So sorry for going AWOL, folks. Real Life has a nasty habit of throwing the occasional curve ball that demands all of one's attention - but I'm back now. :)

For those who prefer to avoid it, there's a brief mention of the EU Referendum near the end of this chapter.

Chapter Sixty-Eight

Sherlock put his hand to the doorknob and pushed open the sitting room door of 221b – and immediately felt a sense of relief and relaxation. Just a few short weeks ago, he had wondered if his flat would ever feel like home again without all his 'nick-nacks', as Eurus called them, and it did still feel a little minimalistic but the basics were all in place and he was confident, now, that the rest would follow.

Having shucked off his coat and scarf and hung them behind the door, he headed straight to the bedroom. Top priority right now was a shower and some fresh clothes. He removed his suit and hung it on a hanger in the wardrobe then moved to the bathroom to strip down to the buff, tossing his shirt, socks and underwear into the laundry bin before stepping under the shower.

After sharing a pleasant lunch at the kitchen table, he and his father had washed, dried and put away the breakfast and lunch dishes. Then, like a dutiful son, he had gone to the Snug and said a polite goodbye to his mother, complete with a peck on the cheek, and also to her friends – sans peck - before being walked down the lane by his father.

They shared a warm hug by the hire car and Sherlock was reminded what a great hugger his pa had always been. A hug from pa could banish bad dreams, take away the pain of a grazed knee or a cut arm and restore order to a chaotic world. When had he deleted that fact from his hard drive, he wondered?

'Any problems, Pa, anything at all, please call me,' he implored as he slid into the driver's seat and started the engine. 'And, when Mummy's feeling better, I'll arrange another trip to Edinburgh…' though he wondered at the wisdom of that, bearing in mind his mother's mercurial state of mind.

Pa was right, he thought, as the soothing water cascaded over his skin. Being around his mother had a very negative effect on him. And there was the rub. He had really enjoyed spending the last two days with his father, unencumbered by his mother's looming presence. The last twenty years had already been sacrificed on that particular alter and his parents had grown old without him even noticing. Realistically, for how many more years could he be sure of having them around? Spending more time with his father was a priority. Avoiding spending time with his mother was, under current circumstances, essential. The challenge was finding a way to rationalise those two conflicting imperatives.

There was nothing for it, Sherlock concluded. He would have to break his solemn promise to himself and…speak to Mycroft about getting some psychiatric therapy for their mother. He'd dropped a heavy hint on Sunday but, so far, nothing had happened. Perhaps Mycroft didn't appreciate the urgency of the matter. He would have to put him right. And he would make it a condition of the resumption of normal relations that the 'British Government' organise something immediately.

No time like the present, he thought, and, shutting off the water, he wrapped a bath sheet around his hips, grabbed a hand towel to rub at his hair and strode through to the bedroom. Plonking down on the side of the bed, he draped the hand towel around his shoulders and picked up his phone from the bedside table, still attached to the charging cable. He found Mycroft's entry in his Contacts list and pressed the 'Call' button. The number rang out. Then,

'Sherlock! I'm so pleased you…'

'Just shut up and listen, Mycroft. This is not a social call. Our mother needs psychiatric help immediately. And, by that, I mean at once, urgently, with not a moment to lose.'

'Are you sure it's just Mummy?'

'I'm serious, Mycroft. For pa's sake, not to mention mine – and you do owe me, remember? – you have to do something. She still would rather believe that Eurus is a murderous psychopath than that her precious Rudi was a narcissistic arsehole with a God complex. Eurus has invited her to visit Edinburgh. There's no way she can go there in her current mental state. It will only end in tears – probably mine. So, deal with it!'

'Well, I…'

'And don't imagine for one minute that you're off the hook. I expect a full and unequivocal apology for your utterly appalling behaviour before normal services are resumed but, if you sort Mummy out with a shrink, I will unblock you on my phone.'

There was a short pause, while Mycroft waited to see if his brother had finished ranting, then he replied,

'I'm pleased to announce that I have, just a moment ago, arranged with our parents to visit them tomorrow in the company of our most senior psychologist in order to broach the subject of psychological support for our mother. Obviously, I can't force her to co-operate but Dr Matthews is extremely personable so I am confident in her ability to persuade Mummy that it would be highly beneficial to…'

'Fine. Good. Keep me informed,' Sherlock interjected, cutting short his brother's rambling monologue.

'I will,' Mycroft replied. 'And, Sherlock, I'm most grateful to you for…'

'Don't!' Sherlock snapped. 'I am not in the forgiving vein today,' he hissed, deliberately misquoting Richard III. 'Fix Mummy, then I'll hear your apology.'

