John briskly climbed the stairs to 221B Baker Street, trying to outrun the bitter cold that had seeped into London over the past week. He was minimally successful. His fingers tingled slightly from the chill when he made it into the warmth of the flat he shared with Sherlock Holmes, the world’s only consulting detective. If John was lucky, Sherlock would have found something to occupy himself during the time that John had been away visiting his sister. If he was unlucky, there would be bullet holes in the wall and a human head in the icebox.
When John entered, Sherlock was clad in his pyjamas and dressing gown, nose stuck so far into a book that John could scarcely see his face between the wildness of his dark hair and the book cover. He was so engrossed that he only barely acknowledged John’s arrival, marked only by a flicker of his gaze and an amused snort.
John shrugged out of his coat, not at all fazed. He pulled his mobile from his pocket and checked the time, noting that it was well into the afternoon and Sherlock was not yet dressed.
“Did you have a happy Christmas?” John said, throwing his coat over the back of his arm chair, and then moving to the kitchen, intent on tea.
Sherlock flipped a page and made a noncommittal noise, long fingers coming to rest on the spine of the book.
“Well, you must not have been too bored. There aren’t any new holes in the wall,” John said, bustling around the kitchen, avoiding Sherlock’s various projects scattered about and starting the kettle. “You’re not in jail, there is no police tape and you look relatively normal so I’m guessing you didn’t manage to irritate either Mycroft or Lestrade.”
Sherlock didn’t answer and after a few moments of silence, John looked up from inspecting his tea cup for cleanliness.
“Sherlock? Did you hear me? Are you alright?”
Sherlock shifted his gaze to John and in a sudden flurry of movement, snapped the book shut and stood, tossing it behind him to his desk. He rolled his shoulders, blinked a few times and overall looked like he was coming out of some sort of a daze.
“John! How is Harriet? I hope she is well. Did you have a nice time with her?”
John nearly dropped his tea bag.
“Fine. She’s fine. It was a fine time. Is there something wrong?”
“That’s great. Siblings are great.”
After the first few months of living with Sherlock, John learned that following his more erratic trains of thought was like trying to solve a particularly difficult maths problem involving trains and distances and differing speeds with only a broken pencil for use. So in an effort to preserve his own sanity and Sherlock’s patience, John learned to not question everything that Sherlock spouted.
He determined, after the first sip of his tea, that this was one of those times.
“Yeah, okay, well, I’m a bit knackered from the traveling so...”
“Right, of course,” Sherlock said, giving John a hearty clap on the back before turning and heading toward his own bedroom. “Post is on the table!”
John sighed. He grabbed the stack of letters, ambled into the living room and carefully collapsed into his arm chair. While drinking his tea, he shifted through the stack, mentally cataloguing them as either bills or junk, because that is really all they received in the post these days, until he came upon a large white envelope that almost certainly contained a holiday card or invitation.
It was addressed to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.
It was from The Pendragons, whoever they were, and the postmark was several days before Christmas.
“Sherlock?” John called as he turned the envelope over in his hands. “Who are the Pendragons and why are they sending us a letter?”
There was no answer and since it was addressed to him as well, John slid his finger carefully under the flap. It popped open and he gently pulled the card free. It was an invitation to a holiday party, and penned in neat silver script was an address, date and time, which happened to be that evening. However, that was not what caught John’s attention. It was the small note, a heartfelt plea scribbled in the corner.
Please attend this year.
John heard Sherlock’s steps grow louder as he entered the living room and he looked up to see Sherlock dressed in his customary button-down and trousers and wrapping a long scarf around his neck.
John held up the card, curious. “Who is Merlin?” he asked. He realized a moment too late that he sounded a bit like a jealous lover and he should have been embarrassed. Then he remembered it was Sherlock, who wouldn’t notice, or if he did, wouldn’t care in the slightest. It didn’t matter because at the slight narrowing of Sherlock’s eyes, John’s interest was piqued.
Sherlock plucked the invitation from John’s hand, his expression unreadable except for the almost imperceptible thinning of his lips. His sharp eyes scanned the note.
“It is arriving later every year,” he muttered more to himself than John. “No matter, I didn’t plan on attending.”
“Are you going to answer my question,” John asked, “or is this another time where you ignore me?”
Sherlock blinked. “What question?”
“Who is Merlin Pendragon?”
Sherlock clenched his jaw. “Merlin Pendragon’s given name is Sherrinford Holmes. He is my younger brother.”
John spit out his tea.
“There’s another one of you?” John asked incredulous as he wiped up the mess. “As if two weren’t enough, there’s a third. Of course there’s a third. Things come in threes, don’t they?” John let out a gusty breath, steeling himself. “Is he like you, a deductive genius, or is he more like Mycroft, shadowy manipulator of the free world?”
Sherlock eyed him like he was watching someone decompensate into insanity. “Don’t be ridiculous, John. Sherrinford is nothing like me.”
“Oh, so is he like Mycroft?”
“Hardly,” Sherlock scoffed. “Sherrinford wouldn’t know what to do with a dictatorship if someone handed it to him. No, no, mummy coddled him and allowed him to become a degenerate.”
“A degenerate?” John asked, trying and failing to picture a Holmes as anything other than brilliant and assertive.
