The first time, the very first time John notices it, Sherlock has been home, returned to them from the dead, for six weeks.
Oh, he's sure Sherlock has pulled that particular expression before, undoubtedly in fact, he was just never really in a position to catch it. Now that things have calmed down some, the little idiosyncrasies of Sherlock's character, the things John had forgotten about, are once again starting to show through.
They're at the park, the first time. Sherlock's hair is growing in, patchy in parts -- he looks a bit as if he's just got over mange, or a child attacking him with a pair of scissors. It's obviously a sore spot and he won't let John fix it, won't let anyone touch it, and looks patently ridiculous. John doesn't have the heart to tell him so, not with things still so fragile and oddly new between them.
They're walking together, Andrew up on Sherlock’s shoulders. It's a warm day, and John bought Andrew an ice cream ten minutes before, and with a bag of bread crumbs Mrs. Hudson had saved for them they head towards the lake. His child, as brilliant and lovely and wonderful as he is, hasn’t quite gotten motor skills down, let alone ice cream skills, and John keeps an eye on it, armed only with serviettes as they'd left the nappy bag at home.
He's watching Andrew and Sherlock interact, chatting like old friends. They're so lovely together, mirror images in dark and light, curls and matching green eyes. John's only got half an ear on their conversation though, alarmed both by the dripping cone and Andrew's new shirt, and finally stops them when it becomes apparent that Sherlock isn't going to mind having vanilla ice cream drip clear down Andrew's elbow and into his hair.
"Alright, hold on a moment," John says, tugging them out off the path. He takes Andrew's cone from him and licks up all the drips, one quick swirl all around it. Andrew laughs and sucks on his sticky fingers, and when John hands him the cone back, napkin wrapped around it, he catches that expression on Sherlock's face. "What?"
"Nothing," Sherlock says.
John, playing the pacifist, lets it slide. He even thinks that perhaps it's a one-off, until two weeks later when Andrew has an accident in the car.
The car is old, bought for practicality, and that Andrew has shit all over the backseat isn't that much of an issue. In fact, it doesn't make it into the top five accidents he's ever had. They're driving back from Ascot, ten miles from the nearest village, and John pulls over, Andrew's hysterical sobbing filling the entire car. "It's alright, shhhh," he says, climbing out quickly. He fetches the nappy bag from the boot, and a big picnic blanket that they keep stashed in there for these little emergencies.
Sherlock is standing beside him, a tall, gangly, somewhat useless wall, and John orders, "Hold the blanket open, alright? He's a private sort of lad."
"Right here, John?" Sherlock asks, glancing up one side of the deserted country road, then the other.
"Of course right here. I told you, bananas for breakfast was a mistake." John pulls Andrew, who has added pee to his problems and is now sopping wet and howling crocodile tears, out onto the gravel road. He strips him right there, quick and efficient, scrubbing him down with wet wipes by the handful until his son is clean. He tucks the clothes in the plastic bag he stored for just such emergencies, gets his son dressed in his extra set, and within ten minutes they're back on the road, Andrew on the other side of the car and the picnic blanket over the seat until they can get home and John can clean it.
Sherlock is staring at him again, that quizzical expression back on his face. John asks, "What?"
But Sherlock doesn't answer, staring at him for another moment before glancing back at Andrew, dry and clean and fast asleep.
The next time he sees the expression on Sherlock's face, Andrew catches lice.
It had been going around the nursery school -- the headmistress had sent a notice home warning parents about the signs that their little one might be itching. No sooner did he get the letter in Andrew's backpack did he have to send Sherlock down to the chemist for the medication to get rid of the nits.
As he's scrubbing Andrew's head, his son screaming bloody murder, he has Sherlock wash the bedding, and the pillows, and Ribbit. That sets Andrew to screaming even more but John just plunks his little lad on a chair and stands behind him, quickly, methodically picking the nits out. There aren't many yet, caught just in time, and Andrew snivels and sobs the entire time until he falls to sleep, head lolling back against the chair.
When John glances up at Sherlock, standing at a healthy distance in the doorway to the kitchen, it’s all he can do not to laugh. The Expression is right there, bright as sunlight. It isn't disgust -- or at least, it isn't only disgust.
John smiles down at Andrew's curls. "Sherlock, you've got to get over this."
