Hello! I am fully intending to personally reply to the reviews for the last chapter later this afternoon. Sorry for my tardiness, but I wanted to get the latest chapter up and have limited time at the moment.

A quick note for anyone who was concerned - I have no intention of killing off either Mary or John in this story. I've done that before, and it's not what this story is about. I'm not sure where I'll be taking this next, as this chapter is the last of the set pieces I'd planned (the birth, the conversation between John and Sherlock, and this one). I'm going to leave it open in case something else occurs to me, but for now, this will be it.

Once again, thank you so much for your support. It really means a lot.

Pip xxx


Sherlock was quiet and preoccupied for the next few weeks. John was only mildly concerned. He visited every few days just to keep an eye on him, and once they walked Scarlet in her pushchair around Regent's Park. Sherlock was introverted and laconic, though still happy enough to take over with Scarlet in order to give her identification pointers on several of the shrubs in the borders.

Finally, on a Saturday morning, just as Mary and John were planning their day over breakfast, John got the text.

'It says; 'I'm ready,'' he said, holding his phone up to Mary.

'Ready for what?'

'I'm assuming ready to give us our answer. But it's Sherlock, so it might be entirely unrelated. Hang on…' He dialled Sherlock's phone.

'Well I'm not doing this over the phone!' Sherlock answered crossly. Then he disconnected.

'I think we've been summoned,' John said.

oOo

Sherlock was pacing the floor and listening for the door downstairs for nearly two hours as he waited for the Watsons to arrive. He found himself seething during this time, as if they hadn't all been waiting long enough for him to sort through everything without the added couple of hours for their selfishness.

There was a moment of panic when he suddenly thought that there might have been a hideous Tube accident, which might have claimed the lives of the two senior Watsons (though surely not the junior one), and they hadn't yet got all the paperwork in place about his guardianship. He was running through scenarios which involved convincing a judge that negotiations had already been opened prior to the hideous accident, and perhaps even a verbal contract was in place, and he'd lined up his character witnesses in order of importance, while simultaneously starting to dial Lestrade to ask about/inform of, a hideous Tube accident between Crouch End and Marylebone.

When he played all these thoughts back, it occurred to him that he was perhaps being a little irrational. He cancelled the call and stopped in the middle of the room and wondered why this all seemed to matter so much. He tried to file it all in a place where it was simple, and it didn't matter, just a small contractual agreement between friends, but his heart recoiled in an interesting, though slightly alarming fashion, so he started pacing again.

Finally there was the sound of the street door being opened, and the Watsons entered, with apparently Mary pushing the pushchair while John carried something heavy. They chatted casually as between them they pulled Scarlet's pram up the stairs, stopping to catch their breath on the middle landing. Sherlock was slightly disappointed that this activity suggested that Scarlet wasn't awake.

Finally they all got inside. Mary parked the pram in the corner by the sofa and sat down next to it. John dropped the changing bag off his shoulder beside it, and placed a large, wicker picnic hamper on the coffee table.

'Good morning,' he said.

'Only just!' Sherlock snapped back.

John merely laughed. 'We brought lunch.' He dropped down into his armchair.

'No, you can't sit there!' Sherlock said, pulling him out again. 'You need to sit on the sofa, next to Mary, where you can see the television.'

John laughed again, but obligingly moved, and Sherlock pushed John's chair back several feet to ensure there was an unrestricted view of the screen. Mary opened the basket and started spreading a red checked tablecloth over the top of the table.

'What's this?' Sherlock asked.

'It's lunch,' she said. 'Don't worry; we've got enough for all of us.'

'I'm not hungry.'

'We'll leave you some.' She sat up and smiled.

'So,' John said, smiling. 'What have you got to tell us?'

Sherlock was astonished. 'My answer!'

'Well? What is it?'

'OK,' Sherlock started. The Watson's both looked up, expectantly. 'OK. Right.' He joined his hands at them. Then he looked down at his hands, wondering why he always did this. He dropped them again. 'Right.'

John smiled. 'Take your time.' He helped himself to a cheese roll and took an enormous bite.

