Sherlock Holmes never considered himself inclined toward parenthood. In fact, if you asked him, he would flatly state he would be horrible as a parent, didn't particularly like children, and would never hope to find himself in such a situation that would require caring for one.
Thus the news that he himself was pregnant was something of a shock. He'd always known it was possible, of course, but he thought it such a remote possibility as to be ignored almost completely.
Watson didn't seem to know how to take it at first either. He'd reluctantly arrived at the diagnosis only after ruling out virtually every other possibility even though the evidence for that conclusion was incontrovertible. "I don't understand how--"
"We had sex, that's how," Holmes stated quite matter-of-factly.
"Yes, I realize that, but we took precautions . . . "
"Evidently not enough." Holmes stretched out on the tiger rug, trying to find the small lump near his pubic bone that had convinced Watson of his true condition. No matter his feelings on the subject--which were still quite muddled--he had to admire the tiny being for existing despite their efforts to prevent it.
Such determination was fitting for their offspring.
All of his previously assumed opinions about parenthood to the contrary, Holmes quickly warmed up to the idea of having a baby with Watson. He was not keen on the physical changes that had already begun, but he resolved to treat it as a long-term experiment. He could record the changes in appetite, physical appearance, and capabilities, and should a case ever arise where the suspect was pregnant, he would be better able to determine if the individual could have been capable of a particular action or activity.
Watson was enthused with the idea as soon as he recovered from the surprise and he was quite willing to indulge Holmes in anything, provided it was for the sake of the baby. Holmes rather took advantage of that willingness in the early days, when nausea and exhaustion were his constant companions and it was quite convenient to have someone fetch for him.
His first experiments concerned food and what was best to inflict upon a sensitive stomach, in what amounts, and at what intervals. Watson served to obtain various items for him and quickly dispose of anything that didn't agree with him. When the food experiment went poorly and Holmes brought up everything he tried, Watson would take him to bed, ply him with ginger tea, and rub his belly until he fell asleep or felt well enough to try eating again.
It wasn't long before the child made its presence known in a visible lump in his lower abdomen. Clothes still concealed it, but he and Watson knew and would often lie in bed or in the tub with their hands cradled over it. Watson would murmur into Holmes' ear about the baby's approximate size and weight and tell him what would come in the weeks ahead.
Some of it sounded uncomfortable, but Holmes looked forward to it in a way he'd never anticipated anything before. That his body was, at that very moment, growing Watson's child seemed more like a dream than an actual fact, but the burgeoning bulge below his waist indicated just that. It truly was a miracle.
He was becoming so very sentimental, and somehow he didn't mind one bit.
The only trouble was when he said or did something in front of Lestrade or other Yard officers or even Mrs. Hudson that was inconsistent with his old self and they gave him strange looks as if wondering about his sanity. His initial reaction was to fear that they would guess something had changed, but then he remembered who he was dealing with and was reassured. They wouldn't have any idea. Mycroft was the only person who could possibly guess.
They went to see Mycroft at his club once they had gotten used to the idea, which ended up being a few weeks after Watson's startled pronouncement. The child was a definite lump by then, but Holmes could still wear his usual clothes and he was eager to see how long it took his brother to see the truth.
As soon as they had exchanged their usual greetings and preliminary observations about one another, Mycroft commented, "Something significant has happened. No, don't tell me, I'll figure it out." While Holmes stood still, Mycroft slowly circled him, silently noting any number of details about his brother's person.
Watson watched with a smug look. He and Holmes had bet on how long it would take Mycroft to guess correctly and how many incorrect guesses he would make. Watson was foolishly certain that Mycroft couldn't possibly get it right the first time. Holmes knew he would.
"Well," Mycroft said finally. "I see you changed your mind about breeding."
Holmes shifted his weight slightly, holding out his hand, and Watson's face reddened as he pulled out ten pounds and slapped the paper into Holmes' waiting palm.
"You should know better than to bet against a Holmes," Mycroft remonstrated as he gestured for them to sit down.
"So I'm learning," Watson said ruefully.
"Shirley, if I may ask, what made you change your mind?"
Holmes exchanged a quick glance with Watson and Mycroft said, "Ah, I see. This wasn't planned."
