"Are you sure?" Sherlock asked while they were still in the taxi. "You can go home. I'd be relieved if you did."
"No. I'm going," John said.
"It's going to be weird."
"Yes, I know."
"No, weirder than that."
"Sounds like fun," John said.
"Yes, you say that now."
The Holmes family manor was huge, of course, and surrounded by a massive iron fence, of course, and lit dramatically on the top of a hill by the setting sun, of course. There were towers and statuary and armed guards (one that John could see, probably ten more that he couldn't, if he knew Mycroft at all, which he thought he was starting to). The taxi wasn't allowed past the gate--"Security. Only family cars allowed in," Sherlock told John as he paid the cabbie.
"Sorry, how long is this driveway?" John asked.
"Half a mile."
"I'm wearing new shoes and they pinch."
"Well, that was silly of you. Why would you buy shoes that pinch?" --So they walked up the tree-lined path by the long driveway, elbows brushing every third step or so, which meant that Sherlock was thinking about something else. He was usually more careful about appropriate personal space when he wasn't distracted.
A figure covered in bees joined them from behind a wall. "Hullo, Sherlock," it said, proving itself female. The bees covering her legs shifted and swarmed like living cloth as she walked. She was holding something in her cupped and hopefully gloved hands. Her face was invisible behind the veil of bees.
"Hello, Olivia. Isn't it a bit late for swarming season?" Sherlock asked.
"They're domestic. There is no season any more."
"This is John. Don't sting him."
Olivia scoffed. The veil of bees disturbed and resettled over her mouth-ish area. The path forked; John and Sherlock walked toward the house and Olivia walked behind it. "Lovely to meet you," John called. He looked at Sherlock.
"No, that wasn't weird. That was beekeeping," Sherlock said.
"Yes, I know."
"I watch a lot of television, Sherlock."
The door opened as they walked up the polished stone steps. The butler bowed. Tall woman, muscular, short hair, probably armed. John wasn't sure he could take her in a fair fight. (In an unfair fight, he would have Sherlock, and John would take on anyone with Sherlock.) "Your mother awaits in the drawing room, sir," she said as she took their coats.
"And my father?"
"Oh, he's not under the table, is he?" Sherlock sounded exasperated.
"No, sir, but I am not certain of his whereabouts."
Sherlock sighed and straightened his cuffs and tie in the coat room mirror. He straightened John's tie, too, and smoothed his hair. "If you change your mind, just let Hennimore know," Sherlock said. "She'll call you a car."
"I'm not running away!"
"I'm clarifying the exits." He licked his fingers and rearranged John's fringe. "Would you announce us, Hennimore?"
Hennimore led them out of the coat room and down the hall, which was broad and full of more extravagant statuary. John saw where Sherlock acquired his sense of style. She paused in an open double door and announced, "Sherlock Holmes and John Watson."
So this was it, then. John held himself straight as he walked in with Sherlock. He felt like they should be arm in arm, though of course that would give the wrong signals; still, he felt somehow like one of them should be escorting the other.
He saw Mycroft first, lounging on a sofa next to a busty older woman. His first thought was wife? but no, that didn't seem right. Mycroft's assistant sat in the corner, working on her Blackberry.
"Mummy," Sherlock said. He bent and kissed the woman. Oh. She was really quite extremely blond. And--leopard print. And she had more cleavage than any two of John's past dates put together.
"Baby boy! Why haven't you brought John around earlier?" And she was American. This was getting--well, yes. Sherlock said it would be weird.
"Because I've been busy and you embarrass me," Sherlock answered.
Mycroft and Sherlock's mum both laughed. "I'm Tammy, darling," Sherlock's mum said, offering John her hand. John shook it. "It's all right that you don't know where to put your eyes. I love a military man." She winked.
John looked at Sherlock for help. Sherlock looked back impassively.
"I may have to lock you in the closet for later," Tammy said, and laughed again.
"Shall I make you a drink, John? No rohypnol, I promise," Mycroft said, standing. Tammy guffawed.
Another door opened and John saw an adolescent boy walk through. He looked briefly around the room, squealed, and ran straight for Sherlock, embracing him from behind, face pressed to Sherlock's shoulder. "Oh, hello, Darwin," Sherlock said. The boy bounced up and down and Sherlock did too. "Yes, I'm happy to see you too!"
Darwin didn't answer. He hummed happily into Sherlock's coat. "It's been three months," Sherlock said.
Mycroft stood slightly in John's view, attracting his attention. He handed John a fizzy drink. "Darwin's autistic. He's fully as intelligent as Sherlock but doesn't speak. They're extremely fond of each other."
