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*********

Mycroft Holmes didn’t like children. He hadn’t liked children when he was a child, and he had never intended to be much of a brother to little Sherlock, born to his father’s second wife in Mycroft’s twenty-first year. He hadn’t expected to even be a part of his life, as his father’s second wife doted on the baby exceedingly and his father doted exceedingly on her. Mycroft had been let loose, set adrift, the last remnant of his father’s old life cast aside for the new. He hadn’t minded.

Until his father and his lovely new wife had gone and gotten themselves killed in a traffic accident while Sherlock was still an infant, and Mycroft had been left with custody of the world’s tiniest mad scientist and aspiring body snatcher.

“Leave the bird, Sherlock.”

Sherlock stuck his chin out.

“We don’t carry corpses around. It’s unsanitary.”

Sherlock glared, but pulled the dead starling out of his pocket.

Mycroft had meant to spend his twenties making connections, moving quickly but discreetly up the ranks of government, until he had stabilised the foundation from which he would launch his true career and calling. He had not expected to become, for all intents and purposes, a single parent.

“No live animals, either. Release that toad--release it, Sherlock. Really, were you planning to take it home? Did you honestly believe for one moment I would allow it?”

He’d tried nannies, but past the age of two Sherlock was beyond what the average human could be paid to handle. Mycroft felt justified in saying that, after funding a woman’s around-the-world holiday for one summer’s worth of work. And she still refused to come back, even only for weekends.

Part of it was Sherlock’s natural induction ability. Mycroft knew he should chastise Sherlock for it; one simply did not tell one’s nanny that her five plus boyfriends were not going to be happy when they found out about each other. But it was one of very things he shared with Sherlock, and he found himself reluctant to tamp down on his little brother’s enthusiasm for speaking the truth. Mycroft, after all, had to keep so much from showing up in his expression and inflection, even when he would rather not.

Another part was Sherlock’s insatiable curiosity, which led to dead animal stockpiles and noxious fumes and some of the most inventive traps Mycroft had ever witnessed. The animals had worried him initially, but Sherlock had shown no interest in hurting them; in fact, the one time he found a half-flattened frog slowly dying in the road, Sherlock had sat with it until the end, attempting his best field medicine, and later found the owner of the bicycle who had squashed the poor thing and... well, Mycroft had been relieved that Sherlock had not been hurt badly by the teenaged boy, and strangely proud that the boy would always have a reminder of his crime in the form of a scar from Sherlock’s bite.

The noxious fumes from mixing various household chemicals led to tutors of various disciplines meeting with Sherlock from age four on up, so that at the very least he was supervised in his attempts to... Mycroft wasn’t certain what it was Sherlock was trying to accomplish, but he was driven. And the traps...!

One nanny, in going to check on Sherlock in the night, found herself stuck in the closet with the wardrobe allowing the door four centimeters space to open. She’d been in there for half an hour before Mycroft had gone to investigate the distant pounding. Sherlock had been interrogating her, to make certain she wasn’t some sort of monster disguising itself to gain access.

Sherlock was a terror. Mycroft looked down at him, watching him watch the toad as it made good its escape, and asked a little hopelessly, “Shall we go to the pond?”

Sherlock grunted assent. This was the third day in a row he’d refused to speak. Mycroft worried, but he was also relieved for some quiet, which led to worry about being a terrible brother, which he knew to be banal--oh, was there no end to it?

So much for a day at the park. Mycroft looked at the other children running about, playing silly little games and shouting back and forth, and wondered rather bleakly if he should put Sherlock in a public school again, despite how he had been blacklisted from three already, at the age of seven. The last time had been particularly galling, as it hadn’t been Sherlock’s fault--well, it hadn’t been entirely Sherlock’s fault. That awful little Sebastian had called Sherlock a freak for not having a mummy or daddy, and Sherlock had crisply informed Sebastian that his father wasn’t even his real father, everyone knew it, and had listed the evidence to an astounded audience. That had been the worst Parent’s Day of Mycroft’s life.

But there must be some way to go about setting up meetings between Sherlock and children who weren’t arrogant little trolls. Surely he could use a friend?

*********

Gregory Lestrade hadn’t been keen on having a kid at first. But Luke had wanted it so much that Greg had just kind of gone along with it, letting Luke take care of everything from the surrogate to the adoption, until there was an angry little wrinkly-faced monster of a baby screaming the nights away in the other room and Greg was sitting up with him because, what the hell, he had insomnia anyway and Luke could sleep through wars.

And suddenly he was perfectly in love with the kid.

Which was good, because John was the only and entire reason he’d held it together when Luke was diagnosed with cancer, and when he died only months later, when John was only three. He sat up nights again, even though John was sleeping fine, looking at all the ways Luke’s features were reflected in their son’s beautiful face.

John, who woke him up at 6 am every morning by hopping up on the bed and lifting his eyelids, who refused to eat fish because “they eat their own poo, Da!”, who changed Greg’s plasters and iced his bruises and tsked over his blisters until Greg starting calling him Doc. John, who cleaned up after Greg, who reminded him to update the calendar, who planned their weekends with all the solemnity of a general planning an invasion, but who still argued to stay up late and watch telly, who read comics and laughed even when he didn’t understand if Greg had happened to laugh.

“The world doesn’t deserve you, Doc,” Greg told him, and John, seven years old and putting sandwiches together for their lunches the next day, frowned at him.

“Well, it’s got me,” he said, and Greg laughed until it hurt.

John went trotting after the football Greg had purposely kicked hard and off to the right, with only one pointed scowl shot back at Greg that barely hid his grin. Greg flopped down on the grass to watch him and catch his breath; it was their accepted method of calling for a rest.

Weekends were their hard-earned luxury. Greg had been promoted to Detective Inspector shortly after John’s fifth birthday, and the responsibility had nearly buried him. For a while there John had seen more of Sarah Sawyer, the girl in the upstairs flat who was always wanting babysitting money, than he had of his own da.

But his team was mostly young and active, taking a great deal of the work right out of his hands, and his newly minted Detective Sergeant Sally Donovan was always good for paperwork so long as Greg was good for an alibi whenever the inter-office pranks got out of hand and DI Toby Gregson started threatening punishments. And even Toby was a help, willing to take over when Greg needed to cut out because John was sick at school, although that was more for the sake of John and the memory of Luke--Toby had liked Luke.

Quite a few of the Met’s finest remembered Doctor Lucas Watson, who had treated their broken noses, concussions, fractures, and other assorted injuries with a professional touch and some of the filthiest jokes they’d ever heard, which was saying a lot. Greg had been in with a sprained ankle when Luke, who hadn’t said anything more than “let’s see that ankle, then,” casually told him the one about the boat and the low bridge. Then he’d asked if Greg knew how red his ears got when he was embarrassed, before telling him another joke.

He’d been a goner from day one. Luke had always had his number.

Greg sat up a bit straighter, frowning. John had the football, was casually holding it in one arm, but he was staring at something in the big clump of hedge. Greg hoped it wasn’t some injured animal or other; John was still trying to convince him they needed a pet after taking care of Mrs. Turner’s bull pup, Gladstone, for a week last month.

When John put the ball down and climbed into the hedge, Greg got to his feet. This couldn’t be good.

*********

“What are you doing?” the little boy asked, and Sherlock curled up tighter in his hedge.

He wasn’t supposed to have seen. Most people didn’t see. Even other kids just went on by, chasing toys or each other.

But the boy was climbing in now, and he was still staring at him! Sherlock couldn’t get out except by the way the boy was coming in. “I’m playing,” he said loudly. “Go away.”

The boy stopped. “What are you playing?”

“Hiding.”

“Who from?”

“From whom,” Sherlock shot back, quick as a striking snake. He felt a tremendous sense of relief; the boy wasn’t as smart as he was. But he didn’t much like the very grown-up look the boy had on his face; exasperation, he thought. His tutors wore that look a lot.

“From whom, then,” the boy said.

