John turned up at Baker Street at 9am as arranged, but with Gemma, which Sherlock had not anticipated. He stood in the window of the sitting room, watching John struggle to get the pushchair up the steps and into the building, and then double-checked the text.
Coming over at 9am tomorrow. Don't make plans for the rest of the day.
No mention or indication of the presence of the baby. Sherlock had assumed John had the day off from being a father and was looking to spend a day reminiscing about the old, bachelor days. Sherlock had prepared a mental list of possible cases they could investigate together, but none of them were appropriate for a pushchair. Or, the baby in it. Probably. Sherlock wasn't really sure how one gauged that.
He waited until John had parked the pushchair in the hall and gone through all the rigmarole associated with taking the baby out of it and then carrying her upstairs before opening the flat door.
“Hello,” said John, cheerfully.
“Good morning,” said Sherlock, carefully eyeing the bundle in John's arms. He hadn't really had much time to observe the youngest Watson in the seven months since she'd been born. He saw John often enough, and occasionally Mary, but most of the time the baby was left out of proceedings.
“Here, hold her for me and I'll make tea,” said John, pushing her onto Sherlock, and suddenly he had an armful of baby.
He froze. John wandered into the kitchen and put the kettle in while Sherlock stared down at the little person he was now holding. She wriggled slightly and stared back at him.
John's eyes, Sherlock noted. She had tiny scraps of blonde hair clinging to her head and Sherlock wondered if they'd darken to John's colour or remain lighter, like Mary's.
“Come and sit down,” said John, and Sherlock realised he'd been staring at the baby for long enough for John to make tea. That was rather unnecessary.
John put two mugs of tea on the table in the sitting room and Sherlock carefully crossed to him, taking care to hold the baby as still as possible. He held her back out to John to be taken away, but John refused to take her.
“No, you keep Gemma,” he said. “You can keep her on your lap while you drink your tea, she won't fidget too much.”
“Right,” said Sherlock, and he didn't think his voice had ever sounded less certain. He carefully settled down, rearranging the baby until she was sat on his lap, leaning against his chest and staring around the room with interest.
“Right, so,” said John, and Sherlock instantly knew they were getting to the point of whatever this was, and that John was nervous about it. John was so easy to read.
Gemma stuck a hand out and grasped the Rubik's cube on the desk in front of her. Sherlock let her take it.
“She'll probably chew on that,” said John, as a warning.
Sherlock considered that. “I'm sure it will survive,” he said.
Gemma stuck the thing in her mouth and made a pleased noise. Curious, why would nibbling on plastic cause that level of pleasure?
“So,” said John, continuing from where he'd started. “Do you remember the other day, when I mentioned we were finding it tricky to find a babysitter, and you offered?”
“Yes,” said Sherlock. “You didn't stop laughing for six minutes.”
“Yeah,” said John, ducking his head slightly. “Sorry about that. I went home and mentioned it to Mary, and she told me that I'd been a bit of a dick.”
The baby pulled the cube out of her mouth and stared at it for a moment, and then threw it to the floor.
“Your reaction was justified,” said Sherlock, wondering if he should be picking it up for her or demonstrating that actions have consequences by leaving it where it was. “I am well aware that I am not particularly suited to the care of babies.”
“Yeah,” said John. “Right, well, that's the thing.”
Gemma reached out and grasped at the edge of the desk, flexing her fingers around it. Sherlock carefully moved her forward so that she could reach it better.
“Mary said that it wasn't fair to discount you as someone who could look after Gemma just because you didn't know what to do with a baby, when I could easily take the time to teach you. So, uh, we're going to go out today, with Gemma, and I'm going to to show you how to look after her, and then next time, if you still want to, of course, you can babysit for us.”
Sherlock looked up from his contemplation of Gemma's gripping skills to stare at John. “What?” he said.
John shrugged. “And anyway, it makes sense that my best friend gets to know my daughter,” he said, and Sherlock looked back down at the baby.
John's daughter, he thought. He wondered, not for the first time, which of John's personality traits would be identifiable in her.
“I mean, if you're up for it,” said John.
Sherlock looked at him again and nodded. “Very well,” he said. “Where will we be taking her?”