"He's very sensible," Sherlock said. Darwin tucked himself under Sherlock's arm and they sat on the sofa together, Darwin's face still pressed into Sherlock's coat. "How are lessons? Oh, I know. They never keep up," Sherlock said. John wasn't sure if Darwin was responding with his hands or some other way.
John took a sip of his drink. It was... pretty good, actually, herbal and slightly bitter, not terribly alcoholic.
"Wollstonecraft is coming as well," Mycroft said. Sherlock and Darwin made identical grunts of disgust. "Easter is still out with her new pony."
"Why on earth did you teach her to ride? How utterly useless. Teach her to drive," Sherlock said.
"Excellent idea, darling, but she does so love ponies," Tammy said.
"And she's seven," Mycroft added lightly.
"So you teach her to drive on a small car," Sherlock said. "Darwin agrees with me. It can be a pony-shaped car."
Darwin curled up into Sherlock's lap like a much smaller boy than he was. "Hi," John tried, perching on the arm of the sofa beside Sherlock. "My name's John. I'm Sherlock's friend."
Darwin looked up briefly and then screwed his eyes shut. He reached one hand across Sherlock. "Can he feel your jacket?" Sherlock translated. John gave Darwin his sleeve and the boy stroked it. "I agree," Sherlock said, apparently to Darwin. "But the colors aren't so good."
Darwin let go and beat his hand against Sherlock's chest. He jiggled his legs, vibrating the entire couch. "You're new, so you're a little overstimulating. Which I like," Sherlock said, grinning briefly, "but Darwin doesn't. We agree on things but deal with them differently."
Tammy leaned over the couch and kissed both Sherlock and Darwin on the cheek. "My boys," she said fondly. "Now don't fight with your sister."
Sister? John wondered briefly if they mean the seven-year-old, then realized Wollstonecraft must be a girl, too. "I won't fight with her if she doesn't fight with me," Sherlock said.
"You're older. It's your job to behave."
"Then why is it my fault when I fight with Mycroft?"
"Because Mycroft is behaving," Tammy said. "Don't be obstreperous." Her jewelry clanked as she crossed to the drinks table, pouring herself a large vodka with a splash of cranberry on ice. "Hennimore!" she called. The butler appeared in the doorway. "Find Nehemiah, please, and get an ETA on Wollstonecraft. I'm getting hungry." The butler nodded once and vanished again.
Sherlock was muttering to Darwin under his mother's voice: "I found a stolen jade by following paint and comparing books. John writes about it but he leaves out all the interesting parts." Darwin nodded against Sherlock's jacket. "Oh, Nanny showed you his blog? Are you learning to write? That would be smashing. Then we wouldn't have to use the webcam. No pixels." Sherlock glanced up at John. "Darwin doesn't see images on the webcam, only pixels, and of course once he said that, that's what I saw too. Now it just looks weird. Same for the phone; it's just mechanically modulated frequencies created through magnets and electrical signals. It's hard to listen to a voice when you hear the mechanics of reproduction. Darwin observes so much more than I do, but it means he understands less." Sherlock rubbed his shoulder.
"Whereas I observe and understand more than either of you," Mycroft said. Sherlock glared at him. Mycroft's assistant looked up and smiled.
"Sherlock! We're going to have a nice dinner. I want to talk to your friend," Tammy said. She took John's arm and drew him over to a chair beside her. She smelled like vodka. No perfume, though, which seemed odd. Allergies? "Now. You're a doctor, that's very good. Very well done. Sherlock needs someone to take care of him," she said, patting John's hand. "Make sure he eats. And sleeps. And poops."
"MUM," Sherlock said, sounding pained.
"He eats too much junk food. He gets bound up. He doesn't like to eat his vegetables, he says the effort to nutrition ratio is inefficient, so you have to make him. I used to lock up his violin unless he cleaned his plate."
"Er," John said. Sherlock wasn't even reacting; he had his eyes closed in silent agony. "Yes."
Mycroft checked his phone. "Wollstonecraft just arrived," he said.
A medium-tall man with curly iron-grey hair entered the room without waiting for the butler. A small Indian woman with an iPad followed him. They both wore white lab coats. "Bonan vesperon, filoj," the man said.
"Good evening, Father," Mycroft said, shaking his hand. This was Nehemiah Holmes, then. The family resemblance was clear.
"I still think Esperanto is ridiculous, Father," Mycroft said.
