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Rosamund’s wails are piercing, endless, and endearing all at once. John, from the sofa, shoots up, already on his feet before the second cry can sound. Sherlock chuckles, once, sipping his tea quietly. He would’ve dealt with it himself, having already been awake, but John got this look when he did, pinched and drawn – .

His hand tightens on the saucer, for a moment, before releasing.

John’s coos begin overpowering Rosie’s cries. Soft hushing noises emanate from the room, the creaking of the wooden floor signalling that he’d begun to rock her back and forth; the way Mary – .

His empty hands curl into a fist. Sherlock rises, silently making his way to his room. Closes his door to the sound of the life he doesn’t deserve.

-

Life after Eurus is astonishingly mundane. After her, everything seems like quibbles to Sherlock; the final problem indeed. These days, he rarely has the energy to be scathing to any of the idiotic hangers-on in Lestrade’s crime scenes; just as well, since they’re all giving him a wide berth, as if fearing that any proximity to him would drive any of their relatives to a psychotic episode leading to mass murder.

No, these days he devotes his skills to the important things: feeding and changing Rosie; putting on the tea when she gets too loud at 3 AM; pulling John from the brink of the sadness that seems to be constantly drawing him towards its abyss.

Mrs. Hudson is beside herself with attempting to re-establish normalcy, Mycroft much the same. Sherlock, in this past half year, can hardly remember a day where Mrs. Hudson hasn’t attempted to engage him in a petty quarrel about biscuits or body parts or blood on the walls of the fridge after a botched experiment. Mycroft rarely visits him, but files containing highly-classified information appears on his table like clockwork every week or so. With Mrs. Hudson, he plays along, casting his mind away while his mouth runs. With Mycroft, Sherlock cracks all the cases without leaving the sofa, then tosses the file of the week to rot with the rest.

He works, enough to keep food on the table and rent paid, knows well enough that John isn’t able to, or shouldn’t; not with the wound of everything so fresh. He ignores the sores festering in little parts of his own mind, colours and sounds and pains and joys dulled by an almost frightening degree. The hypothalamus rots in its cage. Sherlock is almost alarmed by his unconcern.

The face that stares back at him in his mirror while he shaves is one of a stranger. Logically – logically, Sherlock knows that that is false, his eyes the same piercing shade, his lips the same thin pink, the lines on his face placed exactly where they always have been. Maybe it’s his heart that’s different: sluggish, struggling its way to the next beat. It sits in his ribcage like a poisonous core, corroding the rest of his system.

It doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters now. Only the Watsons.

-

Sherlock dreams of a young boy laughing the carefree laugh of the innocent. He has dark hair and grey eyes. At his side is a man, taller than him but shorter than average, sandy hair and wounded eyes. In his palm, which he reaches out to the boy, is a black, beating mass. The boy recoils, recognizing it for what it is.

A heart, poisoned. The boy cries out, silently, desperately trying to think of the kind of poison, of the cure, if that cure existed, if he could create it himself.

John shakes his head. He closes his fist around the heart, crushing it. The boy retches, sobs, falls on his knees and begs for forgiveness.

Sherlock wakes with his own bile choking him.

-

Molly’s eyes are bright and cold, her mouth a thin, trembling line. “I think – I think it would be fair if I asked to never see you again. Or at least not anytime soon.”

Sherlock nods.

“I don’t – ,” she continues. “I really don’t want to look at your or hear your voice right now, or any time soon. I know you did what you had to but, God, Sherlock.” Tears pool in her eyes, fall down her cheeks, touch her shaking lips. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

Sherlock nods, again. The doors of the St. Bart’s morgue have never felt colder.

-

When he isn’t dreaming about Eurus, when he isn’t thinking about John – almost never – Mary dominates his thoughts. She’s there, eyes dancing, a cruelly beautiful grin on her face, lips clean of blood.

“Sherlock,” she sing-songs, arms crossed at the foot of his bed.

“Busy, Mary.” He screws his eyes shut, tightly, with the childlike hope that if he can’t see her, she can’t be there.

“What was it that John said? Well, shouted more like.” Mary giggles, an anomaly, an abomination; she’d never giggled in her life, believing that laughter should contain only truth and noise. “‘Do something while there’s still a chance’? Was that it?

