It was probably to be expected at some point.
“You have the cutest daughter.”
Sherlock looks up at the woman behind the counter. His hands are still trying to pry the brightly coloured sweets packet from Rosie’s fingers. The child is always persistent.
“She’s not my daughter, actually.”
The woman’s smile falters a little and she curiously glances down to the little face whose cheeks are turning pink with irritation. “Oh?”
Sherlock clears his throat and liberates the sweets, pulling her push chair a few more inches away from the counter. “Goddaughter.”
The woman’s smile grows. “Ah. Well, she looks like quite the adorable little handful. Twelve pound fifty, please.”
Sherlock smiles perfunctorily and hands over his charge card. “She certainly is.”
Sherlock quickly scans the man from toe to cap and, not finding anything alarming, nods. “I’m here to collect Rosamund.”
“Ah, Mr… Watson?”
The man pauses a moment, lets his eyes follow their own, limited, trail and crinkles his nose in polite confusion. “Are you on the list for pickup?”
Sherlock nods again. “Yes. Should be.”
The man smiles. “Right, let me just go double-check. If you could wait here?”
The man leaves, locking the door to the nursery behind him. Sherlock slides his hands into his pockets and looks down. The sounds of small children yelling, squealing, crying, and generally wreaking havoc are muffled but otherwise clear to hear through the door. Personally, he could not fathom any circumstance that would ever compel himself to be a childminder, and while he understands John’s reasoning for exposing his daughter to other children during this crucial time in her life… it makes Sherlock’s skin crawl. Rosie will be getting a warm bath as soon as they’re home, he is changing her out of her no doubt germ infested play clothes and will probably have to burn them. He’ll warm the bottle while the tap is going – oh, he’ll need to stop at the shop and pick up another few packets of wipes—
The sound of footsteps pulls him from his mental checklist and a smile slowly curls his lips.
“Mr Holmes! You are indeed on Mr Watson’s approved list – oh!”
Rosie squeals in delight and reaches for Sherlock, whose grin has stretched the full length of his face. He quickly plucks her from the bemused nursery man and snuggles her into his chest. Rosie is wiggling and babbling, pulling at Sherlock’s collar.
The man is smiling now at the pair of them, but the question hovers in his eyes. “Um,” he starts. Sherlock buries his nose in Rosie’s soft, blonde locks. “Papa?”
Sherlock adjusts Rosie’s coat and settles her changing bag over his shoulder. “No. It’s simply easier for her to say.”
“I see,” the man says. He grins. “I suppose ‘Sherlock’ is rather a mouthful.”
“She did wonderfully today. No problems except a bit of a fuss at naptime. Same time next week?”
Sherlock nods, pleased with the brief report. “Yes, please.”
He turns and winds his way towards the pavement and home, with Rosie babbling here and there. The trip takes longer than he had anticipated as he is sure to stop each and every time something catches her attention. It is crucial to support her growing curiosity and developing mind at this stage, after all.
“Could you stop by Tesco’s when you get back?”
John sighs. “I swear that child is part calf.”
They chuckle and John continues up the stairs with a laundry basket balanced on his hip.
Her screams tear at something deep and primal within him that Sherlock wasn’t aware existed before she arrived. He literally falls out of bed in his haste and smashes his toes against the nightstand. He curses and stumbles blindly for the door in the dark. No time for the robe. Rosie is screaming.
His footsteps thump loudly down the hall and a faint flood of light from up the stairs illuminates his path just in time to avoid the walker before he can trip over it and break his neck.
She’s still screaming.
Sherlock’s heart is pounding its way out of his chest and he takes the stairs three at a time. He throws open the door to see a sleep-rumpled John cradling his daughter and gently shushing her. Rosie’s face is bright red, tears are streaming out of her squinting blue eyes and Sherlock’s knees feel like they will buckle. His feet, instead, carry him towards her but his eyes are scanning for every possible danger. Window: closed. Curtains: unruffled. Cot: clear. John: alone with her. What?
