The most ridiculous thing was that the child looked like Sherlock.
He was so tiny that he was still flailing around, not in control of any of his limbs, barely able to hold up his head on his own, and yet he looked like Sherlock, his hair in dark swirls on his skull and his eyes the pale blue-green-gray that John had almost grown immune to. And, when he screwed up his face and wailed his displeasure with the universe, John had to admit that the resemblance was complete.
Sherlock was staring at the small bundle of irritation in their sitting room with what was obviously shock, and John would have relished the unusualness of that look on Sherlock’s face, except that he was busy being shocked, too.
Mycroft held the baby away from him, distaste on his face, and the baby cried and cried and beat his fists and kicked his legs, and Mycroft said, “He never stops with this,” and Sherlock said, “Oh, my God, Mycroft, it’s obvious he doesn’t like you,” and reached for the baby and snatched him from Mycroft’s grip.
“Careful,” John started to say, except that as soon as Sherlock took hold of the baby, he stopped crying. Sherlock held him at arms-length and studied him, and the baby studied him right back, and the expressions were mirror images of each other.
Mycroft looked even more displeased at the quiet baby than he had when the baby had been wailing at him.
“Explain,” commanded Sherlock, in clipped tones, not taking his eyes off of the baby.
“It appears,” remarked Mycroft, trying for an imperious sniff, “that this baby contains your DNA.”
“Obviously,” snapped Sherlock. “But how?”
Trust Sherlock not to have a child in the usual way, thought John. In any usual way. “Drunken one-night stand?” John suggested, trying for a joke.
Sherlock gave him a withering look. So did the baby. John wasn’t sure he could take two of them in the flat.
Mycroft was examining his cufflink very closely. “Your DNA was—”
“Used to create a baby without my permission?” Sherlock practically screeched it, and the baby looked at Mycroft with disapproval, and John didn’t blame either one of them for that.
“How did you even get his DNA?”
“How else was I supposed to fake verification of his death without his DNA?”
“You took the DNA from his…” began John, delicately.
Mycroft, Sherlock, and the baby all turned a glare on him.
“From my hair, of course,” Sherlock informed him.
“And then you…made a baby from just that? You can do that?”
“They can do almost anything, John, didn’t Baskerville teach you that?” asked Sherlock, impatiently, and then turned back to Mycroft. “But you weren’t supposed to make a baby with my DNA. Not without my permission.”
“I didn’t. It just happened. Accidentally.” Mycroft looked as if he had bit into a lemon.
“Accidentally? You accidentally cloned me?”
“Do you really think that you would be my choice for the first ever human clone?”
No, thought John, staring at the baby in Sherlock’s arms, now contentedly gnawing on his fist, that was definite proof this was an accident. An accidental clone. What the hell.
“Well, what are we going to do with this?” demanded Sherlock, and the baby seemed to take offense to being called a “this” and wriggled about in Sherlock’s arms.
“Well, there are options,” replied Mycroft. “But once they’d told me what had happened, I thought it would have been…unfair for me to make a unilateral decision. He is, effectively, yours.”
“He’s a clone of me,” Sherlock pointed out.
“He’s a baby,” said John, and the baby seemed to look at him in relief. “He’s just a little baby.”
“A clone baby,” corrected Mycroft.
“And your point is?” asked Sherlock.
“You can’t just…You can’t just…You can’t just toss him out with yesterday’s smashed beakers and moldy petri dishes. He is a baby.” John looked at Sherlock. “He’s your son.”
“He isn’t. He is, actually, me.”
“What are your options?” John asked Mycroft.
“He’s the first successful human clone. The first known one, anyway. The government has a lovely facility where he can grow up, well-supervised and well-monitored.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” John started to interject, but Sherlock frowned and said, shortly, “No.”
John and Mycroft both looked at him in surprise.
“No?” echoed Mycroft.
“You’re not sticking him in some sort of hospital, Mycroft, where he’s going to be poked at and prodded at like an experiment for the entirety of his life, the way you did to me.”
“You grew up in an…institution?” John said, because he hadn’t known that.
“Of course not,” answered Mycroft. “He’s being overdramatic, as usual.”
