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An Affinity for Lignin

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It is Anderson, of all hideous offences against the senses, who turns Sherlock’s mind to Malcolm Norbury’s lathe almost five years after it was delivered to Baker Street.

Sherlock’s tongue is millimetres away from the tip of his own be-gloved fingertip, poised to dab at the bit of white dust — what kind of drug it is, he will be able to tell in nanoseconds — when Anderson has the unmitigated gall to prod Sherlock’s foot with his own. Before Sherlock can cut him with his knowledge of Donovan’s upcoming nuptials, he says, “Look at your man,” and nods over at John.

He is attempting to be snide. Snide doesn’t work for Anderson on account of the unrelenting whinge ever-present in his voice. To be successful at snideness, one must also have a reasonable superiority complex in regards to one’s company, and Sherlock had long ago filed Anderson’s superiority to him in a rarely-investigated corner of his hard drive labelled “impossibilities.”

John is attending to the sister of the murder victim Sherlock is about to sniff. She has collapsed into his arms, sobbing, and John holds her steady, rubs her shoulder. He is doing so because he cares, even though he doesn’t know her, even though Sherlock’s three quarters of the way to solving the case and won’t need her help or John’s assistance to get it. John cares a lot, far too much perhaps, but Sherlock is past expecting the breadth of that caring to narrow, to encompass only Sherlock himself. As it turns out, being with someone in a permanent relationship means accepting their foibles with as little extraneous commentary as possible; Sherlock is given to understand he has a few peccadilloes of his own. In any case, Sherlock has come to be philosophical about it: without both his filthy mouth and his boundless ability to apply compassion wherever he deems it necessary, John would not be John, and therefore Sherlock would not be a man in love. Sherlock would be barely anything at all.

“I see him,” he says, and bends back over the corpse. He hears a particularly obnoxious snort originate from Anderson’s prodigious nose.

“Then you see but you don’t observe,” Anderson says, and then snickers.

“Is your case of stupidity terminal, Anderson, or just debilitating?”

Sherlock doesn’t have to turn around to know the smile’s dropped off Anderson’s face, replaced by a sneer and the glint of an impotent warning in his eyes.

“He’s going to leave you, you know,” he says, and that grating voice still scrapes across Sherlock’s ear drums like broken glass, but Sherlock can’t quite call it a whinge. “He’s going to find some girl — some nice, normal, pretty girl — and he’s going to leave you and set up house somewhere far away from your freak show and have a million babies and never think of you again.”

It would be beneath him to mention Donovan now. Sherlock rises, peels off his latex gloves, and walks away from Anderson, from the body, from the cocaine cut with levamisole. He strides toward Lestrade, deductions falling from his lips as if by rote, but the murder is blanked from his mind, and all he sees is John, John, John.

Sherlock thinks about the things that will need to change. They haven’t used the second bedroom, John’s old space, for anything but storage in years. They’ll have to clear it out, build a nursery. He remembers his own nursery, and Mycroft’s, of course. Mycroft had been an autumn baby, his room done in reds and yellows and browns with green accents. There was a mural of fairy folk, little woodland creatures, gnomes. Sherlock’s January arrival had been met with cooler hues in blue and green and white with purple accents— a seafaring mural, complete with ship and fish and merpeople and treasure. Sherlock suspects the whole decorating business may not be his area — all he can think of are strands of DNA, the slides of John’s fluids he’s collected over the years. He’ll leave nursery aesthetics to John.

The flat will need to be tidier, less ridden with poisonous substances. It will require general babyproofing, but maybe not for years, not until what he creates is mobile, and who knows how long that could take?

He shies from the subject of the cases, of himself and John working them together. He assumes they will handle it appropriately when the time comes. People do it every day — balance the work of the domestic with the work of the professional. Surely he and John as a unit can be as successful as any of the multitudes who have bumbled through before them.

It’s days after he solved the last case, and it’s late, late, so late it’s early again. Sherlock kisses John breathless for interminable minutes, until John’s hard and Sherlock’s hard and John attempts to manoeuvre Sherlock into an agreeable position for intercourse. This is when Sherlock presents him with a sterile cup.

“Ejaculate into that,” he says. “I’d help you out —” He opens his mouth and points to it rather redundantly, but sometimes John needs a little help, especially while under the influence of arousal. “—but we mustn’t contaminate the sample. You understand.”

John blinks rapidly and lets his mouth hang open. Sherlock resists sucking on his lip and settles back into the pillows with his own sterile cup balanced on his stomach. He begins a leisurely wank while ogling John’s scar.