"Get over what?" Sherlock asks nonchalantly. He pushes his hands into his pockets and walks into the room, maintaining his distance but slowly, carefully coming closer, as if Andrew is a bomb about to detonate.
"You. This. Andrew. You're disgusted."
"I am not."
"You are, love," John says, amused, checking Andrew's hair one last time to match sure he's got it all.
"I'm really not," Sherlock replies, finally propping himself up sitting on the table. He crosses his arms loosely, studies them both. "I simply just... I suppose I forgot."
"That our child is alive." He frowns sharply. "No, that's not quite right. I think it's more as if I didn't factor in that Andrew...that he makes messes, that he will be messy."
"That's what children are, love," John says, studying Sherlock. He looks a bit lost, and still so removed from them. Still learning how to be a father. "They piss and shit and puke at the most inopportune moments. They get ill, they drop the milk or draw on the walls or catch nits. That's just part of growing up, I suppose."
Sherlock frowns down at the floor. "You take to it. It's easy, for you."
"It isn't," John says with a laugh. "Just had more practice. Give it time, Sherlock, you'll get there."
John feels something inside soften at the quiet admittance. "I know," he says. "Dryer should be about to fini--" He stops. "Actually, I'll go and get the bed made up. Why don't you give the little one here his bath?"
He watches Sherlock's eyes get wide and thinks that maybe they both just need a little time to get to where they're going. Sherlock looks from him, to their son, to him again, as if he has no idea what he's doing. He probably doesn't, but it isn't rocket science after all.
And even if it were, he's sure Sherlock would figure it out.
The dryer is just finishing when he leaves the kitchen, and he makes up Andrew's bed, doing a thorough check of his mattress and other toys for signs of the little buggers. Just to be sure he gives the room a good hoovering.
He's just dragging the hoover back out to the cupboard when he hears splashing, and two voices laughing, and Andrew saying, "I like yellow duckies too, Papa!", and the low, rumbling answer of Sherlock's reply.
"I can't believe you," John says faintly, in what Sherlock has long-since recognized as his unlikely precursor to yelling. "I can't believe you did this without consulting me at all."
"I did so," Sherlock says, offended despite his precarious moral high-ground. "I called you before we left."
"And I told you not to do it."
"Well, I disagreed. Now that we've arrived you and I can waste time discussing it."
There's a brief moment where John looks as though he's going to spontaneously combust. Since the odds of that are quite low Sherlock's not particularly concerned, but from around the kitchen corner there's one small child watching the drama unfold, and from behind Sherlock's legs there's another, eying the room and everything in it with wide eyes.
John takes a deep breath and pulls himself together, all too aware of the audience. He crouches down to Lucille's level and waves hello, uses the small, comforting, you-can-trust-me-I'm-a-doctor smile. "I'm John," he tells her, having apparently decided to eviscerate Sherlock in private at a later time. "Do you remember me from a few days ago?"
Lucille nods, her dark head pressing against Sherlock's knee. She still looks disheveled from what was apparently a three-day kicking-off event she'd carried out at the children's home, and even now her eyes are red-rimmed and her nose is running.
"And over there," John continues, pointing, "eating snacks after he's been told not to, is our son, Andrew."
Andrew hurriedly stuffs the remains of a biscuit in his pocket and comes around to look from behind John, mimicking Lucille's stance. "Who are you?" he demands.
Lucille says nothing, so Sherlock answers, "Her name is Lucille, and she's staying with us from now on."
Andrew looks unimpressed. John still looks placid, but then again he’s deliberately -- pointedly -- not looking at Sherlock. “Lucy, Andrew has a lot of fun toys in his play-room, would you like to go and play with them?”
Andrew immediately puts up a token protest, but is just as easily persuaded by John’s suggestion that Andrew “show Lucy how to play with his toys.” Andrew, like his father, loves nothing more than showing other people how things are done correctly. Sherlock takes a moment to appreciate John’s skill at managing both children with apparently no real effort; they start towards the play room, Lucy glancing backward at Sherlock every few steps. It’s only when she spies one of Andrew’s toys -- a large, fluffy predator -- that she runs off, Sherlock forgotten for the time being.
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” John snaps under his breath as soon as both children are out of sight.
“Looking out for a defenseless minor, which is exactly what you told me to do,” Sherlock answers, taking off his coat.
John’s face is turning an alarming shade of red. “I meant you should make sure she got to that foster parent’s house alright, not take her to ours!”