“Now, since I’ve taken up residence in your wonderful brain, I know exactly what’s holding you back from pursuing – what was it – ‘romantic entanglement’ with my husband.  Furthermore, I know why you loathe yourself for wanting what you do. Absurdly, you feel like you’re taking advantage of my unfortunate demise; at your expense might I add. Therefore, I deduce –,” she raises her finger in a eureka motion, “you’re using me as an excuse to be a coward.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “As a manifestation of both my survivor’s guilt and subconscious, I hardly think that yours is an unbiased opinion.”

Mary scoffs. “Sherlock – ”

Busy, Mary.”

“I’m dead, Sherlock.”

He clenches his shaking hands into unsteady fists.

A touch to his shoulder – a hallucination, nothing more than a hallucination – “I really am dead. It’s incredibly disheartening to have to keep reminding the two of you of that.”

He shakes off her touch – not real, not real – clears his throat. “I’m working. Leave me be.”

Without looking, he sees Mary roll her eyes. “You bloody moron,” she says, quotes? “Trust me, Sherlock, it’s gone before you know it.”

-

“You see her, too.”

Sherlock’s hands halt on the milk bottle.

“Don’t you.”

He clears his throat. “See who–?”

“Don’t bullshit me, Sherlock.”

He sighs. “Yes. I do.”

“How often?” Sherlock hears John move closer, the sound of him planting his feet and crossing his arms; a familiar position of defence and offense.

“I don’t – it’s not like I keep track exactly how often–.”

“Yes, you do.”

“Three, four times.”

John huffs. “A week?”

Sherlock tenses; braces his weight on the kitchen table. “A day.”

John’s silence is like an unsteady knife dragging across his bones.

“In my defence, out of the both of us, I do have a longer history when it comes to hallucinations–.”

John interrupts him. “What does she say? Is it a particularly long message that she visits so often?”

Sherlock turns to face him. “I don’t think you’d want to hear any of what she says to me.” The urge to confess that I would jump in front of a million bullets to save you, the urge to hold you and touch you and love you, all these damned urges – no, I don’t think you be much interested.

“Try me.”

“John, please. Not this. Anything but this.”

“Why, Sherlock?” John hisses, voice like an inferno.

“John, please.”

“It’s all in your head, see, that’s the point. Anything she says, it’s all you. What things are coming out of Mary’s mouth that don’t belong there?”

“I think it’s fair to say that Mary knew everything there was to know in my head, John, without me poisoning her mouth with my thoughts.” The words, after they’re out, shatter through him, the shards digging into his airways, his brain, slowing everything down to a stop. She’d known, she’s always known. Of course she did.

Her kind eyes during the wedding, the gentle sadness cloaked in joy after he’d informed them of Rosie, “neither of us were the first, you know” – she’d always known.

“We underestimate her, even now.” He shakes his head. “For all our sakes’, John. There’s a time and place.”

John huffs again, that wretched twist on his lips. “All your secrets, Sherlock. Will you two ever run out?”

-

“Culverton, Sherlock!” Some days, his memory of Mary corrodes. Today, her grin is manic, her arms waving madly around as she speaks to him. “We learn from our mistakes, don’t we? We must, must learn from them, mustn’t we?”

Sherlock’s back is against the wall, knees drawn up to his chest, his breathing ragged. “What lesson; what mistake?”

She comes to kneel in front of him, solemn and Mary once more. “Confessions are good for the soul. Isn’t that what he said? And who best to confess to than – .”

“– the dead.”

Mary smiles, kind and sweet and sharp. “We’re so accommodating, rarely judgemental.  We listen, Sherlock, and we help, when we can. So, what do you say?”

He feels raw and exposed, like a mutilated ligament, open for attack. “‘He may never know how I love him.’”

Mary laughs. “‘If all else perished and he remained, I should still continue to be.’”

Then, mind and body in unison, “‘and if all else remained and he were annihilated, the universe would turn into a mighty stranger.’”

Mary touches his wet cheek. “Almost.”

-

Rosie, swaddled in her yellow blanket and footie pyjamas, is exquisite. Sherlock cradles her in his arms in a way he’s never held anything else, not with the care and fear and love. Nothing beyond –

“I made you a vow, Rosie.” He smoothes a thumb down her cheek. “To you and John and Mary. I swore I would protect you, that I would always be there for you.”

His throat thickens. “I’ve failed two out of three already, darling. I won’t live to fail the third.”

