Sherlock's in the kitchen, sleeves pushed up and hands braced on his hips, glaring down into the beaker that contains his latest failed experiment.
A week's progress wasted because John hadn't been able to wait five bloody minutes.
Sherlock scrubs his hands through his hair and then braces them on the edge of the counter, head hanging loose between his arms.
He closes his eyes and replays the last several days on high speed.
The idea that had occurred to him. The spark that had flamed into an obsession. The days and nights spent hiding - yes, hiding - in his lab at Bart's. Slipping out of bed before John woke up. And then this morning, stopping in the street outside a shop, eyes fixed on a highly stylised, completely unrealistic yellow duckling stitched onto the front of a pale blue undersized jumper.
And then ten minutes ago.
"Hey! You're home!" John's face lit up as he came through the door and found Sherlock in the kitchen, pipette suspended over the beaker.
Sherlock didn't respond.
"Sherlock?" John hung up his coat and moved to stand beside him.
"Don't--" Sherlock snapped, a moment too late. Sherlock's enraged shout had rivaled the sound of the miniature explosion as John jostled him and too much potassium chlorate dropped at once into the beaker.
He straightens suddenly, rolling his shoulders, and steps toward the staircase, his stride unsteady. He hasn't eaten in days.
"John?" He stands outside the door to the bedroom. It still feels like John's room sometimes, especially with the door closed like it is now. He clears his throat and tries again. "John. May I come in?"
He's straining his ears, head bent close to the door, so he hears the soft breath on the other side. Disbelieving? Disgusted? Annoyed? He doesn't know. He doesn't know and that is...
...once he would have used the word infuriating. Once there was a time he couldn't have borne this. How had it come to this? How had his life come to this - come to be a daily mystery, come to be an adventure in not knowing what comes next? How had this happened...
...saddening. He hates that he lets it get like this. He's always known that John would be the one to leave, if it went that way. Every bad thing that happens is because Sherlock does not know how to conform to what John needs him to be.
John, of course, does not have to conform; John is perfectly acceptable as he is.
"John, I want to discuss something with you."
On the other side of the door, breath hitches. Sherlock presses his forehead to the frame of the door.
It hadn't been anything obvious. That was how it had managed to slip into his consciousness. John going misty-eyed over a lovely little girl flying a kite on a summer afternoon in the park - that would never have been allowed to grow and morph into this. John puzzling over what to buy his nephew for Christmas - that never would have been allowed to mutate into this.
It must have been something subtle. The kind of subtle he overlooks without knowing he's doing it, the kind that creeps in without his permission anyway. Dammit. Dammit, dammit.
"John! For God's sake let me in!"
The door is pulled open with a jerk and John's standing there, staring at him, incredulous. His eyes are worried but he's not reaching for Sherlock - still burned from being shouted at earlier and deciding he was going to teach Sherlock a lesson or some such rot...Dammit he can't ever stop, can't stop noticing, some days it drives him mad.
"It wasn't even locked," John says, his voice sounding strangled. "And it's your room too."
Sherlock turns his head to look at John but keeps his temple braced against the smooth wood, his palm stinging where it's pressed against the wall. When had he put it there? Slammed it there, felt like. Had he lashed out at the wall and not even noticed?
Sherlock blinks at John, eyes bleary, and John breaks. He pulls at Sherlock by the front of his shirt, peeling him off the wall. Sherlock straightens with a mighty effort and tugs at the hem of his shirt that had come untucked sometime yesterday. He realises suddenly, now that he's in John's presence, that he can smell himself. That his fingers are still greasy from his hair. That his eyes are burning and probably bloodshot and sunken.
That he is absolutely the last man in the world suited to be a father.
That John is probably the one man in the world who really ought to be a father.
That now that he's thought of it, thought around it, he can't delete it.
And he shoves his hands in his pockets, curling the fingers of his right hand around his thumb and feeling unbearable pressure around his chest cavity. Sense-memory. A small hand in his.
He goes to sit on the windowsill, the cold pane pressed against his fiery skin and sending shivers shooting down to his heels. John stays by the door. Ready to escape.
"What's going on, Sherlock?"
He doesn’t answer for some long moments.
Be enough. Be what you need; what you deserve .
And, finally, the thought - the idea, the spark, the flame - that has been tormenting him for days spills from his lips.
"A child? What do you mean, a child?" John stares at him with his mouth half-open.
Sherlock rolls his forehead against the cold pane, closes his eyes, breathes in ice.
"You know perfectly well what I mean. A small human. A proto-person. A vessel to carry on the light of civilization."
John looks around like he thought Sherlock was talking to someone standing just behind him. "You can't be serious."
John sags heavily against the frame. "Sherlock..."
