It is hot in London today. By two in the afternoon, John is been looking forward to some lunch in between his errands when he gets Sherlock’s text, containing nothing but an address and the words, “Case. Come immediately.”
“Dammit,” he says, cursing the familiarity of this situation. He shoves himself and his shopping into a cab and barks out the address and twenty minutes later he is strolling onto a crime scene, with a Hanley’s bag under one arm and a Tesco bag under the other.
Sherlock doesn’t hear him approaching, because he is in the middle of being shouted at by Sally Donovan.
“It’s a crime scene! You can’t bring children to a crime scene! You shouldn’t even bring yourself to a crime scene! Aren’t those John’s children? Does he know you have them? Why do you have them? If I were John I wouldn’t trust you within five miles of my kids, after the stunts you’ve pulled. Psychopaths aren’t fit to look after babies.”
John bites back the urge to punch Sally Donovan in the mouth. It’s something he’s harboured a dear desire to do for so very long but he can’t, he really can’t, so instead he clears his throat loudly before Sherlock has the chance to open his mouth and cause an even bigger scene.
“Sally, do us all a favour and shut up, before you make an even bigger fool of yourself than you already have,” he says, clearly, drawing their attention. Sally looks at him in shock and snaps her mouth shut almost audibly. Sherlock, who - quite apart from being enraged at Sally’s vitriol - looks tense and uncomfortable, visibly relaxes when he lays eyes on John. The twins are strapped to him, each on one of his hips, by two of the long, knotted wraps Sherlock favours for the purposes of carting them around. He has his left arm across both of them, cupping their heads to his chest as if to protect them from whatever Sally might chuck in their direction. John huffs, shaking his head.
“Sherlock, you should’ve left them with Mrs. Hudson.”
“She’s at the salon,” Sherlock explains tightly. “And Greg said it was urgent, and you were shopping. I couldn’t very well leave them ...”
“Can’t believe you let the freak babysit,” Sally mutters, under her breath. John sighs and puts his bags down on the floor before turning on her, his face set, pulling himself up to his full height and flicking the switch on the military training inside him that makes him seem much larger than he actually is. He has had enough, and it is high time she knows it.
“Sally Donovan, you are the most wilfully ignorant woman I have ever met,” he says, firmly, fixing her with a glare that would have had even Sherlock cowering in seconds. “Those children are just as much Sherlock’s as they are mine – more so, in fact, if you want to play by the books, because they came from his DNA. I know you’ve all been labouring under the misimpression that I knocked up some poor woman and she left me with the result. That is distinctly not the case. if you’d ever managed to get your heads out of your own arses for two seconds and do the job you’re paid to do, namely, detect things, you’d know that Sherlock and I have been married for more than three years. If Sherlock wants to bring our children to a crime scene, then that’s his right, as their father, and it’s none of your damn business so stay out of it. And you’ll find, I think, that he’s just as much right to be here as you, because as of yesterday he’s an official member of the team. So shut up, stop harassing my husband and do your damn job. You’ve done us enough damage already, don’t you think, or have you forgotten the reason he was forced to go into hiding two years ago?”
Breathing heavily, John ignores the way Sally’s mouth is moving without making any sounds and turns to Sherlock, who is watching him with such shock and adoration on his face that John almost doesn’t recognise him.
“Come on then,” John says to him, softly. “Give me them and go do your job. Honestly, did you think you’d get away with bringing them here?”
“Greg said it was urgent,” Sherlock protests, but he helps John lift first one twin and then the other out of the sashes that held them against him. “I didn’t think it’d be a problem until Donovan intercepted me before I could get anywhere. They’re only babies.”
“Yes, but Sherlock, one year olds aren’t meant to be around dead bodies,” John says, philosophically. “It makes other people anxious.”
“They don’t mind. They were asleep until Sally started shouting, and this isn’t a volatile case.” Sherlock casts a dark look over John’s shoulder at Sally, who is watching them with horror dawning across her face. “Yes, Donovan, everything he said was true,” he bites out, caustically. “And yes, apparently I am capable of sustaining normal human relationships, which is not something you can necessarily say for yourself, now, is it? Anderson left his wife for you yet, or are you still cleaning his floors while she’s away?”