"Hear hear. English is a fantastically flexible and useful language. It shows the history of the nation. We can take any word and make it English. And besides, it's aesthetically pleasing, which Esperanto most certainly is not," Sherlock said.
Nehemiah shook his head and looked at his assistant mournfully. She set down her iPad and took a pair of tweezers and a bunch of plastic evidence bags out of her pocket. Without a word, she pulled out a small tuft of Mycroft's hair and carefully bagged and labeled it. She then moved on to Sherlock--John was surprised he allowed it, but he did--and then John himself, with a smile. "For the collection, if you please," she said to John.
"Only if I get your name first. I like to know before I start giving DNA samples."
"Mi volas teston pri kemiaĵoj, ne DNA!" Nehemiah said.
"We're not testing for DNA," the woman translated.
Sherlock pointed accusingly. "There, you see? The word doesn't exist in Esperanto, so you have to use English! Ridiculous." Darwin whined and jittered on Sherlock's lap. "Sorry, I won't raise my voice again," Sherlock told his brother.
"My name is Dr. Devi Trapathi," the woman said. She pulled out John's hair by the root before he could further object. She looked at Tammy, but Tammy pointed a long pink-painted fingernail in her face and Devi backed off.
"They have this argument every time the boys come home. They won't accept their father's little eccentricities," Tammy said. "He just likes things logical. English verbs bother him." She sounded slightly slurred, but not nearly as slurred as she should have been with that much vodka inside her.
"Deoxyribonucleic acido," Nehemiah said. He sighed again and sat in the corner, across the table from Mycroft's assistant, opening a book from the nearby shelf.
Devi slipped the hair samples into her pocket. John nursed his drink. The very thought of getting drunk in this house made him nervous. The butler showed in the door again, announcing: "Wollstonecraft Holmes and Chalmers Gordon-Gordons."
There were a couple of mouthfuls. Wollstonecraft was, in fact, a girl. She had the same dark, polished, expensive look as Mycroft and Sherlock, and the angular bone structure that made Sherlock look slightly alien made her look like an Italian fashion model. Chalmers had a similarly posh appearance, but in blond, with straight, gleaming teeth and expensive cologne. John felt like Mr. Potato Head in comparison. Well, couldn't be helped. His face was his face.
Wollstonecraft looked around twenty-one and Darwin looked around fourteen. Sherlock had just turned twenty-nine, and the unseen Easter was seven, but--what did it mean? Why space your kids seven years apart? And was Mycroft thirty-five? He couldn't be.
"I'm forty-two," Mycroft said to John. "Elliston is no longer with us."
"Oh. I am sorry," John said. Devi yanked out Chalmers's hair--he yelped--then Wollstonecraft's. He wondered if they all had the same mother, or for that matter, the same father; it didn't seem possible.
"Oh yes, same parents," Mycroft said. "Frozen embryos. Devi is working on the next one--girl again?" he asked her.
Devi patted her stomach. "Two months. We still can't determine the genes for autism or antisocial personality disorder, unfortunately, so we selected out all the males. Girls are sturdier."
"Your conclusions are faulty," Sherlock said. "Wollstonecraft is a sociopath too. She just directs her energies less usefully."
"Oh, now, watch your mouth," Chalmers said.
"This again?" Wollstonecraft said without animation.
"Slutting around when she could be studying," Sherlock said. "I see you have another piece of arm candy. Can this one tie his shoes?" John looked at Chalmers's shoes involuntarily; he was wearing slip-on loafers.
"For such a bright fellow you have any awfully hard time with active listening," Wollstonecraft said, cupping her hand behind her ear. "One more time. Sex is healthy, normal, and good for you. Far better than, for example, cocaine. Trying out different sexual partners doesn't dissolve your facial bones."
"Hear hear!" Tammy said. "Come here, darling girl!"
Wollstonecraft crossed the room and kissed her mother. "Has he cracked the safety seal on his willy yet?" she asked Tammy.
"Boys don't mature as fast as girls, dear. He'll be ready when he's ready."
"Oh," Chalmers said, giving the word five or six syllables. "That's the one that's still a virgin, then. That's so funny." Wollstonecraft ignored him.
John, for his part, was stuck back on selecting out the male embryos. Growing their children in a lab! The entire family was a big eugenics project.
"Yes," Mycroft said. "Our branch, anyway."
Would they have selected out Sherlock and Darwin given the choice?
"Mm, can't tell what you're thinking, but you're probably right," Mycroft said, smiling over his Scotch.
"Would you stop that?" John said, pushed past bearing. He unclenched his fist; his nails left painful lines in his palm. He moved to the sofa beside Sherlock and Darwin, where he found Sherlock whispering inaudibly to his brother.
