Sherlock, absorbed in the microscopic world before his eyes, didn't realize for several long minutes that Calvin hadn't responded but was still standing there, silent. He blinked and straightened, turning away from his microscope. He looked at Calvin, standing in the doorway to the kitchen, shifting his weight from foot to foot, looking up at him through his shaggy hair.
"Are you busy?"
"Yes." Sherlock blinked again, hearing John's aggrieved sigh in the back of his head, and groped for words John would use. "But not too busy for you."
That seemed to be correct--Calvin smiled down at his toes and shuffled another step into the kitchen.
Sherlock watched him closely, but the five-year-old's face remained downturned and he was unable to form any conclusions about what their forthcoming discussion would be about. Sherlock rested his palms on his thighs and waited.
"When I grow up," Cal started suddenly, picking at a hole in his favourite dinosaur t-shirt, "will I have to marry a boy?"
Sherlock frowned. "You won't have to marry anyone."
"Oh. Not ever?"
"Not if you don't want to."
"So I don't have to marry a boy?"
Calvin turned and scampered out of the kitchen, leaving Sherlock looking after him, entirely nonplussed.
"How's my godson?" Lestrade asked after a short stretch of silence. They were on the roof, smoking and watching the sun set. Well - he was smoking and Sherlock was concentrating on not reaching for a cigarette.
"Fine. He's fine." Sherlock tucked his hands into his pockets and continued to gaze ahead, though when Lestrade glanced at him he saw a small crease drawn between his brows. "He asked me yesterday if he would have to get married when he grew up."
Lestrade snorted. "Yep. He's the age for it. Kids are fascinated by mummy and daddy's...er...y'know, whatever the arrangement is." He waved his hand in apology for the gendered slip. Sherlock shrugged it off.
Lestrade took a drag and said, before he talked himself out of it, "Jack told me once that he was going to grow up and marry mummy. He thought that was just...the way of it. I did, so he would too."
"Ah," Sherlock said, eyes going faraway as comprehension dawned.
"That's what he was asking. He said, 'Will I have to marry a boy.' He's wondering if he will form a monogamous relationship with a man, since I did. We did."
"Mm," Lestrade hummed, pursing his lips to keep from laughing, dropping the cigarette and grinding it out with his toe. "That'll be a fun conversation, eh?"
"Explaining to him how he might be gay, straight, or whatever other labels we've come up with by then, but it's got nothing to do with you and John."
Sherlock cocked his head at Lestrade, considering. "Interesting."
"Hm?" Sherlock's eyes were sparkling and Lestrade shook his head, putting on his Serious Face. "No way, Sherlock. Do I have to remind you again that your child is not an experiment?"
"Oh, really, Lestrade--"
"I'm serious. Whatever it is you're thinking, I promise you it's not a good idea."
Sherlock huffed but said nothing more.
"And John will agree with me."
Sherlock glared at him.
Calvin sat on the sofa, arms and legs crossed, a magnificent scowl on his face. John was doing his best not to react to it, going about the business of getting ready to leave for the evening. Whatever Mrs Hudson was cooking downstairs for their dinner smelled amazing, and a part of him wanted very much just to call it off and stay home.
When he sat down in his chair to pull on his shoes, Calvin said loudly, "I can't wait til I have kids cos I'm never gonna leave them home alone just to go watch some stupid play."
John opened his mouth to protest but Sherlock was suddenly there, knotting his scarf around his neck, saying coolly, "It's not a play, it's the opera. You're not alone, you're with Mrs Hudson. And of course you will."
"Well, you may be right, you may not care for the opera. But you certainly will leave your potential children every now and then to spend time alone with your potential spouse."
"Will not! Ew, dad! Don't be gross!"
Sherlock had put his arm around John's waist and pulled him close to drop a kiss on his lips.
John, smiling slightly, looked up at Sherlock. "Have you been reading some new parenting book or something?"
Sherlock looked miffed. "Of course not. Just encouraging his common sense. Is it right for him to think that his parents only have a relationship with him and not with each other?"
"Hm. I hadn't thought of it that way..."
"Not surprising," Sherlock said, affection spilling into his voice.
"You git," John said, smiling, reaching up to touch his husband's cheek.
"I'm never getting married," Calvin shrilled from the couch, trying to recenter their attention on him, covering his eyes to block out the scene in front of him. "Kissing is gross."
John gave Sherlock a grin and nodded towards him, and Sherlock followed his lead, moving quietly to the couch, dropping down on either side of him, two sets of arms pinning the suddenly-shrieking five-year-old in place as two pairs of lips planted kisses on his cheeks.
"What will happen to me when you and Papa don't live together anymore?"
Sherlock looked up at him, his initial amusement at the unexpected question swiftly vanishing as he saw Calvin watching him sombrely, a green crayon clenched tightly in his little fist.
