Finally, Sherlock couldn't take it anymore. "Cheer up," he demanded. "This is the fourth day of silence and it just won't do. You aren't any different now than you were last week."
John paused, chewing on a piece of toast. He was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, laptop on his thighs and dressing gown loosely tied around his pajamas. His unwashed hair was messy, his cheeks finely mottled with stubble. He looked up at his flat mate, sitting across from him on the arm chair. "Hm?"
In contrast, Sherlock was sharply dressed and freshly showered, which meant he had a case on the brain. He leaned forward a bit, resting his elbows on his knees. "Look," he said in a serious voice, though his flexing jaw hinted at his unease at having to speak openly about such a topic. "I've suffered mood swings my whole life. So, I sympathize. I know what it feels like to not want to talk for days on end, to struggle with…depression." His said the last word bitterly. It was clinical, it hinted of weakness and weak was not how Sherlock would describe his feelings when he was depressed, his brain all wound up, his thoughts racing and insatiable, overwhelming his whole body so that he could literally do nothing but lay there and despair in utter silence, unable to articulate. "Many people get depressed when they pass a major milestone in their lives," Sherlock went on awkwardly. "It's very common...so…don't…feel bad. Nonetheless..."
John just blinked at Sherlock, toast still clamped between his teeth.
Sherlock finished, "...I have to continue working so I need you out of this fog. So. Buck up." With that, he nodded stiffly. It was as encouraging as a pep-talk as he could manage.
"I…" John sat up a bit, withdrawing his toast and depositing it on a napkin folded on the table. "Well, I…"
Sherlock's face fell. Oh, goddamnit, he was going to share. Sherlock mentally prepared himself. This isn't what he wanted, but he knew it was a possibility and had accepted the risk before he opened his mouth.
"I…don't feel depressed about turning forty," John said.
Sherlock cocked his head slightly, brows furrowed. "I don't understand. You haven't said a word since your birthday. Naturally, I assumed you were unhappy about entering mid-life."
"Well, I'm not excited about it, no," John admitted, scratching his unshaven chin. "Have I really been that quiet? I didn't realize."
Sherlock smiled. "Good. I'm glad we were able to talk about this." He made to stand up.
John said, reflectively, "I guess…I can't help but be a little disappointed in myself. I wanted to accomplish more with my life by this point."
Sherlock's face fell. He settled back down in his chair. Here it comes.
But John didn't continue. He just sighed, then turned his attention back to his laptop, continued to scroll.
Sherlock frowned. He waited, but John didn't volunteer.John finished his toast, oblivious.
Sherlock drummed his fingers on his knee. "Like what?" he prodded.
John looked up again and asked, "What? You don't actually want to hear about it?"
Sherlock opened his mouth, then closed it. He reflected. No, he really didn't. But he did want John to be himself again and talking through problems was what 'normal' people did. "It doesn't require much effort on my part to lend an ear," Sherlock offered. Shut up, he thought. Shut up. Shut up.
"Are you kidding?" John laughed and said, "I can't think of anything more difficult for you; keeping your attention on something that disinterests you."
"I am interested." Shut up! Don't encourage this!
John said, "Nope. I don't want to start sharing my most personal feelings if you're going to dismiss them with an abrupt 'Boring!' three minutes from now. Yes, I'm feeling a little down. I'm sure you can infer a dozen or so reasons why, and most of them will be right and I can still spare you all the tedious little details."
"Ahh. Alright." Sherlock laced his fingers together while steepling his index fingers and pressing them against his lips, as he liked to do when considering an especially trying puzzle. "You're frustrated that you aren't married. You were hoping to be a high ranking military officer by now and being invalidated from Afghanistan ruined your career…"
"I wasn't inviting you to deduce it," John interrupted sharply, no longer amused.
Sherlock objected, "But you said…"
"In your head, Sherlock," John said, aggravated. "You don't have to announce what you infer. God." He ruffled his hair. "Yes. You git. It doesn't need to be all picket fences and a house in the suburbs. But yes, I wish I was married and starting a family by now. I'd like…a couple of little ones crawling around..."
The hair on Sherlock's arms rose. Little ones?
"…but you know me," John continued, "I'm just garbage with women. It's like…they can sense just how desperate I am."
"Desperate?" Immediately, Sherlock thought John was referring to sex and relaxed. John's never ending quest for sex was a familiar challenge, one that amused Sherlock. Poor, pathetic, rutting John. Ordinary in his desires, ruled by instincts. He pitied his flat mate and his consuming libido. How horrible it must be.