“Shh, shhh-shhh my love, shh. It was just a bad dream? Hmm?” John sways as he calms the toddler and turns to look at Sherlock. No threat found, adrenaline abruptly dissipates from Sherlock’s system and he leans, shaky, against the wall.
He takes a breath. “She all right?”
Rosie’s cries have quieted, but she’s still whimpering and fussing. She pushes against John’s chest, then smashes her face against his shoulder. Kicks her little feet. Sherlock can’t help it.
He goes to her and kisses her sweaty curls. “Rosie,” he sing-song whispers. She grabs onto a lock of his hair and pulls him close. John huffs with a smile. Sherlock is careful not to touch him too much, but he does press in against the arm holding the little girl. Sherlock cocoons her between them and she quiets further.
“Just a bad dream,” John murmurs again. Swaying with his daughter and now Sherlock.
Sherlock exhales again. His heart finally slows its rapid pulse. “Christ. I thought she was being murdered.”
John arches a brow at his snot-faced, teary eyed toddler. “You’d think she was with all that racket.” He kisses her temple. “Well, at least we know we’ll hear her if anyone ever tries.”
Sherlock is shocked into a laugh then pushes John gently. “Don’t even joke about that.”
“Mrs Hudson, um, would you…”
“Give her to me. You two go on now.”
“I’ve put her cream in the side pocket with the elephant’s trunk!” Sherlock calls from the hall, winding his scarf about his neck and dashing for the door.
John follows, zipping his coat. “Was she out? I thought—” the door closes after them.
The blonde girl looks up at him. Blocks clutched in her sticky hands.
“Did you do this?”
Rosie looks down to the mish-mash of blocks stacked two feet high before her. She smiles up at him.
Sherlock crouches down and really looks at the teetering tower of wooden blocks lined up three across. They are in serious danger of falling over, and half of them are covered in something brown and sticky which he suspects is the chocolate icing from their afternoon tea.
“John! Get in here!”
Rosie flinches, startled, but then picks up another block and sets it atop the other three in the budding tower next to the rest. “Bock,” she states.
Sherlock nods. John rushes in.
“What?” His eyes drop to the floor.
Sherlock gestures to the scene in front of him. “Look at what your daughter has done.”
John slowly moves forward, face lighting up in a smile. “Wow.”
Sherlock stands and places his hands on his hips, watching Rosie building her next tower. “She’s a genius.”
“That,” John says, “is how you master hand-eye coordination.”
“She’s a genius.”
“Well done, Rosie.”
Rosie smiles, self-satisfied at the praise being heaped upon her. “Bock.”
“Block,” Sherlock corrects, reaching for a large binder on the desk. “What day is it?”
“Bwok,” Rosie mutters, reaching for a purple, wooden cube.
John groans when he bends down to sit next to his daughter. “Sixteenth?”
“Dear Diary, today Rosamund built a city.”
“Is it London, Rosie?” John asks, leaning over to hand her a green cube.
“Bwooook!” Rosie squeals and then smashes her hands down, toppling all three and a half towers in delighted fit of mad destruction.
“Nooo!!” the adults around her yell.
“That was so tall!”
“You killed London!”
“Start over, then. Here, budge up.”
“Rosie, that’s close enough!” Sherlock calls from the bench.
Across the path, several ducks have gathered, nibbling grass, crumbs, enjoying the sunshine. Sherlock smiles, watching her carefully crouching down to stare at the ducks. She loves ducks. Loves them. They go to the park every day now because of them.
“Duck,” Rosie quietly calls. Sherlock smothers a chuckle. Her little voice is so high pitched and he swears she knows now that whenever she uses her words Sherlock will acquiesce to her every request. He’s trying not to let that on too much, though. That said, if he were a duck and she asked him to come to her in that voice, he’d be there in a heartbeat.
