Green Stars and Black Ice Chapter 1: A Startling Reminder

The car crash happened right in front of the taxi that Dr. Watson was riding in on his way to the surgery early one cold morning.

Like any other medic, he jumped out of the taxi and right into the fray. The shock would not come until later, after coping with the emergency. Then things would be different. But for now, there were injured people and he had to deal with them first.

Before he even realized that he was moving, John had already barked orders to the cabbie to call the emergency services, then he was standing beside a small yellow car, jerking on the driver's door, trying to get to the person driving it. Someone else was already dealing with the second car. John could hear the calls of the emergency responders talking to the other driver. The two cars had hit almost head-on. John finally managed to pull open the smashed-in door and when he looked down at the driver, his heart almost stopped.

Molly Hooper was hunched over the steering wheel. So much blood. It was splashed on her pristine lab coat and across the windshield. John reached out for her hand and could find no pulse, so he laid his hand under her jaw. Without warning, the woman's head snapped back and her eyes opened. For a moment, they were unfocused and then they moved towards John's face. He was sad to see the damage done to Molly's face and knew this would be the last time he could talk to her. He fought back wanting to tell her to not try to speak that things would be okay, but he was too much of a realist and knew that comfort and not being alone was better at this point. Molly's brown eyes came into clear focus and bored into John's. She opened her mouth and a trickle of blood bubbled down her lips.

"John..." He nodded and grasped her hand in his own, though he knew she could no longer feel it. Her eyes started to slip closed but with some inner strength she was able to fight them open again. "John..." His name came out garbled and Dr. Watson almost did not recognize it for what it was. "He's...John...He's alive." With that, Molly slumped down into the seat and breathed no more. At that moment, John felt a hand on his shoulder and the sound of a baby crying cracked through the silence like a gunshot in the night.

All at once, there was a flurry of movement all around him. The paramedics called to each other and pulled out the injured and the dead, lights flashed. Suddenly, there was a hush over the entire scene when the medic closest to John opened the back door of Molly's tiny car. Somehow, someway, he had missed the tiny car seat in the back even though his ears had picked up the low sound of the mewling behind Molly. The paramedic gently took what appeared to be a pile of lilac blankets from it's seat and uncovered it's face. John stared at the little girl and a pair of almond-shaped green eyes stared right back at him. He reached out to the child and pulled her close. Something roared up in his chest but he refused to give it a name. He stepped back from the wreck holding the baby and felt the pressure on his shoulder again. He turned around and stared into the face of Mycroft Holmes.

John and Mycroft sat across from each other at a table in the hospital cafeteria. John's chair was slightly moved back from the table and he was bent almost in half staring down into a lukewarm styrofoam cup of coffee and attempting to both warm his hands and wrap his mind around the words coming out of Mycroft's mouth. Mycroft, as always, sat primly at the table, tea in front of him, legs crossed at an elegant angle, one hand resting on the umbrella at his side.

John rallied himself again and looked at the other man. Mycroft's voice had almost become background noise, but this time John knew he had to pay attention. There were so many emotions running through his body that he feared he would never be able to sort them all out.

"Dr. Watson, I assure you that I was completely unaware that this situation had occurred."

John stared holes into Mycroft's face and decided that the other man was telling him the truth. He knew the strain between the Holmes brothers, but also knew that Mycroft cared about his little brother in his own twisted way. It had hurt him when Sherlock made his choice that day just over a year ago.

"So you do understand what Molly said to me, then?"

"Yes, John, I think I do. Did you see that child?"

The thing that had been trying to work its way out of John's chest tried to jump out of his throat at that moment. He was torn between understanding the how and the when. He simply nodded at the elder Holmes.

"How old would you say the baby is, John?" Mycroft knew it was cruel, but it was better if John faced this now instead of later. John was intelligent, he couldn't not see the truth for what it was.
"About six months, I am guessing. But that means..." John's heart beat even faster. He did a quick calculation in his head. Even if the child had been born a month early, that would still go back fourteen, fifteen months? Oh god. Right after that day. Forgetting the coffee, John's shoulders sagged and his head fell to his hands. The coffee cup tipped to the floor and the coffee ran under his chair the way the tears ran down his face.

Mycroft sat back in his chair and allowed the other man his pain and his dignity. Somewhere deep inside himself, he wished he could offer some comfort, though his brain was already steadily whirring along underneath, needing answers and needing to find out just what his baby brother had done.

Chapter 2: Evidence at the Scene

Sherlock Holmes was tired. His bones ached, his head hurt and he just wanted to sleep for a month. He had fought it as long as possible and was now on the losing end of the battle. He, however, stood in the alleyway watching the car wreck scene in front of him. He knew quite well to whom the little yellow car belonged. That was Molly's car. The one he had hidden in for several hours on the day he jumped. That day almost a year and a half ago. It was very difficult not to run to the scene, but the sight of John Watson was enough to still his movement. Somehow, in his watching and wandering, he had missed the fact that John would be working so early today. Sherlock shook his head as if to empty it. Little did that fact matter now.

He took a drag on his cigarette and drearily watched the smoke drift away. He watched as John walked up to the wreck of the little vehicle and pried apart the drivers' door. He did not have to hear Molly's last words to see the effect that they had on John Watson. He did not even have to see John's face, but Sherlock could see the doctor's back-at once every muscle tense, and he knew his friend would be pushing his own emotions downward in an effort to comfort the injured person.

Sherlock watched as a paramedic approached Molly's little car. He expected to see the lean brown man step back from the door with an injured Molly in his arms. The paramedic did step back, but he was shaking his head. No good. Without trying, Sherlock noted the man's partially-rumpled uniform and calm hands. Did not rest last night, too much black ice on the roads. This is his third? fourth? accident this morning. He watched another paramedic push a gurney nearest the car and help the first man slowly and carefully extract the shell that was once Molly Hooper.

Sherlock turned his eyes to John and hissed under his breath when he saw his own brother lay a hand on John's shoulder. At first John did not move, only stood rooted to the spot. He felt the same tenseness in the surrounding atmosphere that John did when the long, low wail of a baby came from the little yellow vehicle. Like John, he also froze to the spot where he was standing. Some strange recognition passed through his mind, his brain, his soul. Another fact that he had missed. He lit another cigarette and watched as John reached out toward the child. It was almost as if those hands were reaching for his own heart and he had to turn away, just as John was turning around to face Mycroft.

Sherlock stretched out on the uncomfortable, too-small bed. His long arms and legs almost hung over the sides. He had slept for almost three hours and now his mind was whirring, calculating, performing complex machinations...all because of a tiny black-haired baby he had seen for less than thirty seconds that morning. It was impossible, or so he had thought. He closed his eyes and wandered freely through his own mind, carefully opening a wooden door. Behind that door was a shorter, brown-haired woman named Molly. Molly had helped him through one of the roughest episodes of his life (except for the time he overdosed and met Lestrade.) He remembers the burning taste of the whisky on his tongue and down his throat. Then the scenes blur and he remembers the feeling of tears on his own face as she is standing over him, carefully sponging blood-both real and fake-off of his face and the crown of his head. Then he reaches out for her, just looking for something, some comfort that he's not as alone as he feels. It's a new thing, this need.

The scene changes yet again and he is above her in the dim light, the mostly-empty bottle on the bedstand lying on its side. She is giving and he is just taking. Taking something from her that he has never needed before but suddenly wants to just feel another human being wrapped around his body. Her arms are soft and her body yielding. He knows she feels more for him than he will ever be able to return. This then, is the only way to show her his appreciation for her help and the hell she is going to go through trying to hide it all...

Sherlock blacked out as he came. The next thing he remembers is waking up in Molly's bed, alone. The bottle on the nightstand has disappeared and through the haze and hammering in his head he makes out a note. Sherlock, he reads, I want nothing from you. It is enough to know you are alive, but I cannot watch you tear them all apart. Your secret is safe with me. Thank you for last night, it was enough. Please be gone when I get home. Please.

Her signature was scrawled along the bottom of the light blue paper, it's loopy-girly awkward for someone who spends so much time signing paperwork and stands in a marked contrast to the neat cursive of her note. He is not surprised. You cannot be physical intimate with someone and not connect with them on a deeper level. It wasn't his first time, but it was the first time he could not recall how it began. He knew, deeply, that she would not ask for anything more from him. Especially now that he needed to be on the run. There was nothing else for it. It was time to go.

Chapter 3: His Great Heart

John stood in the doorway of Mycroft's house, a baby in his arms and his suitcase at his feet. Somehow he didn't even look strange with the large yellow diaper bag slung over his shoulder. The house around him was a large structure, all wooden shutters and what appeared to be a garden in the side yard. He was slightly uncomfortable, but this would be a wonderful place for Sophie to play as she grew.

Sophie moved a little in her blankets and nuzzled against John's neck. It had been a strange adventure, the last few weeks, but it seemed as if they were finally getting through it all. Mycroft, naturally, had been more than helpful but had explained in no uncertain terms that John could not take the baby back to his small flat nor Baker Street. John agreed to come here, as long as Ms Hudson came along. He would appreciate the help and if it was unsafe for him to be back at the old flat, then she should not be, either. John understood quite well the danger, as it had been his life for the past two years. But Sophie was innocent and should not be involved.

So naturally, Mycroft acquiesced and now his house had three more people in it than it normally did. Not like he was ever there too much in the first place, but he finally felt as if he could do something for Dr. Watson after all this time. Several times in the past few weeks, Mycroft and John had sat across a table from each other (the hospital cafeteria, Angelo's and even a couple of random cafés about the city) and discussed their future, because suddenly, neither of them were so alone. It was strange for Mycroft to spend so much time with another person. Not since he was a teenager and Sherlock very young did he give so much of his time away freely. With every passing day, he was starting to see more and more the John Watson that his little brother knew so well. Naturally, Mycroft would never see the doctor in the same way his brother did, but his respect, already quite strong, grew even more for the man.

He stood up for a baby that was essentially an orphan and took her into his heart. That act was something not many people had the inclination to do: be reminded every single day of someone that they so desperately needed. Nor the heart; and Mycroft was learning that John Watson's heart was never ending. It was unbelievable.

John patted the baby on her back as she cooed a little into his shoulder. Mycroft's home was exactly the way he figured it to be, opulent, posh, plush and homey, strangely enough. When they walked in through the foyer the floor plan opened up into a huge sitting room, complete with a massive stone fire place. John expected to see stern wooden furniture; instead there were two rather squashy armchairs and a sofa for three that appeared to be covered in a bright paisley pattern. John turned to watch the porter bring in the rest of his and Sophie's belongings. It was still somewhat strange to see all the bright toys and bedding that everyone who knew them had provided for Sophie. It seemed like by embracing the baby, each one of them healed a little more everyday and the past was a much easier thing to face.

But not for John, not really. It was as if these events were separate things: he had lost his best friend and partner but had gained this new life that was still a part of Sherlock. He was alternately angry at the man and then confused. It had always seemed that Sherlock was not interested in a physical relationship, so why? He left the question hang in his mind. There was still so much to do. Ms Hudson would not be by until the next day and John wanted to settle the baby in for an afternoon nap before tea. Mycroft led the way up to the second floor and John noticed that his steps seemed to be slower and much calmer than he had ever known them to be. It was a calmness John had never seen in the man before and it touched his heart that even though they had not always seen eye-to-eye concerning Sherlock that Mycroft could be so open and hospitable. So, naturally, it made him suspicious.

John decided that he would put that thought on the back burner as well. Sophie was starting to fuss slightly and needed a changing, her bottle and a nap in that order.

Chapter 4: I Always Watched You

Sophie smiled up at John and he couldn't help himself. She was so beautiful, her coal black hair already growing in thick ringlets; such a powerful little being. He smiled back at her as he held her up at his eye level. Her little hands were always reaching, always grasping, and he couldn't help but think of Sherlock in those times. Always questioning. But then her smile would break through her concentration and John was reminded that this little soul was unique in every way.

John cuddled the baby on his shoulder and rocked in the chair provided for him. The nursery was lavish and the little girl would want for absolutely nothing. John felt himself relax as the little girl curled her body around his chest as he patted her back. He closed his eyes and started to drift off slightly. A sudden movement in the doorway caught his eye. Thinking it was probably Mycroft, who was quite smitten with the child himself, was there, John turned towards the noise. There was nothing there. Maybe he was just tired. He stood up and crossed the nursery, lying the baby in her cot and covering her with a soft pink blanket. She moved a little and made sucking noises, but it seemed all was well. He reached to the table next to the cot and switched on the baby monitor. He eyed the bed just in the next room as he passed it, but figured now would be the time to see the kitchen.

"I know we are safe, here, Mycroft, but really? Installing baby monitors in every single room in the house?"

Mycroft just leveled his gaze at John over the newspaper he was browsing and shrugged.

John did a double take. Mycroft Holmes just shrugged? This certainly was getting stranger and stranger. As always on cue, Mycroft leveled back at him "John, this is my home. If I cannot relax here and be myself, then where may I be permitted to do so?"

John nodded in reply and stepped into the kitchen.

It was just the right size. Not too large nor tiny, but easily big enough to cook for a small family and even provide for larger parties. John was impressed. He had been expected a massive manor with a large staff, but it seemed that Mycroft was content with a housekeeper and a gardener. A maid came a few times a week, but other than that, it seemed he made due on his own quite well. The appliances were gleaming chrome and the island was a beautiful mahogany. At least the worry John had about no longer working outside the home and having nothing to do in his spare time was answered by that kitchen. He could spend hours in here.

But first he needed tea.

John was comfortably ensconced in the sitting room that evening, a leather-bound hardback book compliments of Mycroft's library in his lap and a small fire in the fireplace. Sophie was happily playing on her mat on the floor with several large colorful plastic blocks. John had actually spent more of his time watching the baby than reading the volume of Poe in his lap, but it wasn't like he hadn't been trying.

Ms Hudson sat on the sofa, a glass of wine in her hand. She, too, was watching the baby on the floor. John looked over to the woman who had come to be like a surrogate mother for him and shared a soft smile of affection. That's when he saw it again. The shadow, just out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and again, there was nothing there. For a second he could swear he heard the swish of a long wool coat around long legs. No.It was funny how one's imagination could turn back to sounds that were so familiar at one time and simply fixate on them. Maybe it was just the proximity of the two last members of the Holmes family that made him think this way. None of his soldier's instincts had been aroused, and they were as sharp as ever since taking Sophie into his life.

Mycroft had left several hours prior, after a young man in a posh suit had shown up at the door and requested the elder Holmes' assistance. John had learned that security was a serious thing here. Everyone who even entered the grounds had to have an ID and almost enough clearance to guard the Queen herself. He wasn't sure if he was honored or if it made him nervous to be surrounded by people who he knew were armed to the teeth-and that he couldn't see. Maybe that would account for the strange movements he kept seeing out the corner of his eye, maybe he would become accustomed to it, eventually. He turned back to his book as Sophie played happily on the floor beside him.

Late that night John lays awake in the massive four-poster bed. Alone. Even though he and Sherlock weren't actually sleeping together, there had been many times, more so closer to when he...jumped...than before, that John would wake up in the morning beside an utterly exhausted consulting detective. So, there was really some truth to saying that they were sleeping together. There were times when Sherlock would be lying there, completely composed, sleeping like a child. Other times the lanky man would have his appendages thrown about the mattress as if he were trying to take up as much space as possible. Then there were those other times when John would wake up wrapped in those selfsame long arms, a nest of messy black curls under his chin. Those were the rarest times, when Sherlock succumed to sleep after a case would stretch on for more than five days. It was almost as if his walls were not just down, but no longer even in existence, and his whole body would cling to John's heartbeat like those vines on Mycroft's front porch turned toward the sunlight.

It had taken time for John to admit that he actually missed those mornings. He would slowly extract himself from Sherlock's grip and ready himself for a shift at the surgery, or even rarer, a quiet morning at home. He would feel so alive. He had never in all his life woken up even beside a lover that he had made passionate love to the night before feeling quite the same way. It was if by letting those walls down, Sherlock's unconcious self attached to what was the safest thing in the room. John loved the fact that it was him. It made him proud that he could be there for the mad genius. Because, and this was the thing so many people didn't understand, so much of Sherlock's tough outer exterior was armour for a softer, almost cuddly inside. John smiled to himself in the dark. He listened closely when he heard Sophie roll over in her sleep. Deciding that she was doing just fine, he returned to his musings.

The first few times John had been slightly weirded out about the whole thing, but like all things Sherlockian, he grew accustomed to it and after a while it was just part of who Sherlock was. Who they were. He thought then about Sophie, about how she came to be. So many nights he had lain awake turning the puzzle over and over in his head, like a rubik's cube. For all of Sherlock's dismissive behavior towards Molly, he knew her well. Being able to manipulate someone meant that one had to actually take the time to get to know at least something about them, and Sherlock could manipulate Molly within an inch of her life. No. John wasn't going there, not tonight. He would never believe that someone as wonderful as Sophie had been the product of forced intercourse. Not to mention that it didn't really seem like Sherlock's thing. Married to his Work, afterall.

No, he would believe in his heart forever that Sophie came to be out of some sort of love and feeling, some powerful emotion, but not manipulation and cohersion. He just would not believe that way.

The feeling of being watched seemed to take over every fiber in John's being. He sat straight up in the bed and noted that the safety lights outside the window had been turned down to soft shafts of near-white light. He heard a faint scratch and a snick and figured that it was the night watch passing under the large windows that were cracked to let in a slight breeze. Those sounds could have easily been keys and a torch hanging on someone's belt.

John stretched himself back out, flat on his back. His mind turned now towards Molly's last words. He and Mycroft had discussed what she said many times and they both seemed to agree that Molly was telling John that Sherlock was alive through the little girl. Strangely, most people who had known them had not even been aware that Molly was pregnant until the very end, just before she had given birth. John had never known, which made him feel bad about himself. Had it been that long since he had seen her? He could only imagine her feelings had been hurt by his actions of not coming around...but it had not only been Molly he had avoided. It was the morgue, St Bart's, it had been everything. It had taken him months to get the sights out of his head and the strength to keep the nightmares at bay. Somehow, Sophie had changed all that. With days spent caring for her, the time has spun out not as empty as before.

