Sherlock keeps close by John’s shoulder, closer than usual. He can sense him there, even when he’s hovering just outside of John’s peripheral vision. John tries to hide his smirk; Sherlock notices anyway, of course.
“What? What’s funny?”
“Nothing,” says John, but keeps smiling.
Sherlock squints at him. “Tell me.”
“Oh please,” he snaps. “What have I got to be nervous about here, of all places? I doubt anyone here will suddenly pull a gun or detonate a bomb.”
John thinks that’s precisely why. This is completely unfamiliar ground for Sherlock.
Sherlock scowls at a fluffy pink elephant, flicks its ear with his middle finger. It lets out a high-pitched, giggly squeal.
“What’s the point of this thing?” Sherlock mutters. “It doesn’t even approximate the correct appearance, skeletal structure or vocalisation of any pachyderm known to humankind.”
John pinches a tiny pair of corduroy trousers between his thumb and forefinger. “You mean you’ve never seen pink elephants before? Haven’t had enough fun, I gather.”
He ignores the fresh scowl Sherlock directs at him. He places the trousers in the basket, along with an equally tiny striped jumper, a petite pair of overalls, and a miniscule button-down with a cartoon of a puppy on its front pocket.
“This is ridiculous. I don’t know why I let you drag me here.”
“You followed me, Sherlock. But please, do forgive me for interrupting the inflexible scheduling of your in-between-cases strop.” John finds a rack of onesies with tiny ducks printed on them in shades of pastel yellow. He begins flipping through them to find the correct size as Sherlock holds a different one up in front of him, inspecting it. His onesie has illustrations of cupcakes on it in purple and pink.
“I don’t know why they’re having a party for it. It was obviously a mistake.”
“Sherlock!” John hisses.
A woman wheeling a pushchair past them in the aisle shoots the both of them a nasty look.
“Well, it was,” he continues, but he does lower his voice. “You said yourself Sarah and Doug weren’t planning on having any children. And at her age, pregnancy is far more risky. Gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, not to mention the risk of chromosomal abnormalities in the child. As a doctor, you think she would’ve known that.”
“She did know all that. So as a doctor, like you said, she’s prepared for it. And just because they didn’t plan on it doesn’t mean they didn’t want to. She said it was a happy accident.”
“Still an accident, though,” Sherlock retorts.
“I’ll show you an accident if you don’t shut up,” John says, and Sherlock smiles crookedly at the affectionate threat.
“Get this one,” he says, and thrusts a romper at John’s face over the rack. It’s a pale pink, with flowers printed up the legs, and a tiny bee embroidered on the front, a little dotted line looping around it showing its flight pattern. It’s achingly cute, John has to admit.
“But they’re having a boy,” John says. Sherlock’s face stays blank at this pronouncement.
“Yes, and? Barring any serious deformation, it is statistically likely he will have two arms, two legs, and a head. This will fit him. Plus, it has a bee. Children should learn as early as possible not to be scared of bees. This could help acclimate him.”
“But it’s got pink on it, Sherlock. Pink is for girls.”
“Yes, why is that exactly?” Sherlock sweeps his arm across the aisle. “Everything in this shop is separated by colour. Infants at these ages haven’t yet developed secondary sex characteristics or have the need to adhere to semantics or social expectation. There’s no need to segregate them by gender.”
“Tradition, I suppose?” John tries.
“More likely money,” Sherlock says, narrowing his eyes. “God forbid you have a male child after having a female one, and you dress it in the perfectly serviceable pink-coloured clothing you already own. No, you must go out and buy the same exact things in the ‘appropriate’ palette. It’s pointless.”
John nods in agreement. “I never really understood it either. Harry hated so-called girly colours with a vengeance, so when we were kids I’d always get stuck with the pink cup, or the purple sparkly toothbrush, or the backpack with Disney princesses on it that she was given as gifts. Like you said, perfectly serviceable for a family who was already tight on cash. I learned quite early to have a stiff upper lip about being teased for it.”
“I honestly see no sound or truly reasonable basis for ridicule in that scenario.”
“No, you wouldn’t, would you.”
John takes the pink bee romper from Sherlock and places it in the basket. Sherlock smiles smugly. John rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling too.
“Well, at least we’ll know no one else has got him the same thing.”
They move over to an aisle full of toys.
“Oh for god’s sake, the toys too?” Sherlock whines. “Look at this, John. Male child on the box with the tool bench, female child on the box with the kitchen. And this one is the exact same little bubble trolley, but rendered in two different colours. Really now, that’s just ridiculous and insulting.”
“I had no idea you felt so strongly about this,” John grins.
“Well, I hardly paid attention to it before. Perhaps this rigid codification of gender is where so much pent-up resentment comes from that leads some people to commit crimes.” Sherlock’s face lights up. “Oh, I’ll have to look into that.” He whips out his little leather notebook. John watches as he scrawls down s ociological gender mores/learned behaviour/repression leading to violence as result? John foresees a long foray into the psychology section of the local library very soon.
