The weekend - and the following week - flew by with preparations for the beach holiday. John made lists and then made more lists - what to pack, snacks for the drive, shopping lists that included everything from extra sunscreen to new beach clothes for Poppy and Milo, who hadn't ever been to the beach before now.
Sherlock, meanwhile, informed Lestrade that he would be unavailable for any cases until after they were back from holiday. After that, he spent several afternoons furtively googling advice on how to keep children occupied during long car rides.
Friday finally arrived and Sherlock dutifully went to his therapy appointment, where he tried to hide the excitement fizzing around in his brain. He didn't think he'd been successful, though - not based on the wide smile that spread across his therapist's face.
"You've made progress," she said at the end of the appointment. "Whatever you're doing, keep it up."
Sherlock practically bounced as he and John returned to the car and pointed it towards John's flat. They'd already locked up 221B so they could get on the road before evening traffic began to pile up.
They heard the wailing before they'd even walked into John's flat. Sherlock paused at the bottom step, shooting John a worried glance. From behind the door came a sharp, angry scream and a great deal of thumping.
"What in the--" John muttered, raising his eyebrows.
He opened the door and the shrieking intensified. John hurried inside, Sherlock at his heels. The luggage John had packed the night before waited by the doorway. In the living room, Molly stood, slightly stooped, a grimace on her face. A naked - and extremely angry - Milo flopped on the floor, kicking his feet and screaming at the top of his lungs. Poppy added her own shrieks to the mix from the sofa, where she sat in clothes streaked with the remains of whatever they'd eaten for afternoon tea.
"Molly?" John had to raise his voice over Milo's constant, high-pitched "NO!"
Molly looked up and made a face as though she might start crying, herself. "Oh, you're... here. Gosh, are you early?"
"What's going on?" John walked over and bent to pick up Milo, who flailed even harder until John gave up.
"I tried to get them cleaned up after their tea," Molly sniffled, pushing hair out of her eyes, "but they've been in terrible moods all day and Milo didn't like the outfit I picked out. So he ran out of his room without any clothes and when I tried to chase him down, he kicked me in the knee. I'm sorry, you know I'm usually more in control of them."
John groaned and rubbed his face. "No, no, it's okay. They know something's up, they just don't realize it's something good."
Molly sniffled once more and John pulled her away from Milo, who had stopped thrashing and was now face down on the floor, whining like a puppy and casting glances at them both to see if they noticed him.
John pulled Molly away and guided her towards the front door. "I'll finish up. You go home. Looks like you need the week off just to recover from my children?"
"You're sure?" Molly asked, smoothing her clothes and trying to compose herself, "I can stay and help."
"Nah, I'll get them calmed down. Thanks, Molly. Enjoy your week - I'll bring you a souvenir from the beach."
Molly offered a quavering smile and allowed John to show her out the door. Meanwhile, Sherlock, who had watched Milo's tantrum with a mixture of horror and fascination, knelt near the boy.
"Hi, Milo," he said, soft enough that Milo had to stop whining to hear him.
Milo sat up, pulling his knees to his chin, his eyes red from crying. "Hi," he said, in a desultory tone.
"Do you want to go on a car ride?" Sherlock asked.
Milo appeared to think about this for a few moments before burying his face in his knees and nodding.
"You can't go on a car ride without any clothes, you know," Sherlock pointed out.
Sherlock had to think about the question for moment. "Well, you'll get cold."
"No blue." Milo huffed out.
"You don't want to wear blue?"
Milo shook his head, flipping his mop of blond hair back and forth.
"Okay, you don't have to wear blue. Would you like to pick out something to wear?"
Milo bit his lip and then gave a tiny nod.
"Let's go do that, then." Sherlock stood up and offered his hand to Milo. He stopped by the sofa and picked up Poppy, whose cries had died down once Milo's had.
John was still talking to Molly on the stoop, so Sherlock ushered Milo upstairs where the offending blue shirt lay crumpled on the floor. Sherlock picked it up and noted the scratchy tag sewed in the back of the shirt.
"Is this why you didn't like the shirt, Milo?" Sherlock held up the tag.
"Blue is itchy!" Milo said, poking out his lip.