Unknowing, innocent, she smiles her gummy smile up at him. Sherlock is helpless to do anything but bunch her up tighter to his chest.

-

Sherlock feels John’s stare from his arm chair acutely. Resolute, he keeps his eyes on the paper, something inane about a footie match and a terrorist attack from a white supremacy group in America; what else is new?

This temporary peace is awarded to them by Rosie. Through some unfathomable miracle, she had laid down for her afternoon nap without any of the normal fuss, giving them an estimated three hours, 16 minutes, 19 seconds, based on the flickers of her eyes and her breathing pattern. Sherlock reclines on his armchair, valiantly ignoring John’s obvious attempts at capturing his attention.

“Something Mary said, during the Culverton case.” Mary, something Mary said.

Sherlock hums. Casual-like, he turns the page, unseeing.

“She said, ‘Get the hell on with it, John Watson.’ And, oddly, it almost sounded like she was urging me to do something, something beyond getting the hell on with it.” John pauses, chuckles. “Something I was too afraid to do; the way she always does – did.”

Sherlock’s knuckles creak. He remains silent, pulse racing, afraid and hopeful and anguished all at once.

John continues. “It sounded almost like permission. But permission for what? Perhaps you could enlighten me, since you two always seemed to be one step ahead in everything. What am I missing?”

With all his might, Sherlock manages to put down the newspaper to meet John’s eyes. “Widower’s musings? Not really my area.”

John laughs, reclining back into his chair, before growing serious once more. “You spoke at my wedding. You composed us a piece to dance to, specifically for our first dance, as man and wife.”

“John – .”

John’s eyes are flint. “You didn’t dance. You left, you didn’t dance. After you told us about Rosie.”

John – .”

“What does that mean, Sherlock? That look in your eyes, what did it mean?”

John is never cruel; he doesn’t have the capacity to be. His anger, when it comes, long-winded and slow, is cold and precise, like a surgeon’s scalpel sliding down into your skin. This isn’t anger, but Sherlock is lost as to what exactly it is.

“Sherlock.”

“John.” His breath shudders through him, out of him, a pitiful and ostentatious rattle in his chest. “There are sights seen and words said that once realised can never be taken back. We’ve lost too much for me – for anything to cause further ruin. For that reason, I must ask you to stop this. Turn back, ignore this, pretend it never happened. For the best.”

John is silent for seconds, for eternity. “You taught me how to waltz for a wedding you left early.” A pause. “Is that what you want?”

I want to never disappoint you ever again. Wordlessly, Sherlock nods.

When he speaks next, John’s voice is soft and unreadable.  “Okay, then. If that’s what you want.”

-

Regardless of what Mary says, Sherlock’s love is not what John deserves, what anyone deserves. Nor is it something to be desired, his companionship not something to be coveted. Sherlock knows how to keep people away. He knows how to wrap barbed wire and immovable stone around him to ruthlessly cut into any Molly Hoopers or Lestrades that may dare to come near. If the bleeding and mauling doesn’t work, like it hasn’t with any Molly Hoopers or Lestrades, Sherlock’s affection is another monster to fear. Sherlock loves down to the grotesque infinitesimal: to teeth, to skin, to pores, to blood. For this fact, Sherlock loves all-consumingly, destructively.

This fact John knows intimately. This fact, Sherlock has observed, terrifies John. And Sherlock is held by his vow to protect John from things he believed harmful or disgusting.

John was wrong, then, in this respect. Romantic entanglement would not, could not, complete him. The absence of it, the absence of love between John and him, the absence of civility in John’s manner towards him on most days – it has done nothing but destroy him. “Caring is not an advantage.” Thus, he would be content. If never a lover, then always protector, hoping to be friend.

-

Ahh.

The snow outside falls in thick blankets. The people of 221B laugh uproariously. The sharp cry of a child breaks out beneath the merriment.

The phone goes unnoticed.

-

It isn’t the Woman, it will never be the Woman. He’ll see her beheaded a thousand times before he chooses her above John.

John was wrong again, in another respect.

-

The shine of John’s shoes one afternoon makes Sherlock freeze.

It’s been a year and a half, plenty of time to most people, and he’s allowed, of course he’s allowed, Sherlock has neither the right to neither comment nor forbid him. The careful lines left by a razor on John’s face, the faint scent of seldom-used aftershave, the precise lines on his jumper:

John Watson has a date.