John said, "If I had a child today, that means he or she would be turning ten years old when I'm turning fifty. You know how willful and mouthy children are at ten? Just when my bones are going stiff and I start to look like an old man, their hormones will start raging." John shook his head. "And I'm not having a baby today. I don't even have a girlfriend." John smiled bitterly. "It's just one of those things that's just outside my reach and I don't think I'm ever going to have it. And my situation with women is just growing more and more toxic with every failed relationship, and the rush to have a family is just ruining everything. I have this expectation that I can…God, I really don't want to talk about this." John waved Sherlock off. "Just, never mind."
Sherlock just sat in stunned silence for a moment. Little ones.
John settled back down into the couch, pulling his knees up to his chest and propping his laptop on his knees, hiding his face behind it.
Finally, Sherlock hissed "Children? You want children?" He scowled. "This isn't about women? This is about children…?"
John peered over his screen and snarled, "See? See? I'm not going to talk to you about this." He went back to his computer, typing away. "Don't you have any pressing cases to busy yourself with?"
Sherlock face lit up. He leapt to his feet, buttoning his jacket, eyes already on his coat on the hook by the door. "See now? That's the spirit! In fact, there's a charming little murder-suicide I read about this morning that doesn't sit right with me. I thought I'd phone Lestrade and see what details he was keeping out the papers…"
"Enjoy," John said, disinterested.
Sherlock waited expectantly, ready to burst with excitement. "Come on, now. Get up. Get showered. The Game awaits."
John didn't respond.
"Up, up," Sherlock insisted pleasantly. "I need my medical examiner."
"I'm going to stay in," John said, engrossed in a website. "Think I'll put coffee on and watch the news."
Sherlock snorted. "Give that here." He plucked John's laptop from his grasp.
John swiped madly for it, furious. "Hey!" he barked. "Give that back now!"
Sherlock turned the screen around and waltzed away into the kitchen. "What is so interesting? You chatting someone up?"
John launched himself off the sofa in pursuit of Sherlock. "Goddamn it!"
Sherlock's merry strides came to a halt as he skimmed over the website John had been looking at. "What is this? A dating website? No. Is this…?" He frowned. It was a commercial surrogacy website, matching infertile couples and gay couples with available women for artificial insemination. Sherlock's mouth fell open. "John, what is this?
John caught up to Sherlock then, wrenching his laptop out of his flat mate's grasp. "None of your damn business, that's what." He slammed the laptop shut, his face and ears cherry red.
"This isn't some fleeting impulse, then," Sherlock said, horrified. "You've thought about this at length."
John turned around and marched down the hall. "I'm going to take a shower and then we'll see about that murder. Whatever you want. Just. Just…let it drop."
Sherlock stood in confusion, blinking, a thousand threads of thought streaming through his consciousness at once. John was considering…paying a woman to be inseminated? And then raising a baby alone?
Slowly, dream-slow, Sherlock turned and watched John go into the bathroom and stand in front of the mirror, examining his reflection. John sighed and turned on the faucet in the sink and grabbed his toothbrush. Sherlock stared as John began his morning routine.
With hesitation, Sherlock began to walk towards the bathroom.
As John started brushing his teeth, he saw Sherlock approach. John he reached for the door and tried to slam it closed. But Sherlock reached the bathroom just at that moment and caught the door with his arm and kept it open.
"Can I have privacy?" John asked. "I'm doing what you asked…"
"I had no idea you felt that way," Sherlock interrupted gravely. "You've never spoken of children before."
"Yeah, well," John dismissed, "Why would I? You don't like children. It's not something I expect you could relate to."
"I like children fine," Sherlock lied reflexively. Why are you lying? Stop saying things you don't mean to spare his feelings. Once you start lying to please people, it will never end.
John snorted. "You hate children."
Sherlock ignored the comment. "I find it interesting that you're not focused on marriage as strongly as I suspected you would, but on having a baby. Is it the traditional family unit that you're attracted to? Or…just…passing on your genetic material?"
John's face wrinkled up. "What the bloody hell?" He pushed on the door again, trying to close it though Sherlock still rested his arm on it. "How can I communicate with you more clearly that I don't want to discuss this with you?"
"It's a valid desire either way," Sherlock assured John. "To reproduce and procreate…."
"Don't want to discuss it," John said firmly.