The white duck in front of her now is not impressed. It ruffles its tail feathers a little but otherwise ignores her. Not to be deterred, Rosie scoots forward on her haunches, and pushes a bit of bread under its beak. The duck is immediately interested and gobbles it up, straight from her fingers. Rosie’s laugh rings out and she cradles her fingers to her chest, delighted yet again. She checks to make sure Sherlock is watching, and he laughs aloud.
“Good, I saw,” he says. She beams at him and tugs another crust loose from the single piece of bread he gave her earlier. She pushes it at the duck and it eagerly gobbles that up next. Rosie squeals and continues feeding her ducks, surprised and overjoyed each time they nibble harmlessly at her fingers.
“Your daughter is precious.”
Sherlock’s smile softens and his heart aches for one beat. “She isn’t my daughter. But thank you.”
The woman sits beside him with a sigh, rocking the pram her sleeping baby’s in for a moment and smiles. “Ah. Uncle’s day out then?”
Sherlock swallows. “Yes.”
“So, how is Uncle Sherlock holding up these days?”
“Sleepless nights? Screaming fits? God, I remember those days.”
Sherlock slides his hand into his leather glove and gives Lestrade a small smile. “So you’ve mentioned, but she has been sleeping all night for a few months, now. She’s perfect.”
Greg grins. “Yeah. John’s got lucky. She’s a peach.”
Sherlock watches him head off towards his car and suddenly fiercely misses the little girl he’d only left two hours ago. “She is.”
When John comes home, Sherlock has just laid her down for a nap on the sofa. He had been pressured by Mrs Hudson to dress her in the frilly pink tutu dress Molly had brought her last week. He was even persuaded to gather her still-thin golden tresses into two pigtails. Rosie had been turned into the quintessential, stereotypical little girl clutching her dolly. And Rosie had loved it. She had pranced, and twirled, and played with the frills on her dress. Sherlock couldn’t explain the feeling of terror he’d felt as he’d watched her drag her dolly around all over the flat. But then she’d grabbed Sherlock by the pinky, and proceeded to drag him around so she could show him her new favorite things. He’d picked her up and hugged her close. And then they’d had tea. Sherlock’s heart hadn’t stopped squeezing all afternoon.
John now quietly moves in beside Sherlock and watches him watching Rosie sleep. He glances down.
“Is that a dress?” he whispers.
John huffs a quiet laugh and bumps Sherlock’s side. Half of Sherlock’s body warms at the contact.
“To be fair,” John adds, “it’s… adorable.”
Sherlock quietly groans. “It is, isn’t it? Ugh.”
John covers his mouth with another laugh.
Sherlock crosses his arms but a smile tugs at his lips. “I took pictures.”
“Of course you did. Good.” John turns to him, and Sherlock takes a breath before meeting his gaze. It’s an incredibly painful thing to attempt these days, looking into his eyes. But sometimes… it just… can’t be helped.
John’s smile slowly melts and he raises a hand to rest on Sherlock’s forearm. “Thank you.”
Sherlock’s instinct is to shrug in self-deprecation. “It’s nothing.”
Sherlock’s heart kicks in his chest and he swallows. He wants, so badly, to cover the hand seeping warmth into his arm.
John's eyes are soft in the dim light but he looks away. To his sleeping little girl. His mouth opens and closes. Then opens again.
“I don’t think. I don’t know if… No, I can’t. I can’t have done this without you.”
His hand squeezes Sherlock’s arm. Sherlock wants to fold him up and hold him again.
John smiles at Rosie. “She’s so happy. And you’re so weirdly good at this. I don’t know if I alone could’ve—”
“You could. You can.”
John looks up. Sherlock leans in.
John smiles at Sherlock now. “She loves you so much.”
Warmth blossoms deep in his chest. “I love her.”
John gazes at him, and for a moment Sherlock thinks he’s moving in, but no. No of course not—
“We both do.”
Sherlock cannot understand how he can cope with such opposing, all-consuming feelings. How he can survive his heart soaring and swelling until its fit to burst, just to have it catch, and stutter to the point that it wants to die.