Sherlock opened a drawer and rummaged through Milo's clothes, finding a green shirt without any tags in the back and a pair of black shorts. Opening a second drawer, he found clean pants and socks. Once he showed Milo that green wasn't "itchy", he helped him into his clothes and shoes. Then they both went into Poppy's room and found a new outfit laid out for her. Sherlock was trying to figure out how to use a barrette to keep Poppy's hair from falling in her eyes when John stumped up the stairs.
"Sherlock? Milo? Are you all up here?"
"In Poppy's room!" Sherlock called, finally figuring out the clasp on the barrette and clumsily pinning back the chunk of hair that wouldn't stop falling in Poppy's eyes.
John appeared in the doorway and smiled. Milo was leaning against Sherlock's leg, one arm wrapped around Sherlock's knee and his thumb stuck in his mouth. Poppy gurgled happily and patted at the barrette as Sherlock checked to make sure he'd managed to get all the pieces of clothing on right.
"How'd you manage to do all this?" John asked, walking over to them and gathering Poppy into his arms for a hug and a loud, smacking kiss that made Poppy chortle. "They don't look like the screaming banshees that were downstairs."
"Negotiation," Sherlock said, "it works wonders. Milo didn't like the scratchy tags in one of his new shirts."
"Ah, so that was it." John sighed, "I can't wait until they're old enough to tell me exactly what's wrong instead of throwing a tantrum."
"Papa," Milo tugged on John's trouser leg and lifted his arms up, "Papa, blue is itchy."
"Blue is itchy, eh?" John stooped down and awkwardly picked up Milo with one arm, grunting as he stood up with one child balanced on each hip. "I'll bet Molly didn't know that blue is itchy."
"Crisis averted," Sherlock said, smiling, "I think we can go now."
"Thank you," John said, "I'm glad you speak toddler."
John had installed the car seats the night before, so it was a relatively quick task to get both Poppy and Milo buckled in and all their suitcases loaded into the boot. Sherlock paused to rummage in one of his bags and produced two coloring books and a pack of crayons, which elicited shrieks of glee when he gave them to Poppy and Milo. John narrowed his eyes as he slid into the driver's seat.
"I see your game, Holmes."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You'll need far more than coloring books to keep them quiet and happy for five hours, you know."
"How do you know that's my only trick?"
John chuckled and started the car. "We'll see."
They did, in fact, make it through Chiswick without incident. Barely. Shortly after, Poppy flung one of her crayons hard enough at Milo's face to make him scream as though he'd been stabbed. This set off a battle of epic proportions in the back seat which ended with Milo getting a handful of Poppy's hair and pulling with all his might. Sherlock tried to lean over the seats and distract them, pulling out a bag of sweeties and trying to reason with them.
"No use trying, Sherlock!" John said, practically yelling over the high-pitched shrieks coming from the back seat, "I'm pulling over."
They pulled off near Heston and John climbed in the back seat and pried Milo's hands out of Poppy's hair. He took Poppy and walked off, trying to console her sobbing, while Sherlock was left feeling shell-shocked with Milo, who was trying to work out how to unbuckle himself from his car seat.
"Out!" He demanded, pulling at the straps of the car seat. "Out, now!"
"I'm not taking you out," Sherlock snapped, "Not until you've apologized for pulling your sister's hair."
"Then you're not getting out!"
Milo flung himself backwards, his face tipped up, and screamed at the top of his lungs, "I! DON'T! LIKE! YOU!"
Sherlock recoiled, feeling as though he'd just been slapped in the face. Had someone asked him before he'd met John and became entangled with his family, Sherlock would have laughed at the idea that the disdain of a toddler could hurt him. But now he felt Milo's invective cut deeply, his chest feeling tight and painful as he climbed out of the car and paced by the passenger door while Milo kicked at the back of the passenger seat and chanted "I! Want! Out!"
John returned with a red-faced - but quiet - Poppy. He surveyed the scene in front of him and sighed. "Will you take her? I'll deal with Milo."
Sherlock accepted Poppy, who immediately started to whine, lip trembling and eyes filling with tears.