'But you will unblock me on your phone?' Mycroft queried, cautiously.

'Consider it done,' Sherlock replied and cut the connection.

True to his word, he unblocked Mycroft's number, replaced his phone on the bedside cabinet and flopped back, recumbent, across the bed. Talking to his brother was exhausting and he was already exhausted, anyway! Physically and mentally, he felt as he would expect at the end of a long and difficult case. And Eurus's case had been both of those things. Normally, at this point in proceedings, he would submit to a post-case coma and sleep for up to twenty-four hours straight. But he couldn't do that, today. He wanted…no, he needed to see Molly Hooper. He hadn't told her he was returning to London. His intention was to surprise her, turn up unannounced and spend the evening cuddling on the sofa.

But Sherlock really needed to recharge his batteries. He checked the time. It was six pm. Molly would probably be at home now, getting ready to go to John's house and babysit Rosie while their mutual friend went on his first date with this new person. The plan was to take Mary 2.0 to dinner so chances were John would be leaving the house around seven-ish and meeting his date at the restaurant.

Sherlock didn't think John would appreciate him arriving before he departed so he had time for a power nap. He sat upright and, taking the hand towel that had slipped off his shoulders, spread it across the pillows to protect them from his damp hair, then curled up on the mattress and pulled the duvet over himself.

ooOoo

Molly tapped lightly on John Watson's front door, choosing not to use the bell for fear of waking Rosie. John always liked to have Rosie in bed and settled before the baby sitter arrived, for his own personal reasons. Molly had never asked why. But, when the door opened, she was surprised to see John looking extremely harassed, dressed in suit pants and a t-shirt and clearly in the middle of shaving – shaving foam and razor tracks on his facial skin was a dead giveaway – and to hear a very wide-awake Rosie shrieking with delight from the floor above…

'Lolly! Lolly!'

'I'm so sorry, Molls,' John groaned. 'She sussed I was going out and has flatly refused to go to sleep.'

'Oh, dear!' Molly sighed, sympathetically. 'She's not really accustomed to you going out in the evenings, is she.'

'Oh, she's not bothered about me going out,' John assured her. 'She just wanted to see who was coming to babysit. She knew it would be either you or Mrs Hudson.'

'Lolly!' Rosie screeched, again, from her bedroom.

John stood to one side while Molly entered, exchanging a hug and a peck on the cheek as she passed, then closed the door and sighed in frustration.

'I'm going to be late,' he groaned.

'No, you're not,' Molly insisted, as she placed her overnight bag on the hall floor and shrugged out of her outdoor clothes. 'I'll see to Rosie; you see to you and you'll be there in plenty of time.'

She trotted up the stairs and entered Rosie's bedroom to a cacophony of screams from the toddler. John, following close behind, diverted into his own bedroom and returned to the en suite shower room, where he sighed with relief and resumed shaving.

'Goodness, gracious me, Rosie Watson, what's all this palaver?' Molly exclaimed. 'Shush, shush, shush, I could hear you down the road!' (Not strictly true.) She pushed the Nursery door to while Rosie stood in her cot, holding tight to the top of the adjustable side rail and bouncing up and down with glee.

Crossing to the cot, Molly scooped Rosie into her arms for a loving hug, which seemed to relax the little tyke,

'OK, Storytime. What shall we have today?'

'Bwow Bwere! Bwow Bwere!' Rosie chortled, excitedly.

'Brown Bear? OK,' Molly conceded, and crossed the floor to the bookshelf, selecting Rosie's current favourite bedtime story, the classic children's picture book by Bill Martin Jr, with bright, colourful, child-friendly illustrations by Eric Carle. Rosie never tired of it.

'Here we are,' said Molly, turning around with the intention of taking child and book over to the nursing chair.

'Babbit!' Rosie exclaimed, twisting at the waist to point to the soft toy rabbit, lying abandoned in the cot.

'Oh, golly-gosh! We mustn't for get Babbit!,' Molly declared Molly as she returned to the cot to retrieve the rabbit and hand it to Rosie, who clutched it to her chest as they crossed over to the chair and Molly sat down, settled the little one in her lap and opened the book at the first page.

'OK. Here we go…' She took a steadying breath. 'Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?' she began. 'I see a…'

'Webberb!' Rosie supplied.

'…looking at me,' Molly concluded.