He’s packing away his instruments because some internal clock has told him that nap time is over. He smirks to himself, at what his life has become, and checks his watch. He frowns, then looks up towards the ceiling. Rosie should’ve been up at least 45 minutes ago. His pulse speeds up and he feels a stab of guilt flash down the back of his neck. He should’ve noted she’d gone over. She never does.
He pushes everything back far enough that little hands can’t reach and then he quickly climbs the stairs.
“Rosie?” he softly calls.
She and John’s room look fine, and she is… still sleeping. Sherlock cocks his head, and quietly pads towards her cot. He switches on the lamp and notes that her cheeks are very pink. Her hair is matted with sweat.
“Rosie?” he calls louder. She frowns and makes the most pitiful sound Sherlock has ever heard. In a flash, he has gathered her up and cradled her to his chest. She weakly pushes her face into his neck and her hot breath fans out over his collar. He places the back of his hand against her forehead and feels his heart drop into his stomach.
Too hot. Far too hot. Oh no.
Fear makes his legs wobbly, and he takes extra care when going down the stairs before racing to the loo. His hands are shaking. He takes a breath.
“Calm down,” he chastises.
Rosie whimpers again, still and heavy in his arms, and Sherlock presses a reassuring kiss to her cheek.
“You’re all right, sweetheart. I’ve got you. I’m so sorry.”
Guilt worms through his gut and mingles with the ice of fear to the point that he himself could vomit. Instead, he locates the thermometer and digs out the kit labelled, “ROSIE ONLY” and checks her temperature.
Fever. High fever. Oh god.
He jostles Rosie into one arm, and rifles through various bottles and boxes for the baby aspirin, and pockets it. He then snatches a cloth from the cupboard and runs it under the cold tap. Rosie flinches and starts to cry when he presses it to her forehead.
“Shh, shh,” he whispers, already moving into the sitting room.
He needs to get her fever down, call Mrs Hudson, call John. Possibly Mycroft.
When John rushes home, he finds Sherlock lying on his back with Rosie on his chest, drooling into his neck.
Sherlock must look an absolute wreck because John asks if he’s alright before attempting to gather up Rosie. She cries out and clutches at Sherlock before settling in for a proper fit. Sherlock holds her close and shushes her, feeling guilty on John’s behalf, but then also fiercely protective of the fact that someone tried to remove this little girl when she did not want to be removed. He will give her anything she wants.
“It’s all right,” John says, brushing a stray curl from her forehead and wiping away her tears. “I’m sorry sweetie. Daddy’s here. It’s okay.”
When she’s settled, John sends Sherlock out to fetch a few more baby medicines and Sherlock has a very hard time trying to leave. After promising her that he’ll be back within ten minutes, Sherlock moves as though he’s on his way to a locked-room triple homicide.
He spills his purchases onto the counter and can hardly stop fidgeting while the clerk rings him up. She smiles sympathetically, and nods to the boxes.
“Yes,” Sherlock snaps.
“…yes. Well. He is.”
The clerk raises her brows. Sherlock huffs. “My… flatmate. Friend. It’s his little girl. She’s ill so I need these quickly,” he snaps.
“Aww,” the clerk tuts, tapping away at a screen. “Not even yours and look at you.”
“Well, she’s my goddaughter. I suppose it’s like she’s… mine.”
The woman pauses. “So, she is yours.”
Sherlock frowns. Honestly, he doesn’t have time for this. “No.”
She blinks. “But. She lives with you?”
Sherlock groans. “Yes, quite quickly please.”
The clerk places the boxes into a plastic sack, lower lip pulled between her teeth. Sherlock can just see the rusted gears in her head clumsily working away. He hopes Rosie is okay, she—
“She’s your flatmate-friend’s daughter, a goddaughter who lives with you, and you’re shaking like a leaf over her being sick for the first time because she is your first sick baby?” She swipes Sherlock’s card and looks up with a soft smile. “Mate, you are a father. You just know don’t it.”