"I expect your papa and I will always live together, Calvin. Why do you ask?"
Calvin fiddled with the corner of his colouring book. "Mikey's mum and daddy don't live together anymore and he doesn't get to see his daddy every day, and Pete says they're not married and he says you and Papa aren't married either because I don't have a mummy and he says people don't live together if they're not married and I don't want to not see you every day because then when Papa isn't home you can't read to me."
Sherlock watched Calvin grow more fearful as he spoke until he ran out of breath, as though each word made the awful childish image of divorce more real to him. Mikey was a friend Sherlock didn’t know, but Pete was familiar, one of Calvin's friends from school and, if Sherlock recalled correctly (which he did), not one that he himself was particularly fond of. But then, he wasn't generally fond of any children who weren't Calvin.
"Come here, Cal," Sherlock said softly when he fell silent, opening his arms to the boy. Calvin settled readily onto his lap, still clutching his colouring book and crayon. Sherlock pressed his lips to his son's shaggy head, thinking. He'd found with Calvin that, young as he was, he was best able to process new information by focusing on one discrete piece at a time, and that it was best to let the child prioritize for himself. "What are you most scared of?"
Calvin surprised him then with an indignant huff. "I'm not scared, daddy!"
"Ah. What, ah, what is bothering you, then?"
Calvin sighed and rested his head against Sherlock's chest. "I don't want you to leave me and Papa."
Sherlock blinked, feeling an uncomfortable tightness in his chest. So, Calvin had decided that if either of his fathers was going to abandon him, it would be Sherlock. He wrapped his arms around Calvin. "I am not going to leave you. I am not going to leave your papa. I'm not going anywhere, Cal. Your friend is ill-informed. It is perfectly possible for two people of the same sex or gender to enter into a legally binding contract, like marriage."
“Daddy, you keep using big words,” Calvin complained. “You sound like a Vulcan!”
Sherlock grumbled inwardly. He would never understand John’s fascination with science fiction shows, nor his determination to expose Calvin to every one in existence and his insistence on drawing parallels between his husband and various alien species.
“It is quite possible," he said slowly, choosing his words carefully, "for two people to be married even if one of them is not a mummy. Calvin, your papa and I are very much married. Don’t allow your friends to persuade you otherwise.”
When Calvin just looked at him, he held up his hand, showing Calvin his ring, knowing that children liked tangible proof. “See?”
Calvin took Sherlock's hand between both of his, running his fingers over the worn silver ring. "Oh. Why did you marry Papa, then? Why not a girl? Like my mum?”
Hell . This was going to be more in-depth than he had planned for.
“Calvin, look at me,” he commanded, and the boy did so. “Many of the people you meet in life will be attracted to - and want to form permanent bonds with - people of the opposite sex. Females - women - girls will want to marry boys, and boys will want to marry girls.”
How could John stand this, using such imprecise terms when talking to Calvin? It was maddening.
“But not papa.”
“That’s not entirely correct. Your papa would have formed an attachment to someone of either gender. He just happened to choose me. He’s bisexual. So’s your Uncle Greg.”
“Uncle Greg married a girl.”
Sherlock gave a brisk nod. “And right now he’s dating a man - remember?”
“So you and papa are married because you like boys?”
Sherlock opened his mouth to reply, and almost did so before his brain had a chance to catch up with his automatic response to that particular question. It made quick note of the fact that the person asking was five years old (not an adult) and his son (not a stranger or Yarder). He also took note of the fact that John would, based on prior experience, kill him for repeating to his son what he told others. One had to phrase one’s sentences differently depending on the audience; Sherlock had learned that from John as well.
It wouldn’t do to outline to Calvin exactly what it was his parents did in the bedroom - Sherlock was well aware of that. It was sex, to John at least, and to Sherlock it was cataloguing. John was his, wholly and completely, and that meant claiming every inch of him. It meant acquainting and reacquainting himself with John’s body, with every response to his touch and every gasp elicited by his careful tongue. It meant that John wasn’t to reciprocate Sherlock’s ministrations. It meant, for John, losing himself to the fantasy that Sherlock wanted and needed him sexually, and it worked for them.
But that was something they couldn’t explain properly to anyone, and it wasn’t something that Calvin could grasp. Perhaps someday he would understand the complexities of his parents’ relationship, though it was doubtful. More and more of John stood out in Calvin every day, and Sherlock knew that his son stood a very good chance of turning out - for lack of better word - normal.
And even John didn’t quite understand what it was to live in Sherlock’s head, though he had admittedly come the closest of anyone. It was likely Calvin would never understand, either - not completely.
Sherlock found that this was an intolerable thought, to be alienated from his only child.
Sherlock snapped out of his thoughts and answered, “I’m...fond of your papa. That’s why I married him. That’s why...that’s why it works. Do you remember the conversation we had last week, when you asked me if you would have to marry a boy when you grew up?"
