This is a case-fic based on the ACD original Silver Blaze. I have managed to sneak a whole heap of domesticity in there though. Or I haven't managed to prevent the domesticity creeping in; whichever way you choose to look at it. This technically follows on from my version of The Adventure of the Cardboard Box. It can be read as a stand alone though.
Special thanks are given to Rustyla who was kind enough to pick up any errors and give me the confidence boost I needed to publish this one. Any remaining errors are mine and not hers.
I'm hoping to publish a new chapter a day. It's mostly written; we're just polishing the last few chapters up now.
Sherlock Holmes looked at the pair of keys he was holding in the palm of his hand. The smaller one was causing him some anguish. He tossed them lightly a couple of times, listening to the sound of them chink together as he caught them again and gauged their weight. Brass, he thought. The larger one was certainly made from brass; its colour gave it away. The smaller was probably made from brass too, but was coated with nickel. He contemplated taking it back to his flat to cut it in two to check his hypothesis. He was, however, able to see that naming the constituent parts of the key wasn't strictly the point of the key.
He tossed it again, wondering how such a little thing could be causing him such mental chaos.
He was standing outside the Watsons' flat door. He'd used the larger brass key to open the exterior door from the street. Now he was standing on the first floor, outside a wooden door with a shiny number '2' on it. The number was probably made of polished aluminium, he decided.
He couldn't help but notice he still hadn't opened the door.
John had been quite clear. He should have the key, not just for emergencies, but in case he wanted to visit at a time when neither he nor Mary was able to answer the door. He had been particularly firm on the point that Sherlock shouldn't do anything so selfish as buzzing the intercom, as he might wake anyone who might be asleep in the flat.
"I can't just walk in," he had insisted.
John had laughed. "Since when? You walked in on me in my room, in the bathroom, pretty much anywhere I happened to be when we were living together. I fail to believe you've suddenly developed a concern about my personal space."
"It's not your personal space; it's Mary's personal space."
"She won't mind."
"She might be undressed."
"She doesn't walk around the flat completely naked."
"You might be engaging in marital relationships."
John had stared, tired-eyed at him. "You mean sex?" he asked. "I can absolutely guarantee you that that won't be happening."
Sherlock had swallowed any further questions and had taken the key.
So here he was now, outside the flat with tacit permission to enter the flat, and yet it just felt so wrong.
He toyed with the idea of just walking away, and waiting for John to visit him, but he knew that that would be truly ridiculous, and that he really wanted to talk to John now.
He turned the key and opened the door, very slowly and very quietly.
The television was playing quietly in the lounge so he headed in that direction. Before he went in, he cleared his throat and muttered a quiet 'hello?' There was no answer so he rounded the corner and went inside and smiled at the sight he was met with.
John was asleep on the sofa. He probably wasn't meant to be; he hadn't put his feet up and his head was still propped on his right hand, his elbow still securely on the arm of the chair. His head was tipped slightly back and his mouth was open. His left hand was drooped over the handle of a red pram. He looked exactly as he would if he'd been quietly rocking or jiggling the pram before he was overcome with sleep. Mary was nowhere to be seen, so Sherlock went in to look into the pram.
Sure enough, there was the youngest Watson, Benjamin, commonly known as Benjy by his father at least. He was just beginning to stir, so Sherlock gently unhooked John's hand and pushed the pram across the room where he stood rocking it gently back and forth. Benjy settled down again. Sherlock sat down on one of the Watson dining chairs and continued to rock the pram. He took the opportunity to examine the baby a little. He hadn't changed vastly since he'd last seen him ten days ago. He tried to find some feature that would mark him out as particularly John's or particularly Mary's, but he failed to find one. It wasn't that he doubted the boy's parentage; it was that he felt he ought to be able to say something beyond, 'he looks like a typical, generic baby.' He had managed not to say this yet; he'd commented on his ears, fingers, nose, cheeks, dimpled chin and pudgy hands, but he was rapidly running out of neutral statements.
John emitted a loud snore, and his head tipped back just enough for it to unbalance and drop down to the arm of the sofa. He woke at the first touch and sat up, woolly headed.