John sighed softly and turned over onto his side. He closed his eyes and slept.

Chapter 5: New Freedom

John was finding the very idea of having hobbies interesting. In his life, there had never been time for such things, but now that he was pretty much on lock down it was keeping his hands and mind busy. Mycroft stressed to him the importance of staying on the property where he and Sophie (and Ms. Hudson) could be guarded, but sometimes the pull to just sneak out was very strong. One Sunday afternoon, John was leaning over the counter in the kitchen, a large, rather fancy cookbook open when Mycroft seemed to materalize out of nowhere.

"Hallo John."

"Afternoon, Mycroft."

"Feeling a bit peckish, I presume?"

John fought the urge to roll his eyes. He was sure at least one of them did it anyway. "No. Just looking for something to do. Ms. Hudson said I needed a break, that she would be with Sophie for the afternoon and I just need something to do."

Mycroft had never been the action type, but he had been around John enough to understand, at least a little. "Have you started a new recipe yet, John?"

John shook his head and Mycroft actually beamed. John had a moment to wonder what the hell, but it didn't last long. "Well then, I have something you might be interested in. It will give you a bit of freedom and should certainly give your hands something to do."

John wondered if he should be concerned. "Alright."

"Excellent, then come with me."

The two men turned and left the house.

As much as Mycroft's home was comfortable, quiet, and homey, the stable was teeming with activity. It seemed like there were people everywhere, though at closer inspection, the majority looked like grooms and stablehands. For all of the staff John had expected to be up at the house, it seemed that they were all down here. How had he not even noticed this building? As it was, they could still just see the house from here. Apparently it was one more mystery to brood over later. But, really, he shouldn't have been surprised. He was, though, when Mycroft led him into a massive tack room that was just as pristine as the kitchen. At first, John thought it was just for show, but looking closely (he had not lived with the World's Only Consulting Dectective for two years for nothing) he could see that the saddles and bridles were all well-used, just very well cared for. He reached out to feel the soft leather of a heavy-looking saddle. It was very dark brown and looked different from the other English saddles. This one looked deeper and more secure.

"That's an Aussie, John. Do you ride?" John looked over to the other man and just for a fraction of a second wondered if there was more Mycroft wanted to add to that statement.

Of course, John knew that Mycroft already had answers for that question. He had indeed ridden off and on his whole life, starting in Pony Club like so many other kids. Harry had never really been interested, but he loved everything about it. The smells of hay and horses, saddle soap and the calls of the birds always present in the rafters of the barns. During medical school, he had been on a horse a total of four times, but after he had enlisted, he had managed to go out with native guides into the desert. The firey little desert steeds were a far cry from his original furry pony mounts, but he figured he had as good a seat as anyone else. He had always managed to stay on, at least.

So it was a half an hour later that the two of them, and obviously a body guard, rode out from the stable yard, the sounds of the three horses' hooves faintly ringing on the cobblestone and then an easy whumph sound when they crossed into the grass. John sat comfortably in the Aussie saddle, it was almost like being in the rocking chair upstairs. He had not been given the largest mount in the barn, but he was pretty happy with the wide, short-legged Tinker that he was mounted on. The gelding named Pascale seemed to have a quiet, sensitive mouth and so John held his reins loosely in his hands. This was really, well, nice, was probably the best word he could come up with. Relaxing.

Mycroft sat astride a tall medium-boned hunter. Of course he would have an elegant seat and be wearing gloves. Of course. John's mind took in the natural way Mycroft sat the horse. Once again, he reminded himself that he shouldn't be surprised, but with Mycroft's general overall lack of "action" (I do not do legwork), he had to admit to being faintly impressed. For some reason, he kept expecting to see the brolly in Mycroft's whip hand, but it had apparently been left behind. Mycroft carried a riding crop but it seemed just part of the costume, absolutely unnecessary.

John himself was wearing borrowed boots, but chose to stay is his comfortable denim. Surely he would be sore after this, so he wanted his clothing as soft as possible. The sound of the horses' breathing was helping him to relax and so he sat back and planned to simply enjoy the scenery. The body guard behind them was as unobtrusive as a large man on a large horse could be. The afternoon passed in companionable silence, broken only once by Mycroft saying to John that he would not always be home to hack out with him, but as long as John stayed within the parameters of their land, he was welcome to come down here as often as he wished. Pascale would be his assigned mount. That was a relief, thought John, it was nice not to have to ask like a child anytime he wanted something to do.

So naturally, that evening, the two men, Ms Hudson and Sophie were back in the sitting room when John saw it again. That strange movement just outside his range of vision. He slowly turned his head, hoping not to be noticed by anyone else in the room. Nothing. It was funny, thought John, that he had not felt nor seen that strange movement in over a week, but now it was back again. Maybe he was losing his mind. His thoughts bounced around while he watched Sophie on the sofa with Ms. Hudson. She had asked him to call her Emily, but it sounded so strange in his mouth. But this, this was nice, it was like being part of family again. When he had asked Mycroft when it would be possible for them to go home, he felt that the other man did not give him a straight answer. He watched his daughter giggle at Ms. Hudson and then make raspberries with her tongue. Ms. Hudson laughed with the baby. John wondered if he ever really did want to go back to the city. Truly, it seemed that there was nothing left for him in the heart of London. Everything he had been was gone, and at least with Sophie he could see a new future.

"John, you are welcome to stay here as long as necessary." Mycroft's voice cut through John's thoughts. He was so used to the Holmes brothers now, he never even spared the intrusion into his mind a second thought.

"I don't know, Mycroft." He said, honestly. "I could start over here, but I have no desire to be 'kept'. I need something to do..." He trailed off hopelessly.

Mycroft nodded. "John, you must understand that for now there are things happening that even I cannot control. My brother requested that I keep you safe until..." It was strange to hear Mycroft trail off that way, but John let it go unheeded. Until what? John was happy here at the moment, but he couldn't picture spending the rest of his life under his dead partner's elder brother's thumb.

"Please, John, just give me time. As long as I am able, no harm will come to the three of you." He pointedly looked at the happy little black-haired girl on the sofa. John followed his line of sight and nodded. There was nothing else to say.

Soon after, Ms. Hudson took Sophie upstairs to give the baby her bath and Mycroft excused himself. So it was that John found himself completely alone for the first time in weeks. He padded towards the bar cabinent, taking stock and pleased that he was only slightly sore. Pascale's broad back and that comfortable saddle had made all the difference in the world. His thigh muscles would probably ache in the morning, but for now he was comfortable. Just for a moment, he thought back to how long the stirrup leathers had been and chuckled. As well, when you are short, you pretty much get used to those things. The groom had at least been polite enough not to laugh at John, and then stood back and allowed him to mount the horse on his own. It was such a great feeling settling into the saddle again. Maybe he should give up cooking.

John sat his glass on the table next to the chair he was currently occupying. He stretched his legs out in front of him and raised his arms up over his head, yawning. He really had needed to get out into the fresh air today. Being outside always eased his mind and he was feeling rather sleepy and full. Bedtime, then, Sophie didn't like to sleep much past the sunrise. As he was climbing the stairs, an idea clicked in his head. He would take her down to the stables and see what she thought.

As John wearily climbed the stairs, a faint sound seemed to drift on the air. He stopped midway up the staircase and closed his eyes. It was a sound he recognized, but there was no way it was possible. Mycroft said there were no instruments in the house save for his piano, so there was no way he could actually be hearing what his mind said was obvious. John shook it off and headed up to his room. Ms Hudson had left after putting Sophie to bed and turning on the monitor. He could hear just a faint hum and hiss of the machine as he leaned down to kiss the baby on her head. Her little brow wrinkled and her fingers twitched, but she easily slipped back into sleep. John went through to his room and stripped off. As he pulled on his pajama bottoms and an old T-shirt, his ears picked up the sound again. Maybe he was hallucinating. He'd been keeping himself busy enough lately in an attempt to keep the memories at bay, but tonight his guard must be down. That's all it was.

John curled into the bed and switched off the lamp on the bedstand. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes and told himself very firmly that there was absolutely no way he was hearing the faint sounds of a violin.

Chapter 6: Pull on My Heart Strings

John stood in the stirrups and leaned over Pascale's muscular neck. The horse was galloping full out and to John it was like flying. He could feel all of the muscles in his thighs tighten as he readied himself for the jump. Easy now, Pascal landed gracefully on the other side of the log and they were home free. Pascale gave a happy little crow hop underneath the man in the saddle and John smiled. He felt like a kid. He lightly touched the reins and squeezed with his thighs to slow Pascale into an easy canter. John listened to the sounds around him and waited until he picked up the sounds of hoofbeats behind them. He reached down and patted Pascale's neck, murmuring to the horse as the gelding's ears moved forward and back. If animals could enjoy themselves, John figured that Pascale was having a great time as the horse wasn't even blowing, he could feel the animal's easy breathing under his legs and seat.

Without warning, Eric, the ginger groom from Mycroft's stable, sped by on a hunter. The younger man was laughing like a fool and waved prettily as they dashed by. Smart arse, thought John, riding that massive animal with the reins in one hand. Pascale's hindquarters kicked into gear and then he and John were off like a shot, giving chase. It was almost as good as chasing around London late at night after a genius madman. John had been hanging around the stables, looking forlorn and taking Pascale out on quiet hacks whenever possible. One day he had come down to see several of the grooms laughing like fools and chasing each other around on horseback.

When he realized what was going on, he asked if he could join them. It was utterly ridiculous, this game of horseback-hide-and-seek, but it was fun and John could keep at least some of his bad-guy-tracking-skills honed this way. He had no interest in actual fox hunting, this was so much better. On this Saturday afternoon, there were six of them. Three from Mycroft's stable, including John, and two young women and a young man from a neighboring stable. John, naturally, was the oldest of them, but they didn't seem to mind allowing him into their group.

After the racing, they would all go back to the barns, cool the horses down, tuck some of them into their stalls and turn some of them out. Pascale enjoyed being out in his paddock after their games. John opened the gate and turned Pascale around to face him. The little horse snorted but waited calmly for John to unhook the lead from his leather halter. He backed up two steps, turned around and bucked. John laughed. Pascale, with his long black mane hanging into his eyes reminded him so much of someone else. Just then, the feeling washed over him yet again. He turned his head and scanned the stable yard. He was starting to get fed up with this feeling and began to head towards where he thought he'd seen the movement when he noticed Ms Hudson and Sophie headed his direction.

The little girl was smiling her easy smile but was holding onto Ms Hudson's hands with a death grip. Today would be her first trip to the stables and John was thrilled to have her there. She had not spent much time around animals, except maybe for the two cats that John knew Molly always had. He reached down and picked up the little girl, turning them both towards Pascale's paddock. The horse had come up to the fence and was snuffling for treats. John reached into the pocket of his jeans (no matter how hard the grooms and Mycroft tried, he just couldn't be bothered to change into breeches) and handed Sophie a slice of apple. He held his hand out flat, palm up, showing the little girl that Pascale's lips would remove the apple slice that way. Sophie giggled when Pascale's lips brushed her hand. She reached out toward the horse and grabbed his long forelock. Pascale stepped closer to the fence and the nine-month old girl said very clearly "Pony." John and Ms Hudson looked at each other, eyes wide. She was Sherlock's daughter after all, no reason to believe she would stay quiet any longer than necessary.

Sherlock watched from the trees. He saw John lead the horse up to the posts and remove its tack. He almost chuckled when he realized that his partner had been riding in Sherlock's own saddle. He had always loved it for the length of the billets. They did not make much tack to fit someone of Sherlock's frame, but that Aussie saddle was amazing. He would wait until tonight and take a short ride in the dark, like he always did when he was home. He did not put as much stock into horses as Mycroft did, it was just something to do to pass the time. Whereas Mycroft preferred a nice quiet hack in the woods, Sherlock would always go for the break-neck speed of the chase. He could usually deduce where the prey would be long before the dogs would start singing, and so he did not often take part, but when he did he couldn't be bothered to stay with the rest, but he and his mount would wander through the woods until he caught sight of the quarry. Sure, it broke all the rules of the hunt, but what else were rules for but to break them? It was always worth the irritated look on Mycroft's face, after all.

So far, Mycroft had not noticed Sherlock casually slipping in and out of his house. Sherlock had finally pulled one over on him, but it wouldn't be much longer. It was hurting him physically now, not to just rush down to his family and present himself to them. He was tired of watching, of waiting. He wanted to reach out to them, he wanted to hold his daughter. This was new. He had never thought about it much before, as the past few months of his life (or death, depending on how one looked at the situation) had been filled with intrigue and the hunt. Moriarty's web was broken, never to reform. Sherlock just had to be sure that John-and now Sophie-could be completely safe when they went home. Sherlock's mind actually came to a complete halt. It just occured to him that maybe John would not want to come back with Sherlock. And what did he have that he could give a child anyway? Apparently the idea of him with a child was so repulsive that Molly had never once used the unlisted number Sherlock had impulsively left for her on the day he left. Molly was much stronger than he had ever given her credit for. She was so ordinary in so many ways, but with these two things she had surprised him. The first was her help on the day he jumped. She was so kind but he knew there was something underneath that she had wanted to say. Most people in Sherlock's life would have just said them. Never once in the three days that he spent at her flat did she ever so much as mention her feelings about what Sherlock was doing to the people who meant the most to him. Not one time. It was there, several times, but she resisted. Sherlock would not admit to being so stunned as he would just write it off as emotions he didn't understand so therefore were meaningless in the scheme of things. The second was the night that he was completely pissed out of his mind. He only remembered bits and pieces of the whole escape, but had never been able to shake the feeling of being cared for. He knew John cared for him (and catered to him as was his due) but to care enough to simply let someone use your body...again, emotions Sherlock had no understanding for.

He leaned back against the tree and watched his family in front of the paddock. He saw his daughter reach out a hand toward the pony, saw the smile on her face when the gelding took the apple slice from her hand. In his mind's eye, he reached out and ran his fingers through her hair. She would turn to him and smile. John would put his arms around Sherlock's waist and they would all walk back to the house, happy.

Sherlock angrily shook his head. He didn't have time for these silly daydreams. He had to keep himself hidden in order to keep them safe. There was only one more person he had to bring down. Then he could come home. But that wouldn't stop him from sneaking in to Mycroft's house. He thought about the conversations he had overheard between John and Mycroft. John understood that he had to be kept safe because Mycroft had promised his brother. But John did not understand exactly why, or perhaps he did? John was not the kind of person to stay cooped up for long, and Sherlock was at least relieved that his partner (former partner jumped to the forefront of his thoughts and Sherlock mentally batted it away) had found an outlet for his energy.

Sherlock had been lonely before, but there had been nothing like this ache. He steadied himself and turned back into the woods.

Chapter 7: Gut Instinct

It was near midnight when Mycroft arrived home. The house settled itself quietly around him as he removed his shoes in the foyer. He placed his umbrella against the wall under the coatrack and wandered wearily into the kitchen. As he set the kettle to boil, he contemplated being alone in his own house for the first time in over a month. It was an interesting feeling, but it would not last long. Ms Hudson, John and the baby would be back tomorrow after a full day of sight-seeing in Cardiff. Mycroft's two best men were with them and he was comfortable with the knowledge that they could be safe without him near.

He sipped his tea and was contemplating actually turning on the telly in the lounge for a few moments, just to unwind, when a strange sound met his ears. Something about the timbre of it made his heart pound in his chest. There was something about that sound...

Mycroft padded towards the foyer on his stockinged feet and picked up his brolly. He knew without thinking that he would not need the hidden weapon, but it made him feel better anyway. For a moment, he contemplated John's Browning, but knew that was with it's owner. Hidden, but just in case. He stopped at the foot of the staircase and waited. The sound drifted down slowly, as if the individual making it was in great agony. He tried to clear his head. He knew that sound but had not heard it in near twenty years. Not since he was a teenager. No it couldn't be.

He ascended the stairs slowly, cautiously, his tred quiet on the thick carpeting. In his head he went over the names of every single guard present on the grounds at that very moment. At the last check-in half an hour ago (sent directly to his mobile via text) they had all be accounted for. The sound became a bit louder as he neared Sophie's nursery/John's suite. He stepped into the doorway and froze. What he was seeing should have been impossible...

Sherlock snuck through Mycroft's guards and crept silently up toward the house. Quietly he scaled the rock wall to the second-floor room that he knew John had been staying in all this time. Carefully, he pulled himself through the window and pulled it part-way shut again, returning it to the exact place it had been mere moments ago. He stood up in the room and took his bearings. The baby's cot was over near one wall, John's bed through the door on the other side. Interesting, John could look right over to the cot without getting out of bed. That thought gave him a warm feeling that started at the base of his spine and traveled clear to the back of his head. Strange, that.

He picked his way cautiously through the room, the only light the warm white shaft from the security light above the window. Which of course didn't work the way it was supposed to. When someone walked underneath it, it was supposed to flash on and off. Easy enough to fix with one of his lock-picking tools. Which he did a couple of weeks ago. Somehow, no one had noticed. He was torn between entering John's room and slipping under the covers with him and finally getting to see his daughter up close.

The cot was closer than John's room. Somehow, in his excitement, he had forgotten to see if the current residents of the suite were actually even in residence. He had been gone for a week this time and had not taken the time to hack into Mycroft's system to look at the household calendar. Didn't matter, he was ready to be home. There was blood on his hands and his heart was heavy, but he needed to know where he stood with his family. Urgently.

He stepped over to the cot and looked down, expecting to see a baby sleeping. It was empty.

Sherlock's heart began to pound in his chest. Whether it was the work of only sleeping an hour a day for the past week, the exhaustion of the travel in such a short amount of time or the shock of finding the cot empty-something exploded in the back of his mind and he began to weep, silently. In all that emotion that he claimed not to have, he missed the sound of the front door opening and closing, the clunk sound of Mycroft's shoes hitting the tile on the foyer, and the soft thump of the brolly as his brother laid it against the wall.