Sherlock hopes the safety goggles shield his eyes. “Let me know how it goes.”

From his periphery, he sees John’s shoulders shake with quiet, pained laughter, his clearly shaking hands clenching around the back of his chair. “What have you deduced?”

“She’s from the surgery, you’re dressed more for familiarity rather than to make an impression, implying that you’ve known her for quite some time and see her frequently; no place you frequent more than the surgery, as I doubt you’re picking up at the grocery, or at your therapist’s. You’re excited, but wary, with the obligatory lingering of guilt for this date, implying both that she’s aware of your history and is aware of how to tackle it in your budding romance.” Squaring his shoulders imperceptibly in his third-best dressing gown, Sherlock spreads his arms much similar to a bowing conductor at the orchestra. “Let me know how it goes.”

Genuine amusement suddenly floods John’s eyes. “I’ll be sure to give your well wishes; I’ve heard he’s a fan.”

Sherlock despises being shocked. It’s a sign of failure, more than anything, and anything he fails at must be concealed lest it be used against him. Sherlock conjures up a placid lake in his mind, keeping his expression much so. “Finally decided to indulge your blatant bisexual proclivities?”

The skin around John’s eyes tightens. “His name is Henry. We see each other at the support group that I go to every other week, when you think I’m with Susan. His wife died last year: leukaemia. He’s a 37-year old cat-owning redhead who’s the first person, in a long time, that I’ve felt something for who has not a single tie to Mary. He’s insanely attractive, just for that fact.”

Of course. Of course. Sherlock softens his posture, stepping across the length of the kitchen closer to John. “I hope it goes well, then.”

Inexplicably, this seems to upset John. His eyes harden through the taut smirk on his lips. “Me, too.”

-

It’s Henry, whom Sherlock never actually meets, then Rebekah, the surgery’s newest receptionist, with whom Sherlock has a two minute conversation that he immediately deletes. After Jeremy, Scott, and Anthony, everyone stops being shocked about the males that begin to trickle into John’s longwinded cache of hangers-on. Mrs. Hudson especially gets along with Scott, whose passion was knitting with a frequent deviance to exotic dancing. Lestrade, fetching Sherlock for some boring corpse found under the cobblestone of Piccadilly Circus, strikes a rapport with Sean, citing him as the son he wished he had, before guiltily fleeing the flat.

Even Mycroft feels the need to express approval and is nothing sacred.

It’s been over two years, John is back to cycling through London’s stupidest, and it’s as though nothing has changed, beyond the pink, squalling thing spitting up her carrots on Sherlock’s coat.

If he has no one, at least he has Rosie.

-

Padded cells are their own brand of peculiarity. You’re left there to tear your own mind apart but you’re afforded the supposed comfort of firm, soft walls. Their purpose is to torture you until you ache to die and deny you the kindness.

“Why won’t you die?” Sherlock snarls. “Why won’t you die?” He’s on the floor, writhing with a phantom pain.

Mary’s curls are an exquisite halo under the single fluorescent light. She’s sitting on the floor, back against the wall, legs spread and bent at the knees; the concrete is wet, blood or tears or spit.

“How lovely of you to put me in with Moriarty, Sherlock.” Mary’s eyes are dancing. “Shall we have a party?”

Sherlock sobs. “Please.”

Her eyes become dark and flat. “Don’t act like it’s up to me, Sherlock. You know why I’m here.”                                               

Eternity passes by before he calms his sobs to painful, hitching breaths. He remains curled up on the concrete, but opens his mouth to speak. “You need to leave, Mary. You can’t stay here, I can’t keep you here. Free yourself.”

He closes his eyes, his flushed face pressing harder into the cool floor. “Free us from each other.”

Suddenly, his head is yanked up, and Mary’s furious eyes bore into his. “You selfish, ignorant bastard,” she hisses. “I don’t believe there is any sin too big to never forgive, but you are veering into the wrong side of my patience and mercy.

“Leave me be. Let me go. The choice has always, always been yours, so don’t try to pin your cowardice on me yet again.” Her hand slides from his hair to his cheek. The warmth of the gesture prompts his eyes shut. “It’s time, Sherlock. Enough is enough.”

Warm (dead) breath brushes against the shell of his ear. “Love him well, for me, Sherlock.”

