Chapter 12: Confrontations & Preconceptions
"The boy?" John asked companionably.
"He's sleeping; he usually goes to bed 'round nine."
Another thing clicked into place for John then: the pick up just in front of Baker Street, the long drive out to a place John was quite sure Mycroft didn't want invaded, the seemingly endless waiting – they were all a ploy for time, so that once he finally did make it to 221B, the boy would already be out of the way. It probably explains all the needling, too; Mycroft wanted me to get the yelling out of the way there, so I wouldn't wake the boy up.
"So," John said. "I rather think we should have a chat."
John could feel Sherlock's eyes on him, had felt them since he walked in the door; it was the heavy stare the taller man used when he was analyzing something, really devoting all of his attention to it. That considering gaze meant the detective hadn't pinpointed and written off all possible outcomes yet, and, unlike his earlier burdens, John momentarily savored the weight of it.
A politely interested expression slid into place on the younger man's face. "Alright," Sherlock nodded easily, folding his hands across his lap. "What's on your mind, John?"
It was unnaturally neutral for Sherlock, careful even. On a good day, John couldn't get a grievance out of his mouth before the detective was minimalizing his concerns with a few points of sharp logic and caustic commentary. Sherlock deeply preferred the offensive, so where was his leading statement? It pushed the doctor off balance – though I suppose all of this has been a deviation from the norm.
John narrowed his eyes at the taller man, studying this new facet of his friend. Fine, he thought, have it your way. I'll lead.
"I came to see if it was true," the doctor stated mildly, just as verbally noncommittal as Sherlock. The tensing in his shoulders, a result of his ram-rod straight spine, gave away the truth: it was a command away from parade rest, and probably told Sherlock more than he needed.
John knew his opponent though, and forewarned is forearmed. He anticipated Sherlock would dance around the subject for as long as possible – it was a mild baiting tactic the detective favored: Sherlock would ask for clarification repeatedly, prompting John to blow his top; if he lost his temper first, it gave Sherlock the righteous high ground, and he could cut John's legs from underneath him.
They'd gone a few rounds in this particular game before, but John was determined to give a better showing. So go ahead, deny it, he challenged, fortifying his defense. He had some dignity to salvage after meeting with Mycroft, after all.
But Sherlock wasn't playing fair.
"Well," Sherlock began, "I'm not precisely certain what lines Mycroft was feeding you, but if you're referring to my adoption of Harry, then yes, that's true."
The statement was brazen, unapologetic, and almost completely matter-of-fact – and it threw John for a major loop.
"In progress, anyway, I suppose," Sherlock added, an afterthought.
The irritation-provoking drawl was right, but the words were all wrong – where was the negation, the whatever-are-you-talking-about-John?-Of-course-I-haven't-adopted-a-boy, well-unless-you-mean-this-one-right-here? Sherlock was the king of drama and denial, the supreme ruler of snark and disdain – so what was this?
His train of thought derailed yet again (seriously, why do I bother planning anything around the Holmes brothers, it's more apt to drive me mad than accomplish anything), John scrambled. "And this just…struck your fancy one day?"
John's eyes were running over Sherlock's face repeatedly, searching for any sign this was a joke, that he hadn't really meant what he'd just said. The calm, vaguely cordial expression was so removed from normal, it was alarming.
"It was the culmination of several factors, actually, but the timing seemed right, in light of recent events," Sherlock informed placidly.
"Recent events…like my marriage?" It was the only potentially instigating event John could think of that the detective had dealt with recently. Though who really knows with Sherlock, he thought, still on the borderline between bemused and incredulous.
The taller man had continued to watch John throughout their exchange, attention fully devoted to the conversation, and yet it left the doctor feeling oddly like one of their clients; there was an almost clinical feeling of being handled permeating the situation, and it put a bad taste in his mouth.
Sherlock paused. "That played a small role," he granted with a nod, hands coming together to press in front of his chin. It was one of his favored thinking poses, and yet it always looked like an act of supplication to John. It was also the most movement the older man had seen him make all night.
"And you just– what, saw one of the little buggers running around the wedding and found your next experiment?"
John was definitely tipping over into incensed at this point. His words were growing edges as they spilled from his mouth, and he couldn't bring himself to care. They at least earned him a sharp glance of reassessment; he could see the detective changing tactics. It was nothing so obvious as a physical tell – Sherlock would sneer over something so blatant – but John could see glimpses of the man he was used to poking through, and that eased some of his agitation.
"I wouldn't be so trite as to call it an experiment," Sherlock said slowly, with the air of someone trying to navigate uncharted waters, "but I suppose in some sense I'm embarking on a new venture, to which I don't know the end result. I don't even have a working hypothesis for it yet," he disclosed to John, a grave look on his face.
John stared, teetering back to uneven ground.
Who was this philosopher in front of him? Oh, they'd had philosophical debates before, on morality or ethics most often; it was a rather inescapable topic in their line of work. But John almost always took on the role of the moral high ground, often futilely, whereas Sherlock was the quintessential Devil's advocate, the man with the Machiavellian outlook on life and some (odd) disinclination to act on it. (And thank whatever God exists for that – the world couldn't handle a Holmes on the warpath).
But this was almost…quaint, for lack of a better the detective gone and had a mid-life crisis when John wasn't looking?
"But what- what ever made you think you could take care of a child? For that matter, why would you even want to?" He didn't mean to blurt it out like that, but this question had been bothering John since he'd first even entertained the idea that any of this could be true.
As far as John had seen, Sherlock had shown little to no interest in the few children they'd interacted with over the course of their cases. He certainly didn't go out of his way to comfort them or soften the truth; that was always John's job. Where was all of this coming from?
The only answer John kept circling back to was that it was that it had to be some sort of observation attempt; some inane question had struck Sherlock's addled brain one day, and, Sherlock being Sherlock, the only thing to do was to snatch the nearest child and divine the answer. Legal steps were only taken because anything else would have been too much of a hassle.
(Or perhaps it was a test of the adoption system, a way to demonstrate yet another shortcoming of the government and have the last laugh over his brother?)
It simply couldn't be real.
