John finds Sherlock standing on the patio in the sun. For a brief moment he thinks the man is basking, but then his churning emotional state, his body language and the rigid line of his back come clear. He walks out to stand next to Sherlock.
Sherlock is glaring in the general direction of the ocean, as though it has personally offended him. He hands John his phone and John sees the text from Mycroft.
“Bloody Mycroft,” Sherlock hisses. “Bloody. Fucking. Mycroft.”
John startles; it’s a rare thing that Sherlock actually swears. Well, swears in English. He pockets the phone and mirrors Sherlock’s stance: hands on his hips, looking out towards the ocean. He doesn't match Sherlock's glare, though, as he's more curious than angered by this turn of events.
“Maybe,” John starts to say, then thinks better of it. “No, you’re probably right, he’s come to spy on you.”
“On us, John. You’re far more interesting to him now than you once were.”
“I’m not his fucking experiment. Or yours, for that matter,” John snaps. He blinks. “Stop making me angry.”
“You are. You’re projecting. Stop it, Sherlock.”
“I’m--” Sherlock stops and considers. “I didn’t realize. My apologies, John.”
“Hrmph,” John grunts. He stalks back inside, leaving Sherlock staring after him in something close to shock. He's certainly forgotten all about Mycroft's impending visit for the moment.
After a few minutes of considering, Sherlock follows John back into the cottage; John is doing what he nearly always does when his emotions are at all out of place. He’s making tea. Sherlock goes to stand near him; it’s easier for him to parse whose emotions are whose when he’s standing close to John.
John is tense, and he is angry--his own anger and not Sherlock’s--but he’s also frustrated, and after several minutes Sherlock figures out that John isn’t angry with him; John is angry at everything, and especially at his frustration, and he doesn’t want to examine it right now. At least, that’s how it feels to Sherlock. So Sherlock briefly lays his hand against the back of John’s neck, it’s all right, John, I understand, and retreats.
Contrary to popular belief and the majority of the evidence, Sherlock does understand social cues. And when they’re coming from John (although they’re generally not the usual cues but emotional, mental ones), Sherlock even sometimes heeds them.
Eventually, John turns over with a huff. “Are you going to come to bed, Sherlock, or stand there being creepy all night?” John’s voice is rough with sleep; so he had been asleep until quite recently. Sherlock’s scrutiny had woken him.
Sherlock starts out of his reverie, drops his hands back to his sides--they’d been steepled under his chin as he stared in John’s general direction, thinking.
“Sorry,” he murmurs (he apologizes more than he used to, but only to John). Sherlock drapes his dressing gown over the footboard and slips under the covers next to John, close enough to feel his body heat but not so close that they’re touching.
“John?” Sherlock ventures, after a few minutes have passed.
John sighs, resigned. He’d been expecting this pretty much all day, while he’d fought with his frustration with their entire situation, fought with his anger at the world in general. Things were so much easier to deal with when it was only his own and everyone else’s emotions in his head. Somehow, the addition of Sherlock to the equation had completely thrown his equilibrium.
Well, that’s not so surprising, is it? Of course Sherlock had upset the balance, that’s what Sherlock is best at. But to have upset it so thoroughly that John wanted to throw his hands in the air and scream himself hoarse? That was far outside normal parameters.
But then again, having never psychically attached himself to another human being, John really has no idea what normal parameters are for a situation like this. He’s never even heard of someone with a peculiarity doing such a thing.
And all because I had to save my mad flatmate’s life.
“Hmm?” he replies, turning onto his back so he can look at Sherlock.
Sherlock is staring at the ceiling, John can see his profile in the moonlight coming through the window. If this were his cottage, there would be blackout curtains over the windows, but that’s just him.
Sherlock finds it much easier to talk of things emotional in the dark. It makes it easier for him if he feels that John can’t see him clearly. And John can’t, not really, but that doesn’t dim how clearly he can feel Sherlock. Still, it’s not as though they have anywhere to be tomorrow, and it’s not as though he isn’t used to being woken at odd times to hare off after some criminal or another. Being woken to discuss their current situation really isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of things. So he’ll talk about it, articulate it as much as he can now, and then go back to sleep.
“Can you explain why you’re frustrated?” Sherlock asks.
“I can try.”
Sherlock waits, but there’s a ‘please, do’ in his silence.
John takes a moment to gather up his scattered thoughts before he speaks. “I suppose it comes down to selfishness and resistance to change.”
