Actions

Work Header

Ashes to Ashes

Work Text:

Sociopathy (Antisocial Personality Disorder)
[sō′sē•op′əthē]
Etymology: L, socius, companion; Gk, pathos, disease
A personality disorder characterised by a lack of social responsibility and failure to adapt to ethical and social standards of the community.

ANTI-SOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER DSM IV 301.70
EXPLANATION
Individuals with an Antisocial Personality Disorder show a lack of concern toward the expectations and rules of society and usually frequently become involved in at least minor violations of the rules of society and the rights of others. A popular term for this type of individual is "sociopath". Although the diagnosis is limited to those persons over eighteen years of age, it usually involves a history of antisocial behaviour before the age of fifteen. The individual often displays a pattern of lying, truancy, delinquency, substance abuse, running away from home and may have difficulty with the law. As an adult, the person often commits acts that are against the law and/or fails to live up to the requirements of a job, financial responsibility, or parenting responsibilities. They tend to have difficulty sustaining a long term marital relationship and frequently are involved in alcohol and drug abuse.
SYMPTOMS
The signs and symptoms include:
1. Lack of concern regarding society's rules and expectations.
2. Repeated violations of the rights of others.
3. Unlawful behaviour.
4. Lack of regard for the truth
5. In parents, neglect or abuse of children.
6. Lack of a steady job. Frequent job changes through quitting and/or being fired
7. Tendencies toward physical aggression and extreme irritability.
Usually the following circumstances are predisposed factors:
1. Absence of parental discipline.
2. Extreme poverty.
3. Removal from the home.
4. Growing up without parental figures of both sexes.
5. Erratic, inconsistent discipline.
6. Being "rescued" each time the person is in trouble and never having to suffer the consequences of his own behaviour.
7. Maternal deprivation and lack of an appropriate "attachment".
Childhood victimisation was a significant predictor of the number of lifetime symptoms of antisocial personality disorder and of a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, despite the fact that controls for demographic characteristics and arrest history were introduced. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest the importance of inquiring about a patient's childhood history of abuse and/or neglect when antisocial symptoms are evident. In addition to speculation about a possible saturation model for the consequences of childhood victimisation, these findings also reinforce a multiple causation model of antisocial personality disorder.

John stared at the screen of Sherlock's laptop.

A few minutes ago he had noticed his own was missing again, and he had come down to the living room, determined to wrest it away from Sherlock. Sadly, he had found out that said laptop was buried under a pillow and a head; Sherlock was lying on the sofa, asleep. Normally, this wouldn't have deterred John at all, but he knew the other man hadn't slept for days. He had just stood before the sofa, hands opening and closing almost spastically for a few moments, until he had rolled his eyes at himself and gone over to the desk, barely managing without tripping; the floor looked like a battlefield. As assumed, Sherlock's laptop had been exactly where it always was and, as also assumed, in standby mode, so John wouldn't have to worry about passwords. What he hadn't expected, though, was an open Word file on the matter of APD.

Scrolling down, John skimmed the next pages. They went on and on, partly looking like they had been copied from dissertations and medical journals, in other parts they sounded like complete and utter nonsense. One hundred fifty-three pages about a personality disorder not even specialists were too sure about. He threw a quick glance at Sherlock who still hadn't moved, then went back to reading the first page again.

Childhood victimisation was a significant predictor…

John swallowed hard; Sherlock was not a sociopath. After living with him for over two years and probably knowing him better than Sherlock might be aware of, the thought was simply ridiculous. Frowning, John skipped forward to the last page.

Validity of the Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire--revised: comparison with two structured interviews
SE Hyler, AE Skodol, HD Kellman, JM Oldham and L Rosnick

Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York.

John clicked on the embedded link, read quickly and finally leaned back on the chair. This looked strangely like a to-do-list. A thought crossed his mind and he checked the dates of the file; generated on March 1st, 1995, last amended on November 5th, 2012. He scrolled back to the first page, carefully placing the cursor exactly where it had been when he first had looked at the file, and then closed the laptop quietly. For a moment, he just sat there, unmoving. November 5th… three days ago. And three days ago, there had been that peculiar visit from Mycroft.

Finally John stood up, went into the kitchen and put the kettle on; every move he made a silent one. He put a teabag into his cup, waited for the water to boil hot enough for tea but not so hot it would wake the man sleeping on the sofa, then returned to the living room and sat down in his armchair.

Childhood victimisation was a significant predictor…

He remembered the night three days ago very well. Sherlock and he had been watching television when there had been a loud knock downstairs and only moments later someone running up the stairs. John had been surprised to see Mycroft entering; running wasn't really his style. He was infuriated, John thought, not angry or annoyed, infuriated. And a second later, Sherlock looked like he'd seen a ghost. He could practically feel how his own muscles had tensed all over; he had anticipated some sort of disaster waiting to happen, a case with immense impact on civilisation. Stupid thought, maybe, but the way both brothers had looked… But whatever John had inwardly prepared himself for, it hadn't happened. Mycroft and Sherlock had stared at each other for a few seconds, then Mycroft had turned to John and asked him to leave the room for a few minutes, asked him in such a painfully urbane and at the same time clipped tone that John had retreated immediately to his bedroom. Only after he had heard the front door banging closed –and now, when he thought about it, when had he ever heard Mycroft Holmes slamming a door before?- had John gone downstairs again… and that was the beginning of three days of living within the personal hell of the darkest mood Sherlock had ever been in.

John took a swallow of tea and looked again at Sherlock's back. Sherlock had been… well, impossible. He hadn't answered any question John had asked; he had been insulting, bristling, hissing and spitting. Not even Mrs Hudson had been able to brush it off, and John had been glad about his new job at Barts; glad about the feasibility of working overtime. But in his endeavour to avoid Sherlock as much as humanly possible, John hadn't thought the whole situation through. Considering Sherlock's mood, there was no case. But considering the state of their flat –no experiments, the strangely random mess on the floor, the clean fridge, the violin thrown carelessly into a corner- there was no boredom, either. So what…

Sherlock made a mewling sound and stretched his legs as far as possible; John tensed and then at once tried to relax his body and especially his face, praying it wouldn't give his thoughts away. By now, he was far better at being 'difficult to read', a fact that annoyed Sherlock to no end.

John sighed loudly, and Sherlock jumped. He jumped and his head whipped around, and now it took an immense effort keeping the vacant mask on. Sherlock never jumped.

"What is it?" John asked.

"What are you doing here?" Sherlock asked back, annoyance already creeping into tone and face.

"I live here."

Sherlock sat up, looking him over; John knew he had to think quickly.

"Tea?" He asked, raising his cup.

Sherlock's eyes narrowed.

"I would appreciate it if you stopped sleeping on my laptop," John continued.

"Then why didn't you just take it?" Sherlock hissed.

Good, John thought, Keep going. "You haven't slept for days; you look terrible. I didn't want to wake you." He didn't even have to fake the worried tone.

"Stop hovering," Sherlock snarled and turned over again, curling up into a familiar foetal position.

John was nonplussed; this had been far too easy. For a moment, he thought about poking the other man. Mouth already open to spit out the first of at least one hundred questions, he hesitated and then swallowed them down. No, that wasn't the way to learn anything. He had to outwait Sherlock. And given the tension of the body on the sofa, it shouldn't take too long.

John took another sip of tea.

Like a jack-in-the-box, Sherlock bounced up from one second to the next, stomped over the table and paused in front of John's chair, looming over him. John braced himself for the worst.

"I think we should change that," Sherlock said silently.

"Change what?"

"Your living here."

This is worse than the worst, John thought. Struggling to keep the hurt at bay, he looked closer at Sherlock's face. Oh, I was so wrong. He isn't in a bad mood, not at all. He is… scared. John blinked once.

"I don't think that's a good idea."

Sherlock stared down at him for a moment, and then, in a whirl of bathrobe, he left the room; John heard the door to Sherlock's bedroom close violently. Releasing the breath he held, John pursed his lips; he was torn. On one hand, he was relieved that Sherlock hadn't insisted on that nasty topic, on the other hand, John's worry about him had just increased tenfold. What the hell is going on here?

John glanced at the papers, letters and books lying in heaps on the floor; perhaps he could find out. And he could kill two birds with one stone; Sherlock might not mind the mess, but John surely did. He heaved himself out of the chair, looking around to decide where to start. Grinning, he went over to the desk and turned on the radio hidden under it; he was sure Sherlock would hear it and would maybe even be annoyed enough to come back out again.

About fifteen minutes later, John had cleaned the middle of the room and was now working himself forward around the table and the sofa. Suddenly, a letter that was ripped half-open caught his gaze. Cursing under his breath, he wretched it out from under a sofa leg. Damn the man! It was one thing to fling his own mail around the room but John drew a line when it came to his letters. This invitation for the upcoming medical congress was clearly meant for him; why anyone would have thought he was interested in cardiothoracic surgery was beyond him, though. Standing up, he tore the envelope open completely to take a look at the cover letter. A small rectangular plastic card fell out and bounced off the table; it was a visitor pass for the congress, issued to… Sherlock Holmes. John frowned. What the…? It would make sense if the congress were about Pathology or Forensics, but Cardiac Surgery? He scanned the letter but there was only the usual official babble from the organiser to read, so he drew out the programme. On the first page -of course- Professor George Wentwall, Director of Cardiology, Bartholomew's Hospital, London. Idiot. John turned the page and stared at the picture of a handsome man. He was older; in his sixties probably, sure, but still very impressive. Black hair with only a hint of grey, proud posture, lean, but the most striking features were his eyes; one a light grey, one a dark brown. Complete heterochromia iridum, John thought, fascinated. Then his gaze fell on the name beside the picture.

He sat down on the couch, very slowly.

Sir Richard Holmes, Professor and Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, Member of the Howard Gilman Institute for Valvular Heart Diseases – Main Speaker, scheduled for 10th of November, 2 p.m.