“See? You did get something out of coming with me today.” John holds up a box of building blocks in bright primary colours. “Here, what do you think of these, perhaps? Gender neutral, and stimulates creativity and spatial reasoning.”
“A good choice,” Sherlock says, and John feels pleased until he continues, “But an infant will hardly have the motor skills or necessary brain capacity to manipulate the blocks for their intended purpose.”
“Well then, he can just drool on them until he’s old enough to play with them the right way.” John hands the box of blocks to Sherlock.
“Here, what about this?” Sherlock points to a mobile of abstract, colourful shapes. He pokes one finger inside the box, and presses a button. Soft music begins to play.
“Ugh, Pachelbel’s Canon. So overdone. But–oh!” He picks up the box with one hand and deftly throws and catches it so that the back faces him. “It says here it also plays Brahms and Mendelssohn. And it’s appropriate for newborns. We should get this as well.” Sherlock stacks it on top of the box of blocks definitively with a satisfied nod.
“Just look at all this stuff,” says John as they wind their way back through the large toy section. “Everything needs batteries, everything’s got a thousand bells and whistles and shiny bits. They didn’t have anything like this when I was a kid.”
“Mm,” says Sherlock. “Mummy would always rather us play out in the garden than waste time with video games and electronics.”
“Yeah. When I was a kid I had to pretend the wheelbarrow was a motorbike, the tyre swing was a spaceship and I’d use a tree branch for a sword. Now you can just by miniature kid-safe facsimiles of anything you can think of, no imagination required.” John shakes his head. “God, I sound like a crotchety old man, don’t I?”
Sherlock smiles at him. “A bit, yes.”
John elbows him good-naturedly. Sherlock tilts his head to the side, still looking at John.
“What?” he says. “You’ve got a face on.”
“You’d have made a good father, I think,” says Sherlock.
John huffs out a surprised laugh, hopes that Sherlock doesn’t comment on the blush he feels on his ears, though he knows he sees it.
“Thanks, I guess.”
“It’s not too late you know,” Sherlock says. “The average male in your physical condition can still produce viable sperm until well into his fifties.”
“It’s not so much about virility as it is about finding the right person to have a child with, Sherlock. And I wouldn’t want to be an old dad, barely able to keep up with my kid. No, I figured out a long time ago that having kids was never in the cards for me. I am a bit crazy too, you know. Wouldn’t want to pass that on.”
“Nonsense,” Sherlock says. “I’m sure at least some of your genetics are desirable.”
“Gee, thanks,” John says sarcastically. “I’m sure you’ve thought about it, what with all of your genetic material being so superior.”
“Thought about what? Reproducing? Me? ” Sherlock starts to laugh, a hearty hum resonating out from the centre of his chest. “That would require a foray into territories I’d not want to survey. So unless Mycroft decides to clone himself, I am unfortunately the last of the Holmes legacy.”
“Could you imagine it, though?” says John, laughing himself. “Little Sherlock Junior, cataloguing the shape of gum stains on the pavement, hiding frogs and mice in jam jars in his toy box, asking precocious, incisive questions of unsuspecting adults!”
“Yes! Or Sherlock Holmes the Second, deducing the whereabouts of her teenage sweetheart by tracking their IP address and identifying the lint on their school jumper!”
“Sounds rather a lot like you were as a kid, I bet,” says John, wiping his eyes.
“I was a terror,” says Sherlock with pride. “The world does not need another Sherlock Holmes, I assure you.”
They smile at each other a moment, perhaps a bit wistfully. They continue down the aisle and find themselves in a book area.
“Oh, look!” John says, and goes over to a shelf. “This was my favourite book when I was a kid.” He holds it up.
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar, ” reads Sherlock. “How very highbrow.”
“Oh come on, it’s a classic.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“You’ve – what? Really? I swear every kid’s read this at least once.”
“I’m quite atypical, if you haven’t noticed,” Sherlock says.
“Oh, I’ve noticed,” says John. It earns him a firm poke in the side from Sherlock. He sets the boxes of toys down at his feet and takes the book from John, flipping the board pages back and forth, scrutinising it as if it’s a piece of evidence.
“What’s it about? What are these holes for?”
“It’s about a caterpillar that eats through a bunch of different foods, then at the end it wraps itself up in a cocoon and becomes a butterfly.”
“Compelling,” says Sherlock flatly. But he flips through to the end, running his fingers over each little hole until he comes to the page showing the butterfly. Then he snaps it shut and drops it in the basket hanging from John’s arm.
“We’re getting that too, I gather?”
“Of course. You said it was a classic. I trust your literary judgment at this juncture.”
They find their way to the tills at last. The queue is long, and John realises that they do seem to be the only male customers in the store. Sherlock passes the time as he usually does, looking around like a hawk, occasionally dipping his head down to whisper in John’s ear.
