It takes Sherlock an inexcusably long time to notice anything's amiss. There's just too much else taking up his attention - their caseload has exploded in the wake of a particularly high profile success, and both Andrew and Lucy have daily trials that eat up any remaining time.
As such, it's not until Sherlock is in the basement office with his two ten year old children, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, a ringing phone, and no John, that he realizes something is off. "Where's your father?" he asks Andrew.
Andrew pauses in his diatribe against his sister, who is clutching something to her chest with deathly finality. "He's at work."
Sherlock frowns. "No he's not, they didn't need him today."
"No," Andrew argues, "that's where he said he is."
"A few hours ago," Andrew says, looking impatient. "Papa, tell her to give it back-"
"-It's not yours!"
"Sherlock," Lestrade says, "are you going to take the case or not?"
"Sherlock, dear, I really need you to get that hole fixed-"
There is a momentary pause; even the phone stops ringing. Sherlock holds out his hand, and after a protracted pout Lucy hands over the disputed goods. "I'll meet you at the station," he says, pointing at Lestrade with the toy. Lestrade only has time to nod and make a quick exit.
He has to reassure Mrs. Hudson, and sends all three of them upstairs so he can leave. On his way out the door he calls John, frowns when he's sent to voicemail. I know you're not at work, he texts, climbing into a cab. Stop what you’re doing and come to the Met.
When John finally arrives - almost an hour later - Sherlock nearly rears back, startled by the guilt written all over his husband.
"Sorry, sorry I'm late," John says, stripping out of his coat. "Bad traffic, there was an accident -- what?"
Sherlock blinks, shakes his head. "Nothing," he says, looking at John from the corner of his eye before crouching back down over the dead body.
It's a quick investigation, in and out and solved in less than twenty minutes. Easiest five hundred pounds they ever made -- Sherlock can't tell if it's the criminals getting stupider, or he himself getting smarter. Either way they're on the road back to the flat in less than an hour, a convenient end to a frustrating day.
John is tired, face lined and eyelids low. He could, and would, fall asleep right here in the taxi, but Sherlock isn't about to let that happen without some sort of explanation. John yawns, stretches his shoulder before sidling closer to Sherlock's warmth. "Alright then?"
"Mmm," Sherlock says, a muttering sound low in his throat. He's been reliably informed that he sounds like a car engine -- when they first got Lucy it used to make her burst into giggles. The sound makes John smile.
"Doesn't sound so. Lot on your mind?"
"A fair bit," Sherlock concedes. "Where were you?"
"This afternoon. The children said you'd gone to the surgery."
"Oh," John replies in that careful, calculated manner of his. "Sorry, I should have told you. I had a patient I wanted to check in on."
"Is that so."
"Yes, that's so." John lifts his head, meets his eyes square on. "What's got into you?"
"Not a thing,” Sherlock says, and after a beat, "Andrew's broken another pair of glasses."
"What? How?" John asks, exasperated.
At first Sherlock thinks that will be that -- just one off day, a strange aberration. This proves to be overly optimistic.
The following week it happens twice, and the week after that John disappears for almost four hours Wednesday evening. He comes in right before the children go to sleep, waving away concern and questions with a sorry story about a patient needing transport to the hospital. John was at the hospital, that much is obvious, but he wasn't there in a professional capacity. He was visiting someone.
John doesn't have many friends, and in any case none of them are ill; Harry and Clara and their daughter are still in New York, with no plans to return; a quick call to the surgery confirms that John's coworkers are all fine. If he's seeing someone there, they aren't a patient.
The implication seems obvious, even as Sherlock looks for alternative solutions. Statistically it’s not that unlikely, not given their age, the length of their relationship, John's profession, John's constant need for dangerous situations. The facts don't dull the angry burn that flares through his chest. John is lying to him, lying with bloody awful technical skill, as though Sherlock deserves nothing more. As if he's found someone better to bestow all his time and effort on.
There is no one better than Sherlock.
"What's crawled up your arse, then?" John says, breaking into his ruminations with his clomping steps into the basement office.
And that's another thing. "Are we ever going to have sex again, or is your new 'workload' going to leave you perpetually too tired for more than a handjob you pass out in the middle of?"
"Well, that was romantic," John remarks with that unique expression on his face that he uses, Sherlock is sure, just to drive him round the twist. It's a mixture of willful ignorance and tolerant irritation, as if he has anything at all to be irritated about. "Did you read that somewhere? You sound like a Daily Mail article on sexual aggression."
Sherlock doesn't deign to respond to that, instead continuing with, "Our sex life has gone from every day, to every other day, to three times a week, to whatever this is. Do you realize that we haven't actually needed lubrication in almost a month?"
John closes the door behind him and grins, mischievous and gorgeous and Sherlock wants to throttle him. "So that's what all of this has been about. You want to get fucked, love?"
"No I do not want to get fucked, " Sherlock declares, throwing his pen onto the desk with altogether too much force. "That's not the point!"
"I think it is," John murmurs, sidling around the desk. The man has the gall to be half-hard under his trousers. He lowers himself to his knees, nudges in between Sherlock's legs, and it doesn't quite matter that he's practically a wet dream come true, all blue eyes and soft blond hair and wickedness. Sherlock has a point to make. About something.