Sherlock nodded. “He’s a writer,” he said with such disdain that John could’ve believed Sherlock was talking about Lestrade rather than his own brother.
“You equate being a writer with being a degenerate. Why does that not surprise me?” John took a breath. “Alright, tell me about this brother and why he is pleading with you to come to his holiday party that starts in an hour.”
Sherlock sneered but dramatically dropped into the chair across from John, card still clutched in his pale hand. “He’s not pleading. If anything, this card shows minimal effort in relation to previous years.”
“Sherlock, your brother, whom I didn’t even know existed until five minutes ago, has written ‘please,’ and if there is anything I know about a Holmes it is how hard it is for them to use manners and such words as ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘you’re welcome.’”
Sherlock merely gave John an irritated look.
“Fine,” Sherlock said, reaching across the small space between them and snatching the envelope. He held it up along with the card.
“For starters, the envelope. Note the post date is the 23rd. This is a holiday party and since most individuals are fairly busy around the holidays, etiquette would suggest sending the invitation out at least two weeks in advance for planning. Yet, Sherrinford sent it out the 23rd, knowing that the post around the holidays is slower due to volume so he expected it to arrive late presumably with the hopes that I would either be already engaged or it would not arrive until after the party. A half-hearted invitation at best. Also, the handwriting. The return address is written smoothly without hesitation, meaning Sherrinford did expect this invitation to be mailed but looking at our names and address, there is clear hesitation, starts and stops, small blots where the ink of his pen welled while he undoubtedly dithered over if he should be sending it at all. Look especially in the “D” and the “J” of the Dr. John Watson as if he is unsure if he should be putting your name on the envelope but out of politeness did anyway.”
Sherlock tossed the envelope to the side and turned his attention to the card itself.
“The card is fairly expensive card stock, printed because this is going to be a large party and many of these are going to be sent. This card was printed toward the end of the batch; you can tell where the edges of the letters aren’t as crisp as they should be. It can be deduced that the printer would want the best copies to be on top of the pile, meaning this was at the bottom so one of the last ones sent, as shown previously by the postmark. I can see where you would think Sherrinford’s scribble was heartfelt but as you can see, he signed it “Merlin” which is a ridiculous nickname he adopted when he was nine that he knows irritates me to no end.”
Sherlock took a deep breath. “Therefore, my brother is not pleading and my attendance is not wanted.”
John blinked. “You know, amazing as all that is…”
Sherlock nodded and half-smiled at the recognition.
“I think,” John continued, “that you are missing something.”
“Missing something?” Sherlock scoffed immediately. “I never miss anything and if I do it is intentional. “
John hid a smile behind his hands then coughed to compose himself. “I realize that but this time, I really do think you are missing something.”
“Alright, John,” Sherlock answered, spreading his hands open in a ‘go ahead’ gesture. “What am I missing?”
John leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Alright, did he send you an invitation last year?”
“Of course he did. He’s Sherrinford.”
“Did you go?”
“No, why would I?”
“The year before? Did you get an invite?”
“No, I didn’t go. What is your point?” Sherlock asked, voice raised in annoyance.
“My point, Sherlock,” John said with a sigh, “is that your brother hesitated in sending the invitation because he didn’t know if he should bother since you never attend anyway.”
John scooped up the envelope. “This postmark, the handwriting, it all screams last attempt to make nice with my older brother.”
Sherlock stood and walked to the window, looking out, hands clasped behind his back.
“When was the last time you saw him?”
Sherlock didn’t turn but answered. “Five years ago at his wedding.”
“Why not since?”
“Because his husband, yes husband, is a boorish idiot who has more money than intellect. Because Sherrinford is content with living a mediocre, boring life in which he has wasted every drop of his potential. Since mummy and Mycroft are perfectly fine with supporting him in his irrelevant pursuits.”
John leaned back in his chair. “You’re mad at him because he is normal?”
Sherlock spun on his heel. “Don’t be preposterous. I’m not mad.”
“Of course not, that would imply some sort of emotional attachment.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes.
“Well,” John said, smacking his hands down on the arms of his chair, “sounds like a fun time. I’ll get my coat.”
“We’re not going,” Sherlock protested as John sprung to his feet and began pulling on his black jacket.
“You may not be, but I am. I want to meet the normal Holmes.”
“You can’t go.”
“Why not? The invitation has my name on it too.”
“That was with the presupposition that I would be attending with you.”
John checked his pockets for his keys and slid the mobile in as well. “Then you better find your coat. It is rather cold out there.”
Sherlock let out a frustrated noise. “I’m not going!”
“Fine, then. “
John went for the door and Sherlock grabbed his long jacket, pouting while he slipped it on. He popped up the collar in a gesture John knew was to specifically annoy him.
“I want it known I am doing this under duress,” Sherlock said, petulant.
John smiled gleefully. “Duly noted.”
John didn’t honestly know what to expect regarding a party thrown by the youngest Holmes. He imagined a heartfelt family dinner and decided against it just from knowing both Sherlock and Mycroft. John thought about a dour evening of tea with the mysterious Merlin’s author colleagues who spouted poetry at each other and he actually shuddered at the idea.
So when John, followed closely by Sherlock, arrived at the address, he was a bit shocked to hear loud, thudding music emanating from the building. He also witnessed a bevy of individuals stumbling in and out of the entrance.
