John wondered if Mycroft practiced being unsettling. Or maybe it was just a natural talent.
Because John was very, very unsettled right now.
Part of it was the setting. John had not been to Mycroft’s club for several years, but he remembered how it spared no expense and practically oozed prestige and power. Part of it was the subtle scowl Mycroft gave him as he grudgingly handed him a sleek silver phone with only one number programmed in the contacts app. He licked his lips, glancing at Mycroft with a questioning look. Mycroft sighed.
“Go on,” he drawled. “I’m sure he’s waiting for your message.”
John opened the message app, deciding to keep his text simple.
Mycroft gave me your number. JW
Yes, I asked him to. Was that alright? SH
Of course it was. JW
How's Rosie? JW
She's well. Her name isn't legally Rosamund
I wanted to keep her safe. She goes by
Charlotte Alessia Rosamund Holmes now.
Everyone calls her Charlie though. SH
John looked at his phone in surprise. He didn't know Rosie now had a new name. Charlotte. Charlie. He liked it. It had occurred to him that it seemed unfair to give Rosamund Mary the name of a traitor and assassin, and he was glad she now had a name to call her own. He quickly replied.
I like it. It's a good name. JW
I thought so. SH
John contemplated his phone for a moment. He stalled for a moment, then decided to bite the bullet and ask.
Can we talk? It doesn't have to be face-to-face.
The phone is fine. JW
Some things are better not discussed
by text. JW
He held his breath.
I agree. SH
Is tomorrow, noon at Angelo's alright? SH
John was shocked. Sherlock was willing to meet for dinner? After abandoning him with a newborn for three years with his assassin wife, and forcing him into hiding? John had betrayed Sherlock's trust so many times, even before he ran away. And he was casually inviting John to lunch?
He hesitated, glanced up at Mycroft. Mycroft's features were carefully blank. He licked his lips nervously, then sent his message.
Works for me. See you then. JW
He let out a long breath, then put his phone away. He leaned back in his chair and looked back at Mycroft. He looked up, features no longer as blank.
"I need not remind you, Dr. Watson, that if you hurt my brother or my niece, your body will not be found. The only reason you aren't in the deepest hole I can find already is because Sherlock wants to give you another chance," he threatened, his voice hard and unforgiving. John shook his head distractedly.
"I would never hurt my daughter-"
"No," cut in Mycroft. "You lost your claim to being her father the day you left her behind. Sherlock is her only Papa. Lestrade is Uncle Greg, Miss Hooper is Auntie Molls and I am Uncle Myc. My mother and Father are Grandma and Grandpa, and Mrs. Hudson is Gram. Angelo, Mike Stamford, all of Scotland Yard and Bart's, and most of London's homeless are looking out for her. However, you are nobody. A stranger, a ghost. She knows you only from a photo on the mantle and Papa's bedtime stories about the lonely detective and his brave doctor. They. Owe. You. Nothing." He hissed.
He leaned forward, threateningly gripping his umbrella. "If you want even the chance to become a fixture in Charlie Holmes' life, you will respect the position you have put yourself in. Or so help me God, I will forget any deal I made with my brother and make sure you can never hurt them again by any means I deem necessary. Understood?"
John was frozen with surprise. He had very little information about his daughter's life now, just what he knew from watching Sherlock and Charlie before he left the country with Mycroft's help. He had expected the Sherlock would help Charlie, but by finding her a loving family or sending her to Mycroft. But of course, Sherlock would dive headfirst into parenthood. That's what William Sherlock Scott Holmes did best. Protect the people he cared about, even if it killed him.
He realized Mycroft expected a response. He swallowed nervously and nodded. "I understand."
"Good. Anthea will show you to a bedroom."
Mycroft's car dropped him off a block away from Angelo's fifteen minutes before he was meeting Sherlock. He thanked the driver, and nervously made his way towards the restaurant.
It was odd, walking through the streets of London he was so familiar with. Nothing had changed. But nothing was exactly the same, either. The tabloids were on a different shelf, the apartments across from Angelo's now had window boxes, Angelo's had a new awning. He felt disconnected, like it was all an illusion that would fall apart if he looked too closely.
He caught a glace of his reflection and felt a similar sense wash over him. His hair was now a steely grey from stress and boxed hair colours. He had gained a few small lines in his face, as well as a beard. He had lost all the extra weight he had gained as a civilian and had more defined muscle, reminiscent of when he just finished basic training. Ink that had not existed until a year ago peeked out from under his collar, and he had ditched his old jumpers for fatigues and utility boots. He felt like he was some twisted version of himself. The MI5 agent, rather than the Doctor.