John beamed at him. “I thought the aquarium,” he said. “Babies like moving coloured things, so...”
Sherlock nodded. “Fish would fit that description admirably,” he said. He looked at Gemma again, who was reaching for a pen. John moved it away before she could get it and she made an annoyed squeak. “What procedures are necessary before taking her outside?”
John laughed, reaching into his pocket and handing Gemma a toy to distract her from the loss of the pen. “You're actually okay with this?” he said. “I thought you'd probably hate the idea.”
Sherlock shook his head. “Don't be silly, John. Of course I want to know more about this. It's a large facet of your life, and one I don't understand at all.”
“Right,” said John. “Well, first things first. She got breakfast and a nappy change about half an hour ago, so she should be good on that front. It's pretty cold out today, and babies feel the cold more than we do, so she'll need a coat and a hat – hats are important, for babies.”
Sherlock nodded, taking that all in. He looked at Gemma's thin layer of hair and thought that a hat was probably essential if that was all you had protecting your scalp. “Does she have a deerstalker, or something less ridiculous?” he asked.
John snorted. “Less ridiculous,” he said. “It's in the pushchair downstairs.”
“Right,” said Sherlock. Perhaps he should buy her a deerstalker. He'd never managed to manipulate John into putting one on so that he could join in Sherlock's humiliation, but his daughter would be a much easier target. “Downstairs, then.”
He considered the matter before gathering Gemma up in his arms as he stood. She made an aggravated squawk as her toy fell from her hands and he froze. Was she going to start crying? What did you do when a baby started crying?
“Don't worry, darling,” said John, picking up the toy and handing it back to her, then touching the top of her head. “We're going on an exciting trip. We're going to look at fish. You'll love it.” She looked at him for a moment as if debating the trustworthiness of the statement, and then relaxed against Sherlock.
Sherlock looked at John and tried, again, to pass her over.
“Oh no,” said John, stepping back. “I'm just here to instruct. You've got her, you're fine. Downstairs, coat and hat, then into the pushchair. Easy.”
Sherlock thought about the terrible consequences of falling down the stairs while holding a baby. “Right,” he said again, clutching at her what was apparently too tightly, if the way she wriggled and made an unhappy noise was any indication.
“Speak to her,” said John. “Reassure her. She doesn't understand all the words, but she knows the tone and meaning.”
Sherlock looked at Gemma again. “It's going to be okay,” he said, as reassuringly as he could. “We're going downstairs, that's all. It's highly unlikely I'll trip and send you tumbling down to your death.”
John started giggling, and Sherlock glared at him.
“Sorry, I'm sorry,” he said around his laughter.
Right, the last thing he was going to do was let John laugh at him. He was a genius, of course he could manage looking after a baby for a day without an incident. Idiots did it all the time.
“Your father is an idiot,” he told Gemma, and then headed for the stairs.
He mastered them without any problem, although there was a nasty moment about halfway down when she squirmed to look back over his shoulder at John. Safely at the bottom, Sherlock contemplated the coat that was draped over the pushchair. How was he supposed to get that on without dropping her?
“Sit her in the seat, then put it on,” said John.
Sherlock did so, but Gemma didn't seem to have any interest in the coat. She refused to put her arms through the sleeves, pulling them out of his grip to wave vaguely at him instead.
“Come on,” he said. “Otherwise you'll be cold, and then you'll be upset. The point of this whole procedure is to avoid that.”
He captured an arm and guided it through as gently as he could without giving her any chance to escape again.
There was a click from behind Sherlock and he turned to see that Mrs. Hudson had emerged from her flat while he was concentrating and taken a picture of him wrestling with a baby. He glared at her.
“Oh, isn't it sweet?” she said to John, ignoring Sherlock's look. “He's going to be such a good Uncle Sherlock for her.”
“Yes,” agreed John, giving Sherlock a grin.
“Inaccurate,” said Sherlock, finally managing to get the coat zipped up. “'Uncle' implies a familial relationship which does not exist.”
“You're a better family member for her than Harry,” said John. “Who is pretty much all Mary and I have left for close family.”
Sherlock didn't know how to respond to that, so he concentrated on putting the hat on Gemma instead.