"No, it rather took us by surprise," Watson admitted.
"But you're pleased, both of you. Good. My country home is, of course, at your disposal should you wish to have your confinement outside of London."
"Yes," Holmes said immediately.
"We hadn't talked about that yet," Watson said, looking at Holmes as he said it.
"I refuse to have Nanny underfoot," Holmes countered.
"Sherlock, you need to learn to discuss things with Watson if you expect to raise this child successfully," Mycroft reprimanded. He then steered the conversation to other topics as they had their tea.
Holmes gave serious thought to his brother's advice and decided he was probably right. Mycroft had more experience in actually getting along with people than he did. Holmes informed Watson what he had concluded on several points, including his desire to leave London for the birth and Watson listened quietly.
Watson had many questions, and Holmes had to walk him through his thought process--much like at the end of a case--but eventually Watson agreed with him in every particular, save one. "If anything should go wrong, you would be better off in London, near to help and the hospitals."
"What could go wrong? Babies have been born successfully for generations."
"Many things can go wrong! Do you realize how many children are born at the cost of the parent's life?"
"You're a doctor. I will be fine," Holmes said reasonably.
"I cannot bear to be responsible for both of your lives, not like this," Watson said miserably. "I'm a surgeon, not a midwife, and the cost of failure is far too high."
Watson's distress troubled Holmes, so he sat in silent thought until he found what might be an acceptable compromise. "Choose a specialist in the field and we will keep him on retainer. We could even put him up in Mycroft's house; there's a sufficient number of rooms. Then you will have someone on hand to ensure our well being."
"Do you have any idea what that would cost?"
"We can afford it," Holmes said confidently. "And if it would reassure you, the cost is worthwhile."
Watson nodded slowly, then chuckled. "Listen to you being reasonable," he teased.
One issue he hadn't yet decided was how long to continue taking cases. He'd already been accepting or rejecting inquiries based in part upon their potential for physical injury rather than just their interest, but the vast majority did not actually pose any danger to his person no matter what his condition.
He would have to base his decision upon his physical appearance, since he was certain no one at Scotland Yard would consult him when he was visibly pregnant--even they would behave in a protective fashion toward him if that were the case. So he had some time left if the current rate of growth continued; he judged he'd have through the month of April at least, since the child was due to appear in mid to late August. After that he could keep himself entertained with solving cases via correspondence, even when they relocated to Chichester.
For several weeks, life went according to plan. Holmes remained as busy as he could stand to be with cases both dull and interesting, not because of the money--he had enough of that to retire for good if he wished--but so he could feel he'd done enough that he could take a while off.
Watson interviewed several specialists, many of whom balked at the idea of spending time away from London, and ended up introducing Holmes to a midwife whose children and grandchildren lived outside of London in the direction of Chichester, so she was quite willing to stay there for a time.
Holmes was in a bad mood when she first came by but that didn't upset her in the slightest, and when he questioned her qualifications, she merely smiled. "I've been doing this for nearly as long as you've been alive, child. I haven't lost a soul yet and I don't expect you'll be the first."
Her manner reassured him--Watson's concern about something going wrong had lodged in his mind and whispered worries in his ear ever since--and he confirmed his agreement with Watson's choice after she'd left.
By early April Holmes was beginning to have trouble with the fit of his trousers over his slowly growing abdomen. He had long ago dispensed with the belt he usually wore but now he had to be mindful of his buttons as he sat down, there being a definite risk that they would come clean off.
Watson tried to convince him to buy a larger pair but he was adamant that he would retain his current wardrobe so long as he was accepting cases from Scotland Yard (even Lestrade could notice new clothing and wonder at the reason for it). Watson tried to argue that most people bought new clothing when their current clothing was as worn as some of Holmes' articles were, but Holmes remained unmoved.
Not long after the Great Trouser Debate, Lestrade sent an urgent summons. A string of burglaries in an upscale area had confounded the Yard; they were fairly certain the same individual was behind them but could not prove it due to an overall lack of evidence. The latest burglary was reported that morning and Lestrade wanted Holmes to give them some leads.