Sherlock hunches his shoulders, bracing against that tone he knows so well.
"Sherlock..." John repeats, as though his name was supposed to mean something. Sherlock feels his lip begin to curl. "You can't even be bothered to say hello to me four nights out of five. You only did the--the thing," he holds up his left hand, white-gold ring catching the light, "out of some...some sense of...I dunno...obligation after the stabbing. Where on Earth did you get the idea this was...oh, God. What is this, is this another experiment? This whole thing--is this just the next stage? 'Then comes the baby...' Christ."
John turns abruptly and walks out, his footsteps halting halfway down the hall.
Sherlock stays frozen in place until he hears John's heavy sigh and heavier footfalls turning back towards him. He jolts to life and whirls from the room, nearly knocking John over. He leaves the flat without his coat.
"Lestrade!" Sherlock calls again, louder, deep frown lines etched into his face. He’s outside the DI's door, and has been for longer than he usually allowed. He’d have normally picked the locks some ten minutes ago. But now...
Giving a harsh snort, disgusted with himself, he pulls out his lock picks. Now is no different - should be no different - he would allow it to be no different - than any other time he has come to this flat.
He’s on one knee, this latest deadbolt of Lestrade's giving him trouble, when the latch clicks and the door opens a few centimeters. Sherlock stands swiftly, tucking his picks back into his inside pocket. "Ah, Lestrade. I was beginning to think you weren't--"
"Sherlock," Lestrade cuts him off, glancing over his shoulder. "Can this wait?"
"No." Sherlock tucks his hands into his pockets and looks down at his shoes, rallying. He needs Lestrade now. This could not wait. "It can't. Whatever you're doing, please put it on hold for the moment."
Lestrade looks at him, really looks, a crease growing between his brows as he takes in the sight of the detective on his doorstep. Sherlock knows he must look a sight; hair unwashed for days, out in the middle of the night, the middle of winter, without his coat. He meets Lestrade's eyes and didn't look away.
Lestrade sighs and looks over his shoulder again. Sherlock cranes his neck and tries to look past him. Lestrade huffs an impatient breath and opens the door wide, letting him in.
Lestrade is wearing a dressing gown over...very little else. Sherlock sweeps his eyes around the room - bottle of wine, empty, and two glasses on the table. The remains of dinner dishes - the nice ones. The ones that had been a wedding gift, the ones that his wife had left behind when she left, in the year after Jack died, when the world was broken and all Lestrade's ties to reality had frayed. Lestrade never used those dishes.
Sherlock hunches his shoulders and gropes for words. What would John say? That was easy - "I'm sorry."
Lestrade's eyebrows lift up into his hairline and he crosses his arms. Sherlock grimaces. Those words never sound right when he says them.
"All right, I'm not. But, nonetheless, Lestrade, I..." He huffs an impatient sigh. "I need you."
Lestrade sighs, dropping his head for a moment to consider his bare feet. Then he pads softly over to his bedroom and slips inside. Sherlock crosses to the window and looks down on the slumbering city. From the other room he hears soft murmurs; he focuses on tuning out the words.
Lestrade returns wearing tracksuit bottoms and a faded t-shirt, closing the door behind him.
"All right," he says, sitting down in his arm chair and lifting one leg to rest his ankle on his knee. "Give me. What's up?"
Hands in his pockets, Sherlock is silent for a long time. Finally, he says, "I've just suggested to John that we..." He finally glances at Lestrade, the tips of his ears flushing pink. "That we..."
"That you...?" Lestrade prompts, then his face falls abruptly - it was almost a comical sight and Sherlock feels his lips twitch upwards in a slight smile. "Oh, God, you haven't split up, have you?"
"What? No, Greg, don't be absurd. I've just suggested to John that we adopt a child."
"You...oh my God." Lestrade looks...horrified. "Sweet Jesus, you're not serious."
Sherlock's brows snap down and he glares at Lestrade, his frozen toes curling inside his shoes, some emotion he didn't want to name setting off little explosions, pinpricks of unbearable pain, inside his chest.
Lestrade's hands flex against the arms of his chair, recoiling under the full blast of Sherlock's glare. "That is - Christ. Sherlock, I mean..." He struggles up and out of the chair, reaching out hesitantly for him. "I mean, that's great. That's...amazing. It's just...are you sure?"
Sherlock feels all the resolve leave him then. He sags against the wall, knees shaking. Lestrade is at his side with an arm around his shoulders, guiding him over to the kitchen table, before he recovers. He collapses into a straight-backed chair. The smell of the red wine makes him feel ill so he pushes the almost-empty glass away. It tips over, the red stain spreading slowly out like blood from a fresh stab wound. Sherlock stares at it, tracking its progress, ignoring Lestrade's distracted, Dammit, Sherlock.