John looked back at the picture. Oh, now he could see the resemblance, of course. The long and slim face, the hair, even the colour of that one eye… but all of a sudden, John didn't think the man handsome anymore. The look on that face seemed to be cold, downright cruel.

Childhood victimisation was a significant predictor…

For a moment, John didn't move. Then he carefully put the contents back in the envelope; sadly, he couldn't repair it, but for the first time ever John didn't think that Sherlock would notice. He forced the letter back under the couch, exactly where he had found it, and then sat down on the floor, grabbing his mobile from the table. He dialled.

A few minutes later John put on his jacket and left for Barts.

 

***

 

"I went to boarding school when I was nine years old. Late, I know. My parents had a difficult time deciding between boarding and home-schooling, so I had a private tutor first. I was sent to Dulwich College in South London. I was the youngest one there; at that time, they only typically took on pupils who were at least twelve years old. Still, I managed. Since my parents lived in Wales, near the Brecon Beacons, it wasn't feasible to come home on the weekends. It was not requested, either. I did go home on holidays, at first. Later, after my mother… anyway, later I spent the holidays away from home; more often than not I was invited by schoolfellows so I didn't return home for long periods of time. My part of the blame."

 

***

 

On his way home, John made a little detour to the supermarket to buy groceries. He wasn't quite sure yet how, but he felt the overwhelming need to get a bit of food into Sherlock, somehow. He had just arrived at their front door, juggling the two bags in one hand and searching for his keys with the other, when he heard the sound of a loud voice above him. Looking up, he saw that –despite the cold- one of the windows of their living room was tilted and he recognised the voice. Mycroft. John listened hard for a moment but couldn't make out any words, which was a shame, really. He knew that the moment he unlocked the door there wouldn't be a thing to hear anymore. Ah well. He opened the door and, as he had known, was greeted by silence. Climbing up the stairs, he didn't enter the living room; instead he went directly into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Some of the groceries were perishable, after all, and John had the feeling that the moment he met up with the two brothers his priorities would change dramatically. Finally, the food was stored away and John ambled into the absolutely silent living room, a hopefully gentle smile on his face.

"Hello, John."

John wondered how Mycroft was able to speak at all given those clenched teeth. "Good evening, Mycroft." He threw a glance at Sherlock and immediately felt his pulse rate going up. Sherlock sat on the sofa, staring straight ahead at apparently nothing. His normally pale face looked waxen.

"John, I'm so sorry to inconvenience you, but would you mind giving us a few minutes?"

Tough luck. "I do mind," John answered, sitting down on his chair. By now, he was pretty sure the smile on his face looked creepy.

Mycroft raised both eyebrows, glared shortly at Sherlock who seemed to be in an almost catatonic state and then turned back to John. "I wasn't aware you knew."

"Knew what?" John asked softly.

Mycroft's expression became blank. "Never mind, Dr Watson," he said just as softly. He made one of his weird little half-turns with the aid of his umbrella and stalked over to the sofa. "Hand it over to me, Sherlock."

No answer.

"This is not the time for you to behave tenaciously!"

John barely managed to stay seated. He wondered why Mycroft couldn't see that Sherlock wasn't even noticing him anymore. And then he wondered if Sherlock was playing them, but almost immediately, he abandoned this theory; Sherlock was good, but not that good.

Mycroft sighed and leaned heavily on his umbrella; John was sure it would leave a dent in the wooden floor. "As you wish, Sherlock. Phone me when you change your mind." He bent down to pick up a familiar envelope from the table and put it into his briefcase. "Have a nice evening, Sherlock, Dr Watson."

John nodded absently at Mycroft, his whole attention on Sherlock. He waited until he heard Mycroft leaving the house, slamming the door again, then he stood up, closed the window and turned the heat on. Hesitating, he glanced once more at Sherlock who still didn't seem to have moved. On closer inspection, though, John could see a faint tremor running over the lean body in short intervals; he also noticed that Sherlock's hands were entwined, so tightly clenched that his knuckles had turned white. His left thumb was rubbing the right one so hard it had become fiercely red; John had never seen this nervous tick on him before.

Taking a deep breath, John discarded the idea of saying anything; he was sure Sherlock wasn't able to listen, let alone answer. Tea and chicken soup it was, then. But first things first; he had to make sure Sherlock wouldn't suddenly just leave. If Mycroft had told his brother one of the things John had found out this afternoon, there was genuine reason for concern. Keeping an eye on Sherlock, John locked the door to the entrance and put the key in his pocket. Sherlock didn't react, so John entered the kitchen and locked the door there, too, then he put on the kettle and got out two cups, a pan and the can with the soup.

Waiting for the water to boil, John stared at the kettle, lost in thought. He once again marvelled at the knowledge of what gossipers medical doctors were. He didn't have to call in any favours at Barts at all; everyone had been more than willing to share what they knew about Professor Richard Holmes. And those who were too young to know him from the time he had worked there had almost run to their phones to dig up more stuff. As rumour had it, he was a genius in his field of work; John hadn't expected anything less with that surname. But his reputation as a human being was… well, notorious, to say the least. One of his former senior physicians had actually called him an ogre. And sadly, as John had feared, Richard Holmes wasn't a distant uncle of Sherlock's; no, he was the husband of Galiena Holmes, father of two sons, Mycroft and Sherlock. Surprisingly enough, the couple wasn't divorced, never mind the fact Holmes had emigrated to the US over twenty years ago and his wife had stayed in England. His further personal life remained a mystery, though. John had heard some rumours about a scandal making Richard Holmes leave his home country but no one had known anything concrete.

John swallowed; he already had certain ideas about that scandal. As much as he tried not to jump to conclusions it was hard not to when faced with an almost erratically behaving Mycroft and with the state Sherlock was in right now. The most worrying news John had received was that Richard Holmes was already in London, for some days now. Swallowing again, John lowered his head and closed his eyes; he was out of his depth here. He didn't know how to approach Sherlock; he didn't know what to say if anything at all, he didn't know how to act around him. Not enough data, Sherlock would say. As if data would help anyone navigate safely through the psyche of this complicated man.

But data and deductions aren't your greatest gifts anyway, John's inner voice reminded him. You know him. Go with your instinct.

 

***

 

"When I was fifteen, I noticed something was amiss. But again, I made a mistake. I thought it had to do with what had happened to our mother. The benefit of hindsight… you know how it is. It was there for me to see if I had just looked closer. If I had shown more interest. I don't know. I do remember that I wondered about the extreme changes in his behaviour. The joyfulness was gone, as was the shyness that always had seemed so out of character in our family. But I thought he was growing up. Dear Lord. Can you believe that I thought this about an eight year old boy?"

 

***

 

Putting the two cups with tea on the table, John sat down on the sofa, close to Sherlock. He waited for a moment but Sherlock made no move to take one of them; he just continued the rubbing motion with his thumb. Very slowly, John raised his right hand and laid it over Sherlock's; he didn't say a word, he didn't even look at him. Under his palm, John felt the nervous movement stop at once. When no immediate explosion came, he moved his hand until it slipped between the entwined ones and finally took hold of Sherlock's left hand, pulling it away gently from the other, and rested their now clasped hands on Sherlock's knee. With his left hand, John took hold of one cup and brought it to Sherlock's right hand, close enough for the other man to feel the warmth emitting from the tea. When Sherlock took the cup and raised it to his lips, John suppressed a sigh of relief. He slowly started to let go of the hand in his, but then, for a split second, he felt the other hand cling to it. Sherlock immediately tried to withdraw again, too late; John had already tightened his grip. Thankfully, Sherlock continued to sip his tea, a bit mechanically, and John tried to keep his breathing regular and slow. Inwardly, he was scared, for more than one reason.

Tea finished, Sherlock put the cup back on the table. John thought about asking him if he wanted soup but decided against it. The silence was in a weird way tense and peaceful at the same time, and John didn't want to do anything that would break the mood they were suddenly in. He was very aware of the fact that Sherlock was letting him in, in a way he never had before; John didn't know why and didn't care. So when he felt Sherlock leaning slowly against him, he –again- said nothing, only returned the pressure with shoulder and thigh. For a moment, John felt Sherlock trembling once more, then he suddenly relaxed, trusting his whole weight on John, head falling forward, eyes closed. John took a chance and freed his right hand only to wrap it immediately around Sherlock's waist, tugging carefully. Sherlock went down willingly, taking John with him until they both lay on the sofa, Sherlock's head on John's chest. There really wasn't enough space for both of them, even with Sherlock pressed against the backrest and John dangling dangerously on the edge, but John told himself that it wasn't for a long time anyway; Sherlock surely would fall asleep soon and then he would find a blanket to cover the exhausted man. While John still mused about whether he could sleep on one of the chairs or not, he drifted off where he was.

 

***

 

"I was… nineteen years old, already three years at Oxford, I think, when I went home to get Sherlock for a visit with our mother and for the first time, he didn't want to accompany me. He didn't answer when I asked him why… it was strange. He didn't throw a tantrum, he was… cold in his refusal. He wouldn't comply, no matter what I tried. In the end, I yelled at him. I yelled at him and left him behind. I remember our father was home then the whole time… there was talk about a sabbatical, some time off for research. I did not see the connection."

 

***

 

John was running up a rocky mountain path, searching for Sherlock. He was sure he would find him behind one of the big rocks he could see ahead but had a hard time reaching them. Every time he came close, he slithered backwards a few steps. Finally, more on his hands and knees than on his feet, he surrounded the first one, only to come to a sudden halt. Before him stood a massive griffin, wings spread, beak open and hissing, lion tail lashing. John stared up at the beast, unable to move, until his neck hurt. He could see one of the giant paws rising, clearly intent on killing him, and still couldn't move. The paw came down, John flinched and ducked, and woke up.