Holmes grumbled at first, but when he saw the lack of obvious evidence (he had suspected the lack was due to ineptitude) he was eager to accept the challenge. There were clear traces of the intruder's entry, but once inside the man had done an admirable job of hiding his tracks.
He carefully combed the house, paying particular attention to the room where the valuables were kept, and was intrigued that there were no signs of the man's departure.
Lestrade waited impatiently and finally demanded, "Well?"
Holmes sighed, then rattled off the height, build, and likely occupation of the intruder, that he covered his shoes with newspaper while indoors, and that he had chosen his targets based on familiarity with the homes after being hired to perform work inside them.
When Lestrade turned to leave to follow up with this information, Holmes said, "You needn't exert any effort to catch him. He's still here."
He led Lestrade and his men to a closet near the burgled room and opened the door with a flourish. A red-faced, angry man matching Holmes' description down to the newspaper on his shoes leaped out and started swinging his fists, his very first blow catching Holmes square in the stomach. The air rushed from Holmes' lungs and he doubled over, straining to breathe.
As soon as the man was restrained and being hauled out of the house, Watson hurried to Holmes' side. By then he could stand up straight again, though his breathing was still impaired and he felt light-headed. He wasn't sure what he said to Watson, but Watson made their excuses and hurried him into a cab.
"Deep breaths, Holmes." Watson had to coach him so he didn't hyperventilate along the way, and he put him straight to bed once they were home.
Holmes did not speak until Watson asked where the brute had hit him. He laid his hand on the spot just below his ribs. "Too high to do any damage, I think, but very effective at making it hard to breathe."
Watson felt for signs of internal bleeding and he relaxed perceptibly upon finding none. "Yes, I think you're right," he said, sliding his hand down to rest upon the child. "How are you feeling?"
Holmes took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Better, but that's it. I'm done."
Watson sat on the edge of the bed and scrutinized him. "You're certain?"
Watson left him to rest for a while, and Lestrade stopped in soon after. Holmes listened in with idle interest.
"I came to see how he's doing."
"He'll be fine. He's resting."
"Glad to hear it." There was some awkward throat clearing. "Mr. Holmes, is he all right? He's been acting rather odd lately. Odd for him, I should say."
"He's been overworking himself, that's all. I'm going to make him take a holiday to the country for a while to rest."
"Ah, I see. Good luck to you, then. I don't gather he's the sort to enjoy a holiday."
"No, he really isn't," Watson admitted freely.
Lestrade took his leave shortly thereafter, but Holmes had stopped listening. Instead, he was focused on a strange feeling in his stomach. It was nearly impossible to describe, but felt almost like a fluttering low in his abdomen. It was over in a moment and he wondered if it was just his imagination.
The odd sensation recurred the next morning as he laid awake in bed, too apathetic to move. Watson was still asleep. The fluttering lasted longer this time, so he had time to place his hand over his bump, but no motion could be felt externally.
The child did respond to his touch, though: the fluttering slowed. He rubbed slightly and murmured, "Sleep, baby," was was delighted when the flutters ceased.
"What'd you say?" Watson drawled, sounding mostly asleep.
"Nothing," Holmes said quickly. Watson turned onto his other side and began snoring and Holmes was left to marvel that he could feel their child move.
They left for Chichester at the end of April. The midwife followed them as far as her nearest son's house; she would come to stay with them in the summer.
Holmes spent a good deal of time outdoors ambling about the grounds. Watson accompanied him when he wasn't making the twice weekly trip to London to fetch their post and anything else that couldn't be obtained in the area.
The exercise and the long-awaited easing of his nausea gave Holmes a tremendous appetite. After a full week of eating a substantial amount at all three meals, he joked that he would end up looking like Mycroft. Watson laughed but assured him that some weight gain was desirable, then he made sure Holmes always had access to things he enjoyed.
The midwife visited soon after that conversation and encouraged him to eat as much as he felt he needed. "You were a sight too skinny starting out, so you've got to make up for lost time," was her advice. He truly did feel hungry in a way he hadn't before.
Even so, it was something of a surprise the first morning he couldn't fasten his trousers at all. "I knew this day would come, but I'm not ready," he said, standing shirtless in front of the full-length mirror and running his hands over the lump that had developed into a distinct bulge.