“Can’t you tell?” Well, it wouldn’t be very obvious, Sherlock realised. Mycroft wouldn’t race around looking for him; he’d wait, very sensibly, in the middle of the park, on the high hill, swinging his stupid umbrella around. That is, if he didn’t already know where Sherlock was.

The boy turned around easily, so he must be smaller than Sherlock. That was good. “Well, the only person I can see looking around is my da. Give me a hint?”

Sherlock leaned over the boy’s shoulder, focusing on the man walking with measured tread to the hedge. “Mycroft never looks. He just waits.”

“Is he your brother?” the boy asked, and Sherlock froze. “You all right?”

“Why did you ask that?” Sherlock asked fiercely. The boy’s father was getting closer. Sherlock grabbed his shoulders and dragged him further back into the hedge.

“Hey!”

“Why did you ask that?” Sherlock demanded, pushing the boy around until he could stare him in the eyes. The boy frowned darkly at him from centimeters away.

“Why did I ask what?”

“How did you know he’s my brother?”

The boy rolled his eyes. “You said he, and you said his name, and most kids don’t call their das by their names, and if he’s not searching for you then he’s probably not your friend, because a friend would be looking. But brothers aren’t nice a lot of the time. My da told me.”

Sherlock sat back and stared at him. “Correct.”

“Yeah?”

“Your father is a policeman,” Sherlock said suddenly. “Tell me how I know.”

“What?” The boy was staring again, blankly, and Sherlock wanted to shake him. “How should I know?”

“You knew about my brother!”

“That was easy, though!”

“This is, too!” Sherlock poked him hard in the belly, and the boy kicked at him half-heartedly.

“Go on, tell me,” he said, sounding a bit resigned, but also a little bit interested. “How did you know about my da?”

Sherlock snorted. “He’s walking like policemen do, and he’s looking around like he’s not worried but he’s seeing everything, and...” Sherlock trailed off. The boy was still staring, but now with respect.

“And?”

“And he was on the telly the other day, talking about those murders,” Sherlock finished sourly. The boy blinked twice, then burst into laughter.

Sherlock shoved him. “Stop it! Don’t laugh at me!”

“No, no!” the boy gasped. “It’s all right; that was brilliant!”

“What?” That was not what Sherlock had expected to hear.

“My da says sometimes the answer’s so simple, no one thinks of it,” the boy said. “He says it takes a smart person to see the obvious.”

“Doc?” a voice said, and they both turned to look at the boy’s father, who was leaning down and peering into the hedge. “Come on out of there, you two.”

*********

John crawled out easily enough, but the other boy was having trouble with his big black coat.

“Aren’t you warm?” John asked, and got an ugly glare in reply.

“Isn’t this jolly,” his da said. “It’s looking like rain, kids. Time for home.” He tilted his head, considering the boy. “Where are your parents?”

“He’s here with his brother,” John volunteered. The boy’s arms were tightly crossed over his chest, and he didn’t seem to want to talk, though he was glaring fiercely at John’s da. “Mycroft.”

“All right,” his da said easily. “Where’s Mycroft?”

“Pardon?” This was a new voice. John turned to look at a tall man, holding an umbrella, who was walking up to their little group. “I am Mycroft. Mycroft Holmes.”

John’s da shook the man’s hand, straightening up a little from his slouch. “Gregory Lestrade. Sorry, just collecting my son here.”

“I’m terribly sorry if Sherlock was bothering you,” the man said politely, and the boy hunched his shoulders and glared even harder. John stepped up.

“We were having fun,” he said, holding out his hand. The man--Mycroft--looked surprised, but took and shook John’s hand as well. “Nice to meet you. I’m John Watson.”

“It’s a pleasure, John,” Mycroft said, and smiled. It was a nice enough smile, John decided, but it didn’t look like he practiced it enough.

“Thanks for playing with me, Sherlock,” John said, turning now to the boy. Sherlock looked confused, like John was doing something he couldn’t understand.

“Be polite, Sherlock,” Mycroft prompted, sounding tired.

“Thank you very much,” Sherlock said quickly, then turned his back and stared very hard the opposite direction.

“I suppose we’ll see you some other time, then,” John’s da said, putting his hand on John’s shoulder.

“Tomorrow!” Sherlock fired over his shoulder, then went back to staring the other way. Mycroft looked surprised again and John looked up at his da, who was staring at Sherlock with one eyebrow up.

“Can we come back tomorrow, Da?” John asked.

“It’s supposed to rain,” his da said. “We were going to go to the museum, remember?”

“Do you want to go to the Science Museum?” John asked Sherlock. “We can go to the IMAX.”

“We wouldn’t want to impose upon your day,” Mycroft said, and John opened his mouth to argue, but his da squeezed his shoulder.

“It wouldn’t be an imposition. I wouldn’t mind if John had someone to run around with,” John’s da said, and John smiled up at him proudly.

“I want to go,” Sherlock said suddenly and loudly. Mycroft winced.

“If you’re not busy or anything,” John’s da continued. “I wouldn’t want to disrupt your plans.”

“Oh, no, we’ve nothing,” Mycroft said, fiddling with his umbrella. John watched him with interest. Did he want to say no? Seemed like it, but it also seemed like he didn’t.

“I want to go!” Sherlock said again, and whirled around to tug at Mycroft’s sleeve. Mycroft looked down at him with big, surprised eyes.

“Tomorrow at ten, then, yeah?” John’s da said, with the little smile he got when John was being very reasonable about why he needed a new toy or to stay up late to watch a program.

“I suppose,” Mycroft said. He looked confused, just like Sherlock had.

“Bye, Sherlock,” John said. He grabbed the football and then tugged on his da’s arm, determined to get them out of there before something could happen to mess up their plans. “Come on, Da! Let’s go before it starts raining!”

“Right. Bye, Mycroft, Sherlock.” His da took his hand and led him away. They were a good distance from the other family when he spoke again. “Nice choice of friend there, Doc.”

“I think so, too,” John said. Then he frowned. “Wait, are you being that thing again? Sar--sarc-something?”

His da was laughing too hard to answer.

*********

Ask, and ye shall receive, Mycroft thought.

Sherlock was awake at half past five, preparing for his day at the museum, and it was only Mycroft’s oft-repeated threats of calling John’s father and canceling that had his little brother settling down, however grudgingly. For approximately three hours, Sherlock sat on the edge of the tall chair in Mycroft’s office and stared at the clock.

“Eat,” Mycroft said warningly, putting a small tray with various foods on it in front of him. One could never be sure what Sherlock was eating that day. It was best to offer him a variety of known foods, with a few new ones added.

Although, raw onions first thing? Mycroft shuddered.

They left the house at nine-thirty, the latest possible time, as Sherlock was almost vibrating out of his skin with impatience. If it weren’t for the terrible feeling that some mistake had been made, that the oh-so-very normal child from the park and his sloe-eyed father weren’t remnants of a day dream, Mycroft would have been amused. Sherlock, excited for anything that wasn’t pure mayhem? Highly, highly improbable.

But not impossible. Mycroft’s chest felt a bit pinched as he caught sight of Gregory Lestrade and John Watson, waiting under an awning near the museum entrance.

“Morning!” Gregory called out cheerfully and waved them over, but now, of course, Sherlock refused to move. Mycroft tried not let embarrassment sweep over him; this was only par for the course with Sherlock. He set to pushing his stubborn, pinching, elbow-throwing little brother across ten meters of public space while maintaining a semblance of dignity, and found the latter to be an exercise in futility.

He caught the edge of the look Gregory exchanged with his son, and again felt that awful heat in his face. “Sherlock, would you rather go home?” he hissed, and almost wept in relief when Sherlock finally stopped fighting him and let himself be pushed forward, listless and staring at the ground.

“Not good at mornings?” Gregory asked sympathetically. “John learned how to run the coffeemaker when he was five so I could function.”

“My da endangers my safety a lot,” John told Sherlock. “Do you want to go to the IMAX? I want to see the space adventure.”