'OK,' Sherlock said.

'Just OK?' Mary asked. 'I was expecting something a little more…' she shrugged. 'Wordy.'

John sniggered.

'Words!' Sherlock said. 'Yes! Words. OK.' He turned the television on and pressed the enter button on his laptop. They waited an annoying second for the screen to flicker and to display the powerpoint presentation he'd been working on for weeks. 'Right. Mr and Mrs Watson. John and Mary.' He waited, then pointed, then realised they probably knew who they were. 'You wanted to be sure you could entrust the safety and wellbeing of your child, Scarlet,' another accidental point 'to me, Sherlock Holmes, in the untimely event of your deaths.'

'We did,' John said, still smiling annoyingly.

'I took it upon myself to work through the various different needs a child might have through her life, and the purpose of this presentation is demonstrate how I intend to fulfil those needs.'

'OK,' John said, taking another bite of his roll.

Sherlock pressed the key for the first slide.

'As you see, I have divided these needs into basic subsets. Financial, physical, educational, emotional, and spiritual.'

John guffawed. 'Spiritual?'

'We'll go in order, please,' Sherlock said tightly. 'Financial first. I have gathered the annual statements of my current accounts, trust funds, savings accounts, ISAs and pensions, which I've printed and placed in the packs for you to take home and peruse at your leisure.'

'Printed packs?' Mary asked.

'Yes.' He lifted the two smart, blue folders from the table and held them up. 'I'll distribute them at the end, as I don't want you to become distracted.'

'OK.'

'Now if you could stop interrupting please.'

'Sorry, Sherlock,' Mary said contritely but without any of the three major tells for genuine contrition.

'Right, my income fluctuates year on year, however, there is a clear trajectory as my notoriety increases, and, excluding the two years where I was assumed dead,' he paused, 'once again, sorry for that. Taking those two years out of the equation, I earn, through clients, investments, interest on accounts and so forth, approximately £275,000 per annum, and that is increasing at approximately 23% per year. Now out of that income…' he stopped. Both John and Mary had frozen with their food part way to their mouths. 'What. Is that not enough? I thought that was reasonable.'

John put his roll down and cleared his throat. 'That is a reasonable income, yes, Sherlock. But know this; I am never paying for another cab.'

Sherlock calculated. 'OK. Sorry.'

'You borrow money from me all the time!'

'I borrow cash. Money I have, but cash is occasionally more awkward.'

'But you hardly ever pay me back!' John squealed.

Sherlock was genuinely surprised. 'But you only need to ask! I assumed you didn't need it.'

'I assumed you were a poverty stricken freelancer!'

'You've seen my fees on occasion. I thought you knew.'

'Yeah, I've seen a few big ones, but most of the people who walk in off the street you don't charge at all. Apparently the thrill of the puzzle is enough for you.'

'It is! On account of earning approximately £275,000 from more affluent clients and from investments.'

'Right, right, OK,' John put his hands up. 'OK, we've established that you could probably afford a child or… twenty. Fine.'

'But you haven't seen my outgoings yet! Plus, we have to take into account that if I were a lone parent, I would have to reduce my working hours substantially. I'd probably restrict my cases to those lower paid ones which could easily be solved during the working day.'

John nodded. 'How much of a reduction do you estimate?'

'Er…' Sherlock looked down at the screen. 'It's on here somewhere…' he flicked through nursery prices, cost of clothes, shoes and appropriate food and reached the ones where he'd calculated his reduced income. 'Right, I went through my back catalogue and only counted the income on those cases which could be solved quickly or in working hours and… here…' he clicked again. 'Yes! Here. I'd reduce by fifty to a hundred thousand pounds, and when we take out the outgoings, I'll still be left with at least sixty thousand per year for emergencies. Increasing, as I say, by approximately 23% per year.'

'What sort of emergencies do you envision having?' John asked, sounding more than a little belligerent.

'Well I'll probably cover the cost of your funerals…' he started.

This made both the others giggle somewhat hysterically.

'I don't think you're taking this seriously!' he said. 'This is your child we're talking about.'

