"It seemed logical."

"I suppose so," John said, because yes, it did, until you took into account, well, everything.

They were quiet for a long moment. "I'm sorry," Sherlock said, eventually.

"Not your fault."

"It is, a little."

"Well, yes, a little." John laughed to himself, felt Sherlock's amused huff next to him. "Look, just--if you could apologize to her, too, that would be good."

"Why should I apologize to her?" Sherlock said.

John knew it wasn't because he didn't understand that he'd done something he shouldn't, but that he didn't understand the purpose of it. "Because I'd like it if our custody negotiations didn't revolve entirely around whether or not you're allowed to be in Naz's presence, so if she's a bit more kindly disposed to you it would be helpful."

Sherlock startled. "Custody? You think she would try to take Nazir away from you?"

"No," John said, because he didn't think that she would, and because, when he'd privately, bitterly considered it, he'd consoled himself that he'd been Naz's primary caregiver since Mary went back to work when he was six months old, so it would take something bloody extreme to have a judge rule against shared custody. Not that he'd tell Sherlock that, because Sherlock didn't understand the difference between thinking through a worst-case scenario and actually thinking it was true. "But we have to work things out. How we'll split our time with him. What we do about holidays. Where we live." He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "It's going to be a bloody mess, and the more civil we can be about it, and the less drama we can bring into the situation, the better it'll go. So, please, could you apologize to my wife, for my sake."

Sherlock nodded. "I'll write a note."

"Thank you," John said. "I'll go check on Naz."

When Mycroft's car drove them back to Lewisham that afternoon, Naz dozing on John's elbow in the quiet, John had an envelope tucked in his breast pocket of his jacket, Mary written across it in a steady hand. At home, he watched Mary struggle to keep her face neutral when he said where they'd been, and as Naz detailed the brilliance of the civet and the different types of gravel in Mycroft's garden and how they'd had shortbread fingers to eat, and appreciated it, but, as soon as she came down from putting Naz to bed, he went to his jacket and got it for her. "Here," he said. "This is from Sherlock."

She examined the envelope. "What is it?

"Should be an apology," he said. She lifted an eyebrow at him. He shrugged, and went into the kitchen to clean.

When he came out twenty minutes later, she was sitting on the couch, turning pages of cream notepaper over in her hands. "Is it rubbish?" he asked. "I didn't read it before he put it in the envelope. If he's bollocksed it up, then I can--"

She shook her head. "No, it's not rubbish. It's--" She grimaced, in a way that looked more confused than anything, turned to a new page of it, and read aloud. "'John asked me to apologize to you for his sake, which I would do, but I fully admit I am apologizing as much for mine, because, while I realize I have caused your family trouble over these months since I have returned to life, please know also that it has been with John and Nazir that I have been most glad I returned at all.'" She pursed her lips, turned the page again. "'I will do my best in the future to, at minimum, not cause you more problems, as far as I can; and if there are things I can do that would be of assistance to you, please know that you may ask me for them at any time.'" Sighing, she put the paper down. "Does he always write like a bloody Victorian maiden aunt?"

John barked out a laugh. "Not usually. I think he's trying to impress you."

She tucked the pages back into their envelope. "Well, at least he's doing the right thing while being extremely weird at the moment."

"That's pretty much the best case scenario for Sherlock," John agreed.

"I'm learning that," Mary said, and gave him a smile that tried for more warmth than she could muster.

Chapter Text

"You're in a miserable mood today," Mary said, as she sat at the dining table going through paperwork.

"Sorry," John said, trying to sound less disgruntled than he guessed he was sounding, scrolling through the guide on the telly in search of something mindnumbing.  "It's fine."

Mary huffed, in what sounded like a mix of amusement and frustration.  "Let me try that again.  John, what are you in such a cranky mood about?"

He hadn't really wanted to talk about it, but apparently he didn't get that choice.  He dropped the remote and leaned his head back against his chair.  "I went to see the solicitor today. The one Bill recommended."

"Oh," Mary said.  "And? How did it go?"

He made a frustrated noise. "Horrible.  Is yours taking new clients?"

"Pretty sure it's unethical for the same solicitor to represent both parties to a divorce," she said.  He heard her put her pen down.  "What was so awful about it?

John rolled his neck so he could look at her, head propped on her hand, watching him steadily.  "Everything.  First he spent twenty minutes trying to convince me to counter file, which I told him was not happening but he didn't seem to believe me.  And then he just kept going on about how much money I should ask for, which, again, I kept saying I didn't care about."  He made a face. "I said I just wanted to split what we have and be done with it, but it was like he had earplugs in."

"You do realize I made twice what you did last year, right? And I'm not doing the maths that closely, but I think it'll be closer to three times this year."

Yes, thank you, he really needed his economic incompetence pointed out to him right now.  "I have my pension, and the income from work isn't bad.  It's enough, I don't need a bloody handout."

She rolled her eyes at him.  "Your stupid pride.  Did it occur to you that I might like it if Naz wasn't living in a hovel when he's with you? Or that I'd prefer we live in the same postcode to make it easier for him?"

John rolled his neck back up to look at the ceiling again and groaned.  "I see your point.  Just, I don't know."  He looked back over at her.  "Does it have to be a fight? Can't we just...talk about it? Like sane, rational adults who don't hate each other?"  Because I don't hate you, he wanted to say.  I might not be properly in love with you anymore, but I don't hate you, and I don't think you hate me.  In fact, I think we're getting divorced before we hate each other, which is a pretty excellent idea, all told.

Her eyes got soft, and she sighed.  "My solicitor's office has a preferred mediation firm.  I'll call and see if we can meet with them."

"Thank you," he said, in frustrated relief.

"You still need your own solicitor," she said, picking up her pen again and returning to work. "I'm not budging on that."

"Hmf, fine," John said grumpily, and picked up the remote again.

***

John stood outside the school, checking his email for the tenth time this hour--where the hell was that email from GSK?--and trying to avoid polite conversation with the mums and nannies also waiting to pick up kids.  He and Mary had come together to drop off this morning; Naz had been clingy since they'd explained the divorce to him, wanting both of them at bedtime, them to sit on either side of him at the couch, generally wanting to be in touching distance of both of them simultaneously.  But Mary couldn't arrive late and leave early on the same day, so it was just him now, and he really didn't want to have meaningless chat about how his summer went with boring women.

Naz emerged with his teacher, and ran across the yard to grab John around the waist. "Hello there," John said, running his fingers through Naz's sweaty hair. "It was good then?"

"It was okay," Naz said. "Is Mum here?"

"No, she's at work, remember?" John patted his back. "C'mon, you want to go to the playground?"

"I guess," Naz said.

John was peppering him with questions, to which he was only getting vague yes or no answers, as they got to the corner where they'd usually turn left to head home, or right to the park. He was going to ask Naz whether he wanted to just go home, when Naz nudged him. "Dad, look."

Standing just back from the corner was Sherlock, wearing a suit with all three buttons fastened, holding an ice cream cone in each hand. "Ah, there you are," he said. "I was beginning to worry about melting." He held them out, the pink one to Naz and the brown one to John.

"Thank you," Naz said, taking his. "How did you know I like strawberry?"

"Obvious," Sherlock said distractedly. His attention was on his hands, which had trails of melted ice cream on them. He moved them like he wanted to reach into his pocket (probably for a handkerchief or something), but then realized that he would inevitably get ice cream on his suit if he did.

Clearly the solution of licking his hands first was not going to occur to him, so John pulled the extra napkins he'd stuffed into his pocket when he bought his afternoon coffee out and handed them over. "Did you already eat yours?"

Sherlock wiped his hands with a look of relief on his face, then folded the dirty napkins and tucked them in his trouser pocket. "My what?"

"Your ice cream," John said, taking a bite of his. "This is delicious, what is this?"

"Pistachio. No, I--I didn't get myself one," Sherlock said.

"That's not pistachio. Pistachio is green," Naz said, with his mouth full of ice cream.

"Don't talk with your mouth full," John said to Naz, and then, to Sherlock, "Look, you can have half of mine," holding out the cone.

"While the nut of the pistacia vera is green in hue, pistachio ice cream is usually artificially colored," Sherlock said. "John, it's your ice cream."

"And it's a lovely gesture, now shut up and have some," John said, holding it out further.

Sherlock sighed and took the cone. "Are we going to the park?"

John looked down at Naz. "What do you say?"

Naz, whose mouth was full of ice cream, just nodded.

They walked down the street towards it, with Naz focused on his cone and Sherlock and John passing theirs back and forth contentedly. "It is rather good," Sherlock admitted. Their bench was empty, and Naz slipped onto it with them, crunching along at the remains of his cone. Sherlock examined him. "Why don't you like your new teacher?" he asked.

Naz looked up and considered this. "I like Ms. Clarke fine. But Jessica Patel is at my table and I don't like her, and Billy McLaughlin is in my class too."

"Hmm," Sherlock said. "Can you avoid them?"

"Or learn to work with them?" John added, because Sherlock giving social advice to a six-year-old was bound to end in disaster.

"I guess," Naz said, licking his palms.

"It may be difficult," Sherlock said. "But should any real problems arrive, I am sure your parents will be able to assist you in having them addressed."

"I know," Naz said, rolling his eyes.

John felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. "Damn, that's the email," he said, and passed the last bit of the cone to Sherlock. "Finish that, will you? Sorry, I need to respond to this." He pulled out his phone, and started reading the comments--this was all ridiculous, and there was no reason it should be so last minute, but they were stuck and he was stuck, so he scanned through to see what needed to be done.

"Mr. Holmes? Did you know my mum and dad are getting a divorce?" Naz asked.

John paused in his typing, and then realized that Naz might have been waiting for him to be distracted, so kept going while listening.

Sherlock cleared his throat. "Yes, I did. Your father told me."

Naz seemed to think about this; John wished he could sneak a glance over, but Naz was on the other side of Sherlock, and all he could see were his wiggling feet. "Do you know anybody else who has a divorce?"

"Yes," Sherlock said. "A great many people, actually. It seems to be the case that often people are happier after their divorces than they were before them, even though the process is unpleasant."

"What about their kids?" Naz asked, and John held onto his phone tighter to stop himself from dropping it.

Sherlock leaned back on the bench and ate the last bite of his ice cream while he thought about this. "I have a…a friend," he said. "He used to be a policeman I worked with. His name is George, and--"

"Greg," John interrupted.

"What?"

"Greg, Lestrade's name is Greg, not George," John said, distracted for a moment by a bit of bullshit appearing in the email.

"I called him George yesterday, when I saw him at Mycroft's office," Sherlock said.

"Yeah, well, I think he's used to it by now. Never mind." John pretended to be very focused on his phone.

Sherlock cleared his throat. "My friend, Greg, apparently, has three children with his ex-wife. Before his divorce, he would complain that he never got to see them, because of his work schedule. After, he seemed always to have stories about things he had done with them, things they had enjoyed. I think it was easier for him to make time for his children when he was not having to deal with the dynamics of his marriage at the same time." He leaned forward and turned his body so he was facing Naz. John almost felt a bit left out, but it was probably for the best, in the end. "I know that both of your parents love you very much. They are also both uncommonly practical and capable of dealing with complex situations with grace and restraint. Therefore, I see no reason why you should anticipate their divorce having serious ill effects on you. Things will change, but I do not think it will be terrible."

"I'm not sure," Naz said.

"Of course you aren't," Sherlock said. "That's because it hasn't happened yet. One is never sure of something before it happens."

"Yeah," Naz said. After a moment, he said, "Dad, can I go on the climbing gym?"

"Sure you can," John said, swallowing to keep his voice from sounding too thick.

"Okay," Naz said, and hopped up and started running across the grass.

John stared at the back of Sherlock's neck, still slightly bent from talking to Naz, and was struck, suddenly, by the desire to lean over and rest his weight against Sherlock, just have a moment where he gave in to everything. But he didn't know what Sherlock would do if he did that, so he just took a deep breath. "Thank you for that," he said quietly.

Sherlock turned slowly back to face forward. John could tell he was having a hard time keeping his body language normal, and slid a little closer, so that their knees touched. Sherlock leaned into it, just barely. "I hope it was--appropriate."

"Yeah, it was," John said. "And kind, too." Sherlock rolled his eyes at that, which made John smile.

After a moment, Sherlock said, "So you told him, then."

John sighed. "We had to, really--we were starting the mediation process, which meant at some point the mediator is going to have to talk to him. But I think he knew something was up for a while. I mean, we may be the world's most civilized divorcing couple, but it's, you know. Tense."

"Mmm," Sherlock said. "Mediation. Is it…" He waved vaguely. "Fine?"

"I guess," John said, watching Naz climb. "We keep getting stuck on things. Whether I've still got him after school and how that relates to where he sleeps at night. Whether we're selling the house. What constraints we're going to set on where we'll live. It's a fucking mess, honestly. Part of me wants to say, can we not bother and keep living together but--" He blew out a breath. "Honestly, that's not really working very well at the moment, so. We should bite the bullet, I know that. Maybe I should just move out." He glanced over at Sherlock and smirked. "Does Mycroft have any other spare bedrooms?"

Sherlock smirked back. "You'd hate it there. He doesn't like that I don't wear shoes to breakfast."

John laughed. "How were you two raised in the same house?"

"I have no idea," Sherlock said.

John turned back to looking for Naz, feeling the weight of Sherlock's gaze on him. "It'll be fine," he said.

"Mmm," Sherlock said, and stayed quiet.

***

John stared into the refrigerator without really knowing what he was looking for. Probably, on some level, a beer, but that was a bad idea, and so was the whisky above the sink. Maybe there was ice cream. This morning's mediation session had been…he didn't know what it had been. Not good. The mediator had brought out a proposed custody plan, with John picking up Naz at school Monday afternoon and keeping him until Thursday evening, when Mary would pick him up, handle school on Friday, have him for the weekend, and drop him off at school on Monday. John thought it wasn't practical. "You normally can't get out of the office before five on a Friday. I can pick him up, take him to you when you're home."

"I can schedule it," Mary said, looking doubtful. "I'm more worried that you won't get weekends with him. Maybe we could switch it up some weeks?"

"But then what would you do for pick-ups?" John said. "Look, I mean, I don't mind taking him after school, it's not--"

"But that's not fair to you," she started.

"I don't care about fair," he said, and then realized that he had almost shouted it. The mediator and Mary stared at him, a bit taken aback. He clenched his eyes. Dammit, he worked so hard on making sure his temper was reined in; he hated that this process, the endless nitpicking of what his life was going to become, was drawing it out of him. "Sorry," he said. "Look, it's--I just don't think this would work. And, yeah, weekends being split would. You know. We should figure out a way to do that some."

"Why don't I try to come up with some alternatives," the mediator said, with an air of calmness that sounded like every therapist he'd ever talked to, everyone who'd ever tried to fix his life for him. "And John, I think you need to ask yourself what your optimal outcome is, what it is that you want."

"What I want," he said, "is to be done with this." And Mary pressed her lips together and the mediator looked at him with a faint air of disappointment, and he'd had to get out of there before he lost his shit entirely.

He pulled the pint of ice cream out of the freezer. He opened the cabinet with the bowls, but then decided fuck it, and got himself a spoon.

Mary was sitting on the couch under an afghan, reading a dogeared copy of a Terry Pratchett novel, and looked up when he came in. "Did you bring two spoons?"

"Get your own," he said through a mouthful of chocolate brownie something.

"Do we have any biscuits?"

"Your mother's," he said, looking for the remote.

Mary groaned. "That's worse than not having biscuits."

"We should throw them out."

"She'll know. Ugh." Wrapping the blanket around her, Mary stood and shuffled over to the other chair next to him. "Give."

He passed her the carton and spoon. They sat there, quietly, for a minute, while she dug out a piece of frozen brownie and he tried to decide if he had the energy to turn on the telly.

The peace was broken by a familiar scratching at the door.

"You're kidding," Mary said, licking the spoon. John just groaned.

The handle opened, and Sherlock stepped in. "That was easier than I remembered," he said, looking down at it.

"Nope," John said.

Sherlock looked up. "I do realize the last time I actually did it I was impaired but--"

"Nope," John said, standing from his chair. "No more breaking in the back door. It's a new rule."

"What?" Sherlock said.

John walked over to Sherlock and grabbed him by arm. A bit more firmly than he needed to.

"Ouch!" Sherlock snapped. "John, what are you--" John started walking towards the front hall. Sherlock, towed by the arm, followed him. "John, whatever point you think you are making, it would be better served by--"

John opened the front door. He pulled Sherlock from behind him to in front of him and gave him a shove until he was standing on the front step. Leaning forward, John pointed to the doorbell, sitting tidily next to the mailbox. "That's a doorbell. You're a bright one. Figure it out." And he slammed the door.

"John, you're being ridiculous," Sherlock shouted through the door.

John, very calmly, walked back to the living room and sat down. "Ice cream?"

"This is incredibly childish," Sherlock shouted.

"You're mad," Mary said, sounding a little impressed as she passed over the pint.

"Yeah, pretty much," John said, digging in the ice cream.

"Fine. This is petty,John, honestly," Sherlock shouted, and then, after a pause that likely contained fuming, the doorbell rang.

"Wonder who that could be," John said with a straight face, and handed Mary back the ice cream. She made an unladylike snorting noise.

When he opened the door, Sherlock had his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed. "Sherlock, how lovely of you to drop by," he said with a smile.

"I've half a mind not to solve your problem for you now," Sherlock said.

"Won't you come in," John said.

With a grunt, Sherlock stalked through to the living room. He paced while John came out and settled into his chair. Mary passed the ice cream back, watching Sherlock carefully. Once they were both settled, Sherlock turned around and put his hands on his hips. "Look. I've solved your problem."

"Yeah, you said that," John said. "What problem is that?"

"The divorce problem," Sherlock said, with an extravagant hand gesture.

John sighed and stuck the spoon into the ice cream so it stood up. "Sherlock, I appreciate that you want to help, but it's not something you can fix. It's just going to take us…figuring things out"

"Ah, yes," Sherlock said. "That's where you're wrong."

"Oh, now you're the mad one," Mary said, pulling the ice cream out of John's hands.

"Yes, but that's immaterial," Sherlock said. "Look. The problem is not that you are divorcing, or your unresolved and complicated feelings towards each other. You are both mature and generally caring individuals, and you do not, in fact, wish to punish each other. Your problem is that you are having difficulty resolving the practical matters of the divorce, which is causing friction between you, exacerbating the general tensions involved in this transition. If those problems are resolved, you will be able to carry on the process of dealing with your…" He made a gesture again to encompass them sitting there with the ice cream. "Anyway. I've solved it for you." He reached into his jacket and pulled a long envelope out of his pocket. "Here," he said, and held it out to John.

John sighed and took it. Knowing Sherlock--and knowing Mycroft, and considering that Mycroft would probably do whatever Sherlock wanted to keep him sober and sane-ish right now, literally anything could be in this envelope. He hoped they hadn't actually been granted the decree absolute without a hearing, that would be messy to fix. He was actually a little relieved when he opened it and saw there was a title register inside. "Sherlock, you can't just buy me a house. That doesn't actually--"

And then he stopped. Because the address of the property was written on the top.

He licked his lips. "Sherlock," he said, carefully. "Why am I holding the title to Baker Street?"

"What?" Mary said, putting the now-empty ice cream carton on the floor.

"221 Baker Street. Mrs. Hudson's house. It's where we lived," John said, gesturing to him and Sherlock, "before. Do you remember it?"

"I think so," she said. "She had the ground floor flat with the wallpaper, yeah?"

John turned back to Sherlock, who was standing with his hands clasped behind his back. "Sherlock, how did you--how did you do this?"

"Simple enough," Sherlock said, and started pacing again. "I died intestate, meaning that Mycroft, as my only living relative, inherited my worldly possessions. Mrs. Hudson had left me 221 in her will, never changed it after I died. Therefore, upon her death, Mycroft became its owner. Out of sentiment, he did not sell it. Out of practicality, he has been renting its flats, only lightly altered from our time there, as some kind of executive suites short-term…thing. Apparently terribly profitable. The last of the tenants leaves at the end of September. It's possible you'll want to do some remodeling, but the basic structures are all in good repair." He stopped pacing, and stood up straight. "So. Problem solved."

John looked over at the register, which Mary was reading. "It's not…" He didn't know what to say. The idea of living at Baker Street again--god, he could barely imagine it, but suddenly he wanted to, with every fibre of his being. "The distance," he said, glancing between them. "It's, what, forty-five minutes between here and there? We were talking about staying walking distance. I don't know if--"

"I'm on the title," Mary said, sounding a bit confused about it.

"What?"

"He didn't give you a house," Mary said, handing it back over. "He gave us a house." And, yes, there it was, John H. Watson and Maryam Murstani, equal co-owners of 221 Baker Street.

"Yes, of course," Sherlock said. "It's easy, you see. The house is already divided into flats. Mary, you can take A, the ground floor, and John, you'll have B. The second floor bedroom is accessible by the central staircase, not directly from B, so Nazir can be put there, and he'll be equally accessible to either of you. You can share parenting duties between you as you see fit, and Nazir will not need to change physical location, but you will each have your own separate living spaces."

John stared at Sherlock, unable to formulate words. He could see it, suddenly--opening the front door with Naz after school, having him run up and down the stairs between his place and Mary's, cooking dinner for the two of them--or, hell, Mary could come to dinner if she liked--in the kitchen with the green glass walls, of being back home for the first time in a long time. And that surprised him, that it was still home to him, but it was, and he longed for it. He turned to Mary. "It could…it could work. It's a nice house, really, lovely. There's a little garden, even, nice for the area."

She was watching him carefully, and he saw the edge of interest. "That's, what, NW1? I like the school he'd be placed into. And it would be bloody convenient for commuting."

"We should," John said, and cleared his throat. "We should go see it, so you can--so we both can--"

"Yeah," she said. "Soon. Maybe--my mum could take Naz on Saturday, and--"

"Yes," John said. "Yes, let's--that. It might--"

"Yes," she said, and smiled. "Okay."

John turned back to Sherlock, who was still watching them, just the hint of anxiety around his edges. "Sherlock, this is. I mean. This is the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me."

And Sherlock smiled at that, smiled wider and happier than John had seen him since he'd first seen him in the facility these months ago. "Well," he said, and clapped his hands. "Excellent. Do you have any biscuits?" And he headed for the kitchen.

"Uh, check the cabinet," John said, distracted. He looked over at Mary. "You're okay with this?"

"It's definitely worth looking into," she said, taking the register back.

"And you don't mind that it's from--" John gestured towards the kitchen, where Sherlock was noisily rumbling through the cabinets.

"I'm not going to turn down a promising idea because of where it came from," she said, tapping the envelope against the arm of the chair. She looked up to catch his eyes and smirked a bit. "I reserve the right to veto whether he gets a key to the house."

"I don't need a key," Sherlock said as he came back into the living room, carrying the tupperware of ma'amoul. "There's a fire escape directly into John's kitchen." He flopped gracelessly down onto the couch, opened the container, and pulled one out. "What's on the telly?" he asked conversationally, and took a bite. Then he recoiled in overdramatic horror. "These are horrible," he said, through a mouthful of overly dry biscuit. "Where did you get these?"

"My mum made them," Mary said, slightly defensively.

"Does your mother know she can't bake?" Sherlock said, taking another bite.

"The rest of us do," John said, picking up the remote.

Mary smacked him on the arm. He turned on the telly.

Chapter Text

"You're looking well."