Calvin shrugged, then nodded.
"What I told you then is true - you don't have to marry anyone if you don't want to. But it's entirely possible that you will want to, someday, and when you do you should know that your preference as to your partner has nothing to do with me or papa."
He stopped when he perceived that Calvin's eyes were, as John would put it, glazing over. He cleared his throat, took a long, deep breath, and said, as patiently as he was able, "Just because I married a man - a boy, your papa - and not a girl, like your mum, does not mean that you will also have to marry a boy. Who you marry, or if you marry at all, will depend entirely on who you fall in love with. Many people…feel emotionally attached to someone, or many people, because they feel…attraction. For most people, that attraction is physical. In their body. That will all happen to you when you grow up - you will begin to feel attraction for other people, and that may determine if you prefer to be in a relationship with - marry - a man or a woman. Or it is possible that you would be equally happy with either sex, like your papa, or with neither…like me."
Calvin's wide eyes and blank face spoke volumes - he did not understand.
Sherlock sighed and smoothed Cal's hair down over his forehead. "I married your papa because we love each other, and we decided we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. He loves me, and I love him.”
“Like you love me?” Calvin asked cautiously.
“Not precisely,” Sherlock said. “I love you, yes. Not in the same way that I do your papa.”
“You love him more?”
“I did not say that, either,” Sherlock sighed, quickly finding the conversation tiresome and Calvin’s inability to grasp - or accept - that his parents loved one another and him at the same time irritating. Not to mention the sudden fascination with marriages and attachments, which Sherlock knew would lead, someday soon, to questions about sex.
"So you love me more?"
Sherlock looked at Calvin's guarded face, and found he could not find an emotion to connect to this experience. He felt…bleak. Blank. He had no idea how to make this right for his son, and so he found himself borrowing John’s words, as he had none of his own: “I love you," John had said, leaning over Cal's bed one night when the boy had woken screaming from a nightmare, "with everything that makes me who I am. You are everything to me."
Calvin seemed satisfied with the response - he kissed his father wetly on the cheek and turned the page in his colouring book.
Was this how it was to be, for the rest of Calvin’s childhood? Were these the questions he would have to field from his son - questions about the one side of humanity that was closed to him, through no choice of his own? The one driving force that motivated ninety-nine percent of the population, and which he couldn’t grasp the importance of?
Something black and ugly coiled in Sherlock’s stomach, reaching up through his chest and grasping his heart as well so that it started and sputtered. He was wholly inadequate for this; how could he even begin to prepare Calvin for life as a functional human being when he was barely one himself?
He was on the outside looking in, and Calvin deserved better. They had been fooling themselves, he and John both, to think that he was capable of a task such as this.
Calvin had scooted out of his lap by the time Sherlock came back to himself, his interest in the conversation apparently satisfied - at least, for now. Sherlock wordlessly leaned over to press his lips to Calvin’s forehead, and then got to shaky feet and left the room.
Sherlock sat cross-legged on the duvet, watching John undress for bed. It was a warm night after a hot day and Sherlock had just come from the shower, his damp hair still dripping down his back and into the towel wrapped around his waist. John looked tired. He'd been at the surgery all day and was late coming home. Calvin and Sherlock had eaten without him, and Cal was quiet in his room by the time John came in.
"Calvin and I had an interesting conversation today," Sherlock said into the soft silence surrounding them.
"Oh?" John's tone was heavy; trying to be interested.
Ah. Something Not Good had happened on his watch. Death, most likely. Sherlock sat quietly and waited for John to come to him. He did, after a minute; stripped down to his pants he lay down stiffly on the bed, smelling of sweat and antiseptic. Sherlock carded his fingers gently through the sweat-damp hair over his forehead. Usually he vaguely disliked touching John when he was sweaty but tonight he welcomed it - the feel of John so solid, so real, so normal beneath his hands. It grounded him.
John closed his eyes and murmured, "What'd you talk about?"
Sherlock inhaled slowly, recalling the conversation. He would not delete it, because it concerned Calvin, but the reminder that his own son would someday find him as alien as Sherlock himself found the rest of the population - that pained him more than he cared to admit. He had never before minded what others thought and, admittedly, even revelled in his strangeness.
But the thought that Calvin wouldn’t understand him - and that he wouldn’t ever completely understand his own son - well, that was maddening.
It was highly unfair.
Where did I go wrong, to deserve this fate?
"Calvin has been wondering if he will have to follow your example to prefer male sexual partners, when he's older."
John made a sound like he'd been punched in the stomach and sat up so quickly Sherlock could see the blood draining from his face. "What?"
Sherlock tried to reassure him, feeling ill-equipped to do so; normally it was John telling him that whatever new event they were facing was perfectly normal. "Lestrade assures me that he's at the age when--"
"You talked to Lestrade about this?"