"Benjy?" He rubbed his face, blinked around the room and located Sherlock. "Oh. Hello."
"I thought I'd have a quick look at him while you were sleeping."
"I wasn't asleep!"
Sherlock glanced at him. "You were…"
"I wasn't asleep!" John rubbed his face again. "Do you want a cup of coffee? Or do you just want to sit there arguing with me?"
"I have time for coffee."
"Mm. Good." John heaved himself up and walked past Sherlock towards the adjoining kitchen. He glanced into the pram as he passed Sherlock and smiled at his child. For a second, Sherlock felt John looked bright, alert and relaxed for the first time in weeks. "He's a good little boy, isn't he!"
"He certainly seems to be growing within the accepted parameters."
John laughed. "Only you, Sherlock. Only you with the 'accepted parameters'. Most people say, 'Gosh! Hasn't he grown?'"
"Well of course he's grown! I haven't seen him for ten days and he's three months old. He's generating new cells a rate he'll never attain again. If he hadn't grown for ten days, then that would be a fact worth getting excited about."
John shook his head and went through to put the kettle on. He came back to lean on the kitchen divide.
"So, are you working on anything?"
"Maybe. Have you heard about the disappearance of Silver Blaze?"
"That race horse, yeah, I caught something about it on the news. Trainer did it, didn't he? Stole the horse then topped himself because of the guilt, and then the horse wandered off and got lost."
"I see the tabloids have furnished you with the crime, criminal and motive. They're getting good."
"So that didn't happen?"
"No, I'm reasonably certain that didn't happen. I'm not sure what did happen, which is why I'm going to go down to Dartmoor to find out. I'm here to see if you want to come with me."
John sagged. "No, Sherlock. I've explained this a number of times; I'm not going to be able to drop everything and work on cases at a moment's notice any more."
"It's not a moment's notice; I'm not going anywhere until tomorrow morning, and you said; 'not for the first few months at any rate.' I took 'few' to be three in this instance."
He watched John quietly calculate the age of his child before shaking his head.
"I just can't, Sherlock. Sorry; it's not a good time."
Sherlock glanced around the room. It was as neat and tidy as always, though there was a thin layer of dust over the family pictures and trinkets that were displayed on the sideboard. There was a pillow and a sleeping bag poking out from behind the sofa, and a very slight depression on one of its arms. John himself was looking a little dishevelled.
"No," he said quietly. "Well, it was just a thought."
They looked up as Mary came into the room, wearing a track-suit top over her pyjamas. She stopped sharply when she saw Sherlock, and she gave him a thin smile.
"Sherlock! I didn't know you were here. I didn't hear the intercom."
Sherlock noted John's sudden fascination with the flooring.
"No," he said. "I texted John when I got here. He told me not to wake you up when I told him I was coming."
"Oh. Well you could have told me we were expecting someone," she said to John. "I'd have put some clothes on and tidied up."
"Do you want some tea?" John asked her.
"I'll do it." She walked past him into the kitchen.
There was a short, tense silence before John cleared his throat.
"So, they want you to dash down to Dartmoor to find a missing racehorse, do they?"
"Yes, apparently so," Sherlock said with a smile. "It's interesting; I'd have thought they were much more interested in me solving the potential double murder, but no, they're all up in arms about the horse."
"It's worth millions."
"But how can we put a price on human life?"
John laughed. "Don't quote me back at me. I don't like it. Also, these days I forget whatever I might have said at any given point." He came back into the room and sat down on another dining chair. "So, do you want to fill me in on the details?"
"Are you sure you'll stay awake?"
"He didn't sleep did he?" Mary said, coming in with two mugs. She put one down next to Sherlock. "You told me you wouldn't sleep."
"I didn't sleep," John insisted.
"Oh for God's sake, it's four! Why did you let Ben sleep so long when I specifically told you to wake him at three? Don't you know he'll never get to sleep tonight now?" She took the pram from Sherlock. "Can't you find a nice case somewhere far away and take him with you for a while." She pushed the pram away to her room, taking the other cup of tea with her.
Sherlock glanced into the kitchen. There was a distinct lack of a third cup anywhere.