Watson stood behind him and spread his hands over Holmes' protruding stomach as he pressed kisses to Holmes' neck. "You look magnificent," he said.
Holmes felt the child react to Watson's touch and Watson stopped his kisses to whisper, "Is that . . . "
"So now you feel it too," Holmes said, covering Watson's hands with his own and sliding them to where the motions were most distinct. "I think that's kicking, but it's hard to tell."
Watson was barely breathing, he was so intent on the activity beneath his palms. "It's wonderful," he said in awe.
When the drumming stopped, Watson turned Holmes around and kissed him thoroughly.
Trousers were soon deemed entirely irrelevant.
In those lazy days of watching and feeling the child grow, Holmes found himself becoming hopelessly attached to the small being he carried. He talked to it and even tried singing to it when they were alone, calling it Baby for lack of a more suitable moniker, and tried to soothe Baby with speech and touch when it moved as if agitated.
He consulted with Baby about foods, paying careful attention to the reactions caused by his consumption of various foodstuffs (this was how he discovered Baby had a fondness for raspberry scones, which Watson obligingly fetched from London whenever he went). Sometimes he would lounge beneath a tree and rub his stomach, enjoying the little kicks and jabs that Baby tried to attack him with.
So Baby grew and thrived as the weeks passed, steadily expanding its home in Holmes' stomach until there was nowhere to go but out. Baby's movements could be felt almost constantly then, and Holmes could even identify the various parts of Baby's body as they struck him from within.
Though he was pleased that Baby was doing so well, Holmes was starting to have some difficulty with getting comfortable, especially when Baby was kicking him repeatedly in the same spot. He could no longer amble for long--he would quickly become short of breath--he had to eat frequent small portions or else run the risk of feeling ill, and his back often ached abominably.
Watson was quick to do what he could to ease him, and Holmes found he couldn't be unhappy with the state of things even when he slept poorly at night (which was more and more often as June turned into July). Watson utterly spoiled him with back rubs and belly rubs and foot massages and long baths and providing anything and everything he could have asked for.
Mycroft came to visit once in the middle of July. Holmes was somewhat self-conscious at first about how large he had become and how ungainly it made him, but all Mycroft said about his appearance was, "You look well and I am glad to see it."
The rest of his visit was devoted to speculation about the sex of the child and discussion about their plans once the child was born. Mycroft was quite interested in their intentions for the child's upbringing and schooling and even promised to do what he could to secure a good position for him when he was ready to start his career.
"But what if she's a girl?" Watson said to Holmes when they had settled into bed after Mycroft left.
"Why should it matter?" Holmes responded and they launched into a debate about whether or not they would be able to obtain the same quality of education for a girl as they would a boy. Holmes was confident their daughter would be more than sufficiently intelligent to match any boy in school but Watson tried to take the practical view that the best schools would never accept a girl regardless of intelligence.
This troubled Holmes and he lay awake long after Watson was asleep. He whispered a promise to Baby that it wouldn't matter, boy or girl he would do everything he could to make sure Baby had the education and the chances he or she deserved. Baby gently tumbled over in response.
The midwife Ada came to stay with them a few days after Mycroft left. She had said her son Jonathan would be bringing her over, but she failed to mention he would be bringing his male partner and their new baby. Watson showed Ada and her son to her room and helped with the few bags while the partner--David--settled in the sitting room with Holmes, who eyed him warily.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, David asked conversationally how much longer he had to go.
"Six weeks or so," Holmes responded briefly, then gave in to his curiosity. "How old--?"
"She's six months old," he replied easily, sitting her up in his lap so she could look at Holmes with wide eyes. "Is this your first?"
Holmes gave a slight nod. "Is she yours?"
"Oh, no, we have two boys at home. They preferred to stay behind and play with their cousins."
"I don't know that I'd want to do this more than once," Holmes said, frowning as his back twinged painfully.
"The worst is still to come," David was quick to tell him. "The labor is the hardest part, especially with the first. But it's worth it, I promise you."
They fell into easy conversation after that, and though Holmes wouldn't ordinarily have enjoyed the company of someone like David, the things he could tell him about what was yet to come were invaluable, as was the knowledge that Ada had helped him deliver all three of his children without trouble.