The first thing he noticed was that his neck indeed hurt. The second thing was that he could smell something -sandalwood and moss- a smell he knew by heart. John slowly opened his eyes. He was still lying on the sofa, quite comfortably now except for his neck which was reclining on the armrest at a painful angle. His body was more comfortable because he was lying completely on the sofa, with Sherlock literally on top of him. Their legs were entwined; John's right arm was around Sherlock's back, while Sherlock's arms were wrapped around John's waist. And John's mouth and nose were buried in Sherlock's hair.

Jesus. Christ.

John told his body to calm down; his body told him to take his nose out of the soft, dark locks now. John wasn't able to; to the contrary, while he was helplessly watching his hand sliding slowly up over Sherlock's shoulder blade towards his neck, he pressed a kiss onto Sherlock's head.

Suddenly he saw movement out of the corner of his eye; his head whipped around. He first glanced at knees clad in expensive trousers, about eight inches short of John's face. His gaze wandered upwards.

Mycroft. Oh this is… delightful.

Mycroft Holmes was standing right in front of them, between table and sofa, looking down at John with a murderous glint in his eyes… not to mention his red, red face. Defensively, John covered Sherlock's ear with his hand, just in time.

"What is this?"

John blinked then asked, "How did you get in here?"

Mycroft continued staring down at him, not answering, he only became redder in the face. All right, it probably had been a stupid question. John was sure that Mycroft held keys to every house, flat, bower and bicycle in London. Maybe even throughout England.

Hand clenching the umbrella, Mycroft bowed down so far he was almost nose to nose with John, and snarled, "Answer me!"

John noticed he had to pee, quite urgently; Sherlock's hipbone was pressing against his bladder. He also noticed that he couldn't remember Mycroft's question; his brain was definitely offline… and the tiny part that wasn't was busy with processing the fact that Sherlock was still lying on top of him. "Uh…"

Mycroft's face came even closer, and John started to wonder what he wanted so close. In the next moment, though, Mycroft straightened up and backed off a step so quickly he almost fell backwards over the low table. Apparently, Sherlock hadn't been asleep at all. Head and upper body rising like a king cobra, he hissed, "Go home, Mycroft. You are not invited and not welcome."

John's gaze lingered a minute on Sherlock's bed hair, then he looked cautiously at Mycroft. Yes, as he had thought; the colour of the older man's face had not improved.

"You are a fool, Sherlock. How can you fall for something like this?" Mycroft turned to John. "I am disappointed, Dr Watson. Very disappointed. Obviously, I have misjudged you. I had never thought you would take advantage of this… situation."

John clenched his teeth but before he could start yelling, Sherlock's hand slapped on his chest, demanding silence. "You stay out of this! You are meddling enough as it is, Mycroft. Don't make me get up and throw you out!"

"I will not allow you to…"

Sherlock interrupted him, voice cold as ice. "How interesting, your choice of words. One last time, Mycroft: Get out."

Not entirely sure about why these words had such an impact on Mycroft, John watched the face above them becoming pale. Mycroft averted his eyes for a second but before he turned around and left, he threw one last glance at John. And John understood; Mycroft was far from being finished with him. Not that this mattered right now; John could feel Sherlock staring at him. Hesitantly, he returned the look and for a seemingly long time, they did just that, looking at each other with a really short distance between them. Say something! John had no idea what. Doesn't matter! Say something!

"I have to pee."

One corner of Sherlock's mouth twitched. "So do I."

Although the wheels in John's mind definitely had started to turn, he was not able yet to read the expression in Sherlock's eyes. He paused for a moment, then asked, "Let's go out for breakfast later?"

"My pleasure."

 

***

 

I was stupid. No, don't. I was. You know, our father never seemed interested in his children. He certainly was not interested in me. Sometimes I think we have too much in common. Not the nicest thought. Anyway, I believed he only sired us to please our mother. That's why I said, stupid. He wasn't interested in our mother either. I have no idea how he persuaded her to marry him; without doubt, she married below herself. But I digress. As I said, he was only interested in his work. I am still not completely sure why or when he focused on Sherlock. One reason might have been that Sherlock was very close to our mother. To her and to the fairy tales she told him.

 

***

 

The next morning, John woke up to the sound of violin playing, and his neck was killing him. Again. Of course he had now slept two nights in a row on that damned sofa. Sighing, he sat up and groaned loudly. He had the mother of all headaches. Leave it to Sherlock to find the seediest pub ever whose owner had obviously never heard anything about England's no-smoking laws. In John's opinion, the cigarillos Sherlock had smoked had been overkill; two deep breaths in that hole would have been more effective than six nicotine patches.

John ground his eyes with the heels of his hands and then looked around blearily. Sherlock's playing had stopped for now; John hoped he was indeed in his bedroom and John wasn't listening to something Sherlock had taped to use for certain occasions. Like vanishing and leaving John behind once again. As he had done about ten times the day before, John got his wallet out of his jeans pocket and looked for his visitor pass. It was in there, still not pick-pocketed by Sherlock. John sighed again. Although they hadn't spoken a word about what would happen today, John knew that Sherlock knew that John knew about Sherlock's father. That chain of thought made his headache explode, and John rubbed his temples mercilessly. The last day had been… exhausting.

John had used the bathroom first and when he had come down from his bedroom later, Sherlock had been ready to go, coat, scarf, gloves and mask on. John hadn't expected anything else. On their way to the café, when John had looked around and wished he had taken his gun with him, the only meaningful words had been spoken.

"Mycroft won't just shoot you, you know?"

"You're sure?"

"Very."

And that had been that. The rest of the day had flown by, with Sherlock brooding and John trying to think of a way to talk to the man beside him. Nothing had come to mind, not at Regent's Park, not at lunch, not at the antique book shop, not at dinner. The closest he had come to saying something had been at the pub, simply because the room there had been so overcrowded that Sherlock couldn't avoid him. But then, John had already been scared. Sherlock had been too agitated, too nervous, too condescending… and too cold. The man John had woken up with in the morning had vanished completely. When they finally came home, John had sunk down on the sofa and turned on the telly, while Sherlock had clicked away on his laptop. John must have fallen asleep while trying to concentrate on the TV and not on Sherlock.

Sherlock started playing again, a haunting and well-known piece, Bach's 'Ave Maria'. Listening intently, every hair on John's body stood up on end and he had to blink a few times. Finally, he raised his head. He didn't know what Sherlock had planned to keep him away from Dr Richard Holmes, but John would not let him succeed. He had no intention of allowing Sherlock to face his father alone. Standing up, John made his way upstairs, the music following him.

Dressed in fresh clothes –he had actually put yesterday's jeans and jumper into a plastic bag and thrown them out on the fire escape to keep the smell of old smoke out of his bedroom- John arrived in the kitchen to make tea. Surprised, he saw Sherlock, still dressed in pyjamas and dressing gown, already at work, kettle in hand.

"Morning."

"Good morning, John." Sherlock threw a glance over his shoulder; he looked awful. Beyond pale, red-rimmed eyes and an absolutely desolate expression on his face.

Worried, John took two steps forward and had his mouth open until he remembered with whom he was dealing here. He sat down at the table. "Are you all right?" John asked, outwardly friendly. Inwardly, he was on guard for anything. And still, he almost missed it.

While answering, "Yes, I am fine," in a totally sorrowful voice, Sherlock poured hot water in their cups, hands moving gracefully as ever, and dropped two pills in one of the cups. It was ironic. The only reason why John didn't miss it was his inability to not watch those hands.

I don't believe this. "Toast?" John asked, proud that his voice sounded normal as ever.

"Already done," Sherlock said, putting toast, butter, jam and tea on the table and sitting down opposite to John, smiling shyly. It was all John could do to not throw the jam right into his face. Tosser.

"I liked the music." John buttered his toast slowly.

"Mm." Sherlock pulled the tea bag out of his cup.

John prepared more toast, put both on a plate, took hold of his cup and stood up.

"Where are you going?"

"I have to finish a report," John answered calmly. He waited the precise amount of time, until continuing, "Or do you want company?" He could see thoughts racing through Sherlock's brain. Moron.

"No. No, of course not."

John turned around, then hesitated and looked back at Sherlock. "I should be done in an hour." Sherlock nodded, and John thought he saw a hint of remorse in his eyes. Wishful thinking, probably.

Upstairs, John managed to not bang the door closed behind him. He put the plate on the small desktop, opened his laptop and then sniffed at the tea. Nothing. He was tempted to taste a bit but he had no idea what kind of drug Sherlock had used. Could be something from the Fiji islands. Something hallucinogenic, very effective. I wouldn't put it past him. Suddenly he felt very tired.

John put the cup on the nightstand, sat down on the bed and looked at the clock. Eleven a.m. There was nothing for it; he had to wait until Sherlock left the house. And he had to suppress his feelings of disappointment and anger the best way he was able. The problem was that Sherlock's behaviour had felt, for the first time ever, like a personal attack. This was no mere trick, no avoidance, no playing Hide and Seek. Sherlock might have just as well knocked him out and tied him up.

I should be happy he didn't do that.

John had just settled down on the bed again with toast and laptop –there were indeed some reports he had to work on- when he heard Sherlock downstairs locking the door. Christ. Very effective. And then he heard Sherlock on the stairs… going upstairs.

For a second, John froze. Then he shoved laptop and plate to the side and grabbed the cup. He looked around frantically and finally opened a drawer and poured two thirds of the tea over his socks. Ignoring the voice in his head that was telling him they were behaving like children, he laid down quickly on the bed, face down on the pillows, trying to relax. And sure enough, the door to his bedroom opened. What he hadn't expected though was that Sherlock actually entered, closing the door behind him again.

What the hell was he doing?

John heard Sherlock crossing the room, moving the curtains and opening the window. He came back to the bed, covered John with the bedspread, pressed two fingers against John's neck, then he was gone. There was the sound of footsteps running downstairs on the ladder, and then silence.

John sat up slowly, pushed off the spread and stared unbelievingly at the open window. Brilliant. Odds are that Mycroft now has a picture of his brother leaving my bedroom via the window. He shook his head and jumped up, deliberately got the worst clothing out of his wardrobe –brown cord suit and a knitted tie- and dressed himself. Five minutes later he was out on the street, flagging down a cab.