And just like that, Sherlock’s whole world comes crashing to a halt. His card slips from his fingers to the floor. A sound from far away grows and grumbles, as if the spheres themselves groan and creak to a halt. As if a chink somewhere in the system has twisted and buckled in on itself to finally derail his life as he knows it off of the proverbial track. Breath punches out of him and he blinks, rapidly. Tries to speak. That’s not… she….
“No, I… I’m not a… ” … a person who holds another life within his hands? Another life whose well-being is entirely dependent upon Sherlock not messing it up… who is tucked in at naptimes… and held when they cry… and patiently told again and again what this means and that… who fills part of that large, yawning emptiness with each little giggle and kiss…
The clerk cocks her head and gathers up the plastic bag. “Do you take care of her?”
“Bathe her, read to her, play with her?” Her eyes flick down to the plastic bag in her hands. “Nervously run to the chemists buying way too many drugs for what’s probably just a twenty-four hour bug?”
Sherlock nods dumbly.
She leans forward, smile soft and knowing. “Can you imagine a world in which you didn’t have her in your life anymore?”
Sherlock’s mouth drops open and he shakes head, eyes wide in shock and abhorrence.
She winks. “My husband is the same with ours. You are a daddy.” She drops the sack into limp hands. “What does a title have to do with it?”
The world shudders into motion then, vivid and brilliant and slowly at first. Sherlock’s heart pulses and warms, feels like a balloon. Like it’s expanding and collapsing over and over only with every expansion it’s getting bigger each time… is that… is that what they mean by love…
The clerk frowns. “Well go on. You’ve got a sick baby at home. Go tend to her.”
Rosamund Mary Watson.
Sherlock’s lips curl on their own volition, and he finds he desperately needs to see his… his little girl… He stammers a thank you to the least likely person to upend his entire world and rushes out into the night. Rushes back home.
His legs and mind are equally racing, and he can’t stop rubbing at his chest. And his damn mouth won’t stop smiling. He should be concerned for Rosie’s health right now, not smiling like a lunatic. John will be alarmed… John. Sherlock rubs at his chest again and rounds the corner, past the tube.
They’ve never… never talked about it. What… what Sherlock’s real place in her life means. Sherlock knows, though. Sherlock implicitly knows what they mean to him. What they are to him. What it means that John comes home to them at night. That Rosie coos when he’s back from work and Sherlock drops her into John’s arms. That in the morning it’s reversed and she babbles happily when John places her into his.
He slams the door open and climbs the staircase in a blur…. and then there they are. John humming quietly, rocking the baby in his arms. His family.
They are his family.
John smiles up at him, and Sherlock’s heart expands ever so much more. His family. The one he didn’t realize he had so desperately wanted and then, somehow, made.
Rosie shifts, and Sherlock comes forward with supplies he lays at John’s feet, and crouches with a kiss to her warm cheek. He rests his hand on John’s knee for balance and very badly wishes he were the one holding her again. But he will. In time.
“How is she?”
Relieved, Sherlock takes a deep breath. “Thank god.”
John shakes his head and taps Sherlock’s hand. “She’s fine. You’re fine, too.”
Sherlock nods. Yes. Mostly.
Sherlock looks up. Once more into John’s eyes.
Briefly, John lets his gaze roam over Sherlock’s face, and he squeezes Sherlock’s hand. “You did good. Thank you for taking care of her.”
“I didn’t do much. I panicked, really.”
“No. You did fine. And I know that, because she was calm with you and she’s okay. She trusts you.”
To his horror, Sherlock’s eyes begin to prickle and he has to look away.
“She does, Sherlock. I know we’re… figuring this all out. But I do know this: she loves you very much, and she knows she can depend on you.”
A sob threatens to catch in his throat now, and Sherlock simply nods.
“Do you really think so?”