"Look, Sherlock," John said as he tried to unbuckle Milo and avoid his flailing fists at the same time, "I can't deal with both at the same time! Just bounce her around a bit and she'll be fine! It's not that hard!"
Sherlock bit his lip and stopped himself from snapping back as John hauled Milo out of the car and marched him a distance away to kneel and talk sternly to him. Poppy let out a hiccupping sob as one tear rolled down her cheek.
"I feel the same," Sherlock said miserably, "this isn't starting out well, is it, Poppy?"
"Owie," Poppy wailed, scrunching a hand at her hair.
"Brother pulled your hair, eh?" Sherlock kissed the top of Poppy's head lightly and held her to him, swaying back and forth. "My brother used to pull my curls, too. It hurt like hell."
"Hell!" Poppy sobbed, burying her face in Sherlock's shoulder.
"Don't tell your papa I've just taught you that word," Sherlock said, ruefully.
He began to hum, tunelessly at first, before settling on one of his favorite classical pieces for the violin. Sherlock swayed in time to his humming, stroking the back of Poppy's head. She laid her head on his shoulder and he felt her body relax from its tight, upset coil. Continuing to hum, Sherlock paced a few steps, keeping up with the rhythm of the song. Poppy's breaths grew even and she blinked, sleepily, before the blinking stopped and she was asleep. Sherlock carefully put her back in her car seat and buckled her in, tucking her favorite blanket around her. By the time John came back with Milo, Sherlock was sitting in the passenger seat, poking at his mobile. John looked at Poppy and then at Sherlock, but didn't say a word. He helped a sulky-faced Milo into his car seat and then bent down.
"You remember what papa told you? About the beach and all the fun you're going to have?"
Milo nodded, glaring.
"You'll only get to have fun if you behave, understood?"
"No, I want to hear you say it. Are you going to behave?"
"Yes, papa." Milo huffed.
John bent to rummage in the travel bag he'd packed and pulled out a picture book and a couple of toy cars. "Be papa's big boy and play with your toys, all right? We'll be there in the blink of an eye."
Milo gave his father a tremulous smile as he clutched at the cars. John ruffled his hair and leaned over to kiss his forehead, which caused Milo to shake his head while letting out a small giggle. The worst behind them, John climbed behind the wheel and they were back on the road. They drove, in silence, for a while. John kept glancing at Sherlock and opening his mouth, only to close it again. Finally, he spoke.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I shouldn't have snapped."
"Mmm." Sherlock hunched down in his seat and kept his eyes on his mobile.
"It wasn't very nice and it wasn't your fault that they were being terrors. So. I'm sorry."
Sherlock eyed John for a moment and then shrugged, "S'okay."
"No, it's not," John insisted, "it wasn't my best moment and I'm sorry. You're loads of help with the children, so I shouldn't take it out on you when they're being brats. They're just tired and cranky and off their routine."
John laughed. "Yeah, you're right. I'm tired and cranky and off my routine, too. I'm sorry, Sherlock. Forgive me?"
Sherlock heard the genuine sorrow in John's voice and he dropped his shoulders. "Of course. I accept your apology, thank you, John."
"Still think a five hour drive with toddlers will be easy?"
"You're not winning that easily."
John laughed again and the tension finally broke. In the back, Milo snored softly, a car clutched in one hand, his mouth hanging open. Beside him, Poppy slept, no traces of her earlier upset on her face.
The children slept through nearly half the trip as they passed through several small towns and villages. They woke as they passed the turn-off to get to Bristol and John found a spot to stop off so they could all stretch their legs and empty their bladders. Back on the road, Sherlock tried to distract Poppy and Milo, who had immediately started poking at each other again.
"Look, Milo!" Sherlock pointed out the passenger window, "look at the yellow car! Why don't you try to spot another one?"
But they would have none of it. Milo crowed happily as he pinched his sister's arm, eliciting a frustrated shriek from Poppy as she tried to kick at her brother.
"I will pull over and turn around!" John snapped. "Milo! Do you remember what papa told you?"
Milo stuck his tongue out at Poppy, but stopped trying to grab at Poppy's hair.