"Look at that. They're so cute together," Tammy said to Wollstonecraft. "Finally your brother has a friend."
"Yes, adorable," Wollstonecraft said with naked loathing on her face. "Well done, Sherlock." She approached the sofa anyway. "Darwin. Darwin, it's me. Can I have a hug? Darwin?" Wollstonecraft asked. Darwin didn't react. "What did you tell him?" she demanded of Sherlock.
"Nothing. He doesn't like you because he's an extremely intelligent young man," Sherlock said.
Wollstonecraft's mouth twisted. "Fine. Do whatever you want, Darwin. Mycroft, make me a drink. Something strong."
"Of course, sister. Freshener, John? That must be getting warm."
John looked at his glass. "Er, sure."
"And she reeks of his cologne," Sherlock whispered to Darwin. "What a stink." Darwin rubbed his nose on his sleeve.
Drinks all around. John watched what Mycroft did this time: A drop of bitters, rolled around the glass and then topped off with soda water, for John; a sweet martini for Wollstonecraft; plain soda water for Sherlock, who accepted the glass wordlessly; vodka and pomegranate juice, garnished with a twist of lime, for Tammy; soda water and muddled mint for Devi; Scotch and water for Nehemiah, who hadn't bothered to greet his eldest daughter, and was still absorbed in his book. Darwin, eyes closed, took Sherlock's glass and drank from it.
"I'd like--" Chalmers started to say. Mycroft didn't say anything, but John could see his neck tense slightly.
"No!" Wollstonecraft chided him. "Let Mycroft do his party trick."
Chalmers really should have shut up, John thought, as Mycroft mixed him a Long Island Iced Tea, heavy on the tea and light on the ice. Really, when you met a Holmes, wasn't it just good manners (and self-preservation) to let them do their thing?
Darwin was stroking John's jacket again, eyes cracked open. John smiled without trying for eye contact.
The butler reappeared. "Easter Holmes and Olivia Grant."
Olivia, without her bees, was a plain, gray woman in tweeds. She smiled at the collected family and sat in the chair next to Tammy. Easter ran in and jumped straight on Mycroft, who swung her into the air. "Teeny-tiny!" Mycroft cried.
"No, I'm big now! I can reach the telescope eyepiece," Easter said. She was a sturdy-looking girl with long brown hair in two braids. "Thank you for my pony. She's lovely." She wound her arms around Mycroft's neck.
"Oh, a pony! I was never allowed a pony," Wollstonecraft said.
"That's because they're useless!" Sherlock called out.
"Tell me about your pony," Wollstonecraft said.
"Her name is Susie and she has spots and she can jump really high."
Mycroft smiled. "And what do we promise?"
"Always wear a helmet so I don't scramble my brain," Easter said.
"Swimming, piano, entomology, a trainable dog..." Sherlock said.
"Ponies are cuter," Mycroft said. Easter stuck out her tongue.
Tammy clapped her hands. "Dinner! Hennimore--ah, nannies, there you are." Two middle-aged ladies in sensible clothing entered, one extending her hand to Easter and the other to Darwin.
"Can't I eat with Mycroft?" Easter asked.
"We're having onion soup," Mycroft replied. "Smell it." Easter made a spectacular yucky-face and let Mycroft put her down. Darwin held onto Sherlock, though.
"Would you like me to come up and have dinner with you?" Sherlock asked him. "Yes. I'll just take him up, Mrs. Field."
"And then come back down, Sherlock," Tammy said.
Sherlock stood up with Darwin clamped to his side. "Of course. After dinner." John wasn't quite sure if he should follow, but then decided he would rather get thrown out than stay in this room alone, and stood.
"This is a family dinner, Sherlock," Tammy said with steel in her voice. "You'll join us." There was no trace of slur.
Darwin's hands fluttered against Sherlock's jacket. He slid around Sherlock's back and stroked John's hair. John ruffled Darwin's hair in return and Darwin ducked away. "I'll be right back down, then," Sherlock said. "Darwin would like some onion soup, thank you, Mrs. Field."
"Yes, dear, I know."
John stayed, then, as Sherlock walked Darwin upstairs. He finished his drink--it was really rather nice--and Mycroft made him another, very complicated, involving a number of little bottles, not very strong but interestingly tasty. Chalmers was already halfway through his drink. Mistake. Wollstonecraft had barely touched hers. "Is this your first visit here as well, Chalmers?" John asked. "I'm sorry. John Watson." He extended his hand.