John unbuttons Sherlock's trousers with nimble fingers -- the sound of the zip slowly opening is loud, as loud as Sherlock's breathing. "I've been neglecting you," he says, gently pulling the elastic of Sherlock’s pants down. "That wasn't very nice of me, when you've been working so hard,” he brushes his lips across the head of Sherlock's cock, an image which will never not be incredibly arousing, nearly breathtaking. "How about this then," John tells Sherlock's cock, tongue flicking out. "I'll get you off right here, nice and sweet, and then when you're done I'll spread you out over this desk and make use of the lube in the drawer. Would you like that? Feeling that burn all afternoon?"
"No," Sherlock snaps -- tries to snap, this is wrong, John's up to something, or someone, and he needs to get to the bottom of it, not indulge in a nooner with the culprit himself.
He wills himself to nudge John off of his cock, but his fingers somehow get tangled in John's hair instead.
To his everlasting frustration what was meant to be an argument and subsequent confession of guilt ends up being Sherlock with his arse in the air, his trousers bunched around his ankles, and shirt rucked up his back. John grunts, and curses, and calls out Sherlock's name as he comes, very inconveniently, without a condom. Sherlock ends up doing an awkward dash into the bathroom as John herds the children into Mrs. Hudson's under false pretenses, and by the time he's to rights John is gone again, and the moment is lost.
There is the option, of course, of just following John on one of his excursions. It would be childishly simple, but that's insulting to everything they've worked for the last ten years. Sherlock has earned an honest admission, surely.
He spends the next few days being infuriated by everything unfortunate enough to cross his path, but doesn't realize just how apparent his foul mood is until one afternoon Lucy wanders into the sitting room, sighs exaggeratedly, and flops down on him where he's sprawled on the sofa. "Papa, what is your problem?"
"What are you talking about?" he says into her pile of curls.
She sits up just enough to stare down her nose at him. She really needs to spend less time with Sherlock's mother, the influence is becoming unnerving. "You're being cranky all the time, what did Daddy do?"
"How do you know he's bothering me?”
She gives him a look like he's stupid. Sherlock is vaguely proud. "You keep giving him looks, and you didn't say goodbye when you left this morning, and then the other day you left desi-desiccated animal parts under the sink and you know he hates that, so you must already be cross with him and not care."
Sherlock smirks, despite himself. "You missed a few things."
She frowns at him, an impressively derisive look for someone so small. "No I didn't."
"Don't be stupid, of course you did."
She makes him explain, and that both effectively fills an hour and improves his mood. Then John walks in, giving Sherlock a sideways glance, and all Sherlock’s good will immediately vaporizes. Lucy looks between them, rolls her eyes, and runs off to the kitchen to ruin her supper.
"Feeling better?" John asks with feigned disinterest.
Sherlock glares. "So that's a concern of yours, is it?"
John's expression turns confused. "What?"
Sherlock waves a hand, disgusted, and flings himself off the sofa and towards the exit. "I have a case, don't wait up." He can hear John sputtering behind him, but doesn't bother saying anything. The obvious evidence on John says everything. John's had dinner with someone, a woman his height, and at some point afterward John had coffee. It's clearly no longer just a fling.
Sherlock slams the door on his way out.
He had thought, erroneously, that given that right amount of nudging John would confess. Or at least give Sherlock some clue as to what was going on, which would lead him on the road to discovery himself. Instead John, as stubborn as ever, had simply got angry in return, mentioning a 'dog house' at every opportunity when he knew perfectly well that they did not own any sort of domestic animal, aside from the frog that lived in a shoebox under Andrew's bed.
Sherlock, near to his wits end, does the only thing he possibly could, though it kills him to the very core to do so.
"Hello, brother mine," Mycroft says -- drinking tea, in that man cave he called a personal sanctuary-- no, clicking heels on hardwood, the downstairs office.
"I need a favor," Sherlock says; no need to beat around the bush.
His brother sighs, the old windbag. "You do realize, Sherlock, that I can't make the entire country grind to a halt at your every whim."
"You aren't doing anything right now, and pointless peace talks can wait," Sherlock replies, waving a hand in the air. "John's been sneaking off, doing god knows what. He won't tell me."
"I'm not going to spy on him."
"I find your sudden inclination towards the tasteful appalling."
Mycroft makes that low, amused sound Sherlock had heard their father make a hundred times. "If you want to find out where he's been, why don't you do the mature, responsible thing and simply ask him?"
"Because he lies to my face," Sherlock says, just short of a snarl. "You don't think I already tried that?"
"What I think is inconsequential. If you want to find out who John's been having lunch with, and tea, and on one occasion a late breakfast, then put your reasoning skills to work and stop bothering me."
"I despise you."
"And I you," Mycroft says cheerfully. "Give the children my love, I'll be by to see them early next week."
"They don't want to see you," Sherlock snaps, but it's too late, his brother has hung up in his ear. Sherlock holds the phone in front of his face and glares at it until he can refrain from snarling imprecations at molded plastic, thinking John's influence has irrevocably damaged his mind in more ways than one. When he finally looks up he realizes other pedestrians have given him quite a wide berth. He stalks off in the direction of the flat.