This continued the rest of the trip. Squabbles broke out in the back, Sherlock desperately tried to distract the two children with his arsenal of nursery rhymes and car games, and John threatened to call the trip off. They made several stops for bathroom breaks and the five hour trip turned into one closer to six hours. It was dark and the wind had begun to blow when they finally reached Padstow. Sherlock used his mobile as a flashlight while he read the directions to the cottage to John. The cottage was slightly north of the village, isolated from other cottages and overlooking the water in the distance. They drove up a narrow road lined with shrubbery, passing a local farm as they neared the cottage. Giant rolls of hay stood in the fields, resembling hulking, oversized beasts in the darkness.
"Take a right, here," Sherlock said, pointing, "towards the cove. We're almost there."
The cottage was white-walled and covered with climbing vines. The front garden was overgrown and long untended. Sherlock made irritated noises about the caretaker as they carried Poppy and Milo through the vine-covered arch and down the brick path that led to the cottage.
"I don't care if the garden is a jungle," John huffed, "I'll be happy as long as the electricity works and it's warm inside."
The ocean breeze that blew through was on the chilly side and Sherlock was inclined to agree. He fumbled for the set of keys he'd been given by Mycroft and let them inside. A few moments of groping in the dark found the light switch and the cottage lit up. They'd entered through the small living room, which held a sofa, a dining table, a small entertainment center holding an even smaller television, and a brick fireplace, which had been freshly laid for them with kindling.
The living room branched off into a narrow hallway, which led to a tiny kitchen with wood counters and a door that opened out on to the patio and back garden. Further down the hall and past the small bathroom were the bedrooms. John opened one door and found a closet-sized room that barely held the two twin beds inside.
"Found the children's room!" John called out to Sherlock, who had stopped to make sure the bathroom was well-stocked.
Milo careened down the hallway, having been turned loose by Sherlock, and bounced on one of the beds. Poppy giggled and pushed at John's arms, trying to get down, so he set her on her feet and let her chase after Milo. John turned to the other door at the end of the hall and opened it.
"Er... Sherlock?" John called out and Sherlock appeared after a few moments, a questioning look on his face. "We have a problem."
"Unless you know of a hidden room somewhere, this is it. There are only two bedrooms and this master bedroom only has one bed."
Sherlock's mouth opened in a surprised "O" and his eyes grew wide. After a few seconds, his face flushed pink.
"You forgot there were only two bedrooms, didn't you?"
Sherlock flushed even brighter and nodded. "I...I didn't think about it. My brother and I shared the small room and my parents always took the master bedroom."
"Yes, I imagine they would have." John said, ruefully.
"I'm sorry, John." Sherlock looked miserable. "This isn't starting off at all like it should. I'll take the sofa. I'm used to sleeping on the sofa, anyway."
John pushed a hand through his hair and sighed, looking at Sherlock and imagining him squishing his lanky body on the sofa. It was significantly smaller than the one he had slept on in John's flat.
"Oh, for...." John let out a short bark of laughter. "No, you won't. We're both adults here, yeah? The bed's big enough to share."
John thought that if Sherlock's face grew any redder, it could be used as a beacon for passing ships.
"No, I can't ask you to do that..." Sherlock stuttered, not meeting John's eyes.
"Don't be ridiculous, Sherlock. I'll stick to my side and you stick to yours. It'll be fine."
"No arguments. It's how it's going to be."
Sherlock gave up, nodding. "All right, I suppose that'll work...."
John walked over and clapped a hand on Sherlock's shoulder. "It'll be fine. Want to help me get the bags in and then we'll go into the village and see if there's anything open for food?"
They hauled in the bags and, over the protests of the children, loaded themselves back into the car and drove into the village. Sherlock spotted a fish and chips takeaway still open, though not for much longer. They picked up two adult portions and two children's portions and headed back to the cottage to eat in the small dining area, the windows propped open to let the cool sea air waft the smell of the ocean inside. After they ate, John insisted on baths for both Poppy and Milo and then bedtime. Despite the long nap they'd taken on the drive to Padstow, both children grew sleepy after their baths and didn't protest when John tucked them into bed and gave them both a hug and a kiss. He dowsed the lights and pulled the bedroom door almost closed before returning to the living room, where Sherlock had cleaned up after dinner and now dozed on the sofa.