'Sorry, Sherlock,' Mary said again. 'Come and have some food. I think you'll be fine.'

'I don't want any food.'

'When did you last eat?' John asked. 'Because you're sounding a little manic.'

'I'm fine.'

'Right, so you want us to entrust our daughter to you, but you can't reliably feed yourself.'

Sherlock hesitated. He didn't want to concede the point, but he also didn't want to accidentally faint. He stepped forward and snatched a sandwich from the pile, and stuffed it whole, into his mouth. Mary grinned at him.

'Right,' Sherlock said, when he'd managed to swallow it. 'That leads us nicely onto physical needs. Obviously I can provide ample shelter.' He gestured in general around the flat. 'I've ordered stairgates for the tops and bottoms of all the staircases, and safety catches for all the cupboards and appliances in the kitchen. You'll note the tidy appearance of the kitchen table.' He stepped back and the others leaned to look. 'There's now a safe in the downstairs bedroom which will be exclusively used for all potentially dangerous substances…'

'Two years!' John suddenly yelled. 'Three years I asked him to do that!' He glared at Sherlock. 'Body parts in the fridge?'

'Strictly speaking, body parts aren't potentially dangerous.' John narrowed his eyes dangerously. 'But I may consider getting a second, lockable fridge put into the bedroom too.'

'Two years!' John said. He turned to Mary. 'You know what? We should have had a baby ages ago.'

'You haven't known me that long,' she pointed out.

There was a fleeting shadow across John's face before he shrugged that off. 'That's true. So she's physically safe. That's good to know.'

'Thank you,' Sherlock said, going back to his slides to get his bearings again. 'Right, so… food. Now, I have run tests on all the major brands of baby formula, and have decided that while Aptimil offers slightly better fibre, SMA beats it hands down on sugar content. I've checked various websites, and they largely suggest you try each one to see which works best for the individual child.' An annoyance crept over him and he stamped his foot, though only gently. 'You'd be amazed at the amount of advice which is bandied about, and yet every argument seems to end up with 'it really does depend on what works for the child in question.' Stupid, unscientific mothers.'

'You've been looking at websites?' John asked.

'Yes, and reading books. Some of them are equally vacuous.' He picked up the top one of the pile. ''How to Talk so that Kids Will Listen, and Listen so that Kids Will Talk.' I know how to talk,' he muttered, tossing the book gently to John. 'Besides, everybody listens when I talk.'

'No, sometimes I tune you out entirely,' John said, opening the book at random.

Sherlock couldn't quite tell if he were being serious or not.

'Huh,' John said. 'There are some good tips in here though. Can I borrow this?'

'Of course.'

'Good. I know an annoying child I need to get to listen.'

Sherlock frowned at the pram. 'She's six weeks old.'

Both John and Mary smirked and he suddenly realised.

'Right,' he muttered, hammering at the enter key. 'Sterilisers and bottles…'

'Er, Sherlock,' Mary said, raising her hand.

'Yes? You have a question?'

'Not so much a question,' she wrinkled her nose. 'It's just I think I'd feel more comfortable if we all assumed I'd at least make it through the breastfeeding.' She gave him a bright smile.

He looked down at his slides and then back at her.

'Yes. I can see how it might look, but I assure you it was for entirely practical reasons…'

'I understand. I'm just saying.' There was a small squawk from the pram. 'Oops, speaking of…' She got up to gather Scarlet.

John was now engrossed in his book, and Sherlock feared he'd lost his audience slightly.

'I have other slides,' he said.

'Oh good,' John said. 'I'm going to need tea. Anyone else want one?'

'Please, Mary said, smiling at Scarlet as she sat down, fumbling with her top.

'Sherlock?' John asked.

Sherlock fought the urge to decline petulantly. 'Please,' he muttered.

'I will listen,' John said, getting up. 'I'm just saying; it requires tea.'

Sherlock nodded. He watched Mary with Scarlet intently, and saw how the snuffly baby went almost limp as she took the breast.