 

***

 

"All of a sudden, no matter what I've tried, I could not reach him anymore. Ever."

 

***

 

Over half an hour later, John arrived at Grange St Paul's, at the end of his tether. His cab had been caught up in a traffic jam, and John had been torn between trying to stay patient and jumping out of the car and running. In the end, he had stayed in the cab, telling himself over and over again that he wasn't on the trail of a killer, and that Sherlock was not in danger. Not in mortal danger.

John stormed through the glass entrance doors into the lobby and took a moment to orient himself. Thankfully, he didn't have to search for long; there were quite a few elegant and discreet signs, pointing to the meeting rooms of the congress. He turned to the right, took a few stairs at break-neck speed, and almost ran headfirst into one of the hotel security guards. Fishing the visitor pass out of his wallet, John waved it at the guy and, pocketing it again, continued on his way to the speaker room from where he could already hear Wentwall's booming voice. He passed the entrance to what looked like a bar, and then he stopped dead in his tracks and took a second glance. There he was.

Sherlock leaned with his back against the wall, arms crossed and an utterly curious expression on his face. For a moment, John thought the aggravating blue neon lights were playing tricks on him; he had never before seen Sherlock terrified of anything… or anyone. But that was what John saw, terror. Sherlock stared at a man standing in front of him, too close to him, right arm casually on the bar, effectively crowding Sherlock into a corner. Richard Holmes was a very lean and very tall man, even taller than Sherlock or Mycroft. It seemed to be a trademark of the Holmes family.

Hackles rising, John went forward.

The neon lights slowly changed colour until they became almost purple. Holmes raised his left hand with the tumbler in it. Sherlock looked up, away from his father and straight at John. His eyes widened. Holmes turned slowly, clearly following his son's gaze.

John almost froze in his tracks, almost. He had seen this look before on a hyena in Afghanistan. It had looked up from its prey with a blood-smeared snout, glancing at John almost calculating, as if wondering how close he would dare to come.

Holmes smiled, and for a moment the likeness became even more striking and then the image shattered. For once ignoring the man he loved, John placed himself right between the two of them, his back to Sherlock, so close to Holmes the tips of their shoes were touching. Holmes looked surprised for a second and retreated one step, only to come forward again immediately. His face hardened.

"Dr Watson, I presume?"

"I wasn't aware we've met before."

Holmes started to smile again. "Oh, I've heard so much about you I feel I know you already." He looked John over from head to toe, smile deepening. "I just wasn't expecting someone so… impressive." Looking over John's head at Sherlock, he continued, "Is that your idea of a joke? And there I was, thinking, well, at least he'd chosen a doctor. But seriously…" He got interrupted by John's forefinger stabbing him in the chest. All of a sudden, every trace of humour left his eyes. "Keep your hands to yourself, chap."

"It will be hard but I'll try. Keep your focus."

Holmes flushed with anger, and for the first time, John noticed a scar on the right side of his face; a thin white line, running down from the ear to the jawline.

"Is that so?" Holmes hissed, leaning forward, getting right into John's face. John wondered whether he would still do that if he knew how close he was to getting his nose punched in.

John straightened up even more, cocked his head to the side and smiled. They were now nose to nose, so close John could smell the expensive aftershave Holmes was wearing; he could have done without it. "That's so."

They stared at each other until Sherlock made a distressed sound; at once, Holmes' head whipped up again to look at his son. John cursed inwardly.

Holmes laughed softly at whatever he saw in Sherlock's face. "I thought I taught you better."

The tone was so ugly and vicious that John's mind took –again- a leap to something dark. He snapped. Muscles tensing, he moved forward, only to be stopped by two hands from behind that were drawing him back. John struggled for a minute but Sherlock turned him slightly and John saw Mycroft, accompanied by two other men, running towards them. He looked strangely like the griffin from John's dream.

Holmes turned around quickly, apparently forgetting about Sherlock and John. He looked like he was preparing himself for a fight, and John struggled some more. If there was going to be a fight, he wanted in on it. He opened his mouth to tell Sherlock but before he could draw a breath, Sherlock pushed and pulled him in the direction of the hall, passing Mycroft and his cronies, a haggard looking Anthea and hotel security guards, out into the lobby and then onto the street. Not pausing for a minute, Sherlock opened the door of the next cab in line, all but threw John into it, followed him inside and hissed "Baker Street!" at the driver, banging the door closed behind him.

 

***

 

"I do remember that day far too well. I was 21, already working for the government. I visited our home for only a few hours and left again. Then, I had a flat tyre only about two miles away, near the village. It was strange; the car was brand new. I went to the inn to phone the AA only to learn I had to wait for a few hours for someone to come out there. By chance, I saw one of our former maids, Rose. She was playing Billiards in the backroom and I… Again, I am sorry. I am procrastinating. Well, we started a conversation about how things were at home; at that time, only my father's old butler and a few workers had remained at the house. I noticed she was exchanging strange looks with the innkeeper and then, quite suddenly, she asked me about Sherlock. Before I could answer she started talking so quickly I could barely keep up with her. She told me about how our father treated my brother… about cruel punishments for minor pranks, like letting him stand in the corner for hours without end. She also talked about him regularly beating Sherlock. One part of me did not believe her. The other part… I can't really explain it. While I did not believe it, at the same time, I saw in her face other things, much, much worse things. I decided to go back. I left the car behind and went through the woods back to the house."

 

***

 

"I thought I taught you better."

John looked at Sherlock who was staring out of the cab's window and at Sherlock's left hand that was tightly clenched around the handhold. In John's mind, thoughts were tumbling around. In a way, the meeting with Sherlock's father had turned out as he had thought it would; Richard Holmes was impressive, good-looking, cold and an arrogant son of a bitch. But –and this was a big but- John had not expected the way Sherlock had looked and he had also not expected the… undertones in which Holmes had watched and spoken to his son. Just thinking about it made his flesh crawl.

John prayed they would reach Baker Street before Sherlock got a grip on himself and managed to shut down.

His wish was granted. The moment the cab stopped, Sherlock jumped out and rushed towards the door, John on his heels. He heard the cab driver behind him yelling, and without really stopping he shoved his wallet into the hands of a startled Mrs Hudson. "Take care of that for me, will you?" he bit out and stormed upstairs, not waiting for an answer. He piled into the living room and moved to the left, blocking Sherlock's means of escape. Sherlock had turned around and was close to him, looking more disturbed than John had ever seen him before. His gaze was flitting between John and the door to the stairs. John wondered if Sherlock would actually try and attack him and if it was really such a good idea to trap him right now; then he could see a familiar mask covering Sherlock's face. John drew his shoulders up and braced himself, just in time.

"Are you having fun, John?" Sherlock asked, cold as ice.

"Sherlock…"

"Oh you should see your face!" Sherlock barked out a laugh. "Full of sincerity and moral courage, as usual. Do you know how boring that is, how boring you are?" His voice became louder with every word. "A simpering idiot who thinks he's in love!"

"When did it start?"

Sherlock recoiled; he didn't even try to pretend that he hadn't understood. John swallowed; his heart was thundering in his ears. He took a step forward, and Sherlock backed off several paces until his legs bumped into the chair at the window. He barely managed to stay on his feet. John hesitated for a moment, then he quickly crossed the distance between them; scared and yet determined at the same time. Sherlock tried to get away from him, circling the chair.

"Leave me alone!"

John stopped immediately and raised both hands. "Sherlock, look, I'm…" All of a sudden, Sherlock lost his footing; he slipped and started to go down. Instinctively, John rushed forward and tried to break his fall. They both landed on the floor between chair and window. After a second of silence, John looked at Sherlock's face; all he could see were wide grey eyes. John got up on his knees and skidded backwards, only to be drawn back by Sherlock whose fingers were digging into John's arm. Flinching, he prepared himself for a slap at least, but when Sherlock did nothing beside stare at him, John tried again.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked, I…" He trailed off when Sherlock cocked his head to the side, a whole new expression in his eyes. Before John could do as much as blink, Sherlock released his arm; his hand travelled upwards and grasped John's neck. Then Sherlock drew him closer.

Soft, soft lips, barely there, gone and back again. John flailed a bit and made a surprised noise which sounded suspiciously like a moan. The tip of a tongue caressed his lips, and he gasped for breath. Sherlock raised his head for a moment, smiled at him and moved forward again, eyes darkening. Stunned but elated, John managed to return the embrace without embarrassing himself further.

From a distance, John heard the door open. "Dr Watson, here is your… oh dear!" The door closed again, and John ripped his mouth away. He tried to look over his shoulder but Sherlock shifted and the chair John was leaning on skittered away; John found himself lying flat on his back. "Wha… ?"

"You scared Mrs Hudson," Sherlock said above him, voice deeper than it ever had been before.

Stupidly, John stared up at him. He could not think. He had the feeling it would be important to think but… oh God, here he comes again. This time, Sherlock moved in far more confidently. His tongue slipped immediately between John's lips, seeking out his own. Behind closed lids, John saw sparkles flying about; breathing became an issue. He buried his hands deeply in the dark curls and tugged Sherlock's head slightly to the left to have better access to his mouth.

Sherlock froze. Only for a second but that was enough for John's brain to jumpstart; a bucket full of ice water poured out over his head could not have been more effective. John wriggled out from under Sherlock's body and scrambled away, backwards, as fast as he was able to. Sherlock was following him at once; a part of John's mind marvelled at the fact that both of them were heading for the sofa, on all fours.

"Oh, no, no, no, please don't!"

Reacting to the desperation in Sherlock's voice, John let Sherlock catch up with him but before he could pounce on him again, he laid a hand on Sherlock's chest. "Stop it. Sherlock, stop!"

"I don't want to!"

"But I do. I need to."