He found himself wondering if Sherlock would bring Charlie. Mycroft had grudgingly shown him pictures, and it had been painful seeing his features staring back at him in a face he didn't know.
He paused at the threshold of Angelo's, then tentatively opened the door. He lingered, taking in the familiar surroundings. Angelo himself came up with a menu and a familiar smile.
"Doctor Watson!" he boomed. "Are you here to meet with Sherlock?"
John smiled, hesitantly. "Yes. Is he here yet?" Angelo's grin grew wider.
"Yes! Here, towards the back."
At first, John didn't recognize the man sitting quietly at an inconspicuous table at the back of the restaurant.
His inky curls now were cropped close to the sides of his head and had hints of silver at his temples. He no longer wore a suit, but now had the full police uniform of a Sergeant. Sliding into the seat across from this unfamiliar man, John asked, tentatively, "Sherlock?"
Sherlock looked up. His eyes narrowed familiarly, taking in all he could deduce about John. John looked back at him evenly and did the same.
Sherlock's features remained relatively unchanged, still sharp and without an extra inch of fat. His eyes were still a mercurial blue, and his hands were still stained from chemicals and calloused by the violin. However, he looked healthier, with better colour and more lean muscle bulking his frame. He now had laugh lines around his eyes and a small scar went through his eyebrow to his cheek, barely missing his eye. John eyed it critically, realizing Sherlock was lucky his eye wasn't damaged.
"Suspect was still hiding on the scene when I deduced his relationship to the victim, and he had a pocketknife," explained Sherlock, with his familiar, deep voice. "He ran out and slashed at anyone who tried to follow him. I also have one on my wrist and upper arm. It's the worst I've gotten hurt in the last year." John raised an eyebrow.
"What about the last three years?" He didn't like the idea of Sherlock getting hurt. Sherlock smiled, slightly forced.
"I'll tell you another time. Needless to say, I was afraid I would get in an accident and leave Charlie with no one but Uncle Mycroft's nannies to look after her." He smirked a little at his joke but remained serious. "I couldn't let her get left behind again." John winced a little at that.
"I owe you a lot of answers," he flatly stated.
"Yes. You do," rumbled Sherlock, quietly. John stared into his lap in shame, then mumbled,
"What do you want to know?"
Sherlock leaned forward, settling his elbows on the table, and gave the answer John was dreading.
"Everything. I've got time."
John contemplated pointing out that Sherlock had never told him about his hiatus before John married Mary. But he restrained himself. Sherlock had done that to keep John, Greg, and Mrs. Hudson alive. He hadn't left behind an infant.
John took a deep breath.
"The night I left, three years ago, I was drunk and angry. I was furious for not being there for Charlie, and for blaming an infant for her mother's problems. I was so ashamed. Of how I treated you, being high and trying to help me. I was no better than Mary. So, when she reached out to me, I figured if I was as dangerous as Mary, then why not join her and protect you and Rosie? I've brought nothing but grief to the both of you. So, I stormed out."
He remembered that night vividly, despite being intoxicated. Rosie had been crying for ages, probably for her mother. John had been stressed and hadn't slept properly in the last few weeks. He just... lost it. He began yelling, at Rosie, at Sherlock, hell, maybe at whatever put Mary Morstan in his life to begin with. Sherlock had tried to placate him, but John was seeing red. He had punched a wall when Sherlock tackled him, taking a sobbing Rosie from him, and backing away. John had stormed out and hadn't looked back, as bitter shame and regret settled deep in his bones.
"I regretted it immediately. I wish I had come back, but..." he trailed off. "I met with Mary at the location she set. She told me her plan of becoming an assassin for hire again. She asked me to join her, and I... accepted. Most of the time, we were hired to rescue hostages or to take out crime bosses by other crime bosses, so I guess I felt justified. We had a moral code, no kids, no one without a criminal record. But then we were hired to kill an Ambassador. He had committed treason and was hiding out in Tehran, and we were hired by an independent special interest group hoping to tip political favour their way through his death. He had three daughters. The youngest was just a toddler." He closed his eyes, not wanting to see the expression Sherlock was giving him.