“How old is Merlin?” John asked, as they approached the door.
“And he’s been married for five years? That’s young.”
“And his husband…”
“Arthur is thirty-one.”
“Bit of a gap.”
“Doesn’t mean they can’t be successful together.”
Sherlock cut John a sharp look.
John merely grinned.
“You’re enjoying this,” Sherlock accused.
John hopped up the first few steps of the stoop. “You have no idea.”
When they arrived at the door, it was closed. John knocked not really expecting anyone to hear them over the din. He was surprised, however, when the door suddenly swung open.
There was a tall, pale man with a Santa hat askew on his head standing in the doorway. His grin was wide, his ears large and his eyes very blue. He leaned on the door jamb, lanky limbs tangled, like he was trying and failing to play at sober. His gaze scanned John quickly, inquisitive, but smile still open and friendly. Then he looked over John’s shoulder.
He immediately straightened, his smile faltering for a split second while he yanked the hat from his head. He unsuccessfully tried to smooth down his tousled dark hair with the flat of his palm, all the while his expression shifting from shocked to pleased and back again.
“You came,” he said, breathless, smile firmly back in place, eyes crinkled at the corners.
“Sherrinford,” Sherlock acknowledge.
John’s eyes widened. He wasn’t quite sure what he had been expecting but a kid with a Santa hat and glitter on his nose certainly wasn’t it. Looking closer, however, John could see the family resemblance. Sherrinford was tall and willowy, his frame echoing both Sherlock and Mycroft. His hair was dark and his eyes were light and his cheekbones stood out much like Sherlock’s. John was sure that the resemblance would be even more striking if the youngest Holmes wasn’t smiling from ear to ear.
“Sherlock,” Merlin answered, almost dancing on the stoop, trying to figure out if he should hug his older brother, shake his hand or open the door to let them in. In the end, he furtively tossed the Santa hat aside, and took a step back.
“This is John Watson,” Sherlock said, waving toward John as he brushed past, entering the flat and removing his gloves from his hands. “You are a writer. He writes a blog. You two should get on.”
“Yes,” he said, stepping out of Sherlock’s way and offering his hand to John at the same time. “Dr. Watson, pleasure to meet you. I do read your blog. It’s fascinating. Thank you so much for coming.”
Merlin pumped John’s hand enthusiastically.
“Thank you for the invitation and please call me John. And you…”
“Merlin. Everyone calls me Merlin except for Sherlock.”
Merlin finally let go of John’s hand and closed the door behind them. “Please, come in. There is food and drinks and…”
“Merlin?” a man called as he padded down the hallway, drink in hand. “Who was at the door and what happened to your hat?”
“Arthur!” Merlin answered. “Look, look who it is!”
John studied Arthur. He was fit and blond and posh, dressed in trousers and a jumper that looked like they cost a fortune. He did not smile, his sharp gaze settling on Sherlock.
“It’s Sherlock,” Merlin introduced needlessly and with as much enthusiasm as he could probably muster. John could read in Arthur’s expression that he knew exactly who it was.
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” Arthur deadpanned. He raised his glass and took a long drink, the gold wedding band glinting off the low light of festive candles.
“Arthur,” Sherlock greeted.
“Sherlock. Good to see you’re not dead.”
Sherlock gave Arthur a tight smile. “Good to see Sherrinford hasn’t gotten bored… yet.”
John wagered that this wasn’t the first time that Sherlock was about to get punched by Arthur Pendragon.
John shifted slightly, ready to jump in if needed, even if it looked like a punch from Arthur would really hurt. John could see Merlin move as well, sliding between them with a grace that belied his inebriated state and awkward limbs.
“Sherlock,” John snapped at the same time that Merlin said a soft “Arthur.”
John imagined that the whole situation would have become increasingly more awkward as Arthur and Sherlock tried to kill each other with their eyes, if they had not been interrupted by a sharp rap at the door.
Merlin sent one last look between his husband and his brother before opening it.
“Mycroft!” he exclaimed.
Sherlock muttered something John knew to be uncomplimentary under his breath.
Mycroft stepped in, umbrella in hand. “Merlin, so good to see you and… oh, look, everyone is here.” He looked around, wearing a smug expression that showed he wasn’t surprised in the slightest. “Sherlock. John. Arthur.” He nodded to each of them in turn. “It’s a pleasure to see you all.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. “You followed us.”
“Nonsense, brother. I was invited just as you were.”
“Yes, I’m sure of it. Our brother is nothing if not polite and… neutral, but I am rather doubtful that you had intended to attend at all until you saw John and myself enter.”
“Conspiracy theories, Sherlock?” Mycroft clucked his tongue.
“No,” Sherlock countered, “not a theory at all. The security camera on the building across the street has been focused on the front door of this flat since John and I stepped out of the cab. Judging by your suit and the state of your shoes, I’d say you only just left a long day of work with the not-so-secret service and when your assistant texted that she had just seen John and myself enter Sherrinford’s flat you certainly could not miss the opportunity for a family reunion. Am I correct?”
Mycroft smiled like a shark. “Oh Sherlock, always so self-centered. My interest in visiting our younger brother has nothing to do with you but everything to do with status as eldest and the responsibility of ensuring the health and wellness of my younger siblings.”