He only crosses three streets before he's called by a Violet Hunter, who all but begs for his assistance with a case that is fascinating and takes all of his attention for the following week. He tries to include John, even sends him out to Surrey one day to help investigate, but his husband returns late, with virtually no useful information, and Sherlock in the ensuing row is all but convinced something in his head is going to pop.
Perhaps he should have considered his mood when he went to Surrey himself, wrapped up in self-righteous fury, but he'd had a case to solve and if John wasn't going to help then he'd have to do all the work himself. He tries not to think about how frustrating it would be if this were to become the norm. He only succeeds in winding himself up further.
He returns to London the following morning, and stomps up the steps to the flat right as the children are finishing their breakfast. John, wonder of wonders, is actually there to feed them.
"Whoa!" Andrew says, pausing with a sausage halfway to his mouth.
Lucille looks similarly flabbergasted. "Papa what happened to your face?"
"Sherlock," John says, eyes wide.
"It was a lucky punch,” Sherlock says, unwrapping his scarf. "I quickly gained the upper hand."
"You look hideous,” Lucy says unnecessarily.
"Go and get your things,” John says, the trace of military in his tone enough to send them scurrying. He looks at Sherlock like he wants, very badly, to yell.
Sherlock takes off his coat and drapes it on the back of the closest chair, then sits in said chair, appropriating John's mug for himself. John walks over and tries to loom over him, the pygmy. "This has gone far enough, you know."
"Yes, yes it has,” Sherlock says, vehement enough that John pauses in his examination of Sherlock's admittedly dramatic black eye.
"What are you on about, lately?" John asks. "Nothing I do makes you happy, you walk around like I've spat in your eye."
"Haven't you?" Sherlock snaps. John looks at Sherlock like he's insane. "Where are you going, John?"
"What do you mean?" John says, staring down at Sherlock. "What are you talking about?"
"These disappearing acts you're engaging in. You're not at work, I know you're not. You're never where you say you are, not for the reasons you say you're there. Why can't you just admit it? We both know you're engaging in subterfuge."
John's expression turns guilty, then defiant, then guilty again, but with an edge of something like fear. It makes Sherlock's stomach twist unpleasantly, and damn John for that too. "You don't even have an answer, do you?" he asks.
John’s gaping fish-like expression is answer enough. He'd been expecting that, so there's no reason why it should bother Sherlock the way it does, should poke at him like a particularly vicious insult, nettle at him incessantly. He shoves back and stands up, turns on his heel and stalks out.
There's only one thing for it. If John won't admit to his torrid and twisted love affair with whatever Lothario he's taken up with, then it's Sherlock's prerogative to find out just who is ruining his marriage.
Lestrade doesn't ask questions, giving him a wide berth when he storms into the Met, laptop under his arm. He ensconces himself in his corner cell office, kicking off his shoes and yanking off his coat, throwing them whatever which way without a second thought.
John has, from the very beginning, been the one to keep track of their finances, both personal and business. He kept meticulous logs on paper, not trusting the internet (and for good reason; Mycroft had hired them just last year to hunt down the man who kept hacking into the government’s databases). Still, there’s some information online, and Sherlock finds it with somewhat distressing ease.
Their bank statements roll out onto his screen. Aside from the regular charges – Tesco’s and the corner shop and Speedy's - there were his internet purchases for the lab, for various cases, a charge for a terrarium for Andrew's frog, clothing for both children, and the sandwich shop by the surgery that John ate at a few times a week.
There are also two charges, one for a Blues Cafe, the other for an ATM on West Smithfield.
"Do I want to ask?" Lestrade asks from the open doorway, face pulled into the half-worried, half-amused contortion that makes him look deranged.
"No," Sherlock says definitively, closing the laptop with a snap. "Not unless you want to be implicated in a murder."
"Murder?" Geoff steps into the cell, on alert -- it's gratifying to see, the physical representation of his trust in Sherlock. Or at least, in Sherlock's deductive reasoning. "What's going on?"
"A little indiscretion I'm about to go take care of," Sherlock replies, shoving his feet back into his shoes. "I'll call if I need you to post my bail."
Sherlock makes his move four days later, a delay incurred because of a short trip back to Surrey to resolve the Hunter case -- this time with John in tow, a nonnegotiable demand on John's part -- and a shootout on a train, it's all wonderfully entertaining. They get home at near to three in the morning still high on their success. Sherlock gets on his knees in the shower, and John tangles his fingers in Sherlock's hair while Sherlock gleefully displays his appreciation of John's undiminished marksmanship.
They crash in bed afterwards, and Sherlock wraps his entire body around John and wonders what, exactly, John is looking elsewhere for.
Reduced to the most pedestrian methods, Friday morning finds Sherlock trailing his husband like a celebrity stalker. John is good at spotting tails, has only improved in fact since Sherlock first met him, which makes the endeavor even more annoying; Sherlock is far too old to be ducking behind trees and parked cars.
He knows the location of the meals John's purchased, so he's unsurprised when they travel in that direction. He's also unsurprised when John strolls in the front entrance of the closest hospital, walks towards the lift with the casual ease of familiarity. Of course he would pick another medical professional, he's shown that predilection several times before, and John was always quite lazy when it came to meeting people, even before he settled down with his flatmate. Sherlock's anger grows with every step, every twist and turn. As he waits for another lift he thinks he might just rattle apart from aggravation, and the strange, tight feeling that wraps around his throat.