“Mrs. Hudson, would you mind if I borrowed that camera?” asked John. “We're taking her to the aquarium, and it would be lovely to have some pictures of her first time looking at fish.”
“Of course, dear,” said Mrs. Hudson, handing it over. “And make sure you get some of Sherlock's first time looking after her, won't you? It'd be lovely to have those when she's older.”
“Oh, definitely,” said John with a mischievous grin. Right, Sherlock was definitely buying Gemma a deerstalker. He was willing to bet that if he gave it to her while Mary was present, she'd end up wearing it on a regular basis.
“How old is she?” asked the woman next to Sherlock.
Sherlock spared her a moment of observation to be sure she wasn't a criminal, but it seemed she was just a grandmother, a knitter and a fan of very cheap sherry who had rather too much interest in other people's babies.
“Seven months,” he said.
“Lovely,” said the woman. “She's got such a nice smile.”
Gemma's smile seemed rather generic to Sherlock, but he nodded agreement anyway. “Are you taking her somewhere fun?” asked the woman.
“The aquarium,” said Sherlock. Was there no end to these inane questions?
“Oh, how nice!” said the woman. “It's so nice to see a family going for a day out together.”
Ah. John apparently caught that, because he looked up at Sherlock with an amused, rueful expression. Excellent, he wasn't about to take offence. Besides, he had already indicated that he considered Sherlock close to being a member of his family, although not in the way this woman clearly thought.
“It's important to find time to bond,” said Sherlock, and John ducked his head to hide his amusement.
“Oh yes,” agreed the woman. She bent down to Gemma's level. “Hello there, sweetie. Aren't you precious?”
Gemma gave her a long look that expressed what rubbish she thought that was. Sherlock approved.
As they waited in the queue for tickets, he noted the other children around them, comparing them to Gemma. She seemed far more alert and observant than others in her age group. Good, Sherlock would hate to find that John's offspring was unintelligent.
John paid for the tickets, but continued to insist that Sherlock dealt with getting the pushchair through the crowds of people who seemed determined to get in the way.
“If we put knives on the wheels, we could cut through crowds a lot easier,” he said once they'd actually made it inside the aquarium.
“No maiming people in front of my daughter, please,” said John. “We're trying to teach her non-violent ways of dealing with conflict.”
Sherlock laughed. “With an assassin and a danger-junkie soldier for parents?”
John's eyes widened and he glanced around rapidly. “Shut up!” he hissed. “Don't mention Mary's past.”
Sherlock aimed the pushchair at the nearest tank, dodging around slower visitors on the way. “Are you intending to keep it a secret from Gemma?” he asked.
“For a while, yes,” said John. “I hardly think it's something she should know before she's old enough to handle it.”
Sherlock thought about how angry John had been to find Mary had lied to him about her past and wondered how Gemma would take the same revelation, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he parked the pushchair next to a tank.
“Look, Gemma,” he said. “Sharks. They kill a lot less people annually than popular culture would suggest, but they would make a clever and novel method of body disposal, if only people would try and use their brains when plotting a murder, rather than just acting in the heat of the moment.”
Gemma made a fascinated noise and put her hand out to touch the glass.
John sighed. “Sherlock, please don't tell my daughter how best to murder people.”
“Why not?” asked Sherlock. Gemma clearly wanted to get closer to the tank than the pushchair was allowing her. He glanced at a near-by woman who was holding her toddler up in her arms to see better. Right. “Shouldn't she have some life skills?” he added as he undid Gemma's seatbelt and picked her up.
It was less nerve-racking now that he'd done it several times. She made an excited noise and stretched out for a small yellow fish that darted past just the other side of the glass. Sherlock wished he knew the name of it so he could educate her. Next time he took her somewhere, he'd make sure he'd done his research first.
There was a click and he glanced around to see John taking a photo. He glared, and John grinned back, unrepentantly.
“You're doing so well with her,” he said.
Sherlock felt a burst of pride that he suppressed.
“Do you want me to take one of all three of you?” asked a woman next to them.
“Would you?” asked John. “That would be great.”
He handed the camera over before Sherlock could object and then moved to stand next to Sherlock.