“Preposterous. You have not been involved in Sherrinford’s life in years other than through surveillance.”
“We certainly show concern in our own different ways. At least, I have been keeping an eye on him.”
“Yes, we do. I seem to remember that I voiced my concerns five years ago and they went unheeded.”
“Boys!” John snapped. “Not here.”
Sherlock turned, eyebrows raised in question. John nodded toward Merlin.
Merlin was pale as a sheet, his fingers knotted together, his lips pressed together in a firm line.
“Wow,” Merlin said, swallowing then forcing a smile. “Both of my brothers, in my flat, for the first time in years, together, and all they can do is argue.”
Sherlock, at least, had the grace to look the slightest bit contrite.
Arthur put a hand on Merlin’s shoulder in reassurance and John watched as Merlin was bolstered by the simple touch.
“Right,” Merlin said decisively. “Where are my manners? Let me take your coats.”
John found himself a few minutes later, sitting on a couch, beer in hand and having a delightful conversation with a beautiful woman named Morgana. Sherlock was off sulking and Mycroft had pulled Arthur into some kind of conversation in which Arthur was making an expression like he was being slowly tortured. Merlin had disappeared, probably collecting himself after having the two overwhelming personalities of Sherlock and Mycroft enter his flat and almost smother him.
“And how do you know Merlin and Arthur?” John asked.
“I’m Arthur’s cousin.”
“How do you know them,” Morgana asked demurely as she took a sip from her wine glass.
“I don’t actually. I live with Merlin’s brother, Sherlock. Well, I don’t live with him. I am his partner. I mean, no,” John looked down and coughed. “We have a flat-share.”
“Oh!” Morgana laughed. “You’re John Watson!”
“I am,” John said smiling. “How… how do you know that?”
“I am a fan of your blog,” she said, flipping her hair. “I really enjoyed the one about the lady in pink and the one about the aluminum cane.” She reached out and patted his knee, moving so close, John received a fresh wave of perfume. “Tell me, what is Sherlock Holmes really like? Is he as brilliant as they say?”
“Morgana Lefay,” Sherlock said, hovering over the pair, glass of something clear (most likely water) in his hand. “It’s been so long.”
Morgan uncrossed her legs and shifted. “Sherlock Holmes. I think it was five years ago, at the wedding.”
Sherlock chuckled. “Oh, no, it’s been since that I’m sure. Wasn’t there some business with a dead British spy, a bloodied lamp, a bear stuffed with cocaine and a thermos?”
The pleasant smile that Morgana had been wearing up until that moment morphed into something feral.
“Sherlock,” John said through gritted teeth. “What are you doing?”
“John, did Morgana tell you what she does for a living?”
“We hadn’t gotten to that part of the conversation, yet.” John hoped his tone was biting enough for Sherlock to realize he was interrupting but then John hoped for many things that didn’t come true.
“No, of course not. Morgana holds a low level position in the French government, comparable to Mycroft.”
John blinked. He looked between Sherlock, who looked decidedly smug, and Morgana who was looking at Sherlock like he was something distasteful she found on the bottom of her high heels.
“Comparable to Mycroft?” John asked, unsettled, gaze on Morgana.
She snorted in condescension. “Mycroft isn’t the only one who has cameras focused on this flat.” She suddenly stood, towering over John and looking fiercely into Sherlock’s eyes. “It was a pleasure seeing you again, Sherlock,” her tongue clicking on the hard end sound. “And a pleasure meeting you, John,” she added, her gaze unwavering from Sherlock’s tight smile. “I’m sure we’ll be meeting again.”
“I look forward to it,” Sherlock countered evenly.
A sultry smile slowly spread across Morgan’s face. “As do I,” she answered.
She spun on her heel and stalked off toward the balcony.
Both men watched her go.
“She is absolutely terrifying,” John said after a long moment.
Sherlock nodded. “Women usually are.”
Later, John snuck back toward the kitchen and grabbed another beer. After his little run-in with a member of the French government in the guise of a beautiful family member, he had moved among the various party members. He fell into a conversation with a woman named Gwen and her husband Lance until Sherlock interrupted that one as well. He then proceeded to congratulate the happy couple on their pregnancy that Lance obviously knew absolutely nothing about. John attempted damage control but at that point it was really beyond his ability.
After that fiasco, John decided to duck into the kitchen and hope to shake his shadow and relax for a few minutes before the imminent punching Sherlock was going to receive by one of Merlin’s friends.
“I don’t know how you do it,” a voice said, startling John from where he rested against the cabinets. “I would’ve killed him by now.”
Arthur moved into the kitchen, his own beer in hand.
“Believe me, it’s not easy.”
“Oh, I know.” Arthur said taking a drink. “Holmes men are their own special breed of annoying.”
John smiled. “Looks like you got the least Holmesian of the bunch.”
Arthur laughed. “You’d think that but Merlin can be as stubborn as Sherlock and as cold as Mycroft.”
John raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
Arthur took another gulp of his beer. “When he wants to be. Though, his normal pleasant demeanor is worth his more Holmesian moments.”
“How did you two meet?” John asked.
Arthur laughed. “I bet Sherlock didn’t tell you we went to uni together?”