'I would prefer it if she were breastfed,' he said. 'All the evidence suggests it has many beneficial qualities.'

'Yes Sherlock,' Mary said, nodding. 'There's nothing creepy about that at all.'

'What have you done to the tea?' John called. 'I can't get it out!'

'I told you about the safety catches,' Sherlock said, going through to assist.

'But it's tea.'

'It's contains caffeine! If it was accidentally consumed by a child in its raw state and in large quantities, it would cause palpitations, mania, and might have a profoundly laxative effect.' He opened the tin and handed it to John. 'And I don't need to tell you it has addictive qualities.'

'Thank you,' John said, taking it back. 'Have you sabotaged the sugar too?'

'It's protected, not sabotaged.' He opened it. 'Cavities, John. Cavities.'

John shook his head and sighed as he finished the tea. They carried it through to the living room. Mary had perched her picnic plate on Scarlet and was eating her biscuits one handed.

'You're getting crumbs on her head!' Sherlock said.

'Yeah. She doesn't mind.' Mary grinned at him.

'Let's get on, shall we?' he asked. 'Toddler and young child meals. Obviously I'd learn to cook; it all seems straightforward.' He waved at a pile of cookery books. 'I've mapped out meal plans on a four weekly rotation from weaning up to adulthood They're printed in your packs too. Feel free to call me if you feel any major food group is lacking in any week, but I've been careful with the measurements.'

'Have you taken growth spurts into account?' John asked. 'You'll need to feed her more on the weeks she's growing.'

'Thank you,' Sherlock said, making a note of this, and feeling gratified that John was finally taking this all seriously. Then he glanced up and noticed him balancing small cakes on Scarlet's body as some sort of game.

'Shall we move on to education?'

'Please do,' Mary said.

'I'm assuming you won't want her privately educated.'

'No,' John and Mary chorused.

'Quite. Baker Street is in the catchment area of three schools, and I've downloaded the most recent OFSTED reports to all of them, and visited two. The third visit had to be delayed due to something on their part.' He sniffed. 'They seemed to want to prioritise this year's entry.'

'How could they!' John said, grinning annoyingly again.

'Anyhow, the web addresses and reports are in your packs. I should tell you that I favour St Joseph's on Church Street, but I'm prepared to take your feedback into account.'

'Are you?' John asked.

'Of course!'

'It's just that, we sort of assumed she'd be going to school close to where we live.'

Sherlock nodded eagerly. 'Of course, I should have stated that this is only relevant should you die before she starts school. If she were already settled somewhere, I would, of course, continue taking her to wherever that might be.'

John looked up; his expression a mix of surprise and something like pride. 'I'll admit I'm impressed,' he said. 'I had assumed you'd want to home school her.'

'Oh, that is by far my preference,' Sherlock said. 'But taking her needs into account, I thought it might be better for her if she's given time with people other than me.'

John smiled and his eyes sparkled. 'I knew you'd get it,' he said quietly.

'Of course,' Sherlock nodded. 'It'll be by far the quickest way of teaching her how superior she is to her peers.'

John and Mary instantly started laughing.

'Well she is!' he insisted.

'Oh, Sherlock,' Mary said.

John wiped his eyes. 'This,' he said, pointing with a slice of cake.

'This what?' Sherlock asked.

'This is what I hoped for.'

'I don't understand,' Sherlock said, feeling that the conversation was getting away from him.

'Sit down, Sherlock,' John said. 'You can send us the other slides later and we'll flick through.'

'But I haven't finished yet!' He found his concern was growing again, at the suggestion that all his work might come to nothing.

'Sit down, and we'll just ask you some questions, OK?' John said.

He sighed. 'I suppose that's fair.'

'Here, take Scarlet,' Mary said. 'She's finished now.'

This cheered him up, and he gathered her into his arms. He pulled John's chair back into position with his other arm and leg, and sat down and put his feet on it so that Scarlet could use his thighs as a backrest. She waved at him.