Chalmers shook it. "I've only been dating Wally for a couple of months. What about you and... Shelley?" He grinned as if he had said something clever.
"We're just flatmates. Well, and I help him with his cases. Sherlock's a consulting detective."
"A private dick?" Chalmers snorted under his breath. Really? If he came back with "detecting privates" John wasn't even going to make the effort. "Is he any good?" Chalmers asked. "That always seemed rather seedy as a profession."
"Well, did you hear about the Vermeer that was proved fake? The serial suicides that were actually murders? Actually, the most interesting ones I can't even talk about due to the Official Secrets Act," John said, carefully not looking at Mycroft. That covered Moriarty and the Bruce-Partington Papers.
"Really," Wollstonecraft confirmed. "Sherlock's clever, yes, he's just an arse, and he's not very smart where it counts. How can you stand to live with him?"
"I'm a soldier. Without a certain amount of excitement I don't know what to do with myself."
"You're all so smart I don't know what to do," Tammy said, sounding slurred again. "All my babies. You're going to take over the world some day."
John did look at Mycroft then. Mycroft smiled serenely.
Sherlock returned. So did the butler. "Dinner is served," she said.
Tammy did not, thank God, try to seat them male-female or anything like that. No, she placed Nehemiah at the head of the table, herself at the foot, and Mycroft, Mycroft's assistant, Wollstonecraft, and Chalmers to her left, Olivia, John, Sherlock, and Devi to her right.
Nehemiah brought his book to the table and ignored them thoroughly. Mycroft's assistant--what was her name today, anyway?--set her Blackberry by her plate and did, actually, pick up utensils instead of leaning over and scarfing her food hands-free. John had wondered a bit.
First course was tiny bowls of French onion soup. Delicious. "I suppose being covered in bees is fairly routine for a beekeeper?" he ventured to Olivia.
"Yes, when you're moving a queen," she said.
"Is it that they don't sting you or you don't mind?"
"They don't sting. Stinging is fatal for a bee; of course, they're all related, the sister-bees, so it's in their genetic interest to protect the hive."
Well, that was creepy. John sipped his water.
"How are your marks, Wollstonecraft?" Mycroft asked her.
"Like you don't know?"
"Just making conversation, sister."
"My marks are perfect."
"Excellent," Mycroft said.
"How is the world domination?" Wollstonecraft asked. "Was it you that spilled that oil in the Gulf of Mexico?"
"Really, how absurd," Mycroft said.
"Why would Mycroft do any such thing? He's busy arming the Iranians," Sherlock said.
"Good God, the notions you two have. You should write novels." Mycroft leaned back in his chair and swirled his glass of wine, smiling.
"Do you have a profession?" Sherlock asked Chalmers. "Or plan to?"
"Well, I don't need to," Chalmers said. He was well into his glass of wine. Possibly not the smartest decision after what must have been five ounces of spirits. "Daddy might give me a company, though."
"I'm sure you'll do delightfully." John could hear the sarcasm in Sherlock's voice, but it didn't look like Chalmers did.
"If you and Mycroft let him. Why can't you mind your own affairs? Why always poke your nose in?" Wollstonecraft said.
"Yeah!" Chalmers seconded.
"I suppose justice is a fairly abstract concept, difficult to comprehend," Sherlock said.
"I only ever try to help, dear sister," Mycroft said.
Wollstonecraft looked at Chalmers. He drained his glass and held it up for a refill. Big mistake, John thought. Very big.
Second course was deconstructed sushi in a French style with tarragon and creme fraiche flavored with horseradish; at least, that's what Sherlock muttered to him, and John was in no particular position to argue. It was good, anyway.
John tried small talk again. "Mrs. Holmes, Sherlock never mentioned you were American. How did you end up here?"
Tammy fluttered. "Oh, Daddy's Irish. We were always crossing the pond. Then I met Nehemiah and well, it was love at first sight."
"Ŝi havis kompletigan DNAn," Nehemiah said.
"But I'm so glad the kids got his accent instead of mine. It makes you seem so... above it all."
"Should I switch, Mama?" Sherlock asked in what sounded to John like a perfect copy of Tammy's accent. "Ah could switch."
Tammy laughed. "Sherlock, you're such a hoot!" Sherlock looked annoyed. "Thank you, baby, but I like my English brood!" she said.
"Sherlock's such a good mimic," Wollstonecraft said. "I used to find him in Mummy's dressing room all the time, trying on dresses and makeup."
Chalmers snorted with laughter, spluttering over his plate. Devi slid her water glass closer to her plate, away from Chalmers, disgust evident in the slight wrinkle at the bridge of her nose.