“Smile at the camera, Gemma,” he said, pointing. Gemma stared vacantly at nothing and the woman took the photo.
“Thanks,” said John, taking the camera back and checking the photo. “Oh, that's a great one, thank you.”
“Easy to take a good photo of such a lovely couple, and such an adorable baby,” said the woman.
John hesitated. “Uh, right,” he said. “Yes, thank you.”
Sherlock looked down at Gemma who was craning her neck to look back at the fish, and turned so she could see them better.
“What now?” he said to John. “How do I entertain her?”
“She is entertained,” said John. “Look at her face.”
Sherlock looked down. She was rapt. He frowned. “Merely from watching?”
John shrugged. “Observation,” he said. “It's not like I haven't see you entertained by an hour or two of watching crowds.”
“Do you think she's deducing?” asked Sherlock.
“Probably not,” said John. “You'll have to teach her how when she's a bit older.”
Sherlock imagined that. He rather liked the idea of passing on his skills to someone who was not yet so set in their thinking that they refused to stretch their minds.
Sherlock panicked and looked at John, trying to pass her over to him. John held his hands up and stayed back.
“Oh no, this is all you, remember. Just give her a bit of a cuddle and see if you can work out what's wrong.”
Sherlock stared down at the baby. What could possibly be wrong? Two grown men were dedicating their entire day to making her happy. He put his hand on her back and gave it a bit of a pat. “Come on, now,” he said. “No need for this. It's just an octopus.”
She looked up at him, opened her mouth wider, and started to cry in a higher key.
“Right, probably something specific, then,” said John. “Generally that means two things. She's hungry or she needs a nappy change. Sometimes it means she's tired but she's not been fussing enough for that yet, although she'll want a nap in another hour or so.”
Nappy change. Sherlock hadn't stopped to consider the horror of that. He briefly thought about shoving the baby in John's arms and then running for it, but that would result in an apocalyptic-with-rage John, and all future chances of interaction with Gemma cut off.
He decided to concentrate on the other possibility. “What food might she require?” he asked.
“She's mostly on milk at the moment,” said John, rummaging in a bag, “but it's not time for her lunch yet, so try her with a Rusk.” He handed over a biscuit. Sherlock regarded it, then offered it to Gemma.
She hesitated, then grasped it in a fist and chewed on it. The crying stopped. Sherlock relaxed.
“Looks like you'll be waiting a bit longer before being inducted into the joys of nappies,” said John, far more cheerfully than Sherlock thought was warranted.
They moved on from the octopus with Sherlock carrying Gemma while she chewed on her biscuit and John pushed the empty pushchair. They inspected seahorses, eels, starfish, crabs and some sort of odd sucky thing. Gemma liked all of them except the crabs, which made her wriggle and cling to Sherlock's shirt. Sherlock told her that it was best to conquer her fears through knowledge and read her the information board next to the crab tank. John took more photos.
“Right,”said John as they reached the end of the exhibits. “Let's find somewhere to have lunch.”
“Fine,” said Sherlock, bending to put Gemma back in her pushchair.
“You might as well keep holding her for now,” said John. “We'll have to stop at the toilets here to change her, or risk not finding anywhere that men can access.”
Sherlock froze and turned beseeching eyes on John. John just smirked and turned towards the toilets and baby-changing facilities. “Nope, you can't get out of this,” he said. “Can't leave you with her if you won't change her nappy.”
Sherlock gave Gemma a glum look that she ignored in favour of batting at his shirt buttons, and followed after John. He'd assisted with autopsies – how bad could this be?
“Right,” said John, rummaging through the bags on the pushchair to pull out a variety of supplies. “Lay her down on the mat.”
Sherlock did so, and she kicked her arms and legs up in the air at him. He considered for a moment, then removed his suit jacket and handed it to John before rolling up his shirt sleeves.
John laughed. “It's really not that bad.”
“This suit cost too much to expose it to 'not that bad',” said Sherlock.
“Yeah, expensive clothes aren't really a good idea around babies,” said John.
“I don't have any clothes that you wouldn't consider expensive,” said Sherlock. He looked down at Gemma again, and took a deep breath. “Right. Instruct me.”
