Baby remained in place for just over a fortnight and so did the abominable heat. As it happened, the weather broke just when Holmes' water did.
Dark clouds had been brewing overhead all morning, driven by an unsettled wind. Holmes sat outside to bask in the breeze, so he could hear the rain approaching when it finally came. A sheet of water advanced upon the tree and him in a chair beneath it, gusts of blessedly cool air preceding it.
He stood to go indoors-Watson would fuss if he got himself soaked to the skin, and that's what would happen if he remained outside-and felt a warm wetness trickle down his leg.
Then the downpour was upon him and he opted to remain beneath the partial shelter of the tree.
While the rain pounded against the leaves and the wind made him shiver, he felt the dampness in his trouser leg. He sniffed his fingers afterward to determine what it was, but there was no smell. He puzzled over this until the rain slackened enough that he could cross the distance to the house without becoming too wet.
Watson met him at the back door with a towel and a gentle reprimand. "You should have come in before it started raining."
"The wind felt nice. And then . . ." Holmes trailed off, still thinking. Then he held his breath as another cramp rippled through him and Watson gripped his arm in reassurance.
"All right?" Watson asked when Holmes took a deep breath.
Holmes nodded. "They persist in plaguing me," he complained.
"More than usual?"
"They have come at fairly regular intervals all morning."
Watson went behind him and massaged his lower back and hips with a confident grip. Holmes sighed in pleasure. "What were you going to say earlier?" Watson asked. "You said the wind felt nice 'and then'. And then what?"
"Oh, just something odd. I stood up and something leaked down my leg. It didn't smell like anything."
Watson's hands slipped around Holmes to rest on his stomach as Watson put his head next to Holmes'. "Just how regular are the intervals?"
"At present, they are twenty-two minutes apart. When I woke this morning it was thirty minutes."
Watson chuckled and kissed Holmes' temple. "Holmes, I think you're in labor," he murmured.
Holmes clutched Watson's arms. "Good heavens."
While Holmes changed out of his wet clothes, Watson went to find Ada and tell her. She came to see Holmes and ask him a few questions; in the midst of the interview another cramp came so she set her hands upon him and felt the contraction of the muscles beneath her palms.
"Good," she said. "How does it feel to you?"
"It is an annoyance, nothing more."
"Because it is still quite early. They will become stronger in time."
Holmes nodded, feeling trepidation.
"For now, it is time for lunch. Afterward you both should rest. It will be some time before anything further will happen."
Remembering David's advice, they did just as she suggested. After a light lunch, they retired to their bedroom. Holmes curled up on his side and Watson spooned behind him, embracing Holmes and holding his hands.
Holmes didn't think he'd be able to rest while knowing what was coming, but he dozed off fairly quickly and was hardly bothered by the continuation of the periodic cramps. After a while his hip began to ache, so he carefully turned over and shifted so he could tuck his head against Watson's chest. Watson kept his arms around him and rubbed his back in long, slow strokes. Holmes clutched Watson's shirt with both hands, took a deep, shuddering breath, and once again dropped into a light sleep.
He roused slowly, enjoying the fingers carding through his hair and the light brush of lips on his forehead. "Holmes, time to wake up," Watson coaxed, not for the first time.
Holmes sighed. "Why?" he murmured.
"It's time for dinner and Ada insists you need to eat."
"Already?" He opened his eyes and peered toward the window, but the cloudy greyness gave no indication of time. He gingerly eased himself over to the edge of the bed and sat for a moment before attempting to rise. He made a surprised noise as he stood and his hands strayed to his stomach, feeling how Baby had shifted while he slept.
"Problem?" Watson asked.
"No, it's just . . . different. Lower. It feels strange."
Dinner was uneventful. Ada took some time afterward to assess Holmes and the position of Baby and she seemed satisfied. "Rest while you can but, if you feel restless, a bath or slow walking are acceptable. I will be sleeping; call if you need me."