Across the landing, in the master bedroom, John was putting the finishing touches to his attire – a neatly folded square in the breast pocket of his jacket – and checking his appearance one last time in the full-length wall mirror, when his eye was caught by the reflection of the photo on the dressing table behind him, of him and Mary on their wedding day. He turned and picked it up, to gaze into the smiling eyes of his dear departed wife.

'I'll always love you, Mary,' he said. 'Don't imagine for one minute that I'll ever love you less than I did on that day.'

Raising the photo frame to his lips, he pressed a kiss to her image then gently rubbed away the lip print with the pad of his thumb before returning the photo to its place on the dressing table, behind the rose-scented candle. Giving Mary one last fond look, he turned and left the room.

Approaching the door to Rosie's room, he paused and listened for a moment, hearing Molly quietly humming a tune – a familiar tune that he couldn't quite put a name to but which he recognised from his parents' record collection; a song made famous by the Everly Brothers, perhaps, or someone of that era?

He pushed the door open, gently, to say goodbye but was brought up short by the sight of Rosie curled in Molly's lap, holding her toy rabbit – the one Mary had given to her as a christening gift – pincering her earlobe between the finger and thumb of one hand while the other, tucked under Molly's arm, was grasping the end of her ponytail. Rosie's eyelids drooped, not quite closed in sleep, while Molly rested her cheek on the crown of the baby's head, humming the quiet tune.

A pang of regret stabbed John to the heart - regret that it wasn't his Mary that he now saw, soothing their daughter to sleep. But, at the same time, he felt an almost overwhelming wave of gratitude that he and Rosie had such good friends who cared enough about them to want to try and fill the huge, gaping hole in their lives that the loss of Mary had put there.

As Molly looked up and met his eyes with a gentle smile, he smiled back and waved his fingers in a silent farewell then pulled the door to and continued down the stairs to collect his coat and disappear through the front door, off into the night.

ooOoo

Molly closed the book she had been reading and glanced at the wall clock – ten pm. John would likely be back soon, this being a week night with work in the morning. She hadn't heard a squeak out of Rosie since putting her down, just after John departed for his big date, and the evening had passed quickly enough, lost in the narrative of the novel she had brought along for company. When babysitting, she had discovered, it was better to bring a book than to try and watch tv since interruptions had, in the past, been frequent – especially in the early days, with Mary only recently deceased and both John and Rosie missing her presence so terribly. Nowadays, Rosie rarely awoke and required attention, once she had gone down for the night, but old habits die hard so a book was still Molly's preferred option.

She was a little disappointed that Sherlock hadn't put in an appearance but also rather proud that he had, presumably, opted to stay over another night to help out his parents rather than abandoning them for the selfish alternative. Sherlock's emotional awakening had been a long and, at times, painfully slow process - albeit somewhat accelerated by the recent revelations about Eurus and Victor Trevor - but Molly felt privileged to have witnessed it and, in some small way, facilitated it, though she wouldn't presume to take all the credit. It had been a group effort, beginning with Mrs Hudson and then Greg Lestrade; Mike Stamford, herself and John Watson had all played their part and, latterly, so had Mary and Rosie.

Although the last to cotton on, even Sherlock would have to admit, now, that he was not and never had been a sociopath; that rumours of his lack of a heart were grossly exaggerated; that, in point of fact, his problem had always been the opposite – having a heart too big and feeling things so keenly that he was forced to bury those feelings as deeply as was humanly possible, where no one would find them, especially not himself. Thankfully, that strategy had failed, abysmally.

Thinking of him now, Molly needed to feel some connection. Taking out her phone, she clicked on the app that Sherlock himself had installed, the night he took a ducking in the Regent's Canal and then peddled off on bicycle in pursuit of an opportunistic thief. The 'Find my phone' app opened up, showing her location in John's house. She pressed the 'People' icon, revealing just his name, and waited while the device located his phone…and was surprised to see it pop up at 221 Baker Street!

That couldn't be right, surely? If he was back in London, he would have turned up at John's, as promised, wouldn't he?

The familiar demon inside her head elbowed its way to the front and stood, arms folded, in an attitude of 'I told you so…' but Molly was having none of it. Sherlock's own words, spoken not even twenty-four hours ago, used their own elbows to shove the demon aside.

Don't ever doubt that I love you. I love you with all my heart.

Those days of self-mortification were behind her, now. There would be some rational explanation for why he had returned to London but not let her know. She would not sit here, castigating herself with doubt. She had brought her overnight bag to stay at John's but, when he returned, she would make her apologies, take a cab over to Baker Street, solve the mystery and spend the night.