“I don’t endanger your safety,” Gregory protested. “Where did you--”

“I put the kettle on last time Sally was at ours, and she says that endangers me. Now, Da, hush; I’m talking with my friend.”

Gregory’s eyebrows lifted very high, and he turned to Mycroft with a small grin. “Well, that’s me dismissed.”

They walked into the museum together, Gregory making small talk about the different exhibits, apparently researched with his son over the phone when Gregory was late at the office, and Mycroft, never one to be tongue-tied, nevertheless found himself absorbing the incredibly mundane details in fascinated silence, piecing together a rather more interesting narrative as he did.

He had already gathered that Gregory was a widower, from the very codependent life he and his son led and the ring still present on his finger, and it was a small leap to assume that John was biologically related to his late parent. He understood now how very much wrapped up in his work and his son’s life Gregory was, and how very lonely he was, although he didn’t realise it; Gregory obviously thought himself fine with his situation, just himself and John against the world.

Sherlock seemed to come alive again inside the museum; he grabbed John’s arm and dragged him along, ignoring John’s protests about the IMAX. Mycroft watched with some trepidation.

“Over being shy, is he?” Gregory said, smiling in a sly, sideways manner. Sherlock shot one dark glare over his shoulder, and Gregory botched hiding his laugh by faking a very unconvincing cough.

“I don’t know if he’s shy or merely being troublesome,” Mycroft confessed, shaking his head at Sherlock sternly. “I have a hard time reading him.”

“Kids can be like that,” Gregory said easily. “I tend to treat them like cats.”

“Like cats?” Mycroft repeated.

“Yeah. Let them do what they like, unless they’re climbing the curtains.” Gregory looked at his face and laughed. “You opt for a more structured approach?”

Always. Mycroft shook his head. “I try, but Sherlock abhors structure. He says it’s boring.”

“So he does talk?”

“At length, when he’s of a mind.”

Gregory laughed again and Mycroft felt his own concern easing; this was fine, and good. Being a parent with another parent. Sharing stories and sympathy. It was probably very common to experience a somewhat strong feeling for someone who could empathise so easily with the irritation Mycroft felt over the smoke damage in the library from Sherlock’s experimentation with magnifying glasses and combustion rates of various materials.

“Oh, I was a destructive little monster, too. Luckily John takes after Luke. He was John’s biological dad, and a doctor,” Gregory explained. He rubbed at his ring absently. “Doc--John, I mean--he was born lecturing me about my habits.”

It was less common, Mycroft worried, to feel as if his stomach had jumped upon hearing that John’s late parent and Gregory’s late spouse had been a man.

*********

They made it to the Who Am I? gallery, following Sherlock, who had been moving at a near-run. John, despite his initial complaints, had gone along fairly eagerly. It was odd, to watch him with his friend, not once looking back at Greg. It was good, too, Greg was sure.

“They seem fast friends already,” Mycroft observed, and Greg turned back to him gratefully.

“Yeah. Doc’s not usually so quick to like another kid.”

“Neither is Sherlock. What luck that they fell in together.”

Greg considered Mycroft’s polite smile and looked again at Sherlock, bouncing impatiently while waiting for his turn at the DNA exhibit. He couldn’t really see the resemblance. “Well, here’s hoping Doc’s patience holds out.”

“Here’s hoping it doesn’t,” Mycroft said. “Sherlock could stand to be told no.”

“Don’t you?”

Mycroft tilted his head, packing more meaning into the simple movement than most people could in a full-bodied shrug and subtitles. “There’s very little I can withhold that he treasures.”

There was so much to unpack in that, Greg couldn’t even begin. He didn’t like to play inspector when off the clock, but he could tell that there was so much lying under the surface here that he would have to deal with, one way or another, if John was going to be friends with Sherlock Holmes.

But he liked them. Both of them, Sherlock and Mycroft, two incredibly awkward human beings who somehow fired up all of his protective instincts, and Doc’s, too, apparently. He had a feeling Mycroft had never kicked the football around as a child, and had no idea that perhaps it would be good for Sherlock to have that chance.

Besides, he had a soft spot for any kid who chose catching a fake criminal in a museum game over getting motion sickness at the IMAX.

“Do you feel as if you’re back at the Yard?” Mycroft asked dryly as Sherlock pulled John along, making insultingly loud sighs of impatience at the other children.

Greg was surprised into a laugh. “A bit, yeah. Though at least I’m not dressed for it.” He looked meaningfully at Mycroft, at the three piece suit, and grinned when Mycroft cleared his throat gently and straightened his tie. “That’s a bit much for the Yard, though.”

“Perfect for a Sunday outing.”

“For the office?” Greg kept his voice light, but he caught the way Mycroft’s eyes darted to him, and knew that they both knew he was happy to be nosy. Detective Inspector, after all. Not that he’d mentioned it.

“Minor government official,” Mycroft said with a quirk of his lips. “Currently attached to Transport.”

“Got you to thank for the mess when I try to get to work?”

“You’re very welcome.”

“You called me out, so I take it you’ve read about the Bellingham murders,” Greg said, feeling his shoulders start to tense. “Please tell me you didn’t see that fiasco of a press conference.”

Mycroft hesitated. “Perhaps you were a bit... abrupt.”

“I nearly got sacked,” Greg said, and then laughed. Mycroft turned his head away and brought a hand to his mouth, trying to hide his amusement.

“It would have been a tragedy,” Mycroft managed to say with heartwarming sincerity.

Greg shook his head and hooked his thumbs on his belt, grinning widely. They walked slowly after the children, each keeping an eye out, and were as surprised as the kids when two hours flashed by, spanning four more galleries that Sherlock declared, in increasingly loud and confident tones, “Boring!”

“Break for lunch?” Greg asked John, who was flushed with laughter and admiration after Sherlock tore through the Medicine gallery, looking for some specific horrific medical implement to show them. They hadn’t found it, but both children had been fascinated by the artificial noses.

“I’m not hungry!” John insisted, just as his stomach growled loudly. Greg grinned at him and John made a face. “All right, maybe I am.”

Greg turned to Mycroft, who was again looking surprised as he stared at his brother. Sherlock was looking between John and the noses with an expression of acute frustration.

“We can come back,” Greg said, and Sherlock looked up at him with a very intense frown.

“Right after,” he said, and curled his hand around John’s wrist. It clearly wasn’t a question.

“Sherlock,” Mycroft said warningly, but Greg knelt and put himself at Sherlock’s level.

“It’s a deal,” he said, and held out his hand. Sherlock looked from it to Greg’s face, and then at John, before finally shaking his hand firmly. Some of the fight left his expression and John beamed approvingly; Greg nevertheless had a feeling that this was only the first in a long, long line of battles, and he was going to be lucky to win half of them.

He felt a great deal of sympathy for Mycroft, suddenly.

*********

John was eating too slowly. Sherlock considered the amount of food on his tray, the amount of time he was taking to eat his chips--made longer by his insistence on talking to his father; he could talk to his father later!--and decided to help him. He snagged a chip.

“Sherlock!”

Sherlock glared at Mycroft, who was raising his eyebrows now. “If you are hungry,” his brother said slowly, “we will get you something of your own.”

“It’s fine,” John insisted. “I don’t mind sharing.”

Sherlock took another chip and ate it smugly, moving to sit closer to John, who didn’t even mind when Sherlock took a chip right out of his hand.

John was also full of information about the Metropolitan Police Service--the Met, he called it, with a familiarity that made Sherlock fierce and angry, but at Mycroft, not at John. Mycroft, who always sneered when Sherlock wanted to watch crime shows on the telly, who looked away from policemen like they were impolite for just being there; Mycroft who was now watching John’s father like he was more interesting than his international reports on which Sherlock only sometimes drew.

“What about tomorrow?” he suddenly asked, in the middle of John’s IMAX show. Sherlock had no interest in space; he had spent the time plotting out what he and John might get up to when John visited his home--because he would. He had to. Sherlock had imagined the scenario often enough in the past half hour that it seemed to him it had already happened, that John thought his miniature skeleton was brilliant and agreed that the library was the best room in the house.