"An instinctual compulsion…"
"You're an idiot!" John snapped. "Stop talking now. Don't try and sound like an authority on a subject you know nothing about, and this is really outside your expertise."
Sherlock was quiet for a few seconds. It was outside his expertise. The whole subject was utterly foreign to him. He didn't know what to say.
John's shoulders began to relax, feeling like he'd finally gotten his point across. He resumed brushing his teeth.
"John," Sherlock said cautiously, "I only asked because…"
John's head dropped and he muttered, "God give me strength," under his breath.
Sherlock said, "…because I was wondering if you had considered adoption or not."
"Adoption?" John echoed, looking at his friend bewildered.
"There are more valuable things to pass on to children than just you genes," Sherlock pointed out. "I have a particular lullaby I'd like to pass on, for instance, and as I don't imagine myself ever having offspring of my own, I'd be just satisfied giving it to your children." Sherlock thought a moment. "I know a trick to making perfect Easter eggs. Adults wouldn't find it appealing, but as a boy I was delighted when nana taught it to me. And I know a handful of good bed-time stories to quiet any needy child. I know. I was quite needy. All valuable experiences. All contributed in some way to the adult that I am, all passed down from my mum and dad from their mums and dads, just as intricate and unique as DNA. I'd much rather see my values and my personal culture passed on than my complexion or bone structure." Sherlock cocked his head. "But I'm odd. Not everyone feels that way."
John stood quietly, toothbrush still in his mouth. "Uh. I dunno. Hadn't thought about it."
Sherlock turned, resting his back against the door jam. His eyes skimmed over the flat uneasily. Nothing, nothing from the chemistry set in the kitchen to the evidence bags collecting on every flat surface, nothing was child-safe. "Hmm," Sherlock mused. "John Watson wants to be a father..." Sherlock bean to float away in a trance. John Watson wants to be a father.
"I wouldn't get worked up over it," John cautioned. "I'm just thinking about it."
Sherlock turned back around to look at his friend. There was a spark in his eyes. "We're going to need a bigger flat, John."
"We?" John repeated.
Sherlock sighed. "I mean, we could make do for a while. The most logical place for a nursery is my bedroom because it's the larger bedroom, so it can accommodate a crib and toys and a changing station and a stroller and a car seat and just the mounds and mounds of stuff that babies need. I could sleep on the couch, or, if you're comfortable, we could put another bed in your room and we could share. Of course, maybe your bedroom is more logical, because it separates a wailing infant from perspective clients–no, no, no, that wouldn't do, stairs, there are stairs that a small child could fall down." Sherlock pressed his index fingers to his lips again, thinking. "It's madness to think the consulting business can thrive if there's an infant around, crying and being needy, so a sitter or some form of daycare will be necessary. Maybe Mrs. Hudson would be willing to….oh, who am I kidding, we're going to need a larger flat, a much larger flat! We're going to have to move! And what about schools?" Sherlock walked slowly down the hall, rotating in circles, eyes shut. "We'll need to find a neighborhood with a very good school. And a playground. University. John." Sherlock's eyes popped open. "John, we'll have to save for university!"
John withdrew his toothbrush from his mouth. "Sherlock," he said, again tensely. "What do you mean, 'we'?"
Sherlock paused, looking back at John. "You and I." There was excitement in Sherlock's face, smiling like he did whenever something truly unexpected and delightful and grisly turned up in a case. Except that Sherlock wasn't thinking about corpses and blood spatters.
"You mean as….parents." John's face was incredulous. "Like. Co-parents."
"Obviously." Sherlock's mind was already a million miles ahead, thinking about the nanny screening process and braces and names. Oh my God. Names. Sherlock stopped dead.
John stared. "Um. No. I'm not….interested. In that. I mean. I didn't imagine it that way."
Sherlock asked sharply, "Why not?"
"Because," John balked.
"Because…why? Because I'm unsuitable somehow?" Sherlock strutted back towards John, turning his body around like a preening peacock. "Men and women far more unsavory and boring than I have become parents and are legally entrusted to raise innocent children by the mere coincidence of being biologically related. I think as far as individuals go, I'm extraordinary. I can contribute!"
"The point of my…," John struggled to say what he was thinking, mostly because he was frustrated he needed to articulate it at all.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Look, I'm not suggesting you couldn't raise a healthy, well-balanced child in a single-parent home. Successful, happy children emerge from all kinds of environments. But statistics prove again and again that children are happiest in two-parent homes regardless of whether the parents are a mother and father or two mothers or two fathers, so long as the parents are in a stable, healthy relationship. Why would you intentionally give yourself an unnecessary handicap when I am a perfectly capable adult, able to assist in child-rearing duties?"