After he frowned at John for a few seconds, Sherlock averted his eyes and sat back, close to John but not touching him. A moment later he drew his knees up and buried his own hands in his hair, pulling on it mercilessly. John reached out, took hold of Sherlock's wrists and pulled on them a bit. "Sherlock, you're hurting yourself. Let go," he said, sounding surprisingly calm. Inwardly, he felt like he was standing in the middle of a minefield, with no idea what to do or how to get out.

Sherlock looked up, a defeated expression in his eyes, so John put his arms around him and held on.

 

***

 

"It was already dark when I got there. I went through the cellar so I could avoid Father's butler. The house sat silent. First, I thought everyone had already gone to bed. Then I heard something from upstairs. It was… Excuse me for a moment."

 

***

 

"You should not have followed me."

They were sitting on the floor, close to each other, leaning against the couch, table kicked to the middle of the room. John sighed and hung his head. "Well, you did your best to prevent it. Do I want to know what drug was in that tea?"

Sherlock remained silent.

"Tell me it wasn't Rohypnol."

No answer.

"Are you out of your mind? Do you know what… forget it." John tried to swallow the sudden ire without choking on it. It did not go down smoothly. "You couldn't have just told me not to come?"

Sherlock huffed. "As if you would have listened."

"So sure of that, are you?"

"I know you."

"Just your luck then that I know you, too."

Sherlock shook his head slowly, and John saw his Adam's apple bob twice. "He will come after you. You made it personal."

"I don't give a shit…"

"Because you don't know him!" Sherlock shouted. "I'll tell you something; soon enough, you won't have a job anymore!"

"Then I will look for another one."

Hands waving around, Sherlock turned towards John, totally agitated. "It is mind-boggling how slow you are! You won't get another one, not as a doctor! You…"

"Then I'll sell Fish and Chips on the street." Before Sherlock could explode for good, John continued, gently, "He's not my bogeyman, Sherlock. I am not scared of him."

Sherlock lowered his head, and John raised his hand to stroke through the dark curls and paused mid-air, self-consciously. That made Sherlock snap at once. "Stop being an idiot! I'm not some frightened spinster, you hear me?"

Baring his teeth, John said, "I never thought you were."

"Then stop treating me like one! That's exactly why I didn't want you to…" He bit off the rest and clenched his fists.

John completed his arrested movement, laid his hand on Sherlock's neck and carefully caressed the short locks. A tiny part inside him marvelled at the fact that he was actually allowed to do that now, to show his affection so casually. "You didn't want me to what?"

Sherlock sighed, sounding disgruntled. "What do you think? I didn't want you to know about…" He trailed off, turned his head slowly and pinned John with a piercing glance. "How did you know anyway? There is no way you could have hacked into Mycroft's twee files about me and this mess. So how?"

Twee files? Mess? Jesus. "Well, I… read your manual on being a Sociopath and…"

"It's not a manual!"

"Isn't it now?" When Sherlock didn't answer, John carried on. "There was something about… okay, that doesn't really matter. It was… the way your father… uh, looked at you. He looked like he… owns you. All of you."

"Oh, he does own me. He made sure that I won't forget it," Sherlock said in a neutral voice that made the fine hairs on John's neck rise.

"What do you mean?"

Sherlock remained silent, and John watched him apprehensively. When he opened his mouth to take the question back, Sherlock's expression became determined. He got up on his knees and stood up.

"Sherlock, what…?" John broke off when the other man started to open his trousers. He watched Sherlock, face drawn, pulling down the left side of the black suit trousers and rucking up the white shirt. There, high on his hipbone, was a crude cross, branded into the pale skin, so big that Sherlock's hand could not have covered it completely.

John sat very still. He tried desperately to keep his emotions under control, hiding them, but he knew it was in vain. Not even the thought that Sherlock would be able to read everything on his face enabled him to manage it; neither did the attempt to distance himself, to look at this mark from a doctor's perspective. He couldn't. He could not.

"How…?"

Sherlock interrupted him, still in that eerie voice. "A fire poker. On my thirteenth birthday." He closed his trousers again and stuck the shirt into them. "You want some tea?"

"What?"

"Tea," Sherlock repeated, striding toward the kitchen. "I'm making tea."

Oh God. John scrambled to his feet and followed Sherlock; he could not let this stand. The kettle Sherlock was just filling clanged and banged against the running tap erratically. "Please give that to me." Taking the kettle away, John noticed how mechanically Sherlock was moving. "Sit down for a moment, will you?" Sherlock obliged and John became even more worried. Laying one hand on Sherlock's shoulder, he leaned forward and tried to catch the grey eyes. "Listen to me. This bastard does not own you, you hear me?"

"John…"

"NO! He preyed on you, on body and mind, he manipulated you and he… abused you. As a child, you were in an impossible situation. But none of this means that he owns you. You're your own man!" Taken aback by his own vehemence, John glanced at Sherlock only to see myriad emotions flitting over his face, far too many to keep up with. Then, with a feeling of déjà vu, John saw Sherlock cocking his head. Close to some sort of emotional whiplash, he warned, "Sherlock…"

Too late. With one quick motion, Sherlock gripped his arm and drew him forward; John overbalanced and landed on Sherlock's lap.

"Sherlock!"

"What?"

"Could we maybe not repeat the previous disaster?"

Sherlock let go of him abruptly. "Disaster, you say? Interesting." He shoved John away and tried to stand up.

"Wait! Wait, please? Can we talk about this?"

"So talk."

Mind distressingly blank, John thought, I wish I knew what to say. Sitting down on the chair next to Sherlock's, he tried. "Earlier, when we kissed, I… I did something and you… you were…" He saw Sherlock becoming impatient and sighed.

Elbows on the table and fingers steepled together, Sherlock asked, "May I?"

John grimaced. "Please."

"You pulled on my hair. I was not prepared for that because I do not kiss. But now I know what to expect, so it won't happen again. We can proceed." Sherlock looked hopefully at John, but whatever he saw on his face –and really, John himself had no idea anymore how he looked- he apparently felt the need to explain further. "Do not worry; I am very good at this. You don't have to be so careful."

John was cold all over.

"You're very good at what? What do you think I want from you?"

Sherlock leaned back on his chair and crossed his arms. "I thought this should be obvious?"

"No, I really don't think so. I'm not talking about having a fling here."

Sherlock looked at him for a second and nodded slowly. "Of course. I should have known that. I am sorry, John, I truly am." Standing up, Sherlock took hold of the kettle again.

John watched the now perfectly stable hands while they held the kettle under the water tap. He wanted nothing more than to run away, to get some distance between himself and Sherlock. He did not, of course. In a minute, he would be able to stand up, say something meaningless and leave the room with at least his dignity intact; until then, he would just stay here and keep his mouth shut.

And watch Sherlock spinning around in the kitchen.

John blinked a few times. Sherlock had put the kettle on the stovetop without turning the plate on and was now over at the fridge, opening it, moving very quickly. He tried to pull out the drawer but could not; it was once again jammed. But instead of leaving it as was his custom, Sherlock pulled on it so violently the whole thing came out and it was raining lemons, peppers and carrots. John heard him cursing viciously and all of a sudden, he was able to breathe again. He got up slowly, started to pick up the lemons closest to him and laid them on the kitchen counter. Then he took the drawer out of Sherlock's hands and put it back into the fridge, very aware of Sherlock who was standing to one side and looking at him intently. He closed the fridge door and, turning around to Sherlock, he glanced up at him, the beginning of a smile on his lips. Sherlock's eyes were dark and full of emotions and there wasn't a mask in sight but he still did not move. Right. John raised his hand to Sherlock's cheek and in the next second he crashed against the fridge, Sherlock's mouth on his, kissing him wildly. Almost lightheaded with relief, John let him.

After some time, John enfolded Sherlock's face with his hands; apparently fearful of being pushed away, Sherlock pressed against him even harder. But John just started to move his thumbs soothingly in circles over the high cheekbones; under the fingertips that were resting against Sherlock's throat he could feel how fast his heart was beating. Finally, slowly, Sherlock drew back a bit, probably for some much needed air, only to come back again and again as if he couldn't believe that John wasn't leaving. Using his teeth, John tugged playfully at Sherlock's mouth every time their lips were touching; his hands were petting the dark locks gently and then stroked them back behind the ears. The next time their mouths parted, John swerved a bit to the side to press his lips against Sherlock's throat. Sherlock made a hoarse sound; his head fell back, baring his throat even more. Standing on tiptoes, John kissed, licked, nipped his way slowly downwards from ear to collarbone, ripping the white shirt open a bit more. Sherlock shuddered all over, his hips pushing mindlessly against John, and John became aware of how badly his own body was shaking. He had fantasised about this, about Sherlock coming apart in his arms, for so long he could now barely control his own reaction – but he had to. Christ, we're in the kitchen, against the fucking fridge!

His hands skimmed over Sherlock's chest, trying to let things become gentler, but his fingers grazed erect nipples and instead of calming down, Sherlock pressed even harder against him, moaning loudly. His mouth slid over John's sloppily, tongue licking between his lips once, then he lowered his head and bit down hard on John's throat, hands leaving John's waist and grabbing his arse. Brain short-circuiting again, John spread his legs and was at once hoisted until he was practically riding on one of Sherlock's thighs. His hips snapped forward, pushing their erections together and oh Christ! he would come in his pants any second now. "Sherlock… I…" he panted and dug his fingers deeper into Sherlock's shoulders, sure he would leave bruises there.

Slowly, Sherlock kissed him again and released him - only to go down on his knees in front of John. He started to open John's trousers but John laid his hands over Sherlock's and stopped him. "Sherlock… no, don't."

Sherlock looked up and John literally ran out of breath. He had never seen Sherlock look that way, he hadn't even imagined him looking that way, and hell, he had imagined lots of things –pupils so widely dilated John could only see a tiny rim of grey, face flushed, lips swollen –how the hell could he say no to that… John felt the fingers under his moving, opening the button.

"I want to," Sherlock rasped. "Oh, I want to, let me!"