Sherlock waits again for him to continue. He can feel John’s reticence, but as far as admissions go, this one isn’t so bad. It’s not as if he’s confessing to murder (and Sherlock is entirely certain he would do whatever it took to see to it John is never caught, should such a thing happen). Selfishness and resistance to change are two things Sherlock understands implicitly, they’re two of his most enduring character flaws. And he knows John needs to get this off his chest or else it will fester and get worse and things will probably end up broken when he finally cracks. Sherlock is unsure whether he means that in a mental sense or a physical one, and he dislikes the imprecision even as he lets it stand with a clearly delineated question mark in his mind. He’s never seen John throw things, but he suspects it might happen, and he’s rarely wrong; he’s likewise never seen John truly broken mentally, but he supposes it’s possible.
“I’m frustrated because it’s all just one more thing that has to be dealt with, and sometimes I get fed up with having to be the one dealing with everything. It was bad enough when it was just me in my head, Sherlock. I’m having a rough time of it getting used to you being in there as well. I’m sorry if that makes me sound like a bastard, but it’s true. Having to start over from scratch on shields that have served me well for most of my life is a blow; having to teach you things that have been second nature to me for so long I don’t remember actually learning them myself is frankly appalling. So I’m angry and I’m frustrated, and I am angry that I’m frustrated, and I am sorry if I take it out on you at all, because it’s not your fault, it’s mine.”
“Do you feel better now?”
John takes a breath to deny it and realizes he does. “Yeah, I do, actually.”
“I know I’m not much help with all this, John, but you can tell me about it. I will try my best.”
John does indeed feel better the next day; there’s still simmering frustration, but he has a better handle on it.
Sherlock, on the other hand, spends the next two days descending into quietude. He speaks less and less, and if John didn’t feel what Sherlock felt so clearly, he’d be worried that a black mood was coming on. But he does feel it, and if there’s one thing John Watson understands, it’s family issues, so he does what he can for his friend and otherwise leaves him to it.
Every time John starts a sentence with “Maybe,” Sherlock growls at him. He eats less, and spends more time in his lab. Sherlock tries not to be prickly, and he tries not to worry about his brother’s impending visit and all the old memories and hurts it kicks up in him. He fails on both counts.
John starts taking long walks on his own, not so much to avoid Sherlock as to give both of them some space to deal. He’s not sure which of them it helps less.
“Yes, John?” Sherlock doesn’t look up from his dissection.
“Did you just say something?”
Now Sherlock does look up. “No, I did not, John.”
“Huh. Odd.” John shrugs. “Could have sworn I heard you say something to me.”
“From downstairs, John?”
“You could have yelled it. Not like you’ve never done that before.”
Sherlock makes a face.
“I’ve put the kettle on. Care for a cuppa?”
“Toast? A sandwich? I’m a bit peckish.”
“Whatever you’re having is fine, John.”
“You’ll be up late, then?” Sherlock has taken to eating a little bit when John does at night if he's going to be up late with his experiments. It's both a signal to John and a way to spend a bit of time with him before submersing himself in scientific inquiry for untold hours. He's also taken to doing most of the major and delicate work on his current experiments when John is sleeping, spending more time in his company during the day (although sometimes they're both napping during that quality time).
Sherlock makes a non-committal sound, which John rightly interprets as a yes.
“Try not to blow anything up while I’m sleeping, yeah?” John smiles and turns to go back downstairs. Not that Sherlock has done that. Yet. John seems to consider it only a matter of time, though. As if Sherlock would blow things up in his own house. On purpose.
Sherlock looks at the doorway where his friend had been standing for a moment, shakes his head because he’d been thinking of tea and that seems an awfully big coincidence to him, and returns to his dissection.
On the third day, Sherlock refuses to get out of bed. He harrumphs and grumbles and pulls the covers over his head without saying a word to John, telegraphing his anxiety in all but words, so John lets him be. He already knows why Sherlock is being so childish, but one of them has to go downstairs, and as usual it looks like that task is left to him. One of these days he's going to start refusing to run interference between the Holmes brothers.
John goes downstairs and heads for the kitchen. “'Lo, Mycroft,” he calls on his way past the lounge. “Tea?
“Good morning,” Mycroft greets him, not looking up from the book he's reading. “Yes, tea would be lovely, thank you, Doctor Watson.”
“John,” John calls back. He's never been one to stand on formality, even with quite possibly the most formal man he's ever met. Besides, living with Sherlock in his head has him nearly considering Mycroft a second sibling (as if he needs more than Harry to deal with).
John turns the kettle on and stalks back upstairs to the bedroom. “This is absolutely ridiculous, Sherlock. Are you going to come downstairs or hide?”