Sherlock sniffed in disdain, taking his weighty gaze off the doctor as he rolled his eyes (at last, something John was used to). "It isn't as if it's all that hard. Completely unsuitable people run around having children all the time, and you don't seem to be getting up in arms over them. Mine feeds himself for the most part, and Mrs. Hudson fusses incessantly. He's certainly smart enough to avoid jumping in front of cars or some other such nonsense," audible snort, "and in the event that he falls ill, I do have a few connections at the local hospital." The dry tone was complemented with a raised eyebrow, unimpressed at John's specious protest.
John was at a loss – rational, and yet completely missing the point. It was the most Sherlock-like thing the detective had said all night.
"That's different and you know it," he began, trying to switch gears.
"It really isn't, John," Sherlock broke in, insistent. "The number of people who hire out their child's needs is beyond comprehension. Don't have time to take your daughter to the park today? That's okay, hire a nanny to do it for you. She'll probably handle meals and bedtimes to boot. Education? Public schools. Or there's the whole package – advertising for these things is practically the bread and butter of boarding schools." The derision was so strong it was practically solid.
John opened his mouth, thought better of it, and closed it again. He couldn't really argue with Sherlock on that matter, having had a nanny himself, and that wasn't his point anyway. "There are some basic needs you just can't provide, Sherlock,"
"Can't I? Food, water, shelter and clothing – we have all of that here in 221B."
"Alright, fine," John said impatiently, "but parenting is more than just monitoring his temperature during fevers and making sure he gets his three square meals a day, Sherlock. I'm not sure how you and Mycroft were raised, but for the rest of the world, it's a cold childhood without compassion, or hugs. Affection."
Sherlock was silent for a moment. "You can't really be naïve enough to believe every child has access to that growing up."
It was detached, and it echoed back to their first year as flatmates so abruptly John was left reeling.
John wouldn't call himself an optimist by any stretch of the word. He was an army doctor. He'd seen some of the worst things human beings can do to each other, and even once he'd returned, living with Sherlock had meant being subjected to the dregs of society at least every other week. If anything, he considered himself a realist.
And while he abstractly knew everything was certainly not sunshine and roses for every child, he'd still maintained a degree of hope and faith. Per usual, Sherlock had stomped all over it. (And in the back of his mind, it made him wonder what Sherlock had seen, what he'd been exposed to, that gave him such authority on the subject).
But John's mouth ran away with him, rather than force his brain to think more on the matter.
"And by adopting him, you're preventing him from the possibility of finding that with a good family!"
"And he could be one of the thousands of children who bounce around the system, from household to abusive household, until he ends up as part of my homeless network," Sherlock was just as quick to respond. "We don't know," he said calmly.
"But there's a chance –"
"John," he cut through, assertive. "I know I'm not perfect, and I'm not anyone's first choice for a…guardian. I've made Harry aware of that, to the best of my ability. I'm not claiming to be the ideal solution here, but believe that I researched and considered and hypothesized every possible scenario I could think of. We'll make it work."
And in the silent vacuum left as John tried to wrap his head around that weighty declaration, a throat was cleared.
The vaguely high-pitched noise drew his attention to the stairwell like a homing beacon, where his eyes lit on a small form wrapped in a maroon dressing gown.
"I-" the figure began, almost too soft to hear. "Sorry," he tried a little louder, "I just heard voices. I would have stayed in my room, but then I heard you say 'John,' and I was, er, curious,'" the boy told Sherlock, looking over to John's chair.
John stared, finally confronted with this being he'd heard so much about. For causing all this fuss, he was rather…diminutive.
John was used to being one of the shortest people in a room; he'd learned to live with it, no matter how irksome. And yet, between the leading lines of the doorway and the rather large dressing gown, the illusion of small pervaded.
The boy was thin, built with that same wispy look John imagined Sherlock had as a child. In fact, the unruly hair looked even more unmanageable than Sherlock's tousled curls. John elected to give bed head the benefit of the doubt, and hoped for Mrs. Hudson's sake the boy's hair was a little more cooperative. She'd despaired over Sherlock's often enough.
Between the wild mop and the glasses taking up half of his very serious face, there was little John could do to ignore the fact that he was what Mary would classify as 'charming.'
"Harry," Sherlock replied brightly, "why don't you come out from the stairwell – since you're awake anyway, we'll do introductions." The consulting detective looked inordinately pleased, and John couldn't help the sneaking suspicion that this was some sort of ploy.
The boy blinked at them shyly from the doorway, before padding in on silent steps. He stood uncertainly a few feet into the room – delicately, as if wishing he could fade into the background – before taking a breath to steady himself; it was like watching him solidify into existence, John thought, oddly fascinated.
"Dr. John Watson," Sherlock announced from his chair, "may I present to you Harry Potter, lately of 221B?"
John belatedly rose to his feet upon the introduction, manners autonomously running his body. The child reared back a bit, but then leaned forward, determined.
"How do you do, sir?" the boy asked, tone grave, hand outstretched.
The doctor's hand came out automatically, taking the small hand into a light handshake, afraid to crush it. The warm pressure in response had more force than he was expecting, to his pleasant surprise. 'A strong handshake bodes well for a young man,' came his father's voice, a fleeting memory from his childhood.
"…Well, thank you. And you?"
"Quite well, sir," was the quiet response. Luminous eyes peered up at John from behind rectangular spectacles. "Would you like some tea?"
Harry nodded to himself, and released John's hand. He glanced at Sherlock questioningly, which prompted John to do the same. The detective nodded genially, which was apparently some sort of signal – a murmured 'excuse me,' to the room, and the boy retreated to the kitchen. John could hear muted puttering as tea things were presumably assembled.
Sherlock looked amused, and gestured the doctor back to his seat.
John blindly reached backwards and sank down into his comforting armchair. At least it was still behaving exactly the way he was expecting. His best friend, on the other hand…
Sherlock's voice when introducing the boy had been filled with something like pride, seeming to say, look at what I found, look at what I brought into my life, all by myself! John had heard that before, sometimes when he explained to John a particularly difficult case, childish glee practically bursting out of him.