John startled at the voice from somewhere behind him and banged his head on the underside of the sink. "Bloody--"  Grabbing the spare sponges, which was what he'd been looking for, he manoeuvered himself back out of the cabinet and turned around.  Janine was leaning in the doorway of the kitchen, arms folded.  "Janine, hullo. Didn't hear you come in.  Is Mary--"

"She's getting her case," Janine said, examining him as he carried the sponges over to the stove, which he was halfway through scrubbing.  After suffering through trying to keep the house clean enough to show while living in it with a child, they'd decided it was a lost cause; Mary would take Naz out of town for a long weekend, and John would himself scarce so the estate agent could do her job unimpeded by errant Legos.  In the end, Mary had decided to bring Janine along for extra hands, and they'd booked themselves a weekend of running themselves ragged in Cardiff.

"Right," John said, spraying a new layer of whatever the fuck chemical he was using to un-disgusting the stove over the worst bits.  "Thanks for going.  Naz is really a two person job most days."  He unwrapped a new sponge and started scrubbing.

"Mmm," she said.  He could feel her watching him, but he had no idea what she wanted, so kept at the stains.  What the fuck even turned a range purple?  Finally, Janine spoke again. "You seem to be taking this all in stride, lately."

He paused at that, and threw a quick glance at her over his shoulder, just enough to confirm that, no, this wasn't an inquiry into his wellbeing, but a jab at it.  He turned back to the stove.  "Doing the best I can.  It's not an easy situation."

"Easy enough for you," she said. "You didn't have to do a thing, did you? Or you didn't want to."

He felt his hand clench around the sponge, and hoped he wasn't grinding his teeth visibly.  "Is there something you want to say?"

"Yeah," she said.  "Are you fucking him?"

"What?" He snapped, and turned to face her.  She was watching him sharply, her face set.  "Why the hell would you ask me that?"

"It's a simple question."

"No," he said, "for christsake, I'm--" I'm still married, he almost said, which--which wasn't what he thought he was going to say. I mean, there must be any number of good reasons he wasn't sleeping with Sherlock, the fact that he was still married should be fairly far down the list, but. Apparently not. He filed that away for later, because right now he was fighting with someone who looked at him like something nasty she'd stepped in.  "Of course I'm not. Why would you ask me that?"

"I'm trying to understand," she said, nonchalantly.  "Because Sherlock Holmes walks back into your life, and suddenly you can turn your back on your marriage just like that. Whatever he's offering, it must be spectacular."

John saw red.  It took him a good ten seconds to get himself back together, and even then it was an effort to find words.  "You know what? You want to blame me for our marriage falling apart? Fine. Most days I don't half disagree with you.  But if you think I'm the type of man who would break a vow he made, who would walk out on people who he cares about, who he has a responsibility for, then you can fuck right off."

The sound of a suitcase clattering down the stairs interrupted them.  John turned back to the stove, scrubbing harder, trying not to clench his hand around the sponge.  "There," Mary said.  "All set.  I just need to get Naz down now."

"I'll go," Janine said.

"Right," Mary said, and John could tell she was thinking something. Once Janine's footsteps had receded up the stairs, she came to stand next to him.  "Right. What did she say?"

"Nothing," John said with a shrug.  Mary elbowed him.  He glanced up; she was giving him her quit-lying face, the amused one.  He sighed.  "Nothing, really. She was nasty to me on your behalf.  Not a big deal."

Mary sighed. "Sorry about that."

"It's fine," he said again, turning back to the stove.  "Really.  She's just sticking up for you."

"Well, she needs to remember I can stick up for myself," Mary said, and patted him on the shoulder.  "Do you have plans for the weekend?"

He shrugged.  "Catching up on work, probably. Sleeping as late as the estate agent will allow.  Dreadfully boring stuff."

She snorted.  "Enjoy it."  Naz and Janine came down the stairs, and she called out, "Naz, come say goodbye to your dad."

So John dropped the sponge on the stove and went to rinse his hands before he hugged his son.

***

John sprinkled more vinegar on his chips and frowned at the telly up on the wall. Who the hell taught that arsehole number six to hold a ball? Someone coming up to the bar for a pint elbowed him, and he tried to avoid scowling at them too hard. Honestly, he'd been in a shit mood since the argument with Janine earlier, though he hadn't been the world's most cheerful person before, what with the chaos of getting Mary and Naz out of the house and the endless tedium of cleaning and prepping the house for the estate agent. He'd managed to get some work done for the first hour that the agent had asked him to be out of the house, sitting in a café and making himself write, but after that he'd given in to his mood and found a pub where he could drink acceptable beer, eat terrible chips, and watch rugby until he was allowed back into his house.

He wished he could convince himself that Janine was irrational about this, or that she'd always hated him, or something to make himself feel less awful about it. They'd never been close--she'd known Mary since they were both just girls and he always understood he was a third wheel around them--but they'd gotten on just fine, really, over time. And it made sense that, when the chips were down, so to speak, she'd blame him for the divorce. After all, he was sure she'd known about it before he did. But still. He just couldn't stand the implication that what he had done was abandon his marriage. He'd done his best to keep the balls in the air, and he'd dropped them, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

And then the bloody implications--it's not like they're new, that people thinks he and Sherlock were like that, but to say it so casually, so scathingly. As if he and Sherlock were a dirty secret. As if there was something shameful about how they were. When it's just--he didn't know. He examined his empty pint and decided that another was a terrible idea.

The walk home was chilly and wet, and he found himself going over the fight with Janine as he did it, when all he really wanted was to be done with it in his head. But there wasn't anything else he could have said. Was there? He just hated the idea that his son was spending the weekend with someone who thought so little of him, that there was the possibility that Aunt Janine taking his mum's side would somehow rub off on him, would hurt him. That was probably irrational, but there it was. And who was there to take John's side in all of this?

Pausing to wait for the light, he thought of Naz asking Sherlock, quietly, "Mr. Holmes, did you know my parents are getting a divorce?" Sherlock was so even-handed with him, so calm about it, despite his clear agitation around the divorce when he and John spoke alone. But Naz trusted Sherlock, and Sherlock was on John's side, and, at least, there was that.

Mr. Holmes, he thought, as he got home and tumbled himself in a disorganized path towards bed. It had made sense, back when Sherlock had first cannonballed into their life, to treat him like any adult, and, really, Janine was the only non-blood-relation to go by aunt or anything like that. He couldn't quite picture Sherlock becoming Uncle Sherlock--what a strange image that was--but there was something…distancing, about making him Mr. Holmes, wasn't there? He didn't want distance between Sherlock and his family, in the pieces it was becoming. I mean, he'd given them their house, surely he wasn't an outsider really, was he?

He hadn't seen Sherlock in a week or so, he realized; they'd texted back and forth, Sherlock had monologued at him a few times about minor cases he was investigating, but they hadn't seen each other in a bit. Maybe Sherlock was free tomorrow? He didn't really have much work to do, and it would be…it would be nice to see him. They could get lunch. That was something friends did, he thought.

He fished his phone out of his trouser pocket and checked his messages: three texts from Mary, one letting him know they got there, two photos of Naz running along the waterfront. John texted back to wish them a good time, and climbed into bed. After only a moment's hesitation, he texted Sherlock. You doing anything tomorrow?

He arranged himself under the covers and plugged in the phone. Maybe Sherlock was asleep, but no, his phone vibrated with a return message. Fratricide's always an option, but I haven't officially pencilled it in.

John laughed and turned off the light. What's he done now? Do you want to get lunch?

Existed. Lunch?

Meal, usually served around noon? I can't be in the house for most of the day tomorrow because of showings, and if I try to work the whole time I'll be miserable.

Why would we have lunch?

John laughed again. Because I'd like to see you, you idiot.

There was a long pause before Sherlock replied, and then, There's a Korean place I know.

Text me the address. 12:30, then?

Yes, Sherlock said, and John fell asleep smiling.

***

"This is amazing," John said, putting his chopsticks down. "How do you find these places?"

"There are a wide variety of techniques," Sherlock said, stirring his iced coffee. "There is a trick to analyzing online reviews in order to determine a restaurant's authenticity and--"

"Right, you're full of shit," John said.

Sherlock smiled. "Molly gets takeaway from here. But I would have known anyway."

John laughed and started digging around in his noodles again, in search of things that weren't cabbage. "Have you seen her lately?"

"Last week. She texted me about an unusual tumour."

"How is she?"

Sherlock shrugged. "The coworker she's been having an unsatisfactory casual sexual relationship with was fired for gross malpractice."

John tried not to choke on his water. "Did she tell you that, or did you deduce it?" Sherlock made a half-and-half gesture with his palm. "Right. That's…interesting, I suppose."

"Mmm." Sherlock poked his fried rice with a chopstick. "Is this the purpose of this meal, then?"

John made an interrogative noise around his mouthful of noodles.

Sherlock set down his chopsticks. "To discuss the boring details of mutual acquaintances' lives. Small talk, I believe it's called. Is that why we're having lunch?"

"No," John said, a bit confused. "No, we're just…having lunch."

"I don't understand why," Sherlock said.

And that caught John short, because what he wanted to say was why do we need a reason? But he supposed they did, now. He remembered sitting across from Sherlock at uneven tables in an endless parade of hole in the wall restaurants, remembered the momentum of being-on-a-case and the joy of bouncing that between them. This wasn't that--he was old, now, and Sherlock on a case was less manic energy and more nitpicking and chess-playing--but it was enough like it, this sense of being in the same place with Sherlock, at the same time, in the same groove. "Because I wanted to see you," he said. "Because I like spending time with you. And, yeah, small talk is fine, but just--" He shrugged. "I just wanted to see you."

Sherlock examined him for a long moment, and then turned back to his rice. "That's…good," he said, though he didn't sound quite sure of himself.

John watched Sherlock eat, and then leaned his elbows on the table, arms folded. "Actually, there's also something I wanted to ask you." Sherlock froze for a second and then glanced up, his hands painfully still, so he continued quickly, "Nothing bad. Or terribly serious, I guess. But I was wondering. Would you mind if Naz started calling you Sherlock, instead of Mr. Holmes?"

Sherlock stared at him. For a long minute, his eyes flickering a little like he was trying to scan John's brain. He hadn't gone anywhere (he wondered, now, having seen how Sherlock broke, whether all that time in the Mind Palace had been strictly voluntary) but he wasn't particularly able to communicate with the world. John had another two bites of his noodles and a sip of water, and decided to try to break the silence. "Right, have I crashed your hard drive?"

Sherlock blinked.

John sighed, and reached over, slowly, and ran two fingers across the top of Sherlock's hand where it hovered, holding the chopsticks above his bowl. Sherlock's eyes flickered down to track the touch, and that seemed to unfreeze him. He set the chopsticks down and lay his palms flat on the table. "I don't know what you mean by that," he said. "Obviously, it should be apparent to you that I have no strong opinions about the terms by which children refer to the adults around them, nor do I generally demand any particular form of address from anyone. As long as I understand I am being indicated, I honestly don't care. But clearly this question carries weight for you, and you anticipated it would for me as well, which is why you tried to downplay it, hoping to avoid the problem. So. If you can tell me what it means to you, then I can formulate an appropriate response to the underlying question."

John suppressed the desire to burst out laughing--not, particularly, because Sherlock had said anything funny, but that was such a Sherlock-ish paragraph of speech that he couldn't help the humor that bubbled up out of him. "Right," he said, and he thought Sherlock could see the laugh twitching around his mouth. "The, uh, underlying question is. It's not really a question, I guess, except are you okay with it, which I suppose you just said you were, but, uh." He glanced up at the ceiling and tried to collect his thoughts. "You aren't just anyone, is what I'm saying, in my life--in our lives--and I think--I think it doesn't make sense that he calls you the same thing he calls all the grown-ups in his life. And I don't want him to do it if it bothers you, but if it doesn't, I think it would be good if we, you know. Made that clear." He sighed. "I don't know. I'm realizing that this made a great deal of sense to me when I was walking back from the pub last night but it might be a touch silly upon sober reflection." He picked up his chopsticks again, uncertain whether he should feel like an idiot now or not.

Sherlock blinked again, but didn't go offline. "That is. Um. That's a good…thing. Idea. And. And yes, of course he can call me by my given name. And I am…" He cleared his throat. "Flattered?"

John smiled, and found himself unable to resist a momentary giggle that rose out of him. "Right. I'm making this a bigger deal than it is. But yeah. Let's do that." He shook his head and poked a piece of beef.

"Something brought this on," Sherlock said. John glanced up and saw that Sherlock hadn't stopped watching him. "What was it?"

John tapped his chopsticks against his plate and pushed the beef around some more. "Mary's best friend came over yesterday, when they were leaving for Cardiff. She went with them. Naz calls her Aunt Janine. And I just thought that--" He shrugged. "I thought maybe we should reconsider the status quo."

Sherlock scanned for a moment. "What did Janine do?"

John wanted to brush it off, but Sherlock was trying to stare it out of him, so he sighed. "Told me the divorce was my fault and asked if you and I were fucking." Sherlock blinked, and John supposed he'd never been that forthright about the rumors about them--they'd never discussed it, not openly, not in so many words. "I mean, I told her to fuck off, basically, but it was just--I don't want Naz having his beloved auntie making nasty cracks about his dad, and his grandmother too probably, and nobody who has my back in all of this."

Sherlock broke eye contact and fiddled with his napkin. "If you are looking to stem rumors of a relationship between us, asking your son to start calling me by my given name is not conducive to that."

"Yeah, well, I'm all out of fucks to give about that one, so." He shrugged, feeling the exhausted weight of everything roar around him for a second. "I care more about my actual relationship with you than I do what people think about it, honestly."

Sherlock glanced back up at him, and nodded. "Right," he said. "Yes."

"Good," John said. "That's settled." He cleared his throat. "So, was Molly's tumor actually interesting?"

And Sherlock scanned him one more time, and then straightened his shoulders and picked up the chopsticks. "Barely a five."

Chapter Text

Mary pulled the tape off another packing box and opened the flaps. "Looks like it's your mother's glass shoe collection."

"I should sell that," John said, finishing labeling another box with APT A - PHOTOS.  "But, since there's no way I'm doing that in the next five weeks, basement."

Mary took her marker, wrote APT C - JOHN MEMORABILIA, and reached for the tape gun.  "Right, what's next?"

John finished taping the photos shut and dusted his palms off.  "All that's left is the Christmas ornaments, I think.  We could punt that one until December, I suppose."

"Better to get it over with," Mary said.

"Right," John said, pulling down the first box and ripping off the tape.  He looked at the mass of tissue paper. "Why don't you take what you like, and I'll take the rest?"

Mary settled in to sort them; John left her in the basement and went upstairs to get a drink.  Naz was at his grandparents' house for the day so that Mary and John could actually get some work done on the house;  the Baker Street apartments would be empty in two weeks and the last detail repairs done in four, the movers were scheduled for five weeks from now, and closing on the house was happening in six weeks.  It turned out, unsurprisingly, that gutting a house and dividing all the objects into it into two piles was a miserable, horrible task.  John kept remembering moving out of Baker Street the last time, the wrench of deciding what was his and what wasn't--or else he was remembering moving into this house, setting up Naz's room for the first time, the sense that he was finally settled somewhere, that he would be happy here. He had been happy here.  He knew that. It was just hard to remember right now.  He took another long swallow of water and tried to clear his mind.

The clomp of Mary coming up the stairs, and John turned, poured her a glass of water, which he held out when she came into the kitchen.  She took it and sank down onto the stepstool against the fridge.  "Need more newspaper to wrap the ornaments.  Do you want the glitter starfish Harry sent?"

John shrugged.  "If you want them, might as well take them. It's not like she'll ever come for Christmas."

Mary sighed and took another drink.  He looked at her, wearing yoga leggings and a t-shirt from some training course she'd done in 2007, hair in a messy bun, and thought of how composed she always was in front of others, how long into their relationship it had been before he'd seen her without makeup, before she'd been willing to change clothes in front of him, before she'd switched from matching pajama sets to old t shirts for sleeping.  He'd been worried, at first, that it was because she was vain, that it would mean she'd judge him for being scarred, damaged, past his prime; and she was a bit vain, certainly, but really, it was about being judicious about who she'd show herself to, about who got to see her human and weak.  And he understood that, Christ he did.  And here she was seven years later, on the verge of leaving him, still in the slob wear.  At least she still trusted him that much.

She was critically eying the cabinets now.  It was impossible, at this stage of moving, not to walk through the house mentally sorting its contents into boxes.  "We can pack the good china," she said, thoughtfully.  "Who should get it?"

"You, definitely," he said.  "Don't think I'll be throwing too many ten person dinner parties."

"Ha," she said.  "Yeah, all right. So you'll take the everyday things, then."

He blinked.  "I mean, I don't have to.  You can take--"

"No," she said firmly.  "Fair's fair."

John's never thought this was about fairness, but she seemed to care about it, so he said "Okay," and put his cup in the sink.

"And there's the living room furniture," she said, glancing that direction. "What do you want?"

He shrugged, staring at the familiar slump of the couch, the matched pair of armchairs. "Whatever is fine.  Why don't you--"

"Oh, for christsake, John," Mary snapped.

He startled, and turned back to her.  "I...what? Do...do you want--"

"What I want," she said, "is for you to give literally any indication that you care about any of this."

He blinked.  "I--of course I care, I just--I'm trying to let you--I mean--"

"Because what it feels like," she continued, which was good, because he hadn't had a damn thing to say, really, "is that you care so little about this marriage ending that you are willing to let everything about it go, just like that. Years of things we did together, established together, and you could walk out the door without a single bit of it.  That's what it feels like, John."

He blinked at her a moment, utterly confused.  How could she think that? He was trying to do right by her, to make up for the fact that all this was ending by letting her have what she wanted. "I--"  He swallowed, at a loss.  "I care. Of course I care.  Don't--"  he cleared his throat.  "Don't think that, that I didn't--that I don't."

"Then show me," she said.  "Express an opinion. About literally anything."

He paused and thought for a minute. "I hate the sofa."

"All right," she said, warily.

"And I--I think the book cases should go to you, because I've got the built in ones--"

"John," she said in warning.

"The painting," he said.

"What?"

"The--the blue painting, the one in the front hall."

Her forehead crinkled.  "The one we bought in Belfast?"

He nodded.  "I--I want that one."

"Right," she said, nodding firmly.

"Unless you--"

"Don't ruin it," she said with a twitch of her mouth, half exasperated, half amused.  He shut his mouth.  "Right," she said again.  "If you're taking that painting I want the one over the sofa."

He thought he was catching on.  "That's fair."

"Yes," she said, emphatically.  "It is." She stood up and stretched.  "The armchairs, then?"

***

"Why," Mary said, "are all the books downstairs mine?"

"Mm?" John said from where he was working on a patent filing at the table.

"The books," Mary said, gesturing at the bookshelf she was standing in front of.  She hadn't changed out of her work clothes, so she must not have been planning on any heavy packing tonight, but she'd set down her wine glass and was sizing up the bookshelf.  "They're all mine.  Well," she pulled off three books in a row, "you're taking the camping guides, so I never need to be reminded of the leech incident again, but."

"It's because your books look like their owner is a cultured socially conscious world traveler, and my books look like their owner is a boring doctor who hasn't bought a book since med school unless it's a technical manual or terrible crime fiction," John said, without looking up from the computer.

There was a significant pause.  "I should probably feel bad about that," she said, thoughtfully.

John shrugged.  "I'm pretty sure I was the one who put the books on shelves."

"True enough." She sighed.  "You want to split the travel guides?"

"Sure," he said, saving the file and flipping through the paperwork next to him for the next detail he needed to find.  "I want Dublin."  His phone vibrated, but he kept looking; surely Sherlock could wait five minutes for an answer.

The phone vibrated again. And again.  And again.  "What's wrong with your phone?" Mary asked.

John grumbled and put down his paperwork.  "I'm guessing Sherlock," he said, reaching for it.

"Good or bad?" she said.

He scrolled through his messages.

John.

John.

I can't ring the bell.

I'm in the garden.

I'm not high.

John, please.

Shit.  "Bad," he said. "He's out back."

She glanced towards the doors.  "Oh, I see him.  Pacing."

Pacing could be ok, John thought, but then remembered John please and thought not.  "Right," he said.  "Is it okay if I--" he made a gesture to express the concept let my mad friend into the living room.

"Oh, of course," Mary said, a bit startled, and, well, yes, he's never actually asked before.  "Do you want me to clear out for a bit?"

He stood and rubbed his hand over his face.  "Maybe? But, uh. Stay close?"

"Why?" she asked, picking up her wine.

He shrugged.  "In case I need need a second pair of hands to...I dunno? Call emergency? Clean up broken glass? Change the sheets on the guest bed?"

"That's a wide range of eventualities," she said.

John's phone buzzed in his hand.  "Anything's possible with Sherlock."

"I'm getting that," she said.  "I'll be just in the kitchen then?"

"Thanks," he said, and went over to the doors.  He took a moment to watch Sherlock pace--shoulders hunched, fingers pressed to lips--allowed himself a deep breath, and opened the door.

Sherlock startled hard, like the sound of the door was a distant explosion.  John stepped out into the cool of the early fall night.  "Are you injured?" he said calmly, because what he wanted to ask was are you all right but he could see the answer.

Sherlock stopped pacing and shook his head.  Only his fingers twitched, maintaining the manic energy.

"Right," John said.  "Want to come in?"

Sherlock twitched another moment, nodded his head jerkily, and walked past John into the living room.  There he began pacing again, three steps across to the sofa, spin, three to the bookshelves, spin again.  John watched him do it a few times before he tried to interrupt.  "You're thinking about something, yeah?"

He paused mid twirl.  His fingers twiddled again--Christ, he was the whole bucket of nerves tonight--and then he lifted his hands to his lips.  "John," he said, and it was as much an invocation as the texts had been.  "John.  I need to.  I need to ask you something."

John's hackles all prickled simultaneously.  He hoped like fuck he wasn't about to regret having Mary in hearing distance.  "Yeah, okay."

"I need to know where I was on August the eleventh," Sherlock said without making eye contact.

John startled at that.  "I've no idea," he said before he thought.  Sherlock made a strange frustrated whine and started pacing again.  "No, wait, hold on," he said, catching Sherlock as he paced past, making him stop.  He started to rock slightly on his heels when John let him go, but close enough.  "Right, let me get my phone and we can look--"

"No good," Sherlock said.  Still rocking, still not looking at John, but words fell from his mouth like water.  "No text messages, no emails sent.  Mobile tower records indicate my phone remained in a two kilometer circle that includes Mycroft's house.  My lab notebooks contain no dated entries from a nine day stretch from August seventh to the fifteenth, no notations on weather or news occurrences that allow me to date material from between then.  My computer doesn't save file histories for more than a month.  The Schengen zone means my passport is useless, as are train records.  There's nothing, John."

"Right," John said.  "Ok.  So, sounds like you were at home then, yeah? Just didn't, you know.  Keep a record.  That's fine, that's, you know. Normal.  So tell me what the problem is."

He rocked, twitched, rocked.  "There's a," he said, quietly.  "There's a case."

"Right," John said, smoothing his hand against Sherlock's back softly, trying to gentle him through the thick wool of his coat.  "Tell me about the case, then."

He rocked, twitched. "One of Mycroft's agents, long term, undercover, Belgium, embedded with arms smuggling.  Kitchen knife, four wounds." He lifted one hand, touched his abdomen, his ribs, his cheek, his throat.  "Police arrested his girlfriend, say he was cheating on her, she says she's innocent, Mycroft wants to know if she did it or if the agent was compromised."  Rocked, fingers resting on his throat.

