He had been surprised to see her. He had all three of his daughters with him, running around like the miniature hooligans they were, and his son was strapped to his chest in one of those baby slings, and there she was, as stunning as ever, holding the hand of a young boy. She looked up at him with some surprise, and whether it was the idea that he was a father or that he had seen her looking vulnerable he didn’t know.
He thought for a moment about giving her a simple nod to acknowledge her presence, but curiosity got the better of him and he moved closer. “Irene,” he said quietly.
“Sherlock,” she said, her surprise becoming a warm smile. There was warmth in it he hadn’t realized she was capable of and for some reason that made him inexplicably happy. She had occupied a time in his life, and he had shown sentiment, but he couldn’t bring himself to love her; that hadn’t been in either of their natures at the time. For her to have this warmth in her smile meant it was in her nature now. “I’m glad to see you.”
“As I am you,” he said. He nodded to the little boy. “Your son?”
The look of pride on her face was unmistakable. “Yes. His name is Nero. Nero Scott Adler.” Sherlock raised an eyebrow and Irene laughed softly. “He’s not yours, but you were important and I thought it might be appropriate for you to share part of a name.”
“Ah,” he said.
“Would you like to play with Mummy’s friend’s daughters?” Irene asked, kneeling down to Nero’s eyes level. “I promise, if they’re anything like their father and mother, they’re nice.” He nodded and then let go of Sherlock’s hand to go and join Aileen, Jacquelyn, and Rowena at the play structure. Irene watched him go. “You’ve been busy, Sherlock. Four children?”
“Christopher was more a surprise than anything else. So was Aileen, to be honest, but we had the feeling it would have happened eventually. Christopher was very much unplanned.”
“So was Nero,” Irene said. “But it was a pleasant surprise, I imagine?”
“Very pleasant,” Sherlock said with a nod.
“And it’s Ms. Hooper who’s the mother?” She cast a glance at Sherlock’s hand. “Mrs. Holmes now, I imagine.”
“Yes,” Sherlock said.
“Good. You need someone like her in your life. You’re too flighty otherwise.”
Sherlock gave her a small chuckle. “I didn’t pretend to be dead for as long as you did.”
“Touche,” she replied with a nod. “You don’t know Nero’s father, but you know his godfather.”
“Your brother.” Sherlock looked at Irene in surprise. “When I found out I was pregnant with Nero the father had disappeared into the night. It had been a moment of weakness, where I wanted companionship. Apparently, your brother knew I wasn’t dead, and when I made an overture to work for Her Majesty, he accepted. He’s been a rather good godfather, to be honest. I didn’t think he cared about anyone other than family.”
“He’s never told me,” Sherlock said.
“I asked him not to,” Irene said. “Not until I could tell you myself.” She turned to watch their children. “Your youngest gets along with Nero quite well.”
“They do seem to have hit it off,” Sherlock nodded, watching Rowena hug Nero for doing some sort of task well. Nero blushed but seemed pleased. “Perhaps we could arrange for future play dates?”
“Molly won’t mind?” Irene asked.
“She knows she has all of my heart,” Sherlock said. “And if Rowena made a new friend I doubt she’d want to keep them apart. And Mycroft will vouch for you. Your relationship has taken that turn with him, hasn’t it?”
“Surprisingly not,” Irene said with a smile. “He’s trying to be a gentleman about the whole thing.”
“You softened the Iceman,” Sherlock said with a grin. “Congratulations.”
“I didn’t set out to do it but he isn’t a bad man,” she said. “He deserves happiness too.”
“He does.” Christopher began to stir in the sling and Sherlock looked down. “I need to go to the bench and get him a bottle. Would you care to join me? We can keep an eye on the children from there.”
“Gladly,” Irene said. He had the feeling time had changed them both, and parenthood too, he thought as he walked back to the bench with Irene. Hopefully, it was for the better...