Truth be told, John probably had about the same experience with children that Sherlock had, prior to the adoption of course. He'd certainly not seen any in med school, or in the army, and the clinic he worked at was a general practice for adults, not pediatrics. It wasn't like he was going to be getting any nieces or nephews from his sister's side of things any time soon. He'd been no small bit of terrified to find out he was going to be a father – still was, honestly. It was just another to add to the litany of things that could keep him awake at night, holding Mary and staring up at his ceiling.
So while he was perfectly willing to ream Sherlock out for his lack of experience, it wasn't exactly like he had much to fall back on either – and when faced with a solemn, sleepy-eyed boy staring at him from the doorway, well, he didn't quite know what to do.
Sherlock snorted, finally unable to watch John turn mental acrobatics anymore. "He's a person, John, same as you or me. Treat him like it."
And with that, the surrealism of this night was truly complete. Adequate advice on how to behave in front of other people from Sherlock Holmes. I never thought I'd see the day.
So when the boy returned with two teacups carefully held to prevent spilling, a frown of concentration in place, John did his best to react normally as Harry made his way to the doctor first.
That's it, though, John realized, wondering as he took the tea from the child. He talks about the boy like he's practically an adult already.
Harry moved on to hand the remaining cup to the now standing detective, before returning to the kitchen. Sherlock set his tea down and brought another chair over, one of the few clients usually used. By the time the boy was back with his own drink, the detective was once again ensconced in his own seat.
Not the full service, John noted absently as he stared into his cup, not criticizing – the fact the boy had even offered and prepared it all on his own in the first place was already a testament to his manners. John had certainly not been that conscientious at his age.
He took a sip to be polite, figuring he could bear with one bitter swallow or two, only to find it made to his exact specifications, two sugars and all. Lemon balm? That's new – I haven't had that since secondary school; mum used to make it when I was studying for my A-levels. He looked up in surprise, only to see the boy watching him closely.
Harry blushed and looked down. "Sherlock mentioned how you take your tea," he provided without prompting. "I hope it's to your liking;" he added nervously. "I couldn't find the tea tray or I'd have brought out everything directly."
"It's currently supporting my acid experiment," Sherlock piped in. No apologies for the inconvenience of course, just a stated fact.
Harry shrugged, taking the information without even a blink. No exasperation, no confusion as to why in the world it was serving such an odd purpose, just acceptance that that was how things were.
"It's lovely, thank you," John replied eventually, still pondering the interaction.
Harry looked pleased as he responded with a gracious, "You're welcome," and Sherlock had acquired that tilt to his mouth that said he was simultaneously amused and happy, and John was somehow stumbling around in the middle of it all.
Sounds a bit like business as usual, then, came the cynical side of his brain.
They sat in quiet silence for a few moments, appreciating the calm a cup of tea could bring, before John felt compelled to open his mouth.
"So – Harry – tell me about yourself." John winced as soon as he said it; he'd always hated the open-ended questions Uncle Melvin asked at every single family Christmas when he was a boy, and yet here he was, doing the same damn thing.
To the boy's credit, just as John was scrambling to salvage the situation, Harry rallied. The brief flash of deer-in-headlights look was replaced with quiet determination.
"Well…Sherlock's been teaching me deduction," he offered tentatively.
John couldn't help but give a bark of laughter at that; part of him wasn't surprised at all – of course Sherlock was already molding the boy, wasn't that the way he'd started with John, too? Sherlock wants someone to keep up with him. He won't stoop to our level (nor should he have to, said the righteous part of him), so he's trying to elevate us to him.
The problem was, this was a child. Sherlock made John feel like an idiot five minutes after meeting him; while irritating beyond measure, John had thicker skin. But he remembered enough from his Intro Psych course to know children were not programmed the same way.
"Has he, now?" he asked, throwing a careful, assessing glance at Sherlock, receiving a devious glint in response. How much damage has he done already? "And how has that been going?"
"Well, I think – it's great fun. I'm not as good as Sherlock, of course," the boy said modestly – not searching for praise, no looking to Sherlock, just an earnest opinion, John thought with a hint of surprise – "but there's so much more than I expected. And I got to meet Angelo and people watch for a bit," he finished off with a small upturn of the mouth.
The modesty spoke more of shyness than a lack of self-confidence, which was good. Seems Sherlock wasn't so caught up in showing off he stomped all over the boy's personality.
John snorted at the thought, before immediately realizing how that would come off – like kicking a puppy – and leapt to fix it. "No one's as good as Sherlock," he said kindly, before casting an evil smirk in Sherlock's direction, "except for Mycroft, of course."
It was Sherlock's turn to snort then, giving a quiet huff before pointedly ignoring John.
Harry just looked on with a confused smile, the air of someone not quite in on the joke.
"Harry's ears might be better than mine, actually," Sherlock cut in, changing the subject. How kind of him to join us.
That set off a fierce blush; now I know he can't have been here long. There's not a humble bone in Sherlock's body, and I'll be damned if it doesn't rub off in the worst way. It was true John was still the patient one of the duo, but only by dint of having Sherlock to be compared against; John himself had been insufferable with the first few incompetent clinic assistants after Sherlock's absence. It'd taken some time and space to regain his generally tolerant demeanor.
"He's got quite a set of observational skills already," Sherlock continued, "just needs the base knowledge to apply them." A pointy smile. "You could learn a few things from him, John."
John lifted an unimpressed eyebrow and opened his mouth to respond with something less kind, before catching the slight shifting from the boy's direction. We're making him uncomfortable, he realized. He went with a rueful smile towards the boy instead, a commiserating, "What can you do with him?" gesture.
"I don't know the first thing about medicine," the boy shrugged, surprising John yet again. "What Dr. Watson can do is incredible," he added, turning those bright eyes on John.
"John, please, no need for Dr. Watson's here," the doctor demurred, hesitant in the face of unexpected praise from the boy.
The boy ducked his head, but nodded in agreement.
Diplomatic, isn't he? That's good, he'll need it to get himself out of the scrapes Sherlock lands them in, John thought distantly.
There would be no 'scrapes,' no fast-talking situations – he's six years old, dammit, remember that!
John shook his head, hoping for some clarity. Right, conversation.