John shook his head.
“Of course not. He was a year ahead of me and he was already a bit of a legend. The first time I met Merlin, he came to visit Sherlock at uni and I ran into the both of them. I was 19, Merlin was 14 and all ears and legs and arms. It all sounds rather pervy when I tell people that part but honestly, Merlin remembers that meeting more than I do.”
John laughed. “I wasn’t going to say anything but it’s a bit of a gap at that age.”
“Don’t worry. Nothing untoward happened until years later when I ran into Merlin on the tube.”
“He was more than ears then?”
“Yeah, he was more.” Arthur smiled and looked down, embarrassed and fond. “He remembered me which, as you know, is a very Holmesian trait. The bloody bastard doesn’t forget a thing. You know, you can ask him to recite dialogue from any Shakespeare play, just giving him the act, scene and line, and he can do it!”
“Mental,” Arthur said before another gulp. “He has an eidetic memory. It’s like living with walking encyclopedia.”
John wondered if Arthur was tipsy. His mannerisms didn’t give him away but John doubted that Arthur would normally be so free with his speech especially about his husband. John could tell that Arthur was guarded about his relationship and with his in-laws being able to have him under surveillance or tell him what he ate for breakfast in a glance, John didn’t blame him.
“After our first date,” Arthur continued, waving his bottle around, “I was walking home and a black car pulled alongside me. I was ordered to get in. I thought I was being kidnapped!”
“Let me guess. Mycroft?”
Arthur’s eyes widened. “You too?”
John nodded and raised his free hand. “Me too. Mycroft offered me money to keep an eye on Sherlock. I didn’t know who he was at the time so I turned him down.”
They chuckled together for a few minutes until Arthur drew in a breath and sobered.
“Mycroft offered me money to disappear. He wanted me to leave his baby brother alone. I told him no.”
“That was brave.”
“I was young and stupid and fancied myself in love.”
Arthur thought about it for a moment. “I would’ve taken the money, continued seeing Merlin anyway, and split it with him.”
“And we’d be richer for it,” Merlin said coming into the kitchen and immediately standing next to Arthur, leaning into his side.
Arthur swung a heavy arm around Merlin’s shoulder and John watched as Merlin staggered and made a face.
“How many have you had?”
“Your brothers are here. I can have as many as I want.”
Merlin smiled, nuzzled into Arthur’s neck and kissed his cheek. “Yes, you’re being a saint. You only tried to punch Sherlock once. I’m impressed.”
“I’ve been quite cordial. Haven’t I, John?” Arthur said turning to John for confirmation.
John smiled and looked to Merlin. “He’s been very pleasant. He didn’t even try to punch me at all.”
“See?” Arthur said emphatically.
Merlin laughed. “That’s because John is likeable.”
“You’re likeable,” Arthur said low, skimming his nose on Merlin’s cheekbone before planting a kiss behind Merlin’s ear.
Merlin let out a breathy laugh.
John excused himself to the loo.
John found a bathroom upstairs away from the chatter of the many guests. He splashed some water on his face after washing his hands and took a few moments to reflect on the evening thus far. It was all so surreal, to put it mildly. Not that Sherlock had hidden a younger brother from him because John was sure Sherlock didn’t view it as hiding or lying at all but a bit of information not relevant until that very point in time. It also wasn’t that Merlin was married or stunningly normal and was apparently related through marriage to a real life femme fatale of the French government. No, the surreal part came in when John realized he was actually having a good time. He was interacting with people at a party, people that weren’t trying to kill or kidnap him and it was fun even if Sherlock was being his normal sociopathic self.
John was finding that it was quite nice to be around others that he could commiserate with and share in his Sherlock woe.
Smiling and looking forward to another drink, John opened the door and immediately startled because Sherlock was standing on the other side.
“There is something wrong,” Sherlock said without preamble.
John sighed. So much for a pleasant evening.
John and Sherlock stood in the hallway of the second floor between the bathroom and the master bedroom. The door to the bedroom was cracked open and John inwardly groaned.
“Have you been snooping in your brother’s things?”
“No,” Sherlock said, immediately pulling a face.
“Oh, well it’s good to know you have some boundaries…”
“I’ve been snooping in Arthur’s.”
“Sherlock!” John admonished. “That is a gross invasion of privacy.”
“Yes, alright, I know. But there is something going on, John.”
John ran a tired hand down his face. “Can you not do this tonight, Sherlock? Take a night off. Enjoy your brother’s company. Turn your brain off for God’s sake.”
“You know I can’t. Sherrinford is hiding something. I know it. But what? And why? And why wouldn’t he just tell me?” Sherlock asked, pacing in the small space, his footsteps a quiet thump on the carpeted floor.
“Alright, Sherlock. Say there is something. Do you really have no idea why he might not tell his brother that he hasn’t seen in five years? What was he going to do? Text you? Send you an email? Comment on your website?”
Sherlock stopped, pressed his hands together and turned.
“Say that again.”
John blinked. “What part?”
“The last part.”
“What? How was he going to talk to you? Email? A text?”
Sherlock sucked in a breath. “That’s it,” he said softly.
“You’re right, John. He wouldn’t text me or email because that would require a one on one conversation. He’d do something different.”