“Hush,” Mycroft whispered sternly. John’s father, who had spent the entire show so far napping, jerked and opened his eyes.

“But--”

“Sherlock, shut up,” John hissed, grabbing his hand and squeezing. The contact was shocking enough to Sherlock that he did, staring at John’s hand even after he let go.

One of Mycroft’s stupid doctors had told him that Sherlock had an aversion to touch--not true, and Sherlock had proven it when he bit her. He had an aversion to being touched. Mycroft had called his argument semantics, and Sherlock had gone off in a huff and secretly dug out a dictionary.

He didn’t like being touched. But he didn’t mind that John had done so.

It hadn’t felt like he was trapped, or that he had to listen; it was more like asking than demanding. Sherlock stared at John’s hand with his eyebrows drawn together and almost didn’t notice John looking back at him, until John leaned closer.

“Sorry,” he whispered. Sherlock shook his head, still staring at John’s hand.

After a long moment, John held it out to him, palm up, on the arm rest. Sherlock felt very warm when he took it in his own, inspecting the lines on the palm and the whorls of his fingertips, comparing them to his own in the dim light.

“Tomorrow,” he said again when the show ended and they filed back out of the theatre.

“Monday,” John’s father said, and Sherlock wanted to growl.

“School,” John added helpfully, which was worse.

“Lessons,” Mycroft finished with a warning clear in his voice.

“After?” he asked, and he was almost begging, which was awful and made him feel like a child. He shoved his hands in his pockets and glared at everyone.

“I have football, and then I go with my da or Sally or Sarah,” John said, sounding almost apologetic. John’s father shrugged at Mycroft’s questioning look.

“Depends on how the day goes,” he said. “Usually it’s me.”

“Sally and Sarah?” Mycroft asked, sounding polite and almost bored, which meant he really wanted to know. Sherlock realised this with rising excitement, though he didn’t quite know how to use it yet.

“My sergeant and neighbour, respectively.”

“After,” Sherlock said insistently. Mycroft was frowning at him again.

“How about next weekend?” John’s father asked. “If you don’t have something going.”

Sherlock felt heat stinging in his eyes. Next weekend? Mycroft said it often enough: when people put things off, when they were vague, that meant they weren’t planning on following through.

“Sherlock,” Mycroft said, and Sherlock turned his back, blinking furiously. John touched his shoulder and Sherlock shrugged him off viciously. He wasn’t helping; he wasn’t even trying to help!

“Da?” John said helplessly.

John’s father sighed, and then Sherlock was aware of him kneeling, again, to his right. “Hold on,” he said, and scribbled something on a small white card. After a moment he held out it to Sherlock. “This is my card, all right? It has my mobile and work numbers; don’t call those unless you need to. Home phone on the back. Email if you don’t want to talk. We can set something up for the weekend, all right?”

Sherlock snatched the card from his hand and held it tight, as if he might take it back. John’s father’s face was very serious, and very honest, Sherlock decided. He meant it. They could set something up for the weekend. And Sherlock could call every day to make sure they didn’t forget.

“Thank you very much,” he said, very formally, and turned his back on the man.

*********

“He’s as bad as a teenage girl!” John’s da said when the phone rang promptly at 6:30. “Go answer it, Doc.”

John tried not to laugh as he went to get it. Sherlock could tell, and he didn’t like it. “Hello, John Watson speaking.”

“Saturday?” Sherlock said immediately. He sounded angry, but John knew he wasn’t really.

“Park in the morning, and then tea at yours in the afternoon,” he said promptly. “And you don’t want to play football but I’m going to play so you can just sit and watch if you like, and you don’t want scones but Mycroft always has them for tea, and you have a skeleton and it’s not real but it looks real.”

Sherlock made a happy sound and started pushing the phone’s buttons to make music. This, too, was something John was used to after four days of phone calls.

“Don’t know it.”

“Sakura. It’s Japanese.”

“Da says you have an excellent music education.”

Sherlock played on the buttons more.

“I have to go now,” John said over the button-mashing. “Dinner.”

Sherlock made an irritated sound. “You eat a lot.”

“Make sure there are lots of things at tea,” John said, grinning. Sherlock hung up on him.

“Who was that?” Sally asked his da, and John walked back to the table as his da explained. Sally had joined them for dinner so that she and his da could continue talking about work while John watched telly.

“Sounds like a good time,” Sally said doubtfully. “He’s a nice kid, John?”

“Not really,” John said cheerfully, “but I like him.”

“You and your son have problems,” Sally told his da, and that started them arguing again in their usual, comfortable way.

“Oh, cozying up to ministers now, are we?”

“Better than dinosaur geeks in forensics.”

“One time! That was one time, and I didn’t know about the dinosaurs!”

“Everyone knew about the dinosaurs. Didn’t you see the calendar?”

John dragged himself off to bed near ten; Sally and his da each had a beer and were still arguing about watching somebody, so John changed into his pyjamas and snuggled into his da’s bed. Sometimes Sally spent the night, and when she did, John was happy to give up his room to her. Sometimes she left him sweets under his pillow as a thank you.

“When I said you needed friends, I meant friends, not charity cases.”

“Leave it, Sal.”

John rolled over and blinked at his da, who was looking for his pyjamas in the dark. “It’s okay, I’m up,” he said, and yawned widely.

“Shouldn’t be. It’s late,” his da whispered back. “Sleep, Doc. Sherlock will run you ragged tomorrow.”

“He’s a good one, Da,” John insisted. It was something his da said sometimes; that someone was “a good one.” John especially liked when his da said it about him.

“I know, Doc. Hush now; Sally’s going to sleep, too. Wouldn’t want to keep her up.”

John nodded without really hearing. “His brother, too. He’s a good one.”

“What will it take? Glass of water? Milk?” His da sat down on the bed and John rolled over again, making room. “They wouldn’t be our friends if they weren’t good.”

“Yeah,” John said, and yawned again, so hard that his eyes teared up. “It’s good that you get a friend, too.”

Now his da was laughing, and John lay down on his chest to feel it jump up and down. “Good night, Doc.”

“Night, Da.”

*********

“Your house is big,” John informed them gravely, and Mycroft wanted to laugh.

“It is, a bit,” he said instead, just as gravely, and then Sherlock had John by the arm and was pulling him along. Gregory was laughing into his sleeve, and Mycroft caught his gaze long enough to earn a wink.

“He says the obvious a lot,” Gregory said, and laughed again. “I can’t imagine where he gets it from.”

Now Mycroft laughed aloud. “We are, of course, products of our environments.”

“Of course.”

They walked into the house together, listening to the stomping of the two children down the hall, hearing a distant door slam. “That would be the library,” Mycroft said with a sigh. “Sherlock’s favourite room.”

“The room he set on fire?”

“Twice.” They exchanged another amused look, and Mycroft was amazed by it; that from the first moment in the park to now, he’d felt afloat. Sherlock had been awake at half five again, counting the minutes until they would meet Gregory and John, and Mycroft had again been beset by the feeling that an elaborate joke was being played.

They walked together into the garden; Gregory saw the set-up for tea and whistled. “Posh,” he said, raising an eyebrow at Mycroft.

“Obvious,” Mycroft chided, earning another laugh, and tried to look as if he hadn’t ordered his staff to do anything out of the ordinary. Really, though, they had outdone themselves; Mycroft observed the sheer amount of sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, scones, and various other odds and ends with some concern. He tended to overeat, to the point of discomfort, as if he could make up in his own sitting what Sherlock wasn’t eating.

“We’ll have to invite the rest of the Met next time,” Gregory said blithely. “There just might be enough here to feed them all up.”

“I’m sure my neighbours would appreciate it,” Mycroft said dryly.

“Would they even notice?” Gregory looked around the garden. “You could have your own zoo here.”