"So, Harry, where are you from originally? Had you ever been to London before coming to Baker Street?" John was racking his brain for small talk – it usually wasn't this hard, he'd certainly had plenty of practice over the years (this is what happens when you willingly make friends with sociopaths – you become responsible for most of the smooth-talking), but nothing was quite right tonight.
There was a small pause, barely noticeable but to those with trained eyes, before the boy responded. "The home I was in, St. James', they were based in Shepherd's Bush, I think. They would take us on some trips out to London; we went to the zoo a few weeks ago."
Avoided the first question there, likely a sensitive topic. John mentally smacked himself. Orphan, remember? John followed the boy's lead and let the question lie.
"That's a rather nice part of town; don't get out there much, but Sherlock and I had a case there a few months back."
Evidently he'd hit on the right topic at last, judging from the fire of interest in the boy's eyes at the word 'case.' John was gently prompted to fall (rather willingly) into the role of storyteller for the evening.
It was a quite easy – this particular story had been shared out to a few crowds, so he had all of the dramatic points down pat. It was flattering to have such a devoted audience (the boy's luminescent eyes only seemed to grow wider with each plot twist), but of course Sherlock couldn't let him have all of the attention; the consulting detective broke in at several high points, caught between keeping John honest and outrage at the way his behavior was being described.
It coaxed some giggles from the boy, which of course led John to rehash some of Sherlock's more shining moments.
He got so into the banter after a while, that when he looked to Harry for a supportive eye roll, he was surprised to find the boy quietly dozing in his chair, breaths soft and long. Lucky he set the teacup down on the floor earlier, that would have made for some excitement.
He cut off suddenly, glancing to Sherlock to see him watching the child with an almost fond look on his face.
"A moment," Sherlock said absently, "I'll take him to bed." The consulting detective carefully reached over to touch the boy on his shoulder.
Must be a light sleeper, John thought as Harry's eyes opened instantly, though it took him a second longer to focus on Sherlock's face.
"Off to bed, I think," Sherlock said quietly.
Harry gave a disoriented nod and got to his feet stiffly. Judging by the grimace on his face, some body part had fallen asleep, but it didn't slow his rise out of the chair.
John was jealous – if he'd fallen asleep like that, he'd be feeling it all the next day. The power of youth, he thought sagely.
"Good night, sir. It was a pleasure to meet you," Harry said, stopping by the doctor's seat with a slight bow.
John was surprised at the show of manners again, especially for a half-asleep sprite.
"You as well, Harry," he said with a warm smile. "Sleep well."
The boy offered a quiet smile in response and began gathering the tea things.
"Leave it," Sherlock told him. "We'll get it."
Harry woke up enough to kick up a disbelieving eyebrow of his own.
"Well," Sherlock amended with a small smirk, "John will."
The boy looked mildly nonplussed (and isn't that a familiar expression?).
John grimaced at Sherlock, before replying more gently, "He's right. It's the least I can do after you poured for us."
Harry was uncertain. "If you're sure," he said hesitantly, obviously reluctant to leave a mess for guests.
John gave a firm nod. "Off to bed with you."
Harry relented and made for the stairs, fatigue evident.
Sherlock and John sat in companionable silence in the wake of the boy's departure.
"More tea?" Sherlock finally asked, eyes still unfocused as he processed his own thoughts.
"Oh, might as well," John conceded, still mulling over the night himself.
The doctor wasn't sure he'd have given the boy a second glance had he walked past him on the street, but after watching him for just a few minutes, observing him interact with Sherlock and John himself, John was starting to see what had captured Sherlock's interest.
He really was like a miniature adult, albeit with a little less worldly experience. But the easily devoted attention would have appealed to Sherlock – hell, it appealed to John; it was always nice to have someone properly appreciate one's skills. He was a little biddable, which John wondered about; on the one hand, biddable meant he would willingly do what Sherlock asked with little complaint, a definite pro in the detective's book. On the other hand, Sherlock didn't respect people who didn't think for themselves.
But I suppose I can think of some moments I've been a little more 'biddable' than I wished; Sherlock just has that effect on people. And maybe a little flexibility is necessary to keep from killing him, he snorted.
John's main concern was that Sherlock would crush the boy's forming personality; the detective was so much larger than life, it was hard to keep from just watching him. He's like a train wreck that way – you get so caught up in the trauma you forget to move out of the way of the debris.
Then again, he was careful to ask for the boy's opinion, he didn't just talk over him the way he does Anderson…maybe, and that's a big maybe, this could work.
Jury's out, John decided finally. All he knew was that he'd be paying 221B a lot more frequent visits in the coming weeks.
"Well, he's remarkable, I'll give you that," John told the detective as Sherlock returned with more tea. "Think he heard much of our row?" he grimaced.
Sherlock raised his eyebrow in response as he poured. "What do you think?"
John sighed. "I suppose so. New blend?" he asked, curious – Sherlock wasn't normally responsible for the edible contents of his kitchen.
The detective took his seat again. "Mmm. Well-noted for its soothing qualities."
John thought through the implications there, chagrinned.
"Attentive, isn't he?" Sherlock asked with a sardonic twist of lips.
"Evidently," John said into his cup, embarrassed at being so subtly cossetted.
"He likes to take care of people," Sherlock said with a wave of his hands. "Mrs. Hudson and he have been conspiring on meals all week."
John gave an absent smile, more pressing matters on his mind. "You told him about me?" he asked finally, overcome by the need to know.
"Of course I did," Sherlock relented, annoyed. "Don't be ridiculous. I told you, you were always going to meet him eventually."
John reached for his exasperation then, needing the sharp indignation to carry him through this conversation.
"Were you ever going to tell me, Sherlock?" John slumped back into his chair, left with this festering frustration. Manipulation after manipulation. "Or was the plan always that I would drop in one day and the boy would just be here, business as usual? Did you think I wouldn't notice an extra meter clutching at your coattails at the next crime scene?" John winced at the bitterness that had leaked into his tone by the end, though why should I feel bad about that? I want him to understand I'm angry with him.