John leans down and squeezes his hand again. “I do. You’re just what she needed when she needed you. You didn’t let her down.” Sherlock squeezes his eyes shut as a tear slips down his cheek. “You never do,” John whispers.
Sherlock sniffs and nods, and before he can think better of it, he quickly kisses first Rosie, and then John, on the cheek. John’s eyes widen and before anything else can be said, Sherlock rises and steps away.
“Thank you, John.” He takes another step back and begins to turn to leave, but pauses. “I… I hope I never do. Ever again.”
He does leave then, feeling John’s eyes on his back the entire way, but it’s honestly so much and he needs to take a moment. Rosie has her doctor father to keep watch, and Sherlock needs to process… just how very much he loves them.
Later, once Rosie’s better and safely down in her cot for the night, after he and John have awkwardly thanked each other again… for whatever the other can come up with, Sherlock paces in his room. He thumbs in Mycroft’s number and humours his big brother when he tells him he’s already out of favours.
“I need you to add Rosie to my will.”
“… you’ve already added John. Surely, that is sufficient.”
“No. I want to be sure, and I want it known that I would take care of her if anything should ever happen, so, please. Make the adjustment.”
There is a pause on the other line that should set his teeth on edge, but he supposes it’s quite a revelation for his sibling. It was for him, after all.
“You realise that as I now consider Rosie mine, that makes you her uncle.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“No. You will be Rosie’s uncle, which means you need to start acting like one. She was ill for the first time in her young life tonight and Mycroft? If you don’t do a better job as a doting uncle than you were as a big brother I will make you regret it.”
Mycroft then sputters in a way Sherlock has rarely heard in his entire life.
“She likes rabbits.”
It is morning, and John comes down carrying a sleepy Rosie, whom he transfers into Sherlock’s waiting arms. Sherlock kisses her good morning, and Rosie snuffles into his neck. Sherlock grins as he notices that Rosie seems to be overplaying her sluggishness. Nevertheless, he seats them both at the table, preparing for breakfast when John jumps, startled.
“What… in the hell is that thing?”
Sherlock grins. “That is a toy rabbit.”
John shakes his head. “No, that’s not a toy. It’s a fluffy Godzilla.”
Sherlock, cranes his neck around John to peer at the, er, rather large stuffed animal.
“It is a ceiling-high stuffed rabbit, but it’s a toy all the same. Watch.” He jostles Rosie on his hip and points. “Rosie. Look there. Look at what Uncle Mycroft has gotten for you.”
John spins around, eyes wide. “Uncle who?”
Rosie, milking her condition for all it’s worth, slowly looks in the direction he’s pointing – and then gasps! “Wabbit!”
Suddenly perky, she slithers off Sherlock’s lap, runs straight into the sitting room, and then dives directly into the soft belly of the room-size rabbit Mycroft had delivered.
John, mouth still agape, smiles in shock and shakes his head. “Since when does Mycroft… I don’t know, care?”
“I made him. And anyway look how happy it’s made our girl?”
John grins again, but then pauses. Sherlock quickly ducks his head and starts fussing with Rosie’s breakfast. Too soon.
John shuffles towards him and hovers at his chair. Sherlock feels his cheeks heat, but then John unexpectedly lays a hand on his shoulder.
“She is. Our girl. Yes.”
Surprised, Sherlock turns then, and smiles up at John. “…yes.”
“Right,” John says. He clears his throat. From the sitting room, Rosie’s cries of joy are growing infectious. “Right. Well, make way, you little goblin!” John calls, and then runs across the flat, yelling like a monster and jumps onto the giant stuffed rabbit, tickling Rosie mercilessly when he lands.
Sherlock pushes out from the table, his smile stretching across his face. “Right.”
In the end, perhaps it was inevitable that he would come to feel like he was a father. That he would, in fact, become a father. He just might be ready for it. Together, with John.
Sherlock stands and crosses the kitchen to watch John and… their daughter giggling and playing, and feeling so happy he could float across the room to join them. As it is, he’ll just have to follow John and jump instead.