“Don’t worry,” he says, increasingly breathless. “It’ll be the both of us.”

“Let me guess,” John says weakly, “an experiment?”

Sherlock reaches a hand up to smooth John’s hair down.

“A good one, I hope,” he says.

When he first got them, Sherlock committed to memory not only the contents of Mr. Norbury’s books but the journals he kept when he was making Sherlock. He had added DNA at the very end — ancient, conventional wisdom, and nothing Sherlock begrudges him. But Sherlock is a scientist, a modern man, anything but conventional. DNA at the beginning, DNA throughout — well. Life does not begin in kindling.

John provides his sample and Sherlock follows moments later. He indulges in a moment’s lassitude — the genetic material will keep. He gathers John, boneless, to himself.



“Did you ever want children, or babies or… living things of that nature?”

John lets out a soft chuckle. “I suppose I did. Once upon a time.” Before us, Sherlock infers.

“Do you still?”

John shifts enough to peer, curious, into Sherlock’s face. He is pink and shining with exertion. His hair is greying, and the lines in his face grow more pronounced every day. He is the most beautiful thing Sherlock has ever laid eyes on.

“What’s this about, Sherlock?”

“I can do it, John. What Mr. Norbury did. Only better, I think.”

John blinks a few times before closing his eyes full stop and taking a deep breath.

“You’re serious.”

“I could. I can.”

John opens his eyes again. They are the deepest blue.

“It’s not like that goldfish last summer, Sherlock. You can’t just forget about it and flush the evidence.”

“John. I know.”

Sherlock watches John swallow, watches his eyes go soft.

“You want this? Really?”

“I’ve thought about it.” Sherlock drags a hang through his hair, tugging. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”

John smiles, tremulous.

“Okay.” He laughs then, a single, loud clap that echoes in the space of the bedroom. “Oh my God, Sherlock.” John kisses him, again and again.

Sherlock sets to work on the limbs first. It takes months of turning the lathe, of careful sanding, of discarding missteps, of starting again. While Sherlock bends over his worktable, crafting tiny limbs in meticulous detail - realism, Sherlock says; baby chubs, John calls it, cooing — John worries himself sick over logistics.

“God, how are we going to explain it when it looks like the both of us?” he says.

“We’ll make up a Holmes cousin who lives in Wales and say we artificially inseminated her with your unparalleled sperm. We can blackmail Mycroft into providing photographic evidence somehow.”


“This place will never be clean enough! Is that arsenic?”

“I said I’d clean it up later, John!”


“Four women hit on me while I shopped for baby clothes today, Sherlock. Four. If only I’d known how easy it would be to pull like that ten years ago.”

“I will frame them all for carjacking. I can, you know.”

The time comes six months into the process to work on the torso. To decide the sex. John gapes a bit.

“Isn’t it just chromosomal roulette, like the real thing?”

Sherlock just barely contains the roll of his eyes.

“This isn’t exactly the hard sciences, John. Do you want a boy or a girl?”

John taps his lips, brow furrowed.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve always rather fancied the idea of a surprise. What did you want, when you thought about it?”

Sherlock cocks his head, casts his gaze over the blocks of spruce and ebony that will be their child’s torso.

“I don’t know.” He considers it for a moment before adding, “Women confound me.”

John laughs, then squeezes him around the waist and presses a kiss into his bicep.

“A boy it is. What shall we call him?”

This is an argument that lasts through the turning of the torso, the construction and attachment of the genitals, the careful, months-long crafting of the head. It results in John staying the night on his sister’s sofa on four occasions.

Sherlock’s list is as follows: Lysander, Easton, Heardwine, Montague, Ealdred, Afton, Catigern.

John accuses Sherlock of hating their son, and questions why he wants to make him at all.

John’s list is as follows: Daniel, Thomas, Joseph, Robert, Jacob, David, Andrew.

Sherlock informs John that he refuses to raise an imbecile who will struggle to reach mediocrity.

John takes to calling their bundle of wood “Mycroft,” and Sherlock does not speak to him for a week.

As the time draws near to anoint their creation with the final donation of DNA, John paints the upstairs bedroom a lush, light green. When he calls Sherlock up to ask his opinion, he is sweaty, smeared in paint, and looking eager. Sherlock asks if any woodland creatures will abound, but John only scowls and says his training was medical, not artistic, thank you very much, and shoos Sherlock out. Sherlock, through some judicious internet research, finds that full-scale murals are not actually a nursery requirement.