Sherlock exits the lift and strides down the corridor, determined to face John and this tryst, this harlot, head-on. He's so focused he almost misses it, misses him, John, in surgical scrubs, on the other side of heavy Plexiglas, staring down at something with a breathtaking smile on his face.
A baby, Sherlock realizes. He's holding a baby. It's barely bigger than his hand.
Sherlock stares, and thinks oh, bugger.
There’s a desk around the corner. On the glass door is an enormous sign which reads Neonatal Unit.
He's met by one of the nurses, an effervescent woman named Linda who smiles brightly at him in spite of his flat expression. "Welcome, Mr. Holmes!” she says, and Sherlock has but a moment to wonder how in nine hells this woman knows who he is before she continues. “We've been waiting all this time to meet you!"
"Have you?" Sherlock asks, inflection-less.
Linda hands him surgical scrubs. "Of course, of course. Dr. Watson has told us all about you, how busy you are with your detective agency -- I'm not going to lie, some of the girls were looking it up on the internet the other day, it's incredible, just incredible."
Sherlock's frown turns sharp; it's becoming more and more apparent his error is not a minor one.
The unit is small, intimate. There are seven incubators in the room, each with a small printed sign at the foot – Sarah Foster, Jermaine Huntington, George Oliver. The babies are small, smaller than Sherlock has ever seen, but none so small as the child his spouse is holding in his arms.
John hasn’t seen him, far too engrossed in the child in his arms. He’s speaking to a nurse, a small woman with frighteningly red hair, who is helping him wrap the baby in a blanket, tubes and wires carefully adjusted to allow John to sit in the rocking chair beside the incubator. "Dr. Morstan wants to take him off the feeding tube later this week," she’s saying. The child in John’s arms is crying, if the tiny mewling can even be called that. "The only problem is, he's having a hard time nursing."
John frowns sharply. "Why does she want to take him off the tube, then?"
"We'd seen evidence that he's ready -- he was sucking on his fingers the other night for over an hour, and Dr. Morstan thought it might be a sign that the suck-swallow patterns are developing enough to transition him to bottle feeding." The nurse looks down at the baby again. "She also thinks he might be experiencing some sensory defensiveness, and now is the time to nip that right in the bud." She smiles down at the child, too close for comfort. “I'll go and get him his first breakfast," she says.
John blinks in surprise when he sees Sherlock, freezes. The baby in his arms does something, because he looks down, then back up at Sherlock, gestures for him to sit once with his free hand.
Sherlock has no experience with children so small, but this one looks like it's too little to be alive at all, much less out in the world already. Sherlock takes the chair next to John, who is watching him curiously.
There’s no point in prevarication. "Why are you here?"
John sighs. The baby in his arms makes a pathetic little sound, and John shushes it calmly. "Do you remember the insurance scam in Brixton? Where we needed to find that barrister's case in that skip?" He looks up, half-imploring, half-ordering.
They'd solved that case, and along the way John had made a startling discovery in one of the bins --
Sherlock blinks in surprise. "This is the bin baby you found?"
John gives him a look that very clearly says if I weren't holding a child I would throttle you. "Don't call him that."
"Because he's a bloody person, Sherlock, not misplaced rubbish.”
The nurse returns with a small bottle, a chart, and wide array of needles, giving him a smile and offering her hand. “Good morning, Mr. Holmes, it’s wonderful to finally meet you. I’m Sheila.”
It seems he’s a minor celebrity at King’s College Neonatal Unit. “Charmed,” he says.
John shoots him a look and shifts the infant from the circle of his arms to his lap, sitting him up a bit. He’s only a little larger than the palm of John’s hand. The baby makes a pitiful sound, as if he would just like to go back to sleep, and John grins. "Sorry, love," he tells the child, gently supporting his head and shoulders. "Have you started exercises?"
"Every day," the nurse tells him, sitting in on a stool on Sherlock’s other side to administer the injections through the baby's IVs. "You remember how?"
"University was a long time ago, but not that long," he says, and she laughs. Gently, very gently, John circles the baby’s mouth, and seems encouraged by the small purse of the child’s lips. "Any aspiration?'
"Some. The first time he didn't want anything near his mouth, so we didn't get so much as an ounce into him,” she says. “The second time, he didn't know how to coordinate sucking and breathing, and his oxygen saturation went down enough that we had to stop. He's had two feedings since then, and he's getting there, slowly but surely."
"That's a good sign," John says, gently squeezing the baby's cheeks and tickling his bottom lip. It curls, sucking. "There's a lad." He introduces a drop of formula on the baby's lower lip, and the child’s nose wrinkles. The drop rolls into his mouth and triggers the sucking instinct, so John gives him another, and then another, and finally he nudges the nipple to the baby's mouth.
He latches on immediately and John grins broadly. "Oh, now would you look at that."
"Knew he was just missing you," Sheila says, setting all of Sherlock’s alarm bells ringing. "We're aiming for the full thirty mil today.”
The nurse steps away and Sherlock stares at the picture before him, not quite able to understand what it is he’s seeing. The baby lets go of the nipple for a moment with a gasp, but there's no coughing, so John lets him have it again. "Do you remember when Andrew was a newborn? He would suck down an entire bottle in ten minutes, and as soon as it was empty I swear he would give us the fish eye.”