Right.

Trembling, he let go of Sherlock's hands and laid his own flat against the fridge door behind him, hoping to get some support for his legs there. Sherlock smiled up at him, delighted and… gentle, there was no other word for it and god, he hadn't seen a smile like that before either. Long fingers were unzipping his trousers, pushing them down, taking his boxers with them, and a second later he felt Sherlock's tongue licking teasingly over his cock, twirling around the head for a moment. John stared and panted, and then Sherlock leaned forward, lips closing around him, and with one motion he took him in so deep John almost lost it right there. "Fuck!" Drawing back, Sherlock hummed, clearly approving, cheeks hollowing. John's head banged against the fridge. He couldn't watch, he could not… Sherlock went down again, tongue fluttering against the underside of his cock, rubbing just there and… John's eyes flew open. "Stop! Sherlock, stop, stop… stop!" His hands flailed around, not wanting to grab Sherlock's hair but still trying to push him off. Sherlock didn't let him; his hands took a firm hold on John's hips and he sucked even harder and that was it. With a sob, John came, shaking all over; he felt Sherlock swallowing around him, slowing his movements and he shuddered again. Finally Sherlock let him go, and John looked down just to see Sherlock slowly licking over his lips. His knees gave out and he slid down, landing on his arse.

"You all right?" Sherlock asked, a definite smile in his voice. John continued to sit and stare, feeling dumb.

Sherlock's smile deepened and he sat down beside John for a moment, only to raise himself up again immediately, adjusting his trousers with a grimace. John was on him in a second, pushing him to the floor, kissing him, hand squeezing the clearly visible bulge under the black trousers. Sherlock made a soft noise, head going back and… and… the doorbell was ringing. And not only that; while they were both staring at each other, frozen, the street door opened and there were footsteps on the stairs.

Sherlock bared his teeth. "It's Mycroft."

"You're kidding me," John rasped.

"I wish. Dammit!" With that, Sherlock got up then leaned down to lend John a hand for which he was very grateful. While John closed his trousers, Sherlock yanked his shirt out, hiding evidence. "I have to give it to him, he always chooses the worst possible moment," he hissed under his breath, still trying to adjust himself, which was impossible, really, John thought. Sherlock's whole wardrobe was just a bit too tightly fitting. Not that John minded that. What he did mind, though, was that he had no idea where his gun was… and the way they were both looking, no one alive would be able to miss what they had been doing.

"Don't fret." Sherlock still sounded as if he was in pain.

Before John could answer, there was a knock on the door to the living room. "You think Mycroft would knock?" John whispered.

"Apparently." Sherlock raised his voice. "Come on in, Mycroft. We're in the kitchen."

Feeling extremely awkward, John turned around slowly just in time to see the older Holmes brother entering. Mycroft didn't so much as twitch when he saw them but Sherlock tensed all over and John laid a hand gently on the small of his back. He could understand the tension; Mycroft looked awful. Hair and tie in disarray, Mycroft stood in the doorway for a long moment, then he came over to the table and sat down. He reached into the inside pocket of his coat, drew out an expensive looking cigarette case and a gold Zippo and lit up a cigarette. John sat down, too, and watched Sherlock staring at his brother while Mycroft was staring at the table top and smoking.

Finally, Sherlock took a seat and leaned forward. "Stop it."

Mycroft didn't look up.

"Mycroft…"

His brother interrupted him. "You know what he said to me?"

Sherlock took a deep breath. "If you tell me he complimented you on your looks, I won't feel so special anymore."

Gnashing his teeth tightly -John could hear the grinding sound even over the humming in his own ears- Mycroft did not answer. John swallowed and tried to keep the rising bile down.

"None of this is your fault."

Mycroft huffed, a bitter sound. "So you've said."

"You know as well as I do…"

"I should have killed him."

After a moment of silence, Sherlock took the lighter and a cigarette; John seriously considered getting one for himself, too. Raising an eyebrow, Sherlock remarked off-handedly, "Far too many witnesses at the hotel, I'm afraid."

"I was not talking about today."

Silence again. John looked back and forth between the brothers; both of them were now staring at the table. John remembered the scar on Richard Holmes' face very well; almost against his will, he asked, "What did you use?"

Mycroft threw him a look. "A letter opener."

All of a sudden, Sherlock jumped up so abruptly his chair skittered back on the kitchen floor. "If you don't mind, I'd rather not listen to this. Not now." He threw the cigarette into the sink.

"You are right; there is no need to…"

"I beg to differ." Sherlock turned back to his brother. "It is obvious that you need to talk about it and I think John has to hear it. I just do not want to be a participant in this conversation. Go out and talk; I need some space anyway."

"Surely not!" Mycroft barked.

John watched Sherlock closely; he looked exhausted and still flushed and strangely peaceful. He also looked like someone who badly needed to be alone. John could only imagine how this intensely private man must be feeling right now; so when Sherlock turned to him, he managed to put a smile on his face. Inwardly, he wanted nothing more than to throw Mycroft out, grab Sherlock and drag him upstairs to his bedroom. Later.

"John, I know it must be hard to trust me after what happened this morning but…"

John interrupted him. "No. No, it is actually surprisingly easy."

 

***

 

"The sounds I heard, they were… unambiguous. I knew what I would find even before I opened that door. I remember that I stood there, praying I was wrong. Then I did open the door."

 

***

 

Mycroft paused again, and John swallowed hard. He didn't want to hear it, neither here in Mycroft's car nor elsewhere. The atmosphere was oppressive enough even without the horror Mycroft was conjuring. It was almost dark outside, and the light of the nearest street lamp could not pierce through the shadows in the car; it only made the breath-clouded windows more opaque. For quite some time now John had been unable to see either the trees of Regent's Park nor Mycroft's driver who stood somewhere outside, shielded from the heavy rain only by a far too small umbrella.

Mycroft breathed in. "He stood with his back to me; he didn't hear me. But Sherlock, he… he opened his eyes and looked straight at me. He was on his knees and…" Mycroft broke off again, and John bit down on nothing so hard his teeth ached; he badly wanted to follow Mycroft's earlier example, leave the car and puke his guts out in the bushes. This was worse than he had thought and it was even more horrible after…

"That is why he noticed me. Because Sherlock looked at me. I was right beside them when they parted. I shoved him back so hard he fell on the escritoire." Mycroft closed his eyes. "Only later on did I remember how badly Sherlock had flinched; like he believed I would hit him."

"Mycroft…"

Mycroft raised a hand. "Let me finish this, please. I should have taken Sherlock out of that room immediately. But again, I failed him. I wanted nothing more than… I don't know. And our father, he was… annoyed. Not scared or ashamed or even angry, no, he was annoyed. Like I had caught him with a pornographic magazine in his hand and not with his son on his knees in front of him!" Mycroft took another deep breath. "He actually told me to leave them. I… railed at him, called him every name in the book. He hit me with the back of his hand. To be honest, I don't remember everything that happened afterwards. After he slapped me, I must have gotten hold of his letter opener. Next thing I do remember is that there was blood everywhere; on my father, the floor, me… he was screaming. He was pressing a hand on the wound and it bled so heavily I was sure I'd hit an artery, sure I'd killed him. The butler came running and Father yelled at him to call an ambulance and that was when I pulled myself together. I looked around for Sherlock and found him in a corner, staring at our father. I grabbed him and dragged him downstairs; there I got the keys to Father's Land Rover. I was close to London when I noticed I left my own car behind."

Mycroft stopped speaking; after a while, John asked, "And then, what?"

"What do you mean?"

"What happened afterwards? With Sherlock, with your father?"

"I phoned him. One week after he was released from the hospital, he did what I told him to; he left the country."

"Wait a moment, what? What?"

Mycroft flinched, but he did not look up and he did not answer.

"You didn't report him? No police, no court case, no anything?"

"I made sure… he didn't… I kept him under surveillance." John gritted his teeth but before he could say anything, Mycroft continued. "After a few years, I was sure he was solely fixated on Sherlock. After all, he was fifteen years old when…"

Harshly, John interrupted him. "And what about Sherlock? How must he have felt when…?"

"He was the one who asked me not to, who begged me not to!" Mycroft barked.

"He was a boy!"

"He was fifteen years old!"

John looked at him for a second, then he tried to open the door; Mycroft stopped him. "I am sorry, John. I am. I know that I did the wrong thing. This isn't… I didn't know what to do. I was unable to cope with the situation, with Sherlock. I told you before, I couldn't reach him. I tried to help him by doing what he wanted. Believe me, I know I failed again."

John shook his head, trying to clear it. He was so angry he could barely see straight but he knew he was angry about the wrong person. Sherlock had been a boy, but Mycroft had not been much more than a boy either. "What about your mother?"

Mycroft crossed his arms. "Our mother had nothing to do with this."

"Excuse me?"

"She wasn't there when it happened and she doesn't know anything about it. It's the one point where we both, Sherlock and I, are in agreement. She is a frail woman, in body and mind. She would not be able to understand this; I doubt she would survive it."

John stared. It was absolutely clear that Mycroft was serious, and still, John could not believe it. "And what did you tell her when her husband…" He was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. Irritated, he got it out of his pocket to turn it off but then he saw who was phoning. "Sherlock? Is everything all right?"

For a moment, there was nothing but a jumble of sounds. Then, a bit muffled, he heard someone talking but it wasn't Sherlock. In the next moment, John was out of the car and running. Behind him, he could hear Mycroft calling out for him; he did not look back.

 

***

 

He was already racing upstairs, with no clear memory how he had gotten there or how much time had passed. He remembered falling down on the slippery streets at least once; his hands were skinned, he was dirty and soaked. Not stopping to check if it was locked, he kicked in the door to their flat. The living room was dark and the shadows were playing tricks on him because for a moment he could see not two men but a man and a child by the fireplace but even that did not stop him. He knew exactly where the bastard was standing – turning, surprised, hands falling off his prey.