Mycroft grimaced. “If Sherlock had his way.”

“Ah, right.” Gregory smiled at him. “But it’s easy to sympathise, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” Mycroft couldn’t imagine wanting to bring home half of the creatures he’d made Sherlock empty from his pockets. How he hadn’t lost his brother to some sort of infection yet, he didn’t know.

“You’re not much older than him; you must’ve been planning a zoo back here, oh, last year,” Gregory teased, and Mycroft drew himself to his full height without conscious recognition of it.

“I am twenty-eight, Gregory. I haven’t been planning zoos for two decades.”

“Oh, Lord, you are just a kid.” Gregory shook his head and looked away, a small smile on his lips. “Should I be worried about setting a good example?”

“Eight years’ difference doesn’t mean much past twenty,” Mycroft said, a bit coldly, but Gregory only laughed.

“Nearly a decade? You could be my kid brother.”

Ah, a joke after all, and played entirely on him. Mycroft fought back a swell of indefinable emotion in his throat; bad enough that he should have some sort of feeling for the man, but for him to think of Mycroft as a kid? The disappointment made his voice sharp. “Is this your way of leveling the field again, Gregory?”

“What?” Gregory looked honestly confused, and then quite suddenly horrified, and that made it so much worse. “No, I--no. No, it’s nothing to do with...”

He trailed off, and an awkward silence bloomed between them, for the first time since they’d met. Mycroft could not begin to understand how he could have sabotaged the situation so quickly. How was he to salvage it?

*********

It was the shock and guilt--barely visible, but there--that flickered in Mycroft’s eyes that allowed Greg to breathe again, to consider an option beyond getting John and getting out of there. Whatever Mycroft had meant, he hadn’t meant, well, that. Greg was veteran of enough arguments to know that what was said wasn’t necessarily true or, at least, not the real reason for the fight.

So, time to put his detective skills to use, yeah? “So what are we on about?”

Mycroft went a bit red. “I don’t really know.”

Technically true, Greg thought, sticking his hands in his pocket and keeping a watch on the man from the side of his eye. Mycroft was doing the same, except for the pockets. “I was just thinking. It’s harder for you, with Sherlock. Not as many years on him; not as much experience. I mean, I don’t expect you watched the neighbour kids for pocket money.”

Mycroft actually laughed. “No, not often,” he said, and relief was showing clear in his face.

Greg rolled his shoulders, feeling some of the tension dissipate. “But that’s good, too, you know? Because you can’t quite compare Sherlock to most of the kids his age, I’m guessing.”

“He’s usually a bit beyond them,” Mycroft said. He was watching Greg a bit more closely now, fidgeting less with the umbrella. Not quite the unguarded state Greg was looking for, but he could work with it.

“I bet the same was true for you,” he continued.

Mycroft sighed heavily. “You think I ought to have more sympathy for Sherlock.”

“No, I think you ought to have more sympathy for yourself. If sympathy’s the word,” Greg said, and smiled at the skeptical look on Mycroft’s face. “Come on, Mycroft. How can you ask him to act mature, or grown up, if all you show him is how stressful it is?”

“What are you saying, Gregory?” Mycroft asked impatiently, giving his name the same sort of peremptoriness that a teacher might, making Greg’s smile stretch into a grin.

“I’m saying that it’s a lovely tea, but it could be improved with a tiger or a polar bear or two.”

For a long moment, Mycroft stared at him, and Greg waited. “There’s hardly enough room for both habitats,” he said at last, and relaxation had been achieved.

“Just the tiger, then. Or maybe some lions?”

“A wolf pack, perhaps. If anyone became suspicious, we could say they were a dog sled team.”

Greg burst into laughter. “Good thinking! Exactly what I would expect of a Holmes! What about flamingoes?”

“What about them?” Mycroft looked at him askance, but there was a smile lurking around the edges of his mouth, too.

“I like them.”

Mycroft wrinkled his nose. “They smell.”

“All birds do!”

“Precisely. No flamingoes.”

Mycroft raised an eyebrow very impressively when Greg began to argue, so Greg just sighed, and stuck out his lower lip. “See if I visit your zoo.”

“What’s to like about them? Rather than penguins, or ostriches, or the like.”

“Well,” Greg hesitated, and now it was Mycroft who burst into laughter, bright and surprisingly strong.

“Because they’re pink?” he demanded incredulously. “Really, Gregory.”

Greg crossed his arms over his chest. “They’re an interesting pink!”

The look Mycroft graced him with then was warm and soft, sideways and half-hidden behind the laughter that was still lighting up his eyes. Greg felt his skin grow warmer and tighter, and his stomach curl around itself.

So that was it. He felt a little heat in his face and looked away, off-balance again. That wasn’t what he’d expected. He cleared his throat and rubbed at his ring with his thumb.

“Tea?” Mycroft asked, the warmth and softness still in his voice, making it oddly supple to Greg’s ears.

*********

John thought his skeleton was brilliant, and agreed that the library was the best room in the house, all other rooms unseen. Sherlock was scowling as hard as he could to keep from jumping around with sheer joy.

John was standing in the middle of the room, looking up at chandelier that Mycroft hated but hadn’t replaced, because Sherlock threw a fit whenever he knew Mycroft was considering it, and at the heavy shelves lining the walls. “We could make a blanket fort.”

“A blanket maze,” Sherlock said immediately, suddenly seeing the possibilities. “With traps.”

John’s eyes lit up. “We could hide in it and wait for Da and Mycroft to find us.”

They grinned at each other, then Sherlock led John on a great blanket search, named the Great Blanket Heist by John’s da when he and Mycroft caught them at it twenty minutes later.

“I am not going to ask--” Mycroft started, staring down at Sherlock and the pile of blankets with eyes that was John.

“I am,” John’s da said. “What are you two up to?”

“Playing,” John said, muffled by blankets.

Mycroft stared at Sherlock, and Sherlock squirmed. He’d been certain John’s da would distract him. He hated getting caught. “Put them back, please.”

“But we were going to make something! It was going to be brilliant!” John argued, dropping the blankets and looking up at both men beseechingly. “You’ll see. It will be fantastic. Da, don’t you want to see?”

John’s da looked from John to Mycroft, a tiny grin on his face. “Be a good guest, Doc.”

“Mr. Holmes, may we please make something brilliant in your library with a lot of blankets? We will clean it up when we’re done,” John said very quickly, with great sincerity. Here was a tactic Sherlock had never tried; he sneaked a look at Mycroft to see if it was working.

It was. Mycroft was thinking. Sherlock could never get him to think about something after he’d said no. John was magic.

“Please?” he tried, and felt warm when John beamed at him.

“We came to call you to tea,” Mycroft said, but he didn’t sound very convincing. Sherlock had never heard him sound uncertain before. It was a little scary.

“You’ll have more energy with a bit of food in you,” John’s da said, and he sounded certain. Sherlock wanted to glare, but John was shaking his head a little. “Come on, put your blankets wherever you’re taking them--and you can’t possibly need more than that, you must have every blanket in the house, and afterwards you can finish whatever you’re planning. John, do I have to remind you...?”

“No, Da,” John said very sweetly, and Sherlock almost missed how Mycroft, too, looked annoyed at missing whatever the rest of the question was.

“Good,” John’s da said, very seriously.

Sherlock felt the natural break there and ran with it, and with John, tugging him along towards the garden before Mycroft could get another word in. It wouldn’t last; John’s da would be on Mycroft’s side sometimes, and Mycroft would eventually figure out how to work around John, too, but for now...

“Did I just agree to a brilliant blanket surprise in the library?” Mycroft asked, sounding dazed.

Sherlock grinned, unable to hide it any longer.

“And if we make it really amazing, and if Mycroft doesn’t let us leave it up, Da will help us clean it up,” John told him in a whisper when they made it outside, ahead of the grownups.

Sherlock did his best not to smirk at Mycroft during tea and give it away.