"Oh, don't be so melodramatic, John," Sherlock rolled his eyes, dropping the amiability altogether and easing off into more familiar territory. "He's only been here a week; we needed time to settle in. I've hardly taken him out on a case yet." It was the slightest change of posture, but now Sherlock looked every inch the bored king ensconced on his leather throne, suffering through the qualms of an overly opinionated advisor. It did a great deal to put John back on even footing.
"Really?" John lifted his eyebrows in a display of skepticism, leaning forward to firmly thump his hand against the armrest. "You'll have to pardon me for not believing you; that certainly didn't stop you from dragging me along before we'd even known each other for much more than an hour!"
"Do try to keep it down, John, he's just gone back to bed half an hour ago," Sherlock admonished, features sharp. "And there's a great deal of difference between a six-year-old and an ex-army doctor with a psychosomatic limp and an addiction to danger." Sherlock narrowed his eyes, irritated that John was fastened to such a low opinion of him. "Besides, use your brain; you don't think you would have gotten a call from George by now if I'd taken the boy out on a case with me already?""
"Geor-? It's Greg, actually," John bit out acidly, annoyed at having to correct Sherlock for the thousandth time, "and that just goes to prove my point! How can you expect to care for a child when you can barely remember the first name of a man you've known for over seven years now?"
"How is that even relevant? Harry and I are getting along quite splendidly, and besides– "
"-It's been a week, Sherlock; beyond the fact that I'm mystified he even lasted two hours before accidentally poisoning himself by making use of your misappropriated sugar bowl, a week is no time at all in the grand scheme of things! We're talking eleven years, here, Sherlock – you can't just decide you're bored one day and be done with it!" The anger that had been building up before the boy interrupted was spilling over now.
"I'm well aware of that, John – it's been explained to me multiple times, in almost every possible permutation of the English language," Sherlock responded, tone nasty. "Both Harry and I know things might not work out perfectly; we've come to an agreement should such a situation ever arise."
"You can't expect a six-year-old to understand something like that," John hissed, half-certain Sherlock had made this agreement all on his own. The doctor took a deep breath in through his nose, wishing he had something more to do with his hands than clench and unclench them furiously. He felt half a minute away from punching the great idiot, and the more rational side of his brain was trying to convince the rest of him that nothing would get solved that way. But I'd feel better, he whined.
Not the point, the rational side said firmly. Alright, different tactic.
"Surely he's not providing you with the intellectual stimulation you need, Sherlock," he said, coaxing.
Sherlock just snorted. "He's doing miles better than the rest of Britain's populace."
John chose to let that comment go. "Come on, let's work a case – that'll get you back to the swing of things. I haven't checked the blog inbox in a few weeks, I'm sure there's a stockpile of decent cases by now; they were certainly flooding in last month."
"A case or two of note, nothing truly interesting. A few perfectly obvious, but ideal for Harry's preliminary logic studies…" he trailed off, plotting face in place.
He's hacked the password again, blast it, John thought, momentarily distracted. I'll have to get Mary to set it this time, he knows me too well at this point–
"Why are we still having this conversation, John?" Sherlock cut in, serious again.
"Because that's what adults do, they talk about their problems, rather than just assuming they'll go away or sort themselves out," John answered, frustrated Sherlock was being so uncooperative.
"He's not a problem," Sherlock denied sharply, an edge to his voice.
"Alright," John relented, sensing he'd erred. "Not a problem then, but friends talk about what's going on in their lives too, Sherlock."
"Because you've kept me so up to date on your life recently?" came the smooth response, dangerous.
John exhaled, trying to keep calm. "I admit, I haven't exactly been around much lately, but in my defense I just got married and found out I'm having a baby a few months ago. I'm sorry I've left you alone, but Sherlock, you didn't have to go out and do something so – so rash."
"It wasn't rash!" Sherlock had clearly hit his limit. "Admittedly, we moved down a faster-paced schedule than usual, but neither of us are very conventional people. I put thought and planning into this, John, it wasn't just a spur-of-the-moment thing!"
John didn't quite know what to do in the face of this unexpected outburst – he was usually the one losing his top; Sherlock only got this way when something happened to remind him he was convinced the whole world was full of idiots.
Sherlock's voice softened after a pause. "To answer your question from earlier, I'm perfectly aware that I'm no one's first choice for a guardian. I'm abrasive, impatient, and occasionally, incomprehensible, or so I've been told." The sardonic eyebrow was a nice touch.
"I know there are areas I'm deficient in, John. I've never pretended to be perfect, or even very good," he smiled dryly. "But recently I've considered myself fortunate in my friends; they seem to make up for the areas I lack.
"And Harry – well, I believe we can make up for some things that have been deficient for him as well. I chose him very carefully. I still don't think I'd be suited to handle a normal child, nor would I have the inclination to do so. But Harry is curious, he wants to learn – he already observes a great deal more than most people five times his age, let alone his peers.
"It's not like I'm doing this entirely alone either, John. Mrs. Hudson is quite involved, and happy to be so, if I'm any judge – she's averaged a half hour of every day prattling on about grandmotherhood," he said, voice traipsing off into disgust.
"Mycroft has already made a nuisance of himself, as I'm sure you've noticed," Sherlock scowled automatically at the mention of his brother, "and the home staff, of course. I'd rather hoped you and Mary would have a hand in things, as well. Nobody else is going to be able to teach him how to play at normal," he added, a small wry grin appearing.
"How to be normal, you mean," John corrected absently, still caught at the detective's earlier words.
"Well," Sherlock said noncommittally, grin still in place.
John felt a ghost of a smile split across his face unwillingly.
"You were always meant to be involved, John," Sherlock affirmed.
"How do you know it will work?" John asked slowly.
"I don't. But I do have faith."
Sherlock eventually convinced a discombobulated John he needed to go home before heading for bed himself; it'd been a long night, but regardless he'd awoken to the smell of frying bacon and the whistle of a teakettle, signs that the world was still standing and morning had come to 221B Baker Street.
Breakfast was the usual affair; the boy grew more relaxed day by day, although Sherlock spent the morning dodging some of Mrs. Hudson's more pointed glances. Nosy woman – probably won't have a moment's peace until she's heard it out from the both of us.
