To MEG. Happy birthday, love Pip. xxx

Love

Seven

Sherlock had long since grown used to the noise. It was true that he had needed to make a certain amount of changes to the way he worked, and sometimes he dwelled upon this, but then he'd have to accept that John and Scarlet had also made compromises to their daily lives to accommodate him. He'd learned fairly quickly how to blot out the noise and mess when he needed to concentrate, and he had to admit that there was something quite comforting about the vague sensation of life happening around him while he was thinking, and the occasional cups of tea or sandwiches that appeared at his side at intervals through the day, often, conveniently, when he was just beginning to notice that he was hungry.

On the other hand, it was sometimes quite frustrating that he wasn't able to pace the room, or shoot or throw things, or just talk at John, only stopping when John said something dull, banal, obvious, and he'd suddenly make a connection and jump up, make calls or run away. There were days, days like today, now in fact, where he was aware he'd like to do something that would make the disjointed thoughts in his head connect, but he was obliged to wait for Scarlet's bedtime before he could really start ranting.

He hadn't stopped thinking since he'd arrived home this afternoon. He'd placed himself at the kitchen table, back to the oven, facing the door, ready to scowl at incomers or get in the way of anyone who wanted to make dinner. He was surrounded by books, photos and maps, but he wasn't really looking at them. He had signalled the situation to John by refusing to answer when John had asked; 'Good day?' John had rolled his eyes, but a cup of tea had appeared at Sherlock's elbow just a few minutes later. Sherlock had indicated his displeasure about the 'wait until Scarlet's in bed' situation by not starting the tea for a full five minutes, but apparently this was too subtle for the good doctor to pick up on.

John had spent the afternoon chatting with Scarlet and supervising homework, and Sherlock had vanished inside his mind and left them to it.

It wasn't ideal. It wasn't just the waiting that was frustrating. He was aware that he could probably do without John in the same way that he could probably do without the cigarettes or the nicotine patches. He just chose not to because abstinence was far too much effort and not nearly so much fun. He was quite used to ignoring the things John said when he needed to think. After all, almost nothing novel or interesting issued forth from that man. Scarlet, however, was a whole different matter. Occasionally, she could say something that found its way into Sherlock's inner ear, zapped its way along his acoustic nerve, and to his brain, where it would bounce around his temporal lobe, sending all other carefully balanced thoughts crashing to the ground.

"Dad, are you proud of me?"

Sherlock's mind rushed so suddenly into the present he felt slightly dizzy. He looked into the living room. John and Scarlet were sitting side by side on the sofa watching something on the television.

"Course I'm proud of you, sweetheart," John replied.

"Why are you?"

"Because I am."

"But what for? What have I done?"

"Everything. I'm proud of you every day just because you're you."

Dull. Banal. Obvious.

John only glanced at Scarlet, and his tone was light, but Sherlock could tell that there was some emotion working away inside him, because his left arm snaked around Scarlet's waist to pull her closer.

"But what specially? And really every day? Even when I do something silly?"

"Even then."

John pulled Scarlet onto his lap, resting her head on his shoulder and resting his chin on her head. Sherlock recognised his 'slightly unnerved' position, when he and Scarlet became mutual comfort blankets for the other.

Scarlet was too big for this now; too tall. She'd grown so rapidly in recent months. Sherlock had been away for three weeks in Europe just the month before, and when he came home he'd been actually astonished by her. She'd grown at least an inch and a half in the short time he'd been away. John had laughed and accused him of exaggerating but he knew for sure that it was true. He'd almost begged to be allowed to measure her to prove it. He suspected it was an inch and two thirds.

The way she grew had changed recently too. He was used to seeing a rounding of her tummy, and her cheeks becoming slightly fleshier, and he knew his heralded a growth spurt. He enjoyed saying smugly to John; 'she'll need new clothes this weekend.' That hadn't happened for a while though. Scarlet just seemed to find these extra inches from somewhere he couldn't fathom, and just shot up and stretched her limbs, and she ended up looking willowy and taut. She'd eat ferociously, all pickiness cast aside as she responded to her body's desire to feed these new cells.

She moved differently now. When she ran along the street or in the park, her arms moved correctly, pumping and balancing her body, and her legs would propel her forward in long, easy strides. He was used to watching her run slowly, her feet flailing in any random direction she could find while her arms flapped merrily and uselessly around her. Now he had to put in a little bit of effort if he wanted to keep up with her. He was vaguely aware that if he didn't want her to outrun him in just a few years, he'd have to cut back on the secret cigarettes.

This was only relevant outside. As soon as she was confined in a smaller area, she seemed to lose any control at all over her limbs. There seemed to be too much of them for her, and they kept darting out to knock things off surfaces, or brush past things that she hadn't been able to reach before. She tripped over the extra lengths of her feet several times a day, and had developed a habit of walking into things that she reached far quicker than she was expecting.

Sherlock had suggested they tape pillows to the coffee table and other hard edges while she was growing into them. 'Growing into what?' John had asked. 'All the extra her,' he'd replied, and John and Scarlet had laughed, unaware that there was any problem at all.

She thought differently now too. Sherlock had imagined Scarlet's childish thoughts fluttering every which way, resting briefly on things that sparkled or shone, but moving on quickly. He was startled when he noticed her blue eyes, piercing, examining, thinking. She'd come to him once as he was experimenting with various household chemicals on human flesh. 'Is that a human hand?' she'd asked. Not; 'what are you doing?' which is what she'd have asked a year ago, and which he'd realised was code for 'I'm bored; entertain me', rather than any desire to learn.