They obediently went back to bed, but Holmes' attempts to sleep were interrupted by the contractions, somewhat stronger now and coming precisely every quarter-hour. After a while Watson sat up against the headboard and had Holmes settle between his legs and rest against his chest. Holmes pressed his forehead to Watson's neck and took a deep breath as Watson began massaging his stomach and hips.
They passed at least an hour like this before Holmes stopped Watson's hands and clasped them in his own. "I need to walk." So they paced the halls until doing so made his back ache and they returned to the bed so Watson could rub his back for a while. They passed the first half of the night by alternating between the two, trying occasionally to sleep but never successful. In that time the contractions became more frequent, now visiting every ten minutes, and became more painful, so Holmes could not keep walking through them anymore.
During these long hours Holmes oscillated between anxiety about what was happening and anticipation for the result. But more than anything else, he was awash in appreciation for his steadfast and ever-supportive Watson. He had no words sufficient to express this to Watson, so he tried to express it in other ways, through squeezing his hand, brushing kisses on his skin, or embracing him when he could. Watson seemed to understand.
Around one in the morning Holmes felt weary and tried to sleep; using Watson as a cushion he dropped off for a while. At four, he decided to try a bath. The warmth felt good but also seemed to intensify the pain and he barely suppressed a groan. For the next contraction he ended up on his knees, tightly gripping the edges of the tub. He decided to abandon the tub, but the increase in pain remained.
The next contraction struck while he was still drying off and Watson had to help him stay on his feet. After that he couldn't seem to find a satisfactory position. If he was sitting, he felt he needed to stand. If he stood, he felt he needed to move. If he moved, he felt he needed to sit. It was a vicious cycle interrupted at decreasing intervals by gripping pain.
By seven o'clock the contractions occurred every four minutes. Holmes remained restless and Watson patiently followed him around and provided a comforting touch when he was immobile with pain. Ada found them in their bedroom where Holmes was curled up on the bed trying not to whimper while Watson massaged him. Holmes had his eyes clenched shut so Watson told her how they were doing, and she nodded. "You are doing well," she said encouragingly, then fetched them some water.
By nine o'clock Holmes could only lie limply on the bed between contractions, breathing heavily and clinging to Watson's hand. Watson murmured soothingly to him, though he didn't pay any heed to the words being spoken.
Just as he thought it couldn't possibly get any worse, it did.
The pain was intense and nearly constant. He was fairly sure he was groaning or keening or something but the only thing he could sense was the rhythmic tightening of his stomach. The agony was unbearable enough that he would have thrown up if he'd had anything in his stomach. He struggled to remind himself that this was a necessary step in meeting Baby, but that didn't help.
When he was granted brief respites, he was again aware of Watson, always close by and reassuring. Ada was, no doubt, around somewhere, but his eyes were drawn only to Watson.
During one break in the pain, Ada encouraged him to kneel up on the bed and put his arms around Watson's neck while Watson stood beside the bed. It was a pleasant position in that it allowed him to kiss Watson easily and rest his head on Watson's chest, but his hands periodically grew numb so he had to let go to allow the circulation to flow again. Watson put the position to good use and resumed rubbing Holmes' back.
At some point Holmes realized that the contractions were longer but had breaks in between. "What's happening now?" he asked.
"The child is making its descent. When you feel the urge to push, do so."
"How will I know?"
"You'll know." She offered him a sip of water and he accepted it.
About twenty minutes later, he discovered exactly what she meant. As the contraction began, he could not help but tense along with it, doing his best to help Baby along, and he could feel something move. "Oh," he said, shifting his knees a little wider and preparing for the next round.
With each contraction, he thought he could sense Baby inching slowly along and, though this was perhaps the most difficult thing he'd ever done, he almost wished the contractions came more frequently so Baby would arrive sooner.
Ada coached him through not pushing when the head appeared; he reached down and felt the little tufts of hair and felt something like awe.
After that Ada had Watson switch places with her, so she was supporting Holmes while Watson stood ready to catch Baby in a towel. She directed Watson while Holmes pushed, and two contractions later, Holmes felt Baby slip from him and Watson said, "It's a girl."