"So this... this is it,” Sherlock says, then clarifies, "this is where you've been sneaking off to for the last six weeks."
"Of course, where else..." Understanding dawns on John's face. Sherlock tries not wince. "You thought I was cheating on you? "
"Given the evidence--" Sherlock tries to explain.
"You giant wanker, I can't believe you--"
"You lied for six weeks about your whereabouts!"
"You've been punishing me for something I didn't do!"
They're whisper-shouting, though apparently it's enthusiastic enough to catch a few stares. John doesn't seem to care, not until the baby in his arms makes the same upset noise from earlier. John immediately turns his attention to it, shifting it carefully in his arms until it settles, calm, against his chest.
Sherlock realizes, with something akin to horror, where this is going. "No."
The baby makes a whimpering noise against John’s shoulder, and the nurses stir in the background, ready to come and pounce and toss Sherlock out on his ear. The look on John’s face clearly says he has half a mind to let them. "‘No’ what?"
"John, you -- you seriously aren't thinking--"
"That you're a wanker? Of course I do, and worse besides. I can't believe you thought I was cheating on you, sometimes I wonder how you're capable of functioning," John says, with a note of finality in his voice that warns Sherlock against going down a road he himself isn't ready to travel yet.
The baby burps, a tiny, hiccupping sound.
John climbs to his feet, kissing the baby's head, his cheek where the feeding tube is taped, his tiny shoulder, and then carefully, carefully lays him in the incubator, adjusting wires and tubes as he goes. It takes a good five minutes to get him settled, to check to make sure he hadn't aspirated any of the milk. He gives the baby one more kiss, to the tiny little fist wrapped around John's fingertip.
Sherlock is well aware of the fact that he’s still staring at him, eyes boring into the back of John's head, when they leave Neonatal. John nods goodbye to Linda, the other women who smile back.
The doors close behind them with a hiss, and John tugs the cap from his head. "I've got to get to work."
"No," Sherlock says, well aware his expression is probably ludicrous. "We're talking about this."
"No, we're really not."
"Of course we are, you've been escaping Baker Street like a criminal to come here. I have a say in thi--"
"No," John says, his voice nearly a shout. He crosses his arms across his chest, stares at the floor. "No," he repeats, quieter. "I wanted to make sure he was okay, that's all."
"For six weeks?" Sherlock stares at him. "Give me a little credit, John."
John shakes his head, turns away to look at the opposite wall. "You don't understand."
"You're right," Sherlock says. "I don't."
For some reason this admission only serves to make John more upset, however well he hides it. Sherlock is rather quick on his feet, but even he's a little thrown by this series of events. "You can't seriously think-"
"Shut up, Sherlock, just bloody shut up." John changes out of the scrubs in an awkward rush and Sherlock follows suit, reading the tense lines in John's back, his shoulders, his neck. For all his aggravation John still waits for Sherlock, walks down the corridor with him. They lapse into silence while going down in the lift and out of the lobby, until they're standing on the street, staring at one another.
"We're not keeping him,” Sherlock blurts out.
It's obvious to him, with sudden clarity, that it is precisely the wrong thing to say. John's chin pugs up. "I didn't say we were."
"We already have enough children to be getting on with," Sherlock adds, unsure of the expression on John's face. He's a palette of mixed signals, anger and hurt and frustration and sadness, and Sherlock realizes he hasn't seen this particular mix since he came back from the dead. It stabs through him, to see even a shadow of it now. "The ones we have are barely manageable as it is, and with the business and the fast-paced nature of our lives I simply don't see any possible way we could accommodate an infant, especially one so ill."
"You're right," John says, zipping up his coat. "After all, I'm also trying to juggle my marriage and a torrid love affair."
"I apologized for that."
"No, as I seem to recall you yelled at me in front of seven premature infants and their parents," John snaps.
"I did not yell. We spoke at a perfectly acceptable decibel!"
John jams his hands into his coat pockets, whirls around, then back again. "Dammit Sherlock, you, you brought Lucy into our lives without discussing it with me."
That brings him up short, and he filters through a dozen responses before settling on, "You love Lucy."
"Of course I do, that's the point!" John glares up at him. "The baby needs a family, someone who can take care of him. He's got health problems that will make getting him adopted difficult, if not impossible. From the hospital he'll go to a foster home-"
The words break in John's throat, and Sherlock's chest squeezes tight. "John."
"I'm just saying that we could give him a chance. His mum left him in a skip like the bloody dinner leftovers, Sherlock. The child began his life unwanted, and I thought we... but not if you don't want him. I won't force that on you." He turns away, stares off down the road. "I've got to go to work."
"You don't," Sherlock replies; suddenly wants John at his side for the rest of the day, the week. "Come home."
"I can't," John says. "I'm coming back here, this afternoon," he adds, looking up at Sherlock as if daring him to say otherwise.
"I'll come with you,” Sherlock says, a tad desperate. John leaving now means John stewing means Sherlock having all sorts of privileges revoked, and overall nothing that would end well for him. Sherlock doesn't want John in there with his nonsense ideas about expanding their family with a high needs infant (a redundant term if ever there was one) and that means if Sherlock has to sit there and drill it into his husband's head, then so be it.