"Two fathers?" John cried. "I want to be the father, the only father, and I'm not interested in having another father around to compete with…and….and confuse my child," John said.
Sherlock planted his hands on his hips indignantly. "I was just….volunteering my help. I wasn't…suggesting…being a second father."
John said accusingly, "You were. You just said it!"
Sherlock crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his foot. "Well, I didn't mean for it to come out like that then, if that's how it sounded."
"Well, what did you mean, then? It's not like I can picture you…changing diapers or fixing supper. I certainly can't see you getting up for midnight feedings. Exactly how do you think you can contribute, if not to lord over me and do all the fun stuff…and…and just eclipse me like you do now?"
Sherlock looked momentarily hurt.
John caught it and stopped talking.
Sherlock composed himself, turning his nose up. "I can do all those things and more." He gestured flippantly, as if indicating some separation between the two of them. "But, this is your vision for your family. I understand I don't enter into the equation. I understand that I'm…." he struggled for words a moment, "…you know. Not invited in your family."
John balked. "Not…not invited?"
Sherlock said, "That's what you just said!"
John blinked. "Well. Wait. Wait a minute."
"Wait what-a-minute?" Sherlock snapped.
John put up his hands, shouting over Sherlock, "I said HANG ON!"
Sherlock glared at John.
John kept his hands in the air. "What the hell are we fighting about?" he asked, tone lowered.
Sherlock continued to glare at John. "I'm not sure," he answered, still angry.
John lowered his hands. "We need to cool down."
Sherlock shrugged his shoulders, adjusting his jacket. He nudged his collar a bit, breathing deeply.
John rinsed his toothbrush and put it away.
Sherlock jammed his hands in his pockets, toeing the floor. "John? Does this mean you're going to move out and be a single dad?"
"Sherlock, I'm just…," John paused to massage his temples with his finger tips. "Listen. I'm not planning anything. I'm just…talking. I'm just telling you how I feel, which was a damn mistake, I knew it was a mistake, but you kept prodding."
Sherlock nodded. "I'll phone Lestrade while you have your shower." He turned and went back into the living room. Now, however, he wasn't brimming with excitement. There was no spring in his step.
John watched Sherlock go, feeling a bit guilty. He shut the bathroom door and resumed getting ready for the day. As he showered, as he lathered his hair and felt water sluicing over his shoulders, he closed his eyes. He remembered his father bathing him when he was a little boy. He remembered a brown plastic tug boat he'd splash in the water. He remembered the phrases Play Bath and Business Bath–and a play bath was just how it sounded, with floaty toys and bath chalk, while a business bath meant shampoo and soap.
Soon, his shower was done and John stepped out and toweled himself off. He dressed himself and combed his hair and, finding himself marginally acceptable, he padding out into the flat in his slippers. Sherlock wasn't in the living room or the kitchen. "You still here?" John called, wandering towards Sherlock's bedroom. He peered inside and there was the consulting detective, laying on his back in the middle of the bed, staring up at the ceiling, phone tucked under his chin, forgotten. "What did Lestrade have to say?" John asked.
Sherlock blinked from his stupor. "What? Oh. You're done?"
"You didn't call him, did you?"
"I got distracted by…something," Sherlock muttered.
John shook his head. He was about to walk away, but something about Sherlock's wistful expression captured John's interest. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nana's kitchen," Sherlock said, eyes unfocused. "It was cobalt blue. The tiles had Dutch patterns. It had a distinct smell. She lived by the ocean, you see. Even though she died in 1989 and my parents sold her house, I still remember the smell of her kitchen, salty and decaying house plants, earthy….and sometimes I smell that smell in a parking lot or…really, places where it doesn't belong and there's no reason why I should smell that smell twenty years later but I do sometimes and it instantly transports me back to my childhood when I ran up and down her stairs and her big old house was a mystery and it took my whole hand just to wrap around one of her fingers. And soon you'll be clutching the hand of your own toddler and one day you will be the scent on the wind filling her lungs and isn't that just fantastic?" He blinked rapidly, coming to. "I think I'm jealous of your aspiration, John. It's lovely."
John laughed. "I just…Jesus, Sherlock. I can't believe how quick you got excited." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I feel a bit bad now. You were really keen on it, and I shot you down."