“That woman is planning on stealing that package of nappies. But she’s too afraid to go through with it.” A few moments later: “The teenage girl two rows over with her mother looks so nervous because she believes everyone is thinking she’s the one who’s pregnant, when really it’s her mother. Likely not her husband’s, but none of them know that. Yet.” Then: “Oh clever. That little brat just swiped a stuffed tiger off the shelf and smuggled it right out in his pram. Future thief, John. It always starts early, doesn’t it?”
John is having a hard time stifling his laughter by the time they get to the cashier.
“Did you find everything you were looking for today?” the young clerk says, in a baggy smock and a tight ponytail, as she begins to ring up their things.
“That and more,” Sherlock smiles, turning on a convincing approximation of a friendly person. It still amuses John to no end when he does it, especially when he changes his demeanour for no particular reason other than to see John invariably smirk.
“Are these for your baby, or a gift?”
John goes to speak, but Sherlock is right on top of it.
“Ours. Little Hamish will look adorable in these, won’t he, darling?”
“Of course he will, love.” John doesn’t miss a beat, though he feels his ears go red again.
The clerk smiles, but falters when she picks up the pink romper with the bee on it.
“Oh, it seems this got mixed in by accident. Did you want to switch it for a blue one?”
“No, we know,” John says. “It was just too cute to pass up.”
She tilts her head and shrugs. She scans the label and drops it into the bag with the rest. Sherlock crowds the chip and pin and swipes his card through it before John can protest.
“Thank you, have a lovely evening!” the girl says brightly as John takes the bag and receipt from her.
“We certainly will. Ta,” Sherlock says cheerfully, and John watches his face settle back from the soft eyes and smile into its usual sharp configuration as he turns away and holds the door open for him. For some reason, it’s always a relief for John to see Sherlock come back to himself, even more than it is amusing to see him be someone else. No one else is or ever could be Sherlock, and John is grateful for that.
“Why did you do that?” John asks as they walk back to the main road to hail a cab. He’s not angry or annoyed, though. He’s genuinely curious; usually Sherlock is the one to stay mum when people assume a relationship between them, choosing neither to confirm nor deny.
“Bored,” says Sherlock. John thinks it’s all the explanation he’s going to get, but after a few moments Sherlock speaks again.
“We could do it,” he says decisively.
“Raise a child together.”
“Sherlock–” John starts warningly.
“No, no, I’m not suggesting we actually do, I’m just saying we could. If the happenstance ever presented itself.”
“Have you got babies on the brain?” John jibes, tilting his head forward and raising his eyebrows at Sherlock. “Is that your biological clock ticking that I hear?”
“I’m speaking in hypotheticals, John,” he says defensively. “Think of it: We operate very well as a team. If we approached parenting with the same sort of attention as we do our work, I believe it would foster a very well-adjusted and successful child. They would have the benefit of my intelligence, drive and skillful analytical examination, and your exemplary nurturing, compassion, bravery and unflagging loyalty. Any human being would turn out well given that set of circumstances, don’t you think?”
“I suppose they would,” says John, a smile curving on his face. “But what about your emotional detachment? My mental issues? Our shared propensity for being bloody reckless?”
“Mm,” says Sherlock, considering. “I can’t say so much for the first two, but to the third I can relate that the best part of being a parent is the authority to hand down the great axiom, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ ”
“Ah,” says John, and laughs. “Heard that one a lot as a kid.”
“As did I, in myriad forms.”
A cab slows and stops near them; they climb in with practiced movements.
“I’m honestly surprised you’ve thought about this,” John says.
“Well, it does cross one’s mind. It is a biological imperative, and as such I can’t completely stave it off, though I have no desire to ever be in a position where it could conceivably happen.”
John chuckles at the pun, and when Sherlock realises, he does too.
“I’m content where I am, I think,” says John, his voice quiet and pensive, once they’re trundling back toward Baker Street. It’s true, both generally and specifically. He’s feeling unusually happy, more than he has since Sherlock’s return. He’s enjoying the rarity of an easy and open dialogue between them, and he can’t help feeling they’re right where they belong, in a cab rolling through London, together.
“I mean, I’d still like to meet someone, someday. Someone who will stick around. But I – I’d be all right if it didn’t happen. I’m not lonely. Not anymore.”
John turns to look out the window. He feels Sherlock’s gaze on him, though; it’s always strangely palpable. Then, an actual touch: Sherlock’s hand nudges against his own. He circles his fingers around John’s palm and squeezes.
“I won’t leave again,” he says to their clasped hands.
John smiles through their reflection at the blur of people and shops as they pass outside his window. He returns the pressure.
“I know,” he says. “And you’re enough for me to be taking care of.”
Sherlock laughs, soft and easy, and they let their hands fall apart. But for a while after, John can still feel the warmth on his palm as if Sherlock is still holding on.