"Okay," John said, trying to figure out which part of this had set him off--this couldn't have been the first nasty death he'd solved since coming back, no, John remembered him talking about fecal cultures on bullet fragments.  "So, did she do it?"

"Circumstantial evidence pointing to her, suggestive cell phone records but unable to trace the mistress, no alibi for girlfriend, weapon of opportunity.  If it's a hit, it's good.  Very good," Sherlock said.  And then he glanced sideways at John, back to the floor.  "I was very good," he said, nearly a whisper, and his voice was different, suddenly, darker, rough.

It hit John like a freight train.  "Sherlock, no," he said, shocked he needed to say it.

"I don't know where I was August the 11th," Sherlock said, rocking, twitching, his eyes unfocused, staring at the carpet.

"You didn't kill him, Sherlock," John said, putting every ounce of assurance he had into it.

"How do you know?" Sherlock shouted, suddenly, snapping around so fast that John was genuinely startled for a second.  So was Sherlock, as if he didn't realize he had said it, and he stood there quivering for a moment before he tucked his head down and took a firm step towards the door.

"No," John said, grabbing him by the arm.  Sherlock reached to push him off, but John grabbed his other shoulder and pushed back. They stumbled together across the room until Sherlock hit the empty wall next to the sofa.  As John's weight pinned him there his knees seemed to fail, and he slid down, John following him, curving a hand behind his neck to hold him in place.  Sherlock sat tucked into a ball, the same way he had on his bed at the facility, and John stroked his neck, pressed their knees together, and leaned over him to rest his forehead on Sherlock's.  "It's all right," John said, quietly, soothingly.  "It's all right.  You're going to stay right here, and I'm going to stay with you, and we're going to figure this out."

Sherlock's fingers clutched and released the fabric of his trousers at his knees.  ""I was very good," he whispered.  "And I worried, because I would forget things, I would come out and I'd be somewhere and.  What if I. I was good. I like being good at things.  So I was."  He swallowed.  "I needed to know I wasn't going to do. That.  Not without a reason.  So I was going to."

And John can't hear Sherlock talk about his plans to put himself down like a rabid dog, so he squeezed his neck.  "It's ok.  You're home now, and you don't have to do that anymore.  You don't have to worry about what you're going to do."

"I forget sometimes," Sherlock said.  "Usually I can recreate what I've done from clues, but it's been too long.  I don't know.  If I."

"It's okay," John said.  He wondered if he could say Mycroft wouldn't give you a case to solve if he thought you did it, but probably not.  "Have you asked Mycroft if he knows where you were?"

Sherlock twitched at that, pressed his head to his knees.  "He'll agree with me. He knows what to do."

And the idea that Mycroft would have Sherlock killed is ludicrous in the specific but plausible in the abstract, so John doesn't argue. "Okay," he said. "Do you have the file?"  Sherlock shook his head.  "Right.  I'm going to call Mycroft and get it, and we'll go through it, yeah."  Sherlock looked doubtful.  "Tell me what's bothering you."

Sherlock hesitated for a long time.  "What will you do if I did it?"

You didn't, John thought, but said, "I'll figure out how to keep you safe then."

"You can't let me hurt people," Sherlock said.

"I won't," John said.  "I'm going to call your brother." Without moving from where he was pressed against Sherlock, he pulled his phone from his pocket and found Mycroft's number.

"John," Mycroft said after two rings. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Sherlock's got a case you gave him. You need to get me a copy of the file, right now."  He played with the curls at the nape of Sherlock's neck, and felt the pressure of him rocking ever so slightly as he sat there.

"My apologies, John, but unfortunately that file contains classified material that I cannot share with--"

"Mycroft," John cut him off.  "Do you trust me to take care of your brother?"

There was a shocked pause.  "Yes."

"Then you need to listen to me.  I need you to get me a copy of that file right now."

After another pause, Mycroft cleared his throat.  "A moment," he said.  And then, "There are two telephones, one laptop, and two tablets connected to the wireless network in your house.  Which is most convenient?"

John glanced around; his tablet was laying on the end table next to them.  "My tablet.  It's the Sony one."

A pause, where John thought he heard typing noises.  "Unlock the tablet, please."

John picked it up and put in the code.  On the first screen was an icon he hadn't seen before.  "The files are contained within the new icon.  They will automatically delete in one hour's time.  Should you need additional time, you must contact me as soon as possible.  Is that sufficient?"

"Yes," John said, staring at the icon and wondering when he moved into a James Bond film.

"And John," Mycroft said.  "Please do not hesitate to contact me if there are concerns I should know about."

Not a chance, John thought.  "Right, thanks," he said, and hung up.

Sherlock was watching him, every inch of his body desperate to twitch away, to vibrate itself into component particles. John arranged himself as comfortably as he could, legs crossed but with his calves resting against Sherlock's.  "Right," he said.  "I'm going to look at the file.  And I'll ask you questions about it, just like I always do.  And we'll solve it.  It's just a case, and we're going to solve it.  Yeah?"

Sherlock pulled his knees in tighter to his chest, but nodded.

John nodded back, and opened the file.  He steeled his face to stay neutral; it had been years since he'd seen crime scenes anywhere but the telly, but if he so much as twitched Sherlock was going to assume it meant he was a murderer, and that wasn't acceptable. There were links to autopsy reports, interview statements, crime scene photos, autopsy photos; he started with the autopsy photos, since they'd at least be sterile and blank. It wasn't as odd as he'd expected, seeing the body on the table there; he'd done enough dissections, stood next to Molly while they'd poked at corpses often enough, he supposed. He catalogued the wounds Sherlock had enumerated, first on the wide shot of the whole torso, then individually in closeup. The one between the ribs had been a lucky hit, or unlucky as the case might be, and the neck wound was jagged, pointing to the…

And he stopped. Because, no, it wasn't actually possible that he'd just solved Sherlock's case--not the case of who-killed-the-secret-agent, the case of Sherlock-has-not-been-committing-murder-while-disassociated--within a minute of looking at autopsy photos. He switched quickly over to skim the autopsy report, and yeah, there it was: "Wound directionality indicates all four injuries were inflicted by a left-handed person facing the victim, likely no taller than 165 cm." An involuntary wave of sadness crashed over him at that. What had been going on in Sherlock's mind that he hadn't seen this? What had he seen in this file that had tripped the switch in his brain so hard? But that was a question John couldn't answer, and Sherlock couldn't either, not tonight, at any rate. So John cleared his throat, opened back up the photo of the neck wound, and turned the tablet to face Sherlock. "Sherlock, I want you to look at this photo."

Sherlock's eyes snapped to the tablet and then back down to his knees again. "I've seen it."

"No, Sherlock. Stop." John waited until Sherlock looked up again, reluctantly. "I want you to look at the edges of the wound."

Sherlock's eyes crept slowly to focus on the photo, regarding it cautiously at first. But then, after a good ten seconds, his eyes changed, focused, went from trying not to see the photo to actually observing it. There was a tense moment of focus, and then he exhaled. "Oh," he said, as if he was seeing it for the first time. "Oh."

"Yeah," John said. "You see."

"Oh," Sherlock said. His eyes closed, and his head collapsed backward to rest against the wall, his long throat exposed. He inhaled sharply, and then his face crumpled, and he curled forward again, pressing his face into his hands where they lay cupped over his knees. "Oh," he said again, and John could feel him shake.

He closed the photo, closed the file, locked his tablet, and pushed himself to sit against the wall next to Sherlock. Tentatively, he reached out to put an arm around his shoulder, and Sherlock collapsed sideways into him, pressing his shaking head against John's chest. "You're all right," John whispered. "It's fine. You're fine." He stroked his back, palms catching on the nap of the wool of his coat, and whispered it over and over again, feeling the long desperate breaths that Sherlock couldn't control.

They sat there for longer than John could have said. At one point, John opened his eyes and saw Mary standing in the kitchen doorway, looking out at them. He didn't want to say anything out loud--didn't know if there was something he needed to say, some excuse he needed to make for Sherlock slumped and quivering against him, but she caught his eye and mouthed tea? This time it was gratitude that poured through him, and he nodded, and closed his eyes, absorbed Sherlock's tremors.

He heard the quiet noise of her approach a few minutes later, and opened his eyes to see her coming across with two mugs in her hands. "Sherlock," he said quietly, stroking his neck to try to rouse him. "Mary's made us some tea. Can you sit up?"

Sherlock uncurled very slightly. "What's in it?"

"Nothing," he said.

Mary hesitated, pulling the mugs back a bit. "I put milk and sugar in, should I--"

"No, he's asking if it's poisoned," John said, as Sherlock leaned himself against the wall. He reached up and took one of the mugs from Mary and pressed it into Sherlock's hands, made sure they were both curled around it before it he let go. He took the other one, but just held his as he watched Sherlock mechanically take a sip, eyes half-unfocused, staring somewhere in the vicinity of the mug.

Mary watched them both for a moment, and then settled herself on the edge of the couch near them, looking back and forth as if trying to gauge the situation. She pitched her voice low and quiet, and asked, "Should I make up the guest room?" It was currently a staging ground for boxes, but the bed was mostly clear.

"Sherlock?" John said, reaching out to touch Sherlock's hand to make sure he was listening. His eyes slowly tracked up to meet John's. "Do you want to stay in the guest room tonight?" He watched Sherlock consider it, and added, "I can sit with you if you don't want to be alone."

Sherlock considered for a moment, and then shook his head. "No exits."

Ah, so he wasn't fully comfortable in the world yet. "Yeah, okay," John said. He turned back to Mary. "Can you grab some blankets for us in here? Er, and pyjamas?"

"Of course," she said. She glanced over at Sherlock, who was still dazedly drinking his tea, and then stood.

He was putting the empty mugs in the sink when she came back from upstairs, arms full of bedding and pyjamas. "Thanks," he said, rubbing his hand over his face.

She set them down on the kitchen table. "It's fine. Is this…" She glanced out toward the living room, where Sherlock was still a heap of black coat on the floor, though at least now one who could sit up. "Is this what he was like? In the hospital?"

"Sort of," John said. "I mean, it was different, because he was disassociated a lot of the time. But yeah." Defensively, he added, "He's a lot better now, usually."

"I know," she said. "No, I know." She cleared her throat. "Anyway. I'll see you in the morning."

"Yeah, good night," he said, picking up the blankets.

Sherlock didn't look up as John carried the blankets out, dropping one on the couch and one on his armchair. Then he went to crouch in front of Sherlock, who slowly focused on him. "Right," he said. "I've got pyjamas for you, because it's not good to sleep in your coat. Can you get yourself up?" After a moment, Sherlock nodded, and pushed himself off the wall. John stood too, and handed him a t-shirt and a pair of plaid pajama bottoms. "I imagine you'll look ridiculous in these, but there we go. Toilet's by the front entrance."

Sherlock considered the pile of cloth and swallowed. "Can I. Is it all right if I. Change in here."

John blinked, but then remembered Sherlock refusing to shower without someone to watch his back, and said, "Sure, no problem. Give me your coat, I'll put it on a hook for you." He waited for Sherlock to peel off the coat slowly, and then carried it around the corner to hang it up alongside the family's coats. When he returned, Sherlock was unbuttoning his shirt. John stopped himself from watching him; it was invasive, he knew that, and it was taking advantage of Sherlock's fragility, and it was…he knew it was wrong, that was the point, and that craving to watch him was some sort of malformed protective instinct, or something. So he stood by his armchair, stripped off his clothes, dressed himself in pajamas, and only then turned to see Sherlock pulling the vest over his naked torso, waistband of the pajama bottoms hanging loose and low on his hips. Shirt pulled down, Sherlock ruffled his hair for a moment, and then crossed his arms over his chest.

John smiled, as blandly as he could. "Right," he said. "Do you want to watch some telly or something before we go to sleep?"

Sherlock glanced at John's blanket over the chair. "Is it. Could you." He cleared his throat and kept staring at the blanket, but appeared to run out of words.

"It's fine," John said. "Whatever you want, it's fine. Just tell me."

Sherlock grimaced at bit at that, and tucked his arms tighter against his chest. "The night when I stopped being dead."

John blinked, confused--and then remembered Sherlock sneaking in the night of the press conference, laying with his head in John's lap on the couch, both of them empty and silent in the gathering dark. And he realized what Sherlock must mean. "You want me to sleep on the couch with you?" He blushed, suddenly, because that sounded like something, but. He looked back up at Sherlock, who was watching him warily. "It's fine. Not a problem." Because Sherlock needed him, and that meant Sherlock needed him not to be chicken about shit like this. He picked up his pillow off the chair, went to the couch, and sat down at one end. He put the pillow between the corner of the couch and his head, and leaned himself into the most comfortable position he could, feet down, with a lap that Sherlock could rest his head in. (Or his feet, he supposed. That would be…I mean, fine, it would be fine.) "Right, you'll have to share your blanket," John said, with enough bravado that he hoped Sherlock wouldn't hear the nerves.

Slowly, Sherlock joined him, laying his head in John's lap without benefit of pillow, draping the blanket so it covered John's legs as well as his body. For a moment, John felt awkward, but then he felt how Sherlock relaxed into him and then it was fine, because Sherlock needed this, and he needed to help Sherlock, so it was all fine. He reached down and stroked his hand through Sherlock's hair, watched those heavy eyes close for a moment in response. With his free hand, he reached out to turn off the light next to him, the hall light casting Sherlock in shadow. He stroked his hair and tried to let go of tonight's adrenaline spike, of the grief he had for Sherlock's panic, of the whole thing. And he remembered sitting in the facility with Sherlock in his lap, sitting on this couch stinking of whiskey with Sherlock's hunched shoulders pressed to his thigh, and thought, this is better. Even if Sherlock was still fragile, he was here, and he was alive, and he was here with John, and that was what mattered.

And he thought of how Sherlock had asked John to sit with him, and turned it over. "Sherlock," he said, quietly, in case Sherlock had fallen asleep.

Of course he hadn't. He turned his head to look up at John, eyes softer that John remembered them being in their first life together. But then, Sherlock had never looked up at him from his lap in that life, he supposed.

He touched Sherlock's temple gently. "When you were out there, before you came back. You know you weren't dead, right?"

Sherlock blinked, and blinked, and said, "I thought I was."

"You weren't," John said, stroking his jaw. "You were just…you were away, is all. And you're back now. But you weren't dead, ever."

Sherlock closed his eyes for a moment, and exhaled. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," John said, and resisted the sudden temptation to lean down, to press his forehead to Sherlock, his cheek, to hold him as close as he could, to press his life back into him. "I'm sure."

Sherlock opened his eyes again, met John's, and nodded. Then he turned his face back to press against John's thigh, and John could feel him relax again, unwinding there against him. He closed his eyes too, and stroked Sherlock's hair, fingers curling and uncurling, there in the dark.

***

John awoke confused and taunted by some kind of jangling buzzing noise…somewhere. His neck was sore and his legs were half numb and it took him a moment to remember that the weight across his thighs was Sherlock and the miserable noise was his phone, telling him it was time to haul his sorry arse out of bed and get Naz up for school. He shifted slightly, trying to get his body working again, and Sherlock first pressed his face harder into his legs, and then rolled over to look up at him through eyes barely pried open. "What is that god-awful noise?" he croaked, sounding like he wasn't quite awake yet.

John snorted. Sherlock looked adorable like this--John had always though he was a bit hilarious when not-quite-awake. "It's my phone alarm. I have to go get Naz up."

Sherlock's eyebrows crinkled, and he considered this for a moment, while the phone continued buzzing and clattering over where John had left it on the table. "I should go?"

"No," John said, and stroked his hand through Sherlock's hair. "If you want to go hide in the guest room for a bit, if you don't want to talk to anyone, you can, but if you're up for it, it's fine to stay out here and have some breakfast with us."

Sherlock closed his eyes and pressed his cheek into John's thigh again, and then sighed. "Are you going to make me eat?"

And John couldn't help it, he burst into giggles at that, at Sherlock being so bloody Sherlock while curled up in his lap like a cat, at the confirmation that he so often wanted that this was the same man who he'd known before. Sherlock turned to smile slyly up at him, sharing the humour. John smiled back, and, impulsively, bent over to kiss him on the cheek. "You're welcome to starve yourself, but I wouldn't mind if you set a good example for Naz." He patted him on the chest. "Now let me up so I can wake him."

Sherlock blinked at him, and then rolled up. "Is there coffee?"

"There will be," John said. "Machine's next to the sink, coffee's in the tin next to it. Make a whole pot's worth, yeah?" He stood, cracked his back and stretched. "Bloody hell. Could we try the bed next time? I'm too old to sleep sitting up."

When he looked back at the couch, Sherlock was staring at him like he was mad. "You want me to…make coffee?"

"Yeah," John said, and started walking towards the stairs.

"I have no idea how to make coffee," Sherlock said at his back.

"You're a bloody genius, you'll figure it out," John said, grinning as he climbed the stairs.

As he dressed in his bedroom, listening to Mary's shower running and Naz's quiet morning noises, it hit him, suddenly. He'd kissed Sherlock. I mean, on the cheek, but. He'd done it before in the facility, he supposed, so it wasn't the first time but--Christ, why had he done that? And then he'd made a joke about sharing a bed. He froze with his hand on a shirt in the closet, his jeans not yet done up. Sherlock hadn't said anything, but for all John knew he was downstairs having a panic attack about it all. And--and why had he done it? If it had been last night, then he could blame the whole crazy…whatever, the spirit of the moment, the need to put Sherlock on even ground. But this morning there was no urgency, nothing that justified it. He'd just--Sherlock had been funny, and he'd been beautiful, and John had just…wanted to kiss him. So he had.

And what the hell did that mean?

"Everything all right?" Mary's voice said, and he snapped out of his little trance and glanced over. She was buttoning her blouse over by the bureau, eyes on her jewelry box, obviously mostly thinking about what matched today's suit.

"Uh, yeah," John said, making his hands go back to work, pulling the shirt out, getting it off the hanger. "I mean, my neck is killing me, but he seems fine. No more, uh." He waved his hand to indicate guilty delusions or whatever last night's madness had been.

"Good," she said, pulling out a pair of earrings. "I can take Naz to school this morning, if you don't want to have to leave."

"Oh," he said, startled, fiddling with his buttons. "That would be--if you don't mind."

"It's fine," she said, watching herself in the mirror as she rearranged her hair. "He needs to get used to the idea of me doing it anyway."

"True enough," John said, getting himself socks. The final version of the custody plan had Mary dropping Naz off in the mornings, and John picking him up in the afternoons. He had no idea how he felt about that, really, but it was at least logical.

Mary's phone buzzed from the nightstand. She muttered, "Bloody hell," and went to poke at it while John went downstairs, hearing Naz jumping the last two steps and skip into the kitchen.

"Hello, Sherlock!" Naz said cheerfully. "Your hair's funny."

"Well," Sherlock said after a pause, "it often is."

"Are you ill again?" Naz asked. "Why doesn't your brother take care of you when you're ill?"

John came into the kitchen to find that Naz and Sherlock had taken both of the chairs at the little table. He smiled to see them, to hear the noise of the coffee maker and see the three mugs lined up next to it. He went to the fridge to fish out breakfast.

"You've seen my brother," Sherlock said. "He's not very good at taking care of people."

"I dunno," Naz said. "He hung up my coat right." Sherlock made a noncommittal noise. "But Daddy's very good at it, so I guess it makes sense."

John sat down two glasses of orange juice. "Do you want eggs, love?"

"No thank you," Naz said, at the same time as Sherlock said, "Eggs are disgusting."

John blinked at that. "What's wrong with eggs? Very nutritionally complete." Did Sherlock think John was calling him love now? …Had he? No, he didn't think so. But it was disturbingly possible. He was going to change the subject. "Then what do you want?"

"Yoghurt," said Naz.

"Coffee," said Sherlock.

"Get your own coffee," John said, and dropped bread into the toaster.

Sherlock sighed, as if this was an unacceptable imposition. "Nazir," he said after a moment. "I want to tell you something."

John kept making toast, but he stopped paying attention to it.

"Sometimes," Sherlock said. "When I'm not well. Then I can be." He cleared his throat. "If I am ever with you, and I am--acting strangely."

"You act strange a lot," Naz said.

Sherlock tapped his fingers on the table. John held onto the counter a bit harder. "Differently strange. If I ever--do something that frightens you. Then you should--you should tell me first, because it's possible that I'm just not paying attention. But then, you should get your father."

"All right," Naz said calmly. "It's OK. I don't think you're very scary."

"I'm glad of that," Sherlock said. "But promise me you'll remember."

The toast popped up. John blinked, and made himself reach for it, and then the butter.

"OK," Naz said. "What do I do if he's not around?"

Another pause. "Call him. I'll put your thumbprint into my phone later, and show you how to work it."

"Cool," Naz said, enthusiastically. "Do you have any games on your phone?"

"Um. No. Should I?"

"Yeah!" Naz said.

"No," John said, carrying over the toast and the butter pot. "You play enough phone games, you don't need to colonize Sherlock's phone now."

"Give me some names," Sherlock said. "But later."

"Go pour your coffee," John said, and resisted the temptation to punch Sherlock's shoulder. He shouldn't show Naz it was okay to horse around like that, and, besides, he didn't trust himself not to turn it into a pat.

John fetched Naz's yoghurt, and pointed Sherlock to the sugar pot after he searched for it blindly for a good minute or so. (It was in the tea cabinet.) John poured his own cup as Sherlock took the first sip of his. "Well? How is it?"

Sherlock stared into the cup as if trying to deduce it. "Weak. And a bit…" He twitched his mouth. "Gritty."

"Gritty?" John said, putting his coffee down and leaning over to poke at the machine. "Did the filter get a hole in it?"

"Filter?" Sherlock said, as Mary came in.

John looked at Sherlock for a minute, and then opened the top of the coffee maker. About a half-cup of damp grounds was sitting there, unconfined by a filter. "Seriously?" John said. "You didn't put a filter in?"

"What?" Mary said. She looked in at the mess. "Oh, that's going to be hell to clean."

"You didn't say anything about a filter," Sherlock said. "You said, machine's next to the sink, coffee's in the tin next to it."

"It's called filter coffee, Sherlock. That means it needs a filter," John said, covering his face with his hand.

"Do you think we can strain the coffee through the mesh tea strainer?" Mary said.

"He says it's weak, too," John said, "but that could just be him being picky. You have three degrees in chemistry, how can you not make coffee?" John said.

"Two and a half," Sherlock said, reaching over John's head to open the tea cabinet--also, incidentally, where the filters are stored--and retrieve the mesh strainer for Mary.

"Thanks," Mary said, pouring the gritty coffee through the filter, which caught the bits of grounds. "How do you have a half of a degree?"

"Supervisor got tedious halfway through my M.Phil," Sherlock said dismissively, walking over to the table and sitting back down. He took another sip of his unfiltered coffee. "It's not terrible, you know."

"You've got black things on your teeth," Naz said.

"Oh Christ," John said, and realized that he was smiling.

Chapter Text

"Hello?" John called, as he stepped in the front door and navigated around a pile of boxes. He was pretty sure that hadn't been there when he'd left, six bloody hours ago.

Mary's voice came from the living room. "If you wake Naz, I will unpack a kitchen box to find a knife to kill you with."

He kicked off his shoes. "Should have done that six months ago, save us both a couple thousand quid."

"I got pizza," she said.

"Oh, Christ yes," he said, coming into the living room. She was flopped on the couch, beer in hand, feet on the coffee table they were leaving for Oxfam to pick up since they'd realized they both hated it. Half a pizza was sitting on the table too, and another bottle of beer. He grabbed a slice and dropped onto the other side of the couch. "Fucking incompetent delivery men."