David's parting piece of advice was something he had reiterated throughout the conversation: "Do whatever Mother Ada tell you and do it exactly as she says, and you won't regret it."
Watson asked Holmes about it when they prepared for bed that night--he had missed almost all of their conversation to have his own with Jonathan--so Holmes told him what they had talked about.
"It was reassuring," he admitted as they settled into the bed, "but I had been trying not to think about the birth part and now that's all I can think about. It sounds terrible."
"I'm sure it is," Watson said slowly. "But I'll be right here to help you and Ada will know what to do."
"I know that," Holmes said irritably. "It just seems there is ample opportunity for something to go wrong."
Watson kissed his forehead gently. "As you pointed out a while ago, babies have been born successfully for generations. You both will be fine, I promise."
Ada easily adapted herself to their daily routine and she was delighted to learn that Holmes played his violin most evenings. He blushed and shrugged when she praised his talent; he had only begun the nightly ritual because Baby seemed to sleep better when he played before bed. Otherwise Baby would be turning somersaults in the middle of the night and keeping him awake. (At those times, since he couldn't play the violin, he tried singing to Baby, which worked almost as well but only if the song was in French; during the day he steadfastly maintained that he could not sing.)
When August came it brought stifling heat that seemed to sap Holmes' energy if he so much as looked outside. During the day he took refuge in the inner rooms of the house and still sweltered from the elevated temperature and the added heat of the child he bore. He briefly considered adopting Mycroft's mode of dress but quickly dismissed it; the amount of sweat he produced needed to be absorbed by something or he'd feel even worse.
A cool bath was added to his routine just before bed, and sometimes it provided enough relief that he slept reasonably well. Other nights were so bad that he shouldn't have bothered going to bed at all, since he spent most of the time tossing and turning and very little actually resting, much less sleeping.
He was slow and stupid for days after one of those nights as he slowly made up for the lack of sleep through numerous naps during the day. Ada would coax him into stretching out on his bed or the settee and she would drape damp cloths over his face, stomach, and wrists and he would rest more comfortably for it. Sometimes she even sat with his head in her lap and rubbed his temples or massaged his scalp to help him relax.
As the heat lingered it also affected his appetite. He often felt queasy from the heat and many of the foods he'd been enjoying felt heavy and dense in his stomach. Ada worked with the cook to provide light food and cool drinks that would meet his needs without making him uncomfortable.
Her efforts did help how he felt after eating, but he still wasn't often hungry. He would sit at the table and watch Watson eat and feel no need to join him--that is, until Baby not-so-gently kicked him in the ribs and reminded him why he needed to try to eat something anyway. So he did, touching his belly as he did so, and Baby would quiet down.
Through all his discomfort, he was relieved that Baby seemed unaffected by his temperature troubles. The early cramps visited him more often than they had, which Ada assured him was quite normal. She also assured him it was normal for Baby not to move around quite so much on account of running out of room, but Holmes missed the tumbling feeling and did not like that Baby's kicks were concentrating themselves in one area--he felt like he was being bruised.
Then Baby shifted downward and he suddenly found he could breathe and eat easier than before. This change pleased Ada immensely, as it meant his time was drawing near, and he was fascinated by the difference in how it felt and where his measurements were largest (he had continued the scientific study of his progress quite faithfully). Watson was amused by his fascination but didn't seem to care either way. His evident affection and his constant habit of assisting Holmes were just the same as before.
Despite his fascination, this development also made Holmes more anxious about how this all would end. The thought of Baby forcing itself out of his body rather terrified him even though he knew that describing childbirth in that fashion was not strictly correct. But that was the way his mind insisted upon presenting it.
He was also nervous about having Baby on the outside of him--what if he did something wrong and damaged Baby? what if he dropped Baby? what if he turned out to be a terrible parent?
As the middle of August came and went, he began feeling sick with anxiety and even threw up after a few meals. When Watson found him heaving up his food for the third time, Watson asked him what was the matter. He felt foolish and didn't want to admit any of it aloud, but Watson persisted, taking Holmes into his arms and kissing his forehead as he coaxed Holmes to allow him to share in the worry.