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't excited."
John said, "You went from….you know, Eeew, children? to We need to move closer to schools! in ten seconds." He was smiling now. "You acted like I announced I was pregnant or something."
Sherlock shrugged. "I just…I was just acclimating myself to what you wanted…"
"Shut up," John mocked. "You got all worked up. I saw you. You were glowing."
Sherlock sat up, scowling, face growing red. "I was not!"
"Were too!" Now it was John's turn to glow. "You lit up like Christmas!" He sat on the edge of the bed. "I think you were tickled by the idea." He looked knowingly at Sherlock. "Bet you still are."
"Hmph!" Sherlock rolled off the bed, straightening his jacket.
John flopped down on his back and watched Sherlock march away. "I want…to be barefoot in the grass, nudging a football to a boy, or heft a sweet little girl against my hip. I want to see a little face light up with delight after the first bite into a juicy watermelon in summer. I don't think hair color and eye color enters into it, but I was rather hoping to pass those down too, if I can help it. But I guess…I wouldn't rule out adoption. I just hadn't thought about it. Do you understand?"
Sherlock looked out the window. Below, London bustled. "I understand," he said, not certain he did, but it sounded…appealing…in an illogical, human way.
"The adoption process is messy these days. And expensive." John sighed. "But surrogacy is far more expensive. It's a small fortune. It's all pie in the sky. I couldn't afford any of it, even during our most lucrative cases. I'm just day-dreaming."
"I could ask Mycroft for a favor," Sherlock offered without looking at John.
John laughed. "For what? An express adoption?"
"Why not?" Sherlock said.
John lay still. "You're serious."
"I'm not promising he can do anything, but the offer stands that I'd ask for a favor. All he can do is say no."
John said, "You'd do that? For me?"
John asked, "You wouldn't mind a little thing crawling around, making a racket?"
Sherlock stood absolutely still, his breath caught in his throat. "You'd stay? You wouldn't move out?"
John thought a moment. "Well," he said finally. "We could get a bigger place."
Sherlock was glad he had his back to John, because the smile that spread across his face was big and uncontrollable and it made his face tickle. "We, huh?" He didn't think he could suppress it. "Mrs. Hudson will have a fit."
"Yeah," John laughed. "It'd be like….we robbed her of her grandkid or something."
Sherlock tried to control his smile. He swallowed, pursed his lips. "Why don't we talk about it some more later?"
"Yeah." John sat up eagerly, clearing his throat. "I mean. This is the first we've talked about it. I don't want to rush into anything. There's a lot to think about." He stood up and went for the door.
"Agreed," Sherlock said, flipping open his phone and dialing Lestrade, lazily following John.
John paused at the door before looking over his shoulder at Sherlock. "Hey. Um. Sorry for what I said."
"For what?" Sherlock asked, texting.
"For…ruling you out so abruptly," John said. "You know the real reason why, right?"
"The gay thing," Sherlock said immediately without looking up.
"Um. Yeah," John muttered, feeling a little stunned by Sherlock's directness. "The…uh, the gay thing."
"You're afraid it will cement the rumors about us," Sherlock concluded, breezing past John.
John said sheepishly, "Yeah. You and me, adopting a baby. It's just not something two men typically do."
"Not only is it embarrassing for you," Sherlock said, "but you're worried it will prevent you from dating and finding a suitable girlfriend in the future, should a desirable woman present herself. And you're right. Compounded by the fact that having a child may be upsetting to a woman who, potentially, would like to have a baby of her own someday, or a turn-off to a woman who not only isn't interested in having a baby of her own and wouldn't be interested in getting roped into becoming a caregiver to another woman's baby." Sherlock sent his text and pocketed his phone. "It's not an unfounded fear. You'll have to think very carefully about what you want to do."
John said shakily, "Yeah. That really hits the nail on the head."
"Or," Sherlock said dismissively as he opened their flat door, "you can just surrender to fate and be my boyfriend like you know you want to."
As he slipped on his coat, Sherlock looked back at John, face blank. "Kidding, John. Ha-ha?"
John swallowed. "Cute." He didn't move. "You know. Sometimes, I can't tell with you."
Sherlock just shook his head at John and went out the door.
"See?" John pointed out. "That was an open opportunity for you to clarify. And you deliberately ignored it."
"I did, didn't I?" Sherlock huffed impatiently, going down the stairs.
To be continued.