Sherlock smiled while he paced. “Oh, Sherrinford. You clever fellow.”
John arched an eyebrow. “Any time you want to elaborate…”
“Think about it, John. You’re right. Sherrinford wouldn’t contact me personally. No, he’d send me an invitation to a party. It’s always easier to disperse information within a group. It’s economic if you are going to inform a large amount of people of some specific thing and it breeds less opportunity for confrontation.”
Sherlock spun around on his heel before grabbing John by the shoulders.
“This is brilliant!”
Sherlock released him quickly, causing John to stagger a few steps, before he took off down the stairs.
“Sherlock?” John called after him, knowing that whatever Sherlock had in mind was not going to end well. “Sherlock! Wait!”
John made it into the kitchen in time to see Sherlock interrupt what looked to be a fantastic snogging session between Merlin and Arthur with a loud declaration of “Alright, we’re all here now. You should go ahead and make your announcement.”
Arthur’s hands were tangled in Merlin’s hair and Merlin’s mouth was red, his cheeks pinked from either excitement or embarrassment and his wide eyes were very blue. They both looked startled and a little confused.
“Timing Sherlock,” John said quietly, almost to himself. “You need to work on your timing.”
“Timing,” Sherlock repeated.
“What are you on about?” Arthur asked, untangling himself from Merlin, albeit a little wobbly.
Merlin leaned against the counter and tried to smooth down his hair and straighten his shirt.
“The announcement. That was why you invited us all here, wasn’t it?”
Arthur snorted. “It can’t just be a holiday party for our friends and family?”
Sherlock gave Arthur a quick and tight smile. “Don’t try to play dumb, Arthur, even if you should be brilliant at it.”
Arthur tensed, his jaw clenched and John sighed, wondering if he should even bother stepping in. After a terse moment, Arthur deflated, leaning closer to Merlin who was frowning and darting anxious looks between them.
“Why couldn’t you have been adopted?” Arthur asked softly.
“Just lucky, I guess,” Merlin said.
“Alright, out with it. Some of us have things to do,” Sherlock prodded. He began to pace, a small step to the left then right, on the hardwood floor.
John watched, interested. It was normal for Sherlock to think with his whole body when he was agitated but it was also normal for Sherlock to think perfectly still. This was neither, an awkward half step that John was unconvinced had to do much with the space offered. Was Sherlock… nervous? Interested? Concerned?
“Oh, why don’t you just shut up, Sherlock!” Arthur shouted. “Feel free to leave any time. It’s not like you have been involved in Merlin’s life these past five years so what does a little announcement mean to the great Sherlock Holmes!”
“Ha! I knew there was something!”
John looked the ceiling to see and shook his head. “Wrong response.”
Sherlock heard him, slightly turned and whispered over his shoulder. “Was that bad?”
The door opened then and Morgana and Mycroft entered followed closely by Gwen and Lance.
“We heard shouting,” Gwen said, coming in shyly, arm laced through her husband’s.
“Is everything alright in here?” Morgana asked. She gave Merlin a wink and Sherlock a fierce look.
Merlin seemed to wilt at the added company. He rubbed at a spot on his forehead, near his right temple, his eyes squeezed shut.
“This is not how I wanted this to go,” he muttered.
“Wanted what to go? What is going on?” Morgana asked, crossing her arms.
“Their announcement, of course,” Sherlock said. “Go on now. Tell them.”
Merlin’s head snapped up at that. He straightened from his slouch against the counter and took a challenging step forward. Merlin stuck out his chin, his hands clenched at his sides and for the first time, John could see the famous Holmes demeanor emerge.
“You’re so clever, Sherlock. Why don’t you tell them?”
Sherlock stopped his pacing on a dime and stared at his brother, accepting the challenge.
“Fine. It was the little plea on the invitation. You do normally have a holiday party for your friends and you send out invitations every year. However, this year, you wrote that note, asking me to come. You’ve never done that before. You also addressed it to John hoping that he would convince me. You read his blog, you knew he would be curious about a mysterious younger brother. You also knew that if I appeared, Mycroft wouldn’t be far behind. You have a bevy of friends just outside this kitchen and you have both of your brothers here, thus there must be some kind of announcement.”
“Right so far,” Merlin confirmed.
John raised his eyebrows and saw that Morgana’s eyes also had gone a little wide.
“What? Mycroft isn’t the only one that knows how to be manipulative.”
“No, of course he isn’t. Our presence begs the question of what would be so important that you would want to tell both of us but you wouldn’t want a confrontation that a one on one conversation would inevitably lead to. Something big. A life change. Clearly not bad news because you wouldn’t announce it at a party. Not marriage, you’ve already done that. Not divorce because as bewildering as it is, you are both still irritatingly smitten with each other.”
Merlin and Arthur exchanged fond looks. Sherlock didn’t notice as he plowed on.
“Not a baby because the paint you tried to hide with your poorly aimed Santa hat isn’t a nauseatingly pale shade of pink, blue or yellow.”
John remembered the incident at the door, when Merlin tossed the hat aside. John had thought it was Merlin being embarrassed he was caught being silly by his older brother. But Merlin’s expression at that moment, his mouth pursed as he tried not to look guilty or disappointed, told John otherwise.