"I'll make my own," John muttered. "She's just tired and forgot; that's all." He walked through and refilled the kettle, and Sherlock followed him. "Ben's not the most settled of sleepers."
"I'm sure it will all settle down," Sherlock said.
"Yeah. But you can see why it wouldn't be a great time for me to just sod off somewhere right now, can't you?"
"I can. It's fine." He hesitated. "John, if there's anything I can do, you'll just tell me, won't you?"
John grimaced. "And what might that be, exactly?"
"I don't know; that's why you'd have to tell me. But assuming it was legal and within my powers…. Well, assuming it was within my powers, you just need to ask."
John smiled and slapped him on the arm. "Thank you, but there's nothing. It's my marriage, and I have to sort it out." He opened the fridge and looked inside. "There's no milk." He screwed up his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "OK, I need to go and get milk."
"Do you want me to go for you?"
"No, I'm spare right now. Do you want to stay here?"
"No, I should be getting on. I'll walk with you though."
They left together and John seemed to pick up a little when he was in the fresh air, or at least, out of the flat.
"She's really very tired," John said. "You have to excuse some of her rudeness right now."
"Of course. She wasn't rude to me at all."
"No. It's restricted to me at the moment, so that's something." He smiled grimly. "She has Ben all night, and he's still waking fairly erratically. She doesn't want to switch to bottle feeding, even with expressed milk, so she's pretty much on call for him all night, and some nights are still bad." He yawned widely.
"And the sofa doesn't look too comfortable for you either."
"No, I don't get more than a couple of hours in a row even on the nights when Ben sleeps. And on the nights when he wakes, it's not like I don't hear him, even if I'm not allowed to enter the room. So I can forgive her for thinking that I'm tired and grouchy, because I am. Plus I'm hardly behaving like a saint myself. I know I'm not and I just can't find the energy to care any more." He glanced at Sherlock and shook his head. "Sorry. You don't want to hear about the mundane nonsense of my marriage."
"I'm just…" he broke off and shook his head again. "I wish I could pinpoint when I started lying to her routinely though. It's never big things…" he broke off and looked into the distance. "Well, it's not usually big things. I think I've got to the point where I'll say pretty much anything to avoid the row." He sighed. "Sorry. This really is dull."
"It's fine," Sherlock said again.
"No, it's dull. It's dull for you, it's dull for Mary, and it's dull for me. Anyhow, here's the shop." He stopped and rummaged through his pockets. "I've got to go back for my wallet." He stared blankly at the wall.
"No." Sherlock fished out his wallet and took out a five pound note. "You can pay me back next time you see me."
"Thank you." He stepped towards the shop but stopped again. "And now it's just occurred to me that I've left my keys at home, and I'm going to have to ask her to buzz me in. She'll love that."
Sherlock fished the spare ones out of his pocket. "I really think you should have these back anyway."
John looked at them for a while before taking them. "Yeah. You're probably right. Thank you."
"It's fine. I should get on now though."
"OK. See you then. When you get back you'll have to fill me in on this missing horse case."
"Of course I will. It shouldn't take more than a day or two."
"Then I'll see you then." He smiled and Sherlock turned to go. "Sherlock?"
"Yes?" He turned back.
"I just wanted to… Look, don't worry about all of this stuff." John waved vaguely towards his flat. "Seriously, what couple copes with new parenthood without any minor wobbles? That's all it is; it's just we have a twelve week old baby and we're still finding our feet with him. That's all."
Sherlock smiled. "Good. I thought it might be something like that."
"Well that's all it is. We're tired and grouchy and a bit thrown by the baby thing."
Sherlock smiled and gave a brief nod. "I'll see you soon."
"Yep." John disappeared into the newsagents.
Sherlock hailed a passing cab and climbed inside. His chin sunk to his chest and he spent the short journey deep in thought.
He wasn't completely surprised, at eleven that evening, when there was a ring on his doorbell. He padded downstairs and opened the door to find John standing on the doorstep with a rucksack on his back.
"Hi," John said, taking his time, and looking up and down the street. "Could you possibly put me up for a day or two?" he asked. "Sorry, I'd ask Harry, but I really, really need a drink."
Sherlock reached out, took hold of John's arm, and pulled him into the house.