He slid down to the floor, his back resting against the cot which was not made for it. He was completely unaware of it crashing to the floor. He felt as if he had been punched in the gut one too many times...his ribs were cracking, smashing breaking around his heart and his chest would not expand...they were gone. He knew if the baby was gone that John was gone too and oh god he had waited too long, everything he was trying to do was taking too long and for once Sherlock Holmes was wrong and Jim Moriarty was right and he was never going back and his John was gone and he really had no heart it had been burned out of him and nothing was ever going to be right again and he needed so much where were they he had done it all for John and now there was the baby girl and oh god how could he have been so wrong...

There was a sharp intake of breath in the doorway. Sherlock's mind, racing in circles, partially cleared for a moment as he took in his brother. Part of him tensed, ready to spring, while the other part just bent his head in misery. He wasn't even aware that he was on the floor as Mycroft crossed the room to his brother.

In all these years, Mycroft had only once seen Sherlock lose it completely to this extent, and that had been after Mummy's death. Sherlock had always been close to his mother, while she encouraged his curiosity, helped him to see the world around them, and it crushed her when she died so young. Sherlock had been twelve and Mycroft eighteen. Their mother had just turned forty. It had been the begining of Sherlock's attempt to seperate himself from the rest of humanity, even though his genius mind craved stimulation. Mycroft wasn't ready to be a surrogate parent, but he tried his best. He saw that Sherlock went to school, was kept reasonably clean and happy, but until John came into his life, there always seemed to be something missing. Which is why the whole suicide had caught him unaware. Mycroft almost always knew what his brother was up to (after so many years, CCTV cameras weren't completely necessary) but this had blind-sided him.

He reached out to the figure huddled in misery on the floor of the nursery. Sherlock was probably completely unaware that he was holding a soft pink blankey in his hands. Sherlock huddled against his brother's chest and Mycroft ran his hands over the mass of wild curls of Sherlock's hair. It was if they had gone back in time. Mycroft patiently waited until Sherlock's crisis was passing and said quietly "They will be back, Sherlock. Just on a one-day trip."

The moment shattered like glass being penetrated by a sniper round. Sherlock pulled away from Mycroft, his rapt attention full on his brother's face, green eyes boring holes into Mycroft's brown ones. Like very few people on the planet, Mycroft could withstand that gaze without spontaneously combusting. He returned it in full. "I haven't any idea how you have done this, Sherlock, and I will demand answers and I will get them." He quelled any argument from his brother as he stood. "But, you have been through much and need to rest. I want to know what you have done and why you are here."

Like so many other times in their lives, Mycroft mentally shook off the shock of something Sherlock had done. He wasn't such a bad host, however, that he would not allow Sherlock time to get himself back together. He would not, however, leave him alone for any long period of time and had already pulled his mobile out of his pocket, sending a quick text to the guard he knew was closest to the house. He followed Sherlock toward the bathroom and waited outside for exactly two minutes until the guard appeared in the doorway. Mycroft nodded at the other man, his intent perfectly clear. Do not let him out of your sight.

It was impossible to be angry with any of his people for letting Sherlock slip by them, since Sherlock had actually helped train the majority of them-so Mycroft knew his brother was well aware of each and every individual's shortcomings, just as he was himself. They were still the best of what was within Mycroft's reach, and he lost no respect for any of them.

Sherlock paced the sitting room. He was jittery and stalked from one end of the other with feline grace. He had managed to clean up his face a bit, but his clothes, which hung off of his already too-slender frame, were worn and dirty. It was so strange to see Sherlock Holmes in black jeans and a sweatshirt, but since it was strange to see the man alive, Mycroft wasn't about to be too picky.

As Sherlock paced, his hands moved through the air. The story he weaved from nothing was dark and fantastic and Mycroft actually hung on every single word without giving the appearance of even listening. He knew once Sherlock got started that he no longer needed the audience. Some things never changed. Sherlock's voice was strong, stronger than it had ever been. He spoke of the fall, telling his brother how Molly had helped him. His voice only changed when he mentioned he had been at her house for three days before he made his getaway. Mycroft had a pretty good idea that this was when Sophie had been concieved, but he let it slide.

Then Sherlock switched to the darkest of his exploits. Mycroft had been following the seemingly coincidental deaths of some of the world's top criminals but had never put the pieces together for himself. How could he have missed so much?

Finally, after three AM, Sherlock stopped. Just stopped talking completely. He dropped down onto the sofa like someone switched off a light. Within seconds, he was snoring softly, arms and legs akimbo. Mycroft shook his head and went to the closet for a blanket before proceeding to bed himself. He nodded to the bodyguard in the corner and bid the man a quiet "good night" before slipping up the stairs, his own mind busy with the scenes that would surely play out the next day.

Chapter 8: Fullness of Heart

When John, Ms Hudson and Sophie arrived home the next morning, they were greeted at the door by Mycroft. Ms Hudson just smiled warmly at the eldest Holmes and whisked upstairs with Sophie, ready to put her down for her mid-morning nap.

"Mycroft" she told him with Sophie on her hip, "we had a lovely time and I really must thank you, but this little person is tired from the train ride and ready to sleep for a bit." Mycroft nodded and kissed Sophie on her forehead. She smiled, but it was a rather glum, sleepy smile.

After the pair left the room, John turned directly to Mycroft, "What's going on Mycroft?" It was always easier to deal with Holmes' if you cut right through the bullshit at the begining. They had indeed had a lovely time, but John knew something was happening the minute he had stepped over the threshold. It was like walking into an atomic reactor. Though you might not be able to see exactly what was happening around you and above your head, you could certainly feel it. Mycroft was indeed the Ice Man, but after so long around the brothers, John could almost read him as well as he ever read Sherlock.

And that was saying something.

From the kitchen, John could just see a pile of blankets on the sofa and wondered what Mycroft was playing at.

"Dr Watson, if you please..." Well, that was the tip-off John needed, Mycroft's switch back to the formal title told him volumes about how Mycroft had something to say that John was absolutely not going to like. John crossed his arms and leaned against the polished chrome kitchen counter, spreading his feet shoulder-width apart without thinking. The very one, in fact, that he had spent a great amount of time working on yesterday when he made the cheese-filled pastries. Pastries or no, John was ready for a fight.

Mycroft opened his mouth and John took a deep breath. What came out then was the absolute last thing that John Watson expected to hear. His brain has somehow jumped on the erroneous conclusion that he was going to be told it was time for them to leave, that they were out of danger, that John could go home, wherever that was. Reality, however, was much, much different.

"Sherlock is alive, John. He broke into your suite last night and I found him sitting in the floor in front of Sophie's cot..." At once, John was full of movement, his head switching from Mycroft to the doorway. He never let Mycroft finish, because at the same instant, a tall dark-headed man stepped into the light of the kitchen and John Watson passed out cold onto the tile.

The world was spinning. He was in an airplane, flying through the clouds. He didn't know how high he was, but he could look down and see teeny tiny people on the ground. It was quiet. And peaceful. Just drifting.

Then he was cold and wet, sputtering and sitting up and cursing.

"Holy HELL Mycroft!" John sat up from the tile floor too quickly and his head spun again. He reached up with shaking hands and wiped the water off of his face. He reached out with both hands to steady himself on the figure in front of him, but found himself grasping a pair of bony shaking shoulders of someone he thought was dead and gone. John stared into the dazzling green oceans and felt a wave of grief? pain? relief? flood through his veins. His hands moved from the bony shoulders to the face, the cheekbones, the eyebrows. It was if this was a rough-cut sculpture and he was the marble master, running his thumbs over planes that had yet to be smoothed out after carving. His brain protested weakly, but his hands would not stop. Somewhere in the back of his mind he could hear his own heartbeat, the blood rushing to his fingertips and screaming throughout his body He's Alive He's Alive He's Alive He's Alive with every beat.

Then he was being lifted off of the floor by a pair of strong, lean arms. He leaned into the skinny chest and could hear a heartbeat under his ear. He needed to get closer. So much closer. His hands found the back of Sherlock's neck of their own violition and pulled the taller man's face down to meet his own. John gazed into the eyes, searching for the light that he had missed in his life for so long. He could feel a tremble in his fingers on the back of Sherlock's neck, a tremor that ran down his own arms that was not fear, but acceptance. Acceptance that being in this world was never going to be what most people consider normal and that if there was ever a time to tell someone that they were missed and loved and needed to fill up the empty space in another person's life and loved then now was the time and there was no longer any point in waiting.

With no warning, their lips met in a crash. Their kiss was not pretty nor romantic, but it was full of a passion for life and a need to know that the other person was right there and an affirmation of life. Without love, there would no longer be any life. Things were not going to be easy from here on out, but at least now, they knew and could no longer hide what they meant to each other.

What broke them apart was a scream from Ms Hudson as she came back to the kitchen. She ran toward Sherlock, her arms outstreched and pulled him into a tight hug. After a moment, she stepped back and regarded him coldly.

"Just where have you been, young man?"

Sherlock sputtered and was winding up to tell the tale again. Mycroft sighed. John stood his ground and waited. But Ms. Hudson never gave Sherlock the chance to answer. She pulled her hand back and slapped him across the face for all she was worth. The sound reverberated through the instantly-quiet kitchen.

"What kind of man goes and leaves a baby behind?"

Everyone froze to the spot. Mycroft put his hand over his mouth, Sherlock actually stood there slack-jawed with one hand rubbing his jaw and John's head swiveled back and forth between his partner and the older lady. No one moved for several heartbeats until the sound of Sophie's wailing cut through the kitchen intercom/baby monitor.

John turned away from the strange tableau in the kitchen and rushed up the stairs to his daughter.

John came back to the kitchen a few moments later, Sophie on his hip. She was satisfied now, a nice dry nappie and her hand curled into her daddy's soft jumper. Her huge green eyes regarded the men and woman in the kitchen and for a second she appeared to be the Queen regarding her subjects from on high. Ms Hudson smiled at the baby and patted her head. Mycroft sipped his tea and Sherlock just sat there, his eyes on the baby like a hawk watching for its next meal in the grass. There was a strange feeling deep in the pit of himself. He had no words for it, but seeing his partner standing there with the baby on his hip was like stepping into an alternate universe. A far cry from the wretchedness he had endured over the past year. He was stunned, of that there was no doubt. But there was something more, some new thing that was fresh and naked and wet and wrinkled. He could not give it a name, it was so new, at least not yet.

Everyone else could see the tears running down Sherlock's face, but he had not even noticed them. His eyes were red-rimmed and John watched him, patiently. He needed Sherlock to ask. He needed Sherlock to reach out for the child that was more his by right than John's. Without this, John could not go on. He could not go back to being the sidekick. He was now an equal partner. He waited, watching Sherlock's mind roll about itself. John was patient. It was strange seeing someone with a mouth and body that never quit moving sitting so still.

Up until this very moment, (which John did not yet know) was that Sherlock had only seen his child from afar. He could not identify what he was feeling, but it was almost smothering him. Just like he had needed to touch John to assure himself that the other man was real, he needed to hold this baby. He needed to prove to himself that she was real, that something this wonderful could come from him-he just needed.

Sherlock reached out his arms toward the child. He sniffed, just a little, and said very quietly "Please."

John handed Sophie over and sat down in the empty chair next to Sherlock. He watched as Sherlock ran his fingers over the little girls's face, her arms, her hair. He gently tapped her forehead with his index finger. She grabbed it in her tiny fist and pulled it toward her mouth. John noted just a hint of tremor in his partner's hands. Sherlock was as entranced as he had ever been working over a microscope. "What's her name?" He turned toward John who was staring at Sherlock and Sophie as if the sun had just risen on them and they were the most wondrous things he had ever laid eyes on.

"Sophie." Ms Hudson answered because it was apparent to all there that John had lost the ability to speak. She sipped her tea and watched the two men, who were so blantantly into each other and wondered why it had taken so long for this to happen. She had always felt in her heart that everything about Sherlock's "death" had been wrong. She had taken the strange young man under her wing and was more a mother to him that his own had ever been. She was no fool. Everything about that day and the funeral after had been wrong. You aren't married to an active serial killer for ten years for nothing. She just knew. So it really didn't surprise her when he showed back up, pretty much healthy and kicking. She could not, however, contain her anger that Sophie had been abandoned. Only later would she learn the truth, but for now just watching two, scratch that, three of her favorite people getting to know each other made her happy. She may have even hummed a little under her breath.

Sophie turned her gaze to Ms Hudson and smiled her brilliant smile. She turned her little head back towards her daddy and then back to Sherlock. The child did not cry like so many others would have upon first meeting someone that to her was a complete stranger. She just took it all in stride.

Chapter 9: Bit of Housekeeping

It was later that evening when John and Sherlock were finally alone in the sitting room, fire blazing. Mycroft had retired to his office, no doubt to start planning for Sherlock's return to the world of the living. Ms Hudson had taken Sophie upstairs for her bath and then would put the little girl to bed. The sun had set and only one of the table lamps had been lit, so the room was bathed in the warm, welcoming tones of the crackling fire.

They had talked throughout the day, only stopping for lunch and dinner and to play with Sophie. John was so happy there were times he felt like he was flying. In the back of his mind, he was half waiting to crash, for something to come along and wake up him, tell him it was just a dream. That his family would always be fragmented and broken. He reached to the table nearest his chair and swirled the wine in its glass before taking a sip.

Sherlock had returned to the sitting room carrying John's old olive drab duffle bag. He had emptied it earlier and wondered what Sherlock was doing with it. Sherlock deftly flipped the bag over in his hands and John saw the glint of a metal blade. Before he could yell "hey-stop that's mine" Sherlock had made a small slit in the bottom of the inside of the bag. With his long fingers, he pulled out what looked to be a black mobile phone.

"I am surprised you never found this." He said to John, switching it on and holding the phone out across the chasm between them. John reached out to the device and stared down at the screen. Missed 400 text messages. He scrolled down through them and could not believe his eyes. They were all from Sherlock.

I miss you.

I am leaving Heathrow to go to Paris.

I will be out of touch for a few days, do not worry.

One down, three to go.

I am now in Copenhagen.

Two down, one to go.

John, I miss you.

Why aren't you answering?

I saw the baby today.

I need to see you.

Come even if inconvenient.

Three down.

I saw you today I wanted to tell you I'm sorry.

You looked good on a horse, John.

I had to retrace my steps. I miss you.

I am sorry.

And they went on in this vein until the very last one, dated two days prior:

John, I am coming home.

John's eyes went from the phone and back to Sherlock. What he expected to see was a smirking, smug detective telling him that he had attempted to stay in touch, but instead what he saw was fear. Sherlock was on the sofa with his back pressed as far into the cushions as it would possibly go, his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around his shins. In the dim light of the room, Sherlock's eyes were blazing pinpoints of light under his curls. Once again, John was struck with amazement that someone generally so full of movement could sit so still. In an instant, John knew how to answer the unspoken question.

"Sherlock, look at me." Sherlock's head moved slightly in John's direction. Even from across the room, he could feel the heat of the other man's gaze. He refused to be burnt. "I am not going anywhere."

Sherlock nodded and unfolded himself from the sofa. In two strides, he was across the room. He leaned down over John, placing his hands on John's knees. Their eyes locked and Sherlock very slowly sunk to his knees. He only broke eye contact when he laid his head down on John's thigh. John absentmindedly placed his hands on Sherlock's head, feeling the softness of the other man's hair. Sherlock sighed and sagged against John. There were so many things that needed to be said, but for now, this was enough. It was enough to know that John understood.

After a few minutes, John gently turned Sherlock away from himself, pushing down on the taller man's shoulders to make him sit down completely on the floor. He removed the black sweatshirt Sherlock was wearing and slowly began to massage Sherlock's shoulders. Sherlock took this as a cue and started talking. He told John everything. From Moriarty showing up at their flat on Baker Street, to what happened after John left to see if Ms Hudson had really been injured. He left nothing out. By the time he was done describing the details of what had happened on the roof at St. Barts, both men were weeping silently. John let Sherlock spool out his story, knowing if he stopped the tale now that he would never know the ending. After this, Sherlock would never speak of it again.

When Sherlock told John about the one night with Molly, he tried to pull away from John's touch. John's surgeon's hands had already alerted him to the quick tightening of Sherlock's neck muscles. He pushed in harder with his fingers, but would not let Sherlock move away from him.

"Sherlock, I don't think you have any reason to be ashamed. I just wish Molly would have told someone. She should not have gone through that alone."

"But John, can't you see? I begged her not to tell anyone. I...I didn't know it would include something like this. Somehow I knew what I was doing and it was wrong, but I needed..."

John entirely understood the need for comfort. He understood very well how Molly felt about Sherlock, that she was stronger even than Sherlock would have ever guessed. Did it make her happy knowing that she owned a part of the man she had idolized for so long? Was she aware of all the times she had been manipulated by that man?

"Did you love her?"

"I think, in some way, John, that I did care a great deal for her. I was cruel to her, sometimes, but I felt that I was acting in her best interest. I seem to have done that to you over and over."

John nodded and stopped palming Sherlock's shoulders long enough to take another sip of his wine. He stretched his legs out around the other man and then resettled comfortably. It was something that John had always taken for granted. He knew that most human beings tended to hurt the people they loved the most, especially people like Sherlock who thought the whole world was so stupid that they needed to be protected from themselves.

"I'll never say that I wish you hadn't done it, Sherlock. Sophie is a wonderful little girl. She is bright and she's quick, and she looks so much like you. She's warm, though, even at this age. She likes to touch, always feeling things. My jumper, Ms Hudson's hair, Mycroft's tie. She's got your curiosity, but her mother's compassion. Once when I was hurting, that tiny thing crawled over to me and patted my leg and said 'I love you daddy.' And dammit Sherlock, when she smiled at me it was as if the entire planet stopped on its axis."

"Oh John." This time, Sherlock did turn around and plant his head right onto John's chest. John pulled Sherlock into a tight hug. Sherlock talked against his chest "I am sorry. I am so sorry. I can never say it enough. I did not know. Do you think for one moment if I would have known that I would have been able to stay away?"

"But you really didn't, did you?"

"No. I was home anytime I could sneak back here. I was surprised when you three turned up here at Mycroft's, but I guess it was for the best. You know my brother and I do not see eye-to-eye, but he kept his promise to keep you safe."