Sherlock pulls the covers back far enough to raise one brow at John. The expression, combined with his riotous sleep-mussed curls, nearly pulls a laugh from John. Nearly, but not quite. Sherlock still notices his amusement, and grins at him, knowing he’s won already.
“It's not my job to get rid of your brother for you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock shrugs and pulls the covers back over his head.
“Ridiculous git,” John mutters as he goes back downstairs. He leans in the archway between the front hall and the sitting room and stares at Mycroft until the man looks up from the book he’s perusing. Even out here in the country Mycroft is dressed impeccably, in what is probably his idea of a country squire’s uniform.
“Don’t your kind have to be invited in?” John asks, diligently keeping the smile off his face. John Watson, master of making the best of any given situation, even if it is giving him a headache.
Mycroft actually smiles at that. John wasn’t sure he’d get the pop cultural reference, but then it’s not especially surprising that he did; Mycroft is a Holmes, and much more well-rounded in a lot of ways that Sherlock just isn’t.
“Technically, this is family property, so no,” he replies. “Not necessary for me to be invited to come in.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” John replies. He hears the kettle click off and heads back to the kitchen to put together tea for all three of them. Mycroft’s he makes just a bit too sweet, because he knows Sherlock will be amused by it. He drops his own and Mycroft’s tea in the lounge and takes Sherlock’s up to the bedroom. Because that’s a thing he does, taking his stubborn, childish friend tea anyway.
John puts Sherlock’s tea down on the bedside table and stares at the lump under the covers until Sherlock pulls them back and sighs.
“What, John?” he asks, quiet (as if that will keep Mycroft from knowing he’s here, and hiding).
“Nothing,” John replies. He leans over and places a kiss on Sherlock’s forehead, giving him the image of Mycroft sipping at his too sweet tea and grimacing. When he straightens, Sherlock is smiling. John grins back and goes back downstairs to sit in the lounge with his own tea and Sherlock’s brother.
John grabs the few-days-old paper from where Sherlock left it and sits down to start reading the sports section. Mycroft sips politely at his tea even though it’s too sweet for him, and they read together in fairly companionable silence. John has never been much of one for idle chit chat, so the shared habit of silence between Sherlock and Mycroft has never particularly annoyed him, no matter how many times Sherlock remarks on how out of the ordinary that is. He’ll say something if he’s got something to say, and Sherlock or Mycroft will do the same; it’s really not a difficult concept and he feels vaguely sorry for all the people in either Holmes’s life that didn’t get that.
Eventually, Mycroft does speak. He sounds resigned. “My brother won’t be gracing us with his presence this morning, then.” It sounds somewhat like it’s meant to be a question, but it really isn’t.
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” John replies, not looking up from the international news. Sports were too depressing. Not that terrorism and war are much more cheery.
“Mmm,” Mycroft says, one of those noncommittal sounds both men are so good at.
“I wouldn’t try that, were I you,” John adds. He can feel what Mycroft is contemplating, and it would not end well.
It’s nice, however, that his shields are there and holding; at least he won’t have to spend the rest of the week rebuilding (again). He does his best to keep the majority of Mycroft’s emotional state from Sherlock. He has enough to be going on with, Sherlock’s own prickly emotions would only be exacerbated by Mycroft’s frustration and curiosity.
Mycroft looks sharply at John. John shrugs.
“Mmm,” Mycroft says again. But he comes to a decision, and he lets John know why he had stopped by, and indirectly why he’s in the country in the first place--John manages to squelch the urge to ask him why it’s for the first time in almost two decades--and takes his leave, conceding this round to his younger brother.
John sighs in relief after Mycroft is gone. He’s got a bit of a headache, and he’s not sure if it’s from trying not to let Mycroft bleed over into Sherlock’s head, or from being the buffer between them or just because Mycroft is the first person outside Sherlock that he’s seen in ages and it feels like a bit of an assault.
Which should make going back to Town interesting. But he’s not going to worry about that yet.
John trudges back upstairs and into the bedroom. He sits down heavily on his side of the bed and drops his face into his hands.
“Come back to bed,” Sherlock orders, or possibly requests, from his cocoon. John looks over at the lump and decides that is a fine idea.
“Right. You have your phone?”
Sherlock holds it up out of his nest.
The hand disappears, then reappears with John’s phone.
“Mine’s in the lab, yours is in the kitchen.”
Sherlock doesn’t answer for a moment. He’s sussing out John. “Do I have a choice?”