Sherlock gives little Afton Heardwine Catigern Holmes three small moles — left shoulder, inside of right knee, on the tenth rib of his right side, were he to have ribs — and a wee archipelago of birthmarks just like the ones John has above his right hip. John requests that his son Mycroft Hamish “Tommy” Watson escape the Watson nose but retain the Watson eyes, which belonged to John’s grandfather, a man whom he greatly admired. Sherlock agrees about the eyes, but only because it’s what he intended all along. He makes a note on his hard drive, however, to lavish more attention on the Watson nose of which he is so fond.

John makes more requests — generally, that little Davey-poo look like a miniature version of Sherlock — which Sherlock ducks by claiming he cannot control everything. That much is true; when he remembers to be thankful, he is thankful not to be Mycroft’s clone. He hopes Monty looks quite like the both of them. He wants to see his DNA blended with John’s, wants everyone to know what they forged out of devotion and unity. He wants a perfect manifestation of their enduring togetherness.

So for weeks he barely sleeps or eats but carves and sands a little face that must be approximately 75% cheeks. That face, he extrapolates, will stay rounder than his own even when it grows into adulthood. He toils to do right by John’s eyes, his own nose, a little rosebud mouth, ears that will stick out just a touch too far from his head, endearing. The hair, the height, the formation of digits and body type, he thinks, he will leave up to whichever forces govern transmogrification. His son, he thinks as he bends over the work of making him, is not a mystery to be solved, but a surprise to be anticipated and then savoured.

Sherlock cannot wait to meet him, whoever he will be.

They do it on a rainy Sunday evening when Mrs. Hudson has gone to visit her sister. They settle onto the couch, and Sherlock sets the inert bundle, wrapped in a blanket, into John’s arms. John holds it, gazes upon it, as wonderingly as he would if life had already suffused the grain.

“Are you ready?” Sherlock asks in a low voice, as if afraid to shatter a fragile peace. John looks up at him, eyes bright, startled from his reverie. He nods but does not speak.

Sherlock’s heart is an organ he has become accustomed to over time. Sometimes, though, it still catches him unawares. It’s a foreign thing now, fluttering like an oversugared hummingbird inside him. Sherlock steps closer to John, closes his eyes, and begins to sing.

The baby takes a breath and John gasps before a cry rends the stillness of the moment. He is pink and kicking in John’s arms, and John is laughing, crying, calling Sherlock’s name.

Sherlock, breath quick, plasters himself to John’s side and props his chin on a shoulder to peer down at what he and John have made. The baby’s hair is fine, fair, vertical. His face contorts as he bellows, exposing his little gums. Tears slick his full cheeks and he squirms. Sherlock ventures an experimental prod at his tiny, unbelievable hands. He grasps Sherlock’s finger, and Sherlock is astonished to feel the strength in something so miniscule. Sherlock does nothing to free himself.

“He’s perfect, Sherlock,” John whispers, stroking over the down of his hair. “Absolutely perfect.” Then, “I think we ought to call him Malcolm.”

“Hello, Malcolm,” Sherlock says. “Hello. Hello.”

Mycroft visits the next day, and even though he’s uninvited, John tells Sherlock he is obligated to let Mycroft hold the baby.

“But why?” Sherlock asks.

“Because being a git sets a bad example,” John says, and then takes Malcolm from Sherlock’s arms and deposits him into Mycroft’s.

Mycroft doesn’t even send him a smug look — he gazes down at his nephew like he’s the last CCTV camera in Britain. Well. Malcolm is Sherlock’s most favourite thing, so Sherlock supposes Mycroft can hardly be blamed for wanting to be in his presence. This must be what it’s like for a peasant to gain audience with a king.

Sherlock is about to tell him to be careful of Malcolm’s head, because Mycroft is ham-handed and stupid and Sherlock doesn’t want to have to repair his son so soon after his being born, but then Mycroft looks up at him, and his expression, for the first time in perhaps thirty years, is not shuttered or guarded. Sherlock remembers with sudden force a round-faced boy who carried him everywhere, who made a wish that came gloriously, terribly true.

“This is a good thing you’ve done, Sherlock,” he says. “A good, good thing.”

Sherlock nods because he doesn’t think he can speak. He lets his brother hold his son for the rest of the afternoon. John makes tea and takes pictures. Sherlock creates a new folder on his hard drive and labels it “family.”