"Yes," Sherlock said, back to his normal voice. "I've always been interested in the principles of recognition, gender, and disguise."
"Do you still wear frocks?" Wollstonecraft inquired.
"When the situation calls for it," Sherlock said. "I'd be a fool to overlook any route to the solution of a case."
He did have a rather pretty dress in his closet--John had gone in looking for a spare shirt when Sherlock had dirtied John's entire small wardrobe--but given that it was jammed in next to a Russian peasant shirt and the fluffy yellow top to a chicken suit, it hadn't really stood out.
Sherlock's real wardrobe consisted of ten beautiful shirts and three stunning suits hung in dry-cleaning bags off a hook in the ceiling. They never saw the inside of the closet. John coveted Sherlock's wardrobe, except of course if he wore anything like that, he'd look like a bag of old laundry. There was a reason he stuck to comfortable jumpers. Except today of, course, when Sherlock had strong-armed him into a good jacket and tie, but damn it, he was already creased.
"You were all such pretty children," Tammy said. "And now look at you! So handsome."
"Wally is beau'ful," Chalmers said.
Third course was roasted wild boar. John didn't know wild boars still existed. "How many courses?" he whispered to Sherlock behind his hand.
Sherlock blotted his mouth with his napkin. "Just cheese and dessert," he murmured behind the cloth.
John tapped Sherlock's shoe in thanks. He could stuff himself, then. He'd never had boar. He didn't want to make an arse of himself, filling up if there were still six courses to go.
Mycroft was watching him and Sherlock. Well, fine. "This makes me wish I could cook," John said to Sherlock.
"Cooking isn't difficult, but it's repetitive and time-consuming. I agree, though, this is good."
"Cooking is nurturing," Olivia said.
Devi nodded. "Cooking is a social bonding act. It creates intimacy. Sherlock, you should cook for John."
John started to say they weren't involved, but Sherlock touched him with his shoe. All right then, Sherlock would take it. "What's more intimate, protein or sweets?" Sherlock asked Devi. "Chocolate is associated with sexual desire, but so is shellfish, whereas cake is associated with mother."
"Hm. I don't know. I can't think of any research," Devi patted her pockets, but apparently she didn't have her electronics.
"What do you find, Wollstonecraft?" Sherlock asked.
"I don't cook. I create intimacy through being intimate," she answered.
Chalmers laughed. "Right! She said..." He gestured with his wine glass, probably his third glass. "Still a virgin! Ah-HA-HA-HA!" He slipped, slamming his glass down so hard half of it splashed. Nehemiah actually looked up from his book. "Refill!" Chalmers said.
"He only has two jokes? He used that one earlier," Mycroft said. "Pity. I do enjoy your beaux."
"Shut up, Mycroft," Wollstonecraft said.
"Yeah! Shut up, Labour! Let the Tories talk!" Chalmers said.
Mycroft raised his eyebrows and sipped his wine. Wollstonecraft moved Chalmers's glass away, but he snatched it back. "No!" Chalmers said. "I'm having a good time."
"Right now you are," Wollstonecraft said acidly.
"Message for you, sir," Mycroft's assistant said. She passed him her Blackberry and he examined it, head cocked to one side. Three-patch problem, John thought.
"Gawd, that's so rude. Reading at table," Chalmers said, slurring his words more noticeably. He elbowed Wollstonecraft so hard she dropped her fork on the floor. Nehemiah looked up from his book again, his grey eyebrows knotted.
"My father has earned his little ways," Mycroft said without looking up. He typed something and gave the Blackberry back to his assistant. "Or were you addressing me?" He smiled without humour.
John glanced at Sherlock. Sherlock was watching the byplay, his dinner abandoned, his hands folded under his chin. He brushed his shoe by John's without looking at him.
"I think you're making fun of me," Chalmers accused Mycroft.
"Chalmers, shut up," Wollstonecraft said.
Chalmers stood, wobbling. "I will not... woman! Your brothers are COCKS and defectives!"
"Really? Who is who?" Mycroft asked. Wollstonecraft stared at Chalmers.
"You're a cock," Chalmers said, and he staggered down the table and punched Mycroft in the face with surprising force.
John didn't need to look. Sherlock dived under the table; he dived over the top. Foot on the chair, foot on the table, bad table manners, but with his next step he was bringing the drunken fucker down. Sherlock got Chalmers into an arm lock, harmless, so John saw to Mycroft, who was spitting blood. Wollstonecraft sighed.
"HENNIMORE!" Tammy shouted.