“Sherlock,” John scolds, though his heart’s not in it. For all he cares, Sally Donovan can go hang. He’s had enough of her spite and malice. “Here, help me with this ridiculous wrap. I’ll come with you inside for a bit but then I’ve got to take them home, alright?”
“Fine,” Sherlock mutters. He helps John strap the sleepy twins to himself, one on each side of John’s chest, their pudgy legs dangling out the side. He tickles Annierose’s foot and grins when she laughs, then kisses her forehead and ruffles Teddy’s hair gently with his free hand. John smiles warmly at him and pulls him forward for a quick kiss before he steps back. (Sally’s soft retching noise does not go unnoticed, but John ignores her, blithely. In fact, he presses another kiss to Sherlock’s cheek and takes Sherlock’s hand, just to make her squirm.)
“Okay,” John says, picking up the shopping bags in the other hand before turning to face Sally again. “This is what’s going to happen, Sally. You feel free to tell anyone you want about what I’ve just told you, in fact tell as many people as you can, because I’m done with you all treating Sherlock like he’s a robot with no feelings. You will apologise to Sherlock for ever, ever doubting his motives and then you will refrain from addressing either him or me again unless it is in direct connection to a case or we initiate the conversation. You will never, and I mean never, talk about our children or the way we see fit to raise them ever again. We are likely to become very busy people very quickly and this will probably not be the last time they have to come along to a crime scene, and that’s our business, not yours. Lestrade will back me up on this as he is not only your boss, but Sherlock’s, and on top of all that, he’s their godfather. We know what’s best for our children and we do not need or want your input. Now shut up, turn around, and go do your job.”
Wide-eyed and cornered, with both John and Sherlock glaring at her, hands clasped together and faces deadly serious, Sally nods quickly and mutters an excuse before darting into the shadows. Sherlock pulls John away from the yellow tape demarcating the edge of the crime scene and toward the room where the rest of the team is. They drop off their bags at the bottom of the stairs and then climb up to the room in question.
It’s like a particularly vivid form of deja vu.
There is a body in a locked room with no exits, no trace of a murder weapon or a suicide attempt. Jane Doe lies spread eagle in the middle of the floor, dead, and no one knows why or how. Greg looks up from where he’s standing at the side of the room, smiling when he sees them until he claps eyes on the twins strapped to John’s chest; then he rolls his eyes and grimaces, as if to say, Did you really have to? John rolls his own eyes back and gestures at Sherlock, already darting around the body like a hummingbird around a feeder, no doubt sucking up data just as quickly.
John watches him fondly and for a moment he is thrown back in time, three years or more. Only the warm weight of the twins against his chest and the memory of the last painful two years that hovers around his solar plexus (fading, slowly, but not forgotten, never forgotten) remind him that he has not, in fact, stepped into a dream.
He doesn’t notice Anderson sidling up to him until it’s too late. The taller man pulls his gloves off with a snap that echoes in the strange room. “Sally tells me you and the freak are …”
“Married?” John supplies, caustically, never taking his eyes from Sherlock, who is eerily resplendent in this, his natural habitat, gathering data and information as quickly as he can, muttering to himself as his eyes drink in every tiny fact the room has to offer him. “Raising children together? Yes. Though you might’ve worked that out yourself years ago, if you’d bothered.”
“You’re mental, you know,” Anderson says. Out of the corner of his eye, John can see his expression - a mixture of awe and disgust. He snorts, his left hand coming up to support the twins against his chest.
“No more than any other poor bastard that fell for a genius,” John says. “Leave me alone, Anderson, I’m not interested in your thoughts on my marriage, and you’ve not got a leg to stand on. Still cheating on your wife, I see?”
“Oh shut up. I know Sherlock told you,” Anderson snarls, defensive.