They parted and Sherlock sunk back to the floor. He was flayed and raw. His soul ached but was now coming clean. He finished his story, leaving out no details. He even described to John how he took out the three snipers that were set to kill those three people closest to him. He searched John's eyes, just waiting for the hint of disdain that he feared he would see. He was tainted now, he felt, but he needed to know where he stood in the eyes of his partner.

John's expression never wavered. He continued to meet Sherlock's eyes.

"I do not regret any of my actions, John. Only that I did not leave you enough clues to point to the fact that it was all a sham. I needed to protect you. All of you."

John sighed and sipped from his wine glass. As always, Sherlock's instincts were spot on. "But, still the fact remains that something has changed about you, Sherlock."

Sherlock shrugged his shoulders and leaned his face into John's.

Chapter 10: Mind's Eye

John stretched out on his bed. He was lying on his back with his hands under his head contemplating the ceiling. His brain would not shut down. He kept replaying the events of the past day through his mind as if he were watching a movie stuck in a loop. He searched deep within himself and tried valiantly to be angry. He hurt, absolutely, but somehow he kept going back to Molly's last words: John, He's Alive. How could he have missed so much? The mobile phone sewn into the bottom of his duffle bag, Molly...he wondered if there were many more clues that he had simply missed in his grief and pain. It's a magic trick, John. Watch me...keep your eyes on me. Without warning, an image of a magician on a stage and Sherlock's voice at his shoulder, whispering in his ear: It's no good if the audience looks anywhere other than where he directs them. It's no good...

John sat up. Sherlock had always tried to direct his line of sight. Not only on that day but ever since. It wasn't the detective's fault that he had missed so much. So much that would have saved him feeling so lost without his partner. John considered the difference in the other man. He had changed so much. It wasn't just the obvious weight loss and slight winces from injuries that John noted whenever Sherlock moved. It was an overall change, something deeper. It was almost as if something within Sherlock had stilled. John's feelings for Sherlock had never been stronger than they were at that moment, especially as he finally felt sleep overtake him when the soft strains of a violin whispered through the house. In her cot, Sophie sighed and slept on.

Sherlock spied John down at the stables, leaning against the rails of Pascale's paddock, one foot resting on the bottom rail and the other resting on the ground. One of the barn cats twirled itself around John's legs. John leaned down and patted the orange tabby on the head, looked up and smiled at Sherlock. Sherlock fought the urge to throw John on the ground right then and there and have his way with him. Instead, he returned the smile with one of his own. He calmly wondered if the laugh lines on his face matched his partner's.

"Good morning." He firmly planted a chaste kiss on John's lips.

"I didn't figure you would be awake yet, so I came down here to spend some time with my other favorite man." John reached out and patted the prying nose of the little black and white cob, who was watching the two men with interest through his thick black forelock. When there were no treats forthcoming, Pascale snorted and turned away, his curiosity sated. Sherlock stood next to him and laid his arm around John's neck. They stood that way for a moment, watching Pascale and listening to the calming sounds of a horse cropping grass. John marveled again at Sherlock's stillness. It was almost like some puzzling question in his mind had finally been answered-a cold case open for way too long. John had a pretty good idea as to what that question had been and felt no reason to pry at this point.

Whatever had happened in their time apart (in just a few hours John was already thinking of it like this instead of thinking Sherlock's fake suicide) something or things had happened to Sherlock that had irrevocably changed him. It was the difference in wines. Sherlock had come out of the fire a more mature person, John nodded inward to himself. John turned toward the other man when Sherlock fidgeted.

"John, would you like to go out on a hack with me?"

"Sure, Sherlock. I've been wondering if you were going to show me some of your skills." John laughed. It felt so good to smile with Sherlock by his side again.

It wasn't long before they were back out front, John having already stepped up onto Pascale and Sherlock swinging himself gracefully into the saddle on one of the hunters. John found himself watching the other man settle into the saddle with awe. Just like anything else Sherlock did, he did it well and so damn thoroughly. He had changed into breeches that showed lean, muscular thighs and calves. His riding boots, only slightly dusty from disuse, were black and did nothing to hide the curves of his legs. All that was missing was a black coat and helmet. Of course Sherlock wouldn't wear a helmet. That was par for the course. And, naturally, he sat on a horse like he did it every day of his life, rather than all the hours spent lounging on the couch drawling on about being bored. The lanky git probably wouldn't even be sore the next day. John had to shake his head as they started off across the stable yard.

A few minutes later, Sherlock slowed his mount to walk beside John's cob. "John, I've got to tell you that you look splendid sitting in my saddle." Ah! That was the reason that the stirrup leathers had been so long at first. John wasn't surprised and made a noncommittal sound in his throat. He couldn't stop staring at Sherlock. For a second, Sherlock stared back. He grinned wickedly, tossed his curls and stood up in his stirrups. In an instant, he and his mount were off like a shot, the horse's black tail streaming out behind them. John giggled wildly, apparently Sherlock was familiar with the grooms' racing game as well! He squeezed his thighs and Pascale bounded forward to follow them across the pastures and towards the treeline.

It certainly wasn't quite the same as chasing bad guys across dark London streets, but there was something to being able to just unwind after so long that John needed. He had not even been aware of how stressed he had been until the moment Sherlock and his mount came running back by them and the two horses took the log together. Pascale's landing was a bit rough, but he found his footing soon enough and they were back at the chase.

After a few minutes, the men slowed their mounts and rode side-by-side in silence. It gave John the chance to really consider what was happening here. Sherlock rode next to him, long legs dangling on his horse's side. He had dropped his stirrups moments ago and was holding the reins in one hand. He was the picture of calm. John wondered for a second if he rode one-handed in order to hold a cigarette in the other. Sherlock peered over at him. "No, John, I generally have not ever smoked around the stables. A bit not good, that."

John giggled. He had found himself doing that more in this one day than he had in the past year. That made him feel really bad for Sophie, but then he remembered that she always made him smile, as well. This was something different, something that felt as comfortable to him as his well-worn jeans. Something as relaxing as the feeling and sound of the horse breathing underneath him. Shakespeare was so right. There is something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of man, or something to that effect.

Sherlock studied John riding beside him. John actually had a pretty natural seat and seemed to be comfortable riding in the Aussie. Mycroft had purchased that saddle after Sherlock griped and carried on one day about the length of his legs and stirrup leathers that didn't fit. He had been about sixteen at the time, Mycroft in his early twenties. Naturally, Sherlock scoffed at it, but once he rode in the damn thing he was hooked. It was only a beautiful irony that it would be the one John liked best. Sherlock knew that John had gone on a few rides during his time in the desert and this one probably was most similar to the saddles used by some of the nomadic peoples of the region.

This feeling of belonging that had settled into Sherlock's chest seemed to be expanding. It had taken several hours of cathartic violin playing last night to finally give a name to this thing that had settled into his chest. It had grown steadily since the day John had shot a cabbie named Hope through two sets of plate glass windows. It was a sprout that was now full in the sunlight. Sherlock was aware that he had changed over the last year and months, and he knew the one thing that had changed was his own impulsiveness. He was more sure now of what he was capable of physically than he had ever been before, more aware of his body's limits. He supposed that taking a dive off the rooftop of a hospital had that effect on people, but he also knew that being in close quarters with someone every single day who wanted you dead was certainly life changing. In feeding his brain, there were many times he had neglected his body, considering it only transport. He knew now how foolish that had been and vowed to change it the second he looked into Sophie's eyes.

Everything about John Watson had always made him want to be a better person, not just a robotic brain solving other people's puzzles. But now that there were two lives counting on him, it upped the ante. He sat back in the saddle and just let his legs dangle.

Chapter 11: Intruding into Personal Space

The real world intruded into the quiet bubble of the Holmes household several weeks later with the arrival of D.I. Greg Lestrade. John was taken aback when he opened the front door to see the detective standing there with a handful of files. It was only the second time since Sherlock returned that the real world had stepped into what was turning into a quiet nest surrounding them.

The first time was right after Sophie started pulling herself into a standing position on the coffee table in front of the sofa. John and Sherlock were with the little girl in the sitting room, watching her fondly. Rather, John was watching her fondly, having a little more experience with children and their stages since he had worked at a general practice for so long. Sherlock, on the other hand, was completely entranced and couldn't take his eyes off the little girl for anything. John probably could have fired his gun into the ceiling and Sherlock would not have moved. Not a millimeter.

Sophie turned her beautiful smile towards John and then looked at Sherlock. His eyebrows attempted to climb as far up his forehead as they were able and he let out an honest to god laugh! Now it was John's turn to be mesmerized. Sherlock Holmes, laughing!

"Sherlock, no one at home is ever going to believe that sound just came out of you! We are going to have to be careful when we get back to Baker Street, though; some of our furniture probably isn't baby proof."

At that, Sherlock turned his fiery gaze on his partner. "No. No Baker Street" he said with as much vengeance as he could muster with only half of his attention on John.

"Sherlock, surely you don't expect us to stay here under Mycroft's wing forever? I want to go home. You said it is safe now…" he trailed off as Sherlock's full attention was placed on him. Sophie continued to stand at the table and grin, though it was fading fast off of her little face to be replaced by knitted brows and pursed lips. Something was happening but she had no prior experience to draw on. It was the first time in her short life she had heard adults raise their voices this way towards each other. She was a bit frightened.

"No. No. No. Maybe I do not want to go back…back to the way things were before. Look at her, John!" He held his arms out towards his daughter. "She's so perfect and …I….just can't tolerate the idea of her growing up in such…such….normal….circumstances!" Sherlock was so bothered that he had even begun to stutter.

John just stared.

Sherlock stood up and started to pace the room, swinging his mop of curls like a lion would swing his mane. With each pass, Sophie became more and more frustrated. She whimpered, just a tiny little sound, and, on instinct, Sherlock scooped her into his arms. He immediately stopped swinging his hands about, rather he just switched to using his eyebrows to make his point. Sophie's little hand on his shoulder was actually calming him down.

John stared some more.

He was angry, sure. But there was more going on here than meets the eye. There was no way that tiny baby could comprehend what was happening. He saw it with his own eyes and still could barely believe them. As Sherlock paced, Sophie had set her face into a miniature version of the tall detective's pout face. It was slightly horrifying for a split second (oh my god, there are TWO of them now) and amazing at the same time. In less than thirty seconds, the little girl had appraised the situation and made Sherlock pick her up. Once she was in his arms, she reached her little hand up and just laid it on his shoulder.

John continued to stare as his partner slowed his pace.

Sherlock took two more steps and paused in front of the cold fireplace. It was like Sophie (Sherlock's mini-me, thought John absurdly) found the "stop" button on the DVD player. Sherlock's daughter did something no single other human being had ever been able to do with any regularity.

She shut him up.

John wanted to laugh, cry, dance and sing "I-told-you-so" like a kid on the playground, alternately and all at the same time.

Sherlock finally noticed John staring at them and turned his head. "John, did you just see that?"

"Yes, Sherlock, I just observed your daughter making you shut your mouth. She didn't reach out for me, she watched you walk by and decided that she was going to take care of the problem and she flat out did it."

Sherlock nodded. Sophie nodded and squirmed in his arms as her signal to be put down. "Down." She said, quietly. Sherlock bent his knees and opened his arms. Sophie wiggled down to the floor and crawled away from him on all fours. After a moment, she crawled over to her brightly-colored blocks and made herself busy.

After that, John and Sherlock were able to discuss whether or not going back to Baker Street was a good idea. Strangely, John got the feeling that Sherlock no longer thought of the place as "home." He knew that there had been trained assassins perched around the building at one time; then there was the time the bomb blew up next door; and the time that one of Sherlock's experiments kept them out of the flat for four days while the place was fumigated and exterminated (don't ask) but that had never seemed to stop Sherlock before.

Something else was happening, John thought as he watched Sherlock fold himself almost in half to sit on the floor with the baby. She looked up at him as if appraising him, smiled and held out one of her blocks, giving him permission to touch her stuff.

John just stared.

Chapter 12: Change Taking Place

So it was a little later that same day that John found himself sitting at the kitchen table with Lestrade, Sherlock, Ms Hudson, Sophie and Mycroft. Just for a second, he let himself think about how much their lives had changed in the past year and a half. John's world had shrank to a pinhole and then broadened out again. Ms Hudson's life was presumably much quieter; she had ceased going out to play bridge and have tea with her friends since they moved into the house, though she doted on Sophie (and John, too, he had to admit it) like they were her own children. Mycroft's world had gone from possibly lonely and busy to maybe too crowded and too busy. He had been working day and night, completing the work John had begun to clear Sherlock's name. Of course, John suspected so much more but he was relieved not to know the details. What Sherlock had told him was more than enough to be going on with.

Sherlock's life, however, that was a mystery. Had his world become smaller since coming home? John noticed not a lack of sniping between the brothers, but there were days that the two passed in each others' company almost civilly. He suspected that was all because of Sophie and the promise Mycroft had made to Sherlock to protect everyone Sherlock cared about. Perhaps Sophie was just a bonus?

Lestrade cleared his throat and John realized that he had been staring off into the ether. He shifted his focus back to the men and the table covered with crime-scene photographs. It was strange that he tended to blank out at times like this. He wondered if his brain had finally succumbed to too much stress. Ha! One too many dead people coming back to life perhaps.

Once again, John tried to focus on what Greg was telling them.

"Sherlock, the killer stuffed him into this huge pizza oven. We think he was strangled first and burnt second, which is why I am bringing this one to your attention. I just want to double-check my thinking…"

"You know, I do have to tell you that you are not generally as much an idiot as other people, Lestrade." Sherlock still refused to call the man by his given name. He wasn't even looking at the officer, but staring at two photos he had placed side by side on the table.

Lestrade's mouth shut with a snap. Then his bottom lip fell down again. He gawped like a suffocating goldfish. "Sherlock, did you just compliment me?"

In the chair on the other side of Sherlock, John chuckled and on his opposite side of the table in her high chair Sophie giggled. Ms Hudson regarded her fondly and Mycroft crinkled the newspaper he was pretending to study. He had always looked down on Sherlock's case work, but somehow the idea of someone stuffing someone into a pizza oven had him interested.

In spite of himself, Sherlock cracked a wide smile, showing off his beautiful mouth and straight teeth. John couldn't help himself and he giggled. Next thing, everyone at the table was laughing like fools. He kept telling himself that they needed to focus, but it just wasn't working. He knew that people who had never heard a little kid laugh like that would never understand how communicable it was.

"Alright, alright. I concede. No more cases today." Greg pulled all the files back together and plucked Sophie out of her seat. She grabbed his neck and mumbled, none of the words coherent, but Greg nodded in all the right places, hanging on her every mumble.

"Come on Mycroft, let's take this little lady outside for a bit. Emily, care for a bit of fresh air?"

After they left, John picked up the mugs from the table and Sophie's sippy-cup. He dropped them into the sink and opened the refrigerator. It was his turn to make dinner (he and Mycroft had set a sort of routine taking turns on the nights when Mycroft was home early enough to eat something fresh) and he had only some vague idea of what he wanted to prepare.

He was standing there regarding the fresh broccoli and block of sharp cheddar when a pair of long arms encircled his waist. "Sherlock, do you think Lestrade took your homecoming better than most other people would have?"

"Yes, John, I suspect my brother got to him before he could be surprised." Sherlock was actually nuzzling the nape of his neck just under his hairline, his breath tickling against John's skin that was growing increasingly warm. Though they had yet to actually sleep together, Sherlock had been routinely curling up to John at night. John suspected it was originally in order to be near Sophie when she awoke, but there was something inherently pleasant in waking up in someone's arms.

"John, I…" Sherlock trailed off as he turned John away from the refrigerator with one arm while closing the chrome door with the other. John's heart was beating in his chest. They so rarely got a moment alone that wasn't earmarked for child care, sleeping, eating, or trying to decide when they were going to go home to London. Of course, it all seemed to be on John's part. Sherlock would not budge from what he said they first time they attempted the discussion.

Sherlock leaned in, pushing John against the counter. All thoughts of fresh broccoli and cheese were swept out of his head when their lips met. John's left hand found its way to Sherlock's hair and he played with the soft curls slowly. Sherlock made a sound deep in the back of his throat and pushed them closer together, if that was even possible at this point. One of his hands was on John's hip and the other was at the small of his back.

They stood that way for several long minutes, until they both had to come up for air. The house settled quietly around them. In this golden moment, there was no one else but them. John's hands slipped to Sherlock's waist and Sherlock reached in for another kiss.

They both heard the scream at the same time, turning in unison toward the kitchen windows.

Sherlock was moving and pulling John in his wake toward the door.

Sherlock's eyes flashed in anger as Ms Hudson explained to him about the man they had seen. Lestrade had run off towards the figure and Mycroft had immediately put his phone to his ear, calling on the body guards that still surrounded the house. Everything was sharp and crystal clear to John in the fading light of the afternoon.

It took him a second to catch up with the story, but the gist of it was this: Sophie was playing in her sand box. Ms Hudson was sitting in a lawn chair that was set up in the grass near the little girl, a magazine in her lap. Mycroft and Lestrade were sitting further back, on the patio. Sophie had started mumbling, making her happy baby sounds as she dug and patted the sand. When her noises changed, Mycroft looked to the little girl to see a figure in the tree line that appeared to be holding something up to its face. At the same time, Sophie screamed the word "Man!" and Ms Hudson shrieked. At that point, without even asking, Lestrade had hared off towards the woods.

It was Ms Hudson's shriek that John and Sherlock had heard from the kitchen. "Mycroft," he growled, holding Sophie to his chest, "I was under the impression your best men were here and if that is truly the case, how did they not alert you to the presence of a stranger?"

Sherlock held Sophie in his arms, spread his feet wide and slowly tilted his head downward like a Spanish bull. It was a challenge, but this time Mycroft had no choice but to back down. He refused to answer the question, but it was obvious from flush on his face that he was going to find out. He was all but shouting into his phone, completely ignoring Sherlock's words that he had heard quite clearly.