"Let me see," John told Mycroft, not that he had to; Mycroft turned his face up readily. John checked his eyes and nose for obvious damage. No cuts. "Can you open your mouth?"
"Yes, actually," Mycroft said. He opened and closed his mouth to demonstrate. Behind them, Sherlock was wrestling Chalmers out of the room, accompanied by Mycroft's assistant. Wollstonecraft didn't budge.
"Teeth feel okay?" John asked. "You're bleeding into your mouth; cuts on the inside. You'll need x-rays to check for a fracture to the bones or the roots of the teeth."
"Of course I will, Doctor," Mycroft said, smiling with the other side of his mouth. "Well done."
"Wollstonecraft! Can't we see one dinner through to the end? Just once, can I have a pleasant dinner with my children?" Tammy shouted. "Everyone out!" She burst into tears. Wollstonecraft burst into tears as well, louder and incorporating more hysterical sobbing.
Mycroft stood, pressing his napkin to his mouth. John stayed with him, one hand on Mycroft's shoulder, tracking the movements of his jaw. Devi and Nehemiah exited via a different door.
Sherlock was alone in the hall. "I win. I didn't make Mummy cry," he said.
"Yes, but we missed a particularly fine chocolate gateau," Mycroft said, wiping the blood from his lip.
Sherlock looked Mycroft up and down. "You won't miss it. You've put on half a stone. Come on, John, I've already called the car."
John and Sherlock were chauffeured home. Neither of them really felt like waiting for a taxi. They looked at each other in the back of the car. "Give us a hug," John said. Sherlock rolled his eyes. "No, really, give us a hug, I'm feeling shaky. That was the seventh circle of hell back there."
"Seventh, yes. Violence." But Sherlock shifted closer and wrapped an arm around his waist. "Better?"
John leaned against Sherlock's shoulder and sighed out the tension. "Much. What's going to happen to Chalmers?"
"Be killed, probably. I don't know."
"Your sister was crying."
Sherlock looked away, silently, for a moment, and then sniffed. He looked at John with fat tears rolling down his cheeks. He buried his face in John's hair.
"Yes, yes, I get it, you can do that and so can she. Stop that. You're freaking me out." John shrugged him off his shoulder.
"But I just love you so much!" Sherlock sobbed.
"Oh, GOD, that is disturbing."
"She doesn't give a toss about her lovers," Sherlock said, back to normal.
"Well, what do you care if she does or not?"
"It's such a waste! She could be doing something useful."
John looked at the ceiling. "Well, if she's that much like you, I bet she's dynamite in bed." He met Sherlock's eye with both eyebrows raised.
Sherlock looked genuinely confused. "You think I would be dynamite in bed?"
"No! No, you'd be rubbish," John said. Sherlock frowned in offense. "I'm saying if she brings your level of energy to the proceedings--"
"But that's so utterly useless! What possible good can sex bring to the world?"
"I forgot, you're a noted philanthropist," John said.
Sherlock made a frustrated noise and threw himself in the opposite corner of the back seat. He wriggled, tossing his knees this way and that, and finally stretched out almost full length with his shoes pressed to the window on John's side. He tapped his hands on his stomach and his left foot on the window.
John slid a little closer to the middle so he didn't have Sherlock's feet in his face. "What can I say? I think sluttery is a perfectly valid hobby. If I looked that good, I wouldn't even wear trousers," John said.
"Tiny, tiny, tiny brain."
"Giant cock," John said. Sherlock convulsed with annoyance. "Put your seat belt on. It's the law."
The following morning, John received a call from Tammy. "Hi, sugar! Sherlock never answers his phone, but I'm sure you don't mind taking a message."
"No ma'am, not at all," John answered.
"Oh, you soldier boys just kill me! So polite! Well, tell Sherlock the test results came in and he's just got to stop smoking or he will break my heart."
"No, he's on the patch," John said.
"He cheats. We can tell from his hair. Probably a pipe, or a hookah, he loves making things complicated. So let him know he's going to get an earful if he doesn't stop properly, okay?"
"And since he's quit the cocaine for a whole year, he can have his allowance back. We'll deposit it in his account tomorrow morning. Give him a kiss from me, okay?"
"Come up again soon! You're a doll." She kissed into the phone and hung up.
John went downstairs and found Sherlock unearthing his webcam from the stacks of books that had swallowed it. He leaned over and kissed Sherlock on the cheek.
Sherlock wrinkled his nose. "You're been talking to Mummy, then."
"She says congratulations for quitting the cocaine. You can have your allowance back."
