Children were not Mycroft Holmes' forte. Despite these protests, Molly still approached him, his niece in her arms.
"I am not one for children, nor they me," he tried, but Molly would have none of it.
"Think of it as a duty," Molly said, placing the bundle in his arms. Immediately, he stiffened, glancing between the child and Molly. He was glad Sherlock wasn't here. Mycroft had been out of town when Molly went into labor, so he'd missed visiting them in the hospital. Now a whole two weeks old, his niece had yet to meet her uncle, and so Molly called up Mycroft, inviting him to tea, with promise of some pastry confection of her own making. He had quite forgotten the baby would be there.
He sank into John's old chair, looking at the child, who only looked back, her large eyes blinking up at him. He had the queer feeling he was being studied by the child.
"Her name is Josephine," Molly said, sitting down on the edge of the coffee table.
"Yes," Mycroft answered softly, suddenly remembering Sherlock had texted him the name the night she was born.
Mycroft had not held a baby since he was eleven, holding his newborn brother. He had forgotten how quickly the instinct to care and protect came over one.
"She is…quite winsome," he said finally. Molly was sitting again, waiting for the tea to steep. The baby gurgled in his arms, and for a moment, he didn't know what to do.
"Here," Molly draped a cloth over his shoulder. "Just in case she spits, probably won't, she did all that before you came," she took Josephine, propping him up against Mycroft's shoulder, cheek against the soft cloth. Immediately, Josephine curled against him, clinging to him, fingers curling around the fabric of his suit. The foolishness of children. How quickly they came to trust a person, no matter who they were.
"She thinks I am her father," Mycroft said, excusing the baby cuddling against him. Indeed he and Sherlock were both alike in stature.
"No, she likes Sherlock's other shoulder," Molly answered. "Besides, he doesn't wear ties." Indeed Josephine had wrapped her tiny fingers around the fabric of Mycroft's silk tie, gently stroking it as if it were her favorite blanket. He stayed where he was, and when Molly returned with a cup of tea for him, she offered to take the baby. With great reluctance (and doing his best not to show it) he handed the child back to her.
As the months drifted by, Mycroft stopped in on his brother and sister in-law, doing his best to not set any type of pattern. Caring was not an advantage. He didn't care. What was a baby to him? A snot-nosed, leaky, smelly (she wasn't actually smelly, Molly made sure Josephine was always clean) little child who didn't do anything other than eat and mess in her pants. Yet he never said no when Molly handed Josephine to him. Indeed it was almost expected, the way she seemed to thrust the girl at him. Mycroft always obliged (for Molly's sake, of course) as if he wanted to hold a baby (an extremely soft, well mannered and quiet baby).
It seemed each milestone Josephine succeeded; her father would proclaim that obviously she was a Holmes. Mycroft accepted that Anthea would forward all videos that Molly had taken of Josephine doing something silly or (dare he say it) endearing. At seven months, Josephine had mastered crawling and could pull herself upright. A feat Sherlock had boasted about.
"It's perfectly normal for her age," Molly said with a smile. "All babies are different."
"Nonsense," Sherlock insisted. On one visit Mycroft was sitting in John's old chair, umbrella leaning against his leg, happily savouring a cup of Molly's very good tea when he felt tiny fingers grasping his trouser leg. Suddenly a face appeared by his knee, rosy-cheeked, eyes sparkling with determination and glee at her accomplishment.
"Oh…um…" (he hated that word 'um'. With his vocabulary, Mycroft Holmes had no use for 'um'). Molly was in the other room, and he wasn't about to bellow like his little brother. Josephine dug her little fingers into the fleshy part of his thigh and hauled herself up, sighing with relief once she was seated on his lap.
"'Croft," she huffed.
'Did she say your name?" Molly asked, reappearing with a hamper of laundry.
"Yes," Mycroft said, not sure if he was perturbed or impressed with the child.
"Shall I take her?" she asked, and Mycroft did not say no.
A month later he'd dropped by, Sherlock was standing in the living room.
"Don't move!" he barked, and Mycroft quirked an eyebrow.
"Problem, brother-mine? Searching for a button?"
"No, she's standing by herself," Mycroft quietly moved around the kitchen table to see Josephine standing on wobbly feet, her father just behind her so if she fell she'd land on his feet. Seeing her uncle, Josephine's face scrunched up into the most beatific smile she could possibly make. She let out a squeal, waving her fists up and down, bending her knees.
"'Croft!" she huffed, and took one tottering step forward.
"Molly! Molly- Molly!" Sherlock shouted. The pathologist in question appeared at the end of the hall. "The camera, woman, get the camera!" she fished through her sweater pockets, finding her smart phone. Mycroft watched Josephine all the while. She'd paused, hearing her father call for her mother. Taking note of her mother, she smiled up, opening and closing her fists. For a moment, Josephine chewed her bottom lip. Mycroft had set his case aside, knowing that upon sight of her mother, Josephine would change her direction and head for her.
"Oh…my…" Molly gasped delightedly, and Mycroft turned from the counter where the makings of tea were set out. Josephine had taken another wobbling step, then another, and another, and another, faster and faster, toward him. Mycroft watched Josephine cross the living room at top speed, suddenly reminded of when Sherlock was just a baby, (he'd forgone crawling altogether and went straight from sitting to walking and full-tilt running) trotting along the kitchen floor after him.
Bending so she could reach, Mycroft held out his hands and Josephine latched onto them, squealing with joy as her palms met his. Sherlock looked smug; he hurried off to his notepad, scribbling as he spoke:
"Nine months, Molly, nine months two days, she's walking. Beat Ella by three months," Molly had recorded the entire thing, eyes misty all the while.
Balancing herself on Mycroft's shiny shoes, Josephine beamed up at her uncle.
"'Croft!" she huffed out, hugging his legs. Carefully, he took her little hands and she grasped his index fingers, he turned her to face Sherlock. Seeing her father again, Josephine laughed and happily toddled back to her father, who squatted down, opening his arms to her. He picked her up when she reached him, kissing her cheek before bringing her to Molly.
"There's mummy," Sherlock said, "Give mummy a kiss and help set up tea,"
"Biscuit!" Josephine demanded and Molly laughed.
"Yes, lovey, you may have a biscuit," she set Josephine in her highchair, clipping in the table and making sure she was strapped in so she wouldn't stand up (as she often did at meal times). "Will you give her a biscuit, Mycroft? There's jaffa cakes up in the cupboard. I have to run upstairs a minute." Sherlock had disappeared into the bedroom to change, so Mycroft nodded that he would. Molly hurried up the stairs, leaving Mycroft and Josephine alone for a moment. He opened the plastic container, selecting one; he set it on the high-chair tray for Josephine before sneaking one for himself. He turned back to see Josephine beaming up at him, jaffa-cake in her hands as she nibbled at the chocolate. Before Sherlock or Molly returned, he reached over, touching her red cheeks, allowing himself to return her smile.
Caring was not an advantage, and Mycroft did not care.
Not always, anyway.