“Something about your jobs then. Arthur is successful in his field but doesn’t need to be due to his healthy trust fund and inheritance. So, Sherrinford then. Your latest book is doing very well, despite its banalities…”
“You’ve read it then?” Merlin asked, a smile blossoming across his face. “You’ve read it?”
Sherlock faltered in the face of Merlin’s pleased and earnest expression.
“That’s neither here nor there, the point is, that your book is doing very well. The can of paint, in the foyer, it matches the paint in your bedroom. There were fresh splotches on the wall, near the headboard of your bed covering a series of nicks and dents…”
Merlin flushed a furious red and Arthur laughed at Mycroft’s disgusted expression. He gave the elder Holmes a saucy wink and John had to cough to cover his own laugh.
Again, Sherlock did not notice.
“There are other small fixes around the flat. The new doorknob on the bathroom door upstairs, the brand new curtains on the balcony windows, the general cleanliness, not a bit of dust to be seen. There are several reasons for someone to fix up a flat, but as neither of you are a nesting mother or likely to have a visit from the Queen, the answer is obvious.”
Sherlock stopped a moment, his gaze intent on Merlin.
There was a long pause.
“Good for you, Sherlock,” Merlin said, voice tight. “You figured it out.”
“Moving?” Gwen asked. “Not far, right? Just moving flats?”
Arthur and Merlin looked at each other, having a private conversation with their eyes.
“Merlin’s book has done very well. A publisher, in New York, wants Merlin to work with them. We’ve discussed it and…” Arthur took a breath.
“We’re moving,” Merlin confirmed. “To America, next month.”
There was a long stunned moment where everyone in the room processed the news. John saw Gwen put a hand over her mouth and Morgana’s mouth turn down into a slight frown. As always, Mycroft’s expression was indecipherable and if John didn’t know any better he would say Sherlock looked almost unhappy.
“Say something,” Merlin said after an eternal minute.
That seemed to spark a reaction. Morgana stepped forward, enveloped both of them in a hug. “That’s brilliant.”
“Congratulations,” Gwen said, also subdued and hugged them both. Lance shook their hands echoing his wife’s sentiment.
The three left the room, Morgana claiming she needed to powder her nose but John had seen her wipe at her eyes. Gwen said she needed air and Lance dutifully followed.
Merlin still stood there, his back straight, expression defiant. He looked to Mycroft and back to Sherlock who both had remained silent.
“Well?” Merlin prompted. He looked to Mycroft. “Aren’t you going to tell me that I can’t do it?” he asked. He looked to Sherlock, who still had the slight furrow of his brow. “Aren’t you going to tell me it is inadvisable? I know it’s not marriage to Arthur but I’m sure you have something to say about it. You are never short of opinions.”
Mycroft smiled. “I think it is a wonderful opportunity, brother.”
Mycroft stepped forward and held out his hand. Merlin took it, confused and reluctant, but Mycroft clasped his hand tightly.
“I’m proud of you,” Mycroft said.
Merlin looked absolutely shocked as did Arthur.
“Proud of me?” Merlin squeaked. He looked back over his shoulder to Arthur, eyes wide. He mouthed something and Arthur shrugged in confirmation.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Mycroft said with a small chuckle.
A phone started ringing and Mycroft dropped Merlin’s hand, and pulled his mobile from his pocket. He checked the number.
“Excuse me. I must take this,” he said. “Wonderful to see you again, Arthur. Goodbye, Merlin. I’ll see you soon. Good luck.”
Merlin still looked a little like a deer in headlights as Mycroft left the room.
Sherlock clapped his hands together and Merlin startled from his dazed look. “Well, that was exciting. If we’re done here, John and I will be on our way.”
Merlin started wringing his hands, his long fingers twisting together.
“You don’t have anything to say?”
“Should I?” Sherlock asked. “It has been my experience that my opinion on such matters are unwanted and therefore unnecessary.”
Merlin’s shoulders slumped.
“Right, right,” Merlin said, running a hand over his face. “I forgot who I was talking to. I just thought, for once, you’d actually care but… never mind.” Merlin shook his head. “Thanks for coming. It was nice to meet you, John.”
Arthur wrapped his arm around Merlin’s waist, pulled him close to his side into an awkward hug. Arthur glared at Sherlock.
“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
John watched, his gaze flickering between the emotionally wrung out Merlin and Sherlock, looking as close to confused and unhappy has John had ever seen him. John could see the hurt written in Merlin’s posture and the way that Sherlock was holding himself, he could see the hurt there too.
God knew that John didn’t have the best relationship with his sister and over the years they had their own record of falling-outs and apologies. John knew siblings were hard. They could annoy you, break your toys and break your heart, but he also knew, that when you needed that connection to your past, to your family, they were the ones to go to. And that was something special. Blood was thicker than water after all.
“Sherlock,” John said. “Tell him.”
Sherlock looked over to John as if he had forgotten he was there. “Tell him what?”
“Tell him what you’re thinking. Tell him you don’t want him to go. Tell him you’re happy for him. Anything.”
Sherlock opened his mouth then closed it. He thought for a moment more, cleared his throat and spoke.
“You never needed me.”
Merlin looked up from his whispered conversation with Arthur, eyes a little glassy, heart on his sleeve.