“You’ll have to be more specific in future,” Sherlock answers, unwinding his scarf so John -- by the look of him -- can’t strangle Sherlock with it.
“Where are we even going to keep her?” John asks, gesturing to the living space as if Sherlock had planned to install a bed by the door. “We don’t have the room.”
“Of course we do, Andrew’s toy room is more than adequate.” John rubs a hand across his face in disbelief and aggravation. “John, she didn’t stop crying from the moment we dropped her at the group home to the moment I picked her up.”
John looks at him between his fingers. “That was three and a half days ago.”
Sherlock waves a hand in John’s direction, turns to step out of his shoes in the same place he always, always did. “You know how we found her. She’s already been traumatized enough; there’s no need to put her through further.”
“Sherlock, it’s--” John takes a deep breath. “It’s not that I’m not sympathetic, and I’m glad you’re trying to help her out, but -- you’ve seen lots traumatized people, lots of traumatized kids. Why is she any different?”
There’s an answer, a perfectly good one, a perfectly manipulative one, one that would get John to cave before Sherlock had finished closing his mouth. It’s really a shame he can’t get the words to come, his voice to share them. “You said Andrew needs a sibling,” he answers instead, lamely.
John gives him a long, slow look. It’s incredibly insulting. All he says, however, is, “Go and find a place for her to sleep, I’m going to call Mycroft and make sure we’re not about to have officers beating down the door for kidnapping.”
Sherlock frowns. “Give me some credit--” he starts, then restarts, as John turns back sharply. “Mycroft will be thrilled for us.”
He ignores John’s muttered, “Oh, I’m sure he will be...” as there are more pressing concerns, primarily the hair-pulling that is going on in the toy room.
It’s a very long night.
John cleans the flat once a month.
That isn’t to say he doesn’t clean during the week – ever since Andrew, and then Lucy, came into their lives it’s been an endless cycle of laundry-dishes-floors-kitchen-bathroom, rinse and repeat. But once a month, most often a Sunday, John strips the flat apart and cleans it from floor to ceiling.
Sherlock used to spend this one day a month whinging endlessly, tossing himself on (or over) pieces of furniture, and looking at the mop and bucket like he’d never them before. Considering how he’d grown up John had fallen for it for the entire first year of their marriage, but that was then and this is now. It’s a simple equation, really – two grubby barn animals known as children, two hamsters, four fish and one genius consulting detective means degrees of filth not seen in nature.
Sometimes, if they’re lucky, the mess isn’t quite so bad. Other times, they have to repaint the walls.
“This is not happening,” John mumbles, pressing a hand to his face. “Sherlock.”
“They’re animals,” Sherlock says, awed. “I can’t help but be impressed.”
Before them, once hidden behind the sofa, is what appears to have been the scene of some sort of catastrophe, featuring what was once a pasta and red sauce concoction that had long since turned brown. It’s a classic spray pattern, and John knows he’s been in the business for far too long because he can picture how it happened exactly.
“At least they cleaned the wallpaper above the sofa,” Sherlock says, crouching to pick up a crusted, wrinkled spaghetti strand. “They obviously weren’t strong enough to move the sofa themsel—oh. Of course.”
“Last week.” Sherlock tsks low. “I heard a commotion from the downstairs office. I’d come down to meet with Mr. Kirkpatrick, couldn’t have been more than ten minutes.”
John groans. “Grounded. Tomorrow morning, they’re so grounded.”
“Oh no.” Sherlock straightens up with a creak of joints and an exhausted sigh. “Punish them with a week of your particular brand of pasta dishes. They’ll crack in four days, then you can punish them.”
He turns, lamp light falling on him at a particular angle, and John’s always so surprised how striking he still finds that well-loved face. So different from when they first met; the lines of him have softened, and he’s no longer the man with razor-sharp edges that cut anyone who got too close. His green eyes are crinkled just so at the corners, and his mouth tilts up, as if he’s too tired to smile all the way.
John winds his arms around his waist, pulls him in close to kiss. Sherlock’s startled breath through his nose is evidence enough that John should have done that hours ago. “You look good,” he says into Sherlock’s lips, kissing him, kissing him. “Have I ever told you?”
He snorts, dips his head just to meet John again and again. “Cobweb chic?”