"I initially refused, but Mary could be very... persuasive. So, I reached out to Mycroft. He staged a large protest that justified extracting the family, so they were safe for the time being. Mycroft then gave me a deal. If I would convert to MI5, and give them intel and follow his instructions, he would protect me from charges in direct relation to her if I came back to Britain.” He paused, pulling something from his pocket and catching his breath. Sherlock’s gaze never left John’s face. John forced himself to stare right back, then continued.
“I thought I deserved to be locked up for the rest of my life, but I took the deal. The next year and a half were stressful. I think Mary suspected I wasn't entirely…loyal, so she eventually ditched me for Tehran. I had to go after her, so I went to 221B one time before I left the country."
"I followed you and Charlie from a distance. You went to the park and fed the ducks, and she had a bright yellow coat and braided pigtails. You both came here to meet someone, a young blonde woman. Client, maybe? Then you went home and watched the Princess Bride. When you were with your client, Charlie dropped this." He fished in his pocket for a moment before pulling out a little plastic bee for teething. "I kept it. You can have it back if you want." Sherlock gave him a small smile and shook his head.
"She doesn't need it anymore. Keep it." John smiled back and put the bee safely in his pocket, then continued his story.
"That was the last time I was in London. I went after Mary, and eventually, she found me. I captured her." His breath hitched. He still felt like he should be guilty for taking in the mother of his only child to be incarcerated for the rest of her life, but he just felt... relieved.
"Mycroft insisted I do four more months of spy work. I still had contact with old clients. So, I just did what he told me so I could come home. London's it for me." He sighed and sat back. Sherlock regarded him with a curious expression John couldn’t quite read. it was almost... pride? Understanding? Hope? Finally, he spoke.
"Is there anything else you need to tell me today?"
John contemplated the question for a moment. He had only given Sherlock a brief recount of his time away, and he had glossed over a lot of the time he spent as a mercenary at Mary's side. However, he was sure Sherlock had at least deduced what he had done, maybe even seen some of the messes he and Mary left behind. He shook his head.
"I'll answer any questions you have. But no, nothing else today." Sherlock nodded. He smiled a little. "Do you want to know about my three years? Or would you rather not?"
John sighed in relief. "Yes, please. If you are alright with that." Sherlock nodded.
"Charlie was inconsolable the week after you left." John winced.
"It's the truth. She only slept from exhaustion. Eventually, we got a routine established. I only took cases that I could solve at the lab or home, I didn't want to take Charlie to any dangerous or exposed crime scenes. Mycroft reached out and told me of the possible threat from Mary, so I quit the persona of Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, for William Scott, a single father. Charlie got her name: Charlotte Alessia Rosamund Scott. Mycroft did the paperwork.
We stayed in a safe house for a few months, and I pursued the qualifications I needed to be hired by Scotland Yard. Greg and Mycroft set it up so I had an in-between position where I could come to crime scenes as an officer and had the right to arrest someone, but still did some of the forensics as well. A brand new position that didn't exist before; Sergeant Analyst. I also set it up that I did some jobs for MI5 and MI6 through Mycroft. It was the best balance of crime-solving and a predictable job schedule. I joined Lestrade's team when Charlie turned two, and we got our last names switched back to Sherlock Holmes to avoid confusion at the Yard."
"Scotland Yard loves Charlie. The only reason they tolerated me at first is that I would bring her into work. Even Donovan is Aunt Sally, she keeps some books and a blanket in her desk for late nights. Anderson isn't allowed near her though," he said with a gleam in his eye. "I don't want her IQ permanently tanked." John chuckled, for the first time in months. He was amazed Sherlock had given up most of the Work, just for Charlie.
"How does Charlie like detective work?" he asked, playfully.
"She is showing quite a bit of promise. Her first word was 'duck'. Her favourite book is one Molly gave us, it's called Make Way for the Ducklings. She loves drawing, she'll sit on the floor for hours scribbling away. Mrs. Hudson is a lifesaver, she looks after her two days a week when I can't bring her into work or put her in childcare. My parents dote on her, they gave up on hoping for a grandchild a long time ago, so Charlie is nothing short of a miracle to them. She's even charmed Mycroft, he reads to her when he comes by." Sherlock smiled a little. "She's happy. I'm happy." He looked bashfully up at John. "I love her. More than anything."
John was stunned. And ashamed. He had missed so much. Why did he ever think it was a good idea to leave her and Sherlock behind? He cleared his throat and blinked rapidly to keep the tears at bay. "I'm glad," he said gruffly. "I'm glad she had someone."