John smirks; he can see Sherlock’s lips twitching, though Sherlock keeps his eyes steady on the victim. “He did, but I’d have known anyways. The state of your hair and the wrinkles in your trousers say it all.”
“Lestrade, call the brother,” Sherlock directs, standing up with a flourish before Anderson has the chance to splutter a retort. “You’ll find his number on the speed-dial in her phone. He’ll want to know his sister failed to make the all-important transaction without detection. He’ll tell you the rest. She was gassed for her mistakes, but not here. Likely in transit. You’re looking for an SUV, red, about 10 years old, up from Kent. The details are boring, you won’t need me. John, it’s time for their nap. Shall we go home?”
“They’re napping already,” John points out quietly.
“Well, then it’s time for my nap,” Sherlock counters, pulling off his gloves and tossing them into a bin as they leave the room, ignoring the stares and muttering they leave behind them.
John grins at him, nudging him gently with an elbow. “Surely we can find a better use of our time in bed,” he hints. Sherlock rolls eyes eyes at him, scooping the shopping bags they left at the door up in one arm even as he lets the other arm fall around John’s waist.
“Yes, yes, fine, we can have a shag, but I still want a bit of sleep.”
“Excellent,” John says, ducking into the cab that appears as soon as Sherlock sets foot in the street. “Sounds perfect. You’re bloody gorgeous when you’re deducing, have I ever told you that?”
“Hmmmm. Not recently, at least.” Sherlock pushes Annierose’s hair out of her face and rests his hand on her back as the cab starts swinging through the back streets of London towards Baker Street.
“Well you are. I would’ve had you right there, except for, you know, the team and the children.”
Sherlock smirks at him. “And the dead body, presumably.”
“Also that,” John says, wrinkling his nose and then pressing it into Teddy’s hair, kissing him gently on the head.
“I nearly got on my knees when you were telling Donovan off,” Sherlock murmurs in John’s ear, biting gently at his earlobe. “You were fantastic. Her face, I’ll never forget it.”
“Neither will I. It felt fantastic. She’s had that coming for years.”
“I heartily agree.” The cab pulls to a stop in front of their door and Sherlock leaps out, bags in hand, holding the door open so John can climb out gingerly. “Come on,” he says, pulling John up the stairs by the hand. “Let’s put them to bed so I can reward you properly for defending my honour.”
“You know,” John points out, heading through the door to their flat and up the stairs to the twins’ bedroom, with Sherlock trailing behind him. “You could have said all that to her too. You’d probably have done a better job, as well. Here, help me get them out of this thing.” Sherlock strides over to him and gently plucks the sleeping children out of the knotted fabric, laying them down gently in their cot. John watches and tries to extricate himself from the long strips of fabric while he continues talking. “But you didn’t, you didn’t say anything. You looked a bit like a deer in the headlights. What was that?”
Sherlock’s forehead creases with a frown but he doesn’t look up from twins. John struggles on with the cloth until Sherlock speaks. “If I’d said all that, she’d have called me a liar. And anyway, I wasn’t sure what to say. You never told them about us before, maybe you didn’t want them to know.”
John makes a frustrated sound, but it is more about his multi-coloured fabric prison than anything Sherlock’s said - though that frustrates him too.
“You’ve got to stop that, Sherlock,” he says, through gritted teeth, finally managing to get one of his arms free. “I never told them because it wasn’t important that they know, back then. But when someone’s questioning your right to your own children, Sherlock, then dammit, it’s important that they know. I’m not ashamed of you, I never have been and I never will be. Shit, I’m completely stuck, help me here, will you?”
Finally, Sherlock looks up at him with an unreadable expression on his face that melts into fond amusement as he takes in the tangle John’s gotten himself into.
“John, it’s not that difficult, they’re just strips of fabric.”
“You’ve knotted me in all funny,” John complains. “Come get them off me.”
Chuckling, Sherlock crosses the room and begins to work at the knots at John’s side. His face falls again, though, as he frees John from first one and then the other wrap.
“What? What is it, Sherlock? I know that look, that’s your unhappy about something but don’t want to say it look.”
