After breakfast, John gathered everything they'd need for a trip to the park: wet naps, sunscreen for all of them, extra clothes (just in case), and a blanket to spread on the grass.
"We'll pick up lunch somewhere while we're out." John said, buckling Poppy into her stroller.
Milo skipped ahead of them, pretending to fly his toy airplane, making whooshing noises with his mouth.
"He's smart." Sherlock said. "Really smart and imaginative."
John nodded. "If only I could harness some of that energy."
Sherlock laughed. Then he gestured to a sign on the front of the family gym near John's flat. "You should enroll him."
The sign read: "Karate Lessons, all levels. Classes available for ages 5+. Inquire within."
"Right, because what he needs is more excuses to kick people." John joked.
"I'm serious. He'd learn the proper time and place to use his skills, and he'd work off some of that energy."
"Mmm." John mused. "Maybe. He is turning five soon. Next month, actually. I wish I could take them somewhere. To celebrate. Poppy's birthday isn't too far from Milo's."
"Why don't you?" Sherlock asked.
They'd reached the park and Milo had spotted one of his friends. He waved enthusiastically and ran across the grass to the play area.
"Vacations cost money." John pulled a face. "I'm doing well, but not that well."
"My family always went to the beach." Sherlock said.
"Yeah? That sounds fun."
Sherlock lifted one thin shoulder. "It was okay. My parents always acted like they couldn't wait to go back home."
"My mum and dad were too poor to take us far." John said, settling them near a tree and letting Poppy loose from her stroller. "We usually just visited my granddad's farm in Ireland. Still... some of my best memories happened there."
Sherlock pulled his knees up to his chest and watched Milo careening around the play area. "You're a good dad." He said, softly.
John smiled. "Thank you. I try. I figure I owe them to try my best. What was your dad like?"
"Gone. Just like my mum. They couldn't stand to see each other and I think my brother and I were reminders that they'd once been intimate."
"It is what it is," Sherlock made a face. "I realize there are worse childhoods I could've had."
"It's still terrible. I'm sorry. Every child deserves parents who love them and spend time with them."
Poppy happily tumbled in the grass nearby, shrieking with laughter as she showed off for them.
"Was your wife a good parent?" Sherlock blurted.
John sighed, leaning back. "Mary was... complicated. She could be such a loving person. But I think she viewed the children as trinkets and baubles... sometimes she felt like dressing up and playing happy family. Other times she had no use for them and I was left to do the feeding and soothing and changing. Then she became sick and suddenly I was a parent to three instead of two."
"I'm sorry." Sherlock murmured.
"Ah, well," John scrubbed a hand over his face. "Wouldn't trade these two for the world, you know?"
At that moment, Milo ran over, giggling. He flung himself in John's lap and grinned up at his father.
"Ice cream?" He asked, pointing to an ice lolly cart nearby.
"No, lunch first." John said, tickling Milo into a giggling fit. "But we'll get ice cream after."
"'Kay!" Milo said, in between giggles.
John set him loose again and then climbed to his feet. "C'mon, let's take Poppy over to the swings."
An afternoon of running, jumping, climbing, sliding, swinging, broken only by a lunch of sandwiches purchased at a nearby deli, found both Poppy and Milo exhausted and whiny. John gathered their things to go while Sherlock distracted Milo and Poppy with a fingerplay.
"Here is the beehive, where are the bees?" Sherlock asked, holding up a closed fist. "Hidden away, where nobody sees."
John smiled as he watched Sherlock bring out his fingers one by one as the "bees" appeared, and then sent Milo and Poppy into a fit of giggles when he cried out "Buzz, buzz, buzz!" at the end.
"Your nanny taught you a lot of those poems, didn't she?" John asked, packing away the last of their detritus and beckoning Poppy over so he could load her into her stroller.
Sherlock sat down and Milo scrambled into his lap, laying his head on Sherlock's chest. "Mmm. It was the only thing that would keep me in one spot for longer than a minute."
John laughed. "I can imagine! And you've remembered them all?"
Sherlock smoothed back Milo's hair with his hand and nodded. "I have an excellent memory, particularly about things that I consider happy memories. My nanny was a very kind woman. She was more of a mother to me than my actual mother."
"Where is she now?"