Sherlock slammed his hands down on the desk. "I don't want an allowance! I'm not a child! I didn't quit for her!"
"Why did you quit?"
"Lestrade started strip-searching me every time I showed up at a crime scene. It's uncomfortable and time-wasting."
"What is your allowance, anyway?"
"I'm not taking it! I hate money."
"Right," John said, thinking about Sherlock's two thousand pound coat and the daily twenty pound cab fares.
Sherlock turned on the webcam and John's laptop. "What are you using that for?" John asked.
"Calling Darwin. I didn't say goodnight."
"Oh, right. Usually people use those for online sex chats."
"I use it to talk to my brother," Sherlock said. He started some programs and John put the kettle on. (The kettle regularly disappeared and John regularly found it in Sherlock's bed. Best not to ask.) "Good morning, Mrs. Field! Where's Darwin?"
"He didn't sleep well last night. You didn't say goodnight and he kept looking for you."
"I know. I'm sorry." He really was sorry, John thought.
"But I'll go get him. Just a moment."
John made the tea while Sherlock waited. While he was thinking about it, he wrote "lots of veg, especially broccoli" on the shopping list on the fridge. "Darwin. I'm sorry, I am," Sherlock said.
John set down the tea by Sherlock. On the screen, Darwin was looking off to the side. He favored Mycroft, John thought. Same funny nose. The eyes were really what distinguished him from his siblings, though; they were vague, not really looking at anyone, rather than piercing and calculating.
"There was some trouble at dinner and I had to leave quickly. It felt like how fluorescent looks."
"I'm going to come up soon. Would you like a new game?"
Darwin shook his head and made a gesture with his hands. It didn't seem like a sign language that John had ever seen. Maybe just signs between brothers, then, a private language.
"Have you had breakfast? Can I read to you?"
"Yes, we've had breakfast," Mrs. Field interjected. "He'd lie to you if he hadn't."
"You'd break your routine for me? You're my favorite brother too."
Darwin smiled, head still turned aside.
"Then, we were on and." Sherlock picked up the OED and began reading the entry out.
He read for a full hour before saying goodbye. He looked over at John, who was sitting in his accustomed place across the desk, once he'd closed the computer. "Don't patronize us," Sherlock said.
"You were going to say how good I am with my poor crippled brother, or how sweet that was, or some variation."
"Was not," John said.
Sherlock drank his cold tea. "They want more Mycrofts and Ellistons, but instead they had us. Four brain disorders in a row. Number five is sure to follow. Not that I would change myself or Darwin, but we're not what they wanted."
"Elliston?" John ventured.
Sherlock sneered and flung himself violently back in his chair. The springs quacked in protest. "I don't want to talk about Elliston."
Right. Bad subject. Maybe later. "Easter seems all right."
"Without her medication she's completely anhedonic."
Anhedonic: Unable to feel pleasure. That sounded like major depression, very unusual in a seven year old. "Poor kid."
"Father would do so much better if he weren't so racist. Devi's genetics are far better than Mummy's," Sherlock said. "My tea is cold."
"Kettle's in the kitchen." Sherlock sipped from his mug, scowling at John. "So you want your father to cheat on your mother with his assistant?" John asked.
"Cheating is a social construct that has no place in my family home."
"But Father thinks the brown races are inferior. Amazing how someone can be so intelligent and not see what lies right in front of them."
"Amazing," John said. "And she still lets him use her as a living incubator?"
"She must love him. Anything that irrational comes down to romantic love."
John thought for a second and then shivered. "All right, I have the creeps. Brr." He stood up and shook it out.
"Can you love someone if you think they're an inferior? I'm actually asking you. I don't know the answer," Sherlock said. He stood and looked out the window, unable to meet John's eye. Something else he had in common with his brother.
"Well," John said. "I don't know. Not real love, I don't think. I think real love has to be between equals, and if you don't think someone is as good as you are, that's... a problem."
"Mycroft thinks so too. If you agree, he must be right. So annoying," Sherlock muttered. He grimaced at his mug. "Tea, John!"
"Kettle's in the kitchen." John sat back down and regarded Sherlock.
Sherlock drained the mug and set it down on the desk. "This is why I don't love anyone."
John smiled. "Yes. That's what that emotion is."
"Ah," Sherlock said.
John wasn't at all surprised when six thousand pounds arrived in his bank account instead. He paid Mrs. Hudson a few months in advance and then hired a firm to clean the chemical stains off the ceiling.
"Don't give in to their bribery!" Sherlock yelled from the sofa.
"And get me some more elemental sodium, I'm out."