Lestrade was back within minutes, out of breath but not heaving, John noted. "He cut through the woods, there's a trail there by the way, but didn't leave anything behind. It's possible that was a nosy reporter who got wind of Sherlock being back….though I don't know how they would have found out, I'm the only one from the Yard who has any idea…I don't think this one was dangerous, but its still an invasion of privacy.."

Maybe he had been around Sherlock too many years, because the DI was doing his own pacing while he spoke. He pulled out his own phone and Mycroft snatched it out of his hand. "Greg, no, Sherlock hasn't…"

Sherlock cut across his brother. "Mycroft, they are going to find out soon enough. We have discussed enough. I never thought about Sophie."

John knew that Sherlock and Mycroft had decided that announcing Sherlock's return would be best via television crew, but they had not come to an agreement on the when. On the other hand, neither of them had decided what the world was to know about Sophie. Molly had kept the baby a secret and they all wondered if the little girl would be safe.

And so it was the crux of the same argument that John and Sherlock had been having about going back to Baker Street. If it was just for them, they would have already left. But Sophie's safety now took precedence.

The lights made Sophie cry. The noise of the TV crew filtered through the sitting room and could be heard clear down at the stable. Sherlock paced the room like a caged tiger and Mycroft simply looked more displeased than normal. Ms Hudson had sworn off the entire debacle and disappeared upstairs. John sat on the sofa, holding his daughter close and watching the television crew closely. He was looking for anyone who didn't seem to fit in. He tipped his head silently to the body guard in the corner. It was unbelievable how someone that damn big could melt into the shadows so well. He searched his brain for a name, thought "Jeff" and moved on.

The television crew consisted of five people: two camera men, a man who held up the microphone, the anchor woman and another woman whom John presumed was makeup. He and Sherlock had both already shooed her away, neither of them desiring that nasty powder on their faces and now she stood, half sulking, in the doorway. Mycroft was standing just to her left, watching the proceedings with disdain. This certainly was not how he had wanted to announce to the world at large that his little brother had beaten death. There was a bit of failure somehow in admitting that he needed to "come back" in the first place, but also an overwhelming feeling of pride, though he would never in his entire life admit that to Sherlock.

After three days of sitting at the table with Greg and the files, Mycroft had finally stopped pretending to read the paper. On the fourth day, he actually picked up some photographs and studied them. On the fifth day, he started asking questions. On the sixth day, he started seeing why this was so addicting to Sherlock. Never one for leg work, he certainly wasn't about to run willy-nilly through London actually chasing the bad guys (he had plenty of people at his beck and call for that one) but he was finally starting to see the appeal. Human beings were an insane, pretentious lot and they certainly were always finding interesting ways to kill each other.

Mycroft had taken some much-needed vacation time, and even so, Anthea was still to be seen around the house on a daily basis. Today she appeared by politely asking the makeup lady to move out of the doorway to the sitting room. John watched as she leaned into Mycroft's ear, said a few words, her mouth moving rapidly, then turned on her heel and left. Mycroft noticed John watching, mouthed "food" and then turned back to watching the ordered chaos of the television crew setting up for their interview.

At first, Sherlock would barely speak, merely nodding affirmatives and negatives to the anchorwoman, who seemed to be slowly losing her patience. He would hardly even look her in the eye, but instead focused on John and Sophie sitting across from him. He hated the squashy armchairs and he was growing more and more irritated with the inane questions this woman in the horrible pink suit was asking him.

A couple times he got that look on his face and his mouth would start to open, he would catch John's eye and John would slowly move his head from left to right. Sherlock's mouth would shut and he would resume his bored expression. John could almost hear his partner's brain kicking into high gear from across the room. For some reason, he felt that trotting out the anchorwoman's most closely held secrets (that she was married to a transvestite, even John could see it from here) on a live feed would probably be a big mistake.

Sophie squirmed a little in John's arms and suddenly the lights shifted and the anchorwoman's full attention was on the two of them. Just out of the range of the lights, he could see Sherlock stand up and move toward the couch. Then he felt Sherlock's hand on his shoulder and he steeled himself for the one question that he dreaded more than "how did you feel when you found out he had faked his death?" That one had been relatively simple to answer—just the truth: that he had been terribly grieved but had forgiven Sherlock and now they could move forward. Naturally, the anchorwoman had jumped on the "we" and tried desperately to uncover the nature of he and Sherlock's current relationship. John did not tried to hide how he felt, but he refused to put into so many words just to further horrible-pink-suit-married-to-a-transvestite-who-o ften-borrows-said-pink-suit-for-his-lounge-show's career.

At least with Sherlock standing behind him and Sophie in his arms he felt like he was surrounded by armor and was prepared when she said to him:

"You said that you have forgiven Sherlock, your partner, excuse me but that seems an appropriate word for your relationship at this time for faking his own death. Have you yet deemed him forgiven for creating a child with another woman just after said fake suicide?"

"As I already explained to you," John tried hard not to grit his teeth. Sherlock's hand tightened on his shoulder. "…we were not an item at that time. Whatever Sherlock needed at the time I would never begrudge him, and I will never be angry at him for making our family complete." Well, there it was, thought John. Not only are we out, but in a few hours the entire world will know. He pulled Sophie just a bit tighter to his chest.

The anchorwoman opened her mouth to speak when Sherlock cut across her, his best daddy-bear growl rumbling in his chest. "That's enough, no more questions." He squeezed John's shoulder and the three of them quietly left the room. It was Mycroft's turn to be interviewed and at this point, neither of them cared enough to stay to hear it all.

Later that night, after Sophie was in bed, they all watched the interview on BBC. John was working on his third pint and Lestrade was on his second. Sherlock sat on the sofa between the two of them, a bowl of popcorn in his lap. Mycroft and Ms Hudson sat in the armchairs. At first, the atmosphere in the room was light, almost like a party. The interview had been highly publicized and the news had actually managed to keep the real announcement under wraps. They really did have an exclusive and they were going to wield it like a weapon.

The anchorwoman that had been at the house just a few hours prior came on the screen, this time in yet another hideous pink suit that Sherlock loudly mocked, even going so far as to throw popcorn at the telly. Mycroft shot him a nasty look while John and Greg snorted into their pints. Ms Hudson just tutted and made her patented "boys will be boys" sigh.

The five of them watched as the screen was filled with Sherlock, the anchorwoman off screen to his right. Her voice was clear, but the random questions she was asking the detective decidedly did NOT match anything she had asked at the house today.

"Mister Holmes, we caught wind that before your presumed 'death' over a year ago that you fathered a child. Is there any truth to that statement?" The scene was cut to Sherlock's face giving a noncommittal affirmative sound, almost a grunt, really.

Everyone in the sitting room turned to stare at Sherlock. He looked appalled. She had never asked him any such question! What was she angling after?

Throughout the ten-minute segment, the fact of Sherlock's triumphant return after destroying an international crime ring was never mentioned. The fact that his suicide was faked was mentioned at least once a minute and the anchorwoman kept focusing on the fact that Sherlock had a child and he was obviously now in a relationship with John Watson. He had ceased eating his popcorn, just as John and Greg were now just holding their beers, eyes locked on the flat screen in front of them.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the interview concluded with a closeup of John with Sophie on his lap. His entire quote had been cut and edited so seamlessly that now John was saying "Whatever Sherlock needed at the time….angry…for making our family complete." John stood up and yelled several creative curse words at the telly, including calling the anchorwoman a lying bitch in three languages (English, French and Pashto, and he didn't even remember learning it in the third one.)

They had not even recovered from the shock when Mycroft's and Greg's phones went off at the same time. Mycroft answered his to hear that there were now a dozen journalists standing in the driveway (the guards were working hard to contain them) and Greg answered his to be told that Sherlock Holmes was alive.

The rest of the evening was a nightmare. Ms Hudson finally had enough and excused herself, saying she was going to take a long bath. Mycroft disappeared into his own office, to do who knows what to who knows who to get the journalists off of his property. It just barely worked, so John and Sherlock agreed to talk to one or two of them at the front door. Greg stood behind them, ever watchful for trouble, since the bodyguard usually assigned to the house was now posted upstairs to watch over Sophie while she slept.

The question that was in everyone's mind that night was how in the world the press found out so quickly where they were. The interview that had given was supposed to not only have been exclusive, but also was not to give away their present location. Between the anchorwoman in the hideous suits and the strange figure that had appeared a few days ago, all of John's happy clarity was slowly giving away to fog. The vultures were circling and it wouldn't be long before they had their meal.

Chapter 13: Fire and Sentiment

"There was so much blood and...and I could smell the gunpowder...it was all...just. And his eyes...his eyes were open. They are so wrong about that on the telly." She gave an hysterical little laugh. "Just so much to take in...like that. Damn that asshole! Why did he leave me this way?" The girl named Rachel was shifting beyond grief and anger while John hovered nearby with the box of tissues. Sherlock sat in one of the armchairs as Rachel was taking up the couch. John waited quietly for Sherlock to explode into one of his trademark tirades about idiots and sentiment, but strangely, that never happened.

After Rachel's outburst, Sherlock stood from the chair and held his hands out to the young woman. She grasped his long fingers in her own and stared at him, completely lost and slightly hysterical. He gave her a look that could only be referred to as a mix of indulgence and understanding. "We will get to the bottom of this, Ms. Patterson. Please do not bother yourself with it any more today." At that, he handed the young woman off to Ms Hudson in the kitchen. Emily would serve Rachel tea, some womanly chatting and then she would be sent home.

"Sherlock, that was amazing right there." John set the box of tissues down on the side table nearest the sofa and plopped himself into the cushions. He studied his partner carefully, knowing that Sherlock had at least three-quarters of the case already solved, but as always, was making sure he was completely right before speaking. John reached over for the remote for the telly and considered how people had started coming back to Sherlock since the terrible interview had aired on the BBC a month earlier. Nothing much had happened since then, except for the journalists showing up on the outlying borders of the property from time-to-time, but it seemed some of the interest had died down a bit and the cases had started back in earnest.

Much to Sherlock's annoyance, John flipped on the telly to some annoying football game. He huffed loudly and John chuckled. Maybe some things would never change.

A few minutes later, Sophie's "I'm awake" giggle sounded through the baby monitor. John flipped off the television and headed up the stairs, leaving Sherlock to navigate his mind in peace.

John pulled Sophie's little jacket around her shoulders and helped her into her wellies. It was a bit warmer this afternoon and it would do them both a spot of good to be outside for a while. John had not had time to go down and see Pascale in over a week, not since the cases started rolling in. Sherlock had yet to leave the house for one, but John was sure it would happen sooner or later, so he wanted to take advantage of some free time while he could. He took Sophie's hand and they headed down to the stables, calling out behind them where they were headed. Sherlock was still in the sitting room in the same position he had been an hour earlier.

John and Sophie held hands as they walked along the path from the house to the barns. Sophie was talking up a storm now and her little motor mouth was running overtime as they walked. John had been christened "Dad Dad Dad Dad" a short time ago, but Sophie still had not called Sherlock much of anything. She usually just studied, glared, stared or pointed at him when she wanted his attention, John usually called him "your Dad" when talking about Sherlock, but he had yet to hear the little girl use the moniker. John turned his ears back to his daughter.

"Dad Dad Dad. Why is the dirt on the path a different color than the dirt over there?" She pointed her little index finger at a patch of dirt next to one of the trees. Before he could answer, she had another question: "Dad, How come we can't bring Pascale in the house? Then he would be closer and I could see him everyday." John smiled down at the little girl. This time he didn't even attempt to answer when she said "Dad Dad Dad, look a bird! It's black with a long black beak. That's a raven!" she called up to John, excitedly. This monologue continued until they reached Pascale's paddock. It was the days like this that gave him an insight to what Sherlock had been like as a child.

Pascale neatly bent his head so that Sophie could feel his soft muzzle. His whiskers made her laugh. John slipped the lead rope off of the fence and clipped it to the gelding's leather halter. With Pascale on his left side and Sophie on his right, they entered the barn. John cross-tied the little cob and set Sophie's step stool on the near side. Together, they worked to brush the horse, knocking off a little mud here and there. Sophie curried with a slow, measured stroke and John went down the horse's back swiftly, snapping his wrist. In the middle of all the attention, Pascale stood with his eyes half-closed. Once he was groomed, John and Sophie put the brushes and her stool back in the tack room. John took Pascale's bridle off the hook and brought down the little saddle that Mycroft had given them to use for Sophie. It was quite old, but everything was in working order. The leather was soft and pliable. Sophie grabbed her own riding boots from the floor and John helped her change into them.

John slipped Pascale's bridle over his head, over the halter, leaving the reins over the gelding's neck. He gently set the little saddle on his back and walked around the horse, putting one hand on his rump. John adjusted the girth from the other side and ran the stirrups down. There was no point in checking the length of them, as Sophie was the only child around at the moment who had been using it. He moved back to the near side of the cob and unclipped him from the cross-ties, as he snapped a lunge line to the ring underneath the halter. They swung gently back into their resting position against the wooden wall. John could hear the other horses in their stalls as they walked down the aisle, some moved slowly, some crunched their hay while a couple made the deep-guttural whinny that allowed them to communicate to each other. Pascale whinnied back "see you later" as John and Sophie led him into the indoor arena.

John flicked the indoor lights on. The arena wasn't Olympic sized, but it was big enough to host a full-day's Hunter/Hack show when the weather was bad. He enjoyed bringing Sophie in here because sometimes when they were outside she spent so much time watching everything else, and he really wanted her to learn to do this. He helped the little girl into the saddle and slid Pascale's reins up his neck, where he tied them in a knot. They were loose enough to give the gelding some slack, but tight enough that he didn't forget that it was time to do a little work. John unwound the lunge line in his hands and clipped it to the gelding's halter. Double-checking the Sophie was secure with her hands in front of her, holding steady to the front of the saddle. She was too young to guide the horse by herself, but her balance was almost perfect.

John watched the little girl closely as she bobbed up and down on the cob's back, a huge grin on her face. Pascale moved easily from a walk to a trot, his ears swerving back and forth from John's almost-whispered commands and clicks to the little girl laughing on his back. John stopped them for a moment and patted the little horse's neck as he turned them around. "Go again, Dad! Go again!" Sophie laughed.

John was lost in the rhythm of the sure-footed horse's hoof beats when he heard another sound behind him. His senses simultaneously picked up the crack of wood breaking and the smell of smoke. Oh my god. He dropped the lunge line and turned toward the horse, who had stopped mid-stride, his ears pricked up and looking to John for his next instruction. John unsnapped the lunge line and let it fall. Sophie watched her dad closely, knowing as long as he was around that she was safe. Behind them, John heard another crash. Black smoke billowed through the open doors that led back into the barn. At the other end of the arena was another set of doors. John could hear the sounds of terrified horses behind him and had to make a split-second decision. He knew there had been no other people there, as generally all the grooms and stable hands were off the clock before afternoon tea. He had no other choice. He could hear the fire spreading rapidly down the walls of the arena. They had to get out. Quickly, John jumped onto Pascale's rump, behind Sophie's saddle. He tugged on the reins and they fell out of their knot. He aimed Pascale at the open doors at the end of the arena and squeezed his legs. Pascale surged ahead and John guided him towards the house, his legs kicking up sand as they beat it out of there.

Sherlock's epiphany about Ms Patterson's case happened mere minutes before he heard the odd sound of hoof beats towards the back of the house. He unfolded himself and walked towards the windows, where he could see his partner and their daughter on the back of the little cob, Pascale. Pascale's short, thick legs were almost a blur as he rushed toward the house. Sherlock could see the black smoke billowing from the stables and had his mobile in his hand almost before his brain had confirmed what had happened. His heart started to pound, but as John pulled the horse up short as Sherlock opened the back door, he could see that his family was safe.

He went to them just as John swung his leg over the horse's rump. Pascale jumped just slightly and then settled down as Sherlock picked Sophie up out of the saddle. The little girl was unscathed but very well aware of what was happening around herself. She reached out toward the horse and he snuffled into her hands. John pulled his mobile out of his pocket and Sherlock told him that he had already notified the fire department and that Mycroft was on his way home. Ms Hudson came out of the house a few minutes later, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, and informed them that Rachel had been in a much better state when the young woman left. They stood that way until the fire department came roaring into the lower driveway, lights and sirens could see everything from their vantage point and neither of them moved a muscle. This wasn't a crime scene at that point and they knew that there was nothing either of them could do to help. John hadn't felt so helpless since he saw his partner dive off of the roof of building, but it was not quite the same. He could feel Sherlock's warmth behind him and that gave him strength. He held onto the reins and felt Pascale shift beside him, the horse also watching the blaze and the firefighters. Pascale snorted a few times but did not seem to be overly spooked. He was safe with his family, too.

Ms Hudson reached out to Sophie but Sophie backed away from the woman, nuzzling into Sherlock's shoulder. Very clearly, she announced to all of them that she "wants to stay with my Papa." Sherlock's grip tightened about her and he moved to stand on John's other side, dropping his other arm around the shorter man's waist. There was just nothing to say.

It was to this scene that Mycroft arrived home. As he was walking out the back door, which had not been closed when Sherlock came out to see what was going on, one of the firemen came jogging up to the house. "Mr Holmes, sir. We have the fire under control. We just need to report a body in the tack room."

Chapter 14: Quiet Interlude

John and Sherlock sat on John's bed. John had leaned into the embrace of the taller man and Sherlock had pulled them both up to the headboard. It had been a long evening and it was nearing one in the morning before they were finally able to come upstairs. Sophie had fallen asleep on the sofa around ten, and then John carried her up to bed with them. The day's events seemed not have bothered the little girl, and she was sleeping soundly in her cot. They could hear her soft sighs and snuffles.

"Sherlock, have you given any thought to the idea that maybe we aren't safe here?"

"John, I don't know what to think." John turned his head and looked into Sherlock's eyes. That must have been hard to admit.

"Did you find out who the person was that they found in the tack room?" John had not heard the rest of the conversation, instead he had taken Sophie upstairs to put her to bed.

"His name was Arthur Kentross. Turns out he's a failed journalist. From the evidence I could find, it looks like he was hiding in there to surprise you and maybe get some kind of scoop." The stinging sarcasm of the last word dripped off of Sherlock's tongue. "He was dead before the fire ever started, it appears as though he had a heart attack. They also found his camera. A great big digital SLR with a posh flash and all, but the memory card was gone."