"Oh, she passed away a few years back." Sherlock looked away, refusing to meet John's eyes. "She was an older woman, even when I was young. I... I didn't get to see her before she died. I was... distracted."
John accepted Sherlock's explanation without comment. He knew "distracted" referred to Sherlock's drug use. John nodded at Milo, who had fallen fast asleep in Sherlock's lap.
"Hand him over, I think he's still small enough to wedge in next to Poppy."
"No need to disturb him," Sherlock said, shifting Milo's small body so he could clamber to his feet. "I can carry him."
"You sure? Sleeping toddlers are heavier than anything. It's a scientific fact."
"Is it, now?" Sherlock's mouth twitched with a smile. "I'll be fine. It's not too far to your flat."
John nodded. "Thanks. For everything. You've been a great help this weekend."
"I don't really have any experience with children," Sherlock said, walking beside John as they headed homeward. "But yours are tolerable."
"High praise, Sherlock!"
A delicate pink suffused Sherlock's cheeks as he slid his eyes sideways at John. "Well, I suppose they're more than tolerable."
They walked along in silence, Milo snoring softly on Sherlock's shoulder. John kept sneaking glances at Sherlock as they walked. They passed a side street and John heard someone shout.
"Sherlock? Hey, Sherl!"
John turned to look and Sherlock said, firmly, "Don't. Just keep walking."
"What is it?"
Sherlock sped up, his shoulders tense and his jaw tight.
"Don't be that way!" The voice drew closer. "I haven't seen you in ages!"
John tried to keep up with Sherlock's long strides while glancing over his shoulder. He spotted a slim man in a parka too heavy for the day's mild weather jogging in their direction.
"It's fine, just ignore him."
"Yes, keep walking."
"Oh, come on, don't pretend you don't know me!" The man was only a few strides away from them.
John stopped, turning around and glaring at him. "I think you have the wrong man, mate."
The man stopped, looking John up and down. His hair was a tangled mess and John noticed he had a sore at the corner of his mouth. "Who're you then? His new keeper?"
"Move along," John said, voice cold and steely. "Don't make a scene."
"John," Sherlock said, quietly. He'd returned to stand behind John. "Let's go."
"Yeah, John, time to go." The man mocked, aiming a wink at Sherlock.
John ignored them both. "You're Victor, right? Well, Victor, if you know what's good for you, you'll turn around and go back where you came from. I'll be happy to show you the way."
Victor eyed John once again. He shrugged and held his hands out to either side of his body in a gesture of defeat. "Fine, okay. Whatever, man."
He nodded at Sherlock and smiled. "You know where to find me, Sherl."
John's eyes narrowed threateningly and Victor backed away before turning around and loping down the sidestreet. After a few moments, John let out a relieved sigh.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock said quickly. "This isn't normally his neighborhood."
"It's...it's okay. Nothing happened." John's knees felt weak. "I'm glad I didn't have to make good on my threats."
"You were slightly terrifying." Sherlock said, letting out a small laugh.
"Was I?" John returned to Poppy's stroller and they resumed walking, quicker this time, both full of nervous energy left over from the encounter. "I didn't feel terrifying."
"You looked like you were going to murder him... and enjoy it."
John let out a guffaw. "Good. That's what I wanted him to think."
He looked over at Sherlock and sobered. "Sorry if I scared you."
"Scared? No, you didn't scare me. I... kind of liked it."
They both laughed and the tension ebbed between them. John nodded at Milo in Sherlock's arms.
"You doing okay? How's the dead weight?"
Sherlock smiled and shifted Milo slightly. "It's fine. Will he sleep tonight, if he naps this much?"
John made a face. "Maybe not. I'll wake them both up when we get home. It'll be dinner time soon. Want to help?"
"I don't really know how to cook."
"That's okay. You grated cheese for me the other day just fine. I'll show you how to do other things, too."
"All right. I'd like that."
John woke both children when they arrived back at the flat. He set Poppy up with a cartoon while she scribbled in a coloring book on the sofa. Milo dragged out a bucket of building blocks and dumped them on the floor, happily stacking them and humming tunelessly to himself.
"I think I have all the ingredients for cottage pie," John said to Sherlock as he walked into the kitchen. "That sound good?"
Sherlock nodded. "Our cook used to make cottage pie sometimes and I liked it."
"That's settled then. Why don't I take care of the mince while you peel some vegetables?"