The detective hunted for a viable excuse to escape her claws – really, one can only be expected to take so many heart-to-hearts in a twenty-four hour period – before remembering what he'd intended to do with this day in the first place.
"Harry," he said, turning to his charge just as he was hopping up to clear the table, "today we'll have a new lesson. Tidy up and then join me in the den."
Sherlock spared a brief moment to appreciate the earnest curiosity spreading across the boy's face, and then twisted to address the housekeeper on the other side of him (quickly, lest she see this as an opening). "Mrs. Hudson," he beckoned in his kindest voice, "might I prevail upon you to pick up a few things from the store today? I've a list."
"Certainly, Sherlock," she said, a tad surprised at the request, "what do you need?"
The detective began his recitation: "Sugar, a second tea tray, Clorox, Dijon mustard–"
"Oh bother it," she cut in crabbily with an annoyed eye, "you haven't got it written down, have you? I'll never remember all that; hold on a tic while I find a bit of paper."
Sherlock let a ghost of a smile cross his face – one housekeeper, successfully deterred.
He'd timed it so well that by the time Mrs. Hudson was back, his rather extensive list dutifully recorded, Harry had appeared at his elbow, face eager and hands still vaguely damp. And it only took an extra seven items, mental-John snarked, still in full form despite last night.
Sherlock felt the vague scowl Mrs. Hudson cast him as she trundled off down the stairs to pick up her purse, rightly suspicious. He couldn't suppress his smirk then, and the gleeful countenance sparked an eyebrow raise from his charge.
Wonder where he got that expression from, came the doctor's dry tones.
"Now," he ignored John, ushering the boy further into the den, "it's high time we begin your logic studies.
"Logic," he began, sweeping the desk contents off in one dramatic motion, "is a method of reasoning that allows one to form deductions about the world around us." He pressed Harry into a seat beside him. "It is an incredibly difficult topic to master, and people have devoted their entire lives to its study. I certainly don't expect you to master it any time soon, but the correct and practical application of logic can be a great skill to have. Observation is of course important, because it allows us to gather data, but without the ability to apply logic to that data, it is rendered a rather useless set of occurrences."
A quick glance told him Harry was listening with the quiet, rapt attention he paid all of Sherlock's lessons, not even batting an eye at the wild gestures the detective enjoyed employing for emphasis.
"Deductions," he enunciated next, "are conclusions that one can reach by applying a set of logic to the situation. For instance," Sherlock segued, hoping to give the boy a somewhat relatable example, "refrigerators are cold, yes?"
"I suppose so?" the boy responded dubiously, caught in the subject change.
"But they run off of electricity, so a broken refrigerator or one that is not plugged in will not be cold, correct?"
"Sure, makes sense," Harry nodded.
"So if I encounter a refrigerator at room temperature, the logical conclusion would be?" the detective trailed off, hoping he'd led his charge in the correct direction.
"Something's wrong with the power, or it's busted?" the boy offered. "Or the temperature gauge is off," he added last-second.
"Precisely," Sherlock said, adding a small rewarding smile for Harry's thoroughness. "Of course, most situations aren't that simple, but the idea is the same. You already use logic in some manner in your daily life, but a crucial step in improving your technique is to make yourself aware of the process. Thus," Sherlock said with a flourish, "the logic puzzle." He produced a thin workbook from the desk clutter, and set it down on the cleared space in front of them.
Sherlock watched as Harry examined it for a few moments, taking in the bright colors and large, noisy font plastered on the cover. The beginnings of a smile cracked the boy's serious mien.
"It may look gaudy, but we use the tools at hand," the older man informed him with a sniff.
Harry tried to nod studiously and ducked his head when it became evident he couldn't hide the grin.
Sherlock gave it up as a lost battle and trudged on valiantly. "The first puzzle, we will attempt together, and then if I feel you have a relative grasp on the subject, I'll leave you to attempt a few more."
The detective flipped open the book to the first page. "Now, there are some preliminary rules and tips located here; I recommend taking some time to look over them yourself if you like – the wording is rather juvenile and flippant, but the principles underlying them are sound," he conceded. "I'll give you an overview of what you need to know now."
The boy squirmed a bit beside him, so Sherlock fixed an eye on him, hoping to prompt the question.
"Just a moment, sir," Harry asked when he saw he had the older man's attention, hopping up to retrieve the little notebook and pencil he used for their lessons. Sherlock despaired of breaking him of the manners; for whatever reason, the boy refused to call him anything else during their periods of instruction in the mornings.
He gave Harry time to resettle, before beginning his lecture again. "Each puzzle is predicated by a story of some sort," he paused, seeing the confusion flash on his charge's face. "Each puzzle has a story at the beginning of it, to set the scene, if you will," he amended.
"View this story as your preliminary – introductory – research, but don't get too bogged down by it; the story itself isn't important so much – you need it to identify the clues, yes, and it provides context, but otherwise it doesn't play as key a role as you might think."
Sherlock received a slightly perplexed nod from the boy, but moved on with his explanation.
"So," he said, turning his attention to the top of the second page. "In this puzzle, 'David' delivers flowers to four different women for four different reasons. Your task is to determine the order he delivered them in and for what occasions the flowers were ordered. They have given you a grid to help you keep track of what you know," he said, gesturing to the three grids of four squares by four squares. "Put an X in each as you rule out that possibility and a dot in the correct ones.
"Something to note," he said seriously, turning to his charge. "In these puzzles, unless it says otherwise, there is only one correct chain of events – for instance, our flower delivery man can never deliver to someone at the same exact time, so no two women will be delivered in the same order, nor will they share an occasion for delivery; that's something established in the boundaries of the story, but do not make the mistake of thinking that real life works the same way. You will limit your thinking dangerously if you hold on to that belief."
After another confused nod – good enough, we'll work on the practical understanding of that point later – he allowed Harry to read through the clues once by himself, before breaking down the process.
He cleared his throat, drawing the boy's attention again. "The first clue is entirely too easy: it tells you rather openly right off the bat that the second delivery went to Grace, and the fourth to Lena."