John took a moment to digest this new information. "Sherlock, how did he get through Mycroft's guards?"

"He did not get through Mycroft's guards. He was one of them."

"What?" There was no way John could hide the surprise in his voice.

"He was the latest one hired, John. An extra that was taken on after the interview broadcast. I do believe he is one in the same with the figure that Sophie and Ms Hudson saw from the back yard."

John nodded to himself. Even with tightened security, he was starting to feel like his haven was becoming a cage. "Sherlock, we can't go on this way. They are going to keep pushing us farther and farther into this house like it's a trench!"

"I know."

"When can we go home?"

"John, I can't go back there. There's too many memories."

"What do you mean?"

"John, I betrayed you there. I left you, alone. I had tea with Moriarty there. I just. I just can't go back."

"I understand." John really did understand. He leaned back against Sherlock and Sherlock crossed his arms over John's chest. John crossed his arms over Sherlock's and they sat that way for a while.

"We need a home, Sherlock. Sophie needs to be around other children and you need to get out and work cases. I want to be with you. This is who we are."

"I know." Sherlock tightened his hold around John.

"We can't live here in Mycroft's home for the rest of our lives..."

Very quietly, Sherlock whispered "It is my house, John." John froze and turned in Sherlock's arms to look up at him. The sea green eyes blazed with humour. He had wanted to tell John for so long, but the opportunity had not presented itself.

"What do you mean, Sherlock? Your house? How can that be?" For a second, John could hear every single cutting comeback that Sherlock could throw at him. He was ready to jump, but relaxed back into the other man's arms when Sherlock answered.

"When our parents passed, this house was left for me, along with a sizeable trust fund. Mycroft's house is actually five kilometers from here, back farther into the woods, though I will grant him the stables...what's left of them, anyway. Mycroft thought it would be better to bring you three here instead of his house, this one is larger and actually less cut off from the rest of the world. There is probably not even a telly at his house, but I do believe he has electricity. That is why he has been staying here, why he has an office here. It was just better and easier to use this as our home base. I can tell him to go home anytime, just say the word." Sherlock smirked.

John was astounded. That meant that Sophie had a home, even if he didn't. But that was alright, he had been homeless before, it wasn't the first time.

"John, stop it."

John turned around to face Sherlock again.

"John, you are with me. To me, this is our house. Our family lives here, and that includes Ms Hudson. I promised myself I would always take care of her, especially after I took care of the issue with her husband."

"I guess it's only fair, since she has spent so much time taking care of you." John giggled. Sherlock stared at him, his full attention undivided. John giggled again. Now that he started, it was going to be difficult to quit. He did an impression of Ms Hudson "NOT your housekeeper, dear." Both men snorted and then instantly quieted down when they heard a little whimper from Sophie's direction. She quieted down and John pulled away and stood up. "Let me pull the duvet down."

Sherlock stood up and headed toward the bathroom. When he came back a few minutes later, sans shirt, John had comfortably fluffed the pillows and was close to nodding off, until he looked up and almost held his breath. Sherlock had a nasty scar running down his ribcage. "Come here."

Sherlock climbed into the bed and cuddled himself in next to John. John turned to him, his fingers splayed out and looked up to the taller man, who was looking at John's fingers as if they were emitting sparks. He understood what John wanted and nodded go ahead. John reached out and ran a finger down the scar. It was pretty nasty and he could even feel where a couple of the ribs underneath had been nicked. He had promised he wouldn't ask, but the question still stood between them.

"It was Moriarty's third-in-command. I did not go in with the intent to kill, but he...he crossed the line when he gave me this." Sherlock opened his arms and then John was against his bare chest, reaching up to cup his cheek in his fingers. "I'm so sorry." John whispered. Sherlock shifted his gaze back to his partner but did not say anything. He bent his head and their lips met, a sudden need overcame them both, a need to reassure that they were both alive and were overcoming these things that had been done to them.

They wrapped their arms around each other and tried to crawl under each other's skins. They reaffirmed what they meant to each other. Without words, each man staked his own claim on the other and what they were seperately became a single being, at least for a while. Their lovemaking was quiet, as they were both very well aware of the baby in the next room. John knew that now Sophie could have her own room, but he still felt better keeping her near him. There had just been too many close calls lately.

They were both exhausted, so once was enough. Soon, they nodded off to sleep, wrapped up the strength born from the sentiment that Sherlock had shunned for so long.

Chapter 15: Pancakes and the Past

The sun has been up for a little while now and its rays blast through the window in John's rooms. John Watson himself is sitting on top of the navy blue duvet, his back to the headboard. He is already dressed for the day in a black T-shirt and jeans.

Sherlock in all his lanky glory is lying across the bed, his bottom half clad in blue striped pajama bottoms. Sophie, still in her little nightie, is sitting beside Sherlock with her hands in his hair. She is giggling contentedly and Sherlock is half dozing.

"Sherlock," John prods the other man's rear end with a bare foot. "You know what made it real to me that you are truly alive?"

A muffled hmphf from Sherlock, followed by "...Last night."

John blushes and giggles, but continues onward. "No. That was a serious reminder but what really made it real to me is hearing the sound of Ms Hudson's hand glancing off of your jaw." John giggles again, he can't help it. Even with what happened yesterday, a large part of him is so very happy.

Sophie giggles when her daddy does and pulls just a little too roughly on Sherlock's scalp. He pulls back and sits up, shaking the mattress underneath them all. Sophie spreads her arms wide as her natural balance adjusts to the movement. Sherlock scoops her up in his arms and blows raspberries on her neck. Sophie giggles some more and then says "Put me down, Papa." "Floor or bed?" Rolls the baritone out of Sherlock's chest.

Sophie looks at both places and decides. "Floor." She says and he puts her down. She toddles off toward the direction of the toy chest and Sherlock sits back down on the bed.

"One of the the first nights we were here, Mycroft said something to me about being able to relax in his own home. If this house is legally yours, why did he tell me that?"

"Possession is nine-tenths of law, I guess." Sherlock waved one hand around as if it wasn't important. "You know I barely understand the workings of my own mind, let alone my brother's."

John was satisfied with the answer. He went around to Sherlock's side of the bed and leaned into the other man, putting his arms around Sherlock's shoulders. Once he had Sherlock's full attention, he kissed him hard on the mouth and then drew his head back.

"Sherlock Holmes, I love you."

"I love you, too, John Watson."

"Good then, let's get breakfast."

Sherlock laughed and turned towards the bathroom. John moved through the rooms and picked up Sophie and headed towards the kitchen.

John was really in the mood to do some serious cooking this morning, and in less than five minutes he had assembled all the ingredients for some mean pancakes. Mycroft followed him to the kitchen a short time later and started the coffee. Sophie sat at the table with her sippy cup full of orange juice and launched it into the air just as Mycroft turned towards the table.

"Uncle Mikey, please get my cup?" She asked very seriously. Naturally, as soon as he handed it to her, it was back in the floor. Laughing, Mycroft picked it up a third time and set it on the table, just out of Sophie's reach. The little girl gave him the Holmes' trademark stink eye and stuck out her bottom lip. Suddenly, the world was full of laughing Holmes, as Sherlock had just come into the room, buttoning up his shirt. He reached John first and planted a kiss on the nape of the shorter man's neck. John's neck turned red, but no one said anything when Sherlock casually dropped himself into a chair at the table.

John flipped a pancake, watching the proceeding out of the corner of his eye. Such a strange world he now lived in where he was in love with a mad genius and the brothers Holmes actually laughed! It was good, though, a wonderful feeling of belonging that they had all needed for so long.

Ms Hudson came into the kitchen with a sweet "good morning," followed by Lestrade and Anthea. "I found these two on the doorstep, shall I let them in?"

John called out "good morning" as he sat the stack of pancakes on the table. Sherlock grabbed Sophie's plate, buttered her up a panacake, and proceeded to cut it up for her, all the while being watched by his daughter as she wanted to make sure he fixed her breakfast just right.

It was quiet for a few moments, the bright kitchen filled with the sounds of a late breakfast. Mugs clinked on the tabletop, forks clinked on plates, someone told John how wonderful the pancakes were, Sophie's tiny fork hit the floor, followed by her cup. John reached down and picked both of them up.

"Done, Daddy."

"Alright, princess, you may go." He wiped her hands and face and let her down. She disappeared under the table and he could see her little black head move into the sitting room, headed for toy chest #2.

Lestrade was the first to speak up. "OK, we have some leads on just who may have started the fire at the stables yesterday." He took a big swig of his coffee and pushed his plate back. "Though I do have some other news I am really not sure how to break to you, so here." He pulled a packet of photographs out of his jacket pocket and spread them out on the table.

It took a mere second for Sherlock to analayze this new data and he reported to them all "Someone burned down our old flat at Baker Street."

It was true. They could still make out the red awning of Speedy's, but the rest of the building was a burnt-out shell that looked like some old relic of the last World War. There was nothing left of it.

Ms Hudson gasped and John reached out to take her hand.

"This all happened yesterday, which is why I could not be here when the fire department was here. I was on the other side of town, dealing with one fire. I do have reason to believe, however, that both of these were set by the same arsonists." Lestrade informed them.

Mycroft shook his head as if to help further push the news into his brain. "Emily, the whole building was insured." Ms Hudson nodded in his direction. She knew it was, ever since her first dealings with Sherlock, the two boys made sure she wanted for nothing. It was hard for her to see, though, a place that had been home for so long being reduced to ashes.

Anthea stood up from the table, said a polite "thank you" and pulled her BlackBerry out of her pocket. Mycroft wiped his mouth, set his napkin on the table, and they turned together back toward the office. There was no doubt that they would be holed up there for the rest of the day.

"I really need you guys on this one, Sherlock. I know I'm missing something, and you know you are the only one good enough to find it." Lestrade admitted.

"I do not know if I am ready yet, Lestrade."

John looked over to his partner who was silently staring at the photographs. He knew it was now or never. It was time to get back into the swing of things.

"Ms Hudson, can you watch Sophie for us today? It may be a long one."

"Yes, John, you don't even have to ask." She assured them.

"Great. Come on, Sherlock." He laid his hand on Sherlock's arm. Sherlock stood up. John had to keep him moving before he decided not to leave the house. He would just push the detective hard enough to make him go, but not hard enough to make him balk.

Within fifteen minutes, they were in Greg's car on the way to the scene.

Chapter 16: Starting Over-Again

The scene was a diurnal nightmare. What was once a proud and stately building was a heap of ash, broken glass, and lost memories. As if it wasn't bad enough that John and Sherlock had to walk around in the mess with their own baggage, the crowd that had formed outside the yellow tape and police cruisers made it worse. They were completely surrounded on all sides by reporters and fans no less. Sherlock was appalled but chose instead to ignore the catcalls and questions as he tromped through the mess. Cameras and camera phones flashed all around them, the shouted voices were like a wall.

"Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock!"

"Are you glad to be home?"

"Do you need a date for tonight?"

"Need someone to hold you through your tears?"

"Have you found any evidence yet, Sherlock Holmes?"

John, on the other hand, was slowly losing his temper. What was wrong with these people? The only thing positive about this whole thing is maybe Sherlock would see how many people still supported him, them, and the Work. John tried to keep his head down as he paced through what was left of their sitting room. He reached down and moved some of the rubble, pulling out the human skull that had sat for so long on the mantle.

"Sherlock." He called and held the object up for the other man to see. Sherlock reached out for it with a gloved hand. John attempted a smile but Sherlock's expression never changed. His eyes, however, did belie their gratitude. For a split second, their fingers met, enough to let them know how they were feeling to each other, but without shouting to the entire world.

After several moments of searching, John stepped back to where Lestrade was standing and they both watched Sherlock wade through the mess. Sherlock's grey trousers were black from the knees down and John knew his jeans weren't much better. Somehow this had stopped being about investigating a crime scene and more about trying to see what remained of their old life. Sherlock came back to them with something silver dangling from his fingers. John's old dog tags. He held his hand out, but Sherlock bypassed him and dropped them around John's neck instead. They laid there against his chest, only slightly blackened. How was that possible? Oh. Sherlock's gloves were covered with the grey powdery ash they had been in all afternoon.

Somehow the sound of the crowd around them managed to get louder as soon as the old tags settled onto John's chest. Both men eyed the crowd and then looked back to each other. With a wicked grin, Sherlock asked John if maybe they should give the crowd something to really carry on about.

John smiled back and soon found his smile completely smothered by Sherlock's lips. Just a moment was all it took. Somewhere in the background, John heard a couple of female voices cry out in despair and he almost laughed. Sherlock staked his claim and that was the way things were going to be from now on.

They returned home later that afternoon. Ms Hudson and Sophie were in the sitting room, Sophie playing with her toys and Ms Hudson watching telly and working on knitting something purple in her lap. She called out to them as they came in the door "Boys, you have been on the telly three times already this afternoon!"

John snorted and Sherlock shrugged his shoulders. What's done is done he seemed to say. Lestrade had just dropped them off as he had to go back to his office and start untangling paperwork. So really, other than supper, there really wasn't too much to be going on with for the evening. Sophie squealed when Sherlock entered the sitting room, sitting back on her butt and holding up her hands. As always, John felt a warm tingly feeling at the base of his spine. There it was. The old life was gone and the new one had already started. All they could do know was move forward and keep trying to do some good in the world.

"Ms Hudson, you should have seen the fan girls when Sherlock kissed me." Emily rolled her eyes at John and chuckled. She had known for years that her boys belonged together. It was only their own stubbornness keeping them apart.

"Yes, they showed a close up of the crowd one time on the telly, though I don't really understand why they all needed to be out there. Baker Street looked a right mess." Her knitting needles flashed quickly in her fingers. Sophie carefully tracked the woman's hands with her eyes from her vantage point on the floor where Sherlock had folded himself. His trousers were leaving black marks all over the carpet. "Sherlock!" Ms Hudson scolded, pointing at the mess with one of her needles. He scowled but then looked down and realized the mess. He made an irritated sound in the back of his throat, gently sat Sophie down and left to change. Sophie put her hands in the ash lines on the floor and raised her hands, palm outward. John stifled yet another giggle and Ms Hudson scooped up the little girl to clean her up.

Lestrade and Mycroft returned to the house at the same time later that evening. Supper was done and over with, Sherlock was upstairs with Sophie and Ms Hudson had retired to her room for the night. John was tidying up the kitchen while waiting on the kettle to boil. John caught the sound of a conversation in the foyer as the Inspector and eldest Holmes sibling came through. Both men were holding portfolios, the one in Greg's hands decidedly thicker than the long, thin one Mycroft had.

Lestrade dropped down into a chair and dropped the folder onto the table. He rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands and thanked John gratefully when John sat a cup of tea down in front of him. These last two days had been exhausting. This whole case that had seemed to be two was now evolving into something involving arson, murder and fraud.

Mycroft gave the folder he was holding to John. "Sophie's birth certificate and other legal papers." He said as he whisked through the room towards his office.

John laid the folder on the tabletop and opened it up, pushing his own tea cup away from the papers. The very first page was Sophie's birth certificate, mostly filled out in a neat, but unknown hand. It had her birth date, time, her weight and length. On the bottom was the attending physician's name and two other blanks labeled "mother" and "father." Molly's name was neatly penned over "mother," Molly Anne Hooper. The "father" line, however was blank. John stared down at it for a moment. At this point there was absolutely no doubt that Sherlock had fathered the little girl, what with all the DNA and blood testing Mycroft had had done. (Those were some of the other papers included in this packet.)

Once again, John was struck by the lonesomeness of that little black line on the paper. It really had hurt him to know that someone he knew well and genuinely cared about had left everyone out of the loop. Maybe Molly had been afraid that no one would have believed her? or maybe, just maybe, she did it to keep herself and the child safe. Sherlock would never speak of his entire hiatus again, but John had at least gotten out of him that Molly had been aware that being around Sherlock for any length of time was a dangerous proposition. Sherlock truly believed that there was a high possibility that he might not even have come back at all.

His wheeling thoughts were brought to a halt by the sound of his partner's voice over his shoulder. "You are correct, John. She did it for the same reason I had to do it. To protect all the people she cared about. If she would have told you about the pregnancy, you would have asked questions-and all the right ones at that. She knew that you would know who this child belonged to, and ultimately would have known I was alive."

John didn't need him to say anything else. "I think you should sign it, Sherlock. This baby is surrounded by people who love her, there is no reason for her to be unclaimed by one half of her parentage." Sherlock nodded as Mycroft entered the room. Without saying anything, he handed his brother a pen. Sherlock reached down over John's shoulder and scrawled his name on the line. There was absolutely nothing in Sherlock's body language to think that he felt one way or the other about signing the document, but John knew that deep-down another chapter had finally been closed for him.

Mycroft shifted the papers back into the portfolio. "Good then. I will be off to register these. Ta." He quickly left the kitchen and the men could hear the front door close. It seemed that things were finally getting back to normal for at least one Holmes.

Greg put his cup in the sink and came back to the table. It was time to see what Sherlock had discovered down at Baker Street. He laid the manilla folder on the table, but did not open it. They all knew what he was asking.

"You know full well that the largest problem faced with investigating arson is how much evidence is destroyed by the fire itself?" Sherlock asked the room at large. He didn't wait for an answer. "The only evidence I found of any value was the shattered front door. It was hit by something massive from the front, which then caved it in. The lock was broken by the force and the door had been walked over in order to gain entrance to the flat.

I believe the fire was actually started in two places, as it was down in Mycroft's stables. One ignition point in the stairwell and one at the back of the flat, closer to the kitchen. In the stable, the first ignition point was at the far end of one row of stalls and the second was right in front of the arena doors that led from the stable row into the arena."

John flinched. That meant that the arsonist had been no more than meters from Sophie and himself. Sherlock put a hand on John's shoulder.

Greg nodded to Sherlock's statement. He had seen what was left of the front door himself. "So, what exactly does it all mean?"

"It means that someone is still trying to wipe Sherlock off the face of the planet." John allowed with a growl.