“I want to do this. For John.”
Lestrade sighs and grabs a cloth, using it to mop up the spilled wine. “Sherlock, you can’t just gift a child to your partner.”
“He wants to be a dad.”
“Has he said as much to you?”
“I observed,” Sherlock sneers, his lip curling. “He didn’t have to say.”
“You do realize that he married you without the presumption that you would become parents,” Lestrade points out. “He knew that was never a guarantee - probably he’s never even thought that it was even a possibility - and married you anyway. I think that says all you need to know right there.”
“You are missing the point -”
“Actually, I don’t think I am,” Lestrade cuts in. “Tell me, why do you want a child?”
“Because John -”
“No,” Lestrade cuts across him. “No, Sherlock, why do you want a child?”
Sherlock is silent for a long while, bruised eyes flicking to Lestrade’s face and then down at the table again. “I couldn’t say.”
Lestrade heaves another sigh and says, “Look, it’s a kind gesture, coming from you. I’m sure John appreciates the sentiment - or will come to, at any rate. But a child is not an experiment, and this won’t work if you don’t want it. And I mean really want it, Sherlock. You need to be able to invest yourself in this the way you do your work. Can you do that? Can you even imagine doing that?”
“I’ve been able to think of little else for the past week,” Sherlock admits. He’s aware again of the heavy musk that clings to his shirt and skin; his unwashed hair droops into his eyes and he feels faint again. When had he last eaten? It’s been days. The idea has consumed every part of his hard drive not devoted to his work; even leaked over into the portion of his mind devoted to experiments. Was this how it would be, as a parent?
He didn’t know.
He wanted to know.
Lestrade lets out a quick sigh, tip of his tongue swiping at his chapped bottom lip while he considers his next words.
“The child would have to come first. Would always have to come first. You wouldn’t be able to rush off to a crime scene at a moment’s notice, or chase after a criminal, or even bring John along as your assistant anymore because someone would need to watch the child while you’re working and I’m not having him along to my crime scenes.”
Sherlock cracks a shadow of a smile at that mental image. "Perhaps not. But a child is only a child for a certain amount of time. They are only helpless for so long. And I would think that - well. Probably I am incorrect."
"No, what? Tell me what you're thinking." Lestrade leans forward.
Sherlock fixes his eyes on his face for a long moment, then drops his gaze to his hands. "It seems to be the conventional wisdom that when it comes to those years of intensive care-taking, the sacrifices a couple makes for the child is considered to be worthwhile. Isn't..." Sherlock falters as Lestrade's eyes widen. "Isn't that right?"
"Well, yeah, as you say, that's the conventional wisdom. But Sherlock...I've never heard you argue in favour of conventional anything. Is this..." Lestrade blinks and looks away, gazing into the past. "Remember the night John came home from the hospital, after he’d been stabbed. After the engagement. Remember he said, what was it? 'Don't you dare change.' He was talking about this, Sherlock. About you trying to change your nature for him."
Sherlock glares at him. "Change is inevitable, Lestrade. You should know that. Humans change. They evolve. Isn't that your main complaint, that I'm not human enough? To me it seems there is no more human act than wanting to effect a change for the love of another human. Than wanting something for no logical reason. Just wanting it. Tell me I'm wrong, or tell me that your real objection is to the thought of a freak like me being allowed near a child."
“No,” Lestrade says, and his voice sounds strangled. “I don’t - Sherlock, when have I ever said that you weren’t human? When have - God, I can’t believe - do you honestly think that’s all I see when I look at you? A freak?”
“It’s a common assumption,” Sherlock says flatly.
“All these years, and that’s the best I get?” He’s angry now; that much Sherlock can see. “That’s the best that Jack gets?”
His remark hits home, and Sherlock feels an uncomfortable weight settle in his chest.
“I can see no other reason for why you would object to me having a child. To us having one,” Sherlock says stiffly. Lestrade huffs.
“I don’t object. Never; not if this is something you really want. And right, fine, there might not be any logical reason for you wanting a child - that’s fair enough. I can’t say I had one, either. But - Sherlock, look, you leave dangerous experiments sitting out around the flat. You chase off after criminals at a moment’s notice, without thinking about your safety or others’. You wouldn’t be able to do that. There would need to be some changes in your life, and you need to decide whether you’re willing to accept that.”
“I am aware of this fact,” Sherlock said coolly. “I have considered this from all possible angles, Lestrade.”
There’s a moment where Lestrade studies his face, and Sherlock allows the scrutiny. The DI’s gaze flicks from Sherlock’s hairline to his lips to his eyes, and Sherlock wonders what he could possibly be gleaning from the observation. Lestrade has a tendency to be infuriatingly slow when he’s trying to figure something out, and usually Sherlock is too impatient to allow it to go on for so long.