Sherlock’s laughing when John tumbles him down to the sofa. John laughs too, and shushes him, and ducks his face down into Sherlock’s neck to smell the disinfectant. “Oh Christ, I’m so tired.”
“You insist on these cleaning days,” Sherlock reminds him, fingers in John’s hair. “Not that I fail to see their necessity,” he adds, when John looks up to glare, “only that perhaps we wouldn’t need these days quite so often if--”
He cuts himself off, but John’s onto him. He lays his head over Sherlock’s heart, listens to it under thin skin and flesh and bone. Strong and healthy. “We’ve had this argument,” he reminds him.
“I believe you had this argument, as I recall.”
John’s a little embarrassed by it actually, because Sherlock wasn’t too far off with that. “You just took me by surprise.”
Sherlock sighs and John listens to it too, lungs inflating and deflating, perfect, perfect. “This, the Great Fettuccine Fiasco, should be enough to convince you.”
“Were they fettuccine really?”
“One can hope,” Sherlock says darkly. “Don’t mess about.”
“I’m not,” John replies, closing his eyes. He opens them again a moment later, certain he’ll fall asleep if he doesn’t. “I’m really not, Sherlock.”
“You’ve been thinking about it, then?”
“Of course I have.” John hadn’t been able to think about anything else for two weeks – the obvious solution to a growing problem.
“Ah,” Sherlock murmurs. “You’re still angry with me.”
“I was never angry at you,” John responds, propping his chin up to look at his husband. “Only at the situation. I was once able to juggle Andrew, work, the house.”
“At severe cost to yourself,” Sherlock reminds him lightly. He brushes John’s hair from his eyes – long, already far too long, but Sherlock has always liked it like this and John had been willing to indulge him for a bit. “It makes sense, John.”
He thinks about that for a minute. “I… I’m afraid. Once we start down this slippery slope, that’s it.”
“You know it’s true. Go from full time to part time, and then it’s only a single jump to no time, and then I’ll be utterly and completely useless.”
Sherlock shakes his head, but his smile is amused. “That was dramatic, even for you.”
“I have a gun, you know.”
“It would only be until the children are a little older,” he says. “And I need you more here. I know that the surgery is the way you supported yourself and Andrew during my absence, but now… we have the business, we have actual clients and actual work.”
“And the children.”
“Yes, and the children.”
“I won’t become a stay-at-home dad,” John says. “If this is just your way of getting out of taking care of them after school…”
“Now that’s just insulting,” Sherlock answers.
“John,” he says, with that particular gentleness in his voice that makes him such a wonderful parent, as well as a master manipulator. “I love our children, and what’s more I find their ability to leave chaos in their wake fascinating. I find the way you are with them, and the way the four of us are together, completely fascinating. And when you’re gone ten to twelve hours every day, and exhausted for the remaining five you’re awake, I don’t get to see it nearly as often as I’d like.”
He means it, John can tell, and he’s not sure what’s more surprising, the fact that Sherlock does mean it or that he said it at all. If he’s honest with himself he made this decision weeks ago when Sherlock first broached the subject.
“Okay,” he says.
“Next week. I’ll talk to Harris next week.”
He’s rewarded by a smile, cut off at the last moment. John lays his head back down on Sherlock’s chest to hide his smile, too. “More free time will give me a chance to work on some new recipes at least,” he says, and laughs out loud when Sherlock groans.
Sherlock gets the phone call on his way from a nail salon all the way up on the north side of Islington, where he's been investigating the whereabouts of a patron he suspects is the perpetrator of several unsolved robberies. He’s only ten seconds away from descending the stairs to the underground, but as soon as the ID lights up he knows he might as well call a cab. "What's he done now?"
"Well, we're pretty sure his nose is broken." Mrs. Hayes tells him, typically blunt. Sherlock appreciates that about her. "He's going to need an X-ray to confirm of course, but given it's at a different angle than it was this morning it seems to be a foregone conclusion."
"Is anyone else hurt?" Sherlock asks, finally hailing down a cab. He climbs in and gives the instructions for St. Bernadette's.
"No, though you may be requested to replace the backpacks and personal belongings of anywhere from seven to eleven children -- the recovery process is ongoing."
"Is he with you?"
"I thought you might ask that," Mrs. Hayes says, and there’s a muffled sound as the phone is handed over.
"Id wasn my fauld."
"Andrew," Sherlock starts, "I can guarantee you this confluence of events would never have happened if you weren't involved."