“Then that sounds wonderful.”
“Right. I’ll be back in a bit.”
In less than half an hour, John is back in bed. He doesn’t have the covers pulled over his head like Sherlock still does, but he has a tray of breakfast in front of him, both of their laptops are nearby, there is a third phone that John isn’t going to ask about, two newspapers, three medical journals (where did those come from?), and a wifi internet connection.
By mutual unspoken agreement, neither of them intends to get dressed or get up to do more than use the toilet or get food (in John’s case, anyway) for the entire day. And John even remembered to find some paracetamol to take for his headache.
For a while after he’s finished eating, John lies abed, letting his thoughts drift and listening to Sherlock’s slow and steady breathing next to him. The other man isn’t asleep, but he isn’t talking either. That’s fine with John; they don’t need to talk much these days anyway.
Eventually, and he really has no idea how long he lies there (and he’s OK with that), John sits back up and grabs his laptop. A short search nets him the film he wants to watch, on iPlayer of all places, thank god it'd been on BBC earlier in the week, and he makes sure the computer is plugged in so that it won’t die in the middle.
“I’m going to watch a film, Sherlock,” he says. “Do you want me to find headphones?”
“No, it’s fine. Which film?” Sherlock pulls back the covers and looks up at John.
“Do you want to watch with me?”
“Depends on what it is.”
“I think you’d like it. It’s funny.”
Sherlock gives him a shrewd look, and pulls the covers back over his head.
“Suit yourself.” John starts the film.
Right around “Is this a kissing book?” Sherlock pulls the covers back and asks, “What sort of film is this?”
John just chuckles. Sherlock gives in to his curiosity and sits up. He edges closer to John. Shortly thereafter he twitches and shrugs and leans until his head is on John’s upper chest and good shoulder, one arm draped across his ribs. John responds by shifting a bit until he’s more comfortable, until they’re both more comfortable, and lays his arm over Sherlock’s.
Surprisingly, Sherlock doesn’t even comment much on the film. He’s not entirely silent, because he can’t not snark, but he actually lets himself enjoy the film.
He comments that the Sicilian isn’t entirely wrong about Sicilians (to his own experience, anyway), but he lifts his head to look at John at the end of that scene.
“Iocane powder,” Sherlock says flatly.
John snorts with laughter. “Now do you see the parallels? I’ve been telling you for months.”
“You watched this on purpose, didn’t you?”
“Actually, no. I really like it, it’s good for days like today.”
“Days like today?”
“Yeah. You know, duvet days.”
“Mmm,” Sherlock makes that same noncommittal noise as his brother does, and John wonders if they know they both do that.
By the end of the film, John is starting to doze.
“Sherlock, could you budge up for a minute? I want to lie down.”
Sherlock obliges him, grabbing the laptop before it can slide off John’s lap and looking for another film to put on. Maybe a documentary. Something about historical murders, perhaps?
John snuggles under the covers and sighs. “I’munna takea nap,” he slurs, already half asleep. “‘nuggle up?”
It takes Sherlock a minute to realize John is asking for a cuddle. “Of course, John.” He sets aside the laptop (well within reach even from a supine position) and lies down next to John.
Johns eyes have fallen shut, but he smiles. “‘anks, Sh’lock.”
“Of course, John,” Sherlock repeats, softer now. He rests his head on John’s good shoulder and picks the laptop back up. He’ll just have to watch his film with the subtitles on and the sound off.
John makes a pleased sound in his throat that gently lengthens out to a snore. Sherlock listens to his breath even out, and observes the way his emotional state goes soft and blurred around the edges; John is happy like this in his sleep, and Sherlock lets it wash over him. For a few moments, he feels it like it’s his own and lets it blot out his own emotions, and it’s wonderful.
He ends up letting those few moments of basking in John’s contented nap last a lot longer than he should, than he thinks they do. When he shakes himself free, pulls himself back enough so that he can feel where John’s emotions end and his own begin, the documentary he’d started is over.
John is still asleep.
Sherlock shuts the laptop and sets it aside. He shifts so he’s lying curled against John’s side, snugs himself down under the bedclothes, immerses himself in John’s happy sleepy emotions, and lets himself drift.
He doesn’t precisely sleep; he floats on the surface of John’s vast and calm emotions. Somewhere deep down, it feels familiar like a distant memory, and comforting, and Sherlock doesn’t analyze it, nor does he wonder why that is.
Sherlock is still lying quietly curled against his side when John wakes up a few hours later.