“But I grew up being endlessly examined by specialists, over and over. ‘What does this ink blot look like?’ and ‘Maybe one more test of his brainwaves to see what happens whilst we do this to him,’ and ‘What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “blue”?’ Absolutely not. You already got to do that to one of me, I won’t let you do it to the next me, too.”
“What about adoption?” suggested John, because that seemed like a good option to him. Some young childless couple, desperate for a baby to love.
“What couple would want to adopt the world’s first human clone?” asked Mycroft.
“He’s a baby, Mycroft. He’s a beautiful baby, and he’s the clone of a clever individual who—”
“No.” Sherlock’s voice was low and quiet and firm.
John looked at him. His head was down, close to the baby’s, the tip of his nose almost touching the tip of the baby’s tiny replica of that nose. “What?” asked John.
“No.” Sherlock looked up from the baby, straightening a bit, his face set into a stubbornness John knew well. “I’m going to raise him.”
John stared at him. “I…what?” Sherlock had never expressed any interest in children. He didn’t seem to dislike them any more than he disliked the rest of humanity, but John had never thought that he’d wanted one.
Sherlock met his gaze evenly. “He’s me, John. I’m not going to let him be raised by people who won’t understand him. I’m not going to let him—No. He’s staying here.”
There was so much underneath that proclamation, so much John wanted to unpack, so much suddenly being revealed about that childhood Sherlock never spoke of. But he looked at Sherlock, holding tight to the baby, and he looked at the baby, who was now reaching for the shiny, pearlescent button on Sherlock’s shirt of the day, and even though the whole thing was utter madness and he didn’t know how they were going to even begin to work a baby into the insanity of their lives, he nodded and turned to Mycroft. “Yes,” he said. “Right. The baby’s staying here.”
And Mycroft said they were being ridiculous, they weren’t equipped to take care of a baby, and it’s true that John’s mind was whirling with all the practical things Sherlock wasn’t going to think of, with cots and clothing and nappies and bottles, but he shoved Mycroft out the door because Mycroft wasn’t helping, and when John went back upstairs Sherlock was standing by the window holding the baby up to it.
“And there is your horrid brother Mycroft leaving. He always comes back. More’s the pity.”
“You ought to say ‘uncle,’ not ‘brother,’” said John.
“‘Brother’ is technically correct,” replied Sherlock, not turning around.
“Sherlock,” John began, on a sigh.
“I’ll understand if you want to leave,” said Sherlock, abruptly, still facing the window. “After everything…A baby’s not what you signed up for.”
“I signed up for not knowing what I signed up for,” said John, honestly. “But I’m not sure you have any idea the responsibility of a baby. Sherlock, we could find someone to adopt him. An open adoption, you’d know everything about him, he’d—”
“They would try their best, John,” said Sherlock, softly, to the windowpane. “And they’d mean well. And he’d be so lonely…”
John thought again of all the things Sherlock wasn’t saying, he thought of the lonely little boy Sherlock must have been, he thought of the lonely little boy the baby could become. And he thought how neither of them needed to be lonely anymore, because now there were two of them. And it was odd and unnatural but it was true.
John said, “He’s going to need a name.”
While he was in the process of making a shopping list, the baby began to fuss. John reached for his jacket and stuck his head into the sitting room, where Sherlock was holding the baby away from him, looking stricken, while the baby made displeased noises.
“I’m going shopping,” said John. And then, “Why are you holding him like that?”
“He’s complaining,” Sherlock complained.
“Right.” John shrugged his jacket on. “Because he’s a clone of you. That’s pretty much what you do.”
“You are leaving me now? With…this?” Sherlock nodded his head in the baby’s direction.
The baby seemed to take offense and opened his mouth in a full-fledged wail.
“Oh, my God,” said Sherlock, staring at the baby in horror. “What is he doing? Why is he doing that?”
“He’s probably hungry. Or possibly his nappy needs to be changed.”
Sherlock turned his horror to John. “What?”
“Sherlock. What did you think was going to happen when you proposed taking care of this baby ourselves?”
Sherlock looked stricken. “I thought we’d do science experiments together in the kitchen and you’d complain when we got cigar ashes mixed in with the tea.”