"I gathered that," she said, taking another sip. "But it's all there?"

"Yeah. They acted like they weren't supposed to be assembling it, but, well, I had the contract, so." John didn't think he'd eaten a slice of pizza that fast since he was in uni. He reached for another. "I didn't know where you wanted the bed in your room, so I had them put it in the middle. We can push it around if you want it somewhere else."

"As long as it's got the mattress, so I can collapse into face first tomorrow, I'll live," she said. "Anyway, Janine and my mum are coming over on Sunday to help me unpack, so between the three of us we can rearrange whatever."

John was about to offer to help as well, but it suddenly occurred to him that, maybe, offering to help his about-to-be ex-wife move furniture in her new, post-divorce household might be a bit odd. "Yeah, should be fine," he said instead.

"Is Sherlock coming to help you out?" Mary asked, putting her empty bottle on the table.

John barked a laugh. "Can you imagine? He'd end up being twice as useless as nobody. I'd never find a bloody thing he put away, it would all be, like, sorted by atomic weight or something."

She snorted too. "Seriously though, he hasn't offered?"

John put his crust back in the box and picked up his beer. "Nah. Probably hasn't occurred to him. Not like he's got a ton of experience with, you know." He waved his hand. "Proper friendships."

"That's bollocks, though," Mary said. "Give me your phone, I'll text him. Sherlock, since my ex-husband is too socially incompetent to maintain a friendship with anyone but you, you have to get off your posh mad arse and come help him unpack. Bring a box cutter."

John giggled and pitched his voice to imitate Sherlock. "Apologies, but I have an urgent round of counting dust particles to finish up. But I'll tell Mycroft, he'll send minions. You wouldn't mind a patch of junior MI-5 agents fixing up my place, would you?" He took a sip of his beer and looked around the room, empty of anything but boxes. "Naz was okay?"

"Yeah," she said, with a sigh. "Helped that you called, thanks for that. He liked seeing the house again."

He'd thought it would help. Naz kept asking to have them explain how they'd be living now, and where all his stuff would be, and where all his family would be. It had hurt the first few times, but every time he'd said "And I'll still see you everyday, and Mummy every day?" he'd gotten more sure they'd done the right thing. The mediator had looked at the proposed plan they'd worked up, the schedule for shared dinners once a week and the provisions for what to do if they needed to trade nights with him and said, "I'm just a little worried that Nazir won't properly understand if you two are still living under the same roof."

But Mary had said, "I think what he'll understand is that his parents put his comfort and family stability over any normative notion of what divorced families should look like," and smiled like a shark, so the mediator shut up and signed off on the custody plan.

John finished his beer. "Did you get the rest of his stuff together?" Naz had been putting off sorting most of his toys for the past two weeks; they'd had to leave the boxes in his room open, and have him repack them every night, which mean that several toys had rotated between the boxes designated for Naz's room, for John's flat, and for Mary's. Oh, well, it wasn't like the toys weren't going to be migratory anyway.

"Mostly. He packed his school knapsack full of things he 'needs' to bring in the cab tomorrow. I was too tired to argue. It's mostly Pokemon cards."

"Counts as a win," John said, putting his bottle down on the table. He dropped his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes. "When are the removal men coming in the morning?"

"Some time after seven."

John made a groaning noise. "Right. This'll be over soon, yeah?"

"I hope so." He heard her close the pizza box, and then the crunch of her finishing his crust. "Right. It's half-ten. Let's go to bed."

"Yeah, I suppose," he said, and sighed.

"John," Mary said. "Pay attention. I'm propositioning you."

"Yeah," he said, and then realized what she said. "Oh!" He blinked his eyes open. "Oh. That's--that's a brilliant idea, actually. Like--symbolic. Last night in the house, putting a full stop at the end, like that."

"Yes, thank you, I had this whole thought process while you were being shirty with delivery men in Marylebone."

"I was not being shirty with them," he said, turning to look at her. She raised an eyebrow. "I was being…firm," he offered, a little pathetically.

"Uh huh," she said, standing up. "Come to bed, John."

"Be right there," he said, closing his eyes again.

"If you sleep on the couch, you'll regret it," she said, her footsteps receding up the stairs.

"I won't," he said. "Just give me a minute."

***

"Is that our house?" Naz said, leaning so far over John that he was entirely out of his seatbelt.

"Not yet," John said. "Sit back, Naz."

"Our house is tall like that one," Naz said, pointing at one of the hundred three-storey houses with black doors they'd driven by in the past six blocks. "But our number is 2-2-1."

"Nazir Jonathan Watson," Mary said. "Put your bottom on the car seat this instant."

Naz sighed and sat in his seat properly. "Where's our house?"

"Three blocks, young man," the cabbie piped in. "Now listen to your mother and sit still."

Naz sighed. "Our stuff is gonna be at our new house, yeah?"

"It's coming right behind us," Mary said. "You saw it going in the truck, remember?"

"And then Mummy's going to live in the ground floor flat and Daddy's going to live in the first floor flat, and I'm going to live in the second floor flat," Naz said, confidently.

"Close enough," John said.

The cab pulled over to the curb. "221 Baker Street, young sir," the driver said.

"MY HOUSE," Naz shrieked at earsplitting volume.

"Oh Christ," Mary said.

They piled out of the cab (and John tipped the cabbie a ridiculous amount for being nice to Naz), and Naz immediately ran into the door of Fine Grind, shouting "IT'S MY COFFEE SHOP." Which wasn't entirely untrue; John hadn't realized that Speedy's was Mrs. Hudson's tenant, but he and Mary were now the landlords for its progeny, a very posh fair-trade own-roast espresso bar. Mary went to follow him in, but then Naz emerged with a biscotti in his hand. "The lady who works there gave me a long biscuit," he said, waving it.

Said lady was the owner, Julia, who came over to say hello. "Moving day?"

"Yeah," Mary said, catching Naz by the hand. "Hope the banging doesn't bother your patrons."

"Oh, it's a slow morning," she said. "Good luck! Stop in if you need a bite later."

John unlocked the door. "Suppose the removal men will ring when they get here, yeah?"

"Probably," Mary said, steering Naz over to the door as he bounced. "Or we'll hear the honking as they set up the cones and things."

"This is going to be madness," John said, opening the door.

"I want to go see my room," Naz said, ducking under John's arm. Mary let go of his hand, and he was off like a shot up the stairs.

They stepped in, and closed the door behind them. "Well," John said.

"Yeah," Mary said. "This is real, isn't it?"

"I still can't believe I'm back," John said.

Mary exhaled through pursed lips. "Bit different though."

He reached over and rested his fingers on her wrist. "In a good way. Mostly."

"Sounds about right," she said.

"Mum! Dad!" Naz shouted down the stairs. "Come see, come see!"

Mary turned to look at John. "Did you leave him something?"

"No," John said. "Though that would have been a good idea."

"Come on!" Naz shouted again.

They trudged up to the second floor, listening to Naz jump up and down. Together, they walked into his bedroom.

"Look!" Naz said, pointing. On the floor in his room was a fully-articulated skeleton of a civet, mounted on a board. "It's Sherlock's civet!"

John covered his mouth with his hand, so the laughter wouldn't escape.

"Sherlock…had a pet civet?" Mary asked, examining the skeleton.

"No, it's for science. He showed me all its bones at his house," Naz said. "Come on, Mummy, let me show you about its feet."

Mary looked at John as if trying to find a way out of his. He refused to give her one. She sighed. "Right. Tell me about its feet."

Downstairs, the bell rang. "I'll just go let them in," John said, ducking down the stairs before the laughter got the better of him.

***

It was nine thirty at night, and John was alone. Alone, on the couch, in his flat. His. His flat that was 221b Baker Street, but was also just the first floor flat in the house he shared with his almost-ex-wife and their son. The wallpaper was different--Mycroft had redecorated--but he could still see the flat as it had been when he and Sherlock had lived here.

He'd put the armchairs he ordered by the fireplace. He told himself it was a good, logical place for armchairs, but he was pretty sure that wasn't why.

He could hear the noises of Mary moving around downstairs. Part of him wanted to go down and talk to her. But he--he shouldn't. He didn't live with her any more. He lived alone. Alone-ish.

Maybe he should text Sherlock.

No. He should not text Sherlock. That would be…not good. This was his flat now. Not theirs, either.

"Daddy?"

He looked up. Naz was standing in the doorway, holding his stuffed robot by one arm. "What is it, love?" he asked.

"I want a drink of water," Naz said.

John was pretty sure that meant "I'm nervous in a new house," but he said, "Okay," and went and got him one. "Is your bed comfy?" he asked, as he knelt before him with the cup.

"Yeah," Naz said, taking a sip. "I can't see stars in my window."

"Well, it's brighter here than in Lewisham. More buildings, yeah?" John took the cup back. "Want me to go tuck you in again?"

"Can Mummy come?"

John sighed. "Love. You can pick, all right? But most nights, it's going to be one or the other of us, not both. You know that."

"You both came earlier."

"Yeah, well, it's all of our first night here, so that's why we had dinner together and did bedtime together." He ran his hand along Naz's head. "This is different for all of us, yeah? It's going to take us a little while to get used to it, because it's new. But we're all here, and we all love you, and we'll figure it out." He cupped his soft cheek. "So can I tuck you back in, or do you want to go say hi to Mummy, and ask her?"

"Will you lay down with me?" Naz said.

"Just for a little while," John said, and stood up on creaky knees. Naz took his hand, and they went up the stairs together.

***

Mary was sitting in the waiting room when John came in, staring at her phone. "Sorry," he said, dropping into the seat next to him.

"Traffic?" she asked, dropping the phone back in her purse.

"No, that utter wanker Gillibrand. I swear, I'm not taking more work for him if I can help it. I told him, repeatedly, I had to be off the call at 11:30, and when I said at 11:45 I had to go, he made some crack about having a hot lunch date. So I said, no, I'm getting divorced today, and I think my solicitor would be a bit put out if I missed it. Shut him up." He huffed. Mary didn't respond, so he turned to look at her, really look at her. She was staring at some point on the floor, hands folded on her knee. "Hey," he said. "You all right?"

"Fine," she said, eyes not moving.

"Liar," he said.

Her lips quirked up for a moment, and she glanced over at him. "I'm--thinking."

He smiled back, though he wasn't sure it was a convincing one. "Reasonable."

She looked at that spot on the floor again, and took a deep breath. "John, I--I need to ask you something."

"Yeah?"

She stayed focused on the floor. "If he--if Sherlock hadn't come back. Would we be here?" He breathed in to respond, and she said, "No. Really answer me. Don't just--I want you to answer me."

And he pulled back, because he wasn't even sure what he'd been about to say--but she's right, it would have been something quick, not a real answer. So he paused, and he thought. Took him a moment, and even then, he wasn't sure the words were right. "It's--" He sighed. "It's not that--that I feel differently. About you. Because of him. But it is--I don't think I'm the only one who--I mean, things had been…something. For a while. We weren't. I don't know. But it's…" He sighed. "I would never have been the one to leave. So. There's that." He stared at the floor with her. "I don't know. Does that answer your question?"

"I think it does," she said. "Thank you."

"I'm sorry," he said.

"Me too," she said.

Across the room, a door opened, and a harried-looking clerk stepped out. "Ms. Murstani? Dr. Watson?"

"Right," John said, standing. He looked back at her. Mary looked up at him from her seat, her hands now clenched where they were on her knees, her eyes big and frozen. He sighed again, and held out his hand. "Come on, love," he said. "We can do this."

She closed her eyes for a moment, and then nodded. She slid her hand into his, and stood, reaching for her purse with the other hand. Together, they walked over to the clerk, and into their future.

***

Tonight was Mary's night, so John lay on his couch, staring at the ceiling. He'd listened to Mary and Naz eat dinner, said good night when they'd come up for bed, and now he was laying on his couch, unable to figure out what to do. He hadn't had dinner yet, but couldn't muster the energy to go figure out what to eat. (It was hard, remembering to cook for himself. When it was him and Naz, it was easier. Just him, and. Well. He'd eaten a tin of beans for dinner the last night Naz wasn't here. It had been horrible and tasted of tin. He was too old for that sort of thing.)

His phone dinged from his new coffee table. He made his arm reach out and pick it up, open it and read Sherlock's text. My research informs me that the proper procedure is for a newly divorced man to find himself an unfashionable pub and drink to express his grief. Have you found an appropriate pub yet?

John snorted and texted back. Don't think I have the energy to go find a seedy pub. Sorry to disappoint.

There was a brief pause, probably while Sherlock googled some more. There appears to be a parallel feminine tradition of gathering with friends and eating ice cream. I don't know why these traditions are gendered. People are entirely stupid about binaries. Ice cream at home seems the more pleasant of the options.

That's just because you hate pubs. But yeah, I think ice cream at home makes a lot of sense.

He kept laying on his couch, wondering if he had the energy to get up and do anything, or if he should just go climb into his bed, when he heard a rattling noise from the kitchen. Was the fridge broken? He went in to investigate, and discovered that the rattling noise was Sherlock trying to get the window open.

John unlocked the window and leaned his head out. "What the hell?"

"I told you," Sherlock said, gesturing to the fire escape he was sitting on. "Why can't I open the window?"

"It's got anti-burglar locks," John said.

"Why?" Sherlock said, affronted.

"Because I don't want to get my shit stolen, Sherlock. It's basic urban safety." He rolled his eyes. "What are you doing here?"

At this, Sherlock held out a Tesco bag. John stared at it in confusion. "Ice cream. Four kinds," Sherlock explained. "The tradition seems to imply every participant gets their own container. And I wasn't certain if you'd prefer something decadent or more basic."

John kept staring at the bag, and then felt himself start to smile. "Yeah, okay," he said. "Come in." He leaned out of the window, and let Sherlock swing himself through. "Uh, let me get spoons," he said, pulling the window shut.

Sherlock walked over to the counter and opened the silverware drawer. "Hmm," he said, pulling out two spoons.

"Okay," John said, smiling. "Do you have a system for determining what drawer people keep their silverware in? Wear patterns or something?"

"You haven't lived here long enough for wear patterns to develop," Sherlock said, pulling the pints out of the bag. "There are some general rules of thumb but." He tapped the drawer. "This is our silverware drawer."

John blinked. "I didn't realize that."

"Come choose a flavor," Sherlock said. "We should put the others in the freezer before they finish melting."

"You're going to eat," John said automatically, coming over to survey the options.

Sherlock just waved the two spoons.

Settled on the floor by the fireplace (John with a pint of raspberry caramel swirl, Sherlock with a pint of something chocolate), Sherlock said, "Well?"

"Well what?"

Sherlock gestured with his spoon. "How are…things?"

John cracked up at that. "Really? That's what you're going with."

Sherlock huffed and poked his ice cream. "Is there a better question?"

John ate another bite of his. "Things are fine. Naz likes his new school. The routine's working out. Also, today I signed papers formally ending my seven year marriage and I haven't lived alone since you were pretending to be dead and I was living in a cloud of useless depression and apparently I put my silverware in our silverware drawer. So, you know." He took another bite.

Sherlock watched John, chin lowered, playing with his spoon. "Should I have not given you this house?"

"What?"

"Mycroft said I should buy you a house in Lewisham instead. Offered to sell this one to pay for it."

"You can't sell Baker Street," John said reflexively. "England would fall." Sherlock smiled, and he couldn't help but smile back. "No, I mean--this house is, it's perfect, actually. And I think Mary and I are the rare divorced couple who could actually make this work, the sort of, half-living together thing. It's just--right now. Right now it's…" He struggled to find a word for it.

"Shit," Sherlock suggested.

"Yeah, pretty much," John said.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs distracted him. "John?" came Mary's voice.

"Yeah?" he said, making to stand.

"Are you all right? I heard voices, I thought, and some kind of tapping--" The flat door swung open from its mostly closed position, and she poked her head in to see the two of them sitting by the fireplace. "Oh, Sherlock. You meant it about the fire escape."

"Yes," Sherlock said.

"Sherlock did a study of post-divorce emotional comfort rituals and brought me ice cream," John said, holding up his pint.

"That's nice," Mary said.

"There's extra in John's freezer," Sherlock said. "I over-bought."

"Thank you, I've just finished an entire tray of knafeh, so I think I've eaten enough of my feelings today," Mary said.

"Ah." Sherlock took a bite of his.

"Right, I'll just…leave you to it," she said, and stepped out. "Actually," she said, sticking her head back in. "Sherlock? You're supposed to have helped John move."

"I am?"

"No, it's fine," John said.

"Yes, you are," Mary said. "It's one of those things, friends help each other move, or with the unpacking."

Sherlock looked around at the boxes that were still stacked in the corners. "Right. Thank you." He set down his ice cream and stood up. "I'll organize your books. You don't have them on the shelves yet."

"I'm not going to be able to find anything," John grumbled, taking another bite of ice cream.

"Fiction in alphabetical order by author's last name, non-fiction by Dewey Decimal classification numbers, useless books on the bottom shelf," Sherlock said, popping the tape on a box.

"Have fun," Mary said, and smiled at them.

John sighed. "I don't even know what you think is a useless book."

Sherlock waved his hand. "It's fine. I don't think I'll need to double stack if it's just yours." He pulled out a book and examined it. "Bottom shelf."

"I haven't finished that yet."

"Don't need to," Sherlock said, pulling out another. "Oh, I remember this one."

"Are you going to judge my whole book collection?"

"I'm organizing it," Sherlock said. "Eat your ice cream."

"Fine," John said, and tried not to smile.

Chapter Text

The door swung open downstairs. "Hey, Naz, that's your mum," John said, looking up from his laptop. "Time to go downstairs, yeah?"

"But I'm in the middle of the castle," Naz said, clipping another two legos together.

"Did you build it on the tray?"

Naz sighed. "Yes."

"Right. You get your school bag and the lego box, and I'll get the tray, then," John said, standing up.

The trays were a new constant in the life of 221 Baker Street; Naz frequently wanted to carry large, half-constructed things between the two flats, so John had come up with the idea of restricting construction projects to large plastic tea trays. John was sure the desire had been, in part, an attempt to get his parents to be in the same flat, and that the movement of toys was in fact a front, but Naz had stopped pitching fits about it and the trays were getting used, so he hoped it was helping him settle, at the least. He followed Naz down the steps, looking carefully around the tray covered in lego lumps to watch his feet. Mary's front door was open, and Naz ran through and shrugged out of his school bag in the middle of the floor. "Hi, Mum," he said, dropping to the floor in front of the couch. "Dad, put the tray here."

"Hello, love," Mary said, coming out of her bedroom, stripped of her work clothes and into leggings and a sweater. "Did you have a good day today?"

"Yeah," Naz said, crouching over the tray John had set in front of him.

Mary smiled at him. "And you?"

"Good, yeah," John said. "You?"

"Miles is being ridiculous again," she said, as she sat down on the couch. "But I've got him under control."

"You always do," he said, smirking.

"Anyway," she said. "Any plans tonight?"

"Yeah, maybe," he said. "Anyway. Have a good night."

"Yeah, you too," she said.

He crouched down. "Hey Naz, I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"

"OK," Naz said, not looking up from his legos.

John patted his head and stood back up.

Mary had started asking him about plans last week--not every day, but often enough that he'd gotten the not so subtle message that she was worried about him. And he supposed he understood. On her nights off from Naz, she'd work late, or go out for drinks after work with friends, or visit her parents, or do something, more than half the time. But he'd spent almost all of his evenings off alone, in his apartment. Once Sherlock had knocked on the window with a bag of Chinese takeaway, paced around the kitchen chain-eating egg rolls and monologuing through a case until he broke it--and that was a good evening--but John had seen him more in the afternoons, joining him and Naz in their explorations of new playgrounds near Baker Street and his new school. Once he'd thought of inviting Sherlock to come back home with them after, as it was getting towards evening, but Sherlock had avoided his gaze and said he had other plans for the evening, and John didn't push. Once he'd managed to get himself to a pub to watch a match, but it had been loud and too boisterous, and he'd just ended up feeling more alone than he would have at home. He dropped down into his armchair and reached for his phone. Sherlock hadn't replied to his text from earlier, asking if he wanted to get dinner. And he hadn't texted in three days; not that John was doubting his new commitment to sobriety, but he was the tiniest bit worried. He flipped the phone over twice, grimaced, and then texted Mycroft. Any reason Sherlock isn't replying to my texts?

The reply was swift. I am very glad you contacted me, John. Sherlock has fixated on a harmless problem. Therefore, he has not left his rooms in three days. Unfortunately, I must remain at the office tonight. If you would be willing to go to the house and visit with him, I believe it would be very helpful in breaking his fixation.

John blinked. What, I should just ring the doorbell?

I doubt he will hear it. Text me when you are at the door and I will use the security system to let you in. It might behoove you to bring food.

John considered this for a moment, and then checked his watch. Six o'clock; a fine time to be heading out, he supposed. He found his shoes, called in an order to a Thai place across from the Baker Street station, and shrugged on a jacket.

As he walked down the stairs, he heard Naz ask Mary through her cracked-open door, "Where's Daddy going?

"I think he's going out for dinner," Mary said, and John swung the door behind him.

He tried his best not to feel like an idiot walking from the tube stop to Mycroft's ridiculous house. It was awkward, even more so than the last time he'd been here. Then, he'd had the excuse of the blow up at the house, the buffer of Naz. Tonight, being let in by Mycroft and sneaking up with take away felt like a greater chance of rejection.

He stood at the door, and before he could dig out his  phone to text Mycroft, a light turned green on the security panel.  Ridiculous. He tried the door handle; the door popped open easily, and he slid inside, shutting it behind him.  "Sherlock?" he called out.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, but it was the wrong Holmes. The infrared scanners indicate he is in his study.

"Right," John muttered, putting his phone away. "Infrared. That's not creepy at all, Mycroft." Christ, he was probably listening to him right now. He hung his coat up and carried the takeaway up the stairs.

Outside Sherlock's study, he paused, gathered his wits, and knocked. Sherlock shouted back immediately. "Go away, Mycroft, I told you I'm fine."

"Sherlock? It's John."

There was a brief pause. "John? What are you doing here?"

John looked down at the bag in his hand. "Having dinner, hopefully? I brought Thai?"

There was another pause. "It is Thursday?"

Because Sherlock had memorized the Naz-sharing schedule, but didn't know what day it was. "Yes, it's Thursday. I didn't have anything else on, so."

"Why didn't you text?"

John rolled his eyes. "I have texted, you idiot. Did you let your phone battery go flat?"

A rustle. "Apparently. How did you get in?"

"Look," John said, leaning on the door. "Do we have to do this through a closed door, or can I come in?"

"Oh," Sherlock said. "You can't use that door, it's blocked. Come through the bedroom."

"And that's the…"

"Next door on the right."

John found it, and walked through the bedroom (picking up Sherlock's phone charger as he went, honestly) and into the study. Which was…in a state. All the furniture had been pushed to the edges, the rugs rolled up, and the entire wooden floor covered in an elaborate pattern of colored sand, with poker chips piled at various location within them. Sherlock was sitting perched on the back of a sofa that was in front of the fireplace, overseeing it all. He twitched nervously as John surveyed the room. "Well," John said, as neutrally as he could. "This is…interesting."

"It's a case," Sherlock said.

"I'll bet," John said. "Shall I…come over there?" Though he had no idea how on earth he would manage that.

"Climb the furniture," Sherlock said. "The path is fairly stable. Although your legs may be a bit short for some of the distances."