Sherlock scoffs but it’s half-hearted. John crosses his arms and raises an eyebrow at him, waiting, as Sherlock busies himself about folding the bits of fabric and placing them on the shelf above the cot. When he turns back, he’s chewing anxiously on his lip.
“You said, to Sally, you said that they were more my children than yours. Do you really think of it like that? You’ve never talked like that before.”
Oh. Yes, he can see why that would be a bit confusing to hear for the first time in that context.
“No, I don’t, of course not. They’re not mine or yours, they’re ours. But Sherlock, this is going to be hard for people to understand. Technically, if we get right down to basic, physical relationships, they’re my niece and nephew, and that’s all that a lot of people will see. They won’t see the fact that it was my decision that created them, and they won’t treat my role in their birth with anything like as much respect as they’ll treat yours, even if you were technically dead at the time.”
“But that’s idiotic! Harry has almost nothing to do with them. She’s barely even seen them since they were born. You’ve been there every minute of every day.”
“Well I know that,” John says, cupping the side of Sherlock’s face in one hand. “And you know that, and they’ll know that too, eventually, but I wasn’t going to stand there and listen to Sally Donovan question your role in their life anymore than I would have let her question mine. I just had to phrase it slightly different to get it through her thick skull that you’ve as much right to be making decisions about them as I have. As for us - as long as I know it, and especially as long as you know it, we’ll be alright. You do know it, right?”
“What, that I have a parental right to make decisions about their future?”
“I suppose.” Sherlock frowns; John watches him carefully as he crafts his answer. “I don’t know if I trust myself yet - to - to do it properly.”
“You’re not meant to trust yourself to do it properly,” John tells him, softly, stroking his temple. “You’re meant to be making decisions on the fly in a fit of panic, right along with me. They’re young, yet, so it’s not so important, but when they’re older, I assure you we are both going to be just as terrified and clueless as each other. We’ll work together and it will be fine. I’ve told you that, before. Just don’t make any life changing decisions without me, and we’ll be fine. Alright?”
“Yes. I’m not sure the idea has caught hold, yet.”
“Well, make it,” John says, firmly. “Grab hold of it and make it take hold. Those are our children, and if anyone questions it you shout at them until they understand that the four of us are a family, just as much as any other two parents and two children would be. This is something you have, Sherlock, that you’ve earned, and if you want to rub it in people’s faces, then do so. Especially if it’s Donovan or Anderson’s faces that you want to rub our smug happiness in.”
When he’s finished, Sherlock is looking at him with awe and delight and just a hint of fear writ large across his face. He looks beautiful, and John does nothing to suppress the urge to kiss him, then and there, in the middle of the twins’ bedroom. Sherlock’s head then falls to hide his face in John’s neck as he runs his hands over John’s sides and down his back, almost reverently, and John stands there and holds him close for a while.
“Come on,” he says, eventually, pushing backwards and smiling up at him. “You owe me, remember, for defending your honour.”
Sherlock smiles at him and it is like the sun breaking across the horizon, and they traipse down the stairs and fall into bed and then into each other, as if to reassure themselves that the other is real, is still there, will be there to stay.
Later, John holds Sherlock in his arms, disregarding the stickiness of sweat. Sherlock traces unintelligible patterns across the heft of John’s pectorals, and John closes his eyes and presses his face into the shock of curls that rests on his chest.
“You’ve been there, every minute of every day of their lives,” Sherlock says, quietly, not looking up, just tracing patterns across John’s chest and down his arm. “It’s hard, sometimes, not to feel as if they’re not really mine at all, that I’m not just borrowing them from you. I know -” he says quickly, to stop John interrupting, “I know they’re mine. I know you don’t think about it this way. And I know what you did to - to make them, I know that, but I didn’t have any agency in it. I just turned up, after putting you through hell, and there you were trying to give me something that I wanted without even realising. I don’t deserve them, and I don’t deserve you, and that’s … sometimes that’s hard, to get my head around.”
