John arrives in the doorway of 221B late on a Tuesday night in autumn with a baby strapped to his chest and a suitcase in each fist. He sets the luggage down with a thud, points at Sherlock and says, “Keep your deductions to yourself, Sherlock.”
Sherlock does, and John stays.
“You’re my sweetness,” he’ll say. “Hush now, my good girl. I know. I know.”
What he knows, Sherlock cannot fathom. The society of babies eludes him.
Mina is seven months old and John has never asked if Sherlock wishes to hold her. He is not sure whether he is glad for it or resentful.
“Jesus, Mina,” John says, at Sherlock’s shoulder not a moment later and fitting his palm around the downy back of her skull. Her efficiency with crawling seems to be balanced by the lag she exhibits in growing hair. Sherlock thinks this is very sensible of her: if her energies must be compartmentalised and prioritised, being mobile is of more importance than questions of vanity.
John is leaning over Sherlock’s arm, his lips in the pale fuzz of Mina’s head, murmuring more nonsense into a tiny seashell ear. He makes no move to take her from the security of Sherlock’s arms, and Sherlock is suddenly warm with the weight of her — one stone — and the smell of her — like sweet, fresh milk — and John solid and familiar against him. Sherlock feels like there is a light expanding inside himself.
Mina waves her fists in his face and flashes her two tiny teeth at him. Her eyes are the exact shade of the Caspian Sea in the wintertime. She looks like her father when she smiles.
“Yes, moth, very good,” Sherlock says. “You’ll master dental fricatives soon enough, don’t worry.”
“Ma,” she says, and pushes her hand into his mouth.
John comes home unexpectedly one day early into the arrangement, while Sherlock has Mina in his lap before the microscope to show her some mould from Brighton. Sherlock turns to smile at John, but John, standing in the kitchen doorway, is not smiling back. He is simply staring, and Sherlock is maddened to find that stare opaque, unreadable.
“What is it?” Sherlock says. “What’s happened?”
“Nothing,” John says faintly. He blinks and clears his throat. “It’s nothing. I’ve caught the bug going ’round and I’ve been sent home, is all.”
Sherlock swallows and runs his hands over the flaxen silk of Mina’s hair. At eleven months, she still doesn’t have much to boast in that department. Her head fits perfectly into Sherlock’s palm, as if some accident of biology designed her that way. John clears his throat again, and it has the quality of a bark at the end. Mina squeals at him, but doesn’t reach out for his attention. She gums at the eyepiece of the microscope, and Sherlock eases her gently away.
“I can look after her whilst you convalesce,” Sherlock says. “We have a lot of work to do, so it’s no bother.”
Finally, John smiles. He looks tired, and his eyes are bright as if already in the throes of a fever.
“Thank you, Sherlock.” He looks as if he might say something else, but he snaps his mouth closed instead. A few steps and he’s there, running his fingers through Mina’s sad offering of hair instead of kissing her senseless like he usually would. When he turns to leave, Sherlock feels the ghosts of those fingers hover just shy of his own ear before they, and John, disappear up the stairs.
The file has holes in it several hundred miles wide and Sherlock would snarl and yell if Mina weren’t here. But she is, and she is covered in baby powder to keep her cool, and she was fussy from the heat before he finally — finally! — got her to sleep, so Sherlock settles for grinding his teeth and yanking at the sash of his dressing gown. He, like Mina, is also mostly naked — underneath the cotton of his gown, he has on only a thin pair of underpants, and he is still sweating like a day labourer. He ruffles his hair, and that’s when John comes bounding up the stairs, peeling off his jacket and his flannel shirt.
Sherlock puts a finger to his lips and jerks his chin in the direction of the roving crib, and John makes a little “ah” sound before sealing his lips shut. Sherlock pushes his fringe from his eyes and turns his attention back to the cold case when he feels his dressing gown slip from his shoulder. And then, as if the very air of the room shifts with it, Sherlock knows John is frowning.
“What is this?” John whispers from behind the couch. Fingertips like electric shocks trail sparking over the skin of Sherlock’s shoulders.
“Triple homicide, 1987, obvious police corruption,” Sherlock says.
“No — these, these marks, Sherlock. They look like…” Sherlock can hear John swallow. He forces himself not to tense up.
“They’re nothing,” he says, and he tugs his errant dressing gown back into place. John’s sigh comes out shaky, a negligible warmth against the back of Sherlock’s neck.
“God, I wish—”
“I don’t think about it, John. I’m not — I am in London. I am with you. I watch over the baby. I pickpocket Lestrade.”
There is silence, the kind that weighs as much as a broken furnace, the kind that persists despite the whir of electric fans and the thunder of blood in one’s ears.
“Okay,” John says at last, and Sherlock’s breath leaves him all at once. “Okay.”
John’s hand closes gently on the back of Sherlock’s neck, and they stay like that for a long time, pretending to read the cold case file.
John asks them solemnly if they would be her honorary grandparents, and Mummy cries of all things.
“Yes, of course,” she says, and buries her wet face in Mina’s belly. Mycroft rolls his eyes from his place in the corner nursing a whiskey, but John glares at him until he retreats into the garden.