“Your brother wants us to have dinner with him.” John doesn’t bring this up until the next day. Sherlock had been upset enough by Mycroft coming out to Sussex, by him showing up at the cottage, and John hadn’t wanted to row with him over it. Because he knows Sherlock won’t want this, will fight it with childish petulance that he just can’t seem to help feeling around his brother.
(This is something he’s noticed before; Mycroft reduces Sherlock to pre-adolescence in ways that Sherlock can’t seem to help. Ah, family.)
“No.” Sherlock’s hackles rise. His mostly settled emotional state goes prickly, goes spiky and sharp. John nearly physically reacts to it; sometimes dealing with Sherlock is like grinding glass into his own skin.
“What do you mean, no?” He keeps his voice even, tries to keep his emotions the same.
“No, John. No. What part of that is confusing? I will not be having dinner with that fat, nosy busybody in that house.”
John sighs. “Sherlock, I don't think he's going to be any less stubborn about this than you are. And, I think, part of it is that he just wants to see you.”
“Of course he just wants to see me, John. Do you know what happens if he just 'sees' me? Do you know what happens to you?”
“He's not going to dissect me. He's not going to take me away from you, Sherlock.” As per usual, John just comes right out and articulates Sherlock's deepest, least easily examined fears.
“You're absolutely right he's not.” Sherlock glares at him for even suggesting it, for putting that into words.
“What if he comes here?”
A snort. “I'd rather he’d just fall into the ocean and never be seen again.”
“I don’t think you’re going to get that wish--besides which, wouldn’t the chaos on a global scale be difficult to deal with?”
“Don’t get cute, John. You’re not amusing.”
“I won’t nag you to talk to him if he comes here.”
“I wouldn’t, either.” Sherlock crosses his arms and stares out the window, over the rolling hills.
“I won’t act as mediator. Won’t even try. Do as you will.”
Sherlock looks at John over his shoulder. Slowly, a smile starts to lift his lips.
“Oh God, I don’t even want to know. Don’t tell me, Sherlock. I’m not helping and I do not want to know.” John throws up his hands and heads for the kitchen, leaving Sherlock to plot against his brother.
John makes the phone call, offers the compromise. Mycroft accepts, offers to bring a dessert.
John stares at the bits of the ceiling he can’t quite reach and glares.
“Sherlock!” he bellows. “Get your arse in here! NOW!”
Sherlock wanders in a few moments later from the lounge, giving John his best innocent whyever-are-you-standing-on-my-dining-table look. “Yes?”
“Get your arse up here right now and help me clean this mess.”
Sherlock cocks his head to one side, gazes at John. There is a smile tugging at the corners of his lips, and inside he’s rolling on the floor in merriment. At least one of them is. Mycroft had been furious and spluttering and covered in pudding when he’d left.
“It’s your fault there’s bloody afters all over the ceiling, Sherlock. You’re the one who rigged the pudding your brother brought to explode.” John tries his hardest not to smile.
“The expression on Mycroft’s face was well worth it, John.”
“That’s as may be, but that doesn’t get you out of cleaning.”
“Tell me the real reason, John.” Sherlock is fully grinning now, hands on hips.
John sighs explosively. “I can’t reach it all, all right?! Get up here!”
Sherlock can’t quite swallow his chuckle, and John glares at him.
“I know fourteen ways to kill you with my bare hands.” But his own smile is starting to break through.
John looks ridiculous, standing on the table with a frilly apron on to try to protect his jumper from the dripping dessert. Sherlock hadn’t even known he’d owned an apron, let alone a frilly one.
Sherlock gives in and laughs. Within moments, John has joined in.
“But did you see, John?” Sherlock gasps, clutching at the table to keep himself upright. “Did you see his expression? I haven’t got one over on him like that since he was twelve!”
John has to sit on the table to keep himself from falling off it. Sherlock’s merriment is infectious. Too infectious, in fact. He forces it away, tamps it down.
“Sherlock, you’re doing it again.”
Slowly, Sherlock sobers, his giggles trailing away. “I’m--? Oh.” His smile dies. “I apologize, John. I can’t seem to help it.”
“No, I know.”
Sherlock reaches out and takes the sponge John had been using from his hands. Silent now, contrite and subdued, he climbs onto the table to finish wiping the dessert off the ceiling and light fixture.
John stays seated next to him. After a few minutes, he reaches out and clasps his hand around Sherlock’s bare ankle. It’s all right, he thinks. We’ll work on it.
Sherlock doesn’t reply to the unspoken reassurance, but he does heave a sigh of relief as he cleans.