John could envision that almost too clearly, Sherlock with a small version of himself beside him, the two of them caught up in their own little Sherlock world that only John ever got invited into. In the vision, the baby was older, four or five or six, and 221B was filled with hazy golden sunshine, and John suddenly realized that he actually wanted that vision. It had never occurred to him, ever before, that he might want to raise a family with Sherlock Holmes. Prior to this, he had always assumed that he would have either given up entirely on the idea or eventually buckled down and got back to dating. It was as if the two futures he had wanted had suddenly merged into one.
He realized he was staring at Sherlock in shock. Luckily, Sherlock was so concerned with the crying baby that he didn’t seem to have noticed John’s minor crisis.
“We don’t have to do this, you know,” said John, because now that it had occurred to him that he might want to do this, it was the most terrifying thing he’d ever encountered. “We can still change our minds.”
Sherlock’s face hardened into stubborn determination. “No,” he said, staunchly, and pulled the baby back into the protective curve of his arms. “I’m not going to change my mind.” He looked across at John. “Are you?” It was half-challenge, half-plea.
“I’m in for a penny, in for a pound,” said John, and looked at the unhappy baby. “But we’re going to need nappies and formula, and he’s going to need a name, so be thinking about that.” John turned away from the doorway to find Mrs. Hudson standing at the bottom of the staircase, looking up it curiously.
“It sounds like there’s a baby up there,” she said.
“Indeed there is,” replied John. “Mycroft accidentally cloned Sherlock.”
Mrs. Hudson blinked at him. “What?”
John jogged down the stairs. “Just another day at 221B, Mrs. Hudson,” John told her, and stepped outside. He found himself whistling as he walked to the store. Sherlock was in their flat with a clone baby, and John was unexpectedly happy.
The flat was quiet when John got back. John had learned to be suspicious of a quiet flat. It either meant that Sherlock was in the middle of one of his epic sulks, or that Sherlock had done something that he knew John would find so irritating that he was hoping that if he was quiet enough John might somehow forget he was there to yell at.
John tiptoed into the flat to find Sherlock sitting in his chair, showing the baby on his lap the skull. The baby was delighted by the skull. He kept reaching out to touch it tentatively.
“I would say he’s a bit young to start anatomy lessons,” remarked John, dropping the bags he was carrying on top of the desk, “but then again, he’s you. Did you see Mrs. Hudson?”
“Yes. She seemed to think Mrs. Turner might have a niece who might have a cot, or something. There were many uninteresting details concerning this cot, I’ve deleted all of them.”
“Excellent,” said John, in the way he said excellent to Sherlock that showed that he did not think it was excellent. “Well, little clone baby. I have fresh nappies for you and formula. Which will it be? I suspect it will be both.”
The baby cooed at John and touched the skull again, as if to say, Why are you speaking to me of practical things? I have a skull.
Two of them, John thought. I have two of them now.
“Yes, yes, I know that Daddy has an interesting skull and Uncle John only has boring things,” remarked John, taking the baby out of Sherlock’s arms. “Get used to it, kid.”
“I’m not his father,” frowned Sherlock. “You’re not his uncle.”
“He’s not calling us Sherlock and John.” John let the baby rest carefully in the crook of his elbow while he wrestled a nappy out of the box.
“Why not? They’re our names.”
“See this old bathrobe you never wear anymore? I’m using it as a changing pad.” John laid the baby on it, and the baby fussed about how dull John was, and John said, “What is your plan? Are you going to tell everyone who meets him that this baby is a clone? The first and so far only human clone?”
Sherlock was silent, and John knew he was considering the implications of this. Sherlock didn’t want this baby to be lonely, and setting him aside as The One Human Clone was an instant invitation to loneliness, to uniqueness, to mockery on the playground.
“No,” Sherlock said, eventually.
“Then you have to be his father.” John was struggling his way through changing the nappy. He hadn’t done this in years. “It doesn’t make sense otherwise.”
“Why would you be his uncle?”
“I don’t know.” John was pleased that the new nappy seemed to be staying mainly in place on the baby. He set about resnapping the bodysuit the baby was wearing, which turned out to be trickier than one might expect. “Close family friend, ‘uncle’ seemed appropriate.” John succeeded in finishing the snapping, looked down at the baby, who smiled up at him. John smiled back at him and leaned down and kissed his chubby cheek, seized by a sudden stab of affection. He hoped Sherlock didn’t change his mind, because John was realizing he was already deeply in love here.