John strokes his hand through Sherlock’s hair and thinks, hard. He’s been expecting something like this during the month since they moved back to Baker Street. He’s watched Sherlock with the twins for hours on end, watched him treat them like porcelain dolls, always deferring to John for advice and instruction – part of it was honest ignorance, but part of it was something too close to hesitancy for John’s liking. Today was the first time he’d consented to watching them alone, without John or his mother present, and he’d clearly been uncomfortable with the idea of being solely responsible, even if it was just for the afternoon. This can’t continue; he can’t bear to have Sherlock feel like a stranger, an outsider in his own family.
“This has nothing to do with logic, and everything to do with emotions and families and love. Maybe that’s why it’s hard for you, because there’s no one way to get this right. You haven’t known them as well or as long as I have, and you didn’t have any - how did you put it? Agency in their birth, but that doesn’t make the way you feel about them any less important than the way I do. Sherlock, you took one look at them and changed everything you were doing to keep them safe, you told me that yourself. You started cooperating with Mycroft, and you actually asked Greg and Irene for help. You never ask for help, but you did what you needed to do, for them, and for me. What else do you think you need to do, to be worthy of them?”
“I don’t know,” Sherlock says, quietly; his hand falls still against John’s chest – John covers it with one of his own.
“When you saw them, in the hospital that first time, what was your first thought?”
John can feel Sherlock’s frown crumple his face against his chest. “I don’t know,” Sherlock admits. “I couldn’t think, all I could do was stare at them. I think I thought that they were perfect. I wanted to hold them and never let go. I wanted to know everything about them, who they would become, and I wanted to be there to record every second of their lives and hoard it all away and never let it go. ”
“That’s exactly how I felt when the nurses handed me them,” John says, gently. “You have to stop treating yourself like an outsider in this equation, Sherlock, because this can’t all be on me. If you’re going to be their Dad, be their Dad. You can have this, you can have all of it, you just have to stop being so bloody terrified about it and reach out and take it.”
Sherlock is quiet for a while; then his hand starts tracing patterns again and John smiles, letting his own hand fall away and on to the small of Sherlock’s back. Then Sherlock scoffs, “I’m not going to be a Dad. You can be Dad, you’re much more suited to it. I shall be Father. Or Papa, maybe. You’ve called me that before to them, I didn’t mind it.”
“What’s wrong with Dad? It’s fine. It’s just a word.”
“It’s so pedestrian, John.”
“Oh, thanks. I’m pedestrian then, am I?”
“Hardly,” Sherlock scolds, pushing himself up to look down at John imperiously. “You’re the least pedestrian man I know.” He kisses him soundly, as if proving a point, before pulling back and saying, with a cheeky grin on his face, “Besides myself, of course. But in the equation of you and me, I am the least pedestrian, and therefore you will have to bear the unfortunate cross of being called ‘Dad’ for the rest of your days. If only you owned fewer jumpers, perhaps we could have come to some negotiation.”
“Watch it, Holmes,” John threatens, trying very hard not to catch Sherlock’s infections grin. “Or you’ll never see me without those jumpers for the rest of your days. Don’t think I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.”
“You, resist sex for more than three days?” Sherlock snorts. “John, I’ve heard better jokes from Anderson.”
“Oi! That’s it. You’ve asked for it, Holmes.” John shoves him with both hands and flips them over, landing on top of him, pinning him with his thighs, and proceeding to expertly find and exploit his most ticklish spots until Sherlock is nearly shrieking with laughing protest.
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, you’re hilarious, stop, I’m begging you!”
John smirks triumphantly and relents, shoving up and away to peer down at him with his arms crossed over his chest, pretending to sulk. “Serves you right. Better jokes from Anderson. You bastard.”
“Come back here,” Sherlock says as he reaches out and pulls him down against his chest. John lets himself be pulled down and squirms against Sherlock’s side until he’s comfortable. “Better,” Sherlock hums, tightening his arms around him.
“Better,” John agrees. “Though they’ll be awake in a minute.”