A whimper bursts from deep within his throat. He opens his swollen eyes.

The room is empty.

-

For all that their lives are basically consumed by pomp and melodrama, the way that it happens is incongruously mundane.

It is a week before Rosie’s third birthday, and the last vestiges of the terrible twos seem to be desperately clinging on, as Rosie refuses to put on any clothing that isn’t Sherlock’s purple dress shirt. Fresh from the bath, Sherlock looks away for only a few seconds but Rosie somehow flees the bathroom and hunts Sherlock’s room for the shirt in that small span of time.

Once, Sherlock Holmes would have been above begging a toddler to perchance wear one of the pretty dresses her Papa had bought her, but that man has been squarely replaced by this one, a man not above bribery in order to re-establish a thin facade of propriety in the 221B household.

Sherlock, wet all over from the truly excessive amount of fuss that occurred during bath time, is left to chase said toddler around the flat, brandishing a dress at Rosie in a mock threat.

So focused is he on their game and Rosie’s intoxicating laughter that he doesn’t even realise John has entered the flat until Rosie squeals, running towards where her Papa is standing by the sofa. Sherlock grins at him, holding up the dress and preparing an explanation, but the look on John’s face cages the words before they can pass his throat.

There is a stunned, terrible warmth in his eyes, his mouth softly agape as he absentmindedly shifts to better hold Rosie. They stand there, staring at each other, Sherlock helpless in understanding what John isn’t saying. The silence is heavy to a choking degree.

“We need to talk,” John says, finally.

Words hold immeasurable power, that Sherlock knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, and those four pale his face and dry his mouth. His heart quickens and he feels as though his blood is draining out and pooling at his feet. Unable to say anything, Sherlock simply nods.

The night continues on with no explanation coming forth, John choosing to ignore the Damocles sword his statement has hung over their heads. Sherlock has played the waiting game with far more dangerous people, whose morals have taken a permanent vacation, people hell-bent on destruction and pain and suffering. Yet nothing feels as excruciating as this.

Perhaps it’s because he was never so pathetically, desperately in love with any of those people. Perhaps.

Dinner is casual, hilariously light, with the customary questions about each other’s day, such a domestic routine that it always gives Sherlock a secret thrill. Tucking Rosie in is much the same, the old song and dance of a sleepy toddler putting her fists up against slumber, her demands for a second story, and then a third rebutted. The kettle is boiled, the tea is steeped, the telly on but muted. As they take their respective places in their chairs, Sherlock finds it harder and harder to breath.

Sherlock has taken his first sip of tea when John speaks.

“You’ve been very patient, Sherlock,” he says, amusement and a hint of surprise in his tone.

Sherlock has survived this long mostly for the excellent quality of his bravado. “Well, declarations such as the one you made earlier tend to preclude drastically life-altering events in popular culture. Tell me John, are you about to break up with me?”

John however remains undeterred by his paltry attempts at obfuscation. He merely tilts his head, an enigmatic smile stretching his lips and creasing the skin around his eyes. Sherlock feels pinned by his gaze, skin crawling with discomfort and desire in equal parts.

“Sherlock, are you in love with me?”

There they go again: words and their immeasurable power. For a split second, for forever, time stops and the world fades away. All that remains is John’s eyes, piercing and gentle with a near-invisible undercurrent of hunger, on his, the tingling burn of the ceramic on his palm. Surely he’s dead. Surely, in this moment, he’s expired of old age, his hair a thin white ghost of its remembered curls, his skin sagging off his bones. Surely, he’s died, and St. Peter wears John’s face as he awaits his sentence of damnation.

“Sherlock.”

He jerks back to reality, images of pearly gates and burning eyes fading away. There are hands hovering above his thighs; a beautiful man kneels between them. John draws his hand away from over his thighs – at which Sherlock barely resists releasing an animal sound of loss – to rest them on the arms of the chair. Sherlock’s body is taut as a violin string, trembling in both fear and elation: at the mercy of John’s plucking hands.

“Answer the question, Sherlock.” John Watson is never cruel. John Watson is not a cruel man.

He can be so unkind though.

Sherlock wrenches his eyes away from John. “You’re not stupid, John.”

“Oh?”

“Well it’s obvious, isn’t it?”