The two men ate in silence for a few moments. John noted that Sherlock ate a full serving of his meal for once. He contemplated his next words carefully. Mycroft said Sherlock wanted to give John a chance to be a part of Charlie's life again. John wanted that chance, very badly. He knew it probably wasn't a good idea for him to go anywhere near the child. But he wanted to be a little selfish, and be able to at least see her. He realized it would probably be best if he was honest and blunt. He cleared his throat again to get Sherlock's attention.
"I... want to be able to see Charlie. Sometime. It doesn't have to be permanent. But I just... need to see her. Find a way to make up for my mistakes. Please." He stated, nervously. Sherlock set down his fork and regarded him evenly.
"I am not against that. She would probably be more comfortable if we met with other people she is familiar with around. She isn't very friendly with strangers,” he explained. "Scotland Yard has a Halloween party coming up. No costumes, usually we all just show up in uniform.” He tapped his glass nervously. "Molly and Greg are very angry with you. I'll talk to them first." John nodded. He had expected that. "That works for me."
"I'll text you the time and address."
They quickly finished their pierogi, then stood up. John forced himself to look Sherlock in the eye. "Thank you. For... everything," he said softly. "I don't deserve your kindness."
The corner of Sherlock's mouth twitched in an almost-smile, and he took a step forward, opening his arms invitingly. John stepped into the embrace, and they hugged for the first time since the Pool and Moriarty, seven years ago. So many things had changed. John just hoped they would be for the better.
John nervously brushed the lint off the plaid shirt Mycroft had found him. Tonight was Scotland Yard's Halloween party, and it would be the first time he would be seeing any of the old crowd: Lestrade, Molly, even Anderson and Donovan. Sherlock assured him that he had spoken with everyone that would be there, so they all knew John was attending. He still was expecting to be socked by Greg.
He knocked at the side door, then tried the handle. He was greeted by loud voices, music from the radio, and a loud burst of laughter as he swung open the door.
The party was being held in a large press conference room, and cheap plastic tables had been set up in place of the metal chairs usually filling the floor. The lights were off, and a couple of plastic disco balls lit up the space with splashes of bright colours. A space in the centre of the room had been left clear for a dance floor. Most of the yarders were eating off paper plates and laughing at their tables, a few singing along with the pop song playing on the radio.
John immediately spotted Sherlock and Charlie. They were sitting with Lestrade, who was bouncing Charlie on his knee and making silly faces, Molly, who was chatting quietly with Sherlock and Donovan, and Dimmock, who was laughing uproariously at a joke an officer John didn't recognize. When the officer laughed and turned her face towards him, he realized he did know her: she was the blonde woman Sherlock had met when he had spied on him all those years ago. She was quite pretty, and he felt a short stab of unexplained jealousy.
He realized he had been staring for a minute, but he was afraid of approaching the table. He saw the looks that were being shot his direction by some of the officers, and he didn't want to impose on a happy moment. He jumped when he felt a gentle hand on his arm, and nearly tripped over the woman in a blue sundress who had tried to get his attention. She grabbed his shoulders to keep him from falling.
"Shit! I'm sorry, didn't mean to scare you," she exclaimed. He shook his head, putting on a small smile.
"No problem, I'm just clumsy. I'm sorry." She grinned and offered her hand. "I'm Bess. Are you Doctor Watson?" He tentatively took her hand and nodded.
"Yes. Is that a bad thing?" She laughed and shook her head.
"You tell me. Greg's right pissed at you, but Sherlock's seem to have forgiven you, so that's good enough for me. Come on, You won't achieve anything standing over here." He left himself be herded to the table.
"Hey Lads! It's John fucking Watson."
Molly, Greg, and Donovan all stood, eyeing him cautiously. Greg handed Charlie to Sherlock, who viewed the scene with faint amusement. John squared his shoulders and stared back.
Bess offered a hand to the blonde officer, who smiled softly and pecked her on the cheek. Bess blushed slightly, then said very deliberately,
"Ellie and I are gonna get drinks. We'll be back in a bit. Do you want us to take Charls along?" she asked Sherlock, who mumbled his thanks and handed off the not-so-little girl to the blonde woman called Ellie, who began murmuring in her ear. Charlie wasn't looking towards John, so all he could see was her curly blonde hair and chubby feet. Bess eyed Sally and Dimmock, who seemed to get the message. They mumbled an excuse, and the five of them left the remaining people at the table their privacy.
"So," drawled Greg. "You're back."