Sherlock shook his head. "I am not convinced, though I do believe it's personal. This has nothing to do with...me being gone for that time." He no longer wished to dwell on what he had done. He would admit to his accomplishments, to dismembering Moriarty's web, but no more. There was no one left. This was something new. He stated as much to John and Lestrade.

"I think this all came about because of the exclusive interview we gave the BBC. Someone is angry with me and is trying to get my attention." John stiffened in his chair. Sherlock studied him for a second and then continued, "...no, this is new. Someone that was involved with Molly, perhaps?" He let the question dangle in the air.

There really wasn't much to be said. He needed more evidence before he could even start making deductions. It was difficult enough to scrape together evidence at a fire scene, but even harder when that scene had been where you had spent two years of your life.

Greg bowed out a short time later and John went upstairs to shower, as he had changed his clothes before making supper, but he wanted to be rid of the smell of soot that had clung to him all day.

Chapter 17: Tiger, Tiger burning bright

John slowly extracted himself from the long arms wrapped around his torso. Sherlock huffed a little in his sleep, but finally rolled over enough to allow John to swing up and out of the bed. John reached down and playfully ran a head through the mass of curls on Sherlock's head. He always looked so much younger when he was asleep. That was how you could tell the difference between an actually sleeping Sherlock and one that was faking it. All the lines on his face were smoother and he really did seem to relax, which in itself was still absolutely amazing to John. He turned away from their bed and stepped into the washroom.

As he turned on the shower, he thought about how sometimes his mind would flash on the past which had quickly become their past. He remembered a line from a children's programme he and Sophie had watched on the telly: "There's something here that wasn't here before." He couldn't help but smile. Even knowing there was some nut out there (again) trying to get Sherlock's attention, he had faith in Sherlock, even more so now than ever before. There would always be some nutter, always another crime to solve. This is who they were, what they did.

John was comfortable with that. He may never work in a surgery or a GP again, but his knowledge would never go to waste. At least not with Sherlock around! It was so good to have him back. Sophie had been a fresh salve on his most tender emotions, but Sherlock was like healing and finding your own strength to move forward. Sometimes he felt a little guilty about it. He had loved Sophie from the first moment he laid eyes on her. He loved her even more when he acknowledged the flesh and blood he held in his arms. Most of him had known in that instant just who the little girl belonged to, and it was a revelation to John that he had been given this life to care for.

John turned off the shower and stepped out to dry off. He still did everything with military precision so that it took him less than ten minutes to shower, shave and get dressed for the day. They were going to take Sophie to the Zoo this morning and then Sherlock was to meet with Lestrade at Scotland Yard. John wasn't sure if Sophie was quite ready for that yet, but it seemed to be okay, they would only be in Greg's office and he generally didn't have too many over-the-top crime scene photos and stuff hanging around in there.

Sophie was just stirring in her cot when John came walking through the room. He knew that Sherlock would be up and out of bed the instant the little girl made a peep. Once again, the thought made him smile as he headed down the stairs to the kitchen.

John doesn't realize that Sherlock had long ago learned to be half-asleep and half-awake at the same time, seeming to be completely under. The very second John's heartbeat changed to signal to his body that it was time to get out of bed, Sherlock sensed it. Of course, that didn't mean he was ready to let go of the warm body snuggled in close to him, so he tightened his grip.

It was hard not to snort and giggle as John carefully extracted himself from his partner's embrace. He just kept himself as loose as possible and cataloged John's every breath and heartbeat. That would never stop, he knew, because he would always treasure every single one of those. There were so many times that he was alone just wishing to hear the heartbeat of another person, someone to hold onto to help ground his senses in reality. It was never easy, living in the dark.

Sherlock opened his eyes when he heard the shower start. The early morning sunlight was drifting lazily into the room, slowly reaching out to him as if to remind him that for every time of darkness, there would always be an equal measure of light. In Sherlock's thirty-some years, it seemed as if light had been something few and far between. Now he reached out for it. Even over the shower, he heard Sophie roll over in her cot. Good, he could have a bit of a lie-in this morning, because he knew once John was showered and dressed that he immediately head down to the kitchen and start breakfast. Sherlock wasn't being sneaky. He enjoyed the quiet moments with his daughter.

His eyes slowly slipped shut again and he burrowed his head into John's pillow. He heard the small chuckled that rumbled in John's chest and had to fight smiling back. This smiling thing, it was pretty amazing, too. He knew that humans needed only seventeen facial muscles to smile, but over forty to frown. He stretched out when he heard the door close and looked at the ceiling, alternately frowning and smiling, trying to see if he could count the muscles in his face that were working on each expression.

That got boring really quickly, so he headed into the bathroom and jumped into the shower. It wasn't long before he heard the patter of Sophie's little bare feet on the tile. She was eleven months old and already the escape artist. "Hey Papa." She called out, studying the fuzzy figure behind the shower doors.

"Morning Sophie." It came so easy to him know, these little pleasantries that he had scorned for so long. Maybe it was just that now, he meant them. He shut the water off and deftly hung a thick towel around his hips while simultaneously sliding open the doors.

As always, the sight of Sophie almost stopped his breathing. She was such a powerful little being, all sleepy-headed and bright eyed. For just a moment, Sherlock made a silent prayer to whatever deity or cosmic force was out there that Molly and John's calm, kind hearts would always overrule the cold reality of logic in Sophie's mind.

He knew that it was true. He scooped her up from the floor and she flashed him a grin. "We are going to the Zoo, Papa?"

"Yes, my busy bee, what would you like to wear today?"

Sophie was not nearly as excited about the B.U.G.S. exhibit as Sherlock was. John guessed that Sherlock probably would have stood rooted to the spot for at least an entire day if he had been permitted. Sophie, however, had her mind set on tigers and so it was obvious who was going to win that round.

As they turned away from the insects and other critters, John saw Sherlock slowly turn his head. Sherlock knelt down towards John's ear and said very quietly, "We are being shadowed." John nodded to him and continued to push the little stroller they had rented for the day. Sophie kicked her little trainers against the bright yellow plastic and giggled. She was having a great time.

"Probably some nutter, Sherlock, or one of your leagues of female fans." Sherlock snorted and tightened his hand that was on John's lower back, John only just aware of almost-imperceptible movement in Sherlock's muscles. Sherlock noted that John had stopped carrying his gun almost everywhere. Surely, no one would be so stupid as to accost them in such a public setting, but Sherlock did not attempt to understand the myriad of craziness that he species accomplished every day. He merely tidied up after the fact.

Sherlock sighed through his nose and slightly turned his head so he could watch the medium-height, brown-haired man who was following them. Naturally, he was not moving very smoothly nor was he any good at hiding. Sherlock was instantly on the alert and he knew that John could feel every single change in Sherlock's body. They were a team.

John continued to meander through the crowd towards the tiger exhibit. He picked Sophie up out of the stroller so that she could see the big cats. She sat on his hip, completely mesmerized as the felines pounced and rolled with one another.

"I'll be right back." Sherlock's rumble in his ear, a quick kiss on his cheek and he and Sophie were alone. At first John was a little taken aback, but then he thought to himself that he knew Sherlock would never just leave them. Never again. He steadied himself on his feet, making sure Sophie was comfortable. He reached down with the hand not holding the baby and moved the stroller away from his legs, giving him room to move quickly if necessary.

Funny how the training never went away, even in a situation like this one, he thought. He turned back to the tigers and listened to Sophie's happy sounds. "Daddy, why are tigers orange?" "Dad Dad Dad, look at that one, he's going to jump on the other one."

"Pounce, Sophie, that's what we call it when cats jump on each other like that." It was good that John had finally managed to answer half the little girl's questions some of the time.

Without warning, there was another body standing next to his. He could feel something sharp and pointy sticking into his side. A deep voice hissed in his ear. "I don't know who you think you are, but you have something that is rightfully mine and I am going to take it back."

John could feel the man attempting to lift Sophie off of his hip. That wasn't going to happen, knife or no. John shifted his entire body toward the right, effectively shoving the man to the ground. Sophie whimpered just a little as John dropped his full body weight onto the figure sprawled out beneath him. In a couple of seconds, Sherlock was there, wordlessly taking Sophie so that John could turn the man over. He quietly took note of the fact that a crowd had formed around them, but were standing back enough to allow them to work. Sometimes it was a blessing having faces so many people recognized.

"Sherlock, there was a knife, I felt it." John rammed his knee hard into the man's back when he tried to raise up. He was effectively pinned.

"Nope, no knife, John, just a pen." Sherlock held it up in his long fingers. Sophie watched her dads with amazement, the tigers forgotten for the moment. "That was fantastic by the way."

"Good. Let's see what we have here." John rolled the man over and did a double-take. He never expected to be looking at Molly Hooper's double.

Chapter 18: Secrets Exposed

John almost let the man go. The day of the car accident tried to intrude its cold memories into his mind, but he fought them off, concentrating instead on keeping the prone body underneath him in its current position. His mind had very quickly made the connection between the eyes in this face and the eyes in a ruined one.

He was aware, however, of too many things at the same time, especially of Sherlock and Sophie standing behind him. Though there had been no knife, the implications of that threat were very real. John was neither startled nor afraid. He had faith in not only his own abilities, but Sherlock's, too. They would not fail.

He did, however, rock back on his heels a little to take the pressure off of the man and he heard a loud grunt. He was sure it wasn't pleasant having someone drop their knees into your lower back and their full body onto you while you are lying on pavement. John allowed him to sit up, expecting some sort of explosion. What the man did, however, was hang his head and sob.

John and Sherlock looked at each other and back to the miserable person in front of them. Sherlock's brow creased and John couldn't help but be secretly amused. This certainly wasn't the normal, even for the bad guys they had dealt with. This guy wasn't even fighting back, at all. John felt Sophie's hand on his back as he knelt on the ground. She seemed to be studying the man as well, but there was something here that John and Sherlock were missing.

"Its okay, Uncle Paul." She said, quietly. Yeah, that was probably it.

Sherlock gasped and John almost lost his balance. By that time, the security team had shown up. They assessed the situation quickly and John gave them a full run-down. Sherlock stood off to the side, his hand on the stroller that Sophie was sitting in and his mobile in his other hand, texting furiously with his thumb.

The security guards marched off with the man that Sophie had called "Uncle Paul." So they followed towards the front gate, pushing through the crowd that had been milling about.

Mycroft met them at the entrance, standing calmly by the wall, leaning on his umbrella. It was quite obvious at a glance that his little brother was absolutely livid, though no other living person (except for John Watson) would have noticed the tiny tells. Anthea stepped out of the car beside him and held her arms out for Sophie. She gathered the little girl into the car, graciously receiving the yellow diaper bag from John.

John and Sherlock alternately kissed their daughter before Anthea pulled the door closed. The driver nodded to all three men and silently pulled away from the kerb.

Sherlock wheeled on his brother. "Why did we NOT know about him?"

Mycroft didn't move a muscle. "He's been in prison for fourteen years. "

"For what?" Growled Sherlock.

John however, didn't need to hear Mycroft's answer. "Arson."

Another shiny black car pulled up next to Mycroft. He gestured them into the back seat and told the driver simply, "New Scotland Yard."

Sherlock's whole body was tense as he sat in the seat next to John. He appeared to be staring out the window, but John knew he was hanging on Mycroft's every word.

Mycroft explained to them how his team had uncovered Paul's existence right after the car wreck that killed Molly. Apparently, they felt that there was no threat from the man since he had been in prison, in America no less, for so long. Mycroft admitted to being the one who thought for sure Paul had not had any contact with his sister in that amount of time, but apparently he had. At least once for Sophie to recognize him.

"How could it be that she recognized him enough to say his name, when she's been with me since before she could talk?" John wondered.

"Just because she could not say the words, does not mean they weren't always there." Stated Sherlock in his its-obvious-to-geniuses voice. "Remember how long it took her to call me anything?"

Mycroft cut through the tension. "The only other intel I have on Paul Hooper is that he did escape prison one time after Molly gave birth to Sophie but prior to the accident. He was picked up not long after his sister was buried and extradited back to the US. It is possible that she was on her way to him that morning."

John nodded. Mycroft knew full well John did not need to be reminded of which morning he referred to.

"Right." John looked in Sherlock's direction and then turned back to Mycroft. John had no fear that they would lose the little girl to this …person, but he still wondered what kind of legal battles they would fight.

"I don't know what happens, next, John. I am considering that this may have been the man who burned down Baker Street and my stables, but as for motive, I am unclear."

Sherlock huffed at the window but said nothing.

Mycroft sat primly in the chair in front of Lestrade's desk as if he were a statue that had been carved in that particular spot. His umbrella rested against the right side of the chair and he had his legs crossed. John sat in a twin chair on Mycroft's left.

Sherlock paced the room, reminding all of them of a bear in a cage. He was mumbling to himself, his hands waving through the air. Greg just watched them all, thinking to himself that maybe it should be strange that he was so comfortable with the scene in front of him.

They all turned towards the knock on the door and Sherlock stopped in mid wave, his hands held in midair as if he had forgotten about them.

Sergeant Donovan opened the door and leaned into the room. "He's ready for you." She turned on her heel and walked away, apparently still no love lost between herself and Sherlock.

The interview room was small and cramped. There were two chairs with a table between them. Mycroft had hung back, behind the closed door. Greg and John leaned against the wall, their arms crossed in front of them. Sherlock sat at the table in front of Paul Hooper, silently staring the other man down.

Paul seemed to be at the bottom of the pit of despair. His eyes were red from crying and his face was haggard. His hair and eyes are the same brown color as his sister's, but now that John could really see him, there the differences between the siblings ended.

From the file in the DI's office, they had learned that Paul was one year older than his sister. He had been arrested several times on both sides of the Atlantic for arson and petty theft, though once he had stolen a police car in Idaho, then had led the local police on a merry chase until the vehicle had ran out of gas.

Apparently Paul Hooper was pretty stupid. He hadn't even bothered to ask for a solicitor yet. John watched him through narrow eyes. Greg shifted next to him and the room was completely silent before Paul finally spoke. He stared down at his hands. John sympathized just a little with the man, knowing full well the burning weight of Sherlock's gaze.

"You used my sister." Sherlock did not move nor give any indication that he had heard Paul.

"You used my sister to cover up for you. Don't lie to me, I know what you did." John saw the tiniest bit of tension in Sherlock's shoulders through his tight button down. He had left his jacket in Lestrade's office.

"My sister loved you, you son-of-a-bitch." Sherlock's shoulders rolled backwards as he pushed back in the chair. He started pacing the room.

"I am not so stupid, Mr Hooper." He threw his words out to the room in general.

"You fancy yourself this big-time detective, but you couldn't even see what you had done to her."

Sherlock considered the note that Molly had left him. Please be gone when I get home. Please.

"No." He shook his head, his curls bouncing all over. "No. I took what she gave to me, but I did not ask for it."

Sherlock seemed to be talking more to himself now than the room at large.

"You fool!" Paul screeched and in a second he had launched himself at Sherlock, taking them both to the floor. He yelled as he attempted to punch every inch of Sherlock he could reach, even after Greg had hauled him up by his arms. The man literally trembled with rage. "You do not know what you did to her! I tried to destroy your life like you destroyed my sister's! You took from her and...and..." Paul stopped struggling and once again hung his head to sob. Lestrade pushed him back into the chair, pulling his hands behind him and clipping on handcuffs for good measure.

John stepped back after helping Sherlock off the floor. Sherlock was back to pacing the room, his hand rubbing the one spot on his cheek where Paul's fist had glanced off of it. "You misundertand, Mr Hooper." His voice was almost a whisper. "She asked me to leave."

Paul didn't reply, just kept his head down, tears rolling down his face to hit the table. Sherlock was unmoved.

"Tell me why you burned down Baker Street."

Paul answered, his voice barely a ghost of the one from mere minutes ago. "So you wouldn't see her letter to you."

"What?" John asked from the corner.

Sherlock stopped and stared at Paul. "What letter?"

"She wrote this letter out to you while I was there. I didn't want any of it to be true, so I attempted to keep it from you. I used a ram to open your front door, then I searched your apartment for the letter. When it wasn't there, I decided on another tactic."

"The fire." Sherlock rumbled. "Then why the stable? Actually, I know why. You tried to kill John. Do you know you could have killed your neice? You piece of shit!" Sherlock was standing over the shackled man now, his voice the voice of the gods on Mount Olympus. John moved forward a step but Lestrade just crossed his arms. He really didn't disagree with Sherlock, but he would not let the situation get too far out of hand.

"And I would have, too! I want you gone, Sherlock. I want you hurting and I want to take everything away from you! Just like you took everything away from my sister!" Paul Hooper was so angry now that spittle had formed on his lips. Some of it flew into Sherlock's face. Without warning, Sherlock drew back and bitch slapped the man for all he was worth. Instantly, John grabbed the taller man's arm and pulled it back, stopping him before he could do it again.

"Sherlock," John said to him in a calm, measured tone. "He is not worth it. Let's just get away from this for a bit. Come on."

Sherlock turned his furious gaze on his partner, but quickly recovered. As always, John was the sensible one. They calmly left the room while Greg called for some help to clean up Paul Hooper's face.

Chapter 19: Brothers' Epiphanies

It took almost an hour for Sherlock to get himself under control. He paced the length of the hallway outside the interview rooms, muttering to himself under his breath. He was angry with himself, with Paul Hooper and the world in general. What he was angry about most was the fact that he only partially understood what it was Paul was hating him for, even after all this time. He rubbed the back of his neck with one palm, noting the sweat that had collected there. It felt too much like the spit he had washed off his face and his hand jerked away.

It was a few minutes before he realized John was standing in the hallway with him, two cups of coffee in his hands. Sherlock stopped short and John handed him one of the cups. He took a pull at the hot beverage, wincing slightly but otherwise unfazed. John's eyes followed Sherlock's movements. He could see the mix of emotions Sherlock always tried to hide and waited for Sherlock to speak first.

"John, did I really do that?"

John's voice was kind. "Do what, Sherlock?"