John gives him a suspicious look. "What does it matter if I go home first or not?"
Sherlock gives him a look he knows is mulish. "I need help on a case."
John seems unimpressed. "Call Hopkins, he'd jump at the chance."
"He'd jump at the chance to scrub our loo if I told him to, doesn't mean he's useful at a crime scene."
John is trying not to smirk despite himself; he really dislikes Hopkins that much. The relief Sherlock feels at its appearance is almost painful. "That's so meaningful, Sherlock, thank you."
Sherlock hails a cab, and deliberately ignores the way John glances back towards the hospital before getting in.
Thus starts four of the longest weeks of Sherlock's life.
Sherlock thought things would return to their semblance of normal once John was no longer actively hiding his movements. Only where John is concerned does he make these kinds of miscalculations.
"He took half a bottle today," John is saying, toothbrush in his mouth. It's a testament to their many years of matrimony that Sherlock can understand him. "Mary is confident in removing the feeding tube permanently, as early as next week."
He'd been doing it a lot -- and what’s worse, he isn't doing it to guilt Sherlock into making a decision he’s entirely certain he doesn’t want to make. It’s clear, from the almost dreamy expression on John's face whenever he spoke of the infant, that he’s speaking unconsciously. Mostly. Sherlock scrubs his shoulder and says, "Our children are unrefined heathens, and there is little doubt in my mind that in a week's time Andrew would be experimenting on it, and Lucy would be dressing it up for show and tell."
John swishes the shower curtain back. "He's a 'he', not an 'it', and his name is Baby K."
"Yes, please explain to me why on earth--"
"They go in cycles. Baby K, followed by year, ID number, and the first day he came to the NICU. They try not to assign numerals to infants, it's impersonal." His eyes are very far away, and Sherlock is certain that John has already named the child in his head.
He'd had a pet turkey once, as a boy growing up in Ascot. Mycroft had tried to warn him, and Father had done his best to separate them, but Sherlock can still remember the hot, bitter tears the night that Cook killed and cooked it for the annual company dinner.
"Our work takes us from home," Sherlock says, sweeping water out of his eyes. "We're already leaving the children too much as it is."
John's face pinches, and Sherlock feels like a heel. A wet, slippery heel.
The infant grows in minuscule degrees - a few ounces here, half an inch there. It's quieter than most of the other patients in the NICU, even when it cries. Sherlock doesn't see what's so special about it; they have two exceptional children already growing in their home, and sees nothing valuable to be gained from a third whose potential is a giant unknown.
He doesn't say as much to John, because his husband has decided to be impressively irrational about the whole thing, but he does make occasional reminders about the impressive abilities of the children they are already raising. Just to be thorough. Of course John doesn't always seem to grasp the point of Sherlock's efforts, but that's nothing new. The price of genius is, after all, a certain degree of isolation.
"What are you doing?!"
"It's perfectly safe," Sherlock says, eyebrows raised behind plastic goggles. Well, ‘perfectly’ may be a slight misnomer. It's not excessively dangerous, in any case.
"Dad, look, once it's settled Papa said we can--"
"Nope, not going to happen,” John interrupts, arms crossed by the doorway. "Out, now."
"But Dad," Andrew whines, aghast. "Nitrogen Triiodide is one of the few--"
"Now, Andrew,” John orders. Andrew looks to Sherlock for rescue, but Sherlock only shrugs. He's trying to win points, not lose more.
Andrew hops off the stool in fury, flings off his goggles, manages to dislodge his glasses in the process, and in the subsequent fumble somehow proceeds to accidentally blow up half the lab. By the time they get home from A&E, and get Andrew to bed, and clean up what remains of Sherlock’s lab space, and John has checked Sherlock's stitches, there's not much Sherlock could do to make John less receptive to his points.
"Imagine if there was an infant for all that," he says anyway. No point in missing a wasted opportunity. "We'd have had even more trouble getting everything sorted."
John looks at him. "You probably have a case," he says, deceptively calm. "So I'm assuming you'll be sleeping in the basement office tonight."
Sherlock scowls fiercely, even though it makes his head throb. As John stomps into the bedroom Sherlock reconsiders his approach. Once in the basement office he breaks into the hospital database, reads all the information on Baby K he's been deliberately deleting from his brain as John tried to impart it to him, and discovers there's a plan for his discharge in nine days. Sherlock upgrades the matter to urgent and decides he's going to have to try something new. There has to be a way to convincingly fake tact; Mycroft does it all the time.
Two is quite enough, he tells himself for the thousandth time. John will figure that out eventually.
Three days later John comes home from the hospital a shade of white not seen in nature.
"John?" Sherlock asks, quickly climbing to his feet. He's washed out, lips as pale as the rest of him, but John just waves him away, goes into the kitchen to the kettle. He follows, arrives just in time to see John lean against the counter, hands braced and head hanging low. "John?" he asks again.
The children are both accounted for, he and Mycroft have been trading nasty emails all morning, and John hadn't been at the surgery today -- it has to be Baby K.
He wonders if perhaps the infant has died. While that isn't an outcome he wishes -- and it surprises him just how much he doesn't wish it, when the child has worked so tirelessly to live -- it would indeed solve the problem. He doesn't dare get close, unsure of John's receptiveness to his proximity.