It went a lot better than he would have thought. The process was achieved with a minimum of unpleasantness, and Gemma seemed to know her part well enough to avoid causing extra problems.
“There you go,” said John as Sherlock finished replacing her clothing. “Not that difficult, right?”
“I wasn't expecting it to be difficult,” said Sherlock. He looked at Gemma, who smiled up at him, and find himself smiling back. They'd both got through it together. He took her waving right hand and gave it a little shake. “A pleasure working with you,” he said.
There was another camera click behind him.
“I wish this had a video function,” said John.
Sherlock ignored him in favour of sweeping Gemma up in his arms. “Where shall we eat?” he asked. “I know a lovely French place near-by, excellent coq au vin.”
“Is it baby friendly?” asked John.
Sherlock stared at him. “How does one ascertain that without a baby to test the matter?”
John sighed. “Have you seen a lot of babies there in the past? Do they keep high chairs for customers to use?”
Sherlock thought about that. “The youngest child I can remember seeing there was around twelve,” he said.
“Right,” said John. “Not there, then.”
They ended up in somewhere that Sherlock was reasonably sure was part of a chain. Well, he wasn't particularly interested in eating, anyway.
Gemma got a high chair from an overly-attentive waiter, who also insisted on directing babytalk at her. Sherlock glared at him until John kicked his ankle.
“That's great, thank you,” said John, and the waiter finally left. John took some sort of plastic toy out of one of the bags on the pushchair, which Gemma grabbed hold of and then started to bash gleefully on the table.
“Be good, Gemma,” said John, stopping her.
“Is it essential to make sure she has the toy?” asked Sherlock.
“Well, not really essential,” said John, “but it's generally better if she has something to occupy herself with.”
Sherlock nodded. He could understand that; nothing worse than being bored, even for babies.
The waiter came back over with menus, and insisted on fussing over Gemma again. “Does this little one need anything?” he asked.
“No, that's fine,” said John. “We've got something for her in the bag.”
“Oh, lovely,” said the waiter. “Isn't she adorable? It's so lovely that you two have her. My brother and his husband are thinking about children at the moment. Did you adopt or find a surrogate?”
There was a long pause, during which Sherlock observed John's face and noted his clear desire to slap his palm to his forehead.
“Why don't you just provide your brother with one of the many bastards that you must have created with your promiscuous lifestyle?” he snapped at the waiter.
“Sherlock!” said John. “No need for that.” He glared at the waiter. “I really don't think that's any of your business. Seems a bit of a personal question from a stranger.”
The waiter muttered an apology and then ran away. Sherlock watched him talk to one of his colleagues, and thought that they might be about to have a change in staff.
“You didn't deny his assumption,” he pointed out.
“No,” said John. “What's the point? Two blokes go out with a baby, everyone thinks they're a couple. At least eight people today already thought that.”
“Thirty-four,” corrected Sherlock.
John blinked. “Right. Well, okay, point proven. No sense in correcting everyone. I'm beginning to think I should just buy her a rainbow flag.” He bent over Gemma, tickling at her neck. “Would you like that? Would you like a flag so you can show how proud you are of your daddy and his platonic relationship with his best friend? Would you?”
“Don't be ridiculous, John,” said Sherlock. “She clearly doesn’t have any idea what a flag is. Besides which, that is not at all what such a flag is meant to signify.”
John shrugged, picking up his menu and glancing over it. “Well, there's not really a flag for us, is there. Or a label, as you pointed out this morning. 'Uncle Sherlock' doesn't fit, but I don't want you to not be part of her family.” He looked up. “I mean, if you want to be.”
Sherlock looked back at Gemma, who gave him a smile and bashed her toy on the table again. There was something in that smile that reminded him of John when he was about to do something highly dangerous and a little bit illegal, and he couldn't stop himself from smiling back.
“I would like that,” he acknowledged, to himself as well as John. If he ordered a deerstalker when he got home, it should have arrived by next week. There must be a website that provided baby-sized ones.
“Good,” said John. He pulled out a plastic spoon and a jar of something that looked vile. “You can feed her then. Might want to roll your sleeves up, this gets messy.”
Sherlock sighed and removed his suit jacket again.