Daddy pats her on the shoulder and gives Sherlock a soppy look he resolutely ignores. All he sees is John in his childhood home, John giving his mother the grandchild she had given up getting, John looking at Sherlock with clear, warm eyes.
He only calls John from another jail cell, and he waits patiently there because John has to see Mina before he springs Sherlock for assault, and that’s only fair.
It is later, much later, when Mina is back home ensconced in John’s arms and Mycroft’s made the new charges disappear, that John brings up how spectacular a failure Sherlock was in his first test as Mina’s minder. Sherlock is in his chair, and John is in the one opposite him, and John is rocking side to side as Mina sleeps. Sherlock sways minutely, as if in sympathy.
“We have to do something about this,” John says.
Sherlock grits his teeth. “I’ll keep my head next time,” he says. “I’ll call you before I do anything. I’m sorry I fucked it all up.”
John rubs a hand over his face. It has more lines, and his hair is greyer, but Sherlock finds him a more compelling sight with each passing day.
“Sherlock, no,” he says, quiet. “You didn’t. You did nothing wrong, do you hear me? You did the right thing, which was to get her to hospital. She was your priority, and I’m glad, all right? I’m — thank you, Sherlock. It was good, what you did. Thank you.”
Sherlock swallows. He has nothing to say. He flexes his knuckles, and it hurts a bit because they’re swollen and bruised, but the pain feels clean, feels justified.
John shifts Mina in his arms without disturbing her. He gazes down into her face — her rosebud mouth hangs open in sleep, and her lashes are a sweet golden fan against her cheek. Without looking up at him, John says, “I mean we have to do something legal about this. You did the right thing, and maybe we don’t like it but A & E did too. I can’t always be there. I wish I could, but. There it is. You have to be able to make medical decisions on her behalf. You have to be able to have access to her. You have to — be recognised. As her other parent. Legally.”
Sherlock watches John’s Adam’s apple bob up in his throat. John keeps his eyes on Mina as if any deviation will result in a world-ending implosion. There is something tight and fluttery in the vicinity of Sherlock’s lungs. His palms ache to touch, so he tangles them up together in his lap.
“Oh,” he says, and it just slips out of his mouth without his volition. “I. Oh.”
John finally tilts his head back up and meets his eyes. John is afraid. Sherlock wishes he weren’t. Sherlock wishes he knew how to make him fearless.
“How do we do that?” he says, and John sucks in a breath.
“Adoption would be best,” he says. “But there are other options if that’s too—”
“Yes, good,” Sherlock says. “We’ll do that one.”
“Right,” John says, eyes big. He sits back, his muscles slack as if finally drained of all the tension of the day. “Right.”
Sherlock pulls out his phone and brings up his text thread with Mycroft.
I need a favour. In return I will do five cases in the space of one calendar year. — S
I’ve had the papers ready for months. — M
And Mary? — S
Voluntarily signed her rights away along with the divorce papers. Don’t fret so, Sherlock. — M
I do not fret. — S
I know. — M
When he looks up, John is smiling at him with a soft fondness in his eyes.
“What?” he says.
John shakes his head.
“Just wondering how I got to be so lucky,” he says. He leans down to press his lips against the crown of Mina’s head, eyes never leaving Sherlock.
“Bit of a mouthful,” Sherlock says, new identification documents like treasure in his hands. John snorts.
“Don’t think you have room to throw stones.”
“It’s all Mummy’s fault. You don’t have to emulate her.”
“I like your mother, you know.”
“As if I could forget.” Mummy has taken to knitting, but she has no talent for it. She’s made John a blue jumper that is too short in the torso and too long in the sleeves and rather uneven all over. John wears it at every opportunity, and it offends Sherlock’s eyes.
“Why Sherlock then?” John asks, over-casual. “Why not William, or Billy, or some such?”
“Surely you realise you’re asking the wrong person,” Sherlock says.
“Well, your mother’s not here and you are,” John says. “Humour me.”
Sherlock lifts one shoulder in a lazy shrug. “She always said extraordinary people should not have ordinary names. But they should have the option of blending in if they had to.”
“And you never blended in anywhere in your life,” John says, admiring. Sherlock meets his eyes.
“Why Mina then?”
John tips his head to the side, a smile curling the corner of his mouth.
“You haven’t figured it out?”
“What’s there to figure out? People name their children all manner of things, willy nilly, as if no meaningful thoughts entered their heads about it. I’ve met people named Orange Wax and Gable Flynn Bogart Jones. I assume, John, that you did not pick ‘Mina’ out of a hat.”
“Mina,” John says, holding Sherlock’s gaze, “from the German Wilhelmina, feminine variant of Wilhelm, or William, meaning helmet, which seemed appropriate. I wanted her to be strong. I wanted her to be fearless. I wanted her to be like you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock suddenly feels parched. “It can also mean love. I read.”
John licks his lips. “That too,” he says after a moment. He stands up straighter. “Always that, Sherlock. Never doubt that.”
Sherlock’s breath shudders out. John steps up close, fingertips light on the bones of his wrist. He tips his face up, and Sherlock leans down, and their lips meet.
It feels like light, expanding inside him.