“I was thinking, the other day,” Sherlock muses, ignoring John’s slight protest and curling his fingers around his bicep. “How do you feel about home-schooling them?”
“What, you mean, let you take full responsibility for their education? Absolutely not.”
“What?!” Sherlock pulls back to look at him, affronted. “I’m fully capable of teaching them everything they need to know, as are you. No need for them to go to one of those horrible schools to have their minds filled with pointless fluff when they could stay home and learn everything they need and more.”
John tilts his head back to peer at Sherlock, whose face betrays the fact that he is deadly serious about this. John snorts before shaking his head fervently and burrowing back into the crook of Sherlock’s neck. “No way. Not happening. Over my dead body. I’m not going to live in a house with three people who don’t know that the earth goes around the sun.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, John,” Sherlock exclaims, glaring at him. “One thing, one tiny fact that I deleted and you keep acting like it’s the end of the world!”
“It’s not tiny, Sherlock, it’s a basic fact of our entire existence. And anyway, knowledge isn’t the only thing kids get from school.”
“What can children possibly get from school that we can’t provide?”
“Friends,” John says, simply. “Manners. Appropriate skills to deal with the world around them. The ability to function easily within society.”
“John,” Sherlock says, his voice very low and serious. “I attended the highest institutions my whole life and they never gave me any of those things.”
“Did you want them to?” John asks, tilting his head back again to look Sherlock in the eyes. “Can you honestly tell me you were open to making friends and trying to be at ease with society?”
Sherlock’s frown creases his forehead deeply and darkens his eyes, but he doesn’t answer.
“Don’t cut them off from experiences that you yourself didn’t enjoy before they’ve had their own chance. I promise, right now, if we both think they’ll benefit from a different kind of education, we’ll give them it. They’re only babies, we don’t know who they are yet. Until we do, let’s keep their opportunities open, okay?”
“They’re going to be incredibly intelligent,” Sherlock says, quietly. “They’re already well ahead of the normal comprehension levels of children their age, and they get quicker with every day.”
“Even if they aren’t incredibly intelligent, will you love them anyway? If they turn out as stupid as Anderson, will it bother you?”
Sherlock frowns again. “I don’t know. I hope not. I love them now and all they do is eat and sleep and shit.”
“And crawl and smile and call for you when you’ve left and babble and cry and whinge and laugh and play,” John reminds him.
“Yes, all that too.” Sherlock smiles and John kisses him before laying back down in his arms.
They sit in peace for a while until there’s a crackle on the baby monitor that means it’s picking up small noises from the twins. John sighs, only slightly lamenting the end of their downtime, but Sherlock doesn’t stir, yet. “I want them to learn French,” he says. “I know Mummy talks to them in French, I don’t think they should lose that.”
“I fully agree,” John says, kissing a sharp collarbone. “That’s all on you, though. All I can do in French is order a couple beers and ask for a shag.”
“Heathen,” Sherlock scolds. He stretches and rolls John off of him so he can sit up and swing his legs over the edge of the bed. “Stay and nap, if you like. I’ll feed them.”
“It was you who wanted the nap in the first place,” John points out, but he doesn’t argue. His eyes are heavy with exhaustion. Sherlock laughs quietly and says something under his breath John doesn’t quite catch, kissing him before slipping out of the room to get the twins out of bed.
When John wakes up, he finds the three of them in the bathtub. Sherlock is holding a very soapy Teddy in his arms and chatting to him in French while he tries to shampoo his hair without getting any in his eyes. Teddy babbles along with him, splashing his hands in the water while Rosie looks on, giggling and splashing, propped carefully between Sherlock’s long legs. They don’t notice John standing at the doorway, so they don’t notice when he darts away and returns with a camera in his hand until he clicks the shutter and the flash catches them all unaware.
Sherlock quirks an eyebrow at him; John grins back. “It’s going in the lab book,” he says. “First bath with Papa.”
“Sentimental,” Sherlock scolds, but he’s smiling, so John takes it as a compliment.
“You have shampoo on your nose, Papa,” he says. Sherlock grins.