John nodded. He didn't trust his voice not to break if he spoke, so he let the silence draw out uncomfortably. Sherlock finally snorted indelicately and stood, made his way over to John, and pulled him into a hug. This wasn't the emotional, tight hug they shared at lunch previously. This was brief, and with minimal contact. "Thanks for coming," said Sherlock, with a little grin and a pat on John's shoulder. "Greg," he called out, still looking at John. "You can let go of your gun."
Greg looked at least a little guilty as he shifted in his chair. Sherlock pulled a seat from a nearby table across from his and gestured that John should sit. He did and nervously cleared his throat. The silence carried on. Finally, Sherlock ran out of patience.
"Oh for God's sake," he cried. "John and I have met up, and he has no intention of stealing Charlie away. You can clearly see he has remorse for his actions and is looking for atonement, not to cause trouble. See, he deliberately dressed to have a smaller profile and to be non-threatening, and his posture is relaxed, he isn’t hiding anything. You all can stand down."
Both John and Greg stared at each other for a moment, then burst into laughter. Not from humor, but to release their awkward stress. Sherlock looked bewildered at the reaction he received, and Molly was stifling giggles behind her hand.
"God, mate!" chuckled Greg. "Some things never change. Except for your new mustache, of course."
Molly piped up. "I like it better than the last mustache, this is less... caterpillar-y." The table burst into more helpless chuckles.
"So," said John, a little more confident now, "What cases have you all been working?"
The three of them caught up for an hour after that. Donovan re-joined the table, as well as Ellie, Bess, and Charlie. John learned that Ellie was another DI who grew up in America before moving to the UK for a college exchange program and decided to stay. Her girlfriend was Bess, who was in the Royal Air Force and currently on leave. They swapped army stories for a bit and agreed to meet at a pub sometime at a later date.
Donovan still called Sherlock "freak" but somehow managed to make it sound warm and friendly, and Sherlock managed to make "idiot" sound fond as well. Greg and Molly were recently engaged to be married, and John offered his congratulations as well as wedding planning advice; "Do a background check on the photographer." Sherlock choked on his cake, chuckling.
Charlie was now three and a half years old. She had an unusually large vocabulary, including "Homicide!" to much of the amusement of the table. Her soft blonde hair had been braided into pigtails by Sherlock, apparently taught to him by Ellie, who had a daughter who was friends with Charlie. She played with him a little and even gave him a scribbled picture of her "Shodinger!" who was the Holmes' cat. He thanked her, and she gave him a huge, beautiful smile that made his heart twist in his chest.
She even spoke a little French, saying "si vous plait, papa" when Sherlock offered her part of his cake. Sherlock seemed more relaxed than John had ever seen him, chatting pleasantly with officers and making his deductions amusing instead of hurtful. Charlie adored him, jumping up and down in happiness when he praised her, and once loudly proclaiming, "I love you, Papa! To the stars!" to the entire table. Sherlock chuckled and kissed her cheek. "I love you too, my Rose."
It was the best night John had in a long time. It was also bittersweet, seeing Charlie growing up without him.
The party finally wrapped up around ten, and Sherlock and Charlotte went around to say their goodbyes. John lingered by the door, wanting to make the evening last as long as he could make it. After Charlie and Sherlock had both kissed Bess and Ellie on the cheek and bid farewell, they made their way over to John. Charlie watched him with wide eyes. John addressed Sherlock first.
"Thank you for tonight. It was good." Sherlock smiled.
"It was my pleasure." Sherlock crouched down next to Charlie and said softly, "Will you say goodbye?"
Charlie smiled shyly and waved at John. "Salut!" She chirped. John chuckled weakly and waved back. "Good night, Charlie. It was nice to... meet you." She smiled again and buried her face in Sherlock's neck, gripping his shirt. Sherlock smiled. "Somebody's tired," he said softly, with a stroke of her hair and a kiss on her forehead. "Should we go home?" She nodded. "Alright."
He picked her up with one arm and offered his other hand to John. John shook it, trying not to get emotional again. "Thank you," he whispered. "Can we do this again?" Sherlock smiled. "Of course. We'd be happy to have you." John nodded.
He didn't let go of Sherlock's hand. Neither did Sherlock. He looked at John, seeming to make a decision. He stepped forward and placed a chaste kiss on John's temple, then pulled back. "Text me?" he whispered.
"Of course." croaked John. He stood frozen at that spot until Sherlock and Charlie had been swallowed by the night.
"Shit." He whispered. Sentiment. A chemical defect and weakness of the losing side, indeed.