Moving forward quickly, he hauled him away, far away, until they both crashed against the cabinet beside the window. The fan went flying, and he heard glass breaking. His left hand clawed at the other's throat. He pinned him sideward onto the wall; the angle was not perfect but it didn't matter. Blocking blows easily with his right arm, he started to smile; the other man was already choking. His fingers dug deeper into his neck.

Then he heard movement behind him; he turned slightly and Holmes threw him off. He felt a punch to the stomach and he tumbled to the right side and fell against the desk. The drawers burst open, one fell to the floor, the other was hanging precariously at the edge. The next blow almost brought him to his knees, but instead of hanging on to the unsteady desk he turned and grabbed the other man's waist. Both of them went down, and he managed to land on top. Immediately, his hands closed around the thin neck again. The lights went on and he heard voices yelling but he could not make out words; the roaring in his ears and the gasps of the man beneath him were far too loud. And still, the sudden brightness distracted him and Holmes managed to land another blow, this time directly on his face. For a moment, he saw black spots dancing before his eyes and his grip loosened; Holmes wiggled out and away from under him.

He made it back on his feet at the same time the other man did; Holmes was right in front of him, hand on his throat and a murderous look in his eyes. He started to strike out at him again but his movement was hindered; hands were clasping his arms, drawing him backwards. He struggled against them but before he could lash out at whoever was behind him he saw Holmes turn his head and looking at… The grip on his arms slackened and he acted immediately. He grabbed the gun from the open drawer and aimed. Holmes froze.

"JOHN, NO!"

He pulled the trigger, but his arm was shoved to the side. The shot went wild; something on the kitchen table fell down and shattered.

 

***

 

For a moment, no one moved. Then Holmes whirled around and ran out of the flat, passing a white-faced Mrs Hudson who had pressed both hands against her mouth and was staring at John. Someone tugged at the gun in John's hand; he blinked a few times and saw Mycroft at his side. He let go of the gun and watched as Mycroft unloaded it then threw it on the chair closest to them. John could not move, not think; he felt numb all over. Mycroft grabbed him by the shoulders and said something but he didn't understand what. He heard a whimpering sound coming from Mrs Hudson; Mycroft released him and strode over to her, guiding her away from the threshold into the hall and then it hit him. Sherlock! Oh Christ!

John stumbled the few steps over to the fireplace where Sherlock was sitting, falling down on his knees beside him. Sherlock didn't react at all to his presence; he was huddling there and staring straight ahead with unblinking eyes. Carefully, John looked him over, not daring to touch yet. He was wearing his dressing gown; it was obvious he had taken a shower, his hair was still damp. The collar of the gown was ripped, and Sherlock's lips… John took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He could not afford to lose it again, not now. Still, his mind shied away from what must have happened here while Sherlock had been alone with his father. At least –and god, right now he was thankful for even the smallest favours- Sherlock was wearing his pyjama bottoms. No t-shirt, no slippers, though, and he must be cold and there were shards in the kitchen and… John bit hard on his own lips and tried to rein his brain in.

"Sherlock?" he asked quietly.

No answer. Behind him, John could hear Mrs Hudson saying, "But he told me he's his father!" and Mycroft's clipped response, "He is our father," but Sherlock remained silent.

"Sherlock?" John asked again, laying a hand cautiously on Sherlock's arm.

Jerkily, Sherlock turned his head and looked at John. "He kissed me. I begged him not to," he stated, almost casually. John's stomach did a slow roll but before he could say something, Sherlock turned completely away from him, got on his knees and started retching.

John leaned forward immediately; he put one hand on Sherlock's forehead, the other on his stomach. He could feel muscles rippling under his hand, stomach heaving. Sherlock did not vomit but continued with the horrible retching.

"Hey. Try to breathe, okay?" John gritted his teeth again; he knew how inadequate his words were but he could not think of something more helpful right now.

"I'll call an ambulance."

Sherlock flinched. John turned his head slightly and looked up at Mycroft who stood behind them, mobile in hand, eyes dark and face white. "No, don't do that."

"John, we have to…"

With all his might, John tried to keep his voice calm. "I don't think he's physically hurt. If I'm wrong I'll make sure he gets help. But what Sherlock doesn't need right now is to deal with a hospital full of strangers."

"This is not for you to decide," Mycroft hissed and started dialling. Without really thinking about it, John let go of Sherlock, straightened up and took the phone right out of Mycroft's hand, closing it.

"Neither is it your decision."

That brought back quite a bit colour to Mycroft's face, and John felt his own temper rising. He stamped down on it; the last thing he needed now was a fight with Sherlock's brother about who was in charge here. Before Mycroft could do so much as open his mouth, John threw the phone on the chair where his gun was, then turned back to Sherlock. Thankfully, Sherlock seemed to have heeded John's advice and started breathing, calming down physically, at least. He was already trying to get back on his feet, so John rose too, reaching out. Sherlock took John's arm and while he did not look at John, he didn't release his arm, either.

"Sherlock, I'll take you home with me. We should…"

Sherlock interrupted him. "Go away, Mycroft," he said as he turned on his heel and went through the kitchen towards his bedroom, sidestepping the shards on the floor.

Hesitantly, John glanced at Mycroft and averted his eyes at once. Mycroft looked… lost. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, John murmured, "I'm sure he didn't mean it; he is…"

"Spare me," Mycroft stated, expression blank. He picked up his phone and left.

Right. Shoving aside any thoughts about Mycroft, John looked at the glimmer of light shining out of Sherlock's bedroom. He left the door ajar. Wavering for a few seconds, John finally followed him. If he does not want company, I will just sit in front of his door. For the rest of the night.

On his way, John passed the refrigerator and had to stop for a moment. Christ. Just an hour ago… He closed his eyes and shook his head once. So not the time to think about that. He moved on.

Pausing again on the threshold, John just looked at Sherlock. Pyjama jacket on, gown thrown into a corner, he sat on the edge of his bed, head down, elbows on his knees. John knocked against the doorframe. "May I come in?"

Without glancing up, Sherlock nodded.

John entered slowly, wondering what he should do; standing awkwardly somewhere in the room or sitting down beside Sherlock on the bed, just as awkwardly. Finally, he just crouched down in front of him. "How are you doing?"

"Supremely fine."

"Yes, sorry. Stupid question."

When Sherlock didn't answer, John lowered his head even further, trying to catch Sherlock's eyes, to no avail. Sitting back onto his heels, John tried to relax a bit. Curiously enough, he found himself at peace with being silent and close to Sherlock; any questions he might have wanted to ask could wait.

Eventually, Sherlock looked up, a highly guarded expression on his face. "Just say it."

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Say it. Tell me I should have fought back, knocked him out. After all, he shouldn't be a match for me."

John was dumbstruck; the thought hadn't even crossed his mind. While he was groping for words, he saw Sherlock blinking once. Undoubtedly, Sherlock had no trouble reading John's thoughts but –just as undoubtedly- was very confused about what he saw… or about what he did not see.

Softly, John said, "Sherlock, you were conditioned to not fight back."

Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "What did Mycroft tell you?"

"Not much. Enough. Well, let's say I've heard more than enough from Mycroft."

"Do not blame him for anything that happened."

John sighed. "I don't. Your father's to blame. But I do not agree with Mycroft on many things; I try to keep in mind though that he was only 22 then." He gnawed on his lower lip slightly. "What happened here? I mean… how did he get in here?"

"Mrs Hudson." Sherlock swallowed; John could see his Adam's apple bobbing. "When I came out from the bathroom he was in the living room, waiting for me."

"Sherlock… level with me, please? How are you? Did he… are you hurt?"

Sherlock shook his head. "No. No. I… actually I am not sure I can remember everything. But he didn't have time to… You were here very quickly." He took a shaky breath. "I think he wanted to make a point. He did."

John laid a hand over Sherlock's that were once again tightly clasped. "Excuse me for a second, will you?" He tried to stand up but was hindered by Sherlock.

"John, don't. You won't need it."

Grimacing, John shook his head. "You don't know that."

"He won't come back. John, you almost shot him tonight."

"I wish I had." It wasn't lip service; John wanted to kill him… but he also wanted things to be that easy. He knew they weren't. "Anyway, I think you are right. But just in case you're not… I do not want to be sorry about this later. I'll be back in a moment."

John went back into the living room and picked up his gun. While he was reloading it, he made a mental note to phone a locksmith the next day; he wanted every lock in their flat changed. A carpenter, too; one door is kicked in. He shoved the gun into his waistband and turned around to lock the doors he still could. Almost jumping out of his skin, John found himself face to face with Sherlock. Dammit, how does he do that? Then he noticed the pillow under Sherlock's left arm.

"We're sleeping upstairs."

"… Are you sure? My bed isn't exactly big."

"I know."

 

***

 

John closed the door and locked it, then leaned back against it for a moment, keeping a close eye on Sherlock who was just inspecting the window locks. So much for 'He won't come back', John thought. He didn't really worry about Holmes returning –Sherlock had been right, the fact that he had actually pulled the trigger had shocked everyone present- but still, their home had been violated. John doubted he would get any sleep tonight no matter how tired he was. With a sigh, he straightened up and grimaced; god, his whole body hurt from the blows he had taken, not to mention his falling down on the streets.

"Your clothes are completely soaked."

Sighing, John looked up at Sherlock and stated the obvious. "Yes. It's raining."

Sherlock didn't react. "You have to take them off."

Frowning, John debated asking Sherlock again if he was all right, then decided against it. No reason to ask; he is not. He just nodded and started to shrug off his jacket when his wrists were suddenly seized. "Why didn't you tell me you are hurt?"

"This is minor, only a few scrapes and… Sherlock!"