'Hello, you,' he said, putting his fingers in her hands for her to grasp. Without thinking about it, he pulled a face at her, opening his mouth wide. She opened hers wide too. 'She's copying me!' he said delighted. 'This truly is the cleverest baby!' He glanced up at John and Mary to find them watching him with gooey smiles and sparkling eyes. He frowned and cleared his throat. 'Sorry, you have questions.'

'Look, we are really impressed with all your research…' John said.

'It's not all research,' he said, mostly concentrating on Scarlet. 'The caffeine thing was an experiment.'

'What?'

'I was about three and was curious.' He blew his cheeks out at Scarlet. She kicked him.

He suddenly became aware of the silence and he looked up to see Mary shaking with silent laughter, and John grinning broadly. He frowned more sternly at them. 'Questions. Concentrate and ask one.'

'OK,' John said. 'Here's one. How would you deal with a twelve year old, hormonal Scarlet with PMT while she throws books at you and screams like a banshee?'

Sherlock stared at him.

'Harry,' he explained.

Sherlock looked back at the baby. She dribbled and kicked him a bit.

'I'd, er… I'd… I think…' His eyes pricked horribly as panic gripped him. 'I don't know what I'd do,' he said, looking up at them, feeling horribly ashamed that he'd ever thought he could handle such a thing as a living, breathing, (wonderful) human child. He was surprised to see they'd both taken this in their stride, and he rallied. 'Do you want me to start researching safe restraining techniques? I know some, of course, but there are child specific ones…'

'No,' John said, smiling gently. 'Just admitting that you don't know and it scares you is enough. I haven't the slightest clue how I'm going to handle that either, and I have to admit, I'm properly dreading it.'

Sherlock breathed out in relief.

'It's not a great time,' Mary said. 'It's not all bad either. Maybe she'll get off lucky.'

'Did you?' John asked, genuinely curious.

'So so,' she said. 'Oh, here's one. What would you say to her if she came home at fifteen and told you she was pregnant?'

'What?' Sherlock jerked slightly and startled Scarlet. 'Shhhh,' he said to her soothingly. He considered the question for all of three seconds before he gave up. 'No,' he said. 'It's not possible. It could never happen. There's no way that this child will ever be… unsullied by anyone, ever. It simply cannot be allowed.'

Mary sniggered. 'Yeah. I hope I'm alive to see how that edict will go down.'

'I don't care if it's the wrong answer,' Sherlock said.

'Actually, you pretty much voiced my opinion word for word,' John said. 'I know I'll have to get a handle on it, but not for, say, thirty five years, hey?'

Mary laughed again.

'Of course I could, possibly, advise her on different contraceptive methods,' Sherlock said.

'We'll have to,' John agreed.

'Wait,' Mary said, 'you seem to be implying that you and Sherlock will sit down with my fifteen year old daughter to discuss contraception with her.'

'Well yes,' Sherlock said.

'Over my dead body,' Mary returned.

'Well yes,' Sherlock said. 'That's the point, isn't it? Oh, I forgot this was in the later slides, but I want to acclimatise her to Baker Street, so that it's not a terrible shock just after losing her parents. I propose that she stays with me every Friday overnight.'

'No, Sherlock,' Mary said, still smiling.

'Actually, part of me finds that idea quite appealing,' John said, raising an eyebrow at her. For a second, for an interested and precise observer, it looked as though the relationship was properly healed.

'I'm not saying never,' Mary said. 'But not until she's much older, and not every Friday.'

'We'll negotiate that later,' Sherlock said. He wrinkled his nose at Scarlet. This time it wasn't copied, but she waved her fists delightfully.

'I suppose there's only one really important question left,' John said.

Sherlock glanced up, terrified again.

'Do you actually want to have her?'

He startled. 'Yes. Of course. Didn't I say?'

'You implied it pretty strongly, but I just wanted to be sure.'

'Yes,' Sherlock said again. 'If you're happy with me.'

John shrugged. 'I suppose you'll do at a pinch. Mary? What do you think?'

'Yeah. I guess so.'

Sherlock smiled down at Scarlet feeling warm and settled and at peace with the turbulent world.

Scarlet beamed her first ever smile.