And, if she was not very much mistaken, that was the sound of John's key in the door. He appeared in the front hall, removing his waxed jacket and hanging it on the coat stand, then turned toward her as he toed off his outdoor shoes. He looked…happy. The dinner date had obviously gone well, maybe even better than well.

'Everything OK?' he enquired as he crossed the threshold of the rug, entering the sitting room area.

'Absolutely fine,' Molly assured him. 'Not a peep out of madam. She obviously wore herself out, earlier! How about you? Everything OK, too?'

'Early days, Moll, but yes, it was...lovely.' He grinned, sheepishly.

Molly got up from the sofa and crossed the rug to give him a hug. She was pleased for him. He deserved some good fortune.

'Well, I hate to love you and leave you, John, but there's somewhere else I need to be,' she said, with an apologetic shrug.

'Oh?...Oh!' John replied, the penny dropping a little slowly. 'Yes, of course, don't let me hold you up. Do you need to call a cab?'

'I'll use the app,' Molly replied, waving her phone, by way of explanation. 'So when might we get to meet her. your lady friend?' she enquired, while pulling on her coat and slipping her feet into her shoes.

'Maybe give it a couple more dates? Wouldn't want to scare her off!...though I have warned her what to expect from His Nibs…'

'Don't worry about Sherlock. I think he'll be on his best behaviour. He really wants you to be happy, you know.'

'Yes, I know,' he assured her. 'Oh…that sounds like your transport has arrived…'

John picked up Molly's overnight bag and handed it to her then escorted her to the front door, pausing on the threshold to give her a warm hug.

'Thanks again, Molly. You are a true friend,' he murmured.

'Always a pleasure to spend time with Rosie, John. Any time,' she replied and climbed the steps to the roadside, where the cab was waiting, engine idling. She turned on the pavement to wave goodbye then climbed inside and was whisked away.

ooOoo

Stepping from the cab outside 221 Baker Street and closing the door behind her, Molly looked up at the front windows of the flat, above Speedy's café. All was in darkness. Standing in front of the glossy, black front door, she pressed the bell marked '221B' but heard no answering ring from inside the building. That was no surprise. Sherlock had most likely made disabling the loud, raucous ring of the doorbell a top priority, on moving back into the refurbished flat.

She hesitated before ringing Mrs Hudson's bell, wondering if it had been a mistake to come here after all, but the cab which might have taken her back to her own home had already pulled away and the 'Find My Phone' app on her mobile was still telling her that Sherlock's phone – and therefore the man himself, since Sherlock and his phone were seldom parted – was inside the building. Steeling her resolve, she pressed Mrs Hudson's bell, an abject apology for disturbing the old lady at such a late hour ready on her lips.

The light came on in the hall, visible through the halfmoon window above the door, and then the inner door opened and, finally, the front door was pulled inward to reveal Mrs H in her favourite candlewick dressing gown and fluffy bedroom slippers.

'Oh, Mrs Hudson, I am so sorry to disturb you so late. I tried ringing Sherlock's bell but I think he's turned it off. I do hope you weren't in bed!' Molly gushed.

'Oh, hello dear! Do come in. Yes, he's removed the clapper, as I expected. I don't know why I bothered getting it repaired, since he did exactly the same to the old clapper.'

Mrs H stood aside to let Molly enter.

'No, I wasn't in bed, I was watching one of those late-night news programmes, Newswatch or Newsnight or something like that. They were talking about this referendum thing that's coming up, next year. Honestly, I don't really know which way to vote, to be honest. I remember what it was like before we joined the European Union – or Common Market, as it was called back then – and, believe you me, it was pretty awful. Three-day weeks, power cuts, devaluing the pound…the Sick Man of Europe, they used to call us back then. I certainly don't want to go back to that. But they say the EU are trying to take away our sovereignty - whatever that means - and make us part of the United States of Europe and I'm not sure I fancy that idea.'

'Yes, I've heard that, too, but I find it a bit hard to believe. I mean, for that to happen, all of the twenty-eight countries that are members of the EU would have to agree to it and some of those countries only recently gained their independence from the Soviet Union, so I can't imagine them wanting to that up again so quickly. But I'm no expert in these matters, Mrs H, and there's a lot of misinformation out there so I know it's hard to know what to believe. Maybe you should ask Mycroft, next time you see him. I'm sure he'll be able to put you right on it all.'

'That's a very good idea, Molly. Mycroft Holmes may be a pompous prat, most of the time, but he does know what he's talking about. I think I'll do just that. Thank you.'

'Well, good night, Mrs H.'