“You never needed me. You’ve always had a talent for making decisions that seem utterly unsound and then making them work somehow. If Mycroft were here he’d try to take the credit, maybe cite his surveillance or his hand in your upbringing but he’d be wrong. Merlin, you’re unique in your accomplishments. You’ve done everything on your own. You don’t need my approval or my guidance and that is why I never gave it. Well, except once,” Sherlock said, his gaze flickering over to Arthur, “and we know how that turned out.”
“Just because I don’t agree with you on most things doesn’t mean that I don’t want you in my life,” Merlin said.
“I was unaware that you felt that way.”
Merlin rolled his eyes. “You’re my older brother. I’ll always need you even if it is to put me in my place now and then.”
“I’ll strive to do better.”
Merlin grinned, wide, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Good.”
Sherlock genuinely smiled.
John couldn’t help but smile as well. Arthur was eying Sherlock warily.
“So what do you think?” Merlin continued. “Arthur and I in America?”
“I think it’s splendid.”
Sherlock held out his hand. Merlin took it to shake and found himself tugged into a quick, abrupt hug. Sherlock slapped him on the back once before releasing him swiftly.
Merlin staggered back, right into Arthur’s arms.
“What the hell was that?” Merlin asked, voice high-pitched.
“It was a hug,” Sherlock stated.
Merlin took a steadying breath. “Don’t ever do that again.”
Sherlock and John stayed a while longer and listened to Arthur and Merlin as they announced their plans to the rest of their guests. After that, the holiday party turned into a drunken celebration in which Merlin and Arthur proceeded to accept congratulations and drink copious amounts of wine. They both were sincerely happy and Merlin kept sending glances to his brother, occasionally raising his glass and smiling from ear to ear.
There were times that John was sure that Merlin could act like a Holmes but in those moments, where he was happy and proud, basking in the attention of his friends, kissing Arthur openly, he appeared as any normal young man despite his eidetic memory, dislike of hugs and penchant for willfulness.
“Sherlock,” John started.
“You have done a good thing.”
Sherlock gave John a measuring look. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Of course not.”
There was loud laughter at the other side of the room.
“Well, at least Merlin is happy,” John remarked.
Sherlock sighed and John thought it sounded rather wistful. “He is.”
John gathered their coats while Sherlock and Merlin talked. John was surprised to see Arthur approach him.
He handed John a slip of paper.
“This is our address in New York. I’m giving it to you because you and I both know that if allowed Sherlock would let another five years pass before he contacts Merlin again.”
John took the paper and put it in his wallet.
“Just… send Merlin a card for his birthday, yeah? And maybe for Christmas?”
John nodded. “I’ll make sure Sherlock does it.”
Arthur clapped John on the shoulder. “Good. If there is anything worse than a smug Holmes it is a morose one.”
“Keep him safe, John. As much as I don’t like him Merlin would be devastated if anything happened to him.”
“I’ll do my best,” John assured.
Arthur nodded. “Thanks.”
It was late when Sherlock and John left after shaking hands with a beaming and enthusiastic Merlin and a reserved Arthur.
“Keep in touch,” Merlin said, looking at both Sherlock and John.
“We will,” John said when Sherlock remained silent.
Walking away from the flat, up the sidewalk to catch a cab, John noticed that Sherlock was looking especially contemplative.
“You’re not planning on keeping in touch, are you?” John asked.
Sherlock stopped at the curb and looked for a cab.
“Any particular reason why?”
Sherlock gave John a sharp look. “Moriarty can never know about Sherrinford.”
“He already does.”
John spun around to see Mycroft walking toward them.
“Mycroft,” Sherlock said, not turning.
“How long have you been waiting for us?” John asked. “You left hours ago.”
Mycroft ignored the question.
“Are you sure?” Sherlock asked.
“How are you intending to protect them?”
Mycroft smiled and fiddled with the umbrella in his hand, the tip spinning on the concrete.
“I’m sending them to America.”
Sherlock smirked. “Someone in an American publishing company owed you a favor?”
“Let’s just say that the Americans owe us many favors.”
Back at the flat, John entered with Sherlock on his heels and yawned. He unwound the scarf around his neck and threw it on the back of the chair. He slipped out of his jacket as well.
“Well, I’m knackered.”
Sherlock brushed past. “Good night, John.”
John shook his head. As much as Sherlock didn’t want to admit it, John knew that Merlin’s move to America was bothering him as did the information that Moriarty knew of the existence of the youngest Holmes. Sherlock wanted to maintain an air of detachment and mysteriousness, but John was slowly chipping at it, and seeing his interaction with his younger brother revealed a side of him that John had rarely seen. It seemed that siblings could bring out the best (or worst) in each other in all families, the Holmes family included.
John sighed and picked up the remnants of his tea, catching a glimpse at the book he had found Sherlock engrossed in earlier. He leaned forward, tilted his head to read the spine.
Thicker than Water by Merlin Pendragon
Sherlock had been reading Merlin’s book when John had come in and then pointed John toward the post where the invitation lay waiting. The realization hit him like a cold ocean wave. That manipulative bastard.
“You could’ve just said you wanted to go!” he yelled.
Sherlock peeked from around the corner, smiling.
“But where would have been the fun in that?”