"Oi, wake up and go to bed, lightweight!" John swatted at Sherlock's shoulder, startling him into wakefulness.
"It's too early to go to bed," Sherlock said, swallowing a yawn.
"Then you're a better man than me," John said, laughing, "because I'm exhausted."
"I wanted to show you the cove," Sherlock groused.
"Tomorrow, when it's light outside. Come on. Bed."
Sherlock gave a few more weak arguments, each one punctuated by a yawn, before finally agreeing. He shut himself in the bathroom while John hurriedly donned pajama bottoms and a ratty, old t-shirt in the bedroom. Sherlock emerged a short time later, curls slightly damp, also wearing pajama bottoms and a grey t-shirt, turned inside out.
"Wrong way 'round," John joked, poking at the seams showing on Sherlock's shirt.
Sherlock shrugged and grinned crookedly. "Grey is itchy."
John laughed and they both climbed into bed. Sherlock scooted over to the far edge of the bed, leaving a vast space between John and him.
"I will let you have your fair share of the bed," John said, quietly, pulling the blankets over himself.
"Okay." John reached over and clicked off the lamp. "Goodnight, Sherlock."
The room grew quiet and John listened to Sherlock's breathing. It had been a long time since he'd tried to sleep with someone other than a child in his room. He found his eyes kept popping open when he tried closing them.
"For this. All of it."
"You don't have to keep thanking me."
"I know. But... thank you."
John rolled to his side to face Sherlock. He couldn't see him in the dark, but he felt him tense up.
"I can't sleep."
Sherlock let out a breathy laugh. "No, neither can I."
"What?" Sherlock sounded startled.
"I mean...." John searched to find the word he wanted to say. "I don't know what I mean."
Sherlock shifted and John felt him roll over and scoot closer until he could just make out his face looking back at John.
"This isn't going to work, is it?" Sherlock whispered.
"Maybe... maybe it'd be easier if...." John knew he was treading on thin ice here, but he took a chance, "you turn around and...."
Sherlock shifted again and then John felt his thin body lean back against him. John curved himself around Sherlock, letting Sherlock tuck his head against John's shoulder. He rested his hand at Sherlock's waist and Sherlock curled his feet up, pressing them against John's legs.
"Christ, your feet are cold," John hissed.
"They always are. Is this okay?"
"Yeah... yeah, I think it is. Is it okay for you?"
John felt Sherlock nod and he relaxed. Now that he had Sherlock's warm body (except for those feet! Ice cubes!) pressed against him, he felt sleep approaching.
"Is this... what is this?"
John thought for a long moment. Long enough that Sherlock wriggled around a little to see if John was still awake. John could barely see Sherlock's eyes, shining in the darkness as they caught a sliver of the moonlight that filtered in through the window.
"It's... it's whatever you want it to be." John said, not sure how to voice the tangle of thoughts in his head.
"Is it? Are you sure? Do you know what I want?"
John lifted his hand and found it shook slightly. He smoothed Sherlock's hair from his forehead and Sherlock turned to press his face against John's palm, sighing happily. "I think we want the same thing, Sherlock."
"But...how do you know?"
"I don't." John shrugged, even though Sherlock wouldn't be able to see it. "I feel that we do."
"Oh." The sound was soft and barely audible, but John felt the breath of it on his hand as he continued to card his fingers through Sherlock's curls.
"Is this okay?"
"Can you sleep, now? We'll talk more... in the morning, maybe?"
"I think I owe you ice cream."
John's laugh rumbled against Sherlock's back. "Yeah, I think you do. Tomorrow, all right?"
John felt Sherlock nod and they both relaxed against each other. John had no idea what had just happened, nor when he'd decided that this was what he wanted. Weeks of tension between them, of accidentally brushing up against each other, of feeling like no matter what space they were in, it was always too small, all that drained away and John felt like clutching Sherlock close and never letting him go. He didn't know what it meant, but somehow it felt like the most right choice he'd ever made. He wrapped his arm around Sherlock's waist and snuggled against him, closing his eyes and feeling sleep overtake him almost immediately.