Too late. Before John was able to realise what was happening, the door was already open and Sherlock running downstairs. Alarmed, John followed him only to stop after taking a few steps; he could hear Sherlock rummaging around in the bathroom. He threw a glance at his doctor's bag sitting in the corner, then sighed again. Not good. Not good at all. Leaving the door wide open, he removed the jacket, tie and shirt, keeping only his t-shirt on, then slipped out of his shoes and the equally sodden socks. When he started on his belt, Sherlock blew back into the room, towels over his shoulder, in one hand a bowl with water, in the other hand various… things, including for some strange reason a box with suppositories against fever.

"Where is your bag?" Sherlock asked, looking harassed.

Pointing at the corner and stepping out of the cord trousers that were clearly bound for the rubbish bin, John saw Sherlock blushing. This would have normally been a welcome opportunity for a jibe but now it was painful to watch and highlighting everything that wasn't right. John had to hand it to Sherlock, though; he only gritted his teeth momentarily, then put the bowl on the floor beside the bed, grabbed the bag, threw it on the mattress and ripped it open. John thought about giving advice but let it go and put his pyjama bottoms on instead. In the next moment he was hauled over to the bed; he sat down on it and in a strange repetition of their former positions in Sherlock's bedroom, Sherlock crouched down in front of him, clutching John's wrists again for closer inspection. Then the bottle with hydrogen peroxide landed beside him, and it was raining cotton balls.

"Sherlock, cotton balls aren't…"

"Yes, I know!" Sherlock was back at digging around in the bag until he finally re-emerged, in his hand packages of sterile bandages that he ripped open with his teeth. John kept his silence; he was deeply worried, Sherlock looked more than crazed. John also said nothing when Sherlock cleaned the wounds… it hurt like hell, especially because Sherlock was moving far too quickly and roughly. John recognised the signs; something bad was coming, was waiting to explode, and he tried once again to gather his wits together, blocking out the threatening feelings of exhaustion.

Finally finished with the hands, Sherlock looked up at John out of dark eyes, then all of a sudden he took hold of John's face, turning it slightly. He hissed in a breath, and John cursed under his breath. He had all but forgotten that Holmes had landed a blow on his face. Again, he tried. "Don't fret, it doesn't even hurt. He hadn't…" Just as suddenly, Sherlock released him, stood up and backed away until his backside collided with John's small desk. In an awfully high voice, Sherlock whispered, "He's right. He's right."

Hair standing up on end, John got up quickly. "Whatever you think he is right about, he is not."

Sherlock didn't seem to hear him; he kept whispering, too silently for John to understand.

"Sherlock? Sherlock!"

Looking John over from head to toe Sherlock finally stated -thankfully in his normal voice-, "This will not work." He huffed. "What am I saying? There was never anything happening that could work."

"We already had this conversation."

"No, we did not."

"Yes, we did."

"No, we… "

"What did your father say to you?"

Paler than ever, Sherlock shook his head and retreated further, almost bumping into the wall. "Nothing."

John followed him slowly; he didn't want to crowd Sherlock but he also couldn't stand the distance. "Sherlock," he said quietly, "talk to me. Talk to me, please."

"I must not," Sherlock said hoarsely, and then he stared at something behind John, eyes wide and filled with such horror that John whirled around, hand immediately reaching for the gun. Nothing. Nobody. John took a deep breath. When he turned back to Sherlock he found him sitting on the floor, knees drawn up, face buried in his hands. For a moment, John's mind went through all sedatives he had at hand but discarded the thought at once. He gently placed one hand on Sherlock's knee and murmured, "There is no one here."

"I know," the muffled reply came. "I'm losing my mind."

"No, you're not. You're in shock. I'll spare you the blanket." That earned John a slightly hysterical chuckle that ended in a sobbing sound. When Sherlock lowered his hands though, his eyes were dry but so desperate looking that John sat down on the floor beside Sherlock. "Hey."

"No one stays," Sherlock bit out, "No one. I never wanted them to stay. But now…" he bit on his lips. "I'm sorry. I sound like…"

"No, no, no," John interrupted him. Inwardly, he decided that a bullet would provide a far too quick death anyway; Holmes deserved someone who would take his time with him. "I won't leave. Sherlock, come on. You know me."

"But you didn't know that."

"It makes no difference…"

"Look at me!" Sherlock spread his arms as wide as possible. "I'm a mess!"

"Would you hear me out? It makes no difference to the way I feel about you. I do not think I'm in love, Sherlock. I am in love. I love you. And I don't love easily, so please do not talk about me leaving you!"

John could see that Sherlock was reeling; so was he. He had not intended to throw out declarations like that. Stupid! Stupid! Jesus Christ!

"I don't think I can do it. I don't know how to do it."

Swallowing hard, John asked, "What do you mean?"

Sherlock gestured towards the bed. "Relationships!"

"Look, sex isn't all that…"

"I'm not talking about sex!" Sherlock almost yelled, "I have no problems with sex!"

John had severe doubts about that but kept them under wraps. "What are you talking about then? Sherlock, I hate to break this to you but we are already in a relationship, have been for over two years, actually."

Sherlock made an impatient noise and John smiled a bit. "It is the truth. The one thing for you to decide is whether you want us to become closer or not."

Closing his eyes, Sherlock nodded slowly. "There is no way you could be too close to me." He opened his eyes again. "You scare me to death."

"Likewise," John croaked. He raised a hand to lay it on Sherlock's cheek; Sherlock immediately nestled against it. John's thumb carefully caressed the soft lips, almost not touching them. Grey eyes watched him closely, then Sherlock asked, "Would you?"

Instead of answering, John leaned forward and kissed him, lips moving slowly against each other. Eventually, he wrapped his arms around the lean waist and drew Sherlock into an embrace. Close like this, John could feel the faint tremors still running over the body in his arms but he also felt the moment when Sherlock ultimately relaxed. He nosed a bit through the dark locks and asked, "Bed?"

"In a moment?"

"All right," John answered, pressing another kiss on the soft cheek.

 

***

 

When they finally had settled down, Sherlock's head on John's chest, John stroked slowly through the curls and tried to suppress a yawn. The last hours, hell, the last days were catching up with him. His gaze swept over the loaded gun on the nightstand to the door.

"It's locked, John. Please do not develop an OCD."

John huffed. "I just went back there once."

"And you just thought about getting up again."

"Maybe." John's fingers combed back Sherlock's fringe then let it trickle down again. "May I ask you a question?"

"Mhm."

"Where do you think your father is right now?"

Sherlock's head pushed slightly against John's hand. Realising he had stopped, John continued the soft petting motion, very aware why he had stopped. He had –again- rocked the boat, despite not wanting to.

"Hmmm." John started breathing again; that was definitely Sherlock's analysing tone. "Probably at the airport, in the common waiting room. Business class. Mycroft would never look for him there."

"At the airport?"

"He is booked on the first flight to New York, tomorrow morning."

"He is?"

"Yes." Sherlock craned his head backwards to glance at John. "This isn't over yet, though. He will…"

"Oh, there you are right! This is so far from over, I can't even tell you."

One corner of Sherlock's mouth twitched. "Stop that." His expression became serious again. "John, he will try to make your life hell, now more than before. Believe me he has his own connections, resources. You took… something away from him. Something that he thinks belongs to him. To say he won't like it would be an understatement and to think he will let it go would be a fatal mistake."

"My stance on that has not changed; I don't give a shit about him or about what he can do."

Sherlock kissed John's chin. "Thankfully, Mycroft isn't without connections, either."

"Can't we leave your brother out of this?"

"No, John. Unfortunately, we can't." Sherlock wriggled upwards and laid his head on John's pillow. "Do you think you can sleep?"

John shrugged. "I don't know."

"There's something else on your mind."

John didn't answer; Sherlock was right, of course, as usual. But the topic he was thinking about wasn't something he wanted to discuss right now. He just had to think about Mycroft's reaction to it to…

"It's about my mother, isn't it?"

"How…?"

"It's perfectly obvious. What do you want to know?"

"I cannot figure out your mother's part in this… I mean, how could she not know?" Sherlock sighed and John back-paddled immediately. "You don't have to…"

Sherlock interrupted him. "It's not that. It's just… I'm not sure how to explain the way my mother looks at the world. She is… eccentric. Always had been. So eccentric, my father was able to put her into a sanatorium without meeting any resistance. Mycroft brought her home after… after my father had left. To this day, she has been diagnosed with almost every mental disorder that exists," Sherlock sneered. "Utter idiots, all of them. Her behaviour… or her symptoms, if you like the word better, do not fit any of them."

"What symptoms?"

Sherlock made a pained noise. "She lives in her own world, John. Look, she never even realised my father had left for good. For the last twenty years, whenever I visited her and Mycroft, I had to listen to her explaining to me that my father was on vacation but would come back home soon."

"Jesus."

"Yes. I don't visit her very often."

Sherlock sounded guilt-ridden so John drew him closer, cursing himself for bringing this up in the first place. "If you ask me, it's understandable. It must be hard to hear that." John rubbed his hands in what he hoped was a soothing manner over Sherlock's back. "Sorry for prying."

"She still spends lots of time at the manor. Not right now, of course, it's too cold and too remote. But the moment Spring comes, she goes back there." Sherlock wriggled upwards until his head was resting beside John's on the pillow. Seemingly lost in thought, he stroked one finger over John's nose, over and over again. "I never went back to the house. Maybe I should have."

"Maybe."

Sherlock looked straight ahead for another moment, then he literally shook himself. "None of this is important, not now. You are important."

John smiled helplessly. "I am?"

"You always were."

 

***

 

"This couldn't have waited? It's eight o'clock in the morning and I just… - It is not for you to decide whether I stay in London or not! It is also my choice whom I take with me and whom I leave behind; as you know I have my own domestics. - Do not 'Mummy' me, young man! Now, I have already invited my friends for my birthday on Saturday, and I want to see both of my sons here as well. Promise you will prise Sherlock away from London? - Very well. - No, whatever it is, we can talk about it the day after tomorrow. Goodbye sweetheart."

Galiena Holmes put down the receiver and smiled at the man standing beside her. "Mycroft can be so difficult at times, Richard."

 

~*~