Holmes knew that other things happened after that, but all he remembered was holding Baby-their daughter-and staring into her wrinkled face and thinking she was beautiful. An unbiased observer would say she was messy with fluid and her head was misshapen and her eyes were puffy, but to him she was the loveliest thing he had ever seen. Save, perhaps, Watson. Of course.
Then Ada had him try breastfeeding Baby. It was the strangest feeling, having Baby's tiny mouth suckling on his nipple and making contented little noises as she drank. He couldn't take his eyes off of her, cradled against his chest, and he had a profound sense of all being right in the world.
When Baby had finished nursing and her eyes were obscured by drooping eyelids, Watson sat on the bed next to him and offered to take her. He didn't want to let her go. She belonged to him, had been inside of him, and he would feel bereft without her. But she was Watson's too, so he reluctantly handed her over and was satisfied by the look of wonder and love on Watson's face as he looked at their daughter.
While Watson held her, Ada helped Holmes clean up (when had he lost his clothes? he didn't recall taking them off) and gently washed Baby, then set about setting the room right. When she had removed all of the soiled towels and other residue of the birth, she left them alone.
Watson handed Baby back to him and kissed him long and slow. Holmes kissed him back with all the fervor he could manage, then slumped against the pillows, exhausted but content.
"What will we name her?" Watson asked, putting his head near Holmes' and staring down at their sleeping daughter.
"Nina," Holmes said, gently caressing her cheek with one finger. She snuggled closer to him and sighed in response.
What bothered Holmes most about learning to live with a newborn wasn't the fact that he still had to wear the baggy pregnancy clothes or even that he was awake at all hours of the night, it was the fact that he no longer carried Nina. Now he saw her kicks rather than feeling them, heard her cries of distress rather than sensing her upset in the way she tumbled about.
He almost felt a sense of loss, which seemed absurd in light of the perfect being in his arms. It was just that being in his arms wasn't as close as she had been and he had a tendency at first to become anxious if she was out of his arms, much less out of his sight.
But the feeling faded as he discovered that watching Watson hold her was nearly as good as holding her himself and they enjoyed learning her facial expressions together. And he had ample opportunity to hold her close while she nursed, which seemed to make Watson a little jealous, so he let Watson hold her frequently when she wasn't hungry.
"No one would guess she's ours," Watson commented as he handed Nina to Holmes for a feeding. "She only looks like you."
Superficially, this was true: Nina inherited Holmes' dark hair and eyes and though her skin was pale it seemed likely that it, too, would darken a bit once she was exposed to sunlight.
"She has many of your expressions," Holmes countered, looking down at her frowning, wrinkled face that was a prelude to crying. "Especially when she's vexed. See?"
He held her up and Watson's answering scowl was so similar that Holmes grinned. When he'd tucked Nina against him and she got busy feeding, he tugged on Watson's shirt until Watson leaned down over the chair within kissing range. "Let us hope she has your temperament rather than mine," he murmured against Watson's lips before giving them a quick peck.
Watson snorted. "Yes, quite." He kissed Holmes in return. "I wonder if it would even be possible for our child to look like me rather than you. You are rather controlling, you know."
"Even I have no control over a child in the womb," Holmes huffed in protest.
"I know, I was only teasing." Watson ran his hand through Holmes' hair and Holmes leaned against him with a sigh.
"It's something that would have to be tested if we wanted to find out," Holmes said after a while.
"The only way to test it is to have another child," Watson reminded him.
"Yes, I know."
"Would you want to have another one? You griped about this one a good deal."
"I'm not saying I would, I'm just saying that is the way to test your hypothesis."
"I knew that when I said it. Where are you going with this, Holmes?"
"Nowhere at all."
The thought lingered in Holmes' mind for some time, and he couldn't come up with any conclusive reason not to have another child. At most he determined it was best to wait and see how they did with Nina to establish if having another was wise. Neither he nor Watson was sure whether they would be suitable parents as she became more independent and aware of her own mind-and her mind was sure to be formidable.
For now, Nina was perfect and all they needed.