*********

The Brilliant Blanket Surprise was as brilliant as John had hoped it would be, mostly because Sherlock was probably part spider and could even climb walls. Blankets hung from shelves, anchored by books and old telescopes and a big globe that had taken both boys to lift. A few were tied together to create longer walls; some were held up with John’s shoelaces, happily given up.

It wasn’t a very difficult maze, because they couldn’t shift the few free-standing shelves, but there were a few sections where a grown-up might be forced to crawl and a small, hidden doorway to under Mycroft’s heavy desk, where John and Sherlock just fit.

And, of course, two traps.

The first was a simple rope trigger: if you didn’t step over the bit of thread Sherlock strung between two chairs, you’d pull out the watering can that was supporting a few books that were supporting the end of a blanket that was holding up some leaves the boys had scrounged from outside.

“Mycroft won’t fall for it, but maybe your father will,” Sherlock had said, and John had been quick to defend his da. But really, that one was the trap Mycroft would be expecting, and would warn John’s da to expect, so whether they triggered it or not, they would probably notice it and not be on their guard for the second trap.

That one was fairly brilliant, and had to be sprung from their fort under the desk. The middle of the Brilliant Blanket Surprise was a tall, circus tent like structure, where two grown-ups could stand easily, as the blankets were hooked up to the chandelier in the center of the room. But, with the sharp pull of a rope, the blankets would fall and two full cups of glitter would overbalance and spill all over (they had raided the art supplies cabinet while Mycroft and John’s da were still eating, and John had wished aloud that his school would let kids use old pipes and fishing nets in art class).

John’s role was to get the grown-ups into the room, and to lead them into the trap. “Come on, you have to see!” he said, tugging on his da’s hand and smiling winningly at Mycroft. “Sherlock’s inside. He said he’s never coming out.”

“Is that so,” Mycroft said, setting down his cup as John’s da got up. It wasn’t really a question, so John ignored it.

“Better than fire, right? Come on, let’s see what they’ve put together,” John’s da said, grinning down at John, then at Mycroft. Mycroft got to his feet and John beamed.

He scrambled quickly into the blankets as his da whistled and Mycroft made a strange noise. “Come on! Come in!”

“This is the best blanket fort I’ve ever seen,” John’s da said warmly, and ducked inside. Mycroft followed immediately, pointing out the thread as John climbed under the desk, half-falling on Sherlock. Sherlock pushed him around until they both fit, grinning widely.

John’s da made it into the center first. “Like a circus tent! Nice work, Doc, Sherlock. Where’d you get to?”

Mycroft straightened up, looking up at the chandelier suspiciously. “Sherlock, I warn you, you will have to tidy up.”

John and Sherlock looked at each other, and grinned again. Sherlock whispered, “Worth it.”

He pulled the rope.

“What--”

“Sherlock!”

The blankets fell away, and the glitter scattered everywhere, to every part of the room, even dusting John and Sherlock, as the cups bounced harmlessly on the floor. John’s da’s mouth was wide open, jaw dropped, and Mycroft’s face was screwed up tight. Both were glittering, head to foot.

John’s da peeked at Mycroft, who cracked open one eye to look back at him. Then John’s da ran his hand through his hair, and all four of them watched silently as glitter fell like rain.

“I didn’t expect glitter,” Mycroft said into the silence. “Well done, children.”

Then he and John’s da burst into laughter.

Sherlock grabbed John’s shoulder in a tight grip, grinning fiercely in triumph, and whispered, “Look!” as if John weren’t doing exactly that, and feeling something a bit sour and twisty in his stomach. His da was brushing glitter off of Mycroft and smiling at him, a different sort of smile than he had for Sally or Sarah. It was the kind of smile he had in pictures with John’s other da, his da in heaven.

He wasn’t supposed to smile like that for friends. John felt a bit sick, suddenly, and cold.

*********

They’d made a tentative plan to meet at the park again and take tea at the Lestrade-Watson household for the next weekend, with the usual caveat of rescheduling should either family find themselves busy. Mycroft was just as determined as Sherlock that there would be no need.

“We should have tea here again,” Sherlock said suddenly, looking up from his breakfast of sashimi and maple-cream biscuits. Mycroft was drinking a very strong-smelling coffee in an effort to overpower the sickening combination of odours.

“Gregory and John want to return the favour,” Mycroft said absently, looking over his reports. “Besides, you should relish the chance to root through John’s things. Think of all you can learn.”

“I don’t want to learn. I want John here. And his father, too.”

Mycroft moved his mug in an easy but quick defensive maneuver as Sherlock tried to dunk a biscuit into it. “We can invite them back--”

“I want them here for always,” Sherlock said flatly. “You do, too.”

Mycroft put down his mug and tried not to sigh too loudly. “We’ve known them less than a month, Sherlock.”

“That’s long enough.”

“Long enough for us, yes, but Gregory and John aren’t... they won’t...” Mycroft tried to shape the words in a way that Sherlock could understand. “They won’t consider it proper. The vast majority of people--”

“Are idiots.” Sherlock’s arms were crossed over his chest.

Mycroft tried again. “The vast majority of people do not consider it proper to move into another family’s home while the first family is still living there.”

“That’s stupid, and John’s not stupid, so it will be fine!”

Try, try again? “I’m sure they appreciate having their own space--”

“They can have their own space! Here!” Sherlock thumped his little fist on the table and Mycroft felt a strange rush of emotion at the sight, something like pain that swept up his throat to his sinuses.

“It’s not that simple,” Mycroft said gently. “Maybe it should be, but it isn’t, and we must deal with what is, not with what we wish could be.”

Sherlock slumped and started poking his sashimi with a biscuit. Mycroft winced and lifted his mug to his mouth. “How long?”

He meant, how long do people usually wait to move in together, and Mycroft braced himself. “Years, often.”

“That’s stupid!” Sherlock cried out again, and chucked the biscuit at Mycroft in a lucky shot that bounced off of Mycroft’s forehead and landed in his coffee.

“I am certain you’re about to apologise, before I have to call and cancel our plans for the weekend,” Mycroft said, blinking through the coffee that had splashed up onto his face.

“I’m sorry, “ Sherlock muttered. “I didn’t mean it to land in your mug.”

Mycroft was able to escape to the office for a few hours after that, to work on the slowly mounting paperwork generated by his other project, the new office and position he’d been working on for nearly a decade. The realisation of his dream had been pushed back about three years due to Sherlock’s unforeseen arrival in his life, he judged, and while he usually felt a somewhat rote frustration at the thought, today he couldn’t mind.

Affection, he realised, and empathy. That was what he felt for Sherlock today. He knew even better than his little brother what benefit it would have for all them should Gregory and John consent to joining their household. If only life were as simple as a child believed.

Gregory was still mourning the loss of his husband--Mycroft’s heart beat painfully at the thought--and John, who might have been young enough to have few memories of the man, nevertheless knew he had lost someone important, and clung to the parent left to him. He needed stability, and safety. Mycroft appreciated that strongly. He’d been attempting to provide both to Sherlock for seven long years.

It wasn’t even that they might frighten Gregory and John away, although that was a possibility. Mycroft smiled, feeling a bit melancholy. It was that he genuinely wanted what was best for those two. He would laugh at himself and Sherlock for their quick infatuation, but it didn’t take much more than a look for either of them to read the strength of Gregory’s and John’s characters.

Mycroft had always thought it a gift, to understand the world before anyone else had ferreted out so much as a clue, but now it seemed an agony, waiting for them to catch up.

“I suppose Sherlock feels like this all the time,” he muttered.

*********

John had been very quiet Saturday night, and insisted on sleeping in Greg’s bed. That was enough to get Greg good and worried, but then the phone rang at 6:30 Sunday evening and John refused to answer it.

“Doc?” he asked, trying to sound unconcerned. “That’s probably Sherlock.”

“I saw him yesterday. I don’t want to talk tonight.” John cleared his throat dramatically and added, “My throat hurts. Maybe I’m getting a cold.”