But he has no words for this.
“You want this,” Lestrade says suddenly. “You want - you want to be a father. With John.”
Sherlock blinks. “I...suppose that’s accurate.”
“And John’s not averse to the idea of parenthood...” Lestrade trails off. “So what’s happened?”
“He wasn’t receptive to my proposal,” Sherlock says, blinking away the look of incredulity and horror on John’s face as the memory resurfaces. “Likely for the same reason you were at first disbelieving.”
“Stop. You know that I don’t think of you like that.” Lestrade gets up and tosses the soiled cloth in the sink. He then pours a glass of water and hands it to Sherlock, who accepts it wordlessly but doesn’t drink. He can read Lestrade’s silences well enough to know that he’s carefully considering his next words. They come after several minutes of silence, throughout which Lestrade holds his gaze. “He loved you, you know. Jack. He didn’t think you were a freak or not human or - or anything like that. You were just Sherlock, to him. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“He was too young to understand,” Sherlock says, but Lestrade shakes his head.
“No. He was at precisely the right age to understand. I think he understood you better than most people do, and he adored you for it.”
Sherlock says nothing.
“Do you want to know what I see, when I look at you?” Lestrade continues in a low voice. “I see the man who sat with Jack at the hospital and told him that everything was going to be all right, even though it was a lie. I see the man who kept him calm 'til the very end. I see - I see a good man.”
He knocks his knuckles against the underside of Sherlock’s chin, lightly. “Go home and talk to John.”
“And say what, exactly?” Sherlock bites out.
“What you just told me now.”
“Are you certain - this is the right course of action?” Sherlock drags the tip of his tongue across dry lips. “As fond as I am of - for lack of a better word - experimenting, I fear this is one I would rather not take the risk on if it appears from the first that it will be a failure.”
“It won’t be,” Lestrade says firmly. “Go talk to John. Be honest with him. Everything will work out; you’ll see.”
Sherlock gives a wry smile. “I wish I had your confidence, Lestrade.”
“Well, that’s a sentence I’ll never be hearing again.” Lestrade gives him a light shove on the shoulder. “Go.”
John is still awake when Sherlock arrives home, though it’s past two and he has an early shift in the morning. Sherlock wonders for a moment if the hot discomfort he feels in his chest is guilt, and files it away for future consideration. John’s sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, cross-legged, a photo album open across his knees.
He beckons for Sherlock to join him, and he does so.
“This is Tom,” John says, though Sherlock knows very well who the child in the photographs is. He has John’s open face and kind eyes. “My nephew.”
“Yes,” Sherlock says.
“I can’t say that the thought of being a parent never crossed my mind,” John continues.
John’s hand finds Sherlock’s knee and he finally looks at his husband. “But I knew that that wasn’t ever a part of your plan. I said yes anyway. So where is this coming from?”
“I’m not sure.” Sherlock rubs the heel of his hand absently over his sternum - sense-memory again, the feel of a tiny head resting against his chest. He presses clammy palms against his thighs and there is the pressure of a child sitting his lap, the weight warm and comfortable and real. “I simply - I want this. I can’t delete it - it’s proved a most persistent idea.”
His hands flex against his legs in frustration. John takes one in his own, curling his calloused fingers into Sherlock’s palm.
“You went and talked to Lestrade, didn’t you?” John says suddenly. Sherlock tenses - he knows that he is in no condition to weather another attack on his relationship with Lestrade - and dares a sidelong glance, but John’s eyes are dancing with amusement. “Well, what’d he say?”
“He seems to think that the idea is sound.”
"Does he?" John muses, nodding. "I think he's right."
"Is he?" Sherlock looks sharply at him.
John returns the look, regarding him seriously, eyes searching his face before he nods once again, decisively. "You’d be a great dad.”
Sherlock stays very still to mask his surprise. A great dad. John gets to his feet and then offers a hand to Sherlock. He accepts the assistance without complaint.
John doesn't let go of him as he says, “I can't give you an answer tonight. You’ve had weeks to think this over; until this evening, I'd never even given it a thought. So I’m not saying yes right now."
“But,” John begins to smile, “I’m not saying no, either.”
John lets out a laugh then, shaking his head. Sherlock bristles. “What?”
“Nothing. It’s just - God, when I moved in four years ago, this is not a conversation I ever pictured us having. S’a bit mad, you know?” John takes Sherlock by the hips; pulls him in for a quick kiss. “But a good kind of madness. The best.”
Sherlock places a careful hand over John's heart, counting beats, and nods his agreement.