On this occasion, she'd fixed the hand, the chemicals, and him with her blue eyes, examining them, holding them down, observing them. He'd confirmed the hand, and he'd explained what he was doing. 'Is it ethical?' she'd asked. He wondered when she'd learned that word. He'd explained why he needed to know; what the point was. She'd followed his thoughts around the kitchen with a faint frown dividing her eyebrows. She wasn't sure. She wouldn't commit.

Then it came; the sudden moment when realisation dawned, and she told him that yes, sometimes it would be necessarily to experiment on human flesh, unnerving and mildly nauseating as it might be, in order protect or help actual, living people. The experiment was sound; he'd provided enough of a control to value his results, and had made adjustments to account for the fact that this flesh was dead. These weren't her actual words, but her thoughts were clear. Her eyes had hovered over the burn marks on the back of his own hand, but she hadn't commented on them. She just nodded, satisfied with this new knowledge.

He had been so excited that he'd almost pulled her around the flat in a victory lap. It was too late though; she'd simply walked away as if nothing important had happened at all.

She hadn't been a baby or an infant for a long time now. It had been years since she'd fitted the 'toddler' moniker that John favoured for a while. He thought now that the 'little girl' stage was behind her too. She'd shed these terms like a butterfly shedding a chrysalis. She was suddenly and unmistakably 'child'.

So there she was; this new, limby, thinky child, demanding to know if she made her father proud. He wondered if John would come up with any answer that would satisfy her.

"But what if I did something really bad," she asked now.

"I might not be proud of the actual thing that you do, not if it was really, really bad, but, I wouldn't stop loving you. I'd still want to know why you did it. You might find that even if the thing you did was really bad, I could be proud of the reasons that you did it if they were good."

"But what if I killed someone. What then?"

"Well, I'd rather you didn't kill someone."

"Why?"

"Because it takes a long time to forget it."

There was silence.

Ask him why! Sherlock willed her. Ask him how he knows that! That's the next, logical step in this conversation.

She didn't though. She just nestled into him with a small sigh, and he kissed the top of her head.

Sherlock sighed too. So much unexamined. Too much unsaid, untested.

"Oh!" he surprised even himself with the shout. He was up and running out of the door, hesitating only to grab his coat and scarf from the peg behind the door. "It was the father!" he called to them. "Parents are stupid! Thank you, Scarlet!" and then he was gone.

Scarlet and John glanced at each other, thought about commenting on this behaviour, but it was old news to both of them now.

John wondered what Scarlet would ask next. Whether she'd be distracted onto this strangeness, or whether she'd sigh and say once again; 'what is the point of Sherlock?" and he'd have to remind her, yet again, that she adored him, and she'd eventually concede that she did. Sometimes she was as fickle and as difficult as Sherlock.

"Can we have chips for dinner?" she asked.

John smiled. "When did you last eat a vegetable?"

"Yesterday. We had peas."

"Go and look in the veg basket, choose something, and we'll work out what we can put with it."

She sighed but obeyed.

She walked past the place where Sherlock had been sitting. John had been aware that he'd been having two simultaneous conversations. That Sherlock had been listening intently, and that there would probably be a recall at some point when Sherlock remembered.

He'd had similar variations on the same subject with both of them. Scarlet had occasionally fallen into these fits of insecurity and had wanted to know that he loved her, why he loved her, what would happen if he stopped loving her? Occasionally this upset or worried him, but over the course of time, he'd learned that they were just brief lapses in her general confidence, and if she sometimes wanted to hear the words out loud for whatever reason, then who was he to argue?

Sherlock was a whole different kettle of fish. He returned to the subject over and over. From that first conversation in the park, recorded forever inside John Watson; 'a travel-agent? A travel-agent? How could you not be disappointed with a travel-agent?' To the morning after the beach in Brighton; 'but what if she does something? What if she does something awful? I know you don't want to turn away from her ever, but what if she was just too much for you one time?' 'But what could she possibly do?' he'd asked, 'to make me stop loving her?' 'Maybe she hurts someone, and does it deliberately. Maybe she hurts me? Maybe she hurts you?' John had just shaken his head. 'It's not just flesh and blood,' Sherlock had persisted, 'we've both seen parents who treat their children awfully; beyond contempt, like animals sometimes. It's not just flesh and blood, so what is it? What is it that makes you love her beyond all other people?' John had had no answer, and Sherlock hadn't been satisfied. He continued to watch, observe, scrutinise, and John sometimes felt the weight of responsibility of teaching Sherlock by example how families generally work. 'If you can't understand it, can you at least accept it?' he'd asked one time, exasperated. Sherlock hadn't answered. He had, at least shut up for a while though.

"I'll eat maybe one carrot," Scarlet said, holding a bag aloft.

"OK, we'll have them with pie and potatoes. Sherlock looks nearly finished, so we'll make enough for him."

"He'll need a lot."

"Yes. So will you. Three helpings you had yesterday. A new personal record, I think; well done!"

They crossed each other at the kitchen divide, and John gently pulled the ponytail of his tall, stringy daughter. He leant across the table to pick up Sherlock's empty tea mug, which he'd huffily deigned fit to drink after some unfathomable internal struggle.

He started to do the washing up, and spent a brief, indulgent moment of knowing that he would love Scarlet with ever atom of his body, every day until the moment he died. He wondered if Sherlock would ever find anyone who he loved the same way. He certainly hoped so. He frowned, and wondered if he already had.