So Holmes confessed it all and Watson listened silently and when he was done, to Holmes' relief, Watson didn't laugh. Instead, he carefully responded to each concern, comforting him where he could and promising that, though he couldn't guarantee the outcome, he would be at Holmes' side the whole time. Holmes felt much better and faced the next fortnight before the anticipated arrival of Baby with more serenity.
Baby remained in place for just over a fortnight and so did the abominable heat. As it happened, the weather broke just when Holmes' water did.
Dark clouds had been brewing overhead all morning, driven by an unsettled wind. Holmes sat outside to bask in the breeze, so he could hear the rain approaching when it finally came. A sheet of water advanced upon the tree and him in a chair beneath it, gusts of blessedly cool air preceding it.
He stood to go indoors--Watson would fuss if he got himself soaked to the skin, and that's what would happen if he remained outside--and felt a warm wetness trickle down his leg.
Then the downpour was upon him and he opted to remain beneath the partial shelter of the tree.
While the rain pounded against the leaves and the wind made him shiver, he felt the dampness in his trouser leg. He sniffed his fingers afterward to determine what it was, but there was no smell. He puzzled over this until the rain slackened enough that he could cross the distance to the house without becoming too wet.
Watson met him at the back door with a towel and a gentle reprimand. "You should have come in before it started raining."
"The wind felt nice. And then . . ." Holmes trailed off, still thinking. Then he held his breath as another cramp rippled through him and Watson gripped his arm in reassurance.
"All right?" Watson asked when Holmes took a deep breath.
Holmes nodded. "They persist in plaguing me," he complained.
"More than usual?"
"They have come at fairly regular intervals all morning."
Watson went behind him and massaged his lower back and hips with a confident grip. Holmes sighed in pleasure. "What were you going to say earlier?" Watson asked. "You said the wind felt nice 'and then'. And then what?"
"Oh, just something odd. I stood up and something leaked down my leg. It didn't smell like anything."
Watson's hands slipped around Holmes to rest on his stomach as Watson put his head next to Holmes'. "Just how regular are the intervals?"
"At present, they are twenty-two minutes apart. When I woke this morning it was thirty minutes."
Watson chuckled and kissed Holmes' temple. "Holmes, I think you're in labor," he murmured.
Holmes clutched Watson's arms. "Good heavens."
While Holmes changed out of his wet clothes, Watson went to find Ada and tell her. She came to see Holmes and ask him a few questions; in the midst of the interview another cramp came so she set her hands upon him and felt the contraction of the muscles beneath her palms.
"Good," she said. "How does it feel to you?"
"It is an annoyance, nothing more."
"Because it is still quite early. They will become stronger in time."
Holmes nodded, feeling trepidation.
"For now, it is time for lunch. Afterward you both should rest. It will be some time before anything further will happen."
Remembering David's advice, they did just as she suggested. After a light lunch, they retired to their bedroom. Holmes curled up on his side and Watson spooned behind him, embracing Holmes and holding his hands.
Holmes didn't think he'd be able to rest while knowing what was coming, but he dozed off fairly quickly and was hardly bothered by the continuation of the periodic cramps. After a while his hip began to ache, so he carefully turned over and shifted so he could tuck his head against Watson's chest. Watson kept his arms around him and rubbed his back in long, slow strokes. Holmes clutched Watson's shirt with both hands, took a deep, shuddering breath, and once again dropped into a light sleep.
He roused slowly, enjoying the fingers carding through his hair and the light brush of lips on his forehead. "Holmes, time to wake up," Watson coaxed, not for the first time.
Holmes sighed. "Why?" he murmured.
"It's time for dinner and Ada insists you need to eat."
"Already?" He opened his eyes and peered toward the window, but the cloudy greyness gave no indication of time. He gingerly eased himself over to the edge of the bed and sat for a moment before attempting to rise. He made a surprised noise as he stood and his hands strayed to his stomach, feeling how Baby had shifted while he slept.
"Problem?" Watson asked.
"No, it's just . . . different. Lower. It feels strange."