John doesn’t rear back, but it’s a close thing. The aborted movement draws his gaze back to him. “Here I was, afraid that your insufferable assumptions about my ability to deduce a single thing in that ridiculous head of yours had died.” John is glaring, but it’s absent, almost like an afterthought. “It’s not obvious to me. Answer the question.”

“Mary - .” The name bursts from him on its own volition, and his horror curls his tongue. He becomes silent.

John’s face becomes shuttered and guarded. “You can’t just throw her at me like a grenade and run, Sherlock.”

Sherlock groans, scrubbing his face with his free hand. “No, I – I didn’t say her name to hurt you. I – .” He is so lost. How can John not know, how? “I used to see her everyday, used to have her whispering in my ear constantly. She was as much a reminder of what I couldn’t have as a reminder of what I could have; my judgement and my encourager.” He leans forward, meeting John’s gaze point for point. “You said she gave you permission for something. Did she keep reminding you she was dead? Because that’s what she did to me. She touched my shoulder, cupped my cheek, reminded me of her death each and every time before she told me to tell you I loved you.”

Sherlock barks a crazed laugh. “I’d write it off as deranged fantasies if I didn’t remember the look in her eyes every time she caught me looking at you. Mary saw through my lies like only a liar could. She’s been giving me permission for as long as I could understand what that look in her eyes meant. Mary has always allowed me to love you, another gift I have never wanted. At this point, I owe her too much to disrespect her and lie to you.”

Sherlock doesn’t know when he shut his eyes, but they shoot open when he feels a warm line nosed against his cheek. There’s a hand on his thigh, another on his hip, and hot breath ghosts over his skin. It’s too much and not enough, and everything he ever wanted and nothing he ever expected.

“You’ve been lying to me for a very long time, Sherlock,” John breathes into his neck. Pleasure and guilt shorts out his overwhelmed brain.

“I have,” Sherlock whispers around the lump in his throat.

John draws back, but only enough so that their eyes can meet. “Let me rephrase that. I have been waiting on you for a very long time.” John moves forward, and Sherlock’s instinct drives him to sink away into the plush of the chair. John persists. “The day you were going to go away, you were going to tell me something. You were going to tell me something that was so important it would be the last thing you believed you’d ever say to me. Then you made a joke.

“So, Sherlock.” John’s lips, chapped and tasting of milky tea, touch his every time he speaks. “There’s something I should say – I meant to say, always, and I never have. I might as well say it now. What were you going to say?”

Hope is a terrible thing that Sherlock never allows himself. So he stays still, doesn’t move closer or farther away, and waits for John like he always has.

John heaves a tender sigh. “Oh, Sherlock,” he murmurs, and presses their lips together.

John is an anomaly for the simple fact of his existence. He saw Sherlock, saw him and understood him, and he ran into the wires and the walls, taking the pain and interpreting it as pleasure. John always surprises him. John is ordinary, mundane, predictable; he is also none of those things. John slows his bullet train of a mind down to an aching, screeching stop, as he does now, with the gentle pressure of lips and a careful hand buried in Sherlock’s hair.

Sherlock hates that for all his fantasies he remains unprepared for the brilliant, blinding beauty that is John Watson.

“You could try kissing back you know.” John’s voice is light but he is extricating himself calmly but quickly, misconstruing Sherlock’s stunned unresponsiveness for rejection. There’s a quiet pain in his voice and Sherlock comes to the horrifying realisation that he has hurt John.

It’s the least he can do to seize John’s wrist, his other hand climbing up John’s shoulder to his nape, and pressing their lips together once more. This kiss is what an epiphany feels like: new and familiar, terrifying and comforting all at once. The reintroduction of old lovers, a joy tinged with the sorrow of history. Sherlock pushes aside everything between and behind them to immerse himself fully in the clever slide of John’s seeking tongue.

An age rises and falls before they separate. Sherlock keeps his eyes screwed shut, revelling in John’s soft breath brushing the corner of his lip. John has settled on his knees in front of Sherlock’s chair. Eagerly, carefully, Sherlock pulls at him so that he settles across his lap. Arranging his limbs, John settles his head on the junction of Sherlock’s neck and shoulder, heaving a sigh.

“I love you,” John murmurs, with a tinge of wistfulness that says what he can’t. I’m sorry for all the time we wasted.

Sherlock hums. “I love you, too.” I’m sorry, too.

Rosie sleeps on in her nursery. The night settles around them like the culmination of years of yearning.

All is better.