'Good night, dear,' the old lady replied and made her way back down the hall to her own front door while Molly climbed the stairs to 221b.

She pushed open the door to Sherlock's flat to find the sitting room flooded with the pale, ghostly light from the street lamp, outside, shining through the windows. Closing the sitting room door, the dark shape of Sherlock's Belstaff coat, hanging on the hook on the back of the door, was illuminated. So, he was definitely here. Phone and coat confirmed that, without a doubt. Peering through the kitchen and down the corridor towards the bathroom and Sherlock's bedroom, she could see another faint light seeping through the gap between the slightly ajar bedroom door and the door frame – not strong enough to be the main ceiling light so probably from one of the bedroom lamps.

Molly tiptoed through the kitchen and down the short passageway, pausing on the threshold of the bedroom to gently push the door open and peer inside the room. In the muted light from the standard lamp in the far corner, over by the rear window, she could see a dark mass of unruly curls, just visible above the edge of the duvet, contrasted against the white of the pillow case. And, in the quiet of the room, she could hear the slow regular breathing of someone sound asleep.

Well, that explained the lack of communication. The intensity and stress of the last few days had obviously caught up with the not-so-superhuman Sherlock Holmes and he'd, very wisely, opted for a good night's sleep.

Molly stepped back and pulled the bedroom door to, noiselessly, before turning to open the bathroom door. She would perform her bedtime ablutions as quietly as she possibly could and then slip into bed beside him, without waking him up. What a surprise that would be in the morning, she thought, grinning to herself in the dark.

ooOoo

Sherlock was dragged up from the depths of a deep slumber by the persistent droning of a rather large insect – a bumble bee, perhaps, or a hornet or maybe even a bluebottle; whatever it was, it had disturbed his rest and he was not best pleased. As his eyes flickered open and the last vague remnants of a dream dissolved and dissipated, the source of the sound identified itself as a small electric motor, like that of an electric screwdriver. And the origin of the sound as…his bathroom!

What the…? he thought to himself. What was someone doing with an electric screwdriver in his bathroom? Only one possibility came to mind. Mycroft must have sent someone round to install some sort of listening device – surely only listening? Even Mycroft would not stoop so low as to install visual surveillance in a bathroom! But was the man a complete imbecile? Mycroft knew he was at home. Surely, if he wanted to update the electronic surveillance at 221b Baker Street, he would have done it while the occupant was absent, as he had been for most of the last two days?

Well, no matter. Whoever it was, they were in for a bit of a surprise. Sherlock lifted up the corner of the duvet and rolled out of bed. As he stood up-right, the bath sheet that had been wrapped around his hips when he lay down for his nap dropped to the floor, leaving him naked and rather vulnerable, for someone planning to confront an intruder. Unlike a certain dominatrix, he did not consider nudity a suitable medium for greeting visitors, either welcome or unwelcome.

Crossing silently to the bedroom door, he unhooked his dressing from the back of the door and slipped it on, tying the sash securely. Then, he reached for the handle of the half-glazed bathroom door, taking pains not to pass between the door and the standard lamp, the only source of light in both rooms, thus maintaining the advantage of surprise. A short pause, then he turned the knob and threw open the door, stepping into the gap it left behind…

Molly looked up from where she stood, hunched over the hand basin, frozen in the act of brushing her teeth with an electric toothbrush. For a moment, they both stared at one another, then Molly switched off the toothbrush, spat the toothpaste and gave that goofy grimace that so endeared her to him.

'Oh, sorry. Did I wake you? I tried to be as quiet as possible but that's a bit difficult with an electric toothbrush…'

Sherlock blinked a few times then reached for the string pull and switched on the bathroom light.

'What are you doing here?' he asked.

He seemed genuinely confused rather than accusatory so Molly back-heeled that annoying little demon of self-doubt into the long grass and replied,

'I missed you, so I came to see you.'

'Yes…no…I mean, I…' he stumbled over his words, then, 'Aren't you supposed to be babysitting Rosie?'

'Yes, I am…I mean, I was…babysitting Rosie. Then John got back home and I…came here.'

As reality dawned, Sherlock dropped his head into his hand and groaned.

'Damn. I over-slept, didn't I.'

He stepped forward and sat down, heavily, on the toilet lid, scrubbing at his scalp with the fingers of both hands.

'I'm sorry. It was supposed to be a catnap. I wanted to surprise you.'

'Well,' Molly replied, crossing the floor to wrap him in a warm and loving embrace, 'I surprised you, instead.'

ooOoo