Dinner was uneventful. Ada took some time afterward to assess Holmes and the position of Baby and she seemed satisfied. "Rest while you can but, if you feel restless, a bath or slow walking are acceptable. I will be sleeping; call if you need me."
They obediently went back to bed, but Holmes' attempts to sleep were interrupted by the contractions, somewhat stronger now and coming precisely every quarter-hour. After a while Watson sat up against the headboard and had Holmes settle between his legs and rest against his chest. Holmes pressed his forehead to Watson's neck and took a deep breath as Watson began massaging his stomach and hips.
They passed at least an hour like this before Holmes stopped Watson's hands and clasped them in his own. "I need to walk." So they paced the halls until doing so made his back ache and they returned to the bed so Watson could rub his back for a while. They passed the first half of the night by alternating between the two, trying occasionally to sleep but never successful. In that time the contractions became more frequent, now visiting every ten minutes, and became more painful, so Holmes could not keep walking through them anymore.
During these long hours Holmes oscillated between anxiety about what was happening and anticipation for the result. But more than anything else, he was awash in appreciation for his steadfast and ever-supportive Watson. He had no words sufficient to express this to Watson, so he tried to express it in other ways, through squeezing his hand, brushing kisses on his skin, or embracing him when he could. Watson seemed to understand.
Around one in the morning Holmes felt weary and tried to sleep; using Watson as a cushion he dropped off for a while. At four, he decided to try a bath. The warmth felt good but also seemed to intensify the pain and he barely suppressed a groan. For the next contraction he ended up on his knees, tightly gripping the edges of the tub. He decided to abandon the tub, but the increase in pain remained.
The next contraction struck while he was still drying off and Watson had to help him stay on his feet. After that he couldn't seem to find a satisfactory position. If he was sitting, he felt he needed to stand. If he stood, he felt he needed to move. If he moved, he felt he needed to sit. It was a vicious cycle interrupted at decreasing intervals by gripping pain.
By seven o'clock the contractions occurred every four minutes. Holmes remained restless and Watson patiently followed him around and provided a comforting touch when he was immobile with pain. Ada found them in their bedroom where Holmes was curled up on the bed trying not to whimper while Watson massaged him. Holmes had his eyes clenched shut so Watson told her how they were doing, and she nodded. "You are doing well," she said encouragingly, then fetched them some water.
By nine o'clock Holmes could only lie limply on the bed between contractions, breathing heavily and clinging to Watson's hand. Watson murmured soothingly to him, though he didn't pay any heed to the words being spoken.
Just as he thought it couldn't possibly get any worse, it did.
The pain was intense and nearly constant. He was fairly sure he was groaning or keening or something but the only thing he could sense was the rhythmic tightening of his stomach. The agony was unbearable enough that he would have thrown up if he'd had anything in his stomach. He struggled to remind himself that this was a necessary step in meeting Baby, but that didn't help.
When he was granted brief respites, he was again aware of Watson, always close by and reassuring. Ada was, no doubt, around somewhere, but his eyes were drawn only to Watson.
During one break in the pain, Ada encouraged him to kneel up on the bed and put his arms around Watson's neck while Watson stood beside the bed. It was a pleasant position in that it allowed him to kiss Watson easily and rest his head on Watson's chest, but his hands periodically grew numb so he had to let go to allow the circulation to flow again. Watson put the position to good use and resumed rubbing Holmes' back.
At some point Holmes realized that the contractions were longer but had breaks in between. "What's happening now?" he asked.
"The child is making its descent. When you feel the urge to push, do so."
"How will I know?"
"You'll know." She offered him a sip of water and he accepted it.
About twenty minutes later, he discovered exactly what she meant. As the contraction began, he could not help but tense along with it, doing his best to help Baby along, and he could feel something move. "Oh," he said, shifting his knees a little wider and preparing for the next round.
With each contraction, he thought he could sense Baby inching slowly along and, though this was perhaps the most difficult thing he'd ever done, he almost wished the contractions came more frequently so Baby would arrive sooner.
Ada coached him through not pushing when the head appeared; he reached down and felt the little tufts of hair and felt something like awe.