"Nothing," John finally says, straightening. Sherlock hates the defeated expression on his face, the way he holds himself. "The... the adoption people were there today."
"Oh." Fortuitous, but not something he would have particularly wanted John present for.
"Go ahead," John says thickly, face turned away. "Go ahead and say it, I know you're dying to."
He is, but that doesn't mean he's going to. The Sherlock of old wouldn't have skipped a beat, but he's grown as a person and he knows that a single word out of his mouth and John will never forgive him, let alone have sex with him again, and the sofa in the basement office is far too lumpy for more than a night at a time. He finds himself digging into a well he didn't even know existed, trying to find words to comfort his partner. He's seen this coming for weeks, and is still no closer to finding them. "John," he says finally, helplessly, with the same tone he used to calm Andrew the other night. It works like a charm; John's shoulders slump.
John is quiet the rest of the day, all of his attention far on the other side of London. The children try to cheer him up -- Lucille performs some sort of routine, belting out a song Sherlock has never heard of at the top of her lungs, of which most of the lyrics are vaguely disturbing combinations of baby, oh and no; Andrew rattles off the details of his new theorem on chemical thermodynamics, the one that had Uni professors coming to his classroom in frantic, self-righteous huffs. He gets overly-involved in the telling of it, arms waving wildly, until he trips and narrowly avoids cracking his face on the coffee table. Again. John smiles and claps and asks the right questions, and snags Andrew by the arm so he hits only the sofa, and the children are satisfied; Sherlock can see what they don't, and is left only more perturbed.
By silent agreement they go to the hospital together the next day, Sherlock giving into the urge to snag John's hand and hold him close the whole way. The staff still giving him disbelieving looks, as though they can't imagine what John is doing with him, but after the debacle they had last week are no longer speaking to him, so that's a plus.
"Oh, Dr. Watson," One of the nurses says, leading them to the incubator. "It's wonderful you made it in time."
"In time for what?" John asks.
"They've moved up his discharge -- he's doing so well, and social services is looking to get him into a medically approved home as soon as possible. He's to be gone tomorrow."
John freezes, and then forces, literally forces himself to keep moving. Sherlock watches, wary. "Oh."
"We're going to miss the little darling," the nurse continues, completely ignorant to how the words are affecting Sherlock's husband. In about ten seconds Sherlock's going to say something that should send her running for the door when she continues, "though of course we're happy to see him move on to better."
The infant looks up at John with massive eyes, almost alien in proportion. "Of course,” John says, quiet. "They don't have anyone in mind, then?"
"I don't know, Doctor, they've very cagey about these sorts of things," she says, and, the infant settled in John's arms, she steps away.
"Well listen to that," John murmurs to the baby, pressing soft kisses against his downy-soft head. His voice is thick, nearly a croak. "A real family. A mummy and daddy just for you." When John looks up at Sherlock his eyes are shiny, wet. “If my father could see me now he’d be horrified.”
“My dad was one of the best cardio-thoracic surgeons in England,” John says, stroking the baby’s fist where it’s wrapped tightly around his fingertip. “He’d be furious with me, at the scope of my mistake. Letting myself get involved with a patient, breaching doctor-patient protocol.” He shakes his head, clenches his eyes shut. “Every rule has a reason, and I wish to God I hadn’t broken this one, didn’t keep breaking it.”
He stares down at the child and Sherlock is overcome with the most peculiar squeezing in his chest; he knows himself enough to identify it, has accepted that John is and will always be the reason for it.
John rocks the little one in his arms, hums to him softly -- a long hold over from Lucy's tumultuous years. “You’ll have a family, a mummy and daddy, and maybe even brothers and sisters,” John murmurs to him, so quiet Sherlock has to strain to listen. “There’ll be ball games and primary school and birthdays; family trips and best friends and as many hugs and kisses as you’ll ever want, because you are wanted, because you’re loved by so many people.”
The baby yawns, tiny mouth open and soft, and John kisses his cheeks, and fingers, and the slope of a downy brow. He lays the baby back in the incubator, adjusting the few wires he has left, the tiny IV. "There we are," he whispers, and leans in once more to gently fix his cap, adjust a line here, the blanket there.
He straightens abruptly, turns his back, and Sherlock watches his husband transform into the soldier he is before his eyes. He strides away from the incubator, the nurses, the NICU, and out into the sterile, cold hallway.
Sherlock watches John stalk out like a man hunted. He watches, and then turns to look at Baby K, who is still startlingly, shockingly small, for all the progress he's made. Baby K has no communicable diseases, no known long-term disabilities, isn’t particularly difficult, and is altogether not unpleasant to be around. He'd be adopted quickly enough, would attract the attention of some pedestrian couple who would no doubt bestow their affection on him instantly.
Sherlock pulls out his phone and sends a text. The speed with which Mycroft responds makes it obvious he's been watching the proceedings, believing this turn of events to be a foregone conclusion. There's someone who introduces herself as a care coordinator walking into the room before Sherlock's even put his phone back in his pocket.
John is waiting for him when he walks out fifteen minutes later, but he clearly has no idea how much time has passed - he's been standing at parade rest, staring at the motivational pictures on the wall in a way that suggests he's not looking at them at all. Sherlock could probably have left him here until tomorrow.