“Do not make me take the shade off the lamp again,” Greg said, and smiled as John tried to hide his giggles. “What? I’m good at interrogation, me.”

“Not with the lamp,” John said, and then remembered to cough a little. “Just a little bit sore, Da. Can I have some juice?”

“Whatever the doctor orders,” Greg sighed.

Later, as John again insisted on bunking down with him (“You won’t catch it, Da, really, you never catch colds!”), Greg stared at the ceiling and listened to John’s measured breathing.

“What’s wrong, Doc?” he said, very quietly.

“What’s up, Doc,” John corrected sleepily. He turned over and cuddled into Greg’s side, gripping his shirt tight. It was a position that harkened right back to those dark days while Luke was in the hospital, trying to keep Greg together while deteriorating so rapidly himself. Greg shifted so that he could hold John closer and swallowed hard against the sudden lump in his throat.

Neither of them slept very well.

When John refused to answer the phone again on Monday, citing again the magically disappearing and reappearing sore throat, Greg didn’t bother to ask; he scooped John up near bedtime and dropped him on Greg’s bed. He laughed, kicking his feet, and Greg offered right there and then to cancel their outing with the Holmes brothers on Saturday.

John stared at him, searching for any trace of expression. “You don’t mind?”

“Not at all,” Greg said easily. “We can go downtown, to the library, to the zoo--”

“Just you and me, though,” John said quickly, sitting up on his knees. “Like before.”

“Yeah.” He hated acting around John, but John wasn’t answering questions, and Greg wasn’t going to be frustrated. Was not. Would settle for not showing it. “You and me.”

“Thanks, Da.”

And so Greg was spending a considerable amount of time at his desk the next day trying to figure out what he was going to say to Mycroft, bouncing his phone lightly on his leg as he thought.

He was going to have to be honest. Mycroft would see through any attempt at the usual, polite brush offs. And he’d know how best to present the information to Sherlock--well, Greg hoped he did. He already had one email in his inbox: “Where is John?” was all it said.

He was staring at it, at that one incredibly pathetic and painful line, as he dialed, expecting it to go to voicemail, but Mycroft picked up.

“Hello, Gregory.”

A rush of heat swept Greg’s body and he could feel the sickly flush in his face. “Hi, Mycroft. Um.”

“Is John all right? Sherlock has been, well. I’m sure you can guess.”

Greg looked away from the computer screen to a framed picture of himself and Luke and John, John still an infant, and closed his eyes. “I’m not sure. He’s upset about something. I don’t think Saturday is going to work out.”

“I understand.” And of course he did, sounding smooth and controlled and sympathetic, and Greg felt an irrational spike of anger because of it. “Please do get in touch if you’d like to reschedule for another.”

“If?” Greg repeated a bit witlessly.

“Ah. Perhaps I should have said when?” Mycroft said after a pause.

Greg looked again at the email. “Yeah. One bad week doesn’t mean the end of a friendship, you know.”

“No, I know.” Mycroft’s voice was softer now, and Greg had to shut his eyes again, like it would help. “Thank you. I hope John feels better soon.”

“Thanks,” Greg said, very quietly. He waited on the line until Mycroft had hung up. “It isn’t even as if he knows any good jokes, or bad ones,” he told the picture.

Then he replied to Sherlock (“He’s not feeling well, but he’ll call when he’s better. Keep in touch and I’ll keep you in the loop.”) and went out to find something to do.

*********

Sherlock turned off Mycroft’s computer, left his office, and unlocked the door to the closet in which he’d locked his maths tutor before going to the library and sprawling on the floor, right under the chandelier. His tutor was yelling, but Sherlock didn’t care. He’d only been in there for twelve minutes.

Assemble the facts, Mycroft always said. So Sherlock did. Fact one: John’s father said John wasn’t feeling well. Fact two: John had been perfectly healthy three days ago. Fact three: Mycroft had not been asking Sherlock how he felt, so Mycroft hadn’t been told John was sick.

Conclusion: John wasn’t sick. Further: he wasn’t answering the phone because he was angry with Sherlock.

Sherlock moaned quietly and curled into a ball.

It was fifteen minutes later when Mycroft strode into the library, heels hitting the carpet hard, but Sherlock knew he’d been spotted when the steps stopped, then softened, and then Mycroft was sitting in the far chair by the window, watching him.

“Gregory and John have had to cancel Saturday,” he said quietly, and Sherlock curled up even more. “Sherlock, they’re very accustomed to having their weekends together, and you and I have rather been monopolising their--”

“Shut up!” Sherlock screamed, mashing his face into the carpet. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”

“Cease that nonsense at once,” Mycroft said sternly, stomping over and pulling Sherlock half upright. Sherlock screamed wordlessly and started wheeling his arms. “Sherlock! Enough. There is absolutely no reason for this.”

“He hates me!” Sherlock shouted, then sagged.

Mycroft sighed loudly and sat down, hauling Sherlock up onto his lap. “On what do you base that assumption?” he asked testily.

Sherlock stared down at his hands, resting limply in his lap. “He won’t answer the phone.”

“And the only possible reason is that he hates you.”

“He’s not sick!” Sherlock flared. “You would have said! Instead you’re talking about them wanting their weekends back!”

“Gregory said John has been upset,” Mycroft said carefully. Sherlock could hear the care coiling around every word, oily and dark. “It could be for a wide variety of reasons. You can’t theorise without sufficient data, Sherlock.”

That tone of voice was closer to normal. Sherlock felt very tired, and shifted in Mycroft’s arms to sit more comfortably. “Did you talk to John’s father?”

“Yes. I said so.”

Sherlock stared at Mycroft’s tie. There were little umbrellas on it. “He sent me an email.”

“You see? We haven’t been blacklisted.” Mycroft stroked Sherlock’s hair back from his forehead with gentle concern. “You’re very sweaty.”

“Maybe I’m sick.”

“Maybe you’ve worked yourself up and the adrenalin’s now wearing down.”

“I want to talk to him,” Sherlock pleaded, helplessly and hopelessly. Mycroft again sighed and stroked his hair.

“Patience.”

Which was all well and good for Mycroft to say. Sherlock allowed himself to be carried up to his room, helped into his pajamas, and put to bed at 6”30. Normally he’d refuse to even think of going to bed until 8:30, but he was tired.

Besides, if Mycroft watched him fall asleep now, he wouldn’t check on him later and Sherlock would be able to sneak out more easily.

He waited until after ten before getting up to pack a little bag. He had his printed out map, because Mycroft had carefully noted John’s address before they’d left last Saturday and Sherlock had had technology tutoring that morning. It wasn’t that far, really. It was a good plan.

So good he had to sneak back into the house before he set out to get an umbrella.

Sherlock looked down at his shoes, squelching in the rain, and resolved to find John very quickly.

*********

John’s da was in the shower when the phone rang at 6:30 in the morning.

John stared it for three rings, then got up from the table and went to answer it. “Hello, John Watson speaking.”

“Ah, good morning, John,” Mycroft said, after the smallest pause. John’s hand tightened on the phone. “Is your father at home?”

“I’m always supposed to say yes, you know,” John said. There was another pause.

“Of course. I suppose I should ask if I may speak with him.”

“He’s showering,” John said helpfully. “May I take a message?”

“I--will you ask him to call me back? When he can?” Mycroft asked, almost sweetly. It was supposed to cover up how worried he sounded, John was sure.

So he finally asked, “What’s happened to Sherlock?”

Mycroft sighed deeply. “Please ask your father to call me back.”

“What, did he do something bad? Do you need a policeman? Because you’re supposed to call 999.”

“Thank you, John. Goodbye.”

“Wait! Please?” John waited, and it seemed that Mycroft was waiting, too. “Please tell me what happened. Is Sherlock all right?”

“Doc?” John’s da was standing in the doorway, looking at him with concern. “What’s happened?”

“It’s Mycroft. Mr. Holmes. He wants to talk to you,” John said dully, holding out the phone. His da took it from him and said hello quietly as John walked back to his seat at the table and stared down at his toast.