John pulled out a packet of beef mince from the fridge while Sherlock grabbed potatoes, celery, and carrots to wash off in the sink. John handed him a peeler and set Sherlock to work.
"Mind chopping me an onion?" John asked, tossing the onion to Sherlock.
"Er... okay...." Sherlock grabbed a knife from the block on the counter and glanced around for a cutting board.
"Here," John pointed to a cupboard. "Do you know how to chop an onion?"
"Um, I can probably figure it out?" Sherlock placed the onion on the board and looked at it, perplexed.
John laughed. "Here, I'll show you."
He went to Sherlock's side. "Budge up a bit."
John guided Sherlock through cutting the onion in half, peeling off the outer layer, and slicing it.
"Careful to keep your fingers tucked in," John said, covering Sherlock's hand with his and showing him how to hold his fingers so they wouldn't be cut.
John took the board and swept the diced onion into his pan, where they sizzled in the oil he'd been heating up. Sherlock returned to peeling and chopping the vegetables while John finished with the mince.
"Nice thing about this recipe," John said, draining the mince and adding the vegetables. "Is it makes two pans. I'll freeze one, that'll be dinner sometime next week."
"You've really got the domestic thing down, don't you?"
"Kind of had to learn it," John replied. "Funny thing about kids, while they'd probably be pleased as punch to live off of fast food and candy, they do better if you feed them real food."
"How'd you learn it all, then?"
"Well, I knew some of the basics from my uni days. And then I relied a lot on cooking shows on the telly and recipes I found on blogs. Believe me, the kids and I have suffered through a lot of my disasters. I'm a passable cook these days, though."
John showed Sherlock how to boil and mash the potatoes with cheddar cheese and milk, allowing Sherlock to spoon the potatoes over the beef and vegetables in the baking dish. He adjusted the oven to the right temperature and put one of the dishes inside.
"I'll cover that second one up when it's cooled and put it in the freezer." John said, checking his watch. "That one needs to bake for half an hour. I'll wash the dishes, if you'll dry?"
Half an hour later, they sat around the kitchen table, eating dinner. Milo was relating a long-winded story about a superhero who protected his building block city while John fed Poppy bites of potato. Sherlock glanced around the table, a warm feeling in his chest. He caught John's eyes and John raised his eyebrows, questioning.
"What's wrong?" John asked.
"Nothing," Sherlock looked away, still smiling. "I was just thinking that I've never really felt like part of a family. Not this way, at least."
John blinked, his face doing something between a smile and frown. He swallowed, composing himself before he replied. "I'm glad you feel like you're a part of our family, Sherlock. Really, I am. We like having you here."
Their eyes met and held each other for a moment before Poppy distracted John with a high-pitched shriek.
Later, after dinner had been eaten and cleared away, pajamas donned, bedtime stories read, and two sleepy toddlers bid good night, Sherlock sat on the sofa. The TV played softly, but neither of them paid attention. John had been reading his book, but he'd fallen asleep with it open across his chest. His head lolled back as he snored softly. Sherlock suppressed a small grin and returned to his mobile, where he'd been composing a text.
I'd like to use the beach house for a couple of weeks.
What on earth for?
For its intended purpose: a holiday.
I'm not letting you go to the beach alone.
I didn't say I'd be alone.
You want to go to the beach with your caregiver?
And his children, yes.
I thought you hated that old house.
For god's sake, Mycroft, I just wanted to check and make sure you weren't using it for a couple of weeks so that I can have a bit of a holiday!
I haven't been back in ages. You're welcome to it, though I still don't understand why you'd want to go back there. I'll call and have the caretaker air the house out and make sure everything's functioning.
Just let me know when you plan on being there, so I don't worry about your whereabouts.
Sherlock pressed a button on his phone to dim the screen and smiled in satisfaction. He leaned forward and switched the TV off with the remote. Standing up, he crossed to John's chair and touched him lightly on the shoulder.
"Go to bed, John." He murmured as John blinked awake.
John nodded, a little fuzzily, and allowed Sherlock to help him out of his chair and up the stairs. Satisfied that John was awake enough to put himself to bed, Sherlock returned to the living room and stretched out on the sofa, closing his eyes. While he waited for his mind to settle to sleep, he began making a mental list of the things they'd need to pack for their beach holiday.