Sherlock blinked. "Several days ago Calvin asked me a question and I failed to understand its significance. Lestrade explained it to me, and this evening I reopened the subject with Cal."
"What did he ask you?"
"If he would have to marry a boy when he grew up."
"And what did you tell him?"
"I told him he didn't have to marry anybody, unless he wanted to. Lestrade--"
"Is there any special reason you went to Lestrade with this and not me? Days ago? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Calm down, John," Sherlock snapped. "I didn't go to Lestrade with anything. We were at the Yard and he asked how Calvin was. I told him about our conversation. He interpreted it for me. He says that at this age children become fascinated with their parents' relationship and where they might fit in to it. Lestrade told me that Jack once told him that he was going to grow up and marry his mother, because that's what Lestrade had done. I realized that was what Cal was asking; is he predestined to marry a man because that's what we--his only familial role models--did."
John hadn't quite managed to shut his mouth through Sherlock's explanation, and licked his lips when he fell silent, his voice coming out oddly strained. "So what did you say to Calvin tonight?"
Sherlock folded his hands in his lap and cocked his head, looking over John's shoulder, recalling. "I explained that the choices and genetic predispositions of his parents will in no way affect his own free will or ability to make the same or different choices, nor will they affect his inherent preferences. I attempted to help him understand that all relationships are individual and unique to those two or more peoples' preferences and inclinations, and while our family might resemble others that he sees in his day-to-day life, the relationship between us, between you and me, is not what might commonly be assumed by an outsider--"
John groaned and dropped his head into his hands. Sherlock stopped talking abruptly.
"Tell me you didn't try to explain sexuality to our five-year-old."
Sherlock's silence was apparently, and rightly, taken as confirmation.
"Dammit, Sherlock…this is…you should have…we should have talked this over, first. This isn't a one-day, one-dad deal, this is…trying to make a kid understand this is--"
"He's of above average intelligence," Sherlock bristled on Calvin's behalf. "And far more capable than you like to give him credit for. Just because he's a child doesn't mean he doesn't comprehend. Have you ever considered that maybe that's why most children are so stupid, because nothing's expected of them?"
"No," John snapped, "I hadn't, because it's not true. Children, Sherlock, are not miniature adults in cute clothes. Their brains are literally growing and changing every day and they are learning and processing things for the first time with no frame of reference for most of the data they take in. The way you present new information to kids is not arbitrary, it's important. And that's not even what we're talking about, we're talking about you making a pretty damn huge parenting decision without any reference to me or even letting me know what was going on! That's not ok, that's very not ok, Sherlock."
“He was asking, John,” Sherlock said, and in the silence following John’s outburst his words felt brittle; fragile shards of sound that would not hold up to John's anger. “I didn't want to lie to him, or tell him I would discuss it later in the hopes that he would forget. I consulted Lestrade; when it came up again, you weren’t home. I hadn’t intended to purposefully discuss it without you here. I - he was asking.”
John stared at him, his jaw set in a hard line and his shoulders stiff with tension. And then he appeared to shrink, deflating as the fight left his limbs and his anger melted away.
“Christ,” he muttered, scrubbing a hand across the back of his neck. “I - God, yeah, you’re right. I mean, I would have preferred to discuss this with him - with you - but…well, sounds like you hit all the important points with him.”
Sherlock blinked. “You believe so?”
“Of course, you daft man.” John attempted a shadow of a smile. "And probably without nearly so much blushing and stuttering as I would have."
Sherlock looked away, eyes lighting on his laptop. He pulled it towards himself reflexively, hiding behind it, staring at the blank screen.
"Wonder what’s got him so curious about it all of a sudden,” John murmured as he crawled into bed and turned out his light. Sherlock began to peck at his laptop, but turned it so that the glare from the screen was not in John’s face. “I suppose he must just be at that age where he’s becoming more aware of the world around him. Though I still think it’s a little young to be asking about sex; hopefully he doesn’t bring that up for another few years. ”
Sherlock didn't respond, but his hands went still against the keyboard.
John reached for Sherlock’s knee. “You’re quiet.”
Sherlock didn't move. “I’m always quiet.”
"Are you all right?"
"Are you sure…yeah, sorry." John cut himself off at Sherlock's look, squeezing his knee before settling back against his pillow. “You did well, you know. I do mean that. I always wonder if we’re going about this the right way, if we’re telling him the right things or if we’re just confusing him even more. But we’re managing, yeah? Doing well.”
“You are, at least.”
“Don’t say that,” John scolded softly. “You’re doing a great job. And we’re in this together.”
Perhaps, Sherlock mused as John tugged on his arm and he acquiesced to a quick kiss. But even in this family they were building, he was still very alone.