“Can’t say I have. You’re sure that...” John’s da’s voice trailed off. “Don’t they have directions? We can--too easy, I guess. What’s on it? Any useful landmarks?”

“He’s run away?” John said, turning to look at his da. He got a stern look in return.

“If he’s steering by what he knows, we could check the park. No, John and I will--you did. What am I saying, of course you did. Sorry. No. Meet you there, then.” His da hung up and turned to John. “Put your shoes on, Doc. Sherlock’s on the loose.”

“He ran away?” John repeated, getting up.

“Yeah.” His da was already in the bedroom, getting dressed. “Shoes, Doc. You’re decent in your pyjamaas.”

“We’re checking the park?” John was tying his shoes with great concentration when his da arrived, feet already shoved into an old pair of shoes.

“We figure it’s a place he knows, knows how to get to,” his da said vaguely. “Come on. Jacket. It’s raining.”

“You get yours, then, too,” John said. “Did he run away this morning? Or last night?”

“Not sure. Let’s go.”

They took the car, which was strange, because they always walked to the park. John understood they had to go quickly, to find Sherlock, but it was still strange and made him even more nervous. His da was scanning the street as he drove, on the lookout for a small kid in a big coat. John stared out his window, too.

Mycroft was already at the park, moving quickly down to the pond, and John’s da parked the car and jogged to meet him. John watched him from inside the car until his breath fogged up the windows, and then he got out. Sherlock wouldn’t be down by the pond, he was sure; there was no cover there.

He walked up to the hill instead, slowing when he caught sight of the hedge. Looking over his shoulder to where his da and Mycroft were walking together, John squelched into the grass and tried to find the little break in the leaves that Sherlock had used that day.

When he did find it, it was only because the end of an umbrella is peeking out. John crawled into the hedge, his hood catching on branches drooping in the rain. There was a bundle of black deep in the hedge, wet and smelly.

“Sherlock,” John said, and pushed it. “Wake up.”

The bundle shifted and Sherlock looked at John from under one arm. His face was dirty and when he tried to speak, he just started coughing. John rested his elbows on his knees and waited.

“Where’s Mycroft?” Sherlock croaked.

“Walking around with my da, looking for you,” John said. “We were all looking for you.”

Sherlock sat up, rubbing at his face, spreading the mud around. John watched him, silently, as he copied John and tucked his legs under him, kneeling in the dead leaves and mostly-dry dirt.

“I was going to your house,” Sherlock said.

“I know.”

They sat there, silently, for a moment, and heard John’s da calling out to him and Sherlock.

“Don’t be angry with me,” Sherlock finally said, very quietly.

“If I promise I’m not, can we go home?” John asked.

*********

They sat around Gregory’s kitchen table, mugs of tea and whatever food could be scrounged from cupboards all around. Mycroft watched Sherlock, dressed in a pair of John’s pyjamas, freshly scrubbed but sneezing, as he stole food from John’s plate and John, looking tired but patient, continued to pile on whatever it was both children wanted to eat.

“A charmed life, that one,” Gregory murmured, and Mycroft looked over to him. “I hope the cold’s enough to convince him not to try that again.”

“Oh, I doubt it,” Mycroft sighed, and turned his attention to his tea.

Sherlock was deposited in John’s bed shortly thereafter and, wonder of wonders, fell asleep without too much of a struggle. John went to watch telly and Gregory, now dressed for work in a rather casual suit, looked back once at Mycroft.

“Are you sure you want to stay? I can call in,” he offered, for the third time.

“While I feel confident in your ability to handle miscreants, I would feel most comfortable keeping my own eye on Sherlock today,” Mycroft said with a small smile. Gregory smiled back at him and, after hugging John and telling him to have a good day, left for the Yard.

“He’ll be back by noon, you’ll see,” John said from the sofa.

Mycroft looked up from his phone, as he texted an assistant to get a laptop delivered, and smiled. “Will he?”

“He feels most comfortable with his own eye on all of us,” John said confidently. He hopped up and disappeared into his father’s bedroom for a moment, and then came back out with a framed photo. “See?”

The photo was of their family, John as an infant in his late father’s arms, and Gregory hovering over the two a bit anxiously, seemingly torn between smiling as the photographer was undoubtedly demanding and keeping his attention on his husband and son. Mycroft smiled, holding the picture carefully, aware of John scrutinising his expression.

“You are a lovely family,” he told John, handing the picture back.

John swallowed and looked down at it. “I miss my other da, you know.”

“Of course,” Mycroft said.

“Did Sherlock know his mum or da?” John’s eyes were wide, as if the thought had just occurred to him.

“No,” Mycroft said gently. “He was just a baby when they died.”

“Were they sick?” John’s eyes were sad now, somehow darker and very kind.

“They were in an accident.” Mycroft breathed deeply. “Sherlock has seen photographs, but... that’s it.”

“They were your parents, too,” John said, uncertainly.

“No, well. My father. My mother died a long time ago.”

John put his hand on Mycroft’s arm, squeezed it once, and then patted it. Mycroft tried not to smile at the very adult gesture of condolence as John moved to return the photo his father’s room.

“Do you want to play a game?” he asked when he got back to the kitchen. Mycroft did smile, now, unable to help it.

“What game?” he asked.

*********

Greg did beg off of work early, stopped at the shop for a few sandwiches and a cake, and was home just after noon. He walked into a lovely scene of John, Sherlock, and Mycroft battling it out over Scrabble.

“Foreign words are against the rules,” John was insisting. “It says so. Otherwise my da would use French words all the time.”

“Your father knows French?” Mycroft asked.

“He says he knows enough to swear in it.”

“John,” Greg protested, and John was on his feet, rushing to give him a hug. “Oof! Don’t knock me over; help me with this stuff.”

Mycroft was on his feet, smiling a bit shyly as Sherlock glared from his spot on the floor, and John was chattering away about a morning of playing games and watching bad telly (“There’s nothing to watch during the day!”), and Greg had to swallow three times before he felt like the lump in his throat had disappeared.

“Get any work done?” he asked Mycroft, who was standing in the doorway, watching them with a fond little smile on his face. He nodded to the laptop.

“Not really,” Mycroft said. “John taught me how to play Uno, and then Sherlock was up at nine.”

Sherlock growled something as he squeezed past his brother and joined them in the kitchen.

“No, I should not have woken you earlier,” Mycroft said back to him.

“Mycroft’s good, but he doesn’t make faces when you make him draw,” John informed Greg with some disappointment. Then he grinned. “Sherlock throws a fit.”

“I do not!” Sherlock flared.

They set out sandwiches and gathered around to eat, Sherlock taking his apart and eating only bits of it while Mycroft looked on in horror. It was charming, in an odd way. Greg leaned over and whispered to John, “Everything good, Doc?”

John thought about it, then nodded. “I think so. But next Saturday, just you and me, all right?”

Greg was aware of Sherlock staring at them, and Mycroft putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder as he answered, “Of course.”

“But maybe we can have tea the Saturday after?” John said.

“Maybe?” Sherlock blurted out before subsiding--barely--under Mycroft’s reproving glare.

“If you want to, and if Da says it’s all right,” John said, with a small, shy smile.

“We would like that very much,” Mycroft said before Sherlock could say anything.

Greg smiled at him, and down at John, too, with a great deal of pride and affection. “I’ve no objections.”

“But you have to trust us, and only call every other night,” John said fiercely, turning back to Sherlock. “If you don’t trust us, then we’re not friends. But if you do, we are.”

Sherlock’s eyes were very wide. “Yes. All right.”

“So tomorrow?” John prompted, like the little soldier he sometimes was.

“Wednesday,” Greg said, and grinned widely when John shot him a glare.

“School,” Mycroft added, nodding to John.

“Lessons,” Sherlock whispered, looking sulky.

“Right,” John said decisively, and Greg gave into his impulse to laugh, and was delighted when Mycroft joined in.

*********

fin