The puzzle was almost painfully simple for the detective, but he tried to remain in perspective. John's voice helped – this isn't for you Sherlock, keep a leash on the "all-knowing" routine. Walk him through it, be helpful, but don't berate him with the answer.
"Why are those even clues then, why not set that up as part of the story?" the boy cut in, curiosity getting the better of him.
"Why do you think?" Sherlock asked, turning it into a teaching moment.
"Er…I guess, there must be something important there?" Harry speculated.
The statement was too open-ended – it's no good if he uses me as an indicator of importance, that defeats the purpose – so Sherlock just favored him with a raised eyebrow. "Mm, we'll see."
Harry dutifully put dots in the two corresponding squares, examining the other boxes as he did. "Well," he articulated slowly, "I guess if they're definitely second and fourth, that means Tia and Melony must be either first or third."
"Good," Sherlock praised, "that is a correct deduction." He doesn't see all of it yet, but…
John's voice cut in, gentle but firm. Let him figure it out for himself.
Harry read the second clue aloud. "'Either the third or fourth delivery was to the woman who is celebrating the grand opening of her business.' Well that's not very helpful," he said with a frown, "We don't know who owned the business yet."
The boy looked to Sherlock for guidance again, but the detective kept his silence on the matter, urging him to come to his own conclusions.
"It could be Lena, I suppose," Harry said doubtfully. "Since she's fourth. But we don't know yet…" The pencil hovered doubtfully over the page.
"Leave it for now then," Sherlock suggested. "Often clues won't make sense until you have the rest of the pieces sorted out."
They turned their attention to the third clue, which articulated that the birthday bouquet was neither for Grace nor delivered third.
"That means Lena could have been either the business or the birthday," Harry postulated, a bit put out.
He needs a nudge, he's not quite approaching it right. "Try not to think about all the possibilities that are left open; instead, what do we know no longer could have happened?"
The boy stared at the page blankly for a moment. "Oh, right, Grace couldn't have been the birthday – that needs an X as well."
"Good – and what else do we know about Grace?"
"She was delivered to second; so does that mean whoever had the birthday wasn't delivered to either second or third? They had to be first or fourth?" Harry looked up to his mentor, green eyes calculating.
"Excellent, that's narrowing things down well. Be sure to mark down what you know," Sherlock chided.
Harry hunted down the appropriate squares and X'd them out. The grid was still looking empty; the consulting detective could see the dubious look creeping back onto Harry's face.
Oh ye of little faith, John quoted, amused.
Sherlock jumped in again, trying to be patient. He's new to this, and at least he's trying – that's a good deal more than some others would do at this point, he reminded himself. "Now, in conjunction with the others, this fourth clue is the most useful yet: it tells us that Tia was neither delivered to first nor celebrating a recent promotion. Why is this our best clue?"
Harry, who had been marking Xs as Sherlock was talking, paused to stare at the grid again, eyes moving over the clues.
"Oh! The first clue tells us Grace was second and Lena was fourth, which means Tia and Melony had to be either first or third; if Tia wasn't first, she has to be third, right? Which means Melony has to be first?"
Sherlock favored the boy with a fond smile, earning a grin in response. "Indeed; make sure you're making use of your tools – they'll assist more than you think until you can keep it all in your head; organization of thought will take many more lessons, I don't expect you to be able to do it next week," Sherlock explained, seeing the alarmed look coming onto the boy's face.
Assuaged, Harry returned to his grid, pencil tapping rapidly on the side of the page as he puzzled it out. "Clue number five only tells us Tia didn't just open a business," he said, adding the appropriate X, "but we still don't know what the – the 'occasion,'" he pronounced delicately, "for the flowers was for any of the ladies."
The end of his sentence had the tiniest air of complaint about it, prompting Sherlock to tell him dryly, "You're allowed to go back through the clues, you know." He couldn't help but be amused at the subtle pout gracing his normally amiable charge.
"The first one doesn't help at all, we figured out the order earlier," Harry thought aloud, drawing a line through the text. "Number two…so either Tia or Lena had to have opened the new business, since they're third and fourth."
"Good," Sherlock said quietly, not wanting to interrupt the train of thought.
"And…number five just told us that wasn't Tia, so it had to be Lena!" The tone was triumphant as he filled in the dot.
Harry frowned as he looked over his grid. "Tia's only got two squares left, so she had to be either the birthday or the new baby; hang on, I remember it saying something about the birthday earlier…number three," he said after a moment's search. "'The birthday bouquet, which wasn't for Grace, wasn't the third delivery.' Oh, that's not very helpful then…"
"Isn't it?" Sherlock asked rhetorically, eyebrow up. "Who was the third delivery?"
You're spoiling him, John thought with a laugh.
Shut up, it's his first try, Sherlock responded, defensive.
Harry crosschecked his grid, before smacking his forehead with his palm. "So dumb. Tia was third, so she must've been the baby. Tia's got the baby, Lena's opening the new business," he recited to himself, "which leaves the promotion and the birthday, and Grace and Melony."
Another few minutes pouring over the clues yielded a pleased, "Clue three – Grace wasn't the birthday, so that had to have been Melony, since she's the only one left, which means…" he trailed off, adding Xs and dots as appropriate, "…Grace was the promotion!"
"Excellent use of the process of elimination," Sherlock commended, pausing to explain that particularly useful method when he caught the slightly perplexed expression.
A few examples and one helpful analogy later, the boy was on the same page and already eagerly turning to the next puzzle, so Sherlock made himself available as a resource, but otherwise left his charge to it as the detective picked up his violin.
Harry had needed some assistance with the second and third puzzles, but he'd proclaimed his determination to solve the fourth by himself; he'd sprawled on the floor in front of the bookcase to "give himself space to think" (after asking permission, of course). Sherlock had naturally approved – he did his best thinking supine as well.
The detective had taken a post at the window, sinking into deeper contemplations now that the boy was comfortable enough on his own. His hands composed absently, eyes staring blankly out over Baker Street as he turned over his conversation last night with John.
Coaxing the good doctor through his temper tantrum had been a job and a half; Sherlock found himself in the unpleasant situation of being grateful to Mycroft for his timely interference – it would have been a bad show to subject Harry to, had John arrived in full storm. Although exposure to Harry certainly reminded him of the facts…it might have headed the whole thing off.