“Why aren’t you his father?”
“Because I’m not his father,” John pointed out, picking the baby back up.
“Neither am I.”
“Closer to it than I am.” John straightened, settling the baby against him. New nappy in place, the baby seemed much more content.
“Really? When you just changed his first nappy?”
“Here.” John handed the baby across. “We need to fix him a bottle.”
“I doubt he’s hungry.” Sherlock and baby followed him into the kitchen.
“So you didn’t eat, even as a baby?” John sighed. “Fantastic. I really have just doubled the number of fights I’m going to have over the course of a day. And I’m always going to be outnumbered, aren’t I?” John was studying the bottles, thinking how he ought to sterilize them, and wondering how the hell one even made a bottle from powdered formula anyway.
“Why can’t we both be his father?”
John was reading the directions on the formula. “What?” he asked, distractedly.
“He could have two fathers, couldn’t he?”
John pulled his attention away from the formula, looking at Sherlock, who looked earnest and serious. “Sherlock, why does it matter?”
“Because if we’re doing this together, we should do this together. And because if something happens to me, I don’t want Mycroft taking him.”
John regarded him for a moment, but Sherlock was looking down at the baby, hiding most of the emotion in his eyes. “Fine,” John decided. “We’ll do whatever we have to do legally to make sure that’s not the case. For now, it’s our first day with him. Let’s get him fed and put to sleep and not get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Sherlock sat at the kitchen table, looking satisfied, and split his attention between the baby in his arms and John making the bottle. The baby’s attention was completely taken up with John. He looked vaguely amused, as if John were a comedy act that had been provided expressly for his benefit.
“You’re going to insist he call me ‘Dad,’ aren’t you?”
“Would you prefer something formal like ‘Father’?”
Sherlock made a face. “God, no. My father made us call him ‘Father,’ I hated it.”
More about that secret childhood, thought John, concentrating on his formula concoction. He filed that nugget away with the others. “Then Dad it is. Daddy, even.”
“He could call you ‘Papa,’” suggested Sherlock. “So he wouldn’t get us confused.”
John carefully filled the bottle. “We really don’t have to make this decision right now.”
“Do you not like Papa?”
John turned to Sherlock, holding the bottle. “I’ve honestly never thought about it, Sherlock.”
“We could trade. I could be Papa, you could be Daddy.”
John cocked his hip against the table and looked down at Sherlock.
“What?” Sherlock asked after a moment.
“Just…I never thought I’d be having this conversation with you.”
“You make my life unpredictable,” remarked Sherlock.
And John laughed. John laughed until he had to pull the other chair out because he couldn’t keep himself standing upright anymore. Sherlock and the baby sent him identical frowns.
“I can’t believe you think I’m the one who makes our life unpredictable,” John finally gasped out.
“Well, you are,” insisted Sherlock, sulkily.
“Here.” John wiped tears of mirth out of his eyes and handed Sherlock the bottle.
Sherlock looked shocked. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“You’re supposed to feed him.”
Sherlock looked almost panicked at the prospect.
“There’s nothing to it,” John promised him. “He’ll know what to do.”
Looking dubious, Sherlock carefully nudged at the baby’s tiny bow of a mouth with the tip of the bottle’s nipple. The baby opened his mouth and latched onto it and sucked, gulping down the formula greedily, his blue-gray eyes steady on Sherlock above him. Sherlock looked back at him, looking absolutely astonished.
“He was hungry,” said Sherlock.
“Told you,” said John, standing to retrieve one of the bibs he’d bought, since the baby was dribbling.
“He’s insufferable but we like him,” Sherlock told the baby.
“Shut up,” said John, and fully intended to give the back of Sherlock’s head a little warning nudge with his hand as he went by, but instead, somehow, he ended up simply sliding his fingers through Sherlock’s hair, which seemed more like a caress than anything else. But John didn’t let himself think about that, just as he didn’t let himself think about the fact that it was possible that Sherlock leaned his head ever so slightly into the pressure.