After that Ada had Watson switch places with her, so she was supporting Holmes while Watson stood ready to catch Baby in a towel. She directed Watson while Holmes pushed, and two contractions later, Holmes felt Baby slip from him and Watson said, "It's a girl."
Holmes knew that other things happened after that, but all he remembered was holding Baby--their daughter--and staring into her wrinkled face and thinking she was beautiful. An unbiased observer would say she was messy with fluid and her head was misshapen and her eyes were puffy, but to him she was the loveliest thing he had ever seen. Save, perhaps, Watson. Of course.
Then Ada had him try breastfeeding Baby. It was the strangest feeling, having Baby's tiny mouth suckling on his nipple and making contented little noises as she drank. He couldn't take his eyes off of her, cradled against his chest, and he had a profound sense of all being right in the world.
When Baby had finished nursing and her eyes were obscured by drooping eyelids, Watson sat on the bed next to him and offered to take her. He didn't want to let her go. She belonged to him, had been inside of him, and he would feel bereft without her. But she was Watson's too, so he reluctantly handed her over and was satisfied by the look of wonder and love on Watson's face as he looked at their daughter.
While Watson held her, Ada helped Holmes clean up (when had he lost his clothes? he didn't recall taking them off) and gently washed Baby, then set about setting the room right. When she had removed all of the soiled towels and other residue of the birth, she left them alone.
Watson handed Baby back to him and kissed him long and slow. Holmes kissed him back with all the fervor he could manage, then slumped against the pillows, exhausted but content.
"What will we name her?" Watson asked, putting his head near Holmes' and staring down at their sleeping daughter.
"Nina," Holmes said, gently caressing her cheek with one finger. She snuggled closer to him and sighed in response.
What bothered Holmes most about learning to live with a newborn wasn't the fact that he still had to wear the baggy pregnancy clothes or even that he was awake at all hours of the night, it was the fact that he no longer carried Nina. Now he saw her kicks rather than feeling them, heard her cries of distress rather than sensing her upset in the way she tumbled about.
He almost felt a sense of loss, which seemed absurd in light of the perfect being in his arms. It was just that being in his arms wasn't as close as she had been and he had a tendency at first to become anxious if she was out of his arms, much less out of his sight.
But the feeling faded as he discovered that watching Watson hold her was nearly as good as holding her himself and they enjoyed learning her facial expressions together. And he had ample opportunity to hold her close while she nursed, which seemed to make Watson a little jealous, so he let Watson hold her frequently when she wasn't hungry.
"No one would guess she's ours," Watson commented as he handed Nina to Holmes for a feeding. "She only looks like you."
Superficially, this was true: Nina inherited Holmes' dark hair and eyes and though her skin was pale it seemed likely that it, too, would darken a bit once she was exposed to sunlight.
"She has many of your expressions," Holmes countered, looking down at her frowning, wrinkled face that was a prelude to crying. "Especially when she's vexed. See?"
He held her up and Watson's answering scowl was so similar that Holmes grinned. When he'd tucked Nina against him and she got busy feeding, he tugged on Watson's shirt until Watson leaned down over the chair within kissing range. "Let us hope she has your temperament rather than mine," he murmured against Watson's lips before giving them a quick peck.
Watson snorted. "Yes, quite." He kissed Holmes in return. "I wonder if it would even be possible for our child to look like me rather than you. You are rather controlling, you know."
"Even I have no control over a child in the womb," Holmes huffed in protest.
"I know, I was only teasing." Watson ran his hand through Holmes' hair and Holmes leaned against him with a sigh.
"It's something that would have to be tested if we wanted to find out," Holmes said after a while.
"The only way to test it is to have another child," Watson reminded him.
"Yes, I know."
"Would you want to have another one? You griped about this one a good deal."
"I'm not saying I would, I'm just saying that is the way to test your hypothesis."
"I knew that when I said it. Where are you going with this, Holmes?"
"Nowhere at all."
The thought lingered in Holmes' mind for some time, and he couldn't come up with any conclusive reason not to have another child. At most he determined it was best to wait and see how they did with Nina to establish if having another was wise. Neither he nor Watson was sure whether they would be suitable parents as she became more independent and aware of her own mind--and her mind was sure to be formidable.
For now, Nina was perfect and all they needed.