"That." Sherlock's hands flitted about nervously. "Did I use Molly?" He really needed to discuss this with John. For a time, they were right back on Baker Street, Sherlock volleying his ideas to John for John to swing a proverbial stick at them so that they came back to Sherlock in whole new ways. He needed this. It was time.

"In a way you did, Sherlock, yes." John sipped at his own coffee. The stuff was horrible.

"It's not what I set out to do, John."

"I understand, Sherlock."

Sherlock felt the anger flare up again. "I am not so sure you do. I am not so sure I even understand it myself. I was so lonely, John. I knew that I had saved all of your lives, but especially yours John. I just could not see the world without you..."

John nodded. Sherlock continued as his pacing started again. "I was hurting. Physically I knew I would be alright. Molly, she..." his eyes were unfocused as he walked, staring out into a past John had only imagined but had never been allowed to see. Until now.

Sherlock stopped pacing and dropped into one of the chairs that lined the wall. There were four of them, all some hideous khaki color. For some reason, they reminded him of the hallway in the morgue where he had shared a cigarette with his brother a long time ago. He had held this to his chest for far too long and it was time to share it. His tension eased somewhat and he let it all go to the one person he knew would understand.

"John, you have to know that you were never far from my thoughts. Ever. From the second Moriarty blew his brains all over the rooftop to the moment I felt my body go weightless, I thought of you. I think I knew in part would this would do to you and I was afraid that everyone I cared for would be destroyed. But, don't you see, John? It did not happen the way he said it would happen. You all-all of you drew closer to each other, tighter than I ever could even imagine. I could not have predicted that outcome.

I also did not predict Molly. I thought she would leave me to fend for myself after getting me away from Bart's. I saw you down there, John, and the weight of what I had just done and was about to do almost crushed me. I think Molly saw that. After she helped me clean up I stayed in her tiny little flat, on her little sofa. I thought of you. I thought of your face and the sound of your voice breaking. I think I must have sobbed myself to sleep. The sentiment, John! I was being crushed to death underneath it. But! John, and this is what is so important!"

Sherlock paused for a moment and sipped the coffee. He was in his element now.

"The sentiment, John. It did not crush me! It held me up, it made me stronger somehow. It was a new emotion that I had never identified in myself. Something that I had scoffed at in others...and, I was...well, I was wrong, John. I would not die because of it, I would live.

That night, that last night I would be in London for several months, I was so alone. Ever decision I had made in the past week came back to me, all at once. It was overwhelming. I wanted to be back with you, back at your side. I had made my decision and there was no going back, not for me. Then it occurred to me that I might not come back at all, not ever. I found my strength John. I found it in you, but I saw it in Molly first.

Look what I had asked of her! I was asking her to turn away from everyone we knew...people whom she loved, people she felt safe with. I asked her to give it all up for me!"

John wanted to reach out to Sherlock, soothe his pain, but there was nothing for it. This had to come out into the open.

"And she did it, John. She did it." It was as if Sherlock had forgotten John was even there. His body was moving again on this plane of existence, but his gaze was far away.

"I'm not sure when I started drinking that day, but I know it was not long after she left to go to Bart's. I was ashamed then as I am now. I remember being ashamed when I finished the first bottle and went looking for the second. By the time she was home from her shift, I was working on the fourth. Who knew someone kept this much alcohol in their flat? I was in pain, but could no longer feel it. I felt above it, so I stayed up there and I watched as Molly reached out to me.

I watched as she held me in her arms and apologized! She apologized to me for allowing me to be so miserable! I could barely take it in. Here she was, risking everything for me. And why, John, why?"

John turned towards Sherlock's pleading eyes. He had to let Sherlock twist these threads together on his own. This was important.

Sherlock dropped back down into the chair and put his head in his hands. He collected himself again and said, very calmly and very quietly: "Because of love, John. Not romantic nor sisterly, but something else. She genuinely cared about me. Something about seeing me completely pissed sitting there on her little couch did something to her heart." He reached out to John now, and John folded himself into Sherlock's embrace, Sherlock's forehead against John's chest.

"I gave her the only thing I could. I tried for a short while to make her happy. I wanted to thank her but I did not have the words. I wanted her to understand that I could finally see her for the kind, open-hearted person she really was. Though I have only ever loved you John. I reached out to her because I knew I may never have another chance to feel it with another person.

Can you understand, John? I've not yet asked you to forgive me. But please forgive me, I beg you. All I wanted was to keep you safe, all of you. I made more of a mess than the one I set out to untangle."

Sherlock was truly sobbing now. John held him close, pulling him into his chest. He wanted Sherlock to know that it was all okay, all of it. That he understood all of it. The very idea that new life was created when the old one was crashing around their ears was something John understood all too well. He had been in a war zone for several years, after all. He completely understood why Sherlock had jumped, the reasons for it were making more sense by the day. This, however, was something deeper, a part of Sherlock that he knew no one else had ever seen. Molly had touched it briefly, that thought made John regret again never looking in on her, never calling, never even asking about her for over a year. She had been the strength that kept them all together and she had never even known it.

Mycroft turned away from the door where he had been standing. He had seen his brother break before, but this was overpowering. The very idea that sentiment could be the same as strength was something he would need to turn over and examine from every single angle. He was surrounded by the men and women that Sherlock called his "minions" but the idea that he could be surrounded by people who cared about his well-being enough that they would put themselves in harm's way-without compensation no less! That was a heady emotion. He had been living in the house as part of an extended family for all this time, but upon hearing his little brother's anguished words, this had brought him out of his stupor. This new life was strong with iron supports underneath. It was the strength of people he had looked over far too many times in his own life. He finally understood what it was that John had starting building with Sherlock from the very first day.

Mycroft rubbed his chin with his hand. It had been so obvious from John's blog that he had been crazy for Sherlock from that first meeting, somehow John had just never seen it himself. Or never admitted it, more like. It was very interesting to look back and see how they had all changed. All because a patient ex-Army doctor took the time to look at Sherlock and see who he really was on the inside. John saw past the self-made armor that Sherlock wore. But apparently, he wasn't the only one with that ability.

He gave John and Sherlock a few moments to settle and opened the door.

John startled a little when Mycroft opened the interview room door. He had not realized anyone had been in there, but realized at once that Mycroft had heard every word that Sherlock had uttered. In a way, John was glad to know that Mycroft had shared in this. It was important that they were all on the same page here. He stayed still, letting Sherlock soak up whatever he needed. Finally, he sat back and let out a long sigh. John leaned in and placed a soft kiss on Sherlock's forehead. They gazed at each other for a long moment, each reading the unspoken words in each other's eyes.

Sherlock stood up and straightened out his shirt. John nodded to his partner and together they turned back towards Lestrade's office. It was time to finish up this case and go home.

Chapter 20: Closure

For the time being, Paul Hooper was admitting to nothing more than what he had said earlier. He still did not have a solicitor and he was still willing to talk to them, so there was no real reason not to. Paul sat across the table from Sherlock, ignoring everyone else in the room. At this point, Sally Donovan and Mycroft had both joined Lestrade and John standing by the wall. John was sure that Sally was waiting on another blow up from Sherlock, just to have an excuse to slap cuffs on him. He was going to make very certain that didn't happen.

The little room was achingly quiet. John could see that most of the tension he had noticed in Sherlock earlier was gone. Paul Hooper wasn't aware of it, but this was not the same person who gave him the bruise on his cheek earlier in the day. The little clock on the wall ticked the minutes.

Finally, Paul broke the silence. "You didn't love her."

Sherlock's baritone rumbled through the little room. "In my own way, I did."

Paul had nothing to say to that. The anger still radiated off the man in waves. John had no doubt he would attack again, which is why Lestrade had shackled him to the chair. It seems Paul Hooper was not so much dangerous as completely stupid. But, still, they needed answers or a confession.

Paul hung his head toward the table top and squared his shoulders. "I did it. I set both fires. There. Is that what you all want?"

Lestrade and Sally both nodded but neither John nor Sherlock said a word. Mycroft had slipped out moments earlier after his mobile had vibrated with an incoming text message.

"I have no need of you telling us that you did it, Paul. What I need is why."

"WHY? You arrogant fuck? Why do you need to know?" Once again, Paul's face was red with unsuppressed rage at the man sitting in front of him. "BECAUSE OF YOU!" He bellowed at the top of his lungs.

"I was OUT. I was finally FREE! I was going to live with my sister and she would help me get back on my feet. I had made my amends for my former crimes, I didn't want to be that person anymore. But then, because of YOU...YOU, Molly told me I couldn't come and stay with her. She had the baby and she thought I...ME!...she thought I would be a 'bad influence' on Sophie." Paul started to laugh now, but there was no joy in the sound, only mirth and something akin to vengeance. He rocked back in the chair, stomping his feet on the floor. Lestrade walked around behind him and placed both hands on the back of the chair to keep the fool from braining himself on the floor.

Once more, John was taken with the idea that Molly Hooper had been a much more intelligent person than they had ever given her credit for being. It was hard to believe, in some ways, that she had offered to help her brother; but in other ways, it was not such a difficult leap of the imagination. John looked to Sherlock. Sherlock was still sitting quietly with his hands on the table in front of him. There wasn't much more they were going to get out of Paul, but he had one last question.

"What happened to the letter meant for me?" Paul leaned forward and opened his mouth like he was going to tell him. He seemed to have second thoughts but then his eyes shined with malice and he launched another loogey right into Sherlock's face. This time, Sherlock did not even react, even though John had closed the distance between them in a split second. John left his hand on Sherlock's arm when the taller man stood up.

"This man is a mess, Lestrade." He turned on his heel and left the room, John right behind him. As John pulled the door to, he could hear Paul Hooper's screeching voice carrying on about how much he hated Sherlock and it didn't matter if he went back to prison, he would get out sometime and then he would burn down Sherlock's house next.

It was late evening when Mycroft's car brought them home. Sherlock and John led the way to the house while Mycroft meandered quietly behind them. Mycroft's eyes were drawn to their intertwined hands and the sight of it filled his chest with hope.

After a quick supper, they all sat around the kitchen table having tea. Sophie was in bed and so Ms Hudson had joined them. John told her all about Paul Hooper and the events that had transpired since they left that morning. Ms Hudson assured them that Sophie was fine, the little girl had been really impressed with how fast John had dropped Paul to the ground, even whilst holding her in his arms. She went around all afternoon saying that her daddy was a "hero who pounced on bad guys." John chuckled at that.

They all laughed a bit at that until Mycroft's phone rang out a clear note. He pulled it out of his pocket and flipped it over. He seemed quite pleased with the text message he had received. "You're letter is on its way, Sherlock." He said to the table at large.

Sherlock shot a look towards his brother but then let it go. He was bone tired and ready to pull himself and John into bed and hibernate for a few hours.

He had just opened his mouth to ask John if he was ready to go curl up under the covers when there was a slight knock at the door and it opened. Anthea came into the kitchen with a long manilla envelope in her hands. Printed on the front of it was Sherlock's name. He slid two fingers under the gum and opened it. Inside were several sheets of light blue paper with handwriting on them. He pulled them out and started to read. After a few moments, he handed each sheet to John to read. John took Sherlock's lead and passed them around the table.

Sherlock Holmes-

If you are reading this, then something has happened to me. I can only hope in my heart that you have found out about your brilliant daughter. She is so tiny yet so much a large part of my life. Please do not ever regret that one night we had together. We both know we were looking for something. When I woke up that morning, I already knew something had changed. I would have always given you my world, Sherlock, but you would have used my feelings against me. I want to tell you what I saw when I looked at you.

I saw someone lonely. Until the day you walked in here with one certain John Watson. Then you were different. So much about you had changed. I still loved you. But you loved him. In my eyes it was alright because at least I knew then that you had the capacity in your heart for love. Something I would not have believed prior to that time. You were always so cold with me, except when you wanted something. Don't you think for a moment I wasn't aware of how you buttered me up! Some days it was just fun to watch you and see how far you would go. I told you the truth, though, sometimes you do say the cruelest things. It really never hurt me, but I hurt for how you could not see that you were doing to others what had been done to you.

I was never so innocent as to be unable to see these things.
I reached out to you that night so that you would understand that there were things worth living for, things worth fighting for, and maybe I hoped I could give you a little strength to go on. It was awkward, however, when at the end of it all, you called me "John."

I couldn't face you the next day. My brother, Paul, left me a message that he was coming to my flat. I did not want you to meet him, he is not a nice person and he's been in prison in America for far too long. His mind is partially gone. I hope you never meet him. Anyway, that's why I left you the note asking you to please not be here when I got home. So I must thank you for that.

Again, I am sorry that I can no longer be with you all. I'm not sure under what circumstances you have this letter, but I want to hope that at least you are home and you and John have finally realized what you mean to each other. You will both be wonderful for Sophie. All I ask is that you don't let her forget that she had a mommy who loved her very much.

-Molly

Ms Hudson handed the last page back to Sherlock with a sniff. She was touched. John sat without speaking next to his partner. Sherlock shook the envelope in his hand while stowing the papers back into it. Anthea had left while everyone was reading, slipping out as quickly as she had come in. For a split second, John wondered just how many people actually had keys to their front door, but he guessed it really made no difference. Not in the scheme of things.

Sherlock noted that there was something in the bottom of the envelope that didn't sound like paper. He tipped it out into his hand to reveal a tiny bracelet made from purple and silver plastic beads. Six of the beads in the center spelled out Sophie's name. S-O-P-H-I-E. For some reason he couldn't fathom, John choked back tears. Sherlock didn't though, he just let them fall. John reached out to him and they leaned in together, supporting each other with their strength.

A few weeks later found John standing by Pascale's paddock. It was part of the stables that had remained undamaged. Only two horses had been lost and the majority of the main building had been rebuilt in a similar style. The walls were still white, but now the trim was a deep hunter green instead of brown. The place only vaguely had a smoky scent about it, mainly it just smelled like hay and horses.

John wiggled the lead rope loose and snapped it under Pascale's halter. It was too nice of a day to be inside, so he made a quick-release knot of the lead rope and proceeded to groom the little cob outside. He worked in silence for a little while until Sherlock and Sophie came out to see what he was up to. Sophie was walking well on her own now and they had been spending time every day letting her wander the grounds. She especially loved the garden with its beehive. Her favorite place, though, was the stables. Pascale nickered to the little girl who calmly walked up to his side. The lead rope was just long enough that he could turn his head towards her. She reached up to him and patted his muzzle, the little bracelet's silver beads catching the sunlight.

Sherlock brought her riding boots and saddle out from the tack room. As John cleaned out Pascale's hooves, he noted that he was very glad that the tack room had remained, well, intact. Apparently, the journalist whose body had been found there was a complete accident. No one knew he was there, but Paul Hooper was having manslaughter added to his list of crimes.

John finished Pascale's grooming with a soft cloth, paying attention to the gelding's eyes and ears. Sherlock saddled the pony and John slipped his bridle on him. Sherlock lifted Sophie into her saddle and she quickly toed into her stirrups. She reached down and hugged Pascale around as much of his neck as she could reach. The little horse snorted and Sophie giggled. They were just going to walk out for a bit today and Sherlock fell in step with John.

"Sherlock, can I ask you something?"

"John, I believe you just did." Sherlock smirked.

"Did you know about Molly's brother, Sherlock?" John glanced over at his partner.

"John, you know there's always something." And they laughed together, enjoying the sunshine and each others company while their daughter happily sat astride her pony and marveled at the entire world around them.

Chapter 21: Epilogue-Christmas Eve

Sherlock stood in the sitting room playing Christmas carols very softly on the violin. Sophie sat in John's lap on the sofa, her eyes following her Papa's every single swaying movement. Sherlock's own eyes were closed, engrossed in the wonderful sounds he was coaxing from the instrument. Emily Hudson was beside John, knitting needles flashing in her hands. They caught the rays of the fairy lights on the enormous Christmas tree in the corner, throwing them back as tiny winks to everyone in the room. The lights had been turned down, the brightest lights being the candles in the windows.

Ms Hudson hummed along with the carol Sherlock was playing and let her fingers fly. She was working on a purple blanket for Sophie who would be moving out of her cot very soon. It was almost pointless now, because she simply climbed out of it when she was ready to get up.

Sophie climbed down from John's lap and headed to the Christmas tree. She stood in front of it, staring at the top. Sherlock laid the violin down and joined his daughter at the tree.

"Are you ready to put the top on?" Sherlock asked her.

"Yes, Papa." She said to him, reaching up with her little arms. He caught her and placed the golden star in her hand. He flipped it over and showed her the little hole that the point at the tip top of the tree would fit into. He easily raised her up to it and she reached out and carefully placed the ornament in its place. She laughed and clapped her hands happily.

John grinned and stepped over to them. Sherlock bent down and placed a kiss on John's lips, making a smacking sound with his own. John chuckled, Sherlock grinned at himself and Sophie laughed.
John crossed to the kitchen where he had made a big pot of mulled wine. He dipped out three cups and put them on a tray, along with Sophie's cup of chocolate milk. He carried the tray to the sitting room and passed around the cups.

They all made contented noises as they sipped their beverages. Well, except for Sophie who chugged down her chocolate milk in almost a single swallow. Then she was out and into her toy chest. They all watched the little girl pull out some things to play with and reflected on how much their lives had changed.

When the clock chimed nine, Ms Hudson called to Sophie that it was bed time. Unusually, the little girl went willingly, having been informed about Father Christmas in no uncertain terms by both her dads, Uncle Mikey and Ms Hudson herself. Sophie knew the sooner she went to bed, the sooner she would wake up to presents. They gave the little girl good night kisses and John refilled their mugs. Sherlock went towards the violin again, but John grabbed him around the middle. Sherlock smiled into his lover's face and John gazed back up at him. When they moved together in a soft, but passionate kiss, it was like the whole world fell at their feet. Nothing would ever come between them. They would suffer no fools. They had fought so much and come out swinging. They had been hurt, they had hurt each other, they had lost and then found each other again. They were united.

When they parted, Mycroft had just stepped into the room after grabbing a mug of the warm mulled wine in the kitchen. John smiled at him and set back on the sofa. Mycroft put his cup on the stand next a squashy armchair and toed off his shoes. Both men closed their eyes and listened to Sherlock play.