Sherlock sighs. "Just hold the towel under your nose and try not to damage yourself or anyone else until I get there." He glances at his watch. "I have to call your dad."
"No!" Andrew yells, then grunts as that much vehemence is apparently jarring to his nose. "No, Papa, led me dell him when I ged home."
"Then I get in trouble," Sherlock argues.
"I'm okay, I'm fine, he'll jud be upsed."
Sherlock rolls his eyes – it’s been a long time since he'd heard his son sound so pathetic. "Get some ice on your nose -- I'm assuming your glasses are irredeemable?"
"Shadderpoof lenses were a good choice."
Sherlock hangs up; at least this would relegate his sadly failed experiment under the kitchen sink to the back-burner.
Sherlock walks into the living room and John bursts into laughter. This is because of the ridiculous way Lucille is wrapped, octopus like, around his right leg, forcing Sherlock to move in a distinctly tilted, lumbering fashion.
He sighs and stares at John balefully. “She’s not listening to me.”
John snorts from his spot seated near the kitchen. “That’s a first.” Lucy is, to put it lightly, convinced Sherlock is some kind of demi-god. He is a knight, a hero, her champion and rescuer; it’s an odd sort of opinion to have directed at him, and he quite often has no idea what to do with it. Despite the sentimentality that runs through all his blog entries John’s feelings are nowhere near so fanciful, and Andrew’s appreciation most often centers around what Sherlock can explain to him -- which occasionally makes him reflect on how, at no point in his life did he ever anticipate spending hours at a stretch trying to prove the law of equal and opposite reactions to a five year old.
Lucy, however, is always willing to take him at his word. Or at least she used to.
“I don’t want you to work now,” she tells them both, mouth set stubbornly.
John smiles at her. “We’re just going to pop into Scotland Yard love, it won’t take long.”
His assurance has no visible effect. “Stay here,” she orders.
Andrew has been watching the back and forth since they came into the room, sat on the floor in front of John, surrounded by more Lego pieces than any one person could ever need. He’s spent the last three days building some kind of elaborate labyrinth that has already taken over half the room, and is still somehow nowhere near completion. It would probably go faster if he didn’t keep stopping to scratch at the patch over his eye, but considering the effort it took just to keep him from taking it off entirely they’ve decided to let the occasional itching pass unremarked upon.
He looks up at Sherlock with his left eye from under his riotous mess of curls; he’s the only person who hates haircuts more than Sherlock, and to John’s vocal dismay it shows. “She’s right, you should stay here. I don’t like Mrs. Hudson right now.”
Sherlock raises an eyebrow at him. “It’s not her fault you didn’t label your mold spores properly.”
Andrew frowns and turns back to his blocks. “Well I, I -- I, I, I still think you should both stay here. It’s a Saturday, and people don’t work on Saturdays. It’s not right.”
“Really?” John asks, smiling down at their son. “That’s not one of our rules.”
“That’s a people rule, Daddy,” Andrew corrects him, scratching again.
“You don’t have normal people rules,” Lucy chimes in from her spider-monkey position. “No one else at school has rules like our rules.” She’s beginning to cut off the circulation in Sherlock’s leg.
And yet instead of trying to pry her off Sherlock just asks, “What rules of ours are so strange?”
“No going in Papa’s lab and touching stuff,” Andrew says immediately, looking back up at him accusingly. Considering how many times Sherlock has caught him up there anyway he might have to amend that one soon, but their son has not only Sherlock’s scientific curiosity but both his parents’ penchant for danger, and Sherlock would like to see him reach adolescence with all his parts intact.
“No sharing crime stuff on the office com-computer with people in the class,” Lucy adds. “Don’t tease Uncle Mycroft about his diet.”
“That one is only John’s rule,” Sherlock corrects, and John gives him a disapproving look that is completely undermined by the way he’s smiling. Lestrade rings his phone again, most likely wondering where they are and how much longer they’re going to be. John looks at Sherlock with blatant entertainment, waiting to see what he’ll do, how he’s planning to end this mutiny. The kids are staring, eyes wide, hanging on (in Lucy’s case quite literally) to his every move.
He sighs and instead of answering starts to text. “It’s fortunate for all of you I can solve this from the sitting room--”
The kids yell in delight, and Lucy squeezes his leg so hard he winces and almost topples over.