Ah, yes, a short joke, that's always appropriate. John climbed up on the nearest piece of furniture--a chaise longue that probably was a hundred and fifty years old and worth a hundred thousand pounds or something--and began to wind his way around the room's perimeter, from end table to arm chair to sofa to whatever the hell that thing was--until he swung onto the sofa Sherlock was on and settled in beside him. "So, what's the case?"

"Recognize it?" Sherlock said, waving his hand over the very artful mess of the floor.

John gave it a moment, but all he could see was a winding set of colors, flowing from one to the other. They met at irregular intervals, sometimes more than two at a time, sometimes seeming to go around in circles. And that maroon color looked like it was a background color, but all the others seemed to shift around it like… "Looks like a map," he said, suddenly. "A street map. The maroon's the buildings and the rest are roads."

"Birmingham," Sherlock said, brightly, waving his arm over it. "Over the past five years, as residential density has changed throughout the city, traffic incidents, particularly serious pedestrian accidents, have risen sharply, but unevenly, throughout the city. The different colors of the roads indicate directionality and density of traffic. The poker chips indicate traffic incidents, with colors designating fatalities, serious injuries, minor injuries, or property damage. I've been making notes on changes that should be made to traffic regulations in order to reduce the number of serious accidents."

John stared at the mess in front of him and was more confused than ever. "So…you've been holed up in your room for three days trying to prevent car accidents in Birmingham."

Sherlock shrugged. "The problem became unexpectedly engaging once begun."

"This is shockingly civic-minded of you," John said, shaking his head.

Sherlock pointed to a pile of red chips, intermixed with a few blue and green ones, at an intersection of one teal road and one yellow one. "One of those red chips was the daughter of an UKIP MP. He was worried it was a terrorist attack or a targeted assassination, because he is a stupid paranoid racist. Mycroft had to mollify him because he apparently holds some kind of influence in a relevant committee. Of course, she was drunk, wearing all black, it was the middle of the night, one of the streetlights had gone out, and the cabbie who hit her had no motive or ties to any nefarious organizations. A tragedy, not a murder. But the intersection, that was interesting. And once I started investigating…" He gestured at the map. "As I said. Unexpectedly engaging."

"Right," John said. "Don't let your phone go flat next time." He held out the charger.

Sherlock studied it as he took it. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment, "if I…worried you."

John shrugged. "It's fine. Hope you don't mind I checked in with your brother, though. Just to make sure he hadn't shipped you off to, I don't know. Timbuktu or something, for a case."

"West Africa's not really my specialization these days," Sherlock said.

Of course Sherlock actually knows where Timbuktu is. John wasn't really sure it was a real place. "Do you have a specialization?"

Sherlock grimaced. "Things that can be solved from files. Occasionally I get to interview people in sterile posh offices. "

"Sounds boring."

Sherlock shrugged. "Better than the alternative." He stood, balanced awkwardly on the sofa, power cord dangling from his hand. "I'm sure there's an outlet around here somewhere," he said, craning around and looking. "Did you get pad kee mao?"

"Of course I did," John said. "And they had summer rolls on special. Please be careful."

"I'm fine," Sherlock said, leaping to a nearby table and bending over to peer at the baseboard. "I can go downstairs and get us utensils."

"They put plastic ones in," John said, watching as Sherlock tried to lean over to reach a poorly located outlet. "Seriously, I don't think that table's well balanced."

"Honestly, John," Sherlock said, as he slid the charger into the wall, and his phone gave a sulky-sounding buzz as it began to charge. "There," he said, stood up to his full height, and promptly fell off the table, landing on a pile of chips, which scattered around him. Coloured sand rose in a puff.

There was a pause while Sherlock caught his breath. "Oh," he said, and coughed.

John burst out laughing.

"Yes, fine," Sherlock huffed, turning his head to face John. "This isn't the first time, unfortunately."

"Oh Christ," John said, still laughing. "I'm sorry. It's just."

Sherlock shrugged. He reached out one long arm and hooked it around John's ankle on the couch. "Come down here, then. I suppose I've gathered enough data, might as well ruin it properly."

Still laughing, John slid off the couch and lay in the sand next to Sherlock. "Bloody uncomfortable, your floor," he said.

"Hmph," Sherlock said. "Pass the rolls over."

They lay in the sand together, lazily picking at the food between them. Sherlock's hair was full of teal and maroon specks that sparkled as he moved his head. They discussed Sherlock's conclusions, which he felt were ready to be presented to the Birmingham city council, and John's last two patent applications, which led to Sherlock delivering an extensive monologue on zinc absorption and cellular uptake in rodent vs. human models. John closed his eyes at one point, listening to Sherlock's voice like a set of waves, hearing his finger trace organic chemistry diagrams in the sand. He didn't know how long he drifted, but he was suddenly aware of the silence, and blinked his eyes open to find Sherlock staring at him. John was on his stomach, hands pillowed under his head, face turned towards Sherlock; Sherlock was on his back, hands on his stomach, eyes locked on John. "Sorry," John said. "Haven't been sleeping well."

"You're lonely," Sherlock said quietly.

"I'm fine," John said, which meant yes.

"Do you," Sherlock said, and swallowed. "Do you make plans with your other friends much?"

"What other friends?" John said, before he could stop it.

Sherlock looked away at that, up at the ceiling. "Is that my fault as well?"

"None of it's your fault," John said. "I think it's just--my life has been my family, since you--well--since Mary and I got married, I suppose. You know. I don't have coworkers. I wasn't friendly with the neighbors, not past pleasantries, and anyway we've moved, so. I've a couple of old friends from the RAMC I could look up, and I suppose I could catch up with Greg, but--" He sighed. "I haven't put energy into friendships. Not since you--left. So."

"You could," Sherlock said. "People like you, you know. You're likable. You could make friends. You could…" He grimaced. "Date."

John barked out a laugh. "Not bloody likely, that. Anyway." He made a sort of half-shrugging gesture with his shoulders, as best he could in the sand. "I don't think I need much more than what I've got, honestly."

Sherlock looked over and examined him closely. "We should make a plan."

"A plan?"

"You need socialization. I admit that I do better when I interact with people other than Mycroft regularly. You are uninterested in making new friends, and I am patently incapable of it. So. The solution is that we should see each other more. So we should develop a plan that will facilitate that."

John smiled. "I'd like that."

"Let's have dinner, then," Sherlock said. "You have four nights a week off from primary duty for Nazir. Should we plan for two?"

"If you like."

"Three, then," Sherlock said confidently, and John wondered if Sherlock was reading John's desire for more, or asserting his own. Either way, he was pleased. "Shall we meet at Baker Street and determine our plans from there on a daily basis, or would you prefer more schedule than that?"

"I don't mind coming up here," John said.

Sherlock made a face. "I prefer to leave."

"Right," John said. "So meet at Baker Street, then. I don't think my budget can accommodate three dinners out a week." He thought of Sherlock sneaking through the window of his apartment, and something occurred to him. "You know, if we make plans three nights a week, that doesn't mean you can't come by other times, yeah? For dinner with me and Naz, or after he's asleep, if you ever need to talk through a case or something."

"I don't want to…monopolize you," Sherlock said slowly.

"I don't mind," John said, and reached over to touch Sherlock's hand, where it rested on his chest. "Seriously, it's fine. Whenever you want."

Sherlock rolled on his side and examined John closely for a long moment. "Right," he said. "Whenever I want."

John squeezed Sherlock's hand, and let his eyes close again. "Whatever happened with the case from last week?" he asked. "The one with the research budget and the missing receipts?"

"Trivial," Sherlock huffed, and launched into a lengthy description of how the research grants had been misused. John let his voice wash over him again, and immersed himself in it.

When he woke next, Sherlock was holding his shoulder gently, saying his name. "Sorry," he said groggily, confused by the sensation of a throw pillow tucked under his head. "Time is it?"

"Half-five," Sherlock said.

"What?" John said, startled. "Oh, shit, Mary--"

"I texted her," Sherlock said, waving John's phone. "You haven't any appointments today. I've called Mycroft for a car. You can get home and shower before you have to wake Nazir for school, and then you can go back to sleep until you feel fully rested."

John sat up slowly, back stiff. "You could have sent me home earlier."

"You needed the rest. And if your sleep had been interrupted you would not have slept well at home. This was the ideal situation," Sherlock said, reaching over to brush sand off John's shoulder.

"I look like I rolled in one of those, what's it called. Those bottles with the sand in them," John said, struggling to his feet and brushing off his jeans.

"Please try to get as much as possible in the upholstery of the car," Sherlock said, popping up lightly.

"You're a terrible influence. Thank Christ Naz doesn't have a sibling you could teach him to torture," John said, stretching.

Sherlock's phone buzzed. "That would be the car," he said, without taking it out of his pocket. "I'll escort you downstairs."

On the car ride home, in the grey light of morning, John read through the texts on his phone. Mary had texted him at half-eleven. Sorry, I don't mean to pry. I just haven't heard you come in yet. Everything all right?

This is Sherlock. John is currently asleep on the floor of my study.

Seriously?

This was followed by a picture message of John, face smashed into a pillow, drooling slightly, against the backdrop of glittering psychedelic sand.

Mary's reply was quick. Was it Holi at your house today? Or Glastonbury?

Traffic congestion experiment. John can explain.

I pity your cleaners.

Contrary to whatever John may have told you, I do know how to work a hoover. I will wake him at an appropriate moment in his sleep cycle and put him in a car back to Baker Street.

Thank you. Have a good night.

You as well.

John stared at this exchange for a good long while, but he didn't know what to do with it, so he put his phone back in his jacket pocket and rested his head against the car seat as the day dawned over London.

Chapter Text

What time is appropriate for eating dinner?

John blinked at the text message. Not the strangest Sherlock's ever sent him, but a bit disturbing in its normality. He glanced over to make sure Naz was still working on his math sheet, and texted back. Depends when you're hungry, I suppose.

There was a pause, during which time Naz finished the math sheet and was painstakingly picking his way through his reading, and then the phone buzzed again. Ah. Tell me when you are hungry, then, and I will come for dinner.

John shook his head and helped Naz pronounce "waited." It'll take you forever to get here. Let's just pick a time.

It's fine. I'm not at Mycroft's. It won't take me long.

John thought about that for a moment, and got very suspicious. He gave the suspicion a moment to settle, and then called the café downstairs.

Julia picked up. "Hello," he said, "it's John, from upstairs."

She laughed a little, probably at the absurdity of his introduction. Mary did all the landlord work in terms of collecting money and what not, but John ended up being the one they saw more often than not, especially since he worked there whenever his desk in the sitting room got tedious and was on call for assisting with minor repairs during the daytime. "Hi, what's up?"

"Um, this might sound crazy. But do you have a bloke in there, tall, big dark coat, mad hair?"

She hmmed. "Dark hair, pale, window seat, large flat white he's been letting go cold?"

Since when does Sherlock take milk? John frowned. "Yeah, that's him."

"Oh," she said. "Um. He's giving me a look now. Kinda creepy."

"No worries, he's harmless. Pass him the phone, would you?"

"Sure?" There was a bit of awkward background noise, and then Julia's muffled "sir? It's for you."

"Hello?" Sherlock said suspiciously.

"Just come upstairs like a normal person," John said.

Sherlock hesitated. "It's four-thirty. You can't possibly be ready for dinner yet."

"No, I'm not."

"But we have dinner plans."

John briefly considered finding a wall to bang his head against. "Sherlock? Do you remember our conversation about stalking?"

Sherlock's pause seemed affronted. "I'm not stalking you. I haven't followed you anywhere."

"But you know I haven't gone anywhere because you're staring at my front door, from a seat in the cafe I own. Still counts. Stop being a prat and ring the bloody bell. And don't creep out Julia, I don't want to have to find a new tenant."

"Right," Sherlock said, sounding defeated, and hung up.

He skipped the doorbell and tapped on the kitchen window instead. His coffee was in a paper cup and warm when he handed it to John so he could crawl through, so he must have been social enough to Julia to get a top-up or a refill. "Since when do you take milk in your coffee?" John asked, before he'd thought about it.

"I don't," Sherlock said, removing his coat and throwing it over a chair.

"Flat white," John said, gesturing with the cup.

"Oh," Sherlock said, looking a bit impressed John had put that together. "Australia. Six months. Last place I was. Developed the taste for it. Anyway, espresso's not real coffee."

"That's utter bollocks," John said. So Adam Kingston had been in Australia. That was a bit odd to contemplate, but he could almost see it.

"Daddy, bollocks is a rude word," Naz said, in a tone of heightened superiority, from his place on the sitting room floor with his animal blocks.

"Yes, really John, the example you set," Sherlock smirked.

John flipped him off, hoping Naz wouldn't see. Sherlock kept smirking and settled on the floor next to Naz.

***

Sherlock was starting on his third hour of muttering at the Legos he had arranged to represent the attendees at an art auction where a phone with missile plans on it had been handed off when John heard the door open downstairs, and then lock. Only 10:30; Mary's work reception hadn't run too long then. He was refocusing on his book when his phone buzzed. Still awake? I have a story you might appreciate.

Sure, he texted back, and said "Mary's coming up" to Sherlock, who did not move from his place on the floor in front of the lit fire, all his attention on the Legos.

Mary's steps on the stairs were light and shoeless, and she rapped on the door as she opened it. "Sorry, I though I'd catch you--oh," she said, seeing Sherlock. "I, um, don't mean to interrupt."

"You aren't," John said. "I don't think he's moved in half an hour. A case, supposedly. What's the story?"

She looked at Sherlock again, and then turned to John. "So Eric Robertson was there."

"You're kidding. That wanker?"

She nodded. "Can you believe it?"

Half an hour later, Mary was sitting on the small table John had placed between the chairs and sharing the best of the nationwide school administration gossip when Sherlock clapped his hands. "Aha!" he said, making John startle enough to slosh tea down his wrist. "Obvious, once the pieces are in place. I have no idea why everyone trusts Canadians so much, they can be so cunning at things like this. Forget I said that, official secrets. Where's my mobile?"

"You put it back in your jacket pocket earlier," John said.

Sherlock spun on his bottom to stand up, and then startled to see Mary there. "Maryam, hello. When did you get here?"

"Half an hour," she said.

"Ah," he said, examining her closely and then springing to his feet. "The shellfish won't agree with you."

"I didn't eat any shellfish," she said, puzzled.

He paused, rooting through his jacket to find the phone, and reexamined her. "Nuts then? You're having a preliminary allergic reaction, hives are starting on your palms and neck."

She looked down at her palms. "I think it was the flowers at the dinner, actually. Miserable things, arrangements too high to see over. We had to put them on the floor." She put her hands on her thighs. "Anyway. I'll let you two be."

"You're good for tae kwon do?" John asked.

"Not a problem." She stood. "See you later, Sherlock."

"Take a diphenhydramine," he said, still texting Mycroft, and then paused. "Have a good evening," he said awkwardly.

"You too," she said, and went downstairs.

Sherlock sighed at whatever Mycroft's reply had been, and sat down to photograph the Legos for proof. "What did she want?"

"Just to tell me the gossip from her work thing." John put his book down. "Do you want tea?"

"Probably," Sherlock said, and locked his phone. "That was it?"

John stood and went to the kitchen, bringing his mug and pulling another down for Sherlock. "We're still friends, you know. Or something. You can't...you don't stop caring about someone just because you aren't together, necessarily. It's just...it's different. We're figuring it out."

"Mmm," Sherlock said, and John could feel eyes on him. He turned to look, and saw Sherlock scrutizing him, and looking vaguely...guilty.

Shit. "Sherlock. Don't deduce her."

Sherlock huffed. "I can't just turn it off."

"I don't care," John said. "Whatever you think you see. Whatever she's doing that you think I won't like. I don't care. It's not my business what she does. So don't tell me anything about it, and don't bother her about it. Do you understand?"

Sherlock squinted, like he was zooming in on John's face for analysis, and then sighed. "If you say so."

"I mean it." John turned back towards the almost bubbling water, and dropped tea bags into the cups. "Besides, you were wrong about the shellfish."

"You make tea like a barbarian," Sherlock said conversationally, standing and dropping into the chair across from where John had been sitting.

"Fit for you then," John said, pouring the water. He added milk to both cups, sugar to Sherlock's, and carried them over. "Did I tell you about the GSK account?"

"You've been a tease about it," Sherlock said, blowing over the surface. "Tell me."

And John did.

***

"Waleed does tae kwan do on Mondays too," Naz said as John unlocked the front door.

"Well, once you get your next belt you can try that," John said, removing his coat and hanging it on the hook. Privately he was hoping Naz would gain interests that didn't involve punching sooner rather than later, though it did give him some pride to watch him in his oversized gi.

"That's what mum said," Naz said, hanging his coat and knapsack before clambering towards the stairs.

John had just finished sorting Mary's mail into her basket and was about to start going through Naz's bag for the inevitable paperwork he'd not remembered to tell about when Naz called downstairs quietly. "Dad? Come here."

Something in the tone was worrisome, so John ignored the knapsack and went up. Naz was hovering outside the door to the sitting room. John poked his head in. Sherlock was lying on the couch, back to the room, covered with his coat, stocking feet sticking out the end. A piece of folded paper was pinned to the coat, with writing on it.

"Is he ok?" Naz asked in a whisper.

"I'll check," John said, hoping like hell it was nothing. He walked over gingerly and removed the note. It read:

I'M FINE
NOT HIGH
DID NOT BREAK IN (JULIA)
HAVEN'T SLEPT IN 42 HRS
CASE
SOLVED IT
DO NOT WAKE

John exhaled, and tried to bring his heartbeat back in control. He went over to Naz. "He's just tired. Why don't we go play in your room, yeah?"

"Ok," Naz said, and ran up the stairs.

After they had eaten supper, speaking in hushed voices across the kitchen table, and Naz had been put to bed, and John had settled at the desk to do some work, Sherlock stirred. It was slow, but he eventually rolled over to face the room. "John?" he muttered sleepily.

"I'm here," John said, hitting save. He stood from his desk and went over to Sherlock, crouching next to the sofa and checking his temperature and pulse instinctively. "You hungry? There's noodle soup from supper."

Sherlock pressed his face into his coat again, and then nodded. "Time?"

"Just gone 9:30," John said. "Come to the table, and you can tell me about it."

Sherlock at the table, coat over his shoulders like a cape, slurping chicken noodle soup like a third grader and muttering about embezzling was a set of idiosyncrasies John couldn't look away from. "Why didn't you go home?" he asked suddenly into a pause in the muttering.

Sherlocks spoon froze in the bowl. "I apologize," he said woodenly.

"That's not what I'm saying," John said. "It's fine, just. Why did you come here?"

Sherlock avoided eye contact. "I was in Whitehall. I could walk. Easier."

"Easier than one of Mycroft's cars?" John shook his head.

Sherlock's gaze didn't move from his bowl. "Do I need a reason?" he asked quietly, after a moment.

"No," John said, because there was something Sherlock wasn't saying, and he didn't know what it was. "It's fine, really. You can be here whenever you want."

"Right," Sherlock said quietly. "Whenever I want."

And John didn't know what that meant, but he didn't know how to find out either, so. "Tea?"

"Please," Sherlock said. And John got up to make tea.

Chapter Text

John was climbing into bed when his phone buzzed.  He sighed, but reached for it; Mary was still out tonight (vague 'plans'; the bitter part of him wondered if she were dating, if that was what Sherlock had seen, but it really wasn't his business), so he needed to be responsible.

But it was Sherlock.  I am not okay was all it said.  Not even a full stop.

"Shit," John said aloud. Come over. he texted.

He sat on the edge of the bed, resting the weight of his head against the heels of his hands for a moment, and tried to gather his strength for this.  When he heard the window slide open he startled--had he fallen asleep like that? Or had Sherlock been waiting around the corner for him to say yes?  He rose and walked to the kitchen, where Sherlock was standing, hunched, his eyes darting around.  Looking for John, he realized.

"I'm here," John said quietly.

Sherlock nearly jumped out of his skin.  He tilted his head towards John and examined him, his eyes twitchy, his neck still bowed.  After a long look he turned and headed back to the window.

"No, you don't," John said.  He went over to where Sherlock was pulling it open and pushed it back down.  When he tried to open it again, John grabbed him by the coat and maneuvered him away from the window and into a kitchen chair.  Sherlock deflated into the chair like a balloon.  "Now," John said, rubbing Sherlock's back gently.  "What is it?"

Sherlock said nothing for a long while. At first John thought it was just his usual pauses.  But this went on too long.  "Sherlock?" Right as he was about to get worried, he remembered--years ago--one of his regular clinic patients, an autistic girl, twelve or so. Sometimes during visits she'd talk forever, but other times she was silent, barely nodding or responding to questions with half-gestures  Her mother had explained that it was stress, and that as long as they were calm it would pass.  So he kept rubbing Sherlock's back.  "You can't talk right now, yeah?"

Slowly, Sherlock nodded.

"Ok.  That's fine."  John took a deep breath.  "Are you high?"

A sharp head shake no.

Relief.  "Have you done anything Mycroft needs to know about?"

Another no.

More relief.  "Okay.  So.  Do you need to eat?"

Stillness.

John sighed.  "It's Thursday. Have you eaten on Thursday?"

Stillness.

"Ok.  I'm going to get you a glass of milk then."

A nod.

Grateful for the affirmative reply, John poured the milk, watched Sherlock drink it as if in a trance.  He didn't know quite what to do then, so stood there, hand on the cool skin of Sherlock's neck, trying to think.

A rusty whisper.  "You're tired. I'll go."

"No you won't," John said, squeezing his neck.  "Although."  He considered this.  "Would you be able to rest in bed?  We could go lay down.  You don't have to sleep, but."

Sherlock still wasn't looking at him, but somehow his attention seemed to focus even more on John.

It seemed obvious what the question was, so John answered it.  "Yes, I am tired. And I would like to get some sleep. But you need me. I thought we could compromise."  He realized, suddenly, that he's just invited Sherlock into his bed, his bed in his bedroom that used to be Sherlock's and oh god, this was the strangest thing ever.  "Or the couch is fine too, I'll lay with you on the couch like last time, it's fine, let me--"

"No, bed is--"  Sherlock seemed to run out of words and just nodded.

"Let's get you up then," John said, and helped him stand.  He stripped Sherlock of his coat, heavy with damp and cold with December air, and draped it across the breakfast table.  Sherlock didn't walk himself to the bedroom, so John guided him in, handed him a spare pair of pajama pants, hung his suit jacket in the closet and averted his eyes.  Sherlock had to be maneuvered into the bed too, and lay there like a statue as John tucked him under the duvet.

He paused before climbing in himself.  "All right if I get in?"

Sherlock nodded once, jerkily.

So John climbed in, casual, like he slept with his best mate every day. And the funny thing was, even with Sherlock laying there stiff as a board, it was nice, to have someone else there. Nice to see Sherlock's profile across the pillow in the shadowy haze from the window.  "You okay?" He asked, reaching out and running a hand down Sherlock's face.

He saw Sherlock blink slowly.  "This is fine?"

"This is fine," John confirmed.  "If you need me, I'm right here.  Um.  Here."  He reached down Sherlock's arm until he reached his hands, folded on his chest like an effigy.  He slid his own hand between them.  "There. So you know I'm here, yeah?"

Sherlock's hand squeezed around his. "You're here," he said, quietly.

"Yes," John said, and watched Sherlock's unmoving profile until he fell asleep.

In the morning, he awoke to the sounds of Naz going down the stairs to Mary's.  He pushed his face into his arm, and then realizedit was numb because Sherlock was still holding onto it.  He smiled against his skin, and then rolled his neck to look at Sherlock, asleep in the same position he'd been in last night, head tilted to the side to face John's.  He was beautiful in the early morning dimness, eyelashes hazy and mouth parted.  John thought he'd never been happier to see someone on the other side of the bed.