"Come along," he says, and tugs John towards the exit. John lets him, and pretends he's fine, and Sherlock thinks yes, this is the right decision. He can see John put the thoughts away, make the decision he's not going to let himself become any more emotionally compromised. There was a time when Sherlock would have welcomed such behavior, would have seen it as progress. But John is meant to care, is designed for it -- is gorgeous in such states, brows furrowed, lips pressed.
The next morning is much the same, if not worse, and Sherlock reminds himself that he has made the right choice. Much to everyone else's surprise he walks with John and the children to their school, Lucille chattering a mile a minute, Andrew - who is much less fond of mornings - silently gripping his arm with a scowl on his face. Still, they both dart off into the building with an enthusiasm Sherlock never once displayed in all his years of schooling, leaving Sherlock and John standing on the pavement. "Well?" John asks. "I'm assuming there's a case you want us to get to."
"Of a sort," Sherlock agrees. He hails a cab and precedes John in, proceeds to explain a case he's already solved, just to keep John's attention. It's interesting, no matter he solved it almost twenty years ago. John sucks it up, gets involved despite himself, so that when they pull up to their destination it take him a minute to figure out where they are.
"What's going on here?" he asks, a flinty look starting to seep into his expression.
"I assumed you'd want to know what's to become of the infant,” Sherlock says, striding into the building.
John pauses, then hurries to catch up, an expression on his face someone else might mistake for aggravation. Sherlock more correctly reads it as stress, and a little bit of hurt. "I don't - we can just call, Sherlock. We don't need to be here."
"On the contrary,” Sherlock says, "Clearly you require a bit more than the nebulous explanation you were given yesterday."
"Well that's very considerate of you," John says, as they enter the lift, and yes, Sherlock agrees, he's showing a fair bit of regard right now that should earn him credit when something else in their house inevitably explodes, "but we don't even know if he's still here."
"There's only one way to find out," Sherlock says easily. John follows him out of the lift, a step or two behind, not wanting to go and yet irresistibly drawn. One of the less annoying nurses - Brenda - smiles widely at them as they turn the corner.
"Welcome back! Last day here, hmm?"
John smiles tightly. "He hasn't left yet, then?"
The nurse gives him a funny look. "Of course not! Let me get him sorted, you two change, come on in."
They put on scrubs and follow into the room. Brenda immediately starts talking to John, snagging his attention with suggestions of apnea machines and outpatient follow-ups and adjusted developmental milestones. John nods and answers with a hesitation that suggests he has no idea why she's discussing this with him.
Sherlock looks down into the incubator. Baby K is disconnected from all the tubing, the wires, and is instead dressed in a blue outfit and hat, tiny hands in the suit's gloves. He stares up at Sherlock calmly, and isn't bothered when Sherlock picks him up, so light he's almost weightless, smaller than Andrew was even on the day of his birth. He had so little time with Andrew when he was young.
"Sherlock?" John is staring at him, confused and, under that, charmed despite himself. Brenda has stepped away, collecting paperwork, printing forms.
Sherlock raises his eyebrows. "The carrier over there is his, but if you'd like I'm sure no one would object to you holding him while his things are sorted."
"What are you talking about?" John says, as though Sherlock is talking utter nonsense. "How do you know that's his?"
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "Because I had it sent here, along with everything else we'd need to take him home."
Something in John’s brain goes blessedly, simply, quiet.
It's Sherlock, standing there holding the baby in his arms, as careful as he's ever been, wearing an expression that he hasn't since the day Andrew was born. It's the baby, with his miniature face and hands, quiet and comfortable there in Sherlock's arms.
"No," he says, quick, reflexive.
"What?" Sherlock's brow furrows. "What do you mean, no?"
"I mean, no. Not if it’s -- a baby is -- a baby isn't a pet you can adopt, and if it doesn't work out you take it to Battersea Dogs Home," John says, folding his arms across his chest to hide his shaking hands. "You've spent the last two weeks telling me all the ways this is impossible."
Sherlock's face colors, a splash of pink on his cheeks as novel as the expression that crosses it. "While it took some time for me to, as they say, 'warm up' to the idea, being in the child's company has persuaded me into thinking that perhaps our family isn't as complete as I had originally thought."
"It's a sick baby, Sherlock," John says, heart racing. "It means feedings all night, and potty training, and tantrums and tears."
"What do you mean 'and'? Isn't that enough?"
John will always remember the expression on Sherlock's face when he looks down at the baby, something warm and caring and like his heart, cleaved open for all the world to see. It draws John helplessly close, as mesmerizing as when Sherlock was running like a mad thing, shouting theories with his magnifying glass in hand. "You've named him already."
He didn't think he was so transparent. The baby gurgles softly, hands waving in the suit, and John catches one with a fingertip, cupping the small arm in his hand. "My father's name was Aden. But it didn't seem right, to ignore what he went by for so long."
Sherlock's brow furrows. "'Kaden', John? Really? That's a singularly awful name, your naming privileges have been officially revoked."
John laughs out loud, only it sounds nothing at all like a laugh. Sherlock pulls him in carefully close and kisses him right there in front of all the parents and nurses and babies, Kaden nestled between them.