No, he decided after a moment's thought, delayed reaction at best – he wouldn't have ever felt truly settled until he said his piece, and that would've gotten ugly down the line.
Sherlock had suspected anger would be involved, in light of his own misjudged reunion with the man. It seemed to be how John preferred to react when faced with the unknown – fair enough, he acknowledged, only slightly begrudging, I suppose we all have our flaws.
This time 'round, Sherlock had decided to treat him with silk gloves: at first the plan had been to go the calm and steady route, demonstrate the capability for normalcy that John worried he lacked. But then John was so uncomfortable, so clearly at a loss, that Sherlock had taken pity on him and eased back into the abrasive nature John was used to; it was almost amusing to watch the doctor relax back into his chair subconsciously and settle in for a good banter, Sherlock thought fondly.
I got a bit angry at the end there – John should know me better by now. It had hurt a little, the lack of faith. I suppose he was looking at the facts though, can't fault him for that, commented his clinical, discerning side.
But, whispered the other part of him, John's supposed to be the hopeful one, the one always believing in people. The cynic's my role.
He'll come 'round, asserted his self-confidence. Once he sees how good we are together, how much the boy needs us –
The sound of a heavy thump and a surprised gasp pulled Sherlock out of his thoughts, and he turned from the window to check on his charge.
A quick, surveying glance showed the boy standing in the far corner, Sherlock's bulky leather dictionary sagging in his arms – in fact, he appeared close to dropping it, an almost sick look on his face.
"All right?" Sherlock asked, searching.
"What?" The boy looked up suddenly, almost fearful. "Oh – yes, it, it just startled me, is all," he explained. "I wasn't expecting it to be so heavy."
"How'd you get it down?" Sherlock questioned, curious – the book was kept on the fourth shelf up, well above Harry's reach.
"I – I jumped for it, pulled it down by the spine," he said timidly, as if afraid he was going to get in trouble. "I don't know what 'penultimate' means, but it's in one of my clues, and when I asked, you didn't seem to hear me, so I was just going to look it up myself, but…" came the rushed explanation. "I'm sorry," he said abruptly.
"It's fine," Sherlock said slowly, unsure why the boy was so cautious all of a sudden. Does he really think this will get him in trouble, after the rest of the time we've spent together? If anything, I'd think he would know I would applaud his resourcefulness. Something left over from his aunt and uncle?
"Why don't we keep it on the lower shelf from now on?" he offered, trying to soothe the boy's concerns.
Harry gave a tentative, jerky nod, so Sherlock approached the shelves slowly and began hunting for something to move to the higher shelf and free up some space for the massive reference text.
His hands caught on 18th century Fabrics and Fashions – probably won't be needing this any time soon – and he took the opportunity to examine his charge out of the corner of his eye. Still looked to be a hint nervous, but for the most part he'd calmed down to the normal, collected countenance he showed the world.
Sherlock pulled the textile resource out from the second shelf and replaced it in the dictionary's previous residence. It's quite a distance to jump, and the dictionary is a tall, heavy book – he must have higher physical capabilities than I had originally assessed, to have pulled that down on his first try. Well, that would only be a boon for the boy moving forward, so Sherlock added it to the repertoire of notes he was making on his charge.
I suppose he could've been practicing a few times while I was thinking, too; if I was in deep enough, I wouldn't have heard him.
Sherlock turned to look at the boy, who had been watching him with quiet, assessing eyes, dictionary still clutched to his small chest. "There, space's free now – whenever you're done with it just put it back on the lower shelf."
The boy nodded and watched as Sherlock ambled back over to the window, delicate fingers snatching up his violin as he went. It took Harry a few more silent seconds before he moved to sit on the floor and open up the dictionary, but shortly thereafter the soothing sounds of pages being flipped intermixed with Camille Saint-Saens's "The Swan," filling the flat of 221B.
A/N: Ooooh baby, hi? Don't shoot, I come unarmed and bearing gifts!
But jeez, it's been an incredibly/unaccountably/unacceptably long time (pick an adverb, any adverb, it's probably accurate), deepest apologies and professions of gratitude to all of you who have stuck with me!
The long and the short of it: I had several ideas for how the interaction between Sherlock and John might go down, and wasn't really satisfied with the length or depth of expression on any of them. I wasn't sure if I'd lost the feel of the characters for a bit, so I had to sit on that for a while and do some "research" [always a hardship, as I'm sure you know ;)]. Harry needed to be present at some point, which required a whole other thought process, and then I wanted to reward you lovely people with some more Sherlock + Harry teaching moments, so voila, here you are.
I'm dying to know what you guys think about the whole thing, so please go nuts with the comments; love it, hate it, let me know! I turned to the awesome notes from you amazing readers more often than I can count to scrounge up some writing motivation here, so I really have y'all to thank for getting this done. You're wonderful and I love you all!
Got any questions, want to debate character motivations, or need a couple-sentence snippet of story for your very own? Let me know - I so owe you guys at this point :)
On "Real Life":
The Good: Employed!
The Bad: Working some pretty long hours
The Ugly: Had to move across the country again - missing friends like crazy, but got to reunite with some old ones :) So not all ugly, truth be told. Just, yeesh, real life.
If anyone's interested in the logic puzzle Sherlock & Harry work on, it is a real puzzle borrowed from Dell Logic Lover's Logic Problems Magazine [I'm obsessed with these things, I pick one up whenever I'm at the airport]. I swapped the names around, but all credit goes to their writers.
Here are the clues, for reference (a reminder, one woman celebrated a new baby, not listed in the clues):
The second delivery was to Grace, and the fourth one was to Lena.
Either the third or fourth delivery was to the woman who is celebrating the grand opening of her business.
The birthday bouquet, which wasn't for Grace, wasn't David's third delivery.
Tia (who isn't celebrating a promotion) wasn't the first to receive her bouquet.
Tia didn't just open a new business.P.S.: Alternate title for the chapter: The One Where John (Finally!) Gets His Say (Sort of... Dammit, Sherlock!)