He dozed, the awareness his hand between Sherlock's a warm glow on the edge of his consciousness, until Naz's feet were stomping up the stairs again.  He didn't want to wake Sherlock, but wanted to explain him less, so he slipped his hand out and slid out of bed, making it into the kitchen just in time to catch Naz into a hug.  "Good morning.  Mum's taking you to school?"

"Yeah," Naz said.  "Can we do a film tonight?"

"Sure, I'll see what's available," John said, bending to kiss Naz on the hair.

"Text Sherlock, he liked Minions," Naz said.

Sherlock had not liked Minions, and had told John about it at length after Naz had gone to bed.  "I will. Have a good day at school."

"Yup, bye!" Naz said, heading back for the stairs at his standard clomp.

John stretched his back, and went back to bed.  Sherlock was lying on his side now, staring at the window.  He turned when John came in, and started to sit up.  "No, don't bother," John said, climbing back under the duvet. "Unless you really want to get up.  But it's Friday, I usually have a lie-in on Fridays."

Sherlock rolled away from the window to face him.  "Why?"

John sighed and pressed his face into the pillow.  Sherlock appeared to have regained the use of words. "Naz tends to get up at the arse crack of dawn on Saturdays.  So, you know, if there's no pressing work, Friday's a better lie in day."  He opened his eyes and watched Sherlock watch him.  "You ok this morning?"

"Better," Sherlock said.  He appeared to be considering his words, and finally tried, "Flashbacks are tedious."

"Bloody right they are," John said.  He wanted to reach out and touch Sherlock, wrap him in his arms, hold him close and try to communicate the sentiment physically, but it felt too odd.  "Anything you want to tell me about?"

"No," Sherlock said quietly.

"Fine," John said. "Anything I need to know about helping you when you can't talk?"

Sherlock blushed at that, and rolled back to face the ceiling.  "I apologize."

"Not what I said.  Not what I meant, either."

He considered this for a long moment.  "You did adequately.  It was...fine."

"Good."  John took the risk, and reached his hand a little further to rest it against Sherlock's arm.  Sherlock twitched, but John left it there.  "We can go for brunch in a bit."

Sherlock swallowed visibly.  "Fine."

John curled his hand around Sherlock's bicep.  "Just give me a minute," he said, feeling his eyes close involuntarily.

"Yes," Sherlock said, and was still.

***

John flicked on the basement light.  December twelfth and they hadn't decorated at all; last year, they'd bought the tree on December first, and had spent the whole month in an excess of holiday spirit.  Then again, last year he'd been contentedly, if not happily, married, he and Mary had been a well oiled parenting machine with only one household to manage, and Sherlock had been seven years dead.  Naz had started asking when they'd decorate, so John thought he'd use the time while Mary had him at tae kwan do to bring things up.  Still needed a tree, though. Two trees? Two trees, he supposed.

He moved boxes around in search of the ones marked Christmas.  Anyway, carrying boxes was a good distraction from thinking about Sherlock.  He'd been fine after they'd gotten out of bed yesterday and gone to brunch--that wasn't the problem. There wasn't a problem, per se, he supposed.  It was just that--he'd noticed a pattern, John had. He wasn't good at noticing patterns--tended to take things as they were, not assume a grand plan--but he'd noticed this one, because it was pretty simple. Sherlock didn't like living with Mycroft.  Not just in the ordinary way you'd expect adult siblings to have trouble sharing a household, or that Sherlock didn't like feeling beholden to his brother, or watched all the time.  But Sherlock actively disliked Highgate, avoided going back there as much as possible, always preferred to come to Baker Street or to meet John for supper elsewhere. If he was feeling poorly, if he needed to think, even if he needed to sleep after a case, he didn't go to Mycroft's house.  He came here.

And that wasn't a problem.  In fact, John would be surprised at how much not a problem it is, but he's doing too much thinking about what's going on with Sherlock to think too much about what's going on with himself.  No, John wanted Sherlock to be here whenever he wanted.  The issue was, Sherlock seemed to want to be here all the time.  And John didn't know what to do about that.

He'd thought about suggesting Sherlock get a flat in Marylebone--Mycroft would certainly pay for it, or MI-5 could, whatever--but honestly, he wasn't sure Sherlock could live alone.  Even before he'd gone away, he'd been terrible at things like feeding himself and not setting his flat on fire.  And now--no, John wanted him living with someone else, not a minder, just someone to keep him company.

He carried a box of Mary's Christmas things up and put it in her door.  Christ, his back hurt.  He stretched it and then went down to find his own.  But if not Mycroft, then who? Molly, he supposed,  was technically an option, but that was such a burden to put on her, making her Sherlock's caretaker.  John knew what he really wanted was for Sherlock to come here, to live with him at Baker Street, but here he was in Sherlock's old room, and Naz in his; where would he put him?  It wasn't like he had an extra bedroom--

John stopped, box in hand.  Wait.  He set down the decorations and turned around.  Turned around and really looked at the basement, which was actually 221 C, was actually a fully functional basement flat with a small kitchen and smaller loo and a separate bedroom and tiny windows letting in light from the street and oh my god, they had an extra flat in their house.  He sat down heavily on the stairs and looked around.  Mycroft's contractors had done a good job, made it habitable when it never really had been when Mrs. Hudson owned the house. Less atmospheric than B was, but it was nice. Lovely, actually.

Sherlock could live here. Sherlock could live with him.

The thought filled him with a lightness he had trouble fully understanding.  It had been so wonderful to wake up next to Sherlock yesterday morning, to know where he was, that he was safe and fine and there; so good to eat brunch with him and spend the day with him and just be together. And maybe it wouldn't be like that if he lived here--maybe the feeling of having Sherlock with him all the time would lose some novelty--but Christ, he wanted it.  He wanted Sherlock with him, all the time.  And maybe he could have it.

In a daze, he didn't hear the front door unlock, or Naz's voice, or even Mary's saying "Your dad's left the basement light on," until it went suddenly dark.

"Sorry, still down here," he called back up.

The light flicked on again.  "Sorry, didn't hear you. What are you doing down there? "

He pushed himself to his feet.  "Getting the Christmas decorations up."

"Really?" Naz said.  "Can we go get a tree today?"

John picked up his box.  "Two trees, I think," he said, and went up the stairs.

***

It was Thursday before he had a chance to talk to Sherlock. He'd been on a case, texted John like a maniac about nothing in particular, and then slept through what would have been their Tuesday dinner (with prior notice), and only popped by the playground on Wednesday. But John hadn't minded--it was obviously a conversation that was going to take a bit, to make sure Sherlock knew it was a real invitation and that he could say yes, that he should say yes, and he didn't want to do it when Sherlock was burned out or distracted or anything. So he called a collectables dealer about the glass shoes and the family china neither he nor Harry wanted, and found some room in his bookshelves for the books he had left in the basement, and poked his head into the disaster of a half-attic above Naz's room and figured out how much plywood he'd need to make it a useable storage space, and generally kept spacing off at odd moments and thinking about what he'd need to do to get C ready for Sherlock. He hadn't talked to Mary yet--it seemed presumptuous--and he realized it might be a problem, but he was willing to fight for this, because it was the right thing and it was what he wanted and it would be good for Sherlock and--and because he wanted it, and because he hadn't asked for a damn thing from this divorce, so now he was asking.

Of course, once he and Sherlock were sitting at a cramped table in an Italian restaurant that Sherlock had picked out from Yelp reviews and whatever dark necromancy he used to pick holes-in-the-wall, it seemed hard to find an in. Sherlock was buzzing about the case, and about the results of his report to the Manchester City Council ("Imbiciles.") and the inaccuracy of including sea urchin on a menu when it was a Sicilian dish and this restaurant was attempting to represent Florentine cuisine. John made the right noises at the right times and ate and waited.

"What is it?" Sherlock said, when he'd apparently exhausted himself on the subject of names for broad beans long enough.

"Hmm?" John took a bite of his pasta.

"You've been thinking of something all night. Something that pleases you, but you aren't bringing it up. It's tedious to watch you smile to yourself and not know why. So." He made a gesture with his fork.

John wanted to be exasperated, but he couldn't blame Sherlock for being able to read him. Besides, he wanted to ask, he just didn't now how to start. He set down his silverware. "Well. I had something I wanted to talk to you about, actually. And it's--well. Okay. What it is, is--"

Sherlock gave him the world's least patient glare.

John cleared his throat. "Fine. Um. You hate living with Mycroft." Sherlock's eyes fell back to his plate, but John pressed forward. "And you want to spend all your time at 221. So I was thinking--I was thinking you could move into flat C. With us."

Sherlock's silverware stopped moving. He didn't say anything. But he wasn't frozen, wasn't checked out, like he was sometimes, so John took that as a good sign and kept on. "It's quite nice, actually, the flat," John said. He could feel the momentum building as he spoke. "We're using it as storage, but it's a proper flat. It wouldn't take long to get everything out of it and set it up for you. I don't know, do you need a lab bench? I think we could install a proper lab bench with fume hood if you need one, in the back corner. I suppose you don't have one at Mycroft's, either, but we could. You wouldn't need to cook for yourself, you could come up to mine for meals if you want. I mean, but you wouldn't have to. I'm certain Mycroft's cars will still take you, you know, wherever you need to go. I haven't talked to Mary yet, but I'm sure she'll be agreeable. Or she'll come around, at least. I don't know if you need furniture--"

"No," Sherlock said.

John paused. "No what?"

"No thank you," Sherlock said sharply, his utensils still paused above his pork.

"No, I--you don't want to move in?"

"No, I don't," Sherlock said, still perfectly motionless.

Something was wrong. Something was really, really wrong, and John had no idea what was going on. "I, um. Okay. Um. Why?"

"Because I don't want to." Sherlock's shoulders had acquired a self-protective hunch, seemingly, though John was pretty sure he hadn't moved.

"No," John said. Okay, wait, that was wrong. "I mean, I don't mean to--it's just, you don't like living with Mycroft. You say it. All the time. And you'd rather be at Baker Street, because you are there. All the time. I didn't deduce either of those things wrong, I know it. And you aren't saying I did. So, I don't understand. Why don't you want to--" live with me, no, don't say that-- "live at 221?"

And just like that, the switch flipped, and Sherlock was furious,, dropping his silverware and snapping his eyes up to John's. "Because I refuse to play the role of Bertha Rochester in this little drama of yours."

"I…what?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Is the state school system really so miserable that you've never read Jane Eyre?"

And now they'd transitioned into the nastiness for nastiness's sake portion of the fight, after only about fifteen seconds of John being aware they were having one. "What the fuck does Jane Eyre have to do with anything?"

"The madwoman in the attic." Sherlock pushed away from the table. "If you'll excuse me." He swept his coat on.

"Sherlock, wait," John said, rising. He couldn't leave, he could not leave, and John didn't understand the wave of adrenaline and fear that swept over him but he knew what it meant: fix this..

"No," Sherlock said, and stormed out of the restaurant.

"Shit," John said, grabbing his coat. A waiter was coming over to them, an obvious flare of dine-and-dash panic on his face. "No, wait," John said, and reached into his coat to grab his wallet. "Um, we'll be back," he said to the waiter. "Or, I don't know, I'll be back, here." He handed him his wallet. "Don't clear it, I just." And he sprinted out onto the street.

Sherlock wasn't yet to the next corner, his shoulders hunched and his phone in his hand. "Sherlock, don't," John said, running after him. Sherlock froze where he stood, but didn't turn around. John skidded up to him and reached out to turn him, but hesitated. "I'm sorry," he said, on instinct, no fucking idea what to say. "I've, um. I've obviously hurt you, and I don't understand it. But I'm sorry." Sherlock didn't keep walking, didn't run away, didn't keep moving his thumb on his phone (probably to text Mycroft's cars, hopefully to text Mycroft's cars, christ, there were so many worse things he could do). "I don't understand," John repeated. "I'm not wrong. I know I'm not. I just--I need you to tell me what I am wrong about."

He could see Sherlock start to rock, just barely, and reached out tentatively, resting a hand against the centre of his back to anchor him. Sherlock pressed back into it, and didn't shake him off or run away, so John left it there, and tried to think. John had said the wrong thing, but which thing was the wrong thing? Which thing wasn't good? Sherlock hadn't changed his expression at any specific part of his stupid babbling, no single trigger, so it's the whole thing, something about that. Bertha Rochester, madwoman in the attic he had said, and yes, John hadn't read Jane Eyre but he'd seen the bloody movie hadn't he, Rochester stuck her up there, couldn't escape her, she burned the house down--oh, shit. "Sherlock," he said, pressing his hand harder. "You aren't the madwoman in the attic."

"In the cellar, then," Sherlock said quietly.

"No," John said. And he wasn't thinking, because if he was thinking he wouldn't have stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Sherlock, holding him close like an absolute idiot in the middle of the pavement, pressing his face into the wool of his coat. "You aren't--you aren't a burden. You haven't ruined anything." He held Sherlock there and all of a sudden it was like something became clear in his mind, the reason why he was standing in the street hugging a man half a foot taller than him and the reason why he'd been so happy to wake up with Sherlock the other morning and the reason he'd left his bloody wife for him. "I love you," he said, holding on harder in case Sherlock decided to bolt. "I want you to live with me. That's it. That's--that's it."

Sherlock was still, not running, not pushing John away, not speaking. And it was terrifying, awful, but he wasn't moving away, so John held on, held on and waited.

"I don't understand," Sherlock said.

That cracked through John's heart a bit, but he pressed his forehead into Sherlock's back and breathed. "I'm sorry," he said. "It doesn't have to--it's just, that's why. You don't have to do anything about it." Please don't leave again, he didn't say.

Sherlock pushed away a bit, but not to leave, to turn around and stare cautiously at John. John made himself be brave and take it, to let go of Sherlock and be stared at. "I don't know what you mean," Sherlock said flatly, "when you say that."

"Yes, you do," John said.

"It doesn't make sense."

And that was utter bollocks, but apparently a gesture was required here. So John took a deep breath, and reached up to touch Sherlock's cheek. And when Sherlock's eyes closed and his forehead wrinkled in confusion, John leaned up and kissed him, just a touch of lips, terrifying and necessary, the cold skin of his cheek under his palm. He pulled away but Sherlock's hand was on his elbow now, holding him in place, so he leaned in again and touched his forehead to Sherlock's, bowed to rest against his. It was cold and they stood there, barely touching, and John waited.

After a moment, he opened his eyes and leaned back, and Sherlock followed, and stared at him, confusion pouring off him and still unconvinced. John stroked his cheek. He wasn't running, at least. "It's fine," John said quietly. "It doesn't have to mean--that. We don't have to. It's just--" And Sherlock cut him off by leaning down and kissing him, harder, pulling him close with the hand on his elbow and gripping like John was keeping him from drifting away. John curled his fingers into the edges of Sherlock's hair and he gasped and opened his mouth, letting John in, pulling him closer. Sherlock lingered against him as the kiss slowed, their bodies pushed together, and a sort of giddy joy rose up in John's chest. He slipped his other hand under the edge of Sherlock's coat and touched his waist. Sherlock's eyes were still closed, and his mouth twitched up, just barely.

John stroked his cheek. "It's freezing out here."

"Is it?" Sherlock said, voice a bit thick.

"Yeah," John said. "Also I threw my wallet at a waiter."

"You what?"

"I may have panicked a bit." John laughed, and watched Sherlock's mouth keep curving into a smile as his eyes opened. "So, um. Any chance we could go back and finish our meals and, I don't know, not be cold?"

Sherlock sighed and straightened, though he didn't move away from John's hands on him. "Is your wallet worth the humiliation of returning after causing a scene?"

"Have we ever not caused a scene in our lives?" John was grinning all the way now.

"Probably not," Sherlock said. He was grinning too.

Once they were reseated at their table (their dinners had grown tepid, but the waiter hurried over with John's wallet and two coffees and an absolutely neutral expression, and John wasn't certain which he was more grateful for), Sherlock cleared his throat. "My metaphor was not entirely inaccurate."

"I'm not having this conversation in literary references," John said. "Not unless you want me to do my part in Doctor Who plot summaries."

Sherlock rolled his eyes and tapped his fingers on the table. "You feel…obliged. To me."

John considered this. "It's not a bad thing," he said. "I mean. People have obligations to each other, because they care about them. Friends, family, partners. It's all--it's how people relate." He swallowed. "You jumped off a building for me. I mean, that--that's obligation, too."

"It was selfish," Sherlock said. "I didn't want you dead."

"Right, well, same here, basically," John said. "So, there we are, even."

Sherlock stabbed a bit of rapini with his fork and ate it, eyes narrowed in thought. "Are you asking me to move because you feel obliged to…prevent my suffering? Provide me a better environment for recovery?"

"Nope," John said, and then revised. "I mean, I do think you'd like it better, and I do think it would be good for your recovery. But really, I." He avoided eye contact and pushed his cold pasta around his plate, and tried to make the thing he'd been feeling into words. "I was happy, when you slept over, last week. I'm always happy when you're in my flat. So I just…I want you in my flat. All the time."

Sherlock hmm'd and tapped his fingers on the table. "You said 'It doesn't have to mean that.' Outside. Clarify."

"Um. Well." John tried to gather his thoughts. "What I mean is. Um." No good. He shook his head. "Sorry. I just have--trouble. With these things."

"Unfortunately, that is not a failing I can accommodate at the moment," Sherlock said tersely.

And John looked at Sherlock's hands, the tension of them on the silverware, and took a deep breath. "You're the most important person in my life," he said. "I mean, there's Naz, but--that's different. It's just you and him. And that's not--that's not going to change. No matter what. There aren't--conditions, or anything." He glanced up at Sherlock's eyes, which were focused like lasers on his face. "But there's a door," he said quickly, pushing it out, eyes back down. "I mean, a--a metaphorical door. And we could open it, and--change what we are. Somewhat, I mean, we'd still be--" He checked in with Sherlock again, and this time couldn't bear to break the eye contact. "I love you, and I'm your friend, and we could--we could try. Being--romantic. Like that. But if you don't want to, it's--it won't change anything, if we don't open the door. So, so, it's up to you, whether we do or not."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "And what do you prefer?"

This startled John. "I'll be fine either way. Really, it's--it's what you want."

"That is not an acceptable answer," Sherlock said flatly.

"It--what?"

"You say there is a door," Sherlock said, and John could feel him ramping up for a huge monologue. "You say I may choose whether or not we go through it. But I do not go through this door alone. We go through it. And therefore, the decision to go through it should be a mutual one, not up to a single individual. I realize that the majority of your life you have avoided having to be the one to make decisions about major relationship steps. You have let girlfriends decide when it was time to break up and time to get serious. When Mary asked you if you wanted to marry her you treated it as an order to follow. You are as good a soldier in this as in any other area of life, but it is inconceivable that you do not yourself have preferences. You simply refuse to express them for fear of--I don't know what you're afraid of, frankly, likely rejection, possibly revulsion, which is ridiculous, but you frequently are. And now you are asking me to do this same thing for you, to tell you what you want, and I will not do it. Because, yes, there is a door, and there has been a door, and John, what do you want?"

John blinked. And blinked again. He could feel his the nerves in his hand sparking, knew that if he lifted it off the table it would tremble and cramp. Sherlock always knew what we wanted, why this one time was he unwilling to say it? Except that--except that maybe he didn't know. John closed his eyes, and what came to him was the feeling of being in bed last Friday morning, Sherlock next to him, and that strange craving to cross the bed and wrap him in his arms. And he always has this feeling around Sherlock lately, and maybe he'd had it before (there has been a door, Sherlock said), and if he looked at it, really looked at it, he knew what it meant. "Sherlock," he said, eyes still closed, and lifted his hand, feeling the tremble. He slid it across the table, and left it there, and waited.

Sherlock's hand curled around his, and John exhaled heavily. He opened his eyes, and there was Sherlock, beautiful as ever, intent as ever, not clinging to him, not grasping for him, not pulling him along, but touching him, holding his hand. "I love you," John said quietly. "So much. And I want--I want." He nodded.

Something in Sherlock's lovely face cracked a little at that, and he closed his eyes, squeezed John's hand. John wanted to push the table between them away, to go across and wrap Sherlock in his arms and make it clear, entirely, 100% clear, what he meant--and Christ, he wanted to kiss him, how had he never noticed that key tidbit in all of his feelings towards Sherlock before, he was a bloody idiot--but instead he just turned his hand over, intertwined their fingers, and held on.

There was a throat-clearing next to them. John startled, and some part of him wanted to drop Sherlock's hand, but then he remembered they were apparently together now so he should really not be chickenshit about handholding in public. The waiter was standing there, with an overly friendly look on his face. "Just…checking in? Can I get you anything?" He noticed their hands, and raised his eyebrows. "Another bottle of wine?" he said hopefully. Oh Christ, the waiter probably thought he'd proposed or something.

John cleared his throat, because he didn't think from how Sherlock was looking that he could speak yet. "Just the check, please, I think." He looked over at Sherlock, who nodded. "Yes, the check."

"Excellent," the waiter said, and spun away.

"Well," John said, squeezing Sherlock's hand. "That rather broke the mood."

Sherlock squeezed back. "Probably a good thing."

"Yeah, it was getting a bit intense." John felt a giggle rise up as it had on the street. "I really never thought I'd be the type for big romantic scenes in restaurants."

"Oh, you aren't. I rather forced you into this one," Sherlock said, smiling.

"Ever the drama queen."

"You really should be used to it by now."

"I am," John said. "I really am."

They paid the bill and did not give the waiter any easy answer to what had just happened that left them a bit giggly. John helped Sherlock on with his coat--he'd never done that with someone that much taller than him, but it felt right, and Sherlock blushed a bit rather than rolling his eyes, so it seemed to go over well.

Standing on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, elbow to elbow with Sherlock, John turned his face up to look at the stars. "What the hell do we do now?"

"Honestly, John, I was rather counting on your prodigious romantic experience to answer that question." Sherlock leaned against him a little more.

Well, if that's what he wanted, John could try to provide. "Normally there's a bit more lead up before the important relationship status talks," John said, wrapping an arm around Sherlock's waist. "And I generally I knew it was a date when I left for it. Wait. Did you know this was a date?"

Sherlock sighed. "I have not been able to trust my judgement on that question."

For some reason, that was surprising. John turned his face to look at him. "Because you haven't dated enough, or?"

"Because I couldn't be sure sentiment wasn't clouding my perceptions." Sherlock blinked at the stars, and leaned a little harder on John's shoulder.

"Christ, I'm sorry," John said. "You've been waiting for me to stop being an idiot, haven't you?"

"Not really," Sherlock said. "To borrow your metaphor, I rather thought I burned the door to the ground when I died. Wasn't quite sure that I was actually still seeing it, rather than just wanting it to be there." He sighed. "I'd appreciate if we could avoid dwelling on the tragic elements of this at the moment. I was in rather a good mood there for a bit."

John leaned his head against Sherlock and squeezed his waist. "Right. Well, generally, in my prodigious romantic experience, right after major serious relationship status dates, the good ones, at least, the parties head home and proceed to have extremely enthusiastic sex. Is that on the table for us?"

"Absolutely," Sherlock said. He took a step forward and raised an arm to summon a cab.

When one inevitably arrived in thirty seconds, John held the door and let Sherlock enter first. "Baker Street, please," John said to the cabbie, as he climbed in, "near the--"

"No," Sherlock said, and leaned forward. "Highgate."

"What?" John grabbed Sherlock's hand. "Why aren't we going home?" The image of Sherlock in his bed last week had been tumbling around his brain ever since he'd conjured it in the restaurant, and his imagination was starting to get creative with deleting clothes.

Sherlock rolled his eyes at him. "Yes, John, it's an excellent idea to bring your brand new junkie serial killer boyfriend back to the house you share with your small child and ex-wife for a noisy sex marathon."

The cabbie was giving them a look. "Highgate's fine," John said, sighing. "And you aren't a serial killer," he muttered at Sherlock as he settled back to lean against him after giving the rest of Mycroft's address. "Or a junkie."

"Really not the point," Sherlock said, curling in against John's shoulder. "Are you still going to make me live in the basement?"

"Of course not. But maybe a biohazard fridge down there?"

"I've cut down radically on the poisonous experimentation," Sherlock said. "It's all international intrigue these days. Tedious."

John buried his nose in Sherlock's soft hair and closed his eyes. "You'll cope," he said, and smiled.

When they got to Mycroft's house, Sherlock hesitated on the walk. "What is it?" John asked, squeezing the hand he held.

Sherlock nodded to the lit ground floor windows. "He's in the study. He'll want to talk." The expression on his face made plain he was not particularly looking forward to it.

John studied Sherlock for a moment. "I've got an idea."

***

Mycroft lifted his head from his file when he heard the door open and shut, and then the alarm system retrigger. He hadn't expected Sherlock this early--surveillance had established his pattern was to return to 221 Baker Street with John after dinners out, or spent his evenings stalking through London with no visible purpose before he summoned his car. Mycroft closed the file and went into the entry hall to evaluate the situation.

Sherlock had just finished hanging his coat on his peg in the doorway. Hesitant? There was something there, but not immediately apparent what it was. "An early night, then," Mycroft said, positioning himself at the foot of the stairs, hoping to be able to glean more from watching him pass.

"Hmm?" Sherlock said. That was distraction, but the cause remained obscure. Mycroft was not best pleased by the lack of evidence. "Ah, perhaps a little." Sherlock walked over to join him, hands folded neatly behind his back.

"And how was dinner with Dr. Watson tonight?" No visible air of intoxication, one glass of wine at most with dinner--

"I thought it went quite well," said a surprising voice from the kitchen door. Mycroft startled to see John Watson emerging from their kitchen, holding two wine glasses and a bottle from the small rack on the kitchen counter, smiling in a manner that seemed to combine the cheerful with the lascivious in a very worrisome way. "Good evening, Mycroft."

"Good evening, John," Mycroft said, his manners operating without conscious intervention by his brain.

John swiveled the smile to Sherlock, and the lascivious percentage increased marginally. "Coming, love?" he said, starting up the stairs without hesitation.

Sherlock blinked at him, and then turned his attention back to Mycroft. "Yes, I would say it went well."

Mycroft raised an eyebrow.

Sherlock glanced up the stairs at John's retreating form.

"Well then," Mycroft said. "I'll just…head back to my study. For…the evening."

"Probably best," Sherlock said, starting up the stairs a bit faster than he usually took them.

The first place Mycroft went when he returned to his study was to the control panel for the security system, to disable the recordings in Sherlock's suite. The second was to the bottom drawer of his desk, where he kept his ear plugs.

***

John hesitated for a moment between the doors for Sherlock's study and bedroom, before deciding the study was less presumptuous and letting himself in. Sherlock was right behind him, and shut the door. John found a table to set down the props he'd grabbed from the kitchen. "Well, that went over well, I think."

"John," Sherlock said. "You are marvelous."

John turned back to him, expecting to see he was being teased, but instead Sherlock was watching him with a smile starting to bloom across his face, the great crinkly one he usually held back, probably because he thought it looked undignified. John wasn't sure the last time he'd seen it, but it hadn't been in years. "So are you," he said quietly.

Sherlock looked down at that, but the smile was still there. "Should we--sit?" he asked, gesturing to one of the sofas. But when John went to sit on it, he snapped, "No--not in the centre, sit on the side. Either side. No, the left side."

"All right," John said warily, moving to the side.

"Perfect," Sherlock said, and came over and dropped himself on John's lap, his legs sticking out down the length of the sofa, his back to its arm, and one of his arms behind John's neck. "There, that should be optimal for the first bit."

"Ah, you've got a plan," John said, wrapping both of his arms around Sherlock and adjusting to his weight pressing him into the cushions.

"Less a full plan," Sherlock said, "than a series of recommended stops. How long is your refractory period at present?"

John laughed and leaned into Sherlock's neck, which was warm and smelled like dried sweat and fine wool. "It has been…literally years since I've had cause to find that out."

"Hff," Sherlock said in annoyance, arching his neck. John took the hint and started pressing soft brushes of lips against the skin. "What time do you need to be home in order to see Nazir before school?"

"About seven," John said, opening his mouth just enough to breathe on Sherlock's pulse.

Sherlock squirmed a little, pressed closer, and pulled his hand out from where it had been running through John's hair to look at his watch. "Taking into account traffic patterns and average commute times during peak and off peak hours, that gives us…eight hours, give or take a few. Given your general level of cardiovascular fitness--" John ran the point of his tongue against Sherlock's jugular vein, and he gasped. "It seems plausible to assume two rounds are in the cards. Oh my god, John." He turned his head, bracketed John's face with his hands, and kissed him, and kissed him, and kissed him.

It was surreal, John thought, entirely so, to be sitting on a ridiculous sofa sliding his hands under Sherlock Holmes's clothes, listening to him gasp and feeling his fingers curl against John's body with each new sensation. Surreal to feel this body he'd seen flopping half-dressed through their flat rock against him, to feel the new scars and the old ones under his fingertips. To have Sherlock fumbling for the button of his jeans, squirming to straddle him without ever breaking the connection of their mouths. "Bed," he muttered, sliding his hands down the back of Sherlock's trousers to feel the warm curve of his arse. "We definitely need a bed."

"Bed's for round two," Sherlock panted, hands pulling on John's jumper.

"What's round one then?" John asked, pushing Sherlock's shirt off his shoulders and running his hands down his back to rock their hips together, reattaching himself to Sherlock's neck.

"Let me get your bloody trousers off and you'll find out," Sherlock said.

Surreal to have Sherlock on his knees between John's legs, his mouth slow and soft and insistent around John's cock, little hungry noises purring from his throat, his hair soft in John's hands. "Christ, you're good at this," John said, curling his fingers to cradle him closer and letting his hips follow Sherlock's rhythm. "You're so beautiful, Sherlock, oh."

Sherlock's hand slipped off John's thigh at that, and John could hear the slide of Sherlock's zip. "Oh, don't make yourself come," John said, "please, let me, just--" He gasped as Sherlock took him deeper, and curled his fingers harder. "Oh my god, Sherlock, yes."

Sherlock crawled back on his lap as he was shaking and coming down, now as naked as John was, his skin cool in the air of the study as he pressed against John's sweat-warm body, wrapping his arms languidly around John's neck. His kisses against John's slack mouth were hungry and deep and carried just the edge of desperation behind them, and John gripped Sherlock's hip and got his hand to move enough to hold Sherlock's cock, hot and pulsing in his hand. His noises were all John could hear and his scent filled him and it was so much, so much to feel him here like this, alive and warm and precious and so beautiful, his face contorting and twisting and gasping as John touched him, because John was touching him, because they could do this now, and it was so right to feel him like this that John could barely believe it.

The bed was cold at first, when they managed to stumble there. The books were shoved off and the pillows got lost somewhere and all John wanted to do was touch Sherlock, to hold him. "I love you," John whispered into the skin of his chest, and Sherlock dug his fingers in to John's shoulder blades, whispered "please, John," and that was that, John was never leaving this bed again if he could help it.

They drifted, tired but not sleeping, hands soft on each other's bodies. Sherlock kissed his way across John's shoulder, stopped when John flinched but didn't stop looking at the scar until John turned his face and kissed him. "I've been curious a long time," Sherlock said, not in the least apologetic.

"I still don't like it," John said.

"I can understand that," Sherlock said.

The night was long and liquid. John didn't remember the last time he'd been as desperate for a lover as he was with Sherlock, or the last time he'd been so unhurried, let the moment stretch as long as it could like this. He felt skin under his hands and teeth and body, and listened to Sherlock's voice transformed by exhaustion and pleasure and want, and he luxuriated in it, let it fill him up, surround him.

"Should we get married?" John asked at three a.m., Sherlock curled around him like an octopus.

"John," Sherlock said, horrified. "You've been divorced six weeks."

"Yeah, probably still illegal, hmm," John said contemplatively.

"You're mad," Sherlock said, pushing his head into John's shoulder. "Ask me again when you're not mad."

"All right," John said, and pulled him closer.

Feeling Sherlock's body open for him was the closest he'd come to a religious experience in his life. Sherlock moaned low and desperate, his back pressed to John's front on their side in the bed, reaching back with one hand to hold John closer. John slipped one hand under Sherlock's neck to hold his other hand and pushed forward, dug his fingers in to the skin of his hip, whispered, "Is this what you wanted, love?"

"Yes," Sherlock said, holding John's hand tighter. "Yes, yes, yes."

Chapter Text

"I should shower," John said, stroking Sherlock's shoulder blade.

"I'll join you," Sherlock said, his nose mashed into John's neck.

"That really wouldn't help me leave in a timely fashion."

"Funny, that."

John kissed his forehead.  "Come on, then."

***

"My shirt is disgusting."

"Here." One of Sherlock's vests hit him in the head where he was standing with a towel around his waist, dripping water on the posh rug, untangling his dirty clothes.  "Do you want clean pants too?"

"There is no way your pants would fit me," John snorted.

"Mycroft's would." 

"Oh my god, never in a million years."  John gave his pants a critical look, and decided going commando was the better idea.  

The shirt was too tight, but Sherlock seemed to appreciate the effect.  "Do you want coffee?  I assume we have some in the kitchen."  He tied his dressing gown shut and yawned, leaning against his wardrobe.

"I'm worried about how long the tube will take." John went over and brushed his hand through Sherlock's damp hair.  

"Honestly," Sherlock said, leaning down to rest his head on John's shoulder.  "I'll call you a car."  

"We skipped all the awkward bits of this, didn't we?" John said, curling a palm around Sherlock's neck and pressing his cheek against his head.

"Mm, or we got them out of the way," Sherlock said, biting John's sweater.  

"True."  John held Sherlock close, and breathed him in, and hoped to Christ that walking out of here wouldn't break the spell.  "I love you."

Sherlock lifted his head to look at John, wrapped a hand around his cheek and watched him, eyes slow and careful. Absorbing everything.  John understood, and wished he had it in him to erase all of their questions, but since he couldn't, he just reveled in the glow of Sherlock's gaze.  

Sherlock leaned in. Pressed his forehead to John's.  "I want you to stay."

"I can't now," John whispered.  "But come over tonight."  He swallowed.  "Or this afternoon.  Really, take a nap and then come over."  

"You have work.  And Naz."  Sherlock's fingers were curled around John's arms, and John thought, just barely, he could feel the ghost of a tremble.

"Work can fuck off for a day."  John stroked his fingers along the silk of Sherlock's gown at his waist, and wished it was the silk of his skin.  "And Naz loves you, he'll be thrilled to see you."  

"I'm not entirely certain I can be appropriate around you today," Sherlock whispered.

"You never have been, love," John said, and kissed him.

***

Mycroft was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, with two travel mugs in his hands.

"You don't normally leave this early," Sherlock said.

"I thought John and I could carpool," Mycroft said mildly.

"I really can take the tube," John said.

"Don't be ridiculous," Sherlock said to John, and then, "It's out of your way," to Mycroft, suspiciously.  

"It's important that we all do our part to reduce congestion in central London," Mycroft said, holding out one of the coffees to John.  

Bloody hell.  John sighed, and took the coffee.  "Thanks," he said.  Then, deliberately, he wrapped on hand around Sherlock's wrist, leaned in, and kissed him at the edge of his mouth. "I'll see you later," he said.  

"Yes," Sherlock said, still glaring at his brother.  

John squeezed his wrist again, said "Get some sleep," and went to get his coat.

In the car, John drank his coffee and ignored Mycroft staring at him for as long as possible.  Finally he sighed and gave in.  "Yes?"  

"Are you sure this is wise?" 

John leaned his head back against the seat. "I'm not sure I know what wise means in this context."

"I worry about his instability."  

John snorted and drank his coffee.  

"I worry about your commitment."

John's head snapped over to look at him at that.  "That's the second time you've said that to me since he came back," he said.  "Is it a test, or do you mean it?"

"It is a contingency I need to plan for," Mycroft said, and he wasn't teasing.

"No, you really don't," John said.  For dramatic effect, he paused with his coffee halfway to his mouth, as if considering.  "Actually.  I've got ten years until my dad had his heart attack.  Pretty decent family history.  If you've got any secret hereditary cardiac disease cure the government's hiding, I'll take that."  

"And you're sure," Mycroft said, still serious.  

John closed his eyes and remembered Sherlock across the table last night, telling him he had to choose, he had to decide what he wanted, had to stop waiting for the tide to take him.  "I've never been so sure about anything in my life."

Mycroft studied him for another moment, and then leaned back against his seat.  "Good."  

There was a long awkward pause.

"The traffic really is surprising at this hour," Mycroft said, with a note of consideration in his voice.  

John couldn't help it.  He laughed.

***

John climbed out of the car into the morning gloom and stretched.  Just 6:30 now, and he felt rather like he'd been hit by a truck.  Too bloody old to pull sex all nighters.  They'd have to wait a bit for the next one.  (Actually, he was quite looking forward to sleeping next to Sherlock again, he realized.  Had its own charms.)

"Morning, John."

He was startled, and turned to see Julie unlocking the front door to the cafe.  "Um, morning," he said, standing there with a coffee cup in his hand on the sidewalk.

"Long night?" she said with a smile.

Oh, shit.  John realized, very suddenly, that there was really only one reason he would be coming home at 6:30am in last night's clothes.  And of course that reason was true, but it was just so bloody trite to think of what he was doing as a walk of shame. But here he was, ashamed none the less. 

He cleared his throat and hoped that the cold was disguising his blush.  "Er, yeah," he said, and headed for his own door.

He stepped into the warmth and took a breath, slid off his coat.  "John?" he heard Mary call.

"Morning," he said, taking off his shoes.  Christ, he was tired. 

Mary's footsteps hurried through her apartment, and she appeared at the door, hair half-pressed, wearing her bra and work skirt.  "Oh, thank Christ.  You didn't respond to my texts last night, I was worried sick."

John blinked.  "You texted?"  He fumbled for his phone in the pocket of his jacket.  "Shit, the battery's flat.  I didn't notice.  Didn't mean to worry you."

"Where even were you? I stayed up until one waiting."

He tucked the phone into his jeans pocket and was powerfully aware that he'd left his pants on the floor of Sherlock's bedroom.  "I should have texted, sorry. I stayed over at Sherlock's."

"I was guessing that, but usually you respond to texts when you're there."  She sighed.  "Don't let your phone go flat."

"Yeah," he said.  Christ, he needed to sleep.  He rolled his neck to try to undo the knot it was turning into.

And Mary's eyes focused, suddenly, on his neck.  Shit.  He realized that the place she was looking was the place Sherlock had bitten him in the shower this morning, during their statistically-impressive round three.  He'd thought it was low enough.  But she stepped forward, pulled aside his jumper collar enough to expose it, and the edge of Sherlock's vest.  

She looked up, fingers on his collar, and looked him in the eye.  "Where were you last night?" 

"I told you," he said, struggling not to look away.  "I was at Sherlock's."

Mary pursed her lips, dropped his shirt, and turned away.  "I can't fucking believe it," she hissed.

John closed his eyes and tried to find words.  "Mary--"

"Everyone told me," she said, turning back to him.  "Everyone said, he's having an affair, you should get him for that, but I fucking believed you--"

"Wait a minute--"

"And I kept saying, it's not like that, John's not like that, and all this time--"

"Stop," John said, and slammed his hand, hard, against the wall behind him.  

Mary froze, staring at him, eyes wide with shock.  

"I honestly don't give a shit what everybody thinks of me, and who the fuck is everybody anyway, but you should know better.  And I'm pretty sure you signed away the right to give a shit about who I fuck when you divorced me, so it's really none of your goddamned business."  He turned and started up the stairs.  "I'm going to get ready to say good morning to Naz."

He left her at the foot of the stairs in her bra, and slammed his sitting room door behind him.

***

John dozed, in and out of consciousness all morning, finally emerging into actually-awake at half noon.  He stared up at the ceiling, and then rolled over and saw his phone, charging on the night stand.  He picked it up and scrolled through Mary's texts from last night, moving from When are you coming back? to John, are you ok? Answer me, please.  Shit.  He'd been a dick to her this morning, hadn't he.  He should have texted last night, let her know he was staying at Sherlock's, but he'd been so wrapped up in the momentum of the night he hadn't thought of anything but Sherlock, the terrifying leap they were taking.  And he hated every time he lost his temper with her, hated the shock and the whisper of fear in her eyes.  Just because he wasn't her husband didn't give him the right to be like that.

He ran his hand over his face, and typed out, Sorry I was an arse this morning.  And sorry I let my phone go dead.  And he got up to take a piss.

He was eating cold casserole standing in the kitchen when his phone made a noise back in his bedroom.  He brought the food with him and picked it up.  Mary had responded.  Thank you.  Then a pause, and another text.  And I was a bit of an arse too. I do know you better than that.

He didn't know what to say, and sat staring for a minute.  Because he knew this was complicated, but he also knew he needed to do right by her.  It was the first time.  Last night.  We hadn't, before. I don't know if that makes a difference.

A long pause before the dots appeared.  Well now I'm definitely an arse. And then: I'm happy for you.  

Thank you, he texted back.  He wanted to say I'm happy too, but that might be too much.  So he didn't say anything.

***

He ate more cold food, planned supper, got dressed in clean clothes.  (He felt like a teenager still wearing Sherlock's vest, but he also couldn't bear to take it off.)  As he was leaving to pick up Naz, he though that Sherlock must had slept enough now.  So he texted.  Still being lazy?

The response was quick.  Tidying some experimental results.  Mycroft is lacking in good cases at the moment.

John chuckled.  Well, when you wrap that up, come over.  I'm just picking up Naz.

If you want.

John stopped in his tracks in the middle of the pavement.  What the everloving fuck?  If he wanted? He didn't even know what he was doing, but he hit the phone button and held it to his ear.

"John?" Sherlock said when he picked up, sounding confused.

"Have I--did I say something, do something wrong?  Did I do something, anything, to make you think I'm not serious about this?"  Because he couldn't stand if he ruined this, if he lost the most important person in his life because he was an idiot.

Sherlock's voice was quiet.  "No.  You haven't."

"Because I meant every word I said last night.  I can say it again if you don't believe me." 

"I know you do," Sherlock said.

"Then what is it?  What..." John trailed off, horrified at the prospect that Sherlock had developed cold feet, that he was reconsidering.  He stood on the middle of the pavement, phone pressed to his ear, trying to breathe.

Sherlock was hesitant when he spoke.  "I am not...I do not have a lot of experience.  With this.  Sort of thing."

And John wasn't surprised by that.  "It's okay," he said.

"I am not sure what is...permissible.  In relationships at this stage.  Or in these contexts."

John's panic receded as he realized Sherlock's hesitancy was the same as his fear--that they would ruin this, that they would lose what they'd just won.  "There's nothing," John said, "nothing that you can do, that would make me not want to be with you."  He laughed and shook his head.  "You came back from the dead, and I still love you.  You don't need to be worried about what I'll do.  It'll be ok."

Sherlock took a breath.  "This part.  This is the part that is difficult for me."

"I know," John said.  He exhaled.  "Come over.  Please?"

"Yes," Sherlock said.  "Yes."

 

***

Mary shoved her feet into the garden shoes she kept by her back door and stepped out into the cold night air.  Maybe it would snow before Christmas; Naz would love that.  She put the rubbish in the bin, dropped the lid back on, and crossed her arms to look up at the stars.

"Good evening, Maryam," said a dark voice behind her.

She gave out a little shriek and spun around.  Sherlock was sitting on the fire escape, his coat draped around him.  He lifted a cigarette to his lips and pulled in the smoke, the cherry flaring red.

"Apologies for startling you," he said dismissively.  

She sighed.  "How was the movie?"

"Your son has miserable taste.  But I suppose he can't be blamed for that."  He tapped ash off his cigarette and lifted it back to his mouth.  "You said something to John this morning."

She blinked at that.  "I don't know what he told you--"

"He didn't," he said, with a dismissive gesture.  "We spoke on the phone this afternoon.  He was unsettled and insecure, far in excess of what my actions might have inspired.  He had only just left for Naz's school, therefore the people who he might have encountered who might have inspired such a state were limited: in essence, my brother, and you."  He took another drag.  "While John values my brother's opinion, opposition or a negative judgement with regard to the alteration in our relationship would have inspired combativeness in John, not insecurity.  But John desires to have you think well of him, and to garner your approval.   Therefore, the interaction that unsettled him was with you."

Mary folded her arms against the cold.  "Huh.  That is actually pretty impressive, you know."

He sketched a flourish of a bow with his cigarette hand.  

"We resolved it," she said, trying to figure out what to say.  

"Nevertheless," Sherlock said.  "I want to...ensure.  That any concerns you have are...addressed."

She folded her arms against the cold.  "Why?"

Sherlock looked down at that, hanging his wrists over the railing of the fire escape.  "John values your opinion.  And I recognize that I owe you a debt."

"A debt?"

He tapped his hands against the metal, rhythmically.  "You kept him well. While I was dead.  He was happy, and safe.  And that was what I wanted him to be."

"He's happier with you," she said.  Because it was a hard thing for her to admit, but it was true.

"Those two thoughts do not negate each other."  He took another drag on the cigarette, and then his hands returned to their tapping.  "So I am indebted to you.  And John will want your approval.  Therefore.  If there is a service I can render you.  Or another way I can demonstrate my bona fides in this…context."   His hands tapped and he stared at the cigarette. "It's just."  He cleared his throat.  

"What?"

"Don't ask me to leave him," he said.

She saw him on the fire escape then, with his hunched shoulders and cigarette like a crutch. And Mary didn't know Sherlock Holmes very well yet, but she knew people, knew when they were scared and when they were truthful and when they were both. She didn't know the whole story, but she had seen that John would do anything Sherlock needed, even if it was stupid; watching him sit like a man whose life was on the line, she was fairly sure Sherlock was the same.

This was the man whose mere existence had disassembled her family. But more and more these days she was thinking that it was reassembling into something better. And here he was, the supplicant, worried that her disapproval might ruin it all again.

"I won't," she said.

He nodded, and took another drag of his cigarette. She pretended not to see his hand shaking.

"Hey, Sherlock?" she said, stepping closer to where his feet dangled over her kitchen window.

"Mmm?" He looked at her again.

"Can I have a cigarette?"

He examined her quite closely, and then smiled. He fished the packet out of his pocket, and held it down to her. She reached up, fished out a fag and the lighter, and lit up before reaching back up to drop them back into his long fingered hand. "Thanks," she said, exhaling smoke.

"Any time," he said, looking back up at the stars.

The window next to Sherlock slid open, and John stuck his head out. "Right, Naz is tucked in. So when you're finished being disgusting, you should come back in." He startled to see Mary standing below on the ground, her own cigarette in hand. "Since when do you smoke?"

"I don't, really," she said, taking another drag.

"I'm a terrible influence," Sherlock said. His smile at John was more flirtatious than she had expected.

"I know that," John said. His smile was the same.

***

"Today was a bit of a disaster," John said reflectively, his head propped against the arm of the couch.

Sherlock made a sort of ambiguous noise from his position with his nose smashed into the side of John's neck.

"Mary and I had this ridiculous argument, basically because I forgot to charge my phone. Your brother was his standard pompous-arse self. And then I got shouty with you. You know, for a day that started off so well, it went all to pieces rather emphatically."

Sherlock was very still for a moment. "Do you regret it?"

"Never," John said, and pressed him closer. "It's just. I suppose that I feel ridiculous."

They lay there together, until Sherlock began to speak again. "After you left this morning." He was silent again.

"Yeah?" John prompted.

"I stopped. For hours."

"What does that mean?"

Sherlock hmphed and curled in closer like a cat. "I…I don't know what you call it. When I stop."

Oh, that. John avoided saying dissociative state, or even thinking it too hard. "I usually think of it as 'going away.'"

"From your perspective, I suppose that is logical." Sherlock rolled over in a very inefficient way so he was staring at the ceiling but still entirely lying on top of John. This entire thing would be more comfortable in a bed, but they appeared to be stuck on the sofa for the moment. "I didn't start again until shortly before you texted. And if you hadn't made contact at that point, I likely would have stopped again, and remained so."

"I'm sorry," John said, and kissed his ear. "I should have stayed with you."

"Don't be stupid," Sherlock said. "My point is that this is, in fact, an incredibly sudden and drastic alteration in the pattern of our relationship, and is likely to put additional strain at many points that were already under pressure. So you fought with Mary and I spent most of the day stopped, and this is probably not a sign of disaster, but that the process of adjusting to the new status quo will not be seamless. Therefore." He exhaled. "Therefore we should not freak out."

"Which one of us are you telling that to?"

"Whoever needs it," Sherlock said.

"Right." John closed his eyes and let himself feel Sherlock's weight bearing him down. "You know, I like the option where we never leave each other's sides and never have to talk to anyone else ever again much better."

"It does sound appealing."

"Yeah." He stroked Sherlock's arm. "We should go to bed. Lay down where there's actually room for both of us."

Sherlock twisted his neck in a way that was anatomically improbable. "Are you sure I should stay?"

"I really don't feel like sleeping without you," John said, hoping that wasn't too much.

But Sherlock just smirked. "And is sleeping what we will be doing?"

"Eventually," John said, and gave him a push. "You're squashing me, love."

In the process of sitting up, Sherlock squashed him worse, but that wasn't so bad, after all.

***

When Naz woke up, he looked at the clock.  It said 6:22, so he lay in bed and talked to Dragon for a while, because he wasn't allowed to get Daddy up until it said 7:00 or later.  When that got boring and it was still 6:47, he got out of bed and worked on his Legos for a while.  And then when he looked next it was 7:13, and he was hungry anyway, so he got Dragon (who was also hungry) and went downstairs.

Daddy's bedroom door was closed, but he pushed it open.  But then he was surprised, because every other time he'd woken up Daddy since they'd moved to the new house he'd been alone in his bed, but now he wasn't, Sherlock was sleeping next to him.  This was different; whenever Sherlock had stayed at the old house he had slept on the couch, and the only time Naz remembered him sleeping at this house it had been on the couch too, and in the afternoon.  Plus, the only people he could think of who slept together in the same bed were married (which was why Mummy and Daddy had different beds now, and he didn't really like that but he did like that Daddy was much less cranky about letting him crawl in now that he slept alone).  So what was Sherlock doing in Daddy's bed?

As he stood there, puzzled, Sherlock stirred, and opened his eyes.  For a moment he wasn't looking at anything, and then he looked at Naz, and Naz remembered that sometimes Sherlock was scary, but then he blinked again and he was fine, normal Sherlock again.  Sherlock looked around the room for a moment, and then lifted Daddy's arm off his waist and got out of bed.  His pajamas were too short because they were Daddy's, so he looked a little funny.  Sherlock came over and stood in front of Naz for a moment, and then stepped out of the bedroom and squatted down until he was the same size as Naz.  "Good morning," he said quietly.

"Good morning," Naz said, feeling shy, just a bit.

"Did you want something? I think your father would like to sleep a bit more."

Naz considered explaining about the 7:00 rule, but Sherlock didn't care much about rules, so instead he said "I'm hungry."

"Ah."  Sherlock looked at the kitchen for a moment.  "May I try to make you breakfast?  If it's a total failure we'll get your father."

That made Naz smile, because he'd never met a grownup who couldn't make breakfast. Even Auntie Janine did ok, and she burned pasta once.  "Ok."

Sherlock looked in each cabinet while Naz sat down at the table and put Dragon next to him.  He took out the cereal (the right cereal, not Daddy's Weetabix) and put it down, and then put the jar of coffee next to the coffee maker.  "Do you drink tea yet?" Sherlock asked, staring into the cabinets more.

"Yes," Naz said quickly.  (He never got tea usually.)

Sherlock examined him for a moment, and Naz thought maybe he was going to say he was fibbing, but instead he just pulled out the box of tea, and then went down the cabinets to get a bowl, which he set in front of Naz.

"Dragon gets a bowl too," he explained.

Sherlock looked at Dragon, and then put a bowl down for him.  "I was unaware that dragons ate Coco Shreddies."

"Not all dragons. Just him."

"Ah."  Sherlock opened the fridge and removed the milk.  "Juice as well?"

"Yes please."  Naz kicked his feet against the chair legs.

Sherlock looked nervous, Naz thought, as he poured juice and cereal and milk and set the kettle to boil.  "You're doing really well," he said encouragingly.  "But I need a spoon."

"Does Dragon?"

"No, he eats with his snout."

Sherlock made coffee and gave Naz some tea.  "Wait to drink it until it cools," he said, setting the smallest teacup in the house down next to Naz.  He put sugar in his own mug and then took a sip, wincing when he drank it.

"Wait to drink it, it's hot," Naz said with a grin.

"Excellent advice," Sherlock said, smiling back.

Naz ate his Shreddies, and then Dragon's Shreddies because Dragon had had all he wanted.  Sherlock still looked nervous, even though he had made breakfast just fine.  And Naz was nervous too.  He didn't know why, though.  He thought and said, "I didn't know you were going to have a sleepover last night after the movie."

Sherlock looked away, stirring his coffee.  "Was it...do you mind? That I stayed last night."

Naz didn't understand.  "Why would I mind?"

"I...don't know."  Sherlock set his coffee down.  His fingers fidgeted on the handle.  "I thought perhaps you...might not like it.  That I am here."

"That's just stupid," Naz said.  He reached out to pick up his tea.  It was too heavy for one hand, but if he used two it was ok.  "Course I like you being here."  He took a sip.  It tasted like sweet milk, but a little funny.  It was good.  Maybe Daddy would give him tea in the morning if he asked.

"Good," Sherlock said.

Since he'd been so successful with the tea and the conversation, Naz decided to see where he could get.  "I've only ever seen married people sleeping in the same bed before."

Sherlock coughed on his coffee.  Naz handed him a napkin.  "Um.  Thank you," he said, wiping his face.  "Well.  I mean. People who are not married sometimes sleep on the same bed too."

"Why?"  Naz spilled some tea, and got a napkin to wipe it up.

Sherlock was ripping his damp, coffee stained napkin into tiny pieces.  "Um.  It's." He cleared his throat.  "Normally it's a sign of the closeness and importance of the relationship."

"That makes sense," Naz said.  "Are you coming to tae kwan do this morning?"

"Doesn't your mother usually take you?"

"Yeah.  But she's gotta go to Teta's house this morning.  I'm doing tomorrow with her instead."  Naz held out his napkin.  "Do you want to tear this one up too?"

Sherlock hesitated, and then took it.  "Thank you."

"It's what Alison does when she forgets her tangle."  Naz picked up his tea again.

"Since when do you drink tea?"

Naz turned his head.  Daddy was standing in the doorway, his arms folded, watching them.  "It's really good. I like it," he said, and took a big gulp.  Some spilled on his pyjamas.

"I see," Daddy said.  He came over and kissed Naz on the head.  "Good morning, love."

"Good morning.  Sherlock made me breakfast so you could sleep more."

"I can see that."  Daddy went around to the other side of the table.  He bent down and kissed Sherlock on the head too.  "Nicely done."

Sherlock tucked his head against Daddy's stomach.  Daddy curled his arm around him and held him close.

Naz drank his tea.

Chapter Text

What are we doing tomorrow?

?

Sherlock. What are we doing tomorrow? Or do you and Mycroft have plans? We haven’t talked about it.

Is there some reason why tomorrow is distinct from other future Wednesdays?

Are you serious? IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY.

Oh. That. I hadn’t thought about it.

Okay then. Sherlock, what would you like to do tomorrow for your birthday?

I don’t know. What does one do on birthdays?

Are you kidding.

I believe you intended an interrogation point at the end of that sentence.

Do you not want to celebrate your birthday? Just checking.

It’s. New.

Right. OK. Three choices: 1) We do nothing. 2) Naz and I bake you a cake, you come over, we have takeway and make you wear a silly hat, cuddles on the couch after bedtime. 3) Posh dinner out, noisy sex marathon at Mycroft’s place.

It’s a Wednesday.

So?

You have Nazir. We can’t have dinner/noisy sex marathon because you have Nazir.

Mary and me can swap.

Mary and I.

Fuck’s sake, Sherlock.

Cake + takeaway + change of location (hotel?) + noisy sex marathon.

Sounds like a plan. You book the hotel though. Now I just need to wrap your gift.

WHAT IS IT??????

You’ll find out tomorrow. ;)

I hate you.

***

Does the stalking ban forbid any patronage of Fine Grind?

John picked up his phone from where it lay next to him, trying to make sure he didn’t look like he was slacking off on the call. “No, I can absolutely turn that around by Tuesday,” he said absentmindedly, and texted back, Nope. Mind if I join you after my call’s over?

Sherlock texted back quickly. I’m not terribly talkative right now.

That’s fine. Status?

45% mad. Still fine to be in public.

What’s the line, 50?

“John?” asked the Annexin exec.

“Yes, sorry,” he said, dropping his phone. “The biggest issue is you don’t have the half-lifes expressed clearly enough. Could you have the chemists send me the raw data for that, please?”

“Sure,” she said, taking a note.

Sixty-five, Sherlock texted. Although I am reluctant to go out if it gets above 55% in case of unanticipated spikes.

Smart, John said. Down in ten.

Josh dashed between his front door and the cafe without his coat, laptop under his arm. He hesitated for a moment at the door, admiring Sherlock silhouetted against the light from the front window, flat white cooling untouched. God, his boyfriend was lovely. He sighed, shook himself, and waved to Julia as he went over to join him at the table. The other chair was opposite from Sherlock’s, but John swung it around and sat down next to him, reaching out to gently stroke his hand where it lay on the table.

Sherlock rose to consciousness gently, and turned his hand over to hold John’s. John smiled at him. “Morning, love. Vauxhall this morning?”

“Mmm.” Sherlock dropped his head onto John’s shoulder.

John managed to get his arm around Sherlock’s waist and his laptop onto the table at the same time. “I have to work, do you mind?”

“Mmm,” Sherlock said, and shook his head.

Julia dropped a filter coffee on the table. “All right, John?”

“Yeah, it’s good. How’s the back sink?”

“Not clogged again yet, thankfully.” She arched a pierced eyebrow at Sherlock on his shoulder. “Should I start comping him too, then?”

John suppressed the giggle that threatened. “Nah, he’s loaded.”

“Expense account,” Sherlock muttered.

“Exactly,” John said.

“Right, then,” she said. “I’ll bring biscuits when they come out the oven, yeah?”

“Ta,” John said, picking up his coffee. Sherlock snuggled in further. He kissed his forehead and drank his coffee. Work could wait a bit.

***

Sandra would never understand why in the name of all that was holy they took the Year Ones to the V&A. Couldn’t take them to the sculpture galleries because some parent would absolutely pitch a fit about their precious snowflake seeing a bunch of marble willies (not that she particularly wanted to deal with the giggles either), and most of the stuff was a bit too esoteric for them anyway. The British Museum, that one made sense, but it was saved for summer term. She swears she’s going to argue for switching it next year, but she’s sworn that for three years running, so. “Ellen, Naz, Consuela, stay in line,” she called out as they turned the corner.

“Sorry, Ms. Cummings,” they said, and did not, in any way, get back in line. She sighed.

The eternally perky guide led them to the particular embroidered dress she was going to lecture on. The girls, at least, quieted down at that, as did the calmer boys. Sandra sighed and crossed her arms, and settled in to hear about embroidery and fabric history and whatever else was on today’s menu.

But just as she’d started to tune out and write her shopping list in her head, there was commotion behind her, and then, out of her peripheral vision, there was a giant flapping batlike blob that catapulted into a bloke and knocked him over.

She spun around, and saw that the bat-thing was actually another bloke in a big coat, who was now pinning the bystander to the ground in a rather intimidating hold. There were shouts and flails and oh dear lord, this was an actual emergency, he could have a gun, he could be anyone, oh lord. She stepped between the lunatic and the children, trying to figure out if there was an exit.

“Are you mad? Let me up!” shouted the pinned man.

“No,” said the madman. “Because you’re Edgar Lewis Leavings, responsible for approximately one-tenth of the non-conflict-related art thefts in Interpol’s database, and you were most certainly just planning on stealing the paduka in the last room.” The pinned man tried to object, and the madman slapped the back of his head. “Oh, stop it, you already have a buyer lined up, I could see it from your pockets.”

“Sir,” said a security guard, looking as panicked as Sandra felt, “I’m going to need to ask you to let him up.”

The madman cast him a withering look. “Um…no,” he said, sarcastically.

“Sir, the police have been called.”

“Excellent,” the madman said. “Double handcuffs for this one, you should see what he did in Florence. Not pretty.”

There was a shifting near her thigh, and when Sandra looked down, it was Naz peering around her legs at the debacle in front of them. “Get back, dear,” she said, trying not to sound hysterical.

Naz ignored her. “Sherlock?”

The madman swiveled his attention. “Hello, Nazir,” he said cheerfully, as if he weren’t straddling someone he’d just accused of art theft on the floor of the V&A. “Are you enjoying it?”

“It’s fine,” Naz said with a shrug.

“Of course you aren’t, they haven’t taken you to any of the interesting rooms yet. Number eight is a personal favorite,” the madman said.

“What’s in room eight?”

“Armour.”

“Cool,” Naz said enthusiastically. “Can we go?”

At this point, a bunch of Scotland Yard officers rushed in, making a great deal of noise. “I need to clear this bit up first,” the madman said to Naz, “might need to wait until tomorrow if I get arrested. Yes, hello,” he said to the officers, “you’re all in entirely over your heads. Let me just get my identification from my left-side inner pocket, and trust me, it’s worth your heads not to shoot me over it.” He pulled out a badge holder from the pocket and flipped it open. “Sherlock Holmes, MI-6. You’ll want to make some calls.”

“Bloody hell,” muttered the pinned man.

“Ms. O’Neil?” said Naz. Sandra looked down, entirely confused. “I’d better go with him. Just in case.”

She didn’t really know what to say to that.

***

This, honestly, was not a call Sally Donovan had been waiting for. I mean, the man was dead—and she had had that on her conscience, though she still thought going up the chain was the best option. And then he wasn’t, and something smelled fishy in that story of his about SIS, but that wasn’t her division anyway, so she just moved on. But it turns out that when the Yard’s greatest debacle managed to catch an international art thief by accident, and when the exhausted sounding handler on the other end of the line from Vauxhall Cross refused to have anything to do with him, well, they looked for any officer with any relevant experience. Apparently, that was her. Lucky her.

But what really surprised her was the kid, who was holding on very tightly to Holmes’s hand when she went to pick him up from the holding cell and transport him to her office while they figured out what to do with him. Before she could get a word in, the kid looked right at her and said fiercely, “If you’re going to arrest him you have to let him call my dad first.”

Holy shit. There was another generation of Watson.

She had, in fact, called Watson herself. He’d momentarily gone into a panic when she said “an incident at the V&A,” because the son, Naz, had been there on a field trip, which was 100% not a coincidence, she was sure, meaning that…had Holmes been a volunteer? No, not possible, he’d been a stalker is what he’d been. So she’d locked Holmes in her office and sat down at her sergeant’s desk with some printer paper and crayons and waited for Watson to show.

Which is where she and Naz still were, while Watson and Holmes were yelling at each other in her office. Honestly, it didn’t look any different from the old days, except for the munchkin at her side, who kept glancing up at his dad and his…whoever, monitoring the progress of the fight.

She tried to distract him. “So, where do you live, Naz?”

“Baker Street,” he said, looking back down at his paper. “We used to live in Lewisham, but when Mum and Dad divorced they got a new house with flats instead. It’s got a cafe downstairs, even.”

Oh Christ, they were living in that dump? She changed the subject. “Do you have any pets?”

“I want a dog,” he said, “but Mum’s allergic. Dad says maybe fish.” He wrinkled up his nose.

“Yeah, fish are kind of rubbish,” she agreed, and added a smiling sun to her picture.

“I think Sherlock wants a dog too, because he pets all the ones in the park,” Naz said conspiratorially, “but it would have to live at his brother’s house and he stays at ours more now, so his dog would be lonely, and I wouldn’t get to play with it anyway.”

She didn’t know what to say to that, exactly, although she supposed that it answered some questions.

Her mobile rang; it was the superintendent, telling her to release Holmes. She got up to let them out of the locked office, and found that the yelling appeared to have dwindled off and been replaced by hysterical laughter. Mad, the both of them.

Watson smiled at her a little tightly as he walked out of the office and over to his son. (She supposed she wasn’t forgiven; she didn’t think she needed forgiveness, if anyone asked her.) He knelt in front of Naz. “I suppose there’s no chance we can just avoid telling your mother about this, right?”

“Daddy,” Naz said, looking at his father as if he were very, very stupid. “She runs the schools.”

“Good point.” Watson kissed the boy’s forehead. “Come on, let’s go home.”

“Park first,” Naz said. He pushed his drawing on top of hers. “You can keep my drawing, Inspector Donovan.”

“Thanks, Naz,” she said, and gave a little wave.

Holmes stood next to her and adjusted his coat. She looked up at him—his hair gone gray at the temples, the lines around his eyes, the same arrogant profile. He smirked down at her. “You’ve done well for yourself, Inspector.”

“Yeah, I have,” she said, not sure whether or not to be defensive.

“Unsurprising, but pleasant to see,” he said, and honest to god, winked. He reached into his breast pocket, pulled out the carrier his SIS ID was in, and slid out a card from behind it. “Should you find yourself in need of my services,” he said, offering it between two gloved fingers.

She took the card. It wasn’t an official business card or anything (she supposed SIS didn’t give their agents business cards, really), but the type you got printed at an office store. It read:

Sherlock Holmes
Consulting Detective
International Man of Mystery
Solver of Many Problems
Creator of Many Others

above a mobile number.

“That’s the most egotistical card I’ve ever seen,” she said, staring at it.

“Birthday gift from John,” he said. “Take it up with him. I look forward to your call.” He swept over to where Watson and Naz were waiting, took Naz’s offered hand, and followed them over to the elevator.

She looked down at the card again. Really, she should have refused to take it. Should rip it up right there, drop it into the bin.

She sighed. When she went back into her office, she tucked it into a drawer.

***

“Mary’s going to murder us both,” John said tiredly, as he and Sherlock settled on the bench.

“Surely you exaggerate,” Sherlock said, handing him the second coffee he’d been holding.

“Sherlock, you just caused an international incident during Naz’s field trip. Which you weren’t supposed to be on.” He shook his head. “A whole class of little traumatized Year Ones.”

“It was exciting, not traumatic,” Sherlock sniffed.

“You couldn’t have kept tailing him and called it in?”

“He and Nazir’s class were about to be in different rooms. I couldn’t follow them both at once,” Sherlock said, sulking into his lapels.

John didn’t even know what to say to that. He was saved by his phone buzzing in his pocket, but it was a temporary relief, because it was Mary calling. He shot Sherlock a look. “Hello, Mary,” he said, trying to sound neither exasperated nor amused.

“What the fuck, John?”

So much for that. “Yeah, okay.”

“Honestly, your fucking cuntknuckle of a boyfriend—“

“That’s a new one,” John muttered.

“I’m not even on the incident response chain! I shouldn’t have had to deal with this at all!”

“I know. I know. It’s ridiculous,” John said, trying to be calming. “But everyone’s fine, in the end, so. Hopefully it’ll go away soon.”

“Is he there?”

John chose to deliberately misunderstand. “Naz is over on the climbing thing, want me to call him over?”

“John,” Mary said, as flatly as possible.

“Right,” John said, and held out the phone to Sherlock.

Being a coward, Sherlock hit the speakerphone button. “Good afternoon, Maryam.”

“Do you really think I’m not going to yell at you on speakerphone?”

“I was hoping to be sworn at a little less.”

Mary sighed. “This was a shit thing to do, Sherlock.”

“I apologize. Though for the record, I did. You know. Catch a globally-reknowned art thief.”

“While being a creepy stalker.”

“Technically, I was a patron of a major London cultural institution.”

Mary growled. Literally, actually growled.

“I think what Sherlock means,” John said, “is that he’s sorry for the mess he caused, and he promises not to stalk Naz on field trips any more.”

“You know, if you’d just filled out the bloody volunteer form this would have caused about eight times less trouble,” Mary said. “Do you know how hard it is to get parent volunteers for primary field trips?”

“Fine, I’ll volunteer next time,” Sherlock said.

“How about if I make you dinner tonight to relief some of the stress?” John tried.

“Honestly, John, one of the perks of divorcing you was not having to eat your cooking anymore.”

“Takeaway, then?”

“Better.” She sighed. “Right. If you cause any more international incidents between now and when I get home from work, do it well away from anything affiliated with the London Educational Authority, yeah?”

“Good plan,” John said.

After they hung up, Sherlock dropped his head onto John’s shoulder. He wrapped an arm around him. “Nothing but trouble with you.”

“Lucky for me you like it,” Sherlock said.

“That’s because I’m an idiot,” John said, and kissed his hair.

They watched Naz climb on the other side of the playground. The wind blew dead leaves across their feet. John laughed. “You know, it’s been a year.”

“A year?”

“A year since Mycroft told me you weren’t dead.” John squeezed him a bit. “I don’t remember the date, but yeah. It was January, and it was a playground like this, and he cornered me and told me I had to come save you.”

“I highly doubt he phrased it that way.”

“Closer than you would think.” John kissed his hair again. “I can’t believe it’s just been a year. So much has changed.”

“Regrets?” Sherlock asked.

John wasn’t sure if he was fishing or not. “Not a one.” Sherlock raised his head. He was smiling, so it was fishing. John ran his hand down Sherlock’s face. “I missed you.”

“I missed you,” Sherlock said. He leaned in and brushed his lips across John’s.

“Dad! Sherlock!” Naz called out.

They turned. “Hey, Naz,” John called back.

“Are you looking?” he said, from his vantage point at the top of the climbing gym.

“Yes, nicely done.”

“Sherlock?” Naz demanded.

“Fantastic,” Sherlock called back.

“Watch me,” Naz said, as he headed out across the monkey bars.

“Be careful,” John called back.

“I’m fine, Dad.”

Sherlock put his head back on John’s shoulder. John rested his head against him